HUNTING FOR STRIKERS

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The Champions League starts this evening, and I’m quite excited. Madrid plays Leipzig and City plays… Copenhagen. The season seems to be rolling quite nicely for dear Pep and his boys. No injuries, easy fixtures, and outrageous form, all combining at the exact right time again.

Arsenal has a pretty decent run going as well. Burnley away at the weekend should be a fairly straightforward occasion; then we take on Porto on Wednesday away from home.

The squad really should be starting to take shape by then. Jesus, Partey, Tomi, ESR and Fabio should all be in the mixer. Arsenal are finally getting into the sort of shape where we can use unpredictability as a weapon. I’d start to get excited about the possibilities of Thomas Partey, but the fact he can’t get into shape despite threatening the starting 11 for over a month tells you his return is likely to be exciting but swift.

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BOSH! ARSENAL MASSACRE WEST HAM

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Have a bit of that, Hammers.

Thought you were going to earn the right to be our bogey team? Not under Mikel Arteta. The message was delivered with a brutal destruction of a performance, capped, with Mikel whispering.

‘I want the West Ham fans to know, it was me’

The pregame chatter was focused on the weak bench and SEVEN players missing from the squad.

No one was talking about that by halftime.

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ARSENAL REBOOT PROJECT YOUTH

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I wrote about the Manchester City academy approach in mid-January. Long and short: They treat the youth market like the main market. They buy the best kids, train them in City’s vision, then pick off the elite names and flog everyone else. This approach has bagged them £265m in revenue. They regularly sell inexperienced kids for £20m+. They don’t even care that some of them treble in value when they leave.

I’d say it’s a genius approach, but that would be ignoring this is what Arsene Wenger tried to do 20 years ago, but later gave up on. City took a good idea, turbocharged it, and now it’s a viable revenue stream.

Well, a month later, the internet is reporting that Arsenal is finally moving in that direction and Per Mertesacker will be given an actual transfer budget to work with specifically for elite kids. This is brilliant by Arsenal. I like that we’re not stuck in our ways these days and if there’s a good idea, we jump on it.

More broadly, the trend towards growing your own is interesting. Clubs like Leipzig have been doing this for years and taking some wild fees in the process. Why not just replicate their system and spit out the bits you don’t like to them, versus spending £100m to see if someone is good enough? It’s also quite interesting to watch some of the shifts in taste profiles amongst the big clubs. There is a premium on 20-24 year olds these days because of all the obvious reasons… and that’s leaving a market for 26+ players who haven’t quite fulfilled their potential wide open. We’re seeing MLS move on that age bracket increasingly and the byproduct is uplevelling other leagues. It also gives clubs lower down the table the chance to invest in ‘middle-aged’ football projects. It’s notable that Arsenal fans are scoffing at the age of Ivan Toney (28) and even Frenkie (26). That’s considered old these days, when 20 years ago, it was considered the prime of a players career. Zidane moved to Madrid at 29, Beckham was 28, Figo was 27. Robin Van Persie was 29 when he went to United. You don’t see that these days. Even Madrid spend huge amounts to cream the best players from the market.

Advantages of this new strategy we’re taking on are wide ranging:

  • The players are coached in the correct system
  • You can instill Arsenal principles and behaviors
  • You have their full record of fitness and health
  • You can build them to stand up to the rigors of the game – it is no accident players like Saka are as robust as they are. Arsenal spent years working on that.
  • You can keep the best players and make a mint of those you flog with sell on clauses or even just flat out transfer fees
  • Arsenal specifically can lean into their new coaching credentials like an elite university. ‘Come to us, get coached to an elite level, have a career.’ An Arsenal education could be like having Harvard on your resume (pre all the nonsense)

All very exciting, are we about the takeover the world? I think so.

Onto the next topic of conversation. Arsenal has a VERY important game for tomorrow. Some predictions.

We’ll see Thomas Partey and Gabriel Jesus in the squad.

Saka will be back.

I won’t even hazard a guess at Zinchenko and Tomi… but it’s not a bad game to rest them both if there’s any doubt over fitness. West Ham probably suits Kiwior a little more because of his height, power, and inclination to defend a little bit more. I know Zinchenko is always a benefit going forward, but we have enough without him.

This is a banana skin of a game. West Ham has beaten us twice this season, there are lots of sub-plots, and the hardest game after a massive victory is always the next one. We cannot take them lightly and we’re at the phase of the season where every game like this is a must-win.

Ok, short one from me today, I’m off out. See you in the comments and remember: ON THE WHISTLE is LIVE on Patreon tomorrow. So if you want a piece of the sweet, sweet action, sign up for FREE today.

