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The defence improved. Thirty-nine goals were conceded in the league against 48 the previous season; third-tightest defence after Chelsea and Man City as opposed to eighth-best in 2019-20. Twelve clean sheets were two more than during the previous league campaign and fifth-best in the league (ninth-best in 2019-20). Yet, the improvement was not consistent enough to prevent 13 league defeats and 18 in all competitions.

Arteta’s priority was defensive stability, both to stop shipping goals and because it is his platform for attack. He made progress, as the switch to a default back four from a five attested. Eight of the ten highest-ranking Arsenal players in the CIES/InStat Performance Index, which measures players’ contribution to team success across the season, were defenders — Gabriel, Chambers, Mari, Cédric Soares, David Luiz, Bellerín, Tierney and Holding in that order.

Better organisation, fewer, though far from no individual mistakes, and the rediscovery of a capacity to dig in and defend when backs were to the wall were the key. Without turning this into a stats-fest, the numbers show the defence got better at defusing attacks while the double pivot protected the back line more securely.

On average, Bernd Leno had 30% fewer shots to deal with each game than the previous season. Consequently, we conceded one goal or less in 47 of our 59 games in all competitions.

The defence also became more comfortable playing out from the back to break high presses — even if that was not necessarily true of those watching them doing it. It still looked vulnerable to counterattacks when run at directly and at speed. When the backline got pulled out of shape, it could quickly look extremely ragged.

Thirty-three-year old David Luiz and Gabriel, ten years his junior, settled as first-choice centre backs with Holding and Mari as backups, following the January clear out that saw Sokratis and Mustafi released. David Luiz’s various absences meant Rob played the most games. He benefited from regular football, settling into Arteta’s way of playing and improving all-round, particularly in forward passing.

At full back, neither Bellerin nor Soares could make the right-sided position their own, providing an unexpected opportunity for Calum Chambers to grab. On the left, Tierney, when fit, was an automatic first-choice, but Arteta had to make do as best he could for the frequent periods when KT3 was out, especially after Kolasinac was shipped out on loan. Xhaka was fine there defensively, but at the cost of midfield stability, just as using Saka meant less attacking creativity.

With David Luiz gone, whether Arteta brings in an experienced centre back to partner Gabriel will indicate how much he trusts Holding as the senior right-sided centre back and how much opportunity he will give Saliba to establish his credentials. The manager can probably box and cox his way through another season at right-back if necessary, depending on whether Bellerin and Soares leave. Still, an upgrade would be welcome now and essential at some point. Buying cover and competition for KT3 is an urgent priority.

Goalkeepers

1. Bernd Leno — A couple of howlers that cost goals and some rough spots, especially early in the season, reopened the argument about whether selling Martinez and keeping him had been the right decision. But he consistently produced crucial saves, and his overall performances improved as the season progressed. The final record shows 48 goals conceded in 49 games in all competitions and 16 clean sheets. With ter Stegen injured, Leno will be Neuer’s backup for Germany at the Euros, which speaks to his quality and recovered form.

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13. Alex Rúnarsson — Precious little was seen of the Icelander, which was for the best. An underwhelming if emergency signing that should be undone in the summer.

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33. Mat Ryan — On-loan from Brighton since January, the Australian international looked good enough to be competition for Leno, not just an experienced backup. He should be signed permanently or at least secured on loan for the full season.

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Out on loan

Dejan Iliev — At 26, he is too old for the U-23s, but the closest he has got to a first-team appearance is sitting on the bench three times. Likely be let go this summer or next when his contract runs out with better-regarded prospects coming up.

Coming up through the ranks

Arthur Okonkwo and Karl Hein, who will likely be keeping for Estonia at the Euros, look the pick of a herd of young keepers at the club. Both 18-year-olds trained regularly with the first team and will be looking to be the ‘third keeper’ next season if Rúnarsson goes.

Full backs

2. Héctor Bellerín — Improvement on the previous season was there but mixed. Hector was still short of his pre-injury best. The conviction grows that he always will be, having lost the half a yard of pace that was crucial to his attacking and defending. Unable to make his old spot his own again, he may leave in the summer after ten years with the club. A fresh start may rejuvenate him.

