Well, the North London Derby will be kicking off in a few minutes, and my nerves are tingling. I won’t be watching the match — I’m gonna practice meditation or something. But I have some thoughts. 

I don’t expect Arsenal to win — Spurs are playing at home and they need the points more than Arsenal do — but that doesn’t mean anything because I never expect Arsenal to win. My son asks me before every Arsenal match how I think it’ll go, and I always explain, patiently and rationally, why they can’t possibly take all three points.  

It may therefore come as no surprise that I would’ve been absolutely shocked at the beginning of the season — and even more after the first three matches of the season — to learn that the Gunners would be in the top four in May. But then everyone else would’ve been shocked also.

So, whatever happens from here on out, the lads have been great, and they deserve plaudits.

You might therefore expect that I am fully supportive of the decision to extend Arteta’s contract. In fact I am not —I am seriously doubtful about the decision. The achievements of this year are mainly due to the excellent construction of the squad, which has enabled a degree of success even in the face of many injuries. And that’s down to the front office. They’re the ones who deserve the same applause we give the players. (That said, with European football coming next season, they need to do some major reinforcement work in the offseason.)

Arteta, I think, has been the weak link. The problem is that he’s very poor at one aspect of the manager’s job: making in-game adjustments. He’s good at general strategy — though there he has a lot of help from the front office — and good at setting up his tactics for any given match. But when things go wrong (and in soccer you must expect that things will regularly go wrong) he seems befuddled. Several of Arsenal’s losses could have become wins if Arteta had acted more swiftly, decisively, and intelligently to make changes, whether in formation or personnel or both. But making the necessary adjustments just doesn’t seem to be in his skill set.

But I’m only doubtful that his contract should have been extended, not certain that it shouldn’t have. He may get better; and there aren’t many clearly superior candidates out there. (Though that Emery guy at Villarreal — he’s impressive! I wonder if he could be talked into moving to London….) And in any case the deal is done. But while I always worry about Arsenal, a good deal of that worry centers on whether Arteta will be able to handle the demands of a tough match. Arteta is my second-biggest concern; the first, as always, is whether Xhaka will decide that he needs to get himself sent off.  

UPDATE: For “Xhaka” read “Holding.” Arteta’s complete inability to teach his players on-pitch discipline — very few of their many red cards in recent years have been undeserved — is another mark against him.