Arsenal in February
Part One: The Players
I’ve had this theory for months that Arsenal will run out of energy in February onwards, as Emery had us playing end-to-end basketball for 4 months.
As with most everything I’ve feared would happen, I’ve either dialed that back or believe the opposite now due to everything Mikel Arteta has done so far.
It prompted me to write this post now that so much has changed in just two weeks.
What will Arsenal look like in February?
Arteta has started by fixing the teams structure, but will no doubt move on to the player’s individual needs.
Leno – As the defenders are becoming increasingly more confident and organized as a unit, I’d imagine that this confidence will reflect in even more impressive performances from Leno.
I think we will see improvements in his confidence on crosses, decision making with his feet and communication. If the defensive line stays relatively high, we may see the sweeper-keeper we’ve never seen?
AMN – Got a strong feeling that he will solidify the RB spot. Just got more facets available in his game than Bellerin.
His defensive displays have improved quickly as I believe Arteta’s ‘not playing in your favoured position, is no excuse’ quote was largely aimed at AMN.
I expect to see him breaking lines from his inverted CM/RB role. Would add to right side overload or get covered by Ozil. The main untapped threat I see is the great need for Pepe to simplify his game. With penetration on the dribble from the CM position from AMN, the vertical ball between full back and LCB is now on, and a chance for Pepe/Nelson to run behind and create in a more simplistic fashion.
Really not sure what will happen to Hector Bellerin but it looks like he’s been given extra time off to recover his physicality.
Sokratis and Luiz – Now that Arteta has insisted on Luiz not retreating the defensive line, we are seeing both of these two take greater responsibility. Initiating rather than being used as an emergency call.
Luiz is now closer to the midfield to communicate which he did so admirably vs Utd.
All that Arsenal fans want to see from our CB’s are consistent performance predicated by defending based on trust not fear and the ability to exit stage left.
Just be solid.
They have little time to impress as Holding and a new signing will be elbowing their way in and the need for rotation as legs tire, will give them the opportunity.
Saka and Kolasinac – Much like AMN, Saka looks like he has decided to accept playing LB and do his best. He looks like he’s saved the club money or a loan, also.
If he continues to improve his defending, he could turn out to be one of the most feared FB’s in the league as beating players and crossing are natural to him.
Will be interesting to see if Arteta uses him at LW again?
Both Saka and Kolasinac will also offer what I see as the next most obvious improvement on the pitch… crossing and finishing.
City are always fascinating to watch as they have been innovating in this area for years. As are Liverpool, but in a different way.
City make crossing easier and significantly more effective.
Picking out a target on a cross is not easy as you often have such little time and unlike other areas of the field, your hips are not facing your target. Add to this that your options are ordinarily in a 1-3 ratio of attackers to defenders.
What City do is fire the ball on the ground as hard as they can hit it, between the GK and defensive line. It is the (non-negotiable) responsibility of the winger on the far side to get into position for a tap in. How many of Sterling’s goals are this?
The pace on the cross makes it untouchable for the defenders.
City always have someone attacking the back post (perfect for Auba) and often the centre of the goal too. This can often draw all of the defenders to the six yard box where they now can’t cover the cut back between the penalty spot and six yard box too. This takes the pressure off the crosser to find someone. He can now just hit the space and hit it hard, knowing that it’s not his responsibility to find a man in a crowd.
Added to this is that City understand the importance of doing what the defence don’t want you to do. I’ve never understood why coaches don’t understand that centre backs and keepers are hoping that you cross in the air. They are more comfortable. So unless you are highly accurate in the air, keep it on the deck.
Liverpool adopt a triangle on crosses. One running to front post, one to back, one behind for the cutback.
Both set ups are working better than anything else I’ve seen.
Kolasinac and Saka will be doing this, I feel sure.
The two issues I see will be that with AMN not overlapping as much(as he’s inverted) and Aubameyang playing more to the left side, that the ideal scenario of our LB crossing to ‘Auba the king of the back post’ is not as possible due to them both being on the same side of the field.
The other issue is the need for Lacazette to vastly improve his movement (see Lacazette).
For what it’s worth, my team score more goals off crosses than any other way. It infuriates other teams (love it) but is totally legal.
I play my two fastest and direct players on the wings. Tell them to go outside the full back then cut in. As soon as they are in the box they cut directly in front of the chasing defender and slow down. The don’t dive but are routinely bowled over. Penalty. 😂. Repeat.
Someone tag Mikel 💪🏼
Torreira – He just needs to stay consistent. Arguably the most impressive player so far under Arteta. My greater interest is who will rotate at DM? Torreira is the only player in our squad with this profile. I won’t be surprised if we find a rotational midfielder in January who can destroy like he can.
Arsenal need a different kind of profile in midfield anyway. An athletic, agile, mobile, fast destroyer.
The player that my mind goes to first is Kalvin Phillips of Leeds.
I’ve not seen a better English DM. He can do both sides of the ball much like Fernandinho/Casemiro. A converted CM who can pass as well as destroy.
You may have just seen him or about to see him.
Guendouzi – Does the coaching staff have the desire and willing to coach positioning to Matteo Guendouzi if (as being reported) he has not fully bought in?
I’ve been reticent for a while to suggest this but if Arsenal need funds to reinvest then I’d imagine they could get 40-50M for him.
