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Saturday lunchtime match. Away at an old ground in the northwest. To a struggling team now well and truly in the thick of a relegation battle. Who recently fired their hapless young manager and brought in a grizzly manager who has a well-earned reputation of drilling his teams into a well-organized unit that makes life very unpleasant for the opposition no matter how high-flying they are.

Goodison has lately not been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal anyway. Add that into the mix of all these other factors and before the match started it was obvious to everyone except the naïvest of Arsenal fans that anything less than their very best would see this young Arsenal squad punished.  However, whereas over-optimistic naïveté might be the natural psychic habitat of the fanbase, one of the world’s most promising young managers and his thoroughly professional staff have until now shown no signs of such complacency themselves, and equally reassuringly have made sure the players never prepare themselves with anything but the utmost seriousness whatever may the occasion or opposition be. That consistency of attitude alone for a squad so young, at least in my observation, has been one of the most pleasing aspects of Mikel’s fledgling managerial career.

The starting eleven was unchanged from the last league victory at home against Manchester United. If that match was a spectacle of pulsating free-flowing football – however deep our historical enmity may run, I have no problem acknowledging that in Ten Haag they have finally found a manager who can turn them into a much more watchable team and eventually a threatening opposition at the top of the table – there could have been no illusion about what awaits us at Everton. Their recent run of terrible results masked the fact that there is a solid base of good players, in both technical and physical aspects, in that squad and properly trained and organized they would be a very difficult team to play through.


White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko

Partey – Xhaka

Saka – Ødegaard – Martinelli


That anticipated difficulty was painfully evident from the start. Everton set up in a compact and deep 4-5-1 formation, with the gap between the midfield and defense too narrow to present Arsenal any of those half-spaces where Partey, Xhaka, Zinchenko and Ødegaard thrive. Their well-organized defense and midfield did not give the Arsenal players any moment to look up, pressing and hurrying constantly and cutting off all the passing lanes in their final third, but to their credit also look to break in counterattacks whenever possible. Ben White, who has most likely been the best right back in the league in the first half of the season, was less than his flawless best against Rashford in the last outing and Everton targeted his side for their breaks. Onana used his physicality and close control to impressive effect and in combination with McNeil or the ex-Gunner Alex Iwobi posed a noticeable threat down their left. While we dominated the possession and passed around crisply through their well-organized press, we found it extremely difficult to make that count in the opposition’s final third.

This was neither the first opponent, nor will it be the last, who will pose us this particular challenge. We have until now in this season have found a way: sometimes through moments of individual inspiration or even genius, sometimes with a calm-headed patience and confidence that as long as we keep doing our basics right as the match progresses the opposition will tire and would make the inevitable mistakes, and sometimes by finding within ourselves an ability to speed up the passing through the lines to an electrifying rapidity while maintaining the necessarily unerring accuracy that carves open the most dogged defense. This was not one of those days. Saka and Martinelli were effectively doubled-up, Partey and Xhaka were moving the ball just a bit slower than the usual high-tempo passing that has been a key characteristic this season. Zinchenko was holding on to the ball a bit longer than usual. And Ødegaard, our otherwise mesmerizing conductor, was finding his baton just a bit awkwardly heavy in his hands.

But credit must go to Everton for they played with both discipline and energy. It is easy to dismiss a lower in the table opposition’s spirited fight, especially when managed by someone like Sean Dyche who we in the Arsenal fanbase have well-founded reasons to disapprove. But I thought it was quite an impressive performance by them, resilient, energetic and purposeful. Despite our vastly superior possession and passing statistics, they had two of the better chances in the first half: Onana broke past Ødegaard and White to set up a fizzing cut-back across our goalmouth that Calvert-Lewin missed by an inch, and then McNeil swung in a perfectly weighted cross that Doucouré – after turning away from Gabriel and finding himself with a lot of space and time – headed wide. In between Nketiah fashioned our only notable chance of the first half, latching on to a pass from Saka in the penalty box he turned and drove past the Everton central defense to make enough space for a shot at goal, and I am sure he would be very disappointed for then skying his attempt and not even forcing Pickford into a save, especially given the rich vein of form he has been in lately. Saka fashioned out a left-footed volley from the edge of the box that had Pickford stranded but was saved on the line.

In the first half Everton also looked threatening from the corners, targeting Arsenal’s back post with deep floated inswingers that troubled our backline all throughout. But we started the second half well and controlled both the tempo and possession. One of our brightest moments of the match came when Eddie showed his rapidly improving technical skills and creativity by getting into the box dancing past a congested block of defenders to set up a wonderful opportunity for his captain, and that is a chance Ødegaard should really have taken. We have been reading stories of how injured Gabriel Jesus, while he is not undergoing his recovery routines, still comes to the practice sessions to guide and help our youngsters and especially Eddie. That bit of dancing boots from Eddie is a patent Jesus move.      

