Maybe I should start every blog for the next seven days with something that brings into focus the return of football. Let’s see if I can do it. Starting with this:
One week from today I will be writing a match preview.
It will be the first time I’ve done that since March 7th when we were desperate for points because we badly needed to qualify for Europe in one way or another due to financial difficulties as laid out by Swiss Ramble. We got three points that day, but then football shut down and there is a lot still to worry about when it comes to the overall picture at the club.
The Covid-19 lockdown will have had a massive impact on all football clubs, and Arsenal are not immune. They very quickly pushed through a wage cut (still the only PL club to do that), something which has contributed to some mistrust between the squad and those at executive level. I think there were concerns over our recruitment policy, but we’ll have to see how that’s affected by whatever the transfer market becomes. I’ve written before about performance at executive level and whether there’s sufficient accountability, and in general questions over KSE’s 100% ownership – particularly through this crisis with their other sports ‘franchises’ to manage – remain valid.
At the same time though, I’ve been extremely impressed with Mikel Arteta since he arrived at the club. What he says he wants to do, how he says he wants to do it, and the steely-eyed determination which is clear when he speaks are real causes for optimism. It’s still way too early to make any definitive judgements about his work – not simply because he had barely 10 games before everything shut down, but because he had to halt what was a precipitous slide when he took over. You can’t judge a driver when he’s parachuted through the sunroof to stop a car going over a cliff.
Unlike his predecessor he has clear ideas and can communicate them to his squad and to us as fans. This isn’t to be critical of Unai Emery because learning a third language is difficult, but there’s a marked difference between the two men in that regard. So too in terms of philosophy and what he wants from his team and players. I could never quite fathom why Emery didn’t understand Arsenal as a football club. Arteta does. He knows what we should be about, and he knows we’re a long way from that.
So, it was very interesting to hear from his assistant, Steve Round, who – rather randomly – did a YouTube interview with an American golf coach called Trillium Rose. They talk a fair bit about golf, but also about Arsenal, and we’ve collated some of the most interesting stuff here on Arseblog News – it’s well worth a read. We have heard plenty from Arteta, but not much from those around him, and it provides some deeper insight into what he is trying to do at Arsenal.
“The middle bulk of the session is around the manager’s ideas of how we play; our methodology, this is how we play, this is what we do. Closer to the game, we start training for the opposition, so this is tweaking what we do to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses or tweak it to negate their strengths.”
Which is all fine, but I loved this:
“Every day there’s a theme around some form of skill acquisition.”
He cites the examples of penalties, or strikers working on their finishing, but I do like the idea of trying to continuously improve players. Much depends on them, of course, and how much they want to do that, but the work on the training ground is an important part of their development and trying to keep those graphs going upwards even when you’re an experienced player.
Building a culture
When Arteta took over, the team was a mess. Things fell apart under Emery and were allowed to unravel to a much greater extent because of the lack of action from those above who continued to back him way beyond a time-frame that was reasonable based on what was happening. In simple terms, he had lost the dressing room a long time before he was let go.
Some will say part of it was down to the players, and that might be true to an extent, but in any working environment if you’ve lost faith in your boss your performance, your motivation, and all the rest, will suffer. Football is one of those industries in which it becomes apparent very quickly and has a marked impact on performance.
From day one, Arteta talked about what was and what wasn’t acceptable. He talked about things which he called ‘non-negotiable’; he said he wanted his team to become ‘addicted to winning‘; even in lockdown he was giving his players homework as he tried to develop them despite the fact they could no longer train and work together. In short, he was demanding more from his squad, and looking to fundamentally change the culture of a club which had become staid and too comfortable over the previous years (not just under Emery).
Here’s what Round had to say about that:
“Discipline, self-discipline and making sure that our behaviour, positive behaviours are continually reinforced. Negative behaviours are pulled up, there are certain things we will not accept.
“If a teammate is showing disrespect to another teammate, perhaps the ball hasn’t come to him and he’s thrown his arms up. That’s telling the world this guy has made a mistake. We don’t blame like that. We don’t do that. If the guy has made a mistake our responsibility is to help him overcome that mistake. Our responsibility, me personally, is to try and make sure the next time he doesn’t make the same mistake again.
“You’re forever showing the players this and making them accountable and responsible for their actions. It’s making sure the environment you’re in and the culture you’re trying to build is consistent and consistent at the elite level. You’re consistently giving them the information that helps them become better players or helps them become a far better team and then you’re consistently enforcing the quality of behaviour that you want to see. There is no magical formula to generating a resonant and elite culture. It’s just every day getting all the little things right.
Again, I really like it. Who will respond and who won’t? What will be the long-term impact of it on the pitch, and off it? How committed are we enacting this at all levels, so there is this common philosophy running through the club again? We’ll find out in due course, but there’s no doubt Arteta has a very clear idea of what he wants to do in the job, and those with him are on board.
I think he’s got a strength of character and conviction that will be very important going forward. We’re still in something of a honeymoon period with him, strange as that seems, and he’s going to challenged from all sides – including at the club itself. To me he comes across as someone who sees himself as more of a manager than just a head coach, look at his reported involvement with the Aubameyang situation for example, and perhaps that won’t sit well with everyone.
However, his position and influence will depend heavily on what happens on the pitch. He knows how important it is, which is why his first job has been to get his squad on side. From everything we hear from the players about the work he’s doing, he’s done that. He’s connected with them in a very positive way, and it won’t be long before we see how that translates in terms of results.
There’s more to read from Round re: StatDNA and recruitment, but overall it’s a very interesting insight into the work the new manager and his team are doing, and well worth a read.
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. I’ll be back tomorrow with more, and any news throughout the day can be found over on Arseblog News.