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December 1st – Norwich 2 Arsenal 2

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Lucky Arsenal. Jammy Arsenal. Another come from behind draw. Another 2 goals let in. Another 2 points dropped against the worst teams in the Premier league.

Freddie what are you doing? I thought we were done with Mustafi and Xhaka. It’s back to our failed past. No Torreira. No Holding. No Bellerin. And, of course, no defense. We are incapable of defending. We can’t put in tackles and can’t close players down.

It’s only one game but based on 90 minutes it cries out for a real manager with real organizational skills to come in. Go and kidnap Ancelotti now. Because if Freddie starts with this line-up and then brings on Saka and Martinelli before Pepe we’re in deeper shit than I realized. We’ve made progress with the removal of Emery. We had more energy today. If we had the Cigarette that played last week we’d have won this game. As brilliant as he was this week he was awful today. He passed when he should have shot. In fact, I don’t think he had a shot today. I’d have moved Aubameyang into the central position and pushed Cigarette our wide. Ozil was very quiet; Wilock was marginal. The movement of the ball was a little quicker but Cigarette missed our chances and both goals came from dead ball situations. Our creativity is still lacking but our defense is beyond woeful. Of course Mustafi was a disaster but so was everyone around him. David Luis backs off players and does not play offside. And neither will close down the player on the ball.

Leno was our best players today. Him and VAR. I’d be aggrieved if that penalty was against my team and then retaken. And beyond looking dangerous at corners we barely threatened their keeper. We dominated the first half but as soon as we scored our second equalizer we handed control of the game back to them. We gave the ball away and could not win any challenges. Guendouzi was weak today. He lost the ball and lost challenges. Xhaka, aside from the fact he can’t defend, was reasonable. But all too often both of these two are chasing back with the play ahead of them. This exposes our defenders and we know what that means.

We need organization. Freddie only had 48 hours. But we have to judge him on the team selection. And it was abysmal. Has he not been watching this year? Why would you select Mustafi? Even at the end of the game he slipped over to enable them to create one more chance that Torreira managed to block. It felt just like playing Southampton. On the break we looked as disorganized and vulnerable as ever. Someone, somewhere is surely capable of shaping this group of players into a team. It can’t be that hard. Surely.

For the first time in 9 months I’d been excited about an Arsenal game. Nervous and expectant. Until I saw the team selection. This should have been a relaunch. Instead it reaffirmed that the club need to look outside for a proven manager. It demonstrated that we need a fresh pair of eyes. Real change. Today made me less inclined to Arteta and more disposed to the Italian A’s.

There is talent in this squad but no organization. No notion of how to defend. We are fooling ourselves if we are thinking about Europe next year. We can’t even beat the worst three teams in our league. In each instance we’ve drawn them. Our point accumulation is at the rate of a relegation team. Once we start losing games to real teams then we’ll realize that we are delusional. Today we gave the ball away in our back 1/3rd of the field too much. As the game wore on we lost the ability to retain the ball. We let Norwich dominate us. That’s right. Fucking Norwich.  All season it’s been the same thing – no balance and no defense. And Freddie had a chance today to correct that. We had Brighton up next. Will his selection change? I fear it won’t. I was so optimistic today but feel now that we’re still continuing our journey in a dark tunnel and that light at the end has turned out to be an oncoming train.

Before we know it we will have to play ManCIty, Chelski and ManU. With the display like today, we are fucked. Sure there was more energy. But that was it. We need senior management to bring in a real manager. Make real change. If they have a plan that would be reassuring. But my money is on us stumbling along for a few more weeks. If Freddie continues to structure the team as he did today the results will remain the same and the pressure will build. If he, by some miracle, concludes that no Arsenal team should contain Mustafi and we put Torreira at the base of the midfield, we’ll gain some points but only paper over the lack to organization.

So, for Christmas, please give me a real manager. A grown up who’s done this job before. Someone who knows this league and has a track record of success. There are a few but we can’t wait until the end of the season. Because by then the fans would have turned on Freddie and we’ll be flirting with relegation. I know this sounds melodramatic. But this team is now officially dysfunctional. You can’t draw against a team like Norwich and conclude anything other than that. Sure we moved the ball a little quicker. We were a little more incisive. But until we understand how to defend, how not to be continuously exposed on the break. Until we understand how teams counter-attack, we will never score enough goals to overcome our porous defense. And that’s even with Leno in goal. The fact that he was our best player today speaks volumes.

The only good news is that we don’t have listen to Unai destroy the English language. But if this is the first day of the rest of our lives, I’d still like another life. We were lucky to come away with a point today. A penalty and a corner compared to numerous Norwich chances where everyone of our players backed-off. No-one can close down the player on the ball. And then, even when we got the ball back, we did not know how to control the game. Yes, it was marginally better than the performance against Southampton and Eintracht. But that’s no measure of where this club should be. All these teams are shit. But, unfortunately, I think we’ve demonstrated over the last couple of months that we are officially shit.

-LB7

Nov 30th – Emery’s Emirates Exit

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And about time too. Now we can move forward. Though it might be two steps back before 3 steps forward. But finally some movement. After watching the Eintracht game it was inevitable. If there was not sufficient evidence during the Southampton game – let along the last 6 months – this game just about took the biscuit. That second half performance was as insipid and lethargic as anything I’ve ever seen from Arsenal. And that covers the gloomy days of Terry Neil and the tedious game of the mid-80s. In the decades I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through Arsenal this was as dreary and diabolical as I could have imagined. Why we need to wait post Leicester is beyond me. We’ve wasted yet more time with Mr. Bean managing our club. But at least we know what it’s like to have a zombie as coach; someone devoid of personality, someone devoid of decisiveness.

Finally someone in Arsenal put Emery out of his misery. I’m sure he’ll go back to some league 2 team in Spain and build a nice team. Managing in the EPL is just different. For talented managers – of which there are only a few – it’s a great platform but for most others it will break them. We unfortunately picked from the latter group. I was OK with the original decision but it became apparent earlier this calendar year that all was not well. He should have been shown the door at least a month ago. However, if the rumours are true we should be grateful he wasn’t otherwise we’d have ended up with Darth Vader. I’m more than happy for him to reside at the other side of North London. They will enjoy some short term improvement – maybe it will get them into the Champions League next year (though we have to pray for Lampard to fix his team and for Brendon to stay). But we all know how it will go up in smoke in 18 months to 24 months. And even if turns out that he has finally changed his pathologically, narcissistic behavior, there are no circumstances under which he could be allowed to manage our club.

Which leaves us with Freddie. As a legend he’ll start with tremendous goodwill. But do we want him turning into our OSG?  If we goes on a good run – which we can only dream for – others will clamor for him to get a permanent appointment. Yet, the probability is he’ll suffer because this teams issues can’t be solved just by a change in manager. It needs a rebuild – that’s what Emery was supposed to oversee. And Freddie can’t do that in 48 hours.

