Feed on

It is hard to look at this 2-2 draw against the enemy as anything other than two points dropped. Truth be told, I’d rather go for a long walk in the woods and forget about this one than sit here and write my, currently rather pessimistic, thoughts down.

Still, maybe this will prove cathartic.

First off, I have to say that I really dislike Spurs. Obviously, I am biased. Frankly, I find it hard to imagine anyone who is not a Spurs fan that does not dislike them. But, no matter who their manager is, or how many players they change, they are just the worst, most egregiously hateable team in the league. Which is just another reason to feel terrible that they will have left our stadium today chuffed to bits with their point. You know, the one we gave them.

We started with Vieira instead of Havertz and Eddie up top, with Jesus on the left as both Martinelli and Trossard were out. Raya kept his place in goal. His first action was to pick the ball out of the net after three minutes, but Son had been miles offside and did not even bother to celebrate.

We were on top for most of the first half. Saka scored on twenty-five minutes as he cut in and shot for the far post, only for Romero to dangle a leg that diverted it in at the near post. No less than we deserved. For the next ten minutes, we were all over them, but we failed to make the most of a series of good positions and chances. It was hard not to wonder if our profligacy would come back to haunt us.

We pressed well, and we pegged them right back on around the half hour mark until Jesus pounced to rob Maddison in his own box. Our striker put his laces through the ball, and it went over the bar. Let’s be clear; first, Jesus is a superstar and I love the guy; secondly, he should have scored and if he had done, I cannot see us failing to win the game. This miss was poor and turned out to be a huge moment.

The last ten minutes of the half saw Spuds finally wake up and investigate what our final third looked like. Raya made a fantastic save after a good Son run saw him pull the ball back for Brennan Johnson whose scuffed shot was still goal bound until our agile keeper’s intervention. Saliba celebrated it like we’d scored – he knew it was a massive let off. Replays showed Ramsdale clapping, which is what we would expect from the guy, but still a nice touch.

Instead of taking this as a warning sign and making sure to stay switched on, we did the opposite. We let Spurs probe with the ball and failed to clear the second ball after a cross. Johnson beat Saka to get to the byline and pull back for Son to somehow find space between the trio of Rice, Saliba and Gabriel and apply an annoyingly precise finish.

It came from nowhere and we had only ourselves to blame, both that we weren’t further ahead, and that we conceded a goal Arteta would have been fuming about.

Half time arrived, and Spurs were much the happier team at the interval.

We made changes at the restart. Havertz came on for Vieira, the Portuguese having had a decent half but not made much impact. At least he did not look out of his depth like he has in the past, he just didn’t dictate possession the way we would have liked. Our other change was the enforced removal of Declan Rice, who had a calf injury apparently, for Jorginho. I like the Italian, but this was a half to forget from him.

It only took five minutes for us to be awarded a penalty by VAR. Personally, I don’t understand the handball rules, but I think there should be no mitigating factors when a player blocks a goal bound shot with their arms/hands. It may not be deliberate, we might all agree it is unlucky, but a penalty should be awarded to redress the denial of a goalscoring opportunity, and when a shot is going straight in the goal until some bloke’s arm gets in the way, that is a penalty all day for me. I was not sure it would be given as I watched the fifteenth replay of an incident that required one to see it was a penalty, but, despite Gary Neville’s grumbling, it was finally given.

Saka stroked it home down the middle and we all celebrated. Lovely stuff.

Except then, we shot ourselves in the foot. I mean, we really shot ourselves in the foot. Like a centipede with a machine gun, we gave our collective feet one hell of a seeing to.

Jorginho was given the ball in our half, with no-one within ten yards of him. He dithered, then tried to beat a man (like he is well known for) and had the ball nicked off him by Maddison who had Son for company in a two on one against Saliba. He slid a simple ball through to the Korean thorn in our side, who finished past Raya to level the match. Why do we have to make it so easy for them? All I could do was shake my head.

It took the wind out of our sails, all the more so because it was such a gift. We handed it to that absolute shower on a plate. It is not worth having a go at Jorginho, because he knows better than most how desperately poorly he has done there. If the boss were unhappy with the first one, he’d have been apoplectic about this one.

However, we still had thirty-five minutes, plus injury time to make it right. Surely that would be enough?

We did a strangely bad job of getting the ball to Saka to stand up the Spuds left back who had gotten a yellow card on fifteen minutes. The lad on a booking must have been thrilled at how little he had to face one-on-ones against one of the best in the world.

