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Great Britain

Everton vs Arsenal: The five lessons Mikel Arteta will have learned from watching goalless draw

Mikel Arteta could not have been clearer in explaining to his players what he wanted to see from them against Everton.

“I want you to know that I will be watching your attitude, your efforts and body language,” he told them ahead of the match, as per ESPN.

“I will see what you do when you lose the ball, what your attitude is and what you do when you have the ball.”

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The match was clearly an audition for the Arsenal players selected by Freddie Ljungberg and yet it was a gruelling, unglamorous game, with the two sides scrapping out a goalless draw.

So, what will Arteta have learned from watching the match at Goodison?

Trust in youth

Interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg wanted to prove a point with his final team selection. And so the Swede made a bold five changes from the side which lost 3-0 to Manchester City, turning to young players he already knows so well from the Academy.

There was meanwhile no place for the injured Mesut Ozil. “Mesut wouldn’t have been in the squad anyway given what happened in the last game,” Ljungberg pointedly added live on BT Sport.

It was a gamble. And it largely paid off. True, Arsenal were desperately poor in a desperately poor match, but none of their young talents did their first-team chances under Arteta any harm.

Their performances will have been incredibly instructive for Arteta – particularly if he makes good on his promise to cast aside those players who no longer wish to play for Arsenal. In so many senses the result today was irrelevant. It would not be a surprise for Arsenal if things were to get marginally worse before they start getting better.

Be patient

Unai Emery’s press conferences were often confusing, convoluted affairs. In contrast, Arteta could not have been plainer when he met with the press ahead of the Everton match.

“If you don’t have the right culture, in the difficult moments, the tree is going to shake, so my job is to convince everybody that this is how we are going to live,” he said. “If you are going to be part of this organisation it has to be in these terms and in this way.”

In short: raw talent is not as important as attitude and application. And against Everton, no Arsenal player worked harder than Gabriel Martinelli.

One moment at the very beginning of the match demonstrated the 18-year-old’s tremendous work rate. Stationed at the near post to defend an early Everton corner, Martinelli was first to the ball, hoofing it to safety before storming 50 yards down the wing to chase it, eventually winning a throw-in.

The Brazilian could yet emerge as the archetypal Arteta player. While he clearly still has lots to learn at the top level – and while his decision-making requires some work on the training field – his tenacity and sheer enthusiasm are a shot in the arm for this bloated Arsenal team.

Motivate those whose heads have dropped

In stark contrast to Martinelli, Arsenal’s senior players look bereft of confidence.

This was a desperately poor match that was crying out for an influential player to grasp it by the scruff of the neck. But instead both teams struggled to control play, with the ball listlessly drifting from one end of the pitch to the other.

Granit Xhaka was poor. Again. Lucas Torreira was clearly told to buck his ideas up at half-time by Ljungberg. And Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was frustratingly quiet. He is Arsenal’s captain and yet this was far from a captain’s performance.

Arteta must find a way to reenergise these players. The club cannot afford to lose them all. This is a rebuilding project and there is a clear appetite to see the club’s young players promoted – but they will need guidance and encouragement from Arsenal’s senior professionals. This was yet another match that highlighted the gloom which has descended over this Arsenal team and it is a gloom that Arteta must lift.

Arteta watched on from the stands (PA)

Introduce some dynamism

Until Martinelli’s horribly skewed shot shortly before half-time, Arsenal had not registered a single attempt on goal in this game. They saw plenty of the ball against a similarly slipshod Everton, only for their attacks to repeatedly and frustratingly break down whenever they made it into the final third.

This Arsenal side is crying out for some dynamism. Bukayo Saka got forward well on the overlap and Martinelli was a constant pest out wide, but how Arsenal could have used an in-form Nicolas Pépé. Or even just the introduction of Alexandre Lacazette, to free up Aubameyang, who was tasked with leading the line on his own. Instead, Ljungberg replaced the latter with the former.

Everybody already knows Arteta’s tactical preferences by now. To play expressive football. To dominate possession. To press high up the pitch. That is all well and good, but there has to be a point to possession and at present Arsenal are lacking a cutting edge, despite having so many high-profile attacking players.

Get the fans on side

Arteta was almost certainly far too engrossed with events on the pitch to worry about what the travelling supporters were singing. But the fact that the chant “Arsenal Fan TV – get out of our club” was heard so loudly – and so often – exhibited just how deep the divisions are at this football club.

The boardroom is divided. The dressing room is divided. And the fans are divided. Arteta’s job therefore isn’t only to get this team playing well, but to talk a political tightrope, too.

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