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What Now, Muchacho?

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Well, where do we begin? 

It’s a long story. “Begin at the end,” is a good axiom in such circumstances. We drew the home leg of the Europa League semi-final last night. We are out of that competition. Sitting in 9th place in the league, we now have little prospect of European football next season.

After a season replete with patchy performances and gaffes, with inconsistency being our only consistency; after a series of ‘season defining games’ in both the Premier League and the Europa League, we faced yet another ‘season defining game’. To add spice, or is it irony, this ‘season defining game’ was against our former coach who came to a sticky end just 18 months ago. GSD summed it up neatly in the preview, as a result of Leno, Saka, Pépé, Lady Luck and Emery’s familiar caution (putting Coquelin on for an attacker at HT in the first leg) the tie was still in our hands and at the final whistle we would either be “the mutt’s nuts or a dog’s dinner”.

When the team was announced, it was clear that Tierney wasn’t fit enough to start and Xhaka was likely to continue at left back. However, injury to the latter in the warm-up meant that our first-choice left back started. It looked like a ‘front foot’ team, lining up in a 4-1-4-1: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Marí, Tierney; Partey; Saka, Ødengaard, ESR, Pépé; Aubameyang.

We had hoped for a vigorous start with attackers bringing the game to Villareal and pressurising their defence and especially their dodgy keeper. It was not to be. We started in that all too familiar sluggish mode and handed the initiative to the opposition. Within 5 minutes, Leno had to leap to push away a Chukwueze shot from his left. Early on, it was clear that Partey was having to cover a lot of ground as the solitary holding midfielder because Ødegaard and ESR pushed forward when we had possession. In consequence there were acres of space for Pedraza to run into before setting up Chukwueze who was providing Villareal’s main threat. In this early period our main strategy seemed to be a long diagonal ball to Saka wide on the right who regularly found his progress blocked by three opposition players.

Our first shot on goal was a long looping pass-back from Partey from wide on the left that forced Leno to leap to prevent a spectacular own-goal. For those with long memories think Tommy Gemmell’s spectacular own goal over Bobby Simpson playing for Scotland against the USSR circa 1967-8.

A disappointing aspect of this first half was the lack of a high press from the Arsenal forwards giving Villareal defenders ample time on the ball and opportunities to construct their attacks. On the other hand, Villareal’s high press made it difficult for us to play out from the back and the out-ball options for players stuck in our corners were minimal. As the first half approached its halfway point we had had a short spell of Arsenal pressure driven by ESR from the left but we had achieved no service whatsoever to Aubameyang centrally. 

On 22 minutes, after yet another ineffective attempt to pass our way out led to loss of possession, Parejo bought a dangerous free kick from Partey on the edge of our box. Parejo’s free-kick cleared the wall, looked to have beaten Leno but fortunately cleared the bar as well.

This seemed to wake us up. After a driving run from Bellerin the ball broke to Tierney whose shot from 25 yards flashed well wide. A spell of Arsenal pressure led to a corner on our left from which the ball finally reached Aubameyang on the right side of the box. His volley with the outside of his right foot curled beautifully through the traffic but struck the keeper’s right post rather than nestling in the far side of the goal.

Arsenal then seemed to have a stroke of luck. Chukwueze had hitherto been a significant danger leaving Tierney in his wake on break-outs and pulling Partey and or Marí out of the middle (making me appreciate Xhaka’s covering work behind Tierney from left midfield). Chukwueze suddenly collapsed to the ground with no one near him and after treatment was stretchered off. 

We had hitherto done little to deserve such luck with a markedly disjointed performance and Pépé at his most left-footedly frustrating, regularly slowing play down and tentative in movement and decision-making. In truth, our whole build-up play was too ponderous and allowed Villareal to get organised defensively. Our opponent had locked-up the central route, lured us into either flank and then smothered us effectively when we got there. After 30 minutes, in our most important match of the season, we had achieved one attempt on goal, none on target (if you ignore the Partey effort saved by Leno). In contrast, Villareal were pressing high to impede our progress, happily playing the ball round us, breaking quickly and getting numbers forward at speed.

Villareal tested Leno from a tight angle on his left then ESR drove through the middle, found Aubameyang on the left of the box in a position from which he regularly curls the ball inside the far post. However, his right foot shot was blocked by the keeper and although the ball then bounced through his legs, he unfortunately recovered it. Marí deflected a shot just past Leno’s post then on the resulting corner Albiol had a shot blocked at the far post.

The half ended with some nice interplay on the left from ESR, Pépé and Tierney but, as too often, the cross was blocked for a corner which was effectively dealt with by the Villareal defence.