Jorginho continued to be a half-yard behind the game, and we missed Rice’s anticipation and dynamism. Havertz did little more or less than Vieira had. Eddie did not offer much, and I assume it was for reasons of fitness that he stayed on when Jesus made way for Reiss Nelson with twenty minutes to go.

Spurs did not look like scoring as we piled on the pressure, mainly through a succession of corners which we made little of. Some Spurs chap handled the ball in the sort of incident that is often given as a penalty, but VAR did not check it, and I don’t understand the laws, so I have no idea if it should have been awarded or not. It was certainly not a decision consistent with many I have seen recently, which is frustrating, but it would have been a get out of jail free card that even I cannot say we deserved.

Despite the tantalising possibility of us scoring a late winner, we did not really threaten and the whole stadium had their hearts in their mouths when Richarlison struck a late shot goalwards, only to see it deflect wide.

The ref (poor all game but managing not to make any major decisions which impacted the result) decided he had seen enough, and the whistle blew.

My immediate feeling was one of disappointment. More than that, I was gutted that we made it easy for this horrific club to take a point away from a game we should have won. We’ve dropped further behind City, we aren’t even ahead of Spurs, and, as I get to the end of this report, it has not proved cathartic at all, and I am still gutted.

I suppose it is City’s relentless excellence that colours my reaction – any dropped points make it harder and harder to challenge Pep’s behemoth for the title. Yet, there is also the frustration at the careless, needless way we let Spurs score two goals, and our own wastefulness in failing to convert thirty-five minutes of utter dominance into an insurmountable lead. And, of course, there is no worse club to give points to.

The season is long, and this is hardly a disaster of a result. But if we replicate this sort of day many more times then we won’t be in the mix to win anything come May.

In the meantime, I am going for a shower. I feel dirty after that.

Until next time, ‘holics.

The Prologue
On Sunday Kermit, Fozzy, Stadtler, Waldorf et al will trundle into the Emirates Stadium for the 208th game between the two clubs, dating all the way back to 9th November, 1896.

We were treated to some great pieces on this blog over the summer from United States based fans, Lonestar Gooner and scruzgooner on what supporting Arsenal has meant to them, and I thought it might be interesting for the rest of us readers and writers to share in the ‘drinks’ what this London Derby fixture actually means to us – local or otherwise.

For me, this fixture goes right back to junior school days – being in a small minority of Arsenal fans, and hugely outnumbered by Spurs fans. That was more to do with chronology than geography – I didn’t live in a particularly Spurs supporting area, it was just Tottenham’s era and I hated it.

  • the first Christmas present I can really remember was my first Arsenal shirt, in the style of what would become the 1971 classic, as worn by Dave the first time I met him at The Tollie.
  • there were three of us Arsenal fans in my class at junior school and we always stuck together in playground games of football, played with a tennis ball and invariably spiced with an Arsenal v Spurs element.
  • my first live North London Derby was at Highbury on 16th September 1967. My two aforementioned school mates and I had earned ourselves seats in East Lower by handing out Arsenal Bingo leaflets before the game. We arrived at the ground around 12.00 noon, for the 3.00pm kick off, and were picked out of the queue for our little job by former keeper Jack Kelsey. Handing out my share of those leaflets didn’t take too long as Spurs fans were taking handfuls and throwing them straight on the ground as the prizes were tickets to Arsenal games. George Graham was playing for us that day. He got married that morning and his best man was Terry Venables who was playing for Tottenham in that same match. George’s wedding present was a 4-0 victory.
  • I remember that going to White Hart Lane always felt like taking your life in your hands, which almost happened to the victim of a stabbing behind us as we won the league there in 1971 – the first leg of our double. Finally, no more “Spurs double” to be rammed down our throats.
  • I remember some inter club transfers we seemed to do quite well in – Pat Jennings arrived in goal and we swapped our winger David Jenkins for theirs, Jimmy Robertson.

North London Derby day is a horrible experience until it’s over and we’ve won and the nerves and tension can be released for another few months. But win, lose or draw the rivalry should always be fun. We can hate Tottenham as a club, we can mock their fans and players, but violence should never become a part of that. 

