Arsenal are going places. This is a statement of fact, I do believe, regardless of the recent bumps in the road that the team has faced. Those bumps will make the team better in the long term, yet they are frustrating for us in the build-up to those unknown times of the future.
After the heartbreaking loss to Manchester City, I wrote that the team was so close and yet, to be sure, very far in some ways. The shock loss to Nottingham Forest, while far from disproving this notion, teaches us all, including the boss and Edu, a new, different yet important lesson.
Arsenal are going places, and they have some really talented players that are making big impacts in each match. They are not, however, a deep enough team to be able to maintain that sort of level once they take certain players out of the starting squad. While the likes of City, Liverpool and Chelsea can win matches in this way, and have built themselves to be so impenetrable in most circumstances, Arsenal is still in the construction phase.
In this match against Forest, Arsenal looked the worse side the entire way through. They appeared to be less organized, less fluid, less ambitious and less composed. These Gunners, who we have seen play so well this season, played far below their abilities, collectively and individually, and so have bowed out of the competition they have dominated over the last eight years.
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Arsenal had won four of the last eight, but will not manage five in the last nine. This was a humbling loss for this team who surely think better of themselves than they did earlier this season, but not one that couldn’t be seen coming as one watched the game unfurl.
This was a disjointed match, and even once players were brought on and the players who routinely play seemed to get more involved in the match, the momentum and volition had been sapped and controlled by Forest. Bukayo Saka tried, Gabriel Martinelli tried, Martin Odegaard tried, and yet all the while, Forest were more focused, more sure of themselves, and more aggressive at every turn.
Arsenal appeared to think that they deserved to go through to the next round against Nottingham Forest while the hosts appeared to understand that the game was for the taking, and they wanted it worse than the Gunners did. Mikel Arteta will have a lot of different words for his team, who played down to their competition. Meanwhile, Forest played up to theirs.
Losing to City was one thing, whereas Nottingham will cause some heads to turn. This FA Cup has seen many upsets so far, however, and this might be due in part to the uneven schedule and postponements that have surely sapped certain levels of continuity away from clubs. With this said though, Arsenal and this writer must give Nottingham Forest the credit they deserve, for they truly earned their win.
The Gunners have now bowed out of the FA Cup at a remarkably early stage, while the Carabao Cup competition is also coming to the end, one way or another, as well. Should Arsenal win against Liverpool in the upcoming semi-finals they will have a tough match in the final as well, facing the winner of Tottenham vs Chelsea.
Should they lose to Liverpool then the Gunners would have only to concern themselves with the Premier League for the rest of the season, which, while disappointing, might be a silver lining of sorts.
Arsenal wants to win the FA Cup each year, and winning the Carabao Cup would be useful and prestigious as well, but the Premier League is the most important for Arsenal as well as their European hopes for the future. The team must be there next year, in either the UEL or the UCL; their roster will be better when they return to Europe, with the money and squad space that getting into those competitions provides, and this will stop further issues like we experienced on Sunday from happening.
A deeper team for Europe is also a deeper team for England. Arsenal are on their way to a top-six finish at worst, hopefully, and with it, European benefits that will touch the domestic scene as well. They are improving each week, even in the midst of issues like we have seen recently, but if they can overcome these issues organically this year, they will have some help in the future to avoid falling back to earth in these shocking fashions.