by .

It’s not often I make correct predictions, but this week, I nailed it. I said on The Arsenal Opinion podcast last Sunday that we were going to see two victories post-City and here we are.

We are better than Leicester City. They shit-housed us in the last game with a Vardy counter and some shocking VARing. It was different this weekend, that’s not to say the afternoon wasn’t a wave of emotions.

The starting 11, on first perusal, absolutely stunk. It looked like a death wish from a manager that really doesn’t give a fuck about fan sentiment. Willian, Elneny, Luiz, Xhaka, Mari, and Soares didn’t feel like a winning formula… most fans were grumbling in the group chats. Then, after 6 minutes, the I TOLD YOU SO chickens came home to roost. Willian and Xhaka lost the ball, Pablo Mari back-peddled against a surging Tielemans run, Mo Elneny failed to move across, the Leicester midfielder took full advantage and unleashed a brutal low shot past Bernd Leno.

Personally, I was furious. I am an emotional mess during most games, but this starting 11 felt personal. My group chat felt the same.

‘Arteta doesn’t get it’

‘This could be the end of him’

‘He’s addicted to shit players’

My word, was everyone wrong. Badly wrong.

The team didn’t drop their heads, players like Pepe and Willian led by example with excellent drive and efficiency. We controlled possession, we showed patience, and we chipped away at Leicester’s resolve.

Our first goal looked like an Andreas Georgeson inspired setpiece plan. David Luiz hung at the back post, he moved towards the penalty spot, Willian found his run perfectly, Luiz worked a perfect diving header across goal. Brilliant stuff.

Penalties haven’t been good to us of late. There’s always a reason for them to happen against us and always a reason for them to NOT be given our way. Pepe had a penalty rescinded early in the game after a VAR intervention… but he managed to even it out when the same tech piped up on an Ndidi handball in the box. Lacazette stepped up, sent Kasper the wrong way, and drilled home our second into the bottom left. He loved that. The relief was very clearly expressed with a clenched fist.

Our third goal would not have been possible 4 months ago. Nicolas Pepe ran at a retreating Leicester defence, he passed to Martin Odegaard, the Norwegian creator controlled the ball and passed in one silky movement, he found Willian who cut back for Pepe to finish off the goal with a tap-in. It was a very Arsenal goal. Odegaard made it with his speed of thought and his technique. Pepe was embraced by everyone, including the subs. He seems to be very popular. That’s a good thing considering the PR around his introverted character.

We saw the game out from there with minimal fuss. It wasn’t total control. There was a scare at the back post in the 96th minute, but overall, it was unfussy considering where Leicester are in the league.

So the hot takes?

We were ALL wrong about the stating 11 and I am very, very happy about that.

On reflection, with some of that 20/20 victory vision, the selection was defensible.

Cedric Soares has been excellent in 90% of his games, covering for Hector on the right was smart. I’ll say it quietly because vegan twitter is mean… but I think Cedric is better in that role. He’s faster, his defending is superb, and he’s more efficient in the final third.

Lacazette upfront totally made sense. Auba needs to be firing for the big crunch coming. The Frenchman has also been a star this year.

I might have given Dani C that game after his error, but if it needed to be Mo, that’s all we had. Thomas Partey should NOT have started out there.

Nicolas Pepe is in electric form. Willian is one of our top earners, he had an excellent run against Benfica, he was always going to start. There was no world in which Saka played. Both the above-mentioned players were absolutely excellent.

Arsenal rotated so hard it felt like a League Cup run out, yet we still absolutely dominated Leicester start to finish. The bet by the club is clear… they are laser-focused on winning the Europa League… and having the best possible 11 to down Jose Mourinho’s Spurs side.

Back to Leicester.

This is going to sound stupid, but goals change perception. That 90 was not new. We’ve done it in every game since Chelsea in December (bar City). The difference was we delivered a result to go with the performance. Again, the group chat is used as a reference for the madness of being an emotional fan… but the narrative in mine went from ‘BRENDAN HAS ARTETA’S NUMBER’ to ‘OH WOW ARTETA MASTERCLASS.’ What was the difference?


No red cards.

No hideous reffing.

Players stepping the f*ck up.

Arteta is bringing careers back from the dead. Our squad now feels bigger because good players are being… you know, good.

