WHAT IS ARSENAL MISSING? by Joe Allysons
Hey gunners, how are you doing? Not too well myself, recovering from the virus, so I might just say keep yourself safe from it, it doesn’t feel good at all. Nevertheless, I have been having a few thoughts about what I observed through the past season, some of them have been put in bits and pieces in the comments section, others haven’t gotten out of my head, but I’m guessing with all this time away, I’ll hammer away.
Now, without being too much of a SOB and reminding everyone of our current predicament, let me recap our last season. Absolutely horrible; eighth place finish; no european competition. I guess that’s about it. But what caused it and how do we solve it?
- Our players ain’t playing football.
That might be an odd thing to tell you, given you watched them run out all season, but I am literally talking about playing. Playing like you would down at the park, with your friends. This is not a game for most of our players, and that is a problem. Now, before you blame it on Arteta, it’s not new. For the last 5 years or so, we’ve seen our players working hard, but not playing hard.
Now don’t get me wrong, we have had some who’ve actually tried to play, but they’ve either been in positions where their self expression doesn’t help the team, or been off form so ended up causing us problems instead, or been plain and simply unable to make an impact.
I’d like to see our players play more. Take like Holdings juggling run against Fulham, Bellerin’s roulette pass against Man City, Tierney’s juke against West Brom (this boy needs to loosen up and play. If there’s anything I could add to him, it would be Bellerin’s brain. The willingness to vary his attacks, be a little more cheeky rather than consistently whip in a cross at every opportunity.), I think you get the point though.
When you watch an Arsenal game, how many skill moves do you see? How much fancy control do you see? How many cheeky nutmegs do you see? From last season, I think I can only remember like two nutmegs, both from Xhaka, a few times Pepe and Auba threw step overs, nothing more really. Do you intend to tell me Arsenal players can’t do sombreros, elasticos, rabonas, chops, feins, dummies? Do you mean to tell me Willian could do these at Chelsea, but now that he joined Arsenal he’s forgotten how to do them? You mean to tell me Saka can’t do some fancy feet just for the sake of it? That needs to change.
- Our players are too modest.
Both in defence and attack, our players are too nice. There’s no aloofness, no arrogance. I’m not talking about pride. I’m talking about arrogance. The air of invincibility. The look of being untouchable.
Let me tell you a story about a university rugby club in Uganda called the Impis. They’re probably not the best Uganda can offer, actually, based on results, they’re the worst. But they are built up to behave like they are the best. Arrogance is their mantra and when they catch you on a good day, if they catch you off guard, they will play the most beautiful rugby your eyes have ever seen because they already believe they are better than you.
We have had players that have shown a little arrogance, but again, it’s not those that we need. I could point to Rob Holding again. When he floors Mane and stands over him like “whatchu gon do bout dis?” (in Ice Cube’s voice). Or when Partey breaks through the Spurs midfield, has Bellerin and Lacazette screaming for the ball on the outside, has 4 Spurs players running at him, but just holds onto the ball calmly till he’s able to free up Auba on the other side. We need more of that.
Over the last week or so, I rewatched a lot of Invincible footage, and arrogance did them a lot of good. That goal by Thierry against liverpool reeked of arrogance and aloofness. He literally sent Hyppia and Carragher into each other not because he needed to, but because he could.
- Substandard Players
Interestingly, this was most pointed out against a substandard team. If memory serves right, it must have been the second leg against Fulham, when the commentator mentioned that the difference between Arsenal and Fulham was that the latter were substandard and what that causes is hesitation. They delay their passes and what not.
Less than a minute after he points that out, a winger plays a ball to Elneny on the inside and as the ball leaves the winger’s foot, I notice Odegaard begin to sprint into the Fulham box. The easier, but riskier pass was to just play one touch to Odegaard and hope the ball makes it. To my surprise, Elneny was able to play a one touch pass, accurately but to Holding. It was an exponentially harder pass to play because Holding was further away than Odegaard, but somehow, that’s who Elneny saw. He didn’t see Odegaard. Now you might say that was an issue with all Arsenal’s midfielders, but our ball progression was ok with our starting pair.
The issue was whenever we had Ceballos and Elneny in midfield, or Nketiah up top, or indeed Cedric at right back. These are players that might have a moment of magic or two, but in the grand scheme of things, when you break down their play, not individual moments in a game, you realize they are both limited and unnecessary.
By and large, the solutions are in the coach’s hands, but this is what I’d offer.
- Allow the players to play. I could say in the last few games of the season, Partey and Xhaka had attained the kind of relationship where they move into each other’s zones, ping passes off of each other, rough up opponents together, and all that. It needs to be encouraged all over the pitch. Wingers should be encouraged to directly attack their man as opposed to trying to get to the byline. Drive at the man, run at the man, have fun. If you lose the ball, turn around and chase. Our wingers should be encouraged to play give and go. I see Pepe trying to get some of his teammates to play give and go and you notice that they’re a bit uncomfortable with the idea because they are afraid to lose the ball, that needs to change.
- Find something for Auba to do. I think I understand how Arteta wants his team to behave in the final third, and I think the current problem is not getting the ball into the final third, but how it should be used once there.In lieu of that, Auba needs to either learn a little about being a typical CF, or he needs to shift to one of the wings. Arteta’s attack is a little similar to Wenger’s in that, before the ball enters the box, the CF works almost like a wall for midfielders to bounce the ball off. This requires the forward to be strong yet nimble, mobile, and willing to take kicks to the ankles because his one touch play is becoming annoying to defenders. Laca fits the bill, but Arteta doesn’t want to lose Auba because he recognizes how many goals he’d be losing. Therefore, he will need to sort out how Auba will play next season.
- Who to sign.
Personally, Except for mental issues, I think we have a good squad on our hands. Even as it stands, it should have been able to challenge for a higher place in the table. Still however, I am going to base the signing suggestions on the rumours floating around.
My priority for this squad would be a goal scoring attacker. We’ve been linked with Raheem Sterling, and if we could get him for 60 million or less, I think that would be great. A forward line of Sterling, Laca/Auba and Pepe would have a lot of goals in it, and would also have a lot of audacity and arrogance at least, because I know both Pepe and Sterling would be likely to try and dribble past their opponents just because they can.
Second would be to sort out an attacking midfielder. We’re out here acting like we need a CM/DM, but we had a working pair last season. One that can be around next season. We did have attacking mids, but the one that looked best in that position isn’t guaranteed to return, and the other one, in as much as I love him, I don’t think we should depend on. I think we should try and re-sign Odegaard, at least on loan for the whole season.
Third would be backup for Keiran Tierney. Nuff said.
Then I’d sign a central midfielder. I think my opinion here is going to differ from most gunners. Most are of the view that we should sign either Bissouma or Neves to replace Xhaka. Now, from observations last season, a player we actually missed every time he wasn’t on the pitch was Xhaka, and it’s for one simple reason. He’s the one player in the squad with a unique passing skill set. Quite the long pass stereotype, but since his arrival, he’s been our most penetrative passer. Inasmuch as both Partey and Bissouma can pick up the ball and run, the ball moves faster than them both, so in most cases, a pass would serve a better purpose than a runner. Now don’t get me wrong, I do want Bissouma, but he can’t be a replacement for Xhaka. If we sold Xhaka, we’d need to sign Bissouma and someone else. We could sign Neves, as a replacement for Xhaka, but then as an Arsenal fan, I’d still want Bissouma. I think the best, though maybe impossible option, would be to sign both Bissouma and Neves, keep both Xhaka and Partey and Sell our other CM options. It means whichever combination of the four would start, would give us the same amount of balance.
Finally, I’d like us to get Andre Onana. Just because he’s available.
Thank you for reading if you came this far, please let me know what you think in the comments section, I’m right here waiting. Cheers.