It does feel like a majority of Gooners are finally coming around to the idea that the weekend draw (reaction so bad I listed it as a loss yesterday by accident) wasn’t due to a shocking performance, but on the balance of play, down to two problems.
We made two very dim defensive errors that received the ultimate punishment
We didn’t perform to xG – which means the quality of our chances merited 3 goals and we only scored 2.
Arsenal drew against Fulham, and there have been many meltdowns. My group chats, Twitter, Arsenal fans sacrificing themselves to the gods in the streets.
It was only a draw folks; it’s really not the end of the world.
There are two things that need straightening out for me.
1.Why we drew
I’ve seen people picking on Havertz, blaming Martinelli, and digging out the Trossard performance. It wasn’t an attacking issue. They did their job. We created 19 chances, 11 shots were put on target, the quality of the chances merited a 3+ for xG and we scored two goals.
Two goals against Fulham and the best shot stopper in the league is very, very good. It doesn’t matter what you thought of the system or the personnel, if you’re criticizing the forwards, you are looking in the wrong place.
The issue was the defence and there was a very specific problem: Individual errors.
Bukayo Saka gave it away uncharacteristically. Perriera tried to chip Ramsdale and scuffed it past him. A total freak. Should Partey have moved into midfield so quickly? Hindsight, no. But we’re at a level nowhere you don’t expect Saka to play a through ball for an opposition attacker.
Zinchenko gave the ball away trying to play an unnecessary ball in a game we should have been killing.
The system can’t really save you in either of those situations unless you are being really critical and maybe a bit hopeful. Could Ramsdale have made sure a big man was on the front post? Maybe. But is that all on him? The fault is how the corner happened.
The good news is reducing brainfarts from quality players should be a fairly straightforward challenge to overcome. It’s a concentration issue. The biggest challenge we have in the area beyond the individual is early goals becoming our thing, a bit like it was under Conte at Spurs last season.
But in short, we’re not going to drop two points to many teams this season when we record 3 xG and concede less than 0.5. To put a finer point on it for the xG haters.
Teams that registered more than 2.5 xG this weekend.
Only 2 of those teams didn’t score 3 – Arsenal & City
Only 1 team didn’t win – Arsenal
A little bump of copium for you there.
2. Why we’re changing
I chatted with three different groups of people yesterday that all reported the same thing: The atmosphere at the stadium has changed and it’s not like it was last year.
There are some soft reasons for that – it’s harder to get a ticket, the make-up of the stadium is more random, and maybe a reduction in allocations for the noise makers has had some bearing.
But the hard reason? Expectation. Every group said the same thing. Last season, we were underdogs. This season, every fan that is sitting in that stadium has shifted their expectations to CHAMPIONS ELECT.
It’s not YOUR fault if you feel like this. Arsenal finished a close second last year, we added some serious equipment to the side this summer, and we tied elite boys to contracts, and now we see them as MEN.
I wrote a few months ago that Arteta should do a better job explaining his plans. He hasn’t really and it’s biting him already. Fans are at their worst when they don’t understand the direction.
Here’s where I think we’re going and why:
Arsenal overachieved last season with 14 players (very young players). We started well, everyone came good, the system shone, and we competed for the league for 95% of the season.
It all collapsed for two reasons:
Our squad wasn’t deep enough
Arteta refused to rotate when he had the choice – rotation only came when his hand was forced because of injuries
We were predictable because of the two points above
I don’t care how close we were in the league – the reality is Manchester City took us out into the garden, pulled our pants down, and spanked us with a stick. It was men vs boys – and our manager looked like a rookie chump.
Arteta felt that, it impacted him, he knew there was work to do.
Here’s the difference between Wenger and Arteta.
Arsene would have looked at the close finish, changed almost nothing, and maybe signed one or two players. His belief was too much change hurt the dressing room. He was a man of incremental improvement. Theo Walcott said the other day that he hated conflict. Arsenal fans were like docile dogs being petted in front of the fire when he convinced us all that there was simply no way to compete against monied teams – and we should basically shut up and let him have a good time with no accountability. We let that happen. It ended badly.
