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So Far … So Pretty Good!

As the celebrations continued after the win against Manchester City, it seemed reasonable to take stock, for the first time this season of how the 2023/24 season had started. In this second Interlull, I will look at three things. How Arsenal have started the season, how have other teams fared so far and finally, what big issues have emerged as the season has got under way? 

Firstly, and very importantly, how are we doing? After the excitement but ultimate disappointment of last season, how have we begun our attempt to go one place better than we did last term? Well, if you look at things statistically it looks pretty similar. Last season we were the early pacesetters but lost one of our first big tests to Manchester United. We dropped three points in our first eight games. This season we have dropped four and we are second by the narrowest of margins but are unbeaten in the league and the  team ahead of us are top on goals scored by dint of having scored two more. Unfortunately that team is Tottenham, also unbeaten but benefitting enormously from having played five of the bottom six teams including all three promoted clubs. More of them later. 

The big difference from last season is that we are back in the Champions League. A sublime performance in our first game against PSV (a team unbeaten in 27 consecutive games in the Eredivisie) was followed by our only defeat of the season to date at Lens. We also eased through a tricky looking Carabao Cup tie away to Brentford with a shadow side. So the season has begun pretty well, although qualification from our CL group is by no means a gimme. 

Unpacking that start one could look at the situation from two perspectives. We have yet to produce much of the high octane football that characterised our play last season in the League. Three home games have been won, against Forest, Manchester United and last week’s potentially vital win against Citeh. We’ve frustratingly dropped points at home to Fulham and Tottenham, both 2-2 draws and both games we really should have won. We’ve conceded six goals in five home games. In the three away league games we’ve yet to concede despite playing at Palace with ten men for almost half the game! Overwhelmingly superior to Everton, we triumphed only 1-0 but put Bournemouth to the sword by winning 4-0. This would suggest that we perhaps adopt a different approach home and away with a less expansive way of playing on our travels. But it would be a massive curmudgeon who would criticise an unbeaten start domestically and a one point lead over Manchester City who won their first six games. A couple of weeks ago Twitter was full of people saying the title race was already over. Our big fear pre-season was that a slow start might see us fail to regain the momentum we generated last season. Without recapturing that, we have accumulated points very efficiently and one senses there is so much more to come from this side. It still intrigues me that we have slipped into the role of the most highly rated challengers to Citeh when at this stage two seasons ago a large portion of our fan base were screaming for Arteta’s dismissal after a disastrous start! 

Any start to a new season is  fascinating  because of the impact of new signings and new playing styles. The Arsenal’s transfer activity was very decisive in terms of acquiring key new personnel. Havertz was acquired from Chelsea, Jurrien Timber from Ajax and to most people’s surprise David Raya was recruited, initially on loan as a rival to one of the big successes of the new era, Aaron Ramsdale. By far the most important signing and an Arsenal record in terms of the transfer fee was the addition of Declan Rice. Looking at their impact so far (and these are very much my opinions), Rice has been a stunning signing, every bit as good as we dared to hope. Timber also looked likely to be a massive success only to be injured after one half of his first game. He is likely to be out for most of the season. Havertz has been underwhelming, both in terms of his effect on our goalscoring abilitiy and his performance during games. However it is still early days and he still has time to prove himself. The biggest surprise has been the replacement of the unfortunate Ramsdale who finds himself ousted from the side by Raya after doing very little wrong and much right over the past two seasons. This move more than any other underlines just how focused Arteta is on achieving incremental gains to the quality of his squad.

Fans at our first few games were excited and alarmed in equal measure by a defensive set-up that saw no Gabriel, Partey at right back and a bewildering array of positional switches. Zinchenko’s addition has led to even more  tactical complexities and my sense is that Arsenal players must retire to their beds after training reeling from the unusual ideas that Arteta is drumming into them to create the dynamism and creativity that he seeks. You have to be a very intelligent player to survive at the modern Arsenal.

We waved permanent goodbyes to fine servants like Xhaka, Holding and  Turner and bade  temporary (for now) farewells to Tierney, Tavares and Lokonga. All three of the loanees have immediately suffered significant injuries. Folarin Balogun departed to Monaco without being able to strut his stuff in the Premier League. Auston Trusty likewise moved on to Sheffield United after being voted player of the season at Birmingham. One wonders about the reason for his signing given that we made very little profit and he seemed the sort of talented player who could strengthen the squad. Yet caveats aside about the profitability of our transfer dealings, no one can deny the cold-eyed logic and intent behind Arteta’s team-building. Arsenal are being led by a generational coach, fully supported by owners who clearly believe in him and who have put together a cohesive and talented management team. These are good times and they should  become even better provided we can avoid injury setbacks especially to key players like Saka, Rice and particularly Saliba whose injury against Sporting Lisbon arguably derailed our season last year.