To emphasise the importance of his first North London Derby to their new manager, Tottenham have arranged a special pre-match dinner, the menu for which has been leaked to me as follows: 

Manager’s hash


Roasted cockerel

Roasted spuds

Benta-cured fricassee of mixed vegetables and tripe


Cowardy custard Brazilian tart with a Kane based sweet sauce and sour grapes (withdrawn as it has gone off)


Tea and coffee served in Tottenham mugs as no cups have been seen near White Hart Lane for over 15 years

In other news, new signing James Maddison has been told to stop turning up to training at Tottenham in a red car and so will have to find something in a more appropriate hue as he arrives at White Hart Lane which, incidentally, now falls within London’s new Ultra Low Expectations Zone.

The opposition (serious part)

Speaking at a fans’ forum this week, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy admitted that Tottenham made “mistakes” in appointing big name managers such as Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, while hailing new head coach Ange Postecoglou as a “breath of fresh air”.

Levy said, “There was a lot of pressure on me to bring in somebody that was a big name. I just wanted somebody who understood our DNA, would play attacking football, that would give young players a chance, believe in the academy, would build a relationship with the fans and understand the resources we have and be part of a team.”

***** and they still went for Mourinho and Conte! *****

“Ange is a breath of fresh air. We’ve got our Tottenham back. We’re seeing football that we used to see and that’s all that we want. I had gone through a period where we’d almost won. With Mauricio Pochettino we went through some very good times. We came very close and we had a change in strategy. The strategy was ‘let’s bring in a trophy manager’. We did it twice and you have to learn from your mistakes. They’re great managers but maybe not for this club. We want to play in a certain way and if that means it has to take a little longer to win, maybe it’s the right thing for us. That’s why bringing Ange in was the right decision”.

I’m not sure his fans would agree but thank God he’s not in charge of us !

Since we last played them, Tottenham have spent around £150m in bringing in nine new players including Brennan Johnson, James Maddison, Pedro Porro, Micky van de Ven and converting Kulusevski’s loan to a permanent move. They have shipped out thirteen, most of whom I’ve never heard of, but including Lucas Maura, Harry Winks and, of course, want-away, one-of-their-own, skipper Harry Kane. No, it’s true! It hasn’t been mentioned in the media or anything but he’s gone. Oh, and he lost Bayern Munich a cup final in his very first appearance. Oh, my aching sides !

I’m not going to pretend to know much about them all and, frankly, I don’t care until they line up on Sunday.

The Arsenal

Wednesday’s game against PSV Eindhoven saw our new look team and squad really beginning to gel for the first time this season. PSV had not lost in their last 26 matches and we made them look very ordinary and defensively, to be honest, a bit ‘all at sea’. They seemed to play a high line and leave a lot of room on the flanks for the superb Saka, White and Trossard to exploit. That way of playing is, I hear, one out of the Postecoglou playbook and one that he is promising to continue with at the Emirates – “We’ll Scare Them To Death” he is claiming!

The focus of much attention is clearly going to be on our goalkeeping situation. I have to say David Raya has been the epitome of calm in his two appearances. He is possibly a bit less hurried with his short passing than Aaron Ramsdale, but both are great long passers. Also in Raya’s favour is the fact that he claimed most crosses in the league last season – 51 – while Aaron was a way behind with 17.

You do get the feeling that Mikel Arteta has already decided that Raya is his number one and, if he is better than Aaron, that’s how it should be. I do really feel for Aaron though. He is a great keeper, has done a lot to get us where we are, is a very likeable character and has been brilliant in acknowledging and connecting with the fans. He is far too good to be a number two and I hope he can find a role that keeps him happy for as long as he is with us.

Declan Rice already looks at home in midfield and Kai Havertz grew into the game against PSV quite nicely after what I thought was a quiet start, although I know some thought his first half was fine too. Trossard just continues to produce and impress, while Gabriel Jesus gives us something we otherwise just don’t have. Someone we are going to have for another 5 years is Martin Ødegaard who has just signed a new contract. (Reportedly, Martin was set to join Tottenham at one stage until Zinedine Zidane stepped in and put the young man straight.) But it’s great news and huge credit to the club which has now secured the long term futures of almost all the key players until 2027. We are now a destination club rather than a stepping stone to better things and the best players now seem convinced that the biggest trophies are within our potential.

Thomas Partey, Jurrien Timber and Mo Elneny remain out for Sunday – there are no reports of any other new afflictions but the good news is that Gabriel Martinelli is being assessed ahead of the game which suggests his hamstring may not be as serious as perhaps feared.

