Adjusting to shorter games: how Arsenal can conquer the red zone [SOU 1-1 ARS] (Positive Needs & Hopes)

Adjusting to shorter games

An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence anymore that we are not looking as comfortable in games. I didn’t think it was necessarily fatigue at first but this cannot be ignored. I’ve loved that we have picked largely the same team every week. It’s undoubtedly been part of our success. It might be time to recognize that we need a break though. 

Granit Xhaka, for example, might be unbreakable but he looks fatigued. We might not injure him due to his RoboCop body but he went from being an asset in the first half to a non factor in the second. Thomas Partey dropped a few levels also and there were more. Thankfully the fixtures might just allow Arteta to give some of them two weeks off from starting games until we play Chelsea. We can get away with even losing the game on Thursday and surely we can beat Zürich at home to secure first place. We also have the benefit of PSV having to beat Bodo Glimt away so I would go second string in Holland. I don’t think Arteta will and I recognize that my choice is made from the armchair. 

Rotation against Forest also as that on paper is the easiest game of the season. Let Sambi and Fabio start and start again vs Zurich.

There is an alternative to this strategy though. 

We could rotate a few at a time. I think that is what Arteta will do against Forest. Go full strength and hope to play the fatigued players for only one hour. I’m just hoping that this is not an unnecessary risk considering the opponents and the situation.

Watching our games recently we look like a team that have a shorter and shorter window each week of domination. 

The domination has shrunk from 60 minutes to 45 minutes and now to 25 minutes. When we are dominant we are very good. Unless we score a couple in this period we are susceptible hence the lack of goals and tight results recently.

So, if fatigue is preventing us from playing games the way we need to then either we will be forced to use our squad more regardless of the success of our first team or add more depth in the transfer window. Alternatively, we could be strategic and ok with only dominating parts of each game. 

Whatever Arteta chooses I’m just hoping that we continue to put energy into the beginning of every game because the unique advantage of our happy and energized fanbase may subside if we start games meekly.


  • Gabriel looked like a player who had just signed a long-term contract. He is so invested in every game and his determination is infectious. Although I don’t get to go to the games I don’t hear a song for him. He deserves one and it needs to be a version of a superhero song. Surely we can clip the Superman theme and through his name in like the Saliba song. Determination is how he plays football and every team needs someone with this level of determination.
  • I was extremely concerned for some of last season and certainly the season before that Arteta was not blending freedom with his JDP style. I was not patient enough. Also, not following my own compliments of his methods. He has successfully taken the team methodically through his textbook and re-taught us the style that we now see. The freedoms that our players play with including rotational positioning, were just a later chapter of the textbook. I paid particular attention yesterday to Xhaka and Jesus. Jesus was convinced to come to Arsenal from a team more successful. I believe the largest part of convincing him was giving him the freedoms that Brazilian players need. The chance to give his flair permission. If you think about what he looked like at Manchester City it’s honestly like a different player to the one that now plays for Arsenal. Also, to see Granit Xhaka frequently be one of the most creative risk takers in our squad is almost comical in it’s paradox. It is a solid reminder that football will always be a players game and if they are put in a box or in the wrong box then you’ll never squeeze all of the juice from the orange.

Xhaka Triumph

  • I loathe to give away squad secrets but I doubt very much that anybody from rival teams is paying attention to this blog. The crossing between the layers that I talked about in my last blog was seen again today and actually led to the ball going in the net twice after Odegaard finished Tierney’s cross. I still think that we need Jesus to penetrate the 6 yard box more often but we are finding a way of finding breathing room in the box between the layers.
  • Every time we play Southampton, Max and I always look at each other and say that I hope we don’t give any set plays away around the box. It’s really difficult to not give corner kicks away as you have to defend your goal and aren’t always in control of whether it’s going to hit you or not. Much kudos to our back five who dealt with a large flurry of corner kicks and didn’t give away any clear chances. Ward Prowse is the best in Europe with the dead ball and so this does not need to be under valued.
  • Talking of our JDP style, you will see that it has created automatisms that other teams simply do not have. They look like Arsenal before Arteta. They get the ball and often look up in the wrong direction or look up and do not see an option and so our press is very effective. Southampton clearly did not have a style that they can rely upon as a fundamental base to moving the ball up the field. The fact that we patiently created this gives us hope in every single game and cannot be ignored.
  • I wanted to give Jesus credit for his temperament. I don’t know the statistic but I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t the most fouled player in the Premier League. He’s almost certainly the most fouled if you were to add up the fouls he should’ve got. He never reacts though. Just takes a beating and carries on. What a character.


  • I intentionally stay away from the topics that are setting social media alight. I try to be original on purpose. It is hard however to not mention that referee and his decisions. Actually, it’s probably Stuart Atwell who I believe was the head VAR during the game who needs spotlight. Lyanco played like the Sunday league bully. I remember being invited to play Sunday league but was advised against it because there was a player in the league that went out intentionally trying to break bones. My youth career was going rather well and so I think I made a good decision. He looked like one of those players that would’ve played like the nut job whose name I can’t remember in the Sunday league, if he was allowed to. He punched Gabriel Jesus twice in two seconds, laid his forehead on Eddie Nketiah twice in two seconds and then put his hands around his neck. Those incidents all by themselves were plenty enough for straight red cards and a three game ban. As I said last week, we have to continue being savvy as to how we join the club of players that show the referee what has happened by over exaggerating. It is however, so very very sad that you have to roll around, scream and pretend that you are at a bad acting audition to get what you deserve. I think it’s quite simple. The referees are not brave enough to do the right thing and the players know it. Unless you show the crowd and those on TV some bad acting they will never give the appropriate punishment if you stay on your feet and simply tell the referee what so-and-so just did. Infuriating and in my opinion these moments could’ve entirely changed the outcome of this particular game.

Red cards every day

  • If I was Mikel I would sit the three subs down and ask them why they played with the same energy as the players that have played significantly more than them. We needed their energy as it was clearly the biggest problem in the second half. No excuses. Athletes will become re-energized when a fresh player plays the way that they were in the first 10 minutes. It’s something about the human condition and somebody has probably done a study on it. If Eddie, Tierney and Vieira would’ve started buzzing around pressing you would’ve seen others copy whether their legs had lead in them or not. It’s just how it goes. As we have seen in previous games we can win without being on top form. I told Max towards the end of the game that the Invincible‘s drew 12 times. He knows everything about football including the third cousin of Hoffenheim’s fourth choice goalkeeper, so I was surprised that he was surprised when I told him this. I told him that not only did they draw 12 times but they weren’t very good on many occasions. Below par. They got over the line to become Invincible‘s because they were energized by a variety of factors including their desire to win the league and then Wenger’s encouragement that they could go down in history. The subs played as if they accepted the fate of the draw which is not the attitude of the team that will end up winning the Premier League.


  • Back in 2018 I went on a trip to Atlanta to check out this new stadium that everybody was talking about. My three takeaways from going to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium were as follows; 1) The genius of charging real world prices inside the stadium. When your catchment area is a radius where there is no other professional team in the state of Georgia or any of the surrounding 5 states including North Florida you need to be smart. They realized that if they charged $3 for a hot dog rather than $7 and $2 for a large American coke (the size of a British phone box), then people could afford the experience, and more importantly, they’d come back. They often sell out the 71,000 stadium and the players are largely mediocre. Genius marketing. 2) That the stadium itself is a short vacation experience. 3) Miguel Almiron.

I saw a player for the first time that stood out far above the rest. He look like a caricature and played like he had a cape on. I’ve always been attracted to players who are blisteringly auick when dribbling with the ball. I’m just aware how difficult that is to defend against, especially in the ice rink of a modern penalty area where defenders throw their arms behind their back and defend with 50% less aggression than everywhere else on the pitch. 

He took far too long to excel in the Premier League but I remember telling Dave Seager that I thought Arsenal should go for him. We were then rumored to have agreed a deal and I was thrilled. 

Almiron Prediction

A true difference maker that the league would struggle to contain. Dave was right in telling me that he didn’t think that he was Arsenal level. He hasn’t been. Then this season happened. I tell you this story because I think Arsenal need a devastating dribbler especially in the second half of games. I would doubt that he would leave Newcastle as they are on the rise but I think he should be considered.

  • Listening to the post game interviews with the players, I get the sense that they are upset with themselves. I’m not sure that Arteta would’ve had to say too much after the game. I’m also not sure that this was much of their fault. There will always be games where if the same chances happened in another game they would be converted and we would win 5–0. Other games where the referee would’ve pointed to the penalty spot after Gabriel Jesus is rugby tackled, ripped his earpiece out because he’s not interested in consulting with VAR and we win. I think that although it’s not what you want, it’s understandable to have a period where you aren’t at your peak as long as you find a way to get points, and we are.

Top Of The Leagues


If I was Arteta, I’d use the players anger and frustration in drawing a game against a team that they could’ve easily beaten, and let that brood and self motivate until next Sunday. I think Nottingham Forest might get heavily spanked.

No time for a podcast today unfortunately – but feel free to peruse previous episodes below… (They aren’t all time-sensitive – there are still plenty of non-match review thoughts and insights.)

Feel free to leave a comment. Would love to know what you would do against PSV?


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4 Responses to Adjusting to shorter games: how Arsenal can conquer the red zone [SOU 1-1 ARS] (Positive Needs & Hopes)

  1. System October 24, 2022 at 10:18 am #

    I’m sorry I couldn’t say much but know that I really love your articles and always look forward to it all the time

    • Bob October 27, 2022 at 8:35 am #

      I think we have to admit that it is not fatigue, we are just not physically at ‘that’ level yet. A level where our players can cope with twice-a-week intense game. It is difficult to name our players who has experience as routine starter for PL + ( UCL or UEL ) for a whole season. Twice-a-week game has started taking a toll on us now, and it will continue till the end of season.

      My thought, please put all the eggs for PL. Divide the squad into two, main squad for the PL, other for all cup games. Give the main squad sufficient rest and one week training menu for PL, let other team member handle the rest.

      Dont overplay Saka, Xhaka, Partey, Jesus, Odegaard, Martinelli, and Saliba. Put them exclusively for PL. They can develop their physicality to cope with UCL next year by a well planned one week training menu. A midweek game will increase the risk of injury.

      I know this is just me as a fan. In reality, club will need a good run in all competition to run the club. It just for the first time after so many years, the PL trophy looks so close. We just need a little more push to finally get our hand on it.

      That ‘push’ possibly in the form of ‘give it all for Premier League’. Should we divide our attention, we are no different than City, Chelsea, Tottenham, and United.

      We have experienced the benefit of early exit from the cup games last season. I know we still end up as fifth, but this year our squad has strengthened without losing any important member. From 5th to first looks very possible

      Leicester won 2015-6 when nobody gave an eye for them, and they concentrated for PL only. I believe our squad now are better than Leicester 2015-6.

      Let other big 6 divide their attention for other competition, we can sneakily win the PL by solely focusing on it. Leicester did it. It was not called lucky, it is called ‘focus’.

  2. Phil October 24, 2022 at 1:15 pm #

    Have have reading after every game. Thanks so much Mike.

  3. bathgooner October 24, 2022 at 4:07 pm #

    Spot on, as ever, Mike. I had also thought we should play the back-up midfield and attack against PSV with a few experienced defenders given our position in that group. The critical EL game was last Thursday and I have no problem with MA8 having thrown on our first choice players to get that win. We now only need a draw on Thursday to win the group which will secure the prize of two fewer games in February (which is a huge bonus for our thin squad especially given the potential opposition). Given PSV’s performance at the Grove, our back-ups have a reasonable chance of securing a draw but we also have the safety net of winning the group if we win at home against Zurich – surely? – and PSV must win all their remaining games including as yu observe an away trip to Bodø. However I wouldn’t play that rookie forward line against Forest whose experienced massed defence would be a huge challenge for them as we must not have another blip to our winning momentum so soon.

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