Ain’t nothing I love to see more in the game than Arsenal stealing a win in the final minutes of a game.
It shows our players are still fighting when the season is dead.
It shows that in fact, we are capable of scoring goals and creating chances.
It feels good, after a season of having those sorts of moments going the other way.
Roy Hodgson’s last game in charge was a tough one to analyse. We controlled the game playing some nice football early on, the passing was slick, Palace couldn’t get out of the own area.
Then we scored. Saka and Tierney combined beautifully, the Englishman back heeling for KT to cross to the back stick where Nico was prowling with a perfect volleyed strike with his weaker foot. Pure Arsenal, the type of goal Arteta wakes up to after a deep bout of REM sleep.
Arsenal then fell back into a familiar pattern. We took our foot off the gas. We let Palace have a crack. This wasn’t helped by the general violent conduct of the Palace players. Benteke swiped at Mo, somehow managing to avoid a red card. A little late, Nico bodged a touch, Partey fouled, the freekick was whipped into the box and Benteke fouled two players on his way to a diving header that drew the game level.
Did it not feel like the officials were angling for a nice last game for Roy?
The tougher the ask, the harder Arsenal players fall back on the patterns of player we aren’t really that good at right now. We created very little. Everyone looked like they were remembering the instructions a little late. Palace were eating up the predictability of it all.
Arteta did make changes though, he brought on Odegaard and Martinelli. It helped. Mike McDonald wrote that there needed to be a rebellion in the system and it happened. Odegaard slipped a beautiful inswinger to the backpost where Martinelli gambled and bundled the ball home. Then Nico Pepe took command with a mazy power run that ended with a beautifully curled low shot. A £72m goal if ever there was one.
Some performances of note:
Nico Pepe. He’s a weird player. His G/A this season sits at 17. He’s scored some great goals. But at the same time, you can see why he causes frustration. His poor touch led to the freekick they scored from. He rarely takes the ball on a run. His first instinct is always to stop play, have a think, pass it backwards. I’d love him to be more consistently explosive.
Auba had a poor afternoon. Hard to go at him, he had malaria, which is a rough, rough thing to deal with. But overall he looked well off the pace again, he’s not taking chances on balls, he’s not making good runs and his holdup play is nowhere near what we get with Lacazette. His game is one of an assassin, hiding in the box and poaching, not sure why Arteta tries to make him come deep, it’s not his game and never will be. Bigger question: Does he want to be here? It’s one we tend to ask after every game. If he does, there’s a lot of work to do next season to make him work in the system, Arteta can’t keep asking things of players that don’t have it in them.
A lot of people were moaning about Thomas Partey. I don’t hate his game. I think he’d be a lot better if he wasn’t the singular driving force for creating openings. But, I still prefer him into the starting 11 than out of it. His form will improve, he’s very press resistant, he just needs to reduce some of that high-risk behaviour. He’s a bit Hollywood with his passing, but in a system fairly accused of being too rigid, he’s a breath of fresh air for his speed of thought and mostly on-point delivery.
Martin Odegaard has been up and down, but his talent for unpicking defences and opening up space with his movement has been a miss since his injury. He’s a different level on the ball, we don’t have a player that can break down a team the way he can, I think it’d be a huge add if we could land him next season. Let’s be honest, he’s not changing the fortunes on Real Madrid, but he certainly could ours given a proper run at the first team.
I had a lot of heart for some of that cover game from Gabriel. Another player who dealt with a horrendous virus, only to come back flustered. He has great pace, he’s powerful, he just needs to iron out some of the reckless in his game that has made him look a bit all over the place this year.
Final shoutout goes to Bernd Leno. Fast distro, good saves, totally dominant in his box against monster opposition. I’d prefer if we didn’t lose him this summer. He’s had a rough year, but if the club sorts the keeping personnel issues in the background, perhaps he can hang on. Though it’s worth noting… he has 2 years left on his deal, has shown no intention to sign, so technically, he should be getting sold this summer. Let’s see where this goes.
Actually, final shoutout goes to the fans. Kieran Tierney has probably never felt better about being booed. Football is better with fans, yesterday, it was a pleasure to hear the singing and the overall joy from the fans. Life is returning to normal. I couldn’t be happier.
Back to the bigger picture.
Game won. That’s 4 wins on the bounce. This is the table since we added creative players to the squad.
It has been a very rough season for a number of reasons. The Europa League collapse, based on what happened earlier in the season would have seen most coaches fired, but it has been clear for a while that Stan K is trying to replicate the good vibes he’s getting with a young innovative coach in America at LA Rams.
Arteta is here to stay, so people have to stop crying about it and look for positive signs of life.
That table above is a positive sign. It’s 62% if the season. If you are choosing to prioritise the first 38% to get to the truth of whether this project is viable, you are being disingenuous.
Over that period, we have the second-best defence over that time period, the third most goals, second-most points.
That’s Champions League form. If we’d been half the mess we were at the start of the season, which was still bad, we’d be in the top four right now.
Are there problems to solve? Absolutely. Arteta is a rookie coach, people complaining that he’s getting things wrong don’t seem to grasp that concept, or that it’s part of the deal. They also seem to forget the plethora of other coaches that are far more experienced than he is, managing equally bland seasons. Carlo A was hired a few days before Arteta at an expensively assembled Everton side that were 4 points behind where Freddie/Emery left us. He’s 1 point ahead of us. Mourinho, the most winningest manager in the world has left Spurs 2 points ahead of us, after a run at the title. Klopp, one of the best in the world, 8 points ahead on 66 after 99 points last season.
If we beat Brighton, at worst, we’ll be 9 points off 3rd come the end of the season. 9 points of a Chelsea side that was top last season, then added £250m worth of talent to their ranks. Again, I don’t keep on saying this because it’s an amazing feat, I say it because the context for this season for almost everyone is that playing football with no fans in a pandemic year has been a fucking nightmare across the board.
Then factor in our unusually nightmarish squad challenges… well, it’s not quite suicide watch like some would have you believe.
This summer, which needs to go very well, will add more players into the system that can do the things positional football demands. The defence will need to find more quality on the ball with a centre back and a right back. We’re going to need more than one Odegaard this summer, because we’re absolutely nowhere through the middle in big games. We’ll also need a top-quality midfielder, and if Arteta’s, ‘Who else plays as many teenagers as us? We can’t just put them all in’, is to be believed, then chances are we’ll not be looking at Camavinga this summer. I mean, I am totally guessing there.
The ideal scenario next season is one where we’re not constructing complex mechanisms to protect our weaknesses as a squad. That’s the dream. It’ll take a lot to get there, but it’s possible.
The hope for next season is simple… the benchmark level is what we’ve seen since Christmas, then after December, we find a new gear that looks more like the modern Arsenal we hope can exist under this manager.
So, the last game of the season has something on it. The chance to finish above Spurs and gain entrance into a European trophy no fan wants. At least it’ll be interesting.
Also, Harry Kane asks out at Spurs and all the media are begging Levy to let him go. Magic.
See you in the comments, podcasts return next week because I am not at home for the week.