Saturday, September 23, 2023

It’s Christmas! Oh.

Good morning from bright and sunny East Lothian. It’s not half got chilly all of a sudden though, has it?

I was woken today by a two year old (mine) turning the Christmas fairy lights that are still up in our bedroom on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off and on and off, and then cycling through the various patterns the lights are able to produce, the worst of which I can only describe as “rave on a bad trip”. So that was nice. He’s off to nursery now though, so I can concentrate. Concentrate on getting over my headache, and wonder how long it is before I can go back to bed.

I know Arseblogger has his own take on the start to the season and has discussed it at length on the blog, but I’m writing it today, so you get to put up with my thoughts instead – and I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed. It’s not that I’m not positive about what Unai Emery is trying to do, or that I expected a new manager to come in and instantly have success, or that I thought AW leaving was the wrong thing (for the record, I think it was entirely the right thing), I just feel you have to cut your cloth accordingly, and the cloth we’re using does not quite fit the mannequin Emery currently has at his disposal. While defeats to City (in particular) and Chelsea weren’t exactly a surprise, the change to the style of play has left us so defensively exposed I think we have to do something about it.

I suppose I’m somewhere in between the views of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, as illustrated on Sky the other week. While I agree completely with Neville that a manager can’t come in and try to impose a style of play and when it doesn’t quite work start adapting the style, since players will start to be confused, and/or start taking liberties – I think that’s absolutely true – Emery could, admittedly only to a certain extent, adapt the personnel.

Petr Cech, for example, has been an amazing servant to English football, with both Chelsea (*spit*) and us, and he’s made some important interventions in the games he’s played so far, but he’s so clearly uncomfortable playing the ball out from the back, we surely have to consider that it’s time for Bernd Leno to have a go. Cech played the ball out directly to the opposition at least a couple of times during the Cardiff and West Ham games, and had those teams got more quality, they could well have made us suffer much more than they already did. I’m almost waiting for the moment he plays it out to some opposition midfielder he hasn’t quite noticed who immediately hoofs it back at him and straight in the next (a bit like that goal against Argentina at the World Cup).

None of which is to say that Petr Cech is suddenly shit. He’s very obviously not. But he’s being asked to do something that’s really unfamiliar to him, and the saying about old dogs and new tricks is not for nothing. Now, I don’t know that Leno would be an improvement, of course, and I certainly don’t want to humiliate Cech by benching him, but at this point he’s visibly struggling and the good of the team is the most important thing.

We don’t really have many options at centre half, so there’s not a lot we can do there. I’ve been encouraged by Sokratis. He looks like a decent player, and he seems to know when to make a cynical tackle. The less said about Mustafi the better, though I don’t think he’s as bad as some people make him out to be.

The one that puzzles me the most is Lucas Torreira. Why’s he not starting yet? Is it post World Cup hangover? Is it that he wasn’t Emery’s choice (at least I don’t think he was Emery’s choice – please correct me in the arses if I’m wrong)? Or is it that Emery is perhaps suffering from something of an abundance of riches in midfield (no sniggering at the back!) and doesn’t yet know how his midfield is best set up (which wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable at this early stage). We have Ramsey (who I’m reasonably certain despite all the noises he’s making about being excited to be working under the new system is going to leave), Xhaka, Guendouzi, Elneny, Maitland Niles, and if you can call them midfielders, Ozil and Mkhitaryan. Oh, and Torreira. That’s eight players competing for a position in midfield, and while it seems Xhaka is a favourite of Emery’s, I don’t think I know from game to game who will line up alongside him. That’s not really a criticism, more an observation, but when you have a player like Torreira who’s used to protecting the defence and making those quick transitions that are so important in football now (and God knows our defence needs protection), his lack of playing time just seems .. odd.

Up front I think he has to start playing Lacazette and Auba together. I know two strikers aren’t really the done thing in football these days, but there’s definitely something between them that when it clicks, can provide some very effective offensive football.

Not-really-speaking-of Xhaka, the midfielder has apologised for his double headed eagle celebration in the World Cup, saying:

I’m sorry for what happened and I would be stupid if I said I’d do it again, It will never happen again. I have only one passport, the Swiss one, and I wear the red-coloured jersey of Switzerland proudly.

It was a bit of a silly thing to do, but personally I can understand in the context of a World Cup, with that goal being so important, he lost his head a little, so fair play for continuing to apologise for it now, despite having been fined by Fifa.

Another of our abundance of midfielders has spoken of his “whirlwind two months” since joining Arsenal. Of his move from Ligue 2 in France to the Premiership, he said:

The games are much more intense. In England there are great players from everywhere, it’s impressive. I’ve adapted fast enough, that the most important thing. It’s up to me to keep my place, this is just the beginning.

And you can’t really argue with that. The change in pace, power, and intensity – the second you switch off you’re under huge pressure – shouldn’t be underestimated, and while some might question why we’re signing players from Ligue 2 in the first place, it seems the young man has a calm head on his shoulders. I have to say I like him – another one that seems to know when to take a booking for the team – and for me he’s shown a lot of promise.

That’s your lot from me today. Andrew Allen will be here tomorrow with more.

You can find updates throughout the day over on Arseblog News. Have a good one!


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