February 24th – Arsenal 4 Newcastle 1

Another performance. Another statement. This time against, nominally, a good team. Right from the start we completely controlled this game. Deservedly won. And keep pace with the Juggernaut.

These last few games in the Premier League (let’s ignore the Champions League for the moment) have shown how much this team has developed since last year. Since our early Christmas break, this team has been on fire. And today, we ripped Newcastle apart. They had no clue how to respond.

Arteta brought back Jorginho and pushed Rice into the Xhaka role. And Jorginho, in the first half, completely controlled the game. He kept the game in front of him and linkup the defense to the midfield  – Odegaard in particular. Odegaard floated between their lines and helped slice them apart.

With Have-that up front, we played an intense high press and they could not cope. They made so many forced mistakes. In truth, we had a number of chances that we managed to squander. It seemed inevitable that we would take the lead. And, naturally, it came from a corner. Rather than spend money on a center-forward we’ve gone the route of becoming a goal-scoring team from corners. We are the more elegant version of Stoke City. Soon we will have Ben White launching long throws.

Jorginho was so good today. As he was the last time he started. As long as we can dominate, he can pull the strings. But as we saw with their lone goal, he does not have the pace to recover on counter attacks. In many ways, he is our own little version of Fabregas.

How bad were Newcastle? So bad that their best player was their worst player. Karius helped keep the score respectable and can’t be held responsible for any of our goals. He was unlucky with the first one after pulling of a great save from Gabriel. And thereafter he was undone by his leaky defense (and midfield). I just don’t understand what Newcastle’s strategy was. They looked like Forest or Palace, just with a much higher payroll and bank balance. Everyone was singing Howe’s praises last year – rightly – but today they looked completely random and uncoordinated. At home they are so aggressive while on the road they are meek and docile.

So many of their players did not turn up. Trippier was completely lost today. Martinelli, though he set up the second goal, was not at his best today but was still able to torture Trippier. Our movement was so much faster and decisive. We clearly wanted to make amends for Porto. It was so enjoyable to watch yet another demolition. It won’t always be like this so enjoy while we can.

This was as enjoyable to watch as the other recent games but more like the Liverpool match as these lot were supposed to be half decent. As we applied that high press they wilted quickly and had no outlet. I’m not sure they induced a single save from Raya in the first half. Arsenal were imperious. It was just a case of whether we would convert our chances. The Jorginho pass to the incisive run of Martinelli then set up Have-that to double the lead. Have-that really is a little bit of an enigma. Right at the start of the second-half, he managed to miss another, super straight-forward chance after we’d sliced them apart again. That, against a better team, might have been a sliding doors moment. Instead we had Saka to thank for the that goal that finally put the game to rest.

Have-that worked so hard at pressing and closing down their defenders. And his link-up play and passing is simple, smart and uncomplicated. He just has this propensity to miss too many easy chances. In that way he reminds me of the departed but not missed Danny Welbeck. That’s a little unfair (to Have-that). But his presence allowed us to compact the game into their 1/3rd of the pitch. I’m just grateful he got on the score sheet again. If he’s rate of development and progress continues, he will, at some point, be a star in this team.

Rice took a little time to slot into the Xhaka role. While abrogating his primary responsibility to Jorghino, it took him some time to find his new groove. But having him press higher up the pitch meant he was able to breakup play much closer to their goal. But, at times, you wondered whether he’d have preferred to be playing in his normal role. Of course, this formation was most likely what Arteta was hoping for in the Summer with the expectation that it would be Partey playing that defensive role instead. I doubt we’ll ever see that happen now.

Saliba and Gabriel were again largely unchallenged. Certainly not in the first half. With Isak up front you’d have though they’d feed him the ball. But with White completely dominating their other high priced signing – Gordon – they were able to help push the play further up the pitch. And Kiwior again had another solid game. He even managed to support Martinelli and venture up field. With White playing the inverted role, Kiwior is released to play a more conventional attacking full back role. You can see though that he is a more natural center-back. And he can score goals as well! Without Zinny, Tomi and Timber, we’re lucky to have him. The idea that he might have gone off to Italy in the winter is a joke.

Saka had another stellar game. He destroyed their Dan Burns replacement. He created chances, linked up well with everyone and look like he’s back in fine fettle. And he got that all important third goal. And he set up that first goal as well. I loved though how Odegaard roamed over the pitch, he really seems to be enjoying his football. And he’s another one that presses their defense so well. Sometime, he insists on playing that perfect pass. But that’s the price you pay for brilliance.

We are firing on all cylinders in the league. We might not win this league but we clearly have grown since last year. Most of this can be ascribed to Rice but some of it is just a maturation process. In the second half we were not quite as aggressive, we played more in a game management mode. And even then we doubled the score. But, that’s what we should be doing. We are surely creating fear amongst other teams now. It’s not now as simple as doubling up Saka and Martinelli. We have evolved. And unlike the other two we have further growth years ahead of us.

It was good to see that we made some early substitutions today. We need to rest some of our key players when we can. Especially after Wednesday. That game reminded me why I don’t really enjoy European football. It can be so tedious watching these technical teams set up conservatively and play to hit you on the break. It’s like seeing and AI version of Bolton. They obviously have more talent but are so tedious to watch. It’s this style that explains why European football stadiums are largely empty for their regular league games. I mean, who’d pay to watch that dreary, tedious, Mourinho type football.

And then it’s compounded by the insanely poor referring. I know the EPL refs really suck. But in Europe the refs have gone off in a different direction. This referee was blowing for free kicks if someone touched anyone. Porto would fall over if you looked at them. And he kept awarding free-kicks (to them). In Europe football is a non-contact sport. In the EPL, thankfully, you’re allowed to tackle. It’s just VAR that sucks. But Wednesday reminded me why Europe is so different and difficult. It takes an adjustment. And we don’t (yet) have the experience to adjust.

Hopefully we’ll overcome Porto at home. But expect to see a Bolton-esque defensive wall, plenty of time wasting, Academy-ward winning rolling on the ground with the intent of disrupting any rhythm we might develop. Maybe this is inevitable when teams know they are over-match and the underdog. If we can somehow survive to the next round and play against teams that expect to win, then it will be interesting to watch.

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s just too much fun watching this team play at the moment. No-one saw this coming after our Christmas disaster. I’m sure this is related to being able to rest our key players. And that’s a by-product of not having Partey, Jesus, Tomi and Timber available (and ESR back then). So, it was good to see ESR get more minutes. I think that’s his role this season. Until he can demonstrate some durability. Not having mid-week games benefits us. And not having any red cards (sorry to jinx it).

As you look at the title race though, there’s only one team people would actually pay to see play. There’s only one team that is entertaining and exciting. And they are the youngest team in this battle. So we might not win it. But the future is blindingly bright. And it’s ours.


February 17th – Burnley 0 Arsenal 5

We should play away more often. Maybe it’s something about the claret and blue we like. Another dominant performance at a venue where we’ve been tested in the path. Not today Junior. This was as enjoyable to watch as last week. Though, in the first half I thought Burnley were better than WHU. But that’s like picking between your least two favourite children (and, trust me, I have plenty of those).

This team was electric and confident today. Right from the start. Well not quite as Burnley had possession for the first three minutes. But then we exploded down the left where Martinelli feed Odegaard who dispatched his half volley perfectly. And that was the tempo of the game set.

In the last few games Rice has been the driving force of this team – as he was today – but you can sometime forget how elegant and intelligent Odegaard is. But not today, he was central to everything that took place on the pitch, acting as our conductor and feeding the right passes to the right people. He has found his groove this calendar year and explains (partially) the evolution of this team.

This was so enjoyable to watch. There is a rhythm and balance to this team that’s infectious. We dominate possession and seem so calm on the ball. Though Trossard was not at his best today – he seemed to be carrying a hand injury or something – Have-that drifted around to help link-up our play. He wins important headers and acts as a binding glue to propel this team forward. It was only just that he finally got on the scoresheet. Though his not out loud obvious, over this winning streak, he has provided us with both defensive cover and some physicality that we needed.

