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After the historically famous 1-0 scoreline away at Leicester in the 24th matchday, on 25th Febraury, of Arsenal’s 22-23 Premier League season, the discussions in the Arsenal universe have been centered mostly round the goals scored, including the ones chalked out by VAR, the penalty not given, one of the brightest talents in world football in Saka being kicked from pillar to post by opposition defenders and not getting any protection from the referees, the performances of Jorginho and Trossard reaffirming the astuteness of Arsenal’s recent form in the transfer market.

While acknowledging those all, I also would like to pay some extra attention to our defensive performance. Arsenal restricted Leicester at their own home ground to only two shots, zero of them on target, and the now ubiquitously used – but sometimes still befuddlingly confusing – xG ratio being a record-setting low of 0.02 in the PL.

It may be easy to write that off as the outcome of Leicester’s attacking inefficacy, especially in the absence of their creative spark in James Maddison. But they still started with Iheanacho, Harvey Barnes, Tetê and Dewsbury-Hall, just last week away at Old Trafford the frontline gave the currently high-flying Manchester United a difficult time and if not for some excellent saves by De Gea they would have scored a few goals. I found that the Leicester attacking was made to look toothless by the excellence of Arsenal’s own individual and collective defensive efforts, which we can sometimes overlook and take for granted, especially given how consistently high quality the midfield and attack have been until now.

The last few weeks were anomalous in terms of Arsenal’s defensive solidity, conceding seven goals in the last four league matches, and that kind of slide towards midtable porousness – in addition to bringing back the memories of the traumatic seasons of recent past that are replete with horrifying examples of defensive Seppuku – if not arrested quickly can completely derail even the most promising of seasons. It was gratifying to see the collective discipline and effort in ensuring that neither space nor time on the ball are conceded to the opposition, and that collective being complemented by a serenely composed demonstration of the defensive arts by our central defensive pair, Saliba and Gabriel. It can be easy to overlook their pivotal contributions towards Arsenal’s impressive consistency this season, especially given the sparkling football we have often played in the opposition half, but just a quick look back at our recent past should be enough to not take their innate quality or their exceptional consistency for granted.

The themes of resilience and solidarity were very much in the hearts and minds of many people – including this scribe — around the world who were watching the match on the ground or in their living rooms. Arsenal lined up with Oleksandr Zinchenko as the captain even though the Norwegian maestro Martin Ødegaard, our regular captain, started the match as well. Whereas Zinchenko – the captain of Ukrainian national team and a player of singular tactical sophistication and inspiring attitude – is one of the natural leaders in this squad, who along with his friend Gabriel Jesus has brought a winning nous to this group of supremely talented players committed to the cause, the prestigious Arsenal armband was also awarded to him to empathize with and respect the indomitable Ukrainians. Ukrainians who even after one year of the dastardly and brutal acts of aggression by their neighbor — who ostensibly are worthy of being considered a leader among nations if the centuries long propaganda are to be believed, though it must be said that finally the scales are now falling off many peoples’ eyes — remain proudly defiant and extraordinarily resilient in a manner that one hopes would inspire the rest of the world to insist on the core values of sovereignty and national autonomy that we all hope should remain the foundational pillars of world affairs. Some skeptics might say gestures like this are meaningless, but I disagree. It may not immediately alleviate the pain and suffering of the millions of Ukrainians at their homes or displaced by the war, but given the reach of PL – most watched sports league in the world with an estimated TV audience of nearly 4 billion people in 600+ million homes – watching Zinchenko leading the Arsenal team in wearing an armband of Ukrainian flag colors would inspire curiosity and solidarity, especially in young minds, and maybe some of them when they grow up to be leaders in their own fields would carry on those inspiration towards a fairer and just world.

Mikel tweaked Arsenal’s starting eleven from the last weekend’s away victory at another midlands ground. Eddie Nketiah – relentlessly energetic though he has been since starting to lead the line following Jesus’s world cup injury – has started to underperform a bit especially in terms of defining output, and he was replaced by the Belgian Leandro Trossard who since his January signing has impressed with how quickly he has fit into the quality on and off the ball that are expected from Arteta’s attackers. He also brings in a degree of more PL experience compared to Arsenal’s young Turks who have started to miss the leadership and craft of Jesus. Partey was fit enough to be back on the bench, but another January signing Jorginho retained his position after a couple of truly impressive performances at the heart of the midfield. He is not quite a like-for-like replacement of Partey, but a combination of footballing intelligence and passing range makes him an effective enough replacement to allow Arsenal to bring Partey back to the fold in a more measured manner, without risking the kind of repetition injuries that have unfortunately linited his otherwise outsized contributions in the last couple of seasons.