Partey was not at his best, and the suspicion that he may still be suffering from the rib injury he had sustained in the FA Cup loass away at city was confirmed when Mikel took him off for our new signing Jorginho the 59th minute. Another winter signing Trossard– who had an impressive debut in the home match against Mancherster United – also came on for Martinelli who had found it difficult against being double, or sometime even triple, marked.

And immediately afterwards we conceded, there was another deep inswing corner, Tarkowski brushed off his marker Ødegaard to head past a stranded Ramsdale.

Everton 1 – Arsenal 0 (Tarkowski 60’)

This season we almost always have come back from being a goal down, home or away, and given there was still at least half an hour of the match left there was hope that we will find the necessary inspiration to stage another comeback. Trossard was purposeful in his running with the ball and fashioned for himself a couple of attempts, but one flew over the goal while the other was blocked. Vieira was brought in for an uncharacteristically subdued Ødegaard, and Tomiyasu came in for White who I feel may need a bit of a breather in the league in the coming weeks. Everton brought in a particularly unpleasant little striker with likely the aim of disrupting any attempts by Arsenal to create an attacking rhythm. Unfortunately for us – and hopefully also educationally for this young team – we fell for the traps, lost our own discipline and allowed the match to become the kind of disjointed ill-tempered affair that the opposition hoped for, and instead of creating a well-controlled incessant goalmouth pressure we wasted valuable minutes and impetus. Even the six minutes of added time did us no favors.

A loss like this, however hard to take immediately after the match, especially given how consistently impressive we have been until now, can in the long run be a perfect cautionary example, and hence a valuable lesson, for the squad as well as the coaching staff to keep in mind. We will definitely see more of these types of performances from lower-positioned opposition as the survival dogfight gets only more intense. We too would experience similarly less-than-perfect days from our own players both individually and collectively, when neither the automatisms nor the individual sparks would be quite of the very high level that we in the fanbase are getting accustomed to (and hopefully not taking for granted). How we learn to both prepare for such days, and then how we figure out in the course of a match solutions to such thorny challenges, will determine how we will look back at this season not only in the Summer break but also over the years to come.

58 Drinks to “Mid-season Meditations”

  1. 1
    Ollie says:

    Cheers Dr F. I think. *tries to forget match*

  2. 2
    bt8 says:

    Very fair assessment from a wide-angle lens, Dr. Faustus. The loss was painful but thankfully made less so by City’s loss yesterday. How we bounce back will show us everything we need to know about this team, and hopefully last season’s lessons from end of season disappointment will have been taken on board. There are many twists and turns still to navigate.

  3. 3
    Noosa Gooner says:

    Thanks Doc,
    A significant result here for many obvious reasons.
    A loss to the bottom team.
    Two losses on the bounce.
    No goals scored in those two games.
    Spuds inadvertently helped us but now we need to help ourselves.
    Brentford have been going well.
    We need to rediscover our mojo. Quickly.

  4. 4
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Dr F. A fair report of a bad game for us. Puts more pressure on the Brentford game but many a slip twixt cup and lip and all that.

  5. 5
    Countryman100 says:

    Thanks Dr F for a very nice match report. It’s always difficult to write about a game we lost. I’m inclined to treat it as an inevitable bad day at the office and not obsess too much about losing. The important thing is that we bounce back.

    A visit to Everton, to the Old Lady of Goodison, is a trip back to the 60s and 70s. It’s an old fashioned square stadium, surrounded by terraced housing. I’ve always found the natives friendly and it happened again as a gentleman of a certain age spotted my Arsenal scarf as we were walking to our entry gate, and stopped us, keen for a chat. Turned out he’d been going to Goodison since 1964. Ah lad, he said, you’re playing some lovely football this season. But if you could spare us three points, I think we need them more than you. We’re going through bad times right now. Well I said, I’ve been following the Arsenal since the 60s and we’ve had our bad times. Ah yes he said. But your bad times is finishing 8th. That’s a good season for us. He told me about the new stadium, on the docks. Should be ready the season after next (unless we go bust before that). Should be marvellous. Looking forward to it. Lovely chap. Real football fan. Sometimes we don’t realise how lucky we are.

    We were in the Upper Bullen. Pretty restricted view – I didn’t see much of our right wing in the first half. Mind you there were certain areas at Highbury where the view was rubbish. I love the bit where the snare drums roll and the Z cars theme plays as the teams run out. Behind us something I’ve never experienced before, a thick accented scouser who was also a big Gooner. Wierd. Maybe his Dad was a Londoner who moved to Liverpool and he followed his Dad’s team.

    We lost, as you probably know. As the final whistle went, the Gooner faithful roared out We Are Top of the League! No moaning, no groaning. Driving home we enjoyed hearing Casemiro getting sent off. The following day, somehow, City’s defeat to Spurs, made our loss seem much less significant. Still five points ahead with a game in hand. 18 games to go. Every one is a Cup Final. 10 of them at home.

    On we go. Next Saturday, at 3pm (strange time for a football match) we play in form Brentford. Time to make an opposition suffer. COYG.

  6. 6
    North Bank Ned says:

    Nothing to disagree with in your typically well-observed summary, Dr F. My only thought is whether subbing Ødegaard was the correct decision. He had been having one of his anonymous games until Jorginho replaced Partey, after which he seemed to be increasingly influential. I have not seen heat maps to confirm or refute my impression, but it appeared that he was playing further forward for his final quarter of an hour, perhaps relieved of needing to worry about Partey’s injury.

    C100@5: Three o’clock Saturday kick-offs? Whatever next? Bovril at half-time?

  7. 7
    North Bank Ned says:

    Jesse Marsch has got the old heave-ho from Leeds. West Brom’s Carlos Corberan is the bookie’s favourite to succeed him.

  8. 8
    Countryman100 says:

    Funnily enough Ned, my pre match drink last Saturday was a Bovril (I was driving)

  9. 9
    Countryman100 says:


  10. 10
    Countryman100 says:

    Sorry about that. Was just making sure my Bovril didn’t’t block the drinks!

  11. 11
    TTG says:

    Thanks for a very balanced and informative report . This game worried me. I’ve been waiting all season for a substandard performance. We were naive and unlucky at OT, wasteful against Southampton and lucky at Leeds but the sort of weak away performances we threw in regularly last year have thankfully been missing…until Saturday.
    I fear teams have realised how to shut down Saka and Martinelli where we derive much of our creativity from. Partey , Xhaka and Odegaard were well matched by Onana, Gueye and Iwobi in midfield and home advantage and balls saw Everton through. We looked lightweight for the first time since a shadow side lost to PSV.
    Saturday is important. We need to bounce back . Maybe Trossard might start and as Dr F says Tomi can come in for White .
    Much to ponder. But we are still in a great position

  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@8: The breakfast of champions!

    TTG@11: Maybe Partey, too, should sit it out until his ribs are repaired. He looked off the pace on Saturday, and that slowed Xhaka and Ødegaard, too.

  13. 13
    TTG says:

    Our young lads were involved in an incredible encounter in the Youth Cup at Watford . They trailed 2-0 early on and were still behind by that score at the break. I discovered the game was on Arsenal.com and noted as I watched tgat CER was watching too.
    In the second half we came right back into the game. Cozier- Duberry scored a penalty , Kamara equalised and the right-back Rosiak put us ahead before C- D got another pen. I timed my arrival very well and enjoyed a rollicking comeback.
    The side looks suspect defensively and give the ball away a lot but they are very exciting going forward. Cozier- Duberry es a very good Saka impression, Nwaneri and Lewis- Skelly are real talents and Sousa , the left- back looks classy .
    LJW couldn’t watch either penalty but he has steered us into a home QF against SheffWed or Cambridge I think. It will be played at the Emirates and I will try to get along to it

  14. 14
    bt8 says:

    Ned: The explanation for our subpar performance that convinces me the most is the one you mentioned. I don’t know if it is really the case, but TP5 did not dominate the midfield as he normally does and our control of the game was not what it normally is either. I have to suspect that those two observations can be explained due in some significant part to his injury taking away his normal range of mobility. There may be other factors at play but I’d like to think the explanation is that simple, and of course I hope Thomas heals on the double quick.

  15. 15
    bt8 says:

    C100. That’s quite an enormous cup of Bovril, from all appearances. 😁

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    I came across this video of Dyche explaining how he played 4-4-2 at Burnley, which seems to be much the same way he played it last Saturday. Quite fascinating if you are into the mechanics of tactics.

  17. 17
    Up4GrabsNow! says:

    The Toffee’s were unlucky not to have one or two in the first half. A sub-par performance from us but I expect we will bounce back against the Bees.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Las says:

    Cheers Doc, excellent and well balanced report. Not much to disagree. We had an off-day. It was a timely and painful reminder there are no push-overs in the PL. As Citeh also learned not even Tottnumb.
    In the long run we have to learn how to produce consistence performances against lesser/struggling teams. It is much more easier to be 100% ready against Manure or Citeh then against a seemingly freefalling team. But we have Brentford to turn up and show we can fight back at weekend.

