Arteta NEEDS a Risk Taker in his Midfield – Top Learning Points from lucky win over West Ham

arsenal 2-1 west ham player ratings

Players celebrate lucky win

A game of no risk



You’ve had time to breathe.

I haven’t.

I write this pretty raw after a game I did not see coming. I predicted 5-0 and actually felt pretty sure of myself. Arsenal had many layers of momentum and West Ham had the opposite of momentum, whatever that word is.

What manifested was something that I thought we’d chucked in the bin. Arsenal looked sluggish, unsure, mistake ridden and lacking in ideas.

I always feel that what is most important though, is to figure out why?

Sometimes I feel like I might have the answer and other times, it’s a guessing game. Yesterday could’ve been one of many theories but the one I’ve decide to unpack is that if I have a medium-sized concern about Arteta’s Arsenal in that we are playing what seems to be at least an 80% ‘coaches game.’

As we have a highly talented coach, I’m good with this to the largest extent. The silent whisper that I’m having a hard time ignoring is that we look a little baffled when the passing patterns and pre-game plan are being stifled. To be fair, that was by far the best West Ham performance I’ve seen in many years against Arsenal. It was well thought out (didn’t think Moyes had that in him) and very well executed at both ends. They must be gutted that they got nothing from that.

The new Arsenal excels when the coach’s ideas work. We pass it faster, look one way rather than both, trust the pattern and the results have been impressive.

I maintain however that there is a fine balance in coaching football between organizing patterns and improvisation. This was seen clearly during the game-winning goal when Ceballos ‘seemed’ to chuck the script out and just do what he saw. It was the first time in the game that he had penetrated so high off the ball and taken a risk. This may have been under instruction so it’s unfair to be sure that he improvised  – but either way it unbalanced West Ham.


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My wider point is that we are starting to become somewhat of a team of no risk. 

In some ways this is smart as the modern game is becoming more and more about organization and quick transition. Again, there has to be balance though. As much as limiting risk is good, no doubt, it can become very tricky to create much of anything worthwhile against teams that are well organized unless a few moments of unpredictability and risk are included.

My thought is illuminated when you think of how much more we produced on our left than our right. Auba wasn’t hugely productive but he never stopped taking risks. He varied his game. Sometimes out wide, sometimes came short, but often he span and took the risk that Xhaka would play him over the top. It worked on many occasions even though the end product didn’t always match. On the left also, Saka took the initiative. He was the only player who was turning between the lines and running at their defense.

On the right, Ceballos delayed passing to Willian. I saw him often look at the gap (which wasn’t huge but an option) and take an extra touch. Willian’s lane was blocked. Willian didn’t help himself as he was the opposite of Auba. Stayed between the lines and didn’t offer unpredictability with any variations of movement.


Lane blocked

If you read my blog midweek on Aouar …  then i think this problem may get solved as he seems to love taking risks in tight spaces. If we don’t then our midfielders are going to HAVE to open their hips quicker and occasionally be okay with losing possession by trying to hit a firmer pass between the lines with less touches.

The alternative introduction to this week’s post could be simpler than this though…. Arsenal learnt a valuable lesson yesterday. They won a game they didn’t deserve to and that is a good habit too!


  • Maitland-Niles has been a huge positive recently. Saka needed to impress. He did even if it was sporadic, offering drive and therefore unbalanced West Ham’s structure.
  • Will Lacazette’s goals and decent performances see him stay? When he is sharper perhaps he takes less touches in the box and shoots off two. I still think we would all see a whole different dynamic if we sold Lacazette and bought Patson Daka or more likely, Odsonne Edouard. Far more threat.


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Edouard for Lacazette?

  • I was encouraged by some of Gabriel’s forward passing. Most defenders telegraph their passes. He doesn’t.
  • Will Xhaka’s impressive longer passing game see him keep a midfield position when new signings arrive? His passing is a clear threat but his unwillingness to even attempt to turn kills so many attacks.


  • West Ham very cleverly let Xhaka and Ceballos have the ball. They were more concerned about Saka and Willian over their shoulders. We needed ball carriers in our central midfield to draw them out and create room between the lines.
  • West Ham also dealt with our set plays very well. They are a good team in the air and Soucek is a true threat. I was a little concerned at our corners as we now have a set piece coach and the multiple corners didn’t seem to lead to anything close to a chance.
  • Was the fact that Kolasinac played more about his ability to understand Tierney’s offensive role than the defensive concern. The more logical switch for me was Luiz to the middle with Gabriel on his left. It may have stifled some of our offensive game plan but asking a non-English speaking newbie to marshall the back-line when the marshall is available seemed risky.