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3. Kieran Tierney — A player of commitment and character, KT3 was one of the first names on the team sheet when fit. However, injury again restricted his minutes, even if he is the embodiment of Irn Bru — made from girders. Our attack was a more dynamic threat on the left whenever he played. Few defenders in Europe matched his attacking and possession stats, but his defensive ones were disproportionately down the pack. He needs cover and competition.

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17. Cédric Soares — A touch error-prone, but did well enough when called on, including to fill in at left-back. His defensive stats were better than Bellerin or Tierney’s, although worse than his previous season’s. He fell from Arteta’s graces for reasons obscure towards the end of the season. His long-term contract makes it likely the club will try to move him on in the summer if Arteta is not going to play him.

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21. Calum Chambers — Last summer, who would have expected him to end the season as first-choice right-back, or even when he returned from injury in December? His experience at CB and DM helped him play the way Arteta wants of his right-backs, and he crosses better than Bellerin or Soares. At 26, he is yet to establish himself in the side. With a year left on his contract, next season will be make-or-break.

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Emergency cover —Xhaka and Saka filled in competently at left-back but at the cost of weakening the team in other areas. A backup left-back is a priority summer signing.

Out on loan

31. Sead Kolasinac — Shipped out to Schalke in January to no one’s dismay, despite being the only cover for KT3, which says it all. He is likely to be sold or given away this summer even though he still has a year left on his contract.

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15. Ainsley Maitland-Niles — Possibly cheating to include him as a full back, but most of his appearances before going out on loan were in that position and he had the potential to make it his own if he had followed Lauren’s example and overcome his misgivings about being converted from a central midfielder into a full back. Hard to see him not being sold unless he has a conversion on the road back from the Hawthorns.

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Coming up through the ranks

Ryan Alebiosu and Daniel Oyegoke on the right and Joel Lopez on the left appear to be the nominated up-and-coming full backs, but none is ready for prime time. The U-18’s Brooke Norton-Cuffy is a longer-term hope.

Centre backs

6. Gabriel — The pick of our defenders across the season, despite only turning 23 in December, playing his first season in the Premiership and contracting Covid-19 mid-season. A big, burly defender, he was powerful in the air but skillful enough to carry the ball out off defence. The flip side was some ungainly challenges and newbie decision-making. Improvement should come with experience. The raw material of a top-class centre-back is there.

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16. Rob Holding — A solid season re-established Rob in the team after injury. With David Luiz’s missing many matches, he ended up the fourth most used player, with performances improving as the season progressed. He is an unflashy but determined defender first and foremost, but at 25, he still has to make himself an automatic first choice for Arteta. That may happen next season, absent new arrivals, but he will be looking over his shoulder at Saliba’s progress.

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22. Pablo Mari — Like Soares, a loan signing given a permanent contract. Injury restricted him to a handful of games before February. Calm and mostly assured, he paired well with Holding. He is a better defender than he is often given credit. Yet, it is hard to see him displacing Gabriel as first-choice left-sided CB. He will remain a quality backup.

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23. David Luiz — An influential and enthusiastic figure on and off the field, but missed many games because of injury. However, unlike another Chelsea pensioner, he justified the high price paid for his experience and leadership. One of the best long-range passers at the club, but his defending could be as erratic as heroic. Not renewing his contract was the right decision, and at 34, he leaves the club in good standing.

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Out on loan

4. William Saliba — A rocky first half, mainly with the U-23s when he would have been better out on loan. Once he got to Nice in January, his season picked up, earning increasingly good reviews. Will get a fresh start with Arteta in preseason to determine whether the 20-year old super-prospect is ready for a first-team squad place.

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Konstantinos Mavropanos — A second season-long loan in Germany at Stuttgart, was blighted by injury but earned decent reviews when he was fit. The 23-year old Greek last played a senior game for us in December 2019. It is difficult to see him playing another one.

