January 2 December 0
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
I kid you not, I wrote that headline on my notepad before the game.
I looked at the line up and wasn’t entirely disappointed as the key players needed to be rested, but I saw Willian and some of his buddies and predicted that the ‘December crew’ would disappoint. That the outcome would be decided by those that have excelled in January. And so it was.
Apart from the unnecessary extra 30 minutes in the legs of players like Tierney, the game was almost perfect. Not in general team performance, far from it.
It was an advertisement for truth.
I was getting a little concerned going into the game, wanting and knowing that we were going to rotate. My fear was that we would see green shoots long enough from players like Willian and Pepe that would convince Arteta that he needed to prefer them to ESR and Saka. That we’d see Saka in yet another position as we welcome one of the December boys back and that their ‘experience’ would edge out ESR in future games. What ensued was that Willian was Willian and Pepe was Pepe. The former offering the motivation of a one legged sloth and the latter with the in-game consistency of whatever animal struggles with consistency.
When Arteta picks his team for Palace it’s bleeding obvious who does and doesn’t need to play in those areas and as much as I’d like for all our players to be brilliant at all times, I’m still scarred by our managers stubbornness in December to pick them when they were deeply undeserving.
There is also the discovery that will impact our transfer strategy. If trying Willian as the ‘experienced’ option to rotate at attacking midfield was a test, he failed it. He might show glimpses to make you believe, but can we trust someone who looks disinterested? Nice try, but we need someone else.
Yesterday gave me two emotions. I was getting depressed that we were still the December team. Then I was relieved when I remembered that we have at least an 11 that shook off December and are living in the happiness of January. It somewhat feels like we have two groups of players. That will need to change.
- The second goal didn’t matter much but to Auba it did. It was great to see the smile back on his face and with Martinelli likely out, we need that smile. It was also good that it was a goal scored from a central space so he is reminded that he can still score from the striker position.
- There are many differences between ESR and Willian. The biggest difference is movement off the ball. Willian passes and stops. ESR passes and moves. Obviously, the difference is massive as Willian has offered almost nothing in the way of end product and ESR has been involved in two of the best goals this season in the last two games, as he’s willing to move. It’s actually insane that this is even a discussion as moving after you pass should be applauded as often as you get a clap for brushing your teeth.
- David Luiz looks like he’s unsatisfied with being a squad player. He wasn’t great yesterday but he was very focused and certainly precise with his passing. That was important for him personally as this is the only quality that Holding can’t replicate.
- I was in conversation with Dave Seager mid game about why I thought that AMN should’ve played instead of Tierney. I’m fearful that Tierney may break. Dave made a salient point albeit in a cheeky tone that we couldn’t as Tierney was our most creative player. Statistically and through the eye test, he was right. Tierney created 6 big chances which is quite something for a left back. What Tierney has added to his game is the ability to toy with a defender. Stop, slow him down, speed up. His speed comes from a quick start more than raw speed. I particularly appreciate this as I’ve been bothered for too many years that Bellerin and Walcott could’ve practiced this too but seem satisfied with not using their God given speed to its optimum effect.
- Leno won us the Cup tie as much as Smith Rowe did. Impressive focus in a lazy afternoon for him.
- Mari might be hard to dislodge. Whether he is or isn’t I really hope that he retains his place when Gabriel is fully fit as this will be fair for both. He brings a sense of calm and authority like Mertesacker used to. Unruffled. Just wish he had pace. Bet he does too. Here’s another thought. Our best back fours ever had two right footed CB’s. Adams and Bould. Campbell and Toure. Why can’t Mari play with Gabriel?
- I’m sure that Arteta didn’t want to use ESR, Saka and Lacazette for 15-35 minutes much less extra time but it paid off. His substitutions are improving. Alternatively, they are obvious and you or me could’ve made them.
- Let’s hit Willian first. His main job is to beat a man, right? I think so. If that is true then look at this… 2017/18 – 4.33 attempted dribbles. 18/19 – 2.66. 19/20 – 2.98. At Arsenal…. 0.8. I’ m not so bothered by results as I am by willingness as end product can change. He’s clearly not even trying to fulfill his purpose though which is why fans have turned on him. Thanks @DomC0801 for the stats.
- It may have been just a 3rd round FA Cup tie, but for some that might be opportunity gone. ElNeny was on the up after the Utd game but he’s gone backwards as literally as his passing has. Nelson rarely gets in the squad and wasn’t officially picked yesterday. His first touch in the first minute was special followed by a jinking run and shot. Lively. That was it though. He needed to have a breakout game as his opportunities are more limited than almost all. What a shame. He is clearly a very talented footballer but Arsenal can’t wait and Arteta, due to financial reasons, has to favour Pepe and Willian. Cedric had a rare chance and was as mediocre as many thought he was. Willock looks unfit for purpose in a 2 man midfield and may leave Arsenal much like Ramsey did, never getting to play his game as a 3rd man runner in a 4-3-3. Willian may regain form but he’s running up a steep hill as I think that the fans are ok not liking him as he’s another former Chelsea player. Pepe had moments but nothing really worked. I’d rather not wait like we did with Walcott to find out that actually he is simply inconsistent and that’s what you are going to get. For almost all of this crew there aren’t many games left for them to simply be ‘given a game.’ For some of these guys, the timing was poor as we are in the middle of decision time and if offers are made, Arteta may sell/loan. Perhaps their last hope will be if we get a easy-ish 4th round tie.
- I’m not sure I’ll ever understand AMN’s minutes. If he is not a midfield option then he should be helping Tierney rest more and certainly taking Cedric’s minutes. I think his frustration will peak shortly and he will be off. What a shame as he is the perfect squad player for hybrid-Arteta, but grossly underused.
- The second string might be confirming their status but to penetrate the first 11 they need to consider moving the ball quicker and combination play. The first 11 candidates have signed up for this and currently, they are alone.
- Sometimes I wonder if PL referees are found in the I.O.N. (Institute of Naivety). If a player screams at the point of contact or even before being kicked, they are acting. We’ve all been kicked in the shins. It hurts 1-2 seconds later, not instantly. It also doesn’t make you death squeal. Smith Rowe nearly fell victim to this and candidly, if that was a yellow card, it should’ve gone to the player coming in at full speed and then faking not the guy trying to tackle from a stationary position. If there are any refs reading this…. footballers think you are naive, that’s why they do this.
- I look forward to Partey’s return as I think he feels secure in his status enough go try the long ball to Auba. Most of our midfielders ignore this option repeatedly whilst we are all saying that Auba doesn’t work through the middle. Maybe it would if he’d get some of these passes.
- Clarity was certainly given yesterday. Arsenal need another creative player. I still hold out hope for Buendia or Olise but the more I pay attention the more I think that Arsenal are trying to sell enough to raise the cash for their first choice, Marcel Sabitzer. I’ve been trying to read Arteta’s clues and he’s been talking about midfielders needing to chip in with goals. Needing an experienced creator. Sabitzer is 26 and offers whatever you want. A true Swiss Army knife player. Can create, score, run, defend, attack, pass etc… I’m convinced that Arteta wants versatile hybrid players too. Not a ridiculous price either. If he wants to switch to a 4-3-3 quicker than next season then maybe Julian Brandt makes more sense. If it’s just a short term fix then it would be hard to ignore Papu Gomez at Atalanta who has been one of the assist leaders for years in Serie A. He’s leaving too.
- I also want to mention (yet again) that arguably the most talented young player in Europe, Martin Odegaard, again got zero minutes at Real Madrid yesterday. Loan?
- With Brighton close to buying DM Moises Caicedo, my detective self wonders if we are going for Yves Bissouma. Would be perfect.
- The link with Manor Solomon is surely to replace one or more of Willian/Pepe/Nelson. He is a glue on boots dribbler, short, fast and with uncommon balance that the best dribblers have. At 21 and not expensive, another good idea. Would be cool to have our first Israeli player too.
- I hope Martinelli’s injury doesn’t affect any potential sale of Nketiah. I’d love to loan Eddie and keep him as a second half late sub but if we are offered 25-30M, we need to rebuild, and not many in the departure lounge have a price tag around their neck.
- There looks like a need at second choice GK. Dubravka wouldn’t be a bad idea as he’s lost his first team spot to Darlow, but if we can wait until summer, I have a better idea. Crystal Palace have half their squad out of contract and their keeper is good….. and free. Vicente Guaita. I like it.
- Somebody is going to be very upset on Thursday. Ceballos played his best game for Arsenal vs WBA and Xhaka is finally hitting form. If it’s Partey plus one…. hmmm. The diplomatic thing to do is to start both and introduce Partey gradually. Let’s see.
Prayers up for Martinelli. He energized many who were giving up. Whether he starts or not, he is the spark that all clubs wish they had.
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.