Firstly, a happy Tuesday to you all and welcome to a brand new season. I hope you’ve all been behaving yourselves this summer. It’s felt like a long break without the Arsenal – plus ca change – even with the welcome appetiser of a World Cup to enjoy, along with a trip to see Pete in NYC – I can confirm he is still a complete tart.
Nonetheless, I can rarely recall anticipating the start of a new season with such fervour as this one, as a full stop was placed at the end of the Wenger dynasty and a new era begins (I’m reluctant to denote it as the ‘Emery era’, as I’d be flabbergasted if he – or any future manager – sustains a reign to match Arsene’s).
A perfect amuse-bouche for the season curtain raiser was a tour of the Player Performance Centre at London Colney last week, followed by a presentation and Q&A. An assembled group of London-based football journalists and Arsenal bloggers were invited to the training ground as part of the club’s push to enhance club and press relations. Whether this was lip service or otherwise, the whole experience was exceptionally revealing and whilst there will be ongoing concerns around player personnel and tactics, any perceived worries over the players’ physical preparation should be fully alleviated. This is a genuinely world-class operation, and one that is geared up to succeed.
My over-riding takeaway from the event was there is a tacit (and fair) acknowledgment from Arsenal that they are not going to be able to compete financially with the petro-clubs; however, we can try and steal a march with marginal gains around player physiology, psychology and analysis.
The tour was led by the impressive Darren Burgess (Director of High Performance), along with Gary O’Driscoll (Medical Director) and Chris Morgan (First Team Senior Physiotherapist – recently poached from Liverpool); along with Sean O’Connor (Training Centre Facilities Manager). Sean has worked at the club for the best part of two decades and his passion and love for Arsenal was infectious.
Rather than provide lengthy paragraphs and prose, I’ve summarised the key points from the afternoon, which hopefully makes it slightly more digestible than my usual stodge (plus there’s a fair few facts and stats):
• Investment in the training centre in the last two years totals £17 million
• The club now employ 250 staff on the performance side. The greatest attributor to this has undoubtedly been in analysis
• The club boasts the largest crypto-chamber in the UK at a cost of £160k
• The players are stat-obsessed – they take it incredibly seriously. In the gym there are boards that are updated after every match with ‘top-3’s’ for a number of metrics, such as most sprints, maximum acceleration, distance covered and total sprinting distance
• The general facilities are – as you would expect – outstanding and cutting edge. Be it the indoors 40 metre running track, or the 3D body analysis room for post injury analysis, it really is an amazing environment
• The small details make all the difference too – the changing areas and whole building are flooded with natural light whilst corridors are lined with iconic images of Arsenal legends and iconic moments
Further to the tour, a 30-45 minute presentation and Q&A was given by Darren Burgess. The key takeaways were:
• The club wants to be more open and relationship driven, including with regard to player injuries and fitness
• There are now 31 full-time medical staff at the club
• The club has hired data ingenue and Candy Crush guru Mikhail Zhilkin to provide the analysis for the vast swathes of data that’re recorded
• The club are constantly monitoring and assessing the players’ fitness – to paraphrase, every training session is a fitness test
• The key focus area is around player resilience, which is tailored to Emery’s desire for high-pressing and constant movement
What was abundantly clear from both the tour of the facilities and the subsequent presentation from the team, is that whilst Arsenal could certainly be accused of letting standards drop on the pitch over recent years, they haven’t given an inch off it.
The improvements are incremental and ongoing, but the club has made both the physical investment in facilities, coupled with hiring the best experts from around the globe to build on marginal gains and create the best possible platform for the manager and his coaches.
Most tellingly, it was made clear that the players have been receptive to the heightened importance placed on physiology and conditioning. Whilst it may mean more time in the gym or in recovery sessions, they buy-in to the practices and believe it can enhance performance.
A big thank you to Darren Burgess and his team for their time and insight – the above only skims the surface of what was garnered.
Man City and looking ahead to Chelsea
I’m not going to wade too deep into Sunday’s game – Pete covered it off nicely yesterday, but a few observations:
• The main positive was how we pressed as a unit for the majority of the game. The results were mixed, but there was a clear change from last season – the distance run by the team exceeded any distance we covered last season
• Ramsey came in for a lot of stick – as he so often seems to – but watch the game back. He was outstanding at leading, or ‘triggering’, our front-line press and most of the times that it bore fruit was a result of his industry
• The issue with this approach is that it leaves Ramsey as one of the furthest two players forward (often the most advanced), which prevents him from hurting opponents with his unique skillset – namely his ability to break into the box from deep, often unchecked
• Ozil undoubtedly had a poor game, but similarly to Ramsey, the role he was playing was never going to allow him to weave his magic. His position on the wing meant he spent large swathes of the game as an auxiliary right back to support Bellerin, and crucially, he was not in positions to hurt our opponents
• Aubameyang also looked isolated. With Ozil too deep and Ramsey too advanced, he didn’t have the benefit of arriving support to play off
• Our success, or otherwise, this season depends largely on getting Ramsey and Ozil into positions on the pitch where they can hurt opponents. This set-up didn’t achieve that in this game – but, it’s Man City who aren’t a fair barometer of how we will shape up against more forgiving opponents (who are pretty much any team in the last decade of the Premier League)
• Cech made some excellent saves – undeniably – but if Emery wants to set out the side to build from the back, Cech is not the man for the job. That being said, it should be of concern that our £25 million German international hasn’t convinced the coaching staff that he is good enough to usurp the helmeted veteran, who’s best years are clearly far behind him
• For Chelsea, I’d be setting up slightly differently. Whilst our defence didn’t cover themselves in glory on Sunday, very little was expected of them. Of more concern was our inability to get our star-studded attack firing
• If you look at Klopp’s Liverpool (pre-Van Dijk and Allison), he has clearly taken an approach that has shoe-horned all of his best attackers into the team and creating a platform for them, accepting that their defence is not top tier
• I sense we are in a similar situation. Our defence is highly fallible, but our attack is high calibre and that’s the part of our game we need to optimise (appreciate this feels a bit like a Wenger-throwback!)
• Aside from bringing Monreal into the side (fitness permitting), I would be drafting in Torreira and Lacazette for Saturday teatime for Guendouzi and Mkhi
• Guendouzi did *okay* against Citeh – his attitude was outstanding, he never hid and always wanted the ball, but his defensive naivety (which is completely to be expected at this embryonic stage of his career) was brutally exposed by Silva, Sterling et al. and with Jorginho and Kovacic in waiting at Stamford Bridge, I would be plumping for experience
• Mkhi shouldn’t start big games for Arsenal. In my view, he is a talented stat-padder versus dross, who looks lightweight and ineffectual against our immediate rivals. I’d have preferred the money for Alexis….
• Xhaka had a poor game on Sunday, however I’d be interested to see him with Torreira who – in theory – should prevent Xhaka having to play on the turn so much, which he clearly struggles with
• To get the best out of our four main attackers, I’d have a diamond with Torreira at the base with Xhaka sitting deep alongside Ramsey (with licence to roam) and then Ozil at the tip in a more conventional number 10 role; behind a front two of Auba and Laca
• Our two front-men’s synergy is obvious and their best spells in Arsenal shirts have been when they’ve dovetailed together.
Sorry it’s been a long one – thanks for sticking with me. Until next time.
Follow me @BeardofPires