Disaster averted in the last second. I was convinced we’d never score today. From the first minute when Martinelli missed a chance to lob the ball in to the Pepe header – and two disallowed goals – it seemed the gods would not allow us to score.
But here’s the question, would you have taken the one point in exchange for loosing Cigarette for the rest of the season? That’s not a trade I want. I was resigned to loosing this game against VAR but not loosing Cigarette.
The first 20 minutes was reminiscent of the 7 minutes in Prague – without the goals. We were creative and exploited the ESR and Saka partnership. But over time Fulham crept back into the game. Even against a relegation team it’s hard to have both Elneny and Ceballos as your midfield. Too often these two are comfortable passing sideways and backwards. Only infrequently did they play through the lines.
It’s hard to be too critical after Thursday. The team selection was about right given the circumstances. I was happy to see Ryan in goal. And inevitable that Bellerin was due for a game. And happy Willian was bolted to the bench. And even happier when Bellerin came off. I’m sure I’ve said this before but Hector – as lovable as he is – is really a clone of Walcott. If Theo had played right-back this is how he would have played. His first touch is awful and his distribution is about the same. He does not read the game and positionally he is exposed. He disrupted our play down the right. There is not the natural fluency we have when he’s not there. We need to play him to both rest players and have him in the shop window. He’s clearly in the departure lounge given that we both need money from sales and that he’s really not developed his game over the last few years. One of our longest servants it’s time for him to explore new pastures and for ours to be able to re-invest that money. Hopefully we can get in excess of £20 for him.
Gabriel is a mystery. He’s very young and great in the air. But he has mental lapses. And today he was the culprit for the inevitable defensive mistake. I did not think this was a penalty though I could see how it was given. The attacker – some no-name tosspot – decided to fall over Gabriels boot. There was minimal contact but he initiated that contact and decided to go down like Harry Kane. But Gabriel should know better. Maybe that will come with experience.
With the introduction of Partey and Pepe – and the removal of Bellerin and Elneny – there was total domination. But by then Saka and ESR had tired and we lacked finishing. Eddie came on as a poor man replacement for Cigarette. Eddie is just not ready for Arsenal. He is great at poaching and saved our day right at the end. But he had a few changes before then – a lob on the goalie and a through ball from Saka and his first touch let him down both times. But I was also disappointed in Martinelli. He had a couple of chances today and was not clinical enough. He is no Greenwood or Rashford. And fans clamoring for him to play are misguided in their optimism. He’s still very raw. And I’m not sure what his best position is. Left wing does not seem the best place for him. Maybe against Everton with no Cigarette or Aubamyang, then Martinelli can start as the #9. Because I don’t want to see Eddie there. Eddie will score goals but does not fit this team as grateful as I am for todays goal.
Poor old Scotty. I have some sympathy for him. If that was up the other end I’d also be screaming for off-side. It’s hard to see how Holding – within the 6 yard area – was not effecting the peripheral vision of their goalie. But given all the borderline VAR calls we suffered under today it was time one went our way. I was so sure we’d loose all three points. We seemed completely cursed today. It was a throw-back game for the ages where we just could not score. We’ve seen this before but not for a few season. And with Ryan in goal this would have been his second 1-0 lose. I’ve never been a fan of having the goalie come up for corners but he contributed with his little flick on and helped save our day. And then I was sure VAR would take this one away again. They really do need to speed up this VAR thing – it must be automated. Once the fans are back it will become so disruptive. Look at the way Ceballos celebrated the first non-goal. If the fans had been present their anger and frustration would have boiled over. You can’t let fans wait to celebrate a goal for 3 minutes nor let them celebrate for 3 minutes and then take away the goal.
It’s not clear we learned too much today. It was a game that should have been important for us. It should have been 3 points and a chance to get closer to automatic qualification. But, it’s not obvious we’ve ever been in a shot of that. It would have been nice to win – we had the chances early on – but it’s the 3 games in the NoHopaCup that are important. Which is why the loss of Cigarette along with Tierney is more worrying.
If we had taken our early chances we would have been out of sight today and we could have protected Cigarette. His performances in the last few weeks (aside from Liverpool) have helped glue Saka and ESR into the team. Without him I fear for our interplay as we try and create. This is why you need a deep squad. And we don’t have one.
We can be thankful that Willian did not come on and that ESR/Saka were not injured. Beyond that, it’s about Villareal now. Though Everton will be interesting. They won’t come and play defense. They need the points and have some decent players. This might suite our counterattacking game better. And it will give Martinelli a chance to get more game time and allow him to tune his scoring boots. Because we will need those. Again, I get the excitement about him and he’s certainly an upgrade of Eddie but I’m not sure how natural a goal scorer he is.
Sounds like the European Super League is back on the table. Maybe we should be fortunate to be considered part of that. It’s a terrible idea. But one that won’t go away. Of course it comes from the biggest continental teams because they play in leagues with no fans and few competitive teams in their league. The Premier League is the premier league in Europe. And this will just dilute that. It’s the connection between the fans and the team that propels the league. It’s the rivalries and history. It’s the close proximity of the teams. It’s the ease, cost and time for the fans to get to games that count. Having to play in Italy, Germany, France and Spain on a regular basis is not an affordable option for Premier League fans.
From a competitive point of few it’s basically a transfer of money to those clubs that have a ceiling on their upside. Why help your competitor out of a tough spot. If the likes of ManU/C, Liverpool (and us) held their ground and stayed in the existing structure they would have more incremental upside than a Juventus or Bayern. This new Super League helps them out because their leagues are shit and helps diminish the gap to our Premier League. It will alienate English fans and take us to the place where even when fans could return they won’t return. It’s not clear how this is stopped but this is not what is needed. The strength and appeal of English football is not what happens in Europe. Our strength is based on the bedrock of our teams and fans. And the useless FA need to manage and control this. Not by shutting it down but by providing creative solutions. In the same way FIFA/EUFA are generating variations on the same theme. The FA rather than reacting need to proactively think through how the Premier League can be improved. Maybe dropping one team and removing 2 games. Maybe redistributing revenues. But don’t sit around, doing nothing and wait for the other leagues to disrupt your league.
So now we have 5 days until Everton. Let’s hope that I’m wrong about the severity of Cigarettes injury. Let’s hope our medical team have a good week and can patch him back up. We’ll need him Spain and beyond.