Systems vs Swagger
Positives, Needs and Hopes
One of the most frustrating parts of coaching is when you spend endless hours working on what seems like such a good idea only for it to hurt the team.
I can’t prove this but the first half against Newcastle looked like a plan shut down.
In my last PNH blog, I made mention of Arteta’s passing patterns giving us direction to our attacks but making us too robotic as the players were taking his directions too literally.
Yesterday’s game offered a clear example of when pre planned patterns don’t work and when you need your players to improvise.
In the first half our players looked like they had been told to keep switching the point of attack until they found an overload. Newcastle defended often with 7-8 players in their back line with a comfortable 2v1 or 2v2 on each wing which led to Arsenal never having numerical superiority.
The second half changed as the tempo rose but particularly as the players decided to play with movement and swagger.
This stark contrast was clearly seen on Pepe’s goal.
After picking up the ball out wide, you saw Saka for a brief second make the decision to go 1v2 rather than drop it backwards.
If this was the first half then he would’ve passed the buck as seemed everyone’s pattern.
The truth of the debate between planning and improvisation lies in the intelligence of your players and the body language and response of your coach.
There has to be a balance between playing what you see and following directions. More importantly, the coach can’t be an angry man who dictates every move and publicly criticizes choices.
Without knowing how Arteta frames his communication to the players it’s hard to know why we played in such a belligerent way but my hope is that Arteta saw the result of a balance between ‘advice’ and ‘spontaneity.’
For Arsenal to be successful we need a system but we also need a large dose of swagger.
* I didn’t know that I’d forgotten how to beam after a game. I felt almost as happy as Alex Lacazette!
* What triggers Mesut Ozil? A mystery, right?
How frustrating must he be to coach as he clearly has the ability to be a difference maker but is very much a mood player.
At times he was different level.
Perhaps his performance and goal will remind him what being in the right mood can do to Arsenal.
If he does that regularly (we’ve been here before) he justifies us playing an Attacking Midfielder. If not, and we choose to persist with Xhaka then a 4-3-3 with an athlete is the way forward.
Or Jack Grealish.
* A few weeks ago I had this thought and I stick by it…. I’d take Saka to the Euros.
Chilwell may be first choice but if you are wanting a goal then Saka offers significantly more as a LB or LWB than Chilwell or any of the other options.
Can you remember the last game where Saka didn’t make a difference?
* If Dani Ceballos had just some pace and a little more physicality then he’d be an elite player. I’m trying to be real and remember that it’s rare to find a midfielder with all the needed qualities like Patrick Vieira had, but when in possession Ceballos is a gem.
The weight of his passing is key, he has started to penetrate rather than recycle and took to a new position with maturity.
In a sea of players making the local pass in the first half, Ceballos skips the unnecessary first option and progresses the ball two layers.
I wonder what his performance will do to the absent Guendouzi?
* After debating on PNH for months about what Pepe’s issue is, I think I’ve come to a final conclusion.
I think Pepe is either a 10 or needs to be let off his right wing leash to wander.
The first half exaggerated the need for someone to take the initiative and he occasionally tried but was either too deep, too wide or had two players on him.
The timing of this discovery is not ideal as Ozil had his best game of the season, but I think it’s a very interesting option.
He may be closed down in that tighter area but wouldn’t have two players on him at a time. He can wriggle out of tight spaces when it’s one player at a time and he’d get you multiple dangerous free kicks per game. One of his greatest strengths is his shooting as he understands the need for accuracy over power but only finds himself in shooting positions on the rare occasion.
He proved today that he has the eye and the composure to find players in tight areas too, but again he’s rarely in those spaces.
Alongside all of this I don’t think he understands the off the ball movement needed to play wide as I’ve harped on all season.
I see a second season player. Like Henry, like Bernardo, like Salah, like Adama Traore. I see an explosion of opportunity with Pepe.
I also saw a winger who had a total understanding of how to create havoc on the other team that we should look closely at. Allan Saint-Maximin.
He was a one man whirlwind of problems and ironically Pepe was the player that stopped him most frequently.
* Mustafi was again very good. Both Mustafi and Luiz are Mikel Arteta’s greatest success story on the field to date. There were two openings that would’ve lead to clear cut chances for NUFC, but Mustafi anticipated where the cutbacks were going.
* Arteta ultimately had a great day.
His use of the full width of the field opened up a very large block of defensive players and at least gave our players opportunities to create.
His half time advice may have changed the course of our season.
* Xhaka was a mixed bag.
Understanding that he’s not got pace I have to note though that his frequent decision to attempt to stop a penetrating midfield in the middle third whilst his feet are planted and he is being attacked at pace either leads to an instant yellow card or a miracle ‘I’m just going to give this a shot’ tackle.
Either way, it’s not intelligent.
Xhaka was on two occasions the closest player to an accelerating Saint-Maximin, but couldn’t foul him in midfield because he’d already got a yellow.
* Arsenal have the potential to put out one of the fastest, most dynamic forward lines in Europe yet don’t counter attack vertically.
Leno often distributed well but someone would inevitably pass it sideways or backwards (Bellerin), killing the momentum.
* Stating the bleeding obvious but the next step to gain consistency and a winning run is to play two good halves of football.
* I’m hoping that Lacazette’s goal is the boost he needs to return to form.
Was very interested that Aubameyang wasn’t CF and Martinelli LF, but Arteta may be seeing what Nketiah has got in the long term in the hope that he can save us from spending £40M+ this summer.
Perhaps the thought is that if you aren’t going to try Eddie vs Newcastle at home, when will you try him?
* Arsenal may well be looking to save themselves money at CB too.
If Mari works out, I believe we pay £5M more to secure him. Sell Sokratis and Holding to get Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille?
* It proved unimportant but Aubameyang should’ve finished the move when Ozil was called offside.
Ozil was onside and so the goal would’ve stood.
* Hoping AMN sees game time soon.
I’m a little baffled how he was becoming a difference maker at RB and inverted RB and was then left out of the squad and hasn’t returned.
Attitude issue, perhaps?
Same with Guendouzi?
We just got a glimpse of how good we could be.
We had a handful of players who were starting to fire.
As you will find out on Wednesday in my next ‘Heads Up’ blog on Olympiakos, they are better than we think.
The first two Greek fans I spoke to said that this is the best Olympiakos team they’ve had in their lifetime.
But we are smiling today, and dare we say it, a little confident now.
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.