We’ll start with the positives. English teams are without doubt the most exciting to watch in the world at the moment. That was a final brimming with beautiful technical football, put on by two managers that believe in football artistry. Chelsea were exceptional, they showed how to control a game against a better team. They were the more dangerous side over the 90 minutes and deserved to take home the trophy.
Some of the football though… just exceptional at times. Olivier Giroud, what a career…
There was a lot of handwringing after the game from Arsenal fans that think there are lessons to be learned from two clubs dripping in oil money. I’m not sure I can have that.
High standards with no constraints isn’t an admirable trait or one that’s replicable for Arsenal. Chelsea spent £250m in a pandemic summer on a top 4 squad. They sacked their manager in December and brought in a rockstar coach they’ve been in talks with for a few years.
People keep pointing out Thomas Tuchel to me like I wasn’t pointing him out on this website when he was at Mainz.
Thomas Tuchel: Now, I only know about this guy because Rapha Honigstein has high praise for his work on the BT European show. However, now I’ve made myself and expert on his life and journey and I love this guy. He took over Mainz back in 2009. He doesn’t have an incredible playing career, but he fundamentally understands people and what drives them. Go beyond that and he’s a master of the game as well. A real trailblazer. Apparently, the first thing he did when he tookover was take his players to a retreat to get to know them better. He noticed that at meal times, everyone ate at different times. There was no respect, no camaraderie. So he set about improving the manners of the squad to build unity. Then when you dig into his training methodology, it’s really interesting. His sides train on rhombus shaped pitches to cut out long ball passing. He has a great record against Bayern as well (as well as being tipped to manage them one day). He’s a clever guy who put strategy at core. I love this style of manager. Deep thinkers. Football is changing and the clever guy is winning. An amazing transformation over the course of the last 5 years.
Same people calling me a hipster for like Arteta were doing the exact same thing when I was talking about Tuchel. In fact, when he was sacked by Dortmund, people were in my mentions raising his failure as the death of hipster football managers. He’s an exceptional thinker, he’s improved/softened some of his more erratic behaviour, and now he’s winning the biggest trophies. But he wasn’t available to us in December, even if he was, he’d have all the same problems to deal with because he would want the players to do the same things Arteta struggles to get them to do. Bigger point, we’re not a rockstar destination at the moment.
Same for City. They spent £1.2b to get to their first Champions League final. The response to the poor tactics will be… spend £200m this summer. Hard to extract lessons from clubs that can do that. Obviously, they do a lot of good things, but fishing them out is hard because they always have the best players.
The lessons Arsenal need to take come from clubs like Liverpool, Leicester, and maybe Atleti. Those clubs do it the hard way. They put the best people in positions to make good decisions. They have a clear mission and vision for the football. They build a plan and they ruthlessly stick to it. They do things the hard way because they live in a world with financial constraints.
Arsenal hasn’t really behaved like we have financial constraints over the past 4 years. There have been 4 different plans, no consistency, and lessons that should have been learned haven’t been. The wastage in the system has been eye-watering.
This summer, that needs to change. There are reasons to be hopeful and look, I’m going out on a positive limb here because I have to have a fun summer this year after the misery of pandemic land.
The last 18 months have been garbled from an identity perspective. We had half a squad dedicated to Wengerball, half to Emeryball, 8 center-backs, the most expensive bum of all time causing issues behind the scene. Arteta started with a shithouse approach, then tried to maintain a fine margins game as his strikers lost their shooting boots, then we tried to play a more creative brand of football post-Christmas to mixed reviews.
What I think we saw develop is an idea of how we want to play. It’s Manchester City lite. A brand of positional football underpinned by a solid defence. Clearly, we don’t have the players needed yet, but when we added more creators post-Dec 25th, the football moved forward.
Edu knows what he’s scouting for now. So do the analysts that sit in the backroom. We haven’t had that sort of clarity before. That should make the filter for great easier to judge.
Again, this is a major stretch for me here because I don’t know. But Richard Garlick is trained in law, he’s worked on all aspects on a club level and he’s also an operator at the league level. He’ll need to bring process to Arsenal and maybe we’re starting to see some of that with basics like moving on the physio and using headhunters to find the new generation of scouts. No more contacts scouting, no more sweetheart deals for people Edu like, some rigour in the recruitment process. If he’s not here to bring that to the club, I have no idea why we hired him.
THE GIFT OF TIME
Last season was a mess for most clubs and nearly all managers. This season will be different. Clubs will get a full preseason, players will get a proper break from each other, coaching will make a difference. A rookie coach with no time to work with his players wasn’t ideal. Next season, there’s no Europe to worry about, so there are no excuses for not extracting the most out of the squad.
Don’t even tell me you’ve not considered quitting your job to do something MAD like setting up craft beans on toast restaurant that sells one dish for £27. We’ve all been there and football players will be no different. Granit Xhaka probably wants out, why not? Willian might have had a realization that playing and being loved is more valuable than an extra £50k a week. We’re going to see exits this summer that move us on from comfort blanket players.
That’ll give us more cash to reshape the squad and go from incremental improvements to something more dramatic. Arsene Wenger did this at the start of his Arsenal career and again in 2001 I believe. The risks of shocking the system are that it takes time to settle the squad, but look, the risks of keeping players that aren’t right is you firmly entrench yourself in 8th position.
MONEY MONEY MONEY
As I mentioned the other day, there’s cash being injected into the system this summer. We don’t have to sell to buy, and hopefully we can sell and top up the pot. We could have a very big summer this year. The easiest way to jump a level is to invest in better players. We have the chance to do that this summer (did you read Pep confirm Arsenal is investing?).
Hopefully we’re not spending money on Mahrez like figures. With big money comes great responsibility. We should be using the cash to sign players that will have a residual value. Don’t just blow it on old players like we have done in the past.
The above points are spinning plates. They all have to be spinning by the end of the summer or we’ll fail next season. But there’s a path here. It’s a tight one, it’s fraught, but if we make smart decisions we can go into next season and surprise people.
Let’s see what the clubs has in store.