Lower your expectations, GURRRL

I went on a few dates with a woman from Florida. Which is an odd thing to say but hey, that’s how this part of the story starts. Anyway, we met on Tinder when she was up here in Washington for a conference and we went out a few times and then she went back to Florida. She was a witty and delightful woman but she lives in Florida and I live here with my dog, cat, chickens and child so it wasn’t going to work out but we remained friends on Facebook.

Anyway, she used to post this picture on her timeline that she took of a guy somewhere in the dirty south who had a tattoo of some kind of cartoon monster flexing his biceps with the phrase “lower your expectations, GURRRL” under the picture in monster font. And I often spend way too much of my remaining brainpower thinking about this picture and getting a good laugh about it.

As you know, I try my best to manage my expectations around Arsenal and pretty much everything else in life. I am always trying to live up to that tattoo, maybe I should get my own version of it, since I think about it all the dang time.

These last few weeks with Arsenal, however, I haven’t been doing a great job of managing my expectations. I think the idea that we might finish top four was just too appealing and I just wanted it to be true more than I really thought it might. If that seems at odds with how I have been writing lately, it’s not. Remember, anger is often triggered by unmet expectations. And frustration is ALWAYS about unmet expectations.

So, yeah, I’m going back to “Arsenal are going to finish somewhere between 7th and 12th this season and that’s ok”.

I see a lot of people these days saying that a lot of our players are “shit” and that kind of bugs me. Thomas Partey is the soup d’jour, our very most recent scapegoat. All of Arsenal’s problems are because of Thomas Partey this week.

That bugs me. He’s not been great, he even rates himself as a 4/10, but he’s definitely not “shit”. Neither is Xhaka – even though I am personally not a fan. Nor are hardly any of the players we have on this team. Auba is declining, Lacazette looks a ghost of his former self, but they aren’t “shit”. They are still good players and it’s up to the coaching staff to find a way to get the best out of them. And the system we are currently playing with is definitely not doing that.

Of course, this could be now seen as me saying “the manager is shit”. I am personally not a fan of Mikel Arteta – because he almost always blames the players – but I don’t think he’s “shit.” What’s happening with him is that he’s learning on the job. I really do believe that mistakes and missteps are a great way to learn but the trick is that you have to admit you got it wrong and look for a different way of doing something.

For example, yesterday I was trying to print a lid for a box on the 3D printer at work. I’d tried three times and all of them turned into a right mess. Then I watched the first layer go down and realized.. oh crap, I had the lid upside down on the print bed and it was trying to print in empty space. Rookie error, and one I shouldn’t have done three times, but one that was a great learning moment for me and my employee.

But I had to admit I was wrong. Which for some people is hard, for me, it’s really not. I’m often wrong.

Nicolas Pepe was one of those instances where I was REALLY wrong. I thought the stats showed a guy who did all the things you want from a wide man: dribble, shoot, create. And I thought he was going to be an incredible set-piece player. I still think there’s a lot of that in him but Mikel Arteta doesn’t agree and he can’t get a look in at this team.

Where I was wrong about Pepe is that I didn’t watch him play enough. Stats alone aren’t good enough. You really need to watch players play. That’s why I watch Guendouzi and Saliba now. Because by watching them play, I can get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses relative to the stats. For example, I now know that Saliba is a bit of a shaky defender. I also know that Guendouzi is still a fabulous player and that I think we will regret selling him.

Sure, Guendo has an attitude. Maybe that makes him untenable for you, that’s fair. I would rather work with a guy like that, though, because he’s so talented – and teach him how to be a good human. I don’t think he’s irredeemable.

But Maybe Arteta doesn’t have the time for an experiment like that. Which is again, a legit argument. It’s his choice, and he has to suffer the consequences and benefits of that choice.

I also still think the Ben White thing is super weird. So many people assured me that buying a player like him would “well actually” increase our attack. I said that was nuts and completely backward and I’m just going to say it, I was “well actually” right. You don’t buy a CB to make the attack better until after you’ve bought the better attack. He’s not the first puzzle piece, he’s the last puzzle piece. And.. frankly.. he’s not a great defender. He’s like a 7/10 defender. Not horrific, Mustafi level, but certainly not the beastly defender we want and need. He reminds me a lot of John Stones. Great at passing and driving forward, not great at defending.

And this is where Arsenal the whole club have made a lot of mistakes lately. We seem to be in a rut of overpaying for players and buying guys we don’t really need. The whole keeper caper over the last two years has been a mess. I’m glad we have Ramsdale but we are going to be in the market for another keeper in the summer which is pushing the cost of selling Emi and keeping Bernd very high.

And where we really needed to spend that Ben White money this summer was in midfield or attack. I think we all agree that Laca and Auba are getting too old to cut it. I had hoped Saka and Øde would help fill in the gaps but they haven’t quite clicked this season. Saka’s 0.36 npxG+xA per90 is a bit of a drop in form from last season (0.41) and despite Smith Rowe scoring 5 this season his npxG+xA per90 is exactly the same as last season (0.3) and Øde has actually taken a dip.

So, buying Ben White to “make the attack better” didn’t work. He’s a wonderful passer of the ball for sure, but it’s always the case that he needs someone to pass the ball to. And Arsenal are really struggling with that. I think the same goes for Partey. He can’t really be this diamond in midfield, picking out sweeping forward passes if he doesn’t have anyone to pass to.

Which gets me back to the big problem at Arsenal. If you’re going to play Juego de Posicion you need to have off the ball movement in the wings. You need forwards making runs across the back line, drawing defenders out of position. What’s super odd about Arsenal is that we rarely do that. Our version of JdP seems to concentrate on the forwards playing with their back to goal. All of them do it. The game against Everton was incredibly frustrating for that very reason. We would pass the ball forward and invariably Øde or Saka would just pass it back. There were very few off the ball runs, and it seemed like even fewer attempts to take on a defender.

Arteta likes to say after every match that the players are just not executing his tactics but that strikes me as a bit of an odd thing to say. We know for a fact that this is how Arsenal have played for years under Arteta. When we got Willian, I wrote a big piece about how his dribbling stats had dried up. He went from a player at Chelsea who made 1.8 dribbles per game to a player at Arsenal who attempted 0.5 dribbles (or less!) per game. People said “well his legs have gone” and perhaps some of that is true but watching him play he would look like he wanted to take someone on but instead passed the ball back. And guess what? At Corinthians he’s back to 2.6 dribbles per game.

