If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say: “How come we’re the only club that doesn’t get a New Manager Bounce?” I’d have… well, a few pounds.
But everyone saying that is missing the point. The Arsenal has always been a club of innovation: first team to use numbers on the back of the players’ shirts (1927); first team to play a match broadcast live on radio (versus Sheffield United, 1927); first team to play in a match broadcast live on TV (versus Arsenal reserves, 1937); first team to play a match broadcast live in 3D (versus Man Utd, January 31st 2010); first team in the modern era to go a whole season unbeaten (2003-4)… I could go on.
And now we’ve done it again. Let the others have their New Manager Bounces, we have something new.
Think about it. What does a “bounce” mean. It means you suddenly rise up, usually by winning games. But keen students of gravity will know that a bounce doesn’t only go in one direction. At a certain point planetary mass enters the equation and the bounce goes into reverse, and this phenomenon is often experienced by clubs with new bosses: a short term improvement followed by a return to previous struggles.
Which is why I am not unhappy that we have taken a different path… indeed, as far as I can tell, a completely new one.
We have had one game with Mikel Arteta fully in charge (yesterday) and one immediately after he was announced as Head Coach and in which he appears to have had at least some input with the players (Everton away).
Taking these two games as a piece, there have been definite signs of improvement, even though both resulted in away draws for us.
So, we did not suddenly start winning (no New Manager Bounce) but nor did we lose and, along the way, we started playing better.
We are the proud inventors of the New Manager Glide: a smooth sense of progress with a gentle uphill trajectory. The good thing about a Glide is that, unlike a Bounce, it is not fated to go into reverse at any moment.
The Glide was in evidence in numerous ways in our Boxing Day trip to trifle with the Cherries: faster passing and an improvement in off-the-ball movement; key players (particularly Torreira and Xhaka) holding their positions much more than usual; an improved effort from Mesut Ozil; and an overall sense of commitment and effort from ALL players, not just the young ones.
Arteta’s first starting 11 was partly dictated by injuries (hence Saka at LB, AMN at RB and no real options outside of Sokratis and Luiz as starting CBs). Further forward he opted more for experience than youth, with Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Lacazette and Aubameyang all starting. Reiss Nelson was the only unforced youth option.
Whatever has happened in training in the short period Arteta has had with the squad, it seemed to pay off from the start. The small signs of improvement we were seeing during Freddie’s stewardship took a big step forward.
In the first half hour we could easily have had two or three goals if our strikers had been just a little bit more on their toes and if the ball had broken more kindly for us once or twice.
Ozil was demanding the ball and dictating play; Torreira’s relief at finally being told he could play as a holding midfielder was palpable and he had his best game for at least a year; Nelson also had his best game in an Arsenal shirt and was a threat throughout; if Saka had worn a football boot instead of Daniel Day Lewis’s prosthetic leg from My Left Foot he might have bagged a hatful of assists.
At the back, Luiz and Sokratis were mostly solid and Leno continued his good run of form with a display of German aerial dominance not seen since Dunkirk.
It was genuinely exciting to watch us attacking at pace and creating chances in the Bournemouth penalty area… but just to show that you don’t get rid of bad habits overnight, we inevitably conceded in what was almost the Cherries’ first attack.
Predictably it came from us trying to pass out from our ‘keeper while all our players were being heavily pressed by the opposition. It ended up going to Luiz at the corner flag who managed to get it down the line to Saka, under pressure. He had to play it to a closely marked team mate and we lost the ball. Bournemouth broke fast, no-one tracked the run of Dan Gosling into our six yard box and we were 1-0 down against the run of play.
I did not like seeing Saka doing the “Denilson Jog” back towards our box after giving possession away: he probably would not have caught Gosling but I’d damn well like him to make the effort, because if Gosling’s shot had not gone straight in, Saka’s presence might have been needed to prevent a second chance opportunity.
As far as playing out from the back is concerned, we surely need the players to use some in-game intelligence in these situations. If Leno has the ball and every opportunity to pass it out from the back is cut off, it’s far better to kick it long and lose possession deep in the opposition’s half rather than deep in our own.
After conceding we went into our shell for the remaining 15 minutes of the first half (a clear sign that our confidence levels, so damaged by the mismanagement of the Emery period, will take time to recover).
In the second half we stepped up a gear and got an equaliser through Aubameyang who neatly tucked away a deflected Nelson shot. We had other chances that didn’t quite fall for us (sometimes we were denied by brave defending from Bournemouth). We seemed to tire in the last 10 to 15 minutes and by that stage the draw looked inevitable.
I have mentioned the positives: some signs of green shoots of recovery under the new regime. There were also some negatives which Arteta will have seen and will need to deal with. Some of the lackadaisical concentration that has crept into our play was still there (players attempting stupidly dangerous passes and losing possession, players switching off at crucial moments, some hesitation in passing etc). But these can all be fixed.
This was an encouraging start to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal reign and something to hopefully build on for two very big games coming up fast.
Didn’t have to make too many saves but commanded his area well. No chance for the goal.
We never look fully secure with AMN at right back. This was not his best game but he did OK.
Jogging back for their goal; couldn’t get a cross anywhere near the danger area to save his life; out of position a few times when Bournemouth attacked… and yet: he was a constant threat down our left flank and if his many crosses had been delivered with accuracy he might have had a couple of assists. Far from a good game but I still like this kid’s potential.
Did OK. Bournemouth have some big lads and he coped fairly well. He’ll always have a couple of moments on the ball in every game where he gives me heart palpitations.
Pretty good in defence including some brave blocks. He made one trademark David Luiz pass to set up a good chance after carrying the ball out from the back. More of that please David.
Torreira 7.5 MoTM
Who knew? When you give a natural defensive midfielder the job of being, um, a defensive midfielder, he plays well and improves the whole team. Positional discipline was strong, he was quick to the tackle and broke up numerous Bournemouth moves.
Whether or not he’s on his way to Berlin, Granit seemed to enjoy not having to be an out-and-out holding midfielder. Typically tidy on the ball but might have influenced the game a bit more going forward.
Tailed off in the second half, but in the first half we saw how a committed Ozil at the heart of the team can really make a difference. I could see Arteta starting to build his whole approach around capitalising on Ozil’s abilities (using Ozil in a similar way to that in which Man City have used David Silva).
I have questioned whether Nelson needs a loan spell, but on this evidence he doesn’t. He had some excellent moments and if he can improve his final ball and decision making he’ll create a lot of goals.
With Ozil pulling the strings and a generally faster style of play, Auba was much more involved than he has been when playing as the lone striker. He had several good attempts which were blocked before grabbing the goal that earned us a point.
His touch and finishing seemed a little off, but I’m still giving him 7 for his work rate and for being in those dangerous areas at the right time. On another day he might have bagged a couple.
Willock (for Ozil) 6
Mustafi (for the injured Sokratis) 6
Pepe (for Nelson) 6.5