Arsenal v. Koln: September 2017

It has started. I already got my first “banta” email. Sent to me by a friend from Wales who supports Man U. It’s titled “what do Arsenal supporters do on Champions League nights?” And of course it’s a gif that shows we do nothing. Ha ha, very funny. Except also weird. Arsenal have been in the Champions League every year since 2000 and United spent the last two years in the Europa League. So, I guess you really got me.

I can tell you what this Arsenal supporter did on Champions League nights: I recorded the Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund matches, then I came home after work, fixed dinner for my child, and watched them.

In Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Juventus Messi was the star, scoring what is now a classic Messi goal for the opener: weaving in between defenders, stuttering almost matrix-like, putting defenders on the grass, before poking home. But beyond Messi what was most fascinating about the match was watching two of the most organized teams in European football move as a unit in both attack and defense. The Juventus and Barcelona back lines seemed to almost breathe in unison as the game ebbed and flowed up and down the pitch. This wasn’t a wild 3-4 affair with both teams racing up and down constantly, looking to exploit spaces foolishly abandoned. This was a lesson in controlled football and Barcelona, well Messi really, just proved to be too much for Juve who will have to be feeling like they just got hit by a train. A Messi train.

In a complete opposite match, you have Tottenham v. Borussia Dortmund. Tottenham ran out winners in a pulsating contest but Borussia Dortmund can easily feel aggrieved by several terrible calls from the officials. The match started at an impossible pace: both teams are known for their pressing style but Dortmund have the added bonus of being able to actually play with the ball. Still Dortmund found themselves down 2-1 in the 15th minute thanks to two swift counter attacks. Dortmund expertly dealt with the fact that their team sets up to concede huge swaths of space but when you play like that you often rely almost solely on the strength of your keeper. Dortmund’s Burki allowed two goals from Spurs in those first 15 minutes which I have to think a more experienced keeper would claim. On the other end of the pitch, Dortmund had two good goals ruled out for offside and as is almost always the case, as soon as you have a goal ruled out, it seems like the opposition often marches down the pitch and scores which is exactly what Spurs did. Tottenham also had Vertonghen sent off for an ugly slap – and with Vertonghen and Alli out with red cards – plus Dier lucky not to get one as well – Spurs have reaffirmed their place as the filthiest team in England.

That Dortmund match had the feel of an Arsenal match from 5 years ago: loads of young players, technically adept, passing the ball around, full of energy, playing rings around the opposition, and being undone by two counters and some terrible refereeing. If you want to relive Arsenal’s glory years from 2008-2012 you should just watch Borussia Dortmund. They are so much like old Arsenal it’s uncanny, the big difference, however, is that they press, which Arsenal didn’t do in that era, content instead to just pass the ball around.

And tonight what I will do is watch Arsenal v. Koln. I’ll bake a potato, make some delicious cheese sauce, make a salad, and watch the Arsenal play Koln. It’s always been funny to me how fans get on each other over the smallest things – Arsenal playing on “Spursday” for example. But as my mom told me when I was a young boy and I opened the leftovers jar and saw the mold: the basic state of the universe is decay, son… decay.

Before the decay set in I was lucky enough to go to see Arsenal play AC Milan, Porto, and Bayern Munich (twice). And fans who live in Europe have had the opportunity to see Arsenal play Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid, and so many more big name teams so many times! Which is a lot more than any Spurs supporter can say, even if they were alive when Spurs were last in the Champions League.

As for Arsenal’s opponents tonight, Koln have conceded 7 goals in three matches this season and not won a single important contest. Their danger man is not the player all the experts have chosen, Jonas Hector. They are picking him on name recognition alone. He is actually leading Koln in tackles and is acting more as a shield. It’s Japanese international Osako Yuya who I think might unlock the Arsenal defense. He’s been finding a useful partnership with Jhon Cordoba, who was once likened to Didier Drogba (though that is WAY off the mark). Jhon has averaged a crazy 4.7 shots per game this season and most (10) of those are being taken inside the 18 yard box. He hasn’t managed to score a goal, yet, but with Arsenal’s cream cheese midfield he will get his chances.

