Unhurried, careful and scary
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
My wife: “You, ok, Mike? You look disheveled!”
My wife: “Ohhhhhh, Arsenal!”
I face plant onto our bed and lay there for at least 2 minutes.
My daughter walks in: “You ok, Dad?”
My wife: “Arsenal”
My daughter: “Ohhhhhhh!”
I get up from my post match face plant/decompress.
My wife: “Did they lose?”
Me: “They won”
My daughter: “Aren’t you happy?”
Me: ” I haven’t got to happiness yet?”
How do you react to this Arsenal team? As you can see, I’m an emotional mess. I had a massive fist pump at the final whistle, started to breathe again but oh my this season is hard work! I feel like an Arsenal game is like one of those ‘Cash Cube’ machines. You know the ones that you see at the fair or on a game show (is it ‘The Price is Right?’). You wait in line with such excitement watching the person in front of you looking like they are having so much fun grabbing as much cash as they can in the 30 seconds allotted whilst the wind machine blows it around. Then you step in and realize that the experience isn’t quite as fun as the thought of the experience and after experiencing frustration, elation, disappointment and sweat, you step out of the cube with your hair wind blown, your tongue out and reality takes you a minute to find.
Norwich at home and Burnley away were not supposed to be this exhausting.
I get it though. I’m going to have to accept my state of personal hurricane until my team gets their rhythm and plays two similar halves. I’ve purchased a blood pressure cuff and I’m armed and ready.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at the University of Tennessee American football game with my son trying to explain why the coaching staff look like they’ve got nervous twitches. He was still confused when I told him they are communicating ‘plays’ as he couldn’t get a grip of why “the players can’t just decide themselves like in soccer, without looking at their twitchy coaches.” The Tennessee game flew by as I was daydreaming about Arsenal and this blog and trying to choose 3 adjectives to describe how I felt earlier that morning. I had 2 of them by the end of the game but still felt that my body was spinning from flashbacks of Ben White’s backpass. Tennessee won 56-0 and on the way back to the car my son mentioned how Arsenal were particularly ‘unhurried’ today. Great word for an 11 year old.
He’s right. We were. The first half was almost like a game of chicken as White and Gabriel were taunting Barnes and Wood to press them. Most everything we did in the first half was particularly controlled. Like a game of chess. Part of me wanted White to engage them and open it up for Partey but I also appreciated the fact that it looked like Arteta had told them to ‘win at our game and not get caught rushing and making it a fast and physical affair.’ That would be fair and clever too.
As the first half went on I noticed how our passing and exit routes were being so carefully constructed. The passing in particular seemed almost overly intentional. Almost wrapped in a blanket of fear of being transitioned on. This was probably exaggerated by the clear fact that Burnley had intentionally not cut the grass and the ball was traveling far slower than it does in N5. The experience felt like Burnley should re-name their stadium, More Turf.
After the game was over and I’d done my disheveled thing, I went on twitter and saw everyone bar me chest thumping our spirited defensive performance. I sometimes wonder how some can have such clarity at 5:03pm when I’m still scraping the layers of sweat off after experiencing premature Halloween. My emotion 8 minutes after full time was, “I’m actually still scared!”
Writing these blogs last season was easier somehow. I think we were either good or bad and I knew what was going to happen. I’m supposed to sit on my couch in a state of serenity so I can accurately analyze as well as support so that these writings have some level of insight. So, for the second Saturday running, I’ve laid the laptop down, gone to watch some other sporting event that I really don’t care about so I can register some less scary numbers on the blood pressure cuff.
It’s fine though. Next week will be easier. Oh! It’s the North London Derby.
It might be time to fully Americanize myself and go get a therapist.
- Hands up if you like our new right back! I wonder if someone told Tomi that ‘in England they will love you even if you’re not great, as long as you consistently give your best.’ I think that’s fair. We value effort. Not only is he clearly willing to give Nacho levels of focus but the kid (he looks 35) can play. The blasé effort with which he hit those diagonals coupled with his unique gift to be able to clear the ball with both feet straight to a teammate, seperate him from others. If I’m allowed to be quietly frustrated with our Tesco bag left back on the other side, it’s watching him cut inside onto his right foot but refuse to use it when a pass is on. Tomi uses whichever foot its on. That’s evident. I could go on but it’s only 2 games and so I’ll wait.
- As a coach myself, we don’t want this type of game but we do. This type of game makes us nervous because we know we are ‘better’ but understand that stylistically it’s going to be a foreign challenge and therefore we get concerned that the players will struggle to adapt. After the game is over we revel in the character that was built and that the dressing room now has a reference point to ‘winning ugly.’ Important for any team in any sport. So, that was probably a bigger day than it seemed.
- Of all the character shown there were a few that stood out. The intelligence from Arteta in picking Ramsdale against Norwich is now illuminated in de-rusting him for what Leno wouldn’t have been willing to do against Burnley. Leno is a fine shot stopper and so would’ve matched Ramsdale there, but he would’ve flapped or punched those crosses where AR caught them. Perhaps there isn’t much efficiency difference in punching and catching but there is in how it transmits confidence to your teammates. Allows everybody to breathe. I’m glad Southgate was there to watch AR. Gabriel put in his rehearsal for dominating Kane with a heroic performance. So glad to hear from the club that his English has dramatically improved as his communication with White and Tierney is vital. Also, when we play in a back three he is the central piece, the talker. In retrospect I’d rather White struggle technically in the short term but produce more dominant aerial displays as technique is the last of his worries, yet his aerial game needed a dominant performance like that.
- Others excelled in other areas…… Partey was a huge help at the front post playing zonally and denying many of the crosses from reaching their target. AMN had a fine and important cameo. Don’t underrate quickness in midfield. It’s not talked of much as a quality but if you have it then in the crowded zone you get to everything quicker. His passing and decision making was better. His most underrated quality is his calmness. When all else is flustered he is serene. Odegaard disproved those that said he couldn’t play centre midfield as he glided around with superior passing and spatial awareness. His reverse pass to open up Auba’s only chance has been left out of the chat but that level of deception and weight of pass is exactly what the rest of the performance lacked.
- Back to Ramsdale….. I’m not as calm as he is (yet) when he has the ball at his feet but what’s important is that he seems to be. His distribution both long and short was impressive.
- Watch Tavares’ second touch. The one after he accelerates. Nobody talks about this quality but if you have a split second between your first two touches then you stop the instant tackle and make the defender chase. My prediction is that Tavares will get us a few penalty kicks after coming on late, if he can burst into the box and get that quick second touch. They’ll try to tackle him and foul him instead.
- I’ve noticed recently that when we press in two’s we don’t have our first defender tight enough. Burnley often passed around our pressure as they saw a window out. When you press you know that you are not necessarily going to win the ball but you can a) get them to put their head down and b) deny them their PREFERRED pass.
- Not sure I’m comfortable with our defensive organization on set plays. I understand that we don’t always have enough aerial monsters to cover all of theirs but ESR on Ben Mee seemed suicidal. Our best in the air are playing zonally so they can attack ‘their’ space. The issue becomes when the opponent identifies this and keeps ‘their’ threats out of these zones.
- There was a disconnect again to Auba. Not sure what this was beyond sloppy final balls. If I played with Odegaard, I’d trust him as his passing is his super power. I’d make runs over and over and over.
- I was somewhat surprised that we didn’t play with a high line against two not so quick forwards. It would’ve helped us keep them away from crossing zones.
- A happy picture for no reason…..
- If we would’ve lost, I would’ve flown over to London to smack Nuno Tavares. Where did he learn that when you are 0-1 up with 90 seconds left that you shoot from 35 yards!!
- We keep getting players cramping. Are we not as fit as we should be?
- My biggest hope for Wednesday is that we get some success from our inverted left winger. Saka looks like he needs a break but we need Martinelli perhaps to show he’s ready for the first team. When Saka plays sub par it stands out as its so rare. He looks leggy and his first touch in and around the box is shabby. Best to not lose his confidence and rest him beforehand. I also have a concern about the Saka-Tierney combination as it lacks fluidity.
- For me, Arsenal’s greatest magic wand need is proactive movement in the box. These two scary games didn’t have to be scary if we would’ve finished a large handful of fluid attacks. The issue normally starts with Lacazette but he hasn’t had the chance to be guilty yet. Auba is thankfully starting to make runs to other areas beyond just the back post but he does it in one movement rather than two. It would be easy for someone as quick as him to zag before he zigs as he’d get to every 50/50 like it was a 70/30.
- Dear Mr Pepe, will you please, pretty please run behind their defence off the ball once in a while during one of those delicious counter attacking opportunities. Please. You might find that you’d score more. You might find that you don’t have two players to beat. Just a man in gloves. You seem to find finishing fairly easy so we don’t get it. Please consider…… Love, Arsenal fans
I don’t like Burnley. I doubt you do too. Let’s be fair though, they played their game very well yesterday. Best I’ve ever seen them against us. We are still wobbly and yet we won amidst all that truth. I’m encouraged. You should be too 🙂
Before you listen to my podcast below, take a joyful look at this pretty picture and remember that our goal was sublime but the fact that Ashley Barnes didn’t jump, caused the goal.
Oh, and thanks to all that read my Le Grove piece on Arteta and ‘Juego de Posicion.’ It was my most successful piece to date with over 40,000 views. Cheers!
For more tactical observations from the Burnley game, check out at my ‘PNH Expanded’ 15 min podcast here….
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.