Trusting your ears or your eyes
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
My life has been periodically tainted by my over enthusiasm for trusting people who convince me by what they say.
I have a positive nature that gladly hasn’t been changed by my experience with people who I’ve trusted and who have later, let me down. In recent times, I’ve learnt to become more believing of actions over words.
And then Mikel Arteta came into my life.
I was a believer from Day one. A big believer. After he started to attack the need for accountability and defensive structure, I fell deeper.
Then we beat Utd, Wolves, City, Liverpool and Chelsea and my belief became so cemented that I became privately concerned as to what would happen if somebody snagged Mikel Arteta. I truly felt that we’d never find anyone better.
Then we won the Cup (with a mediocre team) and shortly thereafter we started the season with another impressive win in the Community Shield. Then the top teams started to stumble, and I started to think that with the impressive additions of Gabriel and Partey, we’d have a legitimate chance of fighting for the league.
I don’t know when Arteta transitioned from being satisfied with the defence and started working on the attacking side of our game or if he has even done so.
What I’m finding so hard to come to terms with is the stark contrast between Arteta’s ability to improve us defensively and offensively.
I feel like the former would get an A-and the latter a D.
The crazy thing is that our squad on paper is more complete offensively than defensively and most certainly was last season.
My hope is that he doesn’t believe in what I’m seeing either and feels that this group must be coached this way. That when he gets the players, he trusts that he will allow some jeopardy, some jazz.
I’ve never found a British journalist that asks the right questions. Perhaps they have better questions but are fearful that they’d never be asked to share again if they were bold enough to get to the core of the problem.
If I had the opportunity to ask Mikel Arteta a few questions I’d like to think that these would be my first two…
1)What is your ultimate idea of Arsenal on the ball?
2)How do you feel about risk and freedom of expression for your players in the final third?
At the latter stages of his playing career, Mikel Arteta was asked this by the club website…
The third question I’d ask would never get me back in the room.
3)The last thing you said in this article is the opposite of what’s happening and how the fans feel. What changed?
If he believes that coaching attacking play is best done with 90% structure and the 10% freedom we currently see, I’d want to know that now rather than spin our wheels believing that ‘better players will make this better’ as they won’t if they have all imagination and risk sucked out of them.
My conclusion is based on my experience of coaching both sides of the game. Coaching defending is primarily about organization, positioning and structure and coaching attacking is largely about trust.
You should give players some patterns and ideas but be very careful not to give them the idea that they can’t play off the cuff.
I think that Arteta thrives in coaching ‘structure’ and is trying to coach the attacking side of our game the same way as the defensive.
All the above might be an overreaction or simply too soon to be this concerned. I’d certainly be surer of myself if I rewatched our games as some do, but honestly, I just can’t. I have a happy family waiting for me to stop watching round 1 and then write about it, and frankly I’m not enjoying watching this team right now.
So, what do we do?
Every time I listen to Mikel Arteta I am impressed and reassured. Like the one person in your life that tells you, “it’ll be ok,” and you believe them.
Alternatively, do I remember my past failings in this area where I trusted someone who utterly convinced me with words but couldn’t match it with actions.
My ears love Mikel Arteta. My eyes are struggling.
This saddens me.
- Regardless of what the team is doing right or wrong, Kieran Tierney doesn’t sway with the breeze. He maximizes his potential weekly. I wish Aubameyang would do the right thing and let Tierney wear the armband. I think it would empower him vocally and bring more out of others.
- Saka is much the same. Seems to simply love playing football which removes his performance level from the rollercoaster of the score line. Sometimes I wonder if he is this good or he just looks this good because he’s playing with so many who are out of form?
- Leno’s first save was unreal. His view was blocked but he still managed to make the perfect save. Few can match his shot stopping.
- I was thrilled to see Willock start. I don’t fault him for having a patchy game as he was playing in a team that wasn’t playing close to him being given the opportunities to show his best qualities. If Leeds had Willock yesterday, we would’ve lost.
- I’m glad that Aubameyang proved that he can play with his back to goal. Sadly, these touches were almost exclusively his touch map.
- Why has Willian gone from being such a positive driving force at Chelsea to such a negative player at Arsenal? I hate to even say it, but I think it’s in the messaging. He’s become ‘safe.’
- Pepe is inconsistent. Pepe loses the ball too much. Pepe drives me nuts, blah, blah, etc, etc. My opinion is the same as yours and everyone’s. It’s so obvious. I do wonder though why he did what he did, though. As selfish minded as it was, I’d be highly frustrated to be playing second fiddle to a player who isn’t offering us anything and looks like he signed one of those mysterious ‘game time guaranteed’ contracts. If we move on from Pepe, I’ll understand as he doesn’t look like being the answer. I do however retain the opinion that he is not a winger but a two-touch shooting inside forward. A complicated player whose life could be simplified if his game was simplified.
- Excuse me if I didn’t see it right but it looked like Willock was yet again asked to play as a connector. This is his weakness. He is a third man runner. A box to box midfielder coming from deeper in a midfield three. No wonder Aubameyang had no service! Unless we play a player with ability to connect between the lines, there is little point playing Aubameyang at striker.
- Like our manager, if our set piece coach has been working mostly on defending actions, then we are in good shape with him. Only team in the PL to not concede on a set piece. Kudos. The attacking set plays both free kicks and corners (and much like our general attacking play), are simply not working and stylistically not likely to. Another A- for the defensive side and a D for the attacking side.
- I’d love to know why AMN hardly plays. Are our repeated poor performances down to the players not believing in the follow through of the non-negotiables? The fact that game day doesn’t seem to be included.AMN was shutting down the league’s best wingers yet we overplay Saka as if AMN is Kolasinac! Willock and Nelson’s reward for hugely improved performances was until yesterday, nothing. Lacazette and Willian came close to having a ‘We care, do you’ campaign started to extract them from the line up before Lacazette sat down. Something’s off.
- Dani Ceballos is playing in the world’s most athletic league and he isn’t very athletic. He doesn’t shirk responsibility though. Just needs an athletic partner to cover his lack of running power. I return to the point I made when Thomas Partey signed…. Partey will be alone in being the only one of his type. Arsenal need to sign more athletic players in midfield to be able to match the rest of the league and not have to overplay Partey.
- If I was given the responsibility of deciding over Arsenal’s transfer policy, I’d base it on a life principle I’ve learnt. Everybody has strengths but pay closer attention to the weaknesses and whether they are too glaring to ignore. Arsenal have too many players whose weaknesses are glaring. They are the ones that we can’t play alone. We need Player X to play with them or they are found naked. Liverpool are the model. They have so few players with glaring weaknesses.
You may have heard me say this before but in my 30-year coaching career the number one most important quality of a player or coach is humility.
It’s the roots for all else that can go right or wrong.
No player or coach has it all figured out. If they are humble, they listen. If they listen to the right advice, they learn. If they learn they change and progress.
Arteta has some good pieces and a few great ones. Arsenal’s short-term future in my opinion rests on the coach identifying his weaknesses and having the humility to listen to others…. and change.
Many a talented football man has suffered at the hand of his own lack of humility.
Rewinding to the beginning of this article… my ears tell me that Arteta looks inward. My eyes are yet to be convinced.
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.