One other point for the people that like to comment: I’m paying for a developer to rebuild the sign and fix the problems for a more integrated and seamless experience. Bear with me. xxx


SUMMER TRANSFER CHATTER HEATS UP

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It’s a lovely Friday where I am. They call it a head-fake spring. It goes from -20 to 18 degrees. You think you’re out the back end of winter, then BANG, some American is flying at you to sack you head first with another bout of painful winter.

Did you like my attempt at NFL language to make a point? Am I a Chiefs fan for Super Bowl this weekend? Absolutely. They are my ‘local’ team. So it’s all fine and dandy for me to wear their colors (just don’t tell anyone where I live because there’s still bad blood about what Stan did with the Rams).

What have we got cooking today? Curtis Jones telling the BBC Arsenal stole ‘fist bump’ celebrations.


IT’S RAINING PRAISE

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Well good evening my friends – isn’t it amazing how a win, neigh, a DESTRUCTION, can change the narrative so hard?

I just don’t understand how we can go from THE WORLD IS COLLAPSING UPON OUR FRAIL BODIES two weeks ago to people slamming me for daring to suggest we’ll probably finish second 3 days ago.

To be honest, who cares, as long as the good content keeps rolling out. It’s much better reading our players get basted in buttery praise for being top tier than hunting out scapegoats because we’re trailing by a small margin in the league.

Martin Odegaard is probably doing the best out of this win. He’s now getting recognition for his astonishing numbers. He’s created more chances in open play this season than any other player. That’s mad. Does he have KDBs assist numbers? No. But KDB plays in the best team every created and he’s at the peak of his game. Odegaard just enters his peak years next year.

It’s also great that we’re getting credited with the best press in the game. Who leads that press? Martin Odegaard.

The only thing you can really dig him out for this season is his product numbers, but they’ll catch up with performances, no doubt about that. He’s pivotal to so many of our attacking moves, and those don’t always get credited with final pass numbers. Just look at that first-time pass into Martin Ø that started the move for the Saka goal. A glorious pre-assist, but people don’t remember those passes.

I’m also pleased to see Ben White whipping the comp merchants into a hot mess. Clearly, he’s been playing with some sort of knock this season, and it would appear that little winter break has powered him. Back to his best. Mad that Gareth Southgate won’t see him as an option for the summer with England.

Even David Raya is attracting a different sort of look at the bar of Arsenal. Fans are starting to respect his in-game features. He’s been reliable from crosses, he’s brave on the ball, and his rapid distribution allows us to catch teams on the break far more effectively than we were under Aaron Ramsdale.

I didn’t really go too hard at the celebration police bits the other day, I think James (Gunnerblog) probably summed up the feelings of the fanbase with his Sutton rant. It was good to see Carragher come back to reality, put his Liverpool-tinted glasses down, and lavish us with praise. The thing that bothered me the most about it was the attempt to shift the conversation from a massive performance, to a performative chest-beating critique. It’s a selfish act and a real shame it has pandemic levels of transmission in the pundit class. The sad part about it is it’s just an exercise in personal brand positioning.

‘I am too elite to over-celebrate. Celebrating a win is above me because I win too often to feel anything. My constant state is winning. I AM WINNER’

The interesting outcome is it seems to have been met with ridicule across all the fanbases. It is very much targeted at Arsenal, and it’s a very specific group of people that think that sort of comment counts for analysis.

Which is a particularly perplexing mindset when you’re, say, Jaime O’Hara.

I remember 10 years ago when there was a section of the football intelligentsia that would mock people that wanted a passionate manager as ‘pashun merchants’, now look where we are, every chairman wants a lunatic on the sideline. If they’re enjoying themselves, so are we. I want the people at the club to feel what I feel. I’m glad we have Mikel Arteta losing his shit. He is all of us.

Right, that’s me done. Make sure you get some of the latest podcast in your ears. It’s Tim Payton chatting about a whole bunch of things I did NOT know about.


CITY HIT MONSTER MODE – CAN WE COMPETE?

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Manchester City broke our hearts again last night when they battered Brentford. It wasn’t the result we wanted to see. Neil Maupay took the lead from a long ball early on, but the result was never really in doubt. Brentford defended meekly and City unloaded a staggering 25 shots at their goal, forcing 15 saves.

The worry?

City are doing City things at the exact same time they start that nonsense every season.

They are the pace setters even if they do currently sit level points with us in the league. Phil Foden landing hattricks is exactly what we need our non-strikers need to start doing.

We are in the title race, no doubt, but you cannot underestimate the quality of the monster we’re trying to put to the sword. They have more experience, they have deeper squad depth, and most importantly… they’ve seen this movie 5 times in the last 6 seasons. The job we have on our hands is not a normal one… it’s one that the mighty Jurgen Klopp only managed once and that was in a pandemic year.

That doesn’t mean we are working for nothing. Our young team needs to keep having big games, it needs to work on its attacking output, it needs to continue to hone the best defence in the league. I just think when it comes down to it, we’re missing the final parts of the squad that could see this one over the line.

