Big fat respect points
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
There are certain games that are even more important than the points and performance. New Year’s Day, the only game on TV in the world, the beginning of the transfer window and a chance to confirm the rumor that you are good.
If you aren’t an Arsenal fan then you will have heard about this resurgence. The skeptics pointed to the fact that our resurgence has come against weaker teams and dismissed it. Those who watch closely know that although our recent opponents haven’t been high-level, that there has been many things that have looked markedly different. It’s not hard to spot. When you go from struggling to even create, let alone score, to creating bundles and scoring many, this is a big change. When every player in your team is either approaching top form or in it then something is different.
As this was somewhat of a free swing, there was an argument that the performance was more important than the result in the long term. Arsenal as a whole club, the fans, staff and players all needed to believe that they can compete with the best.
None of those three groups of people are stupid. If we would’ve won in a fortunate manner then we would’ve been excited but not necessarily moving forward with great confidence.
As a coach, I pine for a performance that I can point to. A performance that I can put in my back pocket and pull out against the bigger teams when I think the players confidence is wavering. Yesterday, result aside, the players should listen to their coach. I would hope that the coaching staff didn’t preach positivity after the game as your golden thoughts are lost in a puddle of disappointment. I hope that they will wait until the next day when the emotions have subsided.
The absolute truth of what we saw are found in many truths. How about this list…
- Manchester City looked puzzled. How often do we see that? They created almost nothing and have been in rich form. How often have you seen that?
- How often do you see City play the entire game with three touches per player. One of the reasons that they are one of the best teams in Europe is that you can’t get close to them. They move the ball with one touch more than any team in world football. They didn’t yesterday. The press and counter press was so well organized that they couldn’t.
- When you think of a successful City performance it always has two aspects. They frequently get to the byline and put multiple balls across your 6 yard box at high speed. They had none of those. Even more than that, their attacking players are constantly checking back and then running behind. The only time they did this successfully or even at all, was for the winning goal, and that was fortunate. They didn’t do it because they lacked belief but because we were tracking every run and it would’ve become short vs tall.
- So what do these three points tell us? They tell us that our coaching staff found the best game plan that anybody has found against them this season. It tells me what I thought I already knew but wanted confirmed, that our coaching staff are elite.
- That Arsenal Football Club have just confirmed that they are in a really good place. We got a strong feeling that they were but we needed confirmation.
- It’s more important that Arsenal become a great team but it’s interesting to consider this.… Three months ago how many of Arsenal’s players would’ve had a chance of getting in City’s team? I think it was zero. Now there are multiple players who would cause an interesting conversation. It’s not about just one game but our wide players were significantly more effective than theirs. Our defensive unit looked just as good as theirs. Martin Odegaard was born to play for Manchester City but he doesn’t, he plays for Arsenal. Thomas Partey decided that he was elite yesterday too and he would be in the conversation.
- Maybe the most encouraging part was simply the confidence to play. Most teams just don’t have it against them. Not only did we have it but we were at least their equal in creating dangerous attacking opportunities and I’m probably being unfair to Arsenal.
- There is a huge unspoken benefit of the world watching. We hear of rumours that Vlahovic is unconvinced by Arsenal’s potential. That thought represents how players who Arsenal might be considering for the final two pieces of the jigsaw, feel about us. That’s important. Very important. They need to watch a game and think “wow!” Prospective elite signings don’t care about whether we got three points. They just watch a game of football and want to be entertained. They are looking for things that are good. A club that looks like they have a good chance of winning trophies.
- Finally, you cannot ignore the crowd. They know. They watch everything, read everything and the reaction is very real. When you lose a game that you were winning and get a standing ovation and the majority of them stay and applaud you, then you know that you are on the right path.
Arsenal will have gotten much respect yesterday. Not just because we were hard done by either.
As I said in my last blog, Arsenal are good.
- Martinelli seems to love the world watching him. It seems like he comes alive whenever he knows everybody’s paying attention. He has so much respect for the game yet no fear of opponents. Such a beautiful balance and therefore a very real prospect of becoming one of the best.
- Like you, I was lost in the emotion of our goal but everything about that move was so good. Xhaka scanning and punch passing to break the lines. This is also the big improvement he needs to make. The choice and weight of Tierney’s pass was perfection. The intelligence from Saka to run against the flow of defensive movement was impressive. The best part was the choice of finish. Scoring goals is often called the most difficult thing and I think it is as far as creating the opportunity. Sometimes the finish is a simple as Saka made it. Short swing, inside of the foot, no power needed and you will have noticed that the keeper had no chance.
- It’s just our luck that Thomas Partey plays his best game of the season and then has to leave for a month. It was noticeable the difference in the last time he played City. He seem to lack confidence to play. Too quick to send low percentage balls forward. Yesterday he played with such composure and control. He is one of the last first team players to be seeking top form so this was very encouraging.
- Did you notice that we were very conscious of moving the ball away from the areas that we won it back in. One of City’s main strengths is their ability to win it back within four seconds. They do that by smothering the area that they have lost it in. They couldn’t do that because we moved the ball away from that area. Very clever tactics.
- Tomiyasu isn’t human. Returns from Covid, one day of training, shuts down one of the most in form wingers in Europe. I paused before I wrote this next thought. Wasn’t sure if it’s love showing it’s blindness but here goes…. I wouldn’t swap Tomiyasu for any RB in Europe. Nobody out there offers the technical security and dominant defensive displays on a consistent basis than he does. He’s just showed up too. Last season, I thought Tierney was top level but this guy…..different level.
- That pass from Ramsdale to Martinelli. Like Tierney, I thought Leno was good. Plenty good enough. Not really the problem. Then Ramsdale happened.
- I don’t want to criticize Xhaka for yesterday as Silva dived before any contact appeared. What I would like to see from Xhaka is a lower posture when defending in the box and lighter feet. He gets criticized for turning like a battleship but it doesn’t have to be this way. He just has a bad tendency of getting flat-footed and relying on trying to deceive the referee to stop people.
- This is treading on delicate ground to but it does become an issue when you are in a very emotional moment and your most vocal leader is also your most emotional. Xhaka needed to calm Gabriel down. I do understand that he may well have tried so I’ll leave it there.
- The best game to shake off that one is the next league game. If we win the North London Derby then the mood will be electric. Not just because the game is against rivals or because we are contesting for the same position either. The players need to believe that their potential isn’t just a conversation and need to see the reward in points.
The messaging will be so important to our future.
We may have not moved forward on the league table but the way everybody else views us now is very different. This was almost like one step back, three steps forward. I’m disappointed by yesterday but very energized for the future.
In my podcast below, I discuss some interesting decisions that we have to make in the next week or so.
Happy New Year!
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.