This year Saliba and Gabriel have reforged an increasingly durable partnership, Rice and Ødegaard are leaders of character and immense ability, Saka, without looking at his best probably because he is kicked from pillar to post with little protection, has been enormously influential. He is a bona fide world star. Martinelli’s absence has highlighted just how important he is to the side. A personal hope is that we can reintegrate Smith Rowe into the team as he brings so much dynamism and drive to our play. 

There are plenty of improvements which might be made. One cannot escape the concern that we lack the prolific goal scorer that all top teams seem to have. The balance in midfield does not yet feel right although the alliance between Partey and Rice in the last twenty minutes against Citeh, augmented by Jorginho’s performance beforehand does suggest we may have solutions there. Certainly, we have to hope that we will see greater contributions from Havertz, although it is not clear in which position or role he can add most to the team. Perhaps the biggest conundrum is the goalkeeping situation. Whatever he may claim publicly, Arteta has chosen Raya as his number one, ostensibly because of his superior distribution. The jury might be out on whether that is a correct decision but our manager generally makes the right moves and he will get the opportunity to explore the success of his beliefs in action. Ramsdale’s future may well lie away from the club. That would sadden me but the lad has a career to forge and is not a number two keeper. 

Particularly cheering is the fact that the support at the Grove remains hugely committed and enthusiastic. That is a vital aspect of any potential success that we hope to achieve. The toxicity of the latter Wenger years and end-stage Emery is gone and it is obvious that a re-energised support believe in the process and the direction of travel. So, who represent the greatest threat to us achieving our targets for this season?

The best of the rest 

Our noisy neighbours started the season by losing Harry Kane (to a much bigger club) but have shown, under their new manager (whom I will refer to as Ange) that all is not lost. Optimism at the Toilet Bowl should be tempered by the fact that, as previously mentioned, they have managed to play all the newly promoted sides so far plus two of the three sides immediately above them. One of them, Sheffield United, who shipped eight at home to Newcastle was only overcome with two goals deep into injury time. The less said about the victory over Liverpool the better. Let us just say it was a refereeing and VAR disaster. We were profligate in our game with them but in Van de Ven and Maddison they have made good signings and Ange is making a good fist of things so far. Reality will bite as it always does for them with harder fixtures. Liverpool look a formidable outfit without producing the convincing football of recent seasons and will be in the mix but Manchester United and Chelsea have started the season shockingly to our collective sadness and distress, although there are slight indications that Pochettino is starting to make progress despite the chaos around him. The other serious contender appears to be Newcastle who continue to develop under Eddie Howe and have begun well in Europe. Brighton continue their remarkable progress leavened with the occasional poor result and Wet Spam have shown there is life after Declan Rice with some intelligent signings. However, for Arsenal the real challenge lies in overcoming the behemoth that is Manchester City. We look much closer to them judging by the two games we have played against them so far, winning on  penalties in the Community Shield and then triumphing last weekend. They remain the benchmark but will be taking our challenge increasingly seriously. However, the loss of Gundogan and Mahrez particularly, appears to have affected them and the temporary absence of Rodri was keenly felt, whilst KDB’s return will undoubtedly add to the mix and not every centre back will deal with Haaland as brilliantly as Saliba did. If we finish above them, we will be champions.

The three promoted sides have really struggled, including Kompany’s Burnley, perhaps surprisingly. Gary O’Neill has looked a much better manager than his successor at Bournemouth, Iraiola, in piloting Wolves to some good results and the GHF Predictathon has reflected the uncertainty of early season results with some of the established members of this bar struggling, temporarily of course, in the relegation zone . 

The old cliche that there are no easy games has been slightly refuted by the performance of the newly promoted clubs but generally it remains  a very tough league in which to thrive. Credit to Arteta for getting us to the right end and avoiding the sort of pressure descending on Erik Ten Hag. 

The big talking points 

Sadly, the season has been dominated by rows over VAR and the competence or should that be incompetence of referees? We suffered a ridiculous sending off at Palace when Tomayisu was effectively yellow  carded for Havertz delaying a throw-in and then yellow carded again for the most innocuous of challenges. Compare that with the Kovacic challenges that Michael Oliver deemed not worthy of a red card or two yellows and the inconsistency is stunning . 

The low point was the aforementioned Tottnumb / Liverpool match where the quality of refereeing made a mockery of the result. It is, in my opinion, better for Liverpool to drop points rather than the Spuds but it illustrated what a farce and a lottery the combination of bad refereeing and VAR mishandling has made of what is ostensibly a professional game. Our colleague, Pangloss, made a very reasonable case for scrapping VAR totally a few weeks ago and there was considerable Holic support for a form  of automated offside system similar to the one used in Europe. If a system can pin the point of pass and the position of the attacker (and the offside rule is revised so that we don’t get the ridiculous distortion that caused Martinelli’s goal to be disallowed at Everton) we might be able to utilise technology for offside and goal line decisions and then let the corps of Premier League referees do their worst with other decisions. If the PGMOL could  be transformed into a quasi competent and professional organisation (as if?) without its strong bias towards recruitment from the North West we might have a hope of avoiding refereeing debacles, especially if we can introduce some of the best international referees to join forces with our ‘elite’ group of referees. 

