Five Things You May Have MISSED From Pre-Season

Though the prestigious, gargantuan Emirates Cup is still to be played, Arsenal have fulfilled 5 of their 6 pre-season fixtures that were publicly shown. With 5 wins, 5 conceded and 19 scored so far, Arsenal are in terrific form heading into the new season as it kicks off on Friday 5th August acting as the curtain raisers — under the lights at a tough away ground again… 

Thanks Sky.

So. Pre-season.

I have to say, I don’t agree with those who say that pre-season tells you nothing. To me it just tells you a different set of data points and it’s about adjusting ourselves to see what can be gleaned. Here’s 5 things you may have missed:

Marquinhos’ Quiet Promise

While he would have gone under the radar for many, Marquinhos, our new 19 year old from Sao Paulo, looks to be a very interesting player to me.

He looks explosive, direct and quick across the ground. For a team playing high and counter-pressing more, his work rate and physical profile means he has all the tools to defend from the front, which appears to be one of Arteta’s non-negotiables when recruiting an attacker.

I think he would have been lost in this team even 18 months ago without the ability to stay higher up and receive more — something Reiss Nelson has suffered from.

While he develops the ability to separate from his man, works on his combination patterns and becomes more confident, his body will help him. At 19, he already looks like a man, and there is so much to be said for that. You’d have no problem sticking him on with 20 minutes to go to harry and get his body in front of people, as he did with Marcos Alonso against Chelsea — so many players at that age just get lost. Technical security looks there too, though I haven’t seen him up against a truly elite pressing team like Liverpool yet.

Something the excellent Rohan Jivan (@RjArsenalBlog) pointed out to me is his body positioning. Actually something Nelson doesn’t do, Marquinhos seems to do naturally. He receives the ball in space, often with time, having positioned himself correctly and on the back foot when necessary. He is a space expander not contractor.

He’s comfortable opening his body out and his positioning makes it easier to execute the next action, as seen here:

One to watch.

Body Strength

Physical capacity will never, ever eclipse technical quality for importance, especially in this league, but it runs a close race — and you can’t have one without the other. Physical capacity can mean many things — explosiveness, ability to repeat sprints, but it also encompasses muscle and size.

Look at the difference in size between Nketiah in 2019…

Last season…

And now:

There’s definite growth, and it shows in his game as he’s increasingly playing with his back to goal in a facilitative role, no longer just a kind of “fox in the box” finisher. You need that strength to create the anchor in the ground for others to bounce off.

Benjamin White looks like he’s added a few kilograms of muscle…

Before:

After:

And Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka look bigger to me now as well. Even Charlie Patino, though we didn’t see him in pre-season, has been adding muscle to his frame.

Before:

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 26: Mikel Arteta the Manager of Arsenal with Charlie Patino during the 1st team training session at Arsenal Training Centre on August 26, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

 

After:

 

There’s been some serious gym work going on over the summer and stretching further back, and we should be encouraged that whatever regimes are being put in place by Sam Wilson and the strength and conditioning team at Arsenal seem to be working across the board.

With a young team, it’s only to be expected that a lot of them are filling out and growing into their bodies, but it’s also good to see that progress is being made to give them as many competitive advantages as possible.

Jesus Intelligence

If you missed how good Jesus looked in an Arsenal shirt this pre-season then I’ll quote one of my old Maths teachers Mrs Fisher’s favourite putdown: “You’re either blind or you’re stupid!”

But the more subtle elements of his game are just a delight to watch. I’d like to highlight two moments. 

As shown in my Assessed piece on Jesus, he can drift out wide to receive, creating new possibilities that just weren’t there all that often with Lacazette.

Here, Jesus finds himself out wide, in what most strikers would see as an isolated position, probably knocking it backwards to a defender. Not Jesus. As he’s vacated the middle, he knows there’s space there as he’s dragged the Chelsea players over, so he drives into it. Note the delay before he moves — he’s waiting until White moves past and Ødegaard shifts slightly to take those Chelsea players back just a touch, before he has space to take his action. Also note the touch he takes — outside of the boot. Any other touch takes him too wide or takes too long.

