Arsenal crush the Canaries and are on course for 4th place finish

Arsenal stomped Norwich 5-0 thanks to all-star performances from Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe, Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli, and Thomas Partey. Arsenal pressed, harassed, and took their chances when they came to them. And most importantly, there was no sign of the dreaded handbrake.

It wasn’t as easy as the scoreline made it look. Dean Smith’s men did not go gently into that good night and in fact tried to bully and intimidate Arsenal. But if Arsenal were once thought of as a light touch team that could be kicked off the pitch, I’m not sure we still carry that reputation.

Arsenal’s first goal was probably a bit fortunate but it was borne on the back of hard work up top. Martinelli pressured Ozan Kabak and forced him into a poor pass. Unlike in the earlier part of the season, this wasn’t a singleton pressure up top and KT backed him up, sensing the danger he sprinted 20 yards and nipped in on Max Aarons, making the important steal. Tierney was fouled for his trouble, but instead of looking at the ref to save them, Arsenal just kept attacking. Martinelli passed to Øde who passed to Saka, who dipped and shot between the legs of Ben Gibson. A nutmeg goal to open up the Boxing Day celebrations.

Arsenal were 1-0 up and Norwich tried to intimidate Arsenal. They were snapping into tackles, and actually even seemed to get under Granit Xhaka’s skin when the big lump flew into a tackle like Harry Kane – that is to say with his studs up and knee high. When Xhaka got up from the challenge he seemed to get in someone’s face and offer to take him out to dinner after the match, maybe go for a gondola ride, and afterwards hold hands on the pier while sharing a cotton candy. But the referee didn’t like what he didn’t see and after a quick consultation with the linesman gave Xhaka a yellow card. Now, we all know if it had been Granit Xhaka who did all those things he would have surely seen a red card, but fortunately it was Granit Xhaka and just a yellow.

A few minutes later, Placheta took umbrage to something someone said or maybe a little bit of a bad tackle and ran in 10 yards to chest bump Ben White. Ben White merely laughed in his face. Saka also was getting kicked all over the field and he was a bit naughty, committing an intentional stamp on some Norwich player (I don’t know his name but I’m pretty sure it’s unimportant because no one will ever remember him). Good thing VAR had been turned off prior to kickoff or Saka could have seen red. It the only explanation I can have for how Saka got away with an intentional stamp and how Max Aarons got away with an intentional handball in the box. Either that or the referees had a (yet another) Xhaka (get it? sounds like “SHOCKER”).

And Norwich kept trying to tackle hard and bully us but Martinelli actually flew into a challenge, which forced a turnover, which the Norwich player then tried to stamp on Ben White (again, I think this was Placenta), but he passed to Øde, who saw a chasm which Tierney was barrelling in to and played the perfect long diagonal to the fullback. He took a couple touches to steady himself and then just smashed the ball into the post for a goal. His celebrations after were just as amazing as the goal: he sprinted over to the Arsenal fans with his arms out like Russell Crowe’s Gladiator yelling “are you not entertained???”

If you’re counting, that’s two assists for Øde in the first half which brings his total for the season to 4 goals and 4 assists. And let’s remember that he had a goal stolen from him by Auba who was offside and slid in to try to get a tap-in. If you remember my start of the season preview I predicted that he would easily double his stats from last season and he has done that and more. I predicted the same for ESR and Saka. Saka is on pace (if he stays fit) and Smith Rowe doesn’t even start anymore but has 10 goal involvements. Two more and he’ll double last year’s tally.

But a big question for me is where was this version of Ødegaard in October and November? We don’t know. We do know that he was getting pelters from folks on Twitter so what he up and did was deleted his twitter account. Two weeks later, he was starting again. And now he’s tearing it up.

The casualty in all of this should be Smith Rowe. He was the starter in that AM position before this little run of matches but he’s been dropped to the bench. He can’t get a start ahead of Martinelli on the left, nor over Øde in the middle. It would be sad for me because I like Smith Rowe so much but he’s coming off the bench and scoring, so, there’s nothing to even worry about, for now. I suspect that this goal-scoring streak will end soon but he should get some more starts as Arteta rotates to keep legs fresh. He can play in three positions at Arsenal, so I suspect he’ll get game time.

I also want to point out something that many folks might not have seen.

