Feed on

Due to a rather unlikely confluence of a few unfortunate emergencies, I have been delayed – even by my own standard of always being late — in writing this match review. And now that I have started, with your permission (and forgiveness for the delay) I think I would like to avoid reminiscing the match in its minute details, not least because though eventful in a certain way, the match was not memorable by any standards. All the key actions have already been chronologically recollected and microscopically dissected in many other places and I don’t think there is much I can offer in addition to those perfectly fine recapitulations.       

However, I would like to bring out what I noticed to be an overarching theme of our performances for you dear readers to comment upon. It just also happens to be a theme that can equally apply to the performance of the match officials. I don’t want to offer any excuse for the former, neither do I want to overlook the relevance of the latter. 


Our performance – in its most holistic sense, including individual performances, team cohesiveness, the ability to control the match positionally, tactically and temporally – had all the trademarks of recent years of Arsenal inconsistencies over the context of a season where every step taken forward inevitably is followed by some backward movements almost with an eerily hypnotic quality of being under the spell of some invisible force. But not only that. 

I think the inconsistencies even within the context of a single match, as demonstrated yesterday, are no less concerning. We started brightly, scored a well-deserved early goal to take the lead, and then failed to use that lead to take control of the match. It was a baffling failure because we had superior technical quality in the midfield with Partey, Ødegaard, ESR and Saka all technically gifted in retaining possession. We had two perfect outlets in Aubameyang and Pépé for well-coordinated counter attacks when Crystal Palace was pressing high up the pitch, and yet somehow, we looked confused and bereft of ideas. 

This particular problem of the midfield failing to impose their technical qualities on the match in a cohesive manner has occurred way too many times for it to be just an accident or a rare coincidence of individual failures across all 3-4 players. It is also not a matter of physical prowess – which the midfield is sometimes accused of – because we have had dominating performances in the middle of the field with diminutive players like Cazorla, Rosický, Jack, or going back earlier, Cesc pulling the strings. Energetic, inspired, highly motivated and physically relentless though Palace’s pressing was (and set up tactically astutely by Vieira who had obviously noticed our propensity to incoherence under pressure) much of our midfield malaise was due to lack of courage on the ball. 

Courage is probably too strong a word, confidence may apply better. How is it that the once most trusted midfield anchor of one of the most demanding and ruthless coaches of current times makes so many wrong decisions and takes so many wrong touches while playing for Arsenal? Would Thomas Partey have dared to put in that performance for Diego Simeone even in a pre-season friendly? I am not questioning Partey’s professionalism, simply wondering what exactly is different for him in terms of the set-up and environment for him not to push harder to be at his very best. Yesterday was not his very best. And he has repeatedly mixed his superlative qualities with alarming bits of laissez-faire attitude on the ball, the likes of which we used to find completely unacceptable even from players of much less technical ability, for example say, Alex Song.  

In this mostly youthful team, players like Partey, Aubameyang, Xhaka, Lacazette, and even Pépé have the responsibility of leading by actions as much as leading by words. Partey, the captain (despite his early goal) and Pépé (despite his assist and contribution to the second goal) failed to lead by example yesterday, and not for the first time. Which was in stark contrast to Lacazette who brought a degree of potency and urgency back to the frontline play that should be the bare minimum standard for the majority of the entire ninety minutes, if not all of it.

Going back to the lack of confidence on the ball, I don’t think it is a coincidence that sometimes the entire team seems to have no idea that a thing called progressive passing exists, or they are allowed to invent new situational possibilities just by the strength of their individual abilities. This is not a team that lacks technical qualities anymore but many of them lack maturity. Moreover, the overall set-up and football philosophy should be such that they find in themselves the ease and freedom to express their qualities without losing positional discipline. Watching Martin, Saka and ESR, the word inhibited came to my mind. 

Also, whatever happened to our swashbuckling left back who used to go past players and provide cutbacks from the byline? Is he just going through a bad patch or did the system yesterday inhibit him too? I don’t remember ever seeing Kieran Tierney in Arsenal colors playing so many back passes from an advanced position. It was almost a homage to Xhaka. 

