Waiting for the BraveMan
POSITIVES NEEDS and HOPES
Since I started writing, I’ve always held back from being over emotional or reactionary. Even though it is arguably the essence of fandom, I feel that we miss context when we do.
My post match knee jerk reaction was one of great frustration. After doing the GunnersTown Pub Podcast, my perspective changed somewhat. As I sit down to write this I expected to have dialed back my upset. I’m still struggling.
My struggle is based on the huge frustration I felt watching Willian play, as it looked like he was set up to be the key but was instead having a vertical nap.
Willian is a player that I was very excited to acquire. His skill set is so broad and his athletic qualities belie his age. I’m certainly not writing him off but this broad skill set is the reason I can’t shake this. Arsenal desperately need a player who can connect the midfield to the forward line. Not only was he given the ‘False 9’ role, it is this central role he craves. I don’t expect for him to be great on his first outing, maybe not even particularly good, but what I do expect for any player is to not hide.
From the first minute, Arsenal’s midfield were needing an out ball. Some relief. I even paused the TV a few times to see Xhaka and Ceballos looking directly at Willian. He has the pace to run behind, but wasn’t. He has the experience to know where pockets of space are between the lines but he wasn’t there either. He was hula-hooped with either Rodri or Ruben Dias. Not good enough.
My frustration is birthed in knowing that we now have a coach who sets us up with a good game plan, appropriate for each game. He trusts his players to at least make themselves available, and then they don’t. We had other opportunities and one player can be poor and you still get a result. It just so happens that we changed our formation for Willian and he didn’t play like he was grateful for this show of trust.
Moving forward, I don’t actually feel like I know if Willian would be the creative link as an Attacking Midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or an effective False 9. I don’t know because I’ve seen him between the lines 5 times now and beside the Fulham game, I found it hard to recognize that he was even out there. I will maintain that Willian is potentially elite. I have no anti-Willian narrative I’m trying to support, just growing frustration that he keeps starting games, keeps being trusted at the expense of others, and I think he looks like he’s on the Maracana with his flip flops on.
This frustration is linked to a wider thought.
Team wide there is a growing need for bravery.
I noticed in the 88th minute that Gabriel strode through the midfield. Almost a ‘sod this’ thought. It screamed at me….. WHY NOW!!
I’m fully understanding of the need to not give the ball away. I’m understanding that you most certainly can’t do it in your own half in the modern transition game. I also see that we have greatly improved at playing out of the back and that you certainly can’t take risks there. You can however open your hips and take a look forward. You can also run past the player off the ball hoping for a penetrative one touch. You can (if you are Willian) come towards the ball, roll your marker and accelerate into the final third… play Auba in…. far corner…GOAL! I’ll keep hoping 🙂
Arsenal do have a BraveMan. He has just turned 19. I’m really not sure if the others need to be relying solely on him though.
The BraveMan however, needs to be plural.
- Man City’s number 1 route to goal is getting in the box, close to the byline and cutting it back. We cut that off with clever coaching.
- We should’ve leant into Saka more in the second half as he was the only adventurous one in the first half. As they say over here, he is a triple threat. On the dribble, with the pass, running off the ball. I’d like to think that he has a first team slot when Arteta dreams of his optimal line up.
- Gabriel was faultless. I wonder what the key is to a young, non-English speaking, new to the PL player and can we give the special juice to Saliba? Gabriel gives me great hope. I think we have a special one there.
- Xhaka was targeted to be pressed and we were smart enough to play around him initially. On the ball, he made many intelligent decisions and off the ball he was strong and savvy. All this leads to my next thought…..
- …… with the arrival of Thomas Partey I expect to see Xhaka, ElNeny, Ceballos and Willock to improve quickly. They will all see that he is a level higher. They will have no choice but to step up as competition has just risen and all of them have seen the bench recently, so no complacency.
- Our press may not have caught City out, but they are arguably the best team in World Football. It wasn’t always triggered at the right time. Normally one of your CM’s is the verbal trigger but in the second half there was a lot of wasted energy when some pressed and others didn’t. If in doubt, don’t press good teams. You become a cone.
- Dani Ceballos isn’t normally nervous but he seemed to be yesterday. Not sure why? He may have been overly concerned with not giving cheap possession away.
- Xhaka and Ceballos need to feed Auba over the top more frequently.
- I believe we have a set piece coach. It’s not working yet.
- In time let’s hope Pepe can replicate Mahrez or Salah. Such similar profiles, but one huge difference. The latter two play inside right. Closer to goal. This utilizes their most dangerous assets, dribbling, assisting and shooting far post. They have 4 times the opportunities to accomplish this list as they aren’t wide or a secondary focus. If we can put Auba central then we don’t need him to play inside left which would stop Pepe from having to offer the attacking width.
- Has David Luiz ever scored a free kick?
- As Pep moved Walker AND Cancelo to Auba’s side to counteract his pace, I would’ve loved to see Auba centrally and Willian on the left as the Willian experiment wasn’t working.
- I’m hoping that this 6 week stint of very tough games gives us the rhythm to keep playing the rest of the season with a similar focus and intensity.
We’ve just played the best two teams in the League away from home. We may have lost both, but let us not forget that clubs don’t 180 overnight.
The biggest general difference in this new Arsenal is that we are now respected and competitive.
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.