Nottingham Forest 1-0 Arsenal: predictable

I was watching Lost in Space the other day with the kid. I’m talking about the new version, the reboot with Parker Posey as the evil Dr. Smith. It’s on Netflix and it’s the sort of high budget sci-fi that I never had growing up. Sci-fi TV shows in my day were, well, they were like Lost in Space: cheesy sets, floppy robots, bad writing. Red Dwarf, Star Trek (even the next generation had a LOT of cheesy sets and almost all of the aliens were just human biped variations with some weird stuff thrown on their heads), Dr. Who, Farscape, etc. The staple sci-fi diet is cheese.

High budget sci-fi television series didn’t really start going until, oh, somewhere around the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. You could see that we were building toward this inevitability but for the longest time producers were reticent to sink a lot of money into sci-fi TV shows because they tended to reach such a niche market. Star Trek is the notable exception, with both the original series ($100k) and the Next Generation ($1m) costing record amounts per episode to produce. But now days good sci-fi has hit the hyperdrive on costs with shows like the Mandalorian costing Disney $15m per episode and Westworld hitting HBO for $25m per episode.

But even with huge production costs, if the story isn’t good, or the writing is cheesy and predictable, well, sci-fi is just like anything else I guess: just not worth your time. It doesn’t matter how many cool aliens they put in the show.

Lost in Space is one of the oddest shows I’ve ever watched. The oddness of this show is in both just how unrelentingly evil and unlikeable Dr. Smith is (played by Parker Posey) but also how every episode sees the Robinsons in not just one but usually two and sometimes three world-shaking life and death situations. And when I say “world-shaking” I mean like LITERALLY – this planet they have all crashed on is going to be pulled apart by a black hole or they have to fly their entire colony ship into the atmosphere of a gas giant to collect up ammonia, which they need to use to purify the water, that is infected with a rust virus, which if it gets loose will destroy their entire ship, oh and so Maureen Robinson has to fly outside of the colony ship and close an airlock because another evil genius (not Dr. Smith!) is sabotaging the entire plan. What I’m getting at here is that the entire show is predictable and also a bit much.

You can see how things are going to develop the minute they set the scene and you can predict, with reasonable accuracy, how there will be a life-and death battle. They do manage to spring a few surprises on us but overall, the show is far too easy to read.

I would say the same thing about the Arsenal. I can predict, with reasonable accuracy, what the result of a game is going to be once I see the effort we are putting in in the first 20 minutes. If we are playing with the handbrake on, which we don’t do as often this year as we did last year, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a loss.

I have a little litmus test I apply after and during a match. It’s real simple and it goes like this: was I busy writing bread recipes or reading during the match? Well, then we aren’t playing well at all and I’m afraid that we aren’t going to get much out of this game. Like I said before, it doesn’t happen as often this year as it did last year but it still happens from time to time.

And when it happens this leads us to the other most predictable thing about Arsenal: who to blame! For some of us it’s Arteta, for others it’s the players, for me it’s the gotta be either both or neither.

Arteta, naturally, blamed the players. Not only after the match but also during the match, taking off 21 year old reserve fullback Nuno Tavarez after just the 35th minute. It was the most dramatic thing Arsenal did all match. Closely followed by Arteta taking off Cedric in the 90th minute.

Nuno was clearly incensed. He ripped his gloves off and cast them aside, then when one of the assistant coaches came over and tried to say something to him, he rebuffed him with a raised hand and took a seat on the bench where he could watch as the rest of the team continued to put in the same kind of abject performance that he was being blamed for.

Don’t get me wrong, Nuno was having a bad game and probably should have been taken off. He had multiple turnovers early and a backpass which was so bad that it required Leno to head the ball away. Not only that but he was being outclassed in the physical duels. Late to every ball, easily pushed off the ball. And while I say that he probably should have been taken off, it’s also true that subbing him off had no effect on the overall performance.

And that is partly down to personnel. The Arsenal midfield has been one injury away from a disaster for a while. Everyone can see that the X Man is a liability, that he costs Arsenal games, and also that he’s our best midfielder and without him we really struggle. We’ve known this for YEARS. This is why we bought Torreira and Guendouzi – who also didn’t work out for various reasons. This is why we bought Thomas and Sambi. Everyone in the known universe knows that Arsenal need midfielders.

Starting young Charlie Patino and Sambi Lokonga in the Arsenal midfield against a Forest team which has played together all season was always going to be a huge risk. And… what choice did Arteta have there? None, really. The X Man has COVID again, Thomas is at AFCON, Elneny is at AFCON, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been sent to the spice mines of Mourinho. There was literally no choice there and.. predictably, it didn’t work out. That’s no knock on Patino, who is clearly talented, but you are always going to struggle to control games when your midfield has never played together before.

By the way, Maitland-Niles made his debut for Roma (at right back) and.. well the press were not too nice. They called his performance a “collection of indecisions” and pointed out that he lost the ball more times than anyone else. When I look at the data from the match, it’s not the turnovers that bother me (the press count misplaced passes (which were 16 of his 17 turnovers) as turnovers which I’ve always thought was weird) it’s the utter lack of progressive passing. It’s one thing to make 16 bad passes if you’re at least trying to get the ball forward and quite another if your bad passes are sideways and backwards.

The Maitland-Niles game for Roma also highlights another key point from this match: good fullbacks who can get up and down the pitch are essential these days. This is something that Arsene Wenger recognized decades before anyone else in England and he always tried to build his teams around technically excellent, incredible fullbacks. Think about the guys he had working for him: Lauren, Sagna, Cole, Monreal, so on. These guys had technical abilities that some forwards envy (Lauren was a converted forward, so) and they had the lungs to make runs up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. Wenger often over-committed his fullbacks (and we were treated to the ignominious sight of the left back crossing the ball.. to the right back) but there’s no question that they were always key to his plan. Arsenal right now have a few technically good fullbacks but the drop off in quality from first choice to second is incredible. Cedric Soares has been a poor signing for Arsenal and from day one it was evident that he’s not good enough. Nuno Tavares got all the blame yesterday from Arteta but it’s also true that he’s been benched since the loss to Man U in early December and frankly, his turnovers weren’t a surprise yesterday. He’s played like this in pretty much every match for Arsenal.

