Sunday, January 29, 2023

A successful tour : Arteta’s much-changed Arsenal

Arsenal return to London for more pre-season training this week, and I’m sure reflecting on the time in the US, Mikel Arteta will be pleased with the work done there.

Three games, three wins. Ok, I suspect I could pick 11 readers at random this morning and we’d be able to field a team that could beat Everton, but still. You then expect to beat Orlando City, which we did, and then to cap it all off by stuffing Chelsea 4-0, that’s not a bad way to wrap things up (even with the It’s Only Pre-Season caveat writ large).

And as ever, the manager’s message is simple:

Don’t get carried away. There were a lot of positives, there are a lot of things we can do much, much better than we have done today as well and we have to continue to improve as a team.

Crystal Palace a week on Friday is going to be nothing like any pre-season game in terms of atmosphere, intensity and pressure, and having been taught a lesson there last season, I’m positive that the players and the manager will be looking to put things right this time around. Easier said than done, of course.

We’ve also come back with an extra player after the arrival of Oleksandr Zinchenko, a nice bonus, and I do wonder if this week the focus will turn more on the players who are likely to play elsewhere next season. If we, as Arsenal fans, appreciate it when new signings are made before the first game so players can settle in etc, that must surely be true of other clubs. It wouldn’t surprise me too much to see one or two deals done this week, but as I’ve said previously, I think market forces will make the last couple of weeks of the window pretty hectic.

From the outside, and I’m sure James can fill me in more whenever we do the podcast, the tour looked like a successful event for the players and the fans. We know Mikel Arteta has consistently banged the drum about the connection between the team and the supporters, and even if only a tiny amount of those fans will be inside the Emirates this season, it still goes some way to create bonds.

I know from my time on the US tour in 2019 how much it means to fans there to see the team live, to maybe grab a picture with a player, but on top of that to experience the community aspect of supporting a football club. It happens on a granular level for each game, bars and pubs in cities and towns see people gather to watch together, but there’s something different when everyone is in the same place and heading for the stadium to see Arsenal play a game of football.

You can be cynical and see these tours as a money making exercise, which they are to an extent. But that’s the way football is these days, and I do think Arsenal have always been pretty good at finding the balance between the combination of financial necessity and cultivating the relationship with fans across the globe. I reckon most football managers would prefer a pre-season less in the spotlight, with less travel and all the rest, but that’s just part and parcel of the job these days.

Back to the football though, and in just a few short weeks, helped by some goals and impressive performances, Gabriel Jesus feels well and truly like an Arsenal player already. Of course the challenge now is to do it in the Premier League, but our major summer signing is completely integrated, and hopefully ready to go. He didn’t have to adapt to England, learn English, get used to the weather and all the rest, and obviously that helps, but to see him so comfortable on and off the pitch so quickly has been very pleasing.

I don’t think it’ll hurt that one of the other signings this summer is a former City teammate, a ‘big friend’ according to Zinchenko, and the fact these two guys have come laden down with medals is an aspect of this summer’s recruitment that I think is worth a mention. These two players know Arteta from his time there, but first and foremost they understand what it’s like to work with a manager whose standards are exacting and who demands the best all the time. If people think Arteta is a stickler, I reckon Pep is next level.

How that then transmits to the other players in the squad is something I’m curious about. It’s clear that this is now well and truly a squad built around what the manager wants. There was a graphic doing the rounds on Twitter last night comparing Arteta’s first team selection with what he might do for the opening game of the season. I can’t find it now, but for the record, this was the first team he ever picked (a 1-1 draw against Bournemouth on Dec 26th 2019).

Starting XI: Leno, Maitland-Niles, David Luiz, Sokratis, Saka, Torreira, Xhaka, Nelson, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette

Subs: Martinez, Mustafi, Mavropanos, Guendouzi, Willock, Smith Rowe, Pepe

When you consider the starting 11 he might use next Friday, along with the subs, that’s some change. And with that comes pressure, because when you demand improvement in terms of the playing squad, there comes expectation that you as a manager have to deliver too. However, I don’t think that’s going to faze Arteta. This is what he wanted. This is the challenge he took on, and he knows fine well that the only currency that counts when it comes right down it is results.

I guess that’s why there’s an air of excitement about this new season. As there should be, by the way, and it’s much more fun to look ahead to what you might achieve than worry about what’s wrong. Let’s see how it goes!

In terms of the podcast, I’m not 100% sure when we’re going to be recording. James travelled back from the US overnight, so there may be issues of fatigue, jet-lag and all the rest, but I’ll keep you informed as soon as I know more, and I’ll put out the call for questions in the usual places then.

Have a good one.

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