White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko

Jorginho – Xhaka

Saka – Ødegaard – Martinelli


The match started with Arsenal dominating the possession, controlling the midfield, passing easily through the lines and building from the back with aesthetically pleasing patterns. Trossard and Martinelli combined well on the left. Xhaka has lately run out of steam a bit in that left sided number 8 role after a barnstorming start to the season, but he recycled the ball well with Zinchenko continuing to play that floating “extra man” role in all pockets of spaces in the entire left half of the field, sometimes even veering to the right. But, however smooth the passing and movement were until the red-and-white brigade arrived around the penalty box, the final pass or touch or short continued to elude Arsenal and it felt like one of those matches where we would simply fail to create enough to claim an assertive victory. In situations like these an individual moment of genius often helps to unlock the defense, and such a moment was hard to come by with Ødegaard being just a little less influential than his absolute best, and Saka was being assaulted by a multitude of defenders with impunity. A lot has been discussed and written about the latter, and there is not much for me to add. Except this: English football authorities would do well to remember that England has not really been blessed with many players of Saka’s caliber on and off the ball and to have one of those cups to actually come home one of these days the England national team will need players like him.

Then did come a moment of inspiration. There was another corner – our effectiveness from corners has dropped noticeably in the recent weeks – that the Leicester goalkeeper Ward punched one handed, Xhaka controlled the ball and passed neatly to Trossard near the edge of the penalty box. The Belgian cleverly set the ball up on his right foot to rifle in an unstoppable finish through the defense on to the roof of the net past Ward’s outstretched hands. It was a quality goal from a player who is very quickly becoming a key member of the ensemble.

But then VAR intervened. Benjamin White looked to have impeded Ward by grabbing on to his hand. I myself have no problem in that decision to disallow the goal because of that foul; I just hope that degree of rigor in applying the rule of law is seen consistently, especially when it comes to getting the correct decision awarded in our favor.

That dream of consistency evaporated a few moments later when from another goalmouth action Leicester’s defender Souttar hauled Saka down to the ground in one sweeping action that would have been applauded for its obvious efficacy in a wrestling ring. Probably the VAR official was transported into one such ring in his daydreams and failed to react. There are times when you can forgive even a group of such committed professionals like the Arsenal players to lose the control of their emotions a bit when they are at the receiving end of one more such atrocious refereeing inconsistency. The team lost the composure just a little bit as the first half came to a somewhat disorganized end, but they looked to have regained the focus and discipline once the second half started.

Gabriel and Saliba maintain a very high defensive line which sometimes may lead to the odd goal or two being conceded, but this allows us to create quick transitions into attack. The goal – Arsenal’s first ever goal in the opening minute of the second half in PL – came because of the effectiveness of such a high line. Gabriel won the possession and without delaying sent a lovely lofted pass the Trossard who had drifted towards the left byline. Even before the moment Trossard cushioned the ball on his feet Martinelli had started his diagonal sprint cutting across two lines of Leicester defense. Trossard spotted – or anticipated – the run and deftly carried the ball forward before releasing a perfect pass through the legs of a Leicester defender onto Martinelli’s path, who rolled the ball in with a flawless finish inside the rear post. It was an assist of exceptional quality, and deserved that finish. The Arsenal faithful were deprived of Martinelli’s typically joyous celebrations as immediately after scoring the goal Ndidi – still on his recovering run – couldn’t stop himself before stamping onto Gabi’s knee. I understand it was unintentional, but a little bit more consideration for the well-being of fellow professionals is surely expected at this level of sports? Fortunately the worst fears about that injury didn’t come true and Martinelli recovered quickly enough to continue his participation.

Leicester City 0 – Arsenal 1 (Martinelli 46’)

He has lately been a little subdued in his output in the final third, but not in his relentless efforts and boundless energy, and in the first half of this match there were a few moments when the Martinelli of the first half of the season would have crafted real goalscoring opportunities, so hopefully this goal – coming at the back of his counter-attacking one in the last minute of the Aston Villa match last weekend – would help to bring him back close to his best, even before Gabriel Jesus returns back.

Arsenal scored another goal, this time Martinelli breaking the lines and setting up a precise cut-back for a simple tap-in for Saka. But the offside flag went up against the Brazilian, and even though VAR looked at it – in TV replays there was not enough scrutiny for that decision, no lines being drawn etc. – the initial offside decision stood.

After that the game became a little disjoined. Leicester made a series of substitutions, some of them familiar annoyances from past battles, and even though they fail to overcome the supreme poise and reading of the game of our magnificent defensive duo, the assaults in various part of the field continued. Credit to Arsenal players that despite the provocations they kept the necessary measure of cool and saw out the match without any scare. Arteta brought in Nketiah for Trossard and Eddie did a fair job of holding the ball with his back to the goal, Partey came in for Ødegaard in the 85th minute to help see out the final minutes, in which Tomiyasu came in for Zinchenko to shore up the left side. Our captain for the day left with what must have been one of his more memorable days on the field — leading the team he supported in his boyhood growing up in Radomyshl, a small but historic town in the Ukrainian heartland of Zhytomyr Oblast, and leading us to a victory – and I hope that before the next 24th February comes along he would be celebrating victories for the club he now so admirably represents, and for his nation that represents the values of a free, fair and democratic world so admirably.

22 Drinks to “Defense. Resiliance. Togetherness.”

  1. 1
    TTG says:

    A fine report Dr. F . It captures the essence and atmosphere of a tense game but one which we won easily in retrospect . There’s no thing as in retrospect when a Leicester goal in the dying moments would have hurt us so much but Brendan Rodgers was very complimentary about us and admitted that we always had control .
    You are also absolutely right to praise our central defenders. They formed a very strong barrier and showed coolness at all times .
    I also agree that our two new signings have done very well and I bet Vikior will be a huge asset too

  2. 2
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Dr F, an excellent review of the game and fine words on Zin too.
    I must admit that I had been expecting a tougher game than the Villa one but Leicester shorn of Maddison had almost nothing. Or as you put it, we let them have nothing.

    Eddie the one rested this week and I think we can expect regular changes in the front three over the next couple of months with ESR and soon Jesus to be available. A couple of home games coming up and an opportunity to give Saka or Ode a break? We haven’t been playing that much for the last month but if we go further in EL it will be busy in March / April.

    Two away wins in the PL is never to be sniffed at and a great response from the team. We looked more confident and soothed the more fevered brows. Two convincing home wins next up please Mikel 😀

  3. 3
    OsakaMatt says:

    I should have said changes in front four not three really, as according to MA, Vieira is pushing hard for a start by training very well.

  4. 4
    Up4GrabsNow! says:

    Good report, thank you Dr F!

    Our Captain for the day, was everywhere, at one stage playing inside right! Jorginho had another very good game, couple of great forward passes, one to Saka stood out. Thanks Chavs!

    Mikel has made some small tweaks lately and I would like to see ESR get a run in Xhaka’s role.

    Four of our next five league games are at home. If we are to pip Man C, we should be targeting 15 points from Everton, Bournemouth, Fulham, Palace and Leeds.

    But let’s start by getting a little revenge against the Toffee’s on Weds.

  5. 5
    North Bank Ned says:

    You are right, Dr F., to highlight our defensive performance after a couple of games where that has been sloppy. S+G put barely a foot wrong against Leicester.

    I am surprised that ESR hasn’t been called off the bench yet. A Jorginho-Partey-ESR midfield would be an interesting alternative.

  6. 6
    Lonestar Gooner says:

    Excellent report, Dr. F. A wee dram of Buffalo Trace on the bar for you, sir.

    It’s all beginning to come together—long term absentees, with any luck, returning to action; tactical whetstones applied to restore our attacking sharpness; and “the fierce urgency of now.”

    Now, if PGMOL will only stay out of our way…*


  7. 7
  8. 8
    bt8 says:

    Dr. Faustus, Thanks for your report.

    On the disallowed Trossard goal, none other than former Spud Garth Crooks has weighed in saying that Ben White’s transgression was far too minor for the referee to overturn the original decision. Writing in his BBC column Crooks wrote: “As for Danny Ward in the Leicester goal, it was a cheek, complaining about being fouled by Ben White from the corner that eventually led to Trossard’s superb strike being disallowed. VAR insisted referee Craig Pawson look at video evidence and he bottled it.

    If a referee awarded free-kicks every time a keeper is challenged at a corner there would be no point taking a corner at all.”

  9. 9
    ClockEndRider says:

    Whereas a Sp*urs player using a Chelsea player as a climbing frame to nod a ball onto the Mouth-Breather to score yesterday barely even merits a comment in the media, it seems. Move on, move on, nothing to see here…

  10. 10
    Esso says:

    Cheers Doc!