But it’s also true that Tierney wasn’t great when he came on. And besides which, what on earth was Arteta supposed to do? Tomiyasu was out with a tight calf, Calum Chambers is an emotional choice for some fans but he’s probably not good enough to be a starting fullback, and Sead Kolasinac is a player I had literally forgot that we still have on the payroll (until he was subbed on). This summer I pointed out that Arsenal needed fullbacks and folks laughed at me but we went out and bought two. And frankly it’s still not enough.

But that said, Tavares had played really well against Sunderland a few weeks ago, so had Cedric (bed) Soares. Both had an assist and Nketiah had a hat trick. Sunderland aren’t that far off, quality wise, from Nottingham Forest. Arsenal also could have played with a back three, or with Ben White at the “right back” spot. Or Arsenal could have started with Lacazette in the forward position, this might have proven especially helpful since the midfield was so drastically inexperienced. There were a lot of options there, none of them taken by Arteta.

Instead, Mikel Arteta made an incredibly dramatic gesture and took off Tavares in the 35th minute. I don’t have a big problem with the sub itself, as I said, he wasn’t playing well but it’s one thing to take a player off at half-time and quite another to take them off 10 minutes before half. Thomas Touchy did it for Chelsea, famously dumping Reece James (or Hudson-Odoi, I think, I could be wrong) and then saying that he did it because the player wasn’t up to the required level. But neither action by Tuchel or Arteta had the desired impact. Arsenal didn’t “up their game” when Tavares was taken off. They continued to struggle to get a foot in against the Championship team and eventually, they conceded a soft goal to a 40 year old.

It was a huge signal by the manager to the team and it didn’t work. Which begs the question, what would have worked? Arteta after the game blamed the players, this is what he does, saying that “We have the players to perform better than what they’ve done today and we have the level to beat them if we are at our maximum and today we didn’t have that.”

This will prompt the inevitable debate about what the role of the manager is then. He is saying that the players he picked were actually good enough but for some reason Charlie Patino, Martin Ødegaard, Eddie Nketiah, and others just didn’t play hard enough. Why? Why didn’t they give enough effort? Why weren’t they at their maximum? And who is responsible for getting them to their maximum?

There will be no definitive answer here. Some will say it’s mostly on the players to self-motivate. Some will say it’s mostly on the manager to motivate them. Some will say we lack the quality, some will say that we lacked the tactical nuance. For me, it’s a lot of column A and a lot of column B. This is a team sport and these are professional athletes. They are expected to be motivated to play and that is down to the whole team – which includes the manager. The manager also needs to set them up to succeed. That might mean taking a player off in the 35th minute to make a tactical change. But I feel like taking a player off to send a motivational message is unlikely to work. In any case, even if you disagree, the plain facts are that it really didn’t work. We didn’t show any more interest in this match after Tierney came on than we did before.

And what happened at half-time? I’m guessing that Arteta told them how unacceptable their work was in the first half and that if they don’t have the right attitude in the 2nd half they can all just go home and come back when they have the right attitude. So, how come we didn’t come out and play hard as fuck after his motivational half-time speech? We will probably never know.

What we do know is that this manager has quite the confrontational attitude toward his players. Maybe that’s the right approach in the long run. Sir Alex Ferguson was definitely like that and he’s the most successful coach ever in England. He also had the purchasing power to just get rid of players he didn’t like and he did it all the time. Arsenal don’t have those resources at their disposal and at the rate which Arteta is burning though players I wonder how long he’ll be able to keep up this approach? My guess is another year, max.

Anyway, we are out of the Arsene Wenger memorial cup and I guess we can focus on the League and the EFL Cup now.



  1. Needed to preface this blog with “Lost in Space *SPOILER ALERT*” heh

    When the fans lost respect for Wenger so did the players. I think we’ve needed a confrontational manager to clear the squad out and start the new project.

    Whether MA8 is a long term solution remains to be seen but we’ve moved on something like 30 (?) players under his watch…

  2. It was difficult to watch. As Ian Wright mentioned, the midfield was entirely bypassed and Arsenal tried to play through the fullbacks and wide men, which made Nuno’s dud all the more painful. They had a good tactical plan, man marking all over and funneling the ball to Holding, daring him to do something over and over again. Our movement and cohesion wasn’t good enough to exploit their scheme and they were physically superior in the duels. Even Martinelli was bested by Forest’s rangy right back who was probably their best player on the day. As we lost confidence, they grew more into the game and their winner was hardly a surprise.

    I do think the decision to bypass the midfield was made consciously, fearing novice errors in possession. I wanted to see Odegaard drop deeper and help link the play and I wanted to see fluid interchange of positions but none of that happened. We kept playing into their trap.

    My feeling is that we looked past this game a bit. I’m sure everyone tried and, look, it’s not like we got battered, but yes we stunk and didn’t deserve to progress. When the whole team doesn’t show up like that I tend to think that’s a motivational thing and probably a part of them thought this wouldn’t be that hard. It’s a long season and maintaining 100% focus for each game is incredibly difficult. It’s also a personnel thing because we all know we would have probably won that game with our first choice midfield. We also missed the option of Smith-Rowe from the bench. The bottom line is I’m far from panicking but I expected more from the team and I’m disappointed in the failure to adjust/improve our approach after the first half.

  3. Tavares is young and his playing style is very impetuous, so it’s not surprising to read about his reaction. If I were Arteta I’d have a talk with him and then actually start him against Liverpool and let him get some retribution. No Salah on the right side, Tavares actually may be able to romp a bit. Tuchel actually was way harsher – he subbed on Hudson-Odoi and then took him back off only a few minutes later. But then he started him the game after. Mourinho did something similar a bunch of times – Mkhitaryan, Mata, Fellaini, Matic.

    Did not see the game. However, I think too many key players sound like they were missing – Ramsdale, Gabriel, Xhaka, Partey, Tomiyasu, ESR… we just aren’t that deep a team (yet). When I saw Patino was in the starting line-up against a Championship team, I guessed we’d have a hard time.

    1. Jack, Tuchel wasn’t harsher. He took Hudson-Odoi off after some 30min with a 1:1 score when Chelsea were chasing a win, and as the player was walking off Tuchel put his arm around him, while Arteta didnt even look at Nuno.
      You could make a case Chelsea subs (Hudson -Odoi wasn’t the only one yanked at that moment) were tactical jn nature, while Arteta was visibly cheesed with Tavares.

      As an aside, I can’t imagine a worse scenario from a player’s perspective than having an off day while your manager keeps barking out instructions at you non stop…….basically your worst nightmare.

  4. Ahead of the game Arteta stressed the importance of the FA Cup (Arsenal having won it a record number of times). It’s also what bought Arteta credit after the 2019 win. It’s one of three (realistically two) trophies Arsenal could win this season. And it’s a route to European football. For all of these reasons the FA Cup is very important.

    The Arsenal performance was poor. Leno kept Arsenal in the game. Saka and Martinelli huffed and puffed. And Djed Spence was comfortably MOTM. He pretty much owned Martinelli and Tierney having swatted Tavares like a pesky fly.

    Out of possession we often had eleven behind the ball. The midfielders and attackers kept dropping deep with no one in or near the Forest box to receive through balls or crosses. Every player in midfield and attack seemed to want the ball to feet. Where were the runners ahead of the ball? Who’s stretching the play vertically? These are questions the manager should be asking himself.

    We also bypass midfield regularly (I said this after the Leeds game). Against Leeds Arsenal played very narrowly. Yesterday Martinelli and Saka were hugging the wings and Odegaard was at least 50 yards from goal. That doesn’t make for interplay or give-and-go passing. Why, when you can see the two ‘wingers’ getting no joy, not bring them in-field or even swap wings? If you can see Lokonga and Patino getting over-run why not drop Odegaard into midfield to add more solidity? It does feel like Arteta doesn’t want to (or know how to) change it up mid game. Does he have a Plan B? Is flexibility or adaptability part of his DNA?

    If you’re a coach who gives a shit you look to solve problems rather than just blame the players. From experience when a boss goes nuclear on one of the team it doesn’t motivate the team, it just makes them less trusting of the manager.

    Arteta has to get top 4 now. No excuses.

  5. Thanks for another great review Tim. I did not see the game but I have read your review and a couple other reviews. No way we should lose to the 17th place team in the championship. I assume it was a bad day at the office and those things happen sometimes. They have been happening for the last 15 years.

    With regard to your comment yesterday my baseline bias is give the squad most of the credit when they play really well and I would not be consistent if I did not give them most of the blame when they play poorly. I don’t think Arteta suddenly became a great manager or was doing something brilliant during the 6 game run of great form we saw after the Everton game and i don’t think he was doing anything wrong during the Everton game or yesterday that caused us to lose. I base my bias on watching the last 13 years of Arsenal football under Arsene Wenger. He was the same manager who used the same tactics and I assume the same motivational strategies for years and I don’t believe for a second that Arsene would be apathetic about his game prep and subconsciously transfer that apathy to his players and I don’t believe he would make tactical errors which resulted in bad games or a run of bad games. Despite the consistency that was Arsene, the unexplainable bad games like yesterday were not infrequent and his teams went on runs of good and bad performances and results every season. Very little in sports is 100% but I am 100% sure that Arsene did everything in his power to maximize the good and avoid the bad runs and I don’t see how we can possibly give Arsene most of the blame for those fairly dramatic ups and downs. By the process of elimination it leaves the players to take the majority of the credit or blame. I hope that makes sense

  6. for once, i agree with arteta as far as what he said. however, you don’t say that to the media. likewise, saying “we” is not owning it. you have to say “me” and talk about the things you did wrong as a manager. bottom line, the players thought they just had to show up and it would be a stroll in the park, particularly after the sunderland showcase and the man city performance. however, this is the fa cup and lower league teams looking for glory will prove a handful, playing above their normal level. it happens every year. the goal is to not be one of those premier league teams that fall victim to taking the fa cup lightly.

    tim, you say there isn’t much difference between sunderland and forrest. sorry, but yes there is. there is the talent and the strategy differences. also, there is attitude; forrest were ready. their right back, the black kid with the braids, gave nelli and nuno some serious work. i felt bad for nuno because all of his transgressions happened right in front of the arsenal bench but he wasn’t worse than any other arsenal player.

    it’s not always about talent. arsenal were, clear and away, the more talented team. however, we had two kids playing center mid against experienced, battle-hardened men who have experience winning tough games. when the game got tough, who was the leader for the young arsenal players to look to? when arteta’s strategy proved inadequate against the forrest strategy, who was on the field to make the tactical adjustments? did arteta make any adjustments at halftime?

    bottom line, arteta thought all he had to do was show up and play. that attitude ran throughout the arsenal team on the day. forrest employed a very unsophisticated but effective strategy against arsenal and got the result. simply put, arteta got out coached.

    1. Forest had tactical superiority over us all game, no question. The issue in my mind is, ok, we needed to change it but how? I thought Odegaard needed to play deeper and we needed to stretch the field vertically but they were good at engaging us low enough to prevent the long ball. I also worry that Odegaard’s man would’ve just followed him and pressed him off the ball as we had no physical presence in midfield. What would you have changed?

