Under normal circumstances, I’m sure Mikel Arteta would have preferred his pre-season preparations to be a bit more low key than having to play Liverpool at Wembley. In as much as anything can be low-key these days. However, it’s the price of success to an extent – we’re here because we won the FA Cup a few short weeks ago, and if that’s the trade-off, so be it.
In terms of today’s team, the performance, the result, the outcome, here’s where I am with it:
Asked about the physical readiness of his players during his press conference on Thursday, Mikel Arteta laughed and said ‘We’ve had two training sessions!’. I know that because of the way last season ended, and the short break we’ve had since then, they might not have lost as much fitness as you’d expect during a more traditional summer, but I still think this a game we have to put in its own little box. A box marked ‘Who really cares?’.
I know there will be people poring over every aspect of it, but it really does not matter one bit. For me, the physical side of this is the only thing that’s important, it’s a training exercise and it will help build match fitness ahead of our Premier League opener on September 12th. We need to come through this game without any injuries, no aches, strains, niggles, pulls, twangs or anything else. For me, that’s the big danger.
The players were put through an incredibly hectic six week schedule after the lockdown. We know that some of them needed injections to be able to play. We know that some were nursing problems which needed close attention. Shkodran Mustafi reefed his hamstring off the bone, for goodness sake, the kind of injury that generally occurs due to fatigue and stress. He’s out until October having had surgery.
So, when it comes to what happens today, I want to see our players come through it unscathed, without injury, and after that I don’t really give a fish’s tit. Obviously I don’t want us to lose, but I’m not going to cry any tears if that happens. I think Liverpool are probably a little bit ahead of us in terms of their preparations, and generally it’s clear they’re better than us. Mikel Arteta has yet to add much to the squad of players he had last season, there are still players making their way back from their time off, and I suspect the team selection today – and the changes he makes – will reflect that.
Which is a really long-winded way of saying if today doesn’t go our way, let’s not lose our reason. The shape we’re in and the team we pick for Fulham in a couple of weeks time is what’s important, today is just part of the process in getting there and getting the players ready for that. The presence of some young players might make this one a little interesting, and if we play some nice stuff, we’d all enjoy it, but beyond that I’ll watch it through the prism of fitness and that’s about it.
Elsewhere, the club have made some interesting appointments to the coaching staff. In an announcement yesterday, they confirmed the arrival of set-piece specialist Andreas Georgson from Brentford, and given how many goals we conceded in that manner last season, we can all see the work he has to do.
The other two, Carlos Cuesta and Miguel Molina are both Spanish. The latter describes himself via his Twitter bio as a ‘Tactical Analyst Coach‘, while Cuesta is barely in his mid-20s and his bio reads ‘Individual Development Coach‘. That’s a particularly interesting role to consider, especially when you think about it alongside the interview Arteta’s assistant Steve Round did during lockdown. He spoke about the training sessions and how each one was based around some kind of ‘skill acquisition’, whether than was collective or individual.
Cuesta began working with the Atletico Madrid U13 team, having realised that his footballing ambitions would never be realised as a player. A profile in Spanish newspaper El Pais tells the story of how he left that position to travel Europe to try and gain experience under ‘great coaches’, using his Twitter account to build a profile, writing tactical articles, and showcasing those as a way to convince people to let him visit and learn from them. Part of that journey saw him spend some time with Pep Guardiola at Man City which is where he met Mikel Arteta. Of our manager, he said:
“On that visit I realized how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. Pep has a high-quality professional and human staff. I highlight Mikel Arteta. He is going to be a great coach.”
There’s also a very interesting interview with Molina on Newcastle United fanzine, True Faith. Worth checking out here. So, with the youngest manager in the Premier League, we’re adding some of the youngest coaches. It’s very interesting to see that, because often a ‘rookie’ boss will default to experience and bring in men who have been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt.
Arteta obviously has different ideas, and adding two coaches who are younger than some of your players is a brave move. He must see something in their potential and what they can bring to the team though, so hopefully we see than manifested in performances – individual and collective – throughout the season.
We’ve also promoted Jordan Reece to the position of Head Physio after Chris Morgan left to go back to Liverpool. I think there may well be other additions around the training ground too. Having had time to assess his needs, Arteta will be trying not only to build the playing squad he wants, but the backroom and support staff necessary to get the best out of them (and him).
Interesting times. Right, yesterday’s Arsecast is below if you haven’t had a chance to listen, and I’ll be back here tomorrow. Until then, enjoy your Saturday.