Arsenal drew against Fulham, and there have been many meltdowns. My group chats, Twitter, Arsenal fans sacrificing themselves to the gods in the streets.
It was only a draw folks; it’s really not the end of the world.
There are two things that need straightening out for me.
1.Why we drew
I’ve seen people picking on Havertz, blaming Martinelli, and digging out the Trossard performance. It wasn’t an attacking issue. They did their job. We created 19 chances, 11 shots were put on target, the quality of the chances merited a 3+ for xG and we scored two goals.
Two goals against Fulham and the best shot stopper in the league is very, very good. It doesn’t matter what you thought of the system or the personnel, if you’re criticizing the forwards, you are looking in the wrong place.
The issue was the defence and there was a very specific problem: Individual errors.
Bukayo Saka gave it away uncharacteristically. Perriera tried to chip Ramsdale and scuffed it past him. A total freak. Should Partey have moved into midfield so quickly? Hindsight, no. But we’re at a level nowhere you don’t expect Saka to play a through ball for an opposition attacker.
Zinchenko gave the ball away trying to play an unnecessary ball in a game we should have been killing.
The system can’t really save you in either of those situations unless you are being really critical and maybe a bit hopeful. Could Ramsdale have made sure a big man was on the front post? Maybe. But is that all on him? The fault is how the corner happened.
The good news is reducing brainfarts from quality players should be a fairly straightforward challenge to overcome. It’s a concentration issue. The biggest challenge we have in the area beyond the individual is early goals becoming our thing, a bit like it was under Conte at Spurs last season.
But in short, we’re not going to drop two points to many teams this season when we record 3 xG and concede less than 0.5. To put a finer point on it for the xG haters.
Teams that registered more than 2.5 xG this weekend.
Only 2 of those teams didn’t score 3 – Arsenal & City
Only 1 team didn’t win – Arsenal
A little bump of copium for you there.
2. Why we’re changing
I chatted with three different groups of people yesterday that all reported the same thing: The atmosphere at the stadium has changed and it’s not like it was last year.
There are some soft reasons for that – it’s harder to get a ticket, the make-up of the stadium is more random, and maybe a reduction in allocations for the noise makers has had some bearing.
But the hard reason? Expectation. Every group said the same thing. Last season, we were underdogs. This season, every fan that is sitting in that stadium has shifted their expectations to CHAMPIONS ELECT.
It’s not YOUR fault if you feel like this. Arsenal finished a close second last year, we added some serious equipment to the side this summer, and we tied elite boys to contracts, and now we see them as MEN.
I wrote a few months ago that Arteta should do a better job explaining his plans. He hasn’t really and it’s biting him already. Fans are at their worst when they don’t understand the direction.
Here’s where I think we’re going and why:
Arsenal overachieved last season with 14 players (very young players). We started well, everyone came good, the system shone, and we competed for the league for 95% of the season.
It all collapsed for two reasons:
- Our squad wasn’t deep enough
- Arteta refused to rotate when he had the choice – rotation only came when his hand was forced because of injuries
- We were predictable because of the two points above
I don’t care how close we were in the league – the reality is Manchester City took us out into the garden, pulled our pants down, and spanked us with a stick. It was men vs boys – and our manager looked like a rookie chump.
Arteta felt that, it impacted him, he knew there was work to do.
Here’s the difference between Wenger and Arteta.
Arsene would have looked at the close finish, changed almost nothing, and maybe signed one or two players. His belief was too much change hurt the dressing room. He was a man of incremental improvement. Theo Walcott said the other day that he hated conflict. Arsenal fans were like docile dogs being petted in front of the fire when he convinced us all that there was simply no way to compete against monied teams – and we should basically shut up and let him have a good time with no accountability. We let that happen. It ended badly.
Arteta didn’t look at the five points and point to refereeing issues whilst drawing hard on a pipe of ‘maybe players won’t get injured’ hopium.
He realised to best City, we needed to add depth, we needed to have a deeper bench of super-intelligent players, we needed more height and power, and he needed to have more than one way of playing to keep opposition analysts guessing.
It should also be noted that the average age of our signings this summer was 23.75. The club has aged down our squad despite already having the second youngest in the league. Nothing gets people more angry that raising age as a challenge – ask ANY coach in ANY sport whether age impacts sporting outcomes and I’m telling you, none of them are going to deny it. Just think about how much you grew between 22 and 29 years old. Think if the mindset you had, the fuck ups you made, all the things you DID NOT KNOW. Then tell me age isn’t a factor. There’s a reason the average age of a CEO is 58 years old in America. There’s a reason that the average age of starting 11 teams that win BIG trophies usually sits at around 29 years old. Experience matters.