So who will play? While I’m not at all convinced the manager will share my opinion – let’s face it, he will never even know my opinion – I would like to see Tomiyasu at left back to defend against Kulusevski, with Zinchenko moving further forward to link with Trossard and Jesus. But anyone’s guess is as good as mine: 


White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tomiyasu;

Ødegaard, Rice, Zinchenko;

Saka, Jesús, Trossard

The Officials

The referee for this one is Rob Jones, fourth official is Michael Salisbury, VAR is Paul Tierney. Fingers crossed that they all do an absolutely faultless job. What?

The Holic Pound

We are odds on favourites with the bookies, typically 4/6 to win, with 17/5 on the draw and a Spurs win is 15/4 against. If you are tempted to bet, Bukayo Saka to score the first goal at 13/2 might be more interesting, Leo Trossard is at 15/2, or a score cast of 3-1 to the Arsenal can be had at 12/1. Were I a betting man, that’s where my hard earned would be going.

Kickoff is at 14.00 hrs on Sunday 24th September with TV coverage on Sky Sports. If you are lucky enough to be going, enjoy and sing up loud and proud!

A lot can change in 2338 days.

That is how long it has been since that humiliating 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich which saw us lose 10-2 on aggregate on one of the worst nights in Arsenal’s recent history. Since then, we’ve had to endure five tediously dull Europa League campaigns and even a season out of Europe all together.

There was the humiliation in Baku. The avoidable semi final exits to Atletico and Villareal. Need I remind you of our good old friends, Olympiakos? It’s been a challenging half a dozen years to be a Gooner. Not the worst we’ve ever had it; many of you reading this have seen the club in far worse shape. But football, much like life, is a cyclical game. What goes up must come down and vice versa.

And Arsenal is certainly on the up again right now. Tonight, was a night we had been eagerly anticipating for a long time. We were not disappointed. The blue banners around the stadium, the big parachute in the centre circle, and of course the famous Champions League anthem. All the little touches that let you know your playing in Europe’s premier club competition were on show for supporters to revel in pre-match. The Champions League remains a competition like no other. You cannot take it for granted no matter who you support. PSV Eindhoven awaited Arsenal’s wrath.

I made sure I arrived at the ground early just to soak up the occasion as much as possible. In the end the only things that got soaked were my clothes and I was not alone there. The heavens had opened to welcome Arsenal back to the holy grail of European football.

Arsenal made it heaven on the pitch too. There were two changes from Sunday: Jesus made his first start of the season in place of Nketiah and Trossard, who replaced the injured Martinelli early on at Goodison Park, was rewarded for his match-winning strike on Merseyside. On eight minutes we were ahead. Ødegaard’s low drive was palmed out by Walter Benitez, but only as far as Saka who calmly slotted home to give Arsenal the lead on his Champions League debut. 1-0 to The Arsenal.

Jesus nearly doubled our lead moments later, but he was involved again when we did. The Brazilian spun away from his marker and fed Saka on the right. The winger carried the ball into the final third before laying it off to Trossard who passed the ball home on the edge of the area. 2-0 inside twenty minutes.

Gabriel Jesus had a couple of efforts which were both well saved by the keeper. He was tormenting the PSV centre backs time and time again. And seven minutes before the break he finally had his reward. Gabriel played a fine ball over the top for Trossard who duly controlled it expertly. The Belgian pinged over a sumptuous cross with his “weaker foot” which Jesus controlled and slammed into the far corner. 3-0 and we had barely broken a sweat.

The second half was much lower key with Arsenal conserving their energy for Sunday. Arteta was able to make some early subs as Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe were introduced on the hour mark much to the crowd’s enthusiasm. And it was the two Hale Enders who combined on the left hand side to tee up Ødegaard for the fourth and final goal of the evening. The Norwegian dropped the shoulder and rifled one into the bottom corner from 25 yards. Game Set and Match.

Overall, it was worth the wait. Arsenal have started as they mean to go on in the Champions League. Sterner tests will await us later in the competition, assuming we get out the group (which we really ought to), but you cannot complain about a thumping win against quite possibly our strongest competition in the group.

In the other game in our group, Sevilla drew 1-1 with RC Lens in southern Spain. It means we top group B by two points at this early stage. And of course, Man United lost to Bayern. What’s not to like?

But we must focus on ourselves if we want to achieve what we are truly capable of. Can we win the Champions League at long last this season? It seems unlikely but stranger things have happened. The bookmakers have us down as fourth favourites, which is rather generous of them. But it is clear we are no plucky underdogs these days. We are a force to be reckoned with. Tonight’s game suggested as much.


And so to the Stadium of Stone for our first Champions League game since March 7, 2017. 

The weight of history hangs heavily. That evening, Bayern Munich beat us 5-1 at the Emirates in the Round of 16, having been a goal behind and outplayed until Laurent Koscielny was inexplicably sent off early in the second half, and we capitulated. 

The 10-2 aggregate score in the tie was the heaviest suffered by an English club in the knockout stages of the CL or its predecessor competition, eclipsing Barcelona’s 9-2 thwacking of Wolves in the quarter-finals of the 1959-60 European Cup. 

Yet, it was our seventh successive CL Round of 16 exit and third straight 5-1 defeat by the Germans in the waning Wenger years. As the Guv’nor presciently wrote in his match report, ‘There is an end-of-era feel to it all’.

Yet a new era dawns as night follows day.

Embed from Getty Images

The opposition

We most recently entertained our Wednesday evening visitors, PSV Eindhoven, in the Europa League group stage last season. A 1-0 to the Arsenal at home was followed by a 2-0 reverse in Eindhoven, although that would not impede our progress to the knockout rounds. 

Previous encounters were in the Champions League in 2002, 2004 and 2007. The first two ties were group stage matches, navigated unbeaten with a win and a draw in both cases. However, in 2007, PSV turned us over in the first knockout round, 2-1 on aggregate. We lost the first leg in Eindhoven, 1-0, and could only draw the return at the Emirates 1-1, PSV’s Brazilian defender Alex scoring at both ends. 

The Goonerverse melted down after that shock defeat, as only the Goonerverse can, or at least that part of it too young to remember some bad nights in less glamorous locales such as Peterborough, York and Wrexham.

Our visitors will be making their first appearance in the CL group stage since 2018-19, having eliminated Sturm Graz and then Glasgow Rangers in the preliminary qualifying rounds. They sit atop the Eredivisie on goal difference from Alkmaar and Twente with four wins out of four and are unbeaten in nine games in all competitions this season (eight wins and a draw), scoring 28 goals and conceding six. 

Since our last encounter, they have lost some of their brightest young talents: Cody Gakpo to Liverpool, Noni Madueke to Chelsea, Ibrahim Sangare to Nottingham Forest and Xavi Simons back to PSG. 

Replacing them, former PSV fan favourite Hirving ‘Chucky’ Lozano has returned after four seasons at Napoli. Fellow winger Noa Lange (an injury doubt for Wednesday, although he has travelled) and defender Jerdy Schouten have arrived from Bruges and Bologna, respectively. Barcelona full-back Sergiño Dest, one of three US internationals in the squad, has joined on loan, as has Southampton’s promising young German centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap, who, like Lozano, was signed as the transfer window was closing. The highly regarded Johan Bakayoko, already a full Belgian international, has established his place in the team after being promoted from the Under-21s last season.

The Bosz

New boss Peter Bosz, a former Dutch international, arrived in the summer to replace Old Horseface. Van Nistelrooy walked out in a huff a game before the end of last season, probably just ahead of getting the push. Bosz, himself, had been sacked by Lyon 10 games into last season after a run of four losses and a draw.

However, his CV includes taking Ajax to a Europa League final and stints managing Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. At the latter, he developed the innovative tactic of playing two hybrid 8/10s as an attacking double pivot. One was a teenager born an hour’s drive away and raised in Leverkusen’s academy who would become the youngest player to make 100 Bundesliga appearances. This wunderkind’s name was Kai Havertz.

Havertz was tailor-made for Bosz’s front-foot football based on possession and a high press. The tactical lineage is Dutch total football, Guardiola’s positional play and Klopp’s gegenpressing, with the first of the three genetically dominant. Bosz’s double attacking pivot — Havertz and Julian Brandt in Leverkusen’s case, for which perhaps read Havertz and Ødegaard for Arteta, eventually — was highly fluid. You might even say unpredictable, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

The Achilles heel of such an attacking approach is vulnerability to counterattack, something repeatedly exposed at Dortmund, whose defence, anchored around Sokratis Papastathopoulos, once of this parish, was neither the speediest nor most mobile. At PSV, there are great hopes for the pairing of the robust Brazilian André Ramalho and the speedy Paris-born Bella-Kotchap (shades of the Gabriel-Saliba partnership), which got its first run-out in the 4-0 league win over NEC Nijmegen at the weekend. Schouten, equally comfortable as a CB or DM, can play alongside or ahead of them. 

Bosz customarily sets up PSV in an attacking 4-3-3, deployed in both qualifying round ties. If he does not fancy a one-to-one match-up with our midfield, he will switch to 4-2-3-1. PSV lined up that way in its two most recent league games, perhaps dry runs for Wednesday. Either way, veteran captain and club talisman Luuk de Jong will lead the line.

The Arsenal

Arteta will not want us to fluff our lines on our return to the CL, a competition that we are, remarkably, fourth favourite with the bookmakers to win (why only fourth, I hear you ask). However, the manager’s other consideration is that the game is sandwiched between last Sunday’s grind at Goodison and next Sunday’s home NLD, with a League Cup tie against Brentford the Wednesday after. 

Nevertheless, one of the purposes of strengthening the squad during the last transfer window was to cope through rotation with the additional workload of the two-games-a-week treadmill without a significant drop in quality from our strongest XI.

I pencilled in Raya to make his debut against PSV, but Arteta’s surprise selection of the Spaniard on Sunday knocked that idea on the head. We don’t know if Ramsdale was dropped or rested, and Arteta, surprise, surprise, is being gnomic about it — and, I suspect, revelling in leading everyone in a merry dance of speculation. Based on little to no knowledge (OK, no knowledge), I will plump for Raya to retain his place (but Ramsdale back for the neighbours). 

The back four/three-plus-Zinchenko should pick itself, as will the starting midfield, but I expect early substitutions with Tomiyasu, Jorginho and Havertz all getting minutes off the bench. Trossard should replace the hamstrung Martinelli. Eddie will likely be rested for Jesus, though Saka could do with it more. 


White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko

Rice, Ødegaard, Vierira

Saka, Jesus, Trossard

The ‘holic pound

With so many new faces, PSV will be an unknown quantity but have the quality to be a handful. They are in form, but their front-foot approach should suit us. The gentlemen of the turf have us odds-on favourites. Scant value is to be found in the score betting unless we find the net, VAR-unimpeded, four times or more. Yet it is a game we should win, albeit we may do so by only the odd goal.

Enjoy the game, ‘holics, near and far, and for those going, make it a special European night..

A patient, pragmatic and unpanicked Arsenal played just well enough to earn a deserved victory away at Everton after a rather inexplicable six years gap of not willing at a ground that historically has been rather profitable for the Gunners. Such patience and pragmatism are necessary as Arsenal continues to strive towards becoming a more multifaceted team, capable of sustaining consistency of quality across the inevitable changes in personnel – through injury and/or loss of forms – in a season that is expected to be tougher physically and psychologically, especially following the much deserved, and much awaited, return to Europe’s preeminent tournament.  

Last season Arsenal had started with an unexpectedly ferocious, and breathtakingly virtuosic performance of technically accomplished and tactically sophisticated football. The preexisting Ødegaard-Saka-Martinelli triangle of motion and verve took one step forward towards world-class excellence, energized and inspired by the arrival of two old friends of Arteta in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Whereas the effervescent Jesus with his inimitable amalgamation of ballet dancing and street fighting had allowed Martinelli and Saka to express their creativity more assertively on defenses reeling from a whirlwind of ball and men moving around them in everchanging patterns, the Ukrainian captain had used his technical quality on the ball and his sophisticated spatial awareness to invent an entirely new role for himself – his heat map more often than not resembling a kind of abstract expressionistic shapes all over the canvas of the pitch – that the delighted manager made astute use of by inventing newer way of creating overloads in the attacking third.

And then there was the return of William Saliba from his loan spell at Marseille, where he had continued to catch the eyes and imagination as one of the most exciting young defenders in world football. No one watching French football was surprised that he was voted Ligue 1’s best young player of the season, and no one who had watched him in his early days at Saint-Étienne was surprised at this either. He had settled in very quickly at the heart of Arsenal defense, combining with Gabriel to great effect providing a composed and reliable defensive foundation of controlled aggression that had allowed Arsenal to dominate both possession and space.

It was a small squad, with a precisely identifiable first eleven when everyone is fit, under little pressure of winning any silverware apart from the expectations of returning to the Champions league. The team played the best football in the league for more than half the season, but the concerns that they might find it difficult to sustain that level of quality — especially when compared to the eventual champions who could field two first eleven of world class players  — when faced with the inevitable challenges of fatigue, and more importantly injuries to key players as the season nears its end, had eventually proved to be well-founded. Maybe in another era not so long ago, in a time before football finance and governance were corrupted beyond redemption, Arsenal circa 2022-2023 would have gone down in history as one the most thrilling young sides to have been crowned the English champions. But whereas the wistful nostalgia for a time less disreputable than ours is a fine exercise in self-healing for the fans, but the football club have no such luxury. Arteta, Edu and co. have to be ambitious and brave to find ways to continue to move the team forward.

