An Accidental Benefit
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
At half time yesterday I had written down five potential headlines for this blog all about our obvious need to be able to create clear-cut chances. We had recorded more chances in one half than anybody else in the Premier league this season. Apart from Lacazette‘s disallowed goal, not one of them was a clear-cut chance though. We had also enjoyed 80% possession which is also a record and abnormal for us. So much was going right.
Often when I coach I wish that there was a rule in football that gave goals or points for successes. I only wish for this silliness as on the coaching field we work so hard on so many aspects of the game and yet it all seems somewhat pointless if you can’t create clear-cut chances. This may well end up being the deciding factor in whether we get top four the season.
On the road to hoping we achieve this, I have noticed that there is an accidental benefit. At the beginning of the season Arteta publicly pushed Saka and ESR to increase their goal tally. Like much of last season it seemed to be a potential heavy weight on the backs of players who are doing more than enough for the team even without being much of a goal threat. Sometimes the coaches challenge is enough to motivate and guys in particular, love to be challenged. Better than the challenge though is the reality for these two young men. Liverpool’s midfielders for example, could be challenged by Klopp to increase their goal tally to support their prolific attackers.
The difference is though that Liverpool‘s midfielders live in the reality that the team still wins the majority of their games without a need for their goals. Again, Saka and ESR are living a different reality. They have been challenged and they see with their own eyes that unless they contribute goal threat there are games that we are simply not winning. The accidental benefit of this challenge and reality will possibly get us into the Champions League next season. It should give us our own version of Liverpool‘s prolific attackers next season when we add a goal scoring center forward.
If this center forward can get 20+ goals and our youngsters get 10 each then we become challengers. Including Martinelli who falls into the same category, this is 50 goals from four attackers. It is also a reasonable request.
So then we step back from the nerves of yesterday and I have to admire that we have three of Europe’s top young players who seem to have accepted the reality and challenge.
We then have to ask ourselves if we can keep ESR on the bench. Might it be time to give Martinelli a run at center forward and play all three of our youngsters with Odegaard behind? I think it’s worth serious consideration and I know the club are practicing Martinelli at CF.
Either way, what has impressed me is that pressure can kill you. It can also open your eyes to a ceiling that you thought you couldn’t touch or didn’t have.
- I was so close to using my opening piece to talk about the volume of tackles and balls we won back throughout the game. It shines bright to me still because I’ve never seen Arsenal as this type of team in my lifetime. It is so fresh and quite beautiful to see us able to possess for long periods of time then lose it but instantly win it back. This is coaching. Of that there is no doubt. It is coaching because any team at any level can tackle, press and win the ball back if coached correctly. It is one of the easier skills. It does however take an attitude of sacrifice. It also takes an attitude of intelligence. Intelligence because you can run 60 yards at 50% or 4 yards at 100% and win it back earlier. Thomas Partey led the way. He has quietly started to find some consistency and isn’t getting the recognition of being the single pivot that many said didn’t work. It was also impressive that our quickest presser, Martinelli was absent yet our team had their most impressive pressing game.
- That might have been the best game I’ve seen from Martin Odegaard. He was imperious in possession and seemed to have that aura of a player in top form oozing confidence. Almost everything he did worked and was progressive. His technical variety makes him more secure than others. My only wish is that he would be more ruthless in and around the box. Beyond that we have to value his high ceiling. At the top of his ceiling is the ability to thread the needle yet our players are rarely running behind the defense for him to do so. That’s two wishes. That’s ok though. Let’s be cheeky and add a third. Finally, there are a handful of smart Arsenal fans that I respect that tell me that if you go to the game it is obvious that he is our best player. You should always lean into your best players ceiling and push it higher because the best are motivated to vault their ceiling.
- Saka’s game is growing. If you stand off him he can receive it and combine. He can receive it and beat you. He can beat you on both sides. He can run behind but should do it more to be honest. If you get tight to him he can roll you. When he rolls you he has become significantly stronger and he can leave you flailing. Now thankfully, he can finish. Perhaps the next string to his bow is being a bigger threat in the assist column.
- I don’t think that the fast start and the total domination of the game from start to finish were coincidences. I think they were instructed to play as if superior. Been a long time coming.
- My son Maxwell, he’s getting smarter. During the games he looks at me writing notes for this blog and I can see his brain swelling. A few seconds later he will blurt out something that he hopes is profound. It’s pretty cute. One of his best thoughts recently came yesterday. He looked at me after the Smith Rowe goal and said, “ have you ever noticed that Smith Rowe goals are always really nice finishes. He doesn’t score ordinary goals.” Shout out to Max!
- Should we be really impressed about our development since the last time we play Bradford or should Brentford be concerned that they were awful yesterday and have been for a while and actually we were just ok? The way I see it is that we have made large strides. Consistent defensive security is real. The midfield press is organized and convincing. Offensively we are impressing consistently with all our youngsters and our attacking midfielder. The only major concern is the center forward who is never really going to make progress at his age and with his skill set.
