Arteta deserves praise not ridicule
Mikel Arteta takes his Arsenal side to West Ham’s London Stadium on Super Sunday on the back of a resounding victory over leaders Liverpool which reignited their Premier League title hopes.
The underlying numbers highlighted Arsenal’s superiority. Their total of 3.50 expected goals was the highest by any side against Liverpool on record. At the other end of the pitch, Jurgen Klopp’s team were limited to only 0.37 expected goals, their lowest total of the season.
It was an outstanding display, even factoring in the defensive lapse which allowed Liverpool back into the game on the stroke of half-time. But all that was rather lost in the fallout.
Instead, the focus centred on the manner in which they enjoyed it. Arteta is not the first manager to celebrate a crucial goal by sprinting out of his technical area. Jurgen Klopp can testify to that. But rarely has the act provoked quite so much censure. At least not since the last time he did it.
The obsession with Arteta’s touchline behaviour fails to acknowledge the role of his emotional investment in improving the atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium. His intensity feeds into that of the crowd. Home advantage has been enhanced.
Sunday’s game was just the latest example. A once indifferent arena now crackles with anticipation for the biggest games. Connections have been forged. The mood has been transformed.
If Arteta’s perceived ill-discipline is somehow setting a bad example, it is not rubbing off on his players. They have received the fewest bookings in the Premier League this season having gone through the entirety of last term without a red card.
More important than all that, though, is that Arteta has created a team capable of producing results like the one they celebrated on Sunday with increasing regularity.
Arsenal have played six games against big-six opponents in the Premier League this season and not lost once. Manchester City, like Liverpool, left the Emirates defeated, having managed only 0.48 expected goals, a figure that remains their lowest of the season.
Arteta has been healthily backed, of course. Both in terms of time and financial support. But Arsenal’s re-emergence as contenders over the last 18 months owes more to him than any signing.
The role of his coaching can be seen in the improvement of individuals across the squad. But it is even clearer in the collective. Arsenal have become the best side in the division defensively. Key performance indicators suggest they are up there offensively too.
There remains a curious reluctance to praise his work. But this is what Arteta has created. A team rivalling the elite. A manager in his first job going toe to toe with two of the best in modern history in Pep Guardiola and Klopp. He deserves better than the trivial focus on how he and his players choose to celebrate.
Hojlund finds own solution to scoring issues
The goals are finally flowing for Rasmus Hojlund. Having not found the net once in his first 14 Premier League appearances, the striker, a £72m signing from Atalanta, now has four in four.
His thrilling potential is shining through. It is a cause for celebration for Manchester United. But it would be hasty to say they have figured out how to get the best out of him. More accurate is that Hojlund has found ways of doing the job himself.
Consider the fact that only one of his last five goals in all competitions, his late strike in the FA Cup fourth-round win over Newport County included, has been assisted by a team-mate.
And even that goal, Sunday’s opener against West Ham, was largely of Hojlund’s own making as he collected Casemiro’s interception with his back to goal before dummying his way past two defenders and brilliantly finding the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
In total in the Premier League this season, a third of Hojlund’s 24 shots have been unassisted. The same can be said for more than half of his 10 goals in all competitions. Without a reliable supply line, the Dane is having to generate his own chances.
Wasteful finishing has been a factor too, of course. Hojlund missed nine big chances without scoring in the first half of the season, according to Opta. But the shot numbers are revealing.
His average of 1.66 attempts per 90 minutes is the fifth-lowest of the 40 strikers to have played at least 400 minutes in the Premier League this season. Hojlund sits between Lyle Foster of Burnley and Sheffield United’s Cameron Archer. It speaks to United’s issues that their back-up striker, Anthony Martial, is even lower.
Erik ten Hag spoke of improved service and better balance in United’s front line after the win over West Ham, referencing the decision to switch Alejandro Garnacho to the right flank in recent games while restoring Marcus Rashford to the left.
But the numbers show no tangible change to the number of chances Hojlund is getting. In fact, his four goals in four games since Boxing Day have come from only six shots, a total bettered by 73 players in the Premier League in the same timeframe.
Across the four Premier League games in which Garnacho has started on the right with Rashford on the left, the pair have only found Hojlund with five and six passes respectively. He remains on the periphery, averaging only 26 touches per 90 minutes.
Could it be that the responsibility lies with Hojlund himself? It seems unlikely given the quality of his movement. He ranks among the Premier League’s top 10 players for attacking runs per 90 minutes and only slightly lower for runs challenging the opponent’s backline.
The problem is that United’s wide forwards have other priorities. Rashford and Garnacho are averaging nearly twice as many shots as Hojlund. Given how infrequently they pass to him, it is hardly surprising they have only created six chances for him all season.
It is to Hojlund’s credit that he has found ways around the issue.
Against Tottenham, a stunning finish slammed into the roof of the net after Rashford had been tackled while dribbling into his zone. Against FC Copenhagen, a rebound slotted home after Garnacho declined to square the ball to him for a simple finish.
He is adapting, learning to rely on his own quality and intuition rather than the service of others. But for how much longer can he feast on scraps? Manchester United must find ways of feeding him properly if his recent scoring feats are to continue.
Time to for Newcastle to unleash Livramento?
Dan Burn will not remember his battle with Luton’s Chiedozie Ogbene fondly. In fact, it is probably a stretch to term it as such given its one-sidedness as Rob Edwards’ side claimed a 4-4 draw.
At £13m, the 31-year-old has been an excellent signing for Eddie Howe’s side, adjusting from centre-back to full-back admirably and playing an important role in last season’s Champions League finish.
But as Newcastle continue to ship goals at an alarming rate – they have already conceded more this season than in the whole of last term – the case for Valentino Livramento to step in grows stronger.
Left-back is not the 21-year-old’s favoured position, of course. He is naturally right sided. But his substitute appearance against Luton, when he helped Newcastle recover to salvage a draw, was just the latest example of his capacity to play there.
His drive gave Newcastle a new dimension in attack. At the other end, while Burn was dribbled past four times in 63 minutes, Livramento was not beaten once. He has in fact only been dribbled past nine times in 19 Premier League and Champions League appearances all season.
His versatility is not lost on Howe, who has used him on both sides since his £40m arrival from Southampton in the summer. After Saturday’s game, he described him as an “outstanding player” who will have a “huge bearing” on the club’s future.
But maybe the future is now. Against Nottingham Forest, live on Sky Sports on Saturday, Livramento will be ready to step in.
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