A frustrating first half had seen the opposition comprehensively manage our attack and force us into unproductive activity on the flanks. We had produced precious little goalmouth action. Surely, we would be more effective in the second half?

HT: Arsenal 0-0 Villareal

Martinelli had an extended warm up during the break but there were no changes at the start of the second half. However, we did start with much more urgency and worked the Villareal defence and goalkeeper more in the first five minutes of the second half than we had in the whole first half. An early cross from Bellerin produced a feeble flap from the Villareal keeper and the ball fell to ESR at the edge of the 6-yard box. His inventive dink over the prone keeper and defenders deserved better than to glide just past the far post.

Yet our flaws continued to threaten to sink us. Overplaying in midfield, an already tired looking Partey unnecessarily turned the ball over, leading to a two man break against one centre back and Leno. Fortunately, Moreno produced a weak effort that Leno gathered gratefully. That was a Get Out of Jail card.

Ten minutes into the second half and the game was getting stretched. Frankly, it looked like kids playing ‘next goal the winner’ except of course, Villareal didn’t need to score to win the tie. Partey was looking very tired – he’s never produced 90 minutes of energetic play in an Arsenal shirt but the demands of being a solitary holding midfielder covering all that ground seemed unsurprisingly to have sapped his energy by the early second half. Once again, he gave away possession in a dangerous position, this time on the edge of our own box with a bizarre miskick. Fortunately, it came to nought but shortly afterwards Leno had to touch away a threatening cross-shot.

As the hour approached we were looking generally less energetic and the ‘hand-brake’ was back on. We had lapsed back into sloppy turnovers and no coherent passing moves. Our haplessness seemed almost to be epitomised by a heavy back pass from Holding leading to a heavy touch from Leno who landed on his backside hastily clearing it under pressure from an opposition forward. By now we weren’t even getting crosses in any more (unproductive though they had hitherto been) as the defenders in yellow became even more effective at suffocating our wide men with numbers. Meanwhile the central route remained firmly locked.

Martinelli was brought on for a by now anonymous Ødegaard on 66 minutes in the hope that he would provide the penetration that was hitherto absent. He took the wide left position and Pépé switched to the right with Saka dropping back to left midfield. At 70 minutes, a Saka free kick from wide left was headed over by Holding who shortly thereafter headed wide a curling right-sided Pépé cross from the edge of the box. On either side of the latter Partey had two efforts on goal from the edge of the box. Amazingly neither struck Row Z, the first decent effort being deflected for a corner, the second only a kick on a defender’s foot.

With 15 minutes to go it all felt rather desperate. Martinelli fired a cleared corner well wide from the edge of the box. Then came the moment when, if you like, the fates deserted us. We broke swiftly out of defence and Aubameyang met Bellerin’s cross in front of goal. It wasn’t a perfect header but the ball looped past the keeper and spun onto the far post. Sadly, the ball then spun out rather than in and the ball was cleared.

On 80 minutes, Lacazette and Willian came on for Aubameyang and Tierney with Saka dropping back to left wing back and Willian taking a left midfield position. Nice work on the right led to a deft chip from ESR to Lacazette in the centre of the box but he ended in a crumpled heap with a foul awarded to the opposition. Willian then produced a nice chip from the left into the centre of the box that forced a defender to head for a corner which sadly came to nought.

With three minutes left, hope sprang eternal as I thought of those epic last minute goals that Arsenal have scored in the past to take the fat out of the fire. However, I also thought of my dear old Dad’s wise words to a similarly hopeful teenager in a similar circumstance in the 60’s: “That team has been trying to score for 87 minutes. What makes you think they’re going to score in the last 3 minutes?”

A Willian cross into the box was picked up by Lacazette who immediately bumped into Martinelli with the ball breaking to Bellerin whose firm shot was blocked. Shortly thereafter, Pépé picked out Bellerin with a cut-back from the bye-line but another firm shot was blocked by Coquelin.

On 90 minutes, the master tactician Unai Emery made two defensive substitutions and Arteta replaced Bellerin with Nketiah. In the 5 added minutes, Leno had to sprint out of his box to clear a long pass to a runner in yellow. The game then wound down to a soggy end.

FT: Arsenal 0-0 Villareal

In answer to the question in GSD’s preview. It was a dog’s dinner. Even then there were so few strands of meat that it would have been quite unpalatable to a red-blooded canine. This was our sixth consecutive home game without a win and we had produced only 2 shots on target and just 4, including a penalty, across the two legs! 

Either our ex-coach out-thought our current coach or we have recaptured our pre-Christmas inability to create chances and Villareal simply took advantage or it’s a bit of both. We certainly looked lost at times. Villareal engaged us high up the pitch and we often couldn’t get out. On the occasions we did they directed us into the flanks and with increasing success blocked the cross or took the ball back. They effectively blocked passes to Aubameyang who as a result had only 14 touches in 80 minutes. Whenever they took the ball back, we rarely put the Villareal defenders under pressure giving them ample time to construct attacking moves. When Villareal moved forward it was clear that Partey was isolated and was being asked to cover too much space. I increasingly began to appreciate Xhaka’s contributions as this game progressed. Our midfield simply didn’t have the right balance with Ødegaard and ESR neither offering protection for the back four nor pressing enough further forward. Basically, Villareal dictated the way the game evolved both when they had possession and also when they didn’t.

This is the culmination of a very disappointing season and several years of astonishing decisions at the top. This season we have broken so many unwanted records that I have lost count. We are not in transition. We are heading for the wilderness familiar to fans in the 60’s and early 80’s.

We are left only with questions about the club to which we have individually hitched our hopes and tribal identity because of its values, its style of play or our own family’s traditions.

Do the owners appreciate their responsibilities?

Do they or we have the patience to allow our tyro coach to continue to learn on the job?

If the owners dispense with the coach, do we trust their ability to appoint people who are good at their jobs?

I really don’t know the answers to any but the third.


If you haven’t yet watched our exclusive video of Bob Wilson and Pat Rice’s conversation about the ’70-71 League Campaign, click on the image below (or on the Youtube link below that) to watch

“Episode One: We Won the League at White Hart Lane”

Or, watch here:  Episode One: We Won the League at White Hart Lane (on Youtube). This is especially helpful if you’re having any loading issues with the link to the one the site is serving above.

For the fans’ perspective of that historic campaign, click the image below to read our recently published blog. And, as well as sharing your own reminiscences about that famous night at the Lane, do let us know what you think of Episode 1 of The Conversation in the Drinks!


We are also pleased to remind you that our auction of signed 1970-71 Double memorabilia is now open for bids! 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.

14 Drinks to “What Now, Muchacho?”

  1. 1
    TTG says:

    That is a much better report than that game warranted . It was the biggest anti-climax I can remember at our place for a very long time ( maybe the semi second leg against United where the tie was over in the first ten minutes )
    The WA group and the bar become fractious after a disappointment like that . We’ve lost to an ordinary team and a very ordinary coach but one who over two legs motivated and organised his team much better than Arteta – a very worrying sign .
    I don’t always agree with Cynic and I thought the extent of his suggested change in the last drinks was too drastic. But he is right that change is required . A lot of Chelsea fans didn’t think Fat Frank should be sacked but ask them what they think now!
    So is there another Tuchel out there and would he come to a side in our position with our owners ? Talk of Allegri for example is fanciful. He would want £200 m to rebuild the team ( at least ) and that wouldn’t come from selling the dross Edu is able to sell ( not a good track record ) . This time last year I thought Arteta was the answer , now I’m pretty certain he definitely isn’t . Our performances at home since the very start of the season have been stultifying bar about four in mid-season . We can’t beat a low block, our press is inconsistent and some if our signings have been a massive disappointment.
    We have some terrific young players but we’ve overplayed them and that showed last night .
    Kroenke has a big decision to make . A lot of season ticket holders won’t renew if he keeps Arteta , they’ve got out of the matchday habit and they know the atmosphere will turn poisonous at the first sign of problems . It will cost him a lot to fix it and if he doesn’t spend his asset will depreciate in value . What will he do? Based on his performance so far almost certainly the wrong thing

  2. 2
    Osakamatt says:

    Thanks Bath, a difficult report to
    write but you stuck to the task
    manfully sir.

  3. 3
    scruzgooner says:

    tough one to write, baff, well done. i walked away afterwards and had a productive afternoon in a way i haven’t for a while. consider my mind concentrated by the frustration and dismay.

    i’m not convinced by arteta, but i also think he’s gotten his start on such a wrong foot (not least with covid, but following emery and with that set of players). what he’s seeming to try to do is something he needs to continue finding different players for, and his biggest fault (in my opinion) is to be stubborn and use those tactics with these players, rather than finding a way to play to their strengths.

    does that make him a coach we should abandon? as ttg@1 says, look to chelsea. but without the money. and given the increasing disaster that has been our upper management the last five years or more, i fear baff’s view of heading towards the wilderness is where “working sustainably” will lead us.

    that said, a decent transfer window, and some hard looking in the mirror by arteta and the players (where’s don howe when you need him?), and i’ll hope that next year we can play at least as well as the teams between us and fourth place by the end of the season.

    and “fourth place trophy” is being looked at with much less derision now in the goonerverse, i’ll wager.