  20. 20
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thé BBC have caught up with GHF and are finally reporting on Balogun….

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Countryman100 says:

    How much does it cost to watch the Premier League in different parts of the world?

    How much do Arsenal fans pay to watch Premier League on TV around the world?

  23. 23
    OsakaMatt says:

    It’s about £70 a year in Japan through SporTV, who show all games. Despite their name though they don’t have a TV channel so you watch on your computer/tablet/phone etc.
    Fortunately, Abema show all Arsenal games live on TV for about £30 a year. Bless you Tomi!
    But a fairer like for like comparison would be with the domestic game in Japan – it’s about
    £250 a year if you should want to watch all J League games.

  24. 24
    Countryman100 says:

    Blimey that’s cheap. Beers are on you next time you’re over.

  25. 25
    OsakaMatt says:

    The beers will cost more than my annual TV subscription😂

  26. 26
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@18: Thanks for the link. To me, Ronay’s key point is this is a legal battle where the prosecution has a dog in the fight. Much different for City than having to take on UEFA.

  27. 27
    North Bank Ned says:

    In the United States, NBC owns the rights to PL games but spreads the broadcasts across its many channels. Its Peacock service shows the most, but it didn’t show our game at Everton game last weekend, for example. That was on the USA Network. So to watch on TV (at least in this neck of the woods), you’d need a premium cable package from your ISP, upwards of $100 a month. That would usually also come with CBS Sports, which has the rights to UEFA CL and Europa League. If you’ve cut the cable and stream over the internet, you can see virtually all Arsenal PL games with subscriptions to both Peacock and ESPN+, $9.99 a month each. CBS Sports for the European games would be another $9.99. You’d also need internet service. The US has the second most expensive broadband among OECD countries after Saudi Arabia, so you’d be dropping an additional $50-100+ a month depending on speed and whether or not you are in an area with only one service provider. To be sure of seeing any PL game, you would need a streaming service like Fubo, which is around $70 a month for its base service, although its Spanish language version is a bit cheaper. You get all the sports channels bundled in.

    Interested to hear how deeply other ‘Merikan ‘holics get their pockets gouged by the cable companies or whether there are cheaper workarounds beyond illegal streaming.

  28. 28
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Ned@27: Europa matches live with English commentary are not always on any of the CBS channels but the streaming service. However if you are fine with Spanish or watching later CBS channels will do.

    I subscribe to all the channels in TV and as a result some of the streaming — Peacock for instance — comes with the package as my cable provider and internet provider are both xfinity. Some don’t, so in addition to ESPN in TV I also have annual ESPN+ which is where all League cup and FA cup matches are shown.

    All in all making sure we can see all Arsenal matches in all competitions don’t come cheap, but compared to match day tickets of course much more affordable.

  29. 29
    North Bank Ned says:

    Indeed, it does not come cheap, Dr F. We are in the rapacious and monopolistic hands of Optimum here. The base premium cable TV package (220 channels) and internet access, with all the add-ons and fees it seems able to tack on, would come in at around $225 a month. Far too rich. I know of folks in NYC who pay half that for Verizon FIOS or Spectrum.

  30. 30
    bt8 says:

    Re: The TV channels I subscribe to, for European matches I rely on my Xfinity subscription which only gives me Spanish commentary to some of Arsenal’s matches in that competition. Xfinity gives me access to all of the Premier League games, but
    not subscribing to ESPN+ I do not get the League cup and FA cup matches. To make up for the gaps, I visit a sports bar for some of the big European or cup matches. I pay $186 per month to Xfinity for my TV and internet gouging service.

  31. 31
    Doctor Faustus says:

    BTW, thanks everyone for the kind words.

    I think it’s a very good sign that when we lose nowadays there is much less consternation and soul-searching in the fanbase, but a more measured response, compared to much of the last decade. It does help that such losses now arrive with noticeably less frequency. 🙂

  32. 32
    bt8 says:

    BBC reports: “the two favourites for the Leeds vacancy remain Feyenoord boss Arne Slot and Rayo Vallecano head coach Andoni Iraola.”

    Re: Iraola, his name sounds Basque to me. If he is appointed, it would confirm the stylishness of having a Basque manager.

  33. 33
    North Bank Ned says:

    Iraola and Arteta were born only a couple of months and some 10 miles apart. Iraola has a six-degrees-of-separation connection with Leeds in as much as he played for Athletic Bilbao when Marcelo Bielsa coached them.

