This time last week I was a nervous wreck, fearing the worst and hoping for the best, fearing that inside a week our season would feel like it was over and hoping that we could navigate ourselves to a couple victories, preferably victories that wouldn’t cause the sort of heart palpitations that the Benfica game provoked a few weeks ago. Thankfully it was my hopes that were realised rather than my fears, not only was victory secured, the games were managed and controlled and barring a Dani Ceballos mistake, that we’re all too used to seeing this season, and a rather leggy last ten minutes or so on Sunday, there weren’t many moments in either game that had us covering our eyes in fear or clenching our fists in frustration
As well as producing far more comfortable viewing for arsenal fans around the globe, which of course, can’t be belittled, the way Arteta’s men controlled both of these games excluding that difficult ten minutes that I’ll unfortunately touch on, holds positives in both the short and long-term success of the club.
In the short term, we have ten Premier League games to play and hopefully we also have six Europa League games left too, if we reach the final in Gdansk. That’s sixteen games to play before the season comes to a close on the 26th of May. Playing sixteen matches in just over two months, means that should the Europa League final be reached, Arsenal would have just two weeks with only one game in the schedule, the rest would be played in the Thursday–Sunday format we’re now so used to. Although the squad appears to be fully fit (for now) a schedule like this is heavy on the legs and mentally taxing, especially with the pressures surrounding these games, with this in mind, squad rotation in itself may not be enough to maximise our chances of success in both competitions, keeping the power in the legs of our players, won’t just depend on who’s left out or substituted early, it will depend heavily on how Arteta sets the team up and how well the players can control the game after that.
Keeping the ball and controlling possession in the oppositions third, reducing the amount of recovery runs we have to make, reducing the amount of corners and fouls we concede in our defensive third, nullifying the opposition and killing games off earlier, safeguards the physical and mental fitness of the players.
This past week has been a good example of that, although nota perfect one. Just 3 changes were made from the win in Athens to the win over Spurs, with one of these changes for disciplinary reasons rather than rest and rotation. Yet, despite relatively few changes between the two games, the players didn’t suffer, they recorded more possession, more corners, more shots and less fouls conceded than both Olympiakos and Spurs, controlling the game and getting the wins.
Here’s the not so perfect part, after the Lamela red card on Sunday evening, we lost control of the game, retreated into our own half, conceded 3 corners and gave away 3 free kicks in our defensive third, one that hit the post and one that led to a disallowed goal, in fact, half the shots we conceded in that game were in the last ten minutes. A lot of physical and mental energy was no doubt used up in that part of the game. You could see and hear the frustration from the boss on the side-line during that period, waving his arms, screaming at the players to push up at every opportunity. You could see he was totally incensed by the free kick Thomas Partey gave away approaching added time. More than that Arteta was quick to say how poorly we controlled that part of the game, admitting afterward, “we managed those ten minutes really, really badly”
Clearly, Arteta values controlling matches as much as he does winning them and he’ll need to make sure we control the majority of our games during a potentially very hectic schedule, in fact his success in doing this may be the difference between having enough in the tank to win even when the pressure dial is turned up to the max. It’s comforting in itself to know the boss described that last ten minutes in the derby as a ‘big lesson’ but even more so after 180 minutes of football that ended in two big victories, the boss focusing on that part of the game in particular gives us an idea of the importance he puts on controlling matches and over the next few weeks we’ll no doubt have to close more games out, our success in doing this won’t just result in more victories but also our ability to go and do it all again just three or four days later.
Speaking long term, the stature of our club demands dominance and asserting control over games is where this starts, hopefully Arteta will be at the helm for many years to come, he’s not been shy to say it’s his goal for us to be fighting for honours on multiple fronts, having many weeks like the one we’ve just had, where we play twice a week and with high stakes. Being able to do this successfully and consistently in the long term rests in our ability to take control of games whether they’re slipping away or need closing out. It is what we’ve lacked for some time but we’re showing glimpses of good game management and control just now and the past week is testament to that.
In the past few seasons under different management, we’ve won a couple big games inside a week, we’ve reached semi-finals and finals domestically and in Europe too and the squad is used to turning up for a handful of big games a season and tasting a relative amount of success but it felt like those successes could only be enjoyed in isolation, there didn’t seem to be a consistent formula or pattern to these games to give us confidence we could do it again going forward. Whereas the type of victories we’ve had under Arteta in these bigger games, followed up by his frank and honest assessments on game management and control, give the wins a slightly different taste to the ones we’ve enjoyed with other managers over the years.
The message seems to be, yes get the win at all costs but master the art of controlling a game too. Arteta is trying to make a habit out of controlling games within the group and we all know that turning something into a habit requires obsession and it’s clear from watching and listening to Arteta that both winning and controlling games is an obsession to him. Both of these things will be pivotal if were to secure European football and win a trophy this season and even more important if we want to do that consistently going forward.
I’m a lifelong gooner in my early twenties, hailing from coastal North Wales. The passion for all things red and white is passed down from generation to generation in the Collins family, a gift and obsession that was first passed down by my Grandad, who was a regular at Highbury in the 60’s, it’s been a lifetime of sharing the pain and joy together ever since. It was at a cold and wet trip to Manchester City that I caught the bug, a day that ended in a defeat to a Joey Barton penalty, it’s pretty much been down hill from there but I’m sure the glory days I’ve heard so much about will return and I’m here to document that journey.