Preparing for the absent
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
I’m normally not in the camp of folk who say pre-season is just for fitness and rhythm. I’m still not. As a coach it is pivotal, not just for players to get in the groove but to try out the most important tactics/strategies that you want to use or think you might use. If you were to tell any coach that training is a poor second place to everything else, I’d say that 90% of them would give you a death stare.
Yesterdays game was still far more than fitness and rhythm but it seemed like a massive false representation of what we will see in September and after. Even though we saw almost all of the Brentford starters there were more players with their futures in limbo that played at some point than I can ever remember in all my time supporting Arsenal. After going back and looking at the 19 players that participated, I counted 9 that I feel 100% sure will be at the club after the window shuts. Those were Chambers, Tierney, Tavares, White, Lokonga, Partey, ESR, Pepe and Mari. The other 10 will be gone or could be. The likeliest to leave are Bellerin, Willock, Nketiah and Kolasinac. With Ramsdale possibly coming in, I’m not sure if Leno will ask to leave. Holding may too as a 50M player is going to get chances with big dollops of grace attached if he makes mistakes. Like Holding, ElNeny will likely stay but not because the club are desperate for him too. I feel that one if not both of Auba and Laca will leave. It looks like Xhaka will stay but what if Roma decide to give us what we want? Every single one of the unused subs (Runarsson, Soares, AMN, Nelson and Willian will likely leave if the offers are right. Finally, Okonkwo is supposed to be 3rd choice but I’d loan him if it were me.
Beyond the players there seemed to be an interesting choice made by Arteta. I’ve been in the situation before when I want to change strategy but the players I’m thinking of are absent. Either absent because they are injured or not signed yet. So I look at the high line and before I go in two footed on the decision to employ it with Holding and Mari playing, I have to remember that I probably would’ve done the same. Sacrifice the result somewhat to test players that you ‘think’ may struggle and give them the opportunity to show you if they can do it. Ideally, if Gabriel and White are injured, Arteta won’t want to change the entire strategy because of the lack in 1 or 2.
The decision to allow the game to get stretched in the second half will likely be intentional. As we have all seen, Arteta’s big improvement has been defensive structure and organization. I think he allowed the basketball match so that his players could give more attention to fitness than conceding. The game really should’ve been a 4-3 affair but I think the coaches were ok with this.
The fact that we sent more players forward exposing our transition could well be in preparation for absent and more athletic players to play this way.
I also suspect that the employment of Auba, Nketiah and Balogun on the left yesterday/during pre season may well be to the benefit of the absent Martinelli. I think Arteta is trying to address arguably our biggest issue…. scoring. Does he go with 3 creators and 1 goal scorer or 2 and 2?
I think that Auba moving to the left again is more about perhaps Lautaro Martinez than anybody else. Can Auba still be effective from the left or do we need to possibly try to sell him? I doubt he’s gonna be cool with sitting the bench if we sign a striker.
I even speculate that Xhaka not starting may be more to do with Arteta making him understand from the start that he’s not going to play every week if he stays. He may have only had a weeks training but I’ve seen Xhaka start often with less preparation.
All this is a big fat bunch of guesswork. It could all be nonsense. Arsenal could be about to double our mistakes and take my desperate wish for risk averse attacking and become a risk taking defensive unit.
Let the rollercoaster begin!
- Thomas Partey really seems to be playing with far more invention. I pray for Thomas. His desire to play this way isn’t just needed but he is more effective than most because he disguises his line splitting passes and hits them harder than others.
- There were glimpses of some clever combinations in the final third. The best of all of them was Eddie’s subtle touch to Auba. He looks like he’s playing for his future and would rather not leave. He is playing better than the others but I think the issue is that none of them are exactly what’s needed.
- ESR and Pepe should easily get 8 goals each and possibly double for one of them. They got into numerous good positions and if it wasn’t for the intelligent positioning of the Chelsea defenders they would’ve had more opportunities.
- Ben White may not have shown us his passing range today but there were two impressive goal line blocks. I noticed in his compilation that he does this often. A good reader of the game. I also thought that it was smart not to ‘show off’ on the ball in your first game. Just be simple and steady.
- Everyone is talking about the new ‘high line’ which will be a big asset in many games. I also noticed a 5 second press after losing possession which recovered many balls. Chelsea did however transition on us when all three or four of the pressing party forgot that one of you has to force the attackers head down by attempting a tackle.
- Auba and Laca get criticized for not playing well together but I credit them for both moving in synch to allow Tierney space. As one of our main attacking patterns, this is vital.
- I noticed on Xhaka’s goal a far better design to the movement. Attacking set plays is one of our biggest needs and there was better decoy runs and blocks. You can always tell when a training ground moment is replicated as the players smiles are bigger.
- I’m hoping that it was telling that Willian wasn’t involved. As the pre season friendlies get less ‘pre’ it is worth looking at who isn’t involved as we are now shifting from preparing all to preparing for Brentford.
- Sometimes the best advertisement for a new signing is the player playing in his position. Holding isn’t here to get a beating as he hit his ceiling last season and he was as rusty as others. He does however need to protect the ball or clear it rather than panic pass. Some players can panic pass and get away with it. Xhaka is the king that Holding needs to copy. You remember the collapsible legs under pressure that Xhaka changes into? Holding has to have a better Plan B.
- I wish ESR would not set the ball without looking. For those a little unfamiliar with the term, ‘setting’ it’s essentially passing a vertical ball backwards to allow all their teammates to get in position. I pine for ESR to utilize his natural drive to run at defenders more. He is still too willing to ‘set the play’ when he has time to turn.
- The multitude of counter attacks we got transitioned on reminded me of latter Wenger days. Chelsea were smart enough to drag ElNeny out wide as he was often following Havertz allowing other players room in the half spaces and between the lines. It was so evident, I’m sure Arteta will correct it. The smarter choice would’ve been to communicate better and have one of the CB’s step up and deny the turn or even better, allow the CB’s to watch Havertz, and ElNeny stay between the lines. Ultimately, the four man press may only work against equal or weaker teams as elite teams often 1 touch out and beat 4 of you in one pass.
- If I had 5 genie in a bottle wishes for our new season, one of them would be to not replicate the often failed passing out of the back moment when the ball goes up the line and the winger checking back loses possession in our half as he is option-less. More than that I wish that Arteta would find alternate exit routes as everybody is exiting in similar ways so your opponent knows what you are doing as they train endlessly for the same pattern.
I’m going to cover this section in my 15 minute ‘PNH Expanded’ right here….
Yesterday didn’t make me nervous. For the first time in ever I think the club has been given what they need to buy better and buy in all positions. Only concern is whether we have the volume of staff to get well over 10 players in and out.
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.