Guardiola the man to beat this season

Pep Guardiola got yet another one over Jose Mourinho as his Man City side outplayed Man U to a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford. I make no bones about my dislike for Mourinho; he’s an odious man who employs childish tactics both in his press conferences and on the pitch. So, it was with great joy that I got to see him and United picked apart by the superior football brain of Pep Guardiola.

In big matches, Mourinho’s “big idea” is to play Allardycian football. He gets away with this tactic because he buys glittering players, worth billions of dollars, and if you can motivate them to play defense first (which is a skill in itself, and I credit Mourinho for that) they can be an insanely effective counter-attacking unit. I mean, even Sam Allardyce, if he were given Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, and Diego Costa, could win the League. Or at least finish in the top four.

Mourinho plays this defense first because he hates losing to the other big clubs. Against the smaller clubs, his teams take an expansive approach, but in the big games the main tactic is “keep your shape, don’t make a mistake, and capitalize on their errors.” He’s gotten so rigid in this tactic over the years that it has grown into a neurosis and if his team fails to execute his brilliant “plan” he invariably blames the players.

Another strange side story to this game is the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic hates Pep Guardiola. And this Zlatan-hates-Pep story is as ugly and nonsensical as you would expect.

Zlatan, it turns out, hates Guardiola because Guardiola had the temerity to once ask him to play team football. When Pep and Zlatan were at Barcelona, Messi demanded to be played through the middle. Pep, having the best player of almost any generation, had little choice: play Messi through the middle — and win 3 consecutive La Liga titles, 5 cups, and 2 Champions League trophies — or acquiesce to the bloated ego of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and probably get fired as the whole team unity of Barcelona collapsed.

Zlatan could have won the Champions League, he never has and with Mourinho never will, but he couldn’t get over his own ego. If he had simply integrated himself into the team, played football as part of a whole rather than as a hole, he could have been ranked as one of the best of all time.

So it was a most enjoyable 4:30am kickoff as Mourinho’s tactics were utterly exposed as the fraud tactics that they are. Michael Cox does a great job explaining the various formations used but the overall theme is that Mourinho either used two or three center mids (mostly to play as cover for the back four) and between two and four forwards (depending on gamestate) up front. Meanwhile, Pep’s side were dynamic and tireless both in possession and out of possession, making Mourinho’s Man U look like an expensively assembled Bolton Wanderers.

Michael Cox points out that Pogba was the main culprit for the early match capitulation because of his poor positioning but it was the whole team who seemed to struggle to understand where they were supposed to be in the Mourinho system. Mkhitaryan will also have to wonder what he’s signed up for, subbed at half-time, and along with Jesse Lindgaard tossed under the bus as Mourinho sped away in a huff:

Look, honestly, I have two or three players in the first half that ummm (he he) if the game is now and I know what is going to happen I don’t, obviously, I don’t play them. But this is football. Sometimes players they disappoint managers.

In fairness, Mourinho went on to say that it was all his fault, however, for selecting the players.

Pep’s system, on the other hand, was well balanced. His players pressed and harassed Man U when they had the ball, forcing turnovers, and attacked with speed and precision when they had the ball.

Guardiola’s plan was to control the game through fluid ball movement and by controlling space out of possession, Mourinho’s plan was to hope for an error. At half time, Mourinho “corrected” his oversight and subbed off Mkhitaryan and Lindgaard. He added Herrera, moved Pogba back, and let the cockatiel-haired Fellaini push forward to win long balls (his only discernable talent). This allowed Man U to press a bit and win back a few possessions. But Guardiola simply sacrificed Iheanacho for Fernando, regained possession, and closed the game out with the ball and with the better of the two team’s chances.

I remember wondering why Fernando was coming on, then after about two minutes it all made sense as he dropped deep, covered the center backs, allowed John Stones to drift up when needed, and played a great role in midfield controlling possession when they had the ball and space when they didn’t. As the match closed, Mourinho was reduced to playing long balls and crosses in to Fellaini and Zlata. As if the emperor was looking down from on high, the cameras even caught Sir Alex Ferguson shaking his head in disgust as the match burned out.

Pep Guardiola did something that I have always wanted Arsene Wenger to do: he bested Mourinho tactically. He left Mourinho exposed as a fraud. He made Mourinho throw his players under the bus after the match. And as an added bonus, he made Zlatan and his man bun go home in second place, yet again. It was the perfect start of the day for me.

And then I watched Arsenal. Maybe I shouldn’t watch Arsenal after watching a tactical masterclass like the one that Guardiola puts on.

In the first 20 minutes against Southampton, Arsenal looked like they couldn’t be arsed. It was as if that article about Arsenal not understanding how to play basic football was coming true. But it wasn’t that Coquelin, Özil, and Cazorla didn’t understand how to play football, they just had that lackadaisical approach to the game that whispers “we are here, we’ll take our three points now.”

So, the first 20 minutes were a replay of all the bad things Arsenal have shown us this season; huge spaces were vacated as Özil did his best Ramsey impression and just played as a fourth forward, Arsenal’s fullbacks weren’t able to get involved because they were pinned back having to cover both Southampton’s forwards and their fullbacks as Ox decided he was too good for defense, and Coquelin was doing his best playing as persona non-grata in the Arsenal midfield. Even Cazorla looked slow to the ball, jumped out of challenges, and didn’t seem to want to get involved.

When Arsenal gave up the goal there was an air of inevitability. Don’t get me wrong, it was a dive, a cold-blooded dive. Nathan Redmond, whose speed and dribbling I had warned about before the match, saw Monreal coming and knew he was going to try to tackle him. Both player’s minds were made up as to what was coming next and Redmond’s mind was made up to dive. The ref was fooled and gave the free kick.

