IF YOU CANNOT BE HAPPY ABOUT THAT ARE YOU EVEN HUMAN?
No. You are a weird one. Cease to continue this read. For this is a JOYBLOG.
Arsenal DESTROYED a Liverpool team that was trying to break a Premier League points record.
The approach was simple.
- Convince Liverpool that we were utterly, utterly shit with a messy opening 20
- Concede a shocking goal, to solidify the thinking
- Press from the front and get two goals
Jokes aside, what happened yesterday was not sexy. It will not be put in the hall of fame for ‘tactical executions gone right.’ But it yielded 3 extremely vital points and a much-needed jolt of confidence ahead of a very crucial FA Cup semi-final this weekend. It also might have Arteta reconsidering his team selection for that game. Rob Holding started shakily, but he grew, does that give him a shot over Kola? It should do. Do we want to give Cedric another go, or did AMN do enough? Who knows.
The glaring issues we’ve faced all season were still there. Our midfield simply isn’t good enough. We don’t have the power, creativity, or the concentration to be truly effective. Our tactical approach seemed to consider that. We basically setup as though we knew there was no chance of dominating the middle of the park. Lacazette was tasked with dropping deep as the #10 Steve Bould always said he could be. It wasn’t sexy or productive. It gave us one shot off target all game. Grim reading.
The defence was also all over the place. Their goal saw a weird challenge from Soares, he hurt himself jumping, couldn’t trackback, Holding was pulled in two directions, and we didn’t do well enough with the cross. We’d been battered up until that point. We were chasing shadows. But, the reality is, this is Liverpool, when aren’t you chasing shadows?
I thought we’d collapse. Reiss Nelson had hardly touched the ball, then he hustled VVD, forced him into a bad backpass, Laca steamed in, took the ball ahead of Allison, and slotted home. You can call it good fortune, or you could notice the pattern > Our forward players press the defence hard and it keeps producing.
I don’t think anyone was expecting a second goal, but it came. This time, Reiss Nelson charged down a TAA throw back to the keeper, the pass was fluffed, Laca picked it up on the right, passed to Nelson who cushioned his first touch and swept home beautifully. Again, it’s not a fluke if it’s an instruction.
Liverpool were a mess. They’d gone from utterly dominant, to playing like, well, Arsenal in their bad moments.
I thought we could have capitalised further, but our front three had trouble holding onto the ball. When you looked at the first half stats, despite the perceived battering, Liverpool only managed 2 more shots on target than us. Granted, theirs came from free-flowing open football and ours came from defensive lapses.
The second half was OPEN SEASON on our backline. The context though was clear, they are better than us, we knew it, and Arteta went into protection mode. We didn’t want to give them anything. We were the Spartans in The Battle of Thermopylae. Everyone knew their role. Defend, defend, defend. There was a moment that reminded me of the Invincible season where we defended a freekick in our penalty area from a backpass and the whole team threw themselves at it like it was a grenade going into a school. The prize at stake was a little less dramatic, but the desire for not conceding looked the same.
Liverpool had 17 attempts at our goal in the second half, but importantly, they only hit the target 4 times (same as the first half). Really, the best chance they had came late on when TAA struck a shot off the bottom of Saka’s boot, it deflected awfully, skidding up off the floor, and somehow, Super Emi tipped it wide. That happened in the 95th minute.
We saw out the game and took the three points. We are still a long shot heading into the last two games, but we have a chance at finishing anywhere from 10th to 6th. To be in with a chance is nice because most, no ALL, thought we’d have no chance. If we win our last 2 games, we’ll finish on 59 points. 11 off Emery’s first season, where he had a 22 game unbeaten run going into December, versus the worst start in 38 years Arteta picked up.
So what are the concluding thoughts?
I think most of the positives came from grit, determination, and belief. The players didn’t collapse under the onslaught, they took their opportunity, and they held onto a lead which was a positive considering the stat everyone has been obsessing over this week. We shithoused the Champions. The outrageous open Pep G football we thought was coming to Arsenal hasn’t. Arteta builds from the back. He’s more George G than Arsene. I think we’re all pleased about that.
There are some worries. I want to say this really quietly, but, you know… is Nicolas Pepe the real deal? He was very meek again. He makes a huge deal about shielding the ball and loses it, he played in a counter-attacking set up last night, which was supposed to suit him, and he offered nothing. He looks meek. I feel that it was a mistake to sign a player that has one foot, it makes him kind of predictable. I hope he comes good, but he looks like a bad signing at the moment.
Reiss Nelson did his job yesterday. He worked hard, pressed Liverpool’s backline, and was rewarded with a goal and assist. Well done to him. He turned up in a big game. Brilliant. That finish for the goal was superb.
Emi Martinez. I can’t praise him enough. He has shown up like a hero in nearly every game. He made some world-class saves last night, his distro was pretty good, and he showed that once again, he can be counted on.
