The Journey and the Scoreboard
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
In a strange kind of way I was interested to see Benfica yesterday.
I’ve researched many of their players for my transfer blogs but we don’t much get to see the Portuguese league and we all know that there are frequent gems sold from this league.
After about 50 minutes my son asked me what I thought of Benfica. I’d actually forgotten that I was looking forward to seeing Darwin Nunez, Rafa Silva, Grimaldo and Luca Waldschmidt. I’d forgotten because Benfica had chased the ball for nearly an hour and I’d hardly seen these four gentlemen offer anything beyond willingness to run. Benfica are a similar quality to Everton F.C. They are a good team who have a solid squad and players that can hurt you. Certainly a team that are capable of beating Arsenal. So, if Everton is a fair comparison then I reflect that Arsenal have greatly improved.
Arsenal ran that game. Almost to the point that they did want they wanted to. Not much pressure, pick your pass. If Benfica were actually Everton and we’d been that dominant you’d be impressed.
I jumped on social media after the game and quickly jumped off. I’m fine with people disagreeing with my point of view but I suppose I saw the game differently. I see so so much to be hopeful about. We have turned into a team that consistently plays with supreme organization, defensive intensity, players playing at their athletic peak even though some aren’t very athletic, a rhythm not seen 2 months ago, a settled team that works where each is in their optimal position, a connector with the gift to create and not just one, young players playing consistently well each game, a focus and seriousness that I haven’t seen at Arsenal for 10 years and multiple players that have been resuscitated. There is more but that’s a long enough sentence.
Each game seems to bring clarity to me as to what was improved on the training pitch prior to the game. I saw a team that understood that in Europe you can’t give the ball away. A team that knows that they can’t survive this tough run of games if they have to play end to end, back and forth so we controlled possession for essentially the entire 94 minutes.
To achieve the results we think we deserve we can’t just shout at Twitter. This one in, this one out or I’m raging. The reality is that the coach has to improve the team and that long list above is the realities of our growth. He has to improve the individual players too. Has he? Well, there are at least 6 that I wanted no part of a while back that are making me doubt myself. Player improvements is without question.
I think there will be a breakthrough soon. Some luck perhaps. A day or four when we get what we deserve.
In the meantime, I wistfully pine for points for artistic impression as I think that we are not getting the credit for our stellar work.
Our journey has me increasingly optimistic. I wish the scoreboard would start to reflect the journey.
– Our rugby style kick off worked!!! Shame the scrum half wasn’t paying attention after Auba flicked the header down.
-Bellerin found the timing of his runs again. As much as his on-ball skill in the final third frustrates me, I can’t deny his ability to time his runs for split passes.
-If you think that Odegaard reminds of Ozil, I’d agree. Ozil lost his opportunities as he was reluctant to play as part of a defensive unit and couldn’t be trusted. A weak link breaks the system. Odegaard isn’t reluctant. Like Ozil he is technically secure, sees over his shoulder, can split where others fear to even look and trusts himself to repeat his creative thought. The boy is simply a difference maker.
-Auba had a hard time in front of goal but I loved his runs. I loved how he hid behind the defender, standing offside and curving his runs back onside and bending to gain momentum. This is exactly how you make runs against a high line. They couldn’t react as they couldn’t see him. Much like the journey vs scoreboard thought, I’m not worried. I’d be concerned if he wasn’t having opportunities but he’s now getting multiple per game.
-Did you spot the fast start? Second game in a row at least. I hope that this was an instruction.
-Gabriel has to be one of the best markers around. Tight enough to win the ball yet aware enough to react and win the race if it goes past him. He was very good, as was Luiz.
-Ceballos was maybe our best player yet was also the reason why we made it hard on ourselves. Won the ball many times, intercepted, kept possession admirably, twisted out of pressure and even won a few foot races. If he would take less touches and pass it one touch when he can that would perhaps solidify a spot next to Partey in the medium term.
-Cedric has really impressed me. Maybe he could play better but I struggle to ask a back up playing on the wrong side to give more than he has. His overlapping was what we’d missed in Tierney and he even provided this on multiple occasions.
-Perhaps the top of the defensive improvement charts is Arsenal’s ability to deny passing lanes. I watched Benfica attempt to do this and it was pitiful compared to us. It’s such an undervalued footballing quality to deny an opponent their optimal pass.
-I have found a super successful way to improve finishing. Granted that I’m working at a lower level but I think it translates.
Finishing is rarely about technique at this level as the vast majority of professional players have the skill. What is it then? I believe it’s mentality. Many players get over excited and try too hard. Think that power is king. We do a session where the goal is to find ‘the simplest way to score.’ If they score they get a point. They get 5 extra points if it was (in my opinion) the simplest choice. Think of Saka’s chance after the best move of the game. He tried to kick the logo off the ball when the simplest way was to slot it. If you play this game often enough with realistic pressure to replicate game nervousness, then the mentality in front of goal changes. Scoring becomes far less about effort and far more about focus on accuracy. Ask a player to finish without revealing the colour of the bottom of their boots. They take a faster, shorter swing under control. It works.
-Beyond the finishing, if I had two complaints it was repeatedly ignoring balls behind the defenders when they were 50/50 and not taking counter attacking opportunities. A 50/50 pass in the final third is actually good odds for this scenario. The counter attacking situation needs strong coaching demands. There are coaches who insist on the ball being played forwards. Backwards is an emergency, not lazy possession.
-Willian has a ‘must play in X number of games’ in his contract. He must do. Why give him 4 minutes and give his energy sucking ways the opportunity to risk a defeat?
-Great to see Tierney back. Praying for Thomas.
I hope that more Arsenal fans can celebrate our progress and not let the emotion of the score and the league table cloud what is clearly an upward trajectory.
I lost hope and didn’t regain it for about half of Wenger’s reign because problems weren’t fixed. I enjoyed many of the players and much of the attacking but he only seemed concerned with 50% of what makes a winning football team. Our biggest two problems over the last 10 years have been defensive solidity and player accountability. Both are markedly better hence why we see the players that we think we want out, upping their game.
I’m thankful for Mikel Arteta as I think he is a difference maker.