Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Arsenal School of Further Education (lessons 101)

Morning all. A quick Saturday round-up for you.

I don’t think there’s any need to say much more about the Man Utd game. If it’s widely accepted that this Arsenal team is one with still plenty to learn, it’s important we take the lessons from this one. I also realise that there are many people fed up with the idea of lessons, learning them, or otherwise, and just want to see the team perform/not lose games in a stupid fashion, but when the majority of the team you send out at Old Trafford has an average age of 22, it’s not something you can just ignore.

Lessons are also important. There’s been a lot of focus on the senior players who didn’t perform to the level we expect, and that’s fine. How much can they learn from a night like that though? Not a lot, they’ve been there, done that and worn the t-shirt plenty of times in the past.

However, someone like Ben White – who I like and who looks like a very promising player – has plenty to take from it. There was a moment where he slid in and went to ground, when he should have stayed on his feet (not for the first time in recent weeks either). He was also not quite there for United’s first two goals. If games like this can teach him about the defensive awareness required and the penalty box movement of top level players, then it’s part of his development process.

I think there are moments in this game where analysis and subsequent instruction from the manager and from experienced coaches would be hugely beneficial. The opening goal springs to mind. It’s genuinely absurd that Man Utd could have emerged from that scenario with a sense of injustice. Fred fouled his own player who basically lay down to try and get play stopped. David de Gea might have had a slightly sore foot, but there is no way it was that bad that he fell in a crumpled, stationary heap on the ground. It was gamesmanship, it almost worked – and I think he’s lucky that the game went United’s way in the end because he’d have been under pretty intense scrutiny otherwise. It was pathetic behaviour.

As Martin Atkinson tried to think of some way to disallow Emile Smith Rowe’s goal, I wondered where the Arsenal players were. TV showed Auba, Partey, around for a bit, and if there was more visible from inside the ground than via the broadcast I might be missing something. Perhaps they were so confident that the goal would stand they didn’t feel they needed to do anything, but without suggesting they go screaming Roy Keane style into a referee’s face, I wonder if we could have been more present in that situation. That’s something we can learn from.

You can think of all kinds of Arsenal players past and present who would have been very active and making sure the referee wasn’t swayed by either the opposition or his own indecision. From the Arsenal of yore, to players from our not too distant past – including the current manager – who would have been busy.

As a slight aside, I saw this and found it extraordinary:

First, let me say I’m aware writers aren’t responsible for the headlines, but the headline itself is a slightly reworked version of a line from the copy, which reads:

“Arsenal are under no obligation to show some sportsmanship or compassion but the incident still slightly cheapened them.”

I just could not disagree with this more. Play to the whistle is one of the cornerstones of the game, we did that. Referencing the Sheffield United/Kanu/Overmars incident was bizarre and irrelevant – that went against a convention most players were aware of, this was nothing like that. And the bottom line is this: Arsenal did nothing wrong. We didn’t commit any kind of foul, it wasn’t our player who sneakily took out de Gea, we simply played the game and it was the United keeper’s gamesmanship that backfired. I have no idea how this cheapened Arsenal in any way. And ‘cheap’ is a particularly evocative word to use as well.

If we come back to the idea of learning, I did agree with his next line:

“It also distracted them, as they dropped deep, and a fired-up United hit back.”

I don’t think that’s the main reason we sat back, because this is a bigger issue, something we’re guilty of too often, and one that Mikel Arteta has to address. However, the way it played out we allowed United to feel that sense of injustice, when it should have been us. Why weren’t we fuming that the referee was apparently about to disallow a perfectly legitimate goal until VAR had a word and told him there were no grounds to do so?

This is the kind of stuff that a young team, filled with a group of what appears to be nice, personable lads, needs to get on top of. Add that bit of edge. Maybe it’s something we need to address when it comes to the transfer market and the kind of characters we bring into the team, but it’s still something you can learn, and then add to the way you play and deal with in-game incidents. Our defeat at Old Trafford went way beyond situation, of course, but if we’re looking for ways to maintain the momentum after we score and after we take the lead, explore every avenue, whether that’s organisational, tactical, emotional, or anything else.

Just a quick final point on the article I referenced – given the way social media discourse can go, let me be clear: it’s possible to disagree with the contention of a writer/journalist, without it becoming some kind of all-day-argument on there. If you have comments about this, let’s have them in the Arses, and don’t take this to Twitter, tagging others in etc. Thank you.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Have a great Saturday whatever you’re up to.

Related articles

Share article

Featured on NewsNow

Support Arseblog

Latest posts

Latest Arsecast