The movement and interplay left Burnley gasping for air. As it would most teams. It’s so tough to defend against. And here’s the media and some fans looking for a center-forward. When our false-nines play like this, you’d be hard pressed to figure out where to play such a player. I can’t remember the last time we’ve had back-to-back away games where before half-time I could sit back, relax and enjoy the show without the fear of dropping points.

Sure, this run has seen us encounter the mighty Palace, WHU and now Burnley. And of course, a real team – Liverpool. But even last year – if not over Christmas – we would not have been as imperious as we have been over this stretch. There is a confidence and belief in this team that I’ve not seen before. And a calmness. A sense that, given time – not that we’ve needed too much – we will unlock any defense and that we will take our opportunities.

Saka and Martinelli were our triggers last year and now have returned to form. Both are now destroying their fullbacks. They are either creating our goals or converting them. Saka, in particular, seems to be back to his best. That third goal at the start of the second half unquestionably decided this game – not that there was much doubt. I thought he’d missed his chance with that extra touch; that he should have shot first time. But the rifle shot from his weaker right foot yet again demonstrated why there is no doubt this boy is world class.

Another game with a clean sheet should not go unnoticed. It helps our goal difference but more importantly, all season, it has been the rock on which this team is based. And it’s not just the protection from Rice. Saliba and Gabriel must be the best center-half pairing in the league. Sure, they weren’t exactly harshly tested today. Forfana should some decent flashes in the first half. One time exposing Saliba on the by-line. On their right we now have White, in the absence of Zinny, playing like the inverted full-back. It’s just a shame that when we want to give him a rest, we have to bring on Cedric.

But with White on the right enjoying his football we now have a center-half playing left back in Kiwior. As long as he does not encounter a speedy winger, he’s going to be ok. And he adds to the physicality. But at some point, we really do need Tomi to return to fitness. At least we saw ESR return to the pitch for the last ten minutes. Even if he did not exactly lite it up. Eddie also saw some minutes and managed to miss another header. When you see Trossard and Have-that interchange positions, link up play and then play a high press, you can see why Eddie is on the bench.

Rotating the team, preserving the energy and minimizing the injury risk to our key players is going to be key. As they say, the sample size is small, but we are a much smoother, efficient team when we’re only playing once a week. When I go back to that disastrous (non) performance against Fulham, it feels much more like we’d just run out of gas after too many games in a truncated period, using essentially the same players.

This calendar year it’s been once a week for us. Now we go back into the Champions League at Porto. Which means that come our next match against Newcastle – no easy fixture – we’ll have to have provided some respite to Odegaard, Rice and Saka. So it was good to see two of them swapped out.

It would be good though when visiting Porto if we could at least offer them Vieira and throw in Cedric as a make-weight. Maybe soon we will find out where Partey and Tomi have been hiding. And even Jesus. We can’t continue without sharing out the minutes. But for the moment, we are fully deserving our position in the table. This is clearly now a three horse race. And we are part of it.

There will be an element of randomness to how this season plays out. Hopefully that’s not VAR related – which seems to have been a little bit less intrusive of late. But more likely it will be driven by player fitness and availability. Arteta has already commented that our squad is thin. You only have to look at the bench if you disbelieve that statement. With the injuries we’re carrying and the under-performance of some players, we don’t get to protect our key players. And we saw last season what happens these key players are unavailable.

City have ready replacement in each and every position. That’s what happens when you spend gillions of dollars on a squad. Liverpool have brought through some youngsters but are also vulnerable to key injuries. If they lost VVD that defense would be even more unstable. It would be like us losing Saliba. But they have Salah and many other attacking options.

The other element here will be the head-to-head games between the three of us. And each of our local derbies. And then the distraction of the European competitions. So, unlike previous years, City won’t have it all their own way. It will be good for the league to see them have to operate under some pressure. And, as we saw today, they are capable of dropping points. We also though have to play the improving Chelsea. Lets’s just hope that they still have Jackson up front. He must be one of the most irritating forwards I’ve seen. Combining laziness, skill and abject decision making along with a lead first touch.

So, back to Europe this week. It’s unlikely we can outright win or lose the game in this first leg so let’s hope, whatever happens, we don’t pick up any injuries. And then we can focus on Newcastle. To be clear, I still don’t think we’ll win the league. I don’t see us being consistent enough and the margin for error is going to be so small. But, in the meantime, it’s just so enjoyable to watch this team. It makes you so proud of the way we play, the way the players commit to our style of play and to witness the growth of this set of players.

Maybe, one day, we’ll find ourselves TOTL. For the moment, games like this – and last week – are more than good enough for me. The superiority, the class and the fluidity of this team are priceless to watch. And, we also know this team has far from peaked. We are still young and relatively inexperienced. Arteta will continue to work his magic on this squad. We are now a team that instills fear in others. A team more than worthy of our support.


February 11th  – West Ham 0 Arsenal 6

That was the demolition derby. Total domination and the perfect performance. Against our recent nemesis, this was the perfect repost to those that feared we would succumb to a let down after Liverpool. West Ham stole a victory at home only six weeks ago to ruin our Christmas period. Today we delivered the perfect response.

Right from the kick-off we controlled this game. Without Zinny, ESR and Tomi we saw Kiwior fill in at left back. Have-that came back into midfield in place of Jorginho. And with Jesus incurring another knock we have Trossard start-up front. Our movement was so fluid it was hard to tell who was playing in what position.

Today Trossard was electric. Even though he failed to take his chances in the first half, Trossard was the epitome of the false-nine. He was everywhere but in the center forward position. Likewise Martinelli would turn up on the right and Have-that drifted through the front-line.  Whereas against Liverpool we played two holding midfield players, today we reverted back to the more attacking formation. And we swarmed all over them.

WHU set up more like Forest than Liverpool. For periods in the first half they barely touched the ball. Rice controlled the mid-field whereas Odegaard danced around their players looking for that killer pass. Saka torched Emerson and pick up his usual fouls. But Trossard shone throughout. His pass that lead to the Saka penalty was Odegaard-esque in its execution.

The only surprise was that it took 30 minutes for us to score our first goal. And that the first three came from deadballs though Saka would have put his in aside from the clear foul. Gabriel has now scored four this season. Soon he’ll be a candidate for our top scorer or, at least, our center forward position. It’s ridiculous how many goals we’re scoring from free-kicks and corners. You’d have thought the opposition would know what to expect by now.

At four-nil up you figured WHU might, after a stern half-time team-talk, would present a different proposition in the second half. Except, even after making some changes, they were just as dire. We had so much time and space to play through their lines. Even though they adopted the Forest low-block they had no intensity and an inability to mark any man. They really were pretty abject. But that can take nothing away from our performance.

This was a smooth and as seamless as I’ve seen Arsenal play. It looked so easy, we continually found the open space and the open man. Of course, it helps when you have Rice and Odegaard feeding Saka with White on the overlap. As the game progressed the speed of our passing and movement increased. We just tore them apart.

Raya was unemployed today. I doubt he needed a shower after the game. He’s only activity came from handling a couple of corners. In addition, he was able to spring us forward for some quick breaks. Aside from that he acted more like an auxiliary defender albeit largely unused.

We were so good today that even White managed to throw the ball in quickly. None of the usual dithering that we saw last week. We were so good today that we could even bring on Cedric at the end though I’d much preferred to have seen Walters get some minutes.

Given our previous results against WHU, I entered this game with some nerves and a little trepidation. As soon as the game started with Raya not punting the ball up field but instead passing it to Saliba, it took nearly three minutes for WHU to actually touch the ball. By then the pattern of play was pretty clear and was just an issue of whether we would take our chances. In truth the score could have been even higher as WHU were do demoralized, even by half-time. They had no idea what had hit them.