No Arsenal appearances

Released

5. Socrates Papastathopoulos — Left out of the Premier League and Europa League squads at the start of the season and given only a couple of U-23 games. He was released in January, joining Olympiacos with whom he won the Greek Super League.

No Arsenal appearances

20. Shkodran Mustafi — Another frozen out by Arteta as a suspected member of the Özil cabal. Joined Schalke on a free transfer in the January window. With Schalke relegated and his six-month contract expired, he is now without a club.

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Coming up through the ranks

Daniel Ballard won plaudits and promotion with Blackpool and inclusion in the Northern Ireland squad. Of the young centre-halves at the club, he looks to have the best chance of breaking through to the first team. The U-18s’s Zane Monlouis and Alex Kirk are longer-term prospects. But it is a long time since an Academy centre back made the grade.

For those of you keen to learn the results of the HolicsRopeyLeague annual contest, the long wait is over. 

I would like to announce that TTG emerged triumphant after a last day that saw the coveted title change hands several times over a nail-bitingly tense final 90 minutes. I would like to, but I can’t as with the honourable exception of GSD and his masterfully marshalled mastodons, the rest of us folded quicker than a kwik-fit fitter’s mum with a basket of towels, or a billionaire big club boss if you prefer a more recent analogy. As went Pep’s season, so went TTG`s – some early hovering around the fringes before taking a lead that was never likely to be threatened from around March.

So, it is once again through gritted teeth, as I am a very poor loser, that I must congratulate The Kentish Magician on his jamminess tactical acumen.  He even managed to hog the Berkley’s Manager of the Month Awards too with the top score in three of the nine months. Honourable mentions to Bath, GSD, BTM and myself for snaffling the others. The Trophy pictured above is I think a fair and fitting reward for TTG and his practically perfect picking – just tell the Russian bloke I said it’s yours, TTG.

However, enough of the congratulations what is an awards ceremony without some special awards too?

Top Tottsless Team

The award goes to All Aboard in a highly creditable third place. Modestly, obviously, forbids me from mentioning the manager so I shall just say “well done me”. Oh, it seems it didn’t forbid after all.

Top Team With No Good Players

This special award goes to the Mighty Pangloss for not selecting any players from the other big clubs and spuds but still finishing in the Top Ten. Well played indeed sir. 

The Social Distancing Award

This award is to be shared by all the members who at no point during a long and difficult season approached within two metres of each other (to the best of my knowledge, and if they did, I didn’t see it, so it can’t be true).

A fitting end as everyone has now won an award and, as I am sure we all agree, it is not the winning but the taking part that counts. 

To the future then and all I can tell you about next season is we shouldn’t call it the RopeyLeague anymore now that the club has decided not to take part in that silly competition again. As a wiser man than me recently asked “is that progress or change?”

I do believe that it is quite enough nonsense for one announcement and so finally, a sincere thanks to all who joined. It was fun, I hope we do it again!! 

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In the business world there is an entire industry devoted to managing change within organisations. Most large organisations now have a Change Management function within them. I find the linguistics of this fascinating.  You will notice that the term used is “Change”.  Not “Progress”.   It is almost as though there is acceptance at the outset that the end result might not be for the better, an implied management downwards of expectations of outcome.  There is a school of thought within the strategic change literature that in order to bring about large-scale change there needs to be an existential crisis, focusing minds on the near future in order to ensure the necessary changes can be brought about within the organisation.   Arsenal, as an organisation as well as a football team most certainly has both needed and is undergoing that change process.  So how are we doing and where do we go from here? 

Organisational Change

Given the years of stasis towards the end of Mr Wenger’s reign, I don’t think anyone underestimated the size of the task at hand.  The implementation of a more modern approach off the pitch to spread the load in terms of squad management, signing, developing and selling players and separating the coaching side from these other activities were all required.  To date, I think it is fair to say that the popular opinion is that we have seen mostly change rather than progress. And there is plenty to be unhappy about.  I suppose that the passing of 2 administrations- those of Gazidis and then the Sanllehi-Edu-Emery triumvirate – can be seen as a good thing given the dysfunctionality and lack of genuine direction that each engendered.  Both of these groups to my mind had, to borrow the immortal words of Ann Widecombe when talking of Michael Howard, something of the night about them.  Even their demise can hardly have been said to have been in any way planned rather than necessary, as a result of what can kindly be called a haphazard approach to running the club.  Of course, in an organisation with a functioning board and some form of external executive level oversight, these fault lines might well have been spotted and dealt with earlier. The policy of not- terribly-benign neglect followed by the owners is ultimately to blame here.   

Over the last season there have, however, been some signs of a change of approach in terms of the off-pitch running of the club.  Having discarded all the internal custodians with so many years’ experience and tacit knowledge both of football and of the club itself, the owners last summer belatedly took on an external adviser, in the form of Tim Lewis, a senior partner at Clifford Chance with a background in corporate law and M&A.  I’m not clear as to his credentials in terms of post-transactional restructuring.  However, he seems to have arrived with that as his remit as he immediately set about a review of the off-field setup, resulting in several high-level changes, most notably the departure of the Howardesque Sanllehi.  He has also been involved in the hiring of Richard Garlick from the Premier League as Director of Football Operations.  Garlick comes with a good reputation in football administration and is, like Lewis, a lawyer by trade.  We can only hope this change is reflected in better oversight of transfers than the last administration showed.   Of course, Edu and Vinai are still at the club and time will tell for how much longer.  Both have some markers against them and a good summer in terms of the ins and outs will need to be had to give them any security of tenure, I would have thought, especially with the arrival of the aforementioned Garlick.

We have also witnessed a restructuring of the sales and marketing side and the spectre of redundancies at the lower levels of the commercial side.  Never pretty but this is the way of the world. I seem to remember a statistic being bandied about that while Manchester City had around 300 permanent members of staff in the organisation, Arsenal’s was over 500. Given the radical difference in business model between the two clubs, and the fact that Manchester City doesn’t have a business model as it is clearly not run as a business at all in any meaningful sense, this just didn’t stack up and so I can understand the need to slim down, notwithstanding the odious human impact of the loss of jobs.  The optics of this couldn’t really have been much worse though, given the pandemic and the performance of some of the more egregiously overpaid members of staff, both on and off the pitch.

I would venture that the structural and organisational changes at the club have ultimately, although belatedly, been very much for the better.   We have now a structure which is beginning to look as though it is approaching fitness for purpose, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more changes with a view to weeding out underperformers over the coming year.  To my mind, this should be a natural feature of a well planned and run organisation with the executives held to account and not simply kept in place irrespective of their performance.

The Football Side

The football side of the club has clearly undergone considerable upheaval. As on the organisational side, this was necessary.  However, I would posit that the changes on the footballing side are far from being as advanced as those off the pitch. The state of the first team squad, the detail of which I will leave others to discuss in detail, is still well short of where we need it to be.   This was in no way mitigated by the club’s appalling contract strategy, to aggrandize the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey approach seemingly followed up until the season before last.  Allowing players to run down contracts; over-rewarding others with a history of fragility and caprice with respect to performances; signing others for at best opaque reasons; This all has to end.  It is as yet far from clear that we are out of the woods, but we can hope and expect that having cleared out some of the dead wood at executive level and with the eagle eye of Mr Lewis around the club, these mistakes ought not to be repeated.  We saw the first signs of what we hope will be a professional approach towards squad management at in the New Year with the departure of several of the lower and indeed non-performers.   Unfortunately, far more of this is needed simply to rationalize the playing staff without even thinking of then improving the quality, although I dare say the former will of itself lead to the latter.  There are several positions which I think most supporters would agree we need to improve including most obviously right back and central midfield where we are way short of what we used to and indeed want to see.  The extent to which these positions and others can be strengthened will be determined for the most part by the amount we can reduce the wage bill and pull in from transfer fees for the outgoing group of players.  I can count off 10 players, loanees and signings, whom I would happily see leave the club, of whom only Luiz is out of contract in the summer.  I expect to see the great majority of these players go. I wish them well.  But I wish them gone.

