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We now enter every football fan’s favourite time of year, where there are no inconvenient international breaks, with all your star players returning from far flung lands with torn hamstrings or half a leg missing and all the games coming thick and fast. Saturday marks the first of ten games in 37 days for Arsenal. By the time 2023 rolls over to make way for 2024 we will be over halfway through the league campaign and, bar a catastrophe, into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

First up is Brentford who Arsenal have already beaten this season in the League Cup. They remain Ivan Toney-less although they are not without ammunition; Bryan Mbeumo has taken over the mantle in the absence of Brentford’s star man. The Cameroonian has six goals this season for the Bees and caused the Arsenal defence some problems in the League cup earlier this season.

Brentford are currently enjoying what is arguably the most fruitful period of their history. Finally promoted back to the topflight in 2021 after more than seven decades away, they were widely expected to be battling the drop but finished in a very respectable 13th place. You will all remember that the Bees maiden Premier League victory came against Arsenal on the opening night of that season as goals in each half from Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard earned Brentford a famous victory. 

They were able to build on this in 2022/23 with a ninth-place finish, just two points off a European place. Quite an achievement for a club of their size. It is always great to see smaller clubs establish themselves with the big boys after going about their business in a financially compliant manner rather than via winning the football lottery. Last season was also a memorable one for Brentford fans as they remarkably ended the campaign as West London’s top dogs finishing above Fulham and, hilariously, Chelsea. In fact, since Brentford’s promotion they have won at Stamford Bridge in every season, by an aggregate scoreline of 8-1. 

However, towards the end of the season Brentford were dealt a major blow when their talisman, Ivan Toney, was awarded a nine month ban for dozens of gambling breaches. He remains in the shadows until January so when he does play again it may well be for a different club. Arsenal and Chelsea are the two rumoured destinations, but they are just rumours, so we’ll wait and see. There have also been rumours he’ll sign a new deal, which Brentford fans will hope to be the case. The England striker scored 20 goals in 33 appearances last season so he is clearly capable of leading the line for a top club although there would be questions regarding his physical and mental state after not playing for so long. 

In terms of team selection, we will certainly see at least one enforced change from the win over Burnley as David Raya will be ineligible to face his parent club. This means it is almost certain we will see a return between the sticks for Aaron Ramsdale for 90 minutes at least. According to Fabrizio Romano, Arsenal have opted to make the signing of Raya permanent and that will be activated in June 2024 at which point Brentford will receive a reported fee of £27 million following on from the £3 million loan fee we paid in the summer. But we’ve all heard about the famous Arsenal goalkeeping conundrum from thousands of pundits and ex-players and just about anyone Sky Sports have been able to find so I will not bore you with it once more. 

As for the defence there have been murmurs Ben White is nursing an injury which kept him out of the Burnley game so Tomiyasu may retain his position at right back. Thomas Partey is injured until the end of time itself, so I suspect Havertz will start in midfield again. As much as this signing makes no sense to any of us, I have seen slight improvements in the German’s game in recent weeks. And by that, I mean he has looked 1% more like a footballer and not as though Arteta and Edu were out in Magaluf the night before a game and pulled out anyone who looked like they could still walk and asked them if they fancied a game. I’m sure he’ll come good!

We should see the return of Martin Odegaard who has missed the last couple of games with concussion which he reportedly suffered in training. A ball to the back of the head perhaps? My money is on Cedric. Up front I’d expect it will be Saka and Martinelli down the wings with Trossard through the middle over the fit again Gabriel Jesús. 

I am expecting a tough physical game but one which we will win. 2-0 according to my sources. 


One of the cliches that is regularly trotted out on sports media programmes is that ‘Football is a game of opinions.’ Cliché it may be but the reality is that the debate and discussion between fans, which after all is one of the main reasons that the original Goonerholic blog was created, is one of the most enjoyable and occasionally important part of the supporters’ life.

To enliven yet another interlull we took the opportunity to seek the opinions of some Holics from whom we hear less frequently. Their views were strongly expressed and showed a range of opinions, although some are views clearly held by most fans at the moment. The five who responded to our call were MMTWP, based in Australia, Sancho Panza, a loyal Gooner for many years based much nearer to home, the always-interesting Dundonian BergkamptheMan (BtM) who has been a stalwart of the Goonerholic and GHF blogs for years, and Ollie who can be found commuting through the Channel Tunnel from Paris to follow his beloved Arsenal. Finally we were delighted to get the considered views of Uplympian. Uplympian is a long-standing Holic whose input is always very wise and highly appreciated. He now resides in the West Country.  Geographically dispersed, but united by their passion for Arsenal Football Club, their answers were a very clear insight into fan sentiment as we draw towards the end of 2023.

a quick note from scruzgooner: i screwed up, and thought i’d forwarded one more piece from a far away gooner: depressedgooner took the time to respond as well, and i dropped the ball. please see his responses at the top of each section in italics, and do respond to any points he raises as you see fit. my apologies, dg!

Overall, are you pleased with the season so far?

Depressedgooner: Yes & no, obviously we are still well placed but had we been playing the scintillating football of last season (until the end) I think we could have been better positioned, Mikel has fixed things that were not broken and created problems where none existed previously, Aaron does not deserve the treatment he has received and neither does Havertz, negative and positive reinforcement on the wrong players if you ask me.

MMTWP: Many thanks for the chance to put my two pennys worth…and more importantly many thanks to both of you and all of the others that make Goonerholics Forever such a a go-to part of my life….

Just by the by, I live in Adelaide, Sarf Ostraya after emigrating to Perth, WA in 1973…we get exceptional coverage of the EPL here. However I haven’t been to see the Arsenal live since 2017…and sad to say, after my Mum’s passing in 2021 in Bexleyheath, won’t be returning. I worked in Aviation from 1973 until my retirement in 2016…so got back to UK on over 50 occasions…and went often to THOF…my brother (deceased 2013) had 2 season tickets…not sure if my nephews still have them. I have a wonderful family and have recently been blessed with 2 Grandkids….but on a parallel is Arsenal. I was born at Royal Northern (now demolished) on Holloway Road. There is only Arsenal….not that i had a choice…and of course that was never ever a consideration. Generatons of Arsenal supporters in my mob. I recall my days at Finchley County Grammar School shortly after that lot won their 2nd ever Div1 championship…I was the only AFC boy…everyone went for the mob with a chicken on top of a beachball….(I started this on 09 Nov but visits from my daughter & granddaughter from Melbourne, have stymied my progress…they are so lovely though).

I’m relatively pleased [with this season]…wishing for it all to come together..and very good signs vs Sevilla & Burnley…I believe we will prevail.

Uply: My feelings about the season so far is that it has been a veritable mixed bag. The fabulous exciting play from last season is mainly missing from the performances so far (with just a couple of notable exceptions).

The performances may be below last years level but the team spirit and work effort are most encouraging – the will to win quite evident.

Sancho: Reasonably so. I wasn’t expecting us to be doing what we did last season and thought we would be in and around third or fourth at this stage. Performance-wise we seem to have dropped a little and there seems to be less attacking entertainment.

BtM: It sounds rather churlish to even hint at a negative response to this question given that Arsenal are the only trophy winners so far having thumped Cheaty 115 in the Community Shield and are currently second in the League, only one point behind the same bunch.

However, my expectations for the season were high and I’m disappointed in the following regards:

• The team’s performance hasn’t reached the high level achieved last season. Injuries have been very significant and, in particular, those affecting Timber, Partey, Ødegaard and Jesús have had a huge impact.

• Arsenal should have three points more than the 27 registered on the PL Table. Chelsea’s keeper’s assault on Jesus’ head should, without a shadow of doubt, have resulted in a penalty which would (again without doubt) taken Arsenal to a 2-3 win and two more points. Likewise, Newcastle’s ‘goal’ should have been disallowed for at least one of three reasons thereby adding another point to our tally.

• Obtaining tickets is now a lottery (literally) and consequently my attendance at matches is on a downward vector, potentially to zero.

Ollie: The football may not always have been as entertaining as last season, but I am fairly pleased: it was always going to be tough to keep that lavel, it’s mid-November and we are only one point behind City.

What have been the things that have pleased you most?

Depressedgooner: That despite the tinkering needlessly we have still been able to maintain a semi decent run and get the defence a little more solidly focused despite the odd brain fart.

Uply: Despite the less impressive play the team is only one point behind the league leaders and have achieved a long-awaited victory against them in the league.

Ollie: Increased resilience, patient game plans, and the continued excellence of William Saliba.

Sancho: Beating the Manchester clubs and looking likely we will qualify through the group stages in Europe. Being in the mix at the top of the table.

BtM: 1. MA8’s attention to the detail of total team defensive football has paid real dividends (but hasn’t completely eradicated brain farts – Jorginho vs Spuds).

2. William Saliba’s sustained emergence as the most talented young centre back on the planet.

3. Declan Rice’s total football contribution to the team’s performance from day 1.

4. The team’s ability to grind out wins while playing at no more than 85% of potential.

MMTWP:  I am in awe of our back 4…Saliba, White, Gabi#6 and lately with Tommi rather than Zin. The latter has his strengths but sometimes he drops some clangers and is not a patch on TT in defence. I liked Tierney and whilst he doesn’t do what MA wants…he is a left back of some stature…I miss him.

What do you think of the impact of Declan Rice on the team?

Depressedgooner: Excellent, he looks like he has always been an Arsenal player, the price tag has not phased him like it has others and he makes it all look effortless, he still needs the team around him to match his level, for me he is currently our best most consistent player.

BtM: Quite outstanding. His ability to cover ground at speed to recover defensive challenges is matched only by his willingness to build dangerous attacking moves via intelligent passes or lung bursting runs forward with the ball at his feet. He sustains this from minute zero to minute 90 plus x. His passion and drive is a superb example to all.

He needs to work on his calm and confidence in situations where a shot at goal will bring higher rewards than an easy lay off to other colleagues.

MMTWP: Declan has been better than I possibly could have thought he would be….and I’m expecting him to go from strength to strength….and the captains’s armband seems inevitable.

Ollie: Slightly offset by the departure of Xhaka and injuries to Partey but huge. He is also one of the answers to the previous question, but as he has his own… I didn’t particularly watch West Ham last season so I was only going by what I heard, but I didn’t realise he was THAT good.

Sancho: Obviously he is playing well in every game. Would love him to find the back of the net more.

Uply: Declan Rice has been a superb signing — he is proving to be the player we had hoped for. He is putting dominant performances week after week and has the personality that embodies the spirit that Arteta desires.

How about Kai Havertz? Has he been a disappointment, or do you see signs that he may settle effectively into the team?

Depressedgooner: Even the odd sign if him being able to complete passes do not take away from what I would call a cowardice in making decisions to benefit himself or the team, how he keeps getting into the team baffles me, off the ball he does very little and with the ball he seems to do less, I’m tired of watching he languidly make his way into good postions only to watch him pass it to the opposing team or put it out of play, his confidence may be low but that suggests he does not have the character or temperament for the fight needed to be an Arsenal player.

