Arsenal stars past and present celebrate Arteta’s dizzying work in progress

An hour after the dizzying chaos on the pitch, a more serene sense of Arsenal bliss emerged from the Emirates tunnel.

Dennis Bergkamp was back in town, rekindling his love for London as he and his wife, Henrita, returned to spend time with their new grandson, who was just born in the city. Thierry Henry was also present at the match with his sons, who enjoyed a post-match kick on the pitch. It was reunion time.

Remarkably, Bergkamp and Henry had not seen each other for 16 years, not since the Dutchman’s testimony, which was the first match to open this stadium. The bond found after all this time – the magnet of Arsenal drawing the two to their spiritual home – meant so much to both of them.

They weren’t the only icons of yesteryear who were on hand as Arsenal beat Manchester United. Gilberto Silva, visiting from Brazil, called him before the game. “We never lose when I’m here,” he dared with a confident smile just before kick-off. Jens Lehmann came from Germany. Freddie Ljungberg was there. Edu, another Invincible, was of course present, mixing the current duties of technical director with old friendships.

Mikel Arteta is trying to build a new unity and a new direction with his young team and they all appreciate that they have a way to go. It was like a touchstone for some of them to be able to draw inspiration from the legends who were so happy to be in each other’s company. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe left the locker room to meet Henry and Bergkamp. The Hale End boys were full of respect and curious about how they could improve. In return, they received a lot of encouragement: Play with confidence, it’s all there for you.


Bergkamp and Smith Rowe share a word (Photo: Getty Images)

Saka and Smith Rowe were instrumental in this week’s double wins that put Arsenal back on course for an eventual top four finish. They are one and two in the list of top scorers for the team, sharing 23 goals between them this season, which is a monumental effort considering their age and the fact that Arsenal have operated without a regular centre-forward to share the load.

Arsenal’s token partnerships past and present chatted away from the pitch. It seemed important somehow. The club, in full cultural reflection on values, had a dazzling example there. What it all meant. What it all means. What did they do. What they are trying to do.

Trying to raise the bar to return to Champions League club status – something the old guard were used to every season, in addition to their experience of winning titles – it is obvious that these last five games against Arsenal will be difficult. with nerves. They are not a team capable of controlling the situation at the moment. They live on the fringes. Balancing on sharp precipices every time the ball is loose. Goals fly everywhere, chances appear like sudden electric shocks. The aggregate score in their manic dances with Chelsea and Manchester United is 7-3.

Within the limits of the field, there is a kind of chaos. It’s the antithesis of early Arteta, which relied on a more steady tempo, slow buildup, game plan. Caution was released to the winds by necessity, not by design. It’s not quite the kind of football Arteta envisions, but in the circumstances, with compositional flaws that aren’t easily rectified, it had a sort of galvanizing effect.

After the numbing struggles against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton, it was not clear how Arsenal could find solutions to the team’s three problems: the full-back situation without Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu remains a concern (the reappearance of the Japanese international defender late against United was notably greeted with raucous approval). The absence of Thomas Partey removes a key structural element that cannot simply be replaced by another player in the team. The attacker’s problem in terms of the required mix of heist play with chance conversion is anyone’s guess.

Arsenal found success through a sort of chaos theory. The game against Manchester United picked up on the wild currents that ran through the Chelsea game. Loose, scruffy moments at the back gave United too many chances and they were grateful Bruno Fernandes seemingly put off with his eccentric run to the penalty spot.

But Arsenal found in these critical matches a thirst to shake things up offensively. They became a team of moments, able to produce enough clarity amidst the chaotic energy. Saka is at the heart of much of this, and he played a crucial role in the opening goal which was happily taken by the highly unpredictable Nuno Tavares.

In midfield, Mohamed Elneny ticked, Martin Odegaard dexterously prompted and Granit Xhaka led by example – the unleashed precision of his sparkling finish secured the game. Further forward, Saka was always the danger man and for the second game in a row he was ruthless with a penalty, while Eddie Nketiah tied and chased and put himself in dangerous positions.

Bergkamp, ​​Henry et al know this Arsenal is rough around the edges, flawed, a work in progress. But, like the rest of the Emirates crowd this season, they salute the efforts this generation has made.

Over the past few weeks, Arsenal have gone from first four favorites to out of the picture and then back again. Controlling their nerves, as well as their football, is a big ask. “I think we’re really going to try,” says Arteta. Throwing everything at them may not be their preferred methodology, but anything that helps them get to the finish line is welcome.

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