The 71st minute
POSITIVES, NEEDS and HOPES
By Coach Mike McDonald
This season has been a new thing.
There are so many new and happy things for Arsenal to feel good about.
The atmosphere, the energy, the feel good factor, the belief, the consistency, the quiet hope of challenging and possibly winning the Premier League, a dynamic hungry center forward, a revitalized Granit Xhaka, two wingers who get better every game, a defensive midfielder who looks like the best in the league, the most in-form center back in Europe, a centre back keeping out our best defender of last season whilst playing out of position, one of the most technically confident players we have seen in years in Zinchenko, a subs bench with real options, quick starts to games, quick comebacks after going behind and most of all the benefits of our entire squad understanding and fluidly exhibiting our team’s successful attacking and defensive structure.
That was the longest sentence you’ve probably ever read and honestly, it could’ve been longer.
There is however yet another new experience that I felt and you probably observed too.
When was the last time you saw Arsenal play a big team and we saw them give up in the 71st minute?
I understand that they were down to 10 men. I understand that they have a busy schedule coming up. But that was a North London Derby and Conte is more aware than we are that his team do not have to play well to win games or score goals. At 3-1 I felt good but I wasn’t confident that we were definitely going to hold out. Even though we have shown all of the above improvements, Tottenham are one of the most potent attacking teams in Europe and routinely score goals during bad periods. So, why did he sub off some of his better players and why did Tottenham look like they’d given up? I think Conte lost belief because his players had lost belief. So why did his players lose belief? I think they recognized what others are starting to recognize in that Arsenal are genuinely good but more importantly they we aren’t creaky and nervous anymore.
One of my personal frustrations any time I have tuned in to watch Liverpool or more to the point, Manchester City is watching their opponents simply give the game up. Either the coach heavily rotates because he doesn’t believe that they have a chance or the players give up at some point during the second half. It wasn’t just the coach and the players that gave up but the fans went home. If I was a Spurs fan I’d never leave early if I had that forward line as goals are always possible. That is their superpower.
Yesterday the last 20 minutes were actually quite hilarious to me. I found it simply delightful that our neighbors went soft and gave up mainly because that is considered a cardinal sin in this game. You might not win but you never quit.
Arsenal played great, Arsenal won, Arsenal are top of the league and Spurs gave up.
Life is good.
- I sort of hate to promote this thought but then I actually don’t at all because we played Tottenham. I’ve been wanting Arsenal for a very long time to do what other teams do in regards to showing the referee which card he needs to give. Martinelli was probably genuinely hurt and not exaggerating but I think the fact that he stayed down and rolled around changed the colour of the card.
- Because we are looking comfortable in games our coach is able to give opportunities to our squad. I’m starting to have those ‘coaching guilts’ that I often get to feel personally when I leave players out. Tomiyasu , Tierney, Sambi, Eddie and others are regularly being a part of the happiness which is important.
- So…….William Saliba. I’m going to have to learn some new adjectives as I’m running out. What is so crazy is that his senior partner seems as edgy as the fan base (which isn’t too much to be fair) and he is serene. There are often non-dramatic adjectives that can be used to better describe and compliment such talent instead of throwing an ‘awesome’ or a premature ‘world class’ at a player just to try to be the first to claim something. Think about Saliba and think about the word ‘secure.’ That’s how he makes me feel. I look at the lineup and he makes me feel secure. The game starts and he calms me down. The other team go on the attack and I feel secure. The last 15 minutes happen and I feel more secure. I thought that centre backs were supposed to hit their prime later than everybody else. I thought they looked this secure and dominant at 30 or older. I think he makes me feel secure because he has so much more serenity about the Arsenal experience than me.
- If England go home early from the World Cup, the most likely scenario will be because Southgate chose a centre back who is not only not playing football for his club but is easy fodder for the vultures of the British media who cannot wait to find a scapegoat. I sure hope it doesn’t happen and I know that Harry Maguire has been a difference maker for England in the past but there seems to be too much going against him. And then you have the option of a centre back playing for the most in form team in the Premier League who can also offer you the option of taking one less full back and possibly another attacker also. A player who is currently experiencing a football journey that is the polar opposite to Harry Maguire’s. For Arsenal, I suppose that Ben White has been let down easy as he hasn’t been in the last few squads so isn’t probably expecting to go. Arsenal should experience a fresher player in the second half of the season so maybe it’s helpful to us. Ben White has shut down some of the best wingers in Europe this season and nobody seems to give him any praise for it.
- When Martinelli starts scoring 20 goals a season then he will comfortably be worth over 100 million. Right now, he is busy improving the edges of his game and we are benefiting. His body strength and confidence in his body has grown. His dribbling is tighter even though he does need to pick his head up more. His ability to beat his man on the left and right makes him a multiple threat player. The fact that he is trusted with most of all the set pieces is not replicated by many, if any, young players in other big clubs in Europe. An absolute menace of a player to play against, I’d expect.
- Not only are so many things going well for Arsenal but we had a couple of big blessings in the game yesterday. The sending off was probably fair but most referees I think show a yellow card. Secondly, the absolute icing on the cake was a player who has been shooting at the moon for two seasons finally keeps it on the earth and puts it in the top corner.
- I’ve been quiet on Saka this season. He has snuck up on us. Have you noticed how he has been a little better every game? A stellar performance in England’s comeback and many woke up to him again. Yesterday, he was back to being a regular and highly dangerous threat. Yet again he assists even though he hasn’t been the star man this season and his stats are probably better than last season.
- Here’s a change that I missed off my list. We are starting to see our midfielders score regularly. That has not only been missing but been a hindrance and pressure on our attackers in the recent past. As you may know, I’m not much of a stats person but I’d say that our midfielders have already scored almost as many goals this season as they did in the entirety of last season.
- The squad is being managed better this season. I suppose that is because we are winning and that allows Arteta to rotate during the game but he’s regularly finding minutes for the players that we need to feel involved. it is equally important for Thomas Partey to play as often as possible but not for the entire 90 minutes and risk another muscular injury.
- My major beef with Saka for over a year now has been that he always seems to want the ball to his feet and rarely runs behind. I’ve had an epiphany though. I do wonder if this is because if he ran behind the ball would be on his right foot. I wonder if we see him periodically switch with Martinelli and then maybe we see him more comfortable to run behind.
- Why did we have to wait seven years for a coach to realize that Granit Xhaka needed to play further forward? Why did Granit Xhaka have to wait seven years to win man of the match?
- Does Gabriel need to not be part of the pregame hype for big games? Some players don’t need to be hyped because it makes them rash. Some need to listen to Enya and get a massage. I hope that this doesn’t become a regular habit for him as there was absolutely no need for him to even attempt to tackle Richarlison yesterday when we had four defenders surrounding him.
- I’d love for Arteta to find a way of both denying the ball played behind our defence against Tottenham and denying the attacker coming towards the ball. Tottenham goals are so predictable yet seem to be so hard to stop. If you can stop them at the source which is either Kane or Son coming short and playing the other one through. If you stop that then you have killed over 50% of their goals. As a coach I understand a way to do it tactically but it would leave you playing a more defensive style, playing deeper and with a second defensive midfielder. Not sure we need to do that right now.
- We still seem to miss out on so many 6 yard box opportunities. We have the player in Jesus but due to striker rotation he is often out wide or deep. When we do penetrate behind the defence I would encourage Jesus to exclusively go into the 6 yard box. This is where he has historically scored the most of his career goals and therefore where he is best. Even if we can’t get the ball to him he will attract at least two defenders leaving space for a cut back for the others. Right now, it looks like everyone wants a cut back and they are getting in each other’s space.
- Gabriel Jesus got another kicking yesterday. I hope that these kickings aren’t adding up. They aren’t gonna stop anytime soon either.
- Bodo Glimt are a better team than you might think. The game on Thursday might actually be our hardest game as I’m sure we go with our second string, whereas PSV away might see our first string play. I wonder if Nwaneri travels?
Boy, I am enjoying this season. Even if we don’t win anything but continue playing like this I will be fully satisfied. The list in the opening paragraph is enough. If I was to pick a single example that embodies how I feel this season compared to previous it would be that Max and I are regularly re-watching games. It was simply too painful or tense in the past. If I wasn’t married and didn’t love my wife then I probably rewatch these games more than twice now. I’d love to know in the comments what your new habits have become?
On today’s 15 minute podcast I discuss a few interesting thoughts including a long-term replacement for Thomas Partey.
Thank you for reading and listening!
Former Highbury regular. Moved to TN, USA in ’99. Married with 3 kids. Coached in UK and US for 27 years.
Mike McDonald Soccer Academy in Morristown TN, Olympic Development coach, Regional Premier League Champion.