Is Arteta’s desire to control out of control? Nine things we learned from the Villa debacle (and how to fix them)





Let’s start with ‘Football as Rugby.’

I have a general understanding of Rugby.

I certainly get that to make progress the rules force you to pass backwards. I’d imagine that if they let you pass forward that the players would.

Football isn’t necessarily a sport where you make progress by exclusively going forwards, but mostly.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Arsenal knew this yesterday. It’s most certainly not the first time either.

The over cautiousness in the midfield third was initially a problem as we are allowing teams drilled in organization to get organized. What happened yesterday was that over cautiousness shifted to unnecessary negativity.

Passing the ball backwards not only slowed us down and allowed them to organize, but it repeatedly killed counter attacks. It’s almost like the over cautious possession is becoming a habit that their instincts can’t break.

Football as Rugby is not only a literal thought but the backwards part is a metaphor for many things happening which confuse me.

I think that they should be the opposite.

Accountability is one of Arteta’s main achievements yet strong performances don’t seem to justify inclusion in the next match day squad. Equally those that are way below par don’t seem to be held to account, bar being subbed, when line ups are chosen.

  1. The repeated threat we caused by having 5 men in the box in midweek was left at home. Villa aren’t Molde, but they’ve been very shaky recently and we were at home and expected to take the initiative.
  2. Why Lacazette is seen as the solution. It seems like he’s been told that he’s got until January and will get a run until then. I acknowledge that he was good against Utd and scored in his first 3 games this season but the decision on whether the player in your most important position plays, should surely rest on how he makes you feel and how the other team feel. The game is drowning in stats but unless he scores almost every game he plays, I’d go with the former thought. I feel surprised when he has success and I feel darn sure the opponents aren’t spending time talking about him. Think about that.


  3. Why Willian is repeatedly allowed to pass the buck and keep his place.
  4. Why we seem to intentionally start games so over methodically. Like the coach is asking us to play keep ball whilst he figures out the game state. Football is simpler. An inferior team is only encouraged when you start with your foot on and off the brake rather than leaden footed on the accelerator.
  5. I read a tweet from Gunnerblog during the game. He was at the stadium. It was very concerning to me. He said, “Without exaggeration, Arteta is attempting to instruct his players where to play almost every pass.” As much as I love Mikel Arteta, that is short term help leading to a longer term problem. Football may be turning into a coaches sport but shortly the fans will return. If he has got his players accustomed to ‘doing what they are told,’ they may just freeze when they can’t hear him anymore. Secondly, the opportunity to play 1 touch mostly vanishes whilst waiting for the coach to direct traffic. No wonder why it was so sluggish.


  6. I don’t understand why the cry for signing a creative playmaker is louder than the cry for one of our current players to try to be that player. Willian has the skill set. Saka does too. Even Pepe could be tried. I’m not suggesting that you have to start with a connecting player necessarily but if the game is screaming for one, why not try? You could potentially find one, save £40M and spend it on a CF to finish off the team.
  7. Most teams plan for Auba on the left. They overload and so he’s left to whipping in crosses as his contribution. If the call for him at CF is not being heard because the coach doesn’t want to be told, then why not switch mid-game when it’s not working?
  8. Our attacking strategy is too closely married to our defensive structure. It is vital that you don’t run free, but the midfielders in particular look like dogs on chains. Can only go so far before they get attacked by the paranoia of ‘what if.’ I was thinking that game state would free them but it seems that even in desperation, they remain chained up. I think largely of Ceballos. That guy loves to touch the ball but it looks like when he gets to the top of the box he has to retreat under instruction and keep defensive shape. I’m sure he’d love to continue making angles and touching the ball, preferably putting it in the net. I’d take advantage of this especially when losing.
  9. I could’ve sworn that at the beginning  of the season that our attack was our strength. Isn’t it smarter to lean into your strengths? Southgate is slowly drowning the same way. Interestingy, that’s what Dean Smith has figured out after almost getting relegated. This leads me to the other part of my title…. ‘Losing to the Solution.’

Smith has realized that if he doesn’t put Grealish in a box you will get the best from him. He has also realized that if you put better players around him you get the best out of him. They play with a solid defensive structure but have creative freedom in the final third. They have every single one of their players playing in their best position and from what I could see playing to their personal strengths. Perfect example is Trezeguet. The play doesn’t go through him because he’s a better finisher than creator. Barkley and Grealish connect in the central and left zones which is their strength whilst Trezeguet looks for opportunities to put the cherry on the top.


Villa are far more effective at taking risks than we are. You’d think that their midfield two would be instructed to stay behind the ball with 4 attacking minded players ahead of them. That’s not what happens though because of John McGinn. He is a highly effective box to box midfielder who can do both sides of the game, so Smith lets him off the leash. We saw that after 55 seconds.

If I was Arteta I’d look at Aston Villa as the perfect model for a team that changed their fortunes when their coach changed his mentality. 


  • Sometimes a dramatic result like yesterday is the catalyst for necessary change. I don’t know an Arsenal fan that would love to at least try a line up with a different combination that includes Lacazette sitting out and Aubameyang at least tried at CF. I also hope that Willian is held accountable for his ‘whatever’ performances and Reiss Nelson is given a chance. We all know Pepe is inconsistent and he has certainly been given a chance. Reiss Nelson has never been given a consistent chance at Arsenal and you can’t tell me that he doesn’t have the ability to be given a similar level of faith. There was absolutely no need for Ceballos AND Xhaka on the bench. That’s pandering to seniority. If ever we needed Willock’s chaos and desire to break structure and get into dangerous positions it was at 0-1. A huge missed opportunity. I can only hope that Arteta’s honestly in his press conference to own the loss extends to evaluating his choices and making changes that are screaming at him.