My other wish is that we get to a situation where the Arsenal get access to TV rights for all their games so that when a game is not being shown live, loyal fans who can’t travel or get access to tickets can see it live in the UK. The embargo on 3pm televising of matches should be lifted. It would prevent the search for streams, many of them illegal, and bring in an extra revenue stream for the clubs.

As far as international football goes the current England team is the most exciting for years and Scotland have also done wonderful things in their qualifying group for the European championships although the recent international between the countries illustrated the gap between them. England have a group of genuinely world-class players, among them – Walker, Maguire (only joking!), Rice, Bellingham, Saka, Foden and Kane who might be able to secure silverware over the next few years. 

We also hope the Arsenal ladies, in whom there has been heavy and ambitious investment, can steady the ship and make another title challenge after their early exit from the Champions League. Jonas Eidevall has signed a new three year contract so KSE clearly have faith in him.

As we move into winter, we will see the squad stretched by the combination of Premier League and European football. Let us hope we avoid serious injuries, referees give our players more protection than they have so far and we can slip into the sort of rhythm that we generated this time last year. It’s an exciting prospect but football seasons last a very long time and the intensity of competition increases each year. Let us hope that we are the best prepared club for a very long haul this season. 

87 Drinks to “So Far … So Pretty Good!”

  1. 1
    OsakaMatt says:

    Much to ponder in an excellent and comprehensive review, many thanks TTG.
    Like you I’m happy enough with our start to the season and think we have
    left plenty of room for further improvement as the season wears on.

  2. 2
    bt8 says:

    Thanks TTG for your excellent assessment of our season so far, the league season generally, and a few extra topics (internationals, the women and the refs) thrown in. All highly original, entertaining and informative. Pay rise deserved, surely.

  3. 3
    Trev says:

    Thanks, TTG – a thoughtful, thorough and very fair appraisal. Oh yes, and not least an enjoyable read too.

    Excellent context on the media’s champions elect, Tottingham Hotspursy. We absolutely gifted them that point at the Emirates and although Postecoglou has had a very positive effect on them, the true test will be when injuries and suspensions force their squad into action.

    I agree entirely about ESR – to be honest I would rather see him or Reiss Nelson ahead of Havertz. I’m not a boo boy and I don’t want Havertz, or any Arsenal player to fail, I just really like the other two more. They are different to Havertz for sure but, at the moment at least, are stronger, more direct and offer the team more all round. Plenty will disagree but that’s the fun of it.

    I also have huge sympathy for Aaron Ramsdale who has contributed so much to our overall improvement, and to the team’s relationship with the fans. All the stats will tell you that Raya is better in all departments. At the moment my eyes would score them equal. It’s also worth remembering that statistically the average number of legs possessed by a human being is less than two. Just saying.

  4. 4
    North Bank Ned says:

    A clear-eyed and comprehensive review of how the season has started, TTG.

    I think you will have to wait a cycle of broadcasting rights before the clubs distribute live games digitally, but the one starting to be negotiated will be the last one under the old model. In the interim, there is no reason not to adopt a practice used in some US pro sports by which local TV blackouts are lifted once a game is sold out.

    On Raya v Ramsdale, you are right that Arteta is looking for any incremental gain he can find. There is little room for sentiment in elite sports and we know that Arteta is ruthless in his decision-making. We wouldn’t think twice about a similar change with any other position, Zinchenko for Tierney, for example. Like Ramsdale, Tierney had not done much wrong (beyond getting injured a lot). The difference is that we have taken Ramsdale to our hearts, even those who thought he was a waste of money when we bought him. But Arteta’s heart doesn’t rule his head, and we won’t win silverware if it does.

    On Trusty, we bought him for 1.8 million euros and sold him, probably too cheaply, for 5.8 million euros. We may also have gotten a loan fee from Birmingham along the way. With White, Tomiyasu, Kiwior and Timber to provide cover for Saliba and Gabriel, and some promising CBs in the Academy for longer-term development, he was never going to get much, if any, game time. Like Capitola Rob, much better for all parties for him to go somewhere where he has a chance to play regularly.

  5. 5
    Bathgooner says:

    An excellent summary of the season so far. There’s nothing there that I disagree with (though I am somewhat more forgiving of Havertz than Trev!) and I also think that, on the basis of the games so far 23/24 carries a lot of promise for the Arsenal. These Interlulls are terribly boring but this has been considerably leavened by this fine post and the knowledge that Saka is finally getting an opportunity to put his feet up.

    Congratulations to Eddie Nketia for getting his first full England cap at Wembley.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    Arsenal 1 Manchester City 0

    A result to bask in.

  7. 7
    Bathgooner says:

    Seems like the denizens of this hostelry are basking so much that they are in deep comas.

    Oh look! Tumbleweed!

