An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective
Sunday morning didn’t start well.
Max knows a lot about football but doesn’t understand that if Jordan Pickford would’ve shuffled his feet before Gundogan’s free kick, then maybe he could’ve saved it. We had one of those arguments where you just realize that winning the argument is far more important than temporarily falling out with your son. Then you realize that you are his Dad who
is supposed to model mature behaviour, but decided to bin that idea with the excuse that ‘it’s ok to be immature when Everton are looking quite dangerous, and then go 0-3 down.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. I’ll just leave my pettiness right here by posting that only a 10-year-old wearing Sondico goalie gloves dives like this….
Our relationship is weird. We argue and then one of us tells a joke. His latest joke was quite good. “Dad, have you ever thought that Illan Meslier looks like a sour patch kid?”
I hope your relationship with your kids has such bizarre humour too.
We then went to church, and I turned off my phone. I was a good boy twice in a day because I agreed to Mother’s Day lunch before watching the Arsenal the Brighton game that we had taped.
When the game started it became obvious fairly quickly that we weren’t in our groove. You can tell when we are as we start fast. There was a mixture of technical errors and tactical fouling. I thought that Brighton were a nice team. Their football had fooled me. Then the camera panned to the coach who is clearly an elite thinker yet looks like he’s just come directly from the set of the new movie, ‘The Evil Seagull,’ where he clearly plays the main role.
I had however picked the wrong movie. My upset at the constant breaking up of play had clouded my view.
I was watching ‘Robin and Batman.’
You read that right.
The movie franchise is supposed to be all about Batman. Robin has value, importance and wears three colours that should never be seen together, but he is the sidekick. Brighton was supposed to be the sidekick yesterday. As impressive as they are and as important as it will be to the fanbase that they can get in Europe, Arsenal were at home and Arsenal could’ve still won the league, even if the chances are slim.
Robin wore Batman down. He kept throwing banana skins in front of Batman as he was trying to save the day and the movie was looking like a directorial mess at about halfway through.
After the intermission (from the 80’s, where you got a vanilla ice cream and wooden spoon thingy), it was clear that the director had actually chosen for Robin to be the hero. The producer had agreed and Batman and Robin – ‘Oil never wins’ became Robin and Batman – ‘The Seagull and the Oil Slick.’
Mikel Arteta has ordinarily been playing the role of Batman. If he hasn’t then he’s rotated the opportunity of star role through many of his squad. Arsenal have been a true team. Maybe I should’ve used The Avengers as my analogy.
What happened on Sunday was that Arteta came up against a coach as smart as he is. Someone who might look like a villain but was more like the sidekick who had learnt too much.
Robin relied primarily on mistakes and luck, but his strategy gave him a better chance than Batman anyway.
Arsenal will likely finish in the position that they deserve, which let’s not forget is behind a team that might well be known in time as one of the greatest teams in the history of the game. I say that we deserve second because if I take my Arsenal hat off, I have to admit that if you want to win the league, then you really have to show up in April and May. Maybe this game won’t matter. I kind of hope so because Arsenal in the second half were 2018. Ouch!
- Not sure if it is a positive or not but Arteta’s words at the end of the game were made in pent up anger. This might be the first time that I’ve heard him criticize the players even though he wasn’t personal. I’m glad that he is looking to follow through on his preseason comment about ruthlessness. I think what is obvious is that it wasn’t just Patrick Vieira who has noticed that Arsenal need a physical leader. The club obviously have, and the pursuit of Declan Rice is proof. Caicedo is also a modern-day physical leader. Not necessarily a big guy, but athletically so quick and alert. I will have to rewatch the game, even though I don’t want to, but the coach’s first answer when asked about what wasn’t good enough was ‘the duels.’ Then you look back at his first substitutions and see that it was two midfielders. Jorginho and Xhaka. Then you look at the lack of a physical leader, and a player with great quickness into the duels and I think you see his priority for the summer. Perhaps the number one quality of a modern-day midfielder is acceleration. It gets you to the ball quicker, is pivotal in pressing and separates you from your opponent. I’m glad that we have a modern coach that knows what is needed.