What happened next, though, was a bit strange. Cech’s positioning looked as if he was too far to the right but not having played keeper or coached keeper I don’t actually know where he should be standing. When the kick came in, it turned out he was too far to the right and couldn’t get a full palm on the ball. Cech did get a finger on it, but shoved the ball into the bar which then ricocheted down off his back and into the goal. A well deserved own goal off a completely undeserved free kick. 

I sat there, as I do now every time Arsenal struggle in a game, and thought “this is the end for Wenger.” The camera zoomed in on him, his face was pained. And then he stood and he yelled at the players. And then something changed. Özil started to drop to help collect the ball from the defenders, Cazorla started to weave his magic, and even Coquelin presented himself to collect the ball.

Yay, Arsenal were back playing some football! Against Southampton! Arsenal got back into the match with an amazing bicycle kick from Koscielny (who had two good chances in the first half) but in the end it all felt a bit underwhelming. Arsenal toiled for 70 minutes, escaped a loss thanks to two big misses by Shane Long, and won in the end thanks to a sort of dubious penalty. I’m not even going to complain about the penalty call because the referee shouldn’t have awarded the free kick to Southampton in the first half.

The key player in this match was Santi Cazorla. It’s not saying anything new to point out that when Santi Cazorla was injured last season Arsenal looked like a kid wearing his father’s business suit. No one was able to replace Cazorla last season and I suspect no one will be able to replace him when he is injured this season.

In this match, Santi was the key for Arsenal moving the ball forward. His tireless efforts getting open, carrying the ball, beating his marker, and then getting into space, carried Arsenal’s offensive impetus. And at the end of the match he cut out a cross that probably would have cost Arsenal a goal. Then, at the death, with Southampton players destroying the penalty spot, and with every Southampton player trying to ice him, he just sent the keeper the wrong way and kicked the penalty down the middle. Santi put Arsenal on his tiny shoulders and carried us to three points. I’m not sure how many more times he can do that as his career is winding down.

But in the end, it was the contrast between Pep Guardiola’s City and Arsene’s Arsenal which most stuck in my craw. While Guardiola was putting on a coaching clinic, comprehensively besting the man I have most wanted to see beaten for 10 years, Arsene was putting on a one-man show carried almost entirely by Cazorla.


*Not jumping to conclusions, but they are top of the table and they did just comprehensively beat Mourinho at Old Trafford. It’s a big deal.


  1. I never rated Pep much while he was at Barcelona because it was like he was playing in cheat mode of Football Manager with the players he had. When he went to Bayern, I didn’t change my opinion much because they could have won the League even without him.
    But, watching him do this to that ugly prick Jose I’m starting to warm up to the idea that the man knows football. A lot. On paper, I had United winning the League this season, because they actually brought not one, but two world class additions in Zlatan and Pogba, added Mkhitaryan who was a goal/assist machine at Borussia, and also bought Bailly, who turned out as MOM in their first four matches, I believe. Now that was Football Manager in cheat mode. On steroids.
    Now, I believe it is City that will win the League. And this bothers me, because as much as I would hate to see Mourinho celebrate, based on the signings he made and the fact that he knows the League, I believed he would be the one to lift the trophy.
    Guardiola didn’t buy a single world class player. In fact, the signings he made were more on an Arsenal level. Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Nolito were names that were transfer related to Arsenal more than to City.
    And he managed to take players like Fernando/dihno, Kolarov, Sagna, Otamendi, who were really bad last season (and some of them actually quite old), and turn this team into a genuine title contender.
    In three months.
    I know that he already had De Bruyne and Silva and Aguero (who didn’t even play this weekend), but we also have Sanchez and Ozil and Cech and Santi and we keep struggling forever.
    So, if he wins the title this season, that for me would represent the biggest indictment of Wenger’s coaching capabilities and our belief that we are almost there with that eternal building and constructing and adding that final piece of the puzzle in the Arsenal squad that we have been doing for the last 3-4 years, and Pep did it in 3-4 months.

    1. “…if he (Guardiola) wins the title this season, that for me would represent the biggest indictment of Wenger’s coaching capabilities…”

      I thought Wenger’s coaching capabilities had a while ago already been indicted, tried and found guilty. One only has to look at the Champions League where his lack of tactical nous has been exposed regularly for years.

      1. Yes, but when it comes to the Cup, one could always point to luck, a referee’s decision on a second yellow and things like that.
        It’s much easier to defend Wenger there.
        In the Premier League, where a single decision can’t affect your entire season, usually the arguments are different: money, one or two signings, an injured player for a longer part of the season.

  2. For all this talk about tactics, it’s interesting that the 3 goals in the match largely had nothing to do with them. Longball, rebound off post, and GK mistake.

    1. You see tactics working when one team is on top; your challenge then is to figure out just why this is so. City got those chances because they were far better prepared and executed their plan extremely well. As Tim says, they controlled the game with superior use of space and by exploiting Mourinho’s habits. Guardiola knew Mourinho would position his team deep, so he instructed Otamendi and Stones to drive forward. At first no United player wanted to track them because they didn’t expect this to happen; they expected sterile possession at the back. Not so: the CB’s advanced with the ball and broke the lines with their passes again and again in the first half. This created gaps and forced United to retreat, which opened gaps that KDB and Silva exploited. Without the ball, City’s coordinated and energetic press was a joy to watch and the transitions they forced created further havoc for United. Tim’s right, Guardiola got the better of Mourinho and I too loved every minute of it.

