POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
Last week’s blog was called, ‘Nketiah and the Lost Puppy.’
If you didn’t read it, it was largely about a general sense of sadness that the Arsenal squad seem to have been stuck in. A fire that had been extinguished yet there was a box of matches available that we chose not to pick up. As if we were at a barbecue bonfire and someone announced that the house puppy has been kidnapped. We focused on the puppy and the fire went out.
That was a strange analogy.
English fans are quite easy to please. We understand that our team cannot win all the time. They say that when international players come to the Premier League they love that simple, good decisions are applauded and that the crowd are more patient.
The frustration of being an Arsenal fan is wrapped in not knowing if our team is going to take each game as seriously as the last one.
I sat there for about 12 minutes trying to come up with the best way to say that, as I’ve said it many times before but my feelings haven’t changed.
The Premier League is unforgiving. No freebies. Not every game needs the intensity of the Chelsea game for 95 minutes but it has to have intensity at least for decent sized chunks of the game. That’s the seriousness I speak of.
You can tell if Arsenal are going to thrive or struggle in the first two minutes of every game. You can feel it very quickly. If there is a team wide intense press then with the athletic young team we have, we seem to thrive. Without this defensive energy, we struggle to create attacking energy.
When we play with a constant high tempo on and off the ball then we look like the third best team in the league. Chelsea couldn’t match us and it’s not the first time. We just look like a better football team. Truth is though that we aren’t because we pick and choose when we take a game this seriously.
The Chelsea game in this blog deserves much positivity though.
So, I will throw my frustrations to the side as these excellent performances do often make me wonder why we blow so hot and cold. There are little cues to identify the seriousness. Watch our players of the ball. They are bouncing. Pop rocks in their feet. Ready to anticipate an intercept. It must be intimidating playing against players with so much bounce.
We are not even close to being one of the best teams in the league at winning duels and you may have recognized against Chelsea that we won the majority. I remember the action when Saka, Martinelli and Soares all 50/50 duels leading to a great second half opportunity. It looked so un-Arsenal like. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
We can be too cautious. Cautious to gamble off the ball, cautious to go in for 50-50 tackle, cautious to be intense in case we run out of energy.
On Wednesday there was no caution. We seemed completely unafraid of location and home crowd and took the backpack of current form off.
“Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth.
Develop the strength to do bold things, not to suffer.”
– Niccolo Machiavelli
We hear our coach talk about suffering a lot. That’s all good because it’s necessary. I just loved the fearlessness against Chelsea.
We could’ve sat back in that formation and suffered for 95 minutes. That’s what I thought we were going to do when I saw Holding and ElNeny in the lineup. We didn’t. We played with the ambition that Machiavelli speaks of.
Our defensive formation became an attacking one. We trusted our players who were in poor form to match up with a superior team at their home stadium and out play them.
I’ve been thinking all day today what Arteta said to them. We will never know but here is a guess.
When I need a big performance from my team I don’t talk to them as a group as much. I take the time to talk to every single player individually. Think what it’s like at your workplace when your boss talks to a crowd versus one on one in his office with you. Big difference. My eyes are singularly on them so they know that what I’m saying is something I’m gonna make them accountable for. When you talk to a group you honestly are talking to a few as your words rarely apply to everybody. The players know that and can simply justify that ”he’s not talking about me.”
It looked like he had certainly had a chat with Emile Smith Rowe. With Odegaard. With White.
Sometimes it doesn’t even need to be the whole team who gets the chat. The coach knows the ones that will reignite the others.
Finally, we move on to Eddie Nketiah. I felt that my analysis of him was fair last week. He lacked emotion and exemplified the edge that our team had decided not to give.
My favorite moment in the game for two reasons was his second goal. Max and I were sitting in our teams dugout and I was running my Soccer Academy. We had 10 coaches and 82 young children eating popsicles on their water break on a hot day. When he scored we both started screaming! The kids looked terrified! I didn’t care. Neither did Max. Lost in something more important than checking whether Liam was eating his popsicle rather than putting it down Lincoln’s underpants.
