Last night was the biggest game of Arsenal’s season and arguably their recent history – not that you would have known it.
On a night when the Gunners needed a full-blooded, impassioned display, the performance they put out was at best anaemic.
As the clock ticked closer to the 90-minute mark we sat waiting with increasing anxiety for the moment where it would finally hit home to the players that they were in a European semi-final.
It never came.
There was no flurry of golden late chances, no attempts at battering down Villarreal’s very batter-able hatches, no crescendo.
Instead, Arsenal’s exit confirmed what is likely to be their absence from European competition next season, having managed just two shots on target.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the drab display was that from the opening minute of the game the Gunners looked too exhausted to really do anything to change their imminent fate.
Would a full Emirates Stadium cheering them on have made a difference in this situation? Probably, but the energy and initiative shown by a team is generally a reflection of the sentiments and drive shown by their manager.
Speaking after the game a visibly drained Mikel Arteta personified the mood of his side throughout the 90 minutes.
“Well we are devastated,” he uttered solemnly to the press. “We had so much enthusiasm and desire to be in that final.
“We know how much it meant to the club, to our fans, to ourselves, to be in that final and have the chance to be in the Champions League next season. It’s a huge blow.”
As he hoisted himself from his seat at the end of his post-match conference the Spaniard cut a figure of a man who had spread himself too thin.
The decision to change Arteta’s title from head coach to manager last summer passed largely without comment, but it is only now that we really start to see how much of a burden that has become.
Instead of focusing purely on the footballing side of things – where there is undoubtedly plenty of work to do – the Premier League’s youngest permanent coach has been tasked with overseeing every aspect of one of the biggest rebuilds in football right now.
That would be difficult at the best of times, but when you throw into consideration the fact that there is a global pandemic which has distorted the entire sport beyond recognition, it is clear that he has taken too much on.
There can be no doubting that Arsenal were in need of fresh ideas after the staleness of the late Arsene Wenger era, and the constantly shifting identities of Unai Emery‘s time in charge, but as time goes on it becomes more obvious that giving the keys to the kingdom to Arteta may have proved to be something of a mistake.
Arteta is an inexperienced manager and will therefore make mistakes but in a time where the Gunners can ill-afford to make too many more blunders who is there for him to turn to for counsel?
Technical director Edu is in place, but the Brazilian himself is only 42-years-of-age and in his first major role at a European club.
Arteta is still close with his former mentor Pep Guardiola, but when it comes to the day-to-day running of the club it is clear that he needs some help.
This is where Richard Garlick will ideally come in.
The soon-to-be Director of Football Administration is an expert in sports law and football administration with experience of performing similar roles at both the Premier League and West Brom for over a decade.
He will work closely with Arteta and Edu on those exact day-to-day issues that have worn them so thin this season, and ideally will allow the pair to focus more on matters on the pitch.
It’s not as if he is a silver bullet who will fix all the Gunners problems.
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Garlick would not have been able to stop Arteta from choosing to play Emile Smith Rowe as a ‘false nine’ in the first leg against Villarreal or from changing Arsenal’s established formation to a 4-3-3 in their biggest game of the season at the Emirates on Thursday night.
But with the club unlikely to have to contend with midweek European fixtures for the first time in a quarter of a century next season, there will finally be time for Arteta to focus on improving his side on the training pitch.
With the set up above him now in place, there are no more excuses for the Spaniard not to make best use of it.