Arsenal and the castle

Arsenal and the castle

An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective

Have you ever had to go South in order to go North?

Have you ever had to try to explain this to a child?

I’d say that I’m a pretty calm and lucid guy. At least my kids tell me that I am. A strength I know I have is the ability to not continue conversations that I find worthless.

I had an opportunity to exercise this gift whilst back in England these last few weeks.

We were in Richmond, Yorkshire and were heading on a day trip to Bamburgh castle.

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Max kept seeing signs that sent us South and he knew that Bamburgh was North. I attempted to explain that in order to get on the faster roads we had to go South for a while. “That makes no sense,” he kept saying. I quickly identified the ‘worthless conversation alert trigger’ that lives on the left side of my brain and backed off, changing the subject to how Curly Wurly’s could well be Britain’s most underrated chocolate product.

Once a year I dabble in a Twitter fight with a chap called Dean. Keeps me sharp. I think Dean dabbles daily. The rest of the folk who feel the strange need to grossly overreact, I can’t live there. We live in a world of extremes. You may have noticed. Awesome or terrible. Sometimes I think it’s actually quite easy. Just don’t fall into the vat of greasiness where most of the world is sliding around swinging haymakers.

Arsenal’s pre-season has been a mixed bag. I just refuse to just look around the periphery of the games and lose it.

I think that what is going on is much like my drive to the castle. We are having to go South before we go North.

You’d think that our fans would’ve identified and learnt. A few years ago (post Willian), the strategy was ripped up and Arteta started to teach from the beginning of the book. The club, very cleverly, backed him.

Over preseason we have seen new combinations everywhere. Three new players that all come from very different experiences. A left central midfielder who played striker for the last few seasons. A full back who has played largely at center back in his career. And a defensive midfielder who has never played as a single pivot.

More importantly than these three signings, our coach is trying to make us into a different kind of team than last season. He doesn’t want us to be as predictable as we were. Players are moving around. Learning new roles.

You might be interested to hear that I was listening to The Beautiful Game Podcast, and one of our Academy starlets, Nathan Butler-Oyedeji was the guest. They asked him what he made of the training camp with the first team in Dubai over Christmas. The word that stuck out to me was ‘complicated.’ He said that he thought that Arteta was a genius but learning his system was complicated.

It’s so much more than these guys just being elite footballers. Football has dramatically changed over the last couple of years. The players are learning brand new ideas, especially at Arsenal. It makes absolutely no sense to me that we would see fluidity and consistent results in the process of learning, unless the opponent is significantly weaker.

Arsenal are currently going South to go North. Once we get on the motorway I think we will quickly hit the accelerator. Only problem is that the motorways in England have about 16 different speed limits over a 10 mile stretch, as I’ve just been reminded of.


  • Jurrien Timber. Wow! Never played left back but likely going to start against Forest at left back. I’ve noticed why he is so good at ball winning. He tackles like he’s fencing. Shuffles his feet and lunges. We teach defenders not to bite. What we are trying to teach is not to swing the back leg as the attackers sees it coming and jinks around you. Timbers fencing style is lo risk because he hasn’t fully committed. This may sound bold but the volume of his good decisions reminds me of Saka. Both highly effective and consistent. He really impressed me when he ran behind their high line in the first half. I didn’t realize up until that point that he and Tomi were switching sides.Screenshot 2023-08-02 at 8.46.49 PM
  • Declan Rice has most everything. What has surprised me though is his intelligence in a situation where others would fail. He is the record signing guy. He has competition with Partey. Rather than trying to impress he has slowly played his way into games. Nothing too fancy just simple, smart decisions. I remember watching Mudryk when he came to Chelsea. He failed because he was trying to impress rather than let the game come to him. He seems to be jiving with Martinelli too.
  • Eddie’s goal defied my comments that you will read later. That was clearly a routine that worked. Everyone went near post and he arrived with a great run. The corners were far more dangerous. Now that we are a tall team we are trusting this and simply creating havoc in front of the goal. I loved the cutback that ESR nearly scored from in LA, also.
  • I’d love it if Tierney was happy and stayed. He is the most consistently 7.5/10 player. Rarely below 7/10 and sometimes 8/10 or higher. His defending is solid. More defensively consistent than the vast majority in the league. Offensively he plays HIS game and that’s important. So reliable. As a coach, you really appreciate him because you know exactly what you are getting.
  • I’m learning that Havertz is a thief. As soon as he came on he robbed two midfielders and a defender and set us up for transition. He’s quiet in games but he’s important. The play intentionally does not go through him. If it did then he couldn’t be the aerial threat at the back post.
  • I really like how we have slid free kicks down the other side of the wall, twice. They can’t do it often as it’ll be scouted but it creates a clear cut chance.
  • Ramsdale was faultless. Not a surprise as he’s had this game many times. His kicking seemed better. I think that the David Raya stories will only focus him more.
  • Thomas Partey was the best player on the field. I saw him make 1 mistake. An absolute Rolls Royce of a player. I strongly feel he needs to start against Forest. No need to rush Rice into the team. He will organically find a starting spot.
  • There are two teams in the world that comfortably have the best collection of defensive midfielders. Real Madrid with Kroos, Tchouameni and Camivinga. Arsenal with Partey, Rice and Jorginho. What a fantastic position to be in. Jorginho was excellent when he came on. His through ball to Leo T was perfection too.
  • If Saka needs to take a rest from penalties then we look stocked up with options. Some fantastic penalties yesterday. I thought that either Vieira had guts to step up or Arteta was trying to help him psychologically.
  • It’s going to be difficult not to pick Leo Trossard this season. Such an intelligent footballer. I think his game is as simple as a whole host of good decisions. He makes things happen. Consistently.


  • Fabio Vieira  played well. The thing is though that his ceiling is 8/10. The other concern is that there are players that we are linked with who can do what Vieira can do and more. They have a good touch, an eye for a pass and a good shot but they are also quick, strong, better defensively and more consistent. Maybe the easiest comparison is on the other side of the pitch. Martinelli played only half of the time that Viera did, but seem to have double the impact. If Vieira is given the opportunity, he needs to get to the point where we WANT him to come off the bench. There are players on our bench that we are shouting at the television screen to get on the field, but he is not one of them yet. I do wonder if Vieira is being used partially to get free kicks. What is obvious is that he has not been told to put on muscle like many others have. He is light and easy to knock down and we have a toll team now. Just a thought.
  • I’ve noticed during preseason that Jesus and Martinelli are starting to get into the bad habit of holding onto the ball when they are mad. They get into a fight with a defender or two, and refuse to give it up.
  • Eddie had a very Eddie game. A little of everything. Some good defensive work, then a lack of aggression at other times. A really nice turn to create an opportunity, but then gets knocked around and dispossessed. A lovely goal after a very well timed run, but absent on the two occasions when there was a tap-in in the 6 yard box. Eddie’s big issue though is timing. Sometimes he doesn’t arrive and most of the time he arrives too late and under big pressure. About two years ago he was definitely good enough to be our back up striker. Arsenal are now flirting as an elite team and should not only fight for the Premier League but also the Champions League. Is Eddie still good enough to play for this version of Arsenal?
  • If we are going to hold a high line, even when teams break through midfield, then we need to be extremely compact or have an extra player back in the defensive line. There were a few times when they got behind us and created opportunities that teams were not creating last season Part of the issue will be that we do not have the positioning of Granit Xhaka anymore. If our opponents breakthrough our midfield, we need back up rather than stand still, and allow our midfield to get back and help.
  • I know that this isn’t going to happen anyway, but if we play with Thomas Partey AND Declan Rice, then Odegaard has to play. We didn’t have enough creativity in the first half.
  • Even though Ramsdale finally saved a penalty kick, I am concerned that he dives to his right almost every single time somebody hits a penalty kick at him. I’m sure that our opponents have figured this out.


  • Beating Manchester City on Sunday will trump everything else in preseason. They are most certainly our bogey team and we are capable of beating them as we have proven in performances against them, just not the results.
  • Here’s hoping that Saka recovers for Sunday and Jesus recovers quickly. We should be able to still win games without Jesus but he has this unique ability of making our whole team better when he is on the field. Eddie doesn’t have this energy or influence yet.
  • The David Raya situation is fascinating. I think that there might be much more to this than we think. I have a feeling that his possible purchase might bring a football evolution from Arteta. For some reason I have a feeling that Arteta is going to start a trend of substituting his goalkeeper as one of the five options. Football has only ever brought a goalkeeper on to save penalty kicks or if they get injured. Now that the sport has changed and goalkeepers are valued as much for their feet as their hands, I think that what is going to happen is as follows… if we are playing against a team that is hard to break down or pressing us high, we might bring on Raya for Ramsdale because his passing ability creates goalscoring opportunities. Ramsdale isn’t quite as confident and doesn’t kick the ball anywhere near as well to his left as he does his right. The other tactic we might find with a goalkeeper like David Raya is moving a Centre Back into midfield and letting your goalkeeper possess alongside the other CB in order to create overloads in midfield, and again, the opportunity for a ball over the top to Martinelli or Saka.
  • The other rumor is Mohamed Kudus. An absolutely wonderful talent. Versatile and strong and quick, as well as having Fábio Vieira‘s other qualities. A back up for Saka that would finally see him get some rest without having to see a huge drop off.Screenshot 2023-08-02 at 8.47.54 PM


  • Eddie as captain. Very interesting. Looking at the starting lineup, I would’ve thought that Ramsdale or Partey would have been given the band. I think that a message was being sent. It might just be that Arteta wanted to give him a huge boost of confidence as he is likely going to start the season a striker.
  • i’ve noticed that when Declan Rice tackles players he goes around the right side. Often this is because he has defensive support, but I think this is strategic. If you sneak up behind somebody and go around one side, then you know that they only have one exit route.


As I’m sure you are, I am super excited about this season.

I think that we will shock many in Europe by going all the way in the Champions League. I think there’s a good argument that we are currently the third or fourth best team and squad in Europe anyway. Behind City, Real Madrid, and possibly Bayern Munich.

I think that our season will rest on dealing with expectation.

There is no team in Europe that have elevated themselves as quickly as we have and pressure comes with that.

Thankfully, we have a fanbase, and in particular a home and away crowd, that are more supportive than any other.

Glad to be back… Mike McDonald

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5 Responses to Arsenal and the castle

  1. Ian August 3, 2023 at 8:31 am #

    Superb commentary and analysis.

  2. daveg August 3, 2023 at 9:13 am #

    Rice and Kai looked a little rusty and both players clearly need more time to settle into Arsenals quick passing system. That is not Artetas real problem. //I have been saying this for months, that Arsenal ” SCORE MORE GOALS” when TOSSARD “STARTS” as a “FALSE NUMBER 9″, not as a sub, not as a left winger, but as a FALSE NUMBER 9” . Arteta must be blind not to notice this. //We also need a “NEW CENTRAL DEFENDER with PACE” over the “FIRST 10 YARDS” as we are repeatedly being caught for pace at the back during our highline defence and at in swinging free kicks!

  3. allezkev August 3, 2023 at 12:43 pm #

    I’ll be quite happy when the transfer window closes and we as a fan base just focus on who we have rather than who we could sign. I’m quite calm about the current squad, I think the business the club has done in the last 5 or 6 Windows has been truly tranformative, I know want to see what Mikel can do with this group. Incidentally I’m aware of the fact that we have two amazing young talents at the club in Ethan Nwaneri and Myles Lewis Skelly who both showed in Nuremberg how comfortable they are in the senior team, some young players are like that, you watch them in the academy and they’re ok, then they play with the seniors, players on a different level technically and in terms of football intelligence and those same young players just take off and embrace the higher intensity. These boys have to be left a pathway to grow and develop.

  4. Dennis the Menace August 3, 2023 at 1:52 pm #

    Totally agree that these new players need time to bed in. It took a lot of time for the existing players to get a proper grip of Arteta’s system and style of playing. The new players will do it quicker with the support of those who already know what to do and when, and because they are intelligent footballers and very talented. Our first three Premier League fixtures are fairly forgiving ones on paper which will help too.

    • Francis Redheart August 4, 2023 at 6:06 pm #

      Hello Mikey,

      So long!!!

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