Friday, January 27, 2023

Saturday round-up: Humble Jesus, Impressive Tomiyasu

Morning. A quick Saturday round-up for you.

I played 5-a-side for the first time in a couple of months last night. The ache this morning is extremely real, and I’ll admit there were moments in the game where I thought ‘I could be getting too old for this’, but then I cracked home a shot into the bottom corner. One of those where you make such good contact with the ball you barely feel it and it rockets beyond the goalkeeper.

So today I might go buy some new Astro boots.

Ahead of Liverpool, there’s a snippet of an interview with Gabriel Jesus from BT Sport which I saw over on Reddit (warning, also includes Rio Ferdinand). He talks about his own personal ambitions and how he wants to score 1, 2, 3 goals every game, but if you gave him the choice between the Golden Boot and the League title, he’d take the title. Which sounds obvious, but I do think his team-focused ethic is a big part of why Mikel Arteta and Edu brought him in.

It’s not the first time he’s demonstrated there’s a very grounded guy in there, despite the profile, despite the transfer fee and everything else. And I think it’s something that runs through the team. Comments after the Bodo/Glimt game on Thursday from Takehiro Tomiyasu feed into that.

I’ll say first that while others got more focus because of what they did at the other end of the pitch, I watched Tomi quite closely and every time I do I’m just so impressed by the way he plays. In this team, the full backs have a very important role when we go forward. We’ve discussed at length the way the left-back role has changed this season in particular, and it was clear the other night that Kieran Tierney was ‘doing the Zinchenko’ in terms of where he was stationed on the pitch during our build up.

The right side isn’t as obviously specific as that, because part of the reason we do it is to allow Granit Xhaka to get forward. On the right, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka tend to combine well, and when teams double-up on Saka – as they do all the time – it creates space elsewhere. Thomas Partey’s goal in the derby was an illustration of that.

But Tomiyasu is just such an accomplished defender wherever he plays. I thought he was very good against Bodo/Glimt without being put under too much pressure, but regardless of who we play, when he’s in a duel, I feel really confident he’s going to win it. Which must be very pleasing for Mikel Arteta who, as we know, really does not like it when his players don’t win their duels. It makes him upset in a high-pitched voice.

When Tierney went off and Ben White came on, Tomiyasu moved over to left-back, and not only did he do a near flawless job as a defender, he too drifted into those central areas during possession. It just struck me that while you might expect it from Tierney and Zinchenko, you might not necessarily expect it from a player who essentially third choice in that position – and I think it says plenty about the way Arteta drills his players, but also the quality of Tomiyasu to just go and do it without much fuss. You can always see when a player isn’t 100% comfortable with something, and there was none of that with him.

After the game he said:

Today was not my top, top performance so I am not satisfied with my performance.

If you are playing in a big club, like Arsenal, there is always competition with the other players. Competition makes me a lot better. To be fair, he (Ben White) is doing very well, he is doing fantastic. I need to learn from him a lot of things during the training sessions as well.

I’ve written about Ben White more than once this season and how good I think he’s been, but perhaps another measure of how consistent his performances have been is the fact he’s keeping a fit-again Tomiyasu out of the team. Having struggled with right-back issues for quite a while, the difference he made after his arrival from Bologna was really quite something, and maybe he didn’t quite the get the recognition he deserved.

Some of it might have been the fact he spent most of the second half of the season injured, but until Christmas, I think you could make a case that he was as good as anyone else. Few people wave flags for right-backs though. As Aaron Ramsdale made miracle saves and won people over with his personality; as Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe clicked up front; and as centre-forward issues dominated the conversation; Tomiyasu was a bit overlooked in my opinion.

This is going to be a long season, with weird and difficult physical things for players to deal with whether they go to the World Cup or not. Tomiyasu will be there with Japan, it looks like Ben White won’t be going with England (which seems mad considering his form), but having two guys as good as they are competing and driving each other throughout the season seems a real positive to me.

Ok, I’m gonna leave it there for now. We’ll have a Liverpool preview podcast for you over on Patreon around midday, and we’ll look ahead to the Mugsmashers properly in tomorrow’s blog.

Have a good one.

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