We are potentially going to be accused of being over critical with this blog. We are top of the league. Flying. Mikel Arteta is paying back the support the likes of ourselves gave him during those dark days of 2020.
But just because you are top of the league, does not mean you can not improve. Likewise, you can be the best manager in the world, the best footballer, best cricketer, best boxer, and so on and there is always room for improvement.
Those that think they have “made it” in any walk of life and stop looking for ways to improve will quickly find their career stall and others overtake them. You can quickly go from Sales Goldenboy to Mr Average by resting on your laurels.
We failed to breakdown Newcastle over 90 minutes, and whilst these results will always happen no matter how good you are (Man City got 99 points last season, but failed to score against Crystal Palace and Southampton. Failed to beat either over the 4 matches too), you can always learn more from poor results than victorious.
The result pointed out a few flaws that Arteta will know he needs to work on.
Trusting the bench
Mikel Arteta works hard with his starting XI, and has the belief that they will breakdown any opponent playing his way. You need to have that confidence (or arrogance) as a top manager.
But you also need to recognise when the team you put out does not have the key to unlock an opponent and make the relevant changes.
Too often during his reign, Arteta fails to make the changes in attacking positions when we are struggling to break down an opponent.
Now I know against Newcastle we were without Emile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Jesus, and our attacking options off the bench were limited, but this did not mean we could not have changed it up.
Fabio Vieira for Granit Xhaka would have been the obvious attacking option.
We would have sacrificed a little of Xhaka’s steel and determination in defence for Vieira’s creativity.
The Portuguese magician would have given us another creative outlet. He is also a fantastic striker of the ball. Vieira would have been able to pick up pockets of space to create or shoot that Xhaka would not have found.
This is not a slant on Xhaka. He has been fantastic this season. But Vieira is just more naturally attacking.
Now I get that Arteta keeping Xhaka on gave us that extra bit of defensivness – especially at corner which were Newcastle’s only real threat. But I have always been of the view that a draw is not much better than a defeat.
Better to lose going for a win, than draw due to trying not to lose.
We also had Marquinhos on the bench.
It would have been a big call to take off either Martinelli or Saka, but that is what a manger will have to do.
Arsene Wenger’s most substituted player was Dennis Bergkamp.
The Iceman was always the striker sacrficed when we were winning; and also the man taking off when we wanted to change up the forward line. Wenger would also take off Robert Pires and / or Freddie Ljungberg if it was not quite working out for them.
Could Marquinhos have added some fresh energy in the closing 10-minutes? Provided a different attacking option? Taken advantage of a tiring Newcastle defence?
These sort of games are so often won by a substitute, fresh off the bench, a 10-minute cameo against a side that has been backs to the wall for 80-minutes.
Arteta has regularly played with almost the same starting XI this season. He very rarely rotates. And it was the same last season.
In 2021/22, he continually played Alex Lacazette, despite the Frenchman clearly not being up to speed.
It was only a injury that saw Eddie Nketiah come in for him. Eddie would score 5 goals in the last 7 games of the season.
I think Arteta becomes a little obsessed with his first XI”. He works so hard with them, so close with them, that he almost does not trust those other players who are part of the first team squad. That leads him to subconsciously think that they can not do a job.
If we are to become regular title challengers, Arteta needs to not be afraid of taking off Saka, Martinelli, Jesus or anyone else.
Arteta made a single sub against Newcastle – Ben White going off for Takehiro Tomiyasu.
There is no point spending £40million on Fabio Vieira to add extra creativity, to then not use him.
As the Newcastle game went on, Arsenal continued to use the same key to try and open the lock. Arteta did not change the game plan up.
This goes hand in hand with the substitutions. It is really hard to change what the team on the pitch are doing if you are not using what is on your bench.
Oleksandr Zinchenko playing as an inverted full back has been a success this season.
He drops inside alongside Thomas Partey, and then is also given the freedom to push on. But playing like this, he rarely gets chalk on his boots and makes a run outside his winger.
At times against Newcastle, we were too congested on the left-hand side.
Martinelli would cut inside on his right, Xhaka would be in a more advanced position, joined by Zinchenko. There was no one making a run round the outside.
Could Arteta have bought on Kieran Tierney and played him as an orthodox wing back? The Scotsman is fantastic at hitting the byline and cutting the ball back.
Bringing Tierney on would have represented a small tactical change.
Xhaka would have gone a little deeper, providing Tierney the cover when he bombs forward. Martinelli would have then tucked a little more inside which would create the space for KT to run around the outside.
Tierney, having hit the touchline, would then have Martinelli, Nketiah, Odegaard and Saka in the box as options to pick out.
I felt whilst watching the game that this was an obvious change to make which would have slightly changed up our tactics.
“Plan B” should never just be about “stick a big man on and pump balls in to the box”. It should just be a subtle change. One that does not do too much to change the shape of the team, but does change the point of attack.
So much went through Saka on the right and Martinelli on the left. Putting Tierney on could have made the difference.
Against Newcastle, Arteta had two obvious options to try and change up our attack.
Maintain the formation and swap Xhaka for Vieira.
Change the tactics and swap Zinchenko for Tierney.
He did neither and we drew 0-0.
I am not being overly critical. We are top of the league. But as mentioned at the top of the blog, you continue improving by moving forward. And in game tactical changes and using his substitutes is certainly something Arteta can work on.
Arteta is still just 40. He has managed just 155 games. He has the drive and determination to improve. But he will make mistakes.
Having Arteta as manager is a bit like having an 18-year-old Bukayo Saka. You know how good he is, but have to accept he is still young and learning. And that as long as he keeps learning, he will become a superstar.
Top of the league and here I am lecturing the table topping manager on how to use his substitutes and change tactics. The arrogance of me!
Have a good Sunday.