The Europa League played a huge role in that. Bukayo Saka’s contribution to that game was the assist for the Leicester game. These players need a focus. Top 4 isn’t on the cards, but now the squad is playing for starting positions in a cup run that could end in a trophy. That has the whole squad sharp. We beat a team pushing for top 2 with a bunch of squad players. That’s special.

Nicolas Pepe was literally unplayable today. He floated inside, he ran at players, he used his body really well… he was decisive. This is a player that looked so meek in November you’d have struggled to give him away. Clearly, he’s been working very hard in training and he obviously has a desire to make it here. It was a top-class performance.

Willian can’t help that he’s a Chelsea legend. He can’t do anything about that deal. But if he wants to be good, that is going to work for all of us. He really was top drawer. 3 assists in 4 days, that’s the same as you-know-who managed in the whole of last season. I thought his movement was good, the speed of his passing was much better, and he worked really, really hard.

I wasn’t sure about Pablo Mari. He was a bit embarrassing for the first goal, backing off like he had a bear running at him… but he certainly grew with the game. There was a moment late on when he was running with Jamie Vardy, his timing on the intervention was utter perfection. I would like to see more boldness with his passing, a bit more presence, but most people seem to be raving to me about him, so I’ll back off.

Granit. Xhaka. Take. A. Bow. Honestly, I feel gross writing this… but damn, he was fucking excellent. He’s been so good in 2021. The error early on was erased by a superb performance. He was hacked down 4 times, made 2 tackles, 1 interception, 6 ball recoveries, and he dropped an 87% pass completion rate off 71 attempts. He was fantastic, there were a couple of saucy moments, a kind of Cruyff turn, and a wonderful flick under pressure. He was GOOD.

I was a bit worried about ESR. He was one of two players that left the pitch with an injury before 50 minutes had played out, Barnes being the other. The fixtures are brutal. The Premier League should not have teams that play Euro games rolling first thing on a Sunday. Fingers crossed both players are ok.

The replacement for ESR was Odegaard, I thought he was absolutely electric. He’d been fairly quiet the last two games, yesterday, he burst out the traps. He pressed, he moved the ball very efficiently, and he had that little bit of special sauce we’ve lacked. He dinked a chip to Soares that was simply stunning. He assisted the assistor for the Pepe goal. He’s just the full package. I like that Madrid are leaking ‘JUST KIDDING, WE LOVE HIM’ articles to drive up his price. For me, Odegaard is our priority signing this summer.

You know things are shaping up nicely, because the only negative the ghouls had after the game was focused on who didn’t play. Namely, Gabriel Martinelli. I really don’t think it’s necessary to whine on about young players. He will get minutes. The club loves him, but he has to wait his turn like the rest of them. Some fans seem to hold dual imperatives in their head 1) WE MUST WIN ALL THE POINTS 2) YOUNG KIDS MUST BE BLOODED. It’s hard to do both. Gabi is fragile, loose, and inconsistent right now. We know that kids make it when they are ready, ESR the case study for that. Gabriel will make it, but I think Arteta deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one because every decision he made worked yesterday.

So where are we on the ‘SINCE CHRISTMAS’ trophy?

We’re in the top 4, baby!

2nd best defence.

3rd most goals.

That my friends is progress.

A lot of people think the Premier League table is all that matters. Sure, in a normal season, at a normal club. Arsenal are not normal and we are not in a normal year. Our organisation has been neglected and abused for 10 years. We hired a rookie coach because we’re broke and the view was that he was one of the best talents for his age and we could tap his City standards and grow with him. Mistakes and bad runs were priced into the experience. The terrible run happened, it was shocking, but the club moved on from it because they believed in Arteta’s approach. That means we can’t just look at the league for green shoots. We have to isolate moments in time and search for clues in different places. Christmas is when things clicked. So that table above gives good context as to whether things are truly moving to a new level. The eye test will tell you the football is better. Match reports like this tell you we’re seeing improvement beyond just the starting 11.

Even if you are #ArtetaOut, it’s a stretch to justify firing him because as it stands, he’s 7 points off Chelsea, with Liverpool, Everton, and Spurs even closer. Klopp, the 2nd best manager in the world, is 6 points off Arsenal in our worst ever season. Jose, £15m a year, with THAT Spurs squad everyone said suited him, 2 points off. Carlo 3 points. We’re in a year where David Moyes is besting them all!

