Let’s crack into a delicious portion of hot off the press Gooner news.
Bernd Leno: What does it mean?
Arsenal were rumoured to have a £50m budget this summer. We just dropped £25m on a keeper. Petr Cech might take the #1 jersey, but it’s hard to see past Leno starting. Cech’s form has been shoddy, he can’t play with the ball at his feet and at 36, it’s clear his reactions aren’t what they used to be.
I think the legendary Czech will stay on for his experience and winnertivity. Leno didn’t move at 26 to be an understudy. I would certainly expect David Ospina to be moved on. He’s never been good enough, he showed how poor he is with a miserable World Cup opener against Japan. It gave me heart to watch Chezzer also gaff hard against Senegal. He’s another keeper who was massively overrated by our fans.
What I love about Leno; outside his ability to make the unexpected saves Arsenal fans have been starved of, is the new layer of options he brings to us defensively. Hoof won’t be the only option, allowing us to transition the ball up the pitch from the back, we’ll also have a keeper who can break the lines with smart passing, as well as a sweeper option if we need it. He’s going to be very useful if he can regain the form that had everyone fluttering eyelashes at him 2 seasons ago.
Also worth noting that form and scouting for keepers is super fucking hard. Confidence and system plays such a massive role in performance. Look at Richard Wright and Jordan Pickford. Both looked exceptional for shite sides, then couldn’t cut it when they made the move up. Ter Stegen, on the other hand, went from relative unknown to winning a lot of big trophies at Barca.
I remember reading Dave Seaman talk about the difference between big and small clubs. He basically said when you play at a big club, it’ll be freezing, you’ll have seen none of the ball all night, then BANG, there’s a 90th minute top corner strike you need to deal with.
His bad season at Leverkusen isn’t the issue, it’s whether he has the focus to make it at an elite side (if all goes well this season and we become elite). Is he Oblak or Karius? Let’s pray this expensive gamble is a lucky one.
Jack Wilshere: how do we feel?
We all feel sad. Jack was the kid that curled home that beauty against West Ham for the kids. The real deal. He was the pugnacious tough guy who took it to Barca. He was our Gazza. Sadly, Wenger blew his body by overplaying him, then the injuries set in and he never recovered.
I can see the difficulties for Jack. Growing up in the spotlight of the English press must have been a nightmare. As with all our Project British players, Wenger never really settled on a position for Jack. The player wanted to play at the base of our midfield like he did for England, Wenger thought he was a #10 or a right midfielder. If you can’t own a position, it’s very hard to develop. I also heard the player wasn’t exactly a fan of Wenger’s ways, which can’t have helped.
It’s difficult to see Jack Wilshere go when we’re offering players like Xhaka new deals. Outside fitness, I can’t see anything the Swiss does better. But it is what it is. We can’t keep waiting on potential, and when money is tight, you have to make important decisions and the club has made their choice.
Question is, who replaces him? Kike Marin has us in for Banega, which feels like a very solid stop gap replacement. However, the Spanish journo also comments that the Argentine is seen as a cheaper option to Torreira, which would be really disappointing. I mean, firstly, Banega is a centre mid, not a defensive mid. Secondly, I’d much rather be investing £20m more in a 22-year-old, than a 29-year-old. Also, Banega broke his leg getting run over by his own car. That’s Gabriel levels of dimness.
Are we really doing this?
Emery: Bringing the band back together
Arsenal confirmed to the press that Jens was off, along with Boro, Peyton, and Banfield. To replace them, the club has basically let Emery bring his entourage with him from PSG.
‘Emery worked alongside Carcedo, Villanueva, strength and conditioning coach Julen Masach, goalkeeping coach Javi Garcia and video analyst Victor Manas at his previous clubs and all of them have made the move over to London Colney.’
This move is really interesting. In the blur of excitement around how well Ivan and his new team are doing, the fact that our CEO let the head coach bring in 5 of his mates without question is amazing. The club is going back on its plan to control the backroom infrastructure, instead, opting to give the new manager a huge amount of power with these hires. Really, when they didn’t need to. Arsenal had all the leverage with the Emery hire. He needed us more than we needed him.
The oddest move has to be in the performance department. I wrote last summer that the hiring of Darren Burgess was really weird as we already had Shad Fosysthe. One is listed at the Head of Performance on the website, the other the Director of High Performance. That’s a cluster fuck right there. Now we have a strength and conditioning coach coming in who is the manager’s confidant.
HOW DOES THAT WORK?
The Director of High Performance will have the report into the manager’s mate by the looks of things. Imagine flying halfway around the world to make an impact in your new job, only to find out you’ll be reporting into somebody who sneaked in the back door because he had mates in high places. It’s the fitness equivalent of Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans sharing duties back in the day.
Broader question here, did the club interview all of the new appointees? Or is it just a wink and nod from Emery that has them in new jobs? More importantly, do any of them speak English? This extract comes from an interview with Emery.
‘Luckily, the French I learned when I was younger helped me out a bit! Of course, I don’t fully master it. One day, I heard Rafael Benitez say that he wasn’t able to transmit everything he wanted to say in English, and that surprised me because he was fluent in English and that he had been living there for 15 years. But he was missing that small percentage which would have allowed him to connect perfectly with his players.
My language proficiency in French was enough to explain myself and to be understood. Of course, one of the most important elements for a coach to succeed lies in his ability to communication and connect with this players. On an emotional level. Furthermore, I tend to talk a lot in the dressing room, even if I brought down the intensity of talks to 60%. But I was able to say what I wanted to in French thanks to the two years of French I had studied in Hondarribia when I was young. My talks with the team were done in entirely in French, and I think that we understood each other and that the language wasn’t a barrier for us.’
How do the club manage the language barriers? Does Emery do what Pep G did, and hire in a Premier League player who can speak Spanish and think at the right level? A Santi like object would have been perfect, but maybe someone like Cesc Fabregas who could end up leaving Chelsea this summer, and has gone on the record to say he’d love to return to Arsenal as a coach, could return in some capacity?
Alternatively, Emery could keep it simple and go with the team he’s kept with him throughout his career. If he chooses that path, that’ll mean the Spanish speaking players will be elevated to leadership like positions. Nacho Monreal, who I think is an exceptional player and human might relish that role. Hector Bellerin might enjoy that as well. The revenge of Lucas Perez could see him return and wreak havoc on the club that dismissed his talents.
I keep talking about the language challenge because the first three months of the job are so important. This paragraph helps give context to what I’m getting at.
One day, Jorge Valdano said, “At Barcelona, the leader is Messi. At Real Madrid, it’s Florentino Perez. At Atletico, it’s Diego Simeone.” A player, a coach and a president. A different kind of leader every time. I know when I’m the main person responsible, and when I’m not. It’s a process that a coach has to live with and internalise, and that he assimilates with time and experience. In every club, you have to know what your role is and what role you have vis-a-vis the rest of the group.
I am of the opinion that PSG’s leader is Neymar. Or that he is currently becoming it. Neymar came to PSG to be the leader, to go through this process to someday become the best in the world. It’s a process that will require a bit more time in order to consolidate this position. At Manchester City, Pep is in charge. At PSG, Neymar has to be.
I think that I managed the dressing room quite well. My greatest satisfaction was that the team didn’t sink, after losing against Barcelona or Real Madrid. A few weeks ago for example, we had a horrible first half against Saint-Étienne, but after the break, with one player sent off, we reacted well and managed to equalise. One of my staff members told me, “Unai, today the players showed that they are with you. If that weren’t the case, we would have lost.”
The notion that players can end you is something new to Arsenal fans. This is something Emery is going to be acutely aware of when he comes to Arsenal. The players at our place couldn’t end Arsene, he was an immovable object. The last two seasons, they pretty much-downed tools, yet the manager was given full backing by the board.
Emery won’t have that luxury. He has a two-year deal, with Arsenal retaining the option to keep him on with a 3rd year if he smashes it. If the players don’t like what they see, or they don’t react well to the violent shock to the system that’s coming, the new man could be in trouble, very quickly.
That’s why he has such a tough job on his hands. Sure, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit to be had, but only a fool would try and harvest it all in one go. If you’ve been in any sort of transformational role at a company, where you’ve taken over a bad team (or watched a bad team taken over), you’ll know that the secret is to work with the people you have and slowly implement your ideas and changes. The dick swingers who wade into big organisations and try to enact an overhaul in weeks, usually come out with egg on their face. They alienate the people working for them, and often those watching in. They miss the good bits and end up making swift exits with their tails between their legs.
Emery is going to have to play a masterful game. He needs to show the board he’s making progress, at the same time, he needs to show the players and backroom peeps he’s a team player. That’s why it’s so interesting the club let him bring in a large backroom team of his mates, versus giving him a team they owned to work with him (the modern structure Ivan promised). If you let him bring in two people, he’s forced to work in a system, if you give him 5 people, that’s a fully formed unit everyone has to abide by straight away.
That’s great if these new guys are easy to work with, troubling if not. As I said the other day, Arsenal are closer to PSG than they are to Sevilla. This excerpt kind of talks through the basic differences.
As a coach, I had the habit of showing players what steps to follow, similar to controlling someone with a joystick. Except that when you come to PSG, you realise that the players are the ones who make the most effective decisions. One day, I told Neymar that, “There are match situations we have worked before the game, but in your case, you imagine those situations by yourself.”
Let’s start from this very basic principle: coaching is very, very, very difficult. From there, coaching excellent players is even more difficult. Why? Because being convincing is the most fundamental thing to coaching: the players have to believe in you. Whether they believe in you because you have won many trophies, because you are a great coach, because you are imposing, because everything you say ends up happening… Whatever the reason may be. But they have to believe in you. And in big teams, the players expect exactly that – for the coach to not to mess up.
That’s also what they expect in a more modest club, but they are also aware of the larger margin of error and that bad results can happen more often. That is not the case with a big team. You have to be right even on the finest of details: your work, your preparation, your principles, your way of speaking, when you decide to speak. Everything is a bit more difficult. Maybe from an external perspective, you may think that you can work less, but it’s the opposite. You have to speak up at the right time, which can help your team win. In a team like PSG, where winning is expected, that is what gives meaning to your actions and what you say. In smaller teams, the results can vary. Here, it’s not the case. You almost always win, and that’s what forces you to hit your target at the right moment. Every time.
Arsenal isn’t PSG, but we still have exceptional players with big egos. Ozil won the World Cup. Aubameyang is one of the best hitmen in Europe. Lacazette is the top scorer in the Europa League. Ramsey thinks he’s Roy of the Rovers. How will Emery deal with a less talented version of PSG, with the same types of egos?
It’s going to be fascinating. I’m too wrapped up in the excitement to worry too much about the politics of the Arsenal training ground, but you have to pay attention to the amount of change going on, how it’s being implemented, who it’s being implemented to, and the role communication is going to play in making those first three months work.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that. Have a great day!