Very clear, very complicated
Positives, Needs and Hopes
Some games get lost in the joy of the win or dejection of loss.
Others give such clarity as to what needs to change.
This season it seems that we’ve been part of three results…. a few wins, a few losses and a bucket load of clarity.
The clarity has shown up in the form of….
1) the obvious need for a better defensive group
2) the clear need for Torreira to play DM
3) the increasing, unwavering support for a change of coach
4) the total buy-in on Arteta, even though results haven’t matched the hope
Yesterday’s game solidified the fifth and sixth moment of clarity.
The fifth is the increasingly obvious need for more goals and more importantly, players with a goal threat.
The sixth is the team’s athletic profile.
Statistics can be helpful but I use feeling more often.
I feel surprised when Arsenal score.
I feel this way because I watch off-the-ball more than on it when we are attacking and our movement is deficient.
We have the hardest working CF in the league but he doesn’t score often, provide or pull defenders and open up spaces effectively enough to justify.
The midfield offer almost zero goal threat and the full backs (who spend much time in the final third), don’t either.
I have the feeling that Pepe will contribute consistently when he gets on a roll, but the roll may have to wait until 20/21.
Nketiah, Nelson and Saka will get them in time but there can be no pressure as that’s not helpful.
Martinelli gets in the best positions but is often let down by service or a need to compose himself.
Hard to criticize Aubameyang but he only scores certain types of goals and never helps when aggression or aerial ability are what’s needed.
The lack of needed athleticism was never more clear than watching Sheffield Utd.
Big, strong, athletic players throughout the team.
Arsenal as a team look like they were cryogenically frozen in 2010 and brought back in 19/20.
As an athletic profile, our team is not set up for modern Premier League football. Power, speed, mobility and high levels of athleticism are seen in only a few of the players.
Here is the complication though…..
Individually the vast majority of players are improving.
When a player is putting in good physical performances and/or playing to their personal potential how do you justify changing as this would be hugely dispiriting?
The clearest example is Granit Xhaka.
He might be in the best form of his Arsenal career. Playing with tactical discipline, great passing range and much better attitude yet he is re-positioned so as to hide his deficiencies and certainly doesn’t have the athletic profile of a modern PL midfielder.
Mesut Ozil was off colour against Sheffield Utd but has finally decided to offer a physical effort, yet offers no goal threat and there is a stark contrast in his assist count the last two years vs the rest of his career.
There are others but the point remains the same.
I’m sure it’s becoming evident to Mikel Arteta that he is improving the majority but their ceiling or profile is not what’s needed long term.
Perhaps that ‘ruthless’ comment on Day 1 of his reign was a glimpse of what the summer window will look like.
Players who did what he asked but are then asked to leave or become a rotational option.
* If the Kurzawa rumours are true then Saka must not be seen as a LB long term, even though his performances at LB have been highly impressive.
He was Arsenal’s best player and deserved his assist to match his quality that others were far from. He has greatly improved his crossing and understanding of how to use his body.
* I’ve a feeling that Lacazette is being played so he doesn’t ask to leave in January. I think the club wants to make the decision on him in the summer.
I have a stronger feeling that Martinelli will replace him when Auba is back (moving Auba to CF) and that Martinelli may well replace him long term too.
When Arsenal become more offensively dominant, Martinelli has to be on the field. Even though his finishing isn’t necessarily better than Lacazette’s, it’s his hunger in and around the box that is far superior.
Lacazette is clearly lacking in his movement whereas Martinelli looks like a puppy whose just been let out of his cage and told to go find his treat.
Hunger leads to hope, then goals.
* Encouragement from Pepe running behind. We are getting there slowly but he was more dangerous as he didn’t choose to stop and wait for two defenders.
I also liked the strategy to bring the ball left to switch it right to Pepe. This helped the above.
* Another top performance from Luiz, Torreira (second half) and Xhaka.
They are achieving the consistency that others search for.
* Somebody will play Arsenal and try to press Xhaka in his false LB role.
When they do Ozil will open up.
I think Arteta is hoping for this.
* Trends come and go. The trend of the last 15ish years has been that passing is king.
I think it rules on the training pitch even more than game day.
Practice starts with rondos. Moves onto a variety of possession drills and finishes with 7vs7/11vs11 with a focus on ball movement.
I think in years to come we will look back in this era and wonder why there was such a singular focus.
I’m not saying that passing and passing drills are wrong. Not at all. I just wonder how much is being done in the training pitch to improve dribbling, crossing, finding a man in a crowded box, movement in the final third in comparison.
I’m not saying I’ve got this right but from back in the days of Clichy I had wondered why Gael Clichy spent 80% of his time in the game working on passing and moving when he spends 75% of every game on the wing and unsurprisingly had 1 assist in 9 years.
Again, I’m not saying I’m right but my team spends much more time in functional training sessions. I make the choice to have my wingers work more on dribbling, crossing and finishing than passing drills.
My defenders the same. They have a huge list of qualities to practice that are significantly more important than keeping possession.
I look at the current team and how Bellerin, AMN and Kolasinac desperately need repetition on the training pitch to give them confidence in the final third. They either pass the buck or simply don’t have a solution.
They then need to join the forwards, Lacazette in particular, who have been working daily on their movement to create clear passing lanes in a crowded box and daily get some automatic to their play in the final third.
Arsenal never looked like scoring when they were in the final third vs Sheffield Utd.
They looked like they were entering a foreign zone that wasn’t a rondo grid or possession box.
* Where was the energy at the beginning of the game? Looked like we had played 3 hrs earlier.
* Pepe’s dribbling style is reactive. He waits for the defender to bite. This is fine but his torso is often leaning one way too far to re-balance himself.
This inhibits his ability to burst past players.
* There are still too many players who have the wrong body shape when receiving. They kill forward momentum.
* AMN went back to being too casual.
Often passed backwards too, when under no pressure.
I think he misunderstood a possible direction to use the CB’s often to draw them on to us, therefore opening up space for Ozil and Lacazette between the lines and Pepe to have one on ones.
* A little concerned that when SU were chasing the game that Ozil was alone but he refused to shoot and his passing was too heavy.
* I have no understanding as to why Nketiah, on his first opportunity, decided to not press and play with such little energy.
The game was set up for a hero and he was lazy.
* Did VAR rob us yet again?
Pepe looked like he initiated contact yet the defenders leg was still blocking his path either way.
The hope is that consistency will one day appear in the PL like it is seen in other leagues.
That was a pivotal moment in the game and I needed multiple replays to decide. It was very suspicious to me that VAR decided so quickly and that there was no yellow card for diving or PK either. Hmmmm?
* I think the idea to go for Kurzawa, Mertens and possibly other free/loan or cheap transfers is reflective of what will happen in the summer.
Arsenal need better first choice players and they will cost £40M+.
In order for us to get 2 or 3 of these and still improve other areas, we have to be good with these type of purchases.
If we knew that we were getting Upamecano, Grealish and Ndidi this summer we’d be ok with the others but it looks like the cheaper players may be secured first.
We may be getting clues as to who will be here next season when we are needing a winner and Guendouzi and particularly Ceballos remain on the bench.
* I hope Arsenal get a break. We have conceded the most deflected goals in the league and been denied the most points due to VAR than any other team.
Should Sheffield Utd not only have drawn at the Emirates but looked more Premier League ready than Arsenal?
It’s clear what will happen but may be complicated.
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.