- He’s not good enough. He deserves the contract. He’s good enough for right now. He will be a good second choice striker next season and possibly the season after. He’s not good enough right now. I think he’s good enough. He’s a good leader and a good model for the young players. We need senior players. I don’t think he’s good enough. Actually, I think he might be good enough. I’m done with him, we need new strikers.
I think these words fairly accurately describe our journey the last couple of seasons with Lacazette. There may be similar feelings when we talk about Eddie too. Part of me thinks it’s time to try the Martinelli at centre forward theory. Part of me points to the risk we took in playing Saka and ESR as much as we did initially. So why not Martinelli at center forward? Then there is the argument that Martinelli maybe the solution and save us 70 million in the summer. Then I think that this is too big of a risk to try right now when we might be risking our first chance back in the Champions League. Then I start thinking that leaving Lacazette there is a risk too. Then I remember that there is never a good time in the football season to experiment.
So, what do you do with all that?
I think the intelligent thing to do is to try Martinelli at centre forward in the right games and at the right times. Wait for the game to be secure before you try it. Then again you probably only find out how good he would be at striker in wide open space as your opponent gets desperate.
This is all very confusing to me and probably you too.
What I am 100% convinced of is that Lacazette has value and that he can often be effective in parts of his role. I am also convinced that Arsenal Football Club deserve to have two strikers that can do more than Alexandre Lacazette can do.
- I have noticed that Ramsdale is great with his feet when he’s not moving at speed. When he composes himself before he distributes his technique is elite. When he rushes, just a little, and the ball is rolling he’s kicking suffers. As he prefers a lower trajectory in his distribution this can become risky if it goes wrong and it did twice yesterday. I would hope that the goalkeeping coach would point out that he needs to slow the ball down and slow his wheels down in order to execute his elite technique.
- Not sure what we were doing at corner kicks yesterday. I would’ve thought after 10 efforts in the first half that the set play coach Nicholas Jover would’ve instructed them to try a few of their more creative ideas. Brentford to their credit defended all 390 of the corners admirably but we didn’t seem to learn that it wasn’t going to be our day with the direct corner.
- Here I go playing the same tune as I have been recently but it has to be said… In order for Arsenal to become more ruthless when so dominant we have to offer the option of the ball behind the defence to the attacker running behind. Almost the entire first half Smith Rowe and Saka wanted the ball to their feet. This of course is fine and marries perfectly with their skill set. It is also exactly what the defensive unit are hoping that you will do. It gives their midfielders time to come back and support them. When we play more directly and vertically at the right times we have clear-cut opportunities to score. This has been Arsenal’s biggest weakness and remains so. We just don’t create enough clear-cut opportunities. The lesson couldn’t be more stark than after yesterday Both of our goals came from direct vertical play. Saka is the most guilty and needs to be instructed play to the needs of the team rather than his personal preference of receiving the ball to his feet.
Additionally, we are not using the dinked ball over the top or the third man. Lacazette’s lack of movement is encouraging the parked bus too.
In my dream state I think that one day I will get to do a session at London Colony. In this dream I choose to teach shooting on balance. It seems to be a disease spread throughout the team. Shooting when they are not ready. Shooting too hard. Shooting with a full swing when a half swing is more accurate. Maybe I should just let it go. Let’s be honest we haven’t been a long distance shooting team for over 20 years.
- It’s hard to look at all these penalty decisions today and not think that there was at least a subconscious decision made beforehand to ignore Arsenal’s requests for justice or simply VAR. Cedric’s shot was going on target and by the laws of the game if it wasn’t a penalty kick (because his arm was in a natural position) then it should’ve been an indirect free kick as it was an accident. The foul on Pepe, well I have no idea how it’s not a penalty kick or a yellow card for diving. It’s one of them. As LeGrove pointed out after the game, Arsenal are going to have to use this bias as a weapon to win the game by themselves and not worry about the referees. That can work in a changing room.
- We pressed with great effectiveness for an hour. As soon as we dropped off, Brentford had opportunities. I was surprised that Elneny didn’t come in as this is a strength of his. Next season we are going to have to have midfielders of the same quality on the bench as on the field so we can trust them and maintain the press in games that are close. Games where you don’t really want to make a substitute but you have to because of fatigue. With similar talent on the bench you don’t have to shift to a defensive posture.
What I find so exciting about the future for Arsenal is that even if we simply bought a prolific center forward this summer and nobody else, we would dramatically be improving our team. So many of the pages of Arteta’s Juego de Posicion textbook that he coaches from are proving successful. We are showing consistency as we build our defensive structure and becoming one of the best in the league in this area. There is clear growth seen in our possession game.
The striker is arguably the most important player on the field as everything else is built to lead to your number nine been given multiple chances to finish. I look forward to this fix.
The expanded podcast is now available below… There are some interesting options for this position.
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.