There’s one last round of transfers to go before we’re fully equipped. We need a 20+ goal striker, we need winger with blistering pace, and we need a defender and midfielder. Depth is what wins you the Premier League, and we’re always a full-backs calf injury away from a very big problem.

  • William Saliba plays all the games and has looked tired lately
  • Zinchenko can’t play more than 5 games in a row
  • Tomiyasu is a 5 game streak type of guy – would you bet on him coming back in perfect health?
  • Thomas Partey can’t even make it out of training
  • Jesus has no reliability

It’s really hard to push into the pain months with that much uncertainty. Just think about our big games over the last 3 years, how often do we have our best players available? Now think about City and Liverpool.

What we can hope for is a top 2 finish and a title push that goes into May. The Champions League is a crapshoot at this stage. If we can beat Porto and get a decent draw that avoids City, we could plausibly find ourselves in a Champions League semi final.

That would be a positive outcome for the season.

The job of the Arsenal football club is to keep refining ideas, build winning IP into inexperienced players, and keep making the squad better every summer.

We are building towards greatness and there are a number of variables that will become not so variable over the next 18 months and when they happen… no club is better equipped to dominate than Arsenal FC.

Right, that’s me done. Check out our latest podcast with Tim Payton of The AST. He’s one of the most interesting men in football. Listen to him give you an education on Arsenal PR, new leadership, and some of the new things you might not know about from Premier League and Champions League. It’s a banger. Also, sign up to The AST. They’re a great supporter group who consistently deliver for the fans.


ARSENAL BEAST LIVERPOOL (FINALLY)

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Arsenal delivered a near-perfect performance against Liverpool and took all three points in a game that was so brutally controlled it didn’t feel like a top-of-the-table clash.

Arsenal recorded the highest xG against Liverpool this season. Sorry, I mean, ever in Premier League history.

Liverpool’s first goal came from zero shots on target.

Their scary comeback in the opening 15 minutes of the first half amounted to a single shot on target for them all game.

Teams don’t do that sort of thing to Liverpool FC. That was not part of the Klopp retirement plan. He was supposed to win that game and make the run in a two-horse race between him and his made-for-tv rivalry with that old dog Pep down the road.

Mikel Arteta and the boys had other ideas. The performance was very similar to what we’ve seen recently, but this time, we took the full compliment of points home with us. Arsenal controlled the pitch, they were more aggressive and dominant in the duels, and the passing through the fierce Liverpool press was simply delicious the whole game.

The leading scorers in the Premier League had no ideas, they were boxed in by our positioning and aggression. Arsenal, once again in a big game this season, fancied themselves as the dominant force – but this time, we didn’t need underlying data to prove what our eyes were seeing.

The first goal was a thing of beauty. Jorginho passed to Kai in the false 9 role, Kai to Gabriel, Gabriel with the one touch to Zinchenko, he cut back into midfield and rolled a simple pass to Odegaard who swept a first-time pass into the run of Kai… it looked like the German was on for the finish, his strike hit the keeper, but fell favourably for Saka who took one touch and swept into a net defended by Konate who couldn’t beat the shot.

So much to love about that goal… but a big part of it was getting the ball up the pitch as fast as possible and being deadly with the finish. Well, the second finish at least.

Liverpool hadn’t hit the target by the 43rd minute and we’d had 4 big chances. Just as I was thinking about putting the kettle on chugging a quart of whisky, calamity struck. William Saliba was shielding a ball for Raya to take, the keeper was never getting it, Saliba chipped at it, it hit Gabriel on the hand and went in.

It was pure dumb. I don’t know what we were thinking. It hurt. The players must have been gutted. All that hard work and once again, Lady Luck was making eyes at Jurgen Klopp on the touchline. How could we be in a top-of-the-table clash where Liverpool had a goal from ZERO shots on target?

The goal we conceded actually turned out to be a blessing. The boys came out for the second half feeling sorry for themselves, Liverpool had a raft of semi chances, and it looked like we were going to let Klopp happen to us again… then we just decided that wasn’t going to be our narrative. Martin Odegaard led the charge and started to make things happen. We found our confidence again and went for it.

Our second goal was all about never giving up. Big Gabi launched a long ball over the shoulder of VVD, and Martinelli chased it down and flustered the Dutchman into a brain freeze with Allison, the ball bounced loose, and the Brazilian speedster finished with a simple pass into an empty net.

Now we were believing. We weren’t finished though. The ref threw up 7 minutes of added time. Every Arsenal fan in the world was worried the team that never dies would conjur some miracle for their departing god… instead, it was Trossard who crafted the black magic. Kiwior found him on the left caught in traffic between Elliot and Dias, the Belgian dropped some twinkle toes, beat both of them, scampered into the box with 7 Liverpool players chasing… and he just buried it under the best keeper in the league.