As impressive as Trossard was and as elegant as Odegaard was, it all starts with Rice. The solidity he provides, the protection to the defense, and the first person to receive the ball from them, enables Rice to link up all our play. His only limitation on his game currently is his inability to charge forward. We saw a few times today but his defensive responsibilities restricts him.

His goal was the icing on the cake. And the restraint he showed the WHU fans was quite ironic given how much stick they had been giving him. It showed how mindless and stupid the WHU fans are – not that this is news to anyone. Rice had given ten years of his life to that team and lead them to their first European trophy in 50+ years. Yet they booed him from his first touch to his last – which was his goal.

There were so many good things on display today. For me though, the continued focus and concentration after we swept WHU away spoke to the growing maturity of this team. It would have been so easy to have slipped up and let them score a meaningless goal. But even to the end Gabriel and Saliba were intent on keeping a clean sheet, celebrating each block like each of the goals they scored. Given what happened here last year – especially with that Saka penalty miss – it would have been quite easy to loose focus. It speaks though to the growth in this team.

Whether we can win the league is another conversation but all we can do is perform as we have for the last few weeks. While last weeks Liverpool performance was so impressive todays was as important after the emotional exhaustion that comes from a display such as that. After the destruction of Palace, Forest and now WHU, we can be sure that this team has developed and evolved beyond last year.

Each game will be like a cup-final. City just won’t drop points. And, in all likelihood the game at their place will help decide the outcome. But, we will be in the mix. And this team still has room for improvement. It’s still young and learning. And Arteta, who demonstrated tactical acumen last week, is also still learning his trade. And with his further growth (and inevitable mistakes) will come further improvements in this team. In the meantime, what a joy we are to watch. What a pleasure it is to see a team enjoy it’s football, control the game, dominate possession and create so many chances.

The truth is, when you look back to our home match against them, it all comes down to taking our chances. We pulverized them in that game but were incapable of scoring. Today, though, we took most of the chances that came our way and they just wilted. It just speaks to how fortunate they were at our place and how unjust that result was.

It’s just a shame that ESR was, again, injured. This would have been the perfect game for him to come on and play the last 20 minutes. It sounds like he picked up yet another knock. This boy has no luck whatsoever. Instead, we had to suffer watching Cedric.  Oh well, nothing is perfect.

Which leads nicely to the rumblings coming from UEFA and the IFB. Blue cards? You have to be kidding. Just when we’ve introduced complexity through VAR, they want to make it even more confusing with yet another card colour. Which particular problem needs to be solved here? A sin-bin? Please, most Sp*rs players would be in it by dent of playing for those wankers. What could be a bigger sin. It really is such irrelevant nonsense. Rather than figuring out how to speed up the game and solve the VAR issues, this is where they wish to spend their time. And this in the same week when the CEO of EUFA flouted his own rules to extend his term just so he could then announce, in a truculent, spoilt-brat sort of way, that he would not stand for election again. All the while earning £3 million a year. It’s a hard life for some. And you wonder why football is a mess?

We now have another week to recuperate before heading up into the wilds of the north to face Burnley. And then back to the Champions League. We have some momentum now. It’s just that with City being City there is no margin for error. But days like today will always bring a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that no amount of financial doping can dilute. This team is a team to be proud of. We have some truly world class players (Mr. Rice, that’s you I’m thinking of in addition to Saka, Saliba and Odegaard). And a genuinely bright future ahead of us. But, seriously how often in the Premier League can you go away and score six goals against a team in the top 10? I’m pretty sure we’ve never done this before.  

So, keep that smile on your face, revel in the quality of play that you see with Arsenal, strap yourself in for the challenges ahead and know that we won’t often have to see Cedric again.


February 4th – Arsenal 3 Liverpool 1

That’s more like it. A nice resounding result after a dominant performance. This was fully deserved even if inevitably, there were some tricky moments. The first half domination and the last minute equalizer was so deflating. Yet, after their initial second half surge, we found our way back.

Maybe this was just the two best center-halfs in the EPL both showing they are human. The mix up between Saliba and Raya was mainly on Saliba, But, our second was more squarely on Van Dyke. And the latter was the game changer.

Tactically, Arteta was perfect today. The introduction of Jorghino was pivotal to the balance of the team. It allowed for both he and Rice to provide the control of the midfield. As impressive as Rice was – with some typically crunching tackles – it was the calmness and neatness of Jorghino that stood out today. If he had such an inch more speed he would have been truly world class. Instead, today we saw someone who has mastered the intricacies of the position and then instruct and help everyone around him. Sure, we don’t play him that often, but today, after being deeply skeptical of his original signing back last January, he fully demonstrated his fundamental contribution for this team. He steadied the midfield and provided the on-field guidance that allows Arteta to channel his philosophy and control onto the field. The best we’ve seen Jorghino. And the well deserved man of the match.

Rice though was so strong and physical. Who would you rather pay £100m for? Rice of MacAllister. It’s pretty clear we got the better deal. In that first half he closed down both Jones and, mainly, MacAllister, dispossessing them and also acting as the last man in defense when needed. And yet, he still propelled us forward. He reminds me of an improved version of Ramsey, or, as I’ve said many times, Vieira 2.0.

Have-that really should have scored that first goal prior to Saka cleaning up. We thoroughly deserved it. Have-that though worked so hard throughout the game. Sure, his first touch failed him in the second half when MacAllister brought him down. But it was Have-that that tracked back in the second half, did not jump in to give-up a penalty prior to Nunez skying the ball over. But that was Jesus-like in terms of the work rate and spirit. It’s a shame that he can’t find that scoring touch. But all game long he fought Konate and, essentially, got him sent off.  I was worried with him starting up front but, today, he delivered and earned respect.

That pass from Odergaard to set him up was classic. Deft, delicate and cushioned to exactly the right pace and position for Have-that. Odergaard was all over the pitch today, defending resolutely and providing a springboard for moving forward. Of course, rather than shoot as often as he should he still looks for the perfect pass. This is something we’ve seen from Arsenal in the last twenty years. From Pires through to Santi, Cesc, Hleb and Rosicky. It’s part of our DNA though it can be frustrating. He really deserved the assist for that one. And then again when, in the second half, he picked out Kiwior who headed perfectly into the midriff of Alisson.

Both wingers seemed to rediscover their groove today. In particular, Martinelli, was such an effective outlet. He skinned Konate within 10 minutes and setup a headed chance that Saka somehow managed to put wide. By having Zinny playing a more classic left-back role with Jorghino also working the left side, it meant that AA was isolated and peripheral for most of the game. And it allowed Martinelli to work that space behind AA and expose Konate. Unlike in previous matches though this felt like a return to the electric Martinelli we’d seen last year.

Saka was also back in his groove. Sure, he should have scored that header, but his overall contribution was so improved. I mean, even his corners were better than the Forest ones. And of course, he put himself in the right position to nab that all important opening goal. We had dominated them from the offset. And going into the half-time break only 1-0 up seemed a poor reward for all our work. You just knew they could not be as ineffective in the second half. You knew, just as when we played at Anfield, that Klopp would change things up and make them more competitive, more of a threat.

Instead, Saliba found a way to gift them their goal. I don’t believe they’d had a shot on target the entire first half and somehow we conspired to let them equalize. Most of the responsibility falls on Saliba for not winning the original header and then being indecisive. It will not surprise anyone that I also hold Raya slightly responsible as well. In the penalty area he has to scream clear instructions and take control. He should have told Saliba to kick it out or to come charging out. But he did neither. Of course, Saliba should have just kicked the ball out. That’s two defensive errors in two matches now for Saliba. He should have been physically stronger against Forest for their only goal and today he should have been more commanding. Today he seemed a little unsure with his distribution. A few times, especially in the first half, he seemed hesitant, dithered on the ball and take too many touches. He’s still our best defender but, like an young player, he will make mistakes and learn. I would not swap him for Van Dyke – who also demonstrated how easy it is for a world class players to make mistakes.