As impressive as he’s been for his age, he can be seen as a jack of all trades and master of none. That may be harsh as he’s so young and should continue improving but right now he’s not playing because the team is focused on structure and he is the least structural player we have. A free spirit who was allowed to play like ‘an elite 10’ as a CM by Emery.
Talking of this, I have wondered if his energetic style would be better served as an option as the Attacking Mid? He has had success running with the ball into the box too.
Either way, he will have to buy in. If he doesn’t, that ‘ruthless’ comment that we heard on Day 1 may well have been aimed at the golden child of Arsenal, Matteo Guendouzi.
Would be a shame, but I’d understand.
Ceballos and Willock – One or both of these two is about to catch our eye again.
Both have seen the heights of popularity at Arsenal and probably before either deserved it. As we were in a rough patch the fanbase latched on to their new and eye catching styles and probably overrated them too quickly.
The thing is though, both have very high ceilings.
Ceballos is in a hurry. If he wants to stay at Arsenal he is going to have to change. He’s only got four months before it’s decision time and I doubt we will spend £30M + on a player who is not the profile needed.
If you rewind though, Dani Ceballos has some of what we need.
I’ve seen him in two U-21 championships and I’ve seen him dominate. Not just as a pirouetting possession monster either. He can be the deep lying playmaker that we need or the penetrative, between the lines option as he’s a small spaces player.
If he doesn’t play for Arsenal next season I think it’s largely on him as I’d imagine that Arteta will have asked him to not only change his game but asked a guy who is perfectly capable of adapting as his skill set is already in place. Don’t be stubborn, Dani!
Willock’s future success will be based on coaching and playing to his strengths.
If the Ozil experiment continues then I see Willock as a rotational pressing 10 option.
I firmly believe that he is a box to box 8, however.
This isn’t likely to happen yet, but if you wanted to build your team around Joe Willock, you could see a different animal. A modern day athletic, agile, quick, line breaking midfielder with the unique quality of timing of runs into goal scoring positions.
Xhaka – Granit Xhaka is the most obvious reflection of the immediate impact that Mikel Arteta has made at Arsenal.
Adamant that he was leaving, yet now fully trusted and committed on the field to the point where the fans now see great value in a player that they’d told to bleepity-bleep four weeks ago.
Xhaka’s lower athletic ceiling may lead to an agreement with the club to let him go in June but it looks like we are seeing a consistent version of a hard working leader right now. Kudos also to Arteta that he has (as with others) put them in a position of strength. With AMN tucking into midfield this not only shifts Torreira to the middle so he can defend both sides of the field, but doesn’t leave Xhaka on a ‘Guendouzi-less island’ that Emery left him on where he had to cover a rich man’s acreage rather than a compact British front garden.
Ozil – I’m reticent to believe in Mesut Ozil again as I’ve done it numerous times already.
I just don’t know what is the level expected of him off the ball by the coach.
If he drops 10%, gets subbed, how does he react?
Right now, like many others, he’s been put in a position of strength.
My favourite Ozil moment of the season came at the end of the Utd game. He didn’t slow down the transition by turning in a cruise ship sized circle, but opened his hips, head up and bent an immaculate ball around the retreating Utd CB with the outside of his foot.
Such confidence not seen in years that I’ve got a feeling will lead to the Ozil of 2015-16 where he has assisting and hash tagging to his hearts content.
He may even start shooting.
Whoa!! Slow down, Mike!
Martinelli – I’m itching to see Martinelli play under Arteta. He won’t feel like he’s alone finally. Been doing the one man press for 4 months and now it’s structured.
The main excitement in seeing him is where he will play. Many of us see him as a CF. Will Arteta see him as a long term replacement for PEA or AL or more likely as an inside forward.
The perfect option to our main forwards who have run their legs off these last two weeks. Most teams don’t have this level of back up. Advantage Arsenal.
Nelson and Pepe – Both look on the cusp of exploding. Can both do this though? Perhaps the upturn in form of both has put them in this position. Now it comes down to who is following team structure coupled with creating and finishing.
Both can dribble like the ball is tied to their laces but neither is as effective as they could be.
Give me 30 mins at Colney with two players and I’d choose Pepe and Lacazette.
Would love to show Pepe when to run behind off the ball and for…
Lacazette – …to make two runs in the box so he becomes significantly harder to mark.
I’ve got a feeling that this and other ideas are coming his way.
We may see Lacazette take a break and either rest or have an operation to fix whatever is affecting his balance. Seems to have lost his composure and balance when running at speed. Not 100%.
Aubameyang – not sure we will see much that is different from Auba as I think we’ve seen his big improvement already…. work ethic.
I do think that February will see some spankings and more goals for Auba as the New Arsenal starts fully kicking in.
I wondering if we will also see a Martinelli and Aubameyang combo as Lacazette rests?
Others – one on more of ESR/Bola/Burton/John-Jules/Nketiah could have a ‘Martinelli- type’ impact this back end of the season.
It may come very soon as the FA Cup offers these players the chance to impress.
In short, I think we will see Arsenal go on a run up the league.
I think we will see individuals start to bloom as the coaching staff moves from coaching the team to coaching individuals and situations.
I think the list of ‘greatly improved players’ will grow and if I was to have a guess I’d say that AMN and Ceballos will bloom first.
Part 2 of ‘Arsenal in February’ looks at changes for the club and the team as a whole rather than just the players.
Coming very soon….
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.