Arsenal first look: Welcome to the first team, Harry Clarke!
Pre-season is upon us – and praise be the first small rumbling of the ever active volcano that is Football Twitter. Not a week has gone by, but we’ve already been through drama a-plenty. From Edu going to Kia’s birthday (with Raul) to Willian looking like he’s taken holiday advice from Eden Hazard. And lest we forget that we lost the important match against Hibernian, a match so important for our season we might as well get #ArtetaOut trending again.
I’ve been very on the fence about pre-season. But it’s a very good time to watch the academy players before they get stuffed back in the u23 briefcase, and that’s what we’re going to celebrate today.
Who is Harry Clarke
Harry Clarke spent his last season in League Two with Oldham Athletics, where he played, on average, 83 minutes over 32 games. Being utilised in a pre-season game alongside Pablo Mari, should be a pretty good indication of his time in League Two as well as his performances in training. Let’s not forget we’ve sold McGuinness, who did well at League One side Ipswich last season, alongside Zech Medley and Ben Sheaf, all being above Clarke in the pecking order.
Now I’m not going to say that I expect Clarke to rise the ranks this season, but knowing we’ve loaned Saliba back to France, there’s a small chance we could see Clarke feature in some of the lower EFL or FA cup games – and that chance is enough for me!
We’ve just had a 45 minute highlight of Clarke’s ability, so let’s try to make sense of what he did right, and why Arteta might choose to feature him over whoever else was available.
What was there to like?
The sample pool is rather low, and thus, this is much more about what he did right than what we should expect.
First of all, I was very excited about how he presented himself. Pablo Mari is a good passer, and I expected him to be the focal point when passing the ball around (which he also did in the second hand when playing with Rekik), but Harry Clarke actually took the position of prime ball passer in defense and, during his 45 minute spell, Harry Clarke attempted 24 passes, varying from short to long range.
Even though most of these passes were simple horizontal passes, you can fault some players for slowing down tempo by taking too long on the ball before moving it. Clarke rarely seemed to second guess his intentions, keeping his head up and taking the responsibility of being the midpoint in a change play.
Second of all, when receiving the ball, Clarke showed he was able to direct his movement and body position to allow him to pass the ball quicker. Letting the ball run across your body and directing in into your stride is one of the simple things that sometimes gets overlooked when you have as much time on the ball as Hibernian allowed Clarke and Mari to have, so showing the urgency to both move and pass it quickly from one side to the other is a great way to earn yourself some bonus points with the coach team.
Third of all, even though Clarke didn’t have much to do defensively during his spell, he did manage to quiet down Nisbet for most of the time. Clarke’s success was down to anticipation and defensive positioning, making sure the most obvious route was blocked off.
Clarke managed to get close to Nisbet in aerial duels, winning most of the clashes, while also having the brain to stay a few feet away in running duels.
When faced with a 1v1 challenge, the defender’s job is often to slow down play until the rest of the team is in position. This is done through being close enough to discourage a running duel while being far enough away to discourage the attacker to dribble past you. Clarke had one or two duels of this kind and managed them both well.
Clarke, of course, made mistakes as well. His long range passing didn’t hit the mark, some of his mid range passes were slightly behind the target and you could ask yourself why Cedric was the deepest defender in that situation.
But that’s all what you expect from a young defender and nothing that is so bad it can’t be fixed. This was a solid display from a guy that was behind Ballard and Mcguinness in the queue and has managed to get some game time.
Welcome to Arsenal!