Sancho: He’s not winning us over is he? Is it his languid style or is he playing in the wrong position? Hope he finds his groove soon.

MMTWP: …Havertz..I think there’s a real asset there. I’m just hopeful he’s given a chance to grow into it. Back in my day, I recall when the boo-boys saw Jon Sammels leave. He was a real favourite of mine. Also, it took DB10 a while to settle.

Uply: Kai Havertz was always a gamble which so far has not paid off. His time at Chav$ki was mainly underwhelming and this has continued with us. Arteta, along with others, is convinced there is a “player” there but he has continued to underwhelm. A gamble, yes, but the transfer fee paid and high salary seems a bad judgement call. We can only hope that Arteta can unlock the alleged potential before he is officially classified a dud.

Ollie: Disappointment, especially for the money (can’t avoid that I’m afraid, as with Pépé before him). There are a few good signs, but also persisting bad ones. I never give up hope, but I’m struggling to believe. He has some qualities, and takes some part but does he have the personality? While he’s not in the same position, I see him a bit as a sub-Giroud, hell even a sub-Chamakh given his squad number. The other day I found myself thinking every great time needs a mid-table level player who puts a lot of effort, but they don’t usually cost as much. The truth is I think he has the potential and quality, but he’s been in this league a few years and played a few matches with us even and improvement seems very slow. The jury’s out but belief is dwindling despite a few slightly improved performances in play.

BtM: He hasn’t been a disappointment to me because I had zero expectations of a significant contribution from him. I always liked when he played for Chel$ki against us because his contribution was meagre, his skill-set and confidence low, and the likelihood of him squandering a chance was much higher than the alternative of landing a killer blow.

Kai has delivered all of these characteristics at Arsenal and is in danger of eclipsing Pépé as one of our worst signings. He doesn’t exhibit the balance, body positioning, passing, ball winning, or lay-off abilities that PL football requires. I’m astonished that I’d rather have retained Xhaka.

The goalkeeping situation is dividing opinion. Do you agree with what Arteta has done, or would you like to see Ramsdale restored to the team?

Depressedgooner: I completely disagree, we see Raya making mistake after mistake and staying in the team, what did Ramsdale do wrong, walk in on Arteta and a goat in a compromising position?

Uply: The goalkeeping scenario is very concerning. The Raya loan signing was a real left field movement as most of us believe Ramsdale was a top keeper and crowd favourite. He made many outstanding saves during the season. The manager saw things differently — there were occasional losses of concentration — sometimes critical, and he also has a belief that Raya’s ball distribution is superior. I and many others have not seen this in his performances so far and believe Ramsdale has been shoddily treated. This has created an unnecessary pressure for all those involved.

Ollie: I don’t agree with what Arteta’s done, really, as I didn’t see the need for an ‘upgrade’ that seems marginal at best. I don’t think it’s an ‘or’ though. As even the league cup performance by Ramsdale was not that convincing. I found Raya a little better against Burnley than in previous matches. But Ramsdale will play the next League match as it’s against Brentford, and that might be the time to stake a claim. Doesn’t look like Mikel is ready to switch back though.

Sancho: Ramsdale wasn’t perfect by any means but he was doing well. I thought Raya was an excellent keeper at Brentford but he hasn’t shown enough thus far for Arsenal. I think he is stuck with picking Raya from now on and Ramsdale will leave in the Summer. A failed experiment but what do I know.

BtM: I like Ramsdale, but I didn’t like the end-of-last-season errors that cost us critical points. I think the Raya experiment (he’s still on loan) is a good one and, while I might have prioritised recruitment differently, I’m aligned with MA8’s desire to drive the highest level of performance in every position. I’ll be happy to see Ramsdale displace Raya if his performance merits it. Meritocracy in motion.

MMTWP: …I am firmly behind Ramsdale and whilst a GK’s role includes distribution and allegedly Raya (cos I haven’t seen that much of it) is meant to be exceptional with his feet. Pity he looks so unconvincing when the ball is in the air. Ramsdale is my man (belatedly better against Burnley).

Do you believe we can challenge for the title this season?

Depressedgooner: Sadly no, we still need a goalscorer who can get one at least every other game and we do not have one, I love Jesus and Nketiah both, the commitment is there but the finishing ability is not, also our bench is not fully premier league ready and our on field decision making still leaves a lot to be desired, I’d love some January signings that make my 3rd place finish a stupid prediction and we win the league but I just do not see it, too much money wasted on the wrong type of players in the last few windows for me.

MMTWP: …Yes and I think there is a good chance. Shitteh look more vulnerable than usual….and Ange’s lot, IMHO, don’t have a chance. I reminded my golfing Spud acquaintance that I was 11 yo when they last were #1 and its unlikely to change. I’m now 73!

Ollie: If we’re still in the hunt in March, I will believe. Right now, with injuries adding up, I think the squad will be a little short again.

Sancho: No. I think we will be in and around but not challenging

BtM: Yes, but only if Partey, Ødegaard, Jesús, Saliba and Saka remain fit. Long-term injuries to even two of these players will result in a top four outcome (absent January investment for a Partey replacement which I think is unlikely).

Uply: We are in a good position to challenge for the title despite the spluttering performances. We’ve already beaten the Oilers (finally) who appear more vulnerable right now. Of course they are known to pick up the pace in the run in. There is the potential for us to improve our performances further and, as long as injuries do not decimate the squad further, we can be there or thereabouts again.

Where (if at all) do we need to strengthen the side in the January window?

Depressedgooner: Striker, striker, striker, better midfield back up and get rid of Raya.