For the first goal, there was a whiff of good fortune, BUT, I also noticed that Lacazette was in position to either receive a pass for an easy goal, or pounce on the rebound (for an easy goal).

For the second goal, the exact same thing, except on the other side of the goal and this time it’s Bukayo.

Any cross here and Saka scores, any rebound and Saka probably scores. For the third goal, again, we have Lacazette in PERFECT position to score if Saka aims a ball at him or if the keeper gets a glove.

The 4th goal was a penalty, though it was won by Lacazette, who got himself into a great position and received that lovely disguised ball by Smith Rowe (who gets a fantasy assist but not a real one). But the fifth goal? You guessed it! Scored by Smith Rowe who got into the deep position at the far post to score off an assist or a rebound. Which is exactly what he did.

This is just not how Arsenal were playing in October. We have completely changed our approach to games. Fullbacks are bombing forward, midfielders are getting deep in the box, multiple runners are attacking teams now. And the results are in, folks, Arsenal have played 19 matches and have 35 points. The optimist would see that and say that we are on pace for 70 points, which is certainly a top four finish.

I’m a bit more sceptical. We have played 19 but by a quirk of the schedule, we’ve played Norwich twice and not played Wolves at all. That artificially inflates our total over 19 matches by three points, BUT, even if we lost at Wolves, and supposing that all the same results happen again, which is a big ask, we are looking at a possible 64 points this season – or more! 538 is predicting right now that Arsenal will probably finish 4th and with 66 points. Former blogger here (now turned pro for Arseblog) Scott Willis is also predicting 67 points and 4th place.

Now, these are simulations based off of what we’ve seen so far this season. I think a lot of us are more pessimistic than that (personally I’m in the 6th place group still) but if you’ve been predicting 4th this season – or wishcasting – then this is probably a bit of welcome news.

And if you want more good news… I feel that Arsenal have changed their style considerably in the last two months. This isn’t just good luck and “getting the players back.” This is a massive stylistic change for Arsenal. Ever since Arteta was criticized for his team not attacking, and subsequently blaming the players, Arsenal have stopped pulling up the handbrake and have gone for bigger and bigger scores. We are sending players in the box, we aren’t just passing wide and then passing it back. Players are taking on their opponents. There is a freedom to the attack now that I haven’t seen in a few years.

I don’t think it’s all just down to personnel but I will admit that getting Xhaka back has been good for the team. I also have to admit that dropping Aubameyang was good for the team. We have simply played much much better football with Lacazette and Ødegaard than we did with Auba up top or wide left.

The cynic in me might think that Arteta used the “Auba coming back late” excuse as a reason to drop him so that he could shake things up. He had already dropped Auba the week before he stripped him of the captaincy (Everton). He had to have seen how poorly we were playing with Auba. He knew we needed Øde to dominate the area around the penalty circle. He needed to shake things up.

That might tick some folks off and for that I apologize. So, just to offer some other suggestions (since I don’t know what happened): maybe he didn’t seize on this chance to shake things up. Maybe it was just luck that he was able to get all the right pieces together and click the way that they have? Maybe it’s just down to getting Xhaka back healthy? Maybe it’s just Øde overcoming the pelters he received on social media? Maybe it was a move he was going to make anyway and Auba’s actions just accelerated things? Could be some or all of the above.

But whatever the reason why Arteta and Arsenal have changed, I guess I don’t much care. It’s just something for us to talk about and it’s not even really that important.

The important thing is that we have changed. We are a much more attacking team (8.4 xG in the last three PL matches). And if we keep playing like this, there’s no reason for even an old crusty guy like me to think we couldn’t finish top four.



  1. I don’t think there’s any one explanation:
    Partey does seem to be better with Xhaka. And Xhaka played a little more forward at least in the last match, more like where he plays for Switzerland, where he’s usually very good. Having a solid central midfield helps.
    The attack is clicking pretty well, though we haven’t seen it against a really good or bunker-in defense. It definitely looks better without Auba (sad to say, as he’s such a joyful player when in-form). And we’re spoilt to have two such in-form and young #10 options in ESR and Odegaard. Maybe only City have such good options.
    And yes, the schedule has been a little kind. I wish we could have faced United and Everton clicking like this, as I’m pretty sure we’d have won both matches. It will be interesting to see how the City match goes (assuming we don’t lose any more players to COVID). Being able to give them a good game will be a pretty good barometer of where we are.