  7. oops… was playing in the old house from which everyone moved. So going to repeat most of what was said there to my buddy Bill, who said it was the players’ fault….

    Our performance was a combination of factors. Saka has arguably been our main threat in recent games. He’s been lethal when cutting in from the right onto his left, or when linking up there with Lacazette and Odegaard. Whenever Saka got the ball, two defenders would swarm him and cut out his movement or pass to the left. Forest didnt let him play. That’s good tactical planning from the Forest coaches. Cedric, who had a bad game, didnt give him much overlap help.

    Forest RB Djed Spence, the game’s best player, man marked Martinelli out of the contest, ran Nuno so ragged, that his coach subbed him in the first half. Tierney wasnt as error prone, but got nothing out of Spence either.

    Eddie had a bad game; but…

    Arteta didnt sub in Lacazette — who had been key to our good play recently — until the 69th minute. I think it’s fair to play Eddie in a cup tie against Championship opposition. But you could argue that one off cup games against full-strength 2nd division opposition (opposition that had eliminated Arsenal early before) are great levelers. With our absences, a callow midfield, and the fact that it’s a cup tie, it is a less asymmetrical contest than you’d think.

    Im not saying Mikel got it wrong… Im saying it’s more nuanced than that. You can blame Eddie for missing a point blank header; but cant you also hold Mikel responsible for persisting with him when he’s having a bad game, and introducing Laca late? Did we muster a shot on target all game?

    Mikel made a statement by taking the rare step of yanking a player after half an hour, but it is the opposition that appeared to be more motivated after that. The players did not match Forest for urgency (which is on them), but clearly the coach’s drastic measure didn’t work.

    We got a tough break losing Xhaka to covid (again), and clearly that isn’t Mikel’s fault. But with the anticipated absences of Partey and Elneny at AFCON, we were already short in the midfield when we let AMN leave for Roma. Patino was invisible; and Sambi was languid and unprogressive. I don’t blame them. The two young midfielders got a harsh lesson in cup football, but it was the club’s planning and catching an unlucky break on Granit that put them in that position. I think there are areas in which you can say we lost the game, and areas in which you can say that Forest won it.

    Beyond that game, we need a body in midfield, and we need it fast. If we break glass in case of emergency, Ben White can play there (I wont mention Calum Chambers there. Tim would probably excommunicate me 😄), but it means that we break up his decent partnership with Gabriel (White is still prone to error… he lost his man for the goal yesterday, but he is one of our best pair of CBs)

    And I’ll add… Spurs or Liverpool are games we could lose at the best of times. Im more worried about Burnley in the league, less than 72 hours after a tough Liverpool cup tie.

    1. Well, Tim could excommunicate both of us relative to Chambers, as that was my thought as well. He’s probably not first team material if everyone is present and accounted for. But hard to imagine he couldn’t have done at least as well as Cedric or the youngsters in midfield.
      Unless he’s not match fit at all, which would be at least partly Arteta’s fault.
      And what’s happened to Holding? He’s gone backwards ever since that one FA Cup match where he dominated Diego Costa? Hopefully Arteta has a plan to get Saliba back after this season, as none of the backups look great.

    2. Just a thing I will point out: Arsenal’s fullbacks rarely overlap under Arteta. It’s not at all in his game plan.

      1. We must not watch the same games. Tierney is regularly overlapping on the left. Tomiyasu less so, but he’s done it too. I don’t know how you can say “rarely”. Is it a feature like Liverpool? No, but when they’re not playing Robertson and TAA their fullbacks aren’t bombing forward either.

        1. Yeah, you’re doing the “do you really watch the games” thing?

          Tierney is not even remotely “regularly” overlapping. We are a very conservative team. This year less so than last year but denying that is weird.

          1. Using progressive receptions as a measure of whether players get forward or not is a pretty good metric I think.

            Arsenal are 11th in the League in progressive receptions per90.

            Now, there are a lot of ways that you can do that. Man City, for example, actually almost NEVER let the fullbacks overlap and their fullbacks have very low progressive receptions numbers Cancelo leads their defensive unit in that stat with 2.21 per90.

            Liverpool are different, Tsmikas and Robertson average 5.3 progressive receptions per90.

            Chelsea’s approach is similar with Reece James and Ben Chillwell each averaging over 5 progressive receptions per90.

            Arsenal are a bit odd in that they only seem to allow one side to get forward and then about middling for fullbacks. In our case it’s only Tierney and Tavares who are allowed to venture forward at all with Tierney topping the defenders at Arsenal with 3.6 progressive receptions per90. The other fullbacks have wildly low progressive reception numbers with Cedric having an actual 0.

            In short, we let one fullback get forward at all, Tierney.

  8. You could make a case either way for the Tavares sub but Kola on 90min was as pure a piss-take as they come.
    It took as much time to give him instructions for tactical reshuffling as he spent on the pitch

    1. We were chasing a goal and into 3 minutes added. And match officials never add enough time back, particularly in time added. I’ll be kind, and say that it was baffling.

      You and Josh make a telling point. Nuno was playing on the dugouts side. And touchline Arteta isnt shy about barking instructions to his guys. My guess is that he snapped when Tavares ignored some instruction or a series of them. Spence was roasting him and he clearly wasnt playing well. But (Ive watched football for a long time and covered it some) I didnt see “yank him this minute” coming. But hey, Im not a coach. After Nuno’s ugly back pass to Leno which conceded a corner, Leno made a point of relaxing him… sort of telling him to forget about it, concentrate on the next play.

      Remember the memorable meltdown from Eboue — when Wenger had to sub the sub? That was an act of mercy. Arsenal fans, shamefully, were absolutely roasting him for his mistakes, and you could feel Eboue’s mental disintegration. It was hard to watch. It wasn’t like that with Nuno. I thought that Arteta was was to not engage the player as he came off. It might not have gone well.

  9. Forest aren’t 17th in the Championship. They’re 9th, on a very good run after an even worse winless start than oursfollowing a change of coach in September and are 6 points off a play-off position with a game in hand. I don’t know how much y’all know about the 2nd tier in England but it’s a tough league where physical challenges and physical and mental strength rule the roost. You have to fight to earn the right to play. An away FA Cup tie at a club going well in that league is a test for most Premiership sides at full strength. Underestimate these teams at your peril.

    When I heard Xhaka was out I knew we were in deeper sh*t than I already expected. Two young midfielders and no ball winner in midfield were never going to cut it. We faced a team highly motivated to take a Premiership scalp to prove their mettle and to show the ‘southern softies’ that earning a king’s ransom on a weekly basis and dancing around the pitch cuts no ice in Nottingham. Forest deserved their victory. They were tactically very impressive and intimidated our ball players before finishing us off.

    In truth, AMN’s early window loan made no difference. I’ve never seen AMN have a midfield performance that would have changed that game or its result. Indeed, I’m not convinced that Xhaka’s presence would have any difference to the outcome either though he might have stabilised the midfield and supported Sambi until he got himself a red card after provocation by being targeted with repeated heavy challenges.

    Only proactive recognition that we need a MF upgrade and the early arrival of that target in this window would help cover the absence of two of our four remaining first team midfielders would have made any difference. Patino was predictably out of his depth, Nketiah showed his limitations as did Cedric, Holding and Tavares.

    We already knew this season would be a bumpy ride and the challenge of the next three games looks colossal. They are a big hurdle for Arteta with this squad.

    1. Nice comment and I agree with all of this. The stadium was packed and rocking from the start as well. This was a huge night for the players and fans and I actually felt kind of ok to let them have it and enjoy it. They deserved it. I do think we would’ve handled them with our best XI though.

  10. That game had a banana skin feel about it even before the first whistle.
    Wholesale changes, experimental mid, previous loss to Forest( the only one at this stage in 26 years), and the one off all white kit to boot…….a good PR move for a worthy cause…..terrible idea from a football stand point.

  11. Claude.

    You can always say its a combination of factors but in the end I believe in Occam’s razor and the more you try do deep dives into analysis the more likely you are to end up being misled. There is always a danger of oversimplification and no generalization is 100% but much more often then not the simplest explanation is most likely to be the most correct answer. I did not watch the game but we should have won and we did not because for some reason the players did not seem as motivated and they did not execute as well as the opposition and just like we have seen throughout the Wenger era there is often nothing a manager can do to change that.

    1. Occam’s razor is a neat theory and all, Bill, and I’m long-winded, to be fair 🙂 But I watched the game. You should probably watch a replay.

      SLC, Patino had a good sub appearance (and a goal) against Sunderland. But there’s a world of difference between being a late sub in a game you’d basically already won, and starting next to an inexperienced 22 year old who’d barely had any game time recently, in a cup tie against a decent, full strength Championship side. In a game they’d treat like a cup final.

      1. I’m not fond of the ‘treated it like a cup final’ explanation (which is not a criticism of you but the term). A coach’s job is three-fold: pick the players, prepare the players, make any necessary adjustments mid game. That’s not to put it all on Arteta but my assessment was the team weren’t well prepared and the in game were pretty much zero (just l-f-l swaps).

        1. I know what you mean, Matt. But that till then, was their game of the season. They went to bed extra early, prepared more diligently, and probably had more video sessions. They went extra. Because taking down the team that won the cup the most times was a huge, huge incentive. Any big team, but us especially. So yes, it was sort of their cup final. Till they meet Leicester.

          But yes, youre right. The Arsenal coach has to factor this in to the prep.

      2. invoking simplicity in a game which is probably one of the most complex team games is incredibly foolish. It would be like me reducing everything down to just shots.

  12. I thought that the job of a manager is to manage and a coach to coach.

    What we saw yesterday was an abject lack of both from our manager/coach.

    It seems that Arteta has his own interpretation of where the buck stops.

    To achieve not a single shot on target against a Championship side says it all.

    I wonder how many of us were not surprised.

  13. I fell asleep after about 20 minutes, so more anecdotal evidence in favour of ‘when arsenal play with the handbrake on’.

    As for the game, seeing Cedric’s name coupled with the inexperienced midfield on the team sheet made me sceptical at the outset.

    We are in need of some depth at left-back and midfield. Here’s hoping Guendouzi redeems himself at Arsenal so that whatever petty cash is left could be used for other positions.

  14. Claude. I agree completely with you there is a world of difference between coming in as a sub in a game that is already won and starting the game. however, suggesting we lost because of Patino seems unreasonable me. If the Forest manager is smart enough to come up with a great game plan then why not do that more often in their league play and why are they in 17th place?

    The bottom line is we should have won. If we can’t compensate for one player who struggles against Forrest then we probably don’t have any chance to finish top 4. Everyone loves the idea of a plucky lower league David beating Goliath in the FA cup and its big news when it happens but its not very common and its been uncommon that we lose games like that. One the other hand stuff like this happens in all sports. I don’t know if you follow American football but yesterday the Indianapolis Colts only had to beat Jacksonville to make the playoffs. Jacksonville has been the worst team in league most of the season and especially incompetent in the last couple months. I don’t believe Jacksonville’s coaching staff took their only dose of smart pills for the season and came up with a great game plan or that the Colts coach somehow failed to motivate his team or completely screwed up the game plan and yet somehow the Colts got smoked and lost their playoff spot. The simple and to me the only realistic explanation for what happened is the Colts players choked. The Colts fans won’t like that word and you can call it whatever you want but it is what it is.

    1. “…suggesting we lost because of Patino seems unreasonable me”.


      Sorry, Bill I couldn’t read past that.

    2. But…. they’re not in 17th place. They’re in 9th. And they’ve only lost 2 games since beginning of October. This narrative that they’re a crap Championship team is incorrect and smacks of either arrogance or attempts to pile on when we’re reviewing our own team’s performance. Spurs had a real scare yesterday from a team that’s 21st in League One. Liverpool had early problems with a team that’s 15th in League One. Our misery is all relative.

      1. You’re correct. Forest changed their manager and are doing well.

        My critique is always from the perspective I use at work which is ‘what could I have done better?’.

        Spurs and Liverpool did struggle but they also found a way. Arsenal had zero shots on target. Leno made two really good saves. It could have been a worse result.

      2. Jack, it only smacks of me listening to a podcast and thinking I heard they were 17th which apparently they aren’t.

  15. Substitution of Kolasinac at 90 minutes is the most eloquent statement about why we lost and ,worse, played miserably.
    Arteta game management and tactics were too dense, and the resulting fog didn’t help .

  16. We have been using players like Patino to give us spot starts in games like the one against Forrest for the last 20 years and its almost always won. . Is Patino somehow a lot worse then the hundred of players like him we have seen in games like this for the last 20 years?

    Most of the fan base has been heavily in favor of blooding youth and everyone loves the chance to see those younger players and trying to give some of the first team regulars a chance to recover from the aches and pains of a busy holiday schedule and get a little rest before some upcoming tough fixtures. There is no evidence that our coaching staff did not take the game seriously because everyone else on the pitch were part of the first team and its not like we ran out a whole team of academy players and expected to win.

  17. no one is blaming patino for not being good enough or saying it’s his fault that arsenal failed to win on sunday. i’ve heard criticism derived from how thin arsenal are in midfield. the reality is patino had to play because arsenal didn’t have anyone else, not because arteta was giving him a run out. likewise leno, holding, cedric, patino, eddie, nuno, and sambi are 7 players who have not been regular players for arsenal lately so that is a very weak side to expect patino to shine against this quality of opposition.

    as for me, i’ve blamed the manager for not adequately preparing the players for a tough game. if you actually bothered to watch the game, you would see it appears nottingham forrest had a plan for how to play against arsenal. they clearly prepared both in the class room and on the training ground. it’s not a coincidence that arsenal didn’t have a shot on target. they had a plan to defend martinelli, bukayo, eddie, and even lacazette when he came on. contrarily, it looks like arsenal thought they could simply show up and win against a lower-division side because they simply had better players. what’s worse is that the arsenal manager takes zero responsibility for the shambolic performance, simply declaring that arsenal had enough talent to win the game; speaks nothing of what he did to prepare the team strategically. he got out coached, full stop!

    1. I really thought your comment was insightful (and inciteful) and even handed.

      Yeah, if it’s not clear, I guess I sounded like I was blaming young Rick Patino but I’m not. He’s a kid FFS.

  18. Josh. I agree we can’t blame Patino. We have been using the early round FA cup Europa league group stage games and league cup games against lower league opposition to rest our first 11 and give academy players a run out for the last 20 years and with 3 different managers and its almost never been a problem so blaming the line up choices makes no sense to me.

    In this game we had Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard Tierney and Laca (for about 25 minutes) and that group who has been mostly carving up PL opposition over the last couple months. We also had almost 70% of the ball possession so those players had plenty of chance to make something happen. I can’t believe there is a single one of us or anyone on the Arsenal coaching staff who would have prospectively predicted those players would go thru an entire game against any team in the world and not found a way to create a single shot on target. We lost 0-1 and if those players who have been playing so well would have found a way to make something happen we probably would have won. It seem unlikely the Forrest manager came come up with a tactical master class strategy which made us look docile when a bunch of PL managers including Pep could not find a way do slow us down. If the problem really was Forrest’s tactical strategy then I assume other managers are going to copy it and we are in big trouble.

    Its just my opinion but I suspect for some reason we just played a crappy handbrake game just like dozens and dozens and dozens of times over the last 15 years. I don’t remember anyone suggesting that every time we played a handbrake game during the Wenger era the problem was the manager was apathetic and did not have the players adequately prepared for the game. I don’t ever remember a single time when Arsene (or almost any other manager for that matter) suggested that it was his fault because he and his coaching staff underestimated less talented opposition and did not bother to put together a solid tactical plan and did not have the players mentally prepared.

    1. “I don’t remember anyone suggesting that every time we played a handbrake game during the Wenger era the problem was the manager was apathetic and did not have the players adequately prepared for the game. ”

      Of course we all did. Making things up doesn’t support your argument, Bill.

      1. Tim

        I was following Yogi’s blog and not yours during most of the Wenger era so I was relating my experience from that blog. I apologize to you and the rest of 7am nation for misspeaking if the tone of those discussions were different on this blog.

        There were more then enough unexpected handbrake games during the post invincible Wenger era that I believe he had to understand the importance of having the players adequately prepared. My assumption will always be that his mental state and how he prepared himself and the players for games was relatively consistent no matter who the opponent and he would have done everything he could to avoid apathy. Its not very flattering to Arsene as a manager if that assumption is incorrect.

  19. I don’t see any managers getting on the post game podium and falling on their swords and blaming themselves when their team underperforms expectations. In the first few years after the invincibles Arsene sometimes would make an excuse such as the pitch was bumpy but to my recollection in the last 6-8 years most of the time he would just say we played with a handbrake. He was not on the pitch playing the game. I don’t ever remember Arsene saying I did not have the team mentally ready or I could not motivate them properly or figure out an in game tactical solution or the proper substitution to fix the problem. I don’t think we can expect Arteta to react differently then almost every other manager

  20. Predictably I’m going to back Bill up on that last point.

    To the extent these things matter, which is probably not much, saying “we”, “us” and “our” in a post-match interview is pretty standard language surely, whether managers are referring to the players or to their own management calls. It’s just an acknowledgement that wherever the blame or praise may actually lie (and that’s never straightforward anyway), we’re all in this together.

    E.g. when a manager says “WE got the tactics wrong and changed things at half time”, it shares blame among the team and the coaching staff but includes a pretty clear admission of personal responsibility. Likewise “WE didn’t work hard enough” is a criticism of the players that also recognises personal responsibility in failing to prepare and motivate them correctly.

    And the other way around, when managers explicitly praise their team it’s not always clear that they are excluding themselves from that praise. When Dyche says “I thought the lads were magnificent today” after they scrape a lucky 1-0 win, is he really just praising them, or do we detect a teeny note of self-congratulation there?

    Liverpuddle tonight and I’m going to miss it. Boo.

    1. I agree with this. When I listen to Arteta I never infer that he’s absolving himself of blame and putting it all on the players. He’s a million miles away from Mourinho in that regard.

      I wonder… this site there’s a lot of anti-Arteta sentiment going through the comments. He seems to have a bank account that’s perpetually in the red no matter how much gets deposited. Praise seems to be begrudging and one slip up and the knives are out.

      He’s far from the worst coach in the Premier League. Is he Guardiola, Klopp, Tuchel or Conte? No. For me though, he’s on a level with Potter, Moyes, Rodgers, Rangnick, Bielsa and Vieira, but all of them save Vieira have way more experience. If Nagelsmann, Erik ten Hag or Pocchetino suddenly wanted to come to Arsenal I’d be the first to say sure, let’s make the switch, but for now I say he’s learning and we’re witnessing a growing/evolving manager. Anything I’ve read says the players like him.

      I dunno, the anti-Arteta sentiment doesn’t seem like a productive mindset to get into, we’re not getting a different manager any time soon. The fact that they’re actually pursuing Vlahovic, Guimares/Tielemans/Arthur in this window tells me the brass are backing him.

      1. I love Tim and I’ve followed this blog for a while. I will say, sometimes opinions here are get ingrained and everything is viewed through that lens. The ‘arteta is a dictator’ view is an example. He came in saying he was going to change the culture, no exceptions, etc. He has taken a hard line and we’ve seen it, but he doesn’t come across (to me) as a hypocrite or one who blames the players any more than any other coach. And the players seem to be playing for him. So I just don’t see it.

  21. Bill, there’s no need to apologise for anything. You’re giving a freely exercised point of view. One can always rebut it, hopefully politely.

    However, you’re making it sound as if Wenger routinely deployed the “playing with the handbrake” explanation for losses. That is untrue. It varied. It included, for example, tried legs from a midweek Champions League game. Could be game turning on contentious reffing. You are turning one of Arsene’s colourful terms of art/memorable phrases into something he said every week. I venture to say that you’re misremembering.

    I agree with Greg. I don’t make too much of Mikel’s post game dissection of Arsenal’s play. In fact, I think he can be refreshingly blunt about how crap we play, when we play crappily. I’ve got other issues with this manager. That, for me at least, is not one.

    p.s. and for heaven’s sake, Bill, stop abtracting about play you haven’t seen, give credit to the opposition, realise that teams are adjusting and figuring things out all the time, and that tactics matter. We will adjust and counter teams that try to play us like Forest did. Forest could play us 3 more times — with identical lineups — and not replicate that result. It’s why some sports have best of whatever. Cup football is loser go home. Get one critical thing wrong, and you’re out. Football, sport, isnt binary. The issue with your arguments is certitude based on stuff you want to be true.

  22. Anyway, tough tough cup tie at Anfield later, and we remain short. Let’s rally.

    Seems that Liverpool have been handed an unfair advantage with that rescheduling, since many of their covid cases turned out to be precautionary, and later negative.

    And btw, to circle back, I’ve never, ever heard a manager say that he or the team got their tactics wrong. The closest they’ll come to saying that — in code — is that the other guys were the better team.

  23. Ramsdale, Tierney, Gabriel, Laca and Xhaka in at the start. Leno, Nuno, Patino, Ode (covid) and Holding.

    Harsh on Leno, I feel. If you cant play in the Carabao and we have no more FA cup games or Europa, when can you? But hey, Mikel is clearly now prioritising the Carabao.


    1. You’re right Jack but let’s be honest, the real fool is Arteta. X-man’s charge sheet since he joined Arsenal is unrivalled. How many times has Arteta given him a pass? I hope this is the end of him because his colleagues all deserve far better.

      1. Arteta wouldn’t look at him when he came off.

        In Arteta’s defense, who was he supposed to play today?

        1. Agree on the day he had no choice… but Xhaka was virtually out the door (and good riddance) when Arteta joined. There was a deal with Roma reported around the £22M mark. But here we are four transfer windows later dependent on Mr Liability. It’s self sabotage. Some of us have been calling for midfield to be the priority for investment ever since Ramsey left. I hope the team aren’t exhausted for the NLD.

  24. Heroes, all of them. Ben White, Lacazette outstanding.

    Brilliant tactical switching from Arteta after the red. Defend deep, and keep outlets — keep ’em honest — with a counter threat in Saka (who should have scored round 70 minutes).

    Lots of ice baths tonight.

  25. Well done is all I can say. Martinelli, Saka and Lacazette are beyond gassed. Full credit to Chambers coming in from the cold and putting in a shift. Gabriel and White were fantastic. I’m just worried now that we’re too spent for the Spurs game on Sunday, especially now that the idiot Xhaka has got himself suspended for that game.

    1. Feel sorry for him this time. Eyes on ball, never saw man. Got sold short there too. Where was Gabriel, and why was he keeping such a high line?

