Arsenal and the trip to Magaluf
(End of Part one of 19/20)
I was trying to think of what Part 1 of Arsenal’s season reminded me of….
Back in 1995 my mates and I booked a trip to Magaluf.
We were 21. No parents. We were all moderately good looking. Let’s go!
The trip started off in perfect fashion with an upgrade to first class on our flight!
We were rather happy with life, I remember well.
Reminds me of Summer 2019.
The Adidas kits came out, then that superb commercial, Josh Kroenke said, “be excited,” and then we smash our transfer record and add to that the loan signing of one of the most talented midfielders in Europe.
Back in Magaluf we manage to get to Day Two before we are told to leave the hotel due to ‘making the extreme noise’ (I’ll never forget that phrase 🤣). Not what we expected. Seemed harsh. We were starting to get bummed.
Reminds me of how early the balloon popped on our optimistic summer. Over by early November.
Back in Magaluf, I stopped using sunscreen. Schoolboy error. My mates were having a great time but I was Arsenal in November and December, on fire.
Things started to change back in Magaluf as I discovered aloe, stayed in for a day and then managed to hit the dance floor again. Total mood change.
Back in London, Arsenal’s executives decide to do their jobs and employ one of the most exciting coaches in modern football who so happened to be a former captain. That helps.
Magaluf starts to show itself as the holiday that was advertised in the travel agent’s fancy magazine.
As 2020 begins, Arsenal start looking like a serious team with a strong defensive base.
The Spanish island starts to produce drama free, enjoyable days and nights. I had my Man Utd at home moment and my Olympiakos disaster, but you don’t want to know!
As most do on their return from Spain to England, my body had a weird reaction to climate change, not comparable to the current shutdown of course.
As has happened many times post holiday, I have a feeling of fresh hope.
How do I compare that to a very unsure future for football and certainly for Arsenal?
I look to Mikel Arteta.
I see him as the brightest light at Arsenal Football Club.
I want to see what he does with “ruthlessness.”
His first real chance at molding his team. If he wasn’t in charge I’d be concerned, but there is something about Mikel Arteta.
Just like returning from holiday and the fresh hope I spoke of, I think Arsenal have a hope that is yet to be spoken of.
The current situation will undoubtedly affect the market. Most likely, in a dramatic way. Looking at how Barcelona and Juventus are already asking players to take wage cuts you better believe that Arsenal, who are already running up a steep hill, will be impacted.
Who will prevail then?
I think it’s quite possible that the teams with better coaches and better coaching may well be the cream that rises.
- Arsenal have hope because they have Mikel Arteta. I don’t simply think this because I wanted him for a while, but mostly because EVERYBODY that has been asked to comment on him has raved. That’s unique for a new coach. He has put in place a short term fix to our defensive game, found a constant formation and line up and most impressively turned players who were burning either because of self inflicted reasons or consistent mistakes and not just made them functional but important. Either important to the team or important to the club in increased market value. If you are still unconvinced about Arteta, remember Emery and remember the car crash he inherited.
- It’s a close second but Arsenal’s impressive collection of youngsters have been a huge positive. We’ve all talked about the top class potential we see in both Saka and Martinelli but it goes deeper than these two gems. There are others with very similar ceilings. Just because they haven’t come close to touching it, doesn’t mean that they won’t. Reiss Nelson has more than one bucket of talent. Joe Willock and Maitlind-Niles have what Arsenal need in modern day athleticism if they can take their chances. At some point quite soon Arsenal will allow Lacazette and Aubameyang to leave. Eddie Nketiah has the whole crowd behind him willing him to be the one. He must learn to use their love for him and bring emotion to his game. Looks to me like Arteta has decided to give him a real chance rather than the odd sub appearance too. What a gift, Eddie. Take it. In my opinion the two that may even surpass these others are ESR and Balogun. If Arteta is brave enough to consistently play Saka and Martinelli and drop Lacazette for unproven Eddie, don’t be surprised if ESR nudges Mesut Ozil to the side. At what point does he expose arguably the most well rounded striker at the club in Folarin Balogun to first team football? You can read the headlines already with a surname like that! Haven’t even mentioned Saliba and Guendouzi who are a similar age.
In my lifetime I have never seen such a long list of talented youngsters that all look like they could play a part at Arsenal.
- David Luiz, Skhodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil all have something in common. They made a conscious decision to raise their game when the coaching change happened. Some may leave but at the very least we now have very good squad players. At best you have difference makers.
- Bernd Leno, PEA and Callum Chambers need to be applauded. In a roller coaster season to date, they maintained consistency when others were still on the roller coaster.
- Pepe, Tierney, Holding, Bellerin and Lacazette fall into another category that I see as positive. Those five players have struggled whether injury related or form. The truth is though that some players are 5/10 players. Some offer 5/10 performances but are capable of being 8/10 players.
- I have a feeling that both Mari and Cedric may just play a far bigger role next season than fans anticipate.
- As impressed as I am with Arteta and as real as the hope he gives me is, I have some observations.
