Arsenal fans are happier after this weekend than they were after the previous and this is hardly surprising. Despite the later second half blips, the overall dominance of Leeds and the scoring of four goals, quite a rarity these days, should have us smiling.
However, many will still be scratching their heads as to how the same group can shine in the first half at Wolves, disappoint at Villa Park and then return to the fluid, attacking, team we witnessed on Sunday. Indeed, too many, as is often the case with Gooners, focus on the negatives, such as the introduction of Willian and Elneny, rather than the strong improvements, that were so evident. These fans are questioning the progress under Arteta and even suggest they cannot see his plan for the team. I am firmly not in the camp and am delighting in the progress and feel I am able to see the roadmap.
What made the first 40 minutes at Molyneux, the most exciting 40 minutes of the season, was the speed and tempo the team displayed. We know have younger players in the side, all in creative roles, who play the beautiful game this way. It is what we might have phrased as latter-day Wengerball, and it needs a certain type of player and attitude to play in that style and to pull it off consistently. Needless to say, it is how Man City play and Pep, previously assisted by our current manager, build squads, often planning well ahead to ensure a continuity to the style. Gündogan, for example, had to bide his time at the Etihad, as an understudy, and is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
Having players like Saka and Smith-Rowe, in the team together accelerated the way Arsenal were playing after Christmas. Adding Odegaard to the mix on Sunday, enhanced the speed of thought and therefore the temp of the whole team. Having all three, willing to play fast paced football, with one touch passes, flicks around corner for willing runners and give and goes, entirely elevates the team.
For this to work however, this speed of thought and deed, needs to rub off on the rest of the team. Thomas Partey is also a contributing factor here because he also looks to move the ball swiftly and Xhaka and now Ceballos have had to raise their game as well. With the Ghanaian it is as much about game intelligence, and, as with the very best players, having a picture in his head, so he already knows what he wants to do next. With Partey, an obvious trait, deployed so superbly by Wilshere at his best, is using his body shape to shield the ball, whilst allowing it to move pass him. He knows where he wants to play the pass next and sees no need to control the ball and take a touch, using the momentum of the ball, before making that pass. This simple trait, of not stopping the ball, controlling it, and then looking up for the pass, can save the key seconds that can be the difference in breaking down a tough defensive block.
As I mentioned in last week’s column, for this formation to work and for it to read its fluent potential, Arteta needed one of his two main strikers to step up to the plate. Until Sunday, Aubameyang has looked a shadow of his best self and when played centrally had no signs he wishes to drop and link up with the quick, creative players, we have mentioned, in the build-up. Lacazette has been utilised because he has shown the willingness but against Leeds, the skipper got the nod and fully justified the manager’s trust. By getting involved in the fast interchange early in the move, the striker, not surprisingly found the chances created for him to be on the end of the move increased.
Players not able to play the game with pace and precision may find themselves surplus to requirements in Arteta’s Arsenal. This does not make Willock, Maitand-Niles of even Pepe, bad footballers, as they patently are not, but it might mean they need to prove they can adapt or move to a team deploying a different style. Pepe, can excite and has played well of late, worked far harder and began to look the exciting player he undoubtedly is. However, he can take far too may touches, beat an extra unnecessary defender, and then find himself playing the pass or cross to late when the opposition defenders have all had time to adjust and find their positions.
It will be fascinating to see how this evolves, because all the best teams can operate different formation and adapt styles, but I sense, this high tempo and along with it, high press style may well be Plan A, and if so, looking at Odegaard for 4 months makes perfect sense. Try before you try to buy!
This is the unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Fan Column
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.