Monthly Archives: November 2021

November 27th – Arsenal 2 Newcastle 0

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A little late on this one. Like Aubameyang arriving at the far post. But yesterday, aside from the match, was a Bacon Day. And, as we all know, that takes precedence over everything apart from an Arsenal game.

Did anyone notice that subtle difference in quality between Liverpool and Newcastle? It’s hard to discern at first I know. But suffice it to say, to the trained eye, there was a subtle drop in quality. Fortunately, as a student of the game, I was able to observe it and, for you, my dear reader, I will share my expertise with you. At no cost. Because that’s the kind of person I am. So, to move, because I’m sure you’re dying to hear the explanation. In laymen’s terms it basically comes down to this. Newcastle are shit. Truly shit. Not quite Sp*rs shit. I mean, that’s an entirely different species of shit. But shit nonetheless. I remember the 7-3 game at the Emirates when it thought they were crap then. But, they’ve managed to recruit even worse players and move down yet another level. Poor Howe. He will get millions to see them relegated. Maybe someone will give Bruce some credit for marshaling this crap team such that they were not relegated under his reign. So there you have it, scientifically proven. Newcastle are shit. And that’s the real difference between them and Liverpool.

But you can only beat what’s in front of you. And, unlike the past where we would find ways to foil ourselves, yesterday we earned our three points. Not that we were terrific. We did not fire on all cylinders. We were far from perfect. But that’s ok. Obviously, there will be concern over young Saka. After a miserable start to the season – by his high standards – we’ve began to see last year’s version emerge. And, in this game, we saw the full, original version. He was the difference maker. He tore Ritchie to shreds, he was our main creative influence and the scored of the first, all important goal. This came about because he was able to float around and create from anywhere on the front line. Without his energy, creativity and scoring I’m not sure we’d have won yesterday. And now we have to worry about the magnitude of his injury. I fear he won’t be in the team versus United for Thursday. But let’s hope we don’t lose him for too many games. I’m not sure I could bear seeing Pepe return to this team.

I’m not convinced that Partey has found his fitness yet either. Fortunately against a shit team he was not pushed too far but, he just seems slightly off thee pace. His distribution is uneven and his pace is reduced. Having said that, he’s one of the few players we have that will pass through the lines and play vertically. Odergaard also attempted to but he was largely ineffective. He works hard but his first touch failed him a couple of times. It made sense though that he replaced Cigarette; this was the type of game where his creativity should have helped – It just didn’t. If I was generous, which we all know I am more than generous – manganous even – then I’d note that this was his first full game for a month or two and he had to find his rhythm.

Tavares still made the team sheet. I think we all expected to see Tierney back. I suspect we’re trying to work Tesco boy back in slowly because of all his injuries and the condensed fixture period we’re about to enter. That or it was an inspired decision by Arteta to allow Tavares to find his confidence again after last weeks disaster. Tavares was dominant down the left. And, as the game wore on he learned not to shoot on site (and miss) but to lay the ball off. His hard work in the first half should have resulted in a goal but more on that later. Overall, it was great to see him run up and down the touchline. I thought he’d run out of steam at some point but, until the end he was continuing to defend as well. The way he handled Wilson’s run behind our lines from the JoJo Shelvey pass was excellent. Considering the money he cost and his youth, he will be a real threat to Tierneys place in the team. And that’s the competition we need to see. I suspect he won’t be in the team for Thursday. He deserves a rest now.

White and Gabriel were largely unthreatened. Both were solid. And white had a much easier time distributing the ball than at Anfield. And behind them we had Ramsdale who pulled off one remarkable save. Without that save the outcome could have been much more painful. I’m not sure Leno could have gotten to that. He really has been the signing of the season for us. A game changer. Even against a shit team.

And now there’s Aubameyang. He will be having nightmares over that miss. Sure, Smith Rowe could have done better with his header. But how do you miss that. Other players maybe. But this is food and drink to Aubmeyang. He’s a natural goal scorer. Luckily it was not too costly. But, as in previous games, I hope he’s saving up his scoring exploits for the next game. Because apart from this desperate miss, he rarely contributed. Part of that, I felt, was due to Odergaard not being able to release him. Odergaard tends to take a lot of touches and slow us down ever so slightly. And for a man of pace like Aubameyang, that can make all the difference.