  8. 8
    Ollie says:

    Great stuff TTG.
    There’s one thing I disagree with (one of the many reasons I’m fully onboard Trev’s post at 3): the use of ‘Ange’. Sure it may be out of laziness, but one of the irritating things so far this season has been the use of ‘Angeball’ and the media using ‘Ange’ all the time.
    Never mind that this version is too short to preface his mother’s profession in a famous chant, he’s not our ‘mate’ despite his constant use of the word, just another manager at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road.

    Minorly, I’d rather forget about big international teams winning tournaments in these nationalistic times, but despite giving the World Cup a swerve last time around, I suppose I’ll watch the Euros.

  9. 9
    Countryman100 says:

    Thank you TTG for an all encompassing and very well written review of the first couple of months of the season. Truly we must be pleased with where we are, especially as we have the glow of last weekend to sustain us through the interlull. Even so, the team feels transitional, with several question marks.

    Havertz. Left 8 or target man?

    Eddie. Is he worth his place?

    Midfield three. Surely Rice, Partey and Odegaard should be first choice?

    Tomiyasu. How can we make best use of this talented warrior?

    The players who can’t make the team. ESR, Nelson, Kiwior, Trossard – how do we get more minutes from them without weakening the team?

    And finally, who to play in goals?

  10. 10
    Bathgooner says:

    A great list of additional questions C100. Your guess is as good as mine but Arteta WILL have to answer them!

  11. 11
    North Bank Ned says:

    Let me add one to your list: Do we have cover for Saka, or do we need to buy?

    And reframe another: Like Martin Peters, is Havertz just ten years ahead of his time?

  12. 12
    Trev says:

    Ned @11 – I certainly hope not cos I’d hate to slow him down enough to re-synchronise.

  13. 13
    BtM says:

    Grand summary, TTG. I had assembled a few points for commentary but C100 beat me to the punch @9.

    I’d only add that in search of goal scoring excellence, in the absence of Saka and Martinelli, we’re very short. I like both Eddie and Jesus, but neither are prolific, potent strikers. Jesus is a prolific disruptor and Eddie’s talents are probably better suited to a middle/lower order team. I think the next recruitment we’ll see will be either a new CF or a right winger capable of matching Saka’s talents. Both are rare and precious.

  14. 14
    TTG says:

    Great list of questions C100 and a good one Ned!
    Some personal answers –
    Havertz- the fact that we are asking this question that they asked for three years at Chelsea says everything . If he’s a target man who do we drop to accommodate him ? He doesn’t add anything as a left 8 in my view. His assist record is pretty underwhelming . Ned’s question may point to the truth ! I really don’t know why we signed him and if he plays we omit a more valuable, more consistent player . Having said that we owe him the chance to show what he can do given what we paid for him and because he needs to adjust to a new club. But as you can tell my instinct has always suggested he is a waste of money

    Eddie – I like him but he’s not a starter for me . Jesus offers much more .

    Midfield 3- I like your three which underlines the lack of a place for Havertz . £65 m is a lot to pay for someone with no obvious role in the side
    I’d start Tomi at left back instead of Zinchenko
    ESR and Trossard are potential starters , Kiwior and Nelson are bench players . Trossard is the back-up for either of our wide attackers but he is a great false 9 as well ( better than Havertz) . ESR can also play wide but could be a left 8 .
    I’d stick with Raya now we’ve made the change

  15. 15
    OsakaMatt says:

    My own tuppenceworth front to back, though I mostly agree with the comments so far.
    No one mentioned Vieira…have we given up?

    Eddie has had another run, hasn’t upped his game enough yet. Jesus to start at CF after the interlull. Leo is great cover and I think it should easy to be giving him regular time.

    Rice / Partey is too defensive for me, especially at home. I’d stick with Kai until MA has seen enough. It’s a big bath to take at 65m, let’s give it a season at least. Need to keep Jorginho ticking over too, he’s a handy fellow to have fit and ready.

    Zin was quite disciplined against Shitteh and still starts over Tomi for me. We are lucky to have Tomi though and better make sure he plays. Honestly have no clue if Kiwior is good enough so far.

    Raya stays in goal and proves himself or doesn’t

  16. 16
    Trev says:

    Midfield 3 for me is Rice, Partey, Odegaard. We looked a different, calmer , better side when Partey came on against City and I don’t find him too defensive – I actually love his ability to find / turn into space and turn defence into attack so quickly.

  17. 17
    OsakaMatt says:

    Great late comeback from the Arsenal Women today. And Beth Mead returned too so a good day for them.

    The rugby appears to be going better than the cricket……

  18. 18
    North Bank Ned says:

    I am open-minded/undecided/befuddled about Havertz. On the positive side of the ledger, he does a lot out of possession that managers see and value, but fans don’t necessarily, and he does it well, better than ESR or Vieira. Plus, our recruitment policy is no longer a trolley dash. Garlick would not have sanctioned spending £65 million on Havertz if Arteta didn’t see Havertz bringing something specific he needed. On the debt side, Havertz’s on-the-ball production has been underwhelming so far; ESR and Vieira are both more potent goal, assist and chance-creating threats. Asking whether Havertz is a left 8 or a target man may be the wrong question if Arteta wants him to play a role that doesn’t exist except in the new tactics he is developing. I was only being halfway facetious in my Martin Peters comment earlier.

  19. 19
    North Bank Ned says:

    As for Eddie, BtM may have put his finger on it @10: we might not be the right team for him. and vice versa. Like others, I like him, but he could thrive best in a team that plays two strikers. That doesn’t make him a bad player, far from it; he has come on by leaps and bounds in the past couple of seasons and is a full international now. We must also assume that given the choice between keeping him and Balogun, Arteta chose Eddie. But I have a nagging doubt that his ceiling, while high, is not quite high enough for an elite striker.

  20. 20
    TTG says:

    I concur with you about Eddie and you are concurring with Btm’s points ! There is a debate about the sort of striker we need if indeed we go for one . I like Toney and do not accept Keenos argument about him . He is looking at a player working in a very specific Brentford system . He is, imo , good enough to fit the way we want to play him.
    Ollie Watkins looks better this season but I’m not certain he is top-class and Osimhen will probably follow the money…to Saudi .
    But the £65m we spent on Havertz restricts our options and we may not wish to spend a similar amount on a 27 year-old . Quite a dilemma for Mikel

  21. 21
    bt8 says:

    Kevin Campbell seems to think Declan Rice has been a useful signing, and who’s to argue?


  22. 22
    bt8 says:

    And I think he’s right about how solid we can be in the middle of the park with both Declan and Thomas in there.

  23. 23
    Uplympian says:

    Many thanks TTG for your early season review. It is well thought out and sums up how the majority of holics are thinking. We are now set up for a good challenge on all fronts for the rest of the season.
    I’m also in the club of playing Rice & Partey in the same team. They bring both skill & strength and would be a formidable partnership ( with Ødegaard in front of them ) – shades of Viera & Petit of yonder years.
    The next priority is an upgrade on Eddie – Jesus is a great player but not a prolific goal scorer. If we can locate that rare beast then this team will really be going places.

  24. 24
    Countryman100 says:

    Interesting stat, taken from an Athletic piece this morning.

    “They (Arsenal) are two points better off this season compared to the same fixtures last season (20, compared to 18 in 2022-23) and have also conceded fewer goals against those opponents (six, up from eight in 2022-23). But they have also scored fewer goals (16, down from 19 last season).”

  25. 25
    Countryman100 says:

    Here’s the whole piece, although it’s behind the Athletic paywall


  26. 26
    TTG says:

    Nice piece C100 thanks
    That confirmed more or less the evidence of our eyes but the stats are interesting

  27. 27
    bt8 says:

    Re: c100 @25. Thanks for linking that excellent piece. Also see today’s article in The Athletic by Liam Twomey, “Chelsea pining for top-dog status as Arsenal relish shift in capital’s hierarchy”

    When was the last time people were writing titles like that?

  28. 28
    Ollke says:

    Heh, bt8. Suddenly I am reminded of all those years when they were talking about a ‘power shift’ in North London…

  29. 29
    North Bank Ned says:

    Ollie@28: I am reminded of when they only just escaped relegation to the old Third Division in the early 1980s. They got three draws and a win in their final four games and pulled off a great escape by two points.

  30. 30
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks c100, bt8

    I went and read the articles – the comments after the Chelsea pining article were funny too.
    Desperate arguments and / or stats as to why 5 or 6 of the current Chelsea side would get in a combined XI made me laugh out loud. I couldn’t think of any.

    Less funny was that we’ve only finished above them 3 times in the last 20 years. Long may their current slump continue.

  31. 31
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@30: There are half a dozen at the Bus Stop whom I would take for the squad, but I don’t see anyone among them who would be a nailed-on starter.

  32. 32
    Countryman100 says:

    You could hear a pin drop in here …….

  33. 33
    Trev says:

    Indeed you could. It’s a pity which in no way reflects on TTG’s excellent piece – I think people’s attention just wanders off football when there’s no Arsenal news in yet another too frequent, too long international break. Every time the Premier League season gathers a bit of impetus, it’s all brought to a stuttering halt by yet another two weeks of our team breaking up to play Moldova, Liechtenstein, San Marino or whoever else. A boring interruption I couldn’t give a rat’s arsenal about.
    I know not everyone agrees, and the players seem to set great store by playing for their National side, but I honestly would struggle to care less.
    Anyway, I wish you all a pleasant evening in the company of Kane, Maguire, Hendo et Al.

  34. 34
    bt8 says:

    Not all is bad about these interlulls. For one particularly positive thing, there is no VAR or PGMOL to worry about. That will change soon enough.

  35. 35
    Trev says:

    Well there is VAR – a Frenchman currently apparently trying to deny England a penalty

  36. 36
    Trev says:

    Marcus Rashford plays football twice a year – against us. What is he doing in this England team ? Answer: nothing so far

  37. 37
    Countryman100 says:

    Both centre halves badly at fault for Italy’s goal. They have both hardly played this season. So why are they out there?

