Have you noticed?
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
I think it’s pretty normal for football fans to notice the following; great performances, poor performances, glaring opportunities, eye catching individualism, big effort, lack of effort and man of the match candidates. There are more but that’s enough.
What I’m starting to notice with the current Arsenal team can often get lost in the headlines, as they aren’t headlines.
These improvements matter much to Arsenal fans though as we’d be quick to notice if they were absent.
Not so long ago we had a strong 11, maybe 14. This was even evident as recently as the FA Cup loss last week. The team picked looked second best to Southampton but had enough talent to match them and even win. So, what happened? My best guess is that there was a serious conversation. The transfer window was coming to a close and the players could see that the club were being ruthless with all the departures. I’d imagine that the players were told that the club is willing to lose more of them and that the players believed it. Nothing speaks louder than action, right? All of a sudden we see Xhaka passing the ball forwards with two touches. Luiz deciding to be the very good, focused version. Soares showing us that the club may not need a back up left back and playing so well that he is now a better option for first choice right back. Pepe playing his most consistent game I can remember for Arsenal. We even saw Willian temporarily forget his passive self and beat his full back a few times.
Maybe it wasn’t a conversation. perhaps it is just the natural reaction to a near fully fit squad and the competition that this generates. Either way, I bet if we played that FA Cup game again, it might be very different.
Have you noticed how you feel when the ball goes near our back four? I feel like I did on that day when Holding pocketed Costa. I feel like ‘we’ve got it.’ I don’t feel nervous. That’s a big shift because for the majority of the last 15 years or so Arsenal have not made me feel that way. We look so well coached as a defensive unit now. We don’t let each other down and when we do we get subbed at half time because this is important. We have the best defensive record in 2021, many clean sheets and have also conceded the grand total of zero goals this season from ‘errors.’ Now that is a huge shift from the BlunderTown we all remember. Much to Arteta’s huge credit, it is his biggest contribution so far and it was #1 on the list when he arrived. He’s also doing it without the optimal pieces.
I’ve also noticed that the general attitude is not normal for a team that has spent almost the entire season in the lower half of the table.
Quality wise we might not look like a team playing for the title but attitude-wise we do. There is a glowing seriousness about how we act on the field. I’d have expected an inconsistent pouty team whose ego’s aren’t wanting to dig themselves out of mid-table.
I think the team is primarily motivated by their belief in the Manager and the future.
They really like what they see in Arteta and he is using that as motivation to be a part of what could very well be an exciting medium term future. I think Xhaka wants a contract. I think Luiz does too. With a few more performances like yesterday, I could be convinced that Pepe would rather play for Arsenal than Bayer Leverkusen. You might be saying, ‘well of course they want a new deal.’ This isn’t how it works though. They could easily look at the contract squatters we are getting rid of and just be average and replicate. The table says we are average so they’d sort of blend in.
I think Arsenal are on the rise. It’s just the vibe that they give me, not the positive words in interviews. I rarely believe words. Show me.
Remember only a few months ago this same group made us feel like we could never successfully play 4 at the back. This change has allowed Smith Rowe and it’s changed everything.
After reading this you’d be thinking that we’d just won 3-0 but that makes this even more impressive. We didn’t but if I know I’m decent at one thing it’s writing about what’s actually happening rather than backing a personal agenda. If Arsenal were rocking, i’d say.
Arsenal are currently making me believe and it is as simple as noticing that the squad, not the team, look like they really care.
*Is Rob Holding knocking on the England door? He should be knocking at least. If Maguire is a permanent fixture then Holding should at least be wrapping on the door.
*I remember reading that Pepe’s father said that his son needed to be more serious if he wanted to fulfill his potential. Act like he cared. Yesterday was far better. Didn’t look like a playground performance. Actually, to the point where I can’t remember an obvious mistake. Big stepping stone.
*I loved HOW Partey played. We have to be very careful as fans with our direct link to their social medias. If we make them edgy they go into the shell. One of the differences that Partey gives us is risk. Not huge risk but turning and running through midfield risk. As it didn’t work for him today, it’s still the best plan for him as 8/10 it works and the advantage far outweighs yesterdays possession losses. It’s fair also to suggest that the fact he is pressed and Xhaka isn’t is a testament to his influence and part of why Xhaka has time to pass forward now.
*Has Xhaka been working on his agility? He seems to turn quicker.
*I loved how Arteta was brave enough to come out firing in the second half. The first half we were largely secure in our lower block and Utd were struggling to penetrate. Their main influencer was anonymous.
