Arsenal 3-1 Köln: chaos at Die Emirates Stadion

20,000 Köln fans marched through the streets of London, fueled by ale and lager, chanting and singing. They started in Oxford Circus where they snarled traffic, throwing bottles, and aggravating booji shoppers trying to get into Forever 21. There they boarded public transit and made the 25 minute train ride to Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, whereupon fights broke out and police contemplated abandoning the match out of fear for everyone’s safety. Inside the stadium, Köln supporters took over three levels of the corner of the stadium, they did the Poznan – a dance where supporters clasp each other shoulder to shoulder and pogo en masse – they threatened people. The match went on anyway.

For people of an older generation these scenes were familiar – this was a good old fashioned “take over”. In the olden days men with tough jaws and tough fists would do battle every weekend for a bit of bragging rights over a small group of similarly tough jawed and tough handed men. If they planned it perfectly, and they got lucky, these toughjaws could literally take over the opposition’s stadium. They would sneak in to the home supporter’s stands and/or find ways around the away segregation barricades and then perch high up above the home supporters. When the whistle sounded they would “steam in” on their opposition raining down toughfists, and hardboots, from above.

It’s all very romantic – for men who think highly of other toughjawed men. For most people who say they “want their Arsenal back” that was what Arsenal were like – sort of.

But for the rest of the world, no one wants scenes like that. And so, UEFA is opening an investigation. How, exactly, did 5-10,000 Köln supporters get tickets to a match which had an allocation of 2,900?

The Arsenal are blaming the touts and I have to say that there is a huge chance they are right. One of my early Arsenal matches I used tickets from a friend of a friend and I was seated in that exact section, right next to the away supporters (Sunderland). In front of me were two blokes from Ireland, who got so plastered that they passed out for Arshavin’s debut. And at half-time when I went to get a beer I met two decent enough guys from Sunderland who asked me “not to tell anyone, eh?” What did I know? I’m just a Yank. I just laughed nervously and marveled at their impenetrable accents. I must have said “WHAT???” a hundred times in a 10 minute conversation.

This is the double-edged sword with the Arsenal: they love to announce the 59,000 ticket sell outs but they have to know that a huge number of those are going to tourists. I’m sure some Gooners are responsible with their season tickets and only loan them out through the official Arsenal resell scheme – and I’m also sure, by the very visible presence of 10,000 Germans, that some fans are less responsible.

But before I blame the supporters completely, I’d like to see a full and independent investigation done into how the Germans took over die Emirates stadion. There were more than a few rumors that Köln supporters had gotten tickets through red level memberships. The Arsenal have put out a statement saying that they blocked any red level member from buying tickets to this match if they bought their membership after the tie was announced. But I have heard dozens of reports that Köln supporters were bragging about buying red memberships to get in. That needs to be investigated and fully brought to light.

In the book “Steaming In” by Colin Ward, the football matches are often treated as an afterthought. They are merely the setting for the real subject of the book, the punch up. You will get whole chapters and pages devoted to the way a fellow hooligan dressed which was all wrapped up with maybe a sentence or two on the actual game. It is a surreal read.

Arsenal beat Köln 3-1. The Köln center forward, Jhon Cordoba, gave Arsenal fans heartburn when he struck from 40 yards to open the scoring. The goal came about because Arsenal started with a back three of Mertesacker, Monreal and Holding. Instead of starting Kolasinac, the wing back he bought this summer, Arsene Wenger started a center mid named Ainsley Maitland-Niles as left wing back and then put a number 10 player named Iwobi in the free-floating center mid role and left Arsenal with a single center mid named Elneny.

Köln scored when Mertesacker – who was never a speedy player in the first place – was beaten for an over-the-top ball. Ospina – the Arsenal goalkeeper – came rushing out to clear but only hit the ball to Köln’s Bittencourt, who just let the ball bounce off him and fall to Jhon Cordoba. Cordoba knew that Ospina was well out of goal and that he was unmarked, so he just turned and shot. The crowd went nuts. Which you might expect considering the fact that many Arsenal supporters went home after the club announced that there would be a one-hour delay which would make it difficult for many fans to get home.

I can’t tell whether it’s Wenger’s plan to make the 343 look bad or whether he just can’t seem to figure out how to make the 343 work. Every team which deploys the 343 is happy with 5 at the back: 3 center backs and 2 center mids in front of them. Wenger seems to insist on a system which looks more like a 3133 with 3 center backs and a center mid in a diamond. His other center mid is told to go forward, to vacate the space and let the other four build up play. But that leaves way too much space in midfield for one player to cover, usually Xhaka and yesterday Elneny. Elneny, to his great credit, sprinted back on several occasions and covered when needed but you get the sense that Wenger is over-complicating things.

It’s also frustrating to see Wenger playing players out of position constantly. Why he started Ainsley Maitland-Niles (who is a center mid if I ever saw one) as left back when he has several viable left backs is going to go down as one of life’s enduring mysteries. Why he started Iwobi in the Ramsey role is, however, clear: Wenger wants to play with a single deep lying mid with a much more attacking mid in front of him. I suspect he does this because he wants to start play wide, rather than through the middle, because wide play suits his two star players, Ozil and Alexis. When Holding was still on the pitch he was playing excellent balls up to the wide players like Theo and Iwobi. And down the left side, Arsenal started play through AMN, who was tasked with supporting Alexis.

What’s also equally clear is that this system doesn’t work. At half-time Wenger brought on Kolasinac as the left back and put Ainsley Maitland-Niles in midfield, dropped Holding (for the second time now this season), and moved Bellerin into the right back role. I know it’s considered jokey to call Wenger’s version of a 442 a 244 but it’s true. I’ve been writing about Arsenal now for almost 10 years and as far as I can tell, his fullbacks have always been wingbacks.

In Kolasinac and Bellerin he finally has full-on wingbacks, guys who can and do score. Gibbs, Sagna, Clichy, Monreal, and others have always gotten forward but they weren’t real good at it. Bellerin already has 5 goals for Arsenal and Kolasinac 2 goals and 2 assists. Gibbs had 6 goals for Arsenal, Monreal 3, Sagna 5, and Clichy 2. So, when he moved to a “back four” he was really moving to a back 2 and it shouldn’t be a surprise that both Kolasinac and Bellerin scored.

But crucially, AMN and Elneny kept good space next to each other in midfield. They are both more conservative type players and that suits Arsene Wenger’s much more liberal attacking approach. They kept Köln quiet and contributed to the Arsenal build-up and attack from a slightly deeper role: AMN even made a nice run where he nearly scored, thanks to a series of beautiful little close passes, which reminds people why Wenger likes those runs from deep – they cause chaos.

But Maitland-Niles only made ONE run. It wasn’t a series of sprints. He wasn’t standing in Giroud’s space constantly. And frankly, Arsenal could have scored a lot more goals in that second half as they were able to exploit the fragile Köln defense. Theo Walcott was caught offside too many times and Giroud had several good shots collected or just miss.

It was a good win among a hostile crowd in what felt like an away game in a tournament which Wenger seems eager to throw away. But if we get more performances like last night’s and they feature young players like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Bellerin, and even Jack Wilshere (who is only 25), coming on strong, we might have a fun run in the Europa League.

Provided they can keep the away fans from buying up all the tickets.



Steaming In by Colin Ward –

The Guardian –

By the Numbers –


  1. Thank you for writing this. I have felt like I’m a crazy person because both of my teams (Arsenal and the USMNT) have been doing this only-one-CM thing for so long.

    If we want to win the league, we have to dominate the midfield. Look at the teams out there that have won their leagues recently. You can sort them into two categories:

    1. Teams that play with three CMs so that they have the numbers to dominate midfield (Real Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, Bayern).

    2. Teams that play with two CMs, but tell them to stay in midfield and protect the space in front of the defense (Chelsea, Leicester, Atletico).

    Yet here Arsenal are, with Xhaka playing as the only CM. It’s such a simple fix too – Wenger needs to either take charge and tell Ramsey to stop playing like a second forward (we know he can, he did it with Arteta); or just play any of our decent-but-not-great midfielders with Xhaka instead of Ramsey (like Elneny, or Wilshere, or even AMN). Just somebody who will actually play like a midfielder. That’s all we need to do.

  2. It is estimated around 20,000 Cologne fans made the journey to London, despite only 3,000 tickets being on sale. Thousands of away supporters could be seen sat in the home stands.

  3. Hey Tim, also wanted to say I love the site and the new look, though there’s one thing I don’t love (not trying to be critical for criticism’s sake, but just wondering if it could be addressed; if not, no worries): maybe I’m missing something, but I find it much harder to tell if a particular comment is a response to another comment or not, and if so, to which one.

  4. Entertaining and edifying. Thank you.

    “I can’t tell whether it’s Wenger’s plan to make the 343 look bad or whether he just can’t seem to figure out how to make the 343 work.”

    Um…you know the chant: “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!!”
    I mean, who knows what Wenger knows or doesn’t know but I don’t get anything about that 1st half. Mystifying and irritating but those two qualities seem to go hand in hand for The Arsenal these days.

    “It’s also frustrating to see Wenger playing players out of position constantly.”
    4 games in and this s$%t is now A Thing. Of course I don’t have the stats to back this up but barring injury necessities, I think we play more players out of position more often than any other Premier League team. You’d have to turn off all warnings and notifications in Football Manager if you made those same kind of selections starting a match. ?? Wenger is a lot of things but he’s no Tinker Man.

    “What’s also equally clear is that this system doesn’t work.”
    It’s beyond frustrating that the only person that doesn’t get this is the only person that counts. Literally. Even Son-of-1-Nil who’s no tactician by any means said this at half time.

    Football matches are won and lost in the center half of the pitch.For many clubs this a given and they plan and spend accordingly. But we still can’t sort this out? After literally years of struggling with the same issues? What I would give for a healthy and in-form 27 year old Santi Cazorla right now. He would sort us out. As long as he wasn’t played at right back.

    1. “What I would give for a healthy and in-form 27 year old Santi Cazorla right now. He would sort us out.”

      This, times a million.

      We needed a top quality goal-scoring CF (fingers crossed we’ve got him, but time will tell), so spending the money on Lacazette made perfect sense. But does one of the top 10 richest clubs in world football REALLY not have the funds to also bring in a top quality “new Cazorla” in the same transfer window??? WTF was Wenger doing not trying harder to get one before the very end of the window (when he suddenly realized he needed to strengthen midfield but it was too late, according to Ornstein)? And if the answer is, “he was trying, that’s who Lemar was meant to be for us,” then, setting aside the question of whether Lemar can actually play that role at this stage in his career, there’s the further question of why, when it became clear Monaco weren’t going to sell him to us for a price we were ready to pay, we didn’t go hard for our second choice (as we did when we bought Laca after being priced out of Mbappe).

  5. Cutting and pasting this from the last article, since I posted the comment right before Tim put up this new article, and I’m genuinely interested in what others think:

    I can’t make up my mind on AMN: one moment I think he’s totally underwhelming (ok at everything, excellent at nothing, with no true potential to be a future starter for a team like Arsenal), the next moment I see him as *maybe* the closest thing we have to a (perhaps only temporary) solution to our midfield problems: very comfortable on the ball, but not quite as conservative in his passing as Elneny (how good his passing range is remains to be seen, but it doesn’t look bad); diligent in tracking back, and also a much better tackler than the Egyptian, though with similar reserves of stamina; not a speedster or a beast, but has a turn of pace and good close control (both of which I’d like to see more of), and just about strong/tall enough to not get bullied.

    Wenger obviously likes what he sees. I’m still on the fence, but feel we’re desperate enough to try anything. If we’re going to stay with two in midfield (either in 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1) maybe we could do worse than Xhaka and AMN? What do others think?

    1. A lot of this again is down to Wenger and his proclivity to vacillate over EVERYTHING in his old age. He has become too conservative with too many of his choices in too many aspects of football management. One of those being giving proper and extended pitch time to talent like AMN (shortened only because his name is so long!)

      The kid is still a kid but…he’s 20 years old now. He needs sustained and meaningful game time and it’s too late for a loan spell. So if the train has left the station and I’m not saying it has, then that is also down to the Gaffer.

  6. Greetings from London… where, as luck would would have it, I was on Oxford street when the Koln fans marched past (strictly speaking from Tottenham Court Road towards Oxford Circus and not from Oxford Circus). They took up both sides of the road, and the march lasted a good 10 minutes. That’s how many there were.

    A few points to make.

    They didn’t really exude menace, at least not there. They seemed like a bunch of high-spirited people (man, women and older children) over in Blighty to take advantage of a weak Pound Sterling, and drink too much beer (not the kids). It didn’t feel at all like a hooligan horde.

    Clearly Arsenal are still a biggish draw for European fans.

    Third, it’ll take while for Gooners to get into the Europa Cup. Attendance and interest was down. I suspect they will if and as Arsenal progresses. My mate and I tried (a bit late in the day) to get tickets. We didn’t, so we settled for watching the game at an Islington pub. While we were there, an offer came through for two decent seats at £15 each. You heard me right… about a quarter of their price. We were too comfortably seated by that point to bother, and in any case the burger order was on its way. Clearly the guys who held the seats didnt bother going to the game, and had trouble flogging them. No wonder it was easy for a Koln fan to turn up on spec and get a ticket.

    There were reports of some fan trouble, but from what I could see on TV, they brought 99% of the atmosphere to the game. It brought the quality of our own support into focus, and frankly, we’re not great at-the-game fans. We never were, in truth. Sometimes the biggest noise you hear from our fans is a collective groan as someone misplaces a pass.

    1. Hi Claude. Whereabouts in London are you planning to watch the game tomorrow? I’m in London too and it might be fun to put a face to the name (he said timidly)

  7. Hit the nail on the head Tim. “4” at the back is now our risk option because it is really 2 at the back. We don’t have full backs , we have wing backs only. That is why our best option is the 3 at the back formation. What remains to be addressed is our midfield as a shield for the defence when we are out of possession. If we had simply exchanged Giroud with Idrissa Gueye of Everton we could have been in a much better state. Gueye had one of the best defensive stats (tackles/interceptions) in Europe’s top 5 league last season., better than Kante.

  8. Of the game itself, Elneny caught my eye, patrolling the midfield really well. His distribution seems to have improved a notch. Wenger really likes him (he’s a team player and not a complainer), and maybe it’s because he seems willing to learn new things. Regulars here know that I’m not his biggest fan, but credit where due.

    It was great to have Jack back. He plays better with higher quality players, and fitted really well into the game flow when he came on. But we were ahead at that point, and it wasn’t Manchester City, so I’ll reserve judgment.

    Mustafi better be being saved for Chelsea, because at this stage he’s a much better right-sided back three player than Rob Holding, who for the second game this season was replaced at half-time.

    Alexis. His facial expression suggests an unhappy player, but the competitive animal in him won out in the end, and deep in the second half he was haring around like old times.

    With Ox gone, Wenger doesn’t have to try to accommodate two wantaway players in him and Bellerin, so Kolasinac should, must start. And we should riot if he doesn’t. Tough, competitive and intelligent layer.

    As for their goal, hat tip for a wonder goal from Cordoba, and no blame attached to Ospina (even Gunners legend David Seaman got chipped from distance, by Nayim). Holding and Mertesacker played a suicidally high line. A ball OTT, and their left-sided attacker was clean through on goal. Ospina did the right thing. He’d hugged Cordoba, his fellow Colombian, warmly at the intro. Bet he wanted to throttle him after the goal.

    1. Completely agree that Jack plays better with higher quality players, which is why I never saw his slightly underwhelming (hardly disastrous as some have made out!) year at Bournemouth as a definite sign that he’s done at the top level. Only time will tell.

      Late-career Wenger (he may have done his earlier too; I can’t quite remember), has this terrible habit of destroying the confidence of young players by first playing them way too much, and then, when their form hits an inevitable bump, banishing them from the team almost completely (at best playing them in these sorts of games where they have to re-find their form but in a makeshift side with other squad players).

      He’s done this with Chambers, to some degree with the Ox and Bellerin (though he loves Hector too much to have benched him for long yet), and now, it appears, with Holding and Iwobi.

  9. Cool to hear Ormgordon’s first hand account of the Koln fans. You’d think they were a raging Teuton horde from the media coverage.

    Regarding the positional change many have written about, moving the second midfielder back in front of the back line:

    Yes it would make us more tight and coherent at the back. There is a way to do it more coherently than what I’m about to describe but I feel that learning this new system would require a level of commitment to a totally new style that I cannot envision a Wenger team playing. A sitting midfield duo in front of a back 3 is not the style of a top tier team; that’s a setup to play reactive football, to invite pressure and look to hit on the break. It works well against Arsenal but probably wouldn’t work well for Arsenal. We have players who are at their best in possession, not out of it, so why go to a system that increases the amount of time we spend without the ball? Keeping 5 players back at all times just doesn’t give enough of an attacking platform to keep the ball or break through a dogged defense. The Koln game was a lovely microcosm of this issue. As soon as we moved to a 3 in midfield, we looked like a coherent top level side even with rookies and journeymen in that midfield. So the key issue becomes: where does that 3rd midfielder come from? If we stick with a back 3, that body will need to be taken from attacking areas which, again, would make us a more reactive side. The other option then is to take it from the back 3 and go back to a back 4 (aka back 2) again. Do we have the players to do this? It’s debatable. Even if we completely trust Kostafi, who would be the midfield three in front of them, and can they close down the passing lanes to prevent the easy ball over the top behind the inevitably forward roving wing backs? Not for me, no. I can’t see piecing together a mature and defensively responsible midfield from the pieces we currently have. We are not “screwed no matter what” but the reality is that there is no obvious solution and Wenger the jazzer will have to hope he stumbles upon something that works half as well as his impromptu CoqZorla pairing of 3 years ago. Meantime, back 3 or back 2, we need to put more bodies in midfield because it’s just too easy for teams at the moment to take advantage.

    1. Two thoughts:
      1. I agree three at the back and two sitting in front of them is not the ideal formation for a possession-oriented, front-foot team, so it’s not the ideal formation for a Wenger team, but it’s a bit misleading to say it’s not a formation that a top team should play, since that’s exactly how Chelsea play. Also, if the two in front are players who can pass the ball and not just midfield destroyers/shields, and the two wing-backs are not just speedy and attack-minded, but genuinely skillful (another reason I miss the Ox, though Kolasinac and Bellerin are no slouches going forward), then I think there’s a way to take the Chelsea-inspired 3-4-3 and make it a more offensive, creative formation that suits Arsenal. But of course, the question still remains: do we have two midfielders who are both defensively strong and disciplined, AND skillful enough on the ball to play out of the back and create dangerous attacking situations in the final third by playing balls through the lines quickly? The answer appears to be no.

      2. So the 4-3-3 it must be. I share your concerns about the quality of our midfield options, but I don’t believe that we can’t find a combination of THREE guys to do an adequate defensive job covering in front of our back four.
      Put it this way: our fullbacks are going to bomb forward in any formation. They can and should be told to be a little more cautious in a back 4, but we know Wenger’s not going to curtail their attacking instincts too much regardless. So the question is simply: are we more likely to look defensively solid with three CB’s covered by two CM’s, or two CB’s covered by three CM’s? I have serious worries about our ability to be defensively solid either way, but I certainly don’t see why we should necessarily look more vulnerable with the 2-3 option rather than the 3-2, and the former has the added advantage of making us more likely to be able to build from the back and pass our way out of a high press (if we had several ball-playing CB’s at the level of Hummels and Boateng, then maybe I’d feel differently, but alas we don’t).

      So, for me, I’d be tempted in the medium term (i.e. perhaps not in the next game or two, but looking forward over the next several months) to go with a midfield three of:

      AMN – Xhaka – Wilshere/Iwobi

      If Coquelin were fit I’d consider him over AMN, at least in big/tough games. I might be being way too optimistic way too early, but I think AMN might provide just the right balance between Coquelin and Elneny (basically: better on the ball than Coq, better tackler than Elneny (and maybe in the long term offering more going forward than either of them too?)). We’ve wanted someone who combines their best attributes for a while, and though he may not be a significant upgrade on either (at least not yet), he might be a better balanced player.

      For the third midfielder I’d consider Ramsey if he wasn’t intent on abandoning his midfield duties at every opportunity. In theory, playing in a three should give him greater freedom, but the worry is that he’d think this way himself and take it as an excuse to be even more forward thinking and midfield-shirking, thus negating the supposed advantage of playing with a 3 in the first place. Also, Iwobi and Wilshere both offer more of an ability to dribble forward out of tight spaces, which is something our midfield could really use. Iwobi was pretty poor the other night (though with some good moments), but he looked good in preseason. Wenger needs to play him more with the first choice players like Ozil and Alexis, to prevent his confidence being shot; he should be getting off the bench before Walcott, for example. And I think his future could lie more in midfield than in a front three, just not in a deep midfield two (at least not until he’s much older). If Wilshere could get back to anything like his best early-career form this season, that could be an incredible, season-saving boon for us (that and Santi coming back and having a storming second half of the campaign).

  10. Completely agree that Jack plays better with higher quality players, which is why I never saw his slightly underwhelming (hardly disastrous as some have made out!) year at Bournemouth as a definite sign that he’s done at the top level. Only time will tell.

    Late-career Wenger (he may have done his earlier too; I can’t quite remember), has this terrible habit of destroying the confidence of young players by first playing them way too much, and then, when their form hits an inevitable bump, banishing them from the team almost completely (at best playing them in these sorts of games where they have to re-find their form but in a makeshift side with other squad players).

    He’s done this with Chambers, to some degree with the Ox and Bellerin (though he loves Hector too much to have benched him for long yet), and now, it appears, with Holding and Iwobi.

  11. I wasn’t there, but from the actual footage that I’ve seen versus the hyperventilating in the press, I thought the Koln fans seemed like a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stale Emirates. Seemed there was some rowdiness and maybe a few punch ups, but nothing extreme.

    There is some truth to the chant, “You’re just a ground full of tourists.” I know Highbury was quiet as well, but I was struck by how lack luster the crowd support was at the game I went to. You can see it on TV as well. Our support is poor. Part of it is the negativity surrounding the team, but there are structural causes as well, e.g., ticket pricing, stadium design and social changes in general.

    I’m quite envious of the Bundesliga atmosphere. I think a safe standing area with lower prices would go a long way to improving the overall experience at the Ems. But I don’t want a return to hooliganism. Unfortunately, Bundesliga has been having crowd troubles.

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