Morning folks. Hope you and yours are well on this Tuesday morn. My evening was spent without Facebook and WhatsApp and aside from planning a couple of vineyard tours next week in Spain as I go to celebrate my mates wedding and then stay out in Catalonia for a few days extra, I didn’t miss it one bit. To be fair I don’t look at my phone as much as many others I know; in the evening I check in occasionally on Twitter, respond to some WhatsApp messages whilst I’m cooking, then the Management and I go out for walks in the evenings (yep, every evening) so it’s not like we are glued to our phones. But it was a little bit of nuisance not having that instant message platform, but hey-ho.
Hope you got on ok? We all had Twitter and that’s where I get my football correspondence anyway so my impact was minimal and I’m grateful for that. But when I was logging on yesterday and seeing what was going on….nothing…relative silence. I guess that’s the thing when you have these relentless and pointless international breaks; it all turns to the national teams and in England I have absolutely no interest in listening to the press waffle on about who is going to start for England in the upcoming games. Hopefully as few Arsenal players as possible because we want them back, fit and rested for Palace and the Villa in just under two weeks time.
I have been thinking about that Brighton game and how they set up though. It it is a bit of a worry how we didn’t seem to have an idea for their high press I must confess. One of the things about Arteta is that I know he’s a meticulous man. We’ve all heard about how much detail he goes in to, about how precise he wants to be and how he knows everything. I remember one of the players – I think it might have been Tierney or Luiz – who spoke about how Mikel came in, told the players how other teams would play, how we should set up, where the ball would go in certain positions and phases of games and low-and-behold it actually happened. This helped the players ‘buy in’ to his philosophy and even when things weren’t going well due to ‘soft factors’ like a crisis in confidence (or playing the waster known as Willain) the players still believed in ‘The Project’ and that helped to turn the tide post Christmas.
The fact that Arteta is so prescriptive over everything has been labelled as a reason as to why we aren’t as ‘freestyle’ as perhaps we need to be. I’ve read a few blogs, listened to plenty of pods, in which the speakers having talked about how we need more ‘agents of chaos’ like Alexis or even Pepe when on form, but Arteta has taken Pepe out of the team of late and people are speculating that it is because he can’t be as controlled in terms of his approach, style and what he brings to the team. I understand this, particularly when there are references to the likes of Alexis as another ‘agent of chaos’, but what is playing on my mind is that if the reason we don’t have that ‘freestyle footballer’ allowed to do their thing to mix it up a bit in a game state, I thought we had a guy who had an answer to nearly everything from a tactical perspective?
I know he’s only human and he can’t get everything right and perhaps this was a day in which he saw the problem, gave the players the solution at halftime and they just didn’t execute the plan. But it just worries me that we will have other teams watch that game yesterday and say ” that’s the formula lads, lets do it”. And other teams will have better attacking players who can be more clinical than Brighton were. So what we really need to know – and quickly – is whether Mikel can learn and answer to this particular tactical equation and correct the issue. Is it that he simply needed to instruct his team to press higher up the pitch from the back? I’ve seen a couple of threads on Twitter suggesting the spacing was too far between midfield and defence and because of that it afforded Brighton the ability to play in the pockets. It also seems as though they were keen to draw us out to create those gaps for their players to exploit.
It should do. It feels very similar to what Mikel himself tries to do with his approach when we are in possession in our own half. We play out from the back because he wants to draw teams out, create space in pockets, so that when a team presses high and we break the press, there are overloads and our wide forwards can attack with more space. It’s why he loves Odegaard so much because he can find those holes in between the lines, but also Smith Rowe who does a similar job – albeit in different kinds of the pitch when Odegaard is playing.
So was the problem that Mikel came up against a manager and a team with such a strikingly familiar tactical approach, that he didn’t know what to do. Was it a bit like when a cat see’s it’s own reflection and when it tries to move to counter whatever it is doing, the reflection just replicates its own moves?
Maybe. Maybe I’m just talking a load of ol’ b*llocks. But I do wonder if Arteta does need to work out what to do when somebody has the same ideas. Is he clever enough to say “fine, on this day we go against the approach we usually have and try something different”? Is he capable of that level of deviation from his philosophy? That’s what get’s me a little worried. Football is so full analysis and over-analysis. Coaches have their approach and they analyse until they are blue in the face. But because everyone analyses everything, elite Premier League teams already know everything there is to know about your playing style. So how do you counter it when a team has been doing something similar to you for longer? Better players, more technically gifted players, elite players, make the edge, but ours are still young and only just embarking on their journey. So how are they going to succeed in the ‘now’ whilst learning how to master Arteta’s style?
That’s what we’ll find out in the coming months I guess.
Catch you tomorrow. There’s probably going to be more of these navel gazing rambles over the coming week or so given the international break, so hopefully that doesn’t irritate too much.