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I have always liked to discover similarities between jazz and football, highly dissimilar even though they are. It is possible that my simple anthropic pattern seeking mind mistakes a merely accidental topographical similarity between two entirely psychological landscapes – landscapes that I am naturally drawn to – as hidden clues to some greater understanding, but in days as inexplicable as Arsenal’s weekend derby away at Chelsea, I tell myself that even a very well rehearsed quartet of great musicians occasionally can have an evening of uninspired performances, from one mediocre solo to another.

Since the end of the invincibles era, and the beginning of English football’s enthusiastic acceptance of financial doping, the historical trend of Arsenal utterly dominating the west London outfit got reversed for a while. But in recent years there has been a return to the old normal, all the more pleasant because of it being achieved despite the habit of frantic accumulation of players by Chelsea becoming an even more intense exercise. Before this weekend’s match, Arteta’s managerial record away at the blues had been deliciously good: 2-2, 1-0, 4-2, 1-0.

Combined with the fact that we haven’t yet conceded a single goal away at PL this season, going into this match there was a quiet (and maybe among some Arsenal supporters, not so quiet) confidence in the Goonerverse that we will continue our winning ways to climb up to the summit of the league table.

The first team availability and the team selection further reinforced that belief. Everyone returned healthy, thankfully, from their peregrinations to the far flung corners of the planet and playing on novelty surfaces, and the lip smacking combination of Martinelli-Jesus-Saka was expected to be too much for a defensive outfit that can most generously be called evolving in this season.

White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko

Ødegaard – Jorginho – Rice
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli

The only pre-match negative was that the Raya vs. Ramsdale narrative rumbled on, especially given Aaron’s absence from the bench, even though everyone knew that he was away to experience a moment of personal joy to which football or profession pales in comparison.

The bench wasn’t shabby either – Trossard, Havertz, Nketiah, Nelson, Smith Rowe, Tomiyasu…

In the recent weeks Chelsea had found some form and consistency, which was only to be expected, sooner or later, given the strength of their squad and a manager with a known combination of competence and composure. So even though an away win was what most had predicted, it was not thought to be an easy affair.

Once the match started in pouring rain it became evident that Arsenal is going to have one of those days where they will have to dig deep to overcome themselves as much as their spirited opponent to get the three points.

Pochettino had set Chelsea up with no central focus to their attack – probably influenced by Saliba’s masterful neutralizing of Haaland a couple of weeks back – and a congested midfield that pressed, harried and hurried Arsenal and challenged for every ball. There are days when a tactic like this will play right into our hands, with Ødegaard orchestrating beguiling patterns around the press and finding our menacing winger duos in empty space. But this was not one such day: we were taking a second or two longer to move the ball, the passes were going astray, the close control and first touches were alarmingly poor, and there seemed to be a lack of urgency in winning duels. Our front trio were deprived of any services, Saka and Martinelli being (expertly, one must admit) double marked out of the game, and Jesus having to drop back further and further to satisfy his natural instinct to remain a part of the game.

In these early moments one decision I felt should have gone in our favor: Palmer’s reckless tackle from the back on the achilles of Jesus should have drawn a red card (Aubameyang against Crystal Palace being my benchmark), but the Chelsea winger got away with a yellow. Zinchenko earned a yellow too for rather uncharacteristically clattering his compatriot Mudryk while, more characteristically, floating around in the improbable right midfield space.

A few moments later Palmer put in an excellent cross in the Arsenal goalmouth, Mudryk and Saliba went for the header, Mudryk’s header bounced off Saliba’s hands which were in their natural position if you want to look at it simply from the biodynamics of the movement, but this natural position also happens to be an outstretched one. A penalty was given by the intervention of VAR – call me a cynic, but I am not convinced that Arsenal in PL would ever benefit from such literal and liberal interpretation of penalty rules – and Palmer slotted one in after sending Raya in the wrong direction.