Sambi was solid today and arguably the more creative of our two midfield players. One pass in the first half to Saka was Brady-esque. He can still get caught on the ball outside our own area and he also faded towards the end. You could see him finding it hard to track back on their breakaways. Against a less shitty team that could have been exposed. But, again, with youth on his side, he will be a mainstay of this team later on.

Tomi had a quieter and less threatening time of it today. He really has nailed down that right back position. Maybe he was the signing of the season when it’s normalized for the amount paid.

Arteta selected the right team today. And though we were slow to start, our tactics we good and the team grew into the game. We seemed to find more energy in the second half. Obviously the change of Saka was critical. We might have feared for the reappearance of Pepe but this game needed the pace and directness of Martinelli. And man was that the right decision. Within a minute or two he scored a sumptuous goal. Henry-esque if you will. Intelligently and beautifully taken. The type of finish that we’d expect to see from Aubameyang. It makes you realize the talent we have on the bench. And that put the game away and secured the three points.

My only complaint was the replacement of Partey. Why bring on Elneny and not AMN. AMN is our future and Elneny will be gone within 6 months. Why waste minutes on Elneny and not leet AMN have the experience? AMN has barely seen any time after starting against Palace. He needs to play. He deserves to play. Whereas Elneny is a known entity. You know what you get – and don’t get from him. He’s solid, predictable and safe. Borderline boring. But this was a chance to give AMN minutes and see what he could do (again). Maybe we’re saving him for Old Trafford. But this was one that Arteta got wrong. Not the end of the world mind you. A small mistakes in the bigger scheme of things. And in the bigger scheme of things he’s getting most things right.

So we’re up to 5th. Competing for the top 4. That’s surprising and not what I expected. I can’t believe we’ll hold this position. I still maintain we are not a top 4 team. Nor top 5. We finish in the top 10. Maybe 7th. At best 6th. Maybe I’m a natural pessimist with this team. But, as much as the team has evolved and developed, as much as the trajectory has improved, we’re still not there yet. We still have a few more pieces to add. We need Partey to re-discover himself. We need another midfield player. We need more creativity. More than Odergaard can provide. Unless, that is, he adapts more quickly. As good as we’ve become. And as many points as we’ve not accumulated, we’re just not quite there yet. I never thought this year would be that year. Arteta needs a little more time. But with Saka showing signs of being Artetas Sterling and White showing signs of being Arteta’s John Stone, we’re in a good place. A not so good place is Old Trafford. Let’s see if we can get there while it’s still Carrick’s team. While we never expected much from Anfield, this is a game where we should have higher expectations. Especially if we actually think we’re a top 5 team. But then you know how I feel about that.

-LB7

November 20th – Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0

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At least we only play at Anfield once a year. To get a result there we need to play at our best to stand any chance. And today there were too many mistakes. Youth has benefits. But not at Anfield.

As the game wore on their stranglehold tightened. The pressure builds and there is no margin of error. Unfortunately, we made too many. But bear in mind they originate with the pressure applied and not in a vacuum. It was a direct result of our inability to control the game Maybe it’s a by-product of playing two defensive mid-fielders. Neither of whom really inspired confidence today. Sambi was under pressure with few outlets. Tavares experienced that game of two halfs. In the first he was able to keep track of Salah – who, was again, impressive – but he must have drunk something at half-time. Because his distribution was devastating in the second half. We saw glimpses of this from Sambi as well. The temptation to always pass their way out of tight spaces. And, with experience, (and hindsight) there are times when it’s better to loft the ball upfield. Liverpool are quite adept as using that long ball. Unfortunately, with us that long ball seems to end up with their backline. So I can see why Tavares would like to retain the ball. But there needs to be some situational awareness. For a few weeks now there have been indications that he could apply pressure to Tesco Tierney. Today was a coming back down to earth.

But Tavares was not the only one. As mentioned, Sambi too often would overplay the ball outside of our area. We’ve seen in previous games him lose the ball leading to goals again (Man City I think). He’s still make the same mistake. And after their second goal Tavares still lost the ball a few times. One of his errant passes nearly lead directly to another goal. On the others side Tomi also had trouble with his passing – and marking. Again, a direct result of the constant pressure Liverpool applied. There really was no real release valve.

That first half though was not so bad. We had small periods where we had some control even if we could not create much. Saka and ESR were too isolated, and Cigarette was close marked by Thiago. So as we tried to play out from the back White was caught on the ball and forced to smack it long. Partey was pretty quiet; I do wonder whether he was fully fit. Overall, we would often lose the ball after just a few passes.

Ramsdale again had to perform heroics but eventually we caved in. Taking off Sambi was the right call but even AMN was careless with the ball. And by that I mean when you’re swarmed by 3 of their players you have to move the ball more quickly. You can’t dribble out of that situation.  

The team selection was right as we the substitutions. It’s the concentration levels that waned. And then the mistakes proliferated. Again, that was for a reason. If you give up that much possession then all that chasing will eventually wear you down.

Gabriel was again impressive. He alongside Ramsdale come out of this this thrashing with credit. But everyone else should be extracting valuable lessons. That second goal was crushing though. We had created few chances and so then sloppily hand them a gift just as we were weathering the storm took the air out of the team. We made had one clear chance with Aubameyang where Allison was able to save with his feet. Beyond that he was hardly troubled.

Saka had the beating of their left back today but you’d not know it because we was scared to take him on. When he runs directly at the full back he’s so much more threatening. Today – especially in the first half – he too frequently either cut inside or passed inside. He needed to be more aggressive in taking on the defender. And without Robinson there he should have been.

So what did we learn today? I’m not sure too much. It just re-enforced that we are a work in progress. I thought the score was unflattering we did not deserve this. But maybe this can help us realize that we’re not as good as the last 10 games indicate nor as poor as this result indicates. We have a world-class goalkeeper who is also fearless. Gabriel and White will be our backbone. We have too much youth in the team for now but it will allow them to grow. They will make the types of mistakes we saw today. Though I think Tavares did not seem to learn much after his first cataclysmic mistake.  I like that AMN was our first substitution even if his presence did not help stabilize our midfield.

Against mid-table or lower teams we have the chance to grab those points. But against the tippy-top teams, we are just not there yet. We get out-pressed and out hustled. Maybe our fitness levels are where they need to be. I think it’s more that we require too much time on the ball. That we need to move the ball quicker. And when we press it never felt the same way. They were able to play round our press much more easily – they seemed to operate in more space. It just felt that our play was much higher risk – hence the number of turnovers in our third of the pitch. I lost count of the number of chances they created from our giveaways or when we lost possession. In the first half we had a number of breakaways whereas in the second half, post those mistakes, and until we were already out of the game, we hardly had any.

A word on the Ox. He was swarming all over us today. Very physical and very committed. That’s one of the best and most consistent performances I’ve seen from him. High energy and high pressing. I’m not sure we had anyone with the same passion as him today – aside from Arteta himself facing up to Klopp. Though that encounter just seemed to fire up Liverpool at our expense.

I refuse to get too distraught over today even though it was a tough game to watch. We are still progressing even if it was not too evident today. And that progress can only be measured over a longer-time horizon. Today was always going to be tough. And early on we held firm. But at this level you can’t make the kind of sloppy passes that we did.

I do wonder whether the style of play we’re developing suits the players we have though. Today was a case in point. Passing it out the back under immense pressure when our two defensive midfielders – and Sambi in particular – are prone to give the ball away and our wing-backs are too isolated seems like a kamikaze strategy. Of course, when it worked it looks enterprising but it’s very high risk. And I don’t know if we have the right players for this. But then, if you don’t try this then you’ll never find out.

In the meantime, the manager merry-go-round continues. Next up will be Oli. And just before we play them. It looks like that change will happen today. Losing at Watford is pretty hilarious. And then Conte has now landed along with Howe. One will burn them out within 24 months and the other likely lead them into relegation. Let’s see which one is which.

And next up is COVID Eddie. Though we no longer have must-win games, this will at least be a chance to reestablish some momentum and correct the flaws from today. And don’t be surprised if you see at left-back Tesco Tierney

-LB7

Nov 7th – Arsenal 1 Watford 0

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And I’m back. A microscopic mid-season break denied the world the views on the past few games. After the Villa and Leicester performances this match was always going to look the easiest on paper. And in some ways it was. But it was just a little tense at the end there.

Now is not the time for another international break. As desperate as I was for one after the initial run of three losses and as much as I enjoyed the lack of stress during the last break, this team has begun to find itself – finally. By playing Cigarette in the false 9 and removing Pepe, there is more coherency to our play. Not that today was our finest performance. The first 20 minutes against Leicester was the gold standard. But we dominated and without Aubameyang the margin would have been more reflective of the gulf in the two teams.