  3. Pep is certainly a masterful tactician and I hate to admit it but I’ve loved watching City this season for that reason. Guilty pleasure. But this game was as much about Mourinho’s own mistakes in the initial setup of the team. Neither Felliani or Pogba are particularly good passers or the most defensively aware midfielders and to field them as your double pivot against ManShitty is suicidal. Whatever happened to Schneiderlin? Neither van Gall nor Mourinho seem to have any faith in a player we all would’ve loved to come to Arsenal last season. ManUre tried to press and were actually modestly successful initially but trying to do that all game long with Zlatan and Rooney is never going to work. The Rooney situation is the biggest elephant in the room for United. Mhiktyrian had a bad game no doubt but he’s a better number 10 than Rooney–faster, more energetic, more end product. But Rooney has been the face of the team for a decade. It’d be like dropping Yaya but it needs to be done. A coach who hangs his out on his pragmatic ruthlessness ought to be the one to handle that.

    As for us, the big question is can Wenger pull a 2nd rabbit out of the hat? He pulled a fast one by finally spending some f***ing money and giving us the most complete squad, depth wise if not in top end talent, in the league. But now that he’s spent the money, can he overcome his tactical naivete. I’m afraid I know the answer but like a Cubs fan, I can always hope.

  4. And pep still hasn’t established a sophisticated version of counter pressing,neither has the best midfielder of epl(gundogan) played yet.

    1. Sorry Tee. Just approved it. Hopefully my spam filter will learn that your comments aren’t trash!

  5. Wenger’s Arsenal now play football that can only be described as laborious and moribund. There are exceptions — like that first half against Watford — but they are…exceptions. And it’s not just this season. This was the case for most of last season as well, and the season before that. I don’t know what’s happening, but I suspect it’s a mentality thing?

    We got away with it on Saturday, and I’m happy we did, but too often these days I think the players have caught what I have, which is just a sore of ennui with it all. I know and they must know that this season will be like every other season the last ten years. Good, but not good enough, knockouts and collapses at the usual times, rallies at the usual times, and a number of long-term injuries to key players on the horizon.

    Arsenal have been boring for a long time now, it seems. I’d be interested to know if any others feel the same way. I suspect there must be a few?

    1. I most definitely am, and I don’t even have to go way back.
      In 2016, we have won a total of 10 matches in the Premier League.
      Two of them with injury time goals against ten man Leicester (thank you Danny) and this weekend’s game against Southampton, both rather dull and uninspiring.
      Another two against Newcastle and Norwich, both of them being 1:0 at home, both of them again being rather dull and uninspiring.
      The ones that are left were against relegated teams like Aston Villa, Watford twice, Everton and WBA.
      I don’t have the time to go and check out 2015, but to be honest, I can’t say I recall many happy moments while watching the Arsenal in the last couple of years.

    2. This is kind of the point I’m making here.

      Maybe I should just be more forthright. I loved watching Pep beat Mourinho. I cheered for them the whole time and enjoyed watching Man U chase shadows and resort to Fellaini long balls. Then, it made me sad watching Arsenal after. This is actually my point about maybe not writing about Arsenal so much anymore. It’s boring. It’s either some defense of Wenger, some defense of Wilshere, some criticism of them or something angry about how we lost or how we didn’t play that well.. we could probably list the themes that Arsenal bloggers write about. I bet there are about a dozen.

      If I’m honest, I’m probably going to watch a lot of Man City matches this season because I want, no need, to know how he’s doing what he’s doing. They were enjoyable to watch.

      1. We somehow came second last year, and our stats in the first half of the season were great. But we never LOOKED great. We never looked powerful, coherent, slick, dominating.

        The first half that City played was how Arsenal used to look fairly regularly. No more.

        How I wish we had gotten Pep.

        1. We had the odd match here or there last season where we looked scintillating. It’s impossible to dominate for 90 minutes every single time even for the likes of Barcelona, let alone Arsenal.

        2. Look at it this way, maybe Mikel Arteta is getting a first-class education as Pep’s assistant. Give him two, three years there and he might be ready.

          I know this will sound stupid, but I think Pep will stay at City for 5 years and then come to MLS or the US National team. He loves the US, spent his sabbatical year in NY. He’d be a god in the media.

          1. I’m skeptical of that. I think he’d grow to hate the US media very quickly since we somehow think we’re the best team in the world.

      2. Hi Tim,
        First time commenting but a long time admirer of your writing. I can imagine how it must get frustrating writing the same dozen themes ( probably less) but you always strive to be analytical and rational (within the limits of football fandom). I had been meaning to request you to write about the change in Arsenal’s style over the last 3 seasons or so (which you, along with many Arsene admirers initially applauded as tactical flexibility- I did too but sort of half-heartedly). Anyway, my point is that I loved watching the Arsenal till around 2012 when mostly played with style, pomp and belief even though not winning anything. In the last three years, though they have won two FA cups, (scraped, staggered across the line), they have lost that style and more importantly their belief, even though they have much more experienced and “big” players. Strangely, the kids of 2008 seem much better to me and I would take that over the football we play now. I took my 8 daughter to the Emirates to the FA cup quarter-final against Watford back in March. Not only did they lose, but there was nothing to excite!

  6. The last paragraph of the post really summarizes it so well and yes, it’s hard not to agree with Bunburyist that it’s been a long, long time since we’ve flown out of the blocks and beat a team before they knew what was happening to them.

    Almost three years since one notable example, Arsenal 2, Napoli 0 in Champions League play in which we basically won the match in the first 20 minutes. Özil was brilliant that day, scoring his first Arsenal goal and setting up Giroud for the second.

    Perhaps I remember it so well because there have been increasingly fewer matches that resemble anything like that fluent, aspirational, exciting football played by a Wenger team.

    Of course we should be delighted with 3 points but the mediocre performance does not suggest great things from us tomorrow night at Parc des Princes.

    Here’s to pleasant surprises and fluent football from the good guys.

    1. I see us struggling against them. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t make it out of our group. Now, I know that’s a highly pessimistic view and all models suggest we will but I have a weird feeling about this team.

  7. It’s funny the wonders a good coach can do. He has recognized the intelligent players he has in De Bruyne (he was so good on Saturday) and Silva and he will surely get the best out of them this season.

    It’s not easy to come in and remove pillars like Hart and Toure, players who have carried the team in recent memory. Guardiola is showing just what he can do, not just in (so called) inferior leagues but, the best league in the world. Early days I know and there will be upsets but, this team looks so strong.

    Arsenal were lackluster as has been the case so many times over the years. I am glad Wenger rested the players who came in late. It still does not excuse the fact the lethargy the players showed in the first 20 minutes. I liked the way Coquelin and Cazorla played, especially in the first half. Lots of scope for improvement, I am hoping the belief returns and the players really put on a run.

  8. I didn’t watch the Manc game. Unfortunately. All I caught were Motd highlights later. It appeared to me that De Bruyne was the most influential player on the pitch. Their first goal came from a long ball. Bravo looked nervous. Though I’m sure he’ll improve.

    Thanks for giving us another tactical article. I’ll look out for some of the things you mention when I watch the game in full.

    I’m still uncertain as to whether Pep deserves the sort of plaudits he gets or whether it’s partly due to him being new (and marketing himself. Detailing his methods for a book etc)

    I do recognise that he’s a good coach. Is he great? Perhaps. I think Arsenal match up well with Pep’s teams though.

    Both Mourinho and Pep have had the ‘luxury’ of building squads they want, and for the here and now. Something Arsene hasn’t had for years. I think he’s finally got away from that, and as such it’ll be interesting.

    Cazorla is unique. A gem of a player. Personally, I think nobody can do what he does, but last season Elneny showed that he can make up for his loss to an extent, by doing it differently. I also think adding Xhaka will help us retain our creativity. However, I think the key to our midfield will be a disciplined, focused, effective Ramsey.

    But there is this persistent issue where our players seem to lose focus for 20-30mins in a game. As long as we can pick up wins while we’re sorting that out and building a fluid, goal scoring, team, I’m fine with that.

    PS. I’m fairly sure I’d read a Guardian article some years ago about how most of the quotes in Zlatan’s book were made up by his ghost writer (not without his permission I’m guessing) as a way of spicing up sales. I am assured by my Barca supporting friend that the facts don’t even fit this version of events where Zlatan was forced to sit out as Messi played up front. Zlatan was gradually replaced by Pedro (and ummm…can’t remember) as the guy in the middle, rather than Messi who continued playing wide. And he linked me to a video where Messi let Zlatan take a penalty in the end so as to build up his confidence again after a run of poor form and misses.

    I’m sure there’s some friction between the two, but I think it’s overblown, and also that it doesn’t come only from Zlatan’s side. (And I don’t like Zlatan)

  9. Will Cahill face an FA charge for his comments on the ref after the game? Does every player get the right to fume at the ref after a wrong call that affects the game? Shameful pro-Chelsea bias from the BBC in their coverage of the issue.

    1. I thought I was noticing some very pro chelsea reporting on the BBC site this year.

      This is the second time they’ve presented the chelsea side of some incident in isolation, with no counter argument from the opposition team or manager. It highlights an incident, gives Chelsea’s side, and then leaves it at that.
      A few weeks back after a chelsea game they had the ‘Referee right not to send of Costa’ headline up for days. Who was the quote from? Conte of course. Will be interesting to see if it continues.

      On the topic of Arsenals style of football recently, it’s certainly not been great. How can we have been more exciting to watch when we had Denilson and Bendtner?

  10. Basically totally off topic to this particular post, but I’d love to see a write-up of your (Tim) thoughts on Giroud/Lucas as a potential partnership?

    I know, I know, Arsene doesn’t believe in a front two but… thought experiment: if he’d bought Griezmann (don’t laugh) do you think he’d look to play Giroud/Griezmann like Deschamps?

    Always found you insightful on tactical theory and have gotten to a bit of a stalemate in discussing this with the fans I argue with offline…

  11. Here’s a worse scenario beyond the Cazorla injury: Who replaces him in the long term?

    There’s no midfielder as good at doing what he does in the world. And his ambidextrousness, woot!

    1. Credit Arsene for picking him up for nickels (by today’s standards) from Malaga. Then he went back for his old partner on the left side, Monreal. Those two have worked out for us just a bit, Santi injuries aside.

  12. I did what you did but skipped the Arsenal game and spent time with my pregnant wife. As is often the case, it was the right call.

    In the car (not knowing how the game was going) she asked me who my favorite current Arsenal player was. I said Santi. She was surprised I didn’t say Ozil or Sanchez. But watch Cazorla play and you know what I mean. He’s an absolute joy.

  13. On another topic: do you think City could go undefeated?

    I do. I got that feeling about mid way through the second half when he brought on Fernando. He’s got insane depth. He’s a rare talent himself. He’s a tireless worker. And he’s got the talent on that team to go a full season undefeated.

    I dunno. Jose came close with his first year Chelsea team (which, interestingly, was exactly the season after Arsenal’s invincibles) so that may indicate a lack of overall quality in the League at the time but I wonder if this City team could do it?

    I know that’s sacrilege for an Arsenal supporter but I have another weird feeling.

    1. No. The league is way too deep and while City are good right now, they aren’t heads and shoulders better than everyone else. City will win the league but I think they’ll have at least 3 losses pinned on them.

      1. Agreed. Not a chance (and I love Pep, and have no animosity towards City (I did when they stole Nasri, but I don’t regret that now!)). He’s showing he’s a great coach by making the likes of Fernando look good, but the fact is they still have plenty of pretty average players: Fernando, Sagna, Clichy, Kolarov, Delph, Navas, whoever their backup central defenders are that I can’t even remember right now, Nolito is good but hardly amazing, etc. Next year I imagine they’ll be considerably stronger, when he has the chance to clear house more thoroughly and bring more of his own players in.
        This is not to deny that they’re strong favorites to win the league this year.