Arteta didn’t look at the five points and point to refereeing issues whilst drawing hard on a pipe of ‘maybe players won’t get injured’ hopium.
He realised to best City, we needed to add depth, we needed to have a deeper bench of super-intelligent players, we needed more height and power, and he needed to have more than one way of playing to keep opposition analysts guessing.
It should also be noted that the average age of our signings this summer was 23.75. The club has aged down our squad despite already having the second youngest in the league. Nothing gets people more angry that raising age as a challenge – ask ANY coach in ANY sport whether age impacts sporting outcomes and I’m telling you, none of them are going to deny it. Just think about how much you grew between 22 and 29 years old. Think if the mindset you had, the fuck ups you made, all the things you DID NOT KNOW. Then tell me age isn’t a factor. There’s a reason the average age of a CEO is 58 years old in America. There’s a reason that the average age of starting 11 teams that win BIG trophies usually sits at around 29 years old. Experience matters.
There’s also a deeper more tactical reason for ageing down. >>> Arsenal are aiming to peak when Manchester City fall. They won’t say this publicly because fans will be up in arms. But I have absolutely no doubt part of the summer rebuild was focused on two things:
When will Pep G leave?
When does this squad need to peak?
Pep will almost certainly be out in 2 years, maybe one.
As I said, squads tend to peak across all sports at around 28 to 29 years old. The average age of our starting 11 yesterday was 24.9 years old at the weekend. In 2 seasons’ time, the average age of our squad will probably be at about 25-26 once we ship out players like Partey and Jorginho. Then they’ll be ready to takeover… and stay there.
Part of peaking isn’t just about being mature enough to handle the pressure and the moment. It’s also being equipped with the right tools to take down any team. Arteta has said in the past that sometimes he makes decisions on who will play right up to the last minute. Being unpredictable is the ultimate weapon in the league. If you don’t know who is going to play or what shape will be deployed – it makes it very, very hard to plan.
Would the simplest way to compete this year just be more of the same? Yes. But eventually, in a league with the coaching talent we have, you get found out. Mourinho, dead. Carlo, dead. Antonio Conte, dead. Wenger, dead. Why? Because they were predictable.
Arteta wants to be unpredictable because he knows the best coaches in the world are working on exactly that at the moment. Pep G is the gold standard, he’s always doing new things, people disagree, they call him an galaxy brain thinker, but look at his accolades.
Our manager knows he’s the gold standard and the only way to match what he does is to have a deep squad of young players who are intelligent enough to be able to slip into any system, against any team, and play any way they are told to take the W.
My question here: Why wouldn’t you want that? Well, you would.
Now for the pain – it takes time to learn new skills. Arteta has a very complex system that took 18 months to get up and running. He’s trying to speedrun players into his way of thinking and it comes at a cost sometimes. The Fulham game was lost because of individual errors, but people don’t like change, so the finger of blame will always lie at the door of the obvious. That’s just something Arteta is going to have to deal with. Fans feel like they’ve been served tomorrow for 15 years. We’re 4 years into a project, and now we’re getting more of that. But we have to give managers freedom to move things forward, even if that causes light disturbances in our season. The alternative is a manager paralyzed to try new things – like Graham Potter at Chelsea.
What could make things easier for Arteta? Bring fans into the process. The more we know, the better we’ll handle days like yesterday. Right now it looks like Arteta is moving goalposts and creating complications where simplicity was winning.
We also have to be a little more accepting as fans. Too many people focus on the wrong problems and want to fight change. Football is always changing, as soon as you stand still to marvel at your achievements, you’re Antonio Conte screaming at shadows in a press conference.
The way I’m looking at the Fulham game is through my own lens of criticism last year.
