A day for Arteta
This isn’t just good form you know. Step back for a minute and admire this new team.
That performance last night wasn’t just dogged. You can’t play Liverpool at Anfield, one of the best teams in world football, and shut them out with 10 men with no shots on target if you are simply dogged.
Being dogged involves your keeper diving around like a cat for 90 minutes and your players making desperate challenges and blocks.
That’s not what I saw. If anything Ramsdale had a little bit of an off night and seemed to make a couple of mistakes that could have led to something.
Not wanting to take away from the players effort but if you’ve ever wondered about a coaches influence on the players after they cross the white line that was a model.
That hugely impressive result was largely down to our coach and his high level of understanding and ability to coach defensive organization. Not only that but he is matching his coaching brain with an obvious gift for motivating. The players could have drug their chins after Xhaka was sent off.
I saw a level of determination that I haven’t seen since the Vieira days when we would frequently stay in games or even win games when down to 10 men. Perhaps the piece that isn’t being talked about is personal improvement on the part of Mikel Arteta. When we transition from season to season it is occasionally mentioned that players will be better next year than the current one. People are so obsessed with transfers that they forget that a player like Gabriel might well be 25% better next season simply because he feels more comfortable in his environment. Have you noticed that they never talk about coaches learning and improving themselves. I sat and watched how quickly our coach reacted to the sending off. He didn’t just make a tricky substitution look easy but changed formation to one that was pivotal in the end result.
So, what we have currently is a coach who is faultless in his communication with the press, has been six for six in the last transfer window, has transformed the poorest of starts to the season to a true top four contender, has made us you look like the best organized defensive unit in the league, has the players highly motivated, and now he’s improving his in-game management. On top of that, he has transitioned us through his new Juego de Posicion textbook from playing out of the back to exiting through the center of the midfield as well as out wide, which makes us more unpredictable, and now into a fluent and dangerous attack.
This is the coach that we have.
A coach that looks like he is close to full bloom. Congratulations Mikel! That was impressive.
- He is another underestimated quality that is imperative for those wanting to become elite players. It is the difference between the elite and the good. It is focus. There are many defenders who can block, intercept, win tackles, when duals and a few that can play out from the back. What separates is finding a player that can do all those things consistently and do it against elite opposition in adverse circumstances. Benjamin White is proving to be this player. The pressure was incessant yet so was his focus. Any split second lapse of concentration and that game was different. Another underrated quality of his game is his anticipation. Another quality that is not spoken of in defending. Watch how often he protects his goal and how quickly he does it when his goalkeeper is exposed. In my experience the hardest habit to break in any player that I have ever coached is ball watching. Trying to stay alert and anticipate the next movement takes such focus and engagement. Benjamin White seems to have this gift and if Harry Maguire and Tyrone Mings make the England squad ahead of him in February then I won’t be happy.
- After a shaky start, Sambi needs credit for his post Xhaka performance. He was the only recognized midfielder in midfield and after a forgettable experience in Liverpool last time he also picked his chin up off the ground and put in a man’s performance.
- The difference in Lacazette these last months has been his consistency. As I write these blogs, I can tell you with such clarity that it has been one good game and one terrible one from him for a long time. He is now having a consistent positive effect on the team and yesterdays game suited his determination to participate and lead in the battle.
- Bukayo Saka will have added another 10 million to his value to the Merseyside club who are apparently chasing him. As usual what he achieves in a game is never easy as he is marked like he is a diminutive Argentinian. What I saw yesterday was a fresh willingness to focus defensively and an ever improving body strength and wisdom in how to use his strength. He is now refusing to be bumped off the ball in physical confrontations and is sliding his body around opponents who try to sneak it in front of him. These last few months have been a period of growth for him as his goal contributions have risen as well as these improvements I mention.
- Benjamin White was clearly not alone in stopping Liverpool. Plaudits need to go to the other defenders and Calum Chambers in particular. Even though he was infuriating me in jogging back a couple of times, he is at his best when facing a war. I think he has great value to the Arsenal squad and he’s probably a little underutilized. I’m still not convinced that Holding is better than he is. I also want to mention Martinelli who along side Saka had to play midfield for the first time. Much like Saka he seems to adapt two new challenges and new positions rather well.
- It was good to see new Nuno trusted. He has largely had a hugely impressive start to his Arsenal career and his poor performance against Forest needs to be washed away. We are too quick to remember the negative and forget the positive. He is a very young man in a new country speaking a language that only a couple of the other players speak and he has been a revelation in most matches. He needs the love not reactionary over the top negative adjectives thrown his way.
- Before we went down to 10 men I was pining for Arsenal to show more composure on the ball. When we started hoofing it up the field for the last 70 minutes I was ok with this, but we have to mature to the point where an intimidating away atmosphere and a quick pressing team doesn’t fluster our technique.
- I do wonder if we were more suited to playing with 10 men in this particular fixture that 11. When we had 11 we were struggling to stop the entry ball into Liverpool’s forwards which is their first method of attack.
- I got the feeling that Ramsdale wanted to join in the heroics last night. Almost like he wanted to be part of the Avengers in front of him but last night we didn’t need him in the Marvel movie.
- We have become better at starting games quicker, especially at home. There are levels to go up though. Liverpool are very good at utilizing their passionate fanbase and compact stadium to energize their 12th man. You can see how they’re pressing and counter pressing not only energizes their fans but affects their opponents. If it wasn’t Liverpool yesterday we would’ve been more composed in the second half and less likely to clear the ball without thinking. In my experience, if you make your opponent think that they are being pressed even when they are not then they are likely to panic and make decisions that they normally would not. It can affect them for the rest of the game even when the energy subsides. They find it hard to drop their heart rate as they anticipate pressure that might not even be coming. The advantage of starting the way you mean to go on.
In a situation like our current injury and absentee one, I would be nervous about the North London Derby. I do not feel this way. I don’t feel this way because I know that my team will make me feel proud regardless of the result. I know that the result is king in this fixture, but it sure is a nice feeling knowing but your team is a serious team that doesn’t fluctuate based on circumstance. I go back to my initial thought and praise the coach for setting that standard. If I know one thing about Arteta it’s that he hates excuses.
In my podcast below I talk transfers, a tactical positive and how the scoreboard has taken a backseat.
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.