If we are to play minutely prepared, uber-choreographed football and not the “I give you a template, guidance and the freedom to enjoy yourself, and you solve precise tactical problems in the match” philosophy of Arsène Wenger then the choreographer needs to be more proactive when the dancers (not marionettes) are looking at each other for cues. I think we all expected these teething pains of Mikel’s managerial career where he struggles to balance his well-known attention to tactical details with the demands of allowing the team to play within the guardrails of a template, and even though much of Arsenal fan-base is patient enough to see his evolution work itself out towards success there has to be a more measurable indication of cumulative progress beyond the one-off euphoria of 45 minutes of demolition of the old enemy. 

Carrying on with the theme of inconsistency: a nine year old returning hurriedly from his school – and skipping his after-school program to be able to watch his favorite team play live – watched in disbelief and horror as an opposition player tried to volley Bukayo Saka’s (no foreigner this player, one of England’s most promising talents and a world class player in the making) standing leg into the stadium to see only a yellow card and asked me “Why is that not a red? Oh, that was Mike Dean!” Though he has been keeping me company watching Arsenal matches for a while now it is only in last three years the passion and the love have started to crystallize into an identity. And even he could notice the obvious on his TV screen from the other side of the ocean. Whichever way the media or the Premier League hierarchy want to spin refereeing inconsistencies, scandalous decisions like yesterday’s simply erode people’s trust in them.  

28 Drinks to ““Inconsistencies””

  1. 1
    bt8 says:

    What’s even worse: Saka was in my fantasy team and I have no doubt he would have done some good for my points haul if his injury had not forced him out of the game. Betfair this is not, and not even Ref-fair. Great match review, Dr. Faustus.

  2. 2
    ClockEndRider says:

    Excellent, well considered write up, Dr F. You have managed to hit any number of nails squarely in the head in a very concise piece. Arteta really has to start showing some progress in terms of stamping an identity on what is now firmly his team. In saying that, I am assuming the current expression is not what he is aiming for.

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Thankyou for a typically thoughtful and well-argued piece, all the better for not being a formulaic match report . While it was an unmemorable game in many ways it might be a watershed game or taken with Friday’s game we might reach a watershed .
    I decided to give Arteta my support and the benefit of the doubt at the start of the season – and boy was there doubt ! I think there is even more now . We have played really well for about 10% of this season and poorly for a lot more.Very few players are convincing and we haven’t bought very well in my opinion .I have real doubts about Partey , Odegaard, White , Pepe ( £75 million!) and Tomayisu . We have seen a revival of sorts from Auba and Laca but they have to feed on scraps so often with our very reserved style It seems odd to me that a midfielder by trade at our club seems unable to appreciate the qualities that constitute a good midfield . The bloke on the other bench was a much better midfielder and his team had a better organised and stronger midfield than we did last night .
    We all accepted the need for a reset . Resets usually lead to change but this one is producing the problems we saw at the same time last year .
    As for the McArthur incident it was a diabolical decision and Dean is a poor referee . But we had much more to worry about than a poor referee last night . Lose on Friday ( and sadly I think it is a real possibility ) and we will be plunged into a real crisis . Our excellent fans who provided great support deserve better

  4. 4
    North Bank Ned says:

    Three sentences in your first paragraph, Dr F, and not one of them longer than 45 words, tipped me off that you were about to serve up something different. Indeed, you have produced a match report to savour, and one, as CER observes, that states a few home truths. What is so frustrating about the team’s inconsistencies is that we get glimpses of what could be. Pepe is a microcosm of the team in that regard.

    I am not as down on Partey as many in the bar. However, what is clear is that he is far more effective playing in a double 6 than as a single pivot. That also does Ødegaard no favours as he has to play deeper. The farther forward our Norweigan plays, the more impact he has on the game. He is a 10 or an 8, not a 6.

    Your point about Tierney is well made. He has been passive by his standards in the past couple of games. I hope that does not indicate that the positional system Arteta is instructing the team to play and the passing patterns it requires are being implemented so rigorously that they are squeezing the verve and individuality out of the players. I will take a glass half view that it may be teething troubles. Once the players have fully understood and mastered the rules of Artetaball, they will know how and when to break them.

    Faustus Jr is right about MacArthur trying to launch Saka into Row Z. That is not inconsistency. That is Mike Dean.

  5. 5
    Las says:

    Thanks, Dr F. for this well-thought analysis.
    It was so hard to watch Arsenal a real force in the first 15 minutes turning a toothless, thoughtless, awkward bunch of kids.
    Frustrating. Especially when we see the same team flying high, playing with determination in the other day. Against Sp*rs.
    For Tierney, I think it is a change in tactics. Before Odegard&ESR in the middle of the pitch, we tried to make quick shifts in the wide areas through Tierney and Saka. But now everything going forward in the middle.

  6. 6
    Trev says:

    Yes, Dr F, put me down too for this more thought provoking sort of match report, rather than the chronological recollections.

    I agree with your summary and all the above drinks in the bar. We were blunted by Palace’s defensive tactics of double and even triple marking Tierney and Pepe. What those two needed was help – a partner close by to offer a return pass to allow them to pass and move past a marker. Throughout the game, however, there was none, so the only option was to pass backwards – something which looked uncharacteristic in both of them, and I doubt either of them enjoyed it much.

    Like TTG, I decided to get behind Arteta and “his” players at the beginning of the season, expecting hiccups but also some signs of a plan in how he wants to play. In honesty we were treated to an excess of the former and none of the latter. Loads of individual mistakes and no team cohesion – and what was Partey and then White doing for Palace’s second goal – a centre half backing off to the six yard line in his own area ?!

    My support for Arteta is really struggling after a bit short of two years in the job, especially when you see what Patrick Vieira has done after eight games for Crystal Palace.

    And Mike Dean. He should shudder at his booking of Bukayo Saka in comparison to his treatment of serial yobbo James McArthur, who should have received the most obvious red card I have seen this season. He won’t, of course – his god complex will see to that.

    Dean was not the reason for our performance though. Hopefully our manager will recognise that too.

  7. 7
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks for a very thoughtful, thought-provoking piece. It is becoming more and more difficult to retain optimism in the project and to watch this team repeatedly toil in the trenches.

    Your piece is excellent but I fear there is indeed some consistency. Consistently error strewn team selection and strategy.

    I don’t know what makes people believe that Ødegaard can play as a deep midfielder. He cannot tackle, he has little upper body strength and he doesn’t have the right instincts for that position. Torreira, despite his dwarf-like proportions rendering him vulnerable in the PL was more effective there. For all his failings in pace and temperament, there is a reason Xhaka is Partey’s best foil in our midfield – he can do the job more effectively than anyone else. Until we source a better man, when fit, Xhaka is in the first XI. Sambi may ultimately meet that need but he is not there yet. Partey looked like a rock in that Atleti midfield but did so because he had Koke beside him to provide the stability for that rock. At Arsenal he is expected to be both himself and Koke and only alongside Xhaka does he get anything like the base on which to show his strengths. Actually that was almost a hospital ball from a desperate Tomiyasu that gave him nowhere to go when he turned into a tackle that led to Palace’s first goal. It was not entirely his fault but I do agree that he does not look like the player we thought we had signed. Midfield is about symbiotic partnerships, think Vieira and Petit, Gilberto and Vieira, PV4 would not have been the same player without his compatible foil.

    I agree with the observations on KT3’s apparent loss of attacking verve. Surely it’s instructions and being double marked as he was the same rampaging left sided threat (from left centre back) for Scotland against Israel and the Faroes last week?

    I was very impressed with how Laca changed the forward dynamic replacing a remarkably ineffective Ødegaard (even when returned to his more normal position). Arteta has failed to find a way of playing both Auba and Laca in the attack – maybe there is no way despite the effective combinations that we see them work every now and again. But the game is about scoring goals and our forward line of late does not contain a regular goal scorer other than Auba. I know he is leaving, but Laca is much more likely to score than anyone else in the squad. We shall miss him if we do not replace his goals and despite their youthful promise, none of our talented yoof will do that.

    As for the boss, the jury is definitely out and the evidence is not favourable. A number of the 12 just men are already convinced of their verdict. I remain hopeful that he finds the formula to turn this stuttering project from an ugly duckling to a swan. The clock ticks…

  8. 8
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Cheers Doc, very enjoyable report.

    I missed the last bar, so thanks to OM for an excellent preview too.

    And what a great set of drinks above. Top quality on display here, if not at the Emirates.

    I think we might be somewhere like Manure we’re before they bought Fernandes: one player in the right position away from things clicking. Everyone with eyes has been saying for ages that we need a first team CM to play with Partey. Until we get that we will always be playing square pegs in round holes or trying overly complex solutions to a simple problem with an obvious solution.

    Arsenal – please, please, in January, buy the best central midfielder available.

  9. 9
    North Bank Ned says:

    bath@7: You expand my thoughts on Partey, Ødegaard and KT3 with eloquence and detail. Great minds and all that! You are right about Xhaka, too. The absence of his cover may be another reason that Tierney is being restrained from marauding. I would also bet that Arteta told the team at half-time against Palace to retain possession at all times so they could recover control of the game. It worked to the extent that Palace barely had a shot in the second half — apart from the two goals that were the result of losing possession.

    On matters elsewhere, I see Steve Bruce has left Newcastle, to no one’s great surprise. I hope he departs with a few riyals in his pocket so he can take the time to recover from the slings and arrows he suffered from both Ashley and the Toon fans. I am surprised that Eddie Howe is still among the favourites to be his permanent successor, although his odds are drifting. Appointing him would not strike me as a statement of intent. Fonseca is a better fit in that regard. I am sure the Saudis will be able to circumnavigate any tax issues of the sort that scuppered the Portuguese’s appointment at the neighbours.

  10. 10
    bt8 says:

    Another excellent match report by Andrew Allen, who focuses on the atmospherics among the crowd in an illuminating way.

    Good vibes only?

  11. 11
    TTG says:

    I find myself , as I often am, in agreement with GSD in the need for a top midfielder . Someone asked me who we might sign. I have moved on from Bissouma for obvious reasons and I think a splendid buy would be Kalvin Phillips who is mobile , good in possession and dynamic. Sadly I don’t think Partey will morph into a superstar with a better partner beside him, I think he is not cut out for English football. Jude Bellingham would have been a wonderful acquisition if we could have obtained him but he is beyond us now . We need a decent ball-winner and someone with presence . A player who can exist in the Premier League is also key . La Liga is one thing but the PL is ferocious and very intense .
    Bath makes a decent point about Torreira but his travails at Atletico suggest he might be psychologically fragile . Gueye at PSG might do it but why leave ? Declan Rice has bigger fish to fry and we just lost out on Locatelli . If we welcome back Granit with open arms we really are in trouble . I accept he might have been preferable to Odegaard on Monday but he is deeply flawed and we should remember our attainments in the four and a bit years he has anchored our midfield . In the meantime I’d pick AMN on Friday . I’d have a front three of Martinelli, Auba and Lacazette, Partey and AMN in the middle with ESR at no.10

  12. 12
    Countryman100 says:

    Really good match report Dr F. Followed by an excellent and learned discussion in the drinks. Finally, to make it a triumvirate of praise, I really agree with Andrew Allen on Arseblog, linked to by bt8 @10. If anyone read my postgame remarks in the drinks under the preview, you’ll remember I was expressing many of the same views about the crowd and their reaction (except not as well). At the moment the atmosphere is terrific. Let’s hope the football picks up to give us something to sing about.

    I’ve just bought tickets to Liverpool away. 5.30 on a Saturday is a good time for an away game in the North West. However I shall be staying at home for United away (a Thursday night at 8.15) and Everton away (a Monday night at 8pm). Both are on TV, both are grounds we’ve been to recently and I frankly don’t fancy a 300 – 350 mile round trip, battling rush hour traffic on the way up and not getting in until 1 – 2am. The Premier League doesn’t give a monkey’s for the match going fan.

  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@11: What about Fabián Ruiz at Napoli. He’s tall, 25 years old and a Spain international in the 30-40 million euros range? Napoli also has a promising young CM, Eljif Elmas, who would be the right age (22) and price range (20-something million euros) for the ‘project’ but is perhaps too raw for present needs. The Ox wouldn’t be a horrible stop-gap if we think Lokonga, Azeez or one of the other youngsters is the long-term solution. He seems surplus to requirements at Liverpool, is still only 28 and would be relatively cheap to buy.

  14. 14
    North Bank Ned says:

    bt8@10: Thanks for the link. The key point for me: we’re a team that’s struggling to improve and currently worse than the sum of its parts.

