POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
What a delightful reminder that Arsenal can be fun! Not just the score but the attacking performance.
As soon as the game was over I sit back to write this and get my analytical head on and start to feel frustrated. I feel frustrated not because I feel we should’ve saved some of those goals for the two previous games, but in the style of play compared to the two previous games.
Against Brentford and Chelsea we seemed to be playing the plan regardless of the game in front of us. Robotic, pre-planned passing patterns. This was evidenced most clearly by the repetitive crosses to players that weren’t open or interested in attacking them.
Yesterday, Arsenal played the game. West Brom were high and gappy. We were quick up top and quick to make repeated runs behind. Beyond that we were quick to turn, quick to run with the ball and quick to be direct. The passing was quicker too and we even had backwards/sideways Xhaka and ElNeny occasionally looking and passing forwards. We gave the ball to Pepe earlier allowing him to run 1 on 1 rather than 1 on 3.
Most importantly, we played to the strength of our main striker. It’s not that Auba is king. I’d sell him and find a more rounded striker. It’s that the point of football is to score and not concede. If scoring is your main goal when the game starts then building your entire strategy around your main goalscorer is simple genius. Beyond our 3-4-3 at the beginning of Arteta’s reign, I don’t think that we’ve leant into Auba’s game. We were clearly reminded of this for his impressive 3rd goal. We haven’t given him that opportunity for a long while. We’ve been quicker for our game plan to lean into protecting the weaknesses of Xhaka than the strengths of Auba.
The biggest single difference was the speed of counter attacks.
Without sarcasm we’ve looked like a team that didn’t know about the importance of speed when countering. We repeatedly found ourselves behind their backline, yesterday.
So, understanding that Brentford and Chelsea didn’t play as high as often (Chelsea did some), it was obviously harder to play behind their backline but is wasn’t harder to counter attack quicker. There was less space but not less opportunity to be direct or run at their backline. We also chose to play backwards too often when there were opportunities to turn and at least look forwards.
When I close my eyes and think of your average Arsenal game, I see our main goalscorer making numerous runs where the ball isn’t even played. Like the midfielders are petrified of a reduced personal passing percentage that they dare not hit 8 balls through or over in the hope that Auba gets 2 good opportunities.
If all this is a breakthrough moment for Arteta where he encourages playing the game over the plan then my complaining needs to be binned. I just can’t ignore the fact that my observations aren’t any high level thinking.
They are candidly how you play intelligent football. Will we learn from this?
- Auba is a showman. Auba needs a crowd. Auba needed a goal. He got 3 and the last one was him at his best. Will we counter against City with similar speed and attempt numerous balls to Auba?
- Saka’s numerous runs with the ball were due to his golden positioning on the left side of the centre circle and his willingness to accelerate. Like Auba, he needed a goal and it was a pearler. He mixed his game up too with a couple of beautiful early long diagonals to Pepe. His decision making is his biggest strength and it was on full show yesterday.
- Ramsdale was impressive and his clean sheet was earned not given as the scoreline might suggest. I loved two moments in particular….. his celebrations after the goals. It is much easier to be loved by fans that want to love you than many think. Simple acts like enjoying a goal as if you were a fan will endear him to the Arsenal fans. I also loved his drilled ball into midfield in the first half. Never seen Leno do that.
- Talking of the fans it was evident even from the couch of the enthusiasm of the away fans. Singing often and considering the circumstances surrounding the club there was much selfless support from a group of frustrated people pre-game.
- I think it’s super important that we scored 3 tap ins. We have given up too many of these opportunities for so long. Again, encouragement for the coach to value them more and the players to be reminded that a goal is a goal regardless of type. A tap in is the easiest way of scoring where we often complicate. In order to achieve this we need to have better movement and quicker, firmer delivery. If only our coach could work with Pep and learn the value of the fired cross and elusive box movement. Oh!
- More POSITIVES here in my ‘PNH Expanded’ 15 min podcast…..
- I felt that we took an unnecessary risk in playing Kola. If he gets injured then the chance of getting 100K off our books disappears.
- Xhaka had a much better second half than first. I fear for when Partey comes back that Arteta will play Xhaka with him rather than Lokonga due to needing experience/leadership on the field. I don’t want to undervalue those two important qualities but I’d rather lean into the leadership of Tierney, Partey and Odegaard and play Lokonga.
- Holding seems to have lost his consistency during games. I’m concerned as he was a consistent 7/10 last season without being spectacular.
- I can only repeat my huge hope that we repeat the successes of this happy game. Other games may not be as easy or open but just because the gaps are smaller and the time is less it doesn’t necessarily hurt us to try to hurt opponents more regularly.
- Regardless of yesterdays form, we still need a target man as an option. Even if its Wout Weghorst as a short term signing. Often first choice for Holland and a regular goalscorer. Less than 20M too.
- Regardless of yesterdays performance, we need a right back. I’m wanting Lamptey but I’m ok with Trippier especially as he is far more consistent and also offers an experienced senior player that the starting team may end up needing.
- I think that taking Wilshere as an ElNeny replacement would be smart if he came on a pay as you play/lower salary contract. He would be more appreciative and motivated than anyone else I can think of and this can increase performance back to his level. He’s only 29 and as 4th choice, it’s worth it.
Off the back of that happiness we now have some hope going into Saturday. If we can hold them at bay for 20 minutes and take our counter opportunities at pace we have a real chance. Add to this many important exits and a striker and right back, there is every chance that the mood shifts 180.
I’m dreaming right!?!
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.