  • There are plenty above ⬆️


  • I sincerely hope that the club read the thoughts of fans who have a measured opinion. I discount myself from this as that is not my suggestion. There are many others who have more experience and a keener eye than me. I will say however that in my last 10 years of coaching I learnt to lean on the opinion of others and I became a significantly better coach. For me, it was the parents of my players. Rather than getting annoyed when they gave their opinion, I ask their opinion at the beginning of the season. They know their son’s better than me and can add great value. I ask them a few questions each namely, ‘What motivates your son?’ Some would tell me that they play better angry. Many would tell me that they need encouragement to perform. Others told me that they preferred limited instruction as they get overwhelmed. Since learning this I split the boys into groups when the team talk becomes important. No more generic rants that only apply to a few.

I think there is a direct correlation to listening to fans. 

Some just rant, many flip flop based on the week but all love the club. They pour much of their thought and energy into Arsenal and again there are a large handful that have elite advice.

I wish the crowd was there yesterday. I fear that Arteta may be in a bubble and sometimes it’s helpful to know what other people who love what you love think.


Having said all of the above, I still think Mikel Arteta is fantastic.

I’ve never in my lifetime heard so many players claim that a coach is elite let alone in the first year of his coaching career.

I also have such appreciation for him identifying our two main needs…. a culture of accountability and defensive structure.

It would be highly arrogant to think I know better than he does as he sees so much more than I see. I do however hope beyond hope that the coach I love isn’t a stubborn man because this is something that I don’t know.

With his level of talent he could transform our season simply by considering a different viewpoint in the next two weeks.

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4 Responses to Is Arteta’s desire to control out of control? Nine things we learned from the Villa debacle (and how to fix them)

  1. Olatunde Olu November 9, 2020 at 8:35 am #

    This is an excellent article. In as much as we should have faith in our manager, I don’t think he has earned believing that ‘Arteta knows best’ yet. He needs to be accountable for every decision he makes. To be pandering to seniority at the expense of our more in form youngsters needs to be questioned. Why Willian is getting played beats me. I think we need fans back in the stadium asap. Let’s keep Arteta on his toes

  2. Francis Redheart November 9, 2020 at 9:35 am #


    Nice post as usual.

    I am very angry and disappointed in the team at the moment. We have lost 1/2 of our 8 league matches at this point. We must wait for things to happen before we act. We have scored only 9 goals in 8 matches. We won’t act until we have conceded or seize initiative. We have successfully become a mid table team. We are playing Villa at home and we are playing 3 at the back unless we see them as a bigger team now. Same players play regardless of how others played in the midweek.

    We would not make Europa league this season and we are now a poorer team. Meanwhile, who is that player that can create chances for us consistently? He can’t make the team because he’s not registered. We are now a certified joke with too much emphasis on defence and Villa still scored when we had 10 players in the box.

  3. Ronald November 9, 2020 at 3:02 pm #

    Hi Mike.

    Last night was very very disappointing. I think for me, one thing I loved about Wenger, though not perfect, he could trust his team enough to let them “feel the game”. I remember very well how I would predict when we’d score i.e between 20th to 30th minutes in the first half. It would always happen after “our team settled well”. I never get this feeling with our team and I think it is what’s getting the fans all riled up. But I honestly believe that Mikel will correct these failings one way or another. Let’s just hope it will happen sooner rather than later because the sight of Aubameyang crossing to Lacazette who is ALWAYS marked is very wrong on all levels and it is making us very easy to defend against. Bar the liverpool game when he went through on goal twice, I don’t think I have seen lacazette make such runs. I decided to check how watkins was moving/passing/holding up play after the break and damn!!! East and West right there. Is Lacazette that bad really? because even when you pass him the ball more often than not he is under so much pressure from a defender that he can’t be productive. Other times the ball ends up hitting his shin or he takes a heavy touch and boom, the ball is gone. Anyway I have poured my disappointment even if it is just one paragraph. Only way now is up right?

  4. allezkev November 10, 2020 at 2:01 am #

    And so the education continues, what is it, 41 games learning on the job and still despite these setbacks I’m excited by what’s to come under Arteta’s tutelage.

    I don’t want to sound like a stuck record (remember them?) but it’s finishing again fellas, a brilliant cross by Tierney and old 50p forehead missed a sitter than meant that after all our average play we could have still gone in 1-1 at half time and then the game is perhaps a different animal…

    I was also frustrated by the lack of imagination shown with the substitutes, surely Willock had earned a seat on the bench? The decision to omit him was inexplicable.

    Great point about the opposition and how they view us because I’m sure that the prospect of facing Lacazette doesn’t give too many defenders sleepless nights, but put Aubameyang through the middle with Saka on the wing and see them take notice. Tierney back at left wing back is a move I’d like to see as it frees up Bukayo as we surely have enough centre backs to cope now?!

    As far as Willian is concerned if he isn’t performing then get him out of the starting XI before it starts to tarnish Arteta himself and yes, when Nelson is fit he has to come into consideration because he cannot be any less effective than the Brazilian or Pepe for that matter.

    Still lots to play for and the cups are really this teams forte so Onwards and Upwards.

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