Take the L

For years I played a game called Fallout. In case you’ve been stuck in a vault for the last decade I’ll just describe the game as a solo adventure through a post-apocalyptic alternate future where you try to survive against super-mutants, neo-Nazis, mad scientists, mutated creatures, radiation, feral ghouls (as opposed to the domesticated ghouls, who are often your friend), robots gone mad, synths, and even other opportunistic humans crawling the wasteland looking to live off the scraps of society. 

The one thing I love about the game is that it captures the madness of the nuclear age, when kids were drilled to hide under their desks in case of nuclear attack, and blends it with the madness of our age, where humans have built killer drones and we are genetically modifying the species.

The folks who built Fallout recently released an MMO called Fallout 76. In this version of Fallout, you have all of the familiar tropes of the previous versions with the addition of the internet, the actual internet from our real world. That means that kids can run up to you, call you a name, and nuke you. That means that the makers of Fallout can accidentally send all of your account information – including your full credit card information – to some guy in Australia. That means that the game is full of bugs and flaws. And thanks to the “innovation” of totally unfettered free-market capitalism, that also means that you can spend all of your waking hours “grinding” to make fake money, to buy fake products, to make more fake money, and make your fake character even more fake tough. 

Bethesda Gaming Studio has done it again, folks: they have managed to capture the madness of the future and the present and deliver it to our gaming consoles. And they have given it a cool skin that you can conveniently purchase for $40. Plus in-game purchases. In short, it’s a hyper-realistic portrait of modernity. 

I don’t know why I decided to go off on this tangent. I think it had something to do with the image of the 8 year old kid “pwning” us in an online environment. That sometimes you just have to let yourself be killed, lose a round, and move on. That must have been it. 

Arsenal lost this weekend and while it was frustrating, it does feel like we should just take the L. My frustration stems from the familiar themes, the tropes of Arsenal’s past. Like the “switching off”, and the “injury/card crisis” predicating the rotation of several players in defense and midfield, and lack of effort on defense, and losing to Southampton, and the fact that Arsenal sometimes can’t handle any pressure. 

Arsenal conceded three goals to the 2nd worst team in the League. Goal one featured Bellerin not closing down the wide man and poor marking from the center backs. Goal two featured not one but two Southampton players just allowed to walk in to Arsenal’s final third and play a cross in. Though at least Koscielny tried to challenge for the ball in the air and the goal was a bit flukey. And goal three had lazy play in midfield, no closing down, no marking between the two center backs, and an error by the keeper. The third goal really was the trifecta. 

Any time you concede three goals in a game from the exact same types of plays, you really should have a look at what’s going on defensively. But Emery’s post-match presser seemed a bit nonchalant about the whole thing. In fact, he praised Xhaka, Lich, and Koscielny. Which was absolutely maddening. 

Not maddening because I expect better from three players who are: 34 and so far beyond his sell-by date that he reminds me of an angry old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn whenever he plays, a player who is also too old and recovering from an Achilles injury, and a third players who has proven throughout his career to be utterly incapable of playing defense. Maddening because he actually praised them. Maybe on the day that you concede three identical goals from three identical failures, you probably shouldn’t say that those players had a good game. Because they absolutely didn’t. 

It also feels a bit like teams have figured out Emery’s passing moves and how to harass Arsenal into turning the ball over. Once again the Arsenal midfield was targeted for fouls (Guendouzi was fouled at least 5 times) and Guendouzi and Torriera struggled to get the ball forward. Emery praised the team for controlling the match but like the three center backs, I disagree with him here.

Southampton controlled the match both offensively and defensively. They were the ones who were able to win the ball back off Arsenal with very little pressure and Arsenal struggled to impose themselves on this game, generating a mere 1 xG, almost all of which came from the two moments where Arsenal finally applied a little pressure.

Southampton were 2nd from the bottom of the table in every metric going in to this match. Southampton scored a quarter of their total goals haul from this season in this match. Arsenal have now conceded 23 goals in 17 matches this season and are well on our way to another 50+ goals allowed defense – and well deserved too because we are still an awful defensive team.

Conceding three goals in a match shouldn’t be just a “ho-hum” moment. It certainly shouldn’t be a moment for praise, even if the players were makeshift. And while we had gone “22 undefeated” that run felt more like something ephemeral than Arsenal really bossing games. This was a shocking loss. So, why do I feel like we should just “take the L”?

I have to admit that I’m thoroughly confused by this loss. If this had been last season, I would be livid and part of me is frustrated but there’s also a huge part that is just “meh.” 

My frustration comes from my expectation that Emery would make the team better defensively and the facts are that he clearly has not. Not even remotely. All of the same problems are here. The “meh” part stems from the fact that I “trust the process” and want to give him time. So, I guess the only option I have is to Take the L. 


P.S. I noticed this match followed some trends from this season: 

  • Slow start – Arsenal looked sluggish until the 2nd half
  • Opposition tactical fouling
  • Defensive errors
  • Lazy Ozil
  • Half-time changes
  • Lacazette not starting up front
  • Arsenal overperforming xG (got a lucky goal)
  • Arsenal scoring from outside the box
  • What else?


  1. I’m with you, I could only muster so much anger about this loss. At the end of the day scoring two goals should be enough for at least a point and on most days, it is. I’m not even sure the Arsenal defense had a “bad day at the office” type of outing. Understat gives Southampton a combined 1.1 xG. I don’t have this charted out but I bet if someone were to plot the xG we were conceding in the beginning of the season compared to now, there would be a downward trend. Even in a game where we conceded three goals, it wasn’t as if the opposition created all these great chances. Of course there is the mitigating factors involved as well that you listed, but if I’m Emery I’m not going to publicly criticize my defenders for keeping the opposition to 1.1 xG away from home when our back line was about as makeshift as the republican budget plan for a border wall.

    Don’t get me wrong, the marking in the box from those crosses was ugly. I felt bad for Koscielny who would’ve undoubtedly gotten something on those if he was remotely “match fit.” I felt doubly bad because he couldn’t count on his partners to cover him in a way he would normally be able to in a back three because one of his partners was a fullback and the other a midfielder. But do we really need an inquest about that given who was playing in those positions? I don’t think we’ll see that back three ever again, just like we haven’t seen Auba + Ozil since Wolves or Kolasinac at LB of a 4-4-2.

    A much bigger concern as you mentioned is the troubling impotence of the attack. The pressing wasn’t intense enough to force turnovers and the passing wasn’t crisp enough to create openings. Teams are learning how to counter Emery’s 3-4-3 system and I think he will have to tweak some things for next week. The anti-Emery recipe seems to be aggressive pressing in their own half, attempting to isolate one of the midfielders in possession and then trying to harry him out of it, thus triggering a quick transition opportunity, lots of tactical fouling to prevent Arsenal’s own transitions, and the usual time wasting. We’ve seen it all before. Arsenal are lacking some subtlety and creativity in those areas and the duo of Iwobi and Mkhi just don’t carry enough of a goal threat. It doesn’t help that Aubameyang has been missing chances as well. I would like to see Lacazette and Ozil start our next game and a switch to a back 4 to give us another body to link play in midfield.

    1. Thanks Robert, this is perfect!

      It looks like since the start of the season, xGA (goals allowed) has indeed trended down starting at match day #7 which was… Watford. Since that match, the xGA has been in decline, arguing that there has been an improvement in our defensive performances over the subsequent 8 matches, matches that included outings against Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham.

      By contrast, offensive output has been almost weirdly stable all season.

      1. The trend lines swapped on matchday 5, Newcastle.

        However, Arsenal have also had three of the four worst xGa displays of the season in that period after Newcastle: Watford, Palace and Wolves. The season would be have a different #narrative if those three teams had taken their expected points.

        And Arsenal have just three actual clean sheets and just got smashed 3-2 to the 2nd worst team in the league. I don’t know if we can say that Arsenal are improving defensively quite yet.

        1. I think it was a lot to ask to see immediate defensive improvement since the first whistle of the first game this season, so for me to see a downward trend in xG allowed (a linear downward trend at that!) is gratifying, even if it took the first 5-7 or whatever it was games to start getting there.

          I don’t put a lot of stock in the 3 goals we conceded because we had no first choice CB’s out there and because we actually only conceded 1.19 xG of chances. This wasn’t the West Ham or Watford game where the GK was saving big chance after big chance despite having our first choice back line out there. Also let’s remember, as one arseblog podder put it, we have a collection of three star hotels at CB so even with a fully fit squad it’s not like Emery has that much talent to work with at the back. To me it seems like we won’t get a good idea of his team’s defensive acumen until about this point next season because at that point he will have had a chance to bring in defender(s) he likes and his ideas and system will have had a chance to fully percolate, inasmuch as that is possible in the modern game.

  2. After the NL derby, I was briefly teased into thinking we’d finish fourth this season, but our main competition for that spot, Spurs, just keep on winning and winning, never tiring somehow — they would never have lost 3-2 to Southampton — and so I’m back to the mean: we’re nailed on for 5th. With expectations reset (to what I think is realistic), a loss here and there, even to p*ss poor teams like Southampton, is not that big of a deal.

    Our next loss will be to Liverpool, who look frightening this season. Did anyone else watch them play United yesterday? United couldn’t get it out of their half!

    1. Yep, saw that game. Liverpool look outstanding in defense but not as good in front of goal as in the previous season. Letting them have the ball while starving them of transition opportunities seems to be a fruitful way of frustrating them, their small forwards can’t really get a hold of the ball in the final third, so it requires something extraordinary in skill or a major tactical/personnel shuffle for them to get in. Wait, am I still talking about Liverpool?? Yes because they’ve only conceded 9 goals and two of those were Hasselhoff Becker’s charitable contributions.

      I thought Fabinho was outstanding for them in both phases, he really caught my eye with his creativity and ability to win the ball back quickly. They have an embarrassment of riches at fullback too, I think Clyne would start for Arsenal at LB but Alexander-Arnold is better.

  3. Wonder why Elneny wasn’t considered for one of the center back positions ? He’s played there before and from what I remember, was OK if not outstanding, and that would have allowed Xhaka to play in midfield, where he was missed. I know Elneny played on Thursday but two games in 3 days wouldn’t have killed him considering how little he’s played.
    For what its worth, I thought we’d lose this game – feels to me like we’ve been getting away with it a bit for a while (NLD outstanding) and performances (or lack thereof) are beginning to catch up with us. Will not surprise me if we also lose to Sp*rs on Wednesday.

    1. Agree with you on performances not being great over the unbeaten run (oddly similar to United’s in Mourinho’s first season where, try as they may, they couldn’t get out of 6th place); on Elneny, I beg to differ simply because I think he’s not great or even good in the air, and that’s where we got defeated (i.e. in terms of the actual goals scored) yesterday.

  4. I have to correct you here – the people who made Fallout 76 are not the people who made the original Fallout. The original Fallout was made by people who are now at Obsidian. Bethesda bought the IP from Interplay which was the original employer of the people now at Obsidian.

    Obsidian is working on a new sci-fi RPG that people say have similarities to Fallout. It reminds me of a more freeform version of Mass Effect personally, though.

    1. To be more precise:
      Fallout 1 & 2 – Black Isle Studio owned by Interplay
      Fallout 3, 4 & 76 – Bethesda Game Studios
      Fallout New Vegas – Obsidian, ex Black Isle devs

  5. I am afraid our next draw or loss will be before the game against Liverpool.
    I hope Tim has the time to check out Emery’s past achievements at Sevilla…etc.
    I have read a while ago ( sorry, cannot remember where) that Emery is very good
    at improving the offense of a team, but not the defence. Like Wenger, defence is his Achilles Heel. He relies on pressing in midfield to lessen pressure at the back. When it is not working, his team fails. I fear Arsenal has reached its zenith in the past 22 games and starts its downhill ride from here. If the club does not buy new players (Cahill from Chelsea???? ) to plug the gap, the team will continue to bleed.

  6. There was a catalogue of bad — which I’ll get to — but IMO, the game swung on 2 key moments of two familiar failings.

    Iwobi, at 2-2, got a backheeled pass from a crowded-out Auba from which he should have scored… but, typically, he showed a lack of composure and technique in blasting it over the bar. That falls to Auba, Laca or Ramsey, we score, and it’s a different game. Has was marvelous for us at the start of season, but he’s been playing poorly for a solid month now. I’d rather see Saka given a chance against Spurs on Wednesday. It’s not all bad with Iwobi. It was his surge and pass to Monreal that led to the cutback for Miki’s headed goal, and his pre-assist understanding with the overlapping LFB has been key to Arsenal’s attack. And yet, his awful shooting frustrates.

    This is the club of Ljungberg, Pires and Overmars. Goalscoring wide forwards are a staple. If Iwobi doesn’t raise that part of his game, he’ll never become the player we want and need, no matter how much the other parts of his game advance. He (and Guendouzi) was also culpable for letting the Southampton player amble into our third and deliver a cross for the second goal. Like he had his own private traffic warden waving him through. Iwobi, Denilson style, casually ambled just behind him; Guendouzi opened the door, took his coat, and bowed.

    The second key incident wasn’t just Ozil losing the ball to careless flick and go in a crowded midfield… but him standing within a yard of the player and doing nothing to win it back. The danger hadnt developed yet. The Saints player was taking several seconds trying to figure out his next move. No one challenged him, so he ran with the ball, before releasing it to the wide player who crossed for the Austin header. Ozil by that point remembered that he had to be seen to be doing some defending, so he bolted after the horse long after it had left the stable. That flick comes off, we score goal of the month. It’s when it doesnt…. The incident encapsulated him perfectly, and illustrates why Emery froze him out recently (the back injury story is balls) and why he’ll be gone in the summer.

    Southampton (a) wanted it more (b) executed their tactics perfectly. They pressed us non-stop, and gave the full-backs no room to run into. We lost Bellerin for the slow and ineffective Lichtsteiner, and once Nacho took a painful clatter in their box, he decided to stay back and pass it back or sideways. Both payed into their hands. Their physicality was barely on the legal side.

    Three crosses, 3 headed goals is ugly defending in any language. Kosc got found out in embarrassing fashion, but Hector faild to close down the first cross, Iwobi and Guen the 2nd, and Xhaka the 3rd.

    The next side that plays Southampton is going to take points off them, because that effort against us was something else.

    Leno? He knew that his skipped was beaten the moment that cross came in, gambled, and just failed to get there. I don’t blame him. Mhki did his cause the world of good.

  7. Not too surprised by the outcome. We’ve been living on the edge for some time, again with the exception of the Spurs game.
    All three of those crosses were pretty much perfect, and even then, if we had first choice central defenders, I’d bet at least one doesn’t get through. And I’d generally bet on Auba to convert one of those chances.
    But we’ve got a big problem in defense right now. Monreal has been great, but is getting older. Kos is older and just coming back from a major injury. I still can’t believe we sent Chambers out on loan. He’s not fantastic, but still would have been a very useful option to have had yesterday.
    Beyond that, I’m starting to get pretty puzzled by the lineup selections. It seems to be part of the cause of the poor first half issue. And it results in regularly having to make changes at half, which then means less flexibility later in the game. Especially if we also have injury issues.

  8. We have been – to trot out an old, tired phrase (because I am also old and tired) – punching above above our weight this season and so we will inevitably lose rounds as the bout continues through the winter and into spring.

    We’ve concluded a remarkable run in the first the season of our first new manager in 22 years. Stop and think about that for a minute. Not quite time for Rocky to yell “ADRIANNNN!!!”

    I think top 4 is still a real possibility if we can Emery’s first Arsenal-style injury crisis.

    1. Agreed, top 4 is possible but was always a little bit of a long shot. If Chelsea and Tottenham stay healthy (particularly Hazard and Eriksen) I think it’s unlikely. Still, it’s not at all crazy to keep up hope, and we have a chance with the EL title as well.

  9. Only 3 teams are definitely better than Arsenal… City, Liverpool and Chelsea and we should have beaten the last two. That’s 4 points dropped. Add United that’s 6 Saints deserved to win and palace to draw, so Im not counting those as points dropped. Top 4 is very gettable, IMO

    What Spurs do is rarely lose to, or even draw with, teams outside the Top 6.

    Tightening up defensively would help us a great deal

  10. “My frustration comes from my expectation that Emery would make the team better defensively and the facts are that he clearly has not.”


  11. It’s just the first loss in 4 months and might I say we would definitely have lost that very same game under Wenger. As a matter of fact we did, away to Southampton, very regularly.

    I think I’ve seen enough thus far to say that Emery is a self-aware manager, he recognizes a need to adapt and while maybe historically he’s never had great defenses I would not rule out him setting his mind to building one here at Arsenal.

    That said, we may sell Ozil (whose substitution was pointless), Ramsey and Elneny this January, but I wouldn’t bank on money from any of those being used for defensive reinforcements.

  12. Objectivity injection: mate statistically always on the money but.we lost because we were decimated defensively by injuries after two attritional games (Hudders and ManU) and suspensions..I defy any premier league team to have that many defenders out and play to their level. I am full of praise for Xhaka (that I love), Licht and Kos. Two were playing out of position but did it for the team and Kos was coming back from a long layoff. All teams lose games.

    1. Its not the 1st time a prem team’s defence has been decimated to the point the manager had had to field a makeshift defence. United had to play Matic and Mctominay in defence recently. I remember City having to play Yaya in defence once.

      Losing the game isn’t the issue but the amateurish manner it happened is

    2. Thank you for the objectivity. I agree with your points. One loss after 22 games undefeated and the doom merchants are out in force. Give the guy a chance. He needs to build this team and offload the non performers. I never expected top 4 this season

  13. Southampton hadn’t scored a single headed goal going into this game but manage to score 3 against us.

    I’m so tired of seeing teams/players break their ducks against us with ease. I’ve lost count how many times a player or team that hasn’t scored, kept a c/s or won in X number of games etc manages to end that streak agains us

  14. I don’t have a problem with Emery praising the back line after this $hit show of a performance they put on.
    I mean what’s the point in criticizing three players, two of which have never played the position before, and the third one starting for the first time in six months.
    My disappoinment with Koscielny had to do with his positioning for the first and third goal. Granted he has been out for six months but these are such basic CB position skills, you shouldn’t forget them at this level no matter how long you were out from football.

    If your not man marking on the play which he wasn’t , your default position should always be just about the insight of the post on your CB side.
    He starts out exactly where he needs to be when the ball is sent out wide .
    He correctly checks what’s behind him as he makes his way back but starts drifting wide for no apparent reason perhaps thinking the Southampton man might get past Bellerin.
    By the time the ball is delivered into the box he’s out of position by about two yards and Danny Ings is exactly where Koscielny should’ve been – just inside of the near post.

    ‘ Meh’ is exactly my reaction though.

  15. Thinking about the possibility that Emery won’t improve the defense makes me nervous. Maybe because it was the idea that his organization and attention to detail would tighten things up that made me so excited for his hiring. That long-standing issues unaddressed by Wenger that had tormented the fanbase would be corrected.

    What can he do to.prove things? Where the weakest points, defensively? Is it a question of personnel or of philosophy? Obviously better pressing would help, and not allowing free crosses, but if you want FB/WBs joining the attack, who covers the crossing player?

    Has Emery ever imroved a team defensively? What’s the best way to measure the concept of an improving a team defensively.

  16. Off topic:

    Tim as per your prediction a while ago and expectations from many recently, Mourinho has been sacked. It’s his 3rd season and he doesn’t complete the same.

    The Special one is now the ideal candidate to take over at Stoke. It’s a perfect fit.

    On the other hand it’s a worry that we may have more competition from United in the league now.

  17. 1) Any day that sees football’s #1 villain manger sacked is a good day.
    2) Any day that sees Manchester United potentially improving and becoming more competitive is a bad day.

  18. Wow, get that moaninho is a punk etc, but they are in the quarters of CL futbol, and could still get a top 4 place.
    If the Arsenal do not buy some new shiny young defensive talent they will be doomed. I said a while back that we should have bought van Dijk, instead pool did and they made it to CL finals and are heading that way again. The Arsenal got Licht, Must, Sok and now absent Holding to show for it. (Note I really liked Holding-yet his injury is a terrible one with no guarantees he will make it back)
    The stats back this up with the worse Arsenal D in the last 25 years.

  19. Arsenal did scout VVD a few years back but deemed him to be too” nonchalant “
    according to some reports.
    Back when his price tag would’ve been around half what Loverpool paid for him.

  20. Im seeing gooners all over the place talking smack about Mourinho, who with United won the league cup, got to the FA Cup final and finished 2nd last season to one of the best teams to have kicked a ball in the EPL.

    To my fellow Arsenal fans…just sit down and be quiet, please.

    Just a few weeks ago we failed to beat the worst United team any of us can remember, out playing them but gifting them 2 goals. Iwobi for the FK and Kolasinac fora routine defensive clearance had 2 of the worst individual pieces of defending youd see. That says more about our shortcomings than theirs, and we’re not ina position to trash talk them. That for me was our most disappointing result of the season. We could have, should have made a statement to them and to ourselves, and we froze yet again against them.

    What Liverpool did to United was show how crap they are, and how a good football team should dispatch that sorry rabble.

    If they get a good manager, they can become Top 4 competitive again with that squad.

    So, let’s just please tidy our own house. With the exception of that FA Cup final, the bugger always found a way to frustrate us.

    1. And it’s because he’s such a bugger he needs to be trashed talked as ceaselessly as possible. I could be supporting a relegation bound team with a dumpster fire of a season (please. let it never happen to The Arsenal!) and I would still, always and forever trash talk 1) Mourinho, 2) Sp$%s, 3) Man U, Che$ski, Liverpool (in that order) and whoever else offends my football sensibilities regardless of my team’s quality. Because it’s fun!

      1. 😄I hear you.

        Im really frustrated that, crap as he made them play, a supposedly resurgent Arsenal couldn’t beat them at OT.

        And both goals from Martial and Lingard remind me that defensively, we still, oh so prone to sh1tting the bed. Whether it’s Arsene or Emery.

      2. Couldn’t agree more. It was a hugely satisfying day as the Special One bowed out with a goal difference of precisely zero after 17 games. The chastened tones of my ManU supporting mates just doubled the pleasure. A welcome relief from our defensive woes, for now at least.

    2. Yeah, Claude, I get what you’re saying from the point of view of our own lack of competitiveness, but this is all about Mourinho the person, not Manchester United. He’s a horrible, crass egomaniac, and deserves any stick that comes his way.

  21. Let’s not forget also Mourinho ceaselessly trashed talked a man who had more class in the stuck zipper of his puffy parka than Jose has in his person and entire wardrobe

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