Eight afterthoughts from a disappointing and unnecessary loss against an average team.
- When there are three games to be played within a week it is inevitable that they will influence each other in terms of fitness, team selection and psychology. The team worked their socks off at home to MU to get a win and then to protect a draw; then they played a sublime first half at Molineux until the double jeopardy decision by the ref after which the game turned and we ended up just losing it; on Saturday the boys wanted to make amends once again but a miscommunication between two defenders, followed by a bad bounce of a ball/deflection, meant we conceded an early goal, and the boys just lacked the fitness and sharpness to overcome this early, major set-back. The result of all of this is just one point from three tightly fought matches and a melancholic fanbase – not that the latter takes a lot these days.
- I must admit to feeling a bit low myself after the latest result, but I have come to realise that I was falling for the same old mistake we humans tend to make: the (subconscious) expectation that progress, once it has commenced, will continue in a linear way. It seldom does. We had some setback but none of the teams we lost points to were better than us; in fact, we were better than the last two teams we played but ended up leaving all six points in the midlands. Bitter but that is football. I saw enough to believe that we are playing much better football now but that we need to focus better and avoid those individual mistakes that keep costing us.
- We have to raise the question whether Arteta used his squad effectively in the last week. Legs and minds were clearly tired during the last game and some fresh blood could have made a difference. I guess this is something Arteta will have considered but believed not to be the right thing to do. Hindsight proves him wrong to some extent, as of course we do not know how it all would have finished if Arteta had opted for more changes to his starting eleven, but I do understand why a new manager who is trying to build something up likes to stick to the same team at this stage of team-development. Still, Arteta could have used some of the likes of Elneny, Martinelli, Auba, Ceballos and Odegaard from the start and I don’t think that would have dropped our levels but could easily have given us a boost of energy and focus.
- One of the good things to come out of the last game is that Ryan looked more than decent in our goal. He made the saves we expected him to make, but he did those with conviction and no mistakes were made. I also felt Ryan had good presence in the box and was calm and collected during the entire game. Having a good backup keeper is of course very vital for a successful season.
- Another positive were Odegaards twenty or so minutes on the pitch. Martin made a difference and got himself in a good position to score but he was just a bit too eager, I reckon. Emile, Saka and Laca may have been overplayed a bit by Arteta and I believe he will have to use the likes of Odegaard, Eddie, Martinelli and Nelson a bit more going forward. Luckily, the team have an eight days break now so all can have a well deserved rest. But Emile just cannot keep pulling this team forward on his own and Mikel must give Odegaard some starts pretty soon.
- I believe that Partey is a better all-round footballer than Elneny but have also noticed that we have dropped a lot of points since Arteta dropped the latter for the former. The Xhaka-Partey partnership has huge potential and they will form our base in midfield for years to come. However, I am not sure whether Thomas is fit enough right now to play that all important box-to-box-like role. At times we can see his real qualities but the pace and the intensity of the games seem to force him into mistakes, and he often leaves a lot of space behind him. Elneny is less adventurous than Partey but Mo is so tidy and organised; he gave real balance to the team. Mo is great back up for either Xhaka or Thomas but at the moment he may actually be required to start games for us until Partey is fully fit.
- One more positive is the development of Nicolas Pepe. He can still frustrate with a bad first touch or decision he makes, but Nicolas is starting to have fire in his belly and getting more direct when he is in front of goal. Pepe still needs to improve further but he really is getting more effective now, and Arteta must try and play him on the left (or centrally) as much as possible.
- The good news is that other than Man City none of our Top Four/Top Six competitors have been able to really run away from us as yet. A good run for us could still do wonders. Let’s hope for a bit more luck with the bounce of the ball and refereeing decisions, more sharpness up-front and the avoidance of unforced errors etc. We have a strong defence, a midfield with huge potential and a dynamic attack… and a team with fighting spirit and believe in their manager. Upwards and Onwards.