Chelsea 1 (Palmer 15’) – Arsenal 0

Conceding a goal, somewhat paradoxically, settled Arsenal a bit and we started to bring a level headed control to the game that we have lately learnt to desire most. We were enjoying better possession, more passes, more entry to the final third, but there was an alarming lack of inspiration, inventiveness, movement and sharpness around the Chelsea penalty box. On the base of the midfield, Jorginho was nowhere near fast enough to spring counters, and Ødegaard had one of his quietest games for us. Rice, playing as the left side #8, and Martinelli on his outside were the only ones who looked capable of creating opportunities. Saka and Jesus too were bereft of their natural spark, but the discipline and workrate of the Chelsea defense, admirably orchestrated by Thiago Silva, in containing them played a big part in that.

Raya – based on pure statistical analysis of the last season, a better short and long passer of the ball than Ramsdale, and better at gathering crosses – looked entirely unconvincing. One of his attempts to play through the middle almost gifted Chelsea a second goal, and his attempts at long range distributions were ordinary to say the least.

At the break Mikel introduced one change. Zinchenko – never a traditional left back – was being given a difficult time by Sterling with his speed on the flank, and being already on a yellow card, and maybe even carrying some injuries from the midweek exertions away at the Euro qualifiers, was replaced by a more natural defender in Tomiyasu. I felt Jorginho should have been substituted at the break as well, with Rice dropping deeper and Trossard or ESR coming in to provide more vertical movement on the left side.

At the beginning of the second half we started playing more positively, but within a few minutes we had conceded one more goal from one more of our umpteen turnovers of the evening. We lost the ball easily on our right flank, White didn’t get much defensive support from his right sided colleagues, Mudryk was allowed a lot of time on the ball to execute what seemed like a cross for Sterling on the far post, the ball swerved in the air and looped inside the goal over the perplexed Raya’s tentative stretch. It doesn’t really matter to us whether Mudryk meant that or not, it’s Raya’s positioning for that goal that should be worrying. But thankfully we do have another top level keeper for us to be able to rotate and give the Spaniard some time to refresh his art.

Chelsea 2 (Palmer 15’, Mudryk 48’) – Arsenal 0

All signs at the stage pointed to the end of our undefeated start of the league season. Martinelli, never one to give up, kept probing the best he can, and fashioned in a couple of half chances for him that didn’t really trouble their keeper. We did earn a series of corner kicks but still didn’t really threaten from those even though both Saka and Gabi sent in some tantalizing deliveries.

Sensing the match slipping away, Arteta made his second set of changes: Nketiah replacing a sub-par Jesus, and Smith Rowe coming in to play the left sided midfielders with Rice dropping deeper and Jorginho leaving the field.

ESR, understandably rusty though he is, brought in a sense of directness which presented different types of questions for Chelsea. Rice now also had a wider field of vision in front of him, and from that came a moment where the ridiculous was lifted to the sublime in a fraction of a second. Sanchez in the Chelsea goal attempted a through pass to their left midfield. Rice expertly judged the path of the ball and noticing Sanchez being away from the goal pounced on it with a superb curling long distance finish. Whereas much of the discussion around this goal seemed to be centering around the mistake from Chelsea, I felt the combination of intuition, self-belief, situational awareness and technique shown by Rice deserves a lot of praise.

Chelsea 2 (Palmer 15’, Mudryk 48’) – Arsenal 1 (Rice 77’)

Sensing a window of opportunity, Mikel made his final set of substitutions: Trossard came in for Martinelli, and Havertz replaced our captain. Maybe it is too early to get alarmed, but Ødegaard’s recent form has been somewhat indifferent. My guess is that he is doing too much of a defensive minded midfield glue duty for the sake of control truly to have the freedom and energy to exert influence in the final third. Let us hope a return to Spain in the CL this week will freshen him up and Sevilla will be at the receiving end of his punishing artistry.

I like Trossard. He complements the flair and verve of our young attacking group wonderfully with his understated, precise, efficient craftsmanship especially in the final third. His finish for our equalizer was a beautifully crafted goal, an elegantly simple idea executed with a mixture of street-wise efficiency.

Saka, well contained for much of the game, found himself with a few extra seconds to be able to shift the ball on his left foot and have a mini run at the defense, and then, noticing Trossard on his run, providing an inch perfect delivery to the back post. Trossard finished with the outside of his right foot. Nothing any defense could do.

Chelsea 2 (Palmer 15’, Mudryk 48’) – Arsenal 2 (Rice 77’, Trossard 84’)

The unlikeliest of recoveries was now on the cards. At this stage Arsenal seemed to be the only team poised to win the match, and Nketiah almost made it happen with an inventively executed volley, while being surrounded by two defenders, past the onrushing Sanchez. The ball rolled agonizingly past the far post.

Despite the seven minutes of extra time there were no big threats on either end of the goal. Chelsea was a bit shell-shocked, and the traveling Arsenal fans were evidently enjoying this unlikeliest of recoveries.

On a day when we played so poorly, a point away at a London derby against a well coached team of talented players is not the worst outing. As Rice – my man of the match – accepted with admirably brutal honesty, the team indeed was really poor for much of the match.

But it’s just one game, and one more opportunity for the squad, and the coaches, to learn more about themselves and each other.

Chelsea 2 (Palmer 15’, Mudryk 48’) – Arsenal 2 (Rice 77’, Trossard 84’)

24 Drinks to “Damp Squib at the Wet Bus Stop”

  1. 1
    Ollie says:

    Cheers, Dr F!
    Still don’t know what to think of this result, but considering how poorly we played for most of the match, it’s a good point earned, I think, with two excellent finishes.
    On top of the red to Palmer, there was another incident when Sanchez clattered into Jesus that could (should) have easily resulted into a penalty.
    But hey, on average, VAR is not our friend.

  2. 2
    Countryman100 says:

    Thank you Dr Faustus. You saw the same game in Boston as I did in row 17 of the Shed Upper. Mind you I almost never saw it at all …

    I prefer to drive to football with my son and I sharing the driving. My current state of health, with fatigue and balance issues mean that I find lengthy journeys on public transport wearing. Normally this isn’t an issue. I use one of two parking apps and always seem to find reasonably priced parking a short walk from the ground. That’s what I thought I had this time. However when I turned up 90 minutes before kickoff, I could see the house I was parking at. But the road to it was closed in all directions. The police were adamant- nobody in or out. So for a rather sweaty 45 minutes we searched for somewhere to park. We were probably within ten minutes of giving up and going home,tailsbetween our legs. Eventually the car park of the North End Road Waitrose proved our haven, although I risked a fine for overstaying the maximum 90 minutes.

    So we were off, into the teeming rain and walking towards Stamford Bridge, past Fulham Broadway station. It is a most curious ground. Normally you can see the floodlights rising above you as you make your way in. Not here. Instead it is more like a retail park, studded with luxury hotels. Eventually you come to a small set of turnstiles and you make your way in to a very narrow concourse (reminiscent of Molineux for those who have been) and then to your block and seat. Chelsea have recently invested in safe standing for upper tiers and I have to say it’s very good. I could stand, sing and support my team while leaning on a chest high rail in front of me that left zero chance of tumbling forward into the rows below. So bravo Chelsea. The only other grounds I’ve been to with this are the London Stadium and Anfield.

    It was a good view, directly behind the goal. It was also right on the frontline next to the Shed Chelsea fans. Use of wanker signs were de rigeur of course.

    Dr F describes the game very well as did Declan Rice after the game and it was pretty obvious that we were watching our worst performance of the season. That dampened the already damp crowd and the level of singing was more Emirates like than the usual raucous away fanatics. Chelsea singing was pretty pathetic, even at 2-0 up. So I’m going to draw a veil over the first 77 minutes. But then, right in front of us, Declan Rice woke us all up with that stunning, swerving, first time hit from the kind gift provided by Sanchez. Suddenly it was game on. We poured forwards. And then Saka conjured up that delicious ball deep into their area which Tross somehow got on the end of and steered home with the outside of his right boot. For the first time in real earnest we tested the safe standing rails and didn’t find them wanting. There was only one possible song

    Two nil …and you fucked it up! rang out to the rarified, expensively housed Fulham Road air. We were enjoying ourselves. Eddie maybe could have won it but just missed. Only one team were in it now – after being second best for much of the afternoon. It really was far from being even an average overall performance, but if you are 2-0 down with not long to go and you draw 2-2 it feels like a win.

    Two players stood out for me on a night when many were sub par. One from each team. Rice and Silva were head and shoulders the best players on the pitch.

    Off into the night, and I was very glad that I wasn’t wearing colours, just like the high majority of the Gooners. Both sets of fans streamed out side by side separated by only a few stewards and police. Our fans continued to wind Chelsea with the 2-0 up song. There a number of halfhearted efforts to break through and start a fight (which actually were pretty pathetic). Back in the day, glass bottles would have been criss crossing. Thank God those days are over.

    The queue for Fulham Broadway station was horrendous. We walked the ten minutes back to Waitrose and bought some supper (we are a Waitrose household). Cheese and onion pasties, sandwiches, fruit, crisps and orange lucozade. Thanks for the car park chaps! Back to the car, no clamps or tickets (though something may turn up) and off on our way. Just over two hours to get home.

    Funny old away day.I’ve had much better; and I’ve had much worse. Nine unbeaten and, as I write, joint top on points with City.

  3. 3
    Ollie says:

    Great report from the frontline, C100. Glad you managed to find a parking space eventually!

  4. 4
    Ttg says:

    Dr F
    Thankyou for a meticulous and thoughtful look at a very tough match approached with your usual erudition ( bet this is the only blog account using the delicious word ‘ peregrinations’ !).
    One could write a lot about this game but I will try to keep my thoughts as concise as possible
    Firstly refereeing/ VAR – that is not a penalty in any logical universe . You cannot jump with your hands by your side and if Saliba coukd react to that header by touching it he is a much better keeper than we have at the club. Kavanagh is a poor ref and Gillett on VAR is arguably poorer. Palmer committed a very poor tackle that deserved red and Raya channelled Onana with by cleaning out Jesus
    Secondly we were overrun in midfield . Odegaard hasn’t played well with Rice in big games this season . Rice was very effective from deep ( Jorginho wasn’t ) . Could Zinny be the left 8 or could it be ESR ? What role should Partey play . I’d bring back Ramsdale pronto . Interestingly Saka hasn’t been anywhere near as prominent this season , is usually double marked , but he has I think it is ten goal involvements already. His cross to Trossard was superb .
    I’m a massive Arteta fan but he has overthought tactics this season and the side hasn’t been as effective because everything is so complicated . Sevilla will be tough and we will need to be close to our best to take anything

  5. 5
    Ttg says:

    Terrific report C100.
    I know that vantage point well but the ground has changed since the days when you could squeeze 70,000 inside . Glad your day brought a lot of ultimate satisfaction

  6. 6
    Lonestar Gooner says:

    Masterful report, Dr. F! As per usual, your words are balanced, thoughtful, and accurate. My son’s footbal match began at 1100 (KO here was 1130), so I was stitched-up on the touchline instead of comfortably lounging in the upstairs media room in Casa Hill. I dislike such conflicts, but, after an exciting goaless draw, the boy and I made it home just before the end of the first half. Dour weather, dour affair…but the indefatigable Declan (oh captain, my captain) willed us onward with a strike of sheer brilliance and impudence. I knew we’d get at least a point after that, and Chelsea should count themselves VERY fortunate to share the spoils on that day.

    C100, cheers for the excellent report from behind enemy lines. You are honest as the day is long (and as courteous as you are honest) so kudos to you for finding it in yourself to compliment the Blue Fulham marsh dwellers in their safe standing developments. I’m not a big enough person to give them any plaudits whatsoever.

