The three main priorities on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to-do list

first_img Arteta’s philosophy is almost inseparable from Guardiola, yet it took two summers and £200m on centre-backs to make his defence title-ready. Stylistically he looks to dominate, press high and push up: the further the opposition are away from your goal, the harder it is to score. But it is instances when Arsenal have played a high line, and when players must take individual ownership of defending space and winning their one-on-one duels, that they have looked most ragged. Ewan RobertsWednesday 18 Dec 2019 7:00 amShare this article via facebookShare this article via twitterShare this article via messengerShare this with Share this article via emailShare this article via flipboardCopy link4.1kShares The novice Spanish manager faces a daunting task at the Emirates (Picture: Getty)With Freddie Ljungberg having failed to steady the increasingly turbulent Arsenal ship, the Gunners’ hierarchy have turned to another familiar face to try and resurrect their season. Former skipper Mikel Arteta – who was overlooked for the role when Arsene Wenger departed – is set to return to his old stomping ground after serving a three-and-a-half year apprenticeship at Manchester City. Now he must step out from Pep Guardiola’s enormous shadow.The task awaiting Arteta is no less gargantuan, with the Gunners having won just once in their last 14 matches in all competitions – and even that was only secured thanks to nine frantic minutes against West Ham that belied the lethargic and lacklustre play that had preceded it. On and off the pitch, Arteta has a plethora of issues to address but, in the middle of the packed Christmas fixture list, very little time to deal with them.AdvertisementAdvertisementWith just a few days until the Gunners take on Everton – another of Arteta’s old teams, just to add to the narrative – the Spaniard is facing a real baptism of fire at his new club…His coaching team What Arteta must do, immediately, is settle on an XI. Right now the players feel muddled and confused, a group of individuals rather than a team. Down the road at Tottenham, Mourinho named the side’s first unchanged team since March 2017 when they visited Molineux and secured a massive victory. Familiarity, structure, clarity, it is all hugely important. And it’s all been missing at the Emirates.The fans need it too, a sign that somebody knows what they’re doing; somebody has a plan. A former club captain, a player who understands the DNA created under Wenger as well what is required to win back-to-back Premier League titles. Get the fans up off their seats, thrill them with ferocious defending as well as incisive attacking, and get the Emirates rocking again. Over to you, Mikel.Will Mikel Arteta be a success at Arsenal?No0%Yes0%Share your resultsShare your resultsTweet your resultsMORE: Mikel Arteta gets front row seat to the Arsenal horror show awaiting himAdvertisementMORE: Pep Guardiola opens the door to Mikel Arteta taking Arsenal job after Manchester City victoryMore: FootballRio Ferdinand urges Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to drop Manchester United starChelsea defender Fikayo Tomori reveals why he made U-turn over transfer deadline day moveMikel Arteta rates Thomas Partey’s chances of making his Arsenal debut vs Man City Arsenal’s current setup is light on coaches and short on experience (Picture: Getty)‘If you look at the person who was here before, he had a lot of staff and maybe I don’t have so many. So if you keep on going like that for months and months, it’s not so easy,’ explained the Swede. ‘I have Per but at the same time he is academy manager but he is helping me with coaching.’Arteta will not be taking any of City’s staff with him – not with the champions having been so angered by the way Arsenal moved for their assistant – while so many of the experienced heads left behind by Wenger, such as Steve Bould and Jens Lehmann, have been culled. Getting his backroom team just right, finding the ideal blend of expertise and stylistic fit, will be one of his key first decisions. Most managers experience an element of trial and error when cultivating the necessary trust and harmony from an inner circle, but Arteta will have to hope he and his staff click from the off.The defence Arsenal fans have voiced their displeasure with both the team and the board (Picture: Getty)Even after almost a year-and-a-half in the job, Unai Emery had little concept on what his best XI actually looked like and interim boss Ljungberg has fared little better in his five games in charge. Striking the right balance in the team eluded both men, even after the latter had restored the exiled Mesut Ozil and reinstated Lucas Torreira to his natural position as a holding midfielder.Arsenal’s youngsters, meanwhile, have