Our next 5 games are Burnley, Olympiacos x2, Spurs and West Ham. 5 wins in those games and we’re cooking on gas. Arteta needs a run. Europa is absolutely key to the league. Rotation is too. Let’s see where it goes.

BUT… before all that, listen to my podcast. I’m chatting with the excellent Johnny and Matt. We discuss the smelly line-up, the big performances, and the expectations for the rest of the season.

ALSO, if you are a father, check out season two of Johnny’s How’s Your Father podcast. He’s hilarious, his guests are elite, and you should always support a fellow Gooner in a creative industry.

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Play


Jump to comment form ↓

  1. Matt


    I agree, it is highly unlikely any manager is going to pick players above others for non footballing reasons. But on that basis and only on footballing reasons, presumably you would agree that for example, Soares should be starting over Bellerin?

  2. AFC Forever


    Yes, I think Soares has proved he is worth a place ahead of Bellerin. As I said previously, he has far better delivery and a more natural defensive awareness. Bellerin does, of course, have a blistering pace. It’s a fair point to question players being picked ahead of others, absolutely, but it’s ridiculous that we get all these shouts of favouritism to suggest there is something odd going on when there really isn’t, it’s simply a matter of choice.

  3. Goobergooner


    Spurs and Tottenham? And the worst arsenal for at least 2 decades?

    And Liverpool with massive injury issues who are underperforming to their standard the last few seasons?

    Whoopdy fucking do.

    I guess spurs are so good they get a mention twice

  4. Goobergooner

    And why weren’t arsenal one of the best teams in the country (just) finishing 5th when we could have been third with a penalty scored against spurs only 2 seasons ago???

  5. Matt


    I’m not sure Bellerin has the pace that he used to have. Plus I don’t think Soares is particularly slow and he is above Bellerin in pretty much every other aspect of the game at the moment – I think that is one of the few things that everyone on here would agree with.

    So, if Arteta continues to start Bellerin ahead of Soares then that surely has to be questioned, even if we don’t have any of the answers? Again, if it happens, I don’t think it will be because Bellerin stayed with Arteta or anything like that, so it can only mean that Arteta sees Bellerin as the better choice for footballing reasons, which is actually more concerning as it would make you question his ability to judge a player.

  6. AFC Forever


    “AFC. When xhaka Bellerin and Willian are managers favourites, surely the manager doesn’t have a clue?!?”

    Xhaka and Willian played really well Sunday & also against Benfica. Before the game, Arteta was called clueless and worse for his team selection, which probably explains the petty disingenuous whinging after we wiped the floor with a very good side.

    Not sure if you watched the tactical analysis of the game Sunday but you should go watch it, Pedro provided the link.

  7. AFC Forever


    “I would play anyone who lights scented candles and runs me a bath. How thoughtful”

    That doesn’t surprise me. Yesterday you offered me a bikini wax after all.

  8. S Asoa

    On Mirror now. What to make of Arteta ?
    Ingenue or perversely leading Balogun gently out , with suitable noises to cushion the fall ?

    “ Mikel Arteta has rubbished suggestions Folarin Balogun is already starting to sever ties with Arsenal and remains optimistic the young forward will commit his future to the club. The 19-year-old is out of contract with the Gunners this summer – when he is free to leave for nothing – and talks over a renewal have so far hit an impasse with the striker concerned by his lack of game time this season. Balogun is believed to want assurances over his path to the first team, having not made a single appearance in the Premier League for the club, while he has plenty of suitors ready to snap him up this summer. Balogun has made no secret of his desire for more first-team game time (Pictures: Getty) Earlier this week he got Arsenal fans very worried that he has decided to leave the club when he deleted all his posts on Instagram, which were predominantly of him playing for the north London club, as well as removing his bio which included his allegiance to the Gunners.

    Read more:
    Twitter: | Facebook:

  9. andy1886

    Football mnagers are human, of course they have favourites we all do. Why would they pick someone when they don’t deserve it? Because if you’ve invested in someone heavily it’s your judgement on the line, they want that person to succeed and will give them opportunities they may not deserve to do so.

  10. The Bard

    Andy I would argue the opposite is true. If you invest in favourites you fuck up team spirit and you become a hostage to fortune. No intelligent manager is going to risk that. It is true he might feel that x can be more relied upon to do a job but that’s not favouritism it’s pragmatism.

  11. S Asoa

    Arseblog tongue-in-cheek take on reasons why Barca shortlisted Arteta

    On paper, Arteta does tick a lot of boxes for Barcelona.

    Went to La Masia
    Played high-level football
    Learned his trade from Pep
    Clear link back to Johan Cruyff
    Devilishly handsome
    Speaks many languages
    Experience with disgruntled high paid stars
    Comparatively cheap
    Lovely hair
    Great death stare
    Knows Hector
    No stranger to internal squabbling

    But wait PSG always shortlisted Wenger , every time things got hot.

  12. Dissenter

    Arteta is not stupid enough to accept the poisoned chalice that the Barca job is.
    Even club legends like Xavi are running away from the job .
    Barcelona won’t give him any patience while he’s mastering his trade.

  13. Sid

    La masia aprobado
    Celtic, Everton,
    Majority football under Moyes
    Spanish beach bum
    Thousand yard stare

    Fixed it for you

  14. Habesha Gooner

    It surprised me too. Leno was yelling and encouraging players. He didn’t criticize and was supportive. I like these open mic videos. I was impressed with Ryan before too. It just shows all the stuff written about Leno being a crap communicator is bullshit. Sure he has some problems commanding his area for crosses but he is still a very good keeper.

  15. AFC Forever

    The Barcelona job is not the job it was a few years ago. This is a club with huge problems to overcome and they certainly won’t be able to spend the sums previously, it looks like players will need to be sold not bought.

  16. AFC Forever

    Thanks, Jim

    I used to tell my kids to enjoy Wengerball because it wouldn’t last forever. I was so excited about match days, excitedly anticipating what I was going to see after the last years of George Graham and that boring tag he left us with. The atmosphere of anticipation in the stadium and the happy fans all high fiving each other are memories I will never forget. Oh well back to reality.

  17. Jim Lahey

    @AFC –

    It was such an odd period of time for us, playing some of the best football in Europe but constantly crumbling. The solutions seemed so obvious to us all. Stick a Leno and a Partey into that side and you can bet we would have won a few more league titles. Not to talk about us getting to the CL semi-final in 09. I always forget we did that…. I wonder why!! 😆

  18. Pierre

    No wonder they said the only way to stop Arsenal was to kick Arsenal.

    And some on here think Wenger should have been sacked at the end of that season….Graham and Tony to name but 2.

    A couple of diabolical refereeing penalty decisions against liverpool in both legs cheated us out of reaching the champions league semi final .

  19. Graham62


    GG was the one who brought pride back to our club

    Different times, different philosophies, different everything.

  20. AFC Forever

    Jim, we had so many ballplayers and the speed of movement was incredible.

    You are so right,didn’t need much to win a few more titles.

    We were unfortunate to lose Diaby after that disgusting tackle by the Sunderland thug, he was a massive loss that didn’t help.

    Then there was that other shocking over the top tackle in the third minute of the game with Birmingham that smashed Eduardo’s leg and cost us the league that season. They said the impact was so hard that his tibia and fibula fractured instantly, the shattered bones then rupturing the tissue of his standing leg as the force dislocated his ankle. An absolute horror tackle, the sort we suffered more than any other team.

    Fine margins. And a bit more protection and luck.

  21. AFC Forever


    “GG was the one who brought pride back to our club”

    He did, no doubt. Anfield will never be forgotten. After the double win in ’71 we went into the doldrums and it was GG who helped us back to where we should be.

    However, the last couple of years in charge he lost the plot; the loss to Wrexham in the cup the start of the decline. We finished tenth the next season and scored the fewest goals in the entire league, as the football turned into boring dross. 2 years later we finished 12th and halfway through that season, GG was sacked for pocketing nigh on half a million quid for the Lydersen and Jensen buys and hiding it in an offshore account. It wasn’t only rival fans singing boring, boring Arsenal we did too.

  22. Pierre

    “I used to tell my kids to enjoy Wengerball because it wouldn’t last forever”

    Same with my 2 boys, they should feel blessed they grew up watching the different sides that wenger built, starting with Overmars/Anelka then Henry/Pires then Cesc/RVP then Ozil/ Sanchez, at least we have youtube to remember when we were the most entertaining side in Europe…

    Shame that we attracted the wrong type of fan to the club during those successful years …

  23. Pierre

    Before wenger came , our best and most successful Arsenal sides were loaded with academy players .

    70/71 double side
    Charlie george , Kelly , Rice , Kennedy , Radford , storey, simpsom.

    76/80 side
    Brady, o’Leary, stapleton , Rice, Rix, Nelson, Price

    Adams, Thomas, rocastle , Davis , Merson

    That’s the road we should be going down now….

  24. G

    ‘’When xhaka Bellerin and Willian are managers favourites, surely the manager doesn’t have a clue?! ‘’
    If Willian was his favourite he would generally be starting rather then coming on as sub.. yes I know he may have started last couple but that has not been the general pattern

  25. AFC Forever


    I tend to agree with most of that. The level of self-entitlement is off the wall.

    With regard to young players, it was different in those days. There is no way today’s fans have the patience to wait for young players to come through, they expect instant team building. I think the Celtic team that won the European league back in the day consisted of an entire team of players born within a few miles of Glasgow. That will never happen again, a team doing that with local lads.

  26. Daniel Altos

    Well I haven’t been commenting here for a while but I had to today.I have been reading the site though and one thing that has caught my attention is the crazy amount of people telling others how to support the club and anyone criticizing the manager being called a “bitter emery fan.”…its crazy because these same people during emery’s time were going on a rampage even when we had big wins.They were doing this because they felt there were deeper problems and they were right.Of course we won but what is wrong with a concerned supporter asking why martinelli isnt played?Or why we are tenth?Isnt this a site where people are supposed to give opinions?Unless it’s abuses or racist comments if you dont like someone’s comment you can just pass it and go to the poster you like.I do the same myself.

  27. China1

    If Barca want Mikel for tiki taka they will be very disappointed

    Realistically they want him because he’s Spanish. Same reason they want Bellerin. They have an obsession with having ‘their own’ even if it’s not worth it

  28. China1

    That arsenal compilation video above was so good

    That season arsenal were the best team in the world and we should’ve cleaned up. So frustrating and disappointing we ended up with nothing

  29. AFC Forever


    “Describe self-entitlement”

    I shall have a bash, I picked some of this off the internet to ensure I was accurate and didn’t offend anyone:

    “Self-entitled individuals make unrealistic demands, setting the bar unreasonably high because they believe that is what they deserve and when they don’t get what they want they stamp their feet. They overrate their own “knowledge” in the process believing themselves to be the experts and underrate the knowledge of others, in order to create in their head “Justification” for their expectation of whatever it is they demand. The double standards these people display stems from this entitlement; anything that may be seen as contrary to their beliefs is dismissed, ignored or instantly discredited because it challenges their entitlement. The self-entitled find it difficult to praise or accept anything that does not meet their level of expectation; instead, they believe and insist, with force, that anything others perceive as gained or achieved means little and has in any case been the result of luck, favouritism or an out of the world event.”

  30. AFC Forever


    “That arsenal compilation video above was so good”

    So many like that on Youtube. Some of that football was ridiculous.

  31. andy1886

    Odd to see the term ‘Wengerball’ applied to both the early AW teams (’96-05′) and the later ones too. Beyond a few basic principles they were totally different types of team. The early Wenger model was a blend of pace, power and technical skill. In his second decade the balance was tipped very more away from pace and power towards technical skill alone. Fast rapier like attacking became short sharp tippy tappy probing. During the title winning days Arsenal were feared and were no strangers to red and yellow cards. Laterly we became the victims of stronger less talented sides. So when people use the term ‘Wengerball’ what do they mean? As a catch-all term it’s pretty meaningless.

  32. Graham62

    AFC Forever

    No, you misunderstood, I get all of that.

    I’m talking about in respect to AFC and certain supporters.

    Keep it simple and don’t worry if you offend anyone.

  33. Pierre

    ” self entitlement”

    A perfect summing up of a large percentage of the le grove comment section.