White somehow got booked for time wasting but beyond that he was excellent. There was a time at the start of the second half when Liverpool seemed to have discovered their rhythm when White was caught out of position. But aside from that he was strong and dominate against Diaz. But, as prominent as our set-ball coach is, why can’t that guy help with our throw-ins. It really does take White an infinite amount of time for him to throw the ball in. Part of this is that the players around him don’t provide him enough options. But, surely, some of this is that he never grew up as a full-back and just has not figured out what to do. Either way, you’d have thought one of our endless army of coaches would have been able to help him out by now.

As much as I want Ramsdale in goal – and clearly, that will never happen in this universe – I have to grudgingly have acknowledge again, that Raya’s quick distribution helps spring us into attack. Whether it be by throwing or kicking it out, he provides us with a potent counter-attack. Dam, I hate having to say nice things about Raya.

Gabriel scored their only goal and I don’t think Raya really had one save to make apart from a few long distance speculative shots. I could have played in goal today. As against Forest, we really should have kept a clean-sheet and Raya was largely untroubled. But hopefully, with such young defenders, we will just work our way through these mistakes.

We were so much in control today. Just as we were at Anfield. And in the F A Cup. And finally, we got what we deserved. And what Arteta deserved. He set up the midfield perfectly. His tactics nullified anything Liverpool tried. And, his substitutions helped change the game, unlike Liverpool. I would have left Martinelli on and taken off Have-that but Arteta knows best. And Trossard skinned Elliot before pulling off a Jesus-like finish to shoot between Alisson’s legs to put the game to rest. And it was also nice to see Nelson come on. It was his header out of the box from their corner that helped lead to the sending off of Konate.

This was a complete performance today. There can be no doubt who were the superior team and who deserved the points. After the Christmas disaster that’s three wins on the spin now. And whereas the other two were expected, even, demanded, this one was a statement victory. It reestablishes our title credentials.  It puts us in a competitive position for the rest of season – as long as we avoid last seasons meltdown. I still feel we’re a little short from a squad depth perspective.

Zinny came off because of his unreliable calf and Partey, well, remains thoroughly predictable and injured. We have Tommy coming back from the Asia cup and Elneny on the bench. But with the Champions League starting up again there are certain players we need to wrap in cotton wall. It was good to see ESR start against Forest. It was inevitable he would not start today but hopefully he begins to see more game time and can start more games. We’ll need his speed of thought and inventiveness when we come up against the brick-wall defenses of teams like Forest. I’ve never seen a team consistently defend so deep for so long before. They certainly deserve to get relegated with the style of play they’ve adopted. They make the Bolton of old seem adventurous.

A great day, a great result and a great atmosphere. There are many more challenges ahead of us but today we performed at the highest level. We need to enjoy days like this. I knew we could not afford to lose today but I had not expected to win nor to have been so convincing.


January 20th – Arsenal 5 Crystal Palace 0

Welcome back dear reader(s). Welcome back Arsenal. Welcome back clean-sheets. And, most importantly, welcome back goals from open play. And, thank you Palace. That was very sweet and generous of you. A wholey pathetic performance from you was just what the doctor ordered. You were truly insipid. Just what we needed.

This mid-winter break was perfectly timed. The prior few weeks had been draining and dispiriting. Fortunately, I was able to retire to a warm weather environment and recuperate. I practiced. I trained. And I kept warm. All care of blankets, gloves and an excessive heating bill. Fortunately, the team was able to improve their sun tans and also practice their corner drills.

All the attention has been focused on our inability to score and the demand for another striker. This is clearly not going to happen. And should not. We have the players. They just have to remind themselves how to score. There is no-one out there (unless Messi gets bored in Miami) worth the money being demanded. This is the same team that was freely scoring last year. The tactics have since changed, the approach of the opposition has changed and so has our luck (for the worse).

So how about them corners? If I thought Raya was vulnerable from crosses I should instead have watched Henderson.  We were clearly prepared. Not a single short corner routine. When was the last time that happened? Instead with first Rice and then Saka, we slung into the box for Gabriel to score. How that second one is an own goal is a travesty. That first one helped settle us down and took the nerves out. We’d clearly come back energized. The style of play was unaltered. Complete possession but few chances being created and none being taken. Without those corners it could have been very frustrating.

It felt very much like the prior games – they were West Ham without a defense. Though that’s a little unfair to WHU. We dominated and controlled the entire game. We played our progressive game. Zinny and Odegaard were pulling the strings. In fact it was surprising to see Zinny out there. After his usual calf injury he’s usually sidelined for 6 weeks. And today, without any requirement to defend or mark anyone, he had a free hand to invert and push us forward. Alongside him Rice was in complete control. Let’s hope he want off as a precautionary move.

Saka was again quiet. But that was true when we played at their place. Mitchell seems to know how to play Saka. He’s still not found his form of last year but there’s time for him. I’d prefer him to rediscover his form in the latter half of the season when we’ll need him. Though there was a chance today to give Nelson more minutes.

Jesus continues to work hard and link up our play but his inability to actually score will encourage further debate about a new striker. It ain’t happening this year. But today he seemed poor. His passing was off, and I lost count of how many times he drifted off-side. We should have brought Eddie on earlier but at least we saw ESR for 20 minutes. But this was only possible due to our third goal – finally a goal from open play. As much as it hurts to say, this one was care of Raya and his distribution. 13 seconds from one end to the other. And thankfully it was Jesus passing to Trossard and not the other way round. This was a classic Trossard finish.

And then once Martinelli appeared we were able to finish them off in style as Palace brought on players without any position awareness. They clearly thought playing with a right-back was to challenging for Arsenal. This is just what Martinelli needed to reenergize him. Two identical finishes. He’s now scored 3 in our last two league games. We just have to find others to contribute.

Today was just so easy because of the ineptitude of Palace. It’s not clear how much we can extract from what we saw. It all felt a little like deja-vu. I mean, we were never going to change our style and approach. The defense remained as solid as ever helped by their complete lack of attacking intent. Eze is completely wasted on this team. He is their new Zaha. Our midfield had a ton of time on the ball but, in the first half, we created few open chances. Aside from our corners we had one clearly cut chance with Trossard. There were still instances where Jesus and Odegaard needed an extra touch before shooting.

I know I should be more excited and enthusiastic after a 5-0 drubbing at home. Every game counts of course, but this seemed so easy. Especially after that first goal. Palace did nothing to really change their approach. So, I spent the time looking for little signs of change or adaptation post winter-break. And, in truth, it seemed pretty much the same as prior games. Except this time, we found ways to score. Sometimes we moved the ball faster, more one-touch and a few more vertical passes. But nothing dramatic. I hate to say it but it just reenforces the old adage that goals change games. Once we fully unlock our scoring potential – assuming we do – all will be right with us.

Have-that had another quiet but effective and industrious game. Not out loud impressive but if you monitor his work-rate and the breath of the field he covers you’ll appreciate his contribution. And maybe that’s some of the problem. This description could be applied to both Jesus and Have-that. We just need them to also be able to score. And for Saka to. That’s all we need. Is that too much to ask?

Without the distraction of the FA Cup we have another ten days off. Maybe they can go off again to the desert. And Forest have a match – albeit it against Bristol City. So we’ll have plenty of time to prepare for that one. And then we have Liverpool visiting. Let’s hope Salah is till at the ANC and the AA is injured. We won’t have any new additions so this is the squad we’ll have. With, possibly, Timber back in April.

Its noticeable how quiet this transfer window is. This time last year we were in a bidding war with LAChelsea for Mudryk. Thankfully we lost that one. And got Trossard instead. But very team teams have made any moves yet. Maybe it all happens in the last week. But with the FA randomly enforce financial fair play rules against everyone bar Man City, everyone seems more cautious. And even they can’t offload Philips yet. And the wankers have brought back Timo. That’s always good for a laugh.

And speaking of wankers, I can’t believe that we won with Tierney as the referee. And no penalties or yellow cards. And very little VAR either. Of course part of this was due to not needing to make any tackles against the toothless Palace.

So now I can resume my recuperation from the trauma of December (and the FA Cup exit) for the next ten days. I’ll put out the deck chair, don my speedos and put my feet up knowing I won’t be screaming, for the next ten days, at Jesus when he misses yet another chance and then roams off-side. It’s a shame we can’t play Palace each week.


December 31st – Fulham 2 Arsenal 1

I thought it could not get worse after West Ham. Boy was I wrong. This one needed going into the next year to recover from. What a way to end the year leaving the worst to last.

This was pretty self-evident to everyone. Here is just short list of applicable adjectives – abject, lifeless, soul destroying, ineffective, lackluster, aimless, predictable. It really defies explanation how a team could implode so quickly. Except that we’ve seen this before. Last time was in April/May but then we could blame injuries to Saliba, Partey and Tomi. Here we saw the inevitably injured Zinny replaced by Kiwor. Maybe Zinny has been carrying this for a while – which might explain his performances.

Within 4 minutes we’d scored a slightly lucky goal; it’s not like Saka got a clean touch on the ball. And then we had to wait for VAR to try and rule it out. This one started with the quick distribution of Raya and then a classic Martinelli break up field.

From then on it progressively got worse. It was like watching the life drain out of our team. So many mistakes and simple giveaways. Kiwor was exposed on the left. He’s decent player but lacking the pace to be a full-back. And, of course, he was caught out for their equalizer. But then so was White. He found it tough to mark their full-back all game long.

Saka was again off his game (again). He wasn’t able to beat Robinson with any one-on-one. Aside from missing that (difficult) chance in the second half Saka seemed lost. As did most of the team. Our triangles on the right were slow and ponderous. Odegaard seemed the only one willing to put in the work. But there was no creativity. There was no movement up front. This might have been Eddies most ineffectual game – and that’s a pretty low bar.

Eddie barely touched the ball. For someone who finally got his chance to start a game it was a utterly wasted opportunity. He did himself no favours. Of course he suffered because there was zero fluency, rhythm or pace about our game. It was a classic possession without any intent performance. We moved the ball around with no intent. Yet, when Fulham (easily) recovered the ball, they moved it quickly forward and took on our full backs. They looked the better team.

This performance was that of a team that looked at the end of an era not the start. This looked like a performance of a team in disarray; with no identity. As poor as we were against West Ham this was far worse. Against West Ham it seemed our only problem was being able to score. Against Fulham, it was much more basic. We were incapable of playing basic, fundamental football.

How does this happen and what does this say about us? How can you put in a performance like this when you have a chance to go top of the league? It’s inconceivable that we could win this league now. Forget that we’re still in contention – right in the mix. This speaks – as it did last April/May – to our mental fortitude. For every turnaround we experienced at Luton, we then have games like this. And this lack of inconsistency precludes us from competing with City (or Liverpool).

Forget that we have too many underperforming players. Have-that was anonymous. Martinelli was worse than anonymous; he has completely lost his ability to effect a game. Jesus was isolated and uninvolved (except for working back to help out in defense). We were so poor that even Rice looked uncomfortable. It’s rare you see him out of position chasing back. Or see him making sloppy passes. The spirit seemed drained from this team. The only player that looked decent was Saliba.

There was just no urgency or passion. There was no movement off the ball. Fulham – like West Ham – sat back knowing we could not pass our way through. There were no one-twos, no runs behind and no passing through the lines. We were just devoid of ideas. We really looked like a bang average mid-table team just lacking the passion of those types of teams.

Once we went 2-1 down I was as close as I can ever remember from walking out on this game. It was so frustrating and unenjoyable to watch. If we had put in the effort and created any chances (aside from the Saka one) and threw everything at them and still lost then I could accept that. But not this performance. This was reminiscent of past Arsenal teams. Ones with Mustafi or Aubameyang or Ozil. teams that were floundering for an identity.

The manner of our performance undermines all the good will that this team has built up. It undermines the entire program. Sure, it’s just one game and we’re still in the top four (just). But coming after the draw at Liverpool and then the home defeat against West Ham, it’s inexplicable for this team (especially, once it had the lead after 4 minutes), to not have the backbone, spirit or football intelligence to navigate their way to even a draw. There was an emptiness, a void, in this team that brings into question the viability of this team and it’s management.

The first question, the obvious question, is has Arteta started to lose this team? If you can’t get yourself up to win a game that would enable you to go TOTL, have the players started to tune him out? I hope that’s not the case. So maybe, it’s the fact we’ve not rotated the team. We’ve played Rice in every game. As with Saka and most other players. Is this a consequence of exhaustion over the Christmas period. I hope that’s the case.

Previously I’d argued that the winter transfer window could help us if we sold Eddie and Ramsdale to reinvest in another forward. After this game I’ve now reversed course. I’m firmly of the view that this team is not ready. That we should not burn the future for the present. Sure I’d like an improvement upfront. But rather than waste more money I’d insist that this team – as it currently is – takes responsibility and fixes themselves. Bringing in another player does not solve the problem with this team. This team needs to own their problem and fight their way out of it.

This game was so draining and frustrating it makes writing this blog even more dour and depressing. Having to relive the futility of our performance and the waste of an opportunity – against a team that everyone, recently, has used as a doormat – crushes any love for this team. It makes thinking about Arsenal, Arteta and the future too aggravating.

Even if there’s some sort of reaction or bounce in the next couple of games, it won’t remove the stain of this result. We will always carry the knowledge that – like last season – we can implode at any time. That, on any given Saturday (or Sunday or Monday….), we can quickly revert to a directionless, aimless, identityless, soulless team.

Not the best way to end a year. If only I had confidence we could draw line under this and move forward. On the basis though that this was due to exhaustion, then it comes back to our lack of rotation. Our over-dependancy on Rice, Saka. And the lack of growth in Have-that, Martinelli, Jesus and our full-backs. We have to give more time to Nelson, ESR and Jorginho. We have to share the load around the squad. This is what we failed to do last year. And here we go repeating the same mistake again. As Karl Marx said “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce”. For you youngsters out there, if. you’ve not heard of Karl Marx, he was, back in the 50’s a famous right-back for Crystal Palace.

So where does this leave us? Restore Ramsdale and get some heart back in this team. This will never happen. I’d start by resting Rice and Saka for the upcoming F. A. Cup match. Watch how Liverpool rotate their squad. Give minutes to some other players. Or phrased another way, drop some players. Let’s have some accountability. That’s two back-to-back crappy performances against mid-table teams. So hold the players accountable and give others some minutes. We’re at the half-way point now. Something has to change. Otherwise we’ll be desperately fighting for a top four spot. And if we fail then Arteta will be under immense pressure, particularly if those wankers (once they get back some of their players) finish higher than us. We’ve spent a kings ransom on this team and Arteta needs to show progress. It can’t revert to last years season ending fiasco.

So good-bye 2023. Good-bye any chance to winning the league this season. And hello 2024 and the chance to reset, learn from our history and reignite this team.


December 28th – Arsenal 0 West Ham 2

No longer TOTL. I took my own advice and waited 24 after the debacle of yesterday before committing my incoherent thoughts to this post. A post containing the full range of my swear words would not have made for an interesting read. Though it would have been helpful therapy. The only silver lining yesterday was the scoreline down at Brighton. That, at least, was able to bring a small to my face. I mean, if that can’t make you happy then there is no point to life.

Instead, I’m left with the miserable realization that we are, in fact, not quite ready for prime-time. No team that aspires to win the league can wither away in front of goal as we did against WHU. And no team can afford to drop this many points over the Christmas period. OK, maybe that last part is not quite true.

We dominated that opening 10 minutes. It looked like one-way traffic. We played with a high tempo and moved the ball around rapidly. We started to create chances and all seemed right with the world even if all our activity was down our right hand side.

I’ll say this early and without any sense of irony. We missed Have-that yesterday. Trossard was not as comfortable or available in that positions where he often drifted infield. It’s a shame ESR was not fit enough to start but I have no doubt that was the right decision. ESR has to be reintegrated slowly and carefully given his Wilshire-like injury record.

Their first goal was entirely against the run of play. As was their second. But for that first goal it just looked like a comedy of errors. I believe it started up field with White being out of position. But even then, there seems no obvious reason for concern. Emerson’s cross seemed relatively harmless. But then Zinny proceeded – as he did at Anfield – to effectively collide with one of our own – Gabriel this time to cause chaos in our box. Raya stayed on his line and then drifted out to the side where the ball was passed back for the to score into an open goal.

Then we had to wait 3 minutes for VAR to see of it could see what we could all see – which was, as was the case against Newcastle – that the ball had gone out before Bowen crossed the ball back. The commenters claimed there was not sufficient evidence. Yet, as they played it frame by frame it was clear and obvious that this ball went out. What is the point of VAR if they can’t get the objective decisions right. This is not a subjective matter of judgement; it’s binary. But yet again, as with Newcastle, we were penalized again.

Of the many vageries of VAR, I don’t understand why there cannot be a chip in the ball to unequivocally determine whether the ball is in our out. It’s nearly inevitable that, around the by-line, neither the linesman not the cameras will have a clean line of sight. There will always be too many players around (though not in the case of Willock)

Having seen the way we started though I figured there was ample time for us to score multiple times to retrieve the points. We continued to dominate but a degree of repetition set in. The activity down our right, with tight triangles, was very cute but only generated a few direct chances. After another glorious Odegaard pass Saka hit the post. And then Martinelli, as he has been doing for the last few games, squandered another chance; missing the target yet again.

Someone has removed the mojo from Martinelli. As feeble as he was against Brighton and then again Liverpool, he was even worse against West Ham. He needs to be rested as he’s lost his way. This was, hands down, his worst performance in an Arsenal shirt. He was incapable of arriving in the penalty box at the right time, was unable to beat his man on the wing and incapable of putting in any decent crosses.

With this abject performance from him combined with Trossard floating infield and Zinny being Zinny, out left hand side was completely ineffective. And even on the other side Saka was not at his best. The only players who seemed to turn up yesterday were Odegaard, Rice and Saliba. Odegaard buzzed around and tried to create. But there was little movement.

We had chances mind you. I admire Jesus and his work rate. He keeps the pressure on their defense and provides so many options for us. But, and this seems reasonably obvious, one would expect him to be able to score important goals for us. And that header he missed in the second half was important. I could not imagine Halland, Kane or even Watkins missing the target let alone not scoring that.

And that’s the core of our problem. Where do our goals come from? Against Liverpool it was Gabriel and there were none at Villa. And you can’t win the league if you can’t score goals. That seems pretty obvious. That does not mean we’re not a good team. We clearly are. We were unlucky against West Ham. I believe they had two shots on goal yesterday whereas our count was in the twenties. We dominated possession. But we lacked some creativity and movement. As the game wore on we ran out of ideas. It seemed inevitable that we would not score.

Our team has some world class players. Rice and Saliba. And there’s an argument for Saka to be in this group. But that’s not enough to win the league, sorry. Even 24 hours later that realization is sinking in. And I know, I never imagined we would win the league this year. it was just that game against Luton that opened my mind to the idea.

We have a decent right back in White but our left-back, again, was key to our defeat. Maybe that’s a little unfair. But you just can’t defend like that. Though clearly he can. Even if Rice did give away a penalty right at the death and, amazingly, misplaced some passes as well, he’s still the lynch-pin of this team. And Saliba, who was imperious as ever. But, to win the league we need more than these two or three.

Thankfully we removed Martinelli after 65 minutes along with Zinny. But even then as we huffed and puffed it was not clear how we’d ever score. Nelson was an improvement whereas Eddie was, well, Eddie. You have to give some credit to WHU for the way they defended. Not only did Mavropanos score against us but we made him look like a world class defender. But that came about because we were incapable of scoring.

Raya had very little to do whereas Areola only had a few meaningful saves to make. It’s not like he made a string of world-class saves to deny us. We just did not test him enough. There were so many half chances we just failed to take. I suppose we should at least acknowledge that Raya saved us from further embarrassment by saving that penalty. It retained a slice of respectability I suppose.

So where does this leave us? A little bit of a wake up call for all of us I think. We’re not as bad as we were against WHU but nor as we as good as we were against Luton. We live in that in between state. We have a few issues to solve if we want to sale the heights of winning the league.

We need a goal scorer. It’s fine to get goals from our midfield players but so far, this season, Martinelli couldn’t hit the side of a barn door and even Saka’s production is down. And, as for Jesus, as important as he is for us, he’s not a natural goalscorer.

There are may elements to resolving this issue. We need a defender given both the absence of Tomi and Timber and our non-defending left-back. Also we are too vulnerable to an injury to Rice. So we need cover there as well. We have limited financial room as demonstrated by the need to take Raya (yuk) on loan. So we already have needs.

Maybe the solution lies with recognizing that you can’t have Ramsdale as a back-up goalie. He’s too good for that. He should be starting but if that’s not going to happen let’s raise some money by sending him off for an exorbitant fee. He needs to play for England and go to the Euros. But first he needs to play for someone.

Then, maybe, we need to cash in on Eddie. As much as I like him we have to face the reality that we need more than Jesus and Eddie as our primary goal-scorers. Combined this could raise an additional £50m. And that might be enough to get us a Toney or someone equivalent.

My suspicion is that Arteta will take this defeat on the chin. Rationalize, that if we played that game ten times, that we’d score goals in 9 out 10 of them. This was that anomaly where whatever we did we’d not score. He will search out a defender and maybe some midfield player as well. But any major surgery will have to wait for the summer transfer window.

The Fulham match will be interesting as they are also in a funk. Either them or us will find a way to rebound. Let’s hope it’s us. We just aren’t as bad a team as we looked against WHU (I repeat this because i’m trying to convince myself). Arteta has to work his magic and help us rebound against Fulham – which will not be so easy.

Lets pray that one of our attackers can find their scoring boots. And we’ll have Have-that back in the line-up. As depressing – and it was *really* depressing – to sit through that defeat, losing to Fulham or, even, drawing, would cause alarms bells to go off.

Having said that, maybe, we’re just ahead of schedule. We normally have our poor patch in April. Maybe we’re just getting it out of the way early. I doubt it but hope strings eternal. This squad needs a little more depth and quality. A world-class forward would do the trick. But they ain’t that easy to find. Evidently, you can’t just pop round to the local Tescos and bring one back.

We might not be good enough to win the league but we have to be good enough to stay in the top four. That has to be the minimum objective for this year. And with Villa, Newcastle and those wankers down the road all dropping points, that definitely helps.

For sure my Christmas has been trashed by these results – and by VAR. Let’s hope we go into the New Year with a minor recovery at Fulham. That we can rediscover some believe and that we can score goals. To be precise, I’m referring to goals in the oppositions net. I’m not looking for any own goals (Zinny, i’m thinking of you here).


December 23rd – Liverpool 1 Arsenal 1

TOTL for Christmas. I’ll take that. Or Have-that.

Given our recent history at Anfield it’s hard to begrudge leaving there with a point. The team selects itself these days. But it was always going to be a tough day for Zinny. More on that later.

We started this game well. We had a chance within 30 seconds. We pressed them high and stayed on the front-foot. Within a few minutes Gabriel had the ball in the net. You just knew that VAR would rule it out but amazingly the goal stood. And it did not take a lifetime to decide either.

For most of the first half we looked like a proper team going toe-to-toe with them. We controlled a lot of the play and created openings but no clear opportunities. Not until Saka broke through and the ball landed at Martinelli’s feet. But as against Brighton, he missed the target with two defenders on the line. That was our turning point.