Rotate in games you think you can get away with it
Lean into the full squad when everyone is available, not just when you need the players
Continue to develop the club to be future-proof
A lot of what happened yesterday was Arteta building on previous weaknesses – and people don’t like it.
It was extreme though. Does Arteta really have to play non-fullbacks as fullbacks? I’m not so sure. Jurrien Timber out injured threw a wrench in the system he’s trying to figure out. The manager really believed he was going to be an unreal piece of machinery this season.
Do we need to be dropping red-hot players 3 games into the season? Again, with foresight and hindsight, I think you could say that was an odd move.
I could go on – but two things I want to end with.
The 12th man has been one of the biggest attributes of the last two season. Arteta was worried some of our players were scared to play at home the season we opened with 3 losses. The turnaround has been outrageous. Whatever can be done to get that back in the mixer will pay dividends. The best space to learn is one that is warm, welcoming, and forgiving in the bad times. Groaning at misplaced passes makes for a shit day out and it causes issues with players who are listening.
Our manager has brought high-performance culture to Arsenal. He makes tough decisions 99% of Arsenal fans would never dream of. He puts blood on the floor and makes you look at it, weeping, like a small child. No one wants to win more than him. We’ve gone from being a laughing stock of the league, to genuine title contenders in 4 years. If he is running at change this hard, there comes a point where you have to sit back, and kind of let him do it. The base premise of what he’s trying to do isn’t wrong – if you think it is, please explain why you’re a fan of being predictable.
Is that AKBism in a nutshell? Could be. But for me, trust is a reward for getting majority of your decisions right. People were trusting Wenger when he was going entire summers without signing a single player. People trusted him when we passed on Toby Alderweirald and Virgil Van Dijk to bring Cal Chambers to the carpet. Trust shouldn’t have a forever window. But I think we can give change more than 3 games before declaring our season is over.
This is going to be a good season, the hard work we put in now will come with some bumps, but come the end of the season, we’ll be a better team, we’ll be more unpredictable, and hopefully we’ll be able to put Manchester City to the sword and show the world we’re a serious outfit that is built for the next decade.
LONG post today. Hope you enjoyed. Jump on the podcast if you haven’t already.
If you’ve been following the site and the podcast this summer, you’ll know I’ve spoken of the pain I think we’ll feel this season as Arteta transitions his team from a predictable 13 to a formationally fluid 18. The draw against Fulham is a sharp example of that pain.
Arteta rolled with a very odd starting 11. He dropped Eddie, who has been on fire, Gabriel stayed on the bench with White lining up with Saliba, and both our full backs were not full-backs.
The football was not champagne; we conceded in under a minute, and the whole plan that was built on newness was blown instantly. Everything felt 5% off. Not shocking, but far from characteristic.
We’ve said for a long time that PGMOL isn’t fit for purpose and referees in our country, for a variety of reasons, are not up to the standard.
Some basics have had my alarm bells ringing for a long time.
They are predominantly from the North of England (37%) with 0% from London
They are all English – I flag this because football teams have a diverse range of nationalities – why? Because they are picking from the best.
Up until last week, they were all white
The only severe accountability for poor performance has been one firing. For perspective, 17 Premier League managers were sacked last year.
If you were to build out an approach to creating a system of accountable refereeing that put a priority on performance and fairness – they way we have it right now would not cut muster.
Certain teams seem to be on the end of worse decisions, consistently
Certain referees have very disturbing patterns against certain teams
There is no consideration of regional bias when mapping referees to games
Certain managers have the ability to move refs off their games
The only consistency is the inconsistent application of the rules
So when Mike Dean goes on a podcast 3 months after giving up football and brazenly talks about not giving a decision…
“because he is a mate”
“I think I didn’t want to send him up because I didn’t want any more grief than he already had”
… questions will be asked.