So, before mauling our captain, I would note that Aubameyang’s work rate has noticeably increased in the last month. He works much harder and defends more. Having him pick up yellow cards for aggressive defending from the front is not a bad problem to have. And some of his goals this year (i.e. against Sp*rs) have been pivotal. But, oh my, today was a disaster. Everything he touched turned into pooh. Every touch he took, every move he made, I was watching him. (see the Police reference? – look that up any youngsters out there). From the first mis-control after the good work by Cigarette that caused to ball to ricochet to Saka for the first off-side goal, to the penalty miss and finally the redundant touch for what would have been our second goal from Odergaard. Today was just not his day. In a funny way, if he can get this game out of the way when we still claim the three points that’s not a bad thing. But it was just painful – and predictable to watch; a truly bad day at the office.

On the other hand, our defense, again was – minus one cock-up between White and Ramsdale – rock solid. Gabriel – as against Leicester – was immense. He does not get out muscled and the partnership with White is developing. Their understanding and position organization is improving. And, behind them today, we did not need any heroics from Ramsdale. Both full-backs provide solidity and attacking options. Tavaries was missing the final pass today but has such huge potential and the advantage of genuine pace.   

Clearly this is a game that last year – if not at the start of the season – we could easily have drawn. And if Watford had come out of the shell earlier and had been more adventurous, they could have. But the fact is, they did not. Another victory with a team that had yet more changes to the lineup. Today, for this humble observer, the man who shone like a beacon right from the first minute was Ainsley Maitland-Niles; the man with too many names. Maybe the quality of the opposition enabled him to shine because he had just a split-second more on the ball. But his defensive work, his physical presence was impressive. He seemed to win every duel. And if when he seemed beaten he would recover. Whether it was on the half-way line or when they tried to break through our lines. He was always there. And, if was his high press interception that set up that first disallowed goal. AMN provided grit and balance to the mid-field today in a way he’s not demonstrate before – well, at least not as consistently for 90 minutes. There were not causal giveaways, no over-committing to attack but sound positional awareness and a dominate performance. Again, maybe against Liverpool he could get out-played and out-powered. But today he was our best player.

Alongside him Sambi contributed to our performance. Not stellar like AMN but more than good enough. There were a few instances where he got caught on the ball on the edge of our area – as we saw against Crystal Palace – so let’s hope he can learn that lesson (finally). But, again, for a 23 year old new to this league who we thought would play as a fill-time for some games, he has more than exceeded expectations. And credit to Arteta. With Partey again being unavailable he could easily have selected Elneny. But instead he went for the untried pairing of Sambi and AMN. And boy did it work.

Saka picked apart Rose all day. And Rose, who is too fat and too languid to play at this level, was kind enough to donate us a penalty and generally too lazy to track back. But then Saka challenged and beat him all day long. This was much closer to the type of performances he made last year. Hopefully he’d finding his way back to us.

ESR is slowly turning into our little Pires. Sneaking in to claim vital goals. Though the team started brightly today ESR was quite in those early stages but then found his way into the game. Generally, when we i.e. Cigarette and others, had a chance to shoot we instead decided to make that extra pass. So, apart from the importance of the goal, it was nice to see him take a first time shot. Generally, we need to be braver. There is a tendency to pass the responsibility off to others. But here, one of our youngest players took the initiative themselves and was rewarded. And hopefully they will give him the confidence to inspire him to also be just a little bit more brave.

So in a two week period the manager-go-round has gone into overdrive. None of this makes sense. And all I can hope is that all these teams get relegated. And let’s not forget how close some people think we came to replicating this type of brain-dead, retarded and futile manager change at Arsenal. Remember how sections of our own fans reacted after our first three games – and the defeats. Not too dissimilar to the reaction last season prior to our home victory against Chelsea. People have no patience, no sense of the “long-game” and not strategy. They make snap judgments based on an emotional response without playing out the impact and consequence of any decision. These same idiots will surely raise their voices again about Arteta when we inevitably miss the top 4 again this year. And that’s because these morons move the goal-posts when it suits them. This league is more competitive than ever with more teams spending more money. But, as the last 8 games have demonstrated, we’ve found a backbone for our team and an identity. Of course, I’m sure, against Liverpool at Anfield we will get overrun and torn apart. But that’s one game. I care about our trajectory and development. And you’d have to be a blind man – or Mike Dean – not to see it.

