Feed on
Picture copyright: The National

Well what was that all about? I’m stepping in for a side knacked TTG (we’re dropping like flies I tell you) to try and make some sense of a puzzling afternoon at the Emirates. I’ve calmed down a bit since 5pm yesterday, so will try and give a balanced view.

The preamble

On an afternoon that would bring various sorts of weather we walked into a sunny Emirates stadium to find everyone frowning into their phones. The team had dropped and it was another odd one: 


Partey, White, Saliba, Kiwior

Ǿdegaard, Rice, Havertz

Saka, Trossard, Martinelli

So, two full backs who aren’t full backs, Gabriel remains on the bench, Trossard comes in for Eddie and Havertz keeps his place. The bench was probably as strong as I can remember. All eight of the players there will start this season, I confidently predict. 

The game

We had a fast start – but not in the way we wanted. After an initial exchange, Ben White played the ball to Saka, under pressure on the half way line. Saka played the ball back into space for either Partey or Ramsdale, but Partey wasn’t there. He was being asked to play in two positions, at right back when Fulham had the ball, and in midfield when we did. When Saka passed the ball back into the right back space, Partey was in the centre circle. Instead Saka played in two unopposed Fulham players. Pereira picked up the ball and probably tried to lob a back pedalling Ramsdale, but instead miskicked and steered it inside our near post. One nil down in less than two minutes.

We moved into our stride and generally dominated possession. But standing behind our defence on the North Bank it was obvious that something was wrong. Our back four were all over the place, not clear in their own roles and often not finding men where they expected them. Players were criss-crossing like they were attempting to get across Hammersmith Broadway from the Shepherds Bush side to the Fulham Palace Road. Kiwior is sound enough as a defensive left back but he made no attempts to link with Martinelli or overlap. Partey was as far forward as Zinchenko plays but he was overcrowding midfield, not linking up with Saka. Havertz was slowing play down. Rice didn’t know whether to stick or twist. Several times Partey was caught upfield and Fulham played into the right back channel where there were acres of empty green grass. 

But we were making chances. We had good chances for Havertz, Saka (who missed a header that looked easy live, but slightly more difficult when I saw highlights later), Martinelli and later Ǿdegaard could have scored. It was 0-1 at half time as the heavens opened, the thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed. Clearly the Gods were unhappy. 

Eddie was brought on for Trossard on 46 minutes. Early in the second half Calvin (Shirley) Bassey was booked for time wasting during a goal kick. Arteta made more good subs on 56, bringing on Zinchenko and Vieira for Partey and Havertz. Everyone moved over one, moving White to right back and Kiwior to centre back. Vieira had an instant impact. Strong, demanding the ball and finding space. Who was wearing the number 21 shirt and what had he done with the Fabio from last season? This Fabio I liked very much. He was taking up a very advanced left sided position when Martinelli rolled him in. He advanced strongly into the penalty area and was too quick for Tete who scythed him down right in front of us. Nailed on penalty which Mr Tierney gave immediately. Ǿdegaard picked up the ball ….and passed it to Saka. He had to endure several delays as first of all VAR checked for offside (it wasn’t), then Paul Tierney pompously strode up to Saka and moved the ball about one inch onto the penalty spot. Dean-esque “it’s all about me” behaviour. Then various Fulham players decided to come into the area and offer their opinions. Rice came in and, without ever risking being booked, firmly indicated that they should fuck off back behind the line.  They complied. You don’t mess with Declan! The whistle blew, Saka stepped up, sent Leno the wrong way and scored. Balls of steel!

Zinchenko was having an impact. Saka was played in and had a heavy collision with Shirley Bassey in the area. No penalty, said Mr Tierney. Bassey was left sprawling on the goal line and stayed there as Fulham played on, spurning the chance to put the ball out. We won the ball back and played out to Vieira on the left side. He played a quite fabulous ball towards the penalty spot where Eddie, between the centre backs doing his best Ian Wright impression, finished beautifully. 2-1 up, 73 minutes gone!

On 82 minutes we cleared a cross into our box towards the halfway line. Eddie scampered towards it, with only one Fulham defender in his own half and, on the half way line, was egregiously blocked by the aforementioned and already booked Shirley Bassey. Another easy decision for Mr Tierney. Second yellow and a red.

On 86 minutes, bad Zinny surfaced. I love Zinny but he can give the ball away easily in his own half. So it proved as Traore dispossessed him in the left back slot. A corner ensued. The ball was swung in, all our defenders moved away from it. It fell to an unmarked Paulhina who swept the ball in past Ramsdale. Shocking defending. Why had Gabriel not been brought on, we were asking ourselves? Nine minutes of added time. A late break from the pacy Traore. He surged into the box, shrugged off Saliba’s challenge and fired in a shot which Ramsdale saved well. There was only just time for Vieira to pick up the ball on the right of their area and fire in a fierce shot which Leno, formerly of this parish, did well to tip over. All over, 2-2 and two points dropped. 

The case for the prosecution

As we drove home I was seething. Why had we moved away from the excellent back four of last year (White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko)? Why was Partey at right back, being asked to play two roles and not sitting in midfield behind Rice, allowing him to surge forward? We have lost the White/Saka chemistry that was so effective last season. Why is Havertz a first choice at left 8? Why, oh, why is Gabriel not playing? The Saliba/Gabi CB partnership last year was one of the best in the league. Why break it up? Arteta clearly has a theory. Is he being arrogant and stubborn in testing it to destruction? 

The case for the defence

Arteta is trying to improve us. Last season he picked a very narrow range of players and it cost us when Saliba got injured. This year, due to sound recruitment, he has a much wider choice and, with CL football ahead of us, has to find a full squad and systems he can use. The trial continues. We should have won this game. We had 71% possession, 19 attempts on goal, with 11 on target and an XG of 3.25. His subs were excellent especially the reborn Fabio Vieira and a clearly on form Eddie. We’ve dropped two points, which is annoying, but remain unbeaten. We’ve been unlucky in losing the highly promising Timber to an ACL. Keep the faith and trust the process. 

Looking ahead

Next Sunday, at home against United, the last game before the cursed interlull, is now a very important game. The Boss has a week to decide his best way forward. 

Undefeated Arsenal welcome the better team from the Kensington and Hammersmith boroughs for a 3 pm (London time) kickoff at our not-so-craven not-so-cottage home in Ashburton Grove. The visitors are coming off a difficult West-Southwest London derby loss to Brentford, a 3-0 result that must have really stung. They are down in unlucky 13th place, on only the three points gained from their win against the grain at Goodison Park. Arsenal are level on points at the top of the table with Brighton and Manchester City, third on goal difference. We’ve two wins on the trot, in spite of the antics of a blind old Coote against Crystal Palace last Monday reducing us to 10 very well-drilled men.

In our last five versus Fulham we’re undefeated, having drawn once. Last season we did the double over them, including a 2-1 win in this fixture last August, almost a year ago to the day. Ødegaard and Gabriel scored after Mitrovic capitalized on Gabriel’s mistake; the latter’s relief when he scored in the scramble after a Martinelli corner was palpable. Contra to our recent record is that we face referee Tierney, against whom in whose games we have apparently not won since 2021, a run of four losses and one draw.


There are two big notes and losses for Fulham as the end of the transfer window draws near. Mitrovic, their leading goalscorer last season, has taken the money and run, very quickly, to the land of the (alleged, for the lawyers) Khashoggi killers. His 15 goals will be a loss; though Fulham scored frequently enough through their midfield and wingers, having the big Serb as a target man created space and second opportunities of which they could take advantage. Recently-recruited Raul Jiménez, signed from Wolves this Summer for a very modest sum, will try to replicate the “big man in the middle” for Fulham; if not, I suppose they could always bring on Willian (if he doesn’t miss the game through injury) to try to score against us.

Their second loss for Saturday’s game is center back Tim Ream, captain of the squad, whose sending off for a second yellow during the Brentford game means he misses this game by suspension. He is the heart of a back line consisting, usually, of Robinson, Ream, Diop, and Tete. New boy Bassey, signed this window from Ajax (from the same defense as Timber, big sigh), is probably down to slot right in, though we could see the more familiar Adarabioyo instead. Marco Silva has some thinking to do, especially if he’s going to keep his standard 4-3-3 formation. Missing Ream makes the defense as suspect as the offense missing Mitrovic; we can only hope that our own Mikel Arteta has figured out how to exploit those weaknesses.


While we are still adjusting to the loss for the season of Timber, the possible loan of Tierney, and the probable sale of Balogun, we welcome a return by Jesús from the injury that ended his participation in the Community Sheild against his former employers. What surgery he had appears indeed to have been minor, and he is expected to be named with the squad for Saturday. Other than Timber and fellow long-timer Mo’neny, we will miss big Tomi due to his own suspension given by too-yellow “two yellows” Coote.

This should leave us with a team somewhat resembling the following:


White — Saliba — Gabriel — Zinchenko

Partey — Mø — Rice

Saka — Eddie — Gabi

with Jesús, Trossard, Havertz, Nelson or ESR, Jorghino, Holding, Kiwior, and Raya on the bench.

Excepting Eddie up front, this looks to be our strongest team; given Fulham’s lack of goals and potentially porous defense I hope Mikel sees it the same way. The relative turgidity of our first two wins with Partey playing the Zinchenko role on the right has to change, and the absense of Tomi makes it the perfect game to play with our most successful spine from last season. If there’s any game we can get away with Zinchenko’s not-the-greatest-defense, this would be it; Wilson running at that side of the defense ought to be easy meat for big Gabriel. And Rice can both shackle De Cordova-Reid and prevent balls from reaching Wilson in his forays up and down in front of, and aside, Zinchenko.

Is a win guaranteed? Hardly. In Marco Silva Fulham have an inventive and thoughtful manager. We can go into this with nothing but determination and the drive to both limit Fulham’s opportunities and crush them with multiple goals. Whether we can achieve such an outcome should give us a good picture of where we actually stand after three games, as Fulham’s 13th place is probably not a true indication of their actual strength and capability. So, a bit of a beware, even as the portents are mixed-good: let us not be caught wearing milkbone knickers in a dog-fight.

The Holic Pound

Arsenal are odds-on favorites to win this one, so getting good odds require you to hope we match or beat our 3-0 win at the Cottage in March; that’s available at 7s or 8s. Not a great return, but if you back 5-0 to our Gunners those rise to 20 from the 11s at 4-0. Perhaps a punt on Declan Rice as first goalscorer? At 16s it might just be worth it.

Enjoy the game, those who go, please report in the drinks. For those in the USA the game is on at 7 am Pacific time on, apparently, the USA network.

Come on you Bloody Good Reds!

I’ve been on something of a sabbatical from club football (although I have enjoyed the Women’s World Cup recently) and I was even off-grid last weekend when our beloved Arsenal began the new season. I missed all of the game against Forest, including those agonising last minutes, and only found out the score on Sunday evening, when the jeopardy was long gone. MOTD highlights were all I saw.

So, tonight’s game against Palace represented something of a return both for The Arsenal and for me.

In preparation, I warmed up with some Gavi, then polished of the last of yesterday’s Sancerre, before I pivoted seamlessly towards a pre-game Riesling and a large plate of Irish Lamb Stew.

As I cracked open a can of beer that seemed more appropriate for the sporting fare on offer, Havertz opened up the space for Gabi at the far post, who could have done much better with the chance.

Moments later, we played the ball out wide to Saka, who looked to square up Tyrick Mitchell. On commentary, next to Smudger, Seb Hutchinson set out quite an adversarial commentary style when he summed up the left-back’s chances against our dynamic number 7 with the words “Arsenal are looking to stretch the bitch!”

I mulled over these fighting sentiments for a few moments before deciding that, on balance, he probably said “pitch.”

The first half was hard fought. For the aforementioned reason of alcohol, as well as general incompetence, this will not be a tactically astute rundown of the game. Cesc la vie. Or something.

We had the better of the chances. Eddie ran through and played Saka in, but it came to nothing. Eddie did very well to get in on goal and hit the post with a Saka-esque left-footed shot. Then Rice flicked him through for a chance that he should have done more with but lobbed over the bar.

Saliba chased Ayew as he tried to get in behind and slide tackled him in a move straight out of FIFA (the computer game, not the morally bankrupt sporting body.)

On 41 minutes Ødegaard hit a shot that the keeper saved. Personally, I thought it was going over but the bloke (or bloke-ess) in charge of the stats chalked it up as our first shot on target. Surprising, as we had been far the better side, but evidently not wrong, and as the half-time whistle blew, we had to be more clinical in the second half.

Five minutes after the restart, we had a penalty. Gabi took a quick freekick and Eddie ran onto it, knocking it past Johnstone, who brought him down. VAR looked at a block from Partey, and I briefly imagined that we were about to be done by the sort of reversal that Manure never face, but somehow the decision stood. I breathed a sigh of relief and reflected that there was still plenty of time for refereeing incompetence to surface. I wish I had been wrong on that front.

I was nervous, but when Ødegaard took the ball off Saka and placed it down, he was the calmest man on the pitch and stroked it home like it was a Sunday League game, except with less riding on it; absolute nerves of ice. What a player!

At 1-0, the Arsenal crowd began some of the greatest hits, including anything with a Palace connection. We heard the tunes for Vieira and Rocky, as well as Wrighty’s song, which the home faithful declined the opportunity to join in with.

David Coote began his quiet assault on the headlines with a cheeky booking for Tomiyasu. He made it clear from a goal kick that he did not want to see us taking too long over dead balls. The Palace fans contributed, mysteriously on our backs as though we were some sort of slothful Newcastle and they had Erling Haaland up top, being denied a bevy of chances with every second we procrastinated.

“I’m a shit Premier League striker.” “Ayew?”

“I’m a shit Premier League striker.” “Doesn’t Mateta.”

“I never score any goals.” “Mate, it’s not that Edouard.”

Sorry. That bit was mainly for Trev.

Also, sorry Trev.


We next got a throw in but after we faffed with it for a while Havertz left it for Tomiyasu, who legitimately tried his best to throw the ball in but had to wait for movement from his team-mates. He held the ball for eight seconds before he threw it in! Indeed, he had released it by the time that David Coote decided those split seconds were the straw that broke his back and the Japanese had to be punished. (Disclaimer: I am not comparing David Coote to a camel. I have no desire to deal with that volume of dromedariac letters of complaint. Let alone the Bactrians, well known for having twice the humps.)

A few minutes later and Tomiyasu gave the briefest of grips to Ayew’s shirt, letting it go long before it was an offence as he was mindful that he didn’t want a second yellow.

However, the star of the show, David Coote, decided to let out his inner Mike Dean (warning: NEVER do this) and send off our defender for this heinous transgression.

In seriousness, the first one is soft, but fair enough in a team context. If we cycled each player to hold the ball for ten seconds before passing it on to the next bloke, then we could take two minutes over each throw in.

However, the second yellow is ridiculously soft as a standalone card, and it is utterly inexcusable as a second yellow. Perhaps David Coote was keen to send off a player whose first booking was for timewasting, just to show how serious refs are gonna be about timewasting offences. I would write that ‘perhaps he is just a woefully poor official’ but, of course he is a woefully poor official. He works for a body that specialises in churning them out and rewards them for being so.

To be clear: Tomiyasu does nothing even close to being worthy of a red card. That would be true of any Palace player sent off for the same offences, or anyone in an even more objectionable jersey. It is just awful game management from the referee, to say nothing of the multiple inconsistencies we will all see every week when players are not booked for the same amount of timewasting or receive no sanction for challenges far more worthy of a yellow than Tomi’s second.

Make no mistake, this decision changed the momentum and dynamic of the match in the way that red cards do, and there is simply no sporting justification for it. The fact that we held on for three points was all that kept this disgraceful performance from the ref being something we looked back on for months, instead of something angry Arsenal bloggers grumbled about for a couple of days and then got on with our lives.

The rest of the game was shit. Palace had all the ball but could not score. Gabriel came on and brought some more steel – he was clearly up for the fight.

Jorginho came on and, whilst I am sure he was up for the fight, he also could not be remotely arsed to fight a side miles behind us in quality and decided instead to shut the game down and keep the ball. Good lad.

Mitchell took a swipe at a ball that dropped in the area, but it went miles over. The pitch.

David Coote gave seven minutes of injury time (fair enough on that front) before finally blowing up. I mean this in the sense that he blew his whistle, not that his incompetence and Dean-inspired shoehorning himself into centre stage led him, like some sort of tragicomic Dickensian figure, to spontaneously combust. I would not wish that on anyone. But, like Dickens did until the end, I shall maintain that it might happen one day.

After the match, I saw an interview with the immense Declan Rice, who is growing into our side every week, as he did well to keep his head above water as the various Sky employees rained down their saliva-heavy inanities on him.

Arteta spoke well, and dodged any whiff of pointing out what a cunt the ref was.

Roy Hodgson was as classy as ever, spoke well of his side and the game, and, whilst saying nothing to jeopardise his side’s ongoing fortunes, also avoided saying anything that would cast any doubt on what a cunt the ref was. Good man!

We got three lovely points and we can forget all about this one.

I am on my fourth beer, I’m already working on it.

Until next time ‘holics, have a good one.

Arsenal travel south of the river to take on Crystal Palace on Monday evening as they continue the early stages of the thirty-eight game marathon that is a Premier League season. Mikel Arteta’s side got off to a successful, if slightly bumpy in patches, start last Saturday against a spirited Nottingham Forest. The Eagles will offer a different sort of test where Arsenal will be under more pressure although you’d expect the Gunners to enjoy most of the possession. 

Selhurst Park is the epitome of the famed “Banana Skin” fixture, meaning it is widely considered to be one of the toughest places outside the traditional Big Six clubs to go and get a result. It is a notoriously raucous ground – it is believed that our own Ashburton Army took some inspiration from Crysyal Palace’s Holmesdale Fanatics. Flag and tifo displays as well as pyrotechnics are regularly on show at Selhurst, giving it a European feel that you seldom find at English football stadia. 

Some Arsenal fans have attributed Palace a bit of a bogey ground for the Gunners which is not entirely true. Since the Eagle’s promotion in 2013, Arsenal’s record there stands as played ten, won six, drawn two, lost two. The most recent of those half a dozen victories did of course come on the opening night of last season. After losing at Brentford on the opening night the season before, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were there with the sky cameras ready to dance with the crowd like little girls after the eagerly anticipated Arsenal loss. Mikel Arteta’s men then proceeded to play some of the best football we’ve seen from an Arsenal side since the ‘Invincibles’. Neville and Carragher were bitterly disappointed. Arsenal will be very pleased if the night results in a repeat of that. 

I am not usually someone who pays much attention to omens or a result against the same team on the same ground in 1952 but I will point out that the two defeats Arsenal have suffered in this corner of South London in the last decade both came on a Monday night. Both were 3-0 defeats. Their recent record on Monday nights makes for pretty grim reading, having lost their last four premier league fixtures on a Monday night with the 3-0 reverse at Selhurst Park in April last year being part of that unpleasant sequence. 

Well now that’s out of the way, which Crystal Palace will Arsenal be facing on Monday Evening? Palace are now Wilfred Zaha-less following the departure of their record Premier League goalscorer to Galatasaray on a free transfer. They looked set to lose tricky winger, Michael Olise, to Chelsea before he made an unexpected U-turn and signed a four-year extension to stay in South London. In terms of incomings they have brought in Matheus Franca from Flamengo to bolster their attack as well as Jefferson Lerma from Bournemouth to increase the numbers in the middle of the park. A shrewd signing, one feels. They did, of course, have our own Sambi Lokonga on loan for the second half of last season but the Belgian failed to make the sort of impression that could’ve led to a permanent move to Selhurst Park. Roy Hodgson is remarkably still managing at the ripe old age of seventy-six. You’re only as young as you feel. 

As for the Visitors, it looks like Arsenal will be without Jurrien Timber for some months following an unfortunate ACL tear last weekend. Zinchenko and Jesus are reportedly close to being available for selection although you wouldn’t be surprised if they were eased back in to avoid further injury. In terms of team selection, well that’s very difficult to predict for Arsenal these days which is probably a good thing. Although not for FPL managers for whom I’m sure it will be the source of a great deal of selection headache this year. However, the real selection headache is being suffered by Mikel Arteta. Although you suspect the Spaniard is enjoying the plethora of options he now has at his disposal. It will be interesting to see if he does persist with the 3-2-4-1 box midfield system. It becomes that bit more complicated without Timber and probably Zinchenko also. Of course, since we last kicked a ball we have made an additional signing in Goalkeeper David Raya on loan from Brentford. While you wouldn’t expect him to start over Ramsdale, that will be another question for Arteta in the weeks and months ahead. Questions he would like to have of course. Given the options I am predicting this starting eleven:


White, Saliba, Gabriel

Partey, Rice

Saka, Odegaard, Havertz, Martinelli 


Feel free to disagree because I am almost certainly incorrect. To what extent we will find out tomorrow. It will certainly be a tough encounter for Arsenal but one they are well equipped to deal with. We may not see the fast and fluid football we saw at the beginning of last season on this ground, but I am still predicting an away win here. 2-0 to The Arsenal. Some hairy moments are more than likely at some point, but just remember – it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

‘The best laid plans o’ mice and men are gang aft a-gley,’ Rabbie Burns 

This quote from a man who is privileged to share his birthday with me occurred to me on the way home. Whether it was the effect of dining with two proud Scotsmen after the match or my natural poetic bent, it appeared an appropriate commentary on the ‘Holicverse today. Ostensibly a 12.30 kick-off, the game began half an hour later than scheduled because Arsenal’s ticketing system broke down before the match. My proudly proffered digital membership brought up the ‘Access Denied’ sign at gate D. One imagines the problems encountered by Pangloss in validating his ticket a couple of days ago were a precursor of the IT problems ahead. The fates had clearly decided that it wasn’t a match that he should see because his car broke down en route to the match. He has our sympathies as has C100 who was taken poorly during the match and had to return home. He has our very best wishes for a speedy recovery. I’ve heard from him while writing this report and he appears to be feeling very much better. One hopes the Pangloss vehicle can also be made whole very swiftly and inexpensively.

These absences had the effect of decimating our first ‘Holic gathering of the season which was confined to Ollie, Bathgooner , BtM and myself but a pleasant and lively time was had by the survivors. So, what did we have to discuss?

Firstly, and vitally we had an Arsenal win, a deserved victory but one that was much harder earned than appeared likely at the interval. The season began with a win but our performance created as many questions as answers. Pre-kick off (for those allowed into the stadium), the big question was not what would our side be – we thought we knew that – but how would we line up? Arteta’s first league selection of the season was a very intriguing one and I would venture it caused Steve Cooper, the Forest manager, much vexation.

Three obvious defenders were named – White, Saliba and Timber. Havertz and Nketiah both started. We had no clearly identified full-backs and Declan Rice made his league debut. When the game began we had partial answers. In defence, we were a four defensively with Partey pulling wide to right back but offensively we were a fluid three while Partey inverted.

It was a three that was almost penetrated catastrophically by Johnson early doors when a fortunate bounce put him through between Saliba and Timber. Ramsdale handled the situation well, standing up until the last minute and psyching out Johnson who sliced wide. It was Forest’s best and almost their only chance of the first half. While we took time to hit our stride we played some increasingly delightful and intricate football and we received our reward on 26 minutes with what I deemed to be our first shot. It owed much to Martinelli’s delightful control on the left wing. His penetrating run enabled him to set up Eddie Nketiah with a back-heel and Eddie’s opportunistic low shot from wide of the left-hand post took a deflection and beat Matt Turner making a quick return to the Home of Football. 

Arsenal 1 Forest 0 (Nketiah 26) 

This gave us increased confidence exemplified by Bukayo Saka who receiving from Saliba twenty yards out arrowed a superb, curling drive into the top left-hand corner.

Arsenal 2 Forest 0 (Saka 32) 

From there towards half-time we exerted almost total control. Rice had a more than satisfactory debut. His intelligence, poise and accuracy enabled him to shield the back three and start positive attacking moves. He has the hallmark of top players in his ability to screen the pitch before receiving the ball. Ødegaard seemed to be everywhere and buzzed around to great effect and Saka and Martinelli worked very hard going both ways. At the interval we looked very comfortable. 

Half-time Arsenal 2 Forest 0 

Jurrien Timber who had an excellent first-half, looking cultured and assured defensively, sustained an injury in added time in the first half. He returned after the break only to break down early in the second half. He was replaced by Tomayisu and we seemed to lose some fluidity after this. Forest were more direct, more robust and more competitive and fittingly for a team who signed thirty players last season, brought on a stream of substitutes. Their best hope of a goal appeared to be a set piece and in the second-half there were strong appeals for a penalty for handball from a corner when Rice appeared to be culpable. The footballing Gods smiled on us.

Just when it seemed that we would preserve a clean sheet, two of Forest’s never-ending stream of subs combined to thwart us. An Arsenal corner on the right was recycled to Elanga who left Rice and most of the Arsenal defence in his wake and squared the ball to Awoniyi who touched the ball home. It was belatedly ‘game on’! 

Arsenal 2 Forest 1 (Awoniyi 85) 

Tension crept into the game and Arsenal who had subbed on Trossard for Nketiah now had to revert to a less sophisticated defensive model bringing on Gabriel at centre back for Martinelli. This was a frustrating and nervy ending and one sensed it was unnecessary without appreciating quite why this change had taken place – Ødegaard still bossed midfield, Saliba was commanding and Ramsdale relatively untroubled but when Michael Oliver blew eight minutes into added time it was more of a relief than a triumph! 

Result Arsenal 2 Forest 1 

Nevertheless, there was much to be encouraged about. Rice had an excellent debut and was foiled twice by Turner from crowning his debut with a goal. Saka received a heavy knock early on but was still able to create havoc and Ødegaard produced a captain’s performance.

If I had two concerns, one would be how seriously Timber is injured and the other would be how to integrate Havertz into this team. In two major games he has shown encouraging touches but an ability to be peripheral in a way that, for example, Trossard never is. Gabby Agbonlahor is apparently ‘not having him’ as I heard on TalkShite as I was driving home.

There is also one other general concern.

Could it be that, despite the innovation of Arteta’s coaching, might I suggest that our style and our interchanges are so complex that some players seem to struggle to understand them? This will hopefully be a temporary problem and should become a permanent strength but one senses there will be a period of bedding down before our playbook is fully integrated into our way of operating. A point to consider and to discuss but at least we can do so with the comfort of a winning start behind us.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »