The best thing to happen to Arsenal this season was ‘sickness.’
That was the reason Arteta gave for dropping Willian and Luiz.
Two players rumoured to have complained to Edu about how things have been going for them.
Two players that share the same super agent as our well-heeled Brazilian Technical Director.
This could have been the best bad luck ever, or it could have been a clever ploy to give the manager room to try something wild like… play the players that care.
Whatever went down, it worked.
Mikel Arteta picked the boldest line-up of the season. In came ESR, Martinelli, Mari and Granit Xhaka (yikes).
Auba, Ceballos, and Mustafi were benched.
What a huge difference it made.
I was unsure which Arteta team would show up, but thankfully, proper Arsenal returned to The Emirates. The players pressed with vigour, the passing was fast, crisp, and progressive. We battled like it was a cup final. It was a new manager bounce type of game. The sort that had us dreaming when Mikel landed a year ago.
Lady Luck was sitting in the North Bank. Our first goal came from a dubious penalty. Xhaka played a dreamy ball to Tierney, the Scotsman cut into the box and was downed by James. Lacazette sent the keeper the wrong way with a simple spot-kick. A lead in a big game?
Our second goal was even wilder. Granit Xhaka smashed a 25-yard freekick into the top corner. The sort of goal I remember seeing on his Youtube comps when he played in Germany. Absolutely stunning. While we’re talking about the Swiss, arguably Mikel’s riskiest selection, he had a great game. What a difference it makes for him when he has runners to aim fast-release passes to. He’s normally aiming at Pepe or Willian who don’t give him that.
We took a real liberty in the second half after Chelsea made two aggressive attacking subs (CHO + Jorginho). ESR played Saka in on the edge of the box, the England international saw Mendy off his line and clipped a delightful cross/shot into the top corner. Masterful. Lucky as hell. Exactly what the moment called for.
Things were nervy for the run-in. Frank Lampard had his team panic crossing like we did a few weeks ago. I think they tried 32 times. They broke our clean sheet on the ground, Tammy narrowly slotting home, kept onside by a hair on Bellerin’s leg. They also won a penalty of their own, the ref evening up for his first half mistake. Jorginho wasn’t to be the difference-maker with Bernd Leno saving well.
It didn’t go unnoticed that the introductions of Mustafi and Pepe made us less effective. Both players need to go in the bin. AMN was the choice, odd that he’s overlooked so often. Regardless, we managed to see the game out and record an absolutely huge win for our season.
The big question after the game is a simple one: What did Mikel learn?
Bernd Leno complained before the game that ‘bad attitude’ had held the club back over the last few weeks. True. Whether strategic, or an act of god, two of the worst offenders were dropped. They were replaced by people that cared. That wanted to fight. Guess what? We saw a performance. A team like Arsenal can’t carry bums, especially famous bums with big trophies to their names. We dropped them and the difference was intense.
The worry is that Arteta will let politics carry the season.
He invested £250k a week in Auba > yet Gabriel showed why he can’t play through the middle.
He was part of the decision-making committee on Willian > yet a £40k a week youngster showed why that was a disgraceful mistake.
Factor in Sokratis (£90k p/w), Soares (£90k p/w), Pepe (£150k p/w) and Mesut (£350k p/w) are all out… well, it doesn’t look good to the cheque signers. Especially when you’re losing games. Arteta either flogs people that don’t care and loses games, or he takes an expensive L and moves forward with players that form a better collective, and ultimately, will likely win more points.
I hope you all saw The Telegraph story about senior players demanding the reinstatement of Mesut Ozil. The story landed after the game citing ‘senior players’ backing his return. It’s clear that’s come from players that assumed we’d lose. They wanted the pile-on from the media post-game to be focused on how Ozil under a new manager could be the saviour the club needs. Think about that. Some of Arteta’s most experienced players thought they were starting against Chelsea, they knew they’d lose, they had a plan to sink the manager under a sea of online hate before they put a boot on. Very grim.
Mikel should put that Telegraph article up in his office. He needs to remember this lesson for the rest of his career. We need to exit these toxic bums ASAP. Give them free transfers in January.
Our pass completion rate was about 69%. Well below where it should be. The quality quite simply isn’t there at the moment. However, energy, hunger, youth, and a future in the game can work wonders for output. What the kids lacked in polish, they made up for with desire.