  4. 4
    North Bank Ned says:

    A tough gig, Bath, admirably handled.

    Still need more time for the accidie to disperse.

    A tough game to come next at the bus stop in Fulham and then three potential banana skins in WBA, Palace and Brighton. This season could end uglily.

  5. 5
    North Bank Ned says:

    Just realised I got the order of the fixtures mixed up. It is a potential banana skin, WBA, next, then a tough one at the bus stop with Palace and Brighton to follow.

  6. 6
    Sancho Panza says:

    No banana skins left. Probably win all four games as there’s no pressure on them.

  7. 7
    Silly Second Yella says:

    “This season could end uglily”



  8. 8
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks guys. It’s all a crock of shit at the moment.

    The evidence suggests that football management is an apprenticeship where the top managers have cut their teeth in smaller pools and learnt what to do and what not to do, often with a sacking or two in their cv.

    Proven skill as a player has no impact on your ability to manage a squad let alone a club, indeed it may be a disadvantage, e.g. Bobby Charlton, Ruud Gullitt, Thierry Henry.

    Leadership on the pitch as a club captain is not a reliably transferable skill to ensure successful management, e.g. Tony Adams, Bryan Robson, Patrick Vieira.

    Success as a coach/assistant manager is no guarantee of being a successful manager e.g. Brian Kidd, Archie Knox, Sammy Lee, Thierry Henry.

    A successful manager needs that long apprenticeship to make and learn from their mistakes, get lucky with the clubs at which they learn those skills, learn their own strengths and weaknesses and learn how to compensate for the latter with support staff.

    They also need to have a thick skin, be lucky with the players they sign, be able to inspire players, make average players good and good players great. Most of all they have to be lucky.

    No-one comes into the job with the essential skills. Great managers/coaches are not born, they are made. That apprenticeship as the man with whom the buck stops is an essential part of the process.

  9. 9
    ksn says:

    You have asked just the questions which must be haunting all Arsenal fans now, Bath. Should the club get rid of Arteta and, if yes, who will replace him and more importantly can the Board be trusted to get the right man for the job. I don’t think Arteta is the right man. The way the team has played this season has been totally insipid and impotent; we haven’t scored in ten home games. Backing him in the transfer market would be risky as he will,in all probability, end up signing more Willians. He talks of encouraging youngsters but has demoralised so many (Saliba, Nelson (hasn’t started him once), Willock, AMN) and his handling of senior players doesn’t inspire confidence either. He talks the talk but doesn’t deliver; the two cup/shield wins were creditable but the way the team has played this season has been pathetic. Get a new manager and back him. Just my opinion, but I hope whoever is in charge gets us playing like the Arsenal of old.

    Incidentally, Willock scored again today against Leicester. He is becoming a goal machine.

  10. 10
    North Bank Ned says:

    Bath@8: There is a book to be written on what it takes to be a top manager; in fact, several have been. All your examples are valid, but equally, I could think of a countervailing instance for each, which implies, to your point, that it is challenging to isolate a single factor. If there is one, it is probably man-management, with leadership qualities a close second. How much of those attributes are innate, and how much learned? It took Fergie six and a half years to win the first of his 11 league championships at OT. I doubt that he would be given that much time these days.

  11. 11
    Cynic says:

    The way the team has played this season has been totally insipid and impotent

    It was pretty insipid for most of his tenure last season as well, but insipid won him the FA Cup.

    Willock? He’s doing great things at a low level club but is he going to do it for the Arsenal? I’d sell him, to be honest. But then I’d sell everybody apart from Tierney 🙂

  12. 12
    Cynic says:

    That’s not entirely true by the way, I’d keep Chambers, Holding, Saka, Smith-Rowe as well. Auba is worth one more year, to see if this is a dip caused by illness or a rapid decline caused by money.

    Can’t think of anyone else I’d be disappointed to see leave though. There’s probably a few but off the top of my head, can’t think of any.

  13. 13
    OsakaMatt says:

    Lots of posts to ponder over my morning ☕️☕️☕️
    Personally, I hope the board give MA the start of
    next season to see how things go without the endless
    midweek Europa games. Financially being out of Europe
    is a hit but there are benefits on the football side.
    Who knows though as the board have already shown an
    alarming lack of judgment and backbone so perhaps
    they’ll panic again.

  14. 14
    scruzgooner says: