Arsenal 21-22: Brexit FC

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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Jul 2, 2006
21,433
Philadelphia
I was debating whether to reply in this thread on the players vs. manager discussion, but decided against. Then I read Xhaka's comments and now I think it's worthwhile to jump in:

https://www.espn.com/soccer/arsenal-engarsenal/story/4667776/granit-xhaka-slams-arsenal-teammates-in-newcastle-loss-we-didnt-deserve-to-be-on-the-pitch

So, what was Arteta's plan, and why did the players abandon it? Just because the players didn't execute, doesn't mean that the plan was good. For example, if you play MANC and the manager says we have to dominate possession, well you can't blame just about any club in the world for not executing that plan. But getting back to yesterday, do we have any idea what the plan was and why it wasn't executed?

I was far from a neutral yesterday, but outside of the first 10 minutes and some rare spells in the second half, Arsenal just didn't look up for it. They were second to every ball and lacked cohesion, especially in defense and midfield. TBF, the attacks looked threatening when they got on the ball, but they didn't get nearly enough service and didn't convert.

Losing Tomiyasu was huge. I'm incredibly impressed with the player. However, Almiron didn't create that much trouble down his flank after Tomiyasu came off--most of the attacks, including the first goal, came down the other side. Is holding a starter? When I saw White and Gabriel were starting at CB I thought that boded well for Arsenal. I remember several good defensive plays from them in the first half. The defense down the flanks though, not great Bob.

I'll hang up and listen.
It was a poor performance but I don't think it stemmed from a lack of desire or any of the players not being up for it. My sense is that it was a combination of things - a very young team overwhelmed a bit by the moment, a number of key players running on empty after playing 90 a few days beforehand and at the end of a long season, thin squad depth forcing substandard players without a future in the squad into key roles like Cedric, Elneny, Tavares, and Nketiah, and all that going into a match against a veteran and well coached Newcastle on eight days of rest playing with their hair on fire urged on by 50,000 lunatic geordies delighted at the new direction of their club.

Tactically, my guess is that we had some specific plans in place for how to play through their press and we just didn't execute them for whatever reason. In my view that was the key dynamic in the match - they pressed intensely, we didn't execute well enough in possession to actually play through and hurt them. And if we couldn't punish them we were never going to get the result because this team in its current form can't keep a clean sheet.

Arsenal's better form earlier in the year began with the ability to control matches, to create a decent if not huge amount while giving opponents hardly a sniff, and we lost that completely with Partey and Tierney getting hurt. While Arteta often gets criticized for his management of certain players, I think his biggest weakness is that he has designed a tactical system that breaks down very quickly if his first choice players of sufficient quality aren't available. Partey was basically the engine of the team in possession in the 4-3-3, responsible for both playing through pressure and for shielding the defense almost by himself in transitions. Someone like Elneny just can't step in and do the same job either offensively or defensively. Tierney was really the only PL-quality left back in the squad and we've been horribly vulnerable on that side in every match since he got hurt.

In the 13 league matches from early December to the end of March, when we basically called on our first choice eleven almost the whole time, Arsenal had seven clean sheets and conceded only nine goals. In the nine matches after Tierney and Partey got hurt, we had zero clean sheets and conceded 16 goals. Even when we won big matches against Chelsea and United, we never really had control, it was up and down football and hope the ball goes in once more for your side.

The silver lining in all this is that the team was legitimately very good in that stretch when Arteta could call on 11-12 players who have the attributes to play the roles he wants in his system. And there is good reason to think that we'll add another 4-5 players like that this summer. Very disappointing end to the season but, for me at least, still a lot of positives to take out of this year.
 
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Is this a promise? I think this is worth missing the CL.
I sniggered.

The silly thing for me is that reaching the Champions League is really more important in determining the quality of the players Arsenal can attract and sign this summer than it is in and of itself. The extra money for qualifying is nice insofar as in theory it would help the club pay for better talent. And progressing to later stages of the CL would also be helpful in demonstrating that Arsenal is a club that better players should consider as a possible destination. But in a way, both of these things are more akin to getting higher draft picks in the NBA or NFL: they increase your odds of signing better players, but they don't guarantee that you will. If Tottenham were somehow to lose at Norwich and Arsenal win against Everton on Sunday, I certainly wouldn't have any expectation that Arsenal could progress far in next year's Champions League; that's not an immediate goal for me. My hope for next year is that Arsenal can sign better players and improve as a squad and Arteta can improve as a manager of men and as a tactician, and that an increasingly sturdy platform can be built for Arsenal to kick in in 2023/24 and beyond...and there's no reason this can't happen regardless of what happens on Sunday.
 

Zososoxfan

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Jul 30, 2009
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South of North
It was a poor performance but I don't think it stemmed from a lack of desire or any of the players not being up for it. My sense is that it was a combination of things - a very young team overwhelmed a bit by the moment, a number of key players running on empty after playing 90 a few days beforehand and at the end of a long season, thin squad depth forcing substandard players without a future in the squad into key roles like Cedric, Elneny, Tavares, and Nketiah, and all that going into a match against a veteran and well coached Newcastle on eight days of rest playing with their hair on fire urged on by 50,000 lunatic geordies delighted at the new direction of their club.

Tactically, my guess is that we had some specific plans in place for how to play through their press and we just didn't execute them for whatever reason. In my view that was the key dynamic in the match - they pressed intensely, we didn't execute well enough in possession to actually play through and hurt them. And if we couldn't punish them we were never going to get the result because this team in its current form can't keep a clean sheet.

Arsenal's better form earlier in the year began with the ability to control matches, to create a decent if not huge amount while giving opponents hardly a sniff, and we lost that completely with Partey and Tierney getting hurt. While Arteta often gets criticized for his management of certain players, I think his biggest weakness is that he has designed a tactical system that breaks down very quickly if his first choice players of sufficient quality aren't available. Partey was basically the engine of the team in possession in the 4-3-3, responsible for both playing through pressure and for shielding the defense almost by himself in transitions. Someone like Elneny just can't step in and do the same job either offensively or defensively. Tierney was really the only PL-quality left back in the squad and we've been horribly vulnerable on that side in every match since he got hurt.

In the 13 league matches from early December to the end of March, when we basically called on our first choice eleven almost the whole time, Arsenal had seven clean sheets and conceded only nine goals. In the nine matches after Tierney and Partey got hurt, we had zero clean sheets and conceded 16 goals. Even when we won big matches against Chelsea and United, we never really had control, it was up and down football and hope the ball goes in once more for your side.

The silver lining in all this is that the team was legitimately very good in that stretch when Arteta could call on 11-12 players who have the attributes to play the roles he wants in his system. And there is good reason to think that we'll add another 4-5 players like that this summer. Very disappointing end to the season but, for me at least, still a lot of positives to take out of this year.
This is a really good response. I forgot about Tierney and didn't realize how key Partey was to the side, even though I've been a huge admirer of his going back to his Atleti days (I bet @bosox4283 could wax poetic).

It's not quite summer yet, but I'm curious to see how both Arsenal and Spurs handle their transfer business. Arsenal have Laca, Nketiah, and Elneny coming off the books--I imagine none of them will be offered a new contract, although Nketiah is quite young still at 22. Most of the current best XI are locked in with contracts expiring no sooner than 2024, including Saka, Odegaard, Partey, White, Rowe, Martinelli, Tierney, Pepe, Gabriel, and Tomiyasu. Saliba, Bellerin, Torreira, and Niles are all due to return from loan. So from the outside it looks like Arsenal still have a strong core squad to pick from and likely sell/loan for other transfer funds. All of which is to beg the question: what are Arsenal's biggest needs this summer?
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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SoSH Member
Jul 2, 2006
21,433
Philadelphia
It's not quite summer yet, but I'm curious to see how both Arsenal and Spurs handle their transfer business. Arsenal have Laca, Nketiah, and Elneny coming off the books--I imagine none of them will be offered a new contract, although Nketiah is quite young still at 22. Most of the current best XI are locked in with contracts expiring no sooner than 2024, including Saka, Odegaard, Partey, White, Rowe, Martinelli, Tierney, Pepe, Gabriel, and Tomiyasu. Saliba, Bellerin, Torreira, and Niles are all due to return from loan. So from the outside it looks like Arsenal still have a strong core squad to pick from and likely sell/loan for other transfer funds. All of which is to beg the question: what are Arsenal's biggest needs this summer?
Nketiah has been offered a new deal for a long time but doesn't want to sign one due to (reasonable) concerns over playing time. He's not very good and if he wants to be a first eleven player its not going to be at Arsenal. Elneny may get a 1 year or 1+1 type offer to continue as squad depth. He is very limited as a player but a good squad member in that he doesn't complain about not playing, he doesn't make a lot of money, he understands the tactical system, and he is very well liked within the team. Lacazette is gone for sure.

IMO, Arsenal's biggest needs are starting caliber striker, starting caliber central midfielder, a versatile forward who can play across the line, and a backup fullback. We also need a backup/rotational CB but William Saliba is likely to fill that role coming back from loan, assuming that his relationship with the club can be worked out. Signing two CMs is a possibility, depending on whether Arteta thinks Sambi Lokonga has a future at the club and whether he sees Smith-Rowe's long term future as a winger or as an 8 in the 4-3-3. The midfield situation is kind of tricky in that we ideally need both an improvement on Granit Xhaka as the starting left sided 8 but also we need a better backup to Partey as the 6. Its not clear you can solve both those issues with one player. If Arteta thinks Sambi can grow into the backup 6 (which is really the role he was bought for last summer), that solves some problems. But he clearly wasn't ready to handle that responsibility this year.

The club has said for a long time that they plan to invest relatively heavily this summer, that they view it as sort of as a phase 2 of a rebuild that started last summer, and that the investment wouldn't be dependent on making the Champions League. What that means in terms of actual spending is hard to say.

Overall, I'm very optimistic that we'll have a better team next year than this year, due to the planned level of investment, the overall poor quality of the players being replaced, and some projected improvement from a lot of younger players already in the squad. But we'll also be playing in Europe and I fully expect both Spurs and United to be better next year as well (Chelsea not so much). So I think the competition for the 3-6th places will be intense. I don't see any of these teams challenging the top two barring one of them experiencing a Liverpool 20-21 level injury apocalypse.