Does everything have to have a title?

By Jonathan Blaustein

Well, that didn’t last long.

The brief period of early-season optimism, I mean. That little window of time when each team starts fresh, all records are equal, and the early-morning-dream-haze lingers on the vision of Per Mertesacker hoisting the EPL trophy.

In fairness, I never believed this season could result in ultimate victory. And I stated as much in my season preview. But I did get snookered into thinking another average, Top 4 season lay before us.

Despite the fact that I wrote Arsene Wenger off, for good, during the awful collapse last winter, the FA Cup run fooled me into thinking that AFC might regain its “rightful” place in the Top 4.

Mea culpa.

I’m officially changing my season prediction to “we’ll be very lucky if we don’t end up in 7th place.”

Yup. That’s what we’re looking at.

But I’ve read a lot of articles lately that explain exactly how we got here. It’s not rocket science, dissecting the corpse of the Summer 2017 Transfer Window.

Any idiot could do that, and given the quality of writing I’ve seen lately on the subject, (I’m looking at you, The Ringer,) I don’t want to add to the dross.

Rather, I spent the weekend contemplating the overall, big picture visions that are pushing us further behind our competitors. It’s not hard to see the true Top 5, as all of them have a plan, and then execute. (And unfortunately for us, they’ve been successful in their builds.)

Liverpool– Jurgen Klopp wants a team of quick, fast players. They work his Gegenpress, and fly down the field in transitions. I mentioned this in my faulty-season-preview: if your players are slower than their players, you’re screwed. (If you doubt me, watch the highlight of Rob Holding trying to stop Sadio Mané’s goal.)

Manchester United– Jose Mourinho wants big, fast players. Size is really important to him, but when combined with athleticism, it is really hard to counter. Mourinho likes Galacticos, so he can blow inferior teams off the field, and play defense first against everyone else.

Manchester City– Pep Guardiola is an acolyte of the beautiful game. He wants possession, all the time, and has collected highly technical, expensive wizards who can pass everyone off the field. But he also invested in speed, with Mendy and Walker, so he can keep up with the other teams’ athletes.

Chelsea– Even before Conte, the Chelsea style was entrenched. Buy world class mercenaries, and employ Mourinho-ball. Blow away smaller clubs with Galacticos, and play defense-first against every other major club. But their serial winning has given them an advantage both in the transfer market, (before this summer,) and in the ability to keep the team from collapsing. (Other than Post-Mourinho.)

Tottenham– Mauricio Pochettino, like Klopp, opts for the Gegenpress. So he wants young, hungry players who have the requisite physical reserves, and personal desire, to do all the extra work. Because he also has some serious athletes, this style of play is also very difficult to deal with. (And explains that Tottenham’s success the last few years is no fluke.)

I’m not throwing Everton in there yet, but they have boatloads of cash now, and a manager who’s historically given Wenger fits, so they may well have leveled up to Arsenal territory, in which case 7th place is a genuine possibility.

Were we to make an Arsenal bullet point here, it would look like this:

Arsenal– Used to play beautiful football, Guardiola-style, with wicked possession. But now, the club lacks enough technical players to pull it off. Does not have a particularly athletic side, meaning they can’t match up well with most of the Top 6. Refuses to play defense-first, except for a handful of games over the last 6 years, so regularly takes morale-sapping pastings, almost every year.

Now, I’m not interested in only telling you what you already know. It’s why I refused to write a post-mortem after the Liverpool disaster. I saw that as only one more in a string of awful losses, the likes of which I don’t believe will stop until Arsenal have another manager.

But what would I do to save the season? Why not just give up now and commit to the NFL?

Well, that wouldn’t be any fun. Plus, I think Wenger has one card to play here, though I doubt he’ll have the stones to do it.

The worst thing about the Liverpool game was the lack of desire. As Tim rightly pointed out in his Ornstein article this weekend, most of Wenger’s team did not want to be on the pitch. And many of them want out all-together.

So play the guys who want to be here, and find the overlap between that small list, and the players who have some athletic chops.

If we’re not going to win the league, no matter what, why not play the guys who are hungry? Give them lots of game time.

Alex Iwobi. Reiss Nelson. Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

These guys are desperate to make a name for themselves. As is Mohamed El Neny. Danny Welbeck. Jack Wilshere. And Olivier Giroud.

Lacazette and Kolasinac are hungry too, because they just got here, and have a ton to prove.

Koscielny would bite the head off of a bat, and drink its blood, if he thought it would give his team an advantage. Keep him out there too.

I know Wenger will never bench Sanchez and Ozil, but if he’s at least willing to “rest” them more regularly, I think there’s a chance to see more fight out of this team.

Think back to that 5-0 demolition of Southampton last year, in the FA Cup. I wrote about it, as it was the first time I saw a vision of the future. Quick, fast players making beautiful exchanges.

If Wenger agreed to go defense first in more of the big games, (he’s done it before, though it’s always seemed like a hostage-situation-move,) and swap out hungry athletes for whiny slowpokes, there is a chance this team doesn’t fall off a cliff.

But I doubt it.


  1. At least one can watch the games for football Arsenal are(?) known for without any hopes/pressure of a trophy. But will Wenger do this in PL? Let’s hope he has courage to play these guys in atleast in Europa.

    1. Won’t it be just the opposite? As soon as top 4 becomes a remote possibility the club will have to pivot and prioritize winning the Europa league in order to get back into the Champions League. I would do just the reverse; tank the season (so long as you don’t get relegated) but play your very best team in the Europa league games to ensure we get that trophy.

      1. Yeah, this seems likely, the further we drift down the table. Mourinho showed that it works.

  2. Kick and rush with fast athletes has never been Wengers style. So I doubt it will happen.

    My only hope is that the Ozil, Sanchez, Lacazatte trio should see us beat the small guys consistently, Coquelin must start in midfield and we will stop being so vulnerable to counters. I hope the huge embarrassment that was Anfield forces Wenger to go defense first in further big games.

  3. Completely unrelated query regarding Ornsteins transfer article.

    We were not convinced by Mustafi and he did not feel alright here and surprisingly we were willing to let our most expensive defensive signing go which looks like criminal mismanagement but is at-least understandable.

    But how did we choose Evans as the replacement? And why did Pep go for him too? It is a genuine question. I am not a numbers guy and thought someone here may have some answers. I guess I would choose an unhappy Mustafi over a Johnny Evans any day.

    1. 1) Evans would not command an exorbitant salary
      2) Evans is a home-grown player which Man City would value highly
      3) Evans doesn’t make many mistakes on a per minute basis (if there was such a metric). He keeps it tidy and simple. Guardiola would rate this given Otamendi and Mangala’s error-prone displays.

      But no idea on what planet anyone would say Mustafi for Evans is a good swap.

  4. Great piece, but I would take issue with your second last paragraph.

    Whenever Arsenal have gone “defense-first” the story has come out afterwards that it was a player motivated direction – not managerial. Wenger will have nothing to do with it.

    I cite the best example of when we went to Man City and beat them and played two banks of 4 with even Ramsey coming back and getting in line when not in possession. After that game it was revealed that the players had had a meeting and decided to play with some defensive structure.

    If they turn the season around it will be in spite of the manager, not because of him. That said, I think the players have downed tools. I expect a draw with Bournemouth this weekend followed by a draw with Cologne and then loss to Chelsea. It’s going to get really really ugly the next couple of weeks.

    1. Thanks, Jack. Take issue if you must. I didn’t know it was a player-revolt to play defense in that Man City game, but I believe you. Given that I made a joke about the hostage-situation-vibe, I implied it goes against Wenger’s very nature. But in one of the recent run-ins, when we squeaked into 4th, (can’t remember which year,) there were a few 1-0 wins sprinkled in. I specifically remember one against Newcastle. Whether or not Wenger ever sanctioned the defense-first tactics, they’ve happened only occasionally. And never with any conviction. Any other manager would have played tighter against Liverpool. We all know it’s not Arsene’s way.

  5. I love the idea of playing the guys who are hungry. I’m in total agreement that the fundamental failure of this Arsenal team is that they simply don’t show up consistently. How many times as fans have we sat down to watch out team and been dumbfounded by the product we see out on the field? It’s like going to your local grocery store excited to cook fillet for the family only to find out that nobody showed up to work that day and all they have is hot dogs. Bottom line is we expect a certain level of consistency and professionalism in our lives and Arsenal just haven’t met those standards lately.

    I’m also in full agreement about “resting” Sanchez, and Ozil, and I would add in Ramsey to that mix as well. These guys just simply don’t have the desire right now, or in Ramsey’s case focus or intelligence. That doesn’t mean down the road they can’t find it, but as it stands today they are not capable of setting a tone on the pitch that will give us a chance to finish above 7th place. So I’m in agreement with you. Put in the lads who have something to prove so that at the very least the next time we sit down to watch our team play we can at least be assured of getting top sirloin. The days of fillet mignon might be long gone as Gunners fans, but if we can at least count on top sirloin then perhaps we can salvage our season and avoid those lovely hot dog dinners surprises. Cheers mate see you at the meat counter soon 😉

    1. Coach Lee! Thanks for chiming in. Yeah, Ramsey is polarizing here on the blog, so I left him off the list for once. The consensus seems to be that as he’s getting his marching orders from Wenger, it’s hard to blame him for his awful positioning. But last season, I went at him pretty hard for not tracking runners, which is a cardinal sin. Let’s hope the product on the field improves, because as I’ve found at your store lately, good sirloin, property marinated for 36 hours, can taste pretty damn good.

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