Here he is, Jonathan Blaustein, filing his monthly thoughts on what has gone on at The Arsenal through October ( follow @jblauphoto). Enjoy!
It’s Wednesday afternoon.
And we still don’t know who’ll be the next President of the United States.
Sure, it looks like it will be Joe Biden, (thank god,) but no one knows anything for sure yet.
Biden had a decent playbook, IMO, and he stuck with it.
Basically, when your opponent is a total nutter who constantly says crazy nonsense, leave him alone to self-destruct.
I know people have been waiting for Trump to shit the bed for 4 years now, and unless he left fecal stains on the hospital sheets at Walter Reed, he has thus far managed to avoid any accountability for his actions these last 4 years. (Which felt like 40.)
But regardless of whether Biden wins or not, I respect his strategy, because it was based on reality. He did not kid himself into trying to out-comedy Trump, or out insult him. (Though calling him a clown must have felt really good.)
He understood that you can’t necessarily beat someone at their own game, so you have to be honest about what you’re good at, get the win, and then build things out from there.
Given this is an Arsenal column, please allow me to make the ungraceful transition you’ve been waiting for, and get my thoughts focused on English Football, rather than American politics.
I’m back this season with a monthly column, and while my take on AFC is very in-line with Pedro’s, (which is why he lets me do this,) writing once a month provides a very different perspective than every day.
It allows me to look at the bigger picture, rather than the day-to-day grind.
So why did I open with Biden’s strategy?
Because I think there is a huge crossover with what Mikel Arteta has done with Arsenal in just under a year.
Think back to how bad you felt, this time in 2019, with Unai Emery shitting the bed every week, (that visual never gets old,) and then Freddie L coming in to clean up the mess, but not having the goods to keep the big job.
Arsenal were in an epic crisis, with respect to the club’s history.
It was that bad.
We all know how well Arteta has patched up the holes in the wall, and the FA Cup and Community Shield trophies bought him a ton of street cred with (most of) the fans.
Yes, we love ourselves some Arteta here at LeGrove, but with good reason.
The dude is a baller.
This month, I want to focus on the main thing he did to re-focus the team’s strategy, which has rubbed some people the wrong way.
Lately, Pedro has been referring to Arsenal as “Atletico-lite” and I think that’s exactly the right call, but of course Arsenal fans want the beautiful football that Arsene promised.
I think much of the fan-base believes that playing like Simeone’s squad, rather than going for the City/Liverpool/Bayern/Real Madrid approach is beneath us.
It’s not the right kind of winning. (Or, sometimes, not losing.)
I admit, I fell in love with this club during the 2011-12 season, and there was so much free-flowing football, with RVP smashing them in from every angle, and Alex Song lifting perfect passes over the locked defences we always faced.
All attack, all the time.
Like the Mike D’Antoni Suns.
Over here in America, though, there is an old saying: Defence wins championships.
It’s taken as gospel, and the very best teams, like this year’s LeBron James Lakers, or many of Tom Brady’s best Patriot teams, were good enough to have a killer D and plenty of O.
But what about Arsenal?
Just because we owned some of the aughts, and used to slug it out with Man United in a Big 2, people think the Invincibles will always be coming back, if we try hard enough.
The landscape has changed, though, and it might be permanent.
Arsenal will never be able to spend with Man City, Chelsea or Man United, and it’s unlikely we’ll be as well-run, top to bottom, as Liverpool.
We all saw how year after year, Arsenal got shredded by the Top 4 clubs when we tried to play open football against them.
They have the money, they have the infrastructure, (except for United, who may be hiring Pochettino,) and they have a big lead in confidence as well, having all won titles far more recently than we have. (As did Leicester, remember.)
So why not create a team that can lock down the defence, and play on the counter against the “bigger” teams?
It’s the smart play, and I’m glad Arteta went that way.
Thomas Partey and Gabriel have been huge, obviously, but as I wrote in my last column, it’s been a sea change of getting buy-in from the whole team, which now defends front to back.
Alex Lacazette won player of the year in 2018-19 because he was a hard-working, harrying bastard, not because he scored 30 goals.
Aubameyang is a super-star with a work-rate, so it makes sense to build around that.
Mesut Ozil likes tracking back about as much as he likes carjackers, so off he went.
It all makes sense.
I know you want to see more creativity right now, but I don’t think there is one saviour-type who’s coming in this season. (Maybe next summer, but only maybe.)
Rather than creativity, I think we need precision.
So Arteta’s next move will be to work more and more on the training ground, with respect to final third passing.
In my opinion, it’s our Achilles heel. (Though things were better against United and Leicester, despite the poor finishing.)
In this first year of MA’s reign, we’ve seen nice, clinical finishing, but the passing accuracy on the final ball is so often off by 2-5 feet.
I’m not sure if that’s choking, as I think endless repetition of triangles and one-twos will allow improvement. Which will allow us to consistently score on the teams that do park the bus.
And if Arteta is fabulously successful, and the wins and money flow, then, (and only then,) might he try to emulate Pep’s Man City style more.
Because while some people have been surprised that we don’t play more like Man City, I haven’t.
They buy who they want, when they want, and we’re frankly not in the same financial bracket.
Finally, though, we have a coach who doesn’t set his team up for glorious failure.
I’ll take it.