What sort of a week am I having? Well, I hadn’t eaten all day yesterday because I was under some extreme pressure at work. At about 8pm I thought, you know what, I’ll treat myself to something exciting. I ordered a really shameful local burger thing… I was excited. It was basically a FUCK YOU HEART burger monstrosity only America can nail. Jeff was delivering to me. I tracked him all the way. Walked out to greet him like a fat kid greets the Ice Cream van. I could not see Jeff. I called. The address was right. He was in Miami. The same exact address. Except he was in Oklahoma. There’s a Miami in Oklahoma? Are you fucking kidding me? A $100billion app can’t say ‘DON’T CLICK YES TO THIS IT IS WRONG.’ No good times for me last night. I ate a pot of ice cubes instead.
Arsenal feels a little like that at the moment. We clicked ‘YES PLEASE’ to the delivery of progressive football to The Arsenal, but the guy who welcomed us at the door didn’t come with the right ingredients, and it’s unclear if his home chef-ing transfers into the restaurant game
I’m being harsh there of course, but not really. Currently, Arsenal is living off the joy fumes of a trophy that outside the main prize (Champions League football), is a fucking waste of ‘sitting on my arse’ time. The Premier League has been grim all year. The games we’ve won, outside United, have been very drossy. When the drossy football looked like a strategy, I could accept it, but increasingly, it just looks like we’ve been getting lucky in football purgatory. Even the United game, which was our best performance, was won by a penalty… and the manager said we played better against Spurs when we were cleanly taught a Jose lesson.
Well, it’s time for Arteta to show something new. We can’t perform badly all year and tomorrow, a home game against a pretty bad Burnley side, is where he has to do some catching up. I keep on saying it, but, we need a performance.
How he gets there, I’m not sure. Even the Dundalk game was quite a way off ‘performance’ levels and they were a pub team. Arteta needs to work out what his basics are again, because we’ve gone on a bit of a wild ride as to what he’s looking for. It’s generally the sign of a young manager, that when a crisis hits, you try 10 things instead of focusing on one. Different tactics, players, in game strategies… it’s a mess.
The shift from 11 at the back, to something more interesting, has been a painful journey. The top-level overview is this squad can shithouse 1-0s when we are ultra-cautious and in form, but when the senior players dip, that’s not possible.
Also, it’s not possible to shift up to an attacking offering when the senior players are giving us 70%. We have no creative outlets and by going for something sexier, we open ourselves up like the bad old days.
So the mega challenge is this: How does Arteta give some attacking juice to a depressed team without completely botching the defensive principles?
Now, we’ve all seen the Vinnai V Interview with Henry Winter in The Times.
‘You’ve got a guy who is absolutely driven to succeed and be successful on the pitch, but doing it in a way that respects our history and traditions. So I think with him we have got a really, really powerful individual.’
Vinnai speaks like the Deloitte consultant he was, but it’s clear, they are backing him because they can’t not do that right now.
This interview, for me, gives cover for Mikel to reconsider how he tackles this season. If the fans are told the manager is going nowhere and the manager tells the fans he’s going to do something different that speaks to the betterment of Arsenal over the long-term, then you have yourself a platform to build, which gives you time.
Arteta obviously can’t put out 11 kids against a very rough and experienced Burnley side. But he can restart the process of rewarding good performances with games. He should start prioritising his future vision for Arsenal by giving players minutes who fit the system, even if that fit is far from perfect… because the alternative, which has been to put unsuitable senior players, who can’t be arsed, into a system they don’t like, has us 15th.
Jurgen Klopp said a good gegenpress is better than a good #10. The whole idea of pressing, which originated in basketball (I think) as a full court press, is the notion that aggression and relentless closing down of opposition can overpower technique and talent if you do it well enough. Well, what has our system lacked with the seniors at 70%? Pressing. What do young kids that want careers do? Run. Do what they are told. Never stop.
Despite Arteta claiming otherwise, there are certain players that are likely undroppable. Leno, Gabriel, Tierney, Saka, and Auba. You have to play Auba out of his funk because his form will return. The rest of the positions are up for grabs.
What do the stats say? Well, Mo Elneny is the most efficient midfielder in the league for line breaking passes. He’s also the player with the best ball retention under pressure in the league (players with over 450mins). I don’t care that he’s not perfection, in the system we need to play, he has legs, he does the basics right, we are better with him in the side.
AMN isn’t perfect, but he is young, he has a lot of talent, and he has the athletic profile we need in our midfield. Arteta needs to coach him. Give him a very specific role and tell him to activate against it with all his concentration. A base of midfield with those two gives you a strong platform to build from. You have energy, doggedness, and some pretty decent locomotion. There’s no room for Xhaka, I’m sorry, but regardless of his passing numbers, the eye test fails every single time. His balls into the final third mean very little because we create nothing. His passing is accurate because he is painfully slow at releasing. He is seen as a tactical weakness by other managers because he’s slow. We have to let him drop into right back to protect him from pressure. This madness cannot go on.
How we build ahead of the midfield base is debatable and we’ve got nowhere near an answer this season. For me, it’s Auba on the left. He refuses to press through the middle and he gets eaten alive when he’s asked to hold the ball up. If he plays left, Reiss takes up the right, and you go with Eddie through the middle to set the tempo, you might be in interesting shape. Then the big move… who do you put in that hole? Do you opt to give Saka a go in that position because of his pace and potential ability through the middle? Or do you give Lacazette a run there? I would be inclined to try Saka as a roaming 10 because he is good defensively, and he can stretch teams with his pace. Maybe it’s not a ten and he’s a left sided 8 with AMN taking on the right.
It’s clear I’m not a coach, but I think we really need to start moving in a direction that is about the future, not one that is focused on reengineering the past. Arteta was asked about whether youth was key to his plans. He said this:
“When I feel it is the right moment to do that, I have to bring the players that I have the feeling — or we have the feeling as a coaching staff — that have the best chance for us to win the game,” he said. “So [the answer] has to be a yes.”
That feels like the PC way of saying ‘my senior players aren’t it, right?’
Key point though:
“What I can tell you is that the team will be prepared to battle with a real desire, because we know how important that game [against Burnley] is going to be for us.”
The battle hasn’t been there over the last month. The biggest shift in attitude under Arteta was the fighting spirit. The football might have been pony, but the nasty streak we had, and leaving it all on the battlefield was a joyous spectacle. Mikel needs to get the team back to that. The shortcut to that is to play the guys you don’t need to rally. Play the people who have a future invested in being great at football now. Stop giving game time to the players more interested in planning retirement to Miami, Oklahoma.
So once again I’ll end a post with… over to you Mikel, good luck.
LISTEN TO OUR LATEST PODCAST. Matt and I talk about the root cause of our issues. Leadership, hard work, and lack of strategy… still. We also talk some positives as well.