You can’t go back, but you can turn around
Positives, Needs and Hopes
Part way through the game I had a moment of sadness.
I’d just seen Torreira win yet another tackle, Xhaka play another fizzer between the lines and Ozil pick it up in oceans.
I should’ve been excited, but I started wallowing in regret.
‘How can this be so much better?’
‘Why didn’t we get Arteta 18 months ago. We’d be challenging for Top 4’
My funk was brief as I looked at my PN&H notebook.
My list of ‘Positives’ was significantly larger than ‘Needs.’
Haven’t seen that since August.
I hadn’t been ignoring all that was improving, but it can make you mad that we’ve chucked away a season and a half.
If you get the same temporary dark state that I did, I’d suggest not looking at the table, see the result but don’t ignore the performance, but most of all focus on the future as the list of improvements was energizing.
You can’t go back, but you can turn around.
* The first and most intelligent change that Mikel Arteta made was putting players in their best positions, with a set up that enhanced their talent rather than made them overly concerned about the opponent.
* Because of the above we got to see players able to deliver.
As I said last week, a great team is made up of individuals playing to their personal potential.
My hope was that Arteta would do this. He did.
1) Luiz’s passing was line breaking not frivolous.
2) Sokratis wasn’t asked to play out of the back. That responsibility was given to Luiz. Another good fit.
Playing to his strength which he did with a goal saving tackle and other moments of determination.
3) Saka was allowed to use the wing and was often the focus of our attack. A smart use of a talented boy.
4) AMN added pace to our midfield by playing as an inverted full back. As a true CM it played to his potential.
It also shifted Torreira to centre of a 3-man midfield, allowing him to defend both sides of the pitch. Crucial.
5) Xhaka played one of the best games I’ve seen him play. Why? He wasn’t exposed defensively and so you could see how this freed his mind. Again, the inverted RB gave us security.
He closed down quicker but his major impact was what we saw on the club videos…. opening hips and playing forward. He repeatedly broke the lines with well weighted passes.
This is his strength and he was given the framework to play it.
6) My argument over the Ozil debate has rarely been over his effort. It was over his lack of offensive effectiveness. An Ozil defence splitting pass has become a rarity. A thing left in 2015.
The sequel took too long but the set up (we played in short spaces on left side, attracted defenders and switched to Ozil in the right half space) allowed him to find the oceans of space and he frequently provided big chances.
7) Auba and Laca may not have been firing at their optimum but if you are going to play both, they both need chances provided for them for the full 90. This happened too.
8) The most obvious difference was Reiss Nelson.
Much like Lacazette, he wasn’t anywhere near his best, but his decision making was based on his best abilities for a change.
As I said last week, Reiss needed to ask himself why the coach picks him.
Whether it was Nelson or the coaching staff that told him to run at the full back and not pass the buck, at least put Nelson in repeated situations where he could mess up his cross.
In time his execution will improve. It will never improve if he doesn’t even try to play ‘his game.’
Coaching is all about decisions.
Mikel Arteta made the opposite coaching choice that Unai Emery did.
He focused on maximizing our players potential rather than denying the opponent.
Until Arsenal become a solid defensive team, this decision is simple intelligence as it illuminates our strength and not our weakness.
* That sure looked like the Lucas Torreira that started his career at Arsenal.
What a fantastic performance!
Again, I could go dark on why he hasn’t been put in his favoured position the last year and given support to do his job, but I’ll just clap.
The intelligence he showed to play as ‘close cover’ for the defender defending the ball gave him multiple opportunities to snap in, take the space and dispossess.
He won 100% of his duels, most tackles, most recoveries and most interceptions too.
His passing is crisp and incisive too.
* The general possession was much better. Better movement. No hiding. Movement from player who just passed.
The biggest difference in the passing was the incisive line breaking passes with better weight.
* Did you notice how many more players were in the box when we had the ball wide?
City overwhelmed this way too and I’d say Arteta has brought this thought.
For as much as it’s important to balance your team and be aware of possible transition, think of it this way…. the more players you send in and around the box, the more your opponent has to bring back. This stops the opponent leaving players upfield for transition. It also brings players back who aren’t good at defending.
Finally, it also splits the defenders up.
You don’t have 3 surrounding Aubameyang. They can’t afford to. Now there is one and the others have to watch all our other possibilities.
* 61% possession and 17 shots. Back to the good days.
* Keep an eye on the new 3-2-5/2-3-5 formation in possession.
* You can sometimes win games just based off your desire to work hard.
Last two games… clear difference.
* Not wanting to pick on Emery but if he was in charge at 1-1, we lose. He would’ve changed tactics out of nervousness rather than play to our strength.
* As anticipated my timeline had a sample size of idiots who only saw the result and were disappointed in Arteta.
When judging the coach, Arsenal fans need to ask themselves what his job is.
For me, that was one of the best displays of ‘coaching improvements’ I can remember in years of watching many teams.
In 3 days, Mikel Arteta and his staff made huge improvements to the team.
A coach’s job isn’t to stop the ball going in or put it in the opponent’s net. It is to limit the first and maximize opportunities in the other.
For a group that was repeatedly playing games with 0,1 or 2 shots on goal and breaking European records of shots on our goal, they did their job.
When our attack becomes more clinical not only will we win but we will thrash teams occasionally like we used to.
* When considering why players are not playing, look at the player playing in his place.
Pepe didn’t play because I’d imagine it was promoted to Reiss Nelson against Everton, that he needed to put in a far better defensive effort. He did.
If a coach doesn’t reward a player for fulfilling directions, then the player can throw their arms up and stop caring.
Good man management.
* Saka is normally far more composed when delivering crosses. Not concerned about that. Kudos to him for the timing of his runs which repeatedly put him in the situation to be the difference maker.
* I’d be worried about our lack in the final third if we had a lack of quality up front.
Patience will allow us to improve.
I’m hoping the home crowd in the next two games encourage the player who missed a cross/chance rather than groans. 60,000 groans will greatly impact the player the next time he has a chance.
If I was Arteta I’d address this with passion before our next game. I’d specifically ask the fans to fire up the energy and not suck our confidence when this happens. Huge.
* I’m unconvinced that our fanbase realize what Pepe could become but I don’t doubt that our opponents are aware of him. Always has 2+ defenders on him. I’d also suggest that the club ask Mike Riley to protect him or someone is going to break his leg.
* One coaching need moving forward.
Our defenders lack communication when their CF checks into dead space between lines. Allowed to turn too often.
* If Xhaka is leaving then his attitude will need to be closely observed.
It’s actually improved to be fair, but as he gets closer to leaving, he won’t want to get injured.
* Transfer talk is rife. I’ve been doing transfer blogs for @LeGrove the last few months. There is one on right backs and one on left backs out there, so check them out! One on strikers upcoming.
I did one on DM’s and Centre Backs. I thought about putting Koulibaly in there but thought I’d look stupid, as why would he choose Arsenal?
If we can pull off this transfer, then we potentially have found the new Sol Campbell.
He’s arguably the second-best defender in the world behind Van Dijk.
* Rabiot is the other big story.
I mentioned Rabiot on this blog last month because I see him as a) available b) a higher level than Xhaka c) needing playing time to get in the French Euro squad.
He is a similar player to Xhaka but a clear upgrade on the field.
Xhaka at his best is an offensive regista. Rarely a defensive help apart from in the air.
Rabiot can do both. A similar left foot but can run with the ball and has agility to turn and chase defensively.
Off the field, Xhaka is apparently a leader.
Rabiot is apparently egotistical and his mother (agent), a nightmare.
* My transfer tip to keep an eye on may not happen until June.
Most coaches return to their former club to get at least 1 player they coached and liked.
I think Arsenal will attempt to sign Fernandinho.
He may not catch your eye, but City fans will tell you that he has probably been their most important player over their successful period.
Much like Gilberto Silva, he fully understands how to play DM.
We need experience in midfield too.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this deal has been verbally agreed already for next season.
* I’d also be looking at Barcelona.
Apparently, they need to make €124M by June. Need to sell.
We need midfield experience and Vidal makes sense. Can play a variety of midfield roles too. Arthur is a super player and out of favour.
The DeJong signing will sooner rather than later mean the end of Sergio Busquets.
Just some interesting thoughts.
As I said earlier, I’m not going to let the results, table and the past drag me down.
Arsenal have just turned around.
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.