The one that doesn’t have them – how controlling the controllables sometimes isn’t enough(Positives Needs & Hopes)[ARS 1-1 BRE]

The one that doesn’t have them

An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective

Control and consistency.

If you were to ask the elite football coaches for the two things that they strive for more than other it will be these two.

Everybody’s trying to attain what Arsenal have achieved already.

Nobody’s going to hand out the flowers to anyone associated with Arsenal for the performance yesterday. I’m not necessarily saying that they should either. What I would say though, is that the vast majority of coaches in football are pining for our level of control and consistency that Arsenal showed yesterday and have done all season. Nobody wants to talk about that though, and that’s fine. We have found ourselves in a head state that we weren’t prepared for. I feel a little giddy watching Arsenal this season and I’m sure you do too. it feels a little dreamy watching a team that the majority hoped would be floating around fourth or fifth in February, now trying to maintain what is a huge lead in the toughest league in world football.

I’m writing this at 8 PM. I took what seemed like a five day nap after being responsible for 15 thirteen year olds at a sleepover in a school gymnasium. If I would’ve written this after the game, I’m sure I would’ve felt differently.

The separation helps me get clarity, as does the re-watch.

This game against Brentford had so much that was right about it, particularly in the middle third of the pitch. The part that most modern football teams spend most time on. How to possess the ball, gain control without losing possession, and play the game that you want to play. Then do it all game long. Two huge boxes checked as far as running the game was concerned. Brentford had moments. Good moments but we had consistent control.

There is, however, so much value in studying why we have the emotions during the game that we have. Sometimes we don’t even know why we shout what we shout into the wind or into the living room. So, I have to value the way that I felt during the game as well as the way that I feel now.

When I was watching the game, my overriding emotion was that Brentford seemed to know what we were going to do at all times.

What I see is that the second half of the season brings out the best in coaches. It stretches them. If opposing coaches and staff are any good, then they have a body of evidence to study to see what you generally do. They can prepare for it and largely stop it. The modern game is striving to be like Arsenal. Unfortunately, for most coaches, they are not given the time to put in place the foundation that Arteta has. The absolute truth of it though is that most are not capable of understanding and certainly not coaching what he has. He needs to be given a large bouquet for what he has done so far.

The problem becomes when your automatisms become almost all that you do.

That seem to be what happened yesterday. I’m sure it wasn’t just Thomas Frank that knew what Arsenal were going to do next. I’m sure you did too if you think about it.

Thankfully, we have heard Arteta many times talk about the need for breaking structure, individualism and freedom in the final third.

What I saw was that the players seem to either be in the wrong positions for this particular game and/or the formation needed to be changed.

The coach has taught the players to be flexible and change vertical lanes and some of that happened, but was it enough or the correct ones?

Being smart after the event,

I would’ve most certainly moved Saka into Xhaka’s position. Thomas Frank admitted after the game that the key was doubling up on the wingers and that has seem to be the main tactic that has caught us off guard in the last three games. If the other coaches in the league are smart, they will copy this and sit deep and double up. As our players are talented and each game is different, it is always possible of course that they can subvert this plan with their individual abilities and combinations.

Here is the major issue that I have with Arsenal over all of the very few issues that I have……

When we don’t win games, I always come away with the same sense. A sense that what we are trying to do is the complicated version.

Ask a left footer who is double teamed to come inside and into the crowd is the complicated version. Ask a right footer on the other side to do the same, is the same. Asking a playmaker to thread the needle when the needle is the slim kind is the complicated version. Asking a single striker to play one versus three or four in crossing situations is the complicated version. Asking your striker to play in front of the defense and connect when there were a handful of opportunities for him to run behind is the complicated version. Watching Granit Xhaka in broken play and on transition hit a 40 yd square ball and give Brentford‘s defence an opportunity to get four more players back is the complicated version. Finally having the one opportunity to pass the ball behind for the electric Martinelli in transition in the second half and not doing it is the complicated version.