So why are we in this situation and why was there not a plan in place? If you look across the road they announced their replacement in 12 hours. That’s how you should do it. Albeit not with that appointee. Why did they not have someone lined up? Is the person unavailable? Do we need Freddie for the rest of the year? It would seem as though our management was caught off guard. If they were talking to Darth Vader then surely they were talking to others as well. They had a week since he landed somewhere else? Allegri is available now. Would he help us? I’m not sure that style will work. Ancelotti is familiar with the EPL and could soon be free. Then there’s’ Brendon, Nuno, Arteta and Viera. All these are interesting alternatives. But we, as a club, should already know what we want. And we should move.

The timing is not important because it could help us qualify for the Champions League – that ship has sailed. It’s to make sure our players know that we are committed to being successful. We can’t really blame Silent Stan and his little DNA. They put football people in charge. It’s their decision and their responsibility. They should have a plan in place to get us the best available manager. For me that’s Nuno. Wolves is a club steeped in history form the 1950’s but is no place for a real manager. Likewise Leicester. Both of these clubs reside in the region known as the black country; and no-one really wants to be there. I’m nervous of the ego associated with Brendon but he did a great job at Swansea and, aside from his Hollywood turn at Liverpool, did another great join in the wastelands of Scotland. I’m not sure he’d want to leave a team destined for the Champions League next year for a re-build with us.

An alternative view would be to put us in the safe hands of Ancelotti to stabilize us for the next 18 months and then hand it over to Arteta or, on the off chance Nice takes-off – Viera. But whichever way we move I can’t see how it can or should be Freddie. It’s a path ManU have got stuck going down and one we don’t need.

For the first time this season I will be nervous for the match. I will watch with expectations. I will expect a real energy level and commitment. I’ll also hope we have a defensive midfield of Torreira and Guendouzi. And I hope Sokratis is on the bench. But I won’t expect miracles. But I will care. Now that we will have some leadership we should see some improvement. But until we get a real manager we should not expect too much from Freddie. Even for tomorrow we should accept that even when we drop more points, we’re finally restarting our season. We’ve wasted 18 months on the wrong manager but the squad is still better than it’s been. Let’s just hope that the football brain trust at Arsenal is now doing the work they should have done in the last 3 months to identify and bring in the manager we need.

Strap on we’re on for a bumpy ride.

– LB7

November 23rd – Arsenal 2 Southampton 2

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Abject Arsenal can’t even beat a shit Southampton. And Southampton should have won. They had more clear chances and should have been 3 or 4 up before Cigarette equalized.

Where to start with such a shit game. It’s barely worth watching these days. The inability to gel as a team is so clear. You’d have to be a blind man or Unai Emery not to see it. There is so much wrong with this team – not the group of players – it’s hard to know where to start.

As ever the formation – starting at home against the worst team in the league with a back three. How ambitious is that? From the start Southampton closed us down with more energy and desire. We barely built from the back and then at snails pace. By the time the ball got the half way line everyone was asleep. This team mirrors the energy and outlook of our manager – devoid of ideas and fast asleep.

It’s been evident for months now. We had the chance post Leicester to take the initiative and dump this failed manager. Instead we let the other north London team show how to move forward. They actually had a great manager but still fired him. We have a shit one but decide to retain him. They got to the Champions League final and lost because of a tough penalty call. They fired their manager. We struggled into the Europa League final and were catatonic . Yet we the club that retains our manager.

Today demonstrated again that this team does not respond to him. We struggled the entire game. If we wanted culprits we had Sokratis and Atwell. This was, by far, the most indecisive performance by Sokratis today. Will he be held accountable? Will Holding start the next game. Of course not. He tried to hand them multiple goals. His distribution was awful and he lingered on the ball in all the wrong areas.

I felt sorry for Tierney today. In the first half all the attacking creativity came down his side. Contrast that with the other side – Bellerin was awful today. His touch was crap and his contributions were non-existent. Our right hand side was unused for the first half and most of the second. Yet Tierney gave up a penalty. Even with VAR focusing on the potential offside that was as slight a penalty as you could hope for. Not enough to overturn on VAR. But Atwell was a cunt the entire game. He allowed Southampton to waste time as soon as they scored. He then awarded free-kicks for the slighted infractions. I still have the sound of his whistle rattling in my head. It was non-stop. And the spate of yellow cards – most of which were trivial – were inconsistent. But this all helped to disrupt the flow of the game. Yes we are shit but there’s not reason for him to impact the flow of the game so much nor to so randomly give or not give free kicks.

It’s hard to get to upset because this is all so predictable. It inevitably ends up with Emery gone. It’s so obvious. A blind man can see this. There are complicated things in this world. What is dark matter? How do you control climate change? Why is nationalism on the rise? But, as for who should manage Arsenal I think we all know it should not be Emery. So we have to consign this season to the dustbin? We have to wade through the another 60% of the season watching this? Why waste time? I know the club don’t want to be seen as a hire and fire club. But when it’s so clearly wrong why waste time? Show leadership and admit it did not work out. We are now a middle table team. An average team. I can remember when this team was mid-table. Go back to the ‘70s and ‘80s if you want to see average. But that was not on the manager. That was the team – the lack of ability and class. That’s not the case here. This group of players is better than last year. Emery has found a way to get less out of more. Just the opposite of what we were looking for.

I bet some fans are wondering whether it would have been better to not have scored the equalizer. Would we have been better off if we’d have lost. Would this have placed more pressure on Emery and Arsenal and hastened his departure. That is not, unfortunately, an irrational idea. As a life long fan I wonder whether – for our long-term good – we’d be better off losing our forthcoming games in order to assure ourselves of the departure of this goat. If the club thought that Wenger had lost the supporters and the players how can they not conclude the same with Emery?

On balance though I still want us to win. I don’t want a string of losses to drive out Emery. I want the club to see what’s happening (or not happening) on the pitch and that they step forward, take responsibility and fire him before we lose more games and drop more points. How bad do our performances have to be? How many points do we have to drop before they realize what we already know. That Emery must go.

What does Emery have to do to get fired? If not draw at home to Southampton and Crystal Palace, lose at Leicester. When did we last win a game? And what signs of progress and development is there? None. Is Emery our Trump? Neither can get pinned down for any responsibility while chaos surrounds them. In the latter case we’ll have to wait till next November. But for the former, this November should be sufficient. Emery will take more games to waste the talent in front of him.

Cigarette scored two crucial goals today. He saved Emery. And, aside from the ridiculous yellow card he was given, was excellent today. He was our best player. It’s so good to finally see him back in form rid of his prior injuries. He worked so hard the entire game and literally saved Emery today.

Torreira, though he gave the ball away, was improved today. But there is not clear relationship with Guendouzi. Often they got in each others way or Guendouzi was too far away from Torreira. And neither came to pick up the ball from our back three.

Pepe did make a difference when we came on. He blew one clear opportunity when he should have taken the responsibility rather than tried to pass to Ozil. That’s what happens when your confidence is low. And then he hit the bar later on.

Wilcock saved this game for us with his goal line clearance. And saved Emery. How Southampton did not score before we equalized shows that there is someone up there that does not like Arsenal. Those misses saved Emery.

How bad are we. With 5 minutes left in added time, we can’t even play the ball out of defense. Sokratis is passing the ball backwards and sideways. No-one is demanding the ball or driving forward. Everyone’s head is down. It’s only by good fortunate the ball ends up headed out to Martinelli before Cigarette controls with one foot and scores with the other.

No-one celebrates. Not the players. Not the fans. Because we all know we’re shit. And Emery is lucky. So now we have to sit around and suffer through more meanderings from our incoherent manager. Watch more games where our defense will get torn apart. Drop more points and wait for the hammer to drop on Emery. It’s so inevitable it’s boring. It’s even hard to get too upset – though I seem to be doing a good job.

This is the most obvious case of an underperforming team with an unsuitable manager I’ve seen since Sherwood was at Aston Villa and Sp*rs. Maybe I can find a tranquilizer to put me out for the next 4 or 5 games. It’s too tedious to watch this team.  To watch the abject waste of talent. And to watch our manager prowl the touchline with no clue of how to solve the problems he can created. Maybe he can bring back Xhaka. Maybe we need Mustafi. Can we buy back Iwobi? Because that limited progress is being wasted. The Green Party should be up in arms at the waste of resources at Arsenal.  Even at its worst under Wenger – even at the end – we were never this poor. Never this lost. Never this directionless. So again, I ask, what will it take for the club to rescue this team. You can’t ask Emery to fire himself – he would miss anyway. It was a good idea that just has not worked out. What’s their plan B (or C)? Do they have one. They invested a lot of money (though not on a net basis) this summer. How can they accept such a witless, idealess, ponderous, turgid, inept performance such as this – at home – against one of the worst teams in the league. A team to whom, in all honesty, we deserved to lose to? If not now when?  

-LB7

November 9th – Leicester 2 Arsenal 0

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This could have been worse. It should have been worse. Then we might have more confidence that the club would do the right thing. Unfortunately, there might have been just enough in this game for Unai Emery to retain his job. It’s a shame; we’d have benefited by being more clearly thrashed. Then there would be no more reason to waste time with our B- coach.

Unai Emery, a man perfected to manage a mid-table Spanish team is well on his way to replicating that at Arsenal.  He has had ample time to improve this club. For example, look at our opposition. In less than 9 months Rogers has had a material impact on Leicester. He’s taken the elements of their team, reshaped it and extracted more from the same players. Can anyone say that about Emery? If anything, with even better players at his disposal this year he’s managed to find a way to extract less.

Our team has no obvious shape, no identify and certainly no personality. Today was no different from any game bare the first two this season. There is no progress. We might win a few games here and there but this team will never compete for the Champions League. It’s inconceivable that this team can finished above 5th. And that might be a reach. Eventually ManUre and Sp*rs will fix their teams and then overtake us as well.

Unfortunately, the club might think there’s just enough development to justify retaining Emery for the balance of the season. A more clinical display by Leicester would have helped enforce the outcome that is predictable and obvious. Emery won’t be our manager next year. The only question is do we have the appetite to ditch him now – mid-season – and start the rebuild. Or do we waste the balance of the season.

This depends on a couple of factors. Do Arsenal have an alternative in mind and is that alternative available now. Would the club be OK with a transition manager while we wait for the ideal manager? Because this one, Emery, is neither transitional nor ideal. I honestly can’t see any progress that’s been made in the last 18 months. He’s had 50 games now and, aside from this daft fetish with playing out of the back, that our defense is no better, we have no defensive midfield and we can’t leverage our attacking players, what has improved? Actually, there is one area of clear improvement. The first and second team kit. You have to love Addidas. Maybe we can appoint Addidas as our manager. We would continue to look the nicest team in England.

I sometimes hope that Emery is our Bruce Ricoch. A stepping stone to something serene. Currently he feels like our Moyes. Our Sherwood. A stepping stone to despair. Except this team – player for player – is better than either of those two teams. Emery is incapable of balancing the team nor instructing them. This team is neither one thing or another.  It is neither a team than can defend resolutely and counter-attack. Nor is it an all-put attacking team that could not defend. That would be the Wenger team left behind. Now it’s no longer a team but a disjointed collection of individual players. Albeit it players that are better than the ones Wenger had.

If I believed there was any progress that could be made with Emery or even, just a little more time for him to adjust and adapt I’d be happy to be patient. But, honestly, it’s not going to happen. Not after 50 games. I know there’s a fear that we’ll become a revolving manager door team like to many others. But, in truth, this was inevitable after the miracle of the last 22 years. That was such an unnatural period of stability. That experience reset our expectations. The manager after Wenger was always going to be the fall-guy. And, boy, do we have our fall guy. Waiting until the end of the season will just allow the rot to set in. And, worse, it sends a message to players coming to the end of their contract, that the club is not ambitious and lacks leadership. This season has already passed us by. I knew that before the season started. I was merely hoping for progress and development. We won’t get that either. So let’s suck it up, put on our big boy pants and firer the fucker. If we have to hand it over to Freddie while we wait for our Messiah, then so be it.

As for the actual game today. We weren’t entirely awful in the first half. We had one or two breakouts where Lacazette should have done better; should have scored. But through the balance of the game I don’t remember Schmichael having a save to make. Chambers was good today but Guendouzi failed to track his man on multiple occasions, Torreira looked positional lost and Ozil barely received the ball. Bellerin was rusty – which is not surprising – and Holding was exposed too often and made poor decisions. The only forward movement came from David Luis. Most of the time we played the ball backwards and square. Ironically our best moments came before they scored the first goal. We seemed to be growing into the game. But every time we start to dominate possession we leave ourselves open at the back. It’s the lack of balance that has been our Achilles heel for 18 months. The majority of their penetration came down our left hand side. We could not track their players. And when Grey came on it descended into a joke. Too often they had a spare man that we could not track.

Leicester aren’t a bad team. They played good football but we found ways to make them better. But, to their credit, they are improving as a team. They have a style of play. And they have passion and commitment. Not exactly a description you can apply to us.

Poor Pepe. What must he be thinking? When he come on he looked lost. And why wait until we’re 2-0 before making any changes? We should have switched from 3 at the back right away. But, even then, we could not create any chances. There was so little interplay between our creative players. There is just nothing going on. We played a holding game in the first half and then once we fell behind could not create chances in the second half.

So now it’s over to Edu and Saul. Do they have the believe and determination to make a change that the entire fan base would support? Do they have the leadership and vision to accept that this is not working. There should be no recriminations. Most people thought it was a good decision at the time. I, for one, did not want Arteta. That was too risky for me. But now it’s too risky to persevere with Emery. I can’t take another one of his interviews; his dreary drivel in pigeon English where he stumbles along in broken clichés and says nothing.

We have a two week break. Let’s use that to break away from Emery. Let’s not waster more time and opportunity. Let’s start building for next season now. It was a good idea at the time but it did not work. So, please, let’s move on. It might take a time to get it right. All we know is that what we do have is wrong.

-LB7

October 27th – Arsenal 2 Crystal Palace 2

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VAR is killing football. Emery is Killing Arsenal. And Xhaka is mortally wounded.

We should have had three points today. Undeserved but still three points. Somehow, some unaccountable overlord determines that our third goal should not count. The referee – who refused to award us any free kicks throughout the game, consider it a legitimate goal. Not a single Crystal Palace player remonstrated with the referee; they all accepted it. But then under microscopic examination it was determine that Chambers (I assume) fouled someone. It was an entanglement of legs. Yet somehow this warranted overruling the referee. Where is the standard of “clear and obvious error”. It took many minutes and was by any objective measure not clear and not obvious. This will kill the game. Hands down we’ve taken technology that could be beneficial and chosen to deploy it in the worst possible way. Sure, in a year of two they might get it right. In the interim it’s sucking the life out of a game. How do you know when to cheer and rejoice when everything is subject to a 3 minute review. This is worse than the NFL. Surely this was not what was intended. Why does every goal need to be reviewed and thereby hold up the game. This really is a disaster.

As were Arsenal. You can’t give up a two goal lead to CP at home. Though evidentially you can. But like that? We seem to have become dead-ball specialists. Of our last three goals (in the league) all have come from a dead-ball. That tells you something about our lack of creativity. For most of the game the build up play was ponderous and slow. There was little urgency and drive. Only when Xhaka was removed did the pace pick up. Of course, by then he’d helped to gift them their second goal. Chambers, who again played well, was at fault for the first. Here, unfortunately, VAR generated the right (but wrong) outcome. It was obviously a penalty and did not take long to overturn Atkinsons decision. It was fun to see him give a yellow card though when it was abundantly obvious that Chambers left a leg out. What this (and the other missed) decision says about the quality of the referring is quite clear. Atkinson was as shit as Xhaka. Today he barely gave us a single call. But each time a CP fell over he rewarded them. He’s not biased. He’s just crap. He’s even handedly inept. And equal opportunity fucked-up referee. Yet he’s one of the more senior referees. In a face-off between Mike Dean and Atkinson there can be no winners – the only loser would be football itself.

Back to our suffering. Of the many things that make no sense. For example, why are there still penny coins? How did we end up with an orangutan in the White House? How did old-boys from Eton take over the county (again)? I’m also left with the dilemma of why would you chose Xhaka as your captain and then needlessly embarrass him through painful substitutions. I would not pick him for this team – ever. But then I did not make him the team captain. And everyone knows he’s liable to attract negative crowd reactions. So why set Xhaka up for failure. Of course he acted like a juvenile when substituted but Emery did him no favours. And now Xhaka has to come out and apologize otherwise he’s done as an Arsenal player. You can’t pull off your shirt and throw it away. You can’t cup your ears to bait the crowd. And nor can you let a donkey horse player like McArthur beat you to put in a cross for Ayew to equalize.

The last three results should have returned 9 points. Instead we get 4 from Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace. How’s that progress?

This feels like Arsenal have finally revert to last years end of season form. Drawing games we should win and dropping points against the average teams. You can be sure we’ll lose against Wolves. This team shows no sign of progress. Even when we have improved players. For example, on his full debut, Tierney looked excellent. A genuine addition that will help the team. In the first half the creativity came down that side of the pitch. But then there was little creativity from elsewhere. Ceballos was better when he came central after Xhaka departed. But why play him out on the left wing. What’s the point? Does Emery have any idea what his structure is? And why does he refuse to play Torreira? It’s so predictable now. A pattern has emerged of Arsenal underperforming and lacking fluency. Today we were fortunate to get two goals from corners. But, again, at home, to not be able to defend that lead is not the behavior of a top 4 team.

This year ManU and Sp*rs are failing miserably to claim the 3rd and 4th spot. With our squad of players we should be able to improve enough to claim 4th. But not the way we’re playing. This looks like being another year when we fail to exploit the opportunity. There is no way Cheklsi, ManU and Sp*rs can be this bad next year. Yet, we’re not making any progress. Even the addition of David Luis has not protected the defense. He also should have done better on that second goal.

Simple things confuse me. Why does FIFA exist? What is the point in a uni-cycle? And, why do our center-halfs spend the bulk of their possession passing sideways. In the first half our build up play was as glacial as our melting icebergs. Rarely did Xhaka or Guendouzi drop to receive the ball to build up play. The few times Ceballos receive the ball in the center of the pitch our game had pace and momentum. This is how it’s been for months now. Somehow we have substituted sideways possession for creativity. Somehow we think this makes us a better team. And of course this come back to Emery. What is his philosophy? Apart from being the blandest, dullest person to ever leave Spain we have yet to see any actual benefits of him being our manager. And the pressure on him will surely build. The honeymoon period is over now. And we’ve moved straight into therapy; to be soon followed by an amicable separation. Because he’s not taking us anywhere – well, not anywhere good.

Aside from Tierney, the other bright spot was Guendouzi. He was excellent again. Ending the game with a perfect rugby tackle on Zaha. Guendouzi was even more instrumental when Xhaka went off. I wonder what he’d be like it paired with, oh, I don’t know, Torreira.

Sokratis and David Luis scored our two goals? How many chances did Aubameyang and Cigarette have? And Pepe? How often were they feed the ball?  How do you bring on Saka when you have Ozil sitting in the stands? What is going on with this team.

Even with all this we should have had three points. It comes back to the soulless, unaccountable VAR. Why do we never see referees review the decisions themselves on a monitor? Because they don’t’ want to be accountable? Or they are being held to reviews and standards (post-game) that we’re not aware of? This system is killing the game. And killed todays game. I would hate to have been in the stadium not knowing what the hell is going on. But I hear no football wide reaction to this. But then we hear nothing about games being played on Friday nights or Mondays. Decisions that will destroy the game are being made by people who have no long term interests in the game. Only when money drips away from the game will people wake up. If only clubs had the balls to voice their resistance; it’s their game not the PFL or EPL; they can reclaim the game – but they have to unwrap themselves from the embrace of money.

Post Sheffield and even midweek, I’ve become progressively pessimistic on the short-term prospects for Arsenal. With Emery in place we’re destined to be boring, bland, dull – just like our manager. Nor am I convinced it’s wise to change manager mid-year. I don’t want us to morph into a ManU or Sp*rs where we can managers quicker than our underwear. Where we place the faith of our club in ex-player legends. Remember Tim Sherwood? Or the other raft of managers through the turnstiles at WHL? And Nice FC can’t win a game either.

-LB7

September 22nd – Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 2

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Lucky Arsenal.  Very lucky Arsenal. We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. And it would have been a well deserved defeat. Everything about our team today – aside form that last 10 minutes – was wrong. Our team now has the personality of our manager. The manager has no personality and nor does the team. This was a thoroughly undeserved victory that can’t paper over the clear deficiencies in our team nor, more concerning, our manager.

We started the game with the wrong selection – again. The wrong tactics – again. And, obviously, with the wrong manager. We were lackluster. Missing any drive, pace and urgency. Villa were  exposing our lack of midfield cover. In other words, it felt like every other game.

The selection was strange – again. Sakka was in which must have pissed off Nelson. He, unlike our other forwards, looked good. Aubameyang missed a chance in the first few minutes set up by Sakka. And then proceeded to misplace every pass and miss hit every shot until the last 10 minutes.

Xhaka was his dependable useless self. He continues to slow down our team with his touches and sideways passing. He makes Guendouzi play worse. But overall the balance and mix of the team was dreadful. There is no passion in the team. And it makes is so hard to watch. Against teams like Villa we seem desperate to go down their level. Except that they were playing better football. We could not string any passes together. It’s as though it’s the first time some of our players have played together. There was no understanding between Aubameyang and Pepe. None between Pepe and Maitland-Niles. Ceballos hardly received the ball. Players ran into the space occupied by others. It’s as though the team has no idea how they should be playing the game.

Villa counterattacked and exposed our predictable lack of defensive cover. It was Watford all over again. It seems like we are incapable of learning anything. We hear how studious Emery is. How it watches game film till 2 in the morning. Clearly it’s not our games he’s watching because nothing changes in his tactics. Pairing Xhaka and Guendouzi brings out the worst in Guendouzi. Any pairing would bring out the worst in Xhaka. In that respect he’s gifted.

This is such a painful game to dissect. It was so unenjoyable for such long periods. Instead of feeling relief and excitement from undeservedly getting the three points, I can’t look past the dire performance of the team and the lack of balance in this team. For the majority of the game we were passive and exposed by an average Villa team. Even when we did score we found a way to hand back the lead within 90 seconds. How is that possible? Grealish skipped past Xhaka (of course) and then Sokratis without a challenge. For their first goal no-one closed down the person putting in the cross and then the entire defense stood still, Guendouzi ball watched and ignored his man and then we’re 0-1 down. And our reaction was non existent. More of the same sideways passing without David Luiz looking to play out to the sides. We created very little though Sakka did look good.

Maitland-Niles did not exactly have his a-game today. He was caught out (as was the camera man) with a through ball when he received his first yellow card. And then a full on tackle gave Fat John Moss the chance to brandish a second yellow even though Maitland-Niles clearly won the ball. Maybe he was sent off because of the absolute hash he made inside 5 minutes when he blasted over with his left foot. Or maybe Moss deemed his reckless cross-ball pass unsuitable for the fans. Either way, this was one of Maitland-Niles’s worst performances and luckily it was limited to less than 45 minutes.

So, at half-time we saw Chambers come on for Sakka. The young kid should feel good with his contribution even if he should not have started. Chambers was more solid and dependable at right back but we’re down to 10 men. The hope was the team would come out fired-up in the second half. Unfortunately, it was more of the same dire football. No cohesion, no link-up play and no momentum. It’s difficult to watch us these days. It’s so fleeting that we actually play football.

The one change we saw though was a change in Guendouzi’s attitude. He grabbed the midfield and took charge. Unlike the elder statesman alongside him, he was energized and direct. Arguably against the run of play he won us a penalty by charging into the box. Pepe got his first goal for us. Maybe we should bring him on for only penalties. But then we wilted immediately to give up the second goal. Xhaka by then already had a yellow card otherwise he would have fouled Grealish. His earlier yellow was absolutely childish and quintessentially Xhaka. It was unnecessary and lazy. That should be his epitaph. It’s remarkable to think he’s played 80 times for his country. Pulling Grealish back by the half way line when there was nothing going on was wasteful and give you an insight into the (lack of) football brain.

Remarkably it took Emery 70 minutes to make the obvious change. The change that everyone but our blind manager could see. He finally took Xhaka off the pitch along with Ceballos. With the introduction of Torreira and Willock we finally regained our energy levels and momentum. From them on it was a case of whether we could generate enough opportunities such that we’d actually take one. It turns out we took two! The first one was (again) created by Guendouzi. A great pass to the back post that Chambers met and then swept up the rebound. Contrast that with Maitland-Niles in the first half – thank you referee Mills. By now 10-man Arsenal had pushed Villa onto the back foot. But you knew there would be chances for Villa. But then, finally, up stepped Aubameyang to grab the three points. With Pepe and David Luiz standing over the ball and given his inability to get any shot on target today Aubameyang was the last person that should have taken the free kick. But that was a great strike. So 2 of our 3 goals came from dead-ball kicks. Therein lies a story. The other shots came from Guendouzi pushing the team forward. Their goalie, Heaton, barely had any saves to make and yet we score three goals.

What did we learn today? Not much. We knew Xhaka should not be playing. We knew that Emery should not be our manager. Both were reinforced by what we saw. How does Emery make the same tactical errors and selection mistakes game after game? Why does he persist with Xhaka? Why does he not see the change in energy levels when Xhaka was removed from the game? Torreira and Willock might have changed the game but the game was saved by Guendouzi. As mediocre as he was in the first half was as dynamic as he was in the second. You could see the anger and passion on his face. This is the 20 year-old shouting at the establish, senior players to up their game. So today we learned the following – Guendouzi is the White Viera.

We also saw an angry Kolasinac demonstrate that he could defend – at times. This was one of his better defensive performances. Going forward he was more conservative than normal.

Today was the first time I started to develop real doubt about Sokratis. Maybe I’ve been ignoring the warning signs of the last month or so. First off his acting is appalling. The rolling on the ground after his entanglement with Wesley was embarrassing. As was the ease with which Grealish went past him for the second goal. I can’t wait for Holding to come back into this team.

While too many players were sub-par today – Ceballos contributed little – our main concern has to be our manager. He does not seem to have a clear vision of how this team should be playing. He then waits too long to make changes. And then does not seem to learn any lessons from those changes.

Our next EPL match – at Old Trafford – will surely result in changes in team selection. He must bring in Chambers. He must drop Xhaka. But I fear Emery will be his normal, boring, bland and predictable self. Today was a chance escape from disaster. Coming back and winning, with only 10 men for more than ½ a game – should be a time for celebration and enjoyment. It does not feel like it. It merely feels like we’re delaying the onset of disaster. It would be how the travelers on the Titanic felt when they skipped that first small iceberg. Until Emery demonstrates he can evolve and learn we are destined to monumentally fuck-up. We are teetering on the edge of a precipice. This manager has to show some personality. He can’t manage this team like a bank manager. He has to instill some passion and energy. Based on todays performance that feels like wishful thinking.

So, for now, I’ll be looking to Edu to be keeping a close eye on that manager over at Nice FC.

-LB7

September 15th – Watford 2 Arsenal 2

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Unbelievable. Unforgivable. Unforgettable. Ridiculous. Last week we turned around a 2-0 deficit and this week we returned the favour. But this time against the bottom team in the league. A team that we had throughly beaten in the first half. And we were beating in the second half. But then Sokratis gifted them the easiest goal they could ask for.  From domination we went to looking like a team that was lucky to leave there with a point.

And for this in I blame Emery. Again, his tactics were wrong. The diamond does not help our defense. We gave up – as we did against Liverpool – the wide areas. We were exposed there the entire game. And we did not provide cover for our defense. Ceballos is wasted out left. And Guendouzi looked lost our right. And Xhaka is always lost. On the counter-attack we were always exposed. It helps when you play Watford not Liverpool. And it helps when you have Aubameyang. Two great goals. The first one was a pure strikers goal while the second one was a classic Arsenal goal teed up by Ozil. From them on it was plain sailing.

There were signs though of the usual Kamakazi play out from our goal kicks. Twice we were caught out. We are so predictable with this. We’re playing the ball to Guenzouzi when he has two players around him. And then he feels the need to take extra touches. And then losses it. What a joke. This is schoolboy football. But it’s coming from the manager. Sure do it when it’s there – when the space is available. But to force it like this is idiotic. It smacks of a team without common sense. A team that is told to do one thing and can’t adapt or exercise game management. Instead they had the worst team in the league a life-line. It completely changed the momentum of the game. It brought the crowd into the game. And put us under pressure.

So Emery takes off one of our best players; leaves Ozil on the pitch and brings on Willock. Then Nelson. And lastly Torreira. How does that make sense? Then Nelson proceeds to play further up the pitch than Ceballos. We now have four forwards. And so, inevitably, we get caught on the counter-attack and David Luiz gives us a penalty. I won’t blame him for this. But I will blame Emery. Why play this set up? Why don’t revert to a 4-4-2. Protect the lead man! But no, we get sucker punched. By the worst team in the league.

How is Emery managing this team? How is he adapting the tactics intra-game? Wenger got blamed for being inflexible; for not having a plan B. And what did we see today? The same shape the entire game. And that shape does not work for us. Ozil, apart from the glorious pass for the second goal, was barely in the game. Pepe was frustrating. He can’t seem to score and drifts out of the game too much. He’s touch is not quite there and there is little link up play with Maitland-Niles. And Maitland-Niles also gifted the ball away in dangerous areas. Along with Guendouzi they both played multiple cross field balls in our 1/3rd of the pitch. I think Ceballos tried this once as well. Against a real team (like Liverpool) we will get murdered.

So now I’m beginning to worry. Not about our position in the league – I never thought we’d end up in the top 4. But about our ability to progress and develop as a team. We’ve now got the majority of the players we needed and got rid of the ones we did not want. It’s hard to complain about a team with Aubameyang, Pepe, Ceballos, Torreira etc. So now it’s down to how we use them. And it’s down to our tactics. Again, today, Emery got it wrong. He should have changed the balance of the team – especially after we let in that first goal. But before that he need to provide a beter shield in front of the defense. But he’s got Torreira on the bench and Guendouzi out right. Watch the last 30 minutes of that game. Xhaka struggled to keep up and stay with any runners. We were exposed too often and yet Emery persists with him. Even when Torreira was brought on he looked like a ghost of the player from last year. In a diamond I don’t think either he or Guendouzi know where to play.

This is a game we absolutely should have won. Even for a 6th place team you have to win against a team as weak as Watford. But instead we decided to give them mouth to mouth resuscitation. Unforgivable. And I doubt Emery learned anything new from this. He’s got the players so it’s now down to him to use them. How can you waste the goals of Aubameyang like this? When is he going to install a backbone in this team? No-one can blame Wenger now. Or Bould. Emery owns this defense and midfield. It’s unbelievable that we can throw away the win at Watford.

We were so open and exposed that Watford could rightly claim they should have won the game. They are most probably in their dressing room lamenting dropping 2 points. Whereas we had them dead to rights at 0-2. How does a team like Arsenal – so early in the season – throw away these two points? Because the balance of the team is wrong, the manager has the wrong shape and the team religiously commits to passing the ball out from our goal kicks. There were times when the ball went out for a corner and I felt less worried than when the ball went out for our own goal-kick. What is the point in doing the same thing over and over again from our goal-kicks. It’s a high risk strategy for very little return. There were three times we turned it over right outside our own box (and the one they scored from). Why not at least vary your approach. We have become so predictable. It’s as though it’s a point of pride that we need to prove to other teams we’re good enough to play it out from the back. And yet we’re clearly not. Sure Liverpool or Man City have the right to do this. We don’t. And we don’t seem to have the awareness to know when something is not working and then adapt. That is the most worrying part.

Today was as frustrating and depressing as I can remember since we threw it all away in Baku. All the early season good will went out of the window today. This was a truly crap Watford team. It was a team that had no way to earn a point. We had the game under complete control. So instead we handed them every opportunity. We were casual. We weren’t professional. We are sloppy. And then we were the team that looked at risk. How can this be? Where is the leadership in this team.

Where is the progress and development? Emery seems intent on trying the same thing over an over again each time expecting a different outcome. For the one or two times it might come off there will be 10 times when it does not. We seem intent to do the wrong thing in the wrong situation. Maitland-Niles was needlessly put under pressure when he receives the ball in a tight situation. Guendouzi on multiple times ran into the same issue. Why not spray the ball out wide. Stretch the pitch rather than be so predictable.

For all the energy and belief that comes from a 2-0 comeback in the NLD today was crushing to any belief that we have a plan to progress. And this lies with Emery. First, why would you play Ozil? Play Ceballos in the floating position and put Torreria in midfield. And play a holding pair of Xhaka and Torreira. Or Guendouzi and Torreira and leave Xhaka on the bench. Start Willock and don’t bring on Nelson to play in a diamond because he’ll get caught upfield. Immediately before their second goal both him and Torreira were caught upfield. You’re 2-1 away from home with 10 minutes or so left. Why is there no game management? This was classic Wenger. But I thought this was supposed to change. That we would exercise some judgement.  What has Emery done differently to address our long-term, known by the entire world defensive deficiencies? The players have changed but everything else is unchanged. There is not a single player that’s the same in this defense from the last year of Wenger and yet the problems remain the same. Because it’s about coaching and tactics.

All I’ve asked for is progress and development. As in previous years, there are shit teams competing for the 3rd and 4th place. There is every opportunity to take one of these spots. Except that we have shown – as we did last year – that we don’t have the mental fortitude nor the appetite to grab the required points. We are unable to defend. We have defenders. But we can’t defend as a team and we show no signs of learning how to.

So, Coach Emery, what’s the plan now?

-LB7

September 2nd – Nearly the Perfect Window

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He came in through the bathroom window. But he left through the back door. So goodbye then Mickeytarrien. Farewell and enjoy your time in the dumping ground for failed footballers. Please seek out Alexis and discuss how you both dragged down each team while being a burden to the salary structure. Both failed miserably. At least ours was cheaper. But what a waste.

If only he could have left before yesterdays game and Nacho could have stayed for one more day. But, rather than looking backwards, let’s us rejoice in a nearly perfect transfer window.

How did we get £40m for Ob1? How did we manage to offload Mickey? We’ve just saved £200k/week in wages. I know it’s not my money but it was still a waste. I remember when he played his first game for ManU against Hull after being signed from Borussia. He was Ozil-like – intelligent and deft in his touches. But after one injury he was done. For us he was worse than a luxury. He was too lazy to defend and too slow to attack. As we saw yesterday he was too indecisive and careless with the ball. We will be a much better team without him. There was no merit in retaining him. He was a block on others coming through. Now we can see whether Nelson and others can fill that spot. And, once Bellerin regains his spot Maitland-Niles can now look to that open position.

We cleaned out both wing-backs; gained money and reduced our salaries. And we obtained Pepe! That’s a good window. We also obtained a real-left back. That’s great. And we added Ceballos. That’s nearly perfect. If only we could have dumped Mustafa. Then it would have been truly perfect. But then, even if he stays, he’s not playing for us again. He’ll waste away his talent at Colney never to play for us again (except in the Carrabo Cup).

Now I’m excited. Now I’m convinced that there is someone, at least, at Arsenal who can see what we could all see. That this squad was deficient in serious areas – carrying some serious dead weight. With Emery playing Mickeytarrien all last year the fear was that our new manager could not see what we all knew.  This squad is much better. It needs one or two more windows to complete this transition. Whether Emery remains to over see it I don’t know. The odds are in his favour. We just have to complete the taking out of the trash.

The primary signings – Pepe, Tierney, Luiz – along with Ceballos have clearly strengthened the team. Once our new center-half turns up next year and once we replace Xhaka we will be fully on the road to recovery. This year will still be a challenge – we saw that yesterday. But we are better equipped than we’ve been in 5 years. And that because we now, finally, have some management that can clean up our squad, acquire talented players and also allow for youth to come through. Between Maitland-Niles, Holding, Willock, Nelson and Chambers we now have a new generation of English players who can shine and develop. Some will inevitably fail (as all the previous ones have – expect maybe the Ox) but this is the basis for our future (and ignores Eddie).

So farewell you useless Mickeytarrien. It’s an absolute pleasure to be shot of you. What a disaster that deal was with Alexis. He should never have left but he priced himself out of the market and, most importantly, the previous management screwed it up. By that, I don’t mean the great and imperious AW. But I do mean the flaky and media-aware Gazidis. He was the one responsible for letting Alexis enter the last year of his contract. This forced his hand that lead us to receive Mickeytarrien. He then followed that up with letting Ramsey to also enter the last year of his. But, now, it looks like the current management actually know how to run a football club. No more players entering there last year. Not like Erickson, Rose, Alderwald. Te He.

We are finally on our way. And we have people to oversee our future that can see what we can see. No more overpaid, unused talent. Ops, I forgot about Ozil. As much as I love him the new boy is a clear upgrade. Ceballos is Ozil on speed (literally). He’s Ozil with a work ethic. He’s Ozil with desire. He’s Ozil with something to prove. Long may Ceballos stay fit and healthy. We just have to make sure that in training he stays away from tackles by Mustafa and Xhaka.

So, after another great day, it’s back into hibernation for another 9 days.

-LB7

September 1st – Arsenal 2 Sp*rs 2

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The glass is half full. But was very close to being empty. Thank you Cigarette and Aubameyang. Thank you Pepe and thank you Ceballos. Now fuck off Xhaka. And please remember to foul yourself on the way out.

This was better than last week. It had to be. We should have won the game but were, in some way, lucky to come away with a point. Illogical but true. As good as we started the game our balance was not right. And then we made stupid mistakes. First Sokratis and then our glorious captain. It was said in commentary that if you built a condensed highlight reel for Xhaka it could comprise that tackle on Son in the box. Reckless and unnecessary. We’ve seen this so often. Unfortunately, this confirms what we’ve always known – he’s not capable of changing. He does not learn. On so many occasions he was out of position, slow and gave away unnecessary fouls in dangerous positions. Yet, there were a number of great passes he made and link-up play. So, me thinks, the issue here is that we continue to play him in the wrong position. He’s not a defensive midfield player. I think we’ve determined that after watching him for nearly 4 years.

So, if last week was on Emery’s tactics – the infamous diamond – this week it was on his selection. His tactics were right but he chose the wrong people. He should have put Torreira at the base of the midfield rather than Xhaka. He should have started Ceballos. But none of that would have protected us from Soikratis trying to emulate Mustafa. Who knows why he felt the need to challenge for the ball on the half way line when Xhaka had already point out his need to mark his own man. That exposed our frail defense. And then the mistakes compounded themselves. Sokratis did not track back and Leno decided to bobble the ball into the path of Erickson. We’d dominated the opening period but had somehow found away to give up a goal.

Every time they broke on the counter-attack we were vulnerable. There was no midfield defensive cover. Xhaka can’t recover with his lack of speed and Torreira was too far out of the game on the right. Luckily, we have our front three who continued to threaten. Unluckily we also have Xhaka jumping into kamikaze tackles in the penalty box. This is an experienced international and captain. Does Mustafa tutor him during training sessions? It’s insane. And predictable. How many penalties has he conceded? Inbetween that, Leno made up for his amateur fumble with their first goal with a great save from Son. We have all that possession, but they had the chances.

Then finally, we started to create more chances. Guendouzi dominated the midfield and Aubameyang was dominating Sanchez. Kolinsac was not tested defensively but had so many openings on the left. He squandered most of them and failed to provide the right final ball. And often he was unwilling to take the space offered in front of him. But thankfully our front three continued to push. Pepe looks like the real deal. He’s got super quick feet and balance. He had a couple of chances, but we needed the excellence of Cigarette to receive an intelligent pass from Pepe to dance round Vertonghen and burst their net. That goal changed the game.

In the second half we finally dominated and had a better balance. Sp*rs were on the back foot. We created chances and missed most of them. The front three were linking up well and Sp*rs faded. But we could not score. Until Guendouzi played a sublimie ball behind their defense for a classic Aubameyang goal. By then we’d introduced the wonderful Ceballos. He was back to his Burnley best. Everything he touched was beautiful. He, along with Guendouzi, ran the game. Unfortunately, we had also brought on the useless Mickeytarrien. Between him and Kolinsac on the left we wasted so many chances and generally damaged any momentum we created. The two of them and Xhaka are the three clear deficiencies in this team. But how good is Ceballos? So much talent and energy. If only we could put Torreira in the base of the midfield with Guendouzi. It comes back to selection over tactics this week. When we get this right we’ll be fine.

In truth we should have won given the dominance of the second half. It was good to see the character and recovery of the team. Though if you can’t get motivated for a NLD then you really do have problems. So I’ll take a point I suppose. I just want us to learn some lessons. And it’s all about our midfield balance. We need Ceballos in the team and we have to replace both Xhaka and Kolinsac. But this will take time. We need Tierney to regain fitness. And we need Emery to trust either Torreira or Willock. Again, it’s not entirely fair to blame Xhaka when we play him out of position. But bonehead tackles are his responsibility.

Again, today just confirmed what we know. Our success is all about Emery. We have the goal scorers. We have the talent. It’s now down to him and how he chooses to harness it. I don’t expect us to challenge for the title but I do expect him to sort out the right balance of tactics and selection. We have to evolve to the point where we don’t have to bring on Mickeytarrien – he has to learn to trust Nelson or others. They will be our future. He has to solve this midfield issue. Maybe it will depend on reverting to a back three and then having two defensive players. But on the counter-attack today we could have leaked many more goals. It’s finding that balance. The balance that has eluded Arsenal for the last five years. Our attack continues to develop and improve. We now have one of the top three forward lines in the country. Pepe will surely score 10+ goals this year. Aubameyang and Cigarette continue to dominate our goal scoring. Guendouzi shines brightly – today he was the best midfield player on the pitch. It’s sorting out the final couple of selections that will dictate how far Emery can take this team. The squad (until the regular injuries start to accumulate) is now there and are now at his disposal.

A word on David Luiz. I was fine with him today. He was reasonably solid and cautious. He took no unnecessary risks. He was out of position once or twice. But generally we benefitted from his presence today. As irresponsible as he was last week, he was more dependable than Sokratis and Xhaka were today. Given time, DL will prove to be a good addition.  

We are getting closer to figuring this out but it will take a little longer yet. And it will depend on how astute Emery is. Can we find the right make-up for our midfield. Otherwise it’s going to be a case of whether our front three can score enough goals to compensate for our unstable defense.

Now we’ll have to suffer through our first boring International break. Just as the season started to develop some momentum. Every year I say the same thing. I hate FIFA and I hate the NCAA. But FIFA more. Why we have to deal with these stupid breaks is beyond me. Just wait until the Qatar WC rolls round and trashes an entire season. In the meantime I think there are a couple more annoying breaks to come along before the end of the year. So no meaningful football for 2 weeks. At least the ashes will provide some diversion. And let’s hope we don’t pick up injuries and that Holding and Tierney can regain some fitness – along with Bellerin.

A final word on Nacho. Good-bye.

He was a great addition (again, funny that. AW could not recruit defenders so they say). He came as back up for Gibbs and ending up seeing him transferred off to a Championship team. Monreal could play left-back or center half. He gave us some excellent years; was part of our F.A Cup runs and was always reliable and steady. We’ll miss him. We should have retained him for todays game. And it’s a crime that we barely got £250K for him (to be paid in installments). We could trust Nacho which is more than you can say for Kolinsac. But he deserves to be retired out to Spain. Let’s hope we don’t miss him too much.

-LB7

August 24th – Liverpool 3 Arsenal 1

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This one is on Emery. Wrong shape. Wrong tactics.  Not the ideal way to start the first review of the season. Not wishing to jinx the 100% start by introducing a review it’s time to revert to normality. As, of course, did Arsenal.

In truth we had chances in the first half. But we set back and attempted to resolutely defend. But we ceded the momentum and pitch to them. If the tactics were to hit them on the counterattack it did not work. Every time we had the ball we spent more time meticulously picking intricate passes in our own third. I can’t think of a single time when Leno punted the ball up field. I appreciate the dedication to possession football. But you have to do something with that possession. And when it breaks down in your own 1/3rd then you’re at risk. So, we were so slow in our build up that we rarely got to use the speed we had up front. In fact, there was very little link up play. The balance of the team seemed wrong. Willock out on the left was not involved that much. And after the Burnley hype Ceballos was barely in the game. After playing against the thugs of Burnley and shining brightly as effortlessly talented, today with their extra pace, quality and speed of closing down he found it impossible to get into the game and have any influence. So, there was no possession in the middle of the pitch. Guendouzi was too far infield; their left side was completely vacant. Robertson had the freedom to roam all day long. The plan seemed to be to crowd the center of the pitch and force them wide. That’s counterintuitive given the strength of their full backs.

We held out for 40 minutes which by our Anfield standards is a record. Their goal was coming but rather than from a wingback cross it was a corner. Then comes half-time. Time for a change in tactics. But Emery decided to stick rather than twist. Then Luiz looks to emulate the great Mustafa with the stupid penalty trick. And then gets beaten by Salah overcommitting on the half way line. So why am I not in a nuclear meltdown? If it had been Mustafa I surely would be. Because it’s not Mustafa. We’ve seen Luiz for too many years. We know he has mistakes in him. But with him in our defense we are a better team. We did not lose the game because of him. Given the amount the defenses had to absorb it’s unsurprising we conceded goals. The issue is more why we were in that position in the first place.

By the time the game was already lost we finally dumped the failed diamond and reverted to a regular 4-4-2. Sure, we scored but we also had some possession; though by then Liverpool were already in training mode. But at least we had Cigarette on the pitch. And Torreira. Even when Mickeytarrien came on he played quite well. Ceballos should have been removed sooner. And pushing Willock to the #10 was not the right move either.

Interestingly without Ob1 and Mustafa there are not too many players to pick on. But at least we still have, for that purpose, Xhaka. He was his ever slow and ponderous self. As the captain he should be taking responsibility when either side of him are 20 year old. Guendouzi was clearly outmanned on the left and Willock is not left-sided. And, well, Ceballos was over matched. But, really, it’s a stretch to identify too many players who you could blame for this defeat. Pepe looks like a star in the making. Aubameyang had a few chances but was isolated for too long. Generally, I thought the back four worked hard. Sokratis was excellent (apart from the Matip header). And Leno was fine.

So that leads us back to the manager. Why did he take so long to adjust to what was clearly visible to even a blind man. You could make the argument that until the corner on the 40th minute it had been working. We’d stifled Liverpool. But as soon as they scored and after half-time we continued on the same path. Why? Was he so scared of a mauling that we played so conservatively that we got mauled? Did this feel like another Baku performance? No, not really, there were too many good things from us. Maybe I’m delusional. I never had expectations that we’d beat Liverpool at Anfield. We’re not good enough. We’re better than last year. This squad is better. We do have better players. But we’re just not good enough. Yet. We need time. Another transfer window or two. And, just maybe, another manager. It’s a harsh assessment. But todays is not the day to blame the players. That’s on the mentality and tactics. After absorbing the first 10 minutes or so, we looked like a decent team except that we were outmanned in midfield. And remained so until the 80th minute.

Patience is the watchword for this season. Last season it was development. Now we have to assess, with this improved squad, whether Emery can get the best out of them. Can he decide on the right balance and tactics. Can he learn and adapt? I hope so. He has shown some signs of learning from his mistakes. Example #1 being Mustafa. But will he learn from todays performance? When we next play away against one of our (supposed) rivals will he set us up the same way? Is our defense better? It’s possible there is an improvement. There was better coverage in front of them except we gave up the wings and put ourselves under a lot of pressure. So, I can’t tell whether that’s really on the players or the manager? I think Luiz and Sokratis were pretty effective so that leads me back to Emery.

Aside from the score line, I thought we were better today than we’ve been in previous seasons at Anfield. There is a clear change in style being imposed. I think it’s misplaced and used at the wrong time. But I’ll generously put that down to it being the early stages of the reign of Emery. When it works, as it does against weaker teams that don’t press as well, it can be wonderful to watch. But to consistently try this at Anfield is optimism gone mad. Find that balance you need to counter-attack with your available speed. It would be like having Theo on the team and asking him to play intricate, skillful one touch passing in our own half. Oh, hold on, we did use to do that.

Anyway, I never thought we come away with a point from this game. But I want to see evolution of this team. This transfer window demonstrated we’re re-building to peak in another year or two. But we’re also entitled to expect better performances given the available talent that we have.

I’m not too upset nor despondent. I see green shoots sprouting up. But next week will be entirely different. That game won’t be about the future but about the here and now. We can expect to see Cigarette back in the team.  And I’d like to see Torreira rather than Xhaka but I know that’s too much to wish for.

-LB7