Arsene’s team of soloists sound a sour note

Arsene Wenger’s Jazz ensemble drew 2-2 to Chelsea at the Emirates stadium in a pulsating contest where defense often took a back seat to the more important quality: entertainment.

In February of 2011,  Arsenal lost the League Cup final to Birmingham thanks to a moment of madness in defense – a miscommunication between then keeper Wojciech Szczesny and center back Laurent Koscielny over who would claim a simple header. Neither man collected the ball and instead Obafemi Martins scored and sent the Birmingham City fans into backflips.

After the loss, Arsenal went into a tailspin: they lost to Barcelona in the Champions League (which was no shame at the time), Man U in the FA Cup, and three straight draws in the Premier League to Sunderland, West Brom, and Blackburn which saw them drop from 2nd in the League to 3rd. Wenger was assaulted on all sides by criticism that his teams tend to give up soft goals too easily and that they collapse mentally. On April 9th he defended his footballing philosophy with a Gladiator-esque “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” saying;

“My worry is to do as well as I can with the team and to get them to play decent football so that people who come and pay for their tickets are not bored. I have watched a lot of games in my life and I think we can have a clear conscience that we do not try to cheat our people. We don’t always manage to do it but people come to the games and we always try to give them something for the money they spend. There is always that ambition and if we do not manage to do it then we are sorry.”

After his speech, Arsenal won just two of their final eight matches, losing to Stoke, Bolton, and Aston Villa on their way to another 4th place trophy. That Summer, Cesc Fabregas called time on his Arsenal career and demanded a trade back to Barcelona. And the start of the 2011/12 Arsenal concede 16 goals in 7 games, including the infamous 8-2 loss to Man U.

Wenger’s response was to buy a bunch of experienced players: Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, and Yossi Benayoun. Arsenal even had to re-sign Thierry Henry in January to help them finish in the Champions League places.

That was 7 years ago and if Wenger’s goal has been to entertain, the fact that the football hasn’t changed much in 7 years and still relies on super individual effort is actually getting quite boring.

After yesterday’s match, Wenger blamed Maitland-Niles for the second goal saying “on the second goal he was a bit caught” but watch the replays again. Maitland-Niles is a right-footed player, he’s playing in a left back position, which is a madness all by itself. He has just put in 84 minutes of bombing up and down the pitch, marauding forward like the boss demands, and sprinting back on every play to cover the gaps left by the fact that Arsenal have four to six players who can’t or won’t play defense and no midfield cover at any time.

Maitland-Niles recovers well after Zappacosta’s neat little move won the Chelsea man some space but when he tries to block the cross, he has to do so with his left foot, which is always going to be nanoseconds slower for a right-footed player. Zappacosta’s cross gets past Maitland-Niles and finds Marcos Alonso who has gotten ball-side of his defender and who plays a simple touch shot into goal.

Look at this still below – that’s not a dangerous cross position, Maitland-Niles wasn’t beaten to the end line, Zappacosta isn’t driving into the heart of the Arsenal defense, it’s a bog average cross, hit low and hard, well struck but given the five Arsenal defenders and two Chelsea attackers, this should never have been a goal.

This goal is emblematic of Wenger’s time as Arsenal manager; defense is always the individual’s problem to figure out. The idea of a well drilled unit playing together, shouting, and someone telling Mustafi that Morata is going to get in front of him doesn’t exist at Arsenal. Earlier in the match, we saw Chambers and Mustafi yelling at each other over who was supposed to cover Morata when he bombed through on goal. Chambers defended himself by saying he thought Cech had the ball. Different players but the same problem as the League Cup Final 7 years ago.

There are three center backs and two wing backs in this frame. They are guarding a center forward and two more wing backs.  And when anything goes wrong, which it always will because they aren’t drilled as a unit, it’s Maitland-Niles’ fault, or Mustafi’s fault, and the solution from the fans is always “sell him, buy someone who can do X better.”

If you’ve read Addicted by Tony Adams, Invincibles by Amy Lawrence, or any of the dozen or so books written about Arsenal’s glorious past under Arsene Wenger, one fact always sticks out: players like Vieira, Adams, and Campbell were the ones organizing the defense. After practice they would call meetings to discuss how they wanted to play together. Vieira was famous for his dinner parties where he would bring various players together to talk shop, specifically telling the midfield how to defend and why it was so important for them to at least pressure their opponents.

In this match against Chelsea Arsenal didn’t do any of those things, leading to what many have called a “pulsating” or “wide open” contest. After the match, Wenger reaches for the obvious, it was the penalty, a ridiculous decision he says, and he doesn’t care who hears him say it, he will defend himself against the onslaughts of the FA and all others.

But the penalty is a convenient excuse. It’s a penalty all day. I remember the mental contortions almost every Arsenal supporter went through to justify Eduardo’s dive as a legitimate penalty call – sure, there was no contact but Eduardo was trying to escape contact by Artur Boruc, thus it’s a penalty, they said – I said. And now today my twit-line is filled with people admitting that Bellerin kicked Hazard but then saying “not enough contact for me”, as if they have some pounds-per-square-inch measuring tool and that there is some actual standard for how referees should call a kick a penalty. All I know is that Hazard was kicked while trying to control the ball in the box, he reacted with a dive, and if Hazard was an Arsenal player I would want that called for Arsenal every time. I probably wouldn’t even complain about the fact that he grabbed his shin and I would laugh when an opposition fan called him a diver.

Arsenal’s levels dropped dramatically after the penalty, which is where the convenient excuse comes in. It’s ok if the team gives up for 10 minutes, they, after all, just got “robbed”. Except they didn’t get robbed. They gave up a stupid penalty which was entirely their own fault. Then they gave up a second goal, which Wenger pins on Maitland-Niles, his standout player of the night.

Arsenal supporters don’t want to acknowledge that prior to the penalty Chelsea seemed to have a free run on Arsenal’s goal. They were able to get almost any shot they wanted in the Arsenal 18 yard box. This was Arsenal, at home, against a Chelsea side that is not exactly a Liverpool or Man City style attack. Chelsea play with one forward, they have one free attacker, and a couple of wingbacks. None of the three center mids is expected to get forward in this model. This is not the attack of Firmino, Coutinho, Salah and Mane and certainly not at the level of de Bruyne, Jesus, Sane, Silva, Aguero, and Sterling – the attack which has scored a record 64 goals. Yet they carved Arsenal open time and again.

You won’t see Chelsea do this to City at the Etihad because the massive difference between Man City and Arsenal isn’t just that they spent a lot of money on their players – Arsenal have the third highest net spend over the last four years but it’s half of what City have spent – it’s that Guardiola has City playing organized football both in attack and defense. The City defense is almost never spoken about but it is the best defense in England and it’s not just “keep ball”. They move the ball in specific patterns in order to maximize their ability to win the ball back high up the pitch. This isn’t “gegenpressing” and it’s not the same as the Barcelona press – Guardiola is aware that the more his team has of the ball, the more he is vulnerable to swift counters, so he developed this specific pressing and passing style while he was at Bayern Munich, in order to limit the opposition’s chances on counters. And it works. Man City haven’t allowed an opponent to take double digit shots all season. Arsenal allowed Chelsea 10 shots in their 18 yard box before the penalty.

But what was truly incredible in this match yesterday was the fact that Arsenal couldn’t seem to make simple passes come off. Alexis was back to his worst, standing stock still on the left and spraying the ball around off his right foot aimlessly like one of the Emirates great sprinklers. Add to the dreadful basic passing, Arsenal’s midfielders couldn’t tackle, the forwards don’t finish well, the defense looks disorganized, and Petr Cech can’t even remotely seem to save penalties and I have to wonder what does Arsenal actually practice these days? Just 90 minute sessions of through balls and improvisation? Does Wenger offer lectures on “physics for poets”?

The penalty provides a convenient excuse and the emotional Arsenal comeback through Bellerin’s magnificent strike – which seemed to scream “DIVE ON THIS” – provides a sense that Arsenal are “real fighters” and “have mental strength”.  But this team will not make top four in its current configuration. It’s not about personnel. It’s not about buying and selling. The problem with Arsenal is and has been structural.

The film “89” released recently – which recounts Arsenal’s glory win over Liverpool in 1989 – is a huge hit among fans and former players alike. And Arsenal supporters are on the edge of their seats hoping that Man City lose a match this season so that the Invincibles record Arsenal set in 2004 will be preserved. But if you look at this team and this manager today, all that’s left is memories. Wenger’s Arsenal no longer play beautiful football, they are no longer the envy of the world in their recruitment, they aren’t well organized in defense, they don’t pass the ball around until their opponents legs buckle from exhaustion, they are a mediocre team assembled on a big budget. Arsenal are a club and manager living on the past and they are nothing more than a palimpsest of the great jazz songs Wenger once wrote.

Qq

 

47 comments

  1. That’s harsh.
    Perhaps true.
    But not always. We have had good to great performances over the past couple years. Why the inconsistency?

    1. The good ones only serve to remind us of the mediocre ones and absolve the team of the bad ones. This was a bad performance.

  2. Right on the 18 yard box , 6 yards out, and behind the defense is a fantastic position for a cross, not an average one.

    This backline was makeshift, and their first time playing together, and against Chelsea. You think Rob Holding having dinner parties with the rest of these guys who have never played together before would’ve fixed things?

    Theorizing on the speed of the non-dominant foot seems a reach. Athletes of this caliber have legs that sprint in unison, and if AMN’s fast-twitch muscles were dominantly bifurcated that would be highly individualized and difficult to conclude by a block attempt. The simpler explanation is that he was caught out, and beat to a prime crossing position.

    1. I’m not theorizing. It’s a fact. There’s a reason why left footed players play left back, it’s because their reaction to right footed players is equal speed.

      It’s not a prime crossing position. There are literally 5 Arsenal defenders between him and the attacker. The prime position is the byline. This is demonstrated by data which calculates average return in terms of goals for crosses.

      No, I don’t want Holding going to dinner parties. I want Wenger to coach his team to play defense.

  3. Tim – Arsenal’s defense has an uncanny ability to turn non threatening situations into goals. You pointed out two instances in yesterday’s game alone. There were several others yesterday and there are several in every match it seems. It’s easy to understand why great creative talents come to Arsenal and are quickly disillusioned once they see the way the defense plays. They work hard to create goals only to watch the defense allow ridiculous opportunities. Your prediction that Wenger will go this year is I pray, finally going to come true. This team has no chance of a top-four finish playing defense the way it does. And that may finally be the impetus to change managers the club need so badly.

    1. Perhaps we can make allowances for a the fact that this was the first game for Chambers, Mustafi and Holding as a trio, nevermind with Ainsley at left back, and that this was Chelsea, last year’s champions, who have a bit of talent?

      Arsene’s Arsenal will never be a defensive juggernaut but they are also better than this when senior players are fit and there is continuity.

      1. Nope. These weren’t individual errors. These were systemic errors. Why hasn’t wenger been training these backups to play defense? It’s not like he pulled them out of deep freeze. These are the men he has on his team. The men he works with every week. The men he bought. If they aren’t playing at a level they need to be playing, it’s his fault.

      2. ‘But they are also better than this when senior players are fit and there is continuity’ I didn’t see evidence of this in our recent ‘thrilling’ defeat to Man U. Our experienced defenders gifted them 2 goals in the first 11 minutes.
        And Tim, this is a brilliant article. Thank you.

  4. We’re also not the best run club in the League, which arguably we were once. Our boardroom has become a bit of a joke too.

    Coincidence?

  5. You previously observed that our defense is trash because they have to bomb forward to compensate for a mediocre attack. The Chelsea and Man U games highlighted this as the sentiment seemed to be that massive gambling was the only way we could score. The thing is our attacking players have quality (Ozil, Sanchez, Laca) but their combined performance is tepid.

    If Wenger isn’t getting the best out of offensive players, and the defense remains perpetually on the verge of implosion, his continued presence as manager is completely nonsensical. As the consultants said in office space “What would you say you do here?”

    1. Agreed, though I think it’s an exaggeration to say our attack is typically tepid. That’s certainly not a word I’d use for their performance last night, or against, e.g., Man United, Spurs, Liverpool at home, Chelsea in the cup final, etc. The bigger problem is one of gross inconsistency: that the same team that performed so credibly going forward against Chelsea can look so out of sorts against teams like West Ham, West Brom, and Southampton (yes, it’s hard to play against teams that park the bus, but those teams were hardly putting on defensive masterclasses against us; rather, we were just terrible).

      1. But our attack is tepid. The great attacks are getting goals without compromising their defensive structure – we are only getting goals by committing 5-7 men in attack and then expecting the wing backs to do herculean tasks to get back in defense while our three centre backs don’t communicate and are completely exposed by the midfield. We’re not creating great things, we’re playing the entire game on “overload” (football manager reference) and getting stuff through by sheer numbers.

        We’re Arsenal fans – we know what a great attack looks like. This isn’t it. And it hasn’t been a long, long time. At least since Fabregas left, maybe longer.

  6. Harsh post, Tim. I think if this were a brand new manager playing with these same players and getting these same performances, you might be more charitable. The penalty was a big moment in that game and having the sole of his foot kicked doesn’t give Hazard license to drop like he has been shot. He cheated and cheating after a modicum of contact is still cheating. It’s not about pounds per square inch, it’s about whether he was unfairly trying to gain a competitive advantage by simulation, and I don’t think it can be argued that he was not.

    Regarding the larger point you make, I do think this will be Arsene’s final season. But, going back to my point above, I think he would have fewer critics if he and his weaknesses had not enjoyed such longevity at this club.

    1. Yes, Doc, but on the Hazard incident, I think Tim could/would respond that whether Hazard cheated by diving, and whether it was nonetheless a legitimate foul and thus a penalty, are two completely separate matters.

      To which I would respond by agreeing, but also pointing out that the mere facts that (a) there was contact, and (b) it being a dive is *consistent with* it also being a penalty, are not sufficient to establish that it *was* a penalty. Certainly when an offensive player simulates by exaggerating contact, that’s a prima facie reason to doubt that the actual contact was sufficient to constitute a foul, i.e. unfairly impede him in any meaningful way.

      Once again, we run into the frustrating problem that the laws are terribly obscure and vague about what constitutes a foul (to say nothing of the inconsistent and bizarre ways that they are often applied). But what I object to in Tim’s account of the penalty incident is just the suggestion that there cannot be reasonable, unbiased disagreement on the matter in this instance.

    2. I disagree: I would be much harsher on a new manager. I love Arsene Wenger. Watching him implode like this, throwing his players under the bus, blaming everyone but himself, as his team play out the same stupid mistakes time and again is soul crushing. If we got in a new manager and he repeated the same stuff as Arsenal under Arsene Wenger I would be apoplectic.

      Here’s what Amy Lawrence wrote today:

      “An eminent Arsenal defender of old told a story the other day about a conversation with his former boss about how exposed it can leave a team to allow two full backs to bomb upfield at the same time. In the early days of Wenger if one went, the other stayed. So why abandon that? Wenger’s response was a simple one, which gets to the heart of his philosophy: “We play.””

      They play??? They don’t play. It’s not beautiful. It’s fugly.

      1. No Tim, you hate Wenger.

        You used to love him, but now you hate him. He is a metaphor for democracy; it just doesn’t work nowadays.

  7. Hey Tim, I agree with an awful lot of what you’ve written here. But a few objections:

    1. I know you like AMN a lot, as do I. But I don’t think it’s fair on Wenger to claim he “blamed” AMN or “pinned” it on him. All he said is he got caught out a little on the goal. That’s hardly a Mourinho-esque throwing his player under the bus. In the vast majority of cases, Wenger defends his players in public (perhaps to a fault) and is encouraging and complimentary of young players in particular.
    Fact is, AMN did let Zappa-what’s-his-name get goalside enough to cross it. I think you’re right that it was hardly a significant “mistake,” given his right-footed-ness and that in any case AMN isn’t to blame for the goal, since the defenders in the middle should have dealt with Alonso (as Adrian Clarke points out, it comes down to a failure of communication between the ever-frustrating Bellerin and Mustafi). And of course, the buck ultimately stops at Wenger for failing to organize his defense.
    But I think it’s also true that AMN could improve on his one-on-one defending and could become physically stronger (he’s a great natural athlete, but I’ve noticed he gets shrugged aside sometimes in challenges with older players). I expect him to improve on these things in the near future. But in your apparent rush to paint Wenger as the villain of this piece, you make it seem like AMN is the noble hero who’s been hung out to dry by Wenger, which strikes me as a bit simplistic.

  8. 2. The Eduardo incident and the Hazard incident are completely different. Hazard wasn’t jumping out of the way of Bellerin’s challenge (or losing his balance because of it, or anything like that). He was making an absolute meal of it, as he is wont to do (which is not to say that Eduardo’s actions were entirely defensible–I leave that to one side). Of course Arsenal players sometimes dive in similar ways–though, I’d argue, less often than players on a number of other teams, e.g. we don’t have any serial divers on the level of Alli and Hazard. And of course we’re all a bit biased in favor of Arsenal.
    But the point is, while I’d happily concede the Hazard incident is debatable–much more so than the ridiculous handball pen against WBA–I don’t see that you’ve said anything substantive to support your dismissive attitude towards those Arsenal fans who think the Bellerin contact was light enough to mean it shouldn’t have been a pen, or at the very least that it was “very soft.” In particular, bringing up the Eduardo incident from a decade ago is irrelevant to establishing that your opponents on this one are wrong or don’t have a point. At best bringing up the incident appears to be an attempt at undermining the credibility of those that don’t see things as you do. You could think other fans are definitely wrong to think it wasn’t a penalty without suggesting their view is entirely without reasonable support or insinuating that every one of them only thinks what they do because they are all biased and are just trying to use the penalty as an excuse. It’s an off-putting style of argumentation.
    And none of what I’ve just said changes the fact that your main point seems right to me, i.e. that individual “mistakes”, whether by refs or our defenders, shouldn’t be used to distract us from the systemic problems with how the Arsenal team plays.

    1. I do explain the “too light for me” argument or “too soft”. Do you have a foot pounds per inch measure? How much kick should a player receive? Hazard is trying to control the ball, Bellerin to clear, Bellerin KICKS THE MAN’S FOOT OUT OF THE WAY.

      The laws of the game are exceptionally clear here:

      Direct free kick
      A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any
      of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be
      careless, reckless or using excessive force:
      • kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
      • trips or attempts to trip an opponent
      • jumps at an opponent
      • charges an opponent
      • strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
      • pushes an opponent
      • tackles an opponent
      A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any
      of the following three offences:
      • holds an opponent
      • spits at an opponent
      • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own
      penalty area)
      A direct free kick is taken from the place where the offence occurred
      (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).
      Penalty kick
      A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences is committed by
      a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball,
      provided it is in play

      It’s a penalty.

      1. Unless the player is a goalkeeper, who apparently can completely miss the ball, take out 3 players, and still get away with it .

  9. I understand the frustration but it was still a great game to watch. Albeit more so if you were a neutral!
    Your critique of the display and the reasons for it are all spot on but I think it’s a question of tailoring your expectations.
    We’re short a couple of players. And the ones we have aren’t all committed. And we haven’t learnt lessons and addressed defense. And those deficiencies are cumulative and will stop us regaining a position in the top 4 this season. But, nevertheless, we’ll host some crackers, and yesterday’s was one of them. So hat’s off to Wenger the showman: let’s enjoy the season, and hope it’s his last.

  10. We’ve been crap blockers of shots and crosses for years, natural foot or not. That includes two of our best defenders — Koscielny and Monreal. Sometimes, as in the FA Cup final against Chelsea when Per was inspired, we outdo ourselves. But Arsenal defenders are not die-in-the-ditch types like Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Nemanja Vidic and Vincent Kompany are/were.

    A good many defenders for mid table teams are, worryingly, better shot-stoppers than their more cultured Arsenal counterparts. Maitland-Niles should have done better, but he’s following in a grand tradition here.

    And actually, that’s a block with the outside of his RIGHT foot all day long.

    I don’t agree that the penalty is a convenient excuse. It is correctly a point of contention. All four penalties we’ve conceded are debatable. Last year Liverpool pipped us to fourth by a point. Those decisions are absolutely critical, and I have a lot of sympathy for Arsene where they are concerned.

    I’m one of those who bash him a lot. It’d be cruel if he fell short of his minimum league object by a point, again. For him, these calls are huge.

  11. Mate. Great analysis but a bit too harsh. Let me inject some objectivity. Is it really madness to play a right-footed player at left back. What foot is Cesar Azpilicueta? He played every minute of Chelsea’s title winning campaign 2016/2017 and was left back for 2014/2015 campaign. Converted to left back by defensive mastermind Mourinho. Has he not been left back of the season a couple of times too? To recap we do play the best football. Every season we notch up team goal/goal of the season. In the last 7 years the only clubs with a higher trophy haul are the clubs funded by benefactors with infinite resources. Arsenal have a different model. Penalty was harsh. Harsh to blame the players too much. Bellerin had to go for the ball. Level of force is a thing re penalties. When charging players with diving FA look to see if level of force is commensurate with “diving” players’ response (https://twitter.com/mckeetomeheart/status/948717474886844416)
    Chelsea were league winners last season the boys and manager did OK.

  12. If the same standard for that penalty were to be applied consistently, there would be many penalties in each game. I think that was Arsene’s point. And a valid one.

  13. I have yet to find one gunner fan with enough common sense about football to even grasp the reality of how bad our offense is.
    Walcott at this current time last year keep in mind got benched with less playing time had scored more Goals than Sanchez / Lacazette also bought for 40 million/ Ozil, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbz, and Giroud so far this season. Anyone not see a problem with this picture? Walcott never is given the leniency that these players get. And yet everyone is in such a hurry to rid of him. Bellerin i get it he’s a clown who isn’t a winger but yet manages to keep playing as one is another reason why this Arsenal Team is literally playing handicapped. This whole thing has been a joke

  14. I agree with Tim. Penalty. Bellerin kicked his foot and missed the ball.

    Also, Hazard simulated following the foul.

    The two are not connected, necessarily.

    A smart, brave and fully educated referee would have awarded the penalty and then booked Hazard for his actions. I doubt we ever see this happen. And when we do the commentators and professional media types’ heads will explode in confusion.

    1. Have to say on reflection that I agree with both you and Tim. “Reach in” tackles in the box, especially where the defender has to stretch to get the ball, and ESPECIALLY against clever attackers Hazard are high-risk. The defender needs to exercise really good judgment in those situations.

      But here’s the thing… the exact same thing that gained Hazard a penalty would be waved away against Sanchez or Lacazette in another game.

  15. Hi Tim, thanks for taking the time to give your reasoning behind your view that it was a penalty.

    You give two reasons: the “foot pounds per inch measure” argument and the direct appeal to the laws of the game argument. Let’s take these one at a time, in reverse order, in separate replies.

    First, the direct appeal to the laws of the game argument.
    Bellerin’s action constituted a foul because he committed which of the following against Hazard?

    • kicks or attempts to kick an opponent? QUITE POSSIBLY
    • trips or attempts to trip an opponent? NOPE
    • jumps at an opponent? NOPE
    • charges an opponent? NO IDEA WHAT THIS EVEN IS, BUT NOPE
    • strikes or attempts to strike an opponent NOPE (assuming this is intended to be distinct from kicking)
    • pushes an opponent? NOPE
    • tackles an opponent? NOPE
    • holds an opponent? NOPE
    • spits at an opponent? NOPE
    • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)? NOPE

    The only one he could credibly be accused of being guilty of is “kicked or attempts to kick an opponent.”

