Small happy, bigger frustration
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
Perhaps I’m overthinking this as the answer to my frustrations could be so very simple. It’s the last game and the pressures off, right? The players would rather have not played in the Conference league, I’m sure. But….
Why were so many of our season long problems fixed and on display in a game that had such little meaning?
Here’s my list….
- We don’t counter attack. Now we do, apparently. I’m of the belief that we could’ve got top 4 if we had changed just two mistakes. One I’ll get into later. The other is our intentionality to slow down potential counter attacks in order to get set up for both attacking and defending. Sounds insane, right? Well it is, partly. We’ve been under instruction to slow down attacks so that we can fill the 5 lanes and get players into positions. As insane as this sounds there is an upside. If you control the positioning going forward you can control the positioning on transition when you lose it. In fairness to Arteta, he has successfully changed our greatest weakness under Wenger and Emery which was not controlling transition. Anyway, as a personal preference and because we have counter attacking specialists in Odegaard, Auba, Martinelli, ESR and Pepe, I have been frustrated for a while that we don’t capitalize. My biggest concern is regarding Auba as the others have had other successes. Auba is a niche striker that has a smaller group of skills and they can be elite. One is counter attacking and having a ball to run on to. In the 52nd minute we did a real life counter attack as Auba spun out to the inside left channel and received in front of him. I slapped myself to check that it wasn’t an FA Cup game from last season but I wasn’t dreaming. Then we did it again in the 68th minute. Then as I was in mid tumble from falling off my stool I growled at the TV. Not because I was falling but because we waited until the 38th game to lean into the primary strength of our highest paid player.
2. As I stated in my last blog, coaching can be simple. Before considering all the complexities of modern football you can simply be successful by playing to each players strengths. At the point that you have conquered that you might realize that adding intricate patterns etc.., might not be worth it as it can stifle and lead to players with flair second guessing. Again, in my last blog I celebrated Pepe’s decision to run directly at the defenders leading to his last minute goal. I was hoping that it wasn’t just a fad so then I was overjoyed to see him repeat it at least twice before he scored his second yesterday. You may have also noticed that apart from Pepe’s right foot goal he was repeatedly using it making himself much more unpredictable. On top of that I have been pining for Pepe to play like Salah as an inside forward for over a year and it has happened. Again, all this in the 38th game.
I then had to blink twice when seeing Thomas Partey successfully attacking corners at the near post and shooting far better from inside the box. We were told when he arrived that one of the reasons he came was to be allowed off the leash that Simeone had him on. I’ve been looking forward to the possibility of Yves Bissouma anchoring our midfield so that Partey can get further forward, yet it happened with Bissouma chasing him. Beautiful, yet frustrating as it was working, but it was the 38th game.
Odegaard has been drifting lately. Some have put it down to his slow return from injury. I’m not so sure that his tendency to simply retain and recycle possession is a fitness issue. I have been hoping for more risk. A greater desire to make the difference. Again, he waited until the 38th game to relight the spark as if he was auditioning for Mr Josh K to persuade him to find 50M.
3. We have seen glimpses of the high defensive line this season. We have seen larger glimpses of the low block and the cowboy and indians defending though. The high line yesterday was supremely executed. Holding is improving at committing to a decision whether it’s to steal, foul or back off. Gabriel is starting to show games without rashness which is about the only thing holding him back. Their improvement has encouraged us to play higher but why the 38th game? Brighton didn’t trouble Leno for almost the entire game and this was largely down to the congested block that they couldn’t play through or have the speed to play behind.
Potter has dominated many teams this season even better teams than Arsenal and so I’m thrilled we were so dominant, yet I’m more frustrated that ‘positivity for the new season’ is the best we could do as teams that we are arguably equal to were battling it out for Champions League yesterday as we left it too late to be great.
4. Those near post corner kicks weren’t gold but they were silver that could be turned to gold. Again I ask, why did we wait until Game 38 to realize we needed better corner kicks?
I have been frustrated for quite a few posts now. I acknowledge this. I do see much to be excited about and that might just be the reason I’m frustrated. We don’t look like a team that should be anywhere near 8th and this is without the ‘big summer rebuild’ we are getting.
As I wrap up my last PNH of 20/21, I just have this overriding feeling that enough of the frustration felt was avoidable. I’ll write a season review and the title will tell the largest part of the story.
- Pepe may just be the 3rd season Pepe I’ve been chatting about. He has been a far more consistent threat recently. Largely because of the direct running and finding himself in finishing positions. Let’s hope we don’t discourage a guy that once again leaves the season on a high by signing a player who is no better (actually far worse) than him.