The outstanding success of the last year or so has been the breakthrough and development of 3 players in particular. The two from the academy are the source of greatest pride and pleasure.  We all dreamed of being that player, and through them we vicariously live our dreams. Both Saka and Smith-Rowe have come to the fore this season and it has been a pleasure to watch them.  I can’t remember the general level of excitement about the development of young players being higher since the mid-late 80’s saw the youth setup throw up Davis, Adams, Keown, Thomas, Rocastle and Merson in quick succession. 

The other one is Martinelli.  I can only hope that his non-appearance this year has been down to learning from mistakes of the past in terms of overplaying youngsters and nothing more sinister.  It would be churlish not to mention that he was an Edu signing, and under Sanllehi’s watch, so credit where credit is due.  

The re-signing of Balogun, when until the new year it really looked as if we would lose him, was, I think, a genuine sign that we may be beginning to get our house in order. From the admittedly small sample size I have witnessed, he looks to be a genuinely excellent prospect combining lethal finishing with speed, physicality and nous.  We are led to believe there are several others capable of making the step from Walthamstow to London Colney and on to the first team next season and this is a genuine reason for hope.

Much of the groundwork for these players development was done years ago, so I am not sure how much credit the Academy administration under Per Mertesacker can rightly receive.  Clearly though the Academy has been doing something right, notwithstanding this year’s poor performance for the U-23’s.  It should be said that a large number of players who would have expected to play at that level were loaned out this year which will have led the poor overall showing in the league. Steve Bould it would appear has fallen on his sword.  Its always a shame to see a club legend go, but on the understanding that his successor will be an improvement rather than just a replacement, I am happy to postpone making a call on that one.

Which leads on to the performance of the manager.  Let’s put this into context.   A first-time manager, managing a club in disarray off the pitch and sharp decline on it, during a period of global crisis. I don’t know about you, but I think I might well have wilted quite a while ago.  Given the performance in the second half of last season, culminating in very good performances to win both FA Cup and Charity Shield against two of the best sides in the country gave us hope for real development this season.  Unfortunately, the first 15 games of the season gave us a metaphorical kick in the nethers as far as those hopes were concerned.  At times during that period, and even since, we have appeared as incoherent and plan-less as at any time under Emery or the later days of Mr Wenger.   The second half of the season saw a spectacular improvement in terms of points gained if not necessarily performances.  I think Arteta can rightly be criticised for overplaying some players, one in particular, quite outrageously.  Also tactically there have been times when he seems to have outthought himself.  Playing Xhaka at left back works to an extent but really shouldn’t be contemplated beyond anything other than the most extreme of circumstances.   He has to learn from these mistakes, not just so as not to repeat them. He also needs to develop a coherent style.  There are just too many games when it is just not apparent what he has asked the team to do on the pitch beyond maintain possession of the ball.  This is all very well and I’ve yet to see the team that scored when they didn’t have possession.  But for too many games we have had to witness aimless “Horseshoe Football”.  Next season, with (deity of choice willing) the crowd back in the ground, I don’t think this will be tolerated.  There are times this season when I think the chorus of disapproval which has sadly been present for much of the 5 years or so would most likely have made its presence felt.  I hope he appreciates this and uses what will be his first genuine off-season period to reflect accordingly.

To return to where I started, I am hopeful that there are signs of progress off the pitch. More, much more, of the same please. On the pitch, we’re still in the change rather than progress state for me. I do however see the green shoots of recovery. Certainly, enough to look forward to next season and get behind the club and manager.  

I eagerly volunteered for this match report because I was hopeful of getting a ticket in the ballot and returning to the ground for the first time since March 2020. I wanted to write about the pub beforehand, how the organisation of getting into the ground worked and the protest outside as well as the game itself. Sadly it was not to be and I ended up on Sky Sports Arena listening to a lugubrious Scot with an agenda against Arsenal together with a commentator who had a PhD in stating the bleeding obvious. One thing I will not miss is watching every game on TV and I have every sympathy with those of you who have no other way of following The Arsenal. 

