Thursday, January 20, 2022

Bring me the head of Diego Simeone (and the rest of him too please)

Morning all.

I watched Champions League last night. Atletico Madrid against Bayern Munich, and I had envy. I’ll be honest and admit I think Diego Simeone is a bit unpleasant in some ways. His upcoming three game ban for arch-gamesmanship when he probably instructed a ballboy to throw a ball on the pitch as Malaga were attacking in a La Liga game just doesn’t sit right with me. I love to win, and there’s part of me that enjoys the deeply cynical side of the game, but that wasn’t right.

However, watching his team stay organised and keep a clean sheet against a Munich side that we know fine well to be very, very good at football was impressive. I thoroughly enjoyed the last round against Barcelona, and last night it was hard not to like what we saw. Even without Diego Godin they were defensively fantastic, and the goal that won them from the game from Saul Niguez was absolutely superb.

You see people ask all the time – ‘If Simeone was manager, could we deal with his brand of football?’, and I wonder why on earth people would have a problem with it. We bemoan the lack of effort from our players at times, there’s no lack of it in his teams. He’s certainly more defensive-minded than Arsene Wenger, but again, what the hell is the problem with that? I would always much rather battle a 1-0 win than play like the Harlem Globetrotters and lose.

Yes, football is entertainment, but I find winning very entertaining indeed. Much more so that picking the bones out of another defeat that seemed completely avoidable. And as I’ve written before, there’s almost a kind of snobbery about teams that are defensively solid – as if that side of the game is easy and anyone can do it. It’s not easy to stop Bayern Munich and Barcelona from scoring, far from it. It’s an integral part of the game and his teams do it as well as anyone.

I realise, of course, this is just a pipe dream – that the idea of Diego Simeone prowling the touchline and the corridors of the Emirates would have this Arsenal board quaking in their boots and heading for their fainting couches, but I’d love to see it. You want change? There’s some change, with a side of change, a change pudding for dessert, all washed down with a 12 year old barrel-aged change. Delicious.

I also like the idea of him dealing with some of our players. Imagine him trying to get the nasty out of Theo Walcott. He’d try for weeks, realise it was impossible, set fire to a portaloo at the training ground, then flog him for thruppence ha’apenny at a car boot sale.

Via @Squawka: 256 games managed at Atletico, 135 clean sheets. Om nom nom. I love clean sheets. We are a club for whom clean sheets are an occasional treat – for the most part our sheets are like Spud from Trainspotting when he wakes up in his girlfriend’s house that morning. And less said about that the better this early in the day. Still, forgive me the indulgence of a little dream this morning, we’re allowed that.

Elsewhere, Mohamed Elneny has revealed that Arsene Wenger has asked him to ‘shoot more intelligently’, which some have taken to mean fewer pops from outside the box. There’s some logic to it, in that shots from closer in are more likely to see a team score, but to me that’s offset by the difficulty of fashioning a genuine chance from nearer to the goal. Often things open up for players outside the box, and while accuracy and power are too often missing from men paid a lot of money to kick a football every day, there are obvious benefits too.

Speaking to the Arsenal magazine, Elneny said:

I used to shoot a lot when I was at Basel but sometimes that doesn’t suit our style here. [Wenger] taught me to be more of a team player and to be intelligent in terms of when I shoot. I also paid attention to my teammates and took their advice. That has helped me to improve my performances already.

It’s clear that the manager is embracing the modern world of data and has, more than once this season, referenced ‘expected goals’. That said, in the build up to the Sunderland game he spoke about how to deal with a team packs its defence and sits deep, and he said:

… by being more dangerous with shots from outside the box, because that is something that gets the defenders out. So I’m pleased we can score goals from outside the box.

So clearly it’s about finding the balance between trying to keep the ball moving to work a better opening, and having a go from distance which may result in a goal, a keeper spilling the ball for someone to tuck in on the rebound, or general chaos which could lead to increased pressure on the opposition defence. Right now it feels like the balance is too far the way of the pass, and less on the shot, but that may have something to do with our inefficiency in front of goal as anything else.

Ultimately I think we all want players to play more intelligently, but there’s also a need for them to play instinctively at times. To be fair to Wenger, he allows his players as much freedom as anyone, he likes them to express themselves, and thus far Elneny has been an impressive purchase. I’d like a few more shots from distance though.

Right, that’s just about that for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with more, and an Arsecast, and in the meantime if you want something to listen to I have a grand old chat with the excellent Adam Buxton about David Bowie and lots more on my other podcast.

Have a good one.

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