None of this is pre-meditated or thought out long in advance. It’s in-built intelligence, unconscious competence. So smart.

As also highlighted in my Assessed piece, Jesus uses his body incredibly well for someone of his height. Here, he sees the ball coming towards him and keeps moving back, slightly delaying moving towards the ball to challenge for it so he can arrive late, giving him the best opportunity to win the ball with a dynamic movement. He gives the defender just a small push in the back, not obvious enough to draw a foul, and ends up winning the duel against a huge defender. If he was in front of him, he wouldn’t get to do that.

The 90 seconds it took him to score, his delicious chip, him doing the sign of the cross while pressing having just scored, it’s all a joy to watch. But it’s all underpinned by fiercely intelligent movement and play.

Arteta’s system switch up

Variety & versatility are two words we’re hearing a lot this season, and I imagine we’ll hear a lot about it moving forward. Barring Turner, with Jesus, Zinchenko, Vieira and Marquinhos, every signing we’re making this window (and in previous windows to an extent) can play in at least 2, sometimes 3 positions. What this means is we can move around in game, both in our defensive shape and our attacking structure — and we have.

Arteta has moved through a number of systems in pre-season. A strike partnership, 3 at the back, his favoured 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1 (in my opinion to protect Nuno Tavares) and more.

I think we’ll see a lot of that moving forward, and it gives you a lot of options. If you’re comfortable with your principles — playing out from the back, combining in triangles in the midfield, switching in and out of zones in responses to movement, switching the point of the attack and more, you can move positions on the pitch too, and the play should have the same fluidity.

If you’re finding it difficult to get centrality, vacate it and move into it, or stack it with players. If you’re getting overloaded on one side, switch to a wing back system for 5 or 10 minutes to provide an extra man. If there’s very little space in the midfield, put 4 in the attacking line and go long for a while.

The 4-3-3 puts you in the best position to cover the most amount of space and create the most amount of quantitative and positional superiorities on the pitch in the Premier League at the moment, in my opinion, but having variance helps.

Arteta has spoken about the need for more versatility. Especially in the big games against the big teams, where quality difference is a factor, we need to be able to adapt to find different solutions to problems and we’re beginning to see that.

Maria Petri

This is the most important one — the sad passing of Maria Petri. You probably didn’t miss it, but just in case you did…

“Maria began following Arsenal in 1950, aged just 12, and remained a staunch supporter for the rest of her life. She was a regular presence at men’s first-team, reserve and youth team matches and when Arsenal Ladies were formed in 1987, she took them to her heart and became synonymous with the team based at Boreham Wood.” – Arsenal.com

Maria often said that “Arsenal was her family”. She is quoted as saying: “I shall be oh so upset when I die, I won’t be able to watch Arsenal anymore.”

Here’s a beautiful clip of her singing one of her famous songs with Ray Parlour, the day after Arsenal’s historic 14th FA Cup win in 2020.

Maria, to me, is what Arsenal is about.

Some fans are unable to hold two truths — trying to win, and getting as many competitive advantages as you can, however you can and enjoying the journey. If you’re only satisfied and enjoying the football when you win titles… I suggest you find another sport. You won’t find much joy in a low scoring, high stakes landscape with very few prizes of worth. And after all, football is just a sport, for entertainment and enjoyment.

But Maria sums up Arsenal’s classy values. Why I support them. Unconditional support, through good times and bad, and doing things the right way. It’s not to be blind to the mistakes and areas of possible improvement — it’s to embrace the club, and wish for progress always.

What makes this stand out to me, is this clip of Arteta.

Perhaps I’m viewing this through my biased Arsenal eyes, but I can’t imagine this happening at basically any other top European club other than a few in the world. Liverpool, perhaps Celtic and Rangers. Managers knowing about individual fans, caring about that connection as much as we care about it. I believe it personally, but who cares if he’s been briefed, or it’s all a ploy to make the atmosphere better in the stadium and around the club — that’s the point of support. It doesn’t happen too often at other clubs — and to me, that’s what makes Arsenal special.

Rest in peace Maria, and I offer my condolences to her family.

Alexander Moneypenny

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