Maybe you’ll say that the Brazilian league is more conducive to dribbles and sure, that’s possible. But I find that bit of evidence compelling that he’s gone back to dribbling. It matches my eye test for what I see with Arsenal week in and week out.

Arsenal have players who can dribble – Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Martinelli – but we are 13th in dribbles this season, 14th last season. I’ve said this many times before but I guess I’ll say it again – Arteta doesn’t seem to want his players getting involved in duels. That means fewer tackles, fewer takeons. And I think there’s a logic to it: he wants us to keep possession in attack and not get out of shape in defense.

And maybe he doesn’t have the personnel for it? Maybe this does all simply come down to recruitment. Which then gets me back to spending so much money on Ben White. I don’t hate Ben White, he’s a good player, but he really wasn’t what we needed. We need attacking players, we need flair players, we need a goal-scorer. But we also need the coach to open up a little bit, be a little less conservative. Because look, we aren’t getting into the top four this season and there’s no way we get relegated. Now is literally the time to experiment and try something different. Now is the time to flip the 3D print on its head and start over.

But I don’t expect that from Arteta. I am fully lowered in my expectations. He will keep doing what he does, we will keep plodding along with this brand of football, and maybe we will get into top 6? I’d really like it if we could celebrate St. Totteringham’s day again but man, I’m not expecting it.



  1. I’m not a fan of Partey giving an interview where he rates himself a 4/10. It helps no one and nothing to do it, except maybe the manager who keeps blaming his players. My first thought was ‘Why?’ My second, ‘with that he’s cemented his place in the side’. And hey maybe that’s uncharitable and it’s not like he’s unlikely to start anyway.

    On that note, I think Arteta’s squad rotations are terrible, to the point that people begin to doubt it’s to do with football. He’ll also flip flop on his squad decisions so often and we have this confusing, if not confused, recruitment. The only justifiable reason to prioritise Ben White in this window is if you believe he will be the difference maker in the side, and is unlikely to be available later. By which I mean you are ready to delay your growth for him. If we had the draft I’d say we’re waiting for the right attacking player. But really, they’re just scrambling ever since the expected Super League windfall and gain in prestige didn’t materialise.

    And I’d be ok with it all, if I did think Arteta was learning. the 8th place finishes, the mistakes, the dull football. Well, all of that, but not the way we went about destroying Wenger’s legacy and our values, all in the name of a culture change. This is a continuation of Raul’s work. The erratic transfers, overpaying, undermining and undercutting existing players. I set my stall out early against Sanllehi, but had more hopes for Mikel. You’re right, it is about expectations. He’s failing to live up to all of them though and I don’t think it’s going to change for the better. Not enough.

    I reckon 55 points or so. Maybe less if we collapse during AFCON, though when on the brink I think he’ll give the players more freedom and we’ll look better.

    1. Shard
      Non negotiables is a big thing for Arteta . The macho has to crush his opponent. Given his Saliba vendetta to ensure it does not make him defeated under any circumstances Ben White was necessary. He even gave him Saliba’s No 4 to him to finish all arguments.
      Dom Quixote might have ground some fine flour if he didn’t engage with jostling with windmills, just a thought.

  2. Completely get the frustration thing. But hey football support’s about ups and downs. I’m surprised a grizzled hack (joke) like yourself got drawn into top 4 expectations.

    If I paraphrase you correctly (?) two years in you don’t see improvement to date or ahead. I think many fans would concur.

    Where my take differ, anything below 6th place is not acceptable. We can’t continue indefinitely playing drab football, over-spending on the wrong players and shipping out good players. It’s self sabotage.

    Like you I don’t care for Arteta but I don’t blame him for everything. But fuck me, just about every EPL manager and probably a few in the Championship could get a better tune out of this squad. He has a massive squad, five £50M players and two of the best prospects the academy has produced in years. Add to that no European distractions and very few injuries. As a coach what more could you as for?

    It’s up to us as fans to demand minimum standards or we’ll continue to be served up mediocrity. As a club we’re ceasing to be relevant.

    1. ” We can’t continue indefinitely playing drab football, over-spending on the wrong players and shipping out good players. It’s self sabotage.”

      I see you’ve never met Enos Stanley Kroenke.

      1. Chuckle. Enos bought Arsenal solely because of it’s real estate worth. It’s growth will outperform any comparable investment long term. He gives zero fucks for the club, just the asset.

        Josh is Kendall Roy. ‘Nuff said.

        Two rookies in the football leadership roles. And an ever changing roster of execs (SMH).

        Conte, Potter, Rangnick, Ten Haag… there’s some saucy names we could have enticed.

        If the current away results are delivered at home games the crowds will turn soon.

  3. “As a club we’re ceasing to be relevant.”
    – MATTB, above.

    I believe we stopped being relevant some time ago. If relevant means still having a huge (though no doubt, shrinking) worldwide fanbase, then yes, we are still relevant and will be for a few years yet. Such was the enormous achievement and impact of the Invincible era.

    But it’s 20 years since those heady days and each year the memories fade and grow a little hazier, especially among the younger fans who always have an eye on the next shiny new thing, or get bored and frustrated with losing.

    We lost relevance as a competitive football club (on the men’s side) a couple of years after we lost Champions League status. Premier League clubs from to top-to-bottom rightly have it in their heads that we’re good for three points to them if they play us the right way. And for good reason.

    We are just not playing any type of consistent, coherent football. On the women’s side, Joe Montemura set up and created a side with attacking intent and verve with some of the world’s best players, and Jonas Eidaval (this weekend’s F.A. Cup final loss notwithstanding) has continued to play winning football. I find the women’s team far more interesting right now, not just because their are top of the league, but it’s really fun to watch them. I’d rather watch Viv Miedema, Beth Mead or Tobin Heath. They get it. They know, more or less what they’re doing at any given moment on the pitch.

    No Arteta side to date as been able to do that with any consistency. Arsenal Senior Men are irrelevant and so unfortunately is Mikel Arteta.

    1. 1NiltoArsenal
      Been watching Arsenal women. Their neat passing. Miedema effortless finishing is peak Van Persia. Was quite disappointed with FA cup final where we, will not say we were overwhelmed , but surrendered to Chelsea. In my mind was wondering if Arteta had given them a pep talk before the game. It appeared so out of character of the Arsenal women I had watched before.

