One more weekend

There’s a weird thing that happens to people right before they go into rehab, they like to go on a binge. It’s not that unusual a phenomena. A lot of people who drink frequently take January off from drinking and right before they do their “Drynuary” they will often have a big night out. I’ve had a number of friends who will set a date to change their diet – you know, “I’m doing whole 30” – and on the night before they will want to eat a bunch of ice cream or whatever it is that they think they are going to miss for the next 30 days. Their “drug of choice.”

Now imagine that, but only more. I had a friend who was scheduled for a court ordered rehab back in the 90s. He called me up a few nights before his due date and wanted to go out. I still don’t know why I went out with him, but I did – well for one night. When I woke up the next morning, he was still up.

He showed up to rehab the next day, drunk, high, and from what his girlfriend told me, without any pants. I guess she and some of our friends just kind of pushed him out the door of the car and drove off. He actually stayed sober after rehab. I spoke with him recently. He’s got a wife and a kid and is doing about as well as any of us middle-aged men are doing.

After writing all that and thinking about my youth, the friends I lost, maybe this metaphor is too dark for Arsenal. Instead of rolling up to the steps of rehab pantless, drunk, and high Arsenal are just getting ready to start a “whole 900” – three years of dietary change – and we are just having one or two (or five) last slices of Wenger pie.

We had the farewell bash at the Emirates, where everyone gorged on a five-goal feast. And then just three days later we got beat by Leicester. And beat in a way that was like all of the failings of Arsene Wenger’s teams all rolled into one.

There was the crazy corner defending which led to the first goal. Arsenal were scrambling to clear their lines and after several failed attempts, eventually Leicester got a cross in, won a header, and the ball fell kindly to Iheanacho. It wasn’t quite reminiscent of the days when teams would send their giant lump of a defender up to just throw defenders to the ground, but it was the sort of set-play defending that we’ve become accustomed to where the team seems to panic if they can’t clear the first ball.

Then there was the red card for Mavropanos. Throughout Wenger’s tenure as Arsenal manager, his defenders have had a propensity to pick up red cards in their first season. Oleg Luzhny got one in his first season, Cygan got one, Senderos got one in his first full season at Arsenal, Vermaelen, and Koscielny as well. It’s just the demands of Arsene’s defensive system. He plays a high line, gives team space, and defenders are expected to control massive amounts of space. So, if they make a mistake it’s often the case that they are giving up a “last man foul”.

Mavropanos’ foul shouldn’t have been a red card. He wasn’t the last man and I even have doubts that it was much of a foul. Dinos sure did a great job of hiding it if it was a pull. But you know there’s always been a suspicion that Arsene’s Arsenal are targeted for special treatment by the refs. And so we can add that to the buffet from last night as well: a soft as cotton red card and Leicester were also awarded a soft penalty.

That penalty came from a tackle that didn’t need to be made which is, again, another weird feature of Wenger’s football. Wayne Rooney dived to win a penalty and end Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run but Campbell stuck out his leg. I’ve seen this happen so many times that they have collectively become a blur over the last 18 years. Clichy at Birmingham, in the 95th minute of the match in which Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg, is one of the last ones that sticks out. Bellerin’s kick on Hazard this season is another, but only because it is so fresh. These penalties given against Arsenal because one of the players attempts a defensive play in the box and the opposition exaggerates contact. It feels like this play has been on a nonstop loop in my head since 2005.

And of course, you couldn’t have all of that without the brave (nearly) comeback. Down 1-0 and down to 10 men, Arsenal kept attacking and after a few minutes of shaky football, Maitland-Niles – a young player being played out of position, yet ANOTHER feature of Wenger football – shoved past his marker and got in a perfect cross to Aubameyang who scored.

This was all so very Wenger; Arsenal conceding off a corner, the fullbacks bombing forward and getting Arsenal back into the game, the team leaving the center backs exposed as they abandoned the midfield and the wide areas to control possession in the opposition third, the opposition getting multiple great shots from all of the open space at the back, Arsenal conceding a soft penalty, Arsenal getting a soft red card.

It really feels like we trying to jam the entirety of Wenger’s career into the last three games and I have to admit that I’m so full that I’m looking forward to a summer off.

There’s just one more weekend before rehab.



