A place to dream
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
Everybody went back to the bus and I stayed for a few minutes. I sat at the top of the world in Meteora, Greece on a cliff where a monastery sits, and I dreamt.
A short dream. Short but meaningful. I’d being sweating it all day as to whether my wifi signal would reach to the top of the world and whether I’d get to watch my beloved Arsenal.
The ride from the ferry port was winding, a little treacherous and it seemed like 3 hours of roads that all went up. Normally you get variation but the roads to Meteora make you think you might have to contact air traffic control for permission to keep driving.
I sat there first out of gratefulness for the opportunity to see something so beautiful. Then I thought to myself that this must be a place where creative people go to dream, to get inspiration.
As my brain often does it wandered from the poetic straight into the world of Arsenal and whether Smith Rowe was fit. I know I’m not the only sports fan that struggles to keep their team off their mind. I remembered the day that we played Leicester at home and Danny Welbeck became our hero. I remember dreaming of winning a Premier League title that I wasn’t expecting. This season our dream is different. It is arguably even more unexpected though. Many thought that we were going to have to wait until next season to crack into the top four. Not only is that now a realistic possibility but there are ever-increasing moments of cruise control watching this current team. I stopped dreaming about good things happening to Arsenal a while ago because the pain was getting too repetitive. There is something different about this group though.
I had just listened to a tour guide explaining how the nuns in the monastery had dedicated their entire life to prayer and servanthood. Eight hours of meditation and prayer every single day. I don’t have any ambition to become a nun as my beard is too thick and I can’t sit still for eight minutes let alone eight hours but I thoroughly enjoyed those few seconds meditating on my team at the top of the world.
- Arsenal have rhythm. Sometimes we forget that we crave rhythm and style as we get suckered into believing that our love for football is based on points. I didn’t love football initially because of points. I loved football because it brought out emotion that nothing else could do for me. Sometimes I wish that we could forget about the points because when I was eight I sure didn’t. I couldn’t explain what I was looking for but now I recognize it as beauty. I would’ve called it something else back then but that’s what it is. Its moments. Its moments where you see something that makes you feel superior to the opponent. Now that I feel more relaxed about Arsenal acquiring the points, I can embrace the fullness of the beautiful football that is starting to appear. Odegaard is conducting the balletic rhythm of our football and what had seemed functional and overly robotic initially, are now automatism‘s that have given such confidence to our players who are now opening their own personal can of creativity as they feel comfortable in the knowledge of where their friends are. We are starting to see the endgame of ArtetaBall. Automatisms allowing beauty. This beauty and rhythm is most clearly seen in the significantly higher number of one touch passes that we are attempting and completing. Modern football at its elite point is based on quickness. Quickness to retrieve the ball after you lose it and quickness to move the ball when you have it. We tune in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and see others partaking in this and now we are wondering if we have the capability to join this party sooner than we thought.
- Saka is becoming the master of the middle third. If the left back gets tight he can roll them as he is strong enough, quick enough and skillful enough. If they back off he can run at you and he’s becoming more direct. He’s good in the final third but not yet great. That will be his next step. Consistency in goal threat. As we see in direct comparison with Mo Salah who is more consistently dangerous in an around the box. This day will happen for Bakayo Saka soon.
- I am yet to listen to Arteta‘s post match conference but I would imagine that he was thrilled with how we controlled the game in the last 20 minutes. That was our problem and certainly his problem when we played Watford. It was too hectic and we allowed the game to become one where the best finisher wins. Beyond the last 15 minutes of the first half we kept Leicester at arms length and not only were we the superior team but we looked like a superior football team.
- Kieran Tierney had a better game. I still wish he would use his right foot when attacking and go both ways but he offered more threat going forward and was pivotal a couple of times being the last defender to clear the danger in our box.
- Thomas Partey is now showing us who he is. I remember saying when we signed him that the first thing we would notice is that we wished we could have his twin brother. His goal will give him confidence and he could easily have scored a hat trick. His shot against the post might just give him more confidence than the goal or the handball situation as his shooting is ordinarily terrible as we know. His John Jensen moment will happen I’m sure. In the meantime I delight in watching a player at the top of his game who will be the envy of many other Premier league teams.
- I mentioned in my last podcast how it was important that we got back to clean sheets quickly. There is a subconscious stream of thought in a footballers mind that thinks it’s OK to concede because we normally do. Elite coaches talk about clean sheets as much if not more than scoring goals as you can’t lose if you don’t concede. If the coach doesn’t mention it then the goalkeeper certainly will and he will grab a few by the shoulders and make sure they understand how important it is to him personally.
- Leicester gave up. When was the last time a good team like Leicester, who played good football and had no reason to give up, did so. I got the impression in the last 15 minutes that they didn’t believe that they could come back. I think the rhythm and particularly the one touch football sucks the belief out of opponents who let their mental fatigue affect their physical condition. It discourages them from running which has a knock on effect to the belief of the team when players stop chasing.
- I bet you that Arteta isn’t talking about these three games in such a short period like the fans are. He knows that our players have an advantage in not having as many games in their legs as others. He seems to have an attitude of no excuses. I love that. Players need to turn off the pundits their social media and just focus. Don’t believe that you can’t do something when you can.
- Just a small detail but in the 77th minute Granit Xhaka was striding forward and Schmeichel was at least 8 yards off his line. No criticism of Xhaka, but I’ve been wondering for a few years why the chip has left football. When was the last time you saw somebody delicately chip a goalkeeper? Long-distance shot shooting is now almost exclusively about power and occasional ball movement to deceive the goalkeeper. Bring back the chip I say.
- Martin Odegaard will not win Player of the Year because Arsenal haven’t made a significant impact as other teams. His statistics are not as eye-opening as others too. I’m not saying that he should, but I will happily suggest that he looks like one of the best footballers in the league. If you are one of the best footballers in your league then you can control games. He can do this. Your influence is greater than everybody else’s and they let you set the tempo. I hope that in the summer we find other elite players for less than £35,000,000. I do wonder if Frenkie deJong might be worth trying to attain. He has the potential to be the best midfielder in the world and has come close to this accolade previously. Much like Odegaard, de Jong is a beautiful footballer to watch.
That’s plenty enough of me saying the word beautiful. I think my visit to the top of the world has put stars in my eyes and made me all poetic.
Please check out my 15 minute podcast below where I talk about how Arsenal were able to close out the game, Tomiyasu and what other elite players might be thinking when they are watching us now.
I’d also like to mention the wonderful students of Berean and Andrada who have given me so many wonderful memories to treasure and plenty of silly videos!
Here are Cooper and Melani who introduce todays podcast with the wacky Abby and Grace….
….. and here are the whole crew at the Roman Forum
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.