Saturday, June 10, 2023

Arsenal have a bit of an edge


It was quite interesting to read Aaron Ramsdale talking about the win over Villa on Saturday. From my perspective at least, the way it played out felt important – like the team would benefit from a shot in the arm after a difficult few weeks. They still might, but the Arsenal keeper said it was ‘It’s probably one of the worst ways we can win …’

His reasoning is sound, to be fair:

‘… because we pride ourselves on defending and keeping clean sheets from number 9 to number 1 and the staff.

‘There will be some truths spoken in the week about how we can improve and what we need to do better in the coming weeks because different games, if we don’t show that level of performance in the second half, a 2-1 or 2-0 head-start for the opposition team and there will be no way back.’

It’s hard to argue with that, and while he acknowledged the great feeling in the dressing room, part of what I like about this team is the recognition that high standards are necessary for success. I’ve written often this season about the one game at a time mantra, which is designed to keep people’s feet on the ground, but also to remain focused on the short-term while the long-term prize starts to come closer and closer.

Arsenal can be pleased with the second half performance, they can take all the positives – and three points – from the last few minutes, but the learning from the Villa game is in the first half. The reason we’ve seen words like extraordinary and remarkable used to describe this win is because it’s rare. Very rare. When is the last time you saw a former goalkeeper score and own goal with his head and then just moments later go up for a corner/walkabout [delete to your preference] to allow a forward to steam through unopposed and score? Exactly.

Which isn’t me trying to piss on anyone’s chips here, I enjoyed as much as the next person, but I can guarantee you Mikel Arteta’s video review session this week won’t focus as much on the late, late comedy as it will on the goals we conceded in the first half. The second one in particular will have infuriated him because while it was a nicely worked move from Villa, it was all too easy. Nobody won their duels, and our manager gets upset when that happens.

His reaction on the Bench Cam video tells you plenty:

I do think this was a win we really needed, and I’m sure there will be positives taken from it by the players, but as we prepare for Leicester on Saturday, ensuring we don’t find ourselves firefighting because we’ve been a bit sloppy and a bit careless will be high on the agenda.

Meanwhile, we had a good question on the Arsecast Extra about the team having a bit of an edge these days, and I think it’s a really interesting thing to consider. Yesterday, I mentioned Bukayo Saka reacting to Coutinho’s bad challenge, and the fact that Arsenal players were there to back him up. That was good to see, because it tells you something about the togetherness of the group. You don’t have to go too far back into our past to see how different it is from previous teams who rarely stood up for each other in that way.

We know the manager is a presence on the touchline, and it drives some people mad. We know that our reactions to certain incidents have brought about FA charges. We know that when we do anything at all, the Celebration Police are out in force, tut-tutting at people just enjoying themselves.

It feels like there’s a greater spotlight on us, because the way Arteta behaves is no different than Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola (who was booked at the weekend for complaining about a penalty not given for an Erling Haaland dive), or countless other managers. So why is he given greater attention?

Part of it is because nobody expected this Arsenal this season, so there’s a bit of ‘Who are these chubby little rascals? We need to put them in their place.’ On top of that, I think Klopp and Guardiola and other managers get away with more because they are considered mature. They’ve been there and done that, and their experience informs their reactions. Arteta is the youngest manager in the league, and he – in the minds of some of these people – needs to earn his stripes before he can get up to antics. It’s nonsense, of course, but a perception of the team and the manager as immature because of how young we are in general is why it’s easy to have a go.

But the team and the players don’t take their cues from the media, they take them from the manager. The manager who, in a Sunday Times article, was described as a ‘steely little fucker’ by a former colleague in the game. That transmits to them from his coaching, his preparation, his team-talks, his in-game huddles, and his post-game reviews. You can’t set high standards without a measure of internal discipline, but also a desire to win that can manifest itself in behaviour that others can sometimes take exception to.

Were the Invincibles brilliant? Yes. Were they lovely boys all the time on the pitch? Hahahaha, no. They had incredible quality but a streak of bastardry that was key to them winning games and picking up points on the days when it didn’t fully click for them. And in the mists of time, I think we can lose sight of the fact there were more than few days like that.

Just for the record: I am not saying this team is as good as the Invincibles, merely pointing out that without a bit of a hardness, it’s very difficult to be successful. I think Arteta has cultivated some of that in this team. We’re bigger, we’re stronger, we don’t get pushed around as much, and it’s part of why this season has gone as well as it has.

We still haven’t found what we’re looking for [the title], but we do have a bit of an edge.

Sorry. Not sorry. Till tomorrow.

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