So we’re on a countdown now until our next pre season friendly on Saturday night at 10pm UK time and, if we’re all honest, this one feels like it’s REALLY kicking it up a notch, am I right?
That’s because it’s Man United in New York and it represents an opportunity to see where we are at with our pre season preparation. As I’ve said all along, what we want to see is that this Arsenal team can control a football match, rather than the result itself, but I think the benefits of a victory are clear. I can see a few media corners of the internet are trying to build this up, saying that it is ‘never a friendly’, but in reality my hope is that both Ten Haag and Arteta have a chat with each other and agree that there should be no ankle-crunchers. Hopefully that means that Scott ‘invulnerability to getting carded’ McTominay doesn’t get a look in.
I will be out tomorrow night for a birthday party, but I’ll catch it on a re-run on Sunday I suspect, or maybe when I get home in the evening from the party. But what I won’t be doing is paying £4.99 to watch it. Once again, as in previous season’s, that feels like a ludicrous amount of money to be paying for a pre season friendly, but where money can be made, clubs will make it. Arsenal are charging that and I think United are doing the same. It is a real shame that in this time of football being so expensive, of having to pay for multiple channels, that clubs don’t recognise a goodwill gesture when it is staring them in the mouth, but I guess it is just the world we live in now.
As for the build up to the game, or post the MLS game, we’ve had Martin Odegaard talk to the official site and the headline is one to make a rapidly ageing man smile. Years ago I wrote a piece in the Arsenal programme (it was featured in the back of the Olympiacos game in 2011) about how Arsenal was a big club with a family feel. Those values have regularly echoed through the narrative about The Arsenal and so when I see Martin making comments like that about the club and the new signings already feeling like they are part of the family, it does make my heart sing. I know it is only a small thing and ultimately it is just words, but these words give you a small window in to the vibe that Arteta has cultivated amongst the players and that, as well as things like the video to Emile Smith Rowe ahead of the under-21s final for England, do make you feel like the connection between the players is strong.
And we have to praise Arteta and his coaching staff for it. We have a really likeable group of lads who all work hard, are all driven, but they have the technical ability and quality too.
And I think we are really becoming an ’employer of choice’ for footballers too. Rice has said how big a factor Arteta was, Jurrien Timber could have joined his old coach last season but stuck around this past season at Ajax, before making the decision to join Arteta ahead of Ten Haag. There will of course be United fans that will claim they were never in for Timber, but Ten Haag wanted him before Martinez, is the rumour, so why would he not have wanted him again this summer? Well, if Arsenal stole a march, if they were able to get Arteta on the blower to Timber in good time and let him see how he fits in to the project, then maybe it was the words of our manager that meant there was no point in United bidding for this very talented looking young defender. And he does look VERY talented indeed. On the ball he looked so composed in the MLS All Stars game and you could see how he fits Arteta’s system; versatility in the spaces he occupies on the pitch, an ability to pick the right pass, does both the simple things well but can also carry the ball if perhaps we need to break a press; this kid looks mustard.
And he’s a guy with whom we still don’t really know what plans Arteta has for him. I mean, I think he will, but everyone else outside the camp must be wondering what we’re going to see from him this season. But it’s not just Timber. There are a number of players with whom many of us Arsenal fans aren’t sure about who is going to play in what way or style. We don’t know how we will set up and Arteta alluded to that in his post match presser on Thursday; we need to be more unpredictable this season and we need to be able to play different systems and different players to suit certain types of games. That is where we will start to be able to cause more problems for teams. Last summer Zinchenko was asked how he is going to play and he basically said “I’m not telling”. That’s because clearly he and Arteta had hatched this plan for him to be the inverted full back as we now know he is. When we started to do it in the Premier League it started to catch teams out. Perhaps towards the end of the season they had started to work out how to play against that, but for this season, there will be more teams who are better prepared so we need to be able to keep those data analysts at each Premier League and Champions League club on their toes. That is why we have seen the types of profiles of players we have seen and that is why we have yet more reason for optimism this coming season.
But we need to start seeing how it is going to work out against better opposition, which is why tomorrow evening is a good opportunity to see how Arsenal can change up the style of play against a very familiar foe in Man United. Will Arteta tinker with set ups in game? Maybe. I certainly hope he does so he can start to see what works and what needs a little more honing on the training ground.
I’m looking forward to seeing how tomorrow night’s game pans out. Back tomorrow with some more thoughts on all things The Arsenal.