Needs Luiz back to marshall

  • Small detail on Lacazette…. he leans too far over his first touch which unbalances his body and leads to an unnecessary second touch which in turn often leads to ‘shot opportunity gone.’
  • Gabriel is new but in both games I’ve noticed he jumps early and 3 times in the first 2 games, he has ended up heading the ball backwards. He snaps his neck too far back, also. I’m picky!
  • Another way to increase your gaps to make penetrative passes between the lines is to be successful going wide. It might be smart to start games by using the wing backs more often. This way the opponents central block will open up as they have to cover the wing back too, if their full back is occupied by our winger.
  • Not sure why our defensive line dropped off when being attacked. Against Fulham we stayed higher and successfully so. Perhaps it was Gabriel’s uncertainty with communication?
  • It seems that Leno calls for aerial balls too late hence the car crashes he initiates.
  • How often do we see defenders being beaten in the air, in and around their six yard box, because they never leave the ground. Always seemed bizarre to me. They know the attacker will jump yet they stay rooted giving the attacker a free header. Holding was very lucky as Soucek twice jumped above a static body.


  • It might be important that we all understand Willian’s body language. I believe the guy is more laid back than your average Australian. He can sometimes look disinterested and vanish. I believe that part of this enables him to remain composed and regain such a delightful touch. Some of it.
  • I have a post ready in my head. It’s about love and not falling in it. As new players arrive in the next two weeks, don’t get too attached to what we currently have. Ultimately, intense competition for places is the number one motivator for a professional athlete. No words needed. Just threaten their spot.


In time we will forget this game. The only thing that matters now is learning from whatever it was that made that too difficult.

Kudos to EllieAnn for the sneaky subtitle. Legend.

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4 Responses to Arteta NEEDS a Risk Taker in his Midfield – Top Learning Points from lucky win over West Ham

  1. Omar September 20, 2020 at 9:50 am #

    Great insight into the games Mike, I think the players have improved under Arteta but they can’t help being limited and there’s only so much you can improve in a player and I feel yesterday prove that also our midfield lasks pace, we definitely need a 6 and 8 because some of these players are just not good enough, yes sometime you have to win ugly but can only get away with for a little while.

  2. Andy September 20, 2020 at 10:20 am #

    Always enjoy your thoughts on the game. Makes a lot of sense. I think our problem was down to the loss of Tierney. He provides a lot of our automatic, running with the ball and passes out to the attack. Without him our midfield took a lot longer and chose the safe pass. If he is injured long term we have a big problem.

  3. Lari03 September 20, 2020 at 11:52 am #

    Hard to continue like this and expect progress season long. We need risk takers in the attacking mid position.

    Perhaps a lack of pace might be responsible for the caution exercised by yesterday’s marshalls, but we need a marquee player in midfield.

    It’s the missing link and you know we will be better once that happens. I can live with Elneny as long as we get Aouar. Elneny has some zip to his game even if he isn’t the best at progressing the ball.

    And we need to play 3 midfielders. Once we can settle into a good rhythm playing the 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, just one sub and we can change shape.

    It’s obvious our strength is on the wings. Auba, Pepe, Saka, Willian, adding some trickery, skill and pace through the middle.

  4. allezkev September 21, 2020 at 2:11 am #

    Thank you Mike for another good post, you know sometimes and for no particular reason the team stutters, despite all the preparations and planning it just doesn’t click and I think that’s what we saw for at least the first 15 minutes of the West Ham game, whilst the Hammers alternatively were out of the traps like Mick the Miller.
    From then on it was a struggle but we prevailed.

    Some of our passing and general play in those opening minutes were the worst I’ve seen since the restart,

    Ceballos seemed well off of the pace in the early stages, Willian was being crowded out as soon as he was in possession as was Aubameyang, Lacazette was being given a right going over by West Ham’s giant centre half and we badly missed the intelligence and vision of Tierney, also I think we initially missed Maitland Niles’ physicality and recovery speed.

    Kolasinac is clearly not good enough we simply have to move him on, young Saka took some time to warm up but was responsible for both pre assists he is such a smart player whilst Antonio gave Holding a very difficult afternoon with his speed and strength, Bellerin was ok’ish but didn’t seem to connect with Willian as well as previously, a one off hopefully. As you rightly wrote Gabriel was really good he is going to be a top top player for us and Xhaka did well, that’s my take anyway.

    We also missed the occasional long punt down the left flank by Martinez, always handy for a quick turnover and it did used to keep the opposition a bit jittery with the threat of Aubameyang’s pace, also Bernd wasn’t quite as commanding in his box as Emi and that maybe made our defence more nervous. And was it just me or did our defenders refrain from passing back to Leno to quite the same degree as they did with Martinez?

    I guess in a way these kinds of performances explain the no risk football you suggest because we’re not good enough yet to play the more open expansive football we all crave, but it will come, with upgrades in playing staff. Let’s just see where we are after the next two games, keep the faith.

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