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In the recent history of Arsenal, there is a particular pattern of play that, once it starts to unfold on the matchday, suspends the entire team into a state of somnambulance from which they wake up only after the final whistle has been blown. On those days we move the ball with the alacrity of a sloth hanging upside down, the players fail to find each other in their passes, and fail to cover for each other with such alarming regularity that you wonder whether they have ever even met on a training pitch before. And as the match slowly and excruciatingly burns to its inevitable end, the possibility of a sucker punch transforms itself from the domain of psychic anxiety to scoreboard inevitability.  

Our inglorious exit in the third round of the FA Cup to a lower league opposition – albeit a feisty in-from one, playing with purpose and self-belief, and no little ruggedness – followed that pattern of play perfectly. This has been a feature of the current Arsenal, and every time the team goes on a splendid run of performances, soon after comes this reminder that how much of growth and maturation is still needed before the team can learn to detect the warning signals early in the match and reorient themselves to change the collective gear.

Depleted by AFCON absentees, Covid & injuries, the traveling squad to Nottingham Forest included exciting U-23 names like Mika Biereth, Omari Hutchinson,  Salah Oulad M’Hand, and the supremely talented Charlie Patino (who already had scored on his debut in the League Cup home match against Sunderland last month). With Xhaka, Partey, Elneny all absent, and Ainsley Maintland-Niles having already joined Roma on loan the day before, Charlie got a start along with Sambi Lokonga in the middle of the field.  The bench had only Tierney, Lacazette and Ramsdale as the established first eleven alternatives, with Chambers and Kolasinac complementing the youth brigade.         


Cedric – White – Holding – Tavares

Lokonga – Patino

Saka – Ødegaard– Martinelli


There really is not much to write about this match and I will spare you the horror of reliving the experience by giving a detailed account. Tavares & Lokonga – both of whom had surpassed expectations until now despite the occasional signs of their immaturity – had their worst games. Nuno was so erratic that Mikel was forced to make an uncharacteristic early substitution to bring Kieran in for him in the first half. Patino was too lightweight and expectedly too overwhelmed by the occasion to help create semblance of any control in a physical midfield battle, and halfway through the first half it was evident that this was going to be a very difficult battle to overcome.

I will give credit to Forest as well, they were not overawed by the reputations of Saka, Martinelli and Ødegaard – who all have been sublime in their recent appearances – and did their best to frustrate our two super wingers. Saka had one of his least influential matches in recent memory, and given Eddie’s erratic hold-up play and lack of sharp movements Gabi found it very hard to create the kind of space and interchanges that allow him to fully leverage his speed and abilities on the ball. He doesn’t yet have the subtlety necessary to alter his approach to make it more decisive in situations like this. The loss of control in midfield meant Martin dropping deeper and deeper, Eddie failing to understand the need of the game and not providing any link-up chain between Ødegaard and the two wingers, and we had no real goal-bound attempts. There were a couple of deflected shots – from Eddie and Lokonga – and a few mildly threatening situations from the corners (which too, as is typical in a day when nothing goes well, were less than sub-par especially in comparison to our sharp corner routines this season).

Leno made a couple of decent saves, but Holding and Cedric had two of the worst defensive performances I have seen for us in recent years. Holding was not particularly calamitous but he was unbelievably sloppy and slow on the ball, blunting any chance of quick attacks, White was only marginally better on the ball even though he tried to go on few times on his typical runs through the middle. Cedric on the other hand was simply inadequate at every facet of the game, and the drop in level compared to Tomiyasu was alarming. Between Chambers and Cedric, my observation is that the former at least gives some defensive solidity and a decent quality on the ball while being played out from the back. Cedric perfectly encapsulated the day’s performance when his free kick from a promising position harmlessly drifted away.

Even on a bad day Saka produced a couple of moments that should have been good enough. Eddie made a complete mess of a simple header with only the goalkeeper to beat, and later Lacazette – coming into replace Patino with Ødegaard moving into a deeper role – failed to connect to a well-place cross from Saka.

As the game reached 80th minute with the score is still tied at 0-0, we were yet to register a shot on goal, and another atrocious thirty minutes of Arsenal performance loomed on the horizon. There was still hope that somehow one of our front five would find an inspiring moment to win the match at the end (the likes of last grasp win on a bad day are inevitable parts of a cup-winning run). And then we were behind to a very well taken goal.

Sambi tried to pass a ball past one of Forest midfielders, it bounced off his arm, while Sambi was protesting for a handball decision the rest of our team were very slow to react to the danger and a neatly-placed cross from their right was met efficiently by the veteran striker Lewin Grabban.

Nottingham Forest 1 (Grabban 83’) – Arsenal 0

As we (not so) desperately looked for a late equalizer it was somewhat startling to see Sead Kolasinac come on. This was probably not a day Mikel would want to remember, either.

The matchday started with enthusiasm and pride in Arsenal’s laudable “No More Red” campaign.  It was unfortunate that the symbolic white shirts materialized to be an actual act of meek surrender.

We are sitting fourth on the PL with 18 more matches to go, if we win the League Cup semifinal two-leg tie against Liverpool we would also have a final to play. So we have 20 or 21 remaining games to play this season and given that we will now be playing just once a week for the most part, the squad – which, as this performance demonstrated if anyone needed reminding, does need a bit more strengthening in the January window because the gap in quality drops significantly after the first 14-15 players – and the coaching team have the great opportunity to push for a top four position with undistracted focus. Getting back to Champions League should now be not only an aspirational, but a realistic goal. 

31 Drinks to “Sleepwalking to the Exit Door”

  1. 1
    ClockEndRider says:

    Spot on report, Dr. F.
    And the first paragraph captures so much of the recent Arsenal supporters experience quite perfectly as well as stylishly! Certainly more stylishly than the performance yesterday…

  2. 2
    bathgooner says:

    You’ve produced a silk purse from a sow’s ear, Dr F. As CER observes, your first paragraph sums up many Arsenal performances over recent years which is why the game last week was so enjoyable despite the final result. Arsene would have referred to the Forest game as playing with the hand-brake on.

    Pre-match I felt this might be too high a hurdle for this squad and was convinced we would struggle when Xhaka didn’t make the team. You underestimate at your peril an in-form Championship team on the up. It’s a league in which you have to earn the right to play and our ball-players were unprotected and intimidated. Moreover, our midfield was a pair of callow youths. Indeed, Patino barely qualifies for that title. Forest were physically intimidating, well organised and but for Leno might have won more convincingly.

    We deserved nothing from that game. Three players underlined their inadequacy for our aspirations and should have their exit visas stamped promptly.

    As you say, we can now concentrate on the league. Arteta has a tough decision to make over his selections for the SF first leg. Does he prioritise the NLD or each game as it comes? The next three games are massive.

    I think your final sentence is incautiously overoptimistic.

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Congratulations on achieving an accurate , balanced and proportionate response to a performance that was excruciatingly bad. Every shred of optimism after the wonderful effort against Man City evaporated on a ghastly afternoon. I had already endured an appalling performance by the Arsenal Ladies whose season has fallen off a cliff but I had expected a much better effort by the men.
    Frankly Arteta and Edu are culpable for leaving us short in midfield at a crucial part of the season. When the least pro- Xhaka bar in Christendom calls for his return en masse you know we have massively miscalculated. Young Patino was thrown under the bus and is nowhere near ready for first team football of this intensity . I just hope Sambi had a bad game because he was very poor indeed yesterday . It’s hard to go on especially when Dr.F catches the details so well .
    Timing is everything and letting AMN go because Roma ‘insisted on early completion ‘ is pathetic. He’s our player and it’s only a loan on pretty modest terms. We’ve could have done deals with several other teams without kow- towing to Mourinho . At least Roma lost too yesterday

  4. 4
    scruzgooner says:

    dr faustus, well done. it wasn’t only somnambulistic it was a soporific, dispiriting, and thoroughly forgettable kind of a morning. and yet yours was far more engaging and, as you say, aspirational, than the team’s.

    ttg i think sambi is a good player, but is still young himself. shouldn’t be played with out an older established partner (though woe that it will be xhaka). leading patino around (who really did look lost on the field) and trying to consolidate some sort of midfield was problematic.

    another thing to note: gabigol was matched for speed and strength, if not speed of thought, by their no. 2, spence. he was rendered very ineffective, so kudos to him and to steve cooper for going with three at the back. it created overloads against our midfield-lite and made the spaces outside the fullbacks difficult to penetrate or to circumvent. saka did marginally better than gabi, and if we’d had someone more in form than eddie in the middle that cross from saka might have produced a headed goal, and the lead.

    still hurting. COYG!

  5. 5
    ecg says:

    Pretty much agree with all above. I felt sorry for young Patino being thrown into the deep end as a deep lying midfielder. If Forest don’t make it up to the PL, I think we might want to consider buying Spence as a back up to Tomi.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    Cheers Dr. F and thanks for drawing a vivid picture of a game I would have picked to miss, and did. Hoping the rest of our January proves to be nowhere near as cruel as the start.

  7. 7
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Dr F, as you say a nothing performance from us that merits an apology from the team – though I’d exempt Leno who actually did his job. A win against COVID manipulating Liverpool would make a fine apology. COYG!

  8. 8
    North Bank Ned says:

    Very well put, Dr F. As others note, your first paragraph is on the money. Lillywhite all round.

