Thursday, January 20, 2022

Can Mikel Arteta give Arsenal back an edge of bastardosity?

If Mikel Arteta was a lady an anagram of his name could be Maria Kettle. Chances are though, if he were a woman, his first name wouldn’t be Mikel.

Another anagram is ‘Rat-like team’, and one of things many of us hope is that a new manager makes us a bit more mean and a bit less nice. I want Arteta’s very first meeting with the players to go something like this:

“Look at me. Look at me. I am the captain now. I mean, I am the manager now, and if any single one of you kicks the ball out of play when an opposition player is lying injured on the ground I will grind your testicles into mincemeat and feed it to your dog. And if you don’t have a dog, I will get you a dog who will wake up every morning around 4.30am and deprive you of sleep to the point where you consider putting the dog in a big box and sending it back.”

I could be projecting slightly here. However, I think you all know where I’m coming from with the putting the ball out of play thing. If there’s a head injury and the bloke’s brains are coming out of his ears and the referee doesn’t do anything about it, then fair enough, but otherwise play to the whistle, leave him down and play on (as a wise man once said).

I realise we have more important things to sort out but also we have to sort out what kind of a team we’re going to be under Arteta. He cites his big coaching influences as Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola, as you would expect, but also current Sp*rs boss Mauricio Pochettino, about whom he says:

He was my captain at PSG and I always knew he would become a manager. He has taken a lot of influence from Marcelo Bielsa, who was his coach with Argentina; they used to talk about things a lot, and now you can see that his teams are really aggressive, both when attacking and defending.

There is, unquestionably, a significant element of shithousery about the way Pochettino’s team plays. I’m not saying we should become as divey as they are, but there are ways and means of making yourself less nice. It was interesting over the course of two legs against Atletico Madrid to see just how many little things they do to disrupt the opposition so effectively.

The idea of playing with Corinthian spirit and being 100% fair and upstanding is a nice idea on paper, but on the pitch you have to have an edge. In a sport in which marginal gains can often be the difference between three points and one – or none – then instilling a culture in which players seek to exploit every possible advantage is necessary.

Do I want to see us up in referees faces all the time? No, but small things can have a big impact and could well be a part of improving this team. People have this idea of Arsene Wenger’s side being absolute gentlemen all the time, but it’s not a coincidence that our most successful period under him came when we had a group of players who refused to take any shit.

I realise, of course, that we also had a group of really brilliant players who Wenger moulded into wonderful teams, but it’s also fair to say they were uncompromising from front to back. If we needed to mix it, we could mix it. If people tried to bully us, we didn’t buckle. If someone needed to be stopped, more often than not they got stopped.

Arsenal and Arsene’s Red Card Hall of Shame was a thing, the papers went to town on us every time someone was sent off but we didn’t care. We weren’t worried about being popular or being nice, we were worried about winning and how we won was not prescribed in any single way. We did what we had to do, and I do feel we’ve lost a bit of that in recent years. I’m quite prepared for us to become less popular to become more successful.

There’s a very interesting Arteta interview from a few years back where he talks about his managerial hopes and what kind of a boss he’d be. You can read it on the official site here. I think this bit, about what kind of system he might use, is particularly interesting:

I think you need to adapt. You can have an idea of a system, but you need to be able to transform it depending on the players you have – how much pace you have up front, how technical your team is, what types of risk you can take and whether your players are ready to take those risks. It’s important to analyse your players because you can’t always play the same way. There have to be different details and changes in how you approach things, and you have to look at how you can hurt whoever you are playing against. Is there something they don’t like to do? If so, we’re going to make them do plenty of it.

‘Is there something they don’t like to do? If so, we’re going to make them do plenty of it.’ – I can’t tell you how much I like this. It can be a bit of a basic outlook in some ways, but it’s often effective. Like tactical genius Sam Allardyce noting that we leave space behind our full backs so get the ball in there and get us running towards our own goal.

I do believe your first thought should be about what you can do as a team and how you can do it, but Wenger was famously focused on that without necessarily paying too much heed to the opposition. It was something he paid a bit more attention to in the latter years, out of necessity really, but a good blend from the start with a new manager will be an interesting development.

It seems that, despite some ‘talk’ a late push for Allegri, the Spaniard will be announced next week. Who he brings in to make up his backroom team will be equally interesting. Will he add some experience to the mix to help offset his own relative inexperience? Will there be ex Arsenal players, ex teammates? We’ll find out soon enough.

Finally, despite some reports you’ll have seen over the last day or so, Arteta was not in any way responsible for the decision to let Colin Lewin go after 23 years at the club. That was made by existing staff, I believe it was down to the recently appointed Head of High Performance, Darren Burgess.

And while a clearing of the decks is understandable in any organisation that is making changes to the people who run it, there are also ways and means of doing things. We like to think of Arsenal as a club of class that treats people the right way, but from what I’ve heard we could have done things better in terms of the processes and, in particular, the communication of some of these decisions.

Right, I’ll leave you this morning with yesterday’s Arsecast, which is an end of season round-table discussion about everything that’s going on – from old manager to new manager, the board and executives, and lots more. Listen/subscribe below. More from me tomorrow.


*Anyone who doesn’t love the terror on Phil Neville’s face is dead inside

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