  38. 38
    OsakaMatt says:

    @31 yep, that was my own conclusion Ned.
    Some potential there that’s currently being mostly squandered but otherwise no thanks.

  39. 39
    Potsticker says:

    To remedy their lack of playing time?

  40. 40
    Countryman100 says:

    Superlative goal from Rashford, made by Bellingham

  41. 41
    Countryman100 says:

    Playing at Bayern Munich has clearly improved Harry Kane. What a goal from him. Game over.

  42. 42
    OsakaMatt says:

    Yeah, good result for England. I was just about to completely agree with Trev @36 and then Rashford scored 😃

  43. 43
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@41: 😀

  44. 44
    bathgooner says:

    Thank goodness that’s the Interlull over and proper football can recommence. Interlulls have long since been on my list of things labelled ‘progress that would have been better never to have happened’.

    I understand that several of our players will still be in transit today and may not return until tomorrow.I think that Thomas Partey will be the last to return. Not the best preparation for a big London derby but we must be grateful that, as yet, there are no injury concerns of which I am aware.

  45. 45
    Countryman100 says:

    If you go to away grounds this is a really interesting piece. I have been to all of these grounds apart from Brighton, Luton, Crystal Palace, Brentford, the new Tottenham ground (I went to the old one) and Sheffield United (which I hope to put right in the new year).


  46. 46
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@45: Thanks for the link. Never good to see the neighbours top of anything.

    The weightings allocated make it inevitable that modern stadia dominate the list.

    **Wave of nostalgia for Highbury, Griffen Park, Upton Park and others long gone drifts by; gone and good riddance in Boleyn Ground’s case, a nasty, little place**

    How do the overall rankings compare to your well-travelled experience?

  47. 47
    Countryman100 says:

    Ned@46. Like you, I cherish the old, historic grounds and count Villa and Goodison among my favourites, despite the awful sight lines at Goodison. Craven Cottage is definitely a great away day. There’s no doubt St James Park is atmospheric, the atmosphere was white hot last May until the skipper shut them up! Although after 12 flights of stairs to the away seats you emerge somewhere in the flight path from Newcastle airport! The one that baffles me is Old Trafford. It looks good from outside but is a shit heap when you get inside. Narrow, plastic seats with frankly dangerous gaps to the rows below (I tumbled four rows down when Danny Welbeck scored), no big screens and looks like nobody has laid a spanner or paint brush on it for 20 years. We also don’t think much of Wolves where the away fans are stretched thin across one side. Definitely looking forward to BDTBL (Beautiful Down Town Bramall Lane as the locals have it) if I can get lucky with tickets.

  48. 48
    North Bank Ned says:

    From our where are they now? department: An analysis of Wyscout data to determine the best midfield distributors this season puts the much-maligned Granit Xhaka at number 5, behind Rodri, Frankie de Jong, Toni Kroos and our former skipper’s Bayer Leverkusen teammate, Exequiel Palacios. Declan Rice is our only player in the top 100, at 44th and 5th among PL players. No Ødegaard or Havertz. Partey fell short of the qualifying 450 minutes played.

  49. 49
    bathgooner says:

    C100 @47, I would totally concur with you about the Old Toilet. It’s an absolute disgrace on the inside in both the stands I have been in. I am fortunate to boast that both times I have been there, Manure have lost, once when Danny scored that goal and you fell down four rows and, a few years earlier, when Coleman’s Fulham with Saha up front ripped them apart – had to laugh!

  50. 50
    Ollie says:

    *comes out of nowhere to head it in*

  51. 51
    North Bank Ned says:

    C100@47: I haven’t been to Craven Cottage in many a long year, but always liked going there, and I have a memory from the 1960s of George Best giving Fulham a masterclass on how to play on a mud bath of a pitch (was there any other sort back then?). I’ve only been to St James’s once, in the 1970s. I was down at pitch level. I guess fans weren’t as segregated then. The atmosphere was unforgettable, but you could hear a pin drop when the ‘Toon conceded. Similarly, there was a great atmosphere down the road at Roker Park; I had a college friend from Sunderland and saw several games there. It also had what it claimed was the longest bar of any football ground, running the length of the pitch. At both grounds, if you’d taken a photo then and compared it to one in the 1950s, perhaps even the 1930s, it wouldn’t have looked much different. O tempora!, o mores! and all that.

  52. 52
    North Bank Ned says:

    Well in for the half-ton, Ollie. Ghosted in.

  53. 53
    Ollie says:

    Not been to an away ground in ages (not that I have been to that many, mind), but Craven Cottage in the summer has been a great treat a couple of times.

  54. 54
    North Bank Ned says:

    Newcastle’s Tonali is now confirmed as being subject to an investigation in Italy over illegal betting. It’s not football’s first such inquiry in recent times, as we know. Any investigation of illegal betting must raise the spectre of match-fixing (recently endemic in Eastern European leagues, and I remember Bruce Grobbelar suing the Sun in the 1990s over an allegation that he was involved with a Malaysian match-fixing ring). Are we hearing more about illegal player betting because it is getting more attention, or is it a growing problem?

