The Return of Excitement
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
So much can be healed at home games if you are willing to start with energy that intimidates. You have the crowd already energized as they have hope. There is the expectation from your opponent that you will start fast and on the front foot as you are at home. Most coaches talk about ‘containing for first 20 minutes’ when they go away.
You have the opportunity to overwhelm them.
Over Arteta’s reign as a general statement, I haven’t seen this. Yesterday, I could feel the energy from the field and crowd seeping through the TV screen. I had gotten a text whilst at church (trying to avoid texts) that I happened to accidentally see. It said, “UNBELIEVABLE, WHAT A GAME!” This was after the 20ish minute mark. As you do, you start thinking that there has been buckets of goals, and seeing as the text was from a Utd fan, I thought both teams had scored a few each. As I found out later, he was referring to the energetic start. I thought about why he was so animated in his capitalization and I thought his response was interesting…. “Arsenal never start with energy and without fear, they ‘feel’ the game first.” He has no dog in the fight and so it is an interesting observation from a neutral. He was shocked by something that honestly, he shouldn’t be that shocked about.
If I had 5 minutes with Arteta, I’d without doubt tell him to utilize the home crowd’s energy and go fast, first 20 minutes. My coaching mentality has always been to do this both home and away for 2 reasons. Firstly, the other team wonders pre-game if you are going to ‘bring it.’ If you start sluggishly they relax, you give them confidence. Why would you do that? Secondly, if you go a goal behind as you pour forwards you have 75-85 mins to get it back. The game can be mentally over in the first 20 minutes as the opponent, even subconsciously, gives less effort as they feel it’s not worth it.
Not only was the win so huge for so many reasons, the energy gave us a huge elevation in excitement. We all prefer the 3 points to an exciting loss or draw but here is another important thing to remember…. The fans in the stadium largely turn up regardless of recent scores. Some may stay home, but you will always have fans. If you talk to any of them as to why they spend all that time and money to go when it’s on TV they will tell you it’s the overall experience. The train ride, the tube ride, the pub, the walk, the atmosphere, the post game pub, the walk back to the tube etc… They LOVE the whole experience. Having done this myself for the first part of my life I found enjoyment in the experience even if we didn’t win but only if I was entertained. I wanted and felt entitled to be excited as the whole experience screams excitement.
During Arteta’s reign we have seen everything but we have rarely been entertained and excited. This has turned many fans off Mikel Arteta as the results have been bad at times and the entertainment looks scripted and becomes for a dull day. I speculate that something dramatic did happen to Arteta over the international break. He said that it was “some of the best 15 days of his life,” which seemed weird. I think he had an epiphany or somebody sat him down and had a serious chat, or both.
Yesterday wasn’t just a sliding doors moment for Arsenal F.C., for Arteta and the players’ belief, it was incredibly exciting. I can’t remember the last time I heard the fans singing for 95 minutes without ceasing. The football was quicker. The football was creative. The football suited the players trying to play the football. The football was elevated by the passion of the fans who were elevated by the players.
The most interesting part of all of this was that the second half was just ‘ok.’ Nothing special. The fact that the fans kept singing and entertained themselves even when the football was a little less entertaining was all because of the start. The start was everything. It affected our belief, their lack of belief, the fans’ belief and on.
I have not enjoyed Arsenal like this since Mikel Arteta took over. He has turned many back to believers yesterday. I hope he evaluates the necessity of how excitement can create energy and that energy can create huge doubt in opponents and that it focuses your players nervousness into a positive place where they are itching for the ref to blow the minute 1 whistle.
Capitalize on this, Mikel.
- Perhaps the most important improvement was the desire to turn and play forwards. There was far less pragmatism and fear driven football and far more progressive passing. This was of course helped by Spurs struggling to figure out how to account for Odegaard’s positioning.
- Say it quietly, but Auba looks like the 2019/20 version. His movement in running behind looks energized by a belief that someone will actually try to pass it. His pressing has equal energy. His tempo is faster and he’s therefore growing as a modern link player. He is winning 50% of his aerial duels where he used to be unbothered. Most importantly, he looks like his world has settled and his smile has returned. He has scored 50 in 78 at home which is unsurprising as the showman in him thrives when 54,000 of the 60,000 love him.
- One of the most important drills a coach can do is 4 vs 7 in the penalty area. Actually executing the drill in that specific area for a purpose. You will have noticed that players that can be so composed in the other 100 yards, lose their composure in that box and just toss balls into a situation where the opponent has a superiority of three. The drill is to get them to drop the ‘excitement butterflies’ that they get in that particular box and make more intentional and accurate choices. Arsenal aren’t the only team to suffer in this box, it’s a football problem. After the drill has convinced them to relax you continue but add a GK and the goal. All of a sudden they take more care and feel less nervous in the box. The other positive is that they finish with composure rather than an unnecessary rash laces shot when accuracy is the order of the day. I speak of all of this because (finally) all three of our goals were made to look easy by the composure shown by Auba and in particular, Saka and ESR. Scoring goals doesn’t have to be as complicated as many make it. One more coaching point that you might want to consider, especially if you coach…. teach your players to shoot and finish with ‘enough’ power not ‘all’ of their power. I do drills to this end and ask them in each situation to control their power. That it is rare that they need all the power they have to score. Replace 40% of your power with added accuracy. As you saw, especially with ESR’s goal there was absolutely no need for more than 25% of his power to finish that. He made it look easy when it’s actually not as difficult as many make it. Players spend the rest of the game comfortably finding each other with accuracy and a player is 26 times smaller than a goal. Just something for your consideration.
- Right backs aren’t supposed to be crowd favourites, right? I mean we really liked Sagna and early days Bellerin but Tomi is causing such positive fire in the fanbase. I haven’t seen an obvious weakness yet. Have you? I just love the seriousness that he plays with. We trust him because of this. I REALLY love his two footedness especially in a world where only 1 in 10 full backs are. I also noticed how he twice reacted quicker to rebounds than anyone else.
- White had more interceptions than anyone else, even TP the interception monster. His composure was impressive as he followed Kane around, nullifying him. Kane wasn’t allowed to dictate play from midfield as before as we asked White to follow him and squeezed behind White. Smart tactics.
- Nobody talks about Gabriel’s no-look deceptive passing but he opens up opponents’ defence once every game.
- Ramsdale had little to do but again was huge when asked to be. His athleticism was evident twice and his constructive anger is something that our defenders haven’t had in many years. It shows when you care and as I’ve said many times, English fans want players who care. They will show you the love even if you never push past 7/10. On the save at the end…. most GK’s won’t save that because there is a risk of injury. He went with his furthest hand (as you are supposed to) as it stretches farther. When he knew that he couldn’t get it he contorted his body so he could reach it with his first hand. He risked twisting his body and landing on his shoulder but was willing to do it. Watch it again. It’s true determination and bravery.
- The contrast in Dele and Odegaard was stark. One dictated the game with tempo and smart positioning and the other I forgot was out there. Honestly.
- Our exit routes when we were playing out of the back were working as we had more trusting movement and far more one-touch lay offs. In fact the increased tempo and 1 touch was evident game long.
- Much has been spoken of in regards to Arteta’s over reliance on passing patterns. It was interesting after the game that Auba told us that he’s told ESR about the importance of playing with ‘freedom.’ It looked like the coaches message was a better blend of planning and improvisation.
- Partey looked fit. What a boss! Comfortably in the top 3 CM’s in the league.
- For the sake of the team and our greatest need, Arteta needed to know that someone other than Auba can score. That was huge for Saka and ESR not just for this reason but for their general happiness and belief on the field and in front of goal. Saka has actually got 15 goals/assists in his 23 starts from the right. Very interesting. ESR is one of the best off the ball movers in the PL. He has been taught differently to the previous generation and seems to value the risk in making runs for yourself and others. Both Saka and ESR aren’t just talented but have such elite personality. Most young players will play in a subservient manner until they are older. They don’t. They want to win games with their own ideas rather than relying on others.
- Did you notice that we saw how the players rank yesterday. With a fully fit squad, he picked AMN over ElNeny. Chose Holding over Chambers and Mari. Martinelli over Nketiah and Balogun. Saka over Pepe. Xhaka over Lokonga. All very interesting. I was particularly pleased that AMN was chosen and utilized. That’s a new development. It’s also interesting that Tavares is being used regularly as an impact sub. I like this as his athleticism is frightening for tiring opponents.
- There were a couple of times that Saka gave up after losing the ball and although Tomi handled Son superbly, I know that Arteta will point that out to him.
- A team ‘need’ is for a majority of our team to be stronger in duels. Odegaard, Auba and White are too easily moved.
- I wonder if the desperate need for our players to communicate, ‘turn’ has seen an uplift in forward momentum?
- The next step in our development is gaining consistency. After that we need to learn to dominate and control both halves. We came close yesterday.
- Hoping Xhaka isn’t out long term but I can’t lie that I’m excited that Lokonga and AMN may feature more. It might be an opportunity for Patino to start to be integrated into matchday squads, even if he doesn’t play.
What a great day to be a Gooner! 😊 Our game was a joy to watch and the ladies destroyed Man City 5-0. If you haven’t watched the ladies, they are impressive front to back.
Check out my 15 min podcast ‘PNH Expanded’ below. I discuss how this win affects Arteta, the Patino talk and Pepe.
One last thing….. this lovely picture 🤣
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.