Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Harmonious planning + Maitland-Niles’ versatility an opportunity

Good morning, a quick Friday round-up for you.

Mikel Arteta’s press conference took place yesterday, and to be honest, most of it you could have predicted. Nevertheless, there were some interesting bits and pieces, with the manager making it clear that while the summer transfer business speaks to a medium/long-term project, that has to be coupled with results now.

That’s the reality for Arsenal, for Arteta, for Edu, for those at the top: you can have the best plan for the future, but if the present is sub-par, you live and die by that particular sword. Edu’s interview over the weekend, where he explained the recruitment strategy for those dim enough not to see exactly what it was (because it was blindingly obvious, let’s be honest), felt just a little like the Technical Director was posturing.

He did it because the first three games were so abysmal and there was pressure for someone to speak, but his position and role hasn’t always been clear. Does he have more authority than Arteta? If this was a Technical Director/Head Coach situation, that would be obvious, but a Technical Director/Manager scenario is different. It’s still not completely clear, they were described as ‘a two-headed beast’ by David Ornstein on last week’s Arsecast, but Arteta made it clear that this summer’s transfer business has been agreed on by everyone, not something that was foisted on him:

Edu explained it like I tried to explain it. We have all participated, trying to create and build this project, led by the owners, and it is a project we believe in, that we have to assemble because it is the only option that we believe was best for the future of the club. We all take responsibility because we have all been involved in the decision and we have to make it work.

The complexity in football is that you want to build a medium to long-term project with immediate results and we have to embrace that, because there is no other way in football and you are going to have to get results and we are ready to do that.

I’m not sure it’s a riposte to what Edu said as much as an endorsement of it, trying to ensure there’s a air of harmony in difficult times, but if it works, it works for everyone. The flip side, of course, is that if it doesn’t, everyone ought to be under the same kind of scrutiny. For all of our sakes, and our general happiness and well-being, I really hope it does.

One of the late transfer window dramas was the Ainsley Maitland-Niles situation. Arsenal rejected a loan bid from Everton, the player wanted to go, he did the Instagram thing, and it was all a bit unseemly. Thankfully, it appears to have been soothed with a private conversation, and he’ll be involved with the team this season. Quite where he’ll play is another thing, but from what the manager has said, it seems like he can expect to be our utility man, with Arteta urging him to embrace that:

He knows that he has a unique quality in sport. His versatility to play in many positions and he needs to become the best at doing that as it’s something very rare to find in football.

Sometimes it’s difficult for a player who doesn’t operate in one specific position, but at this point for Ainsley, maybe it’s something he has to consider strongly. It’s not as if he didn’t have the chance to really nail down the right-back/wing-back position when Hector Bellerin was injured. He did well in general, and while reports about him refusing to play there are wide of the mark, I do think he expressed a reluctance – or at least a desire to play somewhere else.

He left in January to play in what we were told was his favourite position: central midfield. Yet just a few years ago he spoke openly about where he saw himself, saying:

“I’d like to be a winger. I was a striker growing up.

“I like to think of myself as a winger at 25 years old, starting every week for Arsenal, scoring and assisting goals.

“I don’t feel like I’m there. I’m still young and I have a lot of learning to do.”

That was 2019, he’s just turned 24, but I think it’s fair to assume he’s not going to be a winger for Arsenal by the time he’s 25. Which is to say, there appears to be some indecision on his part as to where he wants to play, so maybe a role where he can lean into his versatility is best. I could see him start this weekend against Norwich, depending on whether or not new signing Takehiro Tomiyasu is considered ready for selection.

Neither Calum Chambers or Cedric have played well enough so far this season, so why not start AMN at right-back against Norwich? He might even be needed in midfield because Granit Xhaka suspended, Mohamed Elneny is injured, and there are slight doubts over Albert Sambi Lokonga who sat out Belgium’s game in midweek as a precaution after he felt something in training.

It’s hard to know what Maitland-Niles’ long-term future will hold, but right now, you can see that there are gaps in the squad that he could easily fill if he’s minded to do that. I hope he is, he played well enough to garner an England call up, and since then things haven’t progressed as well as everyone would have liked. Let’s see what he can do if and when he’s given chances this season.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. For your listening pleasure, there’s a brand new Arsecast below, chatting all about Arteta, Edu, Partey, Gabriel and lots more with Charles Watts. Happy listening, and don’t forget there’ll be a Norwich preview podcast on Patreon later this afternoon.

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