I have a concern that the football can often look too organized.
Modern day football can be this way, more of a coaches game than a players game. As the culture of street football started to largely vanish, there has certainly brought a need for more instruction as players don’t inherently know what to do like perhaps they used to.
There is however a huge risk in mostly following passing patterns (as useful to player’s instincts as they can be) in that players can feel lost when the patterns are shut down. Plant that alongside the risk that your opponent knows what you will do before the whistle, then this can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.
I’ve found in my playing and coaching career that there is a balance as both are useful. I train my team to repeat certain patterns but also spend EQUAL time on creativity by telling the practice opponents how to shut them down, forcing them to play on instinct.
The evidence on the field for Arsenal has been seen when we start making un-Arsenal like choices. Tossing the ball into the box when we don’t have a single player who can equal or dominate this space, is the evidence I see.
A coaches choice in this area is all trust based. If he FULLY trusts his attacking unit he is more likely to step off and just promote general concepts and individual advice. Fine tune.
I don’t think Arteta trusts our unbalanced team and I think he has a point.
When and if he gets the players he can trust then perhaps we see more creativity?
My second observation re: Arteta is his ability to win games from the bench.
This is not a criticism as he is new to this part of his job.
For a coach as talented as he is then this will come but only if he’s humble. I can’t speak to this with any knowledge but I am aware of many coaches who have ‘their way’ and players have to adapt, rather than the coach adapting to his situation. There are lots of this type of coach, perhaps they are the majority.
Mikel Arteta has to recognize when he’s wrong or could’ve done something better. If he doesn’t he will only ever be successful if he accidentally falls into the right team at the right time.
If he is humble then the sky is his limit.
In all my years coaching I put ‘humility’ at the very top of my list of most important qualities in sport. More important than athleticism, speed, confidence and all the other qualities we pine for in players. Humility is the common denominator to so much that is good.
If you are humble then you are teachable. If you are not, then you have capped yourself. If you are humble then you show up to practice to follow directions and improve be you a player or a coach. If you are humble you listen to others. If you are humble you don’t lose it when adversity strikes.
I hope Mikel Arteta is humble.
- Arsenal need to start games with more purpose. I see us as a team that ‘feels the game’ before deciding how we want to participate. This loses you the opportunity to mentally win the game early and most certainly changes the atmosphere in the ground and often loses the ‘extra goal’ advantage of a loud and positive fanbase.
Arsenal have three connections that other teams don’t have. Three advantages.
Firstly, they have a squad sprinkled with local boys. Fans of bigger clubs lost this connection years ago but Arsenal could bring this energy back. Are you quicker to support a player who is a fan of the club like you are? I am.
Secondly, the fanbase believes in the coach. If he was to start fast and it not work out, I believe the fans would raise the noise as they feel hope still exists.
Lastly, if you attack from the off and it goes wrong, you have at least 60 mins to reverse it. If you are cautious and it goes wrong late in the game, you run out of time and belief falls away as the clock won’t stop.
We don’t score many goals yet we do have players capable of contributing much more in this area.
I’d insist that Lacazette works on his movement in order to give himself easier chances.
I’d give Pepe a freer role and encourage beating one man and shooting or sliding it through. He has elite levels of composure in front of goal, not yet seen at Arsenal on a consistent basis.
I’d give Nelson the confidence and energy to change his mentality from somewhat passive to ‘we need YOU to make the difference.’ It’s not a talent issue with him.
I’d simply have extra shooting and finishing practice with Auba, Saka and Martinelli as they are getting opportunities.
Ceballos and Ozil are the key. They have both found a platform of consistency with their general play and defensive contribution. Much like Nelson they need to know that ‘good’ is not enough when you have elite talent.
I’d expect them to create and finish when in the final third or not play.
If I want a third man runner I’d play Willock or AMN and play a 4-3-3 giving them freedom to get in the box, on and off the ball.
- Have we remembered that we may now see Torreira again and possibly see a better version of Mari, Holding, Bellerin and Tierney as they’ve had much time to work on fitness? Those with smaller injuries like Kolasinac and Mustafi will return too. I believe that Soares may become heavily involved too.
- Looking forward to the transfer window, whenever that do be, I hope Arsenal are securing a DM and a creative AM.
I’d go big for N’didi as this would release many to feel that they can push forward and create. If we get CL football I’d go for Partey as well as N’didi. Thomas Partey is the ultimate modern day midfielder as he can defend, pass, destroy and dominate. What a base that would be!
As much as I’d love Grealish or Odegaard I think they will be beyond our financial reach. Buendia at Norwich is dynamo waiting to show the world. My second choice is Almiron who can be devastating either as an AM or wide.
- We may well get a mini pre-season before games start again. I think this gives us an advantage as we have a high quality teacher. For others, they’ll get ready. We may well get better.
I hope that all the above isn’t proven irrelevant in the short term and that we get to conclude the season.
Either way, a second season of Mikel Arteta excites me greatly!