Morning folks. Happy Tuesday. I hope you and yours are keeping well. I have woken up this morning in a good mood. Is it because I have no meetings today and so can just get through my ‘to do’ list without much interruption? Or could it be because it’s payday? Maybe. But mostly it is because the Arsenal have won back-to back-games and we face Norwich on Saturday with the opportunity to make it something of a ‘winning run’ that could start to develop. Of course as Ben and I discussed on the podcast last night (should be out at some stage today) that could all be for nothing as we approach the ‘run of badness’ starting with Wolves away this weekend, in which it feels like we might be underdogs given their form and ours this season.
But that’s a whole four days away which, let’s be honest, in this current period of time feels like ages away given we’ve got another match before then. So worrying about that now seems a little trivial.
What I am worring about…well…not ‘worrying about’ per say, but more ‘contemplating’, is the use of formations that Arteta has applied so far during his time at the club. Not so much what he is doing with his team selection, but the places that players take up on the pitch, as well as the reaction that some of us give to team selections as they come out an hour before kick off. It has become a bit of a weekly tradition these days that somebody online has to have a bit of a meltdown because of the formation or the playing staff selected and, whilst I’ll admit to a raised eyebrow or two at some of the players selected at times, I have to say I’m coming around to the idea of being a bit ‘meh’ when people/the media start to fit those players into 2D graphics to work out a formation.
That’s because what I’m learning is that formations in Arteta’s playing style are a relatively ‘loose’ concept. On Sunday the BT Sport Graphic popped up and we saw that Arsenal were supposedly lining up in a 3-4-3 formation of sorts. Some people hate it when we go through three at the back and some think there is merit in it. But after about two minutes of watching the cup game against Sheffield United I realised that actually it didn’t really matter. Within a couple of minutes Kolasinac had fanned out to the left, Tierney had pushed up right alongside the Sheffield United right back, Saka had tucked inside a little bit, so we looked like we were in a back four, with Xhaka as a defensive midfielder and Willock in front of him.
Then, often throughout the game on Sunday, Xhaka would drop deep to receive the ball from Martinez in goal and Mustafi and Luiz would spread out to create a three which then had Maitland-Niles pushing further up and getting closer to Pepe. I don’t think that it was any coincidence that when Pepe wasn’t isolated on that right hand side looking like some kind of high school loner, he was able to affect the game more because of his movement and dribbling ability, which he hasn’t been able to do whilst Bellerin has been on the field, tucking in and not being able to support Pepe enough.
Throughout the game there was fluidity of movement. There was no ‘You’re a right back, stay in your zone’ nonsense and I have to tell you, I liked it, even if the game wasn’t exactly peak Wengerball. Players started to rotate, to develop more width, to receive the ball in different positions depending on where there was space. It was the kind of football that you want to see and in the first half against Sheffield United I thought we got the balance in the side wrong. Then, in the second half, we became more introverted and allowed the opponent more of the ball and more opportunity to pin us back. I can’t look at this game and the end result and say we were fantastic because clearly that wasn’t the case, but what I can say is that Arteta does look like he has a plan and unlike Emery, my real hope is that he sticks to that plan and starts to mould the players to his playing style. The problem Emery had was that he didn’t have the courage of his convictions; he started his Arsenal career with an idea but then changed his mind too much both from a personnel perspective (remember the constant halftime subs?) but also from the approach to the game.
Arteta has some principles in his mind that you can see he wants the players to adopt. And the players appear to be buying in to it. The big question is how many are capable of coming on the journey with him and at this stage I’d say there are a fair few aren’t able to. That’s most likely because they aren’t flexible enough. I’m not talking about their ability to adopt the yoga ‘Tree Pose’ here, I’m talking about their intelligence to play different positions and adopt different approaches when we are both in position and out of it. That’s what I think Arteta is looking at right now and the fact that we’re seeing Saka pop up in different areas of the pitch, as well as Tierney, Xhaka, etc, shows that he’s already seen some players he 100% wants ‘on the boat’ with him.
It’s why I wonder if Guendouzi might have more of a future at the club if his attitude problems weren’t there, because he loves to cover ground and pop up in different parts of the pitch. He seems like the perfect player for Mikel to mould, but perhaps the boss has decided that he isn’t able to mould his mental side as much as he’d like. Which is leading to the rumours.
But anyway, to wrap today’s musings up, I guess what I’m trying to say is that people should be less hung up on the 2D graphic at the start of the game, because it’ll change within a minute of the restart anyway, so we need to look at the intelligence of the players instead.
Catch you tomorrow for a match preview.