*When David Luiz is 100% focused, not 80% he is a difference maker and top class. He intercepted many balls as he was more alert.
*I love Cedric’s on ball posture. It’s lower than most so he can accelerate quicker. I see no reason whatsoever for him to not replace Bellerin. He suits Saka, Odegaard and Pepe’s game too as Bellerin prefers to drift inside which is where Saka, Pepe and Odegaard want to end up. I’m also enjoying Cedric’s intelligence in the defensive third especially how he uses his body to shield.
*Leno. Without fault. Again.
*Our ability to play out of the back is improving. The crucial pass isn’t quite connecting though. It’s the pass up the line. Pepe was getting their first but he had a full back stapled to his back with nobody square to one touch it towards. If we get that then we are off to the races.
*I wonder if our decision making in the final third was more based on the instruction to take long shots at DeGea rather than poor decision making.
*Everybody can improve, even ESR. There are a few attacks each game where he receives it with his hips closed and loses the chance to counter. Needs a ‘turn’ call and angled hips.
*Partey tenses up when he shoots. Give that man a back rub before he pulls the trigger. Surely that hi-tech man-bra-GPS device could offer this service.
*We all applauded when Martinelli sprinted back to head that cross wide and save a possible goal. I think he was subbed at half time because he was regularly switching off defensively and Rashford was alone. The clap was worthy but probably not necessary if he was already at the back post.
*With Pepe showing fluidity and confidence, I’d have loved it if Willian and he would’ve switch at some point.
*Backwards Bellerin. Come on Hector, everybody else is hitting top form and you are stuck in December.
*It was also fairly clear that to have a chance to dominate the better teams, that we still need players with more tools in their box. Pepe played his best game of the season but still wasn’t as effective as Saka. Xhaka is improving and his positive qualities are the conversation rather than his negative ones but yet we are still getting excited over skills that aren’t rare in many midfielders. I was watching Zambo Anguissa last week. He can do everything Xhaka can do plus he can play 1 touch midfield splitting balls, accelerate regularly into the final third with or without the ball, lose possession and easily recover. In short, I think it’s important to love the raised levels but be level headed to be able to see the difference.
*Is the ‘Harry Kane break your neck move’ something taught at the England training camp? Harry Maguire had a couple of tries and Lacazette could’ve been far worse off. Alongside the new concussion sub rule it’s far beyond time to protect the players from this and produce red cards. That may seem harsh but if you give yellows that won’t deter players. As with everything though, it takes the FA/PL far too long to implement anything.
*There’s a chance that Arsenal will get everything they need to get done in one transfer window for the first time in my lifetime. I don’t expect the Willian/Xhaka/Pepe/Bellerin futures to be sorted due to COVID and restrictions that clubs have, but the rest is quite impressive. We may round it off with a back up left back and if it’s Van Aanholt i’m good as long as it’s a short term deal. He started for the impressive Holland team in their last game so obviously still has much to offer. I also think that the need for a LB isn’t so much to replace Cedric, but possibly so that Cedric can replace Bellerin.
I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that we might try to get one of our long term targets on Monday. I have a suspicion that the task was to get rid of those hanging on to big contracts then the purse-strings may get loosened. It’s interesting that Brighton are signing a new DM called Moises Caicedo. Surely, it would be nuts for them to sell us Yves Bissouma when they are in relegation trouble, right? Probably won’t happen but it would be a very shrewd tactic. Keep it all quiet and buy him when all his other suitors think they can wait until June. If the money is there, it’s the tactic I’d use.
*Whoever we do sign in the future I sure hope the club has learnt the lessons of previous. If we get a 22 year old (let’s say we sign Odegaard in the Summer) and it doesn’t work out then we can still plead ‘potential’ and at least get our money back on a 24 year old. Another name that comes to mind along these lines is Gabriel Jesus. I don’t think he will ever be trusted to be first choice at City and will at some stage want that. There is the Arteta link and he is only 23 years old. If the fee wasn’t ridiculous, this would be a good decision.
*I hope that somebody tells Bruno Fernandes that if he wants to win individual awards (which he will have a chance of winning), that he needs to stop the unnecessaries. I can freely admit that he is a difference maker but his whining and regular cheating is rubbing many the wrong way. Maybe Lewis Dunk will just smash him one day and that might teach him. Interestingly, he has a terrible record against the Big 6. In the last 22.5 hours of football vs the Big Six he has 1 open play goal contribution.
*Hoping Matty Ryan recovers soon as that was a good signing.
Arsenal are starting to peak at just the right time. Many players at or very near to their personal ceiling. Can we have our first every ‘Fantastic February?’
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.