Morning folks. How is it Wednesday already? Given we have a game on Friday too, there will probably be a pre-match presser tomorrow and so it’ll be interesting to hear what Arteta thinks of what transpired on Monday given there has been some time between the raw emotion of a disappointing result and when he speaks to the media.
I think the most worrying thing for me was that it seemed like he really didn’t have a plan and that is why my overarching support for him took another knocking on Monday evening. The result in isolation is nothing, but when put with other data points, one finds oneself questioning what one believes. That’s where I’m at right now. The Villareal game last year took a massive dent in my belief of this mystical ‘Arteta the tactical genius’ mindset. Up until then I’d been able to compartmentalise the season given some of the injuries, some of the failings, but then the redemption that he and the team went through post Christmas, felt like a man who had ‘learned his lesson’ and was able to find the formula when something wasn’t right. But he’s had enough time now. There are enough matches behind us with him in charge and some of the familiar failings remain in this Arsenal team.
Stupid mistakes. I see the metrics for the Palace game had us on top for most of the second half, passive for a period of about 20 minutes in the first, but with more passing, more possession, more shots on and off target, more saves from their ‘keeper, greater xG, etc. I guess if getting underlying metrics that are good is your thing then you can perhaps use it to say we were unlucky and suffered from two mistakes capitalised on, but we talk about the mistakes in almost every game we don’t win. That’s because it feels like that is what always happens with us. We seem to be able to gift chances away, yet teams aren’t making mistakes against us. Why? Why do we have to work too hard to score the few goals we score when other teams seem to profit from our our failings?
It’s probably too difficult a question for a simpleton like me to answer. But it’s just something that popped in to my head this morning as I was in the shower thinking about what I wanted to talk about this morning. We seem to make life so hard for ourselves and we get punished. For the first goal it was Partey being poor and sloppy in possession, then Gabriel getting too easily beaten by Benteke, whereas for the second one Ben White’s defending was just atrocious. gabriel and Ben White have been good so far so perhaps we can chalk this down to a bad day at the office. But so was Brighton in attack. We can’t keep having bad days. Too many of our players need to be stepping up game-by-game and right now it feels like there isn’t enough of it. Perhaps the team still needs more time to ‘click’, but Arteta is not a manager of a club in which he is afforded time, neither should he be. We’re coming up to two year’s in the job now and we can’t afford for him to be making mistakes in his team selection and set up, which I think he did on Monday with the 4-3-3, because when some of our team had lapses in judgement, the deficiencies were laid bare.
Arteta can do nothing about Ben White not bothering to close Edoaurd down. It isn’t on him that Partey was silly in possession in his own half and Gabriel was beasted by Benteke. But what he can do is mitigate when those errors happen and that is on both coaching and tactical set up. I saw a image still of the first half from somebody on Twitter this morning. It showed Partey in the middle of the park, us in possession but out wide, with the midfield chocked full of yellow shirts surrounding Partey. There wasn’t another Arsenal player within 25 yards of him. I appreciate that it was an isolated moment in the game and I appreciate that you can’t draw conclusions from a few seconds in a match that lasts 90 minutes, but to me it felt emblematic of the problem we had on Monday. The 4-3-3 with Partey as the lone ranger and Odegaard and Smith Rowe playing as his other midfielders didn’t work. Both want to float in to spaces and receive the ball and immediately drive forward with it. At home, against a team who just want to camp on the edge of their box, maybe that works. But Palace don’t play like that and they occupied space and pressed in zones, which meant when the ball did get lost by one of our players, Partey felt isolated at times. That is Arteta’s approach for this game and it was wrong. I know the irony was both goals were scored in the second half when we switched to a 4-2-3-1, but when you look at some of the numbers that are being shown in terms of possession and chances created, you see that in the second half we were more dominant and were caught on the counter. In the first half we were pinned back and weren’t able to get out as much. So the 4-2-3-1 system from the start might have enabled us to be a bit better after we scored the first goal, instead of a little shapeless and devoid of a midfield as it felt like at times.
My hope is just that Arteta and his team have recognised this and take measures to correct it. His hand might be forced because he might be forced to play Lokonga given a potential Saka injury, but he should be looking longer term at whether the players he selects when he goes 4-3-3 are the right ones. That’s something that I hope he figures out and fast because he should not survive in his job if we don’t start picking up wins in games like Palace at home, or Villa at home, for example.
The good news – or bad news depending on the result – is that we don’t have long between games and so if Arteta can find a solution on Friday then we can put the unfortunateness of Palace behind us. But he does need to find that solution. And fast.