    2. Considering they just won probably their most difficult game, it’s definitely possible. But we’ll see – it’s too early to say. I already predicted a few weeks ago they’ll win the league by some distance, but I’m not prepared to go there yet.

    3. Two seasons ago, a lot of people thought Mourinho’s Chelsea would go unbeaten (this was Fabregas’ first season at Chelsea), but they were finally beaten in February (?). I think the key difference between now and twelve years ago is the level of competition. The PL’s landscape in terms of personnel is nothing like what it was in 2003/04, and that’s because the financial landscape has changed so much as well. You can get hurt by almost any team these days, no matter where they happen to be in the table. There is, of course, still a discrepancy between the best and worst teams in the league, but it’s narrowed somewhat in the last decade.

      1. One further catch is that Klopp and Pep have a 4-0-4 record against each other.

        Also “Klopp and Pep” sounds great together.

  14. Respecting that the line-up on Saturday was a pre-Champions League line-up, I watched worrying about our inability and unwillingness to break the lines with a pass. I contrast that with what I saw from City a couple hours earlier and it was really frustrating to see the difference in how a confident team moves the ball around vs. what we were doing. I thought we were lucky not to lose. Thanks to Shane Long for fluffing his chances.

    1. Credit to Cech a bit also. He’s got a great record of saves against big chances.

      Now, on the other hand, Cech’s record of saves against shots outside the box…

  15. the reason for bringing in some shiny new world beaters is not just trying to win the game but more importantly at this stage in time for Arsenal, it is the ‘presence’ of some sort of cheer leaders that could somehow rejuvenate the team and the fans as well.
    It’s going to be a LONG season.

  16. City look about as good as any team d ever has to win the league.

    But undefeated?

    I think the key there is the goalkeeper. Chelsea in almost Invincibles season right after the actual Invincibles season had Cech. We had crazy Lens take over from Seaman, and Guacamole is coming from a team that has Manuel Nauer.

    The current MUFC GK doesn’t seem to be anywhere in that class.

  17. Well said, Tim, and I agree on the points you make on both Arsenal and City. Sparing a thought again for Jose’s United, many on this forum picked them to win the league… what about now? I just cant see how a Mourinho team can shoehorn Pogba, Rooney and Zlatan and be successful. Their best bet would be to bring Rashford and Martial through but there are so many massive egos on that team that I still think they will self destruct. A few more poor performances and the circle of blame will truly blossom.

    As for Arsenal, like I said yesterday, big issues remain. Strangely we have one of the worst xG in the league this season but are more efficient with our chances than anyone, in stark contrast to last season. We’ve also already won more penalties than the whole of last season. It’s better to be lucky than good, especially in a low scoring sport, and we do have the squad to win the championship, but I we won’t win many games with the way we played Saturday. Like Adrien Clarke said, perhaps the best takeaway from that game was that we fought back from being a goal down against what has been a “bogey” team of late. Let’s hope for much better from the boys on Tuesday.

    1. I still think Mourinho is going to challenge for the title. They are going to pummel little clubs and give the mediums (like Arsenal) a torrid time.

      1. This is the one that depresses me most – Mourinho has constructed the proto-typical team to smash Arsenal. Big, strong, dirty, swaggering. Not looking forward to it at all.

        1. Didn’t work against quick, technical and committed this past weekend. On good days, that describes an Arsene Wenger team just as much as overelaborate, soft and lackadaisical on bad days.

          1. The quick, technical and committed team was also tactical, with a manager that developed a first rate game plan customized for the opponent and then made three key in-game adjustments to counter and exploit what the other manager had done. That’s not something I expect from Wenger, ever.

        2. I’m convinced that our problems against Mourinho — Arsene’s problems — are mental. I’ve lost count of the times when they end up beating us in games we should have won. They always find something, even if that something is Costa gamesmanship.

          Last year represented our best chance, not just because they were playing badly under Van Gaal, but they put out a depleted side. They still beat us. Not a chance that we’ll face as weak a team this season.

          That game, by the way, was a turning point in support for Wenger. He lost people I’d have never thought it possible for him to lose.

      2. I still take hope from the “blitzkrieg” of 20 minutes Arsenal showed in the home game to ManU last season. We picked them apart and the team they fielded that day was much stronger than the one we got beaten by away from home.

        Arsenal on their day can challenge and beat the best, they simply need to believe and prepare well.

  18. Did we finish second last season and made top four the last twenty?….I won’t trade The Arsenal ….I see the accomplishments and hope for better always.

  19. I’m sorry you’ve forgotten that Arsene bested Pep tactically just 11 months ago (albeit we got hammered in the return match under difficult circumstances). Also the City goalkeeper had a mare of a debut and could easily have cost them the game. The two-footed in the air lunge at Rooney was a clear penalty. That Pep spoke up for him after the game was admirable but I’m sure in private he got a roasting.

    1. Arsenal won the match against Bayern Munich but I’d hardly say we bested them tactically.

      More than anything, that match was a grim reminder that Arsenal are miles behind the pace of the top clubs in Europe.

      Well, that one and the loss to Olympiakos and Dinamo in that group.

      1. I thought we were very close to pulling off an upset against Barcelona in the home game. Got over excited and threw it away, and Barcelona got credit for what was a very dangerous move, if indeed it was deliberate to let us onto them.

        We’re not as far as all that from the top European sides. Whether that’s with Wenger or someone else, it’s certainly not insurmountable. My feeling is that with Wenger’s sides, it clicks suddenly and spectacularly because he relies on players to understand and internalise his philosophy, rather than just instruct them. We’re finally at the stage where we’re not obviously missing pieces of the jigsaw and hopefully, it’ll all come together.

        1. Here here. Your account of the Barcelona game may be a bit overly charitable, but I agree with your assessment in your second paragraph. Like everyone else on here, I’m getting tired of us playing so poorly–not just dropping points, but looking crap even when we do scrape a win–but Wenger’s teams have been too good at passing, creative football for too long for me to reach the conclusion that this particular side–with all of its undoubted talent–suddenly doesn’t know how to play good football. There are real problems, but most of these still come down to personnel, I think (e.g. we can’t afford to carry as many players as we routinely do, which means at least one of Walcott and the Ox can’t start unless they show much, much better form). We now have the squad to compete (minus the fact that without Wilshere, we’re too dependent on Cazorla in the middle of the park), it’s just a matter of finding the right first 11, the right chemistry, where the underperforming players are stuck firmly on the bench until they can prove they can contribute. Despite a stronger squad, Wenger shouldn’t chop and change too much; once he finds a side that performs well in a game (e.g. the first half against Watford) he should keep it for ensuing games to build momentum, like he did in the spring of 2015, for example. If he gets the balance right, and they get more comfortable playing together (e.g. Lucas with Alexis, Ozil, and maybe Iwobi(?) up front), I think we’ll click again and the fluid football will return. It has to, or it’s going to be a looooooong season.

          1. I think the medical department is getting a larger input on the chopping and changing as you put it. If this pays off with improved health over the course of the season, then it might well be worth the initial problems with fluidity.

  20. I watched the Arsenal game like a lot of us on here. to be fair, the game was as bad as you described, Tim. maybe even worse.

    what I don’t get though is, why the narrative about Wenger being past it. Pep is a masterclass genius tactician.. and Arsene is out of his depth.

    I have one question for you, Tim. if Arsene is done and Pep is the God of tactics why do we manage to beat him at least once every year we play him despite him having the superior players?
    we beat him when he coached barca. he had the best player in any generation. we beat him in bayern too.

    I don’t get it.

    1. Wenger and Pep have gone head-to-head as managers 8 times.

      Pep has won 4 drawn 2 and lost 2.

      Neither of those losses to either the Arshavin goal nor the Özil goal were what I’d call “masterclasses” of tactics from Wenger. They were just “sit deep and don’t concede” displays.

      1. Right but in all six matches…Pep presented far superior sides than Wenger’s. Presently Man City’s team is not superior to Arsenal’s…a fact already proven during the pre-season friendly.

        1. I dunno, man. I don’t see this Arsenal side as equal to the depth that the Man City side has but I’d love to be proved wrong.

      2. I’m not sure how fair a comparison it is against Arsenal of the time, and the Bayern, and especially, Barca teams. And then there were those moments with the RVP sending off and Nick B wasting a glorious chance, and the Cesc backheel, which I still can’t convince myself wasn’t entirely deliberate.

        (Ir)Regardless, I believe we play better against a Guardiola team than we do against a Mourinho type team ever since Ferguson made it ok to kick lumps out of us. Hopefully we’re better equipped, in terms of personnel and personality to deal with both, and maybe, just maybe, the refs have turned a corner too.

        PS. That Arshavin goal was glorious. It gave me one of the moments that made our new stadium feel more like home.

  21. For making Jose Mourinho look mediocre I enjoyed every second of the match against his nemesis – Pep Guardiola.Tactical masterclass!

    Now to Arsene Wenger, we all know Le Prof doesn’t do tactics. He’d start same team and same formation, no matter the opposition. In reality Cech, Koscielny, Bellerin, Carzola, Ozil and Sanchez will get into the combined XI of both Arsenal and Man City present squads.

    But you’d hardly see Arsenal play the way City did against United. Carzola, to me, is the most underrated player in world football. His intelligence, close control and this rare gift of using both feet perfectly makes him as good as a no 10 you’d get anywhere. But Wenger bought Ozil when all we needed was a world class striker and shifted Santi out of position. Still the diminutive Spaniard uses his intelligence to play in a position his small frame portends a huge disadvantage.

    In big matches this season I’d play Xhaka and Coquelin with Santi 10…yes, I’d start Ozil from the bench.

    1. Wenger does tactics just fine. You will never hear me say that Wenger doesn’t do tactics. He’s not a great tactician but he does have his plans.

    2. When you have Mesut Ozil, he has to play. It’s Mourinho-ish to bench your best player in order to improve solidity.

      1. Plus, I’m not sure Santi is as strong as a 10 as he once was, a few years ago. I could be wrong, because he’s not played there too often since Ozil was signed, but his form was patchy in the period before Wenger moved him back to the deep lying playmaker role, and I think that’s a natural progression as a player gets older and maybe loses his legs a bit. Ozil is the better player further forward, for the way he finds space between the lines; the question is whether we can consistently accommodate both of them in the team, which to me comes down to whether Xhaka will have the athleticism and discipline to allow us to play all three of them together (without losing the ability on the ball that we sacrifice when we play Coquelin).
        However I agree that the lack of a truly top quality striker these last few years, and the effect that it’s had on the team’s play as a whole, cannot really be overstated. It’s not just about goals, it’s about having someone up top who’s on the same level as Ozil, Sanchez, and Cazorla, so that these three can play with real freedom and confidence in their attacking teammates rather than always being held back by their teammates’ deficiencies (e.g. Giroud’s utter lack of pace and dribbling ability, Walcott’s terrible touch and poor, slow decision making). I’m hoping Perez surprises us all and becomes a genuine top quality starter for us, rather than just a decent “alternative” for Giroud.
        It would also be nice if we had more wide attackers of sufficient quality to make it absurd for Arsene to ever pick Walcott ahead of them (e.g., I think the Ox is by far a more talented player than Walcott, but right now he’s not making it nearly hard enough for Wenger to prefer Walcott to him when Alexis starts again on the wing; hopefully Iwobi will).

  22. There will never be another coach like Wenger, in any sport. For all his innovations in the 90’s he represents a school of coaching which is a dying breed. He’s not the details obsessed perfectionist that Guardiola is, but that’s what has allowed him this extreme longevity in a pressure cooker job. By contrast, Guardiola left his beloved Barca for a Sabbatical after, what, 3-4 years? These new generation detail obsessed managers, they produce results but they don’t last. They burn out or fall out. They don’t know how to have fun, how to enjoy it anymore at some point. So why do they do it? Fame and fortune? Wenger has never cared about that. He is the last of that breed, God bless him.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Doctor. As much as I think his time was done 2-3 years ago, I’ll never stop admiring him as possibly the greatest manager to ever grace the Premier League era. Not because he out-won Fergie or Mourinho. Of course he didn’t.

      But his total class above those two, his adherence to his ethos, his sense of managing a club “with values” (whatever that may mean), his vision of the game as something more than just spending money and winning trophies is something that the game may never experience again.

    2. Maybe the answer to your question can be found in Fabregas and Henry’s descriptions of differences between Guardiola and Wenger’s training and coaching styles. Both players said the difference in intensity and attention to detail is simply off the charts.

      We can see for ourselves what Guardiola is like during games, and having won 13 major trophies in 3 or 4 seasons with Barca against the best in the world, I can certainly understand how he needed to recharge his batteries.

      1. Tom, I certainly can understand as well. But don’t you think that’s sad that he had to leave a job and a place he loved and where he did so well just because of burnout? The point I’m making is that even though Guardiola and the other up and comers are great managers, their style is not sustainable for them or for their players. For me it’s part of the distorted “Hyper real” (nod to Tim for that term) millennial world where immediacy is prized to such an extent that we’ve forgotten about longevity and sustainability, certainly in the entertainment industry. You have to win right away and very few humans are capable of that. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the hell out of Guardiola, always have and always will. He’s my dream Arsenal manager of the future. Just saying how sad it is that in order to be as good as he is he wears himself out of good jobs at good clubs.

  23. Romelu Lukaku! An 11 minute hat trick??? How do you like them apples, Tim?
    Someone at my Arsenal pub was bemoaning that we didn’t sign him. I’ve always rated him, thought of him as possibly the next Drogba in that he combined size and physical strength with technical quality and the ability to finish in the most clinical fashion. Thoughts?

    1. Are you kidding?

      I never understood the Lukaku hate. He’s not statistically a huge upgrade on Giroud and he’s got some problems with his touch, but he’s so young that there is nothing but upside with this guy.

      I’m curious what his hat trick was like I haven’t seen any highlights.

  24. Good stuff, Tim.

    Yes, I always enjoy Mourinho losing. And then blaming everyone but himself. He thinks that by saying he could have subbed players after 20 minutes that it’s an indictment of them. No Jose, it’s an indictment of you, your tactics and your game plan.

    Jury’s still out on whether City will win the league ahead of United, though. I think that when United gel, they’ll be hard to beat, but Pep is going to challenge. If he wins it, it would be a validation of HIS methods, because his moves have been methodical rather than dramatic.

    Yes, he paid 40+ m for Stones, but he didn’t sign any galacticos. What he did was get his chess pieces in early, realising that the season started in mid-August, not the end of the transfer window. No handwringing over “top top quality”, or the state of the market. Nolito was not, but he fit in with Guardiola’s tactical style.

    For all our philosophical agonising, we signed players int he same class bracket, but later. In fact in Xhaka and Mustafi, we signed better players. He’s also ruthless in a way that Wenger isn’t. Do you think that if he’d taken over Arsenal that Ox and Walcott would be anywhere near City’s squad, let alone starting?

    He’s got something that we don’t, though. A world class centre forward. That will make a difference.

    Europe represents a different sort of test for Pep. While he could win the prem, if he wins the CL with THAT City team he’ll have confirmed his greatness.

    1. City don’t have to worry about a budget like Arsenal do. That can overcome delays in the market.

      Similarly on the ruthlessness. Budgets play a part. Arsenal cannot rejig the squad every summer. Wenger said as much when he talked about how big fees are linked with big wages and the problems that causes if it doesn’t work out. City are apparently subsidising wages of around 800k per week for players not playing for them. That’s like 3-4 Ozils worth. We just can’t afford to be as ruthless. We need to nurture some players whose talent is there, even if the output currently isn’t.

      Agreed on the centre forward. Aguero, and it seems De Bruyne, will be the key players for them. We really do need Lucas to turn out to be a great transfer to challenge at the top.

  25. Tim
    I rarely disagree with you, but I think you are wrong about the Redmond dive.
    From experience, I know of no player extending apologies to any player who has dived, and Monreal did just that on the play. The new generation boots, especially Nike Superflys, are extremely light and thin up top. The only professional football boot with some “meat” about them is the Nike Tiempo Legend , made from Kangaroo leather , but every other booth offers hardly any protection when grazed or raked with studs over the laces, which is what I think happened there.

  26. Could not disagree with many on here more.
    moaninho and pup have inherited the best teams always!
    That means the players they want, in the positions they want, in the formations that they want, irregardless of cost.
    Reverse the positions in the austere years with Arsene, and he would wipe the floor with them.
    Hell, how come pep did not win CL every year with Barca? or with Bayern? Especially the year after an old and worn out coach Heynckes won the treble.
    Both of those guys only go to winners with a bank vault to support them, and both have not left a legacy of anything after they left the clubs for the next winning fix.
    Arsene was coaching winners long before both of them became anything. He is a legend in modern futbol in same way Cruyff is!
    We shall see gentleman, we shall see!

  27. Pep is at least a level or two above Wenger in terms of coaching.
    The idea that players can reorganize and change tactics on their own during games is simply laughable.
    Pep understands this better than anyone and that’s why he’s constantly working the players on the sidelines.
    Also, there was a play where Iheanacho picked a wrong option with a pass and Pep let him have it.
    Wenger would never do that in the privacy of his office let alone during the game.
    Wenger handles his players with kid gloves and then acts surprised when they collapse under pressure against the likes of Mourinho.

    1. I think this is a bit of a myth, though like all myths, it has some truth to it. I don’t think Wenger is too soft on his players generally. But he did go through a phase where he was bringing through a young team, and I think that’s where this idea comes from. He treated them with kid gloves because they were kids. As we’ve moved away from that era, he’s become more open about his players’ failings in the media. Though it’s true he’ll never rant and throw them under the bus.

      Also, on the sidelines, I think the camera doesn’t show him getting up and gesturing to his players as often as he does it. He certainly got up in this game. Tim even mentioned it. He made a half time change to the set up. He’s not as much for improv as is made out.

  28. Here we go again in Pep admiration. Yes, he is a wonderful coach and I just loved him beating Jose but City did ride their luck with the non-existent red for Bravo.

    Games are played over 90 mins and being brilliant over 45 mins doesn’t guarantee a title stroll. I just don’t get this angst over our own team. Every mistake is magnified and used as a stick to bring down Wenger these days. If Bravo had been our GK, he would have been roasted after the game. Even City were extremely lucky to win their game. If Bravo would have been sent off then Man U would probably have won the game.

    If pep put on a tactical masterclass then we did the same to Ciry in our last few meetings. So what? Did Leicester care last year that they got hammered by us? Did they bother with their Low possession stats? No. I think it is about time we stopped fawning over the shiny new coaches and have respect for our own team. How brilliant were Conte’s Chelsea in drawing with Swansea? Did that wonderful tactician come out as winner? No. So let’s concentrate on winning out games. By hook or by crook. Dodgy penalty or not, we beat Southampton. If it takes another 30 games like these where we play such “boring” games but win or draw and don’t lose, I will take it.

    Now I am reading about feelings of “invincibility”. Last season Ciry won 5 straight and then ended up fourth. Bayern lost both times in CL under Pep. Can we please stop on PepMania.

  29. Man City’s victory was victory for Wenger too. Le Prof has repeatedly said that fielding more than three new outfield players at a time distorts the technical balance.

    Mourinho started Bailly, Mkhitaryan, Pogba abd Ibrahimovic … I’m sure the loquacious Portuguese would have harped on his starting four players if the outcome had been favourable just to further chide Wenger. I hope Wenger remembers to chide the ‘Special One’ instead at the appropriate time.

    To drive home the point…Mou quickly stuck to Wenger’s teaching, removed Mhkitaryan in the dressing room and had technically a better second half.

    Le Prof knows something about football after all.

  30. Cech/Ospina
    Bellerin/Debuchy Mustafi/Gabriel Koscielny/Holding Monreal/Gibbs
    Walcott/Ox Ozil/Ramsey Alexis/Iwobi

    Zabaleta/Sagna Stones/Kompany Otamendi/? Kolarov/Clichy
    De Bruyne/Delph Silva/Gundogan
    Sterling/Sane Aguero/Iheanacho Nolito/Navas

    Man for man, perhaps they are better equipped. Bar central defense. Will be interesting to see how they cope with injuries to either De Bruyne or, Silva.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think our squad looks that far behind theirs, when compared head to head like that. The biggest difference is probably one S. Aguero, but then he didn’t even play at the weekend and they were terrific. But then, I’m not sure we should be cheered by the comparison between the squads or depressed, since if Pep can get his squad playing this well, it makes it look like Wenger is the problem with us, more than the squad. Certainly we have several players, the Ox and Ramsey come to mind (I don’t count Walcott, as I simply don’t rate him), who could be real stars but have underperformed for a few seasons now (Jack too, but with him the injuries are the overriding factor), and one can’t help but wonder if those same players under a different manager might be playing better. For the first time that I can remember under Wenger, we seem less, rather than more, than the sum of our parts as a squad, and this can’t even be blamed on injuries. As I wrote in a comment above, I still hold out hope that this slump is temporary and we can click and find some form, but the poor play has been going on for the better part of a year now (I guess there were a few very good performances last fall, but even then we were self-destructing against average teams in our CL group).
      Here’s to the turn around starting tonight against PSG!

      1. To take a closer look at City’s squad:
        I wouldn’t want any of their fullbacks (Zabaleta was brilliant, but he must be passed it, as he’s barely played these last few years), nor their keepers (Bravo will be fine, I’m sure, but he’s not amazing; he’s been bought for his ability to pass), nor Fernando or Delph. Fernandinho is really underrated, but he’s not world class and at his age I don’t think I’d trade any of our central midfielders for him (not saying he’s not currently better than Elneny and Coquelin, just that I wouldn’t make that trade now, with him 31). Gundogan is world class, but seems to have chronic injury problems, ditto Kompany, of course. Nolito and Navas are each only ok–better than Walcott and the Ox on current form, perhaps, but not a huge upgrade–and Sane may be a world beater–I confess to having seen very little of him yet–but he’s still very young and inexperienced.
        So, yeah, their stars are great, but their supporting characters are distinctly underwhelming. Toure could still make a comeback, I suppose, but he’s probably past it and Pep seems to not be interested in playing him. And three of their best players (Kompany, Gundogan, Aguero) are seriously, seriously injury prone.
        PS I totally forgot: didn’t they sign the young Brazilian, Gabriel Jesus, in the summer?? He could be interesting…

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