- Getting your pants pulled down may be something that coaches don’t want but need before the transfer window. Arteta clearly feels like he now knows what is needed. This is the second year in a row (amongst others) that he has felt let down. I think his comments are born out of suspicion last year and now concrete evidence this year. I also wonder if certain players did not follow instruction. I have a funny feeling about Jesus in this regard because he seems to be less of a threat than the wide attackers. I know some of this is tactically intentional, but should a striker do his best work outside the box? Maybe this is harsh. I do have a feeling though that he may be shifted from first choice to ‘game dependent.’ That we will buy another elite striker. I say ‘another’ because in his own way Jesus is elite. I’m just wondering if a player like Victor Oshimen becomes the main event. When you see a player like this you see a player with a few more strings to their bow. One of the strings is a constant goal threat and as tactically gifted as Gabriel Jesus is, he has yet to prove in his career that he is a constant goal threat. Being ruthless doesn’t necessarily suggest rotating squad options, and moving players on that are somewhat dissatisfied. It means making big ballsy decisions that might be unpopular with many. Buckle up.
- Have we accepted that Tierney is leaving? I think I have. Unless the plan is to get another left back who can play in the centre of midfield, it will be hard to find a better defensive left back than KT. I thought that he was one of only a few that played up to his level. I also think that if we would’ve trusted him and exited through the left-hand side, rather than through the middle, then some of the mistakes may not have occurred
- When the dust settles in June, I think one of our conclusions will be that Gabriel had a fantastic season. I was so delighted for him that he was handed the captains armband during the game. Small things like that mean a lot to the player and cannot be underestimated. It is such a show of respect from either your peers or the coaches or both.
- What is so difficult as a fan is trying to be clearheaded in your analysis when you are emotionally invested. At first watching the game I was too focused on us not taking advantage of good opportunities to notice how many times our high press worked. Nobody wants to hear this, but in the first half it worked better than most any other 45 minutes this season. Considering we were playing a team who are probably the third most comfortable team in the league with the football, we were setting traps, tackling, anticipating and intercepting fairly often. Those people that like to shout at the coach have to be aware that he is capable of affecting every area of the game but some areas more than most. If he sets up such a hugely effective press, and you win the ball pack repeatedly, then this needs to be noticed. To the largest extent he has done his job at that point. The passing patterns from there on are in place, and the finishing has more to do with personal composure than anything much that the coach can do. We also need to recognize that even though Brighton deserved the win, we had more good chances than they did. I can remember at least 5 chances that would’ve led to a goal on any other day. This is not even considering the chances that should’ve been converted into chances from the first half press. I guess my overarching point is that I don’t put this defeat on the coach. From my coach’s eye, he set them up for success. I think the second half turned into a mental and physical failure.
- I suppose it was never likely to be our day when this car crash of a former player showed up to the Emirates. Maybe he drove the team bus from the hotel to the stadium.
- I felt that Leo Trossard was trying too hard to impress his former team. Many players get caught up in this. Wanting to show that they are worthy of their new team. They forget they just need to play the game the way they have been told and start taking silly risks.
- I know that our coach gets criticized for his substitutions. It does seem that he is getting better at them overall, but I was concerned when Odegaard went off. When our backs are against the wall, it is normally Martin Ødegaard that is the catalyst for a comeback.
- Not sure that I am convinced about what I am about to say. Do we feel too comfortable at home? A little of the ‘everything’s going to be alright?’ The crowd are so supportive, which is fantastic. It felt on Sunday like a little fire and anger could’ve changed performances. Again, I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I think it’s worth thinking about.
- On my high school team, I have a very large squad. We are a small school and so developing players for future teams can be as important as trying to win games. What ends up happening is that I have a complete mix of players that have never played the game before and players that have played their whole life. I remember two weeks ago we had three games left. I was showing them how to take advantage of the fact that you can be offside at a throw-in. If anyone has the email of the linesman at Sunday’s game, feel free to send it to me. I can help him too.
- Brighton were smart on many levels. They identified that we left ourselves one on one at the back and chose the right side to pick on. I’m being literal here. Our right side has been flagging somewhat with White, Saliba, Saka and Holding all either injured, not at the same level as others or fatigued. Mitoma vs White would have looked different in October.
- With Arsenal being on a 93-point pace when Saliba was playing to a 63-point pace without, should we applaud Saliba for his quality and quick adaptation or bemoan the drop off. Personally, I think that when your centre back is capable of playing for any of the elite CL teams and your right back has been forced to overplay then it’s hard to push your criticism too hard towards them.
