You gotta love beating Spurs. Nothing feels better. It’s the only thing outside a trophy that has such a sensual afterglow.
But let’s get back to business, we gotta talk turkey about what we’re seeing and why it matters.
There are two ways to build a football system. You can structure one by throwing money at it, or you can be smart, and build out a sustainable football system.
Spending lots of money on an unsustainable system can work. Lio Messi at Barca is a case in point. But longterm, it’s killed them. Madrid created an unsustainable model with the Galacticos, a very expensive model that wasn’t really that successful.
Spurs are not building a sustainable football approach, after years of being pretty decent at it. Jose Mourinho, now a glamour coach, has one plan. They are working on an anti-football system that can kill opposition with the brilliance of two players on limited chances. That is not a sustainable system of football. One of those two players picks up an injury and it’s back to bang average. Jose constantly cries about the lack of money because his coaching is dated and it can’t outsmart the best like it could when he was at Inter Milan. He needs worldies in every position to make up for his coaching deficiencies.
United are very similar, they chuck a lot of money at players, but there’s nothing particularly interesting about what they do. They are second in a shit league season and bumming about in the Europa with us. There’s not another level under OGS except them spending more money on better players in the hope something might click. It won’t.
Clubs like Liverpool (prior to this season at least) and Manchester City have sustainable models. They are incredibly hard to create chances against, they run teams ragged, and they are deadly with their creativity. Their systems are strong even when they are bad, which is generally not for very long (because they rich). Big clubs like Bayern have sustainable football. They have great infrastructure, a certain style, so when Hansi Flick gets the job, he can tweak the football and make it electric.
What you’re seeing (or trying hard not to see) is that Arteta has spent the last 14months trying to build a sustainable model at Arsenal after years of the club shortcutting the hard work. Teams do not like playing against us now. We control games, we restrict opposition chances, and we’ve now added creativity in attack with two players with #10 like features that can hold a 97% pass completion rate against a deep block of a top 6 side. Our rolling xG since Christmas is going the way of Liverpool’s way back when Klopp started showing promising signs… we are conceding less xG and creating a lot more. Players roll in and roll out of the system and the output is pretty similar.
A lot of the press yesterday was about how bad Spurs were. Wrong. Arsenal were brilliant. They rattled Spurs. Their players hated that game. Jose knew he was in trouble because the system Arteta has can’t be bullied by ‘aggressive pressing.’ Spurs were limited to 6 attempts at our goal. They spent most of the game uncomfortably chasing shadows… but that wasn’t new from Arsenal, we’ve controlled every game since Chelsea like that.
A sustainable football system is what makes all of our centre backs look elite at the moment. Under Emery, the back four were under attack 50% of the game because he had a shit system. Now they’re only activated 20% of the game because of the way we set up. The system is making Gabriel and Luiz look like rockstars because it protects them.
The football is more cognitive now. Players understand the patterns of the game, they move with ease and fluidity, space opens up all over the pitch, and now we have killers to find those pockets and pass around corners. Look at the football, look at the intelligence of our movement, look at how protected we are all the time. That’s no accident, that’s what progressive coaching gets you. Lee Dixon, George Graham, and Tony Adams all saying they’ve heard the coaching is excellent… because it is.
Now, the great thing about this sustainable football approach is that it’s very clear what needs to be improved upon. Before Liverpool banged, they were consistently a really difficult team to play against. The criticism was Klopp couldn’t coach a defence, he always said that was nonsense, then he brought in the best centre back and keeper in a single summer and the rest is history. Before they could afford those mega players, they sold and bought smartly on a low net spend like we’re going to have to do. City, when Arteta joined them, were knocked out of the FA Cup by us and they bumbled into 4th. They had a bad season on paper, they were making defensive errors, and they weren’t finishing enough chances… but everything else was the best in the league. One summer and BANG. The best team the league had seen. Arsenal can’t afford to move that fast, but we can upgrade this summer, improve, rinse repeat in the next window until we get to the levels needed.
City, Bayern and Liverpool has the benefit of a world-class backroom to feed off. Arsenal hasn’t really had that and it’s still debatable if we do heading into the summer. My views on Edu haven’t changed. We have wasted so much money that could be helping us right now. However, what is exciting is the gaps are fairly clear. Add some elite quality and mobility to central midfield, build some support around key positions (full-backs in particular), and sell the dross and we could be cooking. Can Edu fuck that up? Who knows. No one had Willian in transfer bingo last season, the hope is Odegaard is more reflective of where we’re heading.
The point is, we can now go into the summer with a clear idea of what needs to happen for us to move forward next season. The reality is, we’ve been playing like a top 4 side since the Chelsea game. The results haven’t always followed performances, but let’s be true to ourselves, we’d rather be performing well, than shithousing wins on a road to nowhere… it’s dominant performances that’ll show us whether Arteta is the right man for the job and now we’re getting them.
What I don’t think is in doubt now is that Arteta is the right man for the job. You aren’t getting this sort of progressive football from any of the managers that were in our price range, I can assure you. Who is talking about Jose, Carlo, Hassenhutl, and Nuno now? Not many.
Arteta has been rebuilding the club from a very low ebb. He’s made plenty of mistakes, some absolute howlers, but that was priced into the move. Alex Ferguson wasn’t exactly in great shape in 1990, many United fans thought he was going to lose his job that season, but an FA Cup run saved his bacon. He was in his 3rd full season with the club, United lost 16 games in the league, conceded 47 goals and scored 46, finishing in 13th position. The fans were calling for his head from December onwards. The FA Cup win against Palace saved him. He never looked back, becoming their greatest ever manager.
Arteta’s ‘cup win’ wasn’t the actual FA Cup from last season, it was ESR hitting the ground running and raising the bar for everyone. His electric partnership with the other Hale Enders brought new energy to Arsenal. His performances shamed the slacking seniors. His progressive skillset opened up our entire style. That was a stroke of luck because most teenagers can’t do that, and 3 more games of losses might have seen the Spaniard with a P45 in his hand.
Things are different now. Fans seem behind the coach. The Auba move yesterday has been lauded by the media, ex-players, and fans. Gunnerblog reported the missed covid test I’d heard about earlier in the season, apparently he ‘missed’ it near an ugly away game in the Europa. That sort of sloppy behaviour has been all over the club this season. Even with some of the Hale-Enders that aren’t in contention at the moment. Simply put, you can’t tolerate dickheads, especially if they are your most important players. For Arteta, the most important thing is the decision was correct… as Merson said, he’ll have gained a lot of respect from the players after that.
There’s still a lot of games to go this season. No doubt there are more bad results to come, but the reality now is that we’re a very good side going places. If we sell off the remaining dross this summer and buy well, we’ll be extremely competitive for top 4 next season. If we have a good summer the year after, there’s a very good chance we’ll be competing for the Premier League title.
Football is a game of faith, no doubt, but if your faith in an idea is underpinned by a good hypothesis, it has a chance of being successful. I think we made a sharp move hiring an innovative young coach, with City IP, that knew the club. The major problems have been structural at Arsenal. Julian Nagelsmann is the German equivalent, except he’s always had great systems built around him. Hoffenheim were an elite budget outfit run by the guy who owns SAP. He moved back to Leipzig who has one of the best structures in the world. Arteta hasn’t had that sort of leadership around him which is why we’ve seen some pretty big errors. The hope is the club has learned from them and this summer will not be a repeat. Fingers crossed. We get the next window right and next season will be very sexy. x