A lot of people called the starting 11 desperate. ESR shouldn’t have played, apparently. I found this deeply irritating commentary. We were 15th. We haven’t been creating. We’ve not had a performance this season. This was exactly what was needed, even if it failed. Young kids that are talented make big debuts. ESR had a big debut. He was not out of his depth. He was not bullied. He was a big fucking problem and he landed an assist. He played so well, Arteta smacked his backside when he came off in what can only be described as a serious HR violation.
Arsenal had 15 shots, 7 on target. Not a bad return.
As for the line-up being desperate… please. What was the non-desperate starting 11? What would all these so-called experts have done under the same pressure?
The biggest question was not why that line-up happened, it was why it hasn’t happened sooner.
The Chelsea game is the blueprint moving forward.
ESR shouldn’t have been blooded yesterday. It should have happened 9 months ago.
It shouldn’t have taken ‘sickness’ to bin Willian and Luiz.
We should have taken the back half of last season as a blessing and hacked out the rot in the summer.
Arteta didn’t. He thought he could coach out bad character. He couldn’t. Then he doubled down on his underlying issues by giving Auba, Luiz and Willian long-term deals. That was a shocking error. He tried to shortcut success with old players… no, no, no.
The beauty of the Chelsea game was he learned the lesson against the best team we’ve played in a while. An expensively-assembled monster of a squad at full strength. If this win came against Southampton or Burnley, people would say, ‘so what.’ When it’s against an elite team, it’s hard to ignore.
Gabriel Martinelli is what the future of centre forwarding looks like. Powerful, fast, dogged… innovative. The only worry about him is he goes TOO hard on opponents. How could anyone ever make the case for Auba through the middle after seeing that performance? It was extremely arousing to watch.
We need Saka going forward. He’s so impressive, but he looks a different player when he’s operating with quick thinkers who play sharp combinations with him, or release him off the last man. I love him. Power, speed, and invention when it comes to cross/shooting.
ESR, I’ve already gone over it, but his energy, quick thinking, and threat heading into the final third has been sorely missed.
We also have to give credit to Bellerin who looked much better. His end ball is still very sad, but he looked solid. Kieran Tierney was nearly MOM for me. He never stops, he gives a fuck, he’s going to look very good when we make this squad better.
If you put that forward locomotion in an 11 with Thomas Partey and Gabriel (defender), you start to have a core of a team that might do things better than 14th.
We still need to have a better midfield. Xhaka ain’t it. We can’t have a player that needs carrying like he does. I love Mo Elneny, but this isn’t his level. He’s lost confidence, he made a lot of bad decisions, he will never be what we need. We need players that can break lines with power and pace… and we need that person to be able to release our forward fast. It’s not those two. Big wins should not deter transfer inquiries for anyone good for glue.
If we’re letting Edu and Mikel spend in Jan, it can’t be on Christian Eriksen. Even on loan, he doesn’t have the mobility we need. It needs to be a young player that glides. Or a senior player that has the speed and power to go past people, like an Isco type.
We don’t need players to tip us into the top 4 now, we need names that can grow with us. No more older players. We need young intelligent athletes that are hungry to succeed.
Unfortunately, that requires a Technical Director with a degree in football architecture. That ain’t Edu. The puff piece in The Athletic was painful reading. They literally had an Arsenal source with an off the record comment that basically said ‘he looks the part, which goes a long way.’ Can you imagine being a professional trying to help out a colleague and that was the best compliment you could give? Utterly embarrassing. What looks good in Technical Directorship is smart decisions, discipline, and an elite vision. I wouldn’t swipe right to Luis Campos, but I’d hire him. I don’t need to see Ralf Rangnick on the front cover of Vogue to determine his worth. His value is in his record and his decisions. Edu’s record is bad.
Ignore what Mark Gonnella is putting out there, people at Arsenal know his level, they are concerned by Kia’s involvement (because it lacks creativity or smarts), but worse… they just don’t think he’s up to it… and if you didn’t believe me when I was saying this last year, just remember, it wasn’t me that demoted Edu to the same level as Arteta. Vinai did that. 10 good games from Arteta won’t change reality. We need better football leadership, more checks and balances, and a clear vision of how we move forward.
The short term message of today was clear: Bin those that are fighting against the project. Trust the youth and hunger. Win games.
Now listen to the podcast I did with Matt on the whistle.