  2. A very entertaining game. The most encouraging part to me was that when Norwich started to amp up the physical intensity Arsenal responded positively (for the most part, as you pointed out, with Xakah and Saka both taking some bone headed actions).

    Three players and/or their roles stood out for me (besides the goal scorers and assisters). Ben White didn’t look out of place at all at right back in Arteta’s system and also showed some teeth and composure – nice to know he can fill in for Tomi. Partey was understated but good and if he can play that way consistently, it’ll be a big boost. Then there’s Xakah, who seemed to be playing more as a number 8 and I thought quietly had a good game.

    Yes, Norwich are bottom of the table, but Arsenal dealt with them handily and are increasingly enjoyable to watch. I’ll take it!

    I’m still more in the 6th place camp as well, especially with Man U having a legitimately very good manager and Conte potentially whipping Spurs into shape. But, I’d be happy with 6th place if the youngsters are playing fun football and the team continues to develop.
    If Arsenal manage to get something from the Man City game and then take it to Spurs at the Toilet Bowl, my outlook will be a lot rosier.

  3. This team is so fun to watch. 7 am seems like it will never come these days. I’m awake and ready with my tea for every game 20 minutes early. Things are so good that Xhaka now feels like a lovable bonehead instead of a walking landmine. It’s no longer ‘where are the goals going to come from’ It’s ‘how many more goals can we score’. Sure it won’t last forever but I am thrilled that my biggest issue is which young player is my favorite.

    I’m starting to wonder if Arteta is prepping ESR to take the no. 9 role. Dude’s got the knack for finding space, can shoot with either foot and run behind. Can he hold up play and wrestle with big defenders? He’s not an aerial threat but we could do worse. Would rather get a big strong guy in there via transfer but I just hate the thought that he won’t have a ton of minutes. Good problem to have. Happy new year to Tim and the 7am family!

    1. “Things are so good that Xhaka now feels like a lovable bonehead instead of a walking landmine.”

      Excellent point.

    2. ESR as 9 is something I also wondered. As you say, he’s probably never going to be the big aerial/holdup threat.
      But he’s taller than Lacazette or Aguero, and same size as Luis Suarez. Clearly, if you’re good enough, you can be a successful 9 without being the size of Kane, Giroud or Lewandoski.

      1. ESR is not a 9. Although his finishing is good, his skillset isnt that of a 9. It isnt that of a 10 either, come of think of it. He isnt a classic lock picker and knitter of the play… he makes very smart runs and combination plays with the focal point — Laca — and other forward players, and knows where the goal is. It helps Arsenal to have credible goal threat from all over the field. Moving ESR to central striker give up that advantage… ideal scenario is a goalscoring 9 + goalscoring wide and middle men. We saw in the Norwich game that the defenders are momentarily unsure who to close down, if the entire forward line carries credible goal threat.

        ESR’s primary competition at this point is Martinelli, Saka and Pepe. The guy nominally playing at the 10 is Odegaard. Good Arsenal teams have that spread goal threat, as we’ve had from the likes of Pires (wide) and Ramsey (deep midfield)

  4. “This team is so fun to watch.” +1 LAGUNNER.

    The appeal of football for me is emotional. This from Arseblog today, as well:
    “So much of football is about how you feel, and right now it feels good.”

    I don’t tend to think beyond individual performances or their context, especially when we win and I’m trying to develop that attitude when we lose but that’s more difficult. This is a young, likeable team. They stick up for each other and there’s a cohesiveness that’s tangible. Odd, when you’re named captain is out of favor and not playing, but that may be paying unexpected dividends.

    Unless we can take points from the top teams and we get help by way of poorer form from S#@rs and Man U, I still think we’ll end up 6th. Right now, though, I’m thoroughly enjoying this team.

  5. Arsenal were an absolute joy to behold against Norwich, and it was a great seasonal present. We dont have another game this year (because Wolves at home has been postponed), so that 5 star performance was our sign-off for 2021.

    Saka is the best right-sided attacking player in the league r/n. But he won’t be shown onto his left foot — as he was twice by hapless Norwich defenders — by City’s LB. And he certainly wont be allowed thereafter to pick out virtually uncontested shots by the CBs… although, in this latter case, Laca pulled the defence out of position with his movement. They regarded him in that instant as the bigger danger, and Saka pounced. Laca missed badly with a free header from a Saka cross, though. Much as his link play is excellent, one suspects that he isnt going to trouble the stats men much this season. But as long as he’s making others around him play better, that’s fine.

    It’s wonderful fluidity up front, but my MOTM, Tierney (thought it could have been MO8 or Saka), had a barnstormer, combining well with the attack from left back. That pass to him from Ode for the goal, though. Ode is Mikel’s glue guy, and key in knitting back and front. Hard on Emile, but Ode, Laca and this combo is clicking. Emile does not strike me as a sulker though, and is the thorough pro when he comes on. It’s a squad game. Starts will come again soon.

    I think I prefer White at RB (absolutely no knock on the excellent Tomi in saying this). BW is a bit undersized for an EPL CB, and has been error prone of late. In fact, Ramsdale had to clean up one of his mistakes. Overall, though, White played well at RB, and was able to show off his ball-carrying abilities. Thomas had a good solid game too. I didnt mention Gabriel, because you hardly noticed him. Why? That’s a good thing for a central defender.

    We’ve played 19, and are halfway there. But as Tim says, it doesnt necessarily translate into 70. We will see.

    I am loving our play atm, though. City on New Year’s Day will turn another lens on our progress. Progression for me, as measured by that game, would be not getting tonked by one of the big boys. Lose by 1 or 2, and we can say — even by this modest metric — that the progress seems significant. The footballing gods answered our festive fixture prayers by giving us Leeds, Sunderland, last place Norwich and an opponent named Match Called Off. Tougher trials await.

    Happy new year, gooners. May what we’ve seen these past 2 weeks largely define 2022.

    1. A few thoughts on Ben White at RB. Overall he did ok. I did notice on more than one occasion that he was out of position (usually too high) or got played around too easily because he got his angles wrong and that led to him having to make several recovery sprints to try and compensate. He also gave a really bad ball away that almost led to a goal. I realize it’s his one and only game there, and I’m sure he could grow into it more and that he does have some attributes that would fit for a RB. It’s good that he has a degree of aptitude for the position.

      BUT. I definitely don’t think that he’s better off there or that we are better off as a team with him there. He was bought specifically for his ability to progress the ball and for his fit next to Gabriel, and we would feel his absence in that regard against better teams. I watched Holding closely for his close control and passing and it definitely was not the same, as expected. Norwich put a high press on several times and I noticed we went long more often than usual. I bet Rob’s presence had something to do with that. In an attacking sense, it was also clear that White was a fish out of water. He has the ability and the attributes but his sense of timing and cohesion with the other players was not there. Yes, that could improve with time. But why bother? We have an able RB1.

      1. Well observed. I missed some of things you noticed. FB a very specialised position, isn’t it? It calls for defensive resilience as well as attacking intelligence. I like both of our first choice guys there (see Tomi’s delicious assist to Martinelli), and they’ve both got able deputies. Speaking of which, I think that Cedric is a better player than he sometimes gets credit for. Its to White’s credit that, in a pinch, he can play there or DM. But as you say, it’s not the top line in his JD.

  6. We’re almost fun to watch again?!?????! I am….. confused? I think the spacing changed to a be a bit more aggressive and the interchange with Laca dropping deep with Xhaka pushing beyond then having Saka and Gabriel attack vertically with loads of space underneath for Ode and width for KT. It seems very capable, but difficult to defend as well. Good stuff.

  7. Happy holidays one and all.

    Tim, wifey bought me Max’s sandwich book which should keep me occupied in ‘22.

    As we saw with United last night you have to get the three points against the bottom sides.

    I think the models/forecasts are under-cooking United and Spurs. It’s all about which side clicks and doesn’t fall off the horse to claim fourth. Let’s see.

    Emile is a very unselfish player. You see it in his runs, positioning and passes. He has vision and moves very quickly with the ball. The fact he can also score goals (he was scoring goals on loan at Huddersfield) are the perfect attributes to play #10. I think he has a broader skillset and higher ceiling than Odegaard. There’s room for them both, Odegaard as more of a deep lying playmaker.

    The strength of Klopp and Guardiola’s current sides are the interchangeability of the attackers. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith that’s what Arteta aspires to with this Arsenal side. You can see the building blocks of a highly interchangeable front line that’s not dependent on a classic #9.

    It’ll be interesting to see the formation against City. Will he be as bold attacking wise?

  8. Some good results for us in the Top 4 trophy… both Man U and Spurs, who could have overtaken us for 4th based on games in hand, were held at draws. Spurs still can, but points in the bag is better all day long. Yeah, I know. It’s only halfway. But if you cant enjoy this, what can you enjoy?

    Surprised by United’s GD. That’s a poor side, getting by on reputation and brand alone at the moment. We missed a chance, not beating them.

    Spurs GD is the same as United’s. And you know what’s wild to me? At the point at which Aubameyang was banned, Kane had half as many goals as he did. Today’s penalty took him level.

    1. Yes!! United seem to be getting worse post OGS (lol).

      The postponement was good fortune. I think we’d have looked leggy today against a very physical pack of Wolves

  9. Liverpool beaten by Leicester City!

    If we can manage a result against Manchester City and put more pressure on the top 3 before 2022?

    Yes, I l know, the hope will kill me, but I can’t help myself…

  10. Great post Tim.

    I think we have hit a really good run of form rather then some major tactical or strategic change. . Go back to the Wenger years and it seemed like this happened almost every season. Laca and Xhaka have been with us for more then 4 years and the idea that they are somehow the catalysts that have changed everything and they are keys to long term success goes against a very large sample size of historical evidence. We always search for some correlation with runs of good and bad form but as we have seen so often during the Wenger era these things are often unexplainable. I am with you and I still suspect a 6th place finish but hopefully I will be surprised. With regard to Auba he is 32 and I think its pretty clear that Father Time has taken its toll and its certainly not a surprise that was ineffective.

    I think many of us have misjudged Arteta when we labeled him as a defensive manager. I think he is the same manager now as he was during the first 3 games of this season and the same manager as he was when we had only scored 13-14 goals after our first 13 games and the same manager as he was after the Everton game when the Arteta out group was in full voice. I don’t beleive that managers go from stupid to smart and then stupid and then smart again over the course of a few games. The idea that Arteta who grew up in the Barcelona academy and played for Wenger and learned to coach from Pep would somehow become totally defensive minded and build a system where he intentionally installed a constant handbrake seems so unlikely to be unbelievable at least to me. I know what the stats said about our play but if your players are not able to effectively execute an attacking strategy then it will look like the handbrake is on. I think the team is better now then it was last year but you would expect that after spending $150M and right now we are in a run of great form

    1. bill, no one has ever questioned arteta’s intelligence or tactical nous. it’s always been about his managerial skills and leadership. arteta has had to learn how to maximize the quality of the players he has and build the best team possible from those players. this is the major criticism most have had. others have griped about his treatment of players…and the jury’s still out on that front. i don’t recall anyone implying that he’s suddenly smarter now. likewise, i’ve told you that i believe poor form is a bullshit excuse for not playing well and the only folks that ever talk about being in or out of form are the brits.

      understand, arteta has developed a lot as a manager over the past two years. he’s never been a manager before so he’s learning how to maximize the talent of the players he has and incorporate a more balanced strategy to the way the team plays. it’s called experience. arteta is smart but he’s still a managerial nymph. however, he’s developing. truth is arsenal have always been better than consecutive 8th place finishes and that’s been the constant gripe in goonerdom.

  11. Question with apologies as somewhat off topic. A game is postponed pre-transfer window. It upgrades significantly during the transfer window. Do all the new players play in the rescheduled game? Major wtf IMO.

  12. It certainly looks like my prediction that we wouldn’t have a single double digit league goal scorer this season is going to be wrong. Full credit to ESR who has really stepped up this season and scored a lot more goals then I had expected. We had a long long list of technically talented and heavily hyped players come thru the academy during the Wenger era and Arsene tried harder then any big team manager in the world to develop those players but despite all that effort we did not have a single player from the academy score in double digits goals or create double digit assists in the PL during the entire Wenger era. It just shows how unlikely it is to have any individual player break through. Eventually the law of averages says that someone had to break the streak but I definitely did not expect ESR to be that player. Last season Joe Willock had an amazing run of goal scoring form with Newcastle but this season he has 0 goals and 0 assists in 16 games and over 1000 minutes and hopefully what we are seeing from ESR will not be a Joe Willock type unsustainable flash in the pan but only time will tell. We certainly need ESR to continue producing.

