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UNITED LEGEND PRAISES ARSENAL CULTURE

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So we’ll start today with a video from Rio Ferdinand.

It’s hard to deny one of the best Manchester United defenders of all time their opinion on the culture brewing at Arsenal. He played for the best, he did it with young players, and he likely knows what a good training ground feels like.

Why does he feel this?

 

Culture. You can feel it in a business that has it nailed down properly. A good sign of culture is that everyone knows what the plan is. Rio specifically says he spoke to a load of the coaches and they all knew where they were going.

There is no more powerful tool in business than clarity. The same for sport. Clarity of vision tells everyone where they are going. Clarity reduces friction in an organisation, because when it’s not there, other people fill the clarity vacuum with their version of what it is. Once you know what the vision is, you can build a culture around it and set out the principles for how people operate within the system.

Arsenal hasn’t had clarity for 10 years.

Reengineering decline (rot) of that magnitude was always a big job.

This is how it usually goes:

  • The vision is set
  • Certain folk complain about the vision and explain why it’s not for them and they can’t do it
  • The new leader is challenged because the ‘can’t do’ folk spread negativity. Everyone else in the business grabs the popcorn to see if the new leader caves like a coward or stands their ground. ‘Can this person be fucked with’ is the question everyone wants to find out.
  • If the new leader stands their ground the arsonists that don’t want it to work are weeded out. This is painful, because arsonists in business can be popular and often are. Removing influential arsonists always rocks the boat. Especially if they are talented (Netflix talented dickheads conversation)
  • When you remove big names, you have to show that it was worth it. In business, you just fire people. In football, you have to drop people to the bench or take their squad number away, which is way more painful. If you’re doing that while losing, which is what happened, things can get really spicy.

Every new vision needs proof points.

It took until December 26th for those proof points to happen for Arteta. He was on life support by the time those came through. But he made it.

Well, this season, the vision is clear, the culture has been set, the dickheads have been moved on, and now we have new foot soldiers that believe in what is going on.

There are also results. They are early, sure. But whatever is happening is delivering points and belief at the training ground that things are progressing.

That’s powerful. It’s even more powerful when the person telling everyone that is Rio Ferdinand on a Youtube channel desperate for that NOT to be the story.

Is a great culture the end goal? No. Top-tier trophies are. A culture is a rallying tool that creates the right environment to get you there.

Isn’t the attacking output a bigger issue?

Yes and no. Culture doesn’t solve tactical or personnel issues. But it does make it more likely we’ll find a solve because there’s desire from everyone to fix it.

Example:

❌Mesut Ozil is not going to solve the lack of pressures when out of possession

✅ Auba, for all his challenges, is trying his harder to adapt his game. He’s one of the top strikers for pressures in the league. Why is he doing this? Because he believes in the culture and wants to lead it.

Look at the issues Poch has at PSG. All the players, but no culture. The players run the show there and if they don’t like the manager, then that’s how it’ll go. There’s no desire from them to fix the issues. It is AMAZING to read people call him a bad manager. He’s one of the best in the business. PSG is the problem. No top manager wants that job, which is why they end up with people like Unai Emery.

Patience is key in all of this.

As a fan, you’re going to have to accept that we are operating a recruitment strategy that has inconsistency baked into the plan. This current squad of players hasn’t had an attacking revamp yet. The only true attacking player Arteta signed was Willian. Everyone else is Wenger or Emery. We tried for Tammy in the summer but couldn’t make the one-in-one-out work. There’s still more that can be done with what we have, no doubt. We’re below par attack-wise. Our best striker is not at his peak. Our young players are in and out of form. The team still doesn’t really know each other and they don’t have the ability to deliver full performances yet.

… but it’ll come.

As I wrote yesterday, this season is a messy bitch. We started the first 3 games with a subpar defence that we changed out after the international break. There was also a covid outbreak and a load of injuries. Arsenal can’t handle 9 players out, most teams can’t, so that was a mitigating circumstance.

We’re 9 games in with a new team. We’ve accrued the 2nd most points, scored 2 less than City, and have the 3rd best defence. The players have largely won over the fan base. Could there be a correction coming? Maybe. It’s unlikely we’re going to be accruing the 2nd most points over 9 game periods all season, we’re simply not that good or experienced enough… yet. But, it is weird for people to criticize consistency when the flow of points has been so consistent over those 9 games. I’d also re-up yesterday’s comment. Arsenal has been remarkably consistent since Boxing Day last year. People keep saying what we’re doing right now isn’t sustainable, ignoring that we’ve been doing it for nearly a year.

We have 9 big games coming up right now against some very beatable teams, plus some very tough games that on our day, we should be winning. Then we’ll see where we are. If we’re still 5th, we’ll be able to make better conclusions about the data. If we’re 7th, but within spitting distance of top 4, we have to be ok with that, because the back half of the season looks good for us. This time last season, we were 10 points off 4th. Now we’re 3.

Progress happens in spits and spats. It’s not linear. That’s why it’s good to look at how we’re doing across phases, versus wetting the bed over a Liverpool game we were always likely to struggle with.

So I’ll leave you on a short post today (short when I started). If Rio Ferdinand is telling you the culture and vibes at Arsenal are good, you should see that as a positive. He doesn’t need to say that and it’s especially amusing when it’s through gritted teeth. It’s yet more context for you to wrap around those xG numbers. When Arsenal were ‘flying’ under managers of the past, the vibes at training were not great, which is why I wrote with such confidence about the incoming correction.

Messy data tends to correct in a good way when players are engaged.

Let’s see.

If you haven’t, please check out the excellent interview we did with ex-Head of Medical Services, Colin Lewin. The man has seen it all, he’s one of the best around, it was a total pleasure talking to him. It’s nice to know a man as humble as Colin has staff still at the club. Good culture doesn’t happen without good people.

You can check out his clinic here, his team will help you if you are an elite athlete like me. He might even help you if you’ve pinged a hammy reaching for the Percy Pigs. Enjoy, leave us a rating on itunes, or subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

 

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