By Dr Billy “the Dog” McGraw, head of psychological interpretation and other stuff, at the University College Hospital of the North Circular Road
That was the headline in The Guardian following Arsenal’s third defeat in the first three league games at the start of this season. And the writer, Richard Jolly, who was the Manchester correspondent of ESPN, and was by now on the Guardian’s payroll, was not going to give up his chance to attack.
“For Arsenal, ignominy is following indignity, misery stemming from making the wrong sort of history. Their worst start to a season for 67 years leaves them pointless and goalless, hapless and rudderless, rooted in the relegation zone and seemingly stumbling into crisis. Europe’s biggest spenders this transfer window were eviscerated by a team who proved unable to pay any of their millions for Harry Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo and needed neither…
Of the manager, he continued, “while this may not prompt them to fire him, their plight invites the question of whether they should…. Most things Arteta has tried this season have backfired and this was no exception….”
That final point sums up the article. Nothing that Arsenal are doing is right. Yet it was a vision that showed complete, total, absolute and overwhelming ignorance of what Arsenal had done the previous season and what they were doing now.
For far from Arteta having a history of projects that backfired, what he was doing was building on one of the most audacious and yet successful managerial projects anyone has ever tried. It was just that Mr Jolly either didn’t notice or couldn’t be bothered to write about it.
So let’s just consider what the obviously highly esteemed and experienced Mr Jolly forgot to mention (and it must be “forgot”, for surely such an esteemed writer would know this stuff – since our little bunch of amateur writers, just scribbling out a blog each day, were able to sort it out.)
In 2019/20 Arsenal got 86 yellow cards, the highest of any club in the League and a figure which suggested that basically Arsenal matches were being run by referees, whose cards meant that players were becoming unavailable or scared to tackle for fear of yet another.
In the first third of the 2020/21 season therefore Arteta drilled the club in developing a reduced tackling game. Tackles went down by 22%, and yellow cards went down by 45% across the season. Arsenal moved from top of the yellow card table, to close to bottom.
But the downside was that Arsenal also sank to 15th in the league. However, Arteta stuck to his guns (as it were) and the club amazingly moved from being the most carded to the least carded in the league. And as a result of this, across the last two-thirds of 2020/1 Arsenal moved from 15th in the league as they were in the first third, to being second-best team in the league across the last two thirds.
Clearly Mr Jolly was either unaware of any of this (which suggests he’s a pretty rotten journalist) or he deliberately chose not to mention any of this (which suggests knocking Arsenal was all he was interested in).
Then in the summer of 2021 Arteta did the most unexpected thing. Having drilled his defence into a “don’t tackle” mode and made such a success of it, he replaced the defence en masse. And he might have got away with it had not injuries and the virus greatly depleted Arsenal’s ranks which meant that the defence against Man C was not what Arteta had in mind at all for the coming season… For that game we played at the back…
Soares, Holding, Chambers, Kolasinac
Thus although we had new players, learning the “don’t tackle” system, for the third league game of this season we put out a defence which if it were to be seen again, it would probably only be for a cup match against a lower league team. Also up front we had Balogun because Laca and Auba both had the virus.
Moving on, five days ago the Telegraph ran the story Want to beat Man City? Arsenal showed how it’s possible commenting that although Arsenal lost, it was a close-run thing and they are on the right lines. Jolly had other ideas. Now writing for Football365 he said City got a “win at Arsenal that was never in doubt”.
And so I get to my point. Mr Jolly has shown no evidence that he knows anything about the astonishing tactical revolution that Arsenal engaged in last season, and which, now the new defence is in place, is once again paying dividends.
He, in short, has his fixed views that Arsenal are rubbish. He provides no evidence to back this up, seemingly knows nothing about the club’s defensive revolution, and offers no explanation from our rise up the league from bottom to fourth.
Last season we had the third-best defence in the league, this season we have slipped although it is possible that as other clubs play their games in hand and we continue at our present rate (two goals conceded in the last five games) we might well end up again with the third best defence in the league.
And what will the journalist say to that? “Lucky Arsenal” probably.
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