Personally, I’ve always thought that by far the easiest way to beat a deep block is for a left footer to play on the left and the right footer on the right. Then you go around the outside and kill the whole 9 man block in one action. Cut in on the ice rink where defenders do not want to tackle you . Either cross the ball on the grass between the goalkeeper and the defenders and have at least two players crashing or cut it back to the penalty spot. That’s how I coach the situation anyway. I’ve spent my 33 years coaching trying to study the sport and find the simplest way to play it. The simplest way isn’t just based on your plan but far more so the oppositions decisions. That is the main job of the coach during the 90 minutes. Where are the spaces and opportunities but more to the point what is the simplest way that we can unlock them.

If Saka was in Xhaka’s lane, then he could’ve drove at them and onto his left foot. The options that I discussed would’ve been far more available to him than Granit, Xhaka or Martinelli, as they do not have the skillset to be as natural on their left foot or in Xhaka’s case, have the pace to drive past somebody on the outside. Martinelli could’ve done the same on the right. We could’ve played the 3-4-1-2 formation that we practiced in preseason very effectively. We would’ve had two targets to hit in the 6 yard box and not Eddie versus the world.

Alternatively, we could’ve utilized Tierney. Kept Martinelli on the left, had him dribble inside and reverse it to the natural left footer to execute the final ball.

Interestingly, the solution to this game was probably in the skillset of two of our Academy with Nwaneri and Lewis Skelly.

Having said all of this, I recognize that I am an armchair critic, and these are best laid plans after the event. I also recognize that what we did could’ve worked because ultimately what I’m talking about has no guarantees. Everything in football depends on executing ideas. I’m just simply trying to make suggestions that make the solution far more simple as I think we played the complicated version of the game.

Also, Arsenal should’ve won the game 1-0. You’ve probably seen this image but @invinciblog did Lee Mason’s job and put lines down.


If they did, I probably write a different opening piece from a different angle and we will be sitting on top of the mountain, happily making snow angels.

So therefore evaluating what did happen is actually very interesting. On came Leo Trossard. He is currently a wildcard. Even though he has come from a team with a similar style, he hasn’t learned all of our automatisms. He comes on in a moment that offers some level of desperation. He comes on quite honestly as more of a Brighton and Belgium player than an Arsenal one. When Saka finally puts that cross into the most dangerous area that I’ve been preaching about, I expected nothing. That is a little sad. Eddie seemed to lack hunger in this game.

Interestingly enough we are one of the only teams in the league that don’t seem to score the simple goals. If you watched the highlights of any Premier league weekend, I would say that at least 40% of the goals are a simple cross and finish.

Even though Brentford were deserving of that point, Arsenal should’ve won 1-0 because Leo Trossard’s automatic does not yet belong to Arsenal Football Club and Lee Mason isn’t serious about a serious job.

If I was Mikel Arteta, I would look at this thought as it’s quite profound and so are its consequences.


  • As I said above, swimming in amongst the frustration that result was some very secure performances. Thomas Partey ran the show and was almost faultless in his job. Gabriel the same. Given what Saka had to deal with, yet again he was the biggest threat and ultimately provided the goal. Odegaard was sublime, but that probably isn’t noticed because that has become his middle name. Ben White looked like the Ben White of the majority of the season. He deserved better movement in the box as the timing of his runs were excellent.
  • Arsenal are currently lacking the spark and Trossard certainly changes the energy dynamic when he comes on. Even though his goal was only 4 yards out, technically it was very difficult yet he hit it with perfection. Those balls that bounce at such speed before you are sometimes hard enough to connect to at all let alone hit the middle of the ball. We always think that just because the pass is close to the goal that the finish has to be easy. Any finish from close range is wrapped in a bubble of pressure and expectation. The ball is normally sent at a much higher pace than anything else that they have to deal with in the game. All we really needed to win that game was actually just a fox in the box and Trossard with his interesting hairstyle was the silver fox that was needed.
Trossard celebration

Image Credit:

  • Even though I thought that Tomiyasu and Trossard deserved to start, I actually liked the lineup. It sent a message of seriousness and it also sends a quite important, psychological message. If you change the team when they aren’t too far away from form it can sometimes cause drama in the fanbase and the press. Too much talk of players being dropped when in fact they could simply be rotated or preferred because of game state. When you keep the same lineup and trust players, who have delivered for you, then you take away the negative narrative that the British press would prefer to have against Arsenal Football Club.
  • It’s always a positive when Spurs lose. Just wanted to mention this because I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that when Antonio Conte comes back, they lose. I think you’ll find that he is an unnecessarily negative individual and I think he’s lost the dressing room. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that he was given some gardening leave and that he didn’t need an operation at all because the club know that his influence has stopped being positive. I’m probably wrong though. Either way, he’s not gonna be there next season. I think that’s obvious.