Absolutely incredible.

So let’s start with the conclusion.

Arsenal is now very much in the title race. We’ve beaten the two best teams in the Premier League this season and we just gave Liverpool their 2nd defeat in 34 games. Arsenal didn’t win a fine margins game. We dished out an annihilation to a team far too many people have lap dancing for. Liverpool are good, Arsenal are a different level I’m afraid.

I do not think we have what it takes to win the league against Manchester City this season, but I’ll say it again, I think we’re the second-best team in the country. Liverpool have been playing at peak all season, every single break has gone for them, they have had all the luck, and they are still in 4 competitions. I’ve seen this movie before and it ends in cup doubles.

There are two teams in the top 5 that are playing basically to their xG at the moment. Arsenal and Manchester City. Everyone else is massively overperforming. City will get back to being xG monsters, the question was… could Arsenal? This victory indicates there’s a chance we are timing our form perfectly. 3 wins in three, 10 goals, 2 conceded. Feels good.

As for the individual performances. Let’s start with the manager. He loses Partey and Jesus before the game and there’s no drop in performance. Jorginho comes into the team and has a worldie. All the melts were telling me Kai was a bad signing. I had to watch him drop a brilliant yet industrious performance as a false 9 / agitator in chief. He drew yellow cards and reds. He was part of the first goal with a great run. He was a monster. Arteta had our wingers inverting to constrict the space when defending. Martin Odegaard was moving the ball quicker and he was more aggressive with his pressing. Every single player was focused and playing at an outrageous level. That was Arteta at his best. Crafting a master plan with lots of devil in the detail.

How about our two under-fire wingers settling the game with goals? Neither is going to win a goal of the month award, but both said something about anticipation and always being prepared for any outcome. A Boy Scout goal, if you will. Martinelli, in particular, seemed on fire. He looked fit and revved up to show Liverpool he wanted to put TAA back in rehab. What a powerhouse.

Jorginho… or Jor-Genius (thanks Patreon Discord). What a game from him. Say it quietly, he’s been superb this season. He never gets the plaudits because of the Chelsea tax… but you can’t avoid it today, he was a 10/10 and our man of the match. He was under brutal pressure, but kept going with the one-touch passing and the lofted chips. When he’s at his best, his body language is like an old pro on the beach dominating a game with the kids while playing with a negroni in hand. He oozed class. Another player who has blown up narratives around his ability.

Declan Rice was sensational again. A friend said he is better than Rodri because his game doesn’t need the dark arts fouls to be good. He times everything to perfection, he can do anything with the ball, and he is always in the right place, two inches from whoever he’s trying to take the ball from. What a player. Can you believe City wanted him to sit behind someone this summer?

Let’s give the fullbacks some credit as well. Ben White – sensational. Zinchenko – disciplined and key in the build to the first goal. Kiwior – came on and delivered with good defending AND an assist. Tomi comes back into the mixer this week, who knows what shape he’ll be in, but he’ll be additive. Hopefully Zinchenko’s early exit was precautionary, but if it was his calf, it’s likely another spell on the sidelines.

Martin Odegaard. That was a captain’s performance. He was everywhere, he led, he took chances, he brought people into the game, and he rallied the boys when they needed it. What’s not to love? Could his output be better this season? For sure. But we can’t all cry about the lack of a finisher then bitch that Odegaard doesn’t have 50 assists. That ball he put into Kiwior would have been finished by Ivan Toney. You don’t need to see hard numbers to understand the value he gives to the team.

Finally, the fans. They brought the goods. The noise sounded great majority of the game. We DO have it in us. It was electric. The game merited it for sure, but no reason we can’t deliver like that for the rest of the season. If the manager and the captain think it gives us an edge… give them the edge.

My only whinge about the day was having to listen to bitter pundits criticize the players and the manager for celebrating. If you can’t lose your mind after beating Liverpool in a table-topping clash, what’s the fucking point? Fans love to see it, even when they’re on the receiving end. The explayers and pundits don’t mind it when it’s their favoured clubs doing it. Trying to shift the narrative away from an incredible performance, to celebration ranking is deeply, deeply cynical. I expect it of Neville. A partisan hack who knows that his ‘I don’t understand the Arsenal strategy’ will be on his punditry gravestone when we win the league. Carragher calling Odegaard ill-disciplined for having fun with Stuart McFarlane? Ridiculous. It’s beautiful to see players treating non-sporting staff with that sort of respect. It shows how good the culture is that they included him.

So in short, Arsenal delivered. We’re back in the race. The naysayers are on the back foot. The people who kept the faith are savouring the W. Let’s see what we can do in the next 6 Premier League games before the City showdown. We need to win them all. If we do, that away game becomes a title decider. Tantalizing.

Let’s see what the boys can do!

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