Gunner Thoughts

Slow Down Speed Racer: Arsenal Must Embrace Slow Precision

Through faults of their own and erratic game scripts, Arsenal have been swept away in the motion of emotions. They have to find a way to slow things back down.

Before Arsenal’s latest draw in their trio of ties, Arteta told the world, “We have to become really boring to everybody and be very repetitive, and just focus on what we have to do this morning, and that’s it.”

Twenty-four hours later, Aaron Ramsdale under hit a pass to Zinchenko in the second minute of their match, Arsenal found themselves down 1-0, and the weight of the whole season descended upon everyone in the Emirates stadium.

Thirteen minutes later, Arsenal give away the ball in a bad position, the defensive structure is caught with their pants down, in complete disarray, and are suckered for a second.

Arsenal pulled themselves together in the closing fifteen minutes and hauled their season back from the death — a point does still keep Arsenal in a better spot considering Wednesday’s matchup — but in between, they struggled to compose themselves. They pushed the tempo, they drove through their wings, but all too often it felt rather Helter Skelter.

“It was impossible today after one minute with what we’ve done, but you want to take the game to a lot of periods, especially after 25 minutes and after what happened in the second half in the last 30, but you have to go through the other moments.

“We have to navigate through that and do better than what we have done.”

That idea of navigating through these moments, or in this case not navigating through them, has been an unfortunate theme of recent weeks.

When Liverpool pulled back a goal, and then a second, much of Arsenal’s shape, structure, and play turned into an end-to-end attempt to push the match into a script that’s foreign to this team’s success.

Versus West Ham, the match took a similar spin when the Hammers leveled the scoring. Between substitutes coming on to add attacking power and a mindset that firmly believed they should scoring goals and beating a struggling West Ham side, Arsenal adopted the look of a team that lacked a midfield. Everything bypassed the central areas as fast as possible, as if it were a condensed seven-a-side field of final thirds or a 4-0-6 formation.

It’s not to say that Arsenal are incapable of pushing the tempo and racing alongside the best teams, but, in 2022-2023, it’s not the recipe they have used to get to this point.

They are a team that controls the ball, not just in outright possession percentage, but in terms of tempo, space, their stretching and manipulation of opposition defensive structures, and how they dictate the pace of the game to determine when it races and when it slows down.

In the heat of this last month, Arsenal have witnessed their match plans go out the window at different stages of matches and the fashion in which they have lost leads or gone behind has taken its toll on their own nerves or composure.

From a player perspective, Arsenal are missing William Saliba, a player that has been an immense rock on the ball from the back to help start play, control tempo, and dictate the game. And, the Gunners have not gotten the same levels of control from Thomas Partey in the center of the park. When matches have called for someone in the spine of their team to stand on the ball, settle people down, and dictate — the call has gone unanswered.

These were standards set in the beginning of the season. It was woven into the fabric of this side’s identity. It leads to a cool, calm, composure on the ball and it helped keep the game in familiar places off the ball. When we see game states in unfamiliar territory or the ball is rushed, Arsenal’s usual precision goes missing and turnovers occur in dangerous areas. Both of Southampton’s two goals are born out of bad giveaways and a defensive structure in disarray, left scrambling ineffectively.

“Today is clear,” posited Arteta after the match. “You cannot concede three goals in the way that we did and expect to win games in the Premier League unless you make a miracle or a performance like we did in the last 15 minutes, then you still have the chance to win it.”

Much the same could be said for most of the response — until the final 15 minutes — and bits of this “speed racer” identity could be seen in the second halves against West Ham and Liverpool.

Whether this problem is justifiable, has a clear explanation, or is simply the cause and effect of a perfect storm of components — Arsenal need to answer as a team.

Unfortunately, this team will walk into their next match and play the one opponent in the league that is capable of dictating any match they play, which means Arsenal will either put on the best show of their season and overcome that to control their way, or they will be left to adapt and respond to Manchester City’s control.

In either of those two scenarios, the Gunners will have to make the most of the ball, get more from Thomas Partey, and cut out the mistakes that have lead to their undoing. They won’t have as much control over the match script as one would have expected them to have these last two matches and City has already undone the defense once through exploitation of Arsenal mistakes.

But the fact remains, this side needs to find a way to return their composure, reduce the mistakes, and overcome what felt like an insurmountable hole in their spine’s quality versus Southampton. Partey was bad, Saliba was missing which does require a change in the players around Holding, and Ramsdale had a howler for the first.

It’s been a brilliant season for a team that has catapulted itself from fighting for Champions League to a 90+ goal team that looks ripe for blooming into a successful decade of football. But there is still a title to play for, and at the very least, taking this thing the distance matters.

However it shakes out, seeing this team compete to their fullest on Wednesday, and return a semblance of their identity that has gone missing in April, to finish strong, is an important step.

A little more control. A little slower through their progressions. A little more composure. A little less Speed Racer.

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