  34. andy1886

    Are people who pay some of the highest ticket prices in the world and who were promised that we would compete with the likes of Bayern and Barca ‘self-entitled’ if they were disapointed when those words turned out to be hollow? And when I say ‘compete’ I didn’t mean getting five put past us on a regular basis.

  35. Sid

    Xhakalson is an insult to Arsenal fans, a stain to the club, a mockery to players like Santi, Rosiky, Viera, Diaby, Fab, and all the midfield greats.

  36. Graham62


    It must be difficult to come out with a relevant description/explanation.



    Careful, I sense the word “obsessive” may be coming your way

    Be prepared for the onslaught..

  37. Graham62


    Don’t forget the 15-3!

    Oh yeh and the 8-2, 6-3, 6-0, 6-1, 5-1, 4-4( from 0-4 up) and a fair few others I’ve forgotten to highlight.

    Of course, we are “entitled”.

  38. AFC Forever

    Graham don’t be unfair. You asked me what self-entitled means so I googled it and told you. I didn’t accuse you or anyone of it so please don’t twist things.I was referring to younger fans, as per my earlier convo.

  39. AFC Forever


    “Are people who pay some of the highest ticket prices in the world and who were promised that we would compete with the likes of Bayern and Barca ‘self-entitled’ if they were disapointed when those words turned out to be hollow?”

    No, that is not self-entitled at all. In fact, that is how many of us have felt over the years. Please go back and read the conversation I think you have perhaps misunderstood the point?

  40. AFC Forever


    “Careful, I sense the word “obsessive” may be coming your way”

    That was not necessary.

  41. Pierre

    Yes Graham, completely unnecessary, why would anyone in their right mind imply that you are a wenger obsessive…

  42. AFC Forever


    “Santi, Rosiky, Viera, Diaby, Fab, and all the midfield greats”

    Some great players there, we have been blessed to see some proper ballers. Diaby could have been World-class had Sunderland’s Dan Smith not ‘done’ him. Love to see an upgrade in midfield.

  43. I hate Green Bay

    Andy ,

    Nothing to play for?

    I haven’t been this excited about upcoming games in over ten years. We are building something solid, have a deep squad, there are no passengers, the poison has gone, we play an exciting 4231, and it’s all beginning to come together.

    Why do I constantly think I support a different team / watch a different game than other posters?

  44. AFC Forever

    “Wenger made open expansive football look too easy”

    When you watch the videos of some of the teams we had, nobody can knock the style of football, so easy on the eye. Our biggest problem was we never really replaced the type of player Vieira was in midfield, someone who could physically dominate. Diaby could have been that type but he was kicked out of the game really.

  45. AFC Forever


    “We are building something solid, have a deep squad, there are no passengers, the poison has gone, we play an exciting 4231, and it’s all beginning to come together.”

    Yes GB, I agree.

  46. Pierre

    Wenger should have stuck to his principles and continued with the skilful , technically brilliant midfielders, his latter signings started the demise of our midfield.

    Signing midfielders like Xhaka and Elneny went against the grain and when Cazorla was out injured it meant we lost the technical element in our midfield..

  47. Pierre

    Partey is a definite upgrade but we do need one more top quality central midfielder this summer…

    There is a lot to look forward to , although one couldn’t say with absolute certainty that we have turned the corner..

    Personally, i would prefer Arteta to play his strongest eleven in europe and take a few more risks with selection in the league..

  48. AFC Forever


    “Partey is a definite upgrade but we do need one more top quality central midfielder this summer”

    Yes we do. I’d do a deal with Barca and negotiate a swap deal of some kind with Bellerin/Coutinho the latter has PL experience and was a game-winner for Liverpool, he would partner Partey well imo

  49. Pierre

    I think Arteta likes 2 holding midfielders who rarely , if ever get ahead of the ball., so i can’t see coutinho being an option for the cm role.

    The way i look at it is , the full backs are vital in an offensive sense and the 2 in centre mid are vital in a defensive sense as it means we don’t lose control of the midfield area.

    That’s why i hope it will be a quality centre mid and right back arriving in the summer…

  50. Sid

    A quality CM solves everything including defensive issues,

    1.the opposite team will think twice against bombing forward,
    2.we control possesion

    These 2 things inturn make the work of a fullback easier.
    I would prefer 2 quality CMs over 1 CM and 1 FB