  • As much as the focus has been on the attacking issues, there were clear problems in the back today. The goal was offside, but it was also poor defending. The opportunities that Brentford missed were simple opportunities because players were not picked up. We are ordinarily not this easy to penetrate. Alongside this, it has to be mentioned that Brentford might actually be the most difficult opponent we’ve played this season. They are a very well coached team, and if they keep hold of Thomas Frank and his vision, much like Brighton, then they will stay in the top half of the league much like Leicester have over the last seven years.
  • Everything is made a little trickier without Jesus, because there doesn’t seem to be any natural link up between Martinelli and Nketiah.



  • The penalty area is certainly where we are falling down right now and it’s where I would spend the majority of my time in training. Granit Xhaka is so strong in the air in the other box yet I don’t believe he has scored a header this season. He is in the box the majority of the time but is too static. There’s also an issue with Arsenal not sending enough players into the box too.
  • Dear Eddie….
    You’ve improved more than most players in the league. Very impressive. Just want you to know that the fans are willing to love you more than they do Gabriel Jesus as you are an Arsenal man.
    Just a thought… Show 15% more passion. Show it in your face, show it in your body language and show it when we are desperate. You might just keep the striker position if you do.


  • Even though I have access to every Brentford game here in the USA, I haven’t watched them an awful lot over the last few years. I am aware of Ivan Toney’s strengths, but when he plays your team you indirectly compare him to other opponents. Quite frankly, he is scary. That was Max’s word and I think it’s the perfect one. He seems to be a threat in every area of the game and the reason that I talk about him is that he is the option that we are missing. I love that Arsenal don’t just toss balls into the box like almost every other team in football does when they become desperate because that is what our opponents want us to do because we are not a big threat in the air. If we had the option to bring on a striker with the vertical leap and shoulders the size of a modern day television, then maybe we would have six points or more this season. I understand it’s hard to keep three strikers happy but it’s a thought certainly worth considering. I get the feeling that if any top club in Europe takes a gamble on making Ivan Toney their first choice striker, then they might save 70 million or so, and might find a gem that is still bubbling in the background. If I was Chelsea, I would jump all over this opportunity. They may well do because they pine for the days of Didier Drogba, and Ivan Toney is scarily similar.


  • I don’t want to dive too deep into this one, but I do have a fear that the rumours about Declan Rice AND Moises Caicedo in the summer are because Thomas Partey may not be with us next season. You might remember a certain situation in the press at the beginning of the season that I think will rear its head again in July when the court case happens. I really hope that I am wrong, but nobody is talking about the fact that Thomas Partey may feel the need to leave the country, or may have a problem on his hands bigger than football.


I want to say thank you to Jacob, Lilly and Maci Ball. Max and I had so much fun at their house watching the game and the girls are two of my favorite little chicken patties.

You’d have to live in my world to understand what a chicken patty is! The bizarre language of Coach Mike and all the little kids that he teaches!

Sorry that I have been missing in action for the last few weeks but my life accelerates in the springtime. I will shortly be off to Mexico, Costa Rica and England, all in the space of a month, but certainly hope to have a blog after each game. I hope to get back to my short podcast, also.

The City game might be the perfect game at the perfect time. An open game with no deep block and such a wonderful opportunity to beat the team that we haven’t beaten in quite a long time. The performance has some importance, but the result will shake either team if they were to lose. As fans we will be pacing the floor before and during the game on Wednesday  I think that everybody at Arsenal Football Club is licking their lips.

I think they want to show us something.

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One Response to The one that doesn’t have them – how controlling the controllables sometimes isn’t enough(Positives Needs & Hopes)[ARS 1-1 BRE]

  1. Malawi Gunner February 12, 2023 at 11:57 am #

    Hello Mike. Great post as always. Had similar thoughts while watching the game. Thought Tierney should have come on to play leftback and moved zinchenko into that left 8 position for xhaka. And I’ve always wondered why Arteta never attempts to switch Saka and Martinelli for a couple of minutes in some games. Might work a treat

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