Pay attention to Arsenal
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
When love is present it is hard to be objective.
I try to be objective when writing about my team but I have to breathe after the game and wait. I wait at least 4 hours so I can divorce emotion from reality.
I hope I’m not over excited when stating the following…..
The repeated patterns that I see in Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are not just impressing me but exactly what was needed. You’d think that it would be easy to diagnose Arsenal’s failings over the best decade or so as they arrived and never left. Being the guy asked to fix them is entirely different however as in the modern game the fear of not winning overwhelms most coaches. At that point their decisions become short term only.
My first acknowledgment goes to the club for recognizing that Arsenal had huge cultural issues and especially having the patience to let Arteta fail whilst trying to fix them. The communication from the club to the manager is obviously clear as he doesn’t sway with the breeze and in the darker period, they didn’t waiver either. At no point do I or did I think that Mikel Arteta thought that his job was at risk. Again, it’s easy for us to observe what the club needed to do but they carry the pressure where we carry the worry.
On to the Manager.
Mikel Arteta has big balls.
I greatly admire that.
It wasn’t just yesterday that he made a big call pre game but he’s done it from the beginning. He started by talking often about his non-negotiables. I was impressed but a little concerned as the previous manager tried to affect culture and then changed his mind. Then he lost respect. Then he got fired. Arteta didn’t sway and pick Ozil simply because the team needed an attacking midfielder. He knew that he’d have to pander and that Ozil would’ve seen that as him winning and the other players too. Yesterday with Auba was crucial. I’ve been in a similar situation before a few times and actually wished for my top player to break the rules. This may sound cruel but as a coach you get more respect when you make the top player accountable than with anything else you do. The players are waiting and watching and they think you’ll turn a blind eye as the team needs him too much. Punishing your top player at the right time gives a clear message to the others of ‘if he did it to him, he will definitely do it to me.’ Gabriel epitomizes this accountability to me. He plays like he knows that we have other good CB options and if he is average, he’s back on the bench.
It was Myles Palmer who rightly started the ‘Colney Creche’ observation many years ago. Arsenal were never going anywhere with the lack of accountability that was at the club for years and years. All players, all humans are on alert to what the rules are and what they aren’t. There are only a few that are so self motivated that they will always give their best regardless. Mikel Arteta has brought accountability and is changing the culture. So, if it’s true that we were never going anywhere with a lack of this then it stands to reason that we have a chance of going forward if we do.
Alongside this accountability is a seriousness on the field. Again, previous Arsenal often played as if they thought that they were going to win because we were simply better. Remember? I do. Vividly. I don’t see that anymore. I see frustrating mistakes but not because we are being complacent and taking it easy, more a lack of focus. I don’t doubt that this current Arsenal will work hard. It’s important that we never forget that there are many players swimming in the pool of professional football, that are ‘good time players.’ You just saw one on the right wing yesterday wearing a white shirt and a man bun covering a large bald patch. Players that are primarily focused on money and their personal happiness. If they win, life is great. If they lose, it’s all good too. Arteta has weeded many of these players out with more to leave this summer. Due to this accountability and seriousness I don’t worry when we go a goal down against a good team. I did 5 years ago. I thought it was over.
As we have these qualities we can now play these tougher games with belief. I used to record the ‘big games’ 5 years ago and not watch live as the pain was too frequent and frankly, expected. I look forward to these games now. I anticipate that we have hope because we do. I don’t feel inferior because the players play like they feel equal.
On the field, the biggest need has been defensive structure. I’ve talked much about this recently and don’t want to press repeat so I’ll sum it up by asking you this….. Are you ever worried that we will be caught out due to our defensive shape? I don’t.
Finally, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our manager is a tactical whizz. No matter which formation we play he knows how to coach the organizational part. I’m sure you’ve noticed but there are many, many good coaches that can’t do this. They have one system and regardless of the players they have they play this way. The perfect example is the coach of the right winger with the bun and the bald patch. He has one way of playing. One. If his players can’t do it he always claims that the club aren’t financially supporting his ‘genius.’ The truth is that he can’t coach the players but just one way, so he deflects from this fact. The pundits were lazily commenting that he should’ve ‘let the dogs loose’ as they were in form. He should. He didn’t because Arteta’s tactical superiority AND his modern ideas are petrifying to the coach that has always been more afraid of losing than wanting to win.
I’m truthfully not a big fan of the modern over coached game, but the reality is that it’s here and we have a coach who can take his proverbial sub’s pinnie off and step out there, beat his chest and say, ‘well, I’m ready!’
There is a fair argument that the top 5 needs that Arsenal have had for what is now the majority of the 21st century are;
My argument is take your eyes off the league table whilst we grow. If you base your thoughts on just this, then you are missing the fact that there are a growing number of smart people who are saying, ‘Pay attention to Arsenal.’
-I have come to a conclusion recently but kept it under wraps as I wanted to observe longer.
I think that Arteta uses his squad better than most managers because he is trying to breed a true team mentality rather than a ‘them and us’ that most teams have. The situation where the players know who the best 11 are and so those that aren’t in it, give less. Again, I say that punditry is lazy in this area too and way behind the times. Pundits state that ‘it’s March and he still doesn’t know his best 11!’ Good coaches don’t have a best 11, they have a squad where the gap is very close.