    Anyway, a point away against them lot is not to be sniffed at.

    Also, from the last bar, props to MMWTP. Excellent comments, good sir. Keep ‘em coming.

    One last point for the bar, shall we have a discussion about our current captain? I don’t think Odegaard has been up to scratch since his new contract. He’s grinding for sure, but there’s something missing. There are levels. How will he adjust when Jollof Rice comes and snatches the captain’s armband?

    On to Sevilla; this will be a tough out (as they say in Major League Baseball). Keep the faith, ‘Holics.


  7. 7
    bt8 says:

    Thanks Dr. F and c100 for excellent reports on a weird game. We weren’t at the races for much of it and I felt the tutor was tutoring the tutee in the coaches boxes but Declan stepped up and we turned it on enough to snatch a big point when it looked like we weren’t going to get any. Credit to Mikel for his substitutions and to the players for sticking to the task. LG, mid-season is not the time for that discussion but DR41 is obvious captain material past and future.

  8. 8
    North Bank Ned says:

    Yet again, your first paragraph alone is worth the price of admission, Dr F. Bravo, on the whole report. I have still only seen highlights, which didn’t include the Palmer tackle or Eddie’s miss late on, so will continue to reserve judgement on the performances. Yet, I think you are tickling at a conversation that could profitably be had about our optimal midfield. Whatever that is, it is not getting the best out of Ødegaard at the moment. He may be having a dip in form, or it may be that he is not getting into the positions consistently where he is most influential.

    C100@2: I doubt you’d get away with that at the Waitrose in Holloway Road. 🙂

    MMTWP from the previous drinks: Jack Kelsey was a fantastic keeper, not just for Arsenal but for Wales. He kept Pele’s Brazil at bay single-handed in the 1958 World Cup.

  9. 9
    BtM says:

    A concerning performance that underlined the extent to which the team is performing well below the standard of excellence it achieved last season. The collective effort was littered with errors from only moments after the starting whistle blew. The extent of the mishaps was such that had the Arsenal been playing a more potent competitor it’s unlikely that the deficit would have been recoverable in the final twenty minutes. Our team, aided considerably by three woeful refereeing mistakes, made an extremely average collection of expensively assembled Chel$ki players look competent.

    A draw and a point gained were an excellent, if quite surprising, outcome in the circumstances and we remain unbeaten. What’s not to like? Quite a lot actually, but tomorrow is another day and I’m hoping for a wonderful upward vector in Seville.

    A very fine read, Dr F.

  10. 10
    ClockEndRider says:

    A good read, thanks vm, Dr. F.
    BtM captures it in 9 above for me. Beyond that, it seems to me that our travails this season are rather more manager induced than as a result of the opposition. Still, we’re unbeaten and still up there.

  11. 11
  12. 12
    Countryman100 says:

    An analysis of the game’s key points by The Athletic


  13. 13
    bathgooner says:

    A fine report, Dr F and many excellent observations in the Drinks above.

    That 45 minute search for a parking spot in Fulham must have been very stressful, C100! I feel your pain. Thank goodness the boys made it worthwhile in the end….and thank goodness for Waitrose!

    BtM sums it up for me.

    There’s still work to be done with these players and on this squad.

  14. 14
    Las says:

    Cheers Dr. F, an excellent read as usual. Sadly, our team played below the standard they set in the last season. Though the the first goal had an element of luck (getting the ball at all) but DRs shot was perfectly executed as also the second goal a combination of a visionary pass and perfect finishing touch.
    At the end we grow equal to Chelsea so the draw was a fair result. But I felt MA still learning his best eleven at the back and also at midfield.
    Mike McDonald posted his toughts and he put the GK situation its place.