      1. Arteta saw Jota, that’s the reason he was sprinting back like he was. He took his eye off Jota to watch the flight of the ball but he knew he was there and in my mind is guilty of two sins 1) underestimating Jota’s speed and 2) being so left-footed and unathletic that he flubbed what should have been a right-footed bicycle kick clearance, instead he keeps his right foot planted and tries to hook the ball with his left foot. If he had attempted a full bicycle kick and gotten Jota, that’s not a foul.

        I agree, it’s hard to criticize Gabriel (or Tierney) after their game today, but both were gone missing forcing Xhaka to cover for them.

        In another universe, Xhaka doesn’t make the foul, Jota scores, we are demoralized by “here we go again at Anfield” and the team loses 3-0 and we’re singing from a totally different hymn sheet tonight.

      2. He did have his eyes only on the ball, but that’s also kind of the problem. He should be aware of where Jota is, and if he wasn’t, he had the time to take a look. He didn’t, he screwed up, and is now suspended for the north london derby. Xhaka makes ‘rush of blood’ mistakes, and he makes ‘brain fade’ mistakes. This was the latter, but it was still a mistake, in my opinion. That said, I’m not angry or surprised – this is just who Xhaka is: an otherwise quality footballer who regularly makes game changing errors.

        Until he’s replaced, he’ll be one of our best two midfielders (when he’s not suspended, that is…), so we have to live with it I guess. I just hope the damage done isn’t too severe on Sunday.

  26. I agree with Claude. Xhaka was following the ball and had no way to know where Jota was I think most players in that spot would have tried to get a foot on the ball. Xhaka was certainly not trying to kick him.

  27. Claude. We had no other decent options in central midfield. We couldn’t bring on Patino. Seems like the only reasonable move was to bring on a 3rd CB and your most experienced bench player, park the bus and pray.

    1. I agree, Bill. A man down against Liverpool, I too would have have taken off a forward for a defender. A defender for a red carded MF was the right call there.

      I always feel sorry for the forward in that situation. Poor Robert Pires never really got over his early subbing the the CL final.

  28. The banter era continues ! Xhaka’s efficiency in hurting his own team is unmatched. The running around we did today will absolutely impact the pivotal NLD, and we might as well kiss this tie goodbye. Two birds with one stone ! What a player ! To think he was going to be the ‘anchor’ of our midfield while Partey was gone 😂

    1. 1. Why kiss this tie goodbye? We’re 0-0 at halftime, returning home with (hopefully) fewer absentees.

      2. I feel bad for Xhaka in that it shouldn’t have been his clearance to make. But it was a foul, and a red by the letter of the law.

      3. If he doesn’t make the tackle, does Jota go in and score? Do we get demoralized and lose by 1, 2, 3? Do we curse Xhaka for not making the tackle? It stinks, but he arguably got a ‘good’ red today.

      1. Tbh, I don’t care about this tie. I wanted us to come out of this match with minimal damage so we could have a real go at Spurs.

        Instead, we’re going into the NLD exhausted and without our only senior midfielder, which tank our chances of getting anything on Sunday, and perhaps even the return fixture.

        Saying that was a ‘good red’ is frankly laughable. The player himself (remarkably) has issued a public apology.

  29. There’s a character in Catch 22 called Orr, who keeps ditching his plane in the sea on missions. It subsequently transpires that these were “practice runs” for when he finally does it one time and escapes the war by rowing off and eventually getting to Sweden.

    So it is with Xhaka. He’s been deliberately getting sent off time and time again, so that Arsenal get really good at playing with 10 men, so much so that we manage to get a draw at Anfield, which we wouldn’t have done by normal means with 11 players on the pitch.

    Tactical genius.

  30. higher up the thread, there was some talk about how folks, namely me, give arteta the business. that is a fact. i do call him out for what i perceive as nonsense. however, that door swings both ways. i’ve declared myself a huge fan of arteta as a tactician. my primary complaint was that he got out coached in the nottingham forrest game, which he did. the forrest team had a very sound plan to play against arsenal…better than arteta’s plan to play against forrest. despite having better players, arsenal lost a game they should have won. i’ll take it a step further and say that unai emery wouldn’t have lost that game.

    in the post match interview, arteta said a lot of “we” while talking about the effort on the pitch. how is that a “we”? arteta wasn’t on the pitch. it’s like donald trump understood the value of saying “us” when he was really talking about himself…”they stole the election from us” or “what they’re going to do to our country”. he says what ever he must to minimize his failures and maximize his sympathy by saying “we” but takes sole ownership for any success. i don’t know about other football managers but, as a leader, i always insulated my people by publicly owning any shortcoming. obviously, behind closed doors, it was different but publicly, any failure was on me. i always look in the mirror first. perhaps that’s just me.

    with that, i give mikey huge credit for the in-game adjustments he made last night. it’s a very fine result with a gutsy performance by some young men who were unafraid to be great at anfield. last night, martinelli reminded me of van persie when he was at feyenoord. with that, the boys will be wiped come sunday. a criticism of the management team; why were there so few viable options on the bench?

    1. Hi Josh

      I get your point, and I guess it’s kind of a matter of taste. Personally I feel that criticising aspects of an individual performance is not the same as throwing your players under a bus, and when I’ve been in teams I have not wanted anyone above me to step on my responsibility for my own mistakes.

      And for me saying the effort wasn’t there is not the same as blaming the players. Everyone’s in it together, including the manager, coaching and support staff, and of course the manager is responsible for motivating and setting the standard for effort.

      Of course criticism of your own team can cross a line, and maybe your line is in a different place from mine.

      Bottom line is I don’t feel like there’s any attempt to duck responsibility by the manager, to shift blame on to the players, or to take sole credit for success. If I saw a pattern of that, then I’d be right alongside you and calling him mini-Mourinho.

      (e.g. neither of us wants me to go digging up all the times he’s said something was his fault, but there have been enough of them that at least one journo (John Cross?) wrote a piece saying he should stop it).

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