I watched the Bench Cam video for the Man Utd game and there was a nice moment between Mikel Arteta and Nuno Tavares at about the 7’38 mark. The manager appears to be obviously giving him advice/instruction, emphasising his point with a few pokes to the chest/badge area, and there were some pats of ‘Ok, I got this!’ from the player as he made his way back onto the pitch.
I think it’s pretty easy to understand why Arteta has some reservations about Nuno. He seems like a nice lad but to say what you get from him is a mixed bag is probably underselling it a bit. He is capable of making positive contributions, as he showed with his goal and his involvement in both of Eddie’s goals at Stamford Bridge, but it’s fair to say he has a lot to learn defensively.
He conceded a penalty against United in a quite unconventional way (that’s not how to jump in the box!), could almost have conceded another one, but it’s coupled with these mad moments where you think, ‘What are you doing there?!’.
In the 83rd minute, he’s basically in the centre-forward position having made a run beyond Eddie Nketiah.
It’s actually pretty smart movement, he sees the space between the defenders as Varane is drawn towards the ball and goes for it. Martin Odegaard makes the pass, but United defend and get the ball away. Still, it’s not that often you see your left back making that run into the opposition box at that stage of the game. For better or worse, it’s very Nuno.
He had a period in the second half where not much went right for him. He’d try to do the right thing, like drive forward with possession, but get caught on the ball. Passes didn’t find their mark. In the warm glow of the 3-1 win, it’s easy to forget that at 2-1 it was far more tense, especially as he’d been the one to hand United the chance to level the scores only for skippity-hoppity Fernandes to hilariously miss his penalty.
I thought we might have to take him off. I made that point on the live blog, and on the TV coverage you could clearly hear people shouting ‘GET HIM OFF!’ after a moment where he was found wanting, made a foul and then picked up a yellow card. It wouldn’t have been at all surprising to me if Arteta had made the change at that point, but he didn’t. The fact we scored the third goal a couple of minutes later might well have played a part in that, but I think there was probably more to it.
Having been taken off before half-time against Forest, and then at half-time against Brighton, his removal at that point – with tensions high – might well have been a really damaging thing for Tavares. It was already tense, and during that period of the game he was adding to the nervousness. You can’t predict the crowd reaction, and I’m not saying he’d have been given a hard time, but sometimes the cheer for the introduction of the player coming on as a replacement can speak volumes.
The fact is, without Kieran Tierney we need Nuno for these last five games. My biggest gripe with Xhaka at left-back against Brighton was the fact that Arteta seemed to focus more on strengthening a position where he felt we were weak, rather than keeping us as strong as possible in midfield, then doing more protect the area of weakness. Since then, I think he’s accepted that staying strong is the way to go, and on Saturday, he made some changes to offer Nuno a bit more protection.
He spoke about the player afterwards, saying:
We have to help him. He needs to go through these experiences to understand, OK what triggered that moment, when you go from here to there – and give him support. We know, I’ve said this many times, the bill that you have to pay with these players is that they have never experienced this. So they are going to make mistakes, and they are going to make decisions that – from here it’s very easy to say ‘why have you done that’ – but they are there on the pitch, and let’s give them support because they need it.
I wonder if the return of Takehiro Tomiyasu on the right might be useful, and allow Nuno a bit more leeway to get forward. Cedric and Tavares are quite similar in that they like to drive into the final third, and the Portuguese can’t play that more tucked in role that Tomi is so good at. I don’t think having the Japanese international back in the team is going to make Nuno more defensively solid in his own right, but it might bring better balance to the side.
As for Nuno himself, much will depend on how quickly he learns from the mistakes he’s made this season. There have been some high profile errors, which I think have raised some doubt in the manager’s mind – hence the selection of Xhaka against Brighton when I have no doubt Arteta was well aware of how much better he is in midfield. That decision spoke more about Tavares than Xhaka for me, but let’s hope that the chaos factor he brings happens much more in the opposition half than our own in the games to come.
For some extra reading this morning, Lewis has a tactics column on the last two games and a team which could only score once against Palace, Brighton and Southampton scoring seven against Chelsea and United. Have a read.
Brand new Arsecast Extra for you below too, going back over the win against United and much more besides. Enjoy.