  4. Tim, and Shard, agree with you about lowering expectations, but I see things slightly differently.

    Mikel’s been given the tools (money to spend) and the circumstances (no European football, unlike most of his top table rivals) to finish in the top 4. If we don’t, he will have failed at his job. It’s as simple as that. Equally simply, if he doesnt deliver top 4, he should be removed. That’ll sound harsh to those who support him, but it really isnt. Top 4 should be the price for failing to qualify for Europe in any form. Arsenal traditionally struggle over midwinter and late winter with the twin demands of Europe and fixture congestion. Challenging for top 4 is a tradeoff. Mikel cant have it both ways.

    To the extent that we don’t look like a Top 4 side, it’s on the purchasing decisions that he and Edu have made, and on the coaching/playing decisions that he has made.

    What sort of club do we want to be, Josh and Stan? A club where we give a work experience greenhorn much control in an ongoing experiment, or a club serious about taking us back to the summit? David Moyes is doing more with far less.

    All that said, I’m not writing off Top 4 as yet. We are not yet halfway through the season. Many were doom laden after 3 games, and optimistic after 10. Let’s see how we navigate the winter, relative to the sides above us who have European football.

    You mention Guendouzi. At the moment, he’s the best midfielder on Arsenal’s books. At the moment, I said, ok? I think we can agree that he’s a much better player than one who runs around a lot and has nice hair. The bigger story here was captured brilliantly by Arseblog, in his piece on Pepe today. Read it. There are an awful lot of players that Mikel totally blanks. Pepe hasnt been having a great time of it, but is he really as bad as zero minutes in 5 games now that we’re playing 2 games a week? We’re flogging Saka to death. We’ll break him at the rate we’re going. Emile looked shattered against United, and he’s injured for the Everton game.

    Let’s see what the rest of December holds.

    1. Kind of a level playing field fixtures wise until Feb (when Euro comps resume). I’m with you brother, this is the best we have ‘til season end. Maybe we’ll have a stupendous final run-in, but I wouldn’t bet on it 😉

    2. You’re more optimistic today than I, Claude. I’m starting to see Mikel as a guy who’s too stubborn to change his ways until things are at crisis point, and then he makes wild stabs in the dark to change things. Monday reeked of a panicked response to bad performances. Bring in the experienced guys to right the ship! Several weeks back it was ‘bring on all the new guys to right the ship’. That’s not strong management. That’s inexperience. I’m hoping your more measured take is right. If I really saw improvement in underlying metrics I’d feel better. It’s just not there.

  5. I’m with Shard about Arteta’s selection and rotations. They seem so arbitrary. He chose Elneny because he had a good game last year against United. That’s the rationale? That’s it? He hasn’t played all season, but he’s in the lineup because he played one good game LAST YEAR?

    Mikel also seems to not understand that players return to form slowly. You don’t drop Xhaka in for 90 minutes when he hasn’t played for months. Bring him on as a sub a few times, expand his time over a few games, THEN give him the start. But not 90 straight out of the gate. He was clearly out of rhythm (tho not sure what Xhaka rhythm really is…) and way off the pace for the game. Same goes for reintroducing Tierney. He wasn’t great – assist notwithstanding. That entire left side hadn’t played together – maybe ever? How is that a good idea? Zero continuity. No wonder we were so wildly disjointed and disorganized.

    Partey has been really disappointing, as you say. It shouldn’t take THIS many games to round into form. He looks nothing like the guy who bossed it last year in several games. Clive on AVP pointed out he’s not moving well as he runs. I noticed it too. He looks constrained.

    Odegaard was one bright spot. My concerns about his first step may have been unfounded. But it also proves the point above – it took him a few games to round into form. You can’t have 3 of those on the pitch simultaneously!

    Back to my mantra – The next manager will have a good squad of young players to build on. Arteta is not learning fast enough on the job. He’s out of excuses.

  6. Lowered Expectations, Boyzz & Gurrls:

    Six matches until we face Manchester City on New Year’s Day – yeah, Happy New Year to you too:

    Southampton. That’s a loss, 2-1.
    West Ham United. Buh-bye, Arsenal. Loss, 2-0.
    Leeds away? I wish. Draw. 2-2.
    Sunderland in the League Cup? Who cares? No, I’ll take it. 3-0.
    Norwich City, away? Finally! But barely. 2-1.
    Wolves. Not happening. Loss, 2-1.

    1. 538 disagrees with you

      Southampton, 51% chance of Arsenal win (big favorite)
      Wet Hams, 39% Arsenal win (slight favorite)
      Leeds away, 38% Arsenal win (slight favorite)
      Norwich away, 52% chance of a win (big favorite)
      Wolves, 49% Arsenal win (big favorite)
      Man City, 18% Arsenal win (huge underdog)
      Burnley 55% Arsenal win
      Chelsea, 16% Arsenal win

      Think if we don’t get at least 11 points before the City match it will be a bad run.

  7. I LOVE you, dude, but you know it as well as I do. It’s the hope, not the stats, that kill you. You are so wrong. I’ll see you in the new year. Loser.

  8. So, genuine question. I’ve played lots to troops over many years, and a couple of things I’ve learned over that time are SNAFU and FUBAR.

    Now for most folks serving in The Big Green Machine in whatever country your Big Green Machine belongs, the status quo is usually, for whatever reason, SNAFU. Okay, understood.

    But when does it go from SNAFU to FUBAR?

    Where are we at Arsenal? Still SNAFU? If so, when do we go to FUBAR? And whybhowband why?

    1. fubar! for those who don’t know, fubar is an acronym that stands for “fucked up beyond all recognition.” who can say they recognize this arsenal? who can say they recognize what arsenal are trying to do? who can say that they recognize what the manager has done to make arsenal a title contender? yeah, the club is fubar.