Gooners should be worried. Wenger is going to rest Ozil, Lacazette, Xhaka, Cech, Ramsey, and Welbeck. Meanwhile, Koz is serving a suspension owing to the red card he picked up against Bayern Munich and Coquelin has been speared by the King of the White Walkers. My matchday prediction system is all over the place with this one because not only is Arsenal playing with almost no recognizable star players (save Alexis), they might even start Jack Wilshere who has been awful for two years now. Meanwhile Arsenal’s back three defense might have to be shielded by Mo Elneny who has little going for him in terms of defensive prowess. Without any top quality midfielders I worry that Arsenal will get played off the park by Koln, who are 4th in the Bundesliga in possession.

In his pre-match preview, Wenger indicated strongly that Jack Wilshere wasn’t ready to play so his inclusion would be a shock. Instead, I think we will see a 343 with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Elneny in CM, flanked by Kolasinac and Bellerin, with Iwobi, Giroud, and Alexis up front. Koln are vulnerable to set pieces so the match could come down to a simple header from Giroud and a bunch of defense after that from the Gunners.

This is one where we will have to wait until the lineups come out before we have a clear picture of how the two teams will play.


Epilogue: I have changed the site format in order to give priority to the written word. I no longer include hyperlinks in the body of the article, I have no advertisements on the sides, dancing around and asking for you to click on them, I will no longer include an image as a standard for every article, and I did this intentionally in order to remove all distractions. I want my site to be more like reading a book and less like a web site with thousands of clickable links.We live in a world where your attention is your only commodity. I value the attention you give to my site and to my writing and do not want to debase it with petty distractions. I want you to engage with the text and with each other, not with some Amazon link which pays me pennies. I don’t need a paywall and I don’t need you to support the site with a few clicks on Amazon. Thank you for being such amazing readers and friends down the years.


  1. Nah, Tim. Thank you. What you’ve created here has been a balm and a blessing. There’s no site quite like this one.

  2. Years ago when I had the the coin to spend on ridiculous s$&t, I spent it on obscenely expensive guitars and Swiss watches. But the one thing I knew even then was that the only person I really wanted to impress by spending that kind of money was …myself.

    So I eschewed gaudy Gibsons, Fenders, Rolexs and Breitlings and went in for stuff whose quality was not expressed through bling but more through unadorned craftsmanship, engineering and understated elegance.

    Kind of what this site is like now. It’s qualities are intrinsically evident to those who know.

  3. Agree with the first post. Thank you sir for the site you’ve created which is both interesting (which is no small feat as we are in decay or retreat mode since 10 maybe years) and pleasant🙂.


  4. Being somewhat of a minimalist, I like the toned down site even though the background color is more spurs than arsenal. The problem with the red was that it stood out like a sore thumb on my screen at work. It looks more like a financial news site now which my boss can get behind.

    Think we will win today. I mean, if we can’t even at home vs. Koln, even with our 2nd team, then we have truly devolved into a mid-table team.

  5. Wow Tim. Most of your readers come here for the written word anyway.

    But still this site is like a book and this design suits it much better. Great Job and Thanks for being such an amazing Arsenal writer.

  6. Game delayed by an hour. Might be even more. Apparently 20,000 Köln fans at the Emirates and are trying to sit together regardless of what seats they have. We are experiencing a Kölnoscopy.

  7. I appreciated your sacrificed, Tim. No matter how small, a revenue is a revenue. I guess Arsenal unattractiveness help in some way towards the new display.

    On the match, the most disappointing thing for me is the lack of upcoming youth in the team. I guess we will play them on the Milk( Caribau?) Cup. The one that I want to see is Nelson and Nketiah, but instead the most unexciting one, AMN play. I guess he is the new Ox without all his positive, besides versatility.

  8. I am not superstitious but this is the most inauspicious beginning to our European tournament. I like the idea of a tasty treat inside a plain wrapper. No Look is good look.

  9. I thought we bought a left back this summer but apparently we actually bought another forward. Not complaining. The guy can score as many goals as he likes.

  10. I would like to get to comments without have to scroll through the article already read. possible?

  11. Having made the questionable choice to spend my time this evening watching Arsenal’s Europa League group stage game against Germany’s current bottom side, I feel compelled to record some thoughts.

    The first half was a disaster. It hasn’t taken long for opposing coaches to diagnose and exploit the fact that the back 3 is vulnerable to the space in front of the defenders, especially when Arsenal’s midfielders don’t occupy it, and overloads there are an easy route to goal. I get why Arsene splits them; he wants us to be able to advance the ball, which would be difficult with 7 men essentially back. But, the ocean of space patrolled by just one Arsenal shirt is easy to exploit, even for a team with limited talent like Koln. So, they wait for the forward pass, try to intercept it, and use that as a springboard for attack against backpedaling CB’s. There is nobody in the middle to stop the break. The older issue of space behind the back line is still there, an issue accentuated by Rob Holding pretending to be a non-league footballer for the night. But all of Koln’s notable chances came from transitions of play with Arsenal players struggling to get back into defensive positions. Poor El-Neny… I lost count of the times he frantically chased Bittencourt on a break, essentially by himself. The goal was a great strike and Ospina’s clearance was poor, but it came about from another quick ball over the top following a transition in midfield. Liverpool used this same tactic to aplomb, but had much more lethal forwards to bury the chances.

    In the 2nd half, poor Holding was put out of his misery and Arsenal switched to a back 4, meaning we could field 3 in midfield. The game changed immediately because we could actually keep the ball and advance it through their lines, and when we lost it there were three athletic bodies in midfield who could cover the space and close down the passing lanes in transition. Maitland-Niles was a much needed injection of speed and athleticism in the center and for my money looked far more effective there than as a left sided wing-back (always an awkward fit for him IMO!). Kolasinac meanwhile is a natural in that position and it was from his clever and powerful wing play and combinations with Sanchez that were the source of by far the best attacking moves on the night. Still, it took a virtuoso solo goal from Sanchez to put us ahead against a mediocre-at-best Koln side playing truly awful football in their home league.

    –Iwobi didn’t look match fit and should’ve been substituted sooner. Lack of fitness or motivation? Either way a concerning start to the season for a player who was in our best XI on merit this time last year.

    –It was nice to see Wilshere back again. Between him, the athletic wonder that is Maitland-Niles and a surprisingly effective looking El-Neny (and Xhaka, Ramsey and Coq all on the shelf) I wondered to myself for a moment if Wenger was right not to buy big on a midfielder this summer. Then I realized I was delirious and running a fever.

    –What the hell happened to Rob Holding? In the self-same back 3 and partnering Mertesacker, he put in a performance of stature and maturity in a Wembley showpiece FA cup final just a few months ago. Please tell me we haven’t broken him. That would make me very sad. Also, you know it’s bad when this game had me thinking: “I wonder what Callum Chambers could do?”

  12. Tim, I appreciate all the time & effort you put in to this site, and I really enjoy the new, quiet layout. Now I just hope Arsenal can start playing well enough to bring out a little more optimism from you!

  13. Like many others I come here for the insightful and thought provoking articles and comments. Thank you, Tim for creating this space and giving so freely of yourself as well as encouraging others to do the same. The new look is growing on me although I do like an interesting distraction now and then.

    I thought Elneny had a solid game and a few lovely passes. Kolasinac is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. Not sure what to think of Wilshere. Is it just me or did no one celebrate Hector’s goal with him? Seems odd.

  14. Tim you are a legend. I love reading your blog. I particularly love the vulnerability you display in your writing. You are very honest and it’s refreshing. The point about attention as a commodity is so valuable. Your willingness to not partake in exploiting that commodity is honourable. The economy of attention is a fascinating topic and very well explored by a young man called Tristan Harris, in case you have an interest in pursuing the topic further.

  15. Thanks Tim for publishing the Arsenal blog I most enjoy reading. And huge kudos for focusing on the writing/responses instead of the financial validation. I didn’t think I could like you better 😉

    Thoughts on tonight: glad we toughed it out through a torrid first half, and we could have run out bigger winners in the second. Like the Doctor, I was glad to see Jack back in the team and thought he provided energy and creativity we’ve been missing. Hope he stays healthy (ahahahahahaha). And I just can’t get on board with Elneny. I don’t dislike him, he seems a hard worker, but he almost never actually does anything except pass sideways or backwards. Makes me miss Cazorla even more, if that’s possible.

    The crowd trouble reminded me of the 70’s when visiting fans “taking” the home terraces was an integral and bloody scary fact of going to live games on a Saturday. West Ham in particular were the worst of a bad lot, in my experience. It was depressing to see the Koln fans bringing back the aggro. Seems we haven’t learned much in the last 50 years…

  16. Was first taken aback when the page loaded with no fuss,no bells no whistle. I was waiting for the colours, the dancing logos, and whatnots that I’ve been accustomed to to start dazzling my senses, but was pleasantly surprised with the plain nature of the page. Don’t know if you can sustain it, but I sure do support it. I might suggest trying the app ‘Medium’ to disseminate your message and still get paid (even if its pennies).

    To the game. For once, your analysis was a bit off as Koln didnt really put up much of a fight IMHO. We were just the architects of our miserable performance in the first half as always. Players in the wrong positions, massive space in between the midfield and defense, too high a line, Rob Holding being on the pitch in the first place which is really killing the young boy’s confidence completely. What wrong has Chambers done that he’s not even getting a look at?

    The change in formation in the second half brought a more structured play and our boys were more comfortable. Also, the introduction of Wilshere injected a much needed verve in the midfield.

    I still think Wenger is winging it as he goes along, and Chelsea match on Sunday will bring us back to earth with a bang.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Things I got right?

      Jhon Cordoba was a threat
      Jonas Hector was overrated – thought this is debateable because he went down injured
      Arsenal’s midfield would be overrun

      Thing I got wrong

      Köln would play the ball around Arsenal

  17. So FC Koln sit dead last in the Bundesliga tables with no points and only a solitary goal to their name, yet some 20k of their fans felt compelled to travel to London to support the team( and how) vs Arsenal?

    Unless they all lost some weird bet with their co- workers, I believe Arsene might’ve found out where he could find a perfect working enviroment after he decides to call it quits at Arsenal.

    And what is it with the Germans and their willingness to march in formation anyways?

  18. …you guys read books?

    just kidding. actually, i don’t read classic literature, poetry, or drama like some of you super-smart guys; that sh*t’s boring. however, being a pilot and a science guy, i read plenty of boring manuals and publications all the time so i was unmoved by the black and white. i also read tons of fiction. speaking of fiction, american assassin, written by the late vince flynn, comes out in theaters today. i read that book about 8 years ago and it was a dynamite read. i’ve actually read all of his books. it hurt my heart when both he and tom clancy, two of my favorite authors, died within months of each other a few years back. i have big hopes for the movie but we all know how that goes.

    i haven’t watched the game yet as i’ve just been busy but i did see the goals. i’ve also heard the abstracts concerning the difference between the two halves. the bottom line is not that arsenal are more solid with four in the back opposed to three but the fact that they need 3 in center midfield. two center mids is outdated and too easy to defeat in the current climate. the only way they can play with only 2 cms is if those two were patrick vieira and manny petit 20 years ago. it’s impossible for arsenal to control the game with only 2 cms unless they’re playing the likes of bournemouth who are playing the same stupid formation.

    likewise, play with a center forward or two strikers. either one of lacazette, giroud, or welbeck must always be on the field and the team must still permit alexis and ozil to be at their brilliant best. hopefully, wenger pulls his head out soon. we’ll see.

    1. totally agree about the 3 vs 2 in midfield. funny thing is, he switched to a 4-3-3 (subtle difference from the 4-2-3-1, but a difference none the less) last spring when we were in free fall and he was flailing around looking for an answer, but then abandoned it after like 3 games when we were humiliated against Crystal Palace (or was it West Brom? I know we played the 4-3-3 against WBA but can’t remember if it was back to 4-2-3-1 for Palace). The next move was the 3-4-3 that ” worked” for all of, what, a dozen games? And now we’re in this mess. I think the 3-4-3 had a certain potential, provided (1) the two support attackers drop deep to create without isolating the CF, the way, e.g., Ozil and Sanchez can do, but, e.g., Theo Walcott cannot, (2) we had a workable midfield two behind them who were mostly content to sit, shield, and create from deep, i.e. not Aaron Ramsey, and (3) we had at least one truly dynamic wing back, which is what the Ox was for a brief period (I think this last was a necessity because we’re never going to be a defensive counterattacking team like Chelsea, which means we can’t get away with playing this formation with two converted fullbacks (even attacking ones!) at wing back). Now that the Ox is gone, our quality wing back options are limited and too defensive (unless we play Nelson there, but that’d be risky), and it’s become clear, beyond reasonable doubt, that we don’t have the right personnel for a workable midfield two. It’s also not questionable whether Wenger has faith in Lacazette to play by himself up front in the big games without either Welbeck or Giroud also starting, which sorta makes playing him up front with Ozil and Alexis behind him problematic, which therefore makes the ability to control midfield even harder.

      So, yeah, 4-3-3 it should be.

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

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

  19. I like the new look, the lack of ads and the underlying philosophy, but there are times when pictures play a role, e.g. when showing positioning. Also, set up a Patreon. I get more than enough out of this site to be willing to help pay for server expenses. Who knows maybe we’d get together enough scratch to buy an opta subscription.

    As for the game, I’m glad our quality won out. Sanchez scored a great goal, but it was telling that it came on a bit of a counter attack. When Koln were set up he was constantly dropping into midfield to build. Maybe because he’s a ball hog, maybe he was being the senior-player-stepping-up and sacrificing for the good of the team, maybe it was our lack of ball carrying midfielder or a master tactician as a manager, but it was very frustrating to watch our best attacker play as a mid.

    That said, we had plenty of chances that were spurned. Giroud headers that weren’t driven; through balls to Theo that were misplayed, drives into the box that resulted in one pass too many.

    I agree w Doc that 3-1-1-5 left us really exposed in midfield. Maybe it would work better with a superlative ball carrier along the likes of Santi or if we sat back and countered. But it looks unsustainable for building from the back. PL quality strikers would have put us to the sword had we gifted them those oportunities.

    Oh one more thing, consider building up a store of novelty popup ads that could be triggered when the referring site is Spuds or Chelsea Newsnow type aggregator. “Cradle your guys like a champion. Buy a pair of Antonio Conte’s game worn underwear.” If the trolls are going to come, we should at least have fun with them.

    And of course, thank you for all the work you’ve put into this site.

  20. Thank you Tim for all the work you put in to the blog. I can honestly say I come here for the articles (I guess I’m old enough to make the Playboy reference). Anyhow, I enjoyed the second half yesterday and I like the austere look. Keep on keeping on.

  21. Love the design, love the blog, the writing, the content and the comments! I’ve been a reader for I can’t remember how long. Paraphrasing certain former ex payer “you guys” rock!

    P.D.: A few boobs here and there would ruin the look of the site, wouldn’t it?

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