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Was that easy or are we good? Arteta’s Arsenal crunch The Canaries

Was that easy or are we good?

POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES

Sometimes I think that we are programmed as football fans to think in cheesy sound bites.

Watching the game yesterday my son and I commented at 1-0 that this was ‘looking like 3 points’ That we were playing ‘comfortably in second gear.’

Max has watched enough football now and listened to enough of Britain’s punditry options for me to expect him to graduate through the cheese options from cheddar to a more sophisticated cheese. Gouda, perhaps.

I was expecting him to say ‘one more and this game should be over’ or some other form of programmed thinking. To his credit, he said something accidentally profound. He said,

“Actually, I’m not sure this is necessarily easy, we are just good.”

I didn’t say anything. I just started watching Norwich a little closer and although they made a couple of mistakes they had energy, organized pressing, a decent structure and we were still having to work for our opportunities. In the age of stats and over analysis (I’m part of the problem), sometimes we forget to notice that some periods in games, and occasionally some games, are easy and it has more to do with you than the other team.

Arsenal are good.

I think I’ve been waiting to say this. Just supported the club too long to commit to a phrase that seems ‘meh’ but isn’t.

I distinctly remember the finance manager of one of my prior youth teams once telling me that I was a ‘good’ coach. My team was playing rather well and consistently too. At first, I was a little put out as this fell in the age of exclamation points that we still live in. I thought maybe I was better than ‘good.’ After a while I matured to understanding that weirdly being called ‘good’ is often a greater compliment than being told that you are ‘awesome’ or ‘excellent.’ Those adjectives are thrown around to describe McDonald’s latest burger iteration or those yummy jam donuts at your local bakery. If somebody has ever looked you in the eyes and said you are ‘good,’ you will know how this feels.

If we had performed like this a few months ago when we were starting to string together some type of form, the score and ease of the game would have been very different perhaps. In fact my memory says that we had to somewhat struggle to beat them at home by just one. That occasion we lacked fluidity. One and two touch passes were the exception and absolutely not the rule. Counter attacks had no directness. Confidence was growing but wasn’t present for 90 minutes. We played in patches. Our front line, the entire group of them, were promising but not delivering consistently. The bottom line was that we didn’t look like scoring and when we did we were happily surprised. The creative part of the final third was a Christmas present and not a daily vitamin pill.

If I was to throw out another cheap and cheesy soundbite I would say that our form is due to confidence and a stable team. Although these have validity and are a part of the reason, the main reason is coaching.

We hardly ever give the ball away playing out from the back and have turned it from a couch hider to a form of low level excitement due to the possibility of getting out and counterattacking. Our midfield are stepping up alongside our defenders and winning the duels and starting to dominate both on and off the ball. We are now able to play through the middle of the field as well as exiting out wide. That was a huge hindrance in the past. Our exits through the middle are also leading to repeated switch passes that are releasing overloads on the other side. Our chief creator looks now like a sophisticated conductor. Our front three are on the periphery of being called deadly. We also have a substitute that yesterday broke a club record of scoring from the bench on four consecutive occasions.

Smith Rowe is not the only player chomping at the bit. Oh boy I just got suckered into a cheesy line myself! We have a centre forward who has just scored a hat trick in midweek, a midfielder who was man of the match the last time he played. A left back who apparently Manchester City want to sign and looking at Rob Holding yesterday, he is an example of a handful of squad players who don’t look like squad players when asked to step in. This is evidenced by Pepe, Cedric, Leno, Nketiah and their positive attitude to trying to impress a coach who has largely stuck to the same team and ignored them recently. To me, that speaks volumes.

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I’m trying not to say that Arsenal just need to keep winning as that might be part of the cheeseboard. Alongside the winning we may well need the high level performances as much if not more. If for example we don’t win against City but play a fantastic game then we likely don’t lose any rhythm. If we win then that sets us up for what could be an unstoppable rhythm in the second half of the season when other teams have more games to play and more competitions to play in.

I vividly remember about six weeks ago looking at the fixtures and trying to think of three easy points. There weren’t any. Everybody was giving us a tough game. That is changing and that is our current reality and it’s lovely.

I’m hoping that these thoughts were a little more Camembert than the processed slices of American cheese that we often forget that we are offering up.

POSITIVES:

  • Having said all of the above, there is no doubt that consistency of team selection can only have helped. Because we haven’t played Premier League football ourselves, it is hard for us to understand how fast paced it actually is. The closest we get to understanding the pace of game is if you see it in the first few rows of the lower tier of the stadium. The point is that if the Premier League is the highest level, and it’s certainly the fastest paced, then the players have less time than anybody else playing the sport anywhere in the world to make decisions. Therefore partnerships can be critical. We saw this very well yesterday as we were able to move the ball much quicker than previously and knew where our partners would be.
  • Martinelli will get his goals and assists but I’m noticing that my eye is encouraged  by his repeated bending runs from the left inside the center backs.

Those runs are so hard to track and a good example of the reason why many coaches feel that in the modern game it is easier for your wide forwards to score than your centre forward.

Martinelli‘s game must be the envy of so many coaches. He has potentially everything you need. Beyond the obvious, the modern game is strongly promoting goals being equally as possible from quickly regaining possession as possession itself. I don’t know the official statistics, but Martinelli must be up there in possession regains.

  • Of all the individual improvements the one that sits comfortably in the top three most important is the accuracy and weight of our general passing game. This is  developed by repetition on the training field but I believe that at the professional level it can often be linked as much to messaging as practice. Nobody talks about coaching standards but if a player who is perfectly capable of making any kind of pass cannot execute, he needs to know that the standard is higher and the expectation is too. That simply passing it from A to B is not satisfactory. It has to go to the correct foot so the receiver has their hips open and it has to give him a one touch option if possible. You cannot play quick tempo Premier League football if the pass is whacked at you. To get the cheeseboard out again I’d say that the difference in many players and many score lines are often these fine margins.
  • So many of the goals yesterday were perfect training ground execution. My favorite was Tierney’s goal because it exemplified his greatest strength …the timing of his overlapping. I was equally impressed in his finish as he used the inside of his foot and believed in it when he’s not ordinarily found in that position and where most would blast it.
  • Back to Gabriel Martinelli.

He has clearly worked hard on his physique as he is winning not just 50-50 duels but also 40-60’s.

The other attribute that stood out was his willingness to go into potentially dangerous duels. It’s not always advisable for a forward as the benefits rarely outweigh risk but he is one brave footballer. I think I like this mostly because we are one of the least likely teams in the league to do this in our recent history. Often it has been a little too easy to compete against us. We haven’t been very good at making games physically uncomfortable for opponents.

  • Our coach needs a very large round of applause. Not only is he responsible for almost everything I’ve written in this piece so far, but his game plans are giving us technical dominance on a regular basis now. I noticed that Norwich’s biggest technical threat, Billy Gilmour, was closed down quicker than any of their players. Simple strategy, but clever.
  • Martin Odegaard is flying. I wonder if his time on the bench has been a big factor in this? Whatever it is, he is ‘in the zone’ as they say in this country. The tactical switch that I believe has helped has been the instruction to wander horizontally to impact all of the vertical lanes rather than just staying on the right wing in lanes 4 and 5 with Saka.

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  • As we move into the January transfer window, I was going to write about the type of player that we will go for. It might be more fun to listen to it so don’t forget to listen to the podcast at the end.
  • It’s hard not to talk about the impact of Smith Rowe. If he had sulked because he hasn’t started in almost a month he would be more justified than most. Instead he has done far more than you could ever expect from a 15 minute substitute. His attitude is a great example to any footballer of any age of how you get back into the team. As much as it’s so difficult to drop Martinelli and Saka right now, we would be equally be blessed if Smith Rowe started. Playing for 12 minutes and getting an assist and a goal is becoming weirdly normal for him.
  • A round of applause to Ben White for such a top left performance having not played right back for a long time. An equally large round of applause to Rob Holding for a faultless display. He also could have a reason for being sad but he just seems to want to perform and lead.
  • Would it be fair to say that the only two attributes missing from Bukayo Saka’s game until recently were goals and assists?

We weren’t necessarily worried as the cream will finally rise to the top (or is it the cheese ;), but he’s clearly been practicing. As our game is based on repetition then that finish from Lane 4 will happen frequently as it is one of Arsenal’s passing patterns. His all round game is replicated in many players on this current Arsenal team. Think about that. We are building a team of many who are capable of everything needed in the modern game. I’m trying to articulate how I think many people are currently feeling about our current team.

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  • Was that the first game this season that our three senior starters were all very good? That has been one of the missing links for quite a long time. Xhaka is arguably in the best form of his Arsenal career. Lacazette is consistently close to the top of his personal game. Yesterday could’ve been Thomas Partey’s best performance of the season.

NEEDS:

  • Another huge positive I currently feel is that up until 6 weeks ago, I didn’t  feel Arsenal were going to score. When we did I felt surprised. Now I feel that it is ‘very possible’ when we come forward.

As well as Lacazette has been linking play, he desperately lacks hunger inside the box. I think Arsenal will go from making us feel that it is ‘very possible’ that we score to ‘expectant’ when we purchase a physical striker whose hungry movement is given a chance to link with 3 players itching to play with this player.

  • Have you ever wondered why teams that have such comfortable possession find it so difficult to connect in the penalty box?

Most teams finish every session with some form of finishing drill that rarely includes opposition. That’s problem number one. Secondly, what I have found to be more valuable is playing a possession game inside the 18 yard box and getting the players to subconsciously recognize the importance of accuracy in this area of the field. I have a strong opinion that players get too comfortable and just ‘put it in there.’ I fully understand that you are ordinarily numbers down in the box but there are other advantages to use namely elusive movement. I look forward to this being another layer of development in our ever improving team.

  • Lacazette needs to be very careful when defending set plays. He is starting to get into the habit of getting away with pulling, blocking and fouling opponents. His good fortune can only last so long.

HOPES:

I hope that our players make intelligent decisions for the next six days. As tempting as it will be to spend the holidays sightseeing and such, they need to isolate themselves so we can have a full strength team against City.

Most of the tweets about Brandon Williams yesterday were tearing him apart for being dominated by Saka. That is not what I saw. Saka’s second goal saw him fooled by a body faint but apart from that he had a good game. I bet you if you asked Bukayo, he would tell you that he’s one of the best full backs in the league. He never got around him on the outside as Williams is equally as quick. Williams is also brave, focused, tough and plays both sides.

I say all this because we are looking for a back up right back and he is one that I very much like.

Our postponement shines a light on our form. Many people are saying that it is disappointing. We would likely be the same crew of players going out less than two days after yesterday’s game yet it is a shame as we currently have such great rhythm. I can only hope that in the six days before our City game that our coach doesn’t take the extra time to revert to the over coaching that he has done in the past. I would take this as somewhat of a freebie and believe in your improved possession and goals and go for it and attack Manchester City the best you can.

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FINAL THOUGHT:

I am currently putting together a transfer blog that I think you will enjoy reading.

Please consider watching/listening to my unique Arsenal ‘Who am I’ quiz today at 7 PM UK time on the @MrArsenal89 channel.

Arsenal is a happy place right now. We are not only full of goals and lovely positive possession but honestly, we are a team that could go on to be one of the most memorable in our lifetime due to our talent and youth.  Beautiful.

Talking of beautiful…. before you check out my podcast, here is a picture of Charlie Patino 🙂

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5 Responses to Was that easy or are we good? Arteta’s Arsenal crunch The Canaries

  1. Melvyn MARKS December 27, 2021 at 10:52 am #

    A realistic thread of where we are and the reasons for it.

  2. ron ryan December 27, 2021 at 1:40 pm #

    Great summary as usual, really concur with the overthinking final thought.It’s so easy at all levels to get caught up in that when you are playing what is believed to be “superior” opposition.Right now we should go out and play our game, which is in a good place,as best we can. If we win great ,if we lose so be it but we will be that bit better for the experience.

  3. Lari03 December 27, 2021 at 8:14 pm #

    At the beginning of the season, I was of the opinion that Arsenal should sell Lacazette, and buy a striker; since Aubameyang’s on a big contract. That seems to be the main problem right now: getting a striker who will take this team to the next level.

  4. Francis Redemi December 28, 2021 at 7:54 am #

    Happy Holidays Mike!!!!

    Another great post as usual. We are so much in a good place right now as a football club. The creativity has been very good and our new habit of.keeping clean sheet also shows a clear improvement.

    What do we do about Auba? That’s the only negative we have so far.

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  1. Arsenal fans claim Norwich should be relegated after Granit Xhaka’s ‘jogo bonito’ skill – Daily Mail – CoverStory - December 27, 2021

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