‘Pepe lays a rug on Madface’
Sliding doors moment for Nicholas Pepe and Unai Emery??
For the first 70 minutes I was wondering if Emery’s last real positive was slipping away.
We’ve been very good in the EL and yet again we were poor AND poor and losing.
Not only has Pepe’s two moments of brilliance given him the confidence to push on but may have delayed the big question hanging over Emery.
Not wanting to take away from a victory and Pepe’s moment so more on him below.
When writing these opening columns I try to choose what I see as the most glaring issue that came out of the game.
For 70 minutes it looked like ‘Cup Arsenal’ had been hypnotized by videos of ‘PL Arsenal.’
Two lightbulb moments dawned on me recently.
Firstly, as a concise description of Emery’s Arsenal I would identify us as a team that plays at the level of our opponent.
We did it against Villa, Bournemouth, Watford etc, etc…, and raised our game to match Spurs.
Secondly, I have an idea that the infamous video sessions are having a negative impact that isn’t being talked about.
I rewind back 8 years to when I made a critical coaching mistake. I would repeatedly show my team, and in particular the individual players, what they were doing wrong on video. In front of the whole team. Lo and behold they clammed up as a group and played negatively or to be more accurate, safely. No risks. Didn’t want their idiot coach to embarrass them in front of their friends two days later.
It would be true to say that a professional soccer player has to endure a level of public criticism whether constructive or not but if done regularly then I’m wondering if human reaction makes them react the way my U-17 team did?
Dani Ceballos is my best example. He seems so much more capable than he plays. He plays risk averse.
So, we struggle. We become negative as our coach sets up in an over cautious manner. We pass to the safe foot rather than lead with our passes. We circulate when we could penetrate. We pass the buck. We over use the safe pass back to the defender and don’t open our hips in midfield.
So, we struggle.
Until….. we are losing.
Then a superhero emerges.
It’s almost like the players know that they’ve been playing in cages and think, “Sod it, I’m jumping out.”
We see freedom, penetration, risk taking and ultimately chances on goal.
If I was Crystal Palace on Sunday I’d try to manufacture a way to only give us 2 mins to come back. Not enough time for ‘Madface..the angry superhero’ to go get his cape.
Arsenal got angry the last 15 minutes.
Here came Madface and we had significantly more chances in 15 than the previous 75.
I think Pepe has swept Arsenal’s reactionary problem under a rug.
Will Emery learn the value of how you start a game and what a home game against Vitoria, Villa, Bournemouth etc…, should look like?
We wait. Again.
* Guendouzi isn’t Madface as he often shows up from minute one but all would agree that he raises his game 2 notches when we are losing.
He drove us forward again when others in midfield passed the buck.
* ESR and Martinelli pushed and pushed and pushed all game. Commendable.
One of the best realizations that an athlete will ever come to is that if you’ve lost your game, regain it with hard work and willing.
Additionally, Martinelli looks like the best aerial threat at the club.
* Do we appreciate how hard it is to score TWO set plays in one game. That’s a mind game and it’s hard.
Pepe may start to fly if he scores again on Sunday.
As a separate but interesting thought, what would Pepe look like as a ‘10?’
He retains the ball in tight spaces much like Ozil does, often looks for the final ball even though he hasn’t been successful yet and adds the threat of goals which Ozil never really did.
It might be worth trying a 4-2-3-1 with Pepe fixing our lack of central creativity and therefore finding a place for either Laca AND Auba or Martinelli out wide.
With our lack of goals in the team as a whole you could even play Laca, Auba and Martinelli with Pepe behind them?
* Kudos to Vitoria. I’d be gutted if I supported them. They deserved at least a draw.
* Tierney wasn’t great but that cross (yet again) was pinpoint and not easy to execute either.
* We are making a habit of avoiding the player at attacking midfield.
Could be a tactic to use him to do two jobs only. Press and get in the box and finish?
* If we were going to bother playing Tierney (I would’ve saved him for CP) then why ask him to sit as a conservative left back in the first half.
This tactical choice summed up Emery’s over cautious start.
* AMN blew the chance he had been waiting for and I for one am gutted. On paper I think he’s got the potential to be so dynamic as an accelerating 8.
His casualness kills him.
* If Ceballos isn’t going to take risks in the final third should he be our ‘regista’ like Jorginho is at Chelsea?
Could Guendouzi use his desire to drive into the box better as a ‘10?’
* I find that technical teams gain confidence quickly if you let them play their game.
I wonder how good Vitoria would’ve looked if we had gone at them like we did Liege?
Our reactionary football encouraged players with high technical levels.
* We all have one thing that we just can’t cope with when watching football.
Mine is low percentage passes, especially in the air, to diminutive forwards who, even if they win it, can’t do anything with it.
Arsenal in the first half ⬆️
* Jose Mourinho was at the game.
I rest in the solace that he’s Portuguese and we were playing a Portuguese team.
If he ends up at Arsenal a part of my soul will die. Even though I respect his achievements from years past, I find the man abhorrent.
We don’t have to play Bellerin and Tierney for 90 minutes on Sunday, but they need to start.
We are home, we need to start fast and that needs two quality deliverers from wide areas.
Emery doesn’t have much slack left and if we don’t win and they don’t start (which I fear) then he’s given the fans a bat to hit him with.
Want to finish with a happy thought though.
The Pepe issue is one of many going on right now and those free kicks could actually give him the impetus to become Emery’s savior.
Former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with 3 kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years.
Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.