  55. 55
    North Bank Ned says:

    There are a couple of new bonus charts on the GHF Predictathon to help provide a diversion from the interlull tumbleweed.

    One shows how every player’s ranking has changed match week by match week.

    The other indicates the remarkably high standard of the predictions in aggregate so far, a testimony to the wisdom of the denizens of this fine establishment.

    Of course, come the end of the season, what now looks like visionary choices may turn out to be dumb picks, but that is the fun of the game…

    Click on the GHF Contests tab to see it all.

  56. 56
    Trev says:

    Thanks, Ned ! The individual graphs just prove that the whole thing is down to luck as all the Americans are at the top !

  57. 57
    TTG says:

    Great work Ned and thanks for all you are doing to feed the data through to us .
    As some know I used to enter a similar competition ( but without the international flavour among the participants ) for many years – close to twenty. I didn’t do at all well for years but what was interesting was that there was huge variability in the positions of participants unlike Fantasy League competitions where the usual suspects finish close to the top year after year . We actually saw ( among around forty entrants ) the previous year’s winner finish last the next season on one occasion!
    I won it the last two years , although I had to share the prize last season. The year before I was about twentieth with about 10 games to go and going into the last game I was sixth. So much is governed by the surprise teams . This year Man United and Chelsea have underperformed and Brighton and Villa are doing better than most predicted . But a big move either way- say United win the next six games or Villa lose the next three can change the table significantly.
    As Ned says the stats suggest a very creditable level of accuracy across the piece .
    I had lunch this week with one of my old staff who I had not seen for over twenty years He has been living in Korea and Australia . He sadly supports ManU . He saw every game they played live while he lived there albeit some were at very inconvenient times. Back in the UK he has had to rely on illegal streams to watch three games .

  58. 58
    North Bank Ned says:

    Trev@56: It seems to be those of a Scottish persuasion dominating proceedings so far, with two of the top three guilty as charged. Yoofs are doing well, too — two of the top four (and the other two would probably claim to look younger than their years). But it is still early days. Thirty games to go, and as TTG indicates, much can change. At the end of the season, we’ll see the men sorted from the boys. (Matron!)

  59. 59
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks for the update Ned. These charts are very informative and your words bring succour to those of us in the basement. While I clearly have no natural aptitude for it, the game was a great recommendation from TTG and adds extra interest to the fortunes of clubs I usually ignore.

  60. 60
    bt8 says:

    What Bath said @59. The first of the two charts is the one I find most interesting, both graphically and informatively.

  61. 61
    ClockEndRider says:

    Thanks for the link a@45, C100. An interesting piece but bizarre that OT comes in higher than the Emirates. It sits 8in the middle of an utter void and the lack of investment from the owners screams ever louder as each season passes. I have been to the new Sp*rs ground – to watch Saracens not the football. I long ago became too slow to run the length if the High Road to escape from the lack of police protection from the barbarian hordes the police allow to do their stuff outside the away end- and can confirm it really is excellent in terms of the internal fit out. But then again for nearly three times the cost of the Arsenal ground and nearly 15 years younger it ought to. And nothing can improve its awful location and desolation of the surrounding area.

  62. 62
    ClockEndRider says:

    And I would like to thank Ned and TTG for posting further evidence that my predictions are to be used solely as a user guide for who not to follow.

  63. 63
    Ollie says:

    CER @61 (unfortunate number): also nothing can improve the awful club it hosts.

    Heh @ 62.

    Cheers Ned, great work!

  64. 64
  65. 65
    Bathgooner says:

    C100 @64, that is indeed an excellent piece by AL. If anyone is swithering on whether to subscribe to the Athletic, just do it. Pieces like that and the Handbrake Off podcast are the best things out there after GHF.

  66. 66
    Countryman100 says:

    I completely agree Bath. I take it “swithering” is a phrase from north of the border!

  67. 67
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks for the charts Ned, it’s a fun competition. I haven’t checked my predictions to see but I expect the standard suspects are dragging my score back. On the other hand I am enjoying their mediocrity so swings and roundabouts 😃

    And just to add on away grounds – I haven’t been to Old Toilet since the 80s but it was a shithole then. Amazing they can’t do anything in 40 years! I suppose if you can sell it out to mug punters every week then why bother is the current owners thinking.

  68. 68
    Bathgooner says:

    C100 @66, probably. It emerged from the depths of my linguistic vaults.

  69. 69
  70. 70
    Lonestar Gooner says:

    C100@69, “The Rest is Football” is a very good podcast. My little guy and I are enjoying it immensely. The language is salty, but he’s gotta learn it sometime. 😉


  71. 71
    ClockEndRider says:

    And I have to commend Dino’s suggestion of The Offensive. I’m halfway through the second season and it really is so funny, gripping and, ultimately, believable.