Ollie: Centre mid to replace Partey, probably a more physical out and out goalscorer as an option.

MMTWP: …I believe we need a proven goal-scorer. Eddie doesn’t do it for me. Jorginho just about doing his job but for how much longer. Rice needs to take over that role, sadly Partey seems past it. Overall i think the squad is top class. Toney…obviously a knob-head…everyone knows the rules….maybe?

Sancho: Depends on injury situation. I don’t want to see Ivan Toney at Arsenal particularly and certainly not for 60 to 80 m.

Uply:  There are 2 areas where the squad need strengthening: midfield and striker. Unfortunately Partey, a magnificent player when fit, has become a sick note and can no longer be relied on. He is badly missed. Talking of missing we need a striker who can convert more of the chances that are being missed. Jesus is a fabulous player but does not have a matching conversion rate. Eddie is good but not the top level this team needs.

BtM: Our ‘first team’ is excellent, but despite a high level of spend, our second string isn’t good enough to win the League. Havertz and Vieira are little more than passengers, irrespective of the level of competition. Nketiah’s game doesn’t have a Swiss knife component and nor is he sufficiently lethal to carry a title winning team as main striker. Sadly, ESR seems unable to overcome fitness issues.

Partey’s fitness is a super major issue. Saka is unlikely to be able to sustain the requirement on him to play 99.99% of the time.

I would be happy to see Havertz, Vieira and Partey released to fund an outstanding Partey replacement plus one.

Have you still got faith in our management team?

Depressedgooner: Mikel’s tinkering this season has tempered my belief, we needed to strengthen the team and I would argue they have made us weaker, we are quite predictable and have lost that exciting verve we had last season that was starting to worry opponents.

BtM: Totally. Although Arteta is still in the very early stages of his career as a coach, to my mind he is an outstanding leader, communicator and tactician. His team seems to support him well, particularly the set-piece tactician [Nicholas Jover]. I like and endorse his pitch-side passion during games.

MMTWP: MA worries me from time to time with his histrionics and his stubbornness (e.g., Raya)…but after Emery, and prior to that Wenger (who I believe stayed 8-10 years too long), he’s done a great job & clearly is enamoured with AFC…well why wouldn’t he be.

Sancho: Yes but Arteta is a bit stubborn

Ollie: Yes, entirely.

Uply: Arteta and Edu have moved the club on tremendously in the time they have been here. In this they have been well-supported by the Board financially in both acquisitions and moving on players who do not fit the project. Some of the acquisitions have been very beneficial and their failure rate no worse than other top clubs we are competing with. There is still room for improvement — Arteta’s occasional experiments are detrimental viz playing Partey at RB at the start of the season. Our record in knock-out competitions is very poor of late — a mixture of squad weaknesses and poor team selection.

And, finally: VAR arguments have cast a shadow over the season. Would you scrap VAR or, if you would retain it, what changes would you make to it?

Depressedgooner: Get it run by a true team of professional, not ex referees with a buddy system, it may not be corrupt but it is entirely incompetent, Sky of all people did a review of VAR last season, I think I linked to it in an older Goonerholics post that showed benefits and losses to teams caused by VAR and even if you took out our end of season collapse the points taken from us and the points given to city would have seen us crowned champions, it is hard not to see conspiracy when there have been similar incidents already this season.

I loved Mikels rant about VAR but he failed to follow it up just because we won, I would have used the Saka push to ask the PGMOL what was the difference between Saka lightly pushing with both hands and Gabriel being forced down with both hands and a knee in the back.

And a PS: All I want for Christmas is the return of the rip roaring free scoring never boring all action Arsenal!

BtM: I’ve always been a strong proponent of VAR. Technology has a hugely important role to play in achieving fairness through better and correct decision making. However, the current practitioners, both on-field and off-field have proved to be completely inadequate in their efforts to deliver excellence. Consequently, dead spaces have appeared during games and completely incorrect decisions with very negative impacts.

Recruitment, development and appropriate levels of (honest) remuneration need to be dramatically improved to elevate the VAR package. The standards set in rugby and cricket offer excellent signposts for improvements in both on-field capabilities of the referees and entertaining technological support.

If technology is available to determine whether the ball has crossed the line between the goal posts, extend its use to the full perimeter of the pitch. If credible, proven, automated off-side technology is available, use it.

MMTWP: VAR…well I’m not sure where to begin. Rugby Union seems to have done it so much better. Mike up the referees…and why do most of them hail from Oooop Norf? I dont like to think about corruption but I’ve no explanation to justify the “goal” by the Geordies….Tennis can rule within millimetres when the ball is out…why can’t the EPL…I reread the offside rule…and its clear that the Newcastle bloke was off-side and then the push on #6 Gabi….well as they say down here…blind Freddy could see it…2 hands on the back??? How do the PGMOL refs get jetted off to Saudi-land and then ref games of the Saudi-owned teams? We need some voices, à la David Dein, the hideous Fergie, and people with knowledge of the game to question what is going wrong. Deep down I expect there have been problems/corruption (call it what you like) going back to the 1800s…just ask any Spud fan about AFC getting into Div1 back in 1919 or whenever it was …So should VAR be scrapped? Not now, it’s too late. But make the technology better….there’s never an explanation…sometimes the ref gets called to the screen…often not…maybe they need a hand-held device/phone to quickly look at and not rely on some DH at Stockley Park to make an “assessment”. Overall the standard of refereering seems to be going backwards…how many times does Saka have to be kicked in any one game…the days of Chopper Harris, Norman “bites yer legs” Hunter, Dirty Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner, Tommy Smith and even our man Snout should be behind us but players consistently get away with foul play.

So my apologies for it being a bit rambling…Like all of you at Goonerholicsforever and many others elsewhere…I live and breathe Arsenal. Finally like many I was a critic of the takeover by Stan Kroenke but have now to acknowledge that IMO they’ve sat back, seen whats needed to be done and largely done it. Do I like the Yanks owning us..no…But others have Qatar, Saudia, UAE, China, Thailand…..but the Russians have gone…but whats next…sadly its not about football but about power and the dollar.

Uply: VAR – there is little wrong in the concept. The problem is with the utter incompetents who are implementing it. The training & operation is being run by a failed organisation (PGMOL) whose main driver appears to be protecting their mates officiating on the pitch. I also find it incredible that the major conflict of interest in which officials are paid major fees to referee matches in UAE and Saudi Arabia and participate in matches in which their state owned clubs in the EPL are playing. In any other organisation the conflict of interest would mean such activities would be banned.

Ollie: Too much to say…I would change the referees…on the pitch and in the VAR room.

Sancho: No. We all know it’s the right tool in the wrong hands. Make it so we can hear what is going on.

P.S. – A Nice to have

Timber not to have been injured in the first game!

We are most grateful to our panel of Holics for their views which showed some of the thinking that Gooners share – the overall satisfaction with our form but with a feeling that we have not captured the swagger of last season, the delight with the impact that Declan Rice has made offset generally by frustration at the slow start from Kai Havertz. Opinions are divided on the goalkeeping situation (but there appears to be great sympathy for Ramsdale), and opinion is also divided on whether we can win the league, especially as there is no strong feeling about who we might be likely to sign in January. Overall there is no love for VAR despite a sense that the genie is out of the bottle and that the technology exists to facilitate better decisions.

Let us know what you think in the comments sections and how you think the club is positioned as we move towards the halfway mark of the season.

The problem 

I was discussing VAR recently with a patient who was in favour of it purely on the basis that it has reduced the amount of cheating, diving, rolling around and conning of referees, as players know that they will not get away with it under the scrutiny of VAR’s cameras. Whether it has actually done that is, like almost all matters examined by VAR, subjective and therein, as we all know, lies the problem.

On its introduction, VAR was supposed to rectify clear and obvious, on field officiating errors and end the constant criticism of referees and unjust results brought about by those errors. However, it wasn’t long before it was looking at play in general and interrupting play to look at incidents deemed “missed” by the referee. Discussions at the pitch side screen between VAR and the referee became more frequent and caused lengthy interruptions to play, frustrating fans in the stadium who were kept blissfully unaware of what on earth was going on.

What was going on was that one week’s on field referee was next week’s VAR and so the shockingly poor quality of PGMOL’s finest was evident in both capacities and some inconsistent, not to mention inexplicable, decisions were being enforced by the man with the monitor. My patient suggested more VAR assistants on duty might give a wider consensus when judging incidents and, thereby, a truer outcome. The obvious counter to that argument is that if it takes two of them five minutes to decide an offside, five of them would take an impossibly long time to come to a conclusion.

A possible solution

We argued about how to improve the validity of decisions while at the same time reducing the level of interruptions to the game. My own suggestion was to use or reinstate, if it has since been declared redundant, the Video Review Panel. Not in it’s previous incarnation where nobody knew when it could be used, or what for, but give it the power to review all incidents retrospectively and hand out proper punishments, be it yellow cards or red cards, whether “dealt with” or not by the referee at the time. Even goals could be retrospectively awarded and results adjusted in the case of clear, serious error – like the abomination given against us at Newcastle. That would result in league positions changing but they are affected already anyway, when you see league tables printed “with and without VAR”, having considered clear and obvious errors. In the new system, teams would at least receive their just deserts rather than a mealy mouthed apology from Howard Webb.

Of course, there would be initial outrage or joy at the deduction or award of a point or two, two days after the event, or a rival leapfrogging you as they receive a late additional point. But it is unlikely to happen very often and actually, so what ? There is constant outrage at the moment anyway, and no possibility of correcting a wrong result.

The success and acceptance of the Video Review Panel would depend on its competence, lack of perceived bias and lack of outside influence. To that end, I would suggest a trio quite independent of PGMOL and free from any residual bitterness from outcomes years ago. It would therefore comprise an ex-player, an ex-manager and maybe a journalist with long football experience of the calibre, for example, of Philippe Auclair, Jonathan Liew or Matthew Syed.

The ex-player and manager could come from a middle order club so they would be less likely to harbour grudges against former major rivals but would have real knowledge of the game – something too many current referees seem to lack.

We have a situation at the moment where PGMOL supply both on field and VAR officials in the Premier League. Those same officials also take lucrative matches in Saudi Arabia – and, of course, Newcastle are owned by Saudis. The Daily Mail reported in April this year that Michael Oliver was flown business class to Saudi Arabia and paid around $3,000 to referee a match between Al Hilal and Al Nassr in the Saudi league.

It is outrageous that Premier League officials, with one eye potentially on continuing employment, can be on the payroll of people who own one of the clubs whose matches they decide.

The result

So, would this retrospective activity just be delaying the agony? Possibly, but at least fans in the stadium could get back to enjoying the flow of the game without constant, minutes long interruptions for a process that they can neither see nor hear. 

VAR could then be binned and left to sports like tennis and cricket where binary decisions are more appropriate. The referees and linesmen, together with goal line technology, could reassume control and we could all go back to arguing the whys and wherefores in the pub, instead of for the next week on social media.

This, of course, is not a perfect solution. That would be to train better quality officials to make better decisions and fewer mistakes in the first place. Their inefficiency was, after all, what led to the demand for technology, but it is a monster that is now out of control. 

Fans pay a huge amount of money to live in the tension and drama of a match and the spontaneous explosion of joy when their team scores. My guess is that they would rather bemoan and debate the contentious issues among mates than listen days later to Peter Walton and Howard Webb reverse engineering nonsensical “explanations” of them on TV. 

We cannot have a sport that is so sanitised by technology that fans can no longer celebrate a goal before deferring to a VAR screen to see if someone has found some atom of a reason for disallowing it. 

There is also an unnecessary element of risk to players caused by the way VAR is used. Afraid to make a mistake, linesmen and referees will now defer to VAR and allow play to run on until that phase of play comes to an end. During that time a player can suffer a serious injury, only for VAR to then render that phase redundant because of an earlier infringement ignored by the referee. 


VAR in its current form has not eradicated clear and obvious errors. Rather it has replaced many on field errors with some entirely of its own making.
It has not reduced fans’ frustrations with refereeing decisions, but it has amplified and extended them with mid-game interruptions.

Rules have been changed to a point where nobody understands them, to try to work round all the issues that VAR replays have thrown up – handball being the obvious example.

It has eroded the confidence of on field officials to make prompt decisions, and thereby increased the risk of unnecessary injury to players.

Hopefully the bin awaits …..

Arsenal hosted Burnley this afternoon at TNHOF, our very own Ashburton Grove. And while Burnley spent a good portion of the game acquitting themselves rather well against some occasionally beautiful Arsenal play, in the end the Gunners put the Clarets to the sword of a 3-1 victory. Having watched the game with the Silicon Valley Gooners in San Jose, I can say we all agreed on one thing: Burnley’s away kit makes ours look like something you might see in the halls of Paris’s haute couture.

We lined up pretty much as we had to, given our injury list. I was still disappointed there was no Ramsdale to start, and while Raya was wrong-footed by the deflection on Burnley’s goal he didn’t make any mistakes with the 4 saves or 3 corners that came his way. Our back line was absent one Benjamin White, for the first time all season. Tomi came in for him and very quietly (and without flash) played a man-of-the-match performance, even as Koleosho challenged him all night with his speed; Saliba, Gabi, and Zinchenko were likewise excellent, and at times amazing, all game long.

Our midfield consisted of Jorginho, Rice, and Havertz, which was where we were weakest. Solid, but no creativity, and most of the times I was cheering their play was on the defensive side (and when Havertz went off; he is a trier, working hard to why he’s worth £65 million…maybe he will finally do so after the coming international break). Up front our three of Gabigol, Trossard, and Saka alternated between thrilling and very, very quiet. In the first half so much came down Saka’s side, and in the second we seemed to concentrate on Gabi’s play, where he interchanged again and again with Trossard and Rice.

The first shot on goal went to the visitors; they actually had three attempts on goal in the first half that could have put them on the scoreboard with better finishing. In the 8th minute Burnley worked it up from the back, passed crossfield (through what I think was an unplanned dummy) as they moved forward at pace. Amdouni was left in a cushion of space by Zinny, Gabi, and Rice, from which he stung Raya’s palms with a rasping shot parried into touch. Their corner came to nothing. Arsenal’s first shot was a powerful Saka blast in the second phase of a corner kick. Young Trafford made a brilliant fingertip save, pushing it just onto and over the bar from such close range.

Around 30 minutes in, Raya caught a looping Rodriguez header just in front of the bar, just before a loose Havertz header that went high and wide (from another corner). Then Gudmundsson took advantage of a rare Saliba miscue to fire from the edge of the box; Raya got a hand to it and Gabriel cleared the ball into touch. Credit to Zinchenko for following the Burnley player all the way in to the box, and limiting his angle so Raya could save. Rodriguez fired from the same spot a minute later; Raya saved easily, gathering at the second attempt.

For most of the first half we were the better team but fairly sterile in possession. Crosses were sent in from either side, we got a number of corners, and we just couldn’t work anything well enough to make a goal. In the 36th minute Rice (another candidate for MOTM, who is so much worth his £105 million fee) robbed a Burnley player in the middle of their half, and passed to Havertz. His pass to Trossard on the left was late and behind him, and the play could have been throttled; instead, Trossard shifted it on to his left foot and lashed a shot that Trafford did well to deflect over the bar. A meter to the left and it would have been the first goal.

And then the goal did come. Right as we approached first-half stoppage time we moved the ball from left to right and back to left again, and Zinchenko looped a ball to the center of the box. Saka beat Havertz to the header, which he sent to the onrushing Trossard to head in by the left post…into which he slammed after the ball nestled in the net. Cue pandamonium at the bar, tempered by concern for Leo. It looked like a dislocated shoulder, or worse, a collarbone break, but it was neither. After a few minutes of treatment he walked off under his own steam and returned to see out the last few minutes of extra time.

Arsenal 1-0 Burnley (Trossard, 45+1)

There were no changes at the half, either in personnel or, as one might hope when the teams returned to the pitch, in the tenor of the game. Arsenal had controlled it well, with Burnley looking to play on the break. But in the first minute of the half Burnley intercepted a Raya long ball on their left; Koleosho was away and into Arsenal’s half in a flash. He had Saliba to beat, and slowly got ahead of the Frenchman. Fortunately, once into the box Saliba stretched out a long leg and poked the ball behind for a corner kick, without giving VAR even a hint to have to look for a penalty. Perhaps the tenor was tightening up, becoming more of an alto?

Burnley drew level due to more good work from Koleosho, who took a ball down against Tomi to the byline. It looked like he fouled Tomi before getting off a cutback to Rodriguez, whose low shot glanced of the heels of Brownhill past Raya into the net. Certainly VAR would look at the play leading to the goal and assess whether it should have stood? It did, VERY briefly, and it did. I can’t say it was as clear and obvious a miss by VAR as Joelinton’s two-handed push on Gabriel being determined not a foul, but it certainly reinforced the bitter aftertaste.

Arsenal 1-1 Burnley (Brownhill, 54)

I said to my mates at the bar that, by God, let’s see Arsenal play angry. As in “F!#$ this s#$!”. And as sure as the woad-daubing team in Middlesex are s#$!, Arsenal ascended and pressed Burnley hard from the restart. Within three minutes Martinelli picked up a pass ahead by Rice, rushed forward and had his goal-bound shot saved by Trafford, who knocked it out for a corner. Trossard’s corner was excellent, deep into the box and into the crowd, from which Big Bill Saliba rose and headed home. Cue pandemonium in the bar, the stadium, and wherever Arsenal fans gathered, along with repetitive “Saliba!” chants.

Arsenal 2-1 Burnley (Saliba, 57)

Immediately after the goal Havertz was replaced by Vieira, and Martinelli nearly lost a mouthfull of teeth to the heel of a defender’s boot. Besides that there was little Burnley could do to take the ball from Arsenal, who moved it around and between, all over the pitch for most of the next quarter hour. Koleosho and Rice both missed attempts at goal, and then Arsenal won a corner. After another excellent delivery by Trossard the ball was half-cleared out to Zinchenko, who laced a Miyagi-influenced Crane volley into the upper right corner of the net. A brilliant goal.

Arsenal 3-1 Burnley (Zinchenko, 74)

The rest of the game played out as it had started, though Arsenal continued to press for a fourth goal. Two pairs of substitutes (one from each team) came on in the 81st minute, and then a touch and a problem. Vieira went in late on Brownhill, missed the ball, and touched his studs to Brownhill’s knee on the way down. Referee Michael Oliver immediately, not to say gleefully, went to his pocket and showed our Portuguese destroyer the red card. Truthfully, we in the bar agreed we’d see red if the card wasn’t given the other way. The question was raised, however, as to why Udogie got off with just a yellow on his first against Chelsea in last week’s ScumHumbling (mate!), or how the excuse not to give Kovacic a red card of “just above the ankle” for his horror tackle on Ødegaard a month ago squares with the decision to award red to Vieira.

No matter. Even down to ten we were a match for the Clarets. After Kiwior was brought on for Martinelli, the rest of the game was an exercise in playing out the win. Burnley had a couple of attempts on goal, but nothing that bothered either the defense or our keeper. After 11 minutes of stoppage time the referee thrice blew his whistle and pointed to the center spot.

Full time: Arsenal 3-1 Burnley

Overall, a lot to be happy about in this game. We scored three nice goals, two from set pieces or initiated by them, and held Burnley to a mildly contestable goal against. Tomi played a silky, subtle, and incredibly active game that could have gone unnoticed, and the rest of the defense was nearly faultless. Our forward play was often just one interchange or cross from opening the Burnley defense like a laser can opener. While our midfield wasn’t exactly on song, we were able to control large stretches of the match, moving the ball into good positions all over the pitch. Raya played well, distributing the ball with aplomb, and controlling his area with more command than we’ve recently seen.

On the other hand, some things that are going to be less easy to swallow: Vieira’s red card in comparison to other recent yellows. Havertz and his confidence, and how he fits into this team. Giving up a goal when there was so little impetus from Burnley to get forward. The continued inconsistency of approach by the VAR officials on how to operate. Fortunately, that’s about it.

A last word

On this Day of Rememberance, known as Veteran’s Day in the United States, let us indeed recall the lives lost in Flanders’ fields. In light the goings-on in the world up to this very minute, the memory of their sacrifice is essential as we strive towards peace. Arsenal’s victory today enabled me to be that much happier as I considered the last of Robinson Jeffers’ lines from his poem “Advice to Pilgrims”:

Finally I say let demagogues and world redeemers bab-
     ble their emptiness
To empty ears; twice duped is too much.
Walk on gaunt shores and avoid the people; rock and
     wave are good prophets;
Wise are the wings of the gull, pleasant her song.

I will hold my hand up and say that I had expected Burnley to be higher up the table this season after romping away with the Championship last term. Only goal difference keeps them off the bottom of the table. With four points from their first 11 league games this season, it will take a minor miracle for them to come anywhere near my — or several other ‘holics’ — Predictathon placings. However, I want no thaumaturgy worked until after they have visited the Emirates on Saturday.

Yet, the Clarets may see a glimmer of divine intervention in that we have stuttered in our home performances against them of late. They secured a draw on their previous visit in January 2022 and beat us the time before that, keeping clean sheets in both games. Our last home win was a 2-1 in August 2019. Lacazette and Aubameyang scored to extend a run of unbeaten league games against them that stretched back to 1974.

Overall, we have won 49% of 113 games against them in all competitions to their 30%. Their wins include the first game between the two clubs; we were thrashed 6-1 at Turf Moor in an FA Cup tie in 1896. It was the only competitive game our keeper that day, Bert Russell, played for the club. Burnley would be beaten 7-1 by Stoke in the next round.

The following season saw the first league game between the two sides, which we lost 5-0, and another FA Cup tie, lost 3-1. A draw in the home league game at the Manor Ground, Plumstead followed. At least the results were moving in the right direction.

We would not suffer another sustained run of defeats until the end of the 1950s turned into the 1960s. Harry Potts’s team, in which Jimmy Adamson and Jimmy McElroy were far from the only stars, beat us in seven of nine league games between September 1958 and May 1963. During that time, they won the league in 1959-60, were runners-up in 1961-62 to Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich and got to an FA Cup final.

It subsequently all went pear-shaped. By the mid-1980s, Burnley had sunk to the old Fourth Division. They avoided relegation to the Football Conference in 1986-87 by the skin of their teeth, an unlikely win against promotion-chasing Leyton Orient on the last day of the season lifting them off bottom place.

The uneven and, at times, uneasy climb back to the Premiership was completed by 2009-10, but they went straight back down to the Championship. Then came the Dyche years. 

Moving on.

The Opposition

Vincent Kompany took over after Burnley’s still newish US owners, ALK Capital, gave Dyche the tin tak in April 2022. The Belgian inherited a team newly relegated to the Championship and brought them straight back up, securing promotion with a Championship record seven games to go.

He had replaced many of Dyche’s squad of battle-hardened heavies with 16 mostly young, foreign, and cheap players capable of attacking possession football. You can take the man out of Pep’s Man City and all that. 

Preparing for the team’s return to the Premiership, he did even more of the same, shedding 11 more players but spending a further 111 million euros on acquiring 20 new ones — almost half of them under 23. 

Yet he did not spend extravagantly; Zeki Amdouni, the 22-year-old Swiss international striker, was his most expensive buy at 18.6 million euros. Other acquisitions included England U21 goalkeeper James Trafford (17.3 million euros), the promising young midfielder from Villa, Aaron Ramsey (16.5 million euros), a young centre-back from Bayern Munich, Jordan Beyer (15 million euros), and Sander Berge (13.9 million euros), a DM once talked about as a possible Arteta acquisition.

Kompany’s company has yet to jell. One of the Belgian’s difficulties is that bringing in young players and getting them up to Premiership standards is challenging, doubly so on the scale he is attempting. The process takes time, always in short supply in the Premiership. Kompany has a long-term contract, and the owners have bought into ‘the project’, whose goal this season is Premiership survival. Nonetheless, he is the first Premiership manager to lose the opening six home games of a season. The threat of relegation always puts the best-laid plans in jeopardy.

Kompany’s on-field problems are at both ends of the pitch — and in the bit in between. Injuries and inconsistent selections have impeded playing a settled defence. Compounded by mistakes of inexperience, ruthlessly punished, the defence is the second leakiest in the league. The midfield, crucial to the possession football Kompany wants to play, has not proved able to control games — and may not have the quality to do so in the top flight. 

Up front, his tyros are creating chances but not scoring. Top summer buy Amdouni has just one goal but is still joint second-highest goal scorer, behind Lyle Foster, who hit three in seven starts but is now out dealing with mental illness. Foster’s cover, the veteran Burnley-born and raised Jay Rodríguez, who has scored 45 Premier League goals and around 150 senior goals in his career, has not gotten off the mark this season.

Even when Kompany’s team put together spells of good play, which they do, they cannot maintain them for 90 minutes or avoid making mistakes. There is a reason that Arteta hammers on about the need for individual and team consistency of excellence.

A word of warning: Burnley’s form is better away from Turf Moor. All four of its points have come on the road, as have half their goals; they concede only one away for every two they let in at home. Last season, they started slowly, too, winning only five of their first 13 games before roaring off to take the title. They only lost one of those, but it is a sign that, at some point, Kompany will get his new arrivals up to speed. Just not yet, please.

The Arsenal

With another damn interlull to follow the Burnley game and only one win in the past three league games — no wins, no points, no goals, November, to paraphrase Robert Hood — Arteta will likely field his strongest available team, with the emphasis on available. 

We know that Partey, Jesus, ESR and Timber are long-term absentees. Reading between the lines, Tomiyasu will also be out. Ødegaard and Saka are rated 50/50 to be fit. So is Nketiah, although his injury was the excuse for leaving him out of the England squad. If they fail late fitness tests, Jorginho and two out of Trossard, Vieira and Nelson will replace them. I’d sit Saka out regardless. There is no need to risk him for this game, but Arteta will likely disagree. If Ødegaard can play, it may well be off the bench.

Thus, I will hazard a starting line-up similar to the one that smothered Sevilla midweek:


White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko

Jorginho, Rice, Havertz

Saka, Trossard, Martinelli

Given the outburst at the officiating at SJP a week ago and the subsequent pronouncement of the Key Incompetents Panel, I will be mildly surprised if we are still playing with 11 at the end of the game and Arteta has not been spirited off to that gulag where prisoners are tortured by being forced to listen to an endless tape loop of Gary Neville and other northern ex-pro pundits. Michael Oliver, the ref who booked Martinelli twice in one passage of play against Wolves, will have the whistle. Craig Pawson will be the fourth official. Michael Salisbury will be the VAR, assisted by Ian Hussin. No pressure, lads.

The ‘holics pound

I continue to eschew a survey of the bookmakers’ odds given the players’ betting scandals (other moral objections are available; see Bath previously). Yet, it is a game in which at least a 3-0 home win seems a reasonable aspiration. Burnley has not kept a clean sheet in its last 16 Premier League games, and Vincent Company said this week that he is committed to sticking with the way he wants his team to play. 

Some goals are due in this fixture; the last five games between the two clubs have offered up just four. 

Enjoy the game, ‘holics, near and far, and as the match is not being televised in the UK, for those there, may your streams never freeze.

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