    I know that things are going really really well since the Everton game and optimism abounds. Hopefully this form will continue‘and I underestimated the influence of the players we bought last summer and I definitely think this current squad is better then the last 2 seasons. However, history suggests that we will probably have a run or 2 of games where we struggle and I don’t expect ESR, Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli, Laca to score enough over the course of the full season to carry us to a top 4 finish. Auba is not going to suddenly rejuvenate his career and I can’t believe Pepe will give us any consistent production and I also hope our front office has have learned its lesson and don’t give Laca a big money long term contract. I am hoping our front office and Arteta are not seduced into believing the rebuilding project is finished and I believe we need to buy a couple of goal scorers in the next few transfer windows in order to really take the next step.

  13. what’s changed since the everton game? the biggest change has been lacazette. this guy is THE catalyst for the potency of the arsenal attack. arteta described him to a tee when he says that laca has an incredible understanding of space and that he makes everyone around him better. simply put, he’s a better center forward than aubameyang has ever been and it’s a point i’ve constantly made for more than 2 years. i’ve tried to explain the difference between a striker and a center forward. i think it’s always been plain to see. i think arteta is only now beginning to appreciate it.

    there’ so much talk about emile, martin, martinelli, and bukayo and, understand, those young me deserve their plaudits. however, it’s nice when you have someone who’s interested in not only scoring for himself, but making it easier for you to create or score. this is what lacazette brings to the team. he has the nous, guile, and gamecraft to see them shine. more importantly, he has the desire to see them shine. while i don’t fancy laca as the leader of the team, he’s now the leader of that arsenal attack. it’s why arsenal are getting more chances, hence scoring more goals now. give the young guys their flowers as they’re putting up numbers. however, give laca his as well.

    1. i know i might sound like a broken record but you guys really need to learn the words to this lacazette song. the problem is that his contract situation has been poorly managed. tim and i discussed this exact situation about a year ago. in less than 48 hours, he’s free to talk to a bunch of champions league clubs that he would make considerable better, namely juventus, atletico, and psg.

      so many have been fine with lacazette leaving so let me ask a hypothetical…if man city were to offer £6 million for lacazette after the game on saturday, would you take it or risk losing him on a free in the summer?

      1. The question is isn’t he worth more than 6m for the rest of the year? If, hypothetically, his play adds 0.5 goals per game and we have 19 games and he starts just 12 of them, then it’s 6 goals. Which I think by the last bit of research I did was worth over 12m.

        In addition, you’d have to factor in the chances of winning the Arsene Wenger 4th place memorial trophy with and without him. I’d say that’s about 50-50 with him and about 10% without him.

        In short, I wouldn’t take less than 25m. And yep, I know he’s leaving on a free.

        1. Good luck getting anyone to bite at 25m, Tim. That is “I really don’t want to sell” money. Can’t see anyone paying even half of that for a 30 year old who’s out of contract in 6 months. And Laca, having engineered the free agency that he wants, is this 🤏 close to it. He’s going to turn down a move and put himself on the market, and at this stage there’s nothing that Arsenal can do about it. And with Auba in the doghouse, he is indispensible. No forward is going to come in in January and¹“ gel with this bunch the way he’s doing, to terrific effect.

          I think a separation suits both parties. He gets to get a max final contract elsewhere, because the experiences of his good buddy Auba and Willian have made it unlikely that the board will give him what he wants. And if he’s smart, he’ll know that the fickle bunch that is Arsenal supporters will sing his praises today, and turn on him in 2 years. Thanks for your service, Laca. New pastures beckon in the summer.

          Josh, the difference between a striker and CF is pretty well known. But in our recent run, you’ve been proven right with Laca’s value to this team. He was not this effective when he began to get starts and can be an indifferent finisher, but has really hit the straps in the past half a dozen games or so. He and Ode are the beating heart of this team, and the guys who make the others play. Ode manages to ally that with productivity. Let’s see how we get on against City, and if our recent results are sustainable against stronger opposition. This team is humming, though, and it’s in no small part due to Laca.

  14. Josh

    Just about everyone on the blog has been questioning Arteta’s tactical nous for the last 2 years. I remember several times after a loss you would claim the loss was on Arteta because he made a tactical error and I can’t count how many times over the last couple season that someone would say the reason we were struggling to score was Arteta’s poor tactics and a good manager would have come up with some tactical change that would fix our problems. There was a firestorm of anger at Arteta and his tactics and innumerable suggestions that he was an tactical idiot when we lost to Villarreal in the Europa league and that is just one example of many.

    Good form and bad form are the terms that seem to be unique to the Brits. However, hot and cold streaks and positive or negative momentum for individual players and team are discussed all the time and are a major part of every professional sport in history. During the last half of the Wenger era we had the same manager with the same tactics and the same players and play like one of the best teams in Europe for a couple months and then for no good reason morph into a team whose results were mid table in the PL for the next couple months. I simply don’t understand how anyone could have watched Arsenal football during those years and then downplay the importance of a teams form in terms of its performances and results.

    1. “Form” is amorphous. Tactics can be seen and evaluated, and that is something that Tim Todd is excellent at*. That’s why this blog has had such a loyal following of many years. It’s oh so easy to say that a team loses because it showed bad form, or won because it showed good form. That is evaluating that team in isolation. The team isnt playing itself. It is playing opposition that studied ways of beating it. Leaving Liverpool and City out of this, Arteta is going to sometimes lose to an evenly matched team, EVEN IF the players are executing his game plan. That is when it becomes a function of how the other side has planned for you. Talk of “form” is the easy way out of having to analyse a game.

      Most of the time we are going to beat Leeds, Sunderland and Norwich because we have better players, but sometimes tactics and a great coach are going to create a different result. Conditions, injuries, a sending off can tilt things. Xhaka being sent off last season (Burnley) completely shifted the dynamic of a game in which we went on to drop points. Martin O’Neill got better results out of 90s Leicester than the quality of their squad suggested that he should. It wasn’t pretty ball, but it got him results. Klopp in Germany took on the Bayern monopoly with some success. Pocchetino at Southampton punched above his weight, and made himself hot property. Heck, Arsene worked miracles with Chamakh and Denilson in the stadium building years.

      So it’s fair to question Arteta’s tactics and setup. I do see folks on the cheap and loud sections of the punditocracy being way too reactive about wins and losses, so youre not wrong about that. But I dont think the mercurial nature of fans extend as far as thinking Arteta is stupid or smart, depending on whether he wins or loses. Even some of us who dont care much for him think that he’s super smart. The best of coaches get it wrong, or get out-coached in games. And sometimes, yes, the players don’t execute. But it’s not cut and dried one way or the other.

      I expect City to beat us on NYD. But the beauty and romance of sport is that we can dream of a day where we nail our tactics and execution and beat the giant (I always go into a game thinking, against my pragmatic self, that we can win).

      *For this, I also like Lewis Ambrose and Adrian Clarke who does video analysis for Arsenal’s website

  15. We had these exact same discussions when we talked about 5 managers who did not use Giroud as a regular starter. With regard to Lacazette, he has been with us for more then 4 years and made well above 100 appearances and played thousands of minutes for 3 different managers including Wenger and none of those managers has felt he was a “critical catalyst”. I am not suggesting that an individual manager can never make a mistake but its seems very unlikely that 3 managers in a row would make the exact same mistake. Those managers have half an army of highly paid full time assistant coaches and stat analysts and people who carefully evaluate thousands of hours of film which probably cover every blade of grass on the pitch in every game. I think its highly unrealistic for any of us to believe that we can figure out some critical tactical factor when no one from the clubs coaching staff or those 3 managers during those 4 years could see. If Lacazette was really the skeleton key that could unlock our attacking potential then someone on the club would have figured it out by now or else they are all idiots.

    Fans try look for correlation which explains why a team hits a run of good or bad form. I remember when Denilson or Song or any number of players was thought to be critical because they happened to be in the lineups when the team went on a hot streak. The team is playing great football right now and everyone who has been playing in the team during the run since the Everton game is going to look good. However, we have 4+ years of evidence that strongly suggests that having Laca in the lineup is not the reason we are having this run strong performances or results.

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