shown the most promise – rare bright sparks in otherwise dreary matches – and Gabriel Martinelli’s performances against West Ham and Manchester City validated Ljungberg’s decision to start him. Equally, it feels hard to justify leaving £48m man Alexandre Lacazette on the bench in both games, even if the Swede feels the side are more solid with only one of their star strikers on the pitch. Arsenal have been giving up more goals and shots than in Wenger’s final season (Picture: AP)In most mid-season rescue jobs, the manager parachuted in has a very specific profile, and very specific formula, for arresting the slide: think Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce spending hours on the training pitch repeatedly drilling the defence, working on tightening the space between the back-line and midfield. But Arsenal’s position is rather more curious than what we’ve seen before.AdvertisementAdvertisementDespite the state of chaos that envelops the club, and a run of form that has had some fans even fearing relegation, they are actually only seven points adrift of the top four. This season is no write-off; they have an abundance of firepower up top, but just lack a solid, dependable platform. Two clean sheets in 17 Premier League matches is the joint-worst in the division, though even that miserable record owes overwhelmingly to the reflexes of one of the league’s best goalkeepers. Strange, then, that Arsenal’s hierarchy have plumped for a project manager noted for his attacking coaching.Most shots conceded per Premier League match 2019/201. Aston Villa18.402. Norwich16.603. Arsenal16.404. Bournemouth15.40 Share Commentcenter_img Ljungberg on Aubameyang and Lacazette ‘We looked vulnerable defensively. But of course, they are both great players, that’s why I wanted them both on the pitch, but we became very vulnerable defensively. So we took the route against West Ham where we changed it and played one of them and then had more defensive organisation.’ There’s a stark contrast between City’s defence with and without £57m Aymeric Laporte (Getty)Any scenario that has David Luiz high up the pitch or exposes Sokratis to a foot race is something that should be avoided and this Arsenal back-line – as well as the passive midfielders meant to shield them – feels entirely unsuited to playing the way City do and the way Arteta wants to.City themselves have often had a vulnerable, makeshift backline and protect it by making tactical fouls early in transition and high up the pitch. Ljungberg noted it after Sunday’s game, admitting Arsenal needed to be more ‘cynical’ and street-wise like their opponents. For Arteta, striking the right balance between his own attacking principles and the limitations of Arsenal’s defence will be paramount, as well as introducing some more ugly elements to the beautiful football he advocates.AdvertisementUnite the team… and the fans The three main priorities on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to-do list Advertisement Advertisement Arteta was praised for the one-to-one work he did to help Raheem Sterling (Picture: GettyIt is very rare for a new manager to be given a job as difficult and tumultuous as the one that awaits Arteta at Arsenal. Usually a new project begins in the summer, with months to adapt to the new job, build a coaching staff and install a philosophy during the off-season. In the other half of north London, Jose Mourinho spent his time out of the game adapting and learning, poaching two coaches from Lille to join an already well established backroom team.ADVERTISEMENTBut time – the one thing Arteta will need most – is precisely what he is lacking. The most pressing concern he will have, and which will be preoccupying him right now, is the coaching staff he assembles. Freddie Ljungberg has been forced to work with a skeleton staff since Unai Emery’s departure, leaning on Per Mertesacker and even talking through ideas with technical director Edu.last_img read more

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Poe’s Perspective: Nothing can stop Duke basketball this season

first_imgIt’s not even going to be close. Trust me. I know we’re only one game into the season, but anyone who watched Tuesday night’s game between Duke and Kentucky knows that this is the God-given truth. Heck, anyone who didn’t watch only needs to look at the scoreline — a disgustingly dominant 118-84 finish powered by a fleet of freshmen — to know that this Blue Devils team is like 2012 Kentucky incarnate but, like, 100 times scarier.Look, this is coming from the strongest, dumbest, most belligerently obstinate Kansas Jayhawks homer on the West Coast. My guys don’t even stand a chance. Freshman power forward Zion Williamson is going to eat junior center Udoka Azubuike for a snack. Freshman forward R.J. Barrett is going to make redshirt