Goalkeepers + Control versus end product

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Morning all.

Champions League football returns this week, and we’ll hear from Mikel Arteta a bit later on today. No doubt he’ll be asked about his goalkeepers again, his comments after the Everton game have sparked plenty of discussion.

We talked about it on the Arsecast Extra yesterday, but for me the most interesting aspect of this is how much he said. There was a way for him to just play down his decision. Something along the lines of ‘We pick the team we think gives us the best chance of winning the game’, that kind of thing. So for a manager who often errs on the side of brevity so as not to give much away, it was a bit of a surprise how he went into a fair amount of detail with his thoughts on the position, the two players, his thoughts on substituting a keeper mid-game and all the rest.

Tomorrow could be an early chance for him to show this is how he’s really thinking. If he’s serious about goalkeeper being like any other position, and thus using it to drive the levels of Raya and Ramsdale higher, it might make some sense to start the latter against PSV. I suspect the decision about who starts the derby has already been made, but on a human level Arteta has to – for this season at least – try and ensure he maintains a level of harmony in his dressing room.

If you’re Aaron Ramsdale, you go away and play for England having played well for Arsenal all season, then you lose your place in the Premier League and don’t get the Champions League game, you’re going to be very disappointed. I had thought he would keep his place domestically while Raya would be introduced in Europe, but that has changed. As I said yesterday, it will be fascinating to see how this plays out, and while I don’t think he’s necessarily made a rod for his own back with his comments, they were so insistent people are going to refer back them as this situation rumbles on/settles down.

Another discussion point this season so far is the way Arsenal have played which, for some, has lacked some of the flair and panache of last season. Which I think is reasonable. There have been some mitigating factors: the injury to Jurrien Timber; Thomas Partey playing at right-back; a collection of different left-backs; new players settling in, some quicker than others; and Gabriel Jesus not being fit to start the campaign. It’s also not unknown for a team to take some time to hit its stride.

At the same time, it does feel like we’ve become a little less risk averse in the opposition half, and have controlled games via possession. Not simply as a way to find a way through packed defences, but in very simple terms: if we have the ball, they can’t score. Lewis goes into some detail in his new tactics column here, and it is borne out in some of the statistics as the graphic from that article shows.

As well, when you look at total possession in games, you can see a fairly clear pattern.

Nottingham Forrest: 78%
Crystal Palace: 66% while we had 11 men on the pitch
Fulham: 71%
Man Utd: 55% – a little more even, but we were happy to let United just roll passes around their back line to zero effect.
Everton: 74%

Clearly we haven’t fully clicked yet from an attacking perspective. And I believe turning that dominance into more end product is what Arteta wants, but there’s more emphasis on security in the opposition half. One wayward pass, as we saw against United, leads to transition which can lead to danger. So, I think he’s asked his players to probe more, to move the opposition around so the incisive pass becomes a bit less risky.

The manager talks about margins a lot, and three of the four wins have been by a single goal, while the late flourish over United is the only one with clear light of day. The Fulham game is an example of how not turning dominance into goals can come back to bite you, so seeing how we find the balance between control and end product is going to another really interesting aspect to how this season develops. The fact we’ve had a good start to the season in terms of results while still trying to find that balance does augur well, but it would be nice to tilt towards some of the performance levels of last season sooner rather than later.

Right, that’s it for now. If you need something to listen to later, we’ll have two podcasts for you on Patreon today. First, an episode of The 30, our Premier League round-up show, and then we’ll have a PSV preview podcast. For $6 a month, you get instant access to that and all the other stuff we do there – sign up here: patreon.com/arseblog.

Have a good one.

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