Watching the interlull footie over the last few days, I realised again how important system of football is AND how hard it is to change it. The Dutch play 4-3-3 in general and depending on the quality of players available they can make a success of it or not. Most Dutch players know this way of playing inside and out, and this leads to an organised form of football and a chance to make it to the finals of a major tournament. Over the last 50 years the Dutch national team have made it to a final or semi-final in a major tournament every decade, and mostly so on the basis of a 4-3-3 formation.
Southgate’s England are also trying to play an internally well-discussed and trained system of football but, despite the good quality of players available, they remain a work in progress. De Rode Duivels were a bit lucky to score two goals in quick succession, and the England manager needed to go out and attack rather than sit back and absorb pressure in order to spring a counter-attack or benefit from a turnover – as far as I can tell that is the desired way of playing football for England now. Under the leadership of Mr Sexy-Carves, Grealish, and Half-Moon-Face, Kane, England took the game to the Belgians but it all lacked ‘system’, inter-connectivity, and a team-wide intelligence/focus on what needed to be done to crack the easily-surviving defensive walls of the Belgians.
The much loved by the fans Grealish kept probing and dancing in between the walls but should have used the players around him much better imo – I lost count on the number of times he received the ball from Saka but then never returned it back to him. Bukayo made good runs and positioned himself well, but Sexy-Carves had no eye for him it seems. And I wonder how the equally talented Mason Mount felt at the end of the game… Kane made himself available time and again but was not there in the right spot when it mattered, or simply too knackered to take one of the many half-chances that came his way. The right wing of attack was hardly used and it left a neutral like me bored and frustrated. Having said that, it is clear that Grealish is a fine prospect and one who will go places.
Should Southgate change course and develop another system of football, or, the usual response to a loss, get rid of most of the players? I don’t think so. It takes time to evolve a team and make them play a new system of football. If I were the FA I would sign him up for the next 6-8 years and let him build something that will last, just like the Germans did with the fifth Beatle; they really have made a paradigm jump in terms of style of football and developing young talents in the last ten years or so.
There are similarities with Arsenal, of course. Wengerball was no longer fit for purpose after the arrival of Guardiola and Klopp. It does not mean it’s dead in the water but it certainly needs tweaking, and perhaps it is time to play a different sort of football as to compete again with the blue and red football powers of the North-West.
Arteta has a big job to do, and his Russian Dolls approach of building up carefully our team to an all-conquering machine will need a lot of patience. The recent loss against the team of Martinez and Mr Sexy Carves was a painful example that we really are not there yet, and I can sense the impatience getting worse now. And there is a risk it will start to undermine Arteta’s excellent progress until now.
Two trophies and beating Liverpool, MC, Chavs, MU etc should have given us the trust and calm in supporting Mikel unreservedly. He has given us sooo much already. If we really want to get back to being title contenders we need to be patient and stand behind the manager AND all the players.
To have a solid defence is vital in this league; next step is to get the balance right in midfield and Arteta is close to doing just that. I am excited to see what he will do next with the midfield, especially in terms of making the midfield play closer to the attackers. With Xhaka, Partey, Elneny, Willock, Saka, Ceballos, Willian, ESR, etc he has great players to turn the midfield in a fortress that dominates all proceedings. To get the midfield balance right without losing our defensive solidity is THE next challenge for Mikel (and Southgate… and many other managers) and it is unlikely we will get there in one go. The next Russian Doll will be pivotal and it is highly likely Arsenal will both win and lose big games as well as ‘expected to win games’ this season. It will just need time, simple as that and we the fans should stay behind Mikel and the players, as this will speed up the process rather than hinder it.