- I would imagine in time we will find out who in our squad has personal problems as Arteta seemed bothered by this after the game. He may consider a lack of willingness to play when somewhat injured as a personal problem rather than something linked to a family member or an off-field mistake perhaps.
- Heading towards the transfer window, I have a few clear thoughts. It’s been hard to make up my mind as to what I think will happen, but this is what I feel as sure as I can be about.
- I think we will sell Emile Smith Rowe because he’s not reliable and has lost his intensity.
- I think we will settle Eddie Nketiah because we have moved up a few levels and he has not yet at this required level. Also, and maybe more importantly, the previous January pursuit of Vlahovic shows that Arteta has a serious interest in a target man. If he was chasing Chris Wood (very stupid pick, but you get the picture), then maybe we don’t conclude that he was really wanting a big guy. When you spend most of an entire transfer window chasing somebody who will cost you €70 million, then it is a profile that you really want. I would do this very same thing. There are target men available who can do what Eddie can do and also be a physical threat and a pivot for our talented wingers.
- I think that the striker signing will happen later in the window as we observe Balogun in preseason. Personally, I would keep him as I love strikers who just want to be strikers. Strikers that play on the shoulder of the last defender and are hungrier than my dogs after I get back from Pizza Hut.
- I think we sell Granit Xhaka as like Eddie we have moved up a few levels. I think that the coaching staff would absolutely love to keep him, but I don’t think he’s a kind of player that wants to be rotated. I think he sees himself as the captain and leader of a team and ultimately the most important player. I’m really not sure how this will go as I think it’s been proven quite often that we seem to play better when he is on the field. At the same time, we have to be able to play this way without one player determining our mental state.
- I do wonder and have thought for a while that Matt Turner will move on because he is good enough to be a number one for a good team.
- I think Rob Holding will be allowed to leave but will be happy to keep him as fifth choice centre back. Up to him then.
- I think KT will go to Newcastle, and I’ve thought that for a while. Like Xhaka it would be smart to keep him as he would be a wonderful rotational option, but they have both played almost their entire career as captain, leader, and one of the most important players on every team they have played for. Not only for their clubs, but also for their country. If you think of it this way, you can see how they would not be satisfied with being second best.
- It’s a little funny to me how many are saying that defensive midfield is our biggest need of upgrade. I think that this might end up being true as I believe Thomas Partey will be forced to leave due to off field circumstances, but others aren’t. I think in the dark clouds of disappointment, people have forgotten that alongside Rodri, Partey has been one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe this season and is still in his prime. I will be extremely sad if and when he leaves, as he is my favourite player in the current team.
- I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the agreement with Jorginho was just for a few months. That he would prefer to go back to Brazil or Italy or make big bucks at one of the lower leagues that pay high. I know this hasn’t been said publicly, and never would, but like Tierney and Xhaka, he has spent his entire career on the field rather than on the bench. Another player with a possible gentleman’s agreement with the coaching staff.
- I have a sneaky feeling that Fábio Vieira might go on loan to Wolves.
- Just as Reiss Nelson looks like he might be fulfilling his potential, I think he will leave. Quite simply because he will not see a consistent route to regular first team football with Saka and Martinelli being so young and so good.
- I have said for quite a while that I think that we aren’t chasing Declan Rice OR Moises Caideco, but both. One to play as the single pivot, and the other to play as the left 8. The other benefit is that both of them could play both positions, giving Arteta flexibility and creating the unknown as opponents scout us.
- Sergei Milinković Savic hasn’t been mentioned for a while, but as I stated earlier, winning duals seems to be Arteta’s main concern. Having a physical monster like him in the squad, and again, another player who is so versatile, I can see Arsenal pursuing him. I’m not a huge fan of Mason Mount, even though I can see that he is an all-around footballer. Again, his versatility will be attractive to Arteta. I am of the belief that some transfers also happen because a coach likes a player but really really wants his best buddy. Declan Rice could be a transformative player for Arsenal and perhaps Arteta sees Mason Mount as the key difference in Declan Rice choosing Arsenal over one of the other top British clubs. I think you’ll find that these kinds of deals actually happen.
