A Window to the Future
Saturday at 5pm I sat down to make a coaching plan based on what I’d just seen. My son’s team had just been beaten 4-1 and I’d been asked to guest coach a session this Thursday.
When deciding what to teach I always try to analyze what the root of the issue was. The little 10 year olds were playing bigger, more athletic kids and rarely played like they could. They were rattled. When a 10 yr old is rattled their technique, which is barely developed anyway, is dramatically affected as they get nervous and as the American soccer community says, ‘they play kickball.’ No thought, just kick it. I’ve decided therefore to challenge them to attempt to play under pressure. That it’s ok to lose it whilst trying to do the right thing as they are losing it anyway by just kicking it.
When watching Arsenal play Liverpool I saw many comparisons. Arsenal aren’t 10 yrs old but its all relative.
I’ve calmed down since the game ended and remind myself that Liverpool are arguably the best team in world football currently, but they just shone a neon light on our lack.
Having put this fair thought into the mix, my eyes saw that there were huge similarities in these two games i’ve watched in the last 3 days.
Liverpool start the game with thunder. Pressure, pressure, pressure aided by a high line allowing them to only have to use their press in half the field. Arsenal weren’t just rattled like many are but the most interesting by-product of pressure from minute one is that when the pressure subsides or isn’t there, the opponent doesn’t recognize this and reacts as if the pressure is still there. This is clearly the best strategy to throw at ‘current Arsenal’ as we have a lack of trust in playing through our midfield when the pressure is 50% less so what little possession we did have was going backwards. Xhaka and Elneny are often conservative. Their hips rarely opened so our defenders didn’t bother after the first 10 minutes. Kieron Tierney was most affected. His passing has often been our release but he was truly rattled. Holding and Luiz dropped back to the goal line to get some room to breathe and both struggled to get out. The neon light shone brighter on our defenders not only because our midfielders hid or went backwards but none of the front three have the strength to hold up a long ball.
So, if you are wondering why we are looking at Odsonne Edouard and Wilf Zaha, it may not be what you are thinking. They both offer numerous qualities when facing the opponents goal, but it might just be that the first quality we request of them is their body strength and determination to hold the ball up and give us a way out in games like this. Edouard threatens behind, in the air and on the ground. Zaha is one of the best in the PL at holding off defenders. Fantastic body strength.
Finally, we move on to the bleeding obvious. The midfield. There have been quite a few games prior to the end of the transfer window where Arsenal have inadvertently shone the neon light on their own issues. This was another. Ceballos actually ran on the field with the neon light himself. All it took was for him to open his hips and show some bravery. He showed the limitations of his friends even before we get to Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar.
I am happy to go on record as saying that I think both will arrive and what we saw last night will get largely fixed.
In the short term we are all different levels of upset over this result. In the long term this collection of zero points might be the best zero points we get all season as the neon light shifted from the pressure, to our inability to hold up the long ball, to our obvious deficiencies in midfield and then swung to the directors box to ask those deciding on transfers to understand the gulf in the two teams, yet the potential that Arsenal have.
I think Liverpool FC are a window to our future.
- Dani Ceballos was ticked. You could tell. He must have anticipated what our CM’s weren’t going to do and decided to make a statement. He not only showed for the ball but tried to progress it as well as making the best pass of the game.
- I liked that Xhaka was taken off. Not only does he need to be braver but he needs to gradually get used to being held accountable for below par performances. More importantly, he needs to be subbed a few times rather than go from playing 90 after 90 and then have a meltdown because he may well go from 90 to 0 if we get HA and TP. Good management.
- AMN was another that performed as if he wasn’t satisfied to replicate the fear of others. There are many examples of his bravery under pressure but it was his body language that spoke loudest. I think it’s a personality thing anyway with him. Very laid back. Unflustered. I watched his wonderfully athletic recovery run and tackle in the second half and looked forward to others being able to do this after the international break, but also I still pine for him to be given a chance in midfield too. He has all the attributes needed of a modern PL midfielder. Don’t discount that he played in this game too. After having to return to the bench recently, I was getting concerned with the transfer window about to close. Big game, big Ainsley! Again.
- Arteta is getting more decisive with his substitutions now. Good.
- I also appreciated that our whole team was cautious in making potentially silly challenges in and around our box. All of them defended intelligently and with composure which was surprising considering we lacked the same composure with the ball.
- I credit a comment I heard on the NEW GunnersTown Pub post match podcast for prompting this thought. Lacazette is far better when playing on instinct. When time is given he tends to misfire, evidenced by missing two golden chances. A great comment. As much as he disappointed in these moments, he has scored 3 in 3 which is important for him. I still wish we could upgrade, though.
- Liverpool are a window to our future in many areas. It’s the press. It’s the thunder with which they start games. It’s the number of good chances they create and it’s their spacing. Watch them off the ball. Much like City they are spaced directly between two of our players, not running to this area. moving as the ball is moving. Shifting a little left, a little right. They also sit in areas that defenders don’t want to go. Firmino in particular.
- ElNeny wasn’t covering for Luiz. David Luiz likes to try to pinch the ball. When he stepped, ElNeny should have dropped back. See first Liverpool goal.
- Holding is defending well. If he wants to stay in contention, he can’t give the ball away so often.
- Bellerin wasn’t good. The foul throws were embarrassing but he lost trust in his centre backs on a few occasions, especially during the second goal.
- Leno had a good game again, but he needs to make quicker decisions with his feet. It’s not that he telegraphs his passes but he allows the opponent to position themselves and shut down our options.
- Things that irritate me…..
1) Players that whack opponents and claim it’s ok because it’s their first foul.
2) Referees that haven’t the guts to make a tough decision in the first 10 mins because it’s the first 10 minutes. It’s like a free for all the first 10 minutes. Whack who you want because you get a free pass if you stick that forefinger in the air. Oh, and you can look at your opponent, then forearm smash/punch him because ‘you can do anything in the first 10 minutes.’ A stronger referee with guts would’ve sent off Mane.
3) Forget the utterly ridiculous new handball law. Why hasn’t anyone figured out that the whole idea of what is a penalty, is so far off what it should be? If I could change one rule in football it would be this. A penalty kick is statistically an 80% chance to score. If thats true (it is), why do we give a penalty for ANY situation that isn’t an 80% chance to score? To put it cleanly, ‘denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity.’ The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Not even close. You can be dribbling OUT of the box, be tripped and get awarded an 80% chance to score. Think about that. Taking it down the side of the box to cross…. foul….80% chance to score. One on one with the keeper, push it away from goal, kicking it out of bounds, 80% chance to score. I’d rewrite the whole thing. Unless you are being denied a clear 80% chance to score, you get a free kick in the box just like you do everywhere else on the field. Would create some really exciting opportunities for creativity but more importantly, it would represent what just happened. The current rule is akin to serving a 3 month jail term for littering. The new fabulously awful twist that IFAB introduced where any handball is a penalty kick is akin to getting 6 months in jail for only having 75c at the toll booth when it costs $1.
4) Final point….. you don’t like diving? Stop giving penalty kicks for everything and you might stop diving. Players might not have figured out what i’m ranting about but at least subconsciously they know that if you just get in that box you get multitudes of possible Christmas presents thrown at you, if you can catch them. I hope that one day somebody will look at this bigger issue. Scoring a goal is one of the best moments in all of sport. Football is the most popular of sports because unlike let’s say basketball, it’s like celebrating 1 birthday a year rather than 47. The penalty kick issue is slowly making it easier to score which will change football from being the sport of the unspoiled man to the ‘trophy for everyone’ sport.
- Arsenal may be looking at Jorginho because he is a rare breed. When choosing a DM you normally have to pick a destroyer or a play maker. He may not look robust enough but Jorginho made more tackles last season than Arsenal’s entire midfield AND he can play make too. Just a thought.
Arsenal are still on track. Not only is it ok to be exposed once in a while, sometimes it’s very helpful.
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.