Late to the party today because I’m traveling back home, BUT MY WORD did I enjoy 10 man Arsenal making Jurgen Klopp has his false test army look distinctly average against a 10 men Arsenal.
Make no mistake about it, the German rockstar coach had the game from the previous week moved under dubious circumstances because 1) He’s under pressure after tanking the league again, he really needs an insurance trophy 2) He knows that Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal is very much on the rise.
We saw a coaching masterclass from our manager again. The biggest proof points we were looking for in 2022 were based around how well we could do against City and Liverpool. Well, we’re two games in and I think you’d find very few Arsenal fans that don’t have those two performances in their top 2 of the season.
There was a familiar theme across both. Granit Xhaka. He had hand in the result not going full tilt our way again. Against Liverpool, he was put in a shitty position by the defence, he knew Jota was lurking behind him and he tried to clear the ball ungracefully and landed a karate kick to the Portuguese chest. The ref said it was a clear goalscoring opportunity, I’m not sure many would disagree with the foul, but it was a red. There’s a Xhaka tax. Micheal Oliver was desperate to flash red against a player there’s never going to be any recourse over. If it was Fabinho, it’s a yellow based on a lack of intent. The night before, when Rudiger took down Hojberg under a similar set of criteria, there was no red card. It’s rough that refs hate Xhaka, but that’s how it is, and it’s costing us.
There are so many good parts to his game, but it’s getting hard to ignore that these sort of things now tend to exclusively happen to him. Not good when you are the leader of the team.
10 men was made slightly worse by the fact Arteta had opted for safety with ESR and Tomi, benching them so they’d be ready for Sunday. We also lacked Martin Odegaard, who was hit by the COVID outbreak. It really was a nightmare moment we’ve not had the tools to escape in the past.
Well, last night is when the coaching seemed to click. Arteta’s in-game management was impeccable. Chambers came on early for Cedric, which I think turned out to be a godsend. When the match went south, he brought on Rob Holding and tightened the ship. Dropping Gabi and Saka into the midfield with Lokonga left as the only recognized central midfielder.
My word, did the team show up.
Liverpool didn’t have a shot on target. That is quite simply spectacular defending. It’s all the ingredients of JDP coming together at once to control the space against one of the most aggressive attacking forces in world football.
NOT ONE SHOT ON TARGET. I honestly couldn’t believe it.
Ben White was quite simply sensational. He’s had his ups and downs this season, but overall, he’s been impressive. The reality is Gabriel has tended to shine a little brighter than him, there was talk of him being the second defender on our podcast, well, last night I think we put that idea to bed. He led with extreme sharpness, fantastic leadership, and full-on aggression all game. He was masterful, he gives a shit about clean sheets, just look at that amazing picture of him cheering the Liverpool miss. Would I trust him in a nightclub with my girlfriend? No way. But that’s not what today is about. Benny Blanco, without doubt, looks like he’s worth every penny of the £55m we paid for him. Also… anyone dredging up all the slander from other clubs fans? Konate? Varane? Are we talking about their fees being a waste now?
Alex Lacazette, for me, has been on of our players of the season. I just cannot believe how well he’s adapted his game to the cause. The man is a powerhouse leader on the pitch. There’s no doubt he’s twice the captain his predecessor was. He doesn’t give up, he leaves everything on the pitch, and his all-round game is just a joy to watch.
Let’s also talk about the midfield. Saka, Lokonga and Martinelli adapting at speed to new positions and doing a fantastic job. No one is bigger than the team, everyone is pulling in the same direction, and all our players seem to bounce back from poor performances very fast.
Our defence put in a stellar performance. Cal Chambers showed up when we needed it from him, Rob Holding put to bed the horror show of Forest, KT drove the team with his relentless work rate, and Gabriel just did Gabriel things. Mad that Ramsdale probably had his worst game in an Arsenal shirt and still kept a clean sheet.
It was also a nice touch that Arteta trusted Nuno in a massive moment to come on and shake out the grubbiness of the weekend.
So some concluding thoughts:
This is a young side learning on the job. They are experiencing new things every week. Every week, they are getting stronger. That performance was special, just remember, United went down to 10 men against Liverpool and lost 5-0 at Old Trafford. We made them look ordinary and bereft of ideas. We did the same against City.
Arteta’s mark on this team is becoming more apparent by the week. He knows how to make the fans feel pride in their team, just listen to him talk about everyone wanting to join The Arsenal. Clearly, he knows how to motivate his players, so put the talk of man management in the bin, because we just played 60 minutes with 10 men and every player left it all on the pitch. The ideas he has about where the game is going are the right ones. It might take time for them to lead to a title challenge, but we’re now causing problems for the very best in world football.
This is all happening with the youngest team in the league. There are going to be games like Forest, that’s what happens. The key is not to get too down on those games, and not think we’re winning the league after games like last night (I know it was the cup, but we do get exciting).
The plan from the start of the season is that we’ll be contending the title in two seasons’ time. Top 4 is for next season. The fact that we’re doing bits against Liverpool with 10 men tells you we might be a little ahead of schedule, but don’t lose your mind of pump expectations too hard, because we have a light squad and things can change fast in football. It’s not good getting a big result like last night, then getting pumped on the return leg… which is entirely possible.
The key takeaway from yesterday is this team has bouncbackability. Ben White said ‘that’s football, it is what it is’ when asked about Forest. He’s right. There’s a lot of character and it’s only going to get stronger.
Final thought on the game is the fans. We’re creating a fortress of noise at home, and we outsang the Liverpool fans at their own gaff yesterday. Arteta has brought back pride to Arsenal fans, he’s purchased and developed players that get us off our seats, and he’s made us want to sing again. I think it’s a fantastic development and credit to all the lunatics that went up there and did us proud. This is the most exciting project in world football at the moment and the fans are a huge part of why it’s so much fun.
Arsenal are in trouble for the Spurs game if it goes ahead, which I suspect it might. We have COVID in the club and injury concerns. We literally have no midfield. It’s romantic to think Jack could slip in, but it could also be disastrous. We don’t have time to loan someone in and pray they can adapt to the fiercest derby in the world. We’re either getting creative by bringing Saka into midifield / moving Ben White forward… or we’re rolling the dice on Patino, which I think might be a bit mean. I’m not sure any of those ideas is ideal.
Let’s see where we go with that.
There was no On The Whistle last night, we’ll be back at the weekend. I’m traveling, Johnny is in Dubai with Salt Bae, and Matt is too shy to do it on his own.
Have fun in the comments. Isn’t it great to be an Arsenal fan again?