  9. 9
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Bath@2: I agree purely objectively speaking that may be an optimistic target, but not infeasible. My point was that the club (recruiting, management, coaching, squad) must focus and behave with a complete belief in that possibility, and do whatever is necessary, including bringing in depth of quality in this transfer window.

  10. 10
    Ollie says:

    I was going to chip in with some ‘original’ comment, but I see everyone’s pretty much said what I though about this first paragraph. 🙂
    Spot on match and individual performances descriptions too.
    Let’s hope the next week brings something different. Better opposition could bring better attitude (which shouldn’t have to be the case, but, you know…)

  11. 11
  12. 12
    bathgooner says:

    I don’t think AMN would have made any difference to the result against Forest. He has never convinced me that he is the kind of midfielder to take a grip of a game and turn it around. On the other hand, he has had several outstanding performances at full back. Interestingly he played RB on his debut for Roma when they chucked away a winning position to lose 4-3 and he was lambasted for constantly turning over possession and slack and non-progressive passing.

    I don’t believe that Xhaka’s presence would have turned the tide either unless he had an outstanding game the like of which we have seen but rarely though his presence would probably have raised Sambi’s game. It’s quite possible that he would have got himself sent off by being provoked into retaliation after repeatedly being targeted for rough challenges by the opposition. His response would not have been as mild as Saka’s.

    The only thing that would have changed the landscape on Sunday would have been proactive tapping up (if you think no-one does it, you’re naive) and signing the midfielder that we need to replace Xhaka.

  13. 13
    bathgooner says:

    A toast to the Guvna with his favourite malt on what would have been his 65th birthday. 🥃

  14. 14
    TTG says:

    Well remembered and reminded Bath.
    I shall celebrate the great man with one of my favourite malts . 🥃
    You are quite right that everyone taps players up- they just use their agents !
    In every business you plan ahead and look at pinchpoints and potential problem periods . We’ve known about the AFCON for a very long time . We couldn’t know Xhaka would test positive with Covid but we had no contingency plan without AMN , imperfect replacement though he is . Our midfield was completely AWOL on Sunday and even against a weakened Liverpool we have real problems . Arteta even apparently contemplated using Kolasinac there against Forest. That really is desperately worrying ! Don’t even mention next Sunday !
    I always used to be frustrated that under Wenger , if we made a signing in the January window we made it at 10.59 pm on 31st January. ( we signed Arshavin after the deadline) Deals take a long time to set up and are increasingly complex but a lot of football is played in January and your season can be massively derailed if you get it wrong . So why not try to get deals done early in the month to get maximum benefit ? If we sign Guimaraes at the end of January after we’ve lost the semi-final to Liverpool and the NLD it may be too late to save our season .

  15. 15
    scruzgooner says:

    to dave. taken too soon. 🥃

    thanks for remembering, baff.

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    Another glass to the Guv’nor raised here. (H/t to Bath for remembering)

  17. 17
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@14: You mean do you transfer business early, like Forest…

  18. 18
    Ollie says:

    Good call on a malt in his honour, though I only have Glen Grant available.

  19. 19
    bt8 says:

    Glass raised and thanks given for the Guvna’s memory.

  20. 20
    bathgooner says:

    Ollie @18, Glen Grant is a fine malt though Talisker was Dave’s favourite.

  21. 21
    TTG says:

    I resorted to Guinness tonight .
    Dave would surely have approved .
    Good win for the youngsters against the Chavs .

  22. 22
  23. 23
    North Bank Ned says:

    Excellent win for the U21s in the Papa John’s Trophy. A strong Chelsea U21s dispatched 4-1. On to the semis.

  24. 24
    TTG says:

    I note that Schick the Czech striker who played so well in the Euros is having a standout season in the Bundesliga where he plays for Bayer Leverkusen . He may be a cheaper and more feasible Vlahovic alternative.

  25. 25
    TTG says:

    The goals from the U21s tonight . Those by Hutchinson and Flores are exceptional

  26. 26
    ClockEndRider says:

    5 fantastic goals , including the one for Spartak Chelski 2003.
    C100, TTG, Thanks for the links. I’m going to have to go to to the quarter final week after next on the strength of that.

  27. 27
    TTG says:

    I think it’s in Wigan !
    But there were some crackers there weren’t there ?
    My mates who occasionally go to Meadow Park rave about Hutchinson and they also like Zach Awe ( they are in awe of Awe) . Nice to see the quality coming through and great for them to be able to play at the Grove , some for the first time

  28. 28
    bt8 says:

    Marginally interesting headline: Man City revenues overtake Man Utd for first time ever

  29. 29
    Countryman100 says:

    CER – excellent pies at Wigan FC and industrial architecture along the canal!

  30. 30
    ClockEndRider says:

    TTG – darn it. I thought the website showed the game as being Arsenal at home.
    C100 – I’ll go a long way for a good pie, but Wigan might just be a pie too far

  31. 31
    Bathgooner says: