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Arsenal players celebrate Arsenal’s Norwegian midfielder #08 Martin Odegaard scoring their fifth goal during the UEFA Champions League Group B football match between Arsenal and RC Lens at the Arsenal Stadium in north London on November 29, 2023. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

Philotes and Neikos, love and strife, are the two forces – in the cosmogony of Empedocles – that are continuously forming diversity, harmony (and disharmony) of all forms, out of the four eternal elements of fire, air, water, and earth that pervade our universe. Like a few other original such ideas from ancient Greece – from Anaximander to Democritus – that still resonate within our modern scientific worldview, this version of the universe is not completely dissimilar to the Standard Model of fundamental forces and elementary particles interacting to form all matter and energy.

Love and strife, one can also say, are the two primary psychic forces shaping the world of football, giving births to moments of such intense elation or despondency that if we were to wander into the land of memories, those moments stand out as guideposts of our lives lived in what may feel like someone else’s elusive past. Football is not so much escapism from life but a distilled, miniaturized but maybe for that reason also a more tangible version of life itself.   

As Arsenal walk into this weekend sitting proudly at top of the EPL – and already qualified, with a game to spare, as the group winner in their return to the most prestigious of the European competitions – the love in and around the team is palpable. Smiles and praises and good vibes. I don’t know about others, but not for a moment I am taking any of these for granted. The current upward trajectory has been achieved neither by accident, nor by profligate megalomania, but strategy, discipline, hard work and patience supported ably by leadership and judicious usage of financial prowess. And some dose of good fortune, for nothing is ever successful without that.

Looking back just half a decade – when our opponents of this Saturday had returned back to the Premier League after six years of absence – reinforces the well-known adage about things changing very fast in football. In 2018 strife was all around Arsenal, the clouds of despondency looming over the club and its fractured angst-ridden fanbase. We drew our home match 1-1, before losing away at Wolves 1-3, one among a series of listless, rudderless performances that more or less guaranteed that we won’t finish in the top four, and was really the beginning of the end of the short-lived Unai Emery era.   Since then the head-to-head results have started to improve in our favor: 1-1 (home), 2-0 (away);  1-2 (home), 1-2 (away); 1-0 (away), 2-1(home); 2-0 (away), 5-0 (home).

While our managerial reign was handed to Arteta after Emery – with the invincible Freddie Ljungberg temporarily stabilizing the team for a few matches in between – and the Arsenal ex-captain of death stares, immaculate hair, and press conferences that are an enigmatic cocktail of mischief, misdirection and authenticity rapidly established himself as the football brain that he was always known to be in the inner circle of friends and colleagues, Wolverhampton Wanderers went through a few managerial rotations. They were noticeably successful for a mid-tier squad – but never getting close to any of the peak years in their long history – and sometimes playing attractive football, often on the strengths of the various Portuguese internationals that dominated their squad upon their return to the top tier.  They also had a pragmatic and enterprising Portuguese manager who was doing well for himself before he was lured away to a club well known for destroying the reputation of talented managers.

Their current manager, the Englishman Gary O’Neil, too demonstrates such a combination of pragmatism and enterprise. After taking over the responsibilities just before the season started, he brought in tactical variations and intensity that has served Wolves well. Their current 12th position in the league doesn’t truly tell the full story, they can consider themselves unfortunate to have lost out on otherwise well-deserved points by the vagaries of VAR. In that arena at least they are Arsenal’s fellow sufferers.  O’Neil has used multiple formations in the season so far, but mostly either a 3-4-3 or variations of 4–4-2 in 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1, sometimes even switching between formations in a game. In Joan Gomes and Mario Lemina (who I think is disqualified for this match because of yellow cards) they have two highly competent footballers in the midfield. In Nelson Samedo, Cunha, Neto and Ait-Nouri they have fast ball carriers that can hurt any opposition in counter attacks, and a very good finisher in Hwang.

Even though most teams come to Emirates nowadays planning to sit in deep low blocks, hoping to deprive our frontline any space and time on the ball in the final third, Wolves are likely to try to draw us in with an eye on launching rapid counter-attacks. Our defense has been mostly imperious this season, and Saliba-Gabriel will need to play at their very best to keep our run of clean sheets going.     

Our front started for the first time together against Lens at home last Wednesday, and ably supported by Rice-Tomiyasu-Zinchenko they eviscerated the opposition defense in moments of collective and individual brilliance. Havertz especially looked like someone that has started to figure out how to play with his new teammates, and stay in tune with their tireless positivity. Given our first half performance in the midweek, Mikel will be tempted to start the same eleven this weekend and I think that would be the best option.

Tomiyasu – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Ødegaard – Rice – Havertz
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli

Enjoy the game everyone. We should win, but I don’t think for a
moment it will be anywhere as easy as our last season’s home victory
against them. A hard-fought but assured 2-0 will do.

Come on Arsenal!

34 Drinks to “Of Love and Strife”

  1. 1
    bt8 says:

    To inflict lupine strife or to receive it. Hmmm. What would I choose? Thanks for the preview Doc.

  2. 2
    bt8 says:

    Tim Stillman with an excellent piece on how we have been working to find the spare man in attack.

    The Spare Man

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Dr F
    You lost me early on but I recovered ! Very interesting ideas about the match.
    I think Ben White will return and Tomi will be left back. With Luton coming up I think we might use Trossard as a false 9 tomorrow as he wasn’t used on Wednesday but I suspect Jesus will start .
    I’m expecting a 3-0 win to put us four points clear until the Totts capitulate at the Emptihad . These are good times to be a Gooner

  4. 4
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Cheers Doc. As ever, you’ve blended erudition with keen footballing observations, all in your own inimitable style. A lovely effort to whet the appetite for the game itself.

    These are the games when a good squad has the chance to develop into a title-winning one. It’s the home games against mid table sides that make up the bread and butter of the league – if we can keep racking up the points, keeping clean sheets and doing both with the minimum of fuss, then it is that sort of efficiency that wins titles. We may not be as fluid as last year, but I’d bite your hand off for a 2-0 to the good guys.

    TTG’s 3-0 would be even better!

  5. 5
    OsakaMatt says:

    Splendid stuff as ever, thanks Dr F.

    As you say Wolves have been playing well at times this season. Not least when they rolled over the spuddies with a couple of late goals. However, and handily,both Gomes and Lemina are out in midfield for picking up a 5th yellow at Fulham last week. Ait Nouri and Neto are injured. O’Neill has them scoring more goals this season but they are also more vulnerable in defence and even if they do nick one I am hoping we can stick at least four past them.

    I am hoping to see one or two changes even though we could a few off early midweek. But MA and the coaches will know better than me as to who could do with a rest. I am wondering whether Tomi / Zin will start as why else would MA take them both off at half-time.

  6. 6
    ClockEndRider says:

    From Atomist philosophy to 4-4-2, all human life is here! Thanks Dr F.
    3-0 to the good guys, I fancy.

  7. 7
    BtM says:

    Splendid preview, Dr F. I think we’ll have too much firepower for Wolves today and your 2-0 forecast is very much within reach. I’m hoping to see a fast start and an early goal which would open up the game and eliminate the likelihood of a low block challenge.

    I wonder if Gary O’Neil will be showing his team the lowlights of their last visit and 0-5 reverse (in the style of Arteta) and reminding them how they felt on that day as motivation?

    I have a ticket for the second time in four days, a unique experience in these times of Arsenal’s loony lottery, good seat too. Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching, Holics.

  8. 8
    Ollie says:

    No croissant in the Eurostar lounge this morning. I want my money back.
    Cheers Dr F. Though I think I’ll read the whole preview when I’m back because it doesn’t lend itself to my small phone screen. I’ll probably ponder about love and strife during the journey…
    2-0 will do indeed.

  9. 9
    Bathgooner says:

    Thanks Dr F. ‘Love and strife’ pretty much sums up the football fan experience from the 60’s to the 90’s. I think White and Trossard will start to keep them game sharp and give Tomi and Zin a share of the LB spot and Martinelli a rest though I suspect that it will be tempting for MA8 to start the same team that were so imperious in the first half against RC Lens. 2-0 would be nice but 3-0 would indeed be better.

  10. 10
    Uplympian says:

    Thanks Dr F for your inimitable style of preview -always in interesting take.
    We are in a happy position where we can bring in / leave out certain players without any drop off in quality. I expect Wolves will be up for the fight – their manager Gary O’Neil brings out good work ethic from his players. If we mstch them in this regard the a comfortable 3-0 win is on the cards.
    Wrap up well to those who are going to the mstch.

  11. 11
    Trev says:

    Actually excellent, Dr F !
    Like TTG today, I sometimes flounder but struggle through some of your more literary introductions to match previews but I thought this one was clever, interesting and very relevant. Brilliantly done.

    As a critic of Havertz I have to say the last two games have been very promising. When a player is off form, the very least he can do is work hard and, maybe because of his laconic style, Havertz has not always appeared to do that to me. Maybe a £65 million price tag robs us of the patience we need for a new player to bed into a strict and complicated playing style, and it’s easy to forget that even Bergkamp, Henry and Pires took time to adapt. Here’s hoping he has a scorcher today.

    So ourselves and Wolves have suffered more than most at the hands of officials this season. The least we can hope for today is an afternoon without more slapstick from
    Fred Varno’s – just for North Bank Ned as he enjoyed Varnum’s Curcus 😏

  12. 12
    bt8 says:

    One more reason why UEFA shouldn’t have held the final in Baku a few years ago when we were overrun by the Chavs. As cited by Wikipedia, Baku is the lowest capital city in the world at an elevation of 28 metres (92 feet) below sea level. Without claiming first hand knowledge of any kind, it’s easy to observe that it might be a disease-ridden swamp.

  13. 13
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Everyone going to the match, enjoy!

    Come on Arsenal!

  14. 14
    OsakaMatt says:

    Leo in for Kai midfield but otherwise unchanged from midweek.

  15. 15
    North Bank Ned says:

    Your usual inimitable and insightful preview, Dr F. Much enjoyed.

    Trev@11: 👍

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@14: That smacks of a pre-ordained rotation.

    And a (very) belated hat tip to TTG for his Lens match report. He is the first GHF match reviewer to have had six Arsenal goals to report.

  17. 17
    OsakaMatt says:

    Yeah, it seems so Ned. I kept Leo in my fantasy league team this week 😉
    Though I must admit it wasn’t a hugely difficult prediction

  18. 18
    OsakaMatt says:

    Great start 1-0! Jesus, Tomi good work and Saka finished coolly

  19. 19
    OsakaMatt says:

    If you liked the first, you’ll love the second 😃
    Opened Wolves up with some slick passing and Ode slotted the 2nd
    Good stuff from Zin

  20. 20
    OsakaMatt says:

    The Wolves keeper has had enough and gone off already.

    Could have been a third for Leo, nice first touch but just stumbled
    slightly and couldn’t direct the shot home

  21. 21
    OsakaMatt says:

    2-0 at half time, some chances for a third passed up though Gabi M was unlucky to hit the post. Wolves made more of a game of it for the last 20 minutes of the half.

    An early 2nd half goal to kill it off would be nice,

  22. 22
    OsakaMatt says:

    Eddie on for Jesus.
    Harsh booking for Saliba.

  23. 23
    OsakaMatt says:

    Kai on for Gabi M. Possibly Ben for Tomi who is down getting treatment,

  24. 24
    OsakaMatt says:

    Tomi seems to be walking off ok though

  25. 25
    OsakaMatt says:

    Should of wrapped it up, Kai did well to win the ball and we set up
    Leo one on one but the keeper blocked.

    Oh Zin. 2-1 and we let them back it in. How annoying.

  26. 26
    OsakaMatt says:

    3 points and a few extra gray hairs for me.

  27. 27
    North Bank Ned says:

    Could have done with a third goal before throwing a wet blanket over proceedings. But three points is three points. Onwards we go.

  28. 28
    Trev says:

    Good win but crazy to finish in a panic like that after the control and chances we had.

  29. 29
    Trev says:

    Zinchenko can be very clever going forwards but he is one that also slows us down – and the overplaying in dangerous situations needs to stop

  30. 30
    bt8 says:

    I wouldn’t pin all the blame on Zinchenko for their goal. Rice should have put it in row ZZ when he had the chance a second earlier. Even worse, our team stopped playing second half in apparent attempt to replicate our home draw against Fulham. Sounds a bit harsh but fair considering that is not what a title contender does. Great first half but average second.

  31. 31
    Ollie says:

    I was having a good day. Easy check in for the Eurostar back too. Except we haven’t boarded and seems like cancellation is very possible (probable I’d say) so may be stuck in London tonight.
    Thank fuck that’s on the back of three points though.
    Glad I didn’t have a drink too!

  32. 32
    gedo says:

    Zinny, just boot it down the pitch!!

  33. 33
    Ollie says:

    On the move so not cancelled. We’ll arrive whenever we arrive…

  34. 34
    scruzgooner says: