The fallout from the ‘incident’ against Watford at the weekend really does sum up how differently Arsenal are treated to other clubs. It goes back to the Wenger days when we were held to a different standard for a similar incident. We then had to ride the ‘they’re soft boys’ accusations that led to a snapped leg. Now we’re finally showing some edge and win at all costs mentality and it’s happening again.
Think about what we’ve dealt with:
Aaron Ramsey getting chopped down at Stoke and there’s no scandal about their fans booing him.
Hector Bellerin getting smashed over at Chelsea and the narrative is men vs boys.
The absolute scandal whenever we do something that remotely resembles unfair compared to other clubs is spectacular. I’m thinking as far back as the Sheffield United FA Cup incident when we actually replayed a game based on unsporting behaviour or the national indignation over the Robert Pires dive. I mean, don’t even get me started on Eduardo vs Celtic.
Chelsea, Liverpool, and United just don’t have to deal with this sort of press barrage after similar incidents.
Arsenal are held to different standards.
The debate over the Watford incident is not about whether the ball should have been kicked out. It was about whether a team that engages in rotational fouling as a spoiling strategy has any right to complain when something ‘unsporting’ happens to them.
To my mind, they don’t.
Arteta had it right, we’re so honest, it borders on naivety. I’m glad the players made the correct call that Watford were making a meal out of a challenge and trying to run down the clock.
I’d like to see more haranguing of the referees because it’s clearly a tactic that gets you better decisions. Just look at how Sissokho reduced the Watford card output for 19 fouls. You can talk about the red, but who cares when it lands that late in the game?
I want to see our players go to war for each other. Each game is a battle and if you let your men get kicked around it sets a shit tone for a game. I like that this new group of players is looking out for each other. Sambi Lokonga even posted to that effect.
We need to engage in the dark arts. Granit Xhaka will fall on the ball to get out of trouble, Alex Lacazette goes down like he’s been hit by battlefield shrapnel, we’ve started to make tactical fouls of our own. The reality is, if we want to get back to the top, these grim parts of the game are just part of the equation. There’s no point in being a moral bellwether 1) if it costs you points 2) if your rivals do the opposite.
I wish we’d punch back in the media, but I do understand that’s a race to the bottom and legitimizes these voices. Chris Sutton kicking off about the Watford incident when there’s a video of him doing the exact thing against Arsenal, at Highbury, without the context of rotational fouling is a prime example of why this happens: Our fans create viral moments out of insincere punditry.
Aside from that, I’m feeling pretty feisty heading into the November International break. We’ve done really well at managing the fitness of the squad so far, no injuries to worry about right now. We’ve found some rhythm from a performance perspective. The trend line for the type of performance on offer is shifting up a bit. We are offering good football even when we’re not at peak.
There’s are also some nice bits with regards to the football. Brighton and Palace pushed us back. We defended too deep in both games and our keeper had to go long because the midfield wasn’t showing. We’ve seen Ben White and Gabriel push that line higher and whoever has dropped into midfield has given confident outlets.
The striking output isn’t back up to full steam yet but I think there’s finally a system that’s working with our 4-4-2. Auba and Lacazette are working like machines and having the Frenchman drop deep like he does has really opened our game up to speed. We’re much more often on the front foot facing the goal. Last season, everything involved more touches, and there wasn’t the confidence to move at speed.
Overall, the model is more George Graham than Arsene Wenger. The foundations are defensive. We’ve kept 6 clean sheets in 9 since the re-engineered back 5 was put in place. There was a lot of ‘We’ve spent £150m and the needle hasn’t moved’, but I think most can see how silly that view was. I also think people are realizing that upgrading a solid defence was necessary to make the overall system work better. Just look at the speed with move through the lines now. Look at the added height and aggression we have from set-pieces at both ends. Look at some of the deliveries Nuno and Tomi were giving us at the weekend. We just didn’t have that last season. Playing out the back with variety and speed has been absolutely essential to our game this season.
It’s also worth looking at some of the attacking decisions we made. Emile Smith Rowe was given the #10 shirt and he’s totally owned it. He landed his first proper England call-up yesterday. He earned it. 5 goals and 2 assists so far this season is excellent. You’d hope he might make it to double figures in both across all competitions. Saka still needs to kick into gear, but he’s been really good regardless of numbers. 2 goals and 2 assists so far. That’ll get better as we kick on, I’ve no doubt about it.
Then you look at the objectives I thought we needed to address this summer. Improve striking output by 20% and reduce errors in the system by 50%. Now, it’s hard to judge where we are on this because the first 3 games were a write off for so many reasons… but since then, it feels like we’re making less errors generally. Even when mistakes are made, we have the pace and positional awareness to cover for them. That Aaron Ramsdale save vs Leicester wouldn’t have had anyone talking about it last season because no one would have followed in for the clearance. There’s an elevated defensive mindset this season because everyone has the talent and wants to be here.
I know I’ve been going on about it all season, but the fans really have to be seen as part of the process. Having limited fandom in the stadium last season now looks like it was a disadvantage for Arsenal. The fans have been awesome, home and away, winning or losing. That’s massive progress and it’ll be benefitting the youngest team in the league this season.
My favorite part of the last 2 months is that we’ve seen the toxic voices driven into an underground bunker. It’ll be temporary, but you know the types. Only about with their views on what ‘elite’ is when we’re losing. I haven’t seen the screaming guy in the car for a while? Haven’t seen Thierry and Daniel Ek looking cool in the box since Spurs? Are websites still selling merchandise associated with sacking the manager? It’s all quiet, so I haven’t noticed. Hopefully, the fanbase has reached a level of normalization with Mikel Arteta. He’s probably not going anywhere for a while. He’s likely pretty decent and suited to this project. There’s a big chance he’s going to move us up a level this season if things roll well for him.
LATER TONIGHT: We have Perry Groves, cult hero to the fans, joining the podcast to talk about his career and his views on where this Arsenal team is currently! Let us know if you have any questions for him in the comments!