The Arsenal plan: retaliation before the opposition attack



By Tony Attwood

Some years ago I learned the rather helpful lesson that there is a lot to be said for being able to see life and events from the point of view of others, as well as having one’s own point of view.   That way, if one gets into an argument one can imagine the other person’s position, and think of ways of arguing against it.

I suspect Arteta has the same approach, only with football.  He not only considers how to beat the opposition but actually creates a playing style that takes them by surprise and/or scares them into submission.

Take for example recent seasons with the rise from 8th to 5th to 2nd and from no European football to the Europa and back to the Champions League.  There is clearly a pattern here, although most commentators on football insist on just seeing the last few weeks, while talking up the need to buy players (as opposed for example to promoting players from the youth team and the bench).

But there is more to it than these simple headlines.  Consider for example goals scored.  Starting in 2020/21 the sequence reads 55, 61,88, 75 (with seven games to go).

Or the defence: 39, 48, 43, and now 24 with seven to go.   As for the points, 61, 69, 84 and 71 with seven games to go.

These are incredibly promising figures, and there is more because in the last couple of seasons we have explored the idea of dips – and how Arsenal fought them, by retaliating before the opposition get going.

In 2020/21 the club had three dips, and the first of these was catastrophic.  From 28 September to 19 December Arsenal’s record was played 12 league games, won two, drew two and lost eight.  On 19 December Arsenal were 15th in the league, just four points above Burnley in 18th – and worse than that, Burnley had two games in hand!

In 2021/22 Arsenal again had four dips during the season, but two of these were minor and none as catastrophic as that of the autumn 2020.

But you still might recall three league defeats at the start of the season, three defeats in four league games in November/December, four defeats in five league games in March/April.

In 2022/23 there was a wobble in February with two defeats and a draw – not so bad except that two of the three oppositions involved were Everton and Brentford.

But then it got a bit silly with eight league games in April and May which delivered just two wins, three draws and three defeats.  And thus the chance of winning the league was blown.

This season is better again, but still we have had one spell when results went the wrong way.  Through December Arsenal played five league matches (and throughout all this I am only looking at League matches) lost three, drew one, and won just the one.   The one ray of hope in that run was that the goal tally was no worse than four goals for Arsenal, and six for the opposition.

But the good news is that thus far, that dip was the only one in this campaign.

Now that dip last season began in match 30 with a 2-2 away draw with Liverpool, and of course we didn’t think of that as a dip at the time.  An away draw with Liverpool is generally considered ok.

But it wasn’t ok because it was followed by an away draw with West Ham, a home draw (just) with Southampton… and those struggles meant that psychologically the team was nowhere near ready for Manchester City away, which we lost 4-1.

And that’s the point – players need to go into a tough game on the back of a really good run of results.

This season when we beat Manchester City we were unbeaten in the league.  When we drew the return game we had just had eight wins in a row.

When we drew with Liverpool Arsenal had just had five wins in six. And with the 3-1 home win against that club Arsenal had just had two wins scoring seven and conceding one.

In situations like this, Arsenal have the confidence to keep pressurising the opposition.   It is what one anonymous coach, talking to the Athletic, called “an attack-vs-defence training session where Arsenal were just coming with flow after flow of attack.”

Arsenal of course need confidence to play like that, and that confidence doesn’t just come from the coach, it comes from the fact that they are unbeaten in the last x games scoring y goals.   It is that confidence that stops the occasional set back from becoming something that gets into the players and becomes a “dip”.

Arsenal have failed to score in only three league games this season – the same as for all of last season.  So in six games in 69 Arsenal have scored.  That breeds confidence, which stops dips happening.

And from what I see (and indeed from a few years studying psychology) that is what Arsenal’s rise of late is all about..


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