Category Archives: Arteta

Arteta and the New Defence

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so the saying goes.

For a number of seasons, Arsenal have been top-heavy. Ridiculously powerful up top, capable of out-gunning any opponent, but porous at the back, like putting cowboy saloon doors on a bank vault.

Or a bodybuilder skipping leg day so much that his top half looks like it’s mid-way through swallowing his bottom half.

When was the last time we had a solid defence behind us that filled us with confidence? The last time we came close to that was the peak years of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Before and since, we’ve been fed on a diet of mediocre or average, which has been off-kilter to what we’ve had in attack.

Unai Emery recruited the likes of Sokratis to beef up our weak backline, offer some physical security. But if you’re also asking that same defence to play out from the back, Emery was ultimately trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

Then there is the capacity for mistakes in our defenders. Shkodran Mustafi can withstand pressure from teams for 80-85 minutes and be a prime candidate for Man of the Match, but he carries with him a warning sticker, that lets everyone know that there are mistakes within that can capitulate the efforts of the team, and override any decent aspects that Mustafi has contributed previously.

David Luiz is a huge character on and off the pitch, helping youngsters grow and also being a conduit for the positivity and work that Mikel Arteta’s new regime extolls. But every once in a while, Luiz will put his studded foot in his figurative mouth and inexplicably gift the opposition a goal.

It is a characteristic that has beset us for more than a decade, unfortunately.

But Mikel Arteta is instilling something at Arsenal. Something special. Something that is getting all of the players excited and looking to the next game. This tantalising project is luring players in. Both summer recruits thus far – Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes – have both spoken of other offers for their services coming in before joining Arsenal. Why did they shun these other, more lucrative deals?

Mikel Arteta.

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Magalhaes even spoke of a phone call from Arteta to convince him of his growth at Arsenal and the end goal of the club and how Magalhaes can be intrinsic to that.

We now have a solid looking nucleus of defenders at Arsenal.

Magalhaes was wanted by top clubs and chose Arsenal.

William Saliba is another top young talent that lit up Ligue Un last season. The Frenchman is younger than Magalhaes, but both could form part of a new-look backline – especially if Arteta continues to get his players adapting to a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation. It involves a bank of three central defenders, with two wing-backs shutting down the flanks and then offering an avenue in attack. Put the experienced Luiz in the centre, with the youthful exuberance and skills of Magalhaes and Saliba, and we are looking at a brand new backline that is capable of following Arteta’s wishes.

We also have depth too. With the cultured Pablo Mari to come back into the fold, and Calum Chambers – who impressed last season before injury cut his campaign short – we now have the resources available to withstand the annual Arsenal injury crises at the back.

With the impressive Kieran Tierney able to play centrally too, Arteta may well have what he needs at the back to push this club forward and toward where he wants – and we want – us to be.

 

The Arsenal Revolution Will Not Be Televised…

The overhaul of Arsenal behind the scenes was far more than replacing Arsene Wenger at the helm.

Our French manager had been at the tiller of our vessel for 23 years. In that time, a person gets plenty of opportunity to build their ideal environment. It was clear that Arsenal needed a fresh impetus, a new direction though. We were slowly drifting off course and an intervention was required.

It started with parts of the medical team. Shad Forsythe came in, the esteemed medical guru who worked with the World Cup winning German team. New ideas, innovative thinking – aimed at remedying a key weakness within. Forsythe was tasked with not only reducing our walking wounded, but also increasing the resistance our players had for quickfire muscle injuries. His expertise looked to be invaluable. In fact, his recruitment was a coup at the time.

By the time Wenger had left and Unai Emery had been sworn in, there had been a raft of changes – at all levels of the club.

Huss Fahmy, contracts whizz who had earned his stripes at Team Sky, was drafted in.

Our very own Per Mertesacker was tasked with overseeing the future of Arsenal on the pitch as Academy Director.

Vinai Venkatesham became our Managing Director.

There was Sven Mislintat too – the German recruitment specialist with the nickname ‘Diamond Eye’ thanks to his propensity for spotting a figurative diamond in the rough.

Perhaps seen as the key appointment though, was Raul Sanllehi as Head of Football Relations. It heralded a change of approach – and with his departure, the transformation continues as we seek to harness player data and integrate it within our recruitment process.

This roster of changes meant that behind the playing team – the Gunners were unrecognisable.

It was meant to herald a change.

Josh Kroenke told us to “Be excited.”

Arsenal new regime

 

But recently, there seem to be warning signs that the changes haven’t entirely worked out – or we expected far more than we were ever going to get.

The first alert came when Sven Mislintat left the club a year after joining.

It has since come out that Mislintat claims that the club reneged on an offer to appoint him as Technical Director. The former Head of Recruitment – now Sporting Director at VFB Stuttgart, also spoke of the way targets would be identified.

In a quote featured in The Independent, Mislintat stated “Previously we had a strong, systematic approach to transfers, a mixture of watching things live as well as quality data and video analysis – Arsenal actually own their own data company.”

He continued “That meant that we acted independently, we knew about all markets and players in all positions that came into question. However, the new leadership work more strongly with what they are offered from clubs or agents through their own networks.”

This brings us neatly to super agent Kia Joorabchian.

The man who first hit the headlines with a perplexing deal that took Argentine superstars Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez – to West Ham. Joorabchian owned the player rights – which already sounds just plain wrong – and by hawking them both around, Joorabchian allowed West Ham to get two world class players.

The agent has his fingers in many pies and it is known that our very own Raul Sanllehi prior to him leaving the Head of Football post – and our Technical Director, Edu, are close associates of his.

In regards to Mislintat’s quote, he stated that we now prefer to use agent networks to acquire our talent.

David Luiz, the still injured Cedric Soares – both are clients of the agent.

Two of the names linked heaviest with us – Chelsea’s Willian and Barca’s Philippe Coutinho? Yep, them too.

David Luiz may well have seen his best years already, but his influence on the younger players is telling. When the kids are asked who helps their development from the current squad, invariably Luiz is named. Still, we can’t reward contracts for dressing room influence, otherwise we would sign influence – otherwise we’d sign the likes of Tony Adams up to gee up the boys before games.

And while the targeting of Coutinho is unconfirmed, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that we will go in for him. Willian has signed a three year deal and Chelsea have taken the approach we used to have – over 30? Have a one year deal.

Like Mislintat said, we are now not using data and sound analysis – we are leaning heavily on agents and our links behind the scenes.

It points to our club not using their heads, and a worrisome lack of transfer identity.

We aren’t the type of club to rely on outsiders. We have the resources and the experts to identify who can strengthen us, but by using our ‘pal’ Kia, we could be left out to dry.

It isn’t just transfers either that we are floundering.

Arsenal striking prodigy Folarin Balogun is reported to be leaving the club this summer, after being disconcerted with his lack of first team opportunities. Anyone who is aware of this kid knows he has a shining future ahead of him, but Huss Fahmy has failed to tie him down to a long-term deal, with negotiations only starting this year.

And the decision to hire Unai Emery – which was made by those who are supposed to be returning Arsenal to the top of the game once again – is looking increasingly like a large error that has set us back longer than the 18 months he was at the club for.

Mikel Arteta appears to have the values of the club front and centre of his motives.

But with backroom staff seemingly out of sync and the departure of Sanllehi only the beginning of some hard graft behind the scenes, can Arteta hold out hope of seriously bringing Arsenal out of the funk any time soon?

Guendouzi – Stick or Twist?

Arsenal’s squad in terms of youthful talent pushing through is in rude health.

Some of the starlets in our ranks are among the brightest we have seen at the club for some time. The likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe represent a hopeful future for Arsenal that we can thrive when these kids really start to bloom.

Matteo Guendouzi could be mentioned among these names. The young Frenchman is very highly rated at the club and beyond, but it seems that he is missing one vital ingredient in order to rise above the average and really strike it at the top.

That is humility.

Guendouzi, as I write, is currently training alone after his spat with Neil Maupay of Brighton. His comments toward the Gulls striker revolved around money and how Brighton’s number nine would never be able to earn what Matteo is currently on at Arsenal.

It indicates two things. One, that Guendouzi is prioritising the wrong thing and two? He really needs to put the effort he uses to annoy opponents into his football.

Since then, we have seen stories, or ‘leaks’ circulating around Guendouzi’s attitude at former clubs and of an apparent bust-up with Sokratis at our Dubai training camp earlier this year.

Now we may or may not ever know the truth about his run-in with our Greek defender, but his behaviour at his former club Lorient is a very good gauge of who the boy is behind the player as it is verified information.

His former manager at Lorient, Bernard Casoni, spoke to the media this week and had this to say:

Guendouzi’s problem is not physical and is not technical. It’s his attitude, it’s not good for the team or the coach. My relationship with him was not very good.”

“I chose him for a cup match against Nice but he was booked very early. The referee told me at half-time to warn Guendouzi: one more fault and off we go, but in the second half nothing changed. I had no choice but to master it. When I did, he refused to shake my hand.”

Most tellingly, Casoni finished with this, “He took his job seriously, his training was no problem and his character is to always want to win.

“Sometimes when he talks it’s good. But sometimes he speaks badly. He talks too much.

“His talent is not in question, this is not the problem. He can be a top player and I think he can still be successful abroad. It is up to him to change his attitude.”

Guendouzi featured heavily under Unai Emery, playing 33 times in our PL campaign alone. This season though, has been a stop-start campaign for Matteo, and early under Arteta, Guendouzi found squeezing his way into the team a tough ask.

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The balance of Xhaka and Ceballos has no doubt not helped Guendouzi’s quest for minutes, but it seems that Arteta is not keen on the Frenchman staying at the club. Perhaps one bad apple does spoil the bunch? Just imagine being in that situation – training with a bunch of teammates daily, but one of them is difficult? It would sour the ambience at the training ground to a degree.

But it is undeniable that Guendouzi is talented. He would have no shortage of interested parties should he decide that the going is better on other shores.

How do we avoid another Gnabry situation?

Now there are many facets that aren’t similar – Gnabry’s attitude wasn’t abrasive and he couldn’t get enough gametime from the start. But we have let plenty of young players go, only for them to immediately show us what we are missing.

There is a definite chance of this happening with Guendouzi.

The problem is that if he does stay at Arsenal, how does Arteta get him to tow the line like his other players? Currently, putting him out to train alone is not exactly fertilising positivity. So if Matteo flouts the rules again, how should Arteta react?

Alternatively, if he did it again, would that indicate that Guendouzi is simply a renegade who isn’t interested in harmony and mutual respect?

It’s clear that Guendouzi isn’t the finished article – his positioning smacks of inexperience and he far too often fails to track his man, but we have all seen that he could be a huge player for us.

Or for another club. At this moment in time, it looks likely that our crop of promising youth players will shoulder the responsibility of Arsenal’s immediate future without the help of the crazy-haired Guendouzi.

 

 

 

Arsenal’s Near Future

The gulf has stretched in the last decade, transforming into a hungry chasm.

Manchester City and Liverpool have both taken the initiative over the last two to three years and left the chasing pack with nothing but dust clouds to latch onto. Chelsea only won the Premier League three seasons ago and yet if we inspect their current situation – it is enough to dispirit even the most ardent optimist.

Chelsea possess some truly world-class players. Ngolo Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Kepa – all wouldn’t look out of place in most top European teams.

But heed their failures and you can see what it really takes to establish yourself with success in the modern era – an era which barely resembles its old self from a decade ago.

Replacing a player of the ilk of Eden Hazard was always going to be difficult, but they also failed to replace mercurial midfield talent too. The likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas could conjure something from nothing, but instead they have the more industrial strengths of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Not without their merits, but very different players.

A change in coach has heralded a change in tack from Chelsea – and most importantly, Roman Abramovich. No longer are they completely reliant on the Roubles he provides. They want to be self-sustaining – or as near as they can be without their new stadium plans. That means a certain air of frugality in the transfer market in comparison to how they acted in order to escape the realms of obscurity when he took over.

However, they’ve also recruited wisely. Timo Werner and Ziyech look like astute purchases.

All this combined has led to Chelsea still fighting near the top – but unable to keep up with Klopp and Guardiola.

As Gooners, we are also seeing two managers at the top of their game, duking it out at the same time, leaving others not so qualified or talented, feeding from the scraps left by the German and the Spaniard.

It makes for some pretty depressing reading when you look at the face of things. We all are hoping that the decision to bring in the fresh-faced Arteta, his belief in our values and most importantly, the testimonials of those who have worked with him, that this move will bear precious fruit if given time.

We see promising signs. Our destruction of United this season showed exactly the cornerstones of what Arteta wants. Pressure on the ball. Obtain possession high up the pitch and attack and defend as one. Responsible positioning – but most importantly, clear instructions for the players.

Something that was apparently lacking during Unai Emery’s tenure.

We are still in recovery, but can we hold out hope of a title challenge any time soon?

arteta training ground

Next season – after this season in terms of growth for Arteta and the embedding of his tactics – will probably come too soon, but improvement is key. A top four finish and a shrinking of the gap would suffice for the majority – and it would also give his charges the evidence that this is working. Belief is key – but the proof is in the pudding… or top four.

A decent – and first – pre-season for Arteta could prove crucial. The more time he spends with his squad, the better we will become. You get the feeling that all of the players are completely behind him and his staff – and that is an excellent foundation to build from.

Pep Guardiola normally gets an itch and searches for pastures or challenges new after a few seasons and this is well overdue. For Jurgen Klopp? He’s now won the PL this season, his job will be mission accomplished and he will be so sought after, that he will definitely have his head turned by one of the bigger Euro teams.

Chelsea are rebuilding. Man United will look to plug some big gaps and will always have the resources to do so. It is vitally important that after our hiatus from the Champions League that we regain that position sooner rather than later. We are living off of our reputation right now when it comes to luring talent.

If you also take into consideration that our young stars will be one year older and wiser – and with a season of growth behind them – we will be stronger regardless of who is signed and who isn’t.

It is time to make some new memories.

The good times are coming, but we will need patience to see it bloom.