"I'M giving them a lot of homework to do because I’ve been reviewing everything that we’ve been doing since I joined. There are things we have to maintain doing, improve and develop, and individually they are really enjoying the challenge.” Mikel Arteta.
Being a footballer is not usually a work from home job but COVID-19 has made it so for the foreseeable future. Players might be unable to train normally, but that doesn’t mean Arteta won’t be able to use this time to make assessments about some of his players – particularly the younger players.
Arteta has identified a thirst for self-improvement as a key requirement for his young players. In his glowing assessment of Bukayo Saka earlier this year, the Gunners boss said, “The last few years I worked with so many young players and it’s so fulfilling when they are willing and they ask the right questions, and they want more and they are eager to learn.”
In contrast, the Spaniard explained his decision to sideline Ainsley Maitland-Niles, “Ainsley needs to put his head down and work hard. Show me every day in training that he wants it more than anyone else, he wants to play for this club and fight for his place.” Arsenal players won’t be able to demonstrate their desire on the manicured fields of London Colney for a little while, but they will still be able to make an impression.
In his Arsenal unveiling video, Arteta is filmed entering the data analysis suite at London Colney. “I am going to work you guys hard!” he half jokes. During this period of downtime from the hustle and bustle of the fixture list, coaches have a unique opportunity to think and assess their tactics. I can well imagine that Mikel will want his data and video analysts to be scrutinising footage during this period.
This is where the players, especially the young players, can impress the manager with their dedication. I am certain that Arteta will be quietly assessing which players are proactively contacting him for homework, who is hassling the coaches and the data analysis team for clips of their performances, who is asking for homework?
— Gurjit (@GurjitAFC) April 9, 2020
Saka has shown an aptitude for improvement on the training ground, according to the coach. In a recent Reddit Q & A, Kieran Tierney highlighted Gabriel Martinelli’s intensity on the training ground. “When I first did a full training session with the team I was put up against Martinelli and the intensity of his play was honestly mindblowing,” Tierney said.
“I thought to myself ‘this is the standard I need to be at to play for Arsenal. I think his hunger and drive and his talent together at one is more than enough to be a world-class player for many years.” It is heartening that an 18-year old who has only just arrived at the club from the Brazilian fourth division has been highlighted by another new player as a standard-bearer for the hunger required to succeed at Arsenal.
The question now for some of these players [not just the young ones], is whether they can demonstrate that appetite remotely. Many players who have recovered from long-term injuries report that the opportunity to watch more football and analyse their game during their lay-off can be beneficial. If I were someone close to these Arsenal youngsters at the moment, I would advise them to become a persistent nuisance in Arteta’s Whatsapp, demanding iPad fodder during this moratorium.
I would imagine that Arteta isn’t actively encouraging his players to do this; he will probably want to see who is proactive, who is hungry to learn, who is asking for homework. It would be very easy and tempting for players to fall idle during this unexpected break in play. I am certain Arteta will be judging their enthusiasm just as intently from afar as he would be at London Colney.
Sure enough, since drafting this piece, Arteta has said as much, “We're doing work with them [the players] and we're trying to engage them. We're close to them and up until now, it’s been a very positive response. It’s so important we keep connected so they can see there's a relation between what we're doing now and when we restart training.”