Monthly Archives: April 2022

April 23rd – Arsenal 3 Manchester United 1

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A tail of two penalties. And two teams going in opposite directions. This was not the Chelski game. This was harder work, more nerve wracking and therefore less enjoyable to watch. Not because of United but us. The team picked itself after Wednesday. That perfect start seemed to surprise us. But we dominated them from the start and deservedly went 2-0 up before they pulled one back.

Today though, I felt that we lost our way for periods of the first half and for a large part of the second. And most of the cause was individual mistakes and sloppiness. And both can be traced back to our fullbacks.

Two, for me, was the theme of the day – two unreliable full-backs, two solid mid-field players, two captains both on the bench and two penalties.

Even with the first goal to his credit Tavares was an unmitigated disaster today. A complete liability. You could see his confidence ebb away from him as the game went on. In the first half a lovely Ronaldo flick put through Elanga in a foot race with Tavares which he lost and was close to conceding a penalty and being sent off. Ramsdale bailed us out of that. But in the second half he continued to find ways to give the ball away in simple situations. He holds onto the ball for too long. He overcomplicates his possession and allows the attacker to close down the space. You can see the damage he does to Gabriels mental state. There were times when he was shouting at Tavares to get into the right position. Then, of course, there was their penalty. Who the fuck jumps up leading with their hand? By the end I was screaming at Arteta to get him off the pitch. And especially after he gave the ball away again and then pulled the guys short for a yellow card. Then I was shouting at the ref to send him off thus ensuring he could not play against West Ham. To say that Tavares is young and developing is like saying my bald head still has a chance of growing back a full head of vibrant, lush, long hair. It ain’t going to happen. He lacks commons football sense and will continue to disrupt our defense.

On the other side we had Cedric continuing to make poor passing decisions and generally destabilize our own defense. Sancho was running rings round him – as, to be fair, he would to most defenders. But a prime example was when Ramsdale made another save at his near post and, as the ball bobbled, rather than allowing Ramsdale to collect it, he hoofed it out but miscued for a corner. Thankfully, we had the pleasure of Tomi making a cameo appearance in the last few minutes. Maybe, we can switch one liability for another. Cedric can switch to the left and consign Tavares to the bench.

This was a vital victory. We deserved to win but, man, we used up that luck we did not have against Southampton. They hit the bar, had a marginal offside goal disallowed and, most importantly of all – the match turning point – missed their penalty. At this stage we had lost control of the game. As the second half wore on we could not keep the ball or impose ourself. But fortunately, we were saved by Xhaka with an immense goal. Which, we were lucky, was not deemed offside. Eddie obscured the view of De Gea. But this was a worthy reward for Xhaka. With Elneny alongside him he is able to play a more central role. All good things, like on Wednesday, ran through him. He does not have to play so deep – that is what Elneny does – and consistently was able to release Odegaard and Saka. As immense as Saka was today, I thought Xhaka was the key. And it was a pleasure to see him lap up the adulation from the crowd after his goal – we’ve not seen that in many years.

Elneny is helping this team. He picks up the ball from the defense and keeps the ball flowing. He takes pressure off of White and Gabriel. He is available to receive and keeps it simple. And, given the space United afforded both him and Xhaka, he was able to link up play in a way that Sambi can’t. Between them, these two provide a solid springboard to help feed both Odegaard and Saka. I exclude ESR because today he was somewhat peripheral. But after his masterful goal on Wednesday, that can be forgiven. But if I was Martinelli, sitting on the bench, I’d be pissed.

Eddie should still retain his place. Though he missed a key opportunity he worked hard, linked up well and gives pace and energy to us. Unfortunately, the goal he did score was offside – it looked offside in real-time – but amazingly VAR then helped us with a penalty. Again, luck was favouring us today. In prior games we’d not have got that call. BTW, how shabby was their defense. Even without the forehead of Maguire, Varane and Dalot conspired to gift us our first goal. And then Dalot was careless with charging into Saka.

Saka was immense today. All good things run through him. His partnership with Odegaard continues to blossom. I love the fact that he took the penalty and was not intimidated by the wait or the United players. That two penalties in two games and both because of fouls on Saka. It’s the Noah’s Ark of football.

Odegaard continues to create and influence this team in pivotal ways. His vision is Ozil-like but with a workethic lacking in the German. We saw him work hard and chase back to help out his team. But in the final third you want the ball at his feet (or Sakas). Odegaard quickness of thought created our opportunities today. It was just surprising that United afforded him so much space in that first half. And then as the game stretched again, he came back into it. Though, once Saka went off it was noticeable how he lacked his colleague as an effective outlet.

But these pairings are what is energizing this team. White and Gabriel locking up the defense, Xhaka and Elneny in midfield and then Saka and Odegaard. That’s a new type of spine for a team. All supported with Ramsdale. His distribution has still not gotten back to his pre injury state – case in point his pass in the first half straight to McTominay. And sometimes his decision to pass out from the back is scary. But he is nothing but brave in his decisions. Today he made a number of vital saves. Whereas on Wednesday he had little today United had their chances. But he was able to repel them. The save in the second half when he was able to flick their full backs shot (I think it was Telles) onto the post.

This was a much closer game than the scoreline would indicate. As poor as United are, on another day they could have levelled the score with the penalty, or seen some of those shots ricochet from the bar or post into the net. We were not as dominant as we were against Chelsea. But today the force was with us. Luck favours the brave. And United were anything but. Actually, I thought Ronaldo was one of their better players. He created, inevitably scored and linked up well and worked hard. Whereas most of the rest of them looked clueless. So why did they get of Ole? How exactly did Rangnick help them? What a shambles of a club they are. And to announce their new manager when the season is at this pivotal stage is so Sp*rs-like.  On the topic of managers, ours just about pulled all the right strings today. By keeping the team unchanged to finally putting Holding on to shore things up. He clearly trusts the man with a full head of hair. Once he got on the field, we seemed much more stable.

So another unexpected victory even if a more edge of the seat one. There are now five more games left – more than 10% of the season. Who knows which Arsenal turns up. With such a young, inexperienced team we have seen higher peaks and lower valleys. And that will continue. After that 3 game slump who knows? Today we saw both sides of us. The period in the second half when we look lost and you just knew that one of Cedric or Tavares would make a brain-dead mistake. And against WHU, a team of grizzled, veteran grown-ups, we will be bullied and harried. Let’s just hope they have one eye on their NoHoppa semi-final and their injury list. And let’s hope Saka has not picked up an injury that keeps him out of the team. He is key to our success now. His leadership and assertiveness in this team is becoming clearer with every game. And manifests itself with him taking the penalties. Which, after the Euros, is a brave decision from a 20 year old. But he is our spiritual leader now. And we need him.

So, we can regain our breath now after two crucial games over the last four days and enjoy the glow of six points. We seemed to have finally turned that corner and left behind the despair of that three game loosing streak. We have put ourselves back in contention for the Champions League. And also established a solid fallback position to the NoHoppa Cup. We can still blow this. But others are finding ways to drop points. Let’s hope the real Chelski turns up tomorrow and that they’ve sorted out all their problems with the playing surface at the Bridge. A few more WHU injuries and red cards would be welcome.

-LB7

April 20th – Chelsea 2 Arsenal 4

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Knock me down with a feather. What just happened? This was pre international break Arsenal. I thought we’d lost that team to be replaced by the hollow team of the last three weeks. Where have they been?

We scored a goal without a deflection. And then proceeded to score yet more. Let’s ignore for the moment that we conceded. We played stylish, open, creative football. We controlled large parts of the game. We also defended (in the second half) in a coherent and coordinated manner. This was reminiscent of how Arteta structured us in our F A Cup run. 

After seeing the team selected I assumed (as I had after the last match) that we were royally fucked. There was no way we could compete with bankrupt chelski. But this was Artetas day. Everything he touched turned to goals and three points. As wrong as he got it against Brighton was more than offset by how every move he made was perfect. Against the master tactician Teuchel he out tacticed him. From the initial move back to a back three to every in game adjustment. Whereas we’ve question his slowness to adapt, for this game he was one step ahead of each of their moves. And how animated was he on the touch line. Compare that to his passive and sullen presence on the touch line against Palace and Brighton. He believed in this team today (technically yesterday).

The transformation of this team was amazing to watch. To see the progressive team of this season reassert itself was uplifting and completely unexpected. It makes you believe in a higher force at work. Even higher than Arteta. 

Southampton was an aberration. We were devoid of luck (and goals). Here though we had a little luck – as did they though for their jammy first goal. Care of Christiansen, we had our first goal since the invention of electricity. But who actually believed Eddie would score? He was calm and poised as he clinically put us one nil up. And who thinks Cigarette could have scored from that position? You’re all liars if you thought he would.  I have been consistently doubting of Eddie. I have have nightmares about his missed header at Everton. Today though he was on fire. Sure the breakdown in his link up play gave rise to one of their goals. But his pressure, persistence and pace were needed in this team. He helped Saka, ESR and Odegaard. One summer does not a swallow make. But this was a performance from him of genuine promise. Enough, for sure, to earn him a starting position against United. He will now get that run in the team that he has been craving. A chance to consistently prove us all wrong. Maybe he’ll still be gone at seasons end. So what. We need him to play like this for 6 more games. And consign Cigarette to the bench. 

Then we have to look at Xhaka. One of his best performances as well. With a solid, reliable (aka boring) Elneny alongside him we saw a more creative Xhaka. His risky nutmeg play in our box was the catalyst for that sublime second goal. The entire move was positive, direct and quick; no hesitation as possession  progressed up the pitch. But that finish by ESR. Remarkable. The poise and grace of that goal. That is instinct. You can’t learn that skill. Breathtaking stuff. Once released by Xhaka it was created by 20 year olds. Made in the cresh of arsenal. 

Odegaard was as quick and Intelligent in his movement and passing even as they tried to hack him down. He linked up with Xhaka and released the youngsters in front of him. Chelski could not get control of him.

Holding and Elneny were certainly rusty as the game started. Each giving away possession with poor passing. But then each grew into game. Elneny, did I’m mention that he was boring, so let me say he was as boring as ever but pivotal to protecting our  back three. And Holding being tough and physical with Werner and the vanishing Lukaku. Which was needed as White was a little careless again. He was caught for their second goal – which did look like a foul – as was Tavares. But Gabriel was immense today. Very little distribution but vital blocks and last ditch defending.

Which just leaves Saka and ESR. They came of age against Chelski over a year ago at home. They love playing Chelski. Here we saw them at their most fearless. ESR could have scored a couple more times. His ghosting into positions was reminiscent of the legendary Freddie. Except ESRs close control bewildered Chelski. And Saka just refused to be bullied and instead ripped Alonso apart creating havoc whenever he was on the ball. You could see he enjoyed today. Especially that penalty. How often do we get those calls? How often do we have that luck? 

With all the money they have spent Chelski fans should get used to a new reality. Any new owners will not provide blank checks based on oligarch money. They will have to compete in the real world now where the rest of us (aside from Man City) live. And hopefully this will cause the financial doping they introduced to abate somewhat assuming, that is, that Newcastle don’t replicate their approach. Anyway it was nice to see the plastic, jonny come lately Chelski fans stream out of the ground so early. They deserved this. As did we. Today, we deserved and earned this victory. It restored some faith. It swept away some of the fear we all had for the rest of the season. And, fuck me, was it unexpected!

So, am I nervous for Saturday? Hell, yes. But, whatever happens we will always have Stamford Bridge and 4-2. No-one can take away that joy. That happiness – that after the last three games – I’d feared had vanished for the season. The sheer pleasure of watching the re-emergence of our new arsenal. The enjoyment in seeing sublime goals and the outright suffering of Chelski to boot as well. We deserved this. This is what joy feels like. I have the glow back. And we have a few days to bask in the glory of a famous victory. 

-LB7

April 16th – Southampton 1 Arsenal 0

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I’m turning into a vampire. On the 44th minute my blood drained away. Three games now. And each time I lose a little more of my limited blood supply. Soon the fangs will be protruding. On the plus side, I’ll be out at night and won’t be around to watch AFC.

Today was not on Arteta. The team selection is what we should have gone with against Brighton. And, today, we should have won this game. As against both Palace and Brighton, they shoot and they score. Whereas with us we shot and we either miss or find away to make a lumbering, giant of a man look like a good keeper. This guy is more like the jolly green giant except that he’s not jolly and is frighteningly ugly. He should be awarded a yellow card just for turning up. But somehow we managed to not take the numerous chances to score. It’s like the goal machines that was Saka and ESR has been vanquished. With Cigarette having caught COVID we finally had Eddie start a game. It was not his fault that we lost the game but it’s not like he lite the place up either.

Saka should have scored from Martinelli breakaway in the first half and then ESR should have scored in the second. Between that we had complete control of the game. Yes we were slightly ponderous and slow. But we were much but than the previous two weeks. Yet we still found a way to give them a goal. And, as we all know now, we are incapable of scoring. Three games now without a clean goal.

So when they did score – against the run of play – the blood drains out of the body because you know there is 45 mins of pain ahead. Playing Xhaka in midfield helped stabilize the team. Sambi had another solid game. He is finding his way. He was less defensive and help provide some limited momentum. Saka started on the left. I assume to give protection to Tavares. And he, muzeltov, made it past the first half. Quite an achievement. There were a few occasions when he got lost, out of position upfield. But he was not to blame to day.

Martinelli was more involved than Odegaard who was a little absent. But then he had behind him the master of all free-kicks, Cedric. Two free-kicks that were beyond embarrassing. And his overall passing today was very hesitant. He was more uncomfortable than we’ve seen for a number of weeks. At some point we have to get Tomi back – even if he’s only standing on one leg.

Unfortunately, beside him we had White putting in a Brentford like performance. There were a number of occasions where he was too slow on the ball, allowed it to bounce in front of him and was generally out played by their forward. Twice he should have cleared balls in the box but instead gave chances to them. He was nutmegged for one and then hesitant on another. Overall, he was way too sloppy. Alongside him Gabriel was more solid today so no complaints there.

Ramsdale had no real chance with their goal and aside from that had barely anything to do. One shot and one goal! Somehow we have to get a lucky break here. Though with the upcoming fixture list it’s only going to get tougher. Maybe against these other teams they will open up more and create more space for us. But I suppose this is what happens when you are relying on 20 year olds to score your goals.

We definitely got better as the game went on. The passing improved and the speed picked up. Saka reverted to the left, linked up with Odegaard and got him into the game more. But that final pass, whether it was in the inside channel to Eddie or out wide to Saka was just marginally off today. Sambi pushed up further and Xhaka was one of our creative outlets but we just could not take our chances.

So as frustrating and depressing as today was – especially on the back of the last two weeks – this was an improvement. Of course, that is a frightengly low bar and not one that a team that aspires to Europe should be measured against.  Maybe in the next transfer window we might acquire some luck. Mr. Rick O’Shea or Mr. Jammy Basterd. Because Eddie and Cigarette wont’ help us.

Maybe Arteta could have made his changes earlier but it was clear that if we’d have played for another 180 minutes we just were not going to score. At some point this dam bursts. But until then it’s pure suffering.  

I mean, let’s face it. How do you lose to Palace, Brighton and Southampton without scoring a single, clean goal? This has the potential to get a lot more miserable. Luckily there are only 7 more games for us to lose. These were our easy games. Though we’ve clearly proven that for us there are no easy games. Not this version of us. The pre International break version would have cantered through this games. Now we are on the edge of an abyss, if not outright falling into one. The only reason we’re not already dead and buried in relation to Europe is that the other teams are trying to be as shitty as we are.

Midweek will not help us but the home game against United now takes on even more significance. If we want to play in Europe we have to beat them. They are as crappy as we are. But they tend to better away from home. Somehow Arteta has to find a way to get some self-belief back into this team. We have to find a way to put the ball in the net (preferably theirs). Until then we will continue to drop like a stone. Gravity could yet drag us back to 8th. For Chelski we should just pack the defense and play like Burnley or Bolton. Try to grind out a point. We can only hope they have to play extra-time tomorrow. They’ve had a difficult, busy schedule. Maybe we could catch them on an off-day. They will, of course, catch us on our usual, off-day.

Then it’s Man United. I don’t see what Arteta can do to change this up. Pepe can’t start, ESR has been to inconsistent. And, when you looked at the bench today, you realized how thin this squad is. Not that I’d want any of the players we dumped in January. But it speaks to the vicious cycle we’re now in. We need more players but until we have a viable team playing in Europe it’s hard to get the players we need. To build we need to retain our trajectory. We have to be able to offer some European football.  Currently, we can barely offer Premier League football.

On the bright side. Oh, hold on. There isn’t one. As much fun as it was to see that lot lose to Brighton it failed to make up for the misery today. And the feeling that we watching the dissipation of all that’s been good this season. To get so close to the Champions League and then to miss out on the NoHoppaCup will be crushing. It will wipe out any goodwill Arteta has created this season. It will put him under tremendous pressure. It will cause our best players to wonder about this project. Except that today was on them. They had the chances to win this game. It was not like we did not turn up. We were not perfect. I mean we did have Cedric out there. But we did enough to get something out of this game. Instead we made the ugliest man in the league (aside from the captain of England) look like a lifesaving goalkeeper. Our lives are just now outright miserable. And we don’t deserve this. We are better than this. So it’s time to get out the Ouji boards, Buddhas or whatever it is we all pray to. Arteta did all he could do today. Now it’s up to us. We need to invoke all our spells to give this team some luck. A penalty would be much appreciated. A deflection. An own goal. A red card for the opposition. Things we have not benefited from. Anything. So, spend you time wisely. Maybe don’t over pray for Wednesday because we’ll need some luck at the weekend as well.

In the meantime, I’m going to protect myself with some garlic and find a blood transfusion – just not from Cigarette. COVID is the last thing I need at this point. All I need is 3 points. And not from the remaining games. But from one, complete game. I’d like to win a game. Please. Pretty please. I like to enjoy watching this team again. It’s just too painful, too hard at the moment.

-LB7

April 9th – Arsenal 1 Brighton 2

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Appalling Arsenal revert back to the start of the season.  In many ways, that was worse than Palace. 5 days to regroup and we came out with no game-plan, no structure and no identity. We have well and truly lost our way. The soul of our team has been stolen. This was like watching Arsenal of the last few years. All the good work of the last six months has evaporated. This team could not find its way into Europe if you gave them boarding tickets to a plane.

We are right and royally fucked. If you can’t get points from Palace and Brighton then there is no way the team could even be consider worthy of the Champions League. We will be lucky to get into the NoHopa Cup at this rate. Actually, we will be lucky to pick up any points. We were just boring, sideways and utterly uninspiring. It’s a sequence like this that can completely undo Arteta. Today his team selection was wrong, his tactics were wrong. And, during half-time, he had no influence on his team. Right from the start of the second half – after one of the worst displays at the Emirates – we proceed to continue passing sideways and backwards. Sure, Xhaka moved into midfield but basically it was more directionless football. We have lost our identity. Everything good from the last six months has disappeared. It feels like we are reverting to type. Once we get in sight of something attenable we implode.

Right from the start you could see there was no idea how to play this game. Gabriel was on the ball too much And, every pass and header from him went to their team. His distribution makes Kolo Toure look like Carzola. This far into a season and I fear for Gabriels’ longevity. Surely Saliba – who I’ve never seen play – is better than this.  Gabriel could not blame Tavares today. Brighton understood this and made sure White was pressed to give the ball up to him. But there was no outlet is midfield either. With Xhaka consigned to left back we had no-one to create. ESR was as poor today as I’ve seen him. He could barely make a pass or win a tackle. He was completely peripheral. Saka was a little better but not much. But then we could not get him the ball either. Odegaard was not involved. So that’s your best three players. And then there is Cigarette. This guy is clearly run out of juice. There was not a single contribution that he made today. That’s two games, back to back, where he was invisible. What does he need to do to get dropped? Can Eddie be any worse than this guy? And he’s our captain.

This is as hard a game to discuss and describe as any of the last year. We had momentum going into this sequence of games. We had identity and clear progress. And it’s all gone now. How can anyone have faith in this team now? How can the progress be this fragile? How can we recover from this? One injury to Tierney and the key loss of Partey and we become a Burnley like team. Our only threat came from corners. But we could barely string any passes together. And Brighton, who were pretty average, were able to tear us apart. As poor as ESR, Gabriel, Cigarette and others were, we, unfortunately, have to look at Arteta. He got his team selection wrong today. Moving Xhaka to left-back neither helped Xhaka nor the team. As much as I hated Tavares performance against Palace, he would have been a better choice. Losing Xhaka from midfield and leaving Samba to link up the team was an utter failure. You could see it after 5 minutes. Yet we persisted until half-time with that. And then how does Cigarette stay on the field for the second half. And how does it take so long to bring on Eddie and Pepe? Everything Arteta did today was wrong.

And yet, we could have gone in at half-time level. It would have been undeserved but nonetheless what the fuck is VAR doing with that disallowed goal? How does it take them 4 minutes to come to an offside decision? If it’s that difficult to determine they cannot overturn the onfield decision? And, because of the way VAR works – there is no accountability not transparency. That goal cannot be disallowed on the evidence. There was an obscured view even with all those cameras. There was no clear view. That’s’ why it took so long. Four fucking minutes? What has happened to this game? Should we bring back all the lawyers to legislate the game? Are they using an atomic microscope to analyze the frames? This was insane. How, can they make this decision? It’s the death of football. And no-one will discuss this. It kills this game (and, for us, this game). It’s pathetic. And there is no voice to push back against this usage of technology. After 1 minute they could have said they can’t tell. Any time after that has them making an arbitrary decision. Because they clearly could not actually tell – that’s why it took 4 minutes to make the wrong decision and override the referee and linesman. What a joke. But entirely in keep with the entire performance today.

It’s so dispiriting to watch this team implode after everything they have produced this season. To have us so close to qualifying for the Champions League. All that hard work and progress just being thrown away against mid-table teams. It’s like season past for fans. And it’s compounded by United losing again. It’s like we’ve decide to hand a lifeline to those wankers down the road. Here, please, take our Champions League place. Instead of putting a knife into their hopes for the future, we are not just killing ourselves but we’re saving them from another year of failure.

So what is Arteta playing at? How can his team come out so listless and devoid of a game plan? This is on him. All the good will he has generated in the last 9 months will quickly disappear if he allows this team to crash and burn. But I see no evidence that he can turn this around now. Without Partey and without Tierney we have no-one else to rescue us. We have to sort out the left back position. Maybe we can get Tommy back and switch Cedric over there. Until we sort that out Gabriel will continue to be a liability. And we can’t ever play Xhaka there. We need him in midfield.

A quick word on that refereeing performance. It was so bad he could have played for Arsenal. He allowed them to foul Saka continuously. He gave our random yellow cards. And caused the game to be stop and start and his decisions were inconsistent. He had very little control of the game. He looked – like Arsenal -out of his depth. It was not the reason we lost today. That was entirely on us. But it makes you truly wonder about the refereeing standards in the league.

Back to us. I have no idea where we go from here. Arteta seems to have lost the plot. He has to create balance in the team. He stuck with the 4-3-3 and that did not work. It was not Sambi’s fault today. He worked hard. But does not provide the link-up play from the back four that Partey does. So, someone has to help. Otherwise White and, god forbid, Gabriel, end up holding onto the ball for too long. And it takes all the pace and energy out of our game.

Today was a disaster in ways I could not have imagined. It was evident from the first minute. The slowness. The indecision. The poor passes. The poor decisions. And there was little evidence we’d learned anything from the Palace game. It was arguably worse. We were at home against a weaker team.  I just don’t know where this leaves us. I dread the next game. I dread the rest of the season. And I wonder again about Arteta. Can he reverse this decay? I’m genuinely not sure. We always knew this team was threadbare – an injury or two away from exposure. But Arteta did not help us today. My fear is he will keep things as they were today. Though any rationale dissection of this game would make you realize more change is needed. But the fact we have no stability or game-plan make it feel like we’ve gone backwards by more than 6 months. We could easily end up 9th or 10th now. And that could be death for Arteta. He can’t afford to let that happen. But does he have the tactical awareness to change things? I’m not sure. He will now be under real pressure. And he has to drop Cigarette. And he needs to find a left-back. And find a balance in this team. Because today was beyond awful. It was as poor as I can remember us playing – even worse than the Palace game. This period will now define Arteta. It’s his own fault. Today he chose the wrong team and did not make the in-game adjustments that were needed. At this rate he’ll be qualified to manage Man United. Today we saw the torch paper put to the last year of development. It’s beyond sad. It’s aggravating and frustrating.

This was as dreary and depressing to write as I feared. There are no silver linings. There is no light at the end of the tunnel (aside from an oncoming train that is just about to run us all over).  We have 7 or 8 game to figure this out. And I’m not optimistic. I’d like to go to sleep now and wake up in June. The next 6 weeks are going to be painful. I don’t know if I can watch much more of this. After taking us to the heights of 4th place Arsenal are destined to break our hearts yet again.

-LB7

April 4th – Crystal Palace 3 Arsenal 0

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Yuk.

A disastrous first half, limited finishing and injuries consigned this game to the dustbin that is filled with prior encounters from previous years with Palace, Brighton and Watford. Fundamentally, that first half was one of the worst halves of football we’ve seen in a long time.

As impressive as Palace were, we were, in that first half, plain old appalling. Too many players were off their game. Too many passes were wayward. Too many players made too many bad decisions. And we lost Partey to an injury. He could be gone for a month. Or for the season. And we can’t handle that. Anyone who is foolish enough to read this blog, will now that I’ve always been worried about losing a few key important players. And, Partey is one of the key ones.

Not having Tierney was clearly destabilizing. This was yet another miserable appearance by Tavares. I know he’s a youngster but he was so off the pace. Nearly everything poor about us ran through him. His marking was at fault for their first goal and his positioning for the second. Leading into that free-kick for their first goal we had two chances to get rid of the ball . First Gabriel, under minimal pressure, headed to a Palace player. It came back to White who then also proceeded to head it to another Palace player. Before fouling Zaha. You can’t fault us for being accommodating guests. And then from the free-kick, rather than head the ball away Tavares ducked and let Anderson head it back across the goal.

Then for the second as Xhaka ran upfield, we made Palace look like Barcelona with a defensive splitting pass. But, that was only possible because Tavares dropped so deep to break our back line. That left Gabriel unsure on his position and unable to intercept the pass.

The only solution was to finally replace Tavares with Xhaka – which is not what you want to do when Zaha is on the pitch. I was amazed that Xhaka did not find a way to get sent off. Once Tavares was removed, a little more of our shape and balance returned. Of course, by then Palace went into game management mode. Unlike in the first half, we actually had some real chances in the second half. Smith-Rowe should have done better and Odegaard completely whiffed another one. Eddie hit the bar and then Cigarette should have had a penalty. Arguably Zaha got an equivalent foul but he managed to get a penalty. Today, nothing went our way.

Partey was off the pace for most of the game. His injury is worrying. And in the first half he could barely pass the ball to his own players. For the entire game Cigarette was anonymous. He was also unable to make a good pass or make any contribution. Saka looked like he still had COVID19 (and COVID 20 and COVID 21 and COVID 22). Odegaard was quiet throughout.

But it all started with Tavares. He was shocking. And he unnerved Gabriel. The left side of our defense was so vulnerable. Smith Rowe hardly got the ball in that first half. But as a team we could barely string two passes together. They pressed us more and worked harder. We took too long on the ball and were unable to find any passes.

Funnily enough – in a completely non funny way – it was Cedric that had the toughest job marking Zaha,.. But he was the one who fought the most. Who was the most physical and refused to be bullied by Zaha or anyone. If only others demonstrated the same fight.

But once you pull Tierney out of the team and have an underperforming/unfit Partey, then you’re in trouble. Today was a throwback performance. It was reminiscent of the early Arteta days. As much as things brighten-up in the second half, we were still way off the pace. We could have played for another 90 minutes and I bet we’d still not have scored.

That first 45 minutes though was enough to make you wish for yet another international break. What a contrast to how we came back from the last international break. We were so listless and passive. There was no energy or shape to our game. We did not seem prepared to engage and play them. Maybe it’s just inexperience – though with Xhaka, Gigarette and Partey out there, there were voices that should have helped us.

Let’s hope Tierney is back. We can’t let Tavares play again this season. Listen, I’ve said this many times as well. I had no expectation of finishing 4th this season. Obviously though when you’re sitting in 4th at this stage of the season your expectations change. But this is a young team. And, of course, we have the wankers down the road singing and dancing because they could now claim fourth – which for them really would be a trophy. So, it’s undeniably aggravating and frustrating when we lose three points and put in a performance like this. But without squad depth we at risk to these injuries. If you count up the points that Tavares has cost us (including the F A Cup tie) then it’s clear it’s time for us to wrap Tierney in cotton wool and also to provide him with 24 hour medical care and attention. For me, the lack of one player undermined the entire confidence of our team today. We lost that game in the first half. It was not all of Tavares fault. No, just about 85% of it.

I don’t really understand why I’m not more upset after a game like that. We were pretty spineless and lacking in leadership and aggression. It was in such contrast to our prior 8 games or so. Even with the rationalization ( Tavares, injuries etc) it’s still hard to fathom. At least we did not lose at Burnley .

Maybe more worrying that picking on Tavares – as much fun as that it – is the lack of goals from our center forward. Our original false 9. At some point we’re going to have to make a change. I’m not interested in the revisionism regarding Aubameyang. He really did have to go. I don’t care how well he’s planning in Barca, that was never going to happen here. You can’t blame Arteta for that. His lack of goals preceded that particularly schism. But now it looks like we’re just a little bit fucked because neither Cigarette or Eddie can score. As good as Palace were today they really only had three chances (yes, I know, without those goals they would have kept pressing us) but, aside from their penalty and the lack of ours, we had chances to score today. And we did not take them. In those crucial moments the game turned. If ESR had scored on his chance then the momentum would have shifted. Because by then we’d got our act back together.

I think we need the EPL to change their substitution rule. We need to be able to substitute referees next. We should be able to remove Ref Tierney and replace him with his namesake. Even with a knee injury Tesco Tierney could have done a better job. Not that that would have saved us today. But it would have made it more palatable.

So, we had to wait 16 days to watch this shit. I can’t imagine – or refuse to imagine – we can be this bad next time out. But we will need Partey, a fit and healthy Saka, Tierney to return and Tavares to be on his summer vacation for as long as possible.

It was nice to see Ramsdale back. Our resident Nazi can’t be too happy about that. He did little wrong at Villa. And Aaron was a little shaky with his passing and ball control today. But there was little any goalkeeper could have done today to help us.

Again, it’s the injuries that worry me the most. All teams will lose games. All team will play like shit at some point. We managed both of these today. And we needed luck. Not just with injuries. Not just with referees making the right calls. But we needed luck on the ricochets and second balls. Today none when our way. It will hurt our confidence – not just the supporters but the players – but that is part of the test, part of any normal season. How we react will be interesting.

Arteta made the right substitutions todays. Yanking Tavares – though I had hoped 30 minutes would have been enough (if not 5 minutes). Moving Xhaka to left-back and then moving to a back three. He played to try and recover but it was too much of a challenge because we just could not get the rub of the green. We needed one of those attempts to go it. Though it should be noted that their goalie hardly had a save to make.

This was just a thoroughly miserable game for us. But I refuse to go all doom-and-gloom. I’ve seen us collapse like this with a much weaker team. We are still in a good position. I would have taken this position if offered it prior to the season. Our problem is that our failure opens it up for those pompous upstarts who are incapable of winning any trophy. And that makes it much harder to accept. If only Man United weren’t such a pile of pooh. They had every reasonable chance – given the quality of their players, size of the payroll and the amount of money spent – to snatch 4th. I could live with that. But not the wankers from up the street. That’s what makes this so galling. They have a mature, older team with experience and a son-of-DarthVader as manager. But we should just focus on ourselves. Because that’s all we can control. And we know we have the right elements and we know where we are lacking. It’s just a case of whether Arteta can piece them back together. Because we have no margin for error now.

My hopes had been on Chelski imploding and gifting us 3rd spot. I would still not rule it out. Who would want to stay with that team of mercenaries with so much uncertainty. Maybe we are now both in a race for 5th place. If their oligarch was still there and not trying to solve (belatedly) world peace and avoid being poisoned, he would already have changed their manager and caused yet more chaos.

There will be a lot of teeth gnashing after today. We can expect to see the usual “supporters” go into melt down. So please ignore those wankers. They rarely have perspective and a rationale thought.  Instead, we should focus our prayers on the healing of Partey and Tierney. We should get out our ouji boards and our lucky charms. Dust off those buddahs statues. Or whoever you pray to, or, if you have a direct line to the man (or women or non-binary blah blah) person who controls this mysterious universe (and the league tables and the fixture list) and ask ever so nicely and respectively if we could have these two fit for our next game. I don’t want to invoke any last supper here or parting to any seas, but we need just a little sprinkling of intervention to help us now. I would, but I’m already too busy and, anyway, I think I could do with some additional help now.  

-LB7