Let me start this blog by saying: there is no such thing in Arsenal fandom as ‘crowing after a win.’
Arsenal vs Spurs, wherever you stand on the spectrum, was a win for us all. If you feel aggrieved after a NLD win, let me be clear, f*ck off with your ‘views,’ no one cares what you have to say. You can have an opinion, but the litmus test for whether it lives here after a dominant NLD win against Jose Mourinho is whether you can be happy. If you can’t, who are you? Why bother?
Now, let’s crack into what was a glorious day for Arsenal.
The big menace to the narrative before we’d even kicked a ball was that Auba was benched. When I originally heard it, I was over the moon. The game was about control, movement was key, sometimes our captain is eaten up by good defenders in deep-blocks. Then it turned out that he was dropped over discipline. It was a non-negotiables move because he’d turned up late to the team meeting. This wasn’t the first time either, I’ve heard plenty of sloppy stories about him prior to this, beyond just lateness.
Let’s be clear. The decision was absolutely correct. Lee Dixon said, ‘if the club meeting is at 10:00, you show up at 09:50’, and he’s right. Basic rules keep order and structure in a chaotic profession. Timekeeping is an absolute minimum, on the face of it, it feels unimportant, but really… it’s all about respect for leadership and respect for one another.
There’s a famous Van Halen story. On their gig rider, they’d demand all brown M&Ms were removed, if they landed at a venue and they weren’t, they’d pull out, because if the management couldn’t take care of a bag of sweets, how could they be trusted to host a complex gig?
If you can’t take care of the small details as a leader, how can you be trusted with the big ones?
When the standard-bearers breach the code of conduct, it has to be addressed, otherwise, leadership is weakened because everyone else is watching and judging. Those decisions are HARD to make as a leader. There is nothing more difficult than having to pull a high performer to one side and tell them they broke the rules. It is easier to let it slide. But it ALWAYS costs you trust capital in the long run. Auba is a HUGE character at Arsenal, but turning up late for a NLD meeting, when the young players are analysing every moment for positive cues, well, it’s hugely embarrassing.
My only wish? Arteta told the press the move was tactical.
Still… weaker leaders like Emery would have caved. If you have ever led in a high-performance culture, you’d not question the decision. Anyone that tells you Arteta was wrong is a bad leader, a weak person, or they lead in an environment where the work is inconsequential. Basically, anyone that tells you they’d accept repeat lateness to company meetings from their most senior talent is a joke… there’s no counterargument.
Now, onto the game.
Did Arsenal miss a beat over Auba? No. You knew this would be a performance from minute two. ESR, MO, and Saka worked the ball like demons. We absolutely controlled possession, like we have done in nearly every game since Christmas, and we made Spurs look average.
Spurs weren’t bad, we were good. Let’s get that straight. This performance wasn’t a surprise. It was a continuation of the good football plenty of us have been championing. They had no answers because that’s the new Arsenal. We restrict chances, dominate possession, and we’re really, really hard to beat (unless we offer it up as a gift).
The first half was all about ESR. Starboy #2 showed up with a vengeance. It was his best performance yet. He absolutely destroyed Doherty down the left. There was a point when I called the Arsenal abuse hotline to report breach of club rules on the pitch because it was so humiliating.
‘Sir, could you calm down and tell me what you see’
‘He’s the blonde one on the pitch and I’ve watched him put this Spurs chap in his pocket for like, the 5th time in 10 minutes. It’s awful to watch, I think this guy has family watching, they’re crying. Please send a steward’
ESR hit the bar, created 4 chances, his pass completion was 97% (against a deep block), he was a fucking menace. The kid the melts called ‘average’ absolutely savaged Spurs. By the end of the half, they were trebling up on him and still losing.
But, for all the chance creation, the possession dominance, and the twice rattled woodwork… we still conceded first. Spurs who offered nothing finally found space in our area, Erik Lamela received a terrible short pass slightly behind him and had to pivot his movement to low punch a rabona past 5 Arsenal players into the bottom corner. It was disgustingly flukey, average to look at, and against the run of play… but predictably part of the Arsenal script of late. It felt like the new norm… Arteta was cursed… the Arsenal would always perform well, but forever be fucked over in the most outrageous of ways.
I thought we’d melt, we did not. ESR and Tierney worked some magic down the left, Tierney picked out Odegaard in the Spurs box, the Norwegian captain kind of buried his first-time strike. Game on. Notable how fast we had players in their box all game, compare that to pre-Chelsea, it’s a really bit of progression.
Arsenal fans were talking about what Spurs could do in the second half to tighten up. Errr, not many options beyond the Tony Pulis shithousing they’d started the game with… so it was always going to be game on in the second half. Spurs had a little bit more to offer, Lucas Moura was problematic at times, but again, the game plan from Jose was simple and bland: get it to Kane 3 times and he’ll score once. Kind of staggering that a manager of Jose’s caliber doesn’t build a system that has him on the ball all game. He’s so, so good.
We scored the third goal. Nicolas Pepe came on at halftime for Saka (pray for him). He volleyed a loose ball pass at Lacazette first time, the Frenchman lashed at the ball, but was smashed by Sanchez at the same time. The ref went to the VAR. I thought it’d be overturned. The ref disagreed… the penalty was given. Laca stepped up and buried his kick. Another perfect penalty.
Spurs started to play nasty. Harry Kane got away with an ‘I AM AN IMPORTANT ENGLAND PLAYER’ shoulder barge on Gabriel. Argentine Erik Lamela didn’t get away with a slap to Tierney’s face and was red-carded.
THAT DID NOT END THE STRUGGLE. Thomas Partey was more like Thomas-OH-MY-GOD-BAD-Partey for the last 15. He was flipping possession and giving away freekicks in Harry K zones like a 20-year-old Carling Cup debutant. Arteta looked like he was pacing the halls in a hospital with a wife giving birth in hour 79 to a 39lbs baby, I’ve never seen someone drink a bottle of water with more pent-up aggravation. Kane rattled the post with one effort (how bad was the carefully constructed wall?!?), the follow-up headed away by Gabriel (HERO). Kane also whipped a really nice cross that Alli missed, as well as having a goal disallowed for a clear offside. It was not a comfortable end, it was turbulence over the Bermuda triangle… if you exited with clean whites, you’re a person with sharper control of their sphincter than me.
We closed the game out after 34 minutes of extra time and took a HUGE win.
In 15 months, Arteta has taken down all of the top 6 managers, Mourinho the most irritating of them all.
So where are we?
What I am hoping is that the game went some way towards vindicating the positive narrative I’ve been pushing over the last few weeks (ok, 15 months lololol).
Arsenal are not the complete package. But we are offering up something the best clubs do before they bang. We are hard to beat, we’re controlling games, and we are creating high-quality chances over and over again.
- Kieran Tierney is a beast and he should be our future captain. He’s fu*king immense. I love him.
- Lacazette missed some chances, but he worked wonders dropping deep to bring the creators into the game. HUGE performance for me.
- Nico. We thought he was on his way out. He’s taking on Kanu vibes. He took his chance in the second half, looked interested, stayed focused, delivered the pass of the game that led to the penalty.
- Martin O. Honestly, were people calling him average? This guy is mustard. Efficient, surprisingly fast, a really, really hard worker… and he turned up with a goal. We need him next season and there has to be a BUY option.
- Great insurance is a product you don’t notice. David Luiz and Gabriel were immense. Super tidy, disciplined, and clever all game. Keeping that Spurs front line quiet is NOT easy, they did it.
- Cedric deserved to start. He seemed a little fearful of Moura at times, but overall, I love his pace, his compactness, and his solid attributes both ends. A great game from him.
- GRANIT. The man has had plenty of criticism from this site, so I will not deny him. He was brilliant. Loads of clever movement, some big tackles, and really positive game. He’s our second-best midfielder, even with the errors, his inclusion is no longer controversial. We have to accept that.
It is totally acceptable to say the last 15 were nervy. We have to get better at seeing out games… but again, context, we sneeze at the wrong moment of late and someone scores. This team has been punished to the max every time they make a mistake since January. I am not surprised they were panicked going into the last phase of the game. We’ll improve that each game we stop doing dumb things.
We aren’t going to compete for the league this season, what we might do is win some big games that make the fans believe there’s something special brewing.
Against Spurs, you saw the special sauce. You can’t deny it now. That wasn’t a fluke. That game has been brewing since December 29th. Where are the ‘he plays bland football because that’s how he was as a player’ crowd now?
The first 45 was the best since Arteta took charge. We play attractive football which I’d class now as a clear identity. We are now a progressive side, there’s always an interesting plan with innovative features. We are competitive in every single game these days.
Remember that time when people said Klopp couldn’t coach a good defence? Then he bought good defenders and a keeper and everything clicked. Arsenal are maybe a year out from that. Spurs didn’t bank on that today, they didn’t have control of that game at any point, they were flustered and upset. That wasn’t a bad performance, that was a tactical masterclass by Arteta.
That was the sauce.
Now, we could lose on Thursday. We could lose at the weekend. Point is, would you take the Spurs project over the one Arteta is offering up? No. Would you take the Everton one? No. Do you still want the Southampton one? No. Are you still wondering about Nuno? No. The Arsenal project is a good summer away from proper top 4. It’s two good summers from competing for the league. The absolute joke is we’re now 7 points off 5th, 10 from 4th, and we play Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool, and Everton out of that pack.
Progressive coaching is the future of the game, it’s finally clicking for Arsenal, and regardless of what happens the rest of this season… it’s clear that Arteta is the best coach for us moving forward. There’s no one better for the role. He’s done enough since December to prove that. Next season is going to be way, way better… I am absolutely clear on that.
Now let’s see what he has for the rest of the season.
Europa now feels doable. Who knows in the league. For now, let’s enjoy beating the scum. It’s been a while.
See you in the comments.
P.S. Listen to the latest podcast. Matt goes so hard at ESR lovin’, the player might put out an injunction. Johnny admits he might finally be a believer (Check out his excellent fatherhood pod here). I just have a lot of fun because that was special.