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Trusting Arteta’s Process. Good Luck With That!

I remember Tiger Woods when interviewed after a round where he two-putted every Green, saying he was really pleased with the way he’d putted. This seemed strange, especially as he’d gone round in par without recording a single birdie: when asked about this he replied that his putting stroke felt really fluid and it was only a matter of time before the putts dropped, and pars became birdies. In much the same way, you will hear cricketers these days talking about the importance of bowlers getting it into the right areas, and this football season has seen more and more reference to the expected goals statistic. Get the process right, success will follow.

These days the concept of ‘life coaching’ is increasingly prevalent, emphasising as it does the importance of process-driven growth, rather than a goal-oriented approach. The idea being that rather than setting your sights on short-term peaks of success, a longer lasting value-driven approach will lead to greater happiness: this also finds its way into sports coaching (or was it the other way round?) and most young athletes these days are exhorted to find, and then trust, the process that is best suited to them. Going back to golf for a moment, the thinking is best described like this: if the player thinks ‘if I hole this putt I will win the tournament’, the putt is literally make or break, tension creeps in and disaster beckons. Current coaching philosophy says ‘forget about the outcome, trust the process that has seen you hole thousands of such putts, go into auto-pilot, and the likeliest result will be the successful one’. I find as I write this not golf springing to mind, but rather Steve Davis’s missed Black in that epic encounter back in the 70s. He would have done well to put outcome out of his mind at that moment.

But what of The Arsenal amongst all this? As the signs began to emerge this season that Mikel Arteta was not necessarily the answer to The Arsenal’s on-field issues, fans were either quick to call for his head or offer support by suggesting he needed time to get the players he wanted, and then more time to get them playing his preferred style. ‘Trust the Process’ became the cry, the implication being that at long last the club was going about its business in the right way and that once the non-negotiables were no longer being negotiated, success would surely follow. After all, he had been Arsene’s on-field general and knew the Arsenal way, while many Manchester City watchers were also quick to suggest that he was the real brains behind Guardiola’s success. Well maybe, but it’s worth remembering that not many monkeys make it to organ grinder.

And trusting the process surely became the mantra for the players too. Keep believing, keep doing the right thing; keep creating triangles, keep seeking overloads; keep executing the training ground plan, keep finding the final pass and as night follows day expected goals will become actual ones. What could possibly go wrong? Theoretically very little, but there’s many a slip between theory and practice, as this season has so eloquently demonstrated. While it is right and proper to go into a game with a plan, most managers would have a couple of other plans up their sleeve should the preferred option prove unsuccessful – and one of the main frustrations for Arsenal fans of late has been laboured sideways and back passing repeated ad infinitum, with seemingly little real intent to quicken the pace and go for the jugular. Even some of the great Wenger sides would occasionally lump it long, and they certainly knew when an injection of intent was needed.

But watching the so-called season-defining game last week against Villareal I realised two things. The first was that if a single game is season-defining then you have the exact opposite of trusting the process: the single match has become too important, the players too fixated on the outcome to play with any natural fluidity. And the other thing (which is no doubt why we ended up in such a situation) is that the players do not seem technically good enough to play the way the manager expects them to. Too many passes are hit fractionally behind players, causing a breakdown of momentum, too many passes needlessly gift up the ball, too many passes when received are mis-controlled. Playing out from the back becomes an open invitation for the other side, attacks (when they finally come) are telegraphed so long in advance that any defence worth its salt can snuff out danger whilst also having time for a cup of tea and a read of the paper. Midfield control is out of the question, especially when the only midfielder worth his salt is played out of position. And, most damning of all, the moments of individual and unchoreographed brilliance needed to take charge of a game have long since been either coached out of the players, hampered by chronic uncertainty or are simply not available to players who seem at best just a little bit better than average in Premier League terms.