  1. I honestly thought we’d go on big undefeated run until the end of the season after Wenger announced. I thought, surely, this will focus the players’ concentration – they don’t want to send a legend off on a sour note? They’ll find a way to win on the road in spite of any managerial failings. But that hasn’t been the case at all. Really disappointed.

  2. Not much changed since his announcement.. and it should not be a surprise for many who follow Arsenal closely this season.. Among many.. its the inability of AW in the past year to correct the frailties and importantly the repetitive errors that has caused his reign to stop! Even the customary strong finish that his teams do have come to a stop! Let the Merci Arsene’s continue while we quietly hope for things to change for good!

  3. Do Arsenal concede from set piece situations more than most other clubs? I’d be genuinely curious to know that.

    One thing NOT very Wengerish about the Leicester game is that we lost. Usually, Wenger’s teams win games when there’s nothing at stake!

    I feel really bad for Mavropanos, and I hope that red card doesn’t shatter his confidence or set in motion some kind of Senderos trajectory. I envision a future in which defenders stay the same or get better at Arsenal instead of worse; and it doesn’t have to be skill, necessarily, but system, because all defenders make mistakes, but not all defenders make mistakes in a system that punishes you quite so severely as it does at Arsenal.

    Anyway, this crazy record of not winning an away game in 2018 is sure to end at Huddersfield, who now have nothing to play for. Right? RIGHT?

    Does anybody have a theory as to the source of this record? Why can’t we win away? Is it really because of Sanchez??? (I assume you’re aware of that stat about him in away games that did the rounds a couple of weeks ago.)

    1. In addition to losing Sanchez, I think two other factors that have contributed to our freakishly bad 2018 away form are (a) the switch in focus from PL to Europa games, and (b) the switch away from the back 3 in late 2017. Personally I’m happy to have seen it go, but arguably the back four accentuates the weaknesses of our approach away from home, both in terms of leaving us more exposed on the counter, and even less able to build out of the back when we get pressed (which happens much more often away from home, where even weak teams aren’t afraid of doing it against us).

  4. Speaking of binging and bad habits, the habit of losing away from home is something the new manager will have to break.

    There is no tactical explanation or any empirical observation that makes any sense to sort out this season long loss of away form.

    Once in a groove or in a funk, Wenger’s sides are consistent, often to a fault.

    Gutted about Koscienly. That man has been such a beast for us. And although I knew the writing was on the wall for Cazorla months ago, I’m sad not to see him even make a cameo appearance for us one last time. Sigh…

  5. By the way, I’d be intrigued by Buvac, ok with Allegri (less so Enrique), but I’m really coming around to Nagelsmann. Anyone else?

    1. Young, visionary, and can make a team play greater than the sum of its parts. Arsene, in the past couple of years, actually did the opposite.

      The young, non-celebrity coaches like Nagelsmann appeal more. I like Jack’s choice, actually. Tedesco. A tactical and innovative match for the Pocchetinos and Klopps of this world.

      Allegri isn’t coming. Why would he leave the old lady of Turin (a club with greater pedigree than Arsenal), which is playing in the CL next year. Apart that is, from outrageous pay, a competitive league, and a tasty project? 🙂

    2. Some of the names get thrown around a bit too easily. It’s really asking a lot from not very experienced guys to take over and manage very big organizations. Hoffenheim is a small club from a village basically. Besides actually coaching the position at Arsenal entails responsibilities that someone like Nagelsmann hasn’t shown he can master. Same goes for Tedesco. On top of that you’re asking them to do it in a different tongue in a different league, that is quite a big leap.

      1. Whoever we appoint they will not be asked or expected to manage all aspects of the club in the way that Wenger does. The appointment of the three wise men, working under Gazidis, will carry out the scouting and procurement of players, as well has contract negotiations and the academy will be run by Mertesacker.

        The new man will effectively be the head coach of the first team squad.

        1. Of course he won’t be an old style Premier League manager, but that doesn’t mean he’s without responsibility. To develop the coaching setup and game preparation will be the head coaches responsibility and he will still be the face of the club on the management side. And that is a not so small task, and it is asking a lot of two coaches that were youth coaches each before their actual jobs right now. Especially when the profile of players is so different from what they’re dealing with at the moment.
          So it’s not like the club is looking for someone to put down the cones on the training pitch and just leave the rest be. He still has to develop the squad and that’s is still quite a lot of responsibility. That also doesn’t mean the coach will not take any part in the transfer side of things, that’s not how the Sporting Director works at all. Well, at least not if done well.
          Someone like Klopp doesn’t negotiate anything, but he still has to come up with profiles of players needed and pass his judgement on recruiting if the potential recruits will fit. There still need to be department heads coordinating and working together from an organizational standpoint . Players won’t be left at the front door without comment. At Dortmund e.g. there needed to be an unanimous decision taken by the CEO, the Sporting Director and the coach before they signed anyone.

      2. Yes, that’s why they’re filed under “bold” and “a risk.” But I’d much prefer that than the paint be numbers approach of bringing in Enrique just because he happens to be the most high profile guy out of a job and our sporting director used to be his boss. Tedesco seems like the bigger risk because he could be a one season wonder. Nagelsmann less so. And type of football matters to me a lot, which is why I’m less keen on Allegri or Simeone than I otherwise would be.
        Josh Kroenke apparently wants to go with a really young coach with fresh ideas, and this might be the only time in my life that I agree with JKronk.

        1. I know Gazidis used “bold” in his speech, but I’m not getting too hung up on his words. Arsenal ist still a very conservative club and he’s very adept at talking without saying much. I see that more as expectation management than anything of substance.

          1. Sure. But I didn’t bring up the word because Gazidis used it. I brought it up because I want to see us be bold, even a little risky, if it means we get someone genuinely exciting who could become one of the best coaches in the world in the next few years. I think our squad, though it definitely has its flaws, has a ton of unrealized potential, and I’d love to see what someone like Nagelsmann could do with it, even if it’s a risk that could blow up in our faces.

            Then again, pretty much any appointment could blow up in our faces, given the highly competitive nature of modern football, and the rare situation we find ourselves in of having to replace a living legend who’s been in the job for over 2 decades…

          2. Ah, I see. I’m not disagreeing in principle, but I think some of the people look more glamorous from afar i.e. Tedesco. Germany and the Bundesliga are a bit idiosyncratic and I don’t think the coaching skills are easily transferable.

          3. Any ‘manager’ that we appoint is going to need to have 3 things.
            1) Tactically astute – But this of course comes with the condition that it is a) generally an attack minded approach, and b) suited to most of our current squad.

            2) He has the gravitas/charm to win over the players to his training methods and tactics, and the strength of character to both adjust, and hit back, when challenged. (The existing coaches being kept around will help with this. Unlike ManU who got rid of the entire staff after Ferguson retired)

            3) He will have to front up against the world’s media and deal with increased interest/interference and pressures.

            I think both 2 and 3 can follow with a successful managerial track record, or failing that, a successful playing career. You are right that it is more difficult to assess this with the younger German managers and even Buvac. It doesn’t rule them out and it would be a bold move to try with them. But I see more upside than down, and even if it goes wrong, they likely wouldn’t cause too much disruption at the club.

            With Arteta, he PROBABLY will be able to deal with 2 and 3, but we cannot assess the 1..His tactical and training capabilities (He is highly thought of and spoken of though)

            Vieira. He’s at least got some managerial experience (and has had offers from Newcastle and St Ettiene in the past) and of course he’ll have the gravitas, especially at the club. Just like with Arteta, I’m not sure about his tactics.

            So, do we give more attention to 1? Then we hire the German coaches (or Buvac who’s sort of a halfway candidate because he has a lot of indirect top level experience) Or do we give more attention to 2 and 3? Both Vieira and Arteta would also have another advantage from the club’s POV that they would be viewed favourably by the fans. Especially Vieira, and for that reason I think it might be him (Not sure how I feel about that though)

            Of course we could go for someone like Allegri or Enrique who should combine 1, 2 and 3. But I doubt it.

    3. Man Utd has shown us a lot the last few years.

      Moyes was a (and I still think is) a good coach, not great, but he didn’t have the gravitas to coral Rooney, van Persie and other senior players. So, for me, this rules out Benitez and Rodgers.

      Then they went the established manager route with van Gaal and Mourinho… and spent a gazillion pounds to rebuild the teams with poor return on investment. This, I’m pretty sure, is what would happen with Ancelotti, Enrique or Allegri. We’re not a club that can follow that model.

      So, that leaves the younger coaches (Nagelsmann, Tedesco, Fonseca, Vieira, Arteta) and perhaps Ragnick, Buvac and Jardim who are not-so-young, but still young enough to be part of a longer-term (5 year+) project to rebuild.

      Buvac is intriguing, but it would be frankly remarkable if a 17-year assistant has tools to be the top guy. Generally a more ambitious person would assist/apprentice for a few years but then go on his own, not follow a head coach/buddy around for almost two decades.

      Jardim would struggle with the London media and I get the sense would butt heads with Mislintat and Sanhelli. He has zero history with any of our new Wise Men and knows no English.

      I don’t know anything about Fonseca other than he’s spoken well of.

      Vieira – maybe. Certainly would be a very popular choice. I haven’t read any glowing appraisals though of his tactical approaches in the MLS. Seems more a traditional man-manager in the vein of Zidane.

      Arteta – I don’t see it yet. Too recently a player for us, still learning from Pep. For his own good should stay at City.

      Nagelsmann – is he just waiting for the Bayern job?

      Tedesco – is he just waiting for the Juventus job?

      Fonseca – is he just waiting for the Chelsea or United job?

      I have no idea what’s going to happen. I’m excited by that. But I would prefer a “lap-top” younger coach who can work with a younger group of players because I think that’s where we’re headed recruitment-wise. Mislintat is going to try and rebuild us youth and Ozil/Auba/Laca/Mhyki are all just to help us hold position until the next generation come in.

      1. Yeah, this is well-said and seems mostly right, though I’m more positive on Buvac, Jardim, and Arteta than you are (and perhaps Allegri as my “backup” choice, though of course it seems strange to think of such a successful manager as a backup).

      2. Two mistakes that ManU made that we won’t (I think)

        1. Get rid of the entire backroom staff. We’ll keep some continuity going in terms of player relations in the dressing room.

        2. Let the managerial appointees run recruitment without an overall strategy. Mislintat is the GM now and the shape the side takes will be down to him. A manager may be able to demand specific targets as long as they fit within this strategy (and budgets) but you won’t have the wholesale squad changes/redundancies you had at ManU, or the changes in playing style. (The style is also our brand, unlike ManU for whom winning is the brand)

        It also helps that we’re not left with an aged side on the brink of a cliff.

        1. With the following exceptions, Koscielny, Cech and Ospina (30 in August).

  6. I have to say that I’m looking forward to Sunday and the last game of a wretched season. The only truly bright spot, for me, was Wenger’s announcement that he was departing for good.

  7. The game was a good metaphor for the season … and the abysmal treatment Arsenal gets from refs.

    God, I hope that changes under a new manager. Don’t think the refs hate AW, but he’s been around too long, earned shit tons of money, and it grates. Also, the team’s image is just too cosmopolitan under AW to get the breaks. Fucking refs, they’re all Brexit and 45. Next year, my friends.

  8. Well said, it wasn’t just Fergie that left, David Gill also retired and Woodward has been in place ever since, selling the place out to Mendes and Raiola.

  9. Ospina in goal, Macey on the bench, Cech nowhere! Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Iwobi, Xhaka, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, Aubemayang.

    1. No welbeck? I still can’t forgive him for his stupid run against atletico. No idea what he was doing really, never in control of that dribble , and totally pointless taking on a wall of defenders like that

  10. Yes, it’s a reflex reaction but then I think about the systemic failures, blame shifting and personal hubris, all of which have been detrimental to this club’s success and I can’t wait for this to be over.

    Think about it, if the pattern continues today and Arsenal lose , Wenger will have finished 40 points out of first , and 15 points out of CL places.
    And if that were to happen maybe Wenger would care to revise his opinion whether Pep and City have set new standards in the EPL.
    “No “ was his answer he gave just before the two crushing defeats to City in one week in the league cup and PL.
    Talk about giving an extra motivation to your opponent they did not need.

    “Arsenal should be able to challenge for the title next season “ according to Wenger. If they can solve the riddle of their poor away form is another one of his ego motivated gems. Suggesting, I suppose, that he’s leaving the club in great shape.

    But hey, if Leicester could better their points tally by 40 points from season before to win the title in 2016, then maybe Arsenal can too.
    What were the odds of that , 5000 to 1?
    Sounds about right.

    I wish Arsene to be extremely successful at his next venture, whatever that might be, and I admit it will be weird not to see him on the Arsenal bench, but can’t wait for the new Arsenal chapter to begin.

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