For Mikel, is madness the…method?


Three matches in, and it’s hard to feel like we’re shifting through the gears. Three sputtering results have yielded seven points from nine available, but it’s hard to draw confidence from that, what with Man City taking nine from nine and three others taking the same seven. A soft-ish string of fixtures should have seen us seize three confident, momentum-building wins ahead of a tricky visit from Man U, but, instead, we find ourselves in what amounts to an existential crisis. Just what is Arteta up to? Short answer: he’s pursuing longer-term goals. Long answer: ummm…

Arteta has talked many times about being less predictable and more fluid. A season ago, those felt like ephemeral, “allegory of the cave” level goals. The squad was maybe 14 deep at the best of times. Several signings later—Trossard, Kiwior, Jorginho, Rice, Havertz, Timber, Raya—and, all of a sudden, we have tactical and formational flexibility. We can set up in a low block with Jorginho and Partey behind Martinelli, Jesus, Saka, and Ødegaard…or will it be Trossard, Nketiah, Saka, and Havertz? Will Rice play as a 6 or an 8? Is Havertz an 8, a false nine, a second striker, an actual striker. or…who’ll be the inverted fullback? Timber, Tomiyasu, Zinchenko, or Partey?

It’s anyone’s guess.

The upside to that is that opponents won’t have any idea what they’ll be facing. The downside to that is that we ourselves won’t know what we’ll be doing. Against three very dispatchable opponents (Forest, Palace, and Fulham), Arteta tinkered to a degree that would make Dr. Frankenstein green with envy. TImber at LB? Check. Partey at RB? Check. Tomiyasu at LB and White at CB? Why not? In each of the these first three matches, there have been four or five experimental decisions that thrust players into unfamiliar roles. It’s one thing to try that out in a dead-rubber match when you’re at full strength, but we’ve had injuries, suspensions, and intrigue tying one hand behind our backs.

Jesus and Zinchenko have been working their ways back to fitness. Timber’s been felled (sorry). Tomiyasu got suspended. Despite all of that disruption, Arteta has damned the torpedoes and gone full speed ahead. He’d have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those pesky Cottagers. All of this tinkering has had to have unsettled players; that may explain how tentative and sloppy we were on Saturday, what with misplaced passes, squandered chances, and defensive lapses. Speaking of those defensive lapses, where is Magalhães? It’s starting to feel like he’s getting the cold shoulder or, as I’d call it, the Tierney TreatmentTM.

The optimistic side of me wants to think that this is all part of a longer-range plan: explore some tactical and formational fluidity in the short term even if it costs us a few points in the early stages in order to establish dynamic, unpredictable tactics and formations that will flummox even the best of opponents. If this is the case, the early results have me…queasy. We’ve barely found our way past Nottingham Forest and Zaha-less Palace. We were lucky to escape our own home ground against ten-man Fulham.

Next up is Man U. Even if they have dilemmas of their own (and they can usually count on referees putting a thumb if not an entire hand on the scale), we’ll have to sharpen up quite a bit. That refers by the way to squad selection and tactics just as much as it does to actual performance on the pitch.

I want to believe that all of this is part of a larger master plan. However, when you’re at home to Fulham and are gifted a penalty and a straight red card to your opponent, you really should come away with all three points. Let this little setback set Arteta straight: don’t mess with a good thing. Keep it simple. Play to your strengths.

We have a week or less until our first real test against Man U. It’s one thing to catch everyone by surprise with a young, thin squad; it’s quite another to spend as we’ve spent. We’ve lost the element of surprise. I just hope that Arteta doesn’t get too creative in trying to exceed expectations…

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2 thoughts on “For Mikel, is madness the…method?

  1. A Simple Truth

    I’m all for the notion of risking results to get better, as that tends to be required for most teams with higher aspirations, but when you don’t have the horses and the plan being implemented is inherently flawed, you don’t keep leaning in…all your talk about the plethora of positional/tactical permutations is nonsense, as he made only 1 non-forced alteration in the 3 matches in question, which was Trossard supplanting Eddie and that lasted all but one half…the rest were predicated on Timber’s injury, Tomi’s suspension, Tierney’s excommunication and Gabs somewhat mystifying benching

    the most disconcerting component of this whole experiment is that the “new” tactics appear to be a more stunted version of his last two plan A’s, which includes the one with Xhaka sitting deep and the LB pushng up the pitch and the subsequent incarnation with a more advanced Xhaka and Zinchenko in the inverted role…our present script involves a ridiculous bevy of “defensive” players on the pitch, inverted or otherwise, with our best players, Marts and Saka, left largely isolated, and little to no directness…all of this is done for one reason and one reason alone, to accommodate Havertz…if this plan is going to work he has to be the X factor, which means scoring in bunches so that the aforementioned wide-side players ultimately get 1 v.1’s when opposing defences adjust their respective attentions…as of right now this appears to be, at best, a pipe dream

  2. Palladio43

    Maybe there is a master plan and Gooner Nation and the rest of the football world are just not as smart as Arteta and are incapable of seeing it. We’re he a chess grandmaster and midway through the world chess championships, we might all be excused, but seriously?
    You pointed out the obvious: a desire to be unpredictable and to confuse opponents as they prepare. But you also identified how
    that comes with confusing your own players as to what role they are to play in “today’s flavor”. Further, as was the case this weekend, we revisited the “square pegs in round syndrome” and, hopefully not, the “I am in a snit but still the boss” syndrome that seems to have sidelined Gabriel and, maybe, sent Balogun and Tierney (among others) to their respective Gulags ( but maybe not).
    Does the badly orchestrated chaos of being fluid work? Does it take away from a constant and consistent effort to fine tune your best possible formation? Does it detract from spending all your time preparing for your opponents and their system? Does it, in fact, represent an admission that your team, if playing with the best eleven cannot defeat their opponents regardless as to whether the foe is prepared to face these eleven? Does it imply, if not signal, that after all the money spent, you need to rely on smoke and mirrors or other approaches to try to eke out victories? Does it signal an ego-driven approach that if my mentor and hero at City can mix things up, etc (albeit with better players and more experience and maturity), I can do the same?
    All these are questions worth considering as we plod forward and await what might be revealed at MU when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal who is or is not Oz.


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