  72. 72
    OsakaMatt says:

    Where’s it on CER? I will have a look….

  73. 73
    OsakaMatt says:

    Not to worry, I found it by googling. Which I should have done in the first place of course…

  74. 74
    TTG says:

    I note we are about to snatch Rangers head of academy scouting , Phillip Cowen, to fill a similar role at Arsenal . I don’t know how rich a vein of talent has flowed through into the Rangers first team and he has only been in place for two years so the lads recruited may just be making their mark at Ibrox .
    But it does show the emphasis on growing your own at Colney . Whether this is to produce a Saka to embellish the first team or a Balogun to sell and swell the coffers is not known but I find it reassuring that we still want to produce homegrown talent . Sagoe Jr seems to have leapt ahead of ACD in the race to understudy Saka and great things are expected of Walters and Sousa.
    I always enjoyed seeing lads break through into the first team- the likes of Simpson ( his debut marking Tambling saw the Chelsea man get four goals ) and Radford who developed quite slowly became extremely important players . Others like Brady and O’ Leary hit the ground running .
    I’d always like to see Hale End lads in our team and I hope ESR gets a chance to stake a claim in the near future .

  75. 75
    Bathgooner says:

    Here’s an interesting interview with AOC in the Athletic…somewhat confirmatory about the culture of the late Wenger teams: https://theathletic.com/4977582/2023/10/20/alex-oxlade-chamberlain-liverpool-amazing-silence/

    TTG @74, I can’t say I know any of the lads whom this fella has signed for the blue ugly sister (as Zico would phrase it) but it’s certainly vital for Arsenal to ensure that there is a rich flow of potential coming into the club at an early age. You are clearly right that anyone he has signed in the last two years is unlikely to have emerged above the parapet but that club has fo several decades survived on pillaging established young talent from local rivals (bar one) and buying middle drawer foreigners. I note they are trying to get Brighton’s ‘chief scout’ as their new Director of Football which suggests they want to adopt the Seagulls’ successful scouring of foreign leagues as opposed to their own recent approach of herding donkeys..

  76. 76
    TTG says:

    Thanks for the attachment Bath . Another typically good Athletic article . I concur with the praise it received yesterday .
    I remember talking to Bob Wilson just after Ox signed at Anfield . Bob had been with Theo’s family the week before and Theossid he hated it at Liverpool ! But things obviously picked up although he has had a lot of setious injuries . I understand the doubts about him. His point about the lack of belief in latter day Wenger teams correlates with the general view that Arsene list his mojo a bit but still retained the respect of his players …and he knew how to win the FA Cup !
    In other news I’ve heard that Timber is several weeks ahead of schedule in his recovery from his ACL and May resume training in January. Trev’s expert input would be welcome but apparently Arsenal’s medical team learnt a great deal about serious knee injuries treating Gabriel Jesus last year . He would be a welcome addition in the last few months of the season

  77. 77
    Bathgooner says:

    The only big question this week is whether BS7 will be fit for the Bus Stop.

    Good news on Timber.

    Your comment on our medical team’s growing experience of ACL rehab reminded me that in the 80’s and 90’s the Belfast surgeons were world leaders in the management of gunshot wounds, bomb injuries and serious trauma. I suspect that mantle has passed to Kiev or Tel Aviv.

  78. 78
    North Bank Ned says:

    It sounds from Arteta’s press conference that there will be late fitness tests for Saka, Saliba and Trossard.

  79. 79
    ClockEndRider says:

    I hadn’t appreciated that Saliba didn’t join up with France for the interlull. Delighted that he’s had a break and would expect him to start. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Saka start. Roll on the weekend and getting back to proper football.

  80. 80
    North Bank Ned says:

    Football Insider names three Ibrox academy products for which Cowen was responsible. It seems he has been at Rangers for 15 years, although for only two as head of youth scouting.


    I hadn’t heard of any of them either.

  81. 81
    Esso says:

    @ Baff 77

    Or even Gaza City. Well if they had any electricity or medical supplies I suppose.

  82. 82
    TTG says:

    Perhaps a discussion alongside the preview but I woukd be very confident that Saka and Saliba will be in place at the Bus Stop. I would be quite concerned , if after a two week break , Saliba was deemed unfit . I’m glad that Arteta followed the advice of the GHF brains trust , even with Citeh as opposition , to rest Saka a fortnight ago but the lad is uncommonly resilient and Saturday will be a tough game . I expect the Chavs to come increasingly strongly as the season progresses . Pochettino is a good coach

  83. 83
    bt8 says:

    Over 200 combined drinks on our last drinks. Signs of a revived blog or just a confusion of mixed drinks?

  84. 84
    bt8 says:

    .. Over 200 combined drinks on our last two blogs, I should have said. Almost like the old days.

  85. 85
    ClockEndRider says:

    Vive le blog, bt8.

  86. 86
    Bathgooner says:

    I’ll drink to that, CER! 🥃

  87. 87
    Bathgooner says: