Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: “I see special” [Positive Needs & Hopes]


I see special

My son is 9. He knows far more about football than I did at his age.

He is currently baffled at how Arsenal are changing though.
Whenever I tell him that the improvement he is seeing is mainly because of the coach he doesn’t understand.
He doesn’t understand because he has yet to appreciate how a good leader can make such a difference.

Midway through the game he asked me if it’s true if Xhaka and Auba are leaving. I asked him why. He said, 
“they are not playing like they want to leave, Dad.”

I paused.

I thought about what he just said.

I‘ve seen many ‘manager bounces.’
I’ve seen systems change and teams go from bad to good in what seems like a short period of time.
I don’t think however, I’ve seen so many players and problems fixed in such a short time though.
I also don’t think I’ve seen a team 4 points of relegation and falling look that good either.

Here’s my point though…. I have never seen two players who apparently want out play like two hardcore fans who just won a competition. Never.


Now I fully understand that the rumours could be false. I don’t think so though, as they surely would’ve come out and denied them, right?
If the stories are to be believed then Arteta just needs to say ‘yes’ and Xhaka’s gone so he is not trying to impress anyone, right? If Xhaka has had his mind changed from the bizarre choice to leave Arsenal Football Club to go to Hertha Berlin 😳, then for me he’s seen something dramatic change.

Same with Aubameyang. He’s elite. He has nothing to prove.

I tell you what it tells me….. Mikel Arteta is special.

He has somehow persuaded them to first of all play when normally they’d make any excuse up to not get hurt. Then to put in their best physical  performances since they’ve been at Arsenal.

That’s not normal.



* Perhaps it’s equally as amazing that the player that regained possession the most (10 times) was ….. Mesut Ozil.
Definitely never seen that.

* Are we more impressed by the first half domination or second half grit?

The first makes me happy. The second makes me proud.

Without any doubt, it’s the second for me. I can’t pretend that I enjoyed it more during the game but let’s rewind our Arsenal heads to most any game where we could’ve crumbled in the last 16 years.

We would’ve crumbled right?

The style of play and possible domination would have come eventually whether with Arteta or another coach as the Arsenal fans demand ‘The Arsenal Way.’
The grit I speak of has been a distant cousin who moved to wherever is the furthest continent from where you live.


Occasionally when I forget what Arsenal is like I am reminded by my football friends that Arsenal ‘are soft’ and have been for donkeys years.
We’ve needed to be ‘hard to beat,’ since Petit and Vieira.

I always tell my team that I coach that there is never a reason to have a bad game.
If you are playing badly on the ball then play great off the ball. No excuses. If your touch is off then focus on your effort. See Alexandre Lacazette’s performance yesterday.

Many players forget that it’s a team sport and judge themselves solely on what they do when the round thing shows up.

Arsenal seem to finally be learning what it takes to be a winner.

* Two tactical changes I noticed…. firstly that Arteta recognized that due to Emery playing end to end basketball for 4 months, we needed to slightly adapt our first half performance from the Chelsea game.
In order to keep something in the second half tank, we often refused to attack when we could have.
After breaking into Utd’s half we slowed down and waited for numbers so we could rest in possession.
It can be infuriating at first as it seems like we might be missing opportunities to be more direct but it’s a necessary choice until we become fitter.
Secondly and along the same lines, we would often not turn when breaking into midfield. Luiz and Sokratis would drop deeper and we would return it to them. Again, more rest. Necessary and very smart.


* For all those screaming for Pepe, let’s appreciate that he clearly needed a kick up the rear. He’s not just been gifted the RW spot because he cost £72M more than Nelson. Reiss has been playing well and now Pepe can’t loaf.
He worked harder off the ball and was a little more direct.
For the first time in his Arsenal career I saw him sprint past the left back off the ball. Hallelujah! Do it again.

* Wonder what’s up with Bellerin?
Shouldn’t he have been back a while ago? Playing U-23? Holding too?
Either way, he doesn’t deserve to dislodge AMN who has taken big strides since Arteta.
Arteta talked two days ago about not using the ‘it’s not my position’ as an excuse. Looks like both AMN and Saka have heard him.

* If you would’ve asked me a month ago if we could sign only one player in January I would say, try for Ndidi or Partey.
That was a hard choice because we desperately needed Centre Backs too.
It’s a huge compliment to Lucas Torreira that I think most feel that we now need a back up to him, not a replacement.
The compact, short space game we are now playing suits him. He’s like a pick pocket. Not having to run 40 yards but run 5-15 yards which is his strength as he’s quick but not fast.

* Massive kudos to Kolasinac!
Played with an injection as Saka couldn’t manage another 90.
Sacrificed for his team and may be hurt again. Warrior, team mentality that others would privately have paid attention to.

* It’s become clear to me that David Luiz plays at his optimum when he respects you.
He didn’t respect Emery and so did what he wanted, retreated the entire defence and killed our team.

Either he respects Arteta as much as his interviews suggest or he is realizing that his globetrotting around Europe’s bigger clubs is over unless he listens to Arteta, as Arsenal is no doubt the best level he can play for at his age. Can’t make my mind up if I think he’s selfish or just likes to be inspired.
Either way, I saw on many occasions that he wanted to encourage and lead this team. He probably sees an opportunity to be captain if Aubameyang is leaving.

* Credit to Leno for recovering his confidence by not trying to catch balls under pressure, but punch. Smart.

* Loved this on Twitter last night.

My observation to Gilles was that it’s effortless too. He doesn’t look like he’s even trying to motivate.
Some folks just go it, right?



* I’ve given this a rest for 2 months but I’m bringing it back……
I just don’t understand how the high line when defending deep free kicks is giving enough benefit to the keeper to outweigh the fact that the attacker gets a free header. Maguire should’ve scored on 45 mins. Easy chance. Every team does it so maybe I’m a dummy, but I don’t care how many times you catch them offside or that the keeper comes to get it, but if you give an opponent two simple chances per game (on average), is it worth it?



* As you will know, I’ve used this part of the blog to debate potential transfers.
This is because this is where my ‘hope’ was placed.
It seems now that Xhaka, Luiz, AMN, Ozil, Torreira, Kolasinac and others have improved so rapidly or their identical twin brother is playing. Unreal rapid improvement.

* I’d give Aubameyang and some others 7 days off. A little winter break.
He’s the one that’s played the most and others like Lacazette, Torreira, Ozil, Luiz, AMN have played a lot in a short space of time.
I know Arteta will be itching to have training time but maybe some will benefit from not playing against Leeds and returning with a couple of days before Palace.

* I’d DEFINITELY start Nketiah against Leeds. I think he would be begging to prove a point.
Watch Kalvin Phillips when he comes to the Emirates. Best English DM for me. Would be a great Torreira back up.

* My favourite Arteta phrase is ‘non negotiable.’
I was ready to give half the first team squad a holiday and chuck the Leeds game, but I don’t think he’ll let whoever is on the field feel like they are expected to do anything but win.

To Emery’s credit he did attempt and at some time succeed in making Arsenal more competitive. Under Wenger our whole club had just chilled out.
I can just see Mikel Arteta pre-Leeds in the changing room… “ We’ve shown you at Colney what is expected from you today. I’ll be watching closely to see who is a winner.”

Walks out.

* Look out for another LeGrove blog from me tomorrow.
I spent days researching Centre Midfielders/Playmakers for the transfer window. Then I hear Xhaka is staying. Inconsiderate man.



Due to Chambers likely missing the rest of the season and Mustafi being the one who can’t be trusted, I’m sure we will buy a CB.

If it’s Upamecano or another who will have options, then the Utd game was extra important.

Players don’t seem to watch all the games like we do, but they do watch Arsenal vs Man Utd.
Upamecano and others will have seen a brand new Arsenal and not see a team 13th and falling, but a team that quite honestly looks like it’s about to rise then rise again.

I will now stop typing and run around the house quoting Mel Gibson’s Braveheart because this is how I feel and I don’t care what my wife will say.

Meanwhile my son will no doubt continue to bug me that I should’ve called this blog, ‘Arteta is better.’

P.S. Heartfelt thanks to all that followed me @mike_mmcdonald in 2019!

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5 Responses to Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: “I see special” [Positive Needs & Hopes]

  1. Lebo January 2, 2020 at 9:23 am #

    I’ve recently made it a point to watch more Leicester football and have been really impressed with Maddison. I’m curious what others think of him and whether he is Arsenal material.

  2. Johnno January 2, 2020 at 10:43 am #

    Your boy is very astute. I can’t believe any player who took to the field yesterday wants out of the club. The rest of the article was pretty much spot on as well. I’m still wary of what lies ahead this season, I think we will see some up and down results but hopefully we can continue to see an upturn in performances. We need to put some building blocks in place for next season because I think we’re going to be a seriously competitive outfit again moving forward. I was happy with arteta’s appointment and after watching his first three games in charge, I’m bloody ecstatic. It’s early days but happy times are here again. I can feel it in my bones.

  3. Andy January 2, 2020 at 12:54 pm #

    Thanks Mike. I have completely bought into Arteta based on the organisation of the side and the hard shift that the players have put in. You are right – haven’t seen that for a long, long time. It was the reason I ran out of patience with Wenger. Can’t believe the players work this hard for Arteta. Knew Torreira had it in him but Ozil? I’m not xhaka’s greatest fan and won’t be disappointed if he leaves but he never hides. I respect that. Here’s to a much more enjoyable year. it is still a work in progress but 2020 will be a good one.

  4. Omar El-kilany January 2, 2020 at 1:40 pm #

    Excellent Mke as usual, keeping doing what you’re doing it’s great.

  5. Victor Thompson January 2, 2020 at 8:20 pm #

    Very inspiring article Mike. I remember at the start of the season I felt that we were certs for third place in the Premiership. We had a bunch of outstanding youngsters coming through, some of which had wonderful ball skills and Aubamayeng and Laca had played well the previous season.

    It is a conundrum how Emery had all those players in front of him yet he had produced a team which was heading for the relegation pool, something Arsenal has never done. Remarkably, in the space of three matches, Arteta has identified a way back to the Wenger style of play, with a modern style about it. Nothing complicated- just a great talent for identifying those players who would understand his tactics and who would enjoy playing with the freedom to enjoy their talents.

    There are many different languages used by those Arsenal players and even if they aren`t fluid in English it is clear that they universally share playing “the beautiful game”. The skies are blue again!

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