The signings made by the club to strengthen the team were a clear indication of the scope of that ambition. All young players with already established profile of technical excellence, tactical maturity and enough experience at the highest level – and all with a very high ceiling of becoming some of the best players in the world in their respective roles. And from the very first match of the season the bravery has been in display too – maybe not exactly the way that we fans may find it to be the most endearing, but the manager’s willingness to experiment with both personnel and tactics towards the goals of creating a higher degree of unpredictability, and also a greater degree of resilience against loss of certain players, has been admirable.

Arteta persevered with that theme as he chose to start Raya for his first ever appearance for Arsenal, whereas Fabio Vieira was rewarded for his excellence cameos until now in place of a somewhat struggling (but nowhere close to way it has been painted to be catastrophic in media) Havertz.


White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko

Ødegaard – Rice – Vieira

Saka – Nketiah – Martinelli

I myself would have liked Gabriel Jesus to start this match, given that we knew exactly what we could expect from this Everton side: deep and narrow blocks with the Everton attackers essentially doubling up with their defensive counterparts on Arsenal players, overt physicality off the ball, and little to no space to spin, turn and attack. Eddie has improved the technical side of his game greatly in the least year or so, but he still is no comparison to the nimble-footed turn-on-a-handkerchief mastery of Jesus.   

Once the first eleven was published there were a lot of concerns among the pundits and commentators about what kind of negative impact this decision may have on Aaron Ramsdale. I am sure Aaron Ramsdale would be fine. He has not established himself as Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper by responding negatively to every single challenge in his playing career. The pundits would do well to remember that it was them who had originally questioned Arteta’s decision to bring Ramsdale to Arsenal, with some Arsenal fans joining in. Short memories and all that.

Arsenal dominated possession from the very first minute. It was a controlled possession, mostly in the Everton half, and often in their final third. It was not the futile purposeless type of possession that one point of time in not so distant past this team used to produce. However, it was just not penetrative or imaginative enough to unsettle the Everton defense, but neither was it careless or undisciplined to allow Everton any chance on transition to launch counter attacks. It was noticeable that Saliba and Gabriel stayed back just a little deeper than usual whereas both the full backs in White and Zinchenko stationed mostly in the opposition half. I find Saliba-Gabriel to be our best defensive pair since the peak days of Koscienly – Mertesacker, but with the potential of becoming even better than them:  confident on their own and each other’s ability to cover vast amount of space, technically strong and physically powerful, they both have an excellent passing range and good readers of the game. I find keeping them just a little bit back gives us a significantly more protection against the kind of counter attacks that we suffered from in the last season, without losing much in our attacking play given how vertical and mobile they both are, and especially given how quickly Rice and Zinchenko (and for that matter, Partey) can transition defense into attack. We used the long diagonal passes to great effect in creating such transitions. Martinelli particularly showing some lovely skills to receive those passes and turn and ease past the Everton defense, especially their right fullback who I thought looked old but familiar.

We scored our first goal via Martinelli as well. Gabriel tried to pass towards Saliba/White, the Everton striker Beto tried to interrupt the pass, the ball ricocheted off his feet and fizzed forward towards Everton penalty box. Eddie dropped back in space to receive the ball, laid it off to Vieira who provided a sumptuous pass to his friend Martinelli on the inside of the Everton defense, Martinelli sprinted past and after a lovely first touch opened his body up to finish clinically past Pickford. It was one of those goals that in their beautiful simplicity remain everlasting memories.

Unfortunately, VAR chimed in to rule the goal out. Eddie was in an offside position when the ball changed its direction following the interception of Beto. The offside rules in this area have had seen so many changes over the years that it is not inconceivable that even the best referees in the world – playing their trade in the best football league in the world, obviously – may sometimes make mistakes. Wasn’t the deflection off Beto the consequence of the Everton player’s deliberate attempt to play the ball? If so, does Eddie’s starting offside position in that case really count?

And immediately after Gabi had to be replaced because of a hamstring strain, which he had felt while or just after scoring the goal, his uncharacteristically subdued celebration giving a clear sign that he mustn’t be feeling at his best. This may have been something he had picked up away in international duty. Whatever it is, let us hope that his forced absence is very short-lived. He is one of my favorite players in this Arsenal side, and he combines his qualities on the ball and his directness with a kind of relentless intensity in every action that defenses find hard to live with.