- Is Callum Chambers good enough to be first choice next season? Many of the names touted are not better ‘defenders’ than Chambers, that’s for sure. Going forward he is a threat too with his crossing ability and timing of runs. I bet you that whoever we buy, Chambers will play a significant amount. I think if Saliba works out he might play more than we think as Arteta will ideally want more pace next to Chambers rather than Holding and Chambers both together on the right side.
- In my ‘PNH Expanded’ today I will debate keeping/selling Xhaka. Whatever happens, I’d say this has been his best season at Arsenal. He is smart/coachable enough to be ok with adjusting his game based on better players being around him. Will he accept being a rotational option is the big question that may define his future.
- The game itself was very different to most this season. It was almost as if Arteta went on holiday and the players were free to relentlessly attack or that their shoulders were looser free from pressure of result. It could equally be that Arteta knew his boss was here and had to impress.
- Saturday 3pm games again. No Thursdays. Double beautiful.
- It seemed like the pressure of fans shifted the game from looking like a massive game of ‘keep away with no goals’ in the first half to relentless penetration in the second half. Perhaps I’m not giving Arteta enough credit. Perhaps it was coach driven? Either way, the Emirates crowd are impatient and they know what they like as most grew up on Wenger Jazz. They know they want better security that Wenger didn’t offer but they don’t want keep away. I wonder if Arteta knows what will happen if they play endless keep away next season?
- It’s probably far too easy to state this as the season has been a large handful of small car crashes but here goes…. If we wouldn’t have signed Willian and discouraged Pepe, Arsenal would’ve had the 6 points they needed to get CL football. We persisted with Willian starting for 3 months. Yikes!
- I have not seen a more perfect player for Arsenal in many a year than Yves Bissouma. You are probably more bored of me waxing on Bissouma’s qualities than I am of trying to find another image of him to put in the post. Hold on, I’ve got a good one…
If I ever get as rich as Pepe, I might (I wouldn’t) wear that jacket. The matching trousers, no. Anyway, back to the chap in the tracksuit…
Arsenal have a tackling problem as we are one of the lowest at successful tackles in the big European leagues. Bissouma is not only an adept player on the ball (did you know he used to be an attacking mid?), but he is the best tackler in the league. Worth whatever Brighton want as he will give us so much mental and actual security, he will make Partey 30% better too.
- I feel for the club re; Joe Willock. Whatever they do, they could get it horribly wrong. Sell whilst he’s at his financial peak may = losing the potential goals that our midfield has a combined total of less than 5. Keep and we have a player that is perfect for a 4-3-3, a formation that we will likely not use. Best way to try to get it right is to trial a 4-3-3 in pre-season and see if Willock looks like it’s worth switching formations to accommodate the most important gift in the sport, scoring. You may think I’m nuts suggesting that we change formations for Willock. I say it’s worth looking at as ultimately everything else you do on the pitch is centered around 2 main criteria…. prevent goals, score goals. This is why teams get relegated. They either can’t score…. Fulham, or they can’t prevent….. every team that gets relegated. Arteta is going to be a hybrid coach with at least 3 formations. I say one of them needs to be 4-3-3.
Either way, if I was Southgate I take the leagues most in form player to the Euros. Forget how ‘good’ he is or who is ‘better.’ Goals win.
- Ever since Chelsea played a season without Europe, I’ve always wished for this opportunity. Total focus on the most important competition. If you aren’t sure, here are a few of the teams in the Europa Conference League…. Sfintul Gheorghe, Dinamo Batumi, Honka and Europa. Yes! There is a team called Europa in the Europa! It would’ve been great comedy but let’s let Spurs play Sinful George or Dinamo Batman and then get knocked out by Honka. Headline writers would foam at the mouth for that chance!
Thank you so very much for reading PNH this season. It takes me 3-4 hours and I absolutely love writing it. It is actually an answered prayer for me as one of my big misses after leaving the UK to settle in the US was interacting with Arsenal fans. I know 5 Arsenal fans in TN. Not the same. Many of you write to me and many share my work with kind words. It’s so motivating.
I have just been given the honour of writing for The Gooner too. This is such a bizarre feeling as I bought The Gooner every month when I was younger and always wished that I could share my thoughts. My first article is in this issue and it’s taking a guess as to who Arteta would pick in his matchday squad if he could pick from our 3 double winning teams. So much fun to write 🙂
In my 15 minute audio today, I have decided to give my take on the summer business. All those I’d sell and I’d sign. As I write transfer blogs for Le Grove I spend way too much time researching the best players in World football so you might be surprised at my decisions. Take a listen…
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.