As the players train for “one hour and a half, [maybe] one hour 40, whatever”, Unai Emery’s fandom of the Manchester music scene of the 1970s and 1980s comes to fore. “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” drills through the air with the message chiselling into the players’ minds.
And everybody is happy nowadays – except for Bob, resident curmudgeon of these parts – finding there is no illusion in life, it’s all hard work under Emery. Nacho Monreal confirmed that when he spoke about his own situation and life with his compatriot in charge:
“All the time we must give our best performance. If we have to run, we have to do it, don’t save any energy.
“After that, he loves that we enjoy and have a good atmosphere in the group. While we are training, it is ‘come on guys, do everything’ and after you will have time to relax and enjoy with your team-mates. It is good for the team.”
The pitchside gym casts a shadow over proceedings, haunting every stumble in a sprint and misplaced pass like a footballing naughty step.
Life isn’t all different under the new regime. Like “long possessions”, for example; I’m not too sure that we “protect the ball” any better than we did previously. Monreal reiterated Hector Bellerin’s point at the weekend that Emery is more of a tactician.
“Probably with Unai Emery, we work more tactically. He is a Spanish coach and in Spain, we work a lot on tactics, set-pieces – I think we are improving in this aspect.”
It was a low bar, to be fair. And in the attacking third, we are improving our set-pieces. Defensively, we’re not giving the impression of being stronger. Playing out from the back is, at the moment, putting us under pressure; self-inflicted pressure at that.
Once More Into The Void
That said, Petr Cech saw he’s not the only goalkeeper who finds having the ball at his feet and not putting his foot through it difficult. Jack Butland looked even more distressed by the situation than Cech, which I didn’t think was possible.
Monreal spoke of the rationale behind the tactic.
“This is our idea for this year – have more possession, don’t lose stupid balls in the middle of the pitch and be more compact than how we were before.”
We’re definitely not losing “stupid balls in the middle of the pitch” because 90% of the time, no-one’s in the middle of the pitch: it’s a footballing wasteland. Lucas Torreira may fill that gap and is in training, despite complaining of some tightness in his calf at the weekend. Unai Emery circulated training ground photos on social media so all with the Uruguayan seems good.
Monreal is in talks with the club over a new deal – they are “in touch” – and despite interest from Real Sociedad and reportedly this morning, Barcelona, he is happy to stay. He mentioned playing until he is 40 but best to get through the next few seasons at Arsenal; it’s not been a good time for older players with injuries.
Returning to last night’s football, Granit Xhaka given time and space dictated the game at Leicester in the first half. England backed off and he stepped in to fill the void. The usual “wish he played for Arsenal like that” messages filled social media; I wish he was given the time and space to be able to play like that with Arsenal. The Premier League is less generous in that sense. Switzerland is the favourite shirt, favourite pair of trainers, that Xhaka slips into while he’s breaking in the new boots at club level.
England’s goal was simple in the end but there was nothing glorious about Stephan Lichtsteiner’s marking at the far post. Was it a lapse, a good phase of play by England, or a sign of a lack of playing time at club level? The cup competitions arrival will change that. It’s hard to envisage Unai Emery not rotating his side heavily for those games. It’s a good way to keep players sharp and ready to step into the breach later in the season.
That’s it for today. Arsenal back to the forefront, international football tucked away out of sight for a month or so and Newcastle United firmly in our sights.