  15. 15
    TTG says:

    We use an Italian restaurant run by Neapolitans and they are big fans of Ruiz. I’ve not seen enough of him . I agree re Elmas. I wouldn’t touch Ox with a barge pole . He’s way too injury prone and I think in the spirit of the excellent blog post by Dr.F he is too inconsistent . I was impressed by De Paul at Atletico but Atletico players can be deceptive. The player I really like although he might be more of an advanced midfield player is Frenkie De Jong . He is reputably a Gooner and Barca are skint . He is in modern parlance ‘ a baller ‘ .
    Delighted to see C100 able to follow us away . I’ve been offered a very attractive price for my season ticket for the rest of the season. I’m still very dubious about the travel given my home circumstances and as a Red member I can still attend games if I wish

  16. 16
    TTG says:

    I note Miguel Azeez totals 59 minutes for Portsmouth this season . Could we not find a more productive loan for such a talented player?

  17. 17
    Countryman100 says:

    Maguire looking worse than peak low Mustafi at the moment.

  18. 18
    Silly Second Yella says:


    goD help us


  19. 19
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Dr F! An excellent report
    and much to think about from the
    Too early for me to give up on Odegaard
    or Partey individually but they are not the
    answer as a midfield pair together.
    Agree with GSD, we must buy in January
    if we can, until then the options are only
    AMN, Sami or Mo. Unless we go left
    field and stick Calum or ESR there.
    Very different players and certainly a
    It was good to see both Auba and
    Laca back on the scoresheet.

  20. 20
    Silly Second Yella says:

    “…and much to think about from the


    How much?

  21. 21
    Silly Second Yella says:

  22. 22
    Silly Second Yella says:

  23. 23
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@15: Frenkie de Jong would cost upwards of 90 million euros, even at Barca firesale prices. Out of our league. Ruiz is borderline affordable, although I am not sure why he would swap Naples for N5 at this point. De Paul is more of an attacking midfielder than de Jong, but has only just moved to Atletico. Unlikely he would even consider a move.

    OM@19: I am with you on Partey and Ødegaard. Arteta just has to play them in their best positions.

  24. 24
    North Bank Ned says:

    No need to splash the cash. We’ve already signed our future superstar, even if he is only five.

  25. 25
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    I’m with Matt and Ned on Partey and Odegaard. I think Partey will come good and be very valuable to us.

    Odegaard is still only 22 and I think will be a top, top player for years. I’m very glad he is with us.

  26. 26
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    My Partey opinion comes with the caveat that he has a partner in midfield (better than Xhaka).

    As pointed out by Baff, midfield is run on partnerships. That’s what is the key difference to his Madrid performances. He has the physical attributes to do well in the PL.

  27. 27
    Bathgooner says:

    I honestly don’t think the PL potential of Thomas Partey can be reliably assessed in this Arsenal team. We have seen flashes of an eye for a pass and flashes of defensive strength while we have also seen Jensen-esque shooting skills ((c) TTG) but he is generally a shadow of the Atletico player and he really doesn’t dominate midfield play in the manner I expected. Of course, we are always over-optimistic and naive about new signings until the scales fall from our eyes.

    The potential midfield partnerships available in this Arsenal squad are not impressive as displays on the field attest. For further detail on the best option to partnet Partey, Xhaka, I refer you to TTG and GSD. Sambi has promise but his skill-set may make him more fitted to be a back-up to Partey than a foil. We can dismiss Ødegaard and ESR as too front-footed and lightweight while AMN has never impressed me as having the concentration, speed of thought or discipline to be a deep-lying midfielder. Ignoring naive calls for some callow yoof to be sacrificed on the altar of premature experience, this leaves Elneny whose ceiling is not as high as any of us would like but whose discipline, energy, work rate and availability for a pass make him a useful back-up but rarely a match-winner.

    Ergo, GSD is correct that in January we must buy the best central midfielder to complement Partey that we can afford and convince, if only because we will have neither Partey or Elneny in January and Xhaka will only be just out of rehab.

    Thinking of the ACN, all discussion of selling Laca in January to gain a few bob before he walks in June seems somewhat incautious given that Auba is likely to be away then too!

    Arteta and Edu have much food for thought.

  28. 28
    Bathgooner says: