The game didn’t start at 4:05pm
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
It’s not too late. It seems like it is, but it’s not.
The situation and our push for Champions League football is still possible even though it seems like we are throwing it away.
What has been too late however, is how our coach and players have reverted to playing two good halves of football in the last four halves available to us. Perhaps it’s not a choice, I get that, but this is exactly where we were for at least a year and it seemed like we had turned that comer.
I remember thinking in 2021 that the next stage of our development was to become an attacking force as we had become defensively very well organized. Also to learn how to play two good halves of football. I thought we had conquered this problem. The angry part of me wants to scream at the club right now and tell them that the game did not start at 4:05 PM, it started at 3 o’clock. The Premier League seven years ago was not as strong and you could play a weaker team and show up for 45 minutes and still win, but that is not possible anymore against more talented and motivated teams with better coaching all around.
Before kick off I was enthused to hear and read Arteta‘s main push was for energy and intensity. I had partially written a blog after the Palace game but did not have time due to a crazy spring schedule to complete it. It was called, ‘The Turning Point.’ Positive spin on what can happen to any football team that gets thrashed by a team that should never thrash them. A form of positive anger and desire for retribution can drive up the intensity. I had hoped for this and believed in it, but this didn’t happen.
I think it didn’t happen because we were tactically confused. Graham Potter is a smart coach and he nullified our potential attacking routes by man-marking Odegaard and Smith Rowe. We looked tense and afraid to play quickly and utilize the one touch that we had acquired. A departure from the confidence we saw in March. I’m concerned that Arteta has taken too long in the first half of the last two games to change what he knows that he should change after 15 minutes. I empathize with his desire to ‘give it time to work,’ as that has value too but as he will learn in his coaching career, some experiments need time and others need to be thrown in the bin quickly. It was obvious from the first five minutes that Lokonga did not feel comfortable being alone in midfield. In time and given time he may as he is a talented boy. Right now, he seemed too eager to impress and alongside his nervousness and not scanning before he got the ball, he was therefore unable to progress it as he was pressed. Our two eights being man-marked was not a problem in March as our connections were possible under pressure or in space. It was obvious after 15 minutes that they had lost a step of confidence to either use the one touch that they had developed or turn their marker. I don’t want to pretend that Arteta should’ve changed after 15 minutes as you want to give it 30 minutes but the last 15 minutes of the first half at least should’ve seen Xhaka alongside Lokonga and Arsenal revisiting 4-2-3-1.
I’ve said all along that if Arteta has humility and avoids stubbornness then he will be a top coach. He certainly doesn’t lack bravery or confidence in himself but as we all know, confidence can become ego and ego can get out of control.
What could’ve caused this most dramatic change from one touch football to slow paced nervous football? Against Palace and Brighton I wondered on both occasions if the club had kidnapped the players’ Grannies. Their body language and mood seemed to have changed. As if something has happened behind closed doors that has upset them as a group. It’s just so odd that the change has been so quick and dramatic.
On the positive side, one of the most true football sayings, ‘confidence takes time to attain and is quickly lost,’ could benefit Arsenal even though it doesn’t look like it will today.
Back in February and March Spurs were the most inconsistent team in the league. In fact, their record was W,L,W,L,W,L,W,L.
We were thriving.
Just because they are looking like a real team today, football is football and it can swing back the other way.
It won’t however if we keep showing up at 4:05 PM.
- Martinelli continues to show that game state does not affect his confidence. This will likely see him become an elite footballer. Whenever we are struggling, he doesn’t. It seems to motivate him to make the difference.
- I feel so sorry for Cedric. He delivered three or four good crosses yesterday and beyond Nketiah’s header, his ability to cross is not being highlighted as our striker has minimal desire. Overall, Cedric has been 7 out of 10 most weeks in the last two months. It’s never his performance that isn’t good enough for us to win. He is a 7/10 player playing 7/10. The other players have to play to their potential.
- Xhaka stabilized us in the second half. This might be the number one reason that he plays so regularly in our midfield. He’s a stabilizer and seems to impact the mentality of those around him in a positive way. He seems to give others confidence. There is great value to this. It’s just not a headline.