Martinelli was replaced by Leandro Trossard, who given his pre-season form may think of himself a bit unfortunate to have been missing out on playing time. A very different type of player than either Martinelli or Saka – subtler, less direct, not so prone to attack the space in front, but a wonderfully creative and inventive technician especially within the tight spaces of the penalty box.

The match continued with the same rhythm, Arsenal controlling possession and space, often playing some pleasingly intricate football in the Everton final third but just not fast or inventive enough to create any genuine problems for Pickford or his defense. The corners continued to pile up, and while Saka and Vieira both were initially sending quality deliveries in the box, Arsenal failed to create any genuine goalscoring opportunity from any of them, and the team started to opt for short corners.

On the other hand, Everton was very poor in possession. While without possession, defending deep and in numbers, they showed admirable grit and discipline to keep the likes of Ødegaard and Saka away enough from the danger zone, any time they won the possession back a combination of Arsenal’s high press and their poor quality on the ball made for a somewhat dull viewing. To Arsenal’s credit the few times Everton did break forward the defensive duo, ably supported by Rice – who had another good game, with his trademark anticipate-intercept-bring forward interpretation of screening midfielder role in display – nullified any semblance of threat. The first half ended goalless.

Arsenal needed to speed up the tempo of their passing and forward movement and make their dominance on the ball really count. They started second half with a greater sense of urgency and purpose, Ødegaard and Zinchenko being particularly influential on the ball, with Trossard — steadily improving on his understanding with Vieira and Nketiah – started to better resemble his form from the second half of the last season after he had joined us in the winter transfer window. Ødegaard drew a fine same from Pickford and Nketiah was stopped from making a goalbound attempt by a defensive clearance.

Eventually the pressure paid off, and the goal came via a moment memorable for both collective excellence and individual brilliance. Jesus had replaced Eddie around the 65th minute. A few minutes later from another short corner there was a dizzying sequence of exchanges involving Saka, Ødegaard, Zinchenko and finally after Saka passed ball back towards Trossard – who had created for himself a bit of empty space in the penalty area, a skill he is rather adept at – the Belgian scored with a perfectly executed side footed volley from his left foot. The technical quality of that finish – it reminded me of the kind of goals that our beloved Croatian-Brazilian Eduardo was capable of scoring – will remain in my memory for a long time.    

Everton 0 – Arsenal 1 (Trossard 69’)

Arsenal, thankfully, didn’t drop back and invite pressure as they sometimes do after scoring the first goal, but continued to try to score. Ødegaard drew one more fine save from Pickford —  though on another day the Arsenal captain would score by placing the ball farther away from the center of the goal — and Mykolenko blocking a goalbound shot from Vieira immediately afterwards.

Arsenal brought in Havertz and Tomiyasu for Vieira and Zinchenko around the 80th minute mark. Everton brought in a few more attacking players and was marginally more adventurous in the last 10 minutes or so. But nothing that Saliba-Gabriel couldn’t handle with composure. Raya had no big saves to make, but he looked a calm and assured presence, good in the air and commanding the penalty box, and very accomplished with ball on his feet. As Mikel said at the end of the match interview, if in every other position we can have two or sometimes even more than two first team contenders, why not for the goalkeeper?     

The game ended without any further causes for excitement. There were a few attempted long passes to release Jesus one-on-one with the last defender and in each time the execution didn’t quite match the brightness of the idea. Everton managed to attempt a few shots, mostly wayward, and Trossard had one Martnelli-esque run with the ball from Arsenal’s defensive third.

1-0 away win with 74% possession at a ground where we haven’t won for six years. However ordinary the opposition might have been, a potential banana skin of a match early in the season handled calmly without fuss or chaos. It is too early in the season to form any narrative of deep insight from Arsenal’s performances. But a few themes do start to emerge: starting games with a kind of patient pragmatism and not over exert ourselves either physically or tactically, focus on creating a consistent level of baseline performance all throughout the match, choosing moments to be adventurous instead of playing a high octane football all throughout, becoming less and less predictable about the attacking patterns. This season it is likely to be less of a thrill ride for us Arsenal fans from one matchday to another, there will likely be more such quotidian victories like this weekend’s, but that degree of playing a bit within ourselves may also be a vitally important contributor towards finishing the season with the kind of success that we haven’t tasted for a while. There is a steady evolution of the team in the works, and as a supporter I am happy to live that journey.

Older Posts »