The end of an era was played out for all to see as Arsenal blundered their way to a 4-1 defeat against Manchester City last night.
The old guard – the likes of Mohammed Elneny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Sead Kolasinac – players who have long clung on at the club as various managers have come and gone, were ruthlessly exposed by Pep Guardiola’s side and did little but hasten their own demise.
Juxtaposed with that were the efforts of Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, Folarin Balogun and Gabriel Martinelli – young guys who performed with effort, endeavour and desire. Despite their youth and inexperience, they outfought and outperformed their supposedly older and wiser colleagues and, in the process, showed that the club’s future lies in their hands and not in the battle-weary, feckless hands of their senior colleagues.
This was a watershed moment for the club and I hope Mikel Arteta realises as much. We can’t go on fielding the sort of players who long ago gave up fighting and, quite frankly, just aren’t good enough for this level. Their place now is on the training ground until they can be sold and that needs to happen as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, the young Guns, who are showing their quality whenever they are given the chance, need to assume the mantle left by those on their way out. They have shown they are worthy of more than the occasional inclusion on the bench, they are worthy of first-team contention.
In 30 minutes on the pitch last night, Smith-Rowe showed more cutting edge than Dani Ceballos and Elneny have done in 30 games, likewise Martinelli, who provided the assist for Alex Lacazette’s goal and might have had one himself when he was sent clear on goal by (surprise surprise) Willock.
We have a solid spine now – Bernd Leno, Gabriel, Thomas Partey, and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, let’s build around those guys using the talent we have at our disposal, talent that has shown itself to be reliable and consistent.
Ultimately, it is Mikel who sees this guys on the training ground day in and day out and perhaps he is privy to some things that we are not but the way forward seems clear for all to see now, last night’s defeat served only to confirm it.
It’s time at long last for the guard to change and, this time, there should be no going back.