Josh Kroenke decided to grace the game with his presence, as well as turn up at the training ground to speak to the players and staff (haven’t they suffered enough in this awful season?). Periodically through the game you could hear anti Kroenke chants and there was a small protest outside with maybe 200 good folk according to Twitter, but in all honesty it was far smaller than last time and not a patch on what’s going on at Old Trafford. It feels like the initial momentum has gone, but the grumbles will continue for some time. There was lots of moaning on social media about a technology failure (ability to read tickets on phones and e-wallets) making it a bit shambolic getting into the ground with long delays.

The match situation was well explained by Ned in his excellent preview. Brighton were safe, come what may. Arsenal needed to win, and Everton and Spurs to lose, to gain seventh place, St Totteringham and the debateable trophy of participation in the new Europa Conference League. 

Time for team news:

Leno, Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Pépé, Ǿdegaard, ESR, Aubamayang.

Subs: Runarsson, Saka, Ceballos, Lacazette, Cédric, Marí, Elneny, Nketiah, Martinelli

The fans sounded right behind the team as they ran out (although Sky did their best to miss this moment). As the game developed it was fantastic to hear the 10,000 fans chanting and singing again. Truly football does not really exist with no fans. Let’s hope this is now realised and some fan friendly policies are introduced.

In the opening half an hour, there was some good lively stuff from the Gunners with ESR, KT3 and Ǿdegaard showing well. Thomas Partey was shooting frequently and shooting somewhere near the goal – a positive development! A corner saw Holding collect a flick on and force it over the line, but he was (correctly) ruled offside. Just before halftime Xhaka pumped in a clever cross. It was met by Gabriel who put in a clever looping header which hit the bar before being scrambled away for a corner.

HT Arsenal 0-0 Brighton

Some pretty stuff but no cutting edge from the Gunners, with Brighton, though having to defend most of the time, looking dangerous on the break. 

No changes at the break, but three minutes into the second half a quite brilliant goal. A series of slide rule passes from our own penalty area ended up on the right side of Brighton’s box where Calum Chambers hit a first time pass to Pépé. He took one touch and then slammed it in with his right foot. A lovely goal.

Arsenal 1-0 Brighton (Pépé, 48)

Just a few minutes later Auba was put through by Ǿdegaard. He squared it back to the Norwegian who had continued his run. Just as he was about to pull the trigger he was pushed in the back by Lallana and … no penalty. Arguably the worst referee in the Premier League and unarguably the fattest, Jon Moss, had struck again.  

On the hour and it’s that man again! Pépé was played in by Ǿdegaard on the right but there was a lot to do as he had three Brighton defenders around him as he dribbled into the box. Nutmegging one of the defenders he played a precision pass/shot into the far corner of the goal. Wonderful stuff!

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton (Pépé, 60)

Your correspondent has gone on record, to some debate in the bar, in saying that Pépé will be a 20 goal a season player. This year he has scored 16, with 10 in the Premier League and here was more evidence. As he has played more and more, he has looked better and better. Playing Willian ahead of him in the early part of the season now looks like Arteta’s worst selection error of the season and one that may have cost us a European place. Pépé will never be the silkiest player and he can give the ball away easily or miscontrol badly. Yet, he carries an undeniable goal threat and a willingness to push into the box that few others do in this team. I have huge hopes for him next season. 

Thomas Partey came to this game determined to score and he came so close when Xhaka (who had a fine game) laid him in with a pinpoint and fiercely hit pass. Partey controlled the ball and then hit a thunderous volley that crashed into the bar. So unlucky!

That really was that as we played the game out easily. Saka came on for ESR, Laca for Auba and Martinelli for the excellent Ǿdegaard. Will we see him in red and white again? It depends on Real Madrid.

FT Arsenal 2-0 Brighton

In truth and despite the goalless first half, most of our players were very good in this game. The whole back four looked assured, Xhaka and Partey ran midfield. Up front, the excellent Pépé, Ødegaard and ESR looked lively quick and creative. Only Auba, who clearly needs some downtime and further treatment for malaria, was still wading through sand. 

Meanwhile, Everton were being buried at the Etihad, but with ten minutes to go at the King Power, Sp*rs equalised against Leicester. Our attention was rather diverted from our game as we prayed for the lady of St Totteringham to make an appearance for the first time since 2016. Sadly it was not to be as Sp*rs scored twice more to win 4-2 as Leicester collapsed like a soufflé not brought to table quick enough. We had done our bit, but finished eighth and out of the European positions. Since Boxing Day we have been the third best team in the league, but we could not overcome that dismal run in the autumn.

Many Gooners, whilst wanting us to finish above Sp*rs were more ambiguous about going into the new third tier Euro competition. There are both pros and cons. Not having constant mid-week football for a season can allow us to concentrate on a real effort in the league and the domestic cups. On the other hand we damage our European coefficient (which may prove important) and lose an opportunity to blood our young talent in Europe. For myself, I regret the opportunity missed, but it is what it is, and we must make the best of it. 

We’ll be having much more analysis of this season’s performance in this blog over the next few weeks. In the meantime I am very encouraged by our good finish and the spine of top talent we have. A good summer and we may be competitive again next season. And, most of all, those of us who are lucky enough to have tickets will be watching our football live again. I, for one, can’t wait.

And so we come to the end of the pier.

Metaphorically, at least. Brighton and Hove Albion are our opponents for the final game of the season on Sunday, but we — and it is we as 10,000 lucky fans will be present — take on the Seagulls in landlocked N5, not Sussex-by-the-Sea.

Arteta’s team has seemed more candy floss than a stick of rock more often than we would have liked, too fluffy a confection to hold together for any time, especially in the first half of the season. There are signs, though, that he is slowly changing the recipe for the better.

We began the season with three wins in four games. However, a bad run from the middle of October to the middle of December — P10 W1 D2 L7 — coinciding with the internal problems Arteta mentioned in his pre-match press conference, proved a significant setback. A solid recovery over year’s end — P6 W5 D1 L0 — was followed by a mini-slump to mid-February — P5 W1 D1 L3. Then came a middling patch of five games comprising two wins, two draws and a loss, followed by a strong run-in — P7, W5 D1, L1 that we can make P8 W6.

The glass-half-full optimist would say those numbers show improvement post-cabal clearcut, albeit halting, and that the team would have qualified for Europe comfortably with a couple more wins in games they should have won (Villa, Wolves, for example). The glass-half-empty pessimist would point to an Achilles heel of inconsistency and a lack of depth and quality throughout the squad.

There will be post-mortems to come from some of this bar’s finest pens. Suffice it to say here that the manager, the management and the owners still have some heavy lifting ahead of them this Summer.

Premiership Permutations

Beating Brighton will guarantee ninth place in the table that does not lie. Against all the odds, it could get us eighth and even seventh. With the latter would come a spot on UEFA’s new charabanc tour of the less pronounceable parts of Europaland.

We do not control our fate. Everton and the neighbours finish above us if they win at Man City and Leicester, respectively, regardless of our result. If they draw or lose and we win, we leapfrog them. If we all draw, the status quo ante prevails.

If we draw and Everton lose, we’d swap places on goal difference, but with a similar combination of results, unless Leicester can beat the Marshdwellers by eight clear goals, there would be no St. Tott’s day. That game may turn on which of Vardy or Kane has the more severe inner-ear infection on the day.

A loss and a Leeds win would drop us to tenth. A draw would probably be sufficient to retain ninth on goal difference in the event of a Leeds win.

The Opposition

Graham Potter likes to set up a 3-5-2 formation or a close variant against the big teams. That is how his side defeated the ten oilmen of City on Tuesday. However, Potter has had success for both Brighton and Östersunds against us with a back four. He scrapped that for a back three and lost in December’s game at the Amex.

I fancy he will return to a back four at the Ems, with captain Lewis Dunk set to return from suspension and his first choice wing-backs in a five, Solly March and the promising, 20-year-old Tariq Lamptey, out injured.