- It was good to see Arsenal score from 30+ yards. I’m a believer that you have to keep opponents guessing. Your game should be varied from an attacking sense. You shouldn’t have a game plan of shooting repeatedly from 30 yards but if you do it occasionally and shoot from a variety of angles where your chances are only 10% or less, then you concern their players. Modern football is largely about patience and moving the opponents around to find gaps. Defenders will always move if they think their goal is threatened, leaving others open.
- Nketiah is not the solution. He is however having a significantly greater impact than Lacazette has recently. He has nearly scored four times in the last two games and, within an inch of a goal on all four occasions. This is contrary to Lacazette who has only had four shots on target in his last 1000 minutes. And had no shots on goal yesterday in arguably our most important home game of the season.
- I liked what Sambi did. It was Arteta that put him alone on an island on his first start in 2022. He struggled but I thought that was more on the coach. I love the fact that in the second half he wanted to be brave and drive us forwards. His passing wasn’t great all day long, but he did not hide. That reminds me of the quote from Vincent Kompany who said that this was Sambi’s best quality. A great ‘best quality’ to have as too many players young or old will hide when the going gets tough. His struggles were linked to the textbook style that is hard to remember the minute details of positioning, if you haven’t played in months.
- Time for Martinelli, ESR or Eddie at striker. When your centre forward isn’t linking play anymore, winning duels, assisting or scoring then there is no point. I was reticent to make the change with 10 games remaining in the season but there is now no risk. At the very least, putting one of the other three at Striker or false nine will at least cause the opponents doubt as they are unfamiliar with what they are going to do. They are not worried when facing Lacazette. He is easily managed. A new striker could open up opportunities for other players. Currently players like Saka and Martinelli are comfortably being double teamed because opponents do not have to double team our striker as they do not see him as a threat.
- I was really concerned with Smith Rowe’s performance today. I’m not sure why I focused more on him, probably because I was excited that he was back in the lineup. It’s not his potential that worries me as he is clearly a very good footballer but his bravery and desire seemed to be significantly lacking yesterday. For that first goal, he was jogging back but ‘jogging’ might be a generous term. In the first half, his movement was not dynamic enough and he is becoming too conservative with his choices. Two willing to ‘set the play’ when it doesn’t need to be set. He seemed to lose his bravery to want the ball when being man marked.
- It’s not popular to criticize Saka. His life on the football pitch is not easy because he is always double marked and rotationally fouled. I do think though that there is a part of his game that would kill, but is absent. He is only willing to make runs behind from long balls not when the play is in close proximity to him. What I find so frustrating is that he is quick and strong and because he is double marked the easiest way to alleviate that pressure is to use the space behind the defenders. It looks like he has the Pepe disease of always wanting the ball to his feet when we are in possession on his side of the field. I’m not sure if this is a coaching error or just a preference but that right side whether it is Pepe or Saka is so rarely used to its greatest threat which will always be the ball behind the defense. Even if Saka becomes Messi-esque in his dribbling ability, I’m sure Mr Messi would agree that threatening the goal is easier if you are alone.
- You can tell when a midfielder is nervous by the way they look and the way they turn their hips when they first receive the ball. Too many of our midfielders on too many occasions turn towards our back four and play the easy ball.
- Ultimately as @SouthMetroAFC quite rightly said on Twitter yesterday, goals are the most important. Right now it looks like Spurs have goals and in abundance. To be fair, their strength is the forward line and theirs is one of the best in the league. They weren’t clicking but they are now at the most important part of the season. They have goals coming from three areas and we have the hope of goals coming from three areas. Nothing feels like a sure thing when it comes to goals at Arsenal right now. The club clearly know this and will address this in the summer. Hoping that we can do enough to squeak by this season.
- I hope that Nuno Tavares hasn’t lost his confidence in his ability to be a success at Arsenal. The decision today would damage many in his situation. I was glad that when Martinelli scored on half time that he went to celebrate with a smiling Nuno.
In my podcast below, I focus on some interesting questions… Is it the pressure that is affecting us? Should we have rotated earlier in 2022? Do we set the play too often when we could turn? Finally, is Lacazette actually a striker when you look at his profile? Too late, I know, but I had an epiphany.
The meltdown crazies are not affecting me yet. I am far from giving up on our season. I do feel that the players need some help with the mental side of the game as the season becomes more pressurized. I hope the club are considering this. Thanks for reading and listening!
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.