Black cats unlucky to cross Arsenal’s path

Now is the winter of our discontent.. is the opening line of Richard III by Bill Shakespeare. King Richard, the deformed, is describing the scene in England (and Wales) at the time. The War of the Roses was in a period of peace and Richard’s brother Edward IV was king of England. The winter of our discontent is often misunderstood but it means that the country’s discontent, the war and fighting, were in a lull. And as it is with the Arsenal for the moment.

Richard goes on to describe how he will once more stoke discontent, and through villany make himself king of England. I don’t intend to follow in Richard’s footsteps and foment discontent here among the Arsenal faithful, not the least reason because I don’t feel like being killed in battle by Henry Tudor. Sorry, I should have put “spoiler alert”. But yes, Richard 3 was killed by Henry 7 at the Battle of Bosworth field.

As an aside, for my American or non-British readers who don’t know much about this time, the legacy of the War of the Roses lives on in a rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds United with Man U playing the part of Lancaster and Leeds the part of Yorkshire. Which is pretty funny when you think about it: the War of the Roses was fought because of a split in the House of Plantagenet, which is a royal lineage that goes back to France and Geoffrey the Handsome. Plantagenet is a French word which refers to a plant which you might know as “broom” or “lupine” but which all folks who live in the Pacific Northwest refer to as “scotch broom”. It’s an invasive species here and on warm summer nights you can literally hear the seed-pods crackle as they split to drop their seeds. Geoffrey wore “plantagenet” blossoms in his hat, hence the name of his house and issue.

I quite like the idea of an invasive species taking over England (which the Plantagenets did, kicking out the previous rulers, who were also French guys) and then battling it out to see which guy got to be king of the English.

I picked the quote because it was at the front of my mind this morning. Today is the first day of winter and from now until the tropic of cancer (or June solstice) the days will grow longer. Much of my discontent comes from the dark days of fall; dark mornings where the sun rises after 0800, and dark nights where the sun sets at 1630. I walk the dog in the dark, I leave work in the dark. Weeks of working indoors during the darkest part of the year grinds me.

It is also the winter of my discontent with the Arsenal. For three weeks now, Arsenal have been playing like they are coached by a different man. Since his ineloquent statement after the Everton match that the players weren’t attacking like he wants, Arsenal have been attacking like he supposedly wants. 14 goals in 4 games, 22 shots on target (saved or scored) in the last two matches.

And the change is there to see, materially, in the way that Arsenal play now. There are players overlapping (Tavarez got an assist for one of Eddie’s goals yesterday) and just as important, we are playing the ball vertically, quickly, up to players like Ødegaard and Lacazette, with one of the other two DM-like players making runs forward, and with the wide guys like Smith Rowe and Saka encouraged to attack their defenders. This is fun football.

I suppose you could grumble that the quality of the opponent plays a big part in why we are doing so well. That is certainly a truth. Leeds United were decimated by injury and Sunderland looked very much like a League One side. Southampton are also “not very good” and West Ham’s David Moyes has never beaten Arsenal at Arsenal. So to paraphrase the Lego Movie theme song, “everything is awful”.

Furthermore, next up is Norwich City who are so bad (how bad are they?) they are so bad that they should just go ahead and be relegated right now. Just save everyone the trip to Norwich and possible exposure to the Corona.

Meanwhile Tottenham have been granted a two week training camp with new manager Antonio Conte and they were allowed to quit the Europa Conference League (further lightening their schedule). All of that looks to have helped them considerably. They have Harry Kane getting away with Red Card fouls, and scoring goals. They have three games in hand over Arsenal (Burnley, Brighton, and Leicester – all away) and folks could point out that Arsenal would be behind them if they win all three. Big if there.

But this is not the time for that sort of worrying. This is the WINTER of our discontent! Let it go and bathe in the joy of Eddie Nketiah scoring not one but TWO back-heel goals yesterday. Let the fact that Pepe scored and assisted two goals wash away your sins! We should rejoice in the smiles and happy faces at the club right now.

Of course, we could also check our expectations. There are some tough games coming up in the new year but I just go ahead and expect us to get just two points from those three games. That’s not me being “negative” but rather just managing my expectations. If we get more points, great!

In fact, I expect Arsenal to have more than one or two wobbles between now and the end of the season. And I expect Arsenal to finish 6th this season, anything above that is a great success but not something I’m counting on. We are still a young team, still learning our way. I’m just letting the season happen as it does.

I don’t want to get too excited (because every time I do, I feel like I get the rug pulled out) but I do wonder if three things help explain the big change these last few weeks. 1. The reintroduction of Xhaka. 2. Martin Ødegaard’s return and subsequent return to form. And 3. Dropping Auba.

Xhaka had a rough first game back but I have to admit he’s been very good in the last few matches. He covers that LB position so much better than Lokonga has been this season and he’s very smart about when he makes runs forward. He’s the kind of player who follows instructions which is a coach’s dream.

Øde has also been key. I know a lot of folks think he’s too skinny or whatever but I rarely see him hiding from the ball and he’s able to absorb pressure in tight situations which is also huge. Him and Lacazette have a good bond up top and between them I think we utilize “zone 14” much better.

And then there’s the big pink elephant in the room: Auba. Look, I remember Henry’s last year with Arsenal. His rule as captain of the team was very hard for a lot of the other players, he was super demanding, and often belittled players on the pitch. He seems to have carried this attitude into his coaching and frankly, while I laugh at his antics sometime, I think it’s a bad way to coach. Now, I’m not saying that Auba is in any way like Henry – in fact he seems the opposite. BUT! I have to admit that since Arteta dropped him, the players seem to be, almost enjoying the football more? In the way that the players looked when Wenger finally sold Henry.

That’s just me armchair psychoanalyzing (which will tick off at least one of you) but if I just look at squad utilization, dropping Auba freed up a spot for a younger, more energetic, player. Not that Auba didn’t put in a shift, he really did work his ass off out there and he did everything that Arteta yelled at him. So, I don’t know. I’m kind of contradicting myself here a bit (which is ok) but I do wonder what effect that dropping Auba has had on the team. They look super happy on the pitch, the attacking play is much better, and we are attacking a lot more than we were just a few weeks ago.

I might have to admit that dropping Auba was a good move. Even if I don’t like how we did it. But see! Like I said, this is the WINTER of my discontent.

Qq

42 comments

  1. What you said on Auba is not contradiction…. it’s finding the nuance. I know folks like footy arguments black and white, but the issues rarely are. It’s not a contradiction to say the team is playing better without Aubameyang, and not like the way that Arteta has (and low grade continues to) drag him in public. No contradiction there for me. Said all along that (1) on his recent play Auba deserved to be dropped (2) Arteta’s public vilification of the player is awful (3) Arteta has since had this team purring — playing well and cohesively (4) it is the best possible response he could have gotten to the Auba situation. Playing well doesnt suddenly mean its ok to have shat on Auba in public in the way that the club did — but it is clear that the coach got the reaction he was looking for; so he ends up with a win on this.

    The punishment is kind of open-ended… game by game, which is unusual. A sentence usually accompanies a sanction. Not with Arteta. you’re frozen until he says otherwise, if he says otherwise. If Laca and Eddie and Martinelli get knocks before the City game (this is Arsenal… it can happen, especially with Christmas fixture congestion), then what? If we get mauled by City, youre setting the player up to be scapegoated. Must be tough on the player, not knowing when (or if) he’ll play again. It’s kind of needless gamesing, it seems to me. But hey, nothing succeeds like success.

    All that said, Auba’s immediate problem isn’t Arteta… it’s Martinelli. He’s not getting into the best Arsenal side if everyone is fit.

    On 6th, not good enough. The price for finishing 8th, missing European football (and therefore having a lighter fixture load) and spending the most money in the EPL on transfers has got to be higher.

    1. I’m basing 6th on what I think is a realistic goal considering the data at my disposal. I reserve the right to change my mind on that.

      On the way Arteta treats players, it’s VERY Pep-like. Pep often drops players and also doesn’t mind telling the public that some players aren’t acting right. I also think Pep has “non-negotiables”. Of course the main differences are that Pep’s squad is packed with talent and that Pep has a glorious CV.

      1. On the auba situation I would like to add some speculation. Aubade arrives late which leads to being dropped and loosing the arm band, subsequently a close contact of his tests positive, Auba is not jabbed and has to isolate for ten days. I think this is a plausible situation because: a) he’s not included even on the bench, b) he’s training by himself, c) Arteta keeps replying that he is not allowed to discuss the reasons for the absence and when Auba will be back (as he would be divulging Aubas inoculation status which would be a gdpr breach). If this is the case what does he do when Auba becomes available again?

        1. I wonder if the issue has not been resolved. Auba has not apologized or promised to do better, whatever. Or has not learned his lesson, or if there is lingering beef and they haven’t cleared the air. I dunno.

        2. This sounds very possible. Wasn’t Auba out with Covid at the beginning of the year? I wouldn’t be shocked if he thought, since I’ve already gotten it and recovered, I don’t need vaccination now.

  2. Sixth? So… you have City, Liverpool, Chelsea… maybe Man Utd and then who finishing above us? Spurs?

    I think Auba’s is the last big big contract that gets handed out by Arsenal so long as the current (Kroenke) regime is in place. Fool me once (Ozil) shame on you, fool me twice (Auba) shame on me. He’s not been a 350k a week player since signing that deal. At that wage, you need to be a player that other teams are frightened of.

    I’m not sure what we do in January, but the Coutinho loan rumour has me bummed – I get it, and at least we’re not buying him outright, but the youth movement has worked so well. Just let the kids have the wheel.

    I read Real Madrid want Jonathan David…. as a Canadian, nothing would make me more excited than if Arsenal pursued him. He’s 21, 5’10”, fast and a finisher. 50m is chump change. Give Lille 100m and they’ll throw in Renato Sanches as well and there’s our Elneny replacement.

  3. At the mo the football is great and fun. I think part of it is the run of fixtures (I’m not being a negative so and so, hear me out). WHam had been poor before we played them and the following fixtures have been as easy a run as it gets this season. It’s the perfect time to (1) drop the the problem child and (2) be a bit more ballsy.

    I’d like to see Arsenal make a better fist of the return fixtures against the top teams. Sure Arteta could flat track bully a European finishing position but it would feel like a house built on questionable foundations.

    To Claude’s comment this season sees the team playing roughly 20 less games. That’s a helluva lot less travel, injuries, fatigue. Likewise I don’t see Arsenal finishing higher than 6th but I’d love to be proven wrong. A 6th place finish IMO would be the absolute bare minimum this season.

    1. Exactly. The relatively easy fixture list proved great timing for Mikel. The true test of the turnaround will be how we play better teams than Saints, Leeds and Sunderland (that plus a packed festive period, when injuries/fatigue are common). I promise you none is going to leave the defensive holes that Southampton and Leeds did. Nevertheless I’d bracket west Ham as a good win and an important test passed, despite their form. Let’s not forget that we had good results against other competitors at our level — Spurs and Leicester — too.

      Arsenal aren’t going to fire Arteta if he finishes 6th. Theyve invested too much in him. But all things/factors considered, 6th would be a failure (I hear you on the data Tim… this isnt based on empirical measure).

      I’m feeling good for a cup with this team, I have to say.

      1. I’d be very surprised if Arteta got fired if Arsenal finished 8th again. We know the club won’t declare targets or expectations.

        If the manager doesn’t have performance criteria to meet how does he get to set non-negotiables of his charges? I’ll walk away now (Ha!).

        1. We wont know the details of his KPIs. That’s between him, Vinai and Edu. Arsenal is historically a well-governed club, and would have a corporate strategy — which would include financial targets, and sporting performance targets. Im not sure about the financials for this fiscal year, but Arteta’s contract was for 2 years (to the end of 2023), and his overarching remit is to get us back into the Champions League. That is what is public. Not much else is. So, 8th again this season (without a cup route to UCL), and 👉🏽if they hold him to the UCL target👈🏽, he’s probably looking at half a season more at Arsenal. Big “if”.

          1. Im clearly math challenged, guys. Arteta just passed 2 years of a 3.5 year(ish) contract, to summer 2023. He’s got a year and a half. My bad.

            The thing the club could do is to stick with its investment all the way through, and give him as much financial support as he says he needs. Then, round May 2023 make a decision — extend, or an unsentimental, hard business decision to replace him. OTOH, extending him in January ’23, 6 months ahead of the end of his contract, would be a big vote of confidence.

            If in nearly 4 years he cant us back into Top 4, there’s no strategic logic in keeping him.

            But I wont quibble if he sees out his contract in full, regardless of whether he delivers on the club’s top strategic sporting aim — UCL. I dont think 6th is good enough, all things considered, but I dont expect even another 8th place finish for our former #8 to be terminal, give his deal. The next 3 months are big ones for him.

      2. That tight season is fortunate for Arsenal who are only losing Partey among the starters to Africa Cup. Rivals like Liverpool are loosing crucial players . So advantage Arsenal who might do better than expected.

  4. thanks for sharing your thoughts with us tim. very interesting as usual.

    re: Xhaka, i just can’t stand having him on our team because of stuff like the raphina challenge, where he does something – which looked deliberate to me – not only bad for arsenal as a team given the risk of being sent off but bad on a human level as well. he could easily have seriously injured raphina by stamping on him. there was no reason for him to do so. when man city foul, they break up counters. when xhaka fouls, he’s as likely to be pursuing a vnedetta or just being crazy as to be helping the team in any way. then inside of 5 minutes he’s demanding a card for a leeds player’s action. it’s ugly and i can’t stomach it,

    even if he follows instructions most of the time i have no idea how “follows tactical plan except for the 20% of the time when he earns a needless red card, concedes a penalty, or loses the ball in a position that concedes a big chance” has earned him the admiration and support of 3 consecutive arsenal managers. i’d rather see us replace him in the 11 with lokonga, amn, odegaard, elneny, chambers – virtually anyone wehave on the books. if you told me “patino is willing to sit next to partey,” i’d use him this weekend.

  5. Is Arteta a Pep wannabe? I think some may dismiss him that way and right now, I’m not at all sure. He grates on my nerves a bit but so did my hero, Arsene Wenger. Arteta is certainly no Wenger, he has mucho to prove.

    He does have an F.A. Cup to his name and his team is advancing to the one domestic trophy that the club has never won, so good for him.

    The jury is still out, I guess, but I loved watching us win once again, no matter the competition, the opponent, or the circumstances.

    If we never see Nketiah is an Arsenal kit after this month, I won:t be aggrieved. He is superb in-rhe-box poacher of goals (has he ever scored from distance?) and he’s a lovely young man that can’t be begrudged his desire to play 1st team football as starter.

    That seems against the odds at a top team, but good luck to him.

    And do we all want to be Charlie Patino right now. He looked soo nervous coming on but his cool finish told a different tale. Good luck to him too.

    Onwards…CYOG!!!

    1. ” … and his team is advancing to the one domestic trophy that the club has never won … ”

      I think you need to look at an Arsenal history book 🙂

  6. But Richard is actually saying that England was enjoying “glorious summer” at that moment. That’s the real analogy and we should make the most of what the son of York (Bielsa?) has brought us, however temporarily. I’m certainly enjoying this brief period of Arsenal sunshine.

  7. Now is the winter of our discontent
    Made glourious summer by the sun of York.

    I think you have actually slightly mistaken that line. The “now” at the very beginning refers to blossoming summer. (by the sun of York, which sounds just like son of York…). Richard also mentions king Edward had just been reinstated, which happened half April 1471.

    Of course – the winter very much means all the fightings and suffering, the outset of the summer stands as a metaphor for joy and festivities during that “lull”. It also points to the period when nature and people can renew, re-birth themself. Shakespeare used language on many levels of meanings, but most of his metaphors are not just autotelically poetical, they bare riddles and symbols, but are also stronly based on widely-shared human experience of changing nature character, embedded within natural cycles.

    And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
    In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

      1. The use of “son” was a poor attempt at a pun to allow the reference to Bielsa. I shall be more literal next time. I’m also old enough to have seen the Olivier film on its release.

  8. Are there any other sports blogs, anywhere, that has this level of writing and nuance?

    Dare I say not!

    Have been enjoying watching the attack of the youngsters, it has to be said!

    Now, Arteta is a petulant child manager, who has had a $h*te ton off investment, and youngsters playing well when finally given a chance.

    But, fair warning, this is a “a river of deceit”, as West Ham were without 3 starting defenders, Leeds are gassed and decimated by injuries, looked like a League 1 team, Sunderland is a League 1 team, and Norwich are a Championship team with little to play for other than pride, yes, this early in the season.

    The challenge for Arteta will be to make it through this covid misery, and AFCON with as little damage as possible. His challenge is replacing Partey. Can’t use Elneny as he is gone too. One injury to Ode, ESR or Saka, nothing major, just a disruption to the flow, could cause serious havoc on our momentum. Maybe slide Holding in White’s spot and move White to Partey’s, not really sure, but moving Xhaka to the center is suicide, especially if the youngsters are all around him, Sambi and Nuno.

    6th place is about where the data says we should be, me thinks 4th place minimum for Arteta to keep his job.

    Have argued that 8th, 8th and 6th is not progress in a black and white sort of way. However, 130 games by seasons end is surely enough to gauge if Arteta should lead the way. We all know the ksE ain’t replacing him either way, that is what they do.

    Really enjoy the variety in writing here, amazing really!

    1. 6th with no European football toll and the highest transfer spend in the league is not really an improvement on 8th and 8th.

      But Ornstein and others have said that the young manager has considerable sway in the boardroom. What you can take away from that — I’m guessing — is that he’ll AT LEAST see out his contract, to mid 2023. Does that mean that he’s comparatively results-proof? We’ll see.

      1. Here’s a thought. In eighteen months compare Ski, Spuds and Arsenal. Two clubs with a revolving door manager policy and one with a stick with one guy through thick and thin.

        Three and a half years of results (by May 2023). We can debate the parity aspect until the cows come home but for simplicity’s sake let’s assume a level playing field. Obvious criteria would be a) trophies won and b) qualification to Europe’s two major competitions.

        1. Well.. I believe that Spurs have had more managers than Arsenal in the last 6 years and have been consistently in Europe and we haven’t. Same with Chelsea.

        2. Not the entire picture.
          What also matters is the type of futbol we are watching or not.

          Arteta’s plan, few games notwithstanding, is highly defensive in nature.
          Translation, watching many of the games is like going to the dentist for me.

          If we are off the top and below 7th, we should be playing exciting futbol, bedding in the youth, all the while not getting relegated. Would rather just skip Europa League altogether, not worth the time, travel and resource expenditure, especially human capital on that competition.

          Contending for league, a trophy (FA Cup) and Champions League or bust for me.

          1. Good points. With you on the Europa League. It’s indicative of how standards have slipped these past five years that to qualify for it would be an achievement…

            With Arsenal’s squad, schedule, investment – I’m in the camp that top 4 is a reasonable target.

      2. The club have been hinting that the UCL timeline is delayed. Basically, they had set targets with the SL in mind, and Arteta was confident of spending on that basis and players coming for the prestige. With the strategic retreat from the competition Arteta likely argued he needed more time and still needed funds. the faux project youth is probably a hedge against his failure. But since then, there has been no talk of targets from the club. Not even to mention top 4. Except from Per, who said we should keep faith that Arteta can guide the club back to the CL in the next 2 or 3 years!

        He’s not getting fired. He’s going to get a contract extension. Even if we finish out of Europe again.

  9. Arteta will never be as well-liked a personality as Wenger. It’s not even a competition. I disliked Emery too, as did many Gooners. Wenger’s charm, charisma and intelligence did nothing to bring us trophies in the latter years but it brought huge character to this football club, which is still very much his club. He brought in Arteta from Everton and Pep Guardiola notwithstanding, it is Wenger’s long shadow that Arteta is managing under. His player management is…different from his old manager. Stark opposites maybe, I dunno, But if he gets the team to play, gets the team behind whatever he’s trying to do, then that is everything necessary. And he will not have to thank Pep’s tutelage, but also Arsene’s

    1. Wenger gave a longer rope in some instances but he definitely had his limits too. I’m thinking of Szczesny, a player he clearly valued, and Anelka who felt he was too good for us. He was also ruthless letting older players go while they still had value, especially in his early days. He was criticized for not offering long term contracts to over players over 30, no matter who they were.

      There was another side to his benevolence too. Later in his career he began having trouble connecting with younger players or convincing them that Arsenal was serious about their personal improvement and winning things (Ox, Gnabry). He kept faith in players whose physical peak was clearly gone for far too long (Wilshere, Rosicky, Diaby). He also kept faith in players who were just not ever going to be of the required standard(Almunia, Gibbs, Denilson) or played them out of form by asking them to do things they were clearly unequipped to do (Eboue, Arshavin).

      I know there’s a lot more to each case here but the point is that benevolence and ruthlessness both cut both ways. Van Persie eventually blossomed into a golden boot winning striker at Arsenal because Wenger was willing to put up with his injuries and inconsistencies, but that came at the opportunity cost of another fit striker at Arsenal during all those times that RVP was indisposed. I don’t know that Arteta is particularly ruthless either. We sang his praises when he first came on board for resuscitating the careers of several notables. He does know what he wants and how he wants to play and as a player I can imagine that that structure may feel welcome or perhaps stifling. I’m sure winning helps it to feel more welcome.

      1. Budgets played a part in it, I think. If Wenger had the luxury of blowing millions more for marginal gains he might have been more ruthless. What he would not have done is invite public criticism of his player to do it.

        1. Exactly. The argument never was that Arsene or any previous hasn’t had to deal decisively with problem players.

  10. We are such a traumatized fan base. Even when things are quite good we won’t quite believe it.

  11. I have no idea what happened, but we are playing fun football. I don’t particularly care that it came against low quality opposition, as even that is a huge improvement from how we were approaching games. But I recall opining that if Arteta’s ever really in trouble, he will give the players more freedom to get us out of the funk. But any setback and he will revert to type. So far it’s going smooth enough. Schedules and injuries are working in our favour and the afcon and fixture pileup could work for us too. Any injury to Saka/ESR and I’m not sure we can play this way.

    Still, happy with the improvement, and most of the issues with Arteta get neutralised for me as long as we play fun football. I don’t like his attitude and I especially hate being told he’s got all the answers, or that those issues never existed, or were all down to the player(s). I don’t expect that to stop regardless of how well we play. I guess I’m saying I don’t like Arteta but as long as we’re trying to play football the Arsenal way, I’m happy enough.

    In terms of league position, I’d take a top 6. It’s still underperformance, but it’s about Arteta’s current level.

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