Joel Veltman and Davy Propper are also off games because of injury, as is Danny Welbeck, formerly of this parish. The Guendouzi-baited/baiting Neal Maupay will be serving a red-card suspension. Brighton is the only club to receive more reds than us this season.

The Seagulls have struggled to convert their chances all season, scoring just 41 goals. With top-scorers Maupay (8) and Welbeck (5) out, hopefully, that will continue for one more game.

The Line-Up

Hector Bellerin is our certain absentee, having bruised a bone, possibly while packing. The definitely departing David Luiz faces a late fitness test for a valedictory appearance. There has been radio silence on KT3, who came off early against Palace, and Aubameyang, who looked like he was still suffering debilitating after-effects of his malaria. No news is good news, one hopes, but doubts.

Matt Ryan is ineligible to play against his parent club. Rúnarsson on the bench? We can only hope for Okonkwo or Hein.

With nothing to rotate for and barely more to hope for, I would expect Arteta to start the strongest team fitness permits. He will want to end on a high in front of fans for the first time in what seems like forever.

Leno

Chambers — Luiz — Gabriel — Tierney

Partey — Xhaka

Saka — ESR — Pépé

Aubameyang

Holding for David Luiz if the Brazilian fails his fitnesses test. Xhaka to play left-back if KT3 is out, with Elneny partnering Partey in the double pivot. Lacazette in if Auba is out, though I’d prefer Martinelli.

The Holics’ Pound

The house favourite 3-0 is available at 27/2. If you reckon we will not add to our miserable tally of three home clean sheets this season, 3-1 is available at fourteens.

I am plunging in off the end of the metaphorical pier with a forward six somersault, half-twist dive to end the season with a splash — 5-0, available at 85-1. It has been five seasons since we’ve gone through a campaign without scoring five in at least one game, and Brighton is the only Premiership side that we have never put five past. It would be so typical of this team for it all to come together with a final, if futile, flourish.

Wherever you are, enjoy the final game, ‘holics. Next season has to be better.


If you haven’t yet read ‘Fan Memories of the ’71 Double’ Part 1 or Part 2, Clive’s ‘Personal Memories of the Road to the ’71 Cup Final‘, or Ray’s ‘Personal Overview of the 1970-71 Season‘, click on the links to catch up with these wonderful reminiscences. And be sure to watch both Episode 1 and Episode 2 of the video conversations with Bob Wilson and Pat Rice; Episode 2 is also linked below. Our auction of signed memorabilia is still open and about to enter its final week – check out the items below.

THE CONVERSATION: EPISODE TWO

And again…the second part of the conversation, and the second part of our Double Celebration!

GHF.com are pleased to release this, especially considering the Arsenal events of these past few weeks. Lift your spirits by watching the second episode of two video conversations with Bob Wilson and Pat Rice about Arsenal’s 1970-71 Double year, on the 50th Anniversary of our FA Cup win over Liverpool at Wembley. Remember to donate to Willow, or bid on the GHF.com Auction!

Click on the image below (or on the Youtube link below that) to watch

“Episode Two: Double Glory — The 1971 FA Cup Run”

Or, watch here: Episode Two: Double Glory — The 1971 FA Cup Run (on Youtube). This is especially helpful if you’re having any loading issues with the link to the one the site is serving above.

Let us know what you think in the “drinks” section below!


THE AUCTION: It’s nearly OVER! Less than 12 hours to go…

We are also pleased to remind you that our auction of signed 1970-71 Double memorabilia is open for bids through 23 May! For full information, please visit The Double/Willow Auction tab above.

Just a taste…the lots offered are as follows:

Lot 1: A 1971 Cup Final replica shirt signed by Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Frank McLintock, George Graham & Charlie George.

Lot 2: A 1971 Cup Final programme signed by Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Frank McLintock, George Graham & Charlie George.

Lot 3: A second 1971 Cup Final programme signed by Bob Wilson, Pat Rice, Frank McLintock, George Graham & Charlie George.

Lot 4: Bob Wilson’s autobiography, ‘Behind the Network’ signed by Bob Wilson & Arsène Wenger.

All proceeds from the auction go to the Willow Foundation.


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