  11. 11
    Countryman100 says:

    A splendid visit to Leicester on Saturday for an old school 3pm kick off. My son, who had gone to London for a gig the previous night messaged me about 10.30pm to let me know he was going on to a Shoreditch night club and then staying with his mates in Stratford. He would catch a train and meet me at the ground before the game. Oh to be 23 again! While I was waiting for him I fell into conversation with a couple about my age who devotedly follow Leicester all over the country. We shared stories about away days, about how parking in Liverpool is £5 more expensive (in the same car park) when LFC are at home compared to EFC and what a bastard city Southampton is to get out of after a match. Just like the chap at Goodison they said how much they wanted us to win the league (although they hoped to deny us three points today!). I’m getting the feeling that everywhere except N17 and the offices of the PGMOL we have the support of the league against Abu Dhabi FC.

    At Leicester the away support, about 3300 of us, are packed into a tight little quadrant around the corner flag. Combined with a crinkly tin roof above us, this made for a splendid singing venue. I thought our away support gave us the best and loudest support I’ve experienced in this campaign) and I’ve been to seven away games this season). Every player had his song sung, including Gabriel Jesus. You can always tell it’s a good singing day when “So Paddy got up” rents the air. The profane song about Conte has become a favourite. And “we’ve got super Mik Arteta” is still top of the pops.

    Dr Faustus has given us a splendid review of the match above. I thought the defence were imperious and didn’t give the Leicester team that put four past Spurs and could have been three up against United by half time but for de Gea, a sniff of goal. Up front I really loved the Trossard Martinelli combo and feel we may use that more often. It has to be said, however, then when James Maddison is not in the team, Leicester are a shadow.

    No scran report this week. I ate breakfast and dinner at home. But another excellent away day. Now two very winnable home matches before we hit the road in Europe.

  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@11: Splendid reportage from the front lines. As I mentioned in the last drinks, the singing of the away support was so loud and clear that the commentator on the stream I was watching mentioned it in the first 90 seconds of the game.

  13. 13
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    In the loanee news, Flo hit the woodwork multiple times as Reims thrashed Toulouse 3-0. The Japanese Ito — one more of the technically accomplished Japanese forward players — scored one and had two assists. Reims is on an extraordinary run of club record 16 undefeated, and their young Belgian-British manager Will Still is making a name for himself.

    Marquinhos with a goal and an assist in his Norwich debut. Analysis of his performance https://theathletic.com/4252415/2023/02/27/marquinhos-norwich-debut-arsenal/?source=user_shared_article .

  14. 14
    Ollie says:

    Great stuff Dr F. The defence was indeed superb.
    Also, this match indeed highlighted that we seem to have better options for cover in attack and midfield now.
    Let’s see what happens next, but Jorginho and Trossard may well have been what we needed at this moment in time. Let’s keep winning!
    And good work, C100!

  15. 15
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Ollie @ 14: let’s hope ESR and Reiss too can join in as we fight on two fronts. Once ESR is back to his best he is match winner in PL and versatile enough to play multiple positions. Reiss’s Arsenal career never took off because of injuries etc. but fully fit and in rhythm he can be a difference maker from the bench.

    I have been watching a bit of Reims in Ligue 1 to see Balogun in action, and I must say that they are playing some … sparkling football. Hopefully they will get to taste the Champagne of European competitions next season. 🙂

  16. 16
    Ollie says:

    Good points, Doctor.
    And yeah, Reims are nicely bubbling under the European spots at the moment.

  17. 17
    Countryman100 says:

    Oh yes, one more I’ve just remembered. About the only thing we heard from the Leicester crowd all afternoon was when we told them they’d “only come to see the Arsenal”, they replied, truthfully but a little clunkily

    We won the league
    More recently than you!

  18. 18
    Countryman100 says:

    Which wasn’t a patch on current favourite

    We won the league at Anfield
    We won it at the Lane
    Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford
    No one can say the same!
    We’re Mik Arteta’s army
    We’re Arsenal through and through
    We’ll sing this in the North Bank
    And in the Clock End too
    Ole Ole Ole …….

  19. 19
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks for the away day special C100.
    @17 hahaha, yes they can sing that song…. for now. Their win made Leicester the 13th different club to win the title since the spuds last won it.

  20. 20
    North Bank Ned says:

    We really should have won the league the year Leicester did.

  21. 21
    Bathgooner says:

    I really thought we were going to when Danny Welbeck scored that later winner over Lesta at the Grove.

  22. 22
    Bathgooner says: