I just watched the Damned United for the first time on the way back home. What a great film. When Peter Taylor and Brian Clough make up at the end, I think I did an emotion. So touching. Two guys that just really loved each other. What a character Clough was. I loved how aggressive he was about playing football the right way.
Arsenal, unfortunately, are still out of action for a whole extra week. We don’t play again until we meet Leicester next Monday. If you look at our season in blocks, we’re now entering the third. This one is going to be tricky. It runs to the Wolves game on November 11th. Has 4 Premier League games, 2 Europa and a League Cup run out. The players will have been away from home for two weeks, a touch of fatigue may have settled in for those that traveled a long way, and the winter will set in.
This block of games is extra interesting because firstly, we play Liverpool in it, secondly, because the rest of the games are those that we really should be winning, racking up points in the process. This will be a big mental test of the players, because there’s once again this thing called ‘expectation’ building with the fans.
Have you truly felt that in the last ten years?
Not only that, there’s a run of wins to maintain which comes with its own demons. It’s tough to churn out victories when you’re on a run, even tougher bouncing back from a defeat. To be honest, seeing how we bounce back is going to fascinating, because even in peak Wenger days, he was rarely able to summon the players after they were rocked by a major loss.
There are three targets for me in this block of games.
Stretch target of 10 points from our 4 Premier League games.
Improve our defending, and make our xG reflect our results. Namely, get better at defending, and stop relying on luck. Interesting that Ballague said the coaching staff put 50% of our points on Petr Cech.
Improve our attack, maintain the amount of goals we’re scoring, but increase the amount of chances we create. I don’t mind seeing more wastage with a similar amount of goals, what I’m not comfortable with, is seeing us scoring 25% of our shots. It’s great on the face of it, but it’s certainly not sustainable. Simply put, we can’t keep scoring 2+ goals a game.
The cup final of this block of games is the Liverpool match. There’s no hiding there. We’ll need to defend well, and we’ll need to create. Losing that game, which has a high probability based on xG, will be no blight on our season. We have to remember that Klopp has had 3 years to work on his squad and he’s spent a shed load of cash.
Emery has had one window to work with and he spent most of that fixing a mess, versus building on a well-drilled machine with CL cash. Worth noting that I’ve heard from a very good place that the leaders in the backroom think Europa League is still our best bet for CL this season. Kind of paints a picture that everyone knows this season isn’t going to be totally rosy. This Liverpool game will be a good indicator regardless.
Another item Emery has to be very careful with is the management of his squad. Darren Burgess has a huge task ahead of him making sure that the player are as fresh as can be heading into block 4, which is the dreaded Christmas period. I was heartened to see us rotate hard for the Fulham game. If we were on a run like we have been under Wenger, he’d have played the same 11 game after game, with crippling December consequences. What Emery is doing is keeping players fresh physically, but importantly, he’s telling the fringe players they’ll have a role to play this season.
If players feel like they’re just there to slip in when someone breaks, it can have a negative impact when they arrive. They don’t feel part of the group, they’re rusty, they’re not 100% on their game. We’ll need our whole squad for December, and without doubt, it’ll shape our chances of making the top 4 this season. We need to avoid injuries, we need to avoid a loss of confidence and we need to do everything we can to maintain momentum going into January.
So, in short, we’re in great shape so far. We’re ahead of where any of us imagined we’d be, but this next block, though not littered with tough games, really is incredibly important in shaping how the December run goes.
It’s all very exciting.
NOT AS EXCITING AS SEEING ENGLAND DO SPAIN. Hooray. We have an exciting batch of kids coming through. Pepper in AMN, Sancho, Smith Rowe, Reiss and Nketiah and we’re rolling at the next World Cup.
SEE YOU IN THE COMMENTS x