    He obviously didn’t attempt to kick Hazard, so the case for Bellerin’s action counting as a foul, and thus a pen, rests on whether he rightly counts as kicking Hazard, and doing so in a manner that the referee considers “careless, reckless, or using excessive force.” Read literally, that gives the ref total license to interpret reality as he sees fit, but OBVIOUSLY there is an implicit expectation that what the ref judges to be “careless, reckless, or using excessive force,” should align with what reasonable people would judge to be so.

    Now, arguably, even on the everyday usage of ‘kick’, not every case of one’s moving foot making contact with someone else’s body counts as you kicking them. So perhaps someone could mount a plausible case for saying that Bellerin’s action doesn’t even count as a kick in normal parlance, but this would seem to be a stretch.

    So let’s assume Bellerin “kicked” Hazard, in the everyday sense of that word.
    This doesn’t remotely settle whether Bellerin fouled Hazard, until we answer the following two questions:
    (1) Does the ordinary sense of ‘kick’ correspond perfectly to the technical sense of ‘kick’ used in the laws?
    (2) Was this kick “careless, reckless, or using excessive force”?

    The problem with assuming the answer to (1) is “yes” is that there are TONS of instances in a game in which a player’s moving foot makes very minimal contact with an opponent in a roughly similar way to Bellerin’s action–thus counting as a kick in normal parlance–without the ref calling a foul (and a great many of these cases are completely uncontroversial). So surely not every one of these minimal “kicks” is even a legitimate *candidate* for being a foul.

    In response, one could lean heavily on (2): let’s just say any instance of a “kick”, in the ordinary sense, no matter how minimal, counts as a foul if and only if it’s “careless, reckless, or excessively forceful.” I find this solution really implausible, since then any “careless” kicking motion that results in the merest grazing of an opponent would have to count as a foul, which seems absurd.

    But no matter: the key point is that on this interpretation, whether Bellerin fouled Hazard comes down to whether the ref made a reasonable application of the “careless, reckless, etc” standards, A QUESTION WHICH IS OPEN TO A GREAT DEAL OF SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION AND ABOUT WHICH REASONABLE PEOPLE COULD DISAGREE.

    Your initial article and subsequent replies seem to imply that there cannot be any reasonable debate on the matter, which is what I was objecting to to begin with.

    1. Ok, now to the “foot pounds per inch measure” argument. You say:

      “…today my twit-line is filled with people admitting that Bellerin kicked Hazard but then saying “not enough contact for me”, as if they have some pounds-per-square-inch measuring tool and that there is some actual standard for how referees should call a kick a penalty. All I know is that Hazard was kicked while trying to control the ball in the box…”

      What is the actual argument here? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to be something like this:

      P1. Kicking an opponent (carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force) constitutes a foul
      P2. There can be no precise and non-arbitrary line beyond (and only beyond) which the amount of contact (e.g. in terms of pounds per square inch) one makes with one’s moving foot constitutes a kick, or constitutes a foul-worthy kick (and no way to measure this even if there were such a standard).
      C. Therefore, *any* amount of contact with an opponent that one makes with one’s moving foot constitutes a kick, and a foul-worthy kick at that

      Interestingly, this argument has a similar structure to a classic anti-abortion line of thought in the bioethics literature:

      P1. Any being with the moral status of a person has a right to life
      P2. There is no precise, non-arbitrary line one can draw beyond (and only beyond) which a developing embryo/fetus clearly possesses personhood.
      C1. Therefore, the unborn child’s right to life must begin at conception.

      Even those that are opposed to abortion (and I am personally sympathetic to certain pro life views) should admit that there’s something wrong with the above reasoning.

      The problem for both arguments, simply put, is that in both cases the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises. Just because drawing the line somewhere in the middle would be arbitrary, it doesn’t follow that we must draw the line in the strictest way possible.

      An alternative is that we allow that THERE IS NO PRECISE LINE TO BEGIN WITH: we allow for plenty of borderline cases (of contact that may or may not be a kick, or may or may not be foul-worthy), without denying that there are clearcut cases (of contact that’s obviously not a foul and contact that obviously is) at either end. Whether Bellerin’s action should be considered a clearcut foul, a clearcut non-foul, or a borderline case is then open for debate.

      Why might an Arsenal fan on twitter think that the amount of contact is relevant to the question of whether a foul was committed? Apparently for two reasons:
      (1) You might think that the amount of contact is so minimal that it shouldn’t be considered a “kick” in the technical sense relevant to the laws of the game you quoted to me, regardless of whether it counts as a “kick” in some common usage (see my other reply above).
      (2) You might think, not unreasonably, that, AT LEAST IN SOME INSTANCES, the amount of contact is relevant to whether a kick should be deemed “careless, reckless, or exhibiting excessive force.”

      (In the end, there may be little difference between saying, “it was so minimal, it shouldn’t really be counted as a ‘kick’,” vs. “sure, call it a ‘kick’ if you want, but it was so minimal, it would be absurdly harsh to ever call that level of kick careless, reckless, or excessively forceful.”)

      NOTE: None of this implies the denial of the claim that Bellerin’s contact on Hazard should have been considered a kick, and a foul-worthy kick at that; or that its being a foul was clear-cut rather than borderline ; or even that its status as a clear-cut foul should’ve been obvious to unbiased observers.

      Rather, the point is just that we can’t dismiss out of hand anyone who claims that Bellerin’s action wasn’t sufficient to count as a foul, and who brings up the minimal nature of the contact to support this view, SIMPLY by objecting that, since there’s no precise standard for deciding how much contact is necessary, we must assume that *any* amount of contact is sufficient to count as a foul.

      1. PS The dubious anti-abortion argument can at least be supplemented with a “better to err on the side of caution” point: killing innocent persons is such a grave moral matter that, even if the personhood/non-personhood line is vague, we should pretend it’s not by treating any being that even hints at being a borderline case as having the full moral status of persons. Even if this won’t get us all the way back to “personhood begins at conception” it might get close.
        But in the context of a football match, one’s foot making contact with one’s opponent, even carelessly (it’s obvious Bellerin was not being reckless or excessively forceful), is not such a serious matter that we need to adopt an analogously cautious approach by snuffing out all even-possibly-borderline cases.

        1. Indeed Everton’s Niasse got banned for exaggerating contact that the defender initiated, according to the media reports at the time.

  16. I would like to point out that for the Eduardo incident, the argument wasn’t so much that it was a penalty, but that it wasn’t a dive. Why was this an argument? Because Uefa actually tried to overrule a referee who stood by his decision, to punish Eduardo for ‘conning the referee’.

    Wenger isn’t blaming everyone else. (Is he even blaming AMN?) He is very clearly taking on the referees who are quite consistently ‘biased’ against Arsenal. Maybe this is his last season because he seems to not care about the consequences. Or maybe he’s had enough, and has received backing from the club to take this on?

    I for one do not enjoy watching the PL anymore because for me it is a tainted and often scripted product. It’s like WWF pretended to be a sport. I watch Arsenal matches and some highlights of the other games. BUt there clearly is, for whatever reason, a dislike of Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.

    Remember Wenger has a history of having railed against corruption in the game back in France. He’s talked about doping in football and the only reaction was Uefa sending doctors to Arsenal’s training ground. He’s talked about referees on and off, but this time he’s going after them. They will all round on Wenger for it and I’m sure many Arsenal fans will join on in glee, but something is rotten in football and it isn’t Arsenal football club.

    Also, why is it ok to talk about the team’s mentality but not how that mentality is likely to be affected by the decisions that the refs take? You call this a convenient excuse. It’s certainly not convenient, whether it is an excuse or not (We do have issues of our own obviously)

  17. In general there is few things more insufferable than football fans complaining about referees reagrdless of clubs. Refereeing is quite an impossible job, I would suggest some should try it out for fun just for once, it’s incredibly hard and everyone is berating you and knows better while you’re officiating 22 players that constantly try to mislead you to get an edge. The ref has to make snap decisions on ambiguous situations. And while I think the officiating in England is not very good, I always find it incredible how much they actually get right every game.

    1. Playing and managing top level football is of course so simple any fool on a blog or twitter could do it.

      So by that argument, Wenger is doing a tougher job than anyone who hasn’t tried it can’t criticise. Indeed this is a line Wenger sometimes uses, and is (rightly) called out for.

      Refs of course don’t even need to speak for themselves. They have the entire media to stand up for them even in the face of clear errors or even admissions of guilt (such as from Clattenburg)

  18. Agree with most of your sentiment , Tim, except when it comes to AMN’s defending Zappacosta for Chelsea second goal.

    Wenger is absolutely correct when says AMN gets caught out on the play.
    Not once , but twice actually.
    His starting position when Willian sends the 75 yard diagonal pass is perfect, but then he gets too tight on the Chelsea player twice without getting anywhere close to taking the ball off him.

    Can’t really be too harsh on him though since he’s a 20 year midfielder playing out of position, who’s using speed to compensate for his shortcomings in one on one defending.
    It’s the four other Arsenal defenders with a combined 11 years of senior football on him , who make a mockery of what proper penalty area defending should look like.

    Arsene said afterwards that this was a great game of football, which is what he also said after the Liverpool game btw.
    I think it’s fair to say that by now it’s patently obvious that his idea of great football excludes solid defending from the equation.

    Also , concentrating( sort of) on AMN’s efforts alone , kinda gives him cover that this was just an individual mistake , and not a failure of entire defensive unit to deal with a run of the mill situation.
    How many times can a manager say ” our defending was suicidal and naive” before people realize it’s his coaching and not the players’ ability to defend.

  19. I’m sorry I’m a day late to the party.

    Theirry Henry once described Guardiola’s coaching philosophy like this; you do what he says in the first two-thirds of the pitch, but when you get to the final third you are free to improvise and express your talents. He took Henry off one game at half because although Henry had scored a goal he had left his position, taken initiative in the middle of the park and abandoned Guardiola’s plan. That was the Wengerian influence – Wenger is happy to have the team improvise in all thirds of the pitch.

    This is a great video with Guardiola and a Bayern supporters group discussing tactics where he as much admits that the end product in the final third is more down to individual abilities.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDcrGYDtlfI

    (PS – I cannot imagine Wenger participating in a session like this with fans asking about tactics)

    I don’t buy this argument others are making about giving some slack because it was a makeshift defense – just the opposite. Had it been Guardiola, Pocchetino or Mourinho knowing three days out that they’d have to play with a new back three, those three would have drilled the back three separately and extra to make sure they were prepared. We had a makeshift back three for the FA Cup final, but Mertesacker and Holding prepared on their own, sorted out duties including who was going to get into Costa’s head and it worked great.

    Wenger does not coach defense. That doesn’t mean he can’t, he just doesn’t. In this day and age of one-off games and hyper-preparation that doesn’t cut it anymore.

  20. First, I disagree with Tim’s analysis.
    Second, if the ball is not touching any part of your body ruled a legal part, the ball is a 50-50.
    If both our legs, feet or whatever collide going to the ball, it is called winning the ball.
    Both players had a chance at the ball, if player touches part of you, and does not impede progress, it is NOT a foul.
    From my perspective:
    Niles was a pleasure to watch, Mesut is an artist, Sanchez and Lacazette need to finish, Holding did better than I thought he would, and hazardouS dived like a swan. How can he not get shown Red? Play acting when getting tapped on the bottom of his foot, on a 50-50, then going down like a crying baby without his candy, and grabbing his shin
    It was an enjoyable game to watch going forward, but knew chavs on the counter would raise my blood pressure.
    And it is mentioned before, but I believe, and data has shown, a few referees have a bias against the Arsenal. Which may go to the top-said referee, who gave Van Persie a second yellow against Barca is nwt top of FIFA ref’s.
    Also, last years debacle against
    PSG was criminal, but I told a few friends that Barca would find a way to do it, and they got the game gift wrapped on a Silver platter.

      1. Letter and spirit of the law. Rules are meant to be interpreted, Basketball, Football, and Futbol.
        It depends upon what the word “is” is….
        To paraphrase from above:
        “• kicks or attempts to kick an opponent? QUITE POSSIBLY
        • trips or attempts to trip an opponent? NOPE
        • jumps at an opponent? NOPE
        • charges an opponent? NO IDEA WHAT THIS EVEN IS, BUT NOPE
        • strikes or attempts to strike an opponent NOPE (assuming this is intended to be distinct from kicking)
        • pushes an opponent? NOPE
        • tackles an opponent? NOPE
        • holds an opponent? NOPE
        • spits at an opponent? NOPE
        • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)? NOPE”
        So, which one would that be?

  21. Liverpool awarded a soft penalty , every bit as soft as the one against Lovren , which Klopp called ridiculous.
    Wonder what will say about this one.

  22. “A mediocre team assembled on a big budget” – sad but true!
    I am plain depressed when AW recently said he needs Theo to stay.. I would rather bring in an experimental young prospect at low cost of his purchase.. Its about time he let ppl go.. Enough! Your experiment failed. , theo, coq, welbeck and all the ones on loan haven’t made the cut.. No shame in admitting it and moving on..
    its time we start our new project. Alexix-Ozil-Giroud project expired its time..

  23. It’s boring. We’ve seen the exact same defensive frailties every season for over a decade now. The personnel change on a regular basis, but the system stays the same, and we know who is responsible for it. I’d like Wenger to bow out after this season, but I think the chances of the board actually acting are very small indeed.

  24. Some great stuff here Tim. Huge respect for continuing to cover the late-Wenger era with an unflinching eye.

    What I know for sure about this game is that even while celebrating Jack’s goal I had the sense that a win was beyond us. Our midfield simply doesn’t defend. I hate our midfield. I really like both Jack and Granit. But whether it’s Crystal Palace or Chelsea, too often we let opponents go wherever they want to go.

    For both Chelsea goals, Hazard’s feet were a fraction quicker than Bellerin and Zappacosta’s were a fraction quicker than AMN’s . Even then we still had a chance to save the penalty. We still had a chance to block off Alonso’s run. But our flaws are collective, and this is one of the best articles I’ve read that explains why that is.

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