  9. Fabulous post Tim. Thanks for all you do. A lot of great talking points.

    I agree that we are probably going to finish somewhere around 7th or 8th place. Fans tend to have a very strong recency bias. After 3 early season losses and sitting in 20th place it was relegation for sure and the manager needed to be sacked immediately. Then we go on an unbeaten run and climb to 5th place and suddenly the manager has finally figured everything out and a top 4 finish was in site. Then we lose a couple games and suddenly the manager has lost the plot again and he needs to be sacked. The reality is that managers don’t go from stupid to smart to stupid again in a matter of a few months. Everyone seems to have completely ignored the lessons we could have learned during the Wenger era. Every season is filled peaks and valleys and runs of good form and runs of bad form and runs of average form. We started off in really bad form and then hit a run of unsustainable good form and now the inevitable downturn. It has happened every season. In the end it all equals out and most of the time a team will end up about where it should which is in my opinion for this squad is somewhere around 8th place and hopefully competing for and hopefully climbing into a Europa league spot. We can hope for top 4 but expecting more then fighting for a Europa league spot is probably not unrealistic. IMO

    Its just my opinion but barring something miraculous, I don’t think there is any realistic way a team can compete for the top 4 spot when it is so lacking in firepower. Again looking back at the Wenger era there is no manager who can take a player who is not very good at scoring and turn him into a consistent scorer. Think of the dozens of talented youth players in the Wenger era who scored for fun in the academy league but never really made an impact in the PL. Aliadiadare, Bendtner, JET, Afobe, Akpom etc etc etc. Players like Gervinho, Welbeck, Ox, etc etc who played in the best creative environment in the world but never scored much. The Wenger era also proved that no manager can outsmart Father Time and somehow get high level production out of a player like Auba on the downside of his career arc. The manager can only do so much and he can’t kick the ball into the net himself and if his team does not have a critical mass of players who are good at scoring goals then his team is going to struggle. There is no tactical solution for a lack of firepower.

    The one thing I think we should blame the manager, Edu and our decision makers for is spending a lot of money on players but not buying anyone who can score goals. Like you I don’t really understand why they would spend $150M on players including about $50M on Ben White and not buy a goal scorer. If we want to consider sacking Arteta and/or Edu for making bad squad building decisions I can understand that.

    1. ‘Again looking back at the Wenger era there is no manager who can take a player who is not very good at scoring and turn him into a consistent scorer’

      That is literally what Wenger did with Henry, Adebayor, Van Persie…
      I mean, c’mon……..

  10. We need is to buy a couple of players like Auba and Sanchez were in their prime. Its going to cost a lot of money. The problem is we need to buy the right players and not doing that has been the single biggest reason why we dropped out of the top 4 in the last couple season of the Wenger era and it continues to the single biggest thing holding us back now.

    Arteta would have looked a lot smarter if Laca and Pepe had played up to expectations when we spent $125M to acquire them. The idea there are dozens of managers out there who could turn this squad into a top 4 team seems way off base to me. May be there are a couple managers in the world who could make the huge difference with this squad that people are asking for from Arteta but I believe those type of managers are quite rare and I doubt any are available.

  11. Buying your way out of a problem is a nice idea, Bill, but as of now, it’s not possible.

    Arseblog totally nailed it today with his article on Pepe… Arteta has got to use what he has. The markets open in January. It is closed between late August and January. Pepe led the team in goal involvements last year, and Lacazette led the team in scoring. You talk a lot about what doesnt make sense. So youd agree that the whole forward line suddenly became shit all at once isn’t plausible.

    It’d be nice to buy a £100m, 30 goals a year goal machine, but as of now he’d be about 10 games away from suiting up for Arsenal. That’s 30 points to navigate until. There’s no point in needing a late meal at 11pm when the supermarkets are closed, having lentils in your larder and yearning for the organic split peas tat you dont have.

    Arteta gets paid to smartly deploy the resources he has. Yes, I agree with you on getting a really big upgrade up front. But he’s got to deal with the now, now. David Moyes does not have a £100m striker… he gets the best out of his squad. And having two of the best forwards in the EPL hasnt helped Spurs (so far).

  12. Claude.

    I understand there is no immediate help from the transfer market but I was thinking about long term. I can’t imagine any of us believes our current group of forwards is the long term answer and if we ever want to get back into the top 4 I believe its going to require spending a lot of money to buy a couple forwards who can score.

    We are watching the entire front line go to s**t in front of our eyes. Auba is further along downside of his career arc. Pepe was never really been very good. He scored half of his goals last year in the last 3 games against bottom of the table clubs who had nothing to play for. Laca has not been good this season. He is only 30 and I am not going to postulate he has hit the downward slide but Sanchez flamed out at age 29 and Ozil started to decline in his late 20’s so who knows. The one thing I do know is a manager can’t kick the ball for the players and he has no control over an individual players form. Without an historically unprecedented run of clean sheets its very unlikely this team finishes above mid table without a lot more scoring from its forwards.

    1. Well, you WERE talking about the now, but never mind. This notion that an expensive striker will solve a manager’s and team’s problems has some truth, but it is simplistic in the bigger scheme. I mean it’s true — as you say — that it is better to have a high scoring striker than a number of misfiring ones, but what do you think Harry Kane and Son are, Bill? And where are Spurs exactly? Where are City with the ordinary Gabriel Jesus? Near the summit of the table, because they have creators and scorers all over the pitch in Gundogan, DeBruyne, Marhrez, Sterling, Grealish, Ferran and Foden. It’s true that Pep has a deeper purse, but he shopped wisely. And he’s a much better tactician than his former Number 2.

      You want to absolve Arteta of responsibility, tactically and elsewhere on the pitch, and place it all on our inability to score goals, from players who have suddenly — en masse — gone to shit. Clearly Pepe isnt worth what we paid for him, but can you argue that he has been utilised optimally? He does have some good qualities as a footballer. This isnt a zero sum game. A good coach does not totally discard him, and overplay Saka. What do you think will happen to your newly purchased £100m striker if he’s put into a side playing turgid football and not creating sufficient chances for him?

      Goalscoring comes from chance creation, though, granted, Auba has missed some sitters of late. Put those same players in another system and watch them produce. Plug Auba into City’s setup and he’ll be a beast.

    2. Pepe showed significant improvement towards the end of the last season. In his play, in his scoring rate. A good coach builds on those gains. The notion that he’s suddenly irredeemable crap is fanciful.

  13. Claude.

    A manager can’t control a players form. Pepe hit what looks like an unsustainable short run of good form in the last 3 games of last season but this season he has gone back to being mostly unproductive which is much closer to his 2 year norm. The longer sample size is usually the more predictive. Stuff like this happens a lot in all sports. .220 hitters in baseball will hit .400 for a couple weeks and then go back to being a .200 hitter for the rest of the season. Joe Willock scored 8 goals in 8 games last year and this year he has not scored in 15 games. Arteta used Pepe the first 5 games of this season and he produced nothing in almost 500 minutes so he had to try something different.

    The other point is if a player like Pepe who was mostly underwhelming for the first 35 games of last season was our team leader in goal involvements then its another indication of how badly we need a talent upgrade and it helps explain why we are a mid table club.

    1. Bill
      Regarding the Willock comparison, the boy is entrusted with defence responsibilities now, so his runs up to score goals are not there. His brief is different now.

  14. I was a Ben White backer, I believed he would add to both attack and defence and I think he’s doing that. I could quibble with 7 out of 10 on defence but he certainly needs to continue to form his partnership with Gabriel, who is the destroyer of the pair.

    Would I have spent the money on a defender as a priority though? Probably not, no.

    But it made sense, and still does. When planning for the summer window we were comfortably attack-heavy, with Auba, Laca and Pepe being the most senior, most experienced and most expensive players. On paper therefore that’s the area you look at last.

    In the middle we had just bought Partey, and there’s a lot of expectation on him. We added Odegaard for some technical quality and attacking threat, and we added Lokonga.

    Meanwhile at the back our senior defender was Luiz who left, and we basically had Holding and Chambers as RCB options and in Saliba a 19 year-old with no Prem experience. I don’t want to criticise Holding, Chambers or Saliba but I think White improves things significantly.

    The gap between how the manager says he wants us to play and how we are in fact playing is difficult to justify or explain. Whatever Arteta is picturing in his head is either unrealistic or poorly communicated.

    1. Oh yeah, expectations. I feel you Tim, I was getting excited at the prospect of top 4 again as well. 5 or 6 is about right for me based on squad quality, experience and depth. I’d be disappointed with anything less than that.

      I once hoped for an Auba renaissance to push us higher, but it was only ever a hope.

  15. “My analysis is very clear: our behaviour changes when we have a lead and this is something we’ve never done and should never do.

    Because we do the things we want to do at the highest level and we push ourselves and it hurts and it has to hurt and you have to be tired at half-time, and fully tired, and you have to play through pain, physical pain, and you have to raise your level of concentration and you have to overcome adversity. If you change your behaviour because of the score you allow the possibility to get punished.

    The challenge is to close the door and minimise the possibility. And it’s very easy: we need a higher level of sprints, runs, intensity, concentration. It’s as easy as that, it’s the basics. The basics need to be pushed onto a higher level while we are in the lead. They cannot drop just because we are in the lead and this is what is happening right now to us.”

    – Tuchel Slams Chelsea Display

    “What was really a little bit annoying was the way that we also gave the goal away, because we played too many balls into the first line of their pressing area.

    And this was also the case with the goal that we conceded. We could have cleared the ball easily and whenever we played the ball into the second or third line, we were always dangerous.

    I told them that before the game but they still played in that situation the ball a five-metre pass and [they] were just waiting for that ball. It was more or less a pressing invitation that we sent.”

    – Rangnick “a little bit annoyed” with Man U Players

    Dropping performance when going in front and managers blaming their players is a bit of a theme at the moment, nice to know it’s not just us.

  16. Arteta used Pepe in the first 5 games this season and it was not working. Around the time he switched away from Pepe we went on the best run of form and results in 2 years. No manager is going to move away from something that is working. I am sure Arteta will go back to using Pepe more when no one else is producing and our results are not as good. What does that tell you about the squad when a player who has been mostly underwhelming for might be our best option?

    Realistically if we are counting on Pepe to be a game changer we are in trouble. Like it or not any team where the Pepe we have watched for 2 1/2 years is the most productive forward in the squad is not going to be competing for a top 4 spot

  17. One last thing, then I’ll stop spamming the thread…

    We shouldn’t ever get drawn into black and white discussions about these things. Bill, how can a lack of productivity up front be attributed solely to form, and all of our strikers losing form at the time? All? At the same time? Some of whom are no even in their age 32 season? Tim has already shown by his analysis that we are not feeding our strikers. Are we supposed to dismiss that, and put everything on our forwards falling off a cliff, en masse? Footballistically, it does not stack up. Why did we keep Balogun?

    Have I mentioned Moyes and West Ham yet? 🙂 Their primary CF is a 31 year old English journeyman named Michail Antonio. He is Jamaica qualified by parentage. He has 6 goals and 4 assists so far. He’s not as good a footballer as Auba, Laca or Pepe, but Moyes has the team playing to the strengths of the tip of his spear. He is currently in his his “age 32 season”. He’s 32 in March. Tactics, setup and play matter. Bill says, often, ‘there’s noting a manager can do…” about a striker’s productivity. Yes, there is. If there isnt, we might as well put a training cone on the sidelines. For reasons which involve how he sets up the team to play, Arteta is not getting the best out of the good players he has.

    So to Greg’s point… Ben White IS a good CB, regardless of his current struggles. I didnt think we needed to buy him (we had a perfectly good option, good options at bacckup), but the circumstances of his purchase shouldnt be held against him. White is a gunner and i want him to do well for Arsenal, and play regularly for England. All CBs make errors. Paolo Maldini and Sergio Ramos made errors. But I’m with Josh on this… defend first. Everything else is gravy. White can look terrific in one stretch, and then drop a clanger that contributes to a goal. But he’s 23, and his ceiling is higher than it is currently. Arteta seemingly wanted to work with his guy, whom he liked at first meeting, according to him. It’s a recurring theme. And it’s certainly a different approach from Emery and his dossier. And before you ding Emery, he finished 5th in his only full season.

    Lastly. You know who’s a terrific footballer? Thomas Partey. He’s the complete midfielder… tenacious in defence, and marauder with goals in him. I know that he’s struggled with injury, but even when fully fit, Arsenal manage to make him look half the player that he did for Atletico, and does for the Black Stars. Why is that? The system. His gifts are not maximised. Xhaka is not a bad player, but once we got Thomas in YR1, we needed to complete the overhaul in YR2. We went for Locatelli, which at least showed progressive intent. But we didnt finish the job of beefing up the midfield. Sambi is a good young player, but perhaps not for now (ironically we extend to Lokonga, benefit of the doubt about age and experience not extended to Saliba)

    Tactics, setup and play matter. And that’s on the manager. Arsene said that more that 4, 5 additions a season is destablising. You need the skill to, largely, work with what you have. You will never reach squad overhaul nirvana. Youve got to balance what you have with key additions that strengthen the whole.

    1. a definition for management that i learned in high school is the efficient and economical use of available resources to reach an objective or goal. meaning you have to get the most of what you have. in football, it’s all about preparation and that’s on the manager. the players have to know what the manager want’s and have the ability to execute. most of these players are talented enough to execute. however, i question management’s direction. for instance, i don’t see how arsenal are supposed to score goals. we even saw with unai and his poor english, that the team had a way they wanted to score goals. it’s nonsense to blame it all on auba, laca, and pepe.

      speaking of auba, perhaps a coincidence; when mesut left is when his goals began to dry up.

      1. On management’s direction, I’m starting to think we give Arteta too much credit for his communication. He’s great at talking about himself and abstract ideas, but not so much when it comes to explaining football decisions. If Emery said some of those things he’d be mocked.

        I watched some video where some, I guess celebrities, presenters anyway, were on the pitch with Arteta doing a simple drill where you pass in triangles and move along the wing till you cross. I’m sure there’s a name for this but if I made it confusing, he made it even more so. I was genuinely baffled by what Arteta wanted them to do until after they, eventually, did it.

        His players have stopped saying he’s a genius but they do seem to feel some level of obligation towards him. Except those who don’t I guess. But he can’t be all bad. It isn’t working though, and I really wish he’d be more open to learning from veteran players. But he got rid of most of them, even had issues with Auba, and switched to a ‘youth’ plan to buy himself more time. (My opinion)

      2. Newly arrived Arsene would probably have liked to have Roberto Carlos… but he worked with the far less glamorous Nigel Winterburn, and developed Ashley Cole.

        Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Keown… can you imagine Arteta, the behavioral purist, sticking with any of them on arrival? Further forward, Arsene inherited Wright, Parlour et al.

        Here’s a fun fact, Bill… guess how old Ian Wright was when Arsene took over? You’re never going to believe this 🙂

        Anyway In Arsene’s first season, Wright scored 30 goals in all comps. Arsene got 2 seasons out of him (till he was 34), while passing the crown to Anelka. Obviously his goal total dropped in his “year 33” season as Anelka ate into his minutes, but he still outscored the young upstart.

        Aubameyang, who hit Arsenal scoring milestones at a faster rate than Wright, Thierry or anyone else, may not again hit the peaks of 3 years ago; but it’s way too early to write him off as washed.

        1. Newly arrived Arsene worked with Winterburn but sadly not Helder, Morrow, McGoldrick, Hartson, Dickov, Hillier, Linighan, Clarke or Jensen, who he sold in his first season.

          Meanwhile can I imagine Arteta sticking with Bould, Keown, Adams, Winterburn? Well, yes. They were shit-hot. Very, very good.

          1. Arsene sold those guys, managed to get younger, even turning a profit in the 1st season, and improved our play and results. I mean Anelka for Hartson and Dickov? Hells yeah! Overmars and Boamorte instead of Helder? Yup. Vieira and Petit to replace Hillier and Jensen? Of course.

            Wenger did go cold on players and binned them, but it usually came after giving them multiple chances, or just being straight with them that they weren’t good enough and helping them go elsewhere. It was also never at the cost of the team. In fact I remember him being mocked for keeping Alexis on the bench as punishment, and being forced to bring him on. If Wenger were like Arteta he’d have lost more games just to try and prove his authority.

          2. Shard, Wenger was right to sell those players. That wasn’t my point.

            Claude was saying that if he came in to Arsenal today, Wenger would have worked in a positive way with the existing squad. I’m pointing out that when he came in Wenger in fact binned a lot of the existing squad, so that’s a shaky assumption. That’s all.

            I think all good managers including Wenger are ruthless at some level, and that’s fine.

            You seem to be arguing something else as well though, which is that Arteta’s decisions have all been about asserting his authority. You go so far as to imply that Arteta would rather lose matches than lose authority, and has in fact done so.

            I don’t really know what to do with that.

            Why can’t he be motivated by a desire for improvement? For excellence? To build a team he thinks has a chance to win? That would be the obvious reason why a football manager would change his players.

            He’s not succeeded, but that’s no reason to assume he ain’t trying.

            But this goes back to previous conversations about making assumptions on people’s character.

          3. “Claude was saying that if he came in to Arsenal today, Wenger would have worked in a positive way with the existing squad. I’m pointing out that when he came in Wenger in fact binned a lot of the existing squad, so that’s a shaky assumption”.

            You misunderstand the central point, Greg. Which was that Arsene was prepared to work with difficult characters. There’s no more iffy character than a boozer. He placed higher value on (a) continuity (b) their potential level on a football field.

            My point never was that Arsene kept EVERYONE, including all of the near-obscure, fringe players. Your rebuttal is about as far removed from the central point as it’s possible to get.

            Our youngsters exiled in France are precisely the kind of high ceiling players he’d have embraced, and who’d possibly have thrived in an Arsenal environment. He was patient with Senderos and Djourou, fgs.

            The churn of 26 i/c and o/g in 2 years that MATTB mentioned? That’s madness. Wenger drove us mad when he brought in Cech alone one summer, but he’s right that churn above a certain number is destabilising. No wonder Arteta’s ensemble sometimes play like strangers, or cant stick to a particular tactical approach. Saka and eSR can find each other in their sleep, because theyve been playing together since academy days.

            It’s kind of arrogant too…”none of you lot are good enough for me, except these five…” A rookie coach without a track record of success is going to struggle to win dressing room allies with that approach.

            Plus, you cannot buy your way to squad nirvana. Not even Pep can.

          4. “Our youngsters exiled in France”.

            Seriously. Exiled.

            Claude, this isn’t the Jacobite rebellion and Saliba is not Bonnie Prince Charlie.

        2. Agree wholeheartedly. A lot of fans have been absolutely trashing Auba and Pepe. And they have both been poor this season.

          But even cursory analysis suggests that it is not the case that both players (and lacazette too) have just suddenly forgotten how to play football. They simply get no chances. Our attacking statistics are the worst that I’ve seen in my lifetime. It doesn’t matter if it is Auba or Laca or Eddie up front—we know that they will get about one or two half chances a game. We know they’ll be frustrated and feel enormous pressure to score. And then when they miss, as most players do most of the time, they get crucified by a segment or the fan base.

          Pepe obviously doesn’t play, but when he did it’s a similar story—unless he creates the chance himself, odds are, he won’t get a chance at all.

      3. I think I agree that Auba needed Ozil, and we have not managed to even remotely replace him. Letting them both go would have looked like a crisis, but it might have been the braver option.

        I think that Ozil had to go, I wish he had stayed, I blame Arteta for not keeping him at all costs and I blame Ozil for making it impossible for Arteta to keep him, I mourn him and I’m glad that he went, all at the same time. Yes, I’m confused.

        Making the most of the resources that you have is a good definition of management but with respect it seems to be very narrow.

        It misses the whole part at the beginning where you clearly define the objective, make a plan, identify what the resources are that you need to implement that plan, and then scrap hard to mobilise those resources and put them in place. THEN you have to make the most of them.

        I’m not saying that the manager has succeeded in making the most of his resources, I think he clearly hasn’t, so I’m in agreement with you up to a point.

        But I would push back in two areas: first against any argument that he had to succeed with only the resources he was given, and that any player he decided to let go represents a failure on his part, that seems wrong to me. Part of his job is to choose his resources and he’s entitled to use his judgement there.

        (My own judgement was that our squad was an animal built by committee – the result of at least four people’s different visions and approaches, incoherent and patchy, and committing to maximising that group of players in the long term would have been madness. Something had to give).

        Second, I would just say that it’s easier said than done. But as Shard says, we need to see Arteta learning. Whatever his plan was for playing without Ozil, we can’t see it. It’s not happening yet on the pitch and he’s responsible for changing that.

        1. I believe there’s been 26 in and outs since Arteta joined. That’s a ridiculous amount of churn regardless of what anyone thinks of the squad he inherited.

          Also if I’m not mistaken, only Norwich sit below us for opportunities created from open play. The world’s best strikers don’t fix that problem. That’s basic structural coaching issues. That stat alone should be causing serious concerns within the club hierarchy. UE was and is a far better manager.

          1. Yes, both fair points, a lot of churn and a big, big problem with chance creation – and worrying comments from the manager on the latter that he thinks it’s only a matter of trying harder or something. I hope he’s right.

    2. Couldn’t agree more that we never finished our set up of the midfield. If we’re spending money then I can’t wait for whoever we’ll go for instead of Locatelli. I would probably have focused on that player over White, but I don’t think it was a question of one or the other, I think we wanted both.

      I see this point about the system holding Partey back a lot, as someone who didn’t see much of Atletico what system were they playing and how is it unsuitable for Partey now? Honest question, I’d like to understand this point.

      I can believe it’s true, but I also see a lot of inconsistency from Partey during the course of individual games which points to other issues. Not just his own, as a team in general we are inconsistent in our play which won’t help him.

      Lokonga is a year and a half older than Saliba and captained his side for a full season before coming to us. He has exactly the experience that Saliba didn’t, he’s that step ahead in his development. I don’t see any irony or inconsistency.

      1. Fair points, Greg.

        This goes some way towards explaining Partey’s struggles. it does not reach a conclusion, but it is a fuller look than i gave.

        Thing I think we can both agree on… Partey is a far better and dynamic player that Arsenal fans have seen (and Sambi may be a better one than we think)

        p.s. Saliba captained France U-21, fwiw. So apart from a small to the point of meaningless gap in age, there’s not that much that is separating them. Except inconsistency in approaches.


        1. Interesting link Claude. Saul is another who hasn’t adapted well. Is it a league thing, struggling to adapt to a different manager or (certainly in Partey’s case) lack of an established dance partner?

          For me, I think Arteta unintentionally set him up to fail as a single or double pivot in certain matches against a midfield three. It would also appear he’s at times been rushed back too quickly.

          His admission about losing focus at times?? I sense he needs a Saul organising him and a Simeone busting his chops.

          This probably won’t be a popular opinion but I think we bought the wrong guy for the role. He’s a great lieutenant but not a captain.

          1. Lieutenant but not captain makes sense. To be fair to Thomas, he’s gone from playing with Koke and Saul (who was excellent in la liga, Chelsea struggles aside) to playing with a constantly changing cast of youngsters, oldies, not good enough, and Xhaka. That must be difficult. Partnerships on the pitch are important, and Partey has not had the quality midfield partners that he did at atletico.

            This season, his partner in midfield has been chopped and changed almost every game, at least recently. Lokonga, AMN, Elneny, and a Xhaka lacking fitness and sharpness. It’s got to be hard to not have any consistency next to you in the heart of midfield.

            I also wonder how difficult things become for Partey when his fellow midfielder drops into the left back spot, as Arteta sometimes has Xhaka do. That leaves Partey isolated, a one man midfield against two or three opponents. Can’t be easy.

            We seem to be really struggling to get the best out of players all over the pitch, really. Partey is no exception.

  18. i despise leaders that blame anyone but themselves for the failure of their team to execute. a disclaimer, i’m a retired soldier so leadership meant you had young people trusting your leadership and if you failed, that failure could often prove fatal for that young person. understand, i’m not comparing warfare to soccer but i am comparing leadership to leadership. anyone who’s seen good leadership, readily recognizes it. as a leader, if your team fails to succeed, it’s because you didn’t prepare them to succeed; full stop! it’s hard for me to accept any excuse for failure from a leader. even if it was something one of your subordinate charges got wrong, you still own that failure. the only thing i want to hear from arteta is that he failed to prepare the team to win. other than that, i don’t give a damn what he has to say.

    mobility is the 4th principle of attack…and arsenal doesn’t have much. for me, the highlight from emile, when he came to the side, was he introduced mobility to the attack. mesut introduced mobility to the arsenal attack. if you have guys just standing around on the pitch with their dicks in their hands and not making intelligent movements, it’s easy to defend against them. it needs to be addressed by arteta and the coaching staff. tim, you were spot on when you mentioned that.

    likewise, the point you made about the dribbles. arteta is not a dribbler and would become frustrated when a player lost the ball dribbling. however, because there’s little mobility to the arsenal attack, defenses are more organized and would provide good cover and easily develop a 1v2 situation, from which most wouldn’t dribble. even bukayo, if he decides to dribble, he does it too late as he tends to hold the ball before deciding what to do. in that time, the situation changes and dribbling is no longer ideal.

    lastly, for my friend bill, you keep mentioning form. listen, form is bullshit. only the english talk about good or bad form. for me, form is an excuse to justify failure. arsenal aren’t in bad form and they aren’t talentless, they’re a poorly managed team.

  19. +1

    Interested in your thoughts on JDP and Arteta. I thought it was ultimately about creating overloads. I just don’t see much of those patterns to our play.

  20. Interesting stat that I saw from Gunnerblog a while ago and I remember reading again in Arseblog. Mesut Ozil and Auba played together on the same team for 2 1/2 years and during that time Mesut made 68 league appearances and Auba scored 52 league goals. Amazingly only I of Auba’s 52 goals came on an assist from Ozil. During most of their time together Auba was one of the most efficient strikers in the world but he was definitely not feeding off final passes from Ozil. That argues quite strongly against the idea that Auba and Ozil worked well together or that Ozil was somehow the reason for Auba’s success.

    1. Bill , at one point last season Salah and Mane scored 33 goals for Liverpool between the two without a single assists from each other.

    2. Not really. Ozil improved the team’s attack generally. Even when he didn’t bag the assist, he’d often have the pre-assist.

      Not saying Ozil is the solution. But I am saying that since he declined/got exiled, our attack has become static, impotent, dull to watch, and extremely easy to defend against. I doubt it’s just losing Ozil and not replacing him—the decline in our attack does correlate quite well with Arteta’s arrival, however.

      Presently, we are almost the worst team in the league at scoring from open play, ahead of only Norwich.

  21. Josh

    I remember a whole lot of games when we struggled to do much with our ball possession that Arsene would comment about his team playing with the handbrake on. He was blaming the players for not executing his strategy. I don’t ever remember Arsene saying he got the tactics wrong.

    1. that’s because Wenger didn’t put himself separate from the players, except to take the brickbats. I mean if you want to read the handbrake comment as blame you’re free to, but that’s not at all what that was. If anything it became a convenient phraseology to deflect from other criticism of the players in the media.

    2. He said he got it wrong all the time. When he said “the handbrake” he almost always said “we” meaning he included himself in that. It’s also notable that when Ozil came in for criticism for his performance for Germany that Wenger said Ozil played with the handbrake on for Germany. He meant that Ozil was both limited by the system and by the racist treatment he was receiving.

      Look, Bill, I’ve watched football for well over 20 years now. Thousands of games. Arteta’s SYSTEM is handbrake on. My eyes tell me that, the stats tell me that, and I’ve written pretty detailed explanations of what that actually means (fewer take-ons, fewer overlaps, etc.). Wenger’s system was anti-handbrake. If the handbrake came on (a little bit) he usually took the blame on himself as a part of the whole team.

      I don’t understand what your point to all of this really is. I guess it’s that we just don’t have the right players, which seems to be your point every time.

  22. Reason to be cheerful. Saints @ home should be a slam dunk

    – Arsenal are unbeaten against them at home (22 matches).
    – Saints are missing at least 4 regular starters to suspension/injury.
    – Plus they’re the league’s worst scorers versus expected goals (14 vs 20).

    Let’s hope they don’t dare press the Arse!

  23. Greg

    “Why can’t he be motivated by a desire for improvement? For excellence? To build a team he thinks has a chance to win? That would be the obvious reason why a football manager would change his players.”

    Oh he is. I’m not denying that. I’m saying he believes that the way to that excellence depends on his authority being supreme and for it he will even sacrifice results.

  24. Shard

    Unless you are suggesting that Arsene told the players to play handbrake then whenever Arsene made that comment about his players having a handbrake the only possible way it could be interpreted is he was saying the players did not execute the way he drew it up on the dry erase board and the match did not play out the way he designed the game plan

    1. It’s not the ‘only possible way’. tim’s done a better job explaining it so I’ll leave it.

  25. Speaking of flip flops on squad decisions, now we want Nketiah to stay. Don’t get me wrong, I like him and hope we do keep him. I just don’t believe Arteta has any idea what he wants.

    Auba missing training yesterday. I hope first of all it is not corona related. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if there are issues there. He’s only got 18 months left and the longer he doesn’t score playing Arteta’s system, the more it costs him in terms of a future contract and us in paying him his wages.

  26. Tim

    I am not sure Arsene was blaming himself for the games when his team played with the handbrake on. I am 100% that the handbrake was not in the game plan and not what the team practiced on the training pitch. I am also 100% sure that Arsene talked and drilled the team endlessly on how to avoid those sort of games. When he saw it happening in the games he would have done everything he could to fix it and yet it happened over and over again and I am sure it was frustrating to him. The only logical explanation is there were games where the players did not properly execute the things Arsene wanted them to do and I assume he tried to fix the issue

    With regard to Ozil. Perhaps everything that was happened off the field is at least part of the explanation for him playing with a handbrake for Germany but that same explanation does not apply to the arsenal team as a whole.

    With regard to Arteta. I know we have differing opinions and there is no way to prove it either was but I am not sure I believe that the handbrake type of attack is really part of Arteta’s tactical plan for the vast majority of games any more then it was for Arsene. Just like with Arsene’s teams If the players do not execute the way you want then it will look like the handbrake is on

  27. I still think we can finish 5th. I’ve thought that since the start of the season. Two tough results prior to this game (Soton) but Arsenal will continue to get wins from most of our fixtures because we have enough talent and enough structure to beat the teams we are supposed to beat. That’s good enough for this season.

  28. bill, i think i can help you understand. when wenger talked about “playing with the handbrake on”, he was saying that the players weren’t playing their natural game but rather with a non-deliberate, self-imposed restriction to their play. it is not a strategy or a tactic. it’s a non-specific reaction to pressure. this pressure can be imposed by the opponent, the moment, an individual’s mood, an argument the night before, some bad chinese food, a change in team dynamic, the crowd noise, an early yellow card, a misplaced pass, a missed assignment, a bad training session, a strong challenge, fatigue, media pressure, hasn’t scored in a long time, etc. sometimes it can simply be how you’re feeling in your gut. bottom line, there are plethora of reasons (human factors) that can affect how freely you play the game. if you’re not playing freely, wenger referred to that as playing with the hand brake on.

    we know that a handbrake is not designed to efficiently stop a car. however, if you drive with one on, the car’s driving characteristics are not the same as if the hand brake was released. this is what wenger means. a team who’s playing with the handbrake on is not playing their natural game. like i said, it’s not a strategy and it’s not deliberate. it’s a non-specific reaction to stress or more simply put, a reaction to pressure. there are countless reasons why. all players have stress and different players respond to different stressors in different ways. it’s called being human. the main idea to take away is playing with the hand brake on is not deliberate.

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