There’s also a deeper more tactical reason for ageing down. >>> Arsenal are aiming to peak when Manchester City fall. They won’t say this publicly because fans will be up in arms. But I have absolutely no doubt part of the summer rebuild was focused on two things:
When will Pep G leave?
When does this squad need to peak?
Pep will almost certainly be out in 2 years, maybe one.
As I said, squads tend to peak across all sports at around 28 to 29 years old. The average age of our starting 11 yesterday was 24.9 years old at the weekend. In 2 seasons’ time, the average age of our squad will probably be at about 25-26 once we ship out players like Partey and Jorginho. Then they’ll be ready to takeover… and stay there.
Part of peaking isn’t just about being mature enough to handle the pressure and the moment. It’s also being equipped with the right tools to take down any team. Arteta has said in the past that sometimes he makes decisions on who will play right up to the last minute. Being unpredictable is the ultimate weapon in the league. If you don’t know who is going to play or what shape will be deployed – it makes it very, very hard to plan.
Would the simplest way to compete this year just be more of the same? Yes. But eventually, in a league with the coaching talent we have, you get found out. Mourinho, dead. Carlo, dead. Antonio Conte, dead. Wenger, dead. Why? Because they were predictable.
Arteta wants to be unpredictable because he knows the best coaches in the world are working on exactly that at the moment. Pep G is the gold standard, he’s always doing new things, people disagree, they call him an galaxy brain thinker, but look at his accolades.
Our manager knows he’s the gold standard and the only way to match what he does is to have a deep squad of young players who are intelligent enough to be able to slip into any system, against any team, and play any way they are told to take the W.
My question here: Why wouldn’t you want that? Well, you would.
Now for the pain – it takes time to learn new skills. Arteta has a very complex system that took 18 months to get up and running. He’s trying to speedrun players into his way of thinking and it comes at a cost sometimes. The Fulham game was lost because of individual errors, but people don’t like change, so the finger of blame will always lie at the door of the obvious. That’s just something Arteta is going to have to deal with. Fans feel like they’ve been served tomorrow for 15 years. We’re 4 years into a project, and now we’re getting more of that. But we have to give managers freedom to move things forward, even if that causes light disturbances in our season. The alternative is a manager paralyzed to try new things – like Graham Potter at Chelsea.
What could make things easier for Arteta? Bring fans into the process. The more we know, the better we’ll handle days like yesterday. Right now it looks like Arteta is moving goalposts and creating complications where simplicity was winning.
We also have to be a little more accepting as fans. Too many people focus on the wrong problems and want to fight change. Football is always changing, as soon as you stand still to marvel at your achievements, you’re Antonio Conte screaming at shadows in a press conference.
The way I’m looking at the Fulham game is through my own lens of criticism last year.
- Rotate in games you think you can get away with it
- Lean into the full squad when everyone is available, not just when you need the players
- Continue to develop the club to be future-proof
A lot of what happened yesterday was Arteta building on previous weaknesses – and people don’t like it.
It was extreme though. Does Arteta really have to play non-fullbacks as fullbacks? I’m not so sure. Jurrien Timber out injured threw a wrench in the system he’s trying to figure out. The manager really believed he was going to be an unreal piece of machinery this season.
Do we need to be dropping red-hot players 3 games into the season? Again, with foresight and hindsight, I think you could say that was an odd move.
I could go on – but two things I want to end with.
The 12th man has been one of the biggest attributes of the last two season. Arteta was worried some of our players were scared to play at home the season we opened with 3 losses. The turnaround has been outrageous. Whatever can be done to get that back in the mixer will pay dividends. The best space to learn is one that is warm, welcoming, and forgiving in the bad times. Groaning at misplaced passes makes for a shit day out and it causes issues with players who are listening.
Our manager has brought high-performance culture to Arsenal. He makes tough decisions 99% of Arsenal fans would never dream of. He puts blood on the floor and makes you look at it, weeping, like a small child. No one wants to win more than him. We’ve gone from being a laughing stock of the league, to genuine title contenders in 4 years. If he is running at change this hard, there comes a point where you have to sit back, and kind of let him do it. The base premise of what he’s trying to do isn’t wrong – if you think it is, please explain why you’re a fan of being predictable.
Is that AKBism in a nutshell? Could be. But for me, trust is a reward for getting majority of your decisions right. People were trusting Wenger when he was going entire summers without signing a single player. People trusted him when we passed on Toby Alderweirald and Virgil Van Dijk to bring Cal Chambers to the carpet. Trust shouldn’t have a forever window. But I think we can give change more than 3 games before declaring our season is over.
This is going to be a good season, the hard work we put in now will come with some bumps, but come the end of the season, we’ll be a better team, we’ll be more unpredictable, and hopefully we’ll be able to put Manchester City to the sword and show the world we’re a serious outfit that is built for the next decade.
LONG post today. Hope you enjoyed. Jump on the podcast if you haven’t already.