Monday 20 January 2020

Arter eager to retain keen edge in his play despite attendant risks as O'Neill ponders whether to hand him home competitive debut

Harry Arter during the FIFA World Cup Group D Qualifier match between Austria and Republic of Ireland in Vienna. Photo: Sportsfile
Harry Arter during the FIFA World Cup Group D Qualifier match between Austria and Republic of Ireland in Vienna. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Harry (verb). Def: To consistently attack an enemy or enemy territory.

Harry Arter (professional footballer). Def: Including but not limited to the above.

Usage: "I thought he harried well," Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, June, 2017.

Except Harry Arter is not a player limited by merely definition.

There is rather more to this Harry's game than the destructive urge to needle and nettle, to bait and badger, to pester and plague, to ransack and raid.

He can attack and assail too, plunder and pillage possession not merely to destroy but in seeking to create in response.

There must be a balance to every aspect of this all-rounders' game, in defence and in attack; the same balance a manager seeks in selecting those who form his central area.

Asked, pointedly - the best way - is he a 'dirty player', predicated upon one of the worst disciplinary records in the most recent Premier League campaign, 11 yellows and a red from 35 appearances, Arter's response is robust and swift.

"I just feel the way I play is quite high energy," he says between frantic chews of gum. Sometimes I mis-time tackles but it is not through being dirty, just through a willingness to try and win the ball back.


"Against Uruguay, I was trying my hardest to win it back and pressing quite hard.

"I was sent off only once last season and in my career, I have only ever been sent off twice. So I don't think I should be labelled dirty.

"Stats - sometimes you can get carried away with stats - but there are the cold, hard facts that I have been the most booked."

There are one or two ahead of him in that list this season but, despite his suspicion of playing the game by numbers, he does allude to another set of figures that are rather more complimentary.

Those with too much time on their hands have revealed that, even more than the exalted N'Golo Kante, Arter stands alone as being the player who has retrieved possession in the opposition half more times (25 if you're asking) than any rival.

"The manager at Bournemouth won't want to take that out of the game because something like that, winning the ball high up the pitch, is something I wouldn't be able to do as much," he avers.

"Of course there is a balance. I never try to get booked. Bookings-wise, I try not to miss any games through suspension and didn't last season. I was pretty pleased with that."

O'Neill would have brought Arter to Euro 2016 had he been fit enough; despite injury and surreal rumours about supposedly wavering international allegiance, their relationship is strong.

They have spoken about the fine line upon which his feisty player sometimes treads.

"He went and closed players down and he led by example against Uruguay," says O'Neill. "That I love, I think it's really good.

"But sometimes I think he has to be careful. If you have gone to ground, you make sure you get that ball, particularly in the penalty area.

"I don't want people giving away daft free-kicks and Harry, at club level, I think he has to admit that he has given away a couple of daft free-kicks at times.

"But to curb that enthusiasm as part of his game, I think that's a fine balancing act. I love that bit of closing down that he tries to do, going between players and bringing players up. I just want him to be careful once or twice."

O'Neill admires imposing physical strength and cavils at including too many diminutive types in the middle, even allowing for the dimming form of the well-built Jeff Hendrick, of whom the manager produced another stirring defence yesterday.

But Arter packs a punch into a 5' 9" frame that is just 11 stone dripping wet. And what he offers with the ball is just as important.

Austria's readiness - and quality - remain uncertain hence Ireland's cannot be. Unlike Wales' visit, when the whole atmosphere was shrouded in the defiance of not losing, this game affords a defining opportunity of a statement win.

In Vienna, despite early troubles compounded by Glenn Whelan's injury, Arter eventually shifted from the left to the right of substitute David Meyler in the central area and, as well as renewed energy and aggression, Ireland had a shape.

Arter plays his club football here and he noticeably grew into the game the longer it went on. "We ended up flattening off, which gave us a bit more stability in midfield and it felt more comfortable for the lads who were playing.

"I know I certainly prefer playing a bit deeper or in a midfield with two. That was a hugely important night for me personally."

Playing a holding midfielder - or two, as O'Neill mentioned - may invite attendant caution; far better to offset opponents by keeping the ball rather than being worried about trying to win it back all the time.

The subtle short and long mixtures against Uruguay worked; (more) stats - 50pc possession - were highly unusual for Ireland at home, albeit against politely pliant guests.

"That comes down to the individuals who want the ball, it's probably the hardest part of football, that people don't recognise is making little angles to receive the ball and being brave enough to receive the ball in any position.

"It is easy to run around and not want the ball. But taking responsibility and receiving it in any area is vitally important.

"You are not going to keep the ball, or have high possession stats, if you are going long every time. So I felt we got the balance right on Sunday."

It remains to be seen if O'Neill has trust enough in Arter's balance to provide it for his team.

Irish Independent

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