- I would also take a look at Seko Fofana at Lens. He has been one of the best players in Europe since Christmas and would give Arsenal the physical power and leadership that they are likely looking for. As he is in his prime, maybe we will look elsewhere but at the same time we have to balance our young team with senior players especially if we are selling senior players.
- Eze at Palace has the technical level to play for Arsenal and go to the very top. He would add goals and versatility, again. Just don’t know if he has the duel winning capability that is at the top of the list.
- I can see one of Rafinha, Xavi, Simon, or Mohammed Kudus arriving to rotate with Saka. All super players.
- I do think that we will sign a versatile defender. The link with Simakan at Leipzig would be perfect as he could rotate with Saliba and Ben White. As much as I like the look of Josip Sutalo, I’m not sure that he has versatility that we will be looking for. I think that this versatility will be important to Edu as he won’t be able to necessarily buy every position that we need if he is going to spend a lot of money in two or three areas. So rather than getting a centre back AND a right back, he will likely look for a player that can do both. This signing, like the striker signing, will likely happen later in the window as they will give Ruell Walters the opportunity in preseason to show that he can do it. I think we might be surprised at Walters level these days. Mauro Bandeira and Lino Sousa will likely go on the pre-season trip for the same reason. I do think that Jacob Kiwior may well be our back up left back next season. We often see what Arsenal are going to do next at Manchester City. Four centre backs playing in the back four. White, Saliba, Gabriel and Kiwior. Miles Lewis Skelly may go to the US tour too, but with a view to a loan. We have a potential star in him in the future. If we played the double pivot, then he may well have been in the squad a few more times, but he will likely have to wait as Arsenal are currently flying with the elite, and it would be somewhat foolish to trust an Academy player as a single pivot.
- Much like Simakan, Joao Cancelo makes all kinds of sense as he is most certainly one of the best in the world at full back and could fit better than anybody else as an inverted fullback. I just don’t see Arsenal showing interest because of his insistence in playing and attitude when he doesn’t.
- Lastly, if I am wrong about Thomas Partey, then a midfielder would not be my number one priority this summer. It would be important, but to me the number one priority is a player in the squad that we do not have. I think this is a goal hungry, physical number nine.
- I would love it to be Victor Oshimen at Napoli as he ticks every box, but on top of at least two other expensive midfielders or wingers, this might be impossible. Ivan Toney is worth considering as a cheaper option and Rasmus Hojlund at Atalanta could very well be the new Haaland in a few years. Somebody will roll the dice on him, and it will likely be a very big club. I can also see the club spending less money on a striker and have him be second choice to Jesus. Somebody like Calvert Lewin or Ollie Watkins.
- I think Arteta will want somebody of equal level to Jesus and I’m thinking that might be Jonathan David at Lille or Elye Wahi at Montpellier
- If a pressing monster with a better goal scoring record is what we are looking for then I can see Lautaro Martinez.
- I can also see Arsenal signing a prospect much like they did with Martinelli.
- Take a look at Ivan Jaime at FC Famalicao. Remember that name.
Today wasn’t miserable. Maybe I should’ve been miserable. A nine-month journey ended with such a slap in the face. Perspective helps and my heart is happy. Not just because Arsenal have a truly bright future, but because my daughter EllieAnn, decided to wear her Emmanuel Petit jersey and make me supper. I loved Petit way too much, but I love my girl way more.
Arsenal have given me way too much to love this season and sometimes small moments are little reminders of the most important things and the most important people are the perspective with which we should all have.
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.
What about Tomi? Like everyone else you seem to have forgotten him. In some ways his injury may have been as damaging to April/May as Saliba’s absence…
Great read Mike, some interesting thoughts.
I think teams are going to beat the press in future with long balls and big target men like city have done this season or long balls to fast wingers like Brighton did on Sunday.
In both cases Saliva would have made a difference. Martinelli can do the speed thing for us but I think we will get a target man and play long ball like city.
It’s a shame to see Smith-Rowe not playing much once fit and speculation he might go. A few seasons ago Martinelli was also injured a lot but we persevered with him and reaped the benefits over the past two seasons. We should be similarly patient with Smith-Rowe as we have seen what he can do and I will never forget the role he played in key matches during the very early stages of our revival under Arteta.