Trusting the process needs a process worth trusting in, but it also needs players with enough ability to make it work. If we are to stay with the players we currently have then I think a different playing style is needed, a process that is more robust defensively and less complicated in attack. The sort of approach adopted by the Leicester title-winning side maybe, which once in a blue moon may see outrageous success but is more likely to consistently see a placing between 4th and 8th. It would need to see a different manager and would likely be the cheapest and swiftest way to see progress from the shambles of 20/21. If the club decides to stick with Mikel Arteta, and if he continues with his process, then he is going to need much better players to make it work. It will take time, a lot more money, and far greater ambition than I suspect the club is willing to invest in. It is also worth wondering if Arteta has the confidence to coach players more talented and successful than himself: past experience does not necessarily seem to say so.

My guess is that the club will end up falling between the two stools: Arteta will stay, there will be a few arrivals and even more departures, a lot of money (but not enough) will be spent and this money will be largely wasted because the new players will not be quite good enough and the manager will not be pragmatic enough to ditch his Pep inspired tactical dreams and settle for something that might actually work. I can’t see next season being much different to this one, I’m afraid. It’s all rather sad, to be honest, but with mainly Saturday afternoon non-televised games, and no European matches to look forward to, I will at least save on Sky and BT subscriptions, which is certainly a process that will go down well with the rest of the family.

Tim Head @foreverheady

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58 comments on “Trusting Arteta’s Process. Good Luck With That!

  1. A good result not forgetting players out or barely fit.

    A performance/game that finds me thinking about the article above.

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  2. “We were running too much – to play football you have to run much less,” said Guardiola in the midst of a 21-game winning run in all competitions that followed those dropped points against West Brom.

    “Without the ball, you have to run, but with the ball, you have to stay more in position and let the ball run and not you,” he added.

    I think Arteta has taken the second half of that statement and ‘run’ with it. Hehe.

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  3. 1-0 to The Arsenal with a dour performance. Shades of some people’s Arsenal back, I guess. Judging by the highlights on the Arsenal site there weren’t many; two poor defensive mistakes, one that they squandered, one that we capitalised on. Incidentally, even if a GK handling a back pass is normally an indirect freekick does not the denial of a clear goal-scoring chance merit a harsher penalty?
    Still, a win’s a win and from what I hear the players gave a determined and wholehearted performance, which I guess they would not have done if things inside the group were as unbalanced as some would suggest.
    In other words, what do I know!

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  4. The good news is Smith Rowe. With injury troubles of last few years, it is very good news he has played as much as he has since joining team, and looks to be getting stronger.

    To bring through two of quality of him and Saka is excellent, and boy do we need them.

    What’s more, think we really need another couple around their level to come through, and there’s some hope there.

    A huge ask, but there are a few real contenders. Azeez heads list, and then there’s Balogun, Hutchinson. Patino, Flores, Taylor-Hart (if stays).

    The beauty is, if a couple of those make it also, we’re well on the way to an Arsenal style of technical, skilful football.

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  5. When even Troy Deeny and Darren Bent we’re laughing at the state of the Arsenal dressing room just before several players were pushed out of the club at Xmas it is safe to say no matter how loudly Arteta howls that that arteta did not lost after the cup final and that primary reason is why the club lost so many points this season. That and the shit style of football.

    Like Mourinho he will and is falling out with players after forcing them to play through injuries whilst calling them bad players. There’s a reason why Mourinho had a time stamp with every squad he ever managed: after three seasons they’d usually had enough of him. So let’s predict it now: next season, or at best another two. No way is Arteta surviving with any squad at any club for longer then that.

    Not that he cares when he can sign Willian to Kia’s
    Content but it’ll be the same for Baby Jose. Unless he changes.

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  6. Sorry for the typos

    ‘that arteta did lose the spirit and bounce in the camp after the cup final for many reasons and that is the primary reason…”

    There’s no excuse for this squad to be so low in the table. Other then the coach is not as good as the players!

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  7. < that’s not to say Mourinho is horrible or evil. It’s simply to understand that he fell out with many athletes and eventually all squads he managed as he treated many of the players like mules.
    And for many that is fair enough as that is what they think the atheletes are.

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