There is a segment of people in media who think fans are absolutely mad for creating theories around how refs officiate – now they can all stand down, because one of the most notorious refs of the past decade just gave up the goods and told the world what we already knew – decisions aren’t based on the facts of the game, they’re wrapped in emotion.
If you can fudge a decision because you empathise with a mate, you are not a serious official. You are not above bias, you are not above partisanship, you are not above revenge, you are not mature enough to look beyond your own personal feelings of disdain towards characters you simply don’t like. That is a problem when your decisions impact lives.
One of the most famous referees in PGMOL history just admitted he took one for the team to protect a mate from grief. This gives an incredible amount of weight to the ‘not fit for purpose’ crowd. I’ve seen headlines that say ‘this will feed conspiracies’ which is amusing, because it’s not feeding anything bar the truth we all knew about.
The framing of this headline is so disappointing – it’s like the writer thinks this is a gaff that shouldn’t have happened. I disagree, I’m glad he said it, because now we have something to fix. This sort of honesty around the problem is much needed – especially as so many of the football intelligentsia have been telling normal fans they are stupid for believing that the only thing going on with refs is a touch of ‘whoopsie.’
The moment merits an external investigation. It needs a reaction. There has to be a longterm plan for how this sort of behavior is fixed. This isn’t a one-off – it’s part of a rotten culture. It is a corruption of the game, it is a sledgehammer through the window of fairness, and it’s a look inside the mindset of a group that has almost no accountability. If a Judge made decisions like this in court, they’d be removed. If an auditor made decisions based on likeability, they’d be sued. People lose their livelihoods based on these decisions and we’ve just found out they are tainted.
This cannot go unaddressed. The first action should be to hire an independent consultancy. There needs to be a root cause analysis of what the problem is and why it is getting worse.
Understand the data
Interview the refs
Look at the training
Look at the processes around improvement
Look at how discipline is dished out
Spend time with refs in realtime
Come back with recommendations that haven’t been influenced
Mike Dean’s comment has rocked the belief that there is fairness in the game, the severity means the investigations findings should be made public so we can see how PGMOL plan to fix them.
Will anything like that happen? No. Because Howard Webb is one of the boys. His job is to protect referees at all costs – not the integrity of the game. Until we put someone in charge who knows how to be a change agent in a rotten organization, we’ll keep seeing the decline of standards, and we’ll occasionally get snippets like this that confirm our worst fears.
Word on the Tweet is Folarin Balogun will exit to Monaco. There is a verbal agreement between the French club and Arsenal and the fee being mooted is about €45M.
Is this the best fee we could get? Well clearly. It feels a bit low in a world that contains Todd B.
So why do I like it? Well, Folarin can’t hurt us in Monaco. The big fear when you let a kid leave is they come back and haunt you in important games. Samir Nasri and Adebayor spring to mind. By going to Monaco, we don’t have to see him every week, and the bonus is that if he is eventually sold by a notorious selling club we’ll get a lovely kickback that’ll make up for the lack of a Premier League fee.
When did under the lights become a thing? It feels like something new. Whatever it is, there’s a pain associated with playing Crystal Palace early in the season under them. I hoped for a breezy result, we didn’t get it. For all the pain you might have felt watching the game, they managed one shot on target.
The narrative of the game was once again shifted firmly in the direction of the officiating. Tomiyasu was sent off for a second bookable offence. He picked up his first for time wasting for a whopping 8 seconds – the second came after Jordan Ayew flopped to the floor under next to no challenge at all. The Palace player, also on a yellow, yanked Bukayo Saka to the ground and no booking followed. The lack of consistency amongst referees even in the same game is astonishing.
We could have collapsed. Crystal Palace has a team chok full of athletes, the atmosphere at their stadium is one of the best in the game, so holding onto a slim lead with 10 was always going to be tough. I’ve seen some folk call us cowards on the ball, maybe, it wasn’t pretty. I will say the immediate instinct is to defend versus go for the lead. We’re not built to play with 10 and it’s especially hard this early in the season when players lack match-fit legs.
We held on though. Arteta had a deep bench to choose from, he brought on controllers, and in the end, we saw out a crucial game with a 1-0 lead. Not many teams are going to have joy at Selhurst Park this season. So we should be very proud of the job the players have done.
There were some interesting subplots from the game. Gabriel M was dropped once again from the starting 11. Arsenal fans simply cannot handle that Arteta is going to galaxy brain starting 11s all season and part of that approach means you, humble fan, are not going to be able to guess what he’s going to do. I think it’s clear why Gabriel isn’t the preferred centre back right now, he’s not as good on the ball as some of our stars… but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be sold to Saudi right now (unless there’s a really good player ready to come into the mixer).
I also wouldn’t be so sure we have to buy in… Kiwior is a very impressive player and I think there’s an expectation he could do some damage in our first team. Expect him to make strides this season and maybe don’t count on Gabriel M being #1 on the team sheet like he was last season.
Eddie had a great game, there are always going to be critics of the England striker, but as a #2, it’s hard to knock him. His movement was exceptional last night, he moved like a NPC in crouch mode, and he created chances for himself… and he made the decisive run for the penalty. Should he have scored? Maybe, but those chances weren’t easy. He’s not going to score every game, but I was very pleased to see that his game looks like it’s kicked up a gear.
Kai Havertz did a lot of good work off the ball yesterday, he won 8 of 8 duels, he was aggressive, and he was forming some lovely partnerships, particularly on the left. He’s not banging in goals, but he’s part of teams winning games, so plenty to be pleased about there.
Saka played his 82nd game of the season, it wasn’t his greatest, but it is quite something for someone who hasn’t reached 23 years old, deliver that many games in row. He offers remarkable consistency, he’s getting more and more decisive, I think he could win the Balon D’or at some point. I just wish we had someone we could rotate him with, I’m not it’s Reiss and I don’t think it should be Trossard.
Declan Rice had his best performance in an Arsenal shirt. He was all over the park. We saw his delicate footwork on show, his eye for danger, the power he offers, and his BIG presence on the pitch. He’s the first £105m I’ve seen and actually thought, damn, he’s worth every penny.
Martin Odegaard took the penalty over Bukayo Saka. No idea why. But the penalty had ‘I’ve been talking to Jorghinho’ vibes about it.
Arteta was pretty blatant about his unhappiness by telling the media he was VERY HAPPY with the game. It’s annoying that we’re here, bashing refs, so early in the season. Improvements should have happened faster, but do we really believe they’re coming with an exRef running things at PGMOL? I have major doubts.
3 ugly points against Palace under horrible circumstances is going to be very good for team morale. Us vs the world is always a good rallying cry. I’m glad that there’s a big of momentum heading into that Fulham game. The big one is United, put them to the sword early and exit phase one of the season with 10 points or more and we’ll be absolutely cooking.
Right, that’s me done. Check out the On The Whistle I did with Dave Seager and Gilles!
We have 11 days left of the transfer window. There are two holes in the squad that I think could become problems if luck doesn’t go our way.
We still have no cover for Bukayo Saka
Jurrien Timber out means we’re kind of back to squad one with full back cover that can keep the levels the same
Arteta was extremely excited to have Timber around, he exceeded expectations in training because he could cover 3 positions to an outrageously high level.
Losing him means a right-back fail will see Tomi coming in who can’t invert. A left-back fail and we’re looking at rolling with Kiwior who is far from proven anywhere let alone for a long stint doing what the injury-prone Zinchenko does.
The good news is the Ukrainian played 60 minutes against Luton earlier in the week. Technically, we could see Arsenal line up with our strongest defence of last season vs Palace. The only issue with that groups is it creaks when too many minutes are dished out. Zinchenko is injury prone, we have to accept that he’ll be in and out of the side. Ben White gets tight calf muscles. Saliba breaks down if his minutes aren’t managed.