If ever you wanted an example of footballers not living in the normal world, it comes courtesy of Willian who supposedly if you read some of the stories from yesterday, decided to head off to Dubai during this international break. In normal times that’d be ok if he’s been given a few days off but the fact we are in the midst of a second wave of a global pandemic, that’s kind of a no-no, especially when there are international travel restrictions in place.
Arsenal have said they are going to ask some questions and get some clarity first before deciding what to do and apparently Willian will now have to prove that he’s negative by getting tested – probably daily – now, but it is a silly move from a senior pro who really should know better by now. No doubt he’ll play the ignorance card and say he didn’t know he wasn’t allowed to travel, but we all know that doesn’t really wash and it will call into question his participation in this weekend’s fixture away to Leeds.
Certainly there will be plenty in the Arsenal fan base that would question his inclusion anyway had he not been involved in this latest bit of drama around the club, but regardless of what anyone thinks of his form this season for Arsenal, it should be the managers decision on whether a player plays or not, not external factors like the fact he could have potentially decided to go on a mini-break when he wasn’t supposed to.
Willian has been quoted in FourFourTwo about how fantastic Arteta is as a manager and how he’s already learned so much, but even those niceties probably won’t help him avoid an earful from our Spanish boss. And neither should it. Matteo Guendouzi was a joker, a misbehaver, somebody who didn’t take his footballer seriously enough and look where that got him at The Arsenal; out of the team, then out of the club, with a career that’s probably done if we’re honest. So if we’re going to look at punishments of equal proportion amongst players, I suspect that Willian might be sitting on the bench for the first game he’s back available to play for.
That may be no bad thing. The player himself has not quite shown the attributes we thought we were getting when he signed and maybe he needs to know his place isn’t secured in the first XI. He was poor against Villa. He was poor against Molde and, despite playing the pass to get Bellerin’s penalty and also hitting the top of the bar against United I thought he was poor in that game. In fact, in somewhat of a repeat of what we saw from Ceballos when he first arrived last season where he was great against Burnley but that was about it, I think we can all agree that Fulham away was about the only time we saw the Willian we thought we were getting from Chelski.
That hasn’t transpired but hopefully Arteta can change things around tactically so we start getting more out of him and the other attacking players in our team. I was listening to the Arsecast a week or so ago and James was speaking to a guy from the Athletic about Willian. They were talking about where he receives the ball and interestingly it is a lot deeper for an average position than at Chelski. That means he either needs to move quicker, pass quicker, or take on a player, something that he isn’t really known for I don’t think. That got me to thinking about all of our players and the approach we have, which is where we play out from the back and therefore naturally our team sits deeper. That means that when the ball comes to the attacking players they are essentially on the halfway line or deeper, when the ball transitions from our opponent to us. This means that any of our creative attacking players – not just Willian – are further away from the goal than we want them to be. That has to impact our chances of scoring and catching teams out because if we don’t move the ball quickly and precisely enough, then teams can just get back in to shape and frustrate us.
In my mind that means we need to find a solution whereby we are bale to go from back to front a lot quicker than we do. Inviting teams – drawing them towards us – so we can break their press and catch them on the counter is a sensible move, but the movement of the football needs to get from our defenders to our attacking players a lot quicker than it does and our attacking players need to be a lot further up the pitch. Of course Arteta is a guy who is all about closing down the spaces and the idea of having a deep defence trying to break an attacking teams press, whilst having a higher line of attackers, means acres of room in the middle of the park. That’s where you need two players who cover ground there. One is Partey but we don’t really have another one which is going to do it well enough to get us fighting for those Champions League spaces. So what is the answer then? Well for me you are then looking at putting a player – or players – in that midfield who are going to move the ball quickly by passing over longer distances. Can that be Xhaka? I’m not so sure in terms of quick distribution, but he certainly can do it with longer distribution. But also it is why you can see the likes of Luiz being important. He too has long ball distribution from the back and so when he gets it maybe we should be looking at him playing those passes earlier in our build up. At the moment when we see Luiz pick up the ball it is usually when an opposition is set in defence. We’ve seen it for over a year now, right? You know what I mean; we go side to side at the back with the opponent getting in shape, then it goes to Luiz, who looks for the ball out. But what if Luiz started to play that longer ball seconds after the opposition team has committed more bodies forward and there is a turnover in possession from the opposition to us?
That’s what I’d like to see more of. Quick movement from back to front. That’s what Arteta needs to be drilling in to his players and certainly I hope he has done that over the international break.
We will just have to wait and see on Sunday.
Catch you tomorrow.