  34. 34
    scruzgooner says:

    ned@27 we pay something like $150-$180 for cable plus internet and a voip phone per month. plus espn+ ($7 or $8 or so). i also use streaming servers when needed (europa league).

    faustus, excellent piece. just the right tone, though i hurt at the look of dyche trying not to smile at the end of the game, the useless knob.

  35. 35
    North Bank Ned says:

    So, ‘Merikan ‘holics, we are paying $2,000 a year or more to follow the Arsenal. No wonder ISPs make so much money.

  36. 36
    scruzgooner says:

    ned@35…well, no. i pay the $7/month to see the arsenal, it’s the only reason i have espn+, so that’s $84/year. the other money is going to be spent regardless. we have the minimum package of channels, but that includes the nbc family and peacock. it’s cheaper for us to have tv and internet through xfinity’s bundle (including voip) than to just have internet and voip, weirdly enough, so i look at it like the rest of the tv is free. including the arsenal. both my wife and i use the internet a lot, including me for my work on days i don’t go to the office (like today). so it’s a sunk cost apart from following arsenal…

    the bigger cost are the flights over and back to go to the games 🙂 which i pay, with delight. even then, i can’t attribute the costs entirely to following arsenal…other friends, and family, and my wife all are compensations for that expense!

  37. 37
    North Bank Ned says:

    scruz@36: glad to hear the cost-benefit is heavily tilted to the plus side of the account for you, and, of course, you are right that the costs are spread over much more than just watching our games. I note that you, bt8 and Dr F are all Xfinity customers. Perhaps I am just overly grumpy at Optimum, not just for its prices but also for its crummy service and the lack of an alternative.

    Anyway, the red Mancs dropped points, our women beat the blue Mancs to go to the league cup final, and we are still top of the league. So reasons to be cheerful are one, two, three.

  38. 38
    OsakaMatt says:


    And looking at the PL table we have actually gained a little on the rest of the Top 5 over the last five games whilst playing three of them. Of course there’s always a mote, which in this case is Brentford having the best form in the PL over those same last five games.

  39. 39
  40. 40
    Ollie says:

    Everton match feels like a month ago. Hopefully by Saturday evening, it truly feels like it never happened.

  41. 41
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@39: 👍

  42. 42
    bt8 says:

    New European super league proposal article. Have not read it yeut but it has a great picture of Arsenal fans protesting the idea last time.


  43. 43
    TTG says:

    Thanks for attaching this .
    I haven’t read it in detail but there is much more chance of this idea progressing because it involves many more clubs and doesn’t preclude relegation. The big problem is the impact of a 14 game league on our domestic league .
    If it does have legs we can look forward to even longer seasons, much bigger squads and pressure on the Premier League to reduce in size . I wonder if Manchester City would get into it ?

  44. 44
    TTG says:

    This fearsome Brentford side have played in those last five league games – West Ham, Liverpool ( probably the most out of form side in the league ), Leeds, Bournemouth and Southampton . They lost at home to West Ham in the Cup
    We played Brighton ( away) ,Newcastle , Spurs ( away ) , Man United and Everton . Bit of a difference .

  45. 45
    scruzgooner says:

    well, banana skins come in all shapes and sizes, ttg.

  46. 46
    TTG says:

    I absolutely accept that but I hope we manage to enjoy our title challenge rather than bugging up all the teams we are playing

  47. 47
  48. 48
    OsakaMatt says:

    I hope we roundly bug up Brentford 😀

  49. 49
    OsakaMatt says:

    Good interview thanks for attaching Ned. Ode seems to have his feet firmly planted.

  50. 50
    ecg says:


  51. 51
    OsakaMatt says:

    50 with a bang ecg 👏

  52. 52
    North Bank Ned says:

    Well in for the half-ton, ecg. From out of nowhere…

  53. 53
    bt8 says:

    Well in, ecg.

    What Matt said @48

  54. 54
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@49: The Players Tribune is a site Derek Jeter (baseball star) set up for professional athletes to tell their stories in their own words (or at least with a little hand-holding from the PT’s editors). I guess it falls into the gap where PR, ghost-writing and journalism don’t quite meet. Martinelli has done a piece for it, too.


  55. 55
    ecg says:

    Thanks for the assist, OM.

    Hopefully the team is focused on the weekend and not looking ahead to midweek…

  56. 56
    bathgooner says:

    What an excellent and encouraging article that is, bt8 @47. A thoughtful and ambitious yet grounded young man. Thanks for posting.

  57. 57
    bt8 says:

    Thanks Ned for the outstanding Ødegaard interview @47

    What a well spoken young man he is, and what an interesting career he has had in his few short years.

  58. 58
    scruzgooner says: