So near yet so far. A fine season comes to a close with a deadening silence. For us it’s the NoHoppaCup – no surprise there given the prior two results. And, as they say, the table does not lie. But in this case the team above us is inferior in every way aside from two world class strikers.
Everton should have been relegated – along with Burnley, of course. They are pretty crap. But you can only beat what’s in front of you. And we thrashed them. I know they had nothing to play for apart from pride. But evidentially they don’t have any. We dominated from the first to last minute. And care of the wonderful ObeOne we actually were the beneficiaries of a penalty. But I don’t really get why it took them so long to decide. It either is or is not. In the case you could make the argument that it hit way above his elbow. But then he also made a move to the ball. If it wasn’t given I would not have gone mad. Of course, it was that other team in North London, it would have been given immediately without the help of VAR and, in all likehood, before the game started..
We began the game the way we should have against Newcastle. Creating and passing quickly. And once we got one it became so easy. Odegaard was clearly present for this game and dictated the game. Whereas on their side they had Deli Ali. His objective it seemed was to rile up Xhaka to try and get him sent off. I can’t believe that Ali did not get a yellow for some of his lame, late tackles. And yet more amazing was that Xhaka not only stayed on the pitch but did not even pick up a yellow. I’ll never get what Lampard saw in Ali and why he’s in this team. If that’s evidence of Lampard’s judgement then they will be stuck in the relegation zone again next year.
Eddie nipped in with a classic poachers goal. And, again, his link up play was both effective and nimble. Like Monday, this was amplified once Cigarette replaced him. Cigarette immediately missed a chance and then had a few other shots that explained why he’s not scored since man landed on the moon. And, yet again, he continues to foul the defenders just inside our half to set up their set pieces. I am so looking forward to him returning to France. I would willing pay for the airfare and personally drive him to any French club of his choosing. As likable as he is, he’s never lived up to the required standards. And in the last 12 months he has materially hurt our team. Not intentionally, it’s just that he’s not up to the level of the Premier League any more.
Xhaka was not pressurized today and therefore had ample time to stroke the ball around. But Elneny was the key creator today. Taking the ball from the defense and pushing us forward. In retrospect we lost 4th place when we started Sambi in midfield over Elneny and pushed Xhaka to left-back. But, at the time, no-one would have countenanced Elneny playing over Sambi. But hindsight being what it is. Oh well.
And when Sambi came on you could see he did not have the positional awareness we need. And on that point, OhNo put in a typical shift. Not completely awful though he was barely tested. However, at the start of the second half, when Everton decided to actually try and play he both found a way to play the ball directly to them in a dangerous position and then give away a foolish foul on Calvert-Lewin. OnHo had a few chances on goal and, of course, managed to blast them way off target. We unquestionably, desperately require a real left-back for next season. And if it could be a part-exchange with OhNo and a pack of crisps, then so much the better. I don’t think I have enough years left on this planet to see OhNo develop into a trusted football player. He is what Theo would be at left back. Fast, exciting and totally unreliable. Though that might be a little unfair on Theo.
And on his vaunted return we saw again why we need Saliba back here next year. Poor Holding, who looks like he has a proper hedge growing on his head now, just makes too many mistakes at this level. He is an earnest, committed version of Mustafa. I can’t believe I’ve just said that. But when you consider the lack of judgement in the NLD and the decision today to leave the ball from Calvert-Lewin as it ran across our 6 yard area, you have to wonder whether he will ever be of the required quality. We all love our Rob but, at the level we’d like to get to, he’ll be left by the road side. Assuming, that is, we can convince Saliba to return. My hope is that he can replace Gabriel. Though he scored today he still insists on making long passes when Elneny or Odegaard is the obvious – and quicker – pass. Anyway, look at any of the top team and you’ll see they all carry at least 3 first rate center-halves. We need that.
Martinelli was a live wire again creating havoc down our left hand side. It makes you wonder why he did not start on Monday. He had chances – which we should have taken – but he adds a real threat down the left. It’s just a shame he has to work with OhNo and not Tierney.
As pleasant as today was I do wonder why we had to bring on Pepe at 4-1 up with nothing to play for. Hopefully he’s sold off in some garage sale over the next month or so. In this one instance the Accountant (i.e. Emery) was 100% right. We should have gotten Saha. Though with the emergence of Saka we actually needed neither. Well, definitely not Pepe. If we can get a bubble-gum wrapper and a half eaten hot dog I’d consider that a good trade. But why didn’t Arteta bring on one of the young kids. By this stage there was nothing to play for and they would have benefits from the experience.
Let’s hope that both Saka and ESR take nice long summer breaks though I fear stupid England internationals might interfere. Both have looked knackered over the last few games. At their age they’ve been played too much. Of course, if Pepe was not such a waste, Saka could have got some recovery time. But Saka, along with Ramsdale, were our players of the year. Not something you could ever accuse Pepe of. What a waste of money.
I nearly forgot. Cedric scored. That means he actually hit the target. It was, in truth, a well-taken goal. But I fear it might encourage him to try more shots or free-kicks. And that would be a disaster. Anyway, my bigger hope is that not only does Tomi make it back, fit and eager for the new season but that we find an alternate right-back to Cedric. If we want to progress we can’t have him as the back-up right back (nor OhNo as the backup left back). But today, give him credit. He hit the target. But lightening does not strike twice in the same place so let’s off-load him while he’s still smiling.
It’s a shame we could not produce a performance like this in the prior two games, though, to be fair, the opposition were at a very different level. It was pretty inevitable how today would play out for 4th so we can’t say it was surprising even if there will always be lingering regret. But we can only blame ourselves (and Paul Tierney). Long-term, we might be grateful for entering Europe through the NoHoppa Cup. We need a couple more transfer windows to fully re-tool this squad. We’ve made excellent progress. Consider who we’ve jettisoned in the last 18 months – Ozil, David Luiz, Kolinsac, Mustafa, Ospina, Mikeytarrian, Aubameyang, Chambers, Mari, Torreira, Guendouzi and (yuk) Willian. That’s an entire team even ignoring those we’ve sent out on loan (Nelson, AMN etc). Though I hate those cheats and wankers from up the road getting into the CL, I like our progression and trajectory. The NoHoppaCup suits us quite nicely and will give playing time to our younger, less experienced players. And it will allow us to patiently add a few key players. Now that Mbappe has, for some crazy reason, decided to re-sign with the money pit of PSG as opposed to take the opportunity to lead the line at The Emirates, we can focus on the importance of the summer signings. But that’s for another post once we’ve digested and recovered from the trauma of the last few weeks. There will be ample time for reflection I’ll gather my usual random thoughts and see if I can generate a coherent, semi-intelligent review of the year later this week. A high bar indeed, I know. But I can hear by regular reader demanding to hear my thought (or, just maybe, thoughts).
And, remember, there is always next year. We’ll all be heading to Budapest! Oh come, on, no, not to fight the Russians – it’s where the NoHoppa Final is next year.