Tierney was also elite. He has incredible work rate, he never stops, he loves to defend, he sets the tone for the team. A pure professional.
Let’s also credit Lacazette. He put in a huge shift last night and made the difference. He scored a brilliant goal where his perseverance made it happen. The same personality trait also ensured the second goal where he was sharp, following the plan, and decisive. He also made 4 successful tackles, the most of the game. That is focus. Great performance.
Final point on the game, I feel like we have hired the right manager, regardless of what happens at the weekend. He has made a bit of a statement with this squad and it is clear that if he had better players, we’d be doing better things. I think this quote put a lot of the ‘he’ll be meek’ folk on the backfoot (again).
“It’s a big concern. You can see how [Liverpool] build their squad and there is no magic, you need to improve the squad with quality, quality players. And we need a bigger squad to compete in this competition. That is the challenge.
“It’s a massive job. You only have to look at the difference between the two teams – it’s enormous. The gap in many areas we can’t improve it in two months but the gap between the accountability, the energy, the commitment and the fight between the two teams is now equal.
“Before it wasn’t like this. I’m very proud of that. The rest will take some time but at least we’ve got that now and my message to the players is with that we can create something.”
For the second day in a row, he’s calling on the owners to invest, and why not? Didn’t we criticise Wenger for not demanding funds? Did we like having a manager in Emery who couldn’t get the players he wanted? I like that he’s demanding. He wants to go to the top and he is asking for the club to invest in players in a very depressed market. Will he get them? Doubtful. But at least the comments lay to rest the idea that he thinks the talent he currently has is winning the Champions League next year.
Finally, someone said I was a data guy and I was letting myself down with hype over Arteta. Well, let’s talk about data because I think the story is gaining clarity.
The big talking point before tonight was that we’d dropped 15 points from leading positions in the league. If we’d bagged those points, we’d be 3rd right now. This particular stat doesn’t look good for Mikel, but only if you ignore our reality prior to his arrival. We had our worst start in 38 years this season, we had players people thought were uncoachable, our defence conceded 51 goals under Emery in his first season (Wenger only did that badly once in the season he was sacked). We have been terrible at defending, so how did standard suddenly shifted to ‘WE MUST SEE OUT ALL LEADS’?. Sorry, can’t have that. We can do better, we did last night, but unlike others, I see this stat as an opportunity. Buy the right players, get a midfield, upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, and we make those points up.
Back to real data. What does the league table look like since Mikel took over?
5th. Clear of Jose, Nuno, and Carlo. Emery was fired after the longest winless run since 1992. Arteta picked the club up in late December, Jose had Spurs after the November international break.
Arteta goal difference. +11
Emery: 1.38 goals per game, 1.46 goals against per game
Arteta: 1.61 goals per game, 1 goal against per game.
He’s reduced goals conceded by 31.5%. Arteta has 10 clean sheets at Arsenal (7 in the league), Emery managed 10 clean sheets in the league in 51 games.
Arteta has increased scoring output by 16.6%. He is scoring 16% more points per game.
Also, Arsenal fans getting into a rage about comparing Klopp’s start to Arteta’s. Why? Both picked up a shit show, Arteta’s worse in my opinion… but the point is, if the best coach in the world had a similar impact in his first 17 games as Arteta, why not call that out? (before yesterday)
Klopp picked up a squad that had finished 2nd under Rodgers 18 months before. Arsenal hasn’t finished second since 2016. Klopp went from 8th to 8th in his first season and he’s the best, so let’s be honest about what it means to pick up someone else’s mess midseason.
So, has Arteta improved us by the numbers? Absolutely, yes. Remember, he hasn’t had a summer transfer window yet.
Now let’s talk about observations. We beat a team above in the league away from home for the first time in 5 years. We just beat the Champions. We also beat Southampton and Sheffield United away from home (one beat City, one smashed Spurs).
We are tactically fluid. We use different systems, we change during the game, it hasn’t been perfect, but it’s a far cry from Iwobi asking what the fuck he’s being asked to do on the touchline in the Europa League Final.
We are difficult to beat. The middle of our park is no longer a free for all. We are much better off the ball. Everyone knows their role and they try and deliver to it. We can shithouse these days.
The squad are putting in a shift. We press for the full 90. Players look like they care about clean sheets. We have 5 goals from keeping/defender errors.
There is a discipline at the club. If players don’t hit the standards, they don’t play.
As for the attack, well, plenty of work to be done there, but that’ll come with a better midfield.
Things are looking up people. We have a good coach, we have lots of talented young players, all we need to do is invest well this summer. That’s a big if but, at least we know the coaching that was preached is real, and if we make the right moves, we’ll move up the table.
Next up, City. A HUGE GAME. Pray to the shithousing gods (Davies/O’Shea/Pulis/Catermole) right away. EUROPA LEAGUE THURSDAY NIGHTS HERE WE COME (maybe).
NOW LISTEN TO MY SOLO JOYCAST.