The second conclusion that I’ve realized is that I think Arteta knows he can win by out coaching. One way he is doing this is by causing opponents pre-match preparations to be exhaustive as they don’t know who he will pick and what we might do. The ultimate picture will be what City have. No superstars necessarily but 25 very good players that can all play and the level or result isn’t affected.
-We seem to be making a habit of the faster start. This is helping us win the mental battle and boosting belief.
-I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who appreciated Leno and the defenders taking no chances yesterday. They didn’t resort to long and hopeful but didn’t take risks either.
-I love it that Partey wasn’t at his best and yet he made a difference. Sign of a top player. His faded ball over the top to Saka will create many more opportunities. Delightful.
-I hope that we are practicing the movement and finishing that led to Odegaard’s goal. KT’s strength is that low firm cross/pass and so we must lean into it more. Not only is it a strength but strikers will always be marked by at least 2 defenders on crosses where as the cutback relies on potentially lazy midfielders tracking us.
-The press is being used wisely at Arsenal. Other teams like Liverpool and Southampton have run out of gas as they pressed every game. Arteta only does it sometimes and in a crowded season this is smarter.
-I know that Arteta is trying to prove a point with Willian but I see a direct comparison with him and ESR. Similar skillsets but ESR offers so much more positivity, tempo and desire.
-Without any sarcasm I can tell you that I forgot that Kane was playing. Luiz and Gabriel had to be and were very good. I think Kane was embarrassed. I think that’s what made him slam Gabriel as if he was playing ice hockey. More on him later…..
-I think there is much more to come from Odegaard. Yesterday we saw him connecting. He was excellent at being available and keeping possession. What we haven’t seen as much is his slide rule passes behind the defence. As well as he is improving I still wish for ESR as the attacking midfielder. I do wonder if Odegaard could play alongside Xhaka or Partey as what he did yesterday looked mysteriously like the work of a highly competent central midfield play maker. Just a thought. This way you could get Saka, Pepe, Odegaard and ESR in the same team.
-It’s absolutely a positive that Spurs were lame. I did notice that they are not set up to succeed in build up as they play so narrow, for fear of transition and conceding, yet have players that either don’t have the technique or confidence to play in such a compact area. I know their players are good but they play like a team who are fighting relegation but have good strikers.
-Beyond the need to focus in order to not make silly recent mistakes, I see that Arsenal need to evolve their development to the edge of the box. With both MO and ESR so capable of combinations/slot passes we need to become more dangerous in this area. It is nice however, that we are shooting from this area more.
With my team we play a game where we designate the strip from 30 yards out to the top of the box as a 1 or 2 touch zone. The concept is that gaps will appear for shots and through balls but they disappear fast. Too many touches is hurting Arsenal in this area.
-We have been quite good in the past at seeing out games in a fairly calm fashion until yesterday. I wonder if the pressure of being a man up and the headlines if we would’ve let the lead slip became too much.
-Lacazette won us the game but his lack was blinding for me. He reminds me of a veteran striker who is playing in a league that he had previous success in, but his body can’t do what his mind wants him too.
Arsenal need a killer striker.
As I mentioned in my last article, I think Arsenal may be moving on from Auba as he can only fulfill certain parts of the job but is too non-aggressive to want to take part in the other half of the job. Arsenal honestly need someone that needs far less chances to score and offers an aggression and level of movement that we don’t currently have. Someone like Harry Kane to be fair but whose name isn’t Harry. Or Kane. A version born in 1998 and with less pain killing injections.
It might be argued that Arsenal’s greatest need this summer isn’t actually a midfield rebuild but buying more goals. Spurs are actually proof of how you can be in a better situation by playing worse with only one strategy but getting away with it because your strikers are killers.
-Partey is loose and limp in aerial challenges and gets easily pushed out of the space he has taken. Strange for a big, strong athlete.
-Leno had another clean game but made a big error on that late free kick. Keepers should only ever guess on penalty kicks or one on ones. He stepped to his right just as Kane hit it to his left.
-Are Arsenal going to raise money for their rebuild by selling Martinelli?
-Is Xhaka going to get a new contract? He is playing like he has a future role but do we sell him while he has some appeal?
-I have a prediction…… I think Harry Kane may well cost England this summer.
I have only recently started showing big interest in my national team as we have so much attacking potential and a realistic chance of success. What I see happening is Kane under cutting someone (the potential neck breaker) or doing something as stupid as the blatant red card shove on Gabriel. What he won’t figure out (as I don’t think he’s smart enough to), is that Luigi Refereechini doesn’t ref in the PL where the officials are obviously told to protect him much like Shearer was too. I see the train coming and the wreck about to happen and England’s chances falling away due to the ego of Kane and the protection that he is given by the intentional decision made by the PGMOL. A hero to villain story and England will suffer the comeuppance that he should’ve gotten through multitudes of red cards in club football.
I see a strong finish coming.
Pay attention to Arsenal.
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.