We are a young team. We lack a vocal leader on the field. There was a time today in the last 5 minutes where we started to sit back too far; we ceded too much space to them. Someone on the field should have identified and corrected that. Against better teams, we’ll pay a price. But this is a team that’s learning. And at Anfield, given the quality of the opposition, I expect the worse. But that’s OK. As we can see, every team has shit games – just look down the road to our local idiots. We just don’t want to have too many of them.

So we beat Villa and they fire Smith after they again lost. How can you do that? He brought them up again to the EPL. He got them out of relegation the season before last and last year they nearly got into the NoHopaCup. Ok, they are having a tough spot but they are not in the relegation zone. But now they deserve to be. Who would take over that team now? How can you not have faith in a proven manager when all the prior ones were disasters. I seem to remember our friend Remi Garde having a short run out as well.

Norwich, another one we slayed recently kicked out their own Nazi. Why? They sold their best player to Brighton and barely re-invested. I had thought they had a sound business model. Get into the EPL, take the TV money, don’t spend it, get relegated with the balloon payments and then get promoted again. A few yo-yo seasons like that were providing them with deep financial pockets. How did they expect Farke to succeed? Why would they fire him. They are doomed to relegation (again). And we all knew it.

Then there’s the Saudi team up north. I feel sorry for Bruce. He managed against a back-drop of hatred and with one of the most despised owners not behind him but hiding in the shadows. There was minimal investment and they have a below average team. Maybe now they’ll bring in the nice-guy Howe. But that won’t last. Next summer they’ll be in the Championship looking for a new manager.

And then finally it’s the arrogant, conceited lot down the road. That lot who’ve not won anything in more than 10 years – and even that was a stupid cup. That think way above their station; consider themselves elite when they are bang average. Who wasted a chance to get more than 100m for their best player and then re-invest it. The team that fired Potch after getting them to the CL finals. Only to replace him with Darth Vader. And then they fire him before a cup final? And replace him – eventually – with Nuno. What’s not to like about Nuno. What did they think they were hiring? This all started when they fired Harry. The man who had got them into the CL in the first place. For the first time ever. But, oh now. They are too good for that. They need better. So they start off again the manager-go-round. Guess how many managers they’d have since Ley became chairman? Eleven! How the fuck can you run a team when you churn through that many managers? And there’s no accountability for this. Not that I’m complaining. It just exasperates me when I hear Sp*rs fans (I know, why do I even talk to such people let alone listen) pontificate about their team and their aspirations. It’s so far delivered from any sense of reality it’s stunning.

And I’ve not even touched on Watfords merry-go-round.

Which is all to say – there by the grace of God go Arsenal. There are so many warning signs as to what happens if you don’t stick with your philosophy and strategy. Of course, they are fine examples, like ditching Rioch for an unknown AW. But when you look at the fiasco at Man U and then consider West Ham with the same manager, surely a footballing person would extract the obvious lesson. Anyway, let’s hope this year they find a way to relegate all four of these teams.

So as we enter into yet another unnecessary international break, let’s prey that Partey is not released for international duty. We need him to be fit. And, ideally, we need him at Anfield. But at least we need him for the long run ahead of us.

After todays performance I wonder whether that changes Edu view of the upcoming transfer market. With Partey and Elneny at the AFC and Xhaka still knackered, can we rely on AMND and Sambi? I doubt it. But long-term, it’s not about this season. It’s about the overall team shape we’re building. We are susceptible for a few key injuries still but AMN deserves time. I just doubt he’ll be given it.

It’s good to be fifth though. It’s higher than I think we’ll eventually finish. But it’s also good to change the perception and narrative on this team. Some of our fans will of course claim this is the least we should be aiming for. But, remember, they are the brainless, petulant, childish ones, Tune them out. I clearly don’t. We continue to move in the right direct. This is part of the re-build and it’s progressing. It can’t be too rushed. And we will inevitably have set-backs. As we nearly had today. But, I for one, am a believer. I saw his (Artetas’) face, now I’m a believer. Not a trace of doubt in my mind. I’m in love. I’m a believer, I could not leave him if I tried (a Monkees reference for you youngsters).

Wow, this was much longer than I expected. That’s what happens when you send me away on a mini mid-season break. It’s good to be back. I feel better now.

-LB7