    Subs, Squad and Sunday League (Positives, Needs & Hopes) [CHE 2-2 ARS]


  15. 15
    Las says:

    Oh, and also a big up for C100 bringing the feeling here. 👍

  16. 16
    Countryman100 says:

    I didn’t see it but it is reported that #Refwatch (a Sky programme) has stated that Sanchez should have conceded a penalty for his assault on Jesus, and that Palmer should have seen red for his rake down the ankle of the same player in the first half.

  17. 17
    Countryman100 says:

    Here’s a link to Howard Webb confirming the errors.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Noosa Gooner says:

    Thanks Doc for a fine report,
    Lots of interesting things from different sources above. We are lacking last season’s va va voom.
    For me..
    More of Rice & Partey together please letting …
    Odegard get back to creating and scoring.
    Less of Zinchenko as a starting left back.
    Carry on MA but stop overthinking absolutely everything.

  20. 20
    TTG says:

    I’m grateful to Pangloss for sharing a good article about one of our most underrated players
    Interestingly, his conclusions are not dissimilar to many on here . But his suggestion we need a back-up striker is notable . Do we in fact need a better goal scorer than Jesus . Seeing the relative travails of Jesus and Zinchenko one can see their enormous merit but at the same time why Citeh were willing to sell them .

  21. 21
    bathgooner says:

    Three great links @14, 17 & 18. Thanks Las and C100.

    TTG @20, I drew the same conclusion myself over the last couple of games about Citeh’s decision. I see we are allegedly in for a young Brazilian midfielder in January. Unless that means we miss the next CF4, I think that a goalscorer should be our priority.

  22. 22
    Trev says:

    Thanks Dr F and C100 for a couple of very different but fine reports.

    This was a strangely quiet performance from the Arsenal given the opposition and the situation at the top of the league. Without over reliance on the rose tinted glasses though, I think there were a few reasons for this – some self inflicted, some not.

    If Thomas Partey is fit, he should surely play alongside Rice in the middle of the park – as they did to such brilliant effect for the last part of the game against City. That would release Odegaard to play further forward where he does such damage – we already have Zinchenko inverting to augment the numbers in midfield. Zinchenko seems to play practically anywhere except marking a winger at left back and his habit of giving the ball away in dangerous positions is wearing thin.

    David Raya, for whatever reason, is currently an accident waiting to happen. His kicking to date, despite the stats, is no better than Ramsdale’s. Neither is his shot stopping. There might have been an element of luck in Mudryk’s goal but Raya’s position, given that the cross was the favourite option, was plain awful. This chap, remember, was recommended to us by the same goalkeeper coach who brought us Runarsson – both from Brentford.

    In addition to those self inflicted wounds we also had the thoroughly usual , pathetically incompetent combination of referee and VAR to deal with. By the rules, Palmer should have gone for the late, from behind, nowhere near the ball, rake of the stirs into Jesus’ Achilles / ankle. Cue Howard Webb fumbling out some terrible crap about it being a couple of millimetres “to the side”, in his latest mealy mouthed excuse set for another idiot with a whistle.

    “Saka was very quiet” had been offered as a criticism of our world class winger by the usual media experts and some fans. Bukayo Saka gets kicked all round the park with no protection from the laws of the game – not from over generous referees – week after week after week. How long before this lad loses motivation at the hands of cloggers line Cucurella and every other fullback who has no clue what else to do with him.

    William Saliba had his hands in an unnatural position. For what ? You cannot jump up and forwards with your hands glued to your sides or even with limited extension as comedically suggested in the studio by Jimmy Floyd Hasselwank (sic).

    And the flying assault by Sanchez on Jesus which nearly took off the matter’s head was the final straw. Mikel Arteta was booked for complaining about the penalty decision – the same punishment received by Palmer for his dangerous foul on Jesus.

    Yes, Arsenal were quiet. Sometimes I’m surprised they haven’t just given up altogether.

  23. 23
    Bathgooner says:


  24. 24
    Sancho Panza says:

    If you watch any decent standard high jump or long jump, and by decent standard I mean anything coached, you will always see arms up. Otherwise you won’t get any height or length.