When it’s the Coach: how Arteta unlocked Southampton for the W [Positive Needs & Hopes]

When it’s the Coach


Every game can be won or lost by a coach. Something they do or don’t do. Often it’s plural. Yesterday, Mikel Arteta and Ralph Hassenhuttl got to show themselves. Two games, same opponents, back to back. A real coaches game. Just played each other so we were going to see who made the best observations and implemented the necessary tactical changes.

Hassenhuttl pressed repeat. Fair enough. They won in the Cup and his strategy worked. The big problem for Hassenhuttl was that Arteta’s strength is his coaching eye.

Arteta moved Arsenal 15 yards up the pitch to press as a unit in their half. He not only pressed but counter pressed and adjusted the angle of approach of our player’s press. They frequently approached from the opponents strong side, denying them the one touch forward pass and exit route, therefore returning them to the start.


Won the game for us

This strategy had many knock on effects. Firstly, Mr Xhaka was receiving the ball with his hips facing forwards and so passed forwards setting up both Lacazette’s early miss and Pepe’s goal.

Secondly, for the first time this season it initiated a faster start to the game. When was the last time we played such a positive first half?

Thirdly, it gave us the opportunity to recover the ball and counter in 40 yards of grass rather than 80 yards. Interestingly, we have had 6 ball recoveries in the opponents half in each of the last 3 games.

Additionally, the energy created a need to pass the ball forwards. We shouldn’t have to give applause for this but we all know that this has been a major problem. We were 40 yards away from Holding and Luiz and so couldn’t so easily play what would’ve been reverse penetrative passes 😉

Finally, it gave Pepe in particular a more simplified picture. He was receiving the ball inside the box rather than giving him too much time to think.

Oh, and one more…. we’ve been risk averse. Don’t have the chance to be risk averse if you win the ball and are now 4 vs 4.

Football has changed on us. Number 10 football with your creator creating from central areas has largely vanished. One of the biggest creators in football now is pressing and turnovers.

Thankfully, we have a coach who not only gets this but seems to be ahead of the others in implementation too.


  • What’s the next step in our evolution? We are getting high levels of consistency now in the back and have had this from our keeper for well over a year. The midfield looks functional and improving. Our forward line are making positive strides every week as we have found Saka a home, found a system that works for Lacazette, found a modern quick thinking creator in ESR, got Auba back in the goals and finally saw a 90 minute performance from Pepe.

The team is organized, hard working and serious. So what next? I think we may have gotten a glimpse                 yesterday. I think we are working on game state.

The second half was as aggressive as the first half but didn’t need to be. It was professional and                         intelligent. I hope that in this learning process that we press ‘repeat’ on the ‘start fast’ button. If we are               successful at this then we control the game state.

  • With Odegaard arriving we have started to set ourselves up for bringing the best out of him. He has the X factor. The eye that costs 50M+. The boy can thread the needle whether its low, chipped or look out for his cheeky scoop too. He just needs movement. Intelligent movement. We aren’t fully there yet as Lacazette struggles inside the box but in Auba, ESR and Saka in particular we have three that understand. I was going to wait until later to talk about Martin Odegaard but I might as well continue….

I watch way too much football. This ‘way too much’ has included way too much of Odegaard’s career.                These statements aren’t all based on potential because he’s a 22 year old in the 6th year of his career.

He may have played a handful of games at the highest level with Real Madrid but most of his career to                date has been with Heerenveen, Vitesse and Sociedad. He may not have been playing at Arsenal’s level              much but it’s important to understand that he has played with extreme expectation since he toured every          big club in Europe at the age of 15.


Who knows what will be but potential-wise, Arsenal are getting one of the best young players in                World Football. His potential is as yet somewhat unfulfilled but he is up there with Mbappe,                          Haaland, Camavinga, Gravenberch, Pedri and Saka in what he could achieve. 

He sees the game early much like what we are seeing from ESR. His first touch is in preparation for a                  second touch he’s already planned, unlike Pepe. The weight of his passing is elite and even though he                does resemble 2015 Ozil, he is far more willing to dribble and shoot. His chance creation was second only          to Messi in La Liga last season and whilst playing for a much inferior team.

I see him initially rotating with Saka and ESR and if Auba is out longer, possibly playing as a LW like Pepe           did yesterday. In the long term being able to play in a 4-3-3 with ESR much like City did with KDB and                 Silva with Fernandinho behind. For Fernandinho, read Partey. Against weaker teams I could see him                     playing in a double pivot with Partey too. A modern hybrid player. Just the type our coach likes.

He won’t get the fanfare that Mesut Ozil got but my thought is that if he signs a long term contract with              Arsenal, that he will be a far more productive player. Oh, and Arsenal will gain another 50,000 new female          followers.

  • The game was somewhat make or break for Pepe and Cedric. With our new signing, Pepe was likely to slide further down the ladder unless he produced. It looks likely that we will also sign a Kolasinac replacement so Cedric needed to throw his hat in the ring.

Pepe was 90 minutes effective. Not brilliant but had a good game for a whole game. Playing him on the             left took his first touch away from traffic, rather than into the usual traffic jam. Combined with the higher           block, he was receiving opportunities much closer to goal. It simplifies his game and gives a more                       natural end product to wanting to run behind the defence too.

Cedric was very good both offensively and defensively. Looked so focused and energized. His game was           rewarded with a sublime pass to set up the third goal. Many say that you have to have a left footed left               back. It certainly can help but generally that’s not true. With a leftie you get an early cross. That’s good.             With a rightie you can switch the point of attack as well as play those highly dangerous balls swooping in           towards the back post.

  • Leno, much like Tierney and Saka, has been consistently 8/10 almost every week. Sometimes 9 or 10 to be fair. His decision to close down Ings after he danced through our defence may have saved us from a comeback as did his bravery and strong hands when Luiz decided to dummy the ball right in front of Che Adams. Nobody is running away with anything in the PL yet and so there isn’t a keeper that can have a nap. Leno comes across like many of his impressive countrymen as a very serious guy. Focused.
  • It was so encouraging that we stopped the last 15 minutes of pressure by having the fitness and willingness to press in the last 10 minutes.


  • A big compliment to Saka that Pepe had his best game of the season and yet Saka was still better. Saka offers two way dribbling, quicker choices and a right foot. Maybe this should’ve been in the ‘positives.’

Just better (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

  • Partey isn’t worrying me with his desire to beat a man in midfield. It’s actually exciting me. I just am reminded about the importance and quickness of your second touch. He easily beats them with his first touch but the athleticism of the PL means that they bite back very quickly unless you stride away with that quick second touch.
  • Luiz got away with a couple of risks today but I hope he doesn’t fall back in love with them. His competition in Mari and Gabriel is stiff so he needs to be safer. Let’s remind ourselves that coaches use stats and eyes but often pick defenders on how they make them feel.
  • Bellerin might be in trouble. Tierney isn’t so Cedric won’t play left back when Tierney is fit but Cedric might.


  • Most importantly, we all hope that Auba’s situation turns around. He has given all reading this much joy in the last two years and even kept our spirits up with his smile when things weren’t great.
  • I wasn’t in the crowd that jumped on Arteta for his rotation on Saturday. I don’t really want players like Willian playing in our very difficult next 8 games, and knowing that our ‘first team’ can’t play in them all, I decided that we had no choice but to rotate. Should we have rotated in the Cup though? Well, I side with the club here. We aren’t trying to win the Europa League because we want entry into the Champions League so we can win it. We need to get in it so we can afford better players and keep our best. What happens when Real Madrid come to Saka or Smith Rowe and can offer them a chance to win the CL. Do we show them 9th place and a couple of FA Cups? They might not leave, but it’d be tempting for them. What if they are offered 150K a week and we can’t afford this?

I also think that the ‘A+’ player that AFC Bell reliably informed us that we are trying to sign if we get CL               money, is Jack Grealish. He will have offers from both Utd and City plus others. How do we compete if               we can only afford 120K a week and away trips to Slavia Somebody? For what it’s worth I think Jack                   Grealish is interested in coming to Arsenal so let’s dangle the biggest carrot we can find at him, not a                 half eaten one.

I just think that sometimes we have to look at the possible long term ramifications as well as the                short term disappointment.


Image credit: Getty Images

  • I’m also very interested in James Ward Prowse. As good at football as Henderson and proving to be a similar leader but it’s the set plays, oh the set plays. I can’t remember watching a player for many a year that is so consistently accurate with set plays. Arsenal get about 10 per game in JWP territory. I’d be tempted to sign him just for this. That’s probably 8 decent to excellent chances to score per game.


I’m a praying man. Please join me in praying for ESR and Partey’s recovery before Saturday and for Fernandes to get 2 yellows for diving 🙂 Oh, that would be joyful!

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3 Responses to When it’s the Coach: how Arteta unlocked Southampton for the W [Positive Needs & Hopes]

  1. Roy Young January 27, 2021 at 8:03 am #

    Hardly better coaching!!!!
    More the fact that we have 11 players injured,including 3 out of 4 of our defence- the only first choice defender last night was Bednarek.
    So don’t get too carried away with this win.

    • allezkev January 27, 2021 at 9:54 am #

      Roy, maybe if your club and a few others hadn’t voted shortsightedly against the 5 subs then maybe a few more of your defenders would have been available, that and an effort not to foul so relentlessly which would then mean they aren’t suspended.

  2. Lari03 January 27, 2021 at 8:35 am #

    Excellent match report as always Mike, we used to struggle under Wenger in this 2 way games during the invincibles era. Arteta certainly knows how to set up his team differently.

    There was a poll on Twitter about the choice between winning the FA cup game or the EPL game against So’ton and I chose the EPL game because as you rightly mentioned, we should be aiming for the UCL and not at FA cups.

    I think the biggest positive was discovering the best way to play Nicolas Pepe in the premiership, make it simple and keep him effective, it augurs well for him and the team. Plus, it reduces the stress on Aubameyang and the pressure on Martinelli to carry the creative burden on the left side of our attack.

    Competence unlocks a level of confidence in your team mates of your ability, and elevates the level of belief in the team. Pepe showed competence, Arteta should build on this, rinse and repeat.

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