sophomore guard K.J. Lawson look like a middle schooler trying to guard a high school senior. Kansas coach Bill Self might have put together one of the most talented and well-rounded squads that Lawrence, Kansas has seen in a hot minute, but it’s still not going to do anything against the Blue Devils. That’s because trying to stop Duke with a well-rounded team of top-tier talent is like trying to fight a forest fire with a garden hose. It’s well-intentioned, sure, but it’s never going to work. That’s because this team is the definition of well-rounded, but in a whole new sense. Typically, a team that is considered well-measured and balanced is seen as such because it has an appropriate level of talent at every position. Great college teams need a big man to power down low, a point guard who can handle and dish, a defensive specialist, a random pasty white guy who can drill threes from the corner at opportune moments. Coaches obviously attempt to recruit a wide variety of talent so that they can put a team on the court that has an equal (and hopefully equally high) level of talent at every position. That’s elementary.But Duke flips that on its head. Instead, this team offers an astonishing breadth of players who offer all of those skills — the shooter, the floor-spreading ball-stealer, the scrappy defense man, the white dude in the corner — wrapped up into individual packages. And they’re impossible to guard.I mean, have you seen Zion? Yes, I am calling this 18-year-old man child by his first name because he is already that big of a name already, despite being three whole years younger than me. (No, I’m not bitter.) This freaky kid is like some kind of Dr. Frankenstein conglomeration of every necessary skill to be a good basketball player. Normally, you only get a few skills, like one of those Facebook “Pick two of these three things” memes. No one gets to be 6-foot-7, weigh in at 285 pounds and sprint the court as fast as the smallest dude on the court. No one gets to have the strength to hammer dunk over a seven-foot post and still have the deftness to maneuver through four men like a guard.But that’s the reality for Zion, who is easily the greatest show on hardwood this season and will probably stay that way throughout his illustrious future in the NBA. I would be mad or jealous of this kid’s talent if he wasn’t so fun to watch, but here I am, pencilling the Duke basketball schedule into my calendar alongside my Jayhawks’ lineup, because I’ll be damned if I miss out on this star’s rise.Of course, the frustrating thing about this team is that it’s not just the Zion show. Sure, he scored 28 points in his freshman debut, but he was outpaced by Barrett, who posted 33 points, and Cam Reddish rolled out 22 points as well. That’s right. Duke had three freshman forwards drop over 20 points in a game against the No. 2 team in the nation. Supplemented by solid performances from their guards — only three players on the roster, including a walk-on, didn’t post points in the blowout — the towering trio proved what happens when you bring three agile 6-foot-7 monsters onto the court at the same time.That’s what makes this Duke team just so lethal, and it all happened on purpose. Duke boasts the most lethal freshman class in the nation, and perhaps in NCAA history. It’s the first time the top three recruits of any class went to one school, and unlike other freshman classes, this super team chose itself. When Duke cruises to an undefeated national championship win, we’ll all have Duke basketball alum Tyus Jones to thank. The former Duke star turned his little brother Tre onto the team, and as Tre grew up in the game, he began to amass a dazzling group of friends through playing travel ball. Soon, a group chat was formed between a group of kids who played with and against each other in All-American circuits and youth Olympic teams.Sure, they knew that eventually all five of them would end up on Power 5 NCAA teams and in the NBA. Why not do it together? The group committed as one, and this decision to buy into the same program and vision might be the scariest part of this young Duke squad. Sure, we’ve never seen a team with this much talent; but more importantly, we’ve never seen a team of young guys with this much talent who have chosen to pursue the title together. This cohesiveness and unity at such an early point is the final straw that is guaranteed to break opponents’ backs this year.The Blue Devils have a plan, and there’s really not much stopping them. College basketball fans will just have to strap in and count their blessings this season; because as far as I’m concerned, the national championship is already well on its way to Durham.Julia Poe is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Thursdays.last_img read more

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