This was an intense game, hotly contested and high quality. It’s just a shame that Liverpool didn’t play like they did against United last week. We acquitted ourselves pretty well throughout. Our center halves were outstanding. Saliba was at his majestic best and Garbiel – aside from being our goal scorer – was dominant. On the right White was exposed once or twice but thankfully Saliba covered for him

And then there is poor old Zinny. Of course, people will laud over Alexander-Arnolds passing range, but Zinny made so many poor choices on this play. He dropped too deep and meant we could not catch Salah off-side. He misjudged the flight of the ball and then let him dance round him like we was not there. As much as i’d like to fault Raya I can’t. This was on Zinny.

We knew though this would be our achilles heel. We knew their best attacker was against our worst defender. There was a sense of inevitability about this match-up. So as annoying as it was, it was not too surprising. What was surprising is that Arteta kept him out there for the full 90 minutes. In many ways Zinny is our Alexendar-Arnold; he is our liability when defending, our weak link, but often at the core of our creativity. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.

Unfortunately in front of him, Martinelli failed to deliver. Aside from the chance discussed above, he lost possession in dangerous places and failed to pose any threat He feels like he’s been off his game now for a while. We were more threatening as soon as Trossard replaced him. In important games such as these we need Martinelli to turn up and he did not today. And his (many) mistakes nearly cost us.

On the other side, Saka worked hard and created chances. Too often though no-one (I.e. Martinelli) was anticipating and make the runs into the box. Of course, Saka was fouled often but yet he managed to pick up a yellow card. Partly that was a result of him destroying Tsimikas followed by Klopp squashing the Greek.

Odegaard flitted around, making himself available and connecting our play together. He turned up today. He chased and worked so hard. Even if he did handle the ball in the penalty area; this was one time VAR did not harm us. Along with the majestical Rice, Odegaard combined to fuel our play. Have-that, again, slotted in alongside them. Of course with Martinelli in front and Zinny behind him, he is not in an ideal situation. But he also help keep possession and link up our play.

Rice was the dominant player. So often chasing back, making vital tackles or intercepting crosses. As brilliant as he is, he seems to get better with every game. Even if he did pick up another yellow card today.

For all the skill and intensity on display neither goalkeeper was continuously tested today. Raya barely had any saves to make. The crossbar had our most important one. After Zinny had taken out Odegaard on the edge of their areas they brought 4 on 1 and someone AA found a way to win the crossbar challenge at the expense of their second goal.

As much as Liverpool turned up the intensity and pressing in the second half, they did not deserve to win. And, in the last 15 minutes, we found our way back into the game, started to control it and seemed the more likely winners. But, overall, I think, a draw was a reasonable and fair result

This was a game we could not lose. In previous years we surely would have. We would have caved into the pressure, the intensity and ended-up losing 4-0. But with Rice in this team we genuinely have a backbone. And then we have Saliba behind him. If both of these were in their team they would win the league. Fortunately they are with us though.

Today we suffered because of Zinny and Martinelli. Everyone else turned up. But to win this league we need everyone pulling their weight. We also need a stronger bench. Have-that picked up another card so we’ll have to play Jorghino or ESR against West Ham.

So we enter Christmas top of the tree. and the window will open in just over a week. Hopefully we find a couple of players to support our midfield and defense. You know we’re short of players when Cedric is on the bench at Anfield. We just have to retain the momentum at home on Thursday and then we can get to the half way point still TOTL.


December 17th – Arsenal 2 Brighton 0

TOTL. Still. And this was deserved. We dominated and deserved this. Even if it was painful to watch at time. This was not the Brighton of the last few years. And this was not the Arsenal of previous years. We were in control and moved the ball smartly.

Team selection is on auto-pilot. Chat-gpt could have picked this team. Apart from Raya. The bench though was a little scary. No Jorginho. No Elneny and, of course, no Partey. Luckily we have Superman to carry the entire team on his back. His presence in midfield elevates the entire team. As good as he was today I’m not talking about Have-that. Rice has become the most important player on our team. Even more so than even Saka. Today was a masterclass. Again.

Our domination started from the first minute. I’m not sure Raya had a real save to make – aside from nearly dropping the ball in the first half from a cross. And most of it came up our right-hand side. Between Odegaard, White and Saka numerous chances were created. Neither Jesus nor Have-that could convert chances. Saka was also unable to beat the goalie either. Every opportunity seemed to be spurned. By half-time it felt like this was one of those games where we’d never find a way to score.

The style and speed of play though was excellent. There was no slow build up; no hesitation. Between Rice and Odegaard we kept creating chances. We just seemed incapable of taking any. Though some of this was due to their man mountain – Dunk. Rice snapped up every tackle and shut down nearly all their advances. Meanwhile Odergaard was threading passes through for fun. One, with the outside of his foot for Saka was particularly gorgeous.

Saka was roasting poor Milner. Whoever thought that would work our well for Brighton needs their head examined, On the other side, Martinelli was unable to impose himself in the same way. He missed one glorious chance from Saka – after that Odegaard pass – and generally seemed off his game today. Combined with Zinny being pretty quiet, that meant that Have-that was the only one on the left that imposed themselves today.

When we’re missing chances at the rate we were today it gets pretty frustrating. You have to be able to convert these chances to not just win games but also compete for the league. And by half-time, I was well frustrated. It was not clear that our total domination could continue and I was sure we’d rue those missed chances. Fortunately the second half continued where we left off from the first. More control, most creativity and no ability to actually score. It’s time like this when you think we’ll need to sign a real striker in order for us to win the league.

But then you see Jesus chasing back into our own half to win the ball back. That is not the action of a normal striker. Jesus was excellent today, working so hard all over the pitch. And, thankfully, he found himself in the right spot from one of our numerous corners to break the deadlock. And soon thereafter, Brighton made a number of substitutions to open up their game and push us more. Our defense held strong even if I was surprised that the largely ineffective Zinny stayed on the pitch as long as he did. He did not contribute too much today and always seems liable to make a dangerous mis-placed pass. And it was clear the winger clearly had the measure of him. I can’t imagine what Salah, next week, might do to terrorize him (and us).

At 1-0 up it started to feel even more edgy; now we had something to lose and they started to impose themselves in the game. After watching City destroy Palace to only give up, needlessly, a two-goal lead, it felt like we would find a way to make a simple mistake to allow them back into the game.

The sliding doors moment happened when they pierced our defense on the left leaving White in their midst and cutback for Gross to miss the target. That was their clearest (and only chance). It was good to know that they also could miss their chances; though they only did it once whereas we must have missed, like, 125 chances.

Soon thereafter, after we’d finally removed Martinelli and Jesus, Trossard threaded the ball through, out of defense, leading to Eddie setting up Have-that to finally seal the game. It’s just a shame it took 89 minutes. But it allowed Have-that to leave the game to a deserved ovation. It’s remarkable how he has finally found he’s scoring touch. And you can see he’s still not up to full-speed yet. He still needs more time. He worked really hard today and would have benefited if both Martinelli and Zinny were more effective.

We even got to see a few more minutes of ESR and Nelson; the latter who dutifully tracked back to intercept a cross for one of their corners. I don’t think he’d have done that a few seasons ago. It’s important for both of them to get minutes; we need them so that we can rotate this team. Today the team picked itself. But we know from last year, that in time, a lack of rotation will induce fatigue and injuries.

Which us brings us back to Rice. He was at the center of everything good. The frequency with which he steps up to breakdown their moves is as good as I’ve ever seen. He reads the game so well and anticipates when he has a chance to breakup their play. It was just frustrating that we won the ball back so high up the pitch and then could not convert though chances. Too often either Martinelli or Odegaard seemed to want an extra touch or pass. But Rice was the springboard for all of that. And, of course, he provides the defensive cover for Saliba and Gabriel. As untroubled as they were, and as graceful and forceful as Saliba was, Rice does not let them get exposed.

This was as good a performance as I can remember. The style, pace and rhythm of our play was so enjoyable to watch. There was purpose and drive today. None of that sluggish passing and movement. Today there was an energy and assertiveness. A determination to dominate and control the game. We just have to find a way to take the chances that come our way.

This all leads into Anfield next week. It will be an intense and raucous atmosphere. In the past we have suffered under this pressure. But, with Rice, this team is different. We will need though to take our chances. After their 0-0 draw today, it’s unlikely that we will hold them to a clean sheet so we will need to find a way to score, at least once. But, again, with Rice we have the team to withstand their onslaught. We have the football intelligence to defuse their intensity by controlling the game. We showed that against both Newcastle and Villa. This will be more of a test but we’ll need VAR to stay out of the way and we’ll need a decent ref. Both of which are optimistic expectations. We did not suffer from either today so hoping that neither intervene for the second game running seems to good to be true.

As long as we have Rice I have faith. He really is remarkable. Seventeen games into the season and he only has one yellow card; he has less yellow cards than Arteta. And he’s yet to miss a game. I don’t mean to jinx him but it’s absurd that we can’t find at least one midfielder to cover for him now. As much as we worry about a lack of defensive cover, it’s clear than when this transfer window opens we need to bring someone in who can provide some cover. As long as it’s not a Denis Suarez or Kim Kallstrom.

Anxiety aside, this was a great performance today against a very good team. We made them look somewhat average. This speaks to how improved we are this season. We really are a pleasure to watch. Aside from the vicious intervention of referees and VAR, we should be further ahead at the top. Let’s just hope they don’t get swayed by the crowd up at Anfield. This game won’t define our season but it could go someway to influence how we fair during this intense Christmas period. And with Villa sneaking around, and with City soon to rediscover their normal form, we will need all the fairness that teams should expect in order to preserve our quest for the league. So far this season, I believe we have been the best, most consistent team. Only to have been robbed by ludicrous decisions.

This team, if it can keep Rice on the pitch, will continue to develop and evolve. I had always thought we needed another season to ferment and gel – along with one more transfer window – but games like today show how far we’ve come and how good a team we are. So, now let’s enjoy another week TOTL and then march onto Anfield to see how we can survive that culdron of emotion.


December 9th – Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Thump. No longer TOTL. Tough loss today with missed opportunities and no breaks. I was nervous going into this and rightfully so. It does not help when you spot them an early lead. It’s a long season though and there are many more important games ahead of us.

The team selection was as expected. Without the aerial threat of Luton Zinny came back in. And, Villa exploited that for their goal. Though I didn’t think White covered himself in glory again. He should be getting tighter on his man.

We were by no means overwhelmed and worked our way back into the game. And, I would argue, were the better team. And Villa, in classic Emery-style, adapted to the circumstances and modified their approach to retain the lead. So unlike in their game against City, when they had 22 shots, today they had just a couple. Aside from their goal, we were largely untroubled apart from a couple of breakaways in the second half. But that was as much due to the Emery tactics change.

Raya, of course, retained his place. Villa decided to ring-fence players around him for corners but then failed to trouble him. One save on a breakaway that was (incorrectly) called as offside was important. At least he can know that he did not cost us the game or any goals today. Let’s see if Arteta lets Aaron have some gametime against PSV midweek. I hope he does. Aaron needs some game time if he’s to even be a backup. But today we can’t blame Raya. I’ll save that for another game.

Overall, I have this underwhelming sense of disappointment. We certainly weren’t outplayed. We have opportunities in this game. Frequently, in the first half, Martinelli would get past his defender and not quite create the right chance. One time Saka just mistimed a chance after exchanging passes with Martinelli. But too often we seem to pick the wrong pass in the box. Jesus continued to work hard and link up play. But he had one chance in the second half when Saka played him but could not control the ball.

Odegaard had two clear chances in each half. At least in the first half he induced a save from Martinez. He should have scored from at least one of these chances. Too often we seemed to just miss that final pass. And too often it seemed that when it got physical they would invariably come away with the ball. That’s more mental than technical. They seemed to just be more determined.

Lady luck was not with us today. We had a penalty that was not given. We had a goal, in the last minute, ruled out. Saka was called offside for one. As with Luton, as the game wore on, we dominated more. We clearly asserted ourselves. We were though a little challenged with their high line. We lacked runners from deep who could break the line. That’s something we really should have had a plan for.

Rice was again monumental even if he, finally, did pick up a good Fernandinho-like yellow card. In fact, we often looked the most dangerous in the second half when he strode forward. He took the initiative more than Odegaard or Zinny. Have-that had a decent game again though he should have been making those runs to break their lines. But I like his nasty, physical side. He’s not scared of getting his foot stuck in. Whether it’s facing up to Martinez or  McGinn. A number of times in the first half he’d help us win the ball high up the pitch only for others to squander our chances.

Saliba and Gabriel – aside from the goal – were excellent. Watkins was generally kept under control. And we saw Saliba misplace a pass today – so he is human. Alongside them White really should have defended the goal a little better. He does though provide more support for Saka and overlap really well. He’ll be defensively tested though over the next few games. And without Tomi to help him he better stay healthy.

I don’t really understand how Jesus was not fouled in the box; how that was not a penalty. Overall, I though this ref was quite reasonable. He let the game flow and did not throw around too many yellow cards. But the big decisions that lost us this game were wrong. In addition to the penalty, that equalizing goal could just have easily been a penalty for handball on Cash. And, he provide minimal protection for Saka. Teams really now implement rotational fouling on Saka these days. It just felt we used up all out luck on Tuesday at Luton.

We missed our chances and missed a gear today. While we dominated the game we just missed our opportunities when we did get behind their backline; always picking out thew wrong pass or – with Odegaard – not converting. This won’t happen in every game. And part of this should be credited to Villa who were, in classic Emery style, very well organized.

The season is long and I’m not too dispirited. Brighton and then Liverpool will help tell us where this team is. How we react to this defeat and then respond will be important. Losing, away, to a contender is the key. Which is why the Liverpool game is critical. Not for just the points but our mental state – our fortitude. We have a painful history of being run over – blown away – at Anfield. We need to go there and not be runover by their aggressiveness and the crowds passion. With Rice we have a chance. But we can’t win the league if we can’t pick up points when we play away at our challengers. And we still have to go to City and the wankers down the road (not that they are contenders).

As annoying as Villa are it just reenforces that this an open title race. Until City get KDB back and turn it on from February. At least Villa and Liverpool both have European commitments. And Liverpool and West Ham have to play each other in the stupid Carabao Cup before they play us. So, chances are Villa will fade as they get worn out as the seasons progresses. But with Newcastle faltering and Man United anything but united, there will be four teams now competing. All of which makes it harder for City. They are used to just fighting off one team – be it Liverpool or us.

As for us, we need to recover from this set-back. We need to find more ways to open up teams of this caliber and we need to correct these defensive mistakes. I don’t want to point the finder at Zinny on this one; that would seem overly harsh – even if the goal originated from his man. Others had time to reposition themselves and prevent this goal.  And we should have been able to score.

It’s funny to think how much money we’ve spent on goalies since we sold Martinez. We subsequently sold his competition – Leno. And then spent £50m+ on replacement goalies. At the time I think we all thought – including Arteta – that getting £20m from Villa was a good deal. Would we have been better off if we just sold Leno and kept Martinez? I’m still not convinced. But I’m sure Martinez has no regrets.

Brighton at home next. You never quite know which version of them will turn up. We know from last season how dangerous they can be. Surely we’ve learned our lessons. And hopefully we can rebound the way we did after our Newcastle defeat. Now we enter a really interesting period. We have to maintain some momentum through Christmas. It’s vital we stay engaged in advance of February. Then it will be interesting to see whether we learned our lessons from last year. That is keep Saliba healthy – along with Rice.