Even better than that though, was that this particular goal encapsulated our attitude to the game. Some said that the goal was lucky as it ricocheted two or three times before Eddie finished it. Watch closely again. When the ball finally ricochets back to him there are three players with an equal chance of getting there first. The bounce and energy that we played with paid off. He was just simply hungrier and quicker to get to it before the two Chelsea defenders. That was the game, the whole game in one moment.
- Martin Odegaard seems to be the most influential player we have. Think about it. When he is playing his game, Arsenal are fire. He changed his tempo against Chelsea. More scanning which led to a quicker release and rarely if ever lost possession as he was too aware of his surroundings. One of his many gifts is this awareness. Not just the gaps in the defense that people complement him for, but simple and important technical moments like his ability to open or close his gate based on whether a opponent is approaching or not. That small detail is the birth of progressive football and players like Odegaard finding the path that you can clearly see at the stadium or on your TV screen.
- ElNeny will most certainly see more playing time from now until the end of the season. He can never be accused of not being serious. The accusation is always about his decision making and athletic lack. I watched him off the ball and he was so aware of the gaps that Chelsea were trying to create by shifting our back three to the left side creating a gap for Werner to make a diagonal run into. He cut off so many of these passes. A clever player who knows his limitations and much like Xhaka, who was equally impressive, they play within their skill sets and ElNeny will always raise the energy and willingness to support his teammates. His qualities are just not fashionable and rarely noticed as they are a more intricate part. We’ve seen this performance before.
- Smith Rowe at his best is like an expensive car. He’s 0-60 is the equivalent of a Ferrari. When he decides to be direct, which was significantly more in this game, we gain such an advantage as he hits full stride within two seconds. Very few players in the Premier League do this. Grealish used to but now has to play in small spaces at City. Smith Rowe will be an elite footballer because he can play in small spaces and big spaces and adapt to the conditions. His goal was one of my favorites of the season and I think that finish was the one that they teach in the textbook. No power just focus on connection and accuracy. A thing of beauty.
- Back to Granit Xhaka. He is clearly a serious individual. He is however, inconsistent in this as he lets his emotions get in the way. He was fully under control against Chelsea and played like a true leader. Those days when we feel like we may need to keep Xhaka are the ones where he is serious and thinks about the team before himself. That seems to be important for him.
- Not only does Saka have guts to take that penalty kick but he was determined to take it and did you notice…. He hit the ball the same way he did in the Euros. Guts.
- What was up with Cedric?? I think he wants to keep his Portugal place. Loved his aggression. Not seen that level before.
- Not complaining but the next step is a little more composure in these big games. The heart rate is higher so the chill needs to be chillier.
- Nketiah was very good. I did notice that much like Saka he isn’t willing to run behind and gamble. He doesn’t score easy goals because there isn’t that separation. An improvement for Eddie.
- We need to understand our wide deliverers. Saka and Pepe routinely deliver the inswinger to the back post. Both good at that delivery. Tierney lofts it or cuts it back. On Wednesday I was reminded that Tavares likes to drill it between the defenders and keeper. Hard and low. We weren’t reading our players and haven’t all season.
- I hope we work with Tavares. That formation suits him but either way there is much potential. Modern potential.
- Many rumours swilling around. Much to talk about later. For now my only concern is that we get a powerful striker at least as an option. If we don’t then we leave a host of goal scoring chances on the table.
I wanted to give a shoutout to my oldest daughter, EllieAnn.
She won her soccer championship last night at University and is a super intelligent player and gifted passer.
If you are interested, there are a few differences between soccer players here and footballers of the same age in Europe. Soccer is more about power and athleticism here. There is less focus on technical skill and unfortunately the difference in heading ability is vast as there is such fear over here and they are not allowed to learn at a young age. Volleying is anonymous but the greatest difference is weight of pass. Even the good players hit through balls way too hard. I say all of this because my daughter doesn’t and she understands weight of pass and I’m very proud of her.
Check out my podcast below.
Amongst other topics I discuss why Arteta keeps mentioning Smith Rowe as an option at striker.
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.