Not what you want, but what we need
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
Yesterday I was reminded about two players at Arsenal that I’d somewhat forgotten about.
I’d fallen into joining much of Arsenal twitter and thinking that Joe Willock was only useful as a versatile runner and presser when other’s legs had fallen off. I feel a bit silly honestly as I’d forgotten two truths. Firstly, that Joe Willock is a rare and precious commodity because although he hasn’t perfected any of his traits yet, he has potential in almost every quality you credit a midfielder for.
I was reminded that Joe Willock can run with the ball and break lines. That he can time his runs into the box and turn and play forward (becoming a treat in Arsenal midfielders). He can chase and recover, compete physically as he has the perfect frame and show composure in front of goal. Also, a new edition….. a handful of ways of deceiving defenders with body feints and quick feet.
I think it’s also fair to say that he isn’t dominant in any of these areas…. yet. It is also fair therefore to remember that he is 21 years old.
Here’s the thing though. Arsenal have gone back to horseshoe football. It’s blindingly obvious to all that unless Ceballos starts fulfilling his similar rounded potential and/or Partey is trusted to receive the ball in tighter areas, that Arsenal have no choice in my mind. Willock may not be a bigger name, an international player or make us feel a little more insecure when we see the line up, but he looks like exactly what we need.
Reiss Nelson was equally impressive. I’ve been wishing on here for months that he acts in a less submissive fashion and takes the initiative. He did yesterday. A totally different player to watch. It wasn’t his end product as that was shaky. It was his swagger. He ran at the back four over and over. When it didn’t work, he did it again. His change of pace looked electric. I’d forgotten. My general impression was that if he gets a run of games, allowed to fail and not be dropped, then he could quite easily become our most effective winger. That job is up for grabs.
So, this weekend when I pick the team in my head to play Utd I’m not going to worry about price tags and names. I’m going to think about what Arsenal need. I think we all agree that we need two things more than any other….. creativity and risk.
I’d play both of them. Nelson, Pepe and Auba with Partey, Saka and Willock. That crew aren’t going to pass the buck if we go 0-1 down.
- Beyond Nelson and Willock, Pepe may not have shone in the same way but he’s never consistent 0-90. The great hope I felt was in his positioning. He played inside as much as outside and attempted many of his back post crosses, a few shots and his goal was stunning. Just get him inside or don’t play him.
- I was nervous at midday that we were going to play Gabriel and possibly, Partey. Credit to Arteta for resting them. The Utd game is significantly more important.
- Did you notice that Willian was back to his sprightly self? I don’t think that this was a coincidence. Nelson’s decision to play with purpose sparked Willian. Either way, I’m glad that Willian seemed interested. His explosiveness over 3 yards gives him the separation I wish others had.
- It was fascinating to see Balogun. His Arsenal career seems back on track. He moves like a prowling lion waiting for balls behind.
- What had Arteta done about creativity? I saw direct running with the ball, third man runs and combinations on the top corners of the box.
- Runarsson was barely involved but he was faultless in what he had to do.
- So, do we believe in corners or not? We hit near post corners for the CF to flick on. We hit the in-swinger under the keeper and then we do the short corner that leads to general play. This gives me the impression that the coaching staff have looked at stats and found out that the chances of scoring from a corner are less than just having the ball on the wing. Interesting.
- AMN looked laid back/upset again. I wonder if the plan was for him to get his wish (and mine) and play CM, but it was scuppered when Kolasinac had to play CB moving him to LB.
- Some say that Eddie can play like Lacazette and vice versa. I say that Eddie is much better and sharper in the box. We need to play to his style when he’s playing. I feel like we don’t adapt. I’d love to know what percentage of his goals are scored inside the 6 yard box.
- I’ve been thinking about what I’d do about the lack of risk and creativity. I remember when my Olympic Development team had the same issue. The most successful session I ran was a game of Defense vs Attack and the attacking team were not allowed to pass it sideways or backwards. It forced them to play with their hips open and turn. Because they couldn’t pass the problem off they had to also use creativity to retain possession. The instruction when the next game came along was to use your teammates in an emergency not as a first option. We kept this for a few games and it created a team of bolder players who at least tried to be adventurous before they passed the buck.
- I often wonder how football will change next. I was watching Atalanta vs Ajax on Tuesday. Tactical innovations galore. Double diamonds and dual wingers stood out. Gasperini (Atalanta coach) moved his left winger over to the right to play with the right winger. This left a hole on the left side which was filled by the left back. It caused many problems for Ajax in the second half as Atalanta came back from 0-2 down. Combinations galore. The biggest problem that the modern game will have to respond to is that it will have to evolve frequently as most teams are copying each other. Predictability is creeping in and opponents are capitalizing.
Before Willock and Nelson decided to jump off the page, my main thought and title was ‘Waiting for Perfection.’
We had started, yet again, by lacking creativity and were passing the buck. It seemed like we only wanted to score the perfect goal as part of a multi pass move and dribbling had been chucked in the bin.
After 30 minutes, Arsenal started to dribble and the belief returned.
I’m off now to pray that we don’t wait until the 30th minute or chuck the 2nd half away vs Utd and forget that dribbling exists.
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.