Nov 7th – Arsenal 1 Watford 0

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.


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