They don’t like us

Once again Arsenal held on to a slim lead to take all three points against a top four rival – this time it was West Ham in the cavernous, empty, cold, and publicly funded “London Stadium” – to put the Gunners in pole position to finish in the Champions League places. It would be an unbelievable feat given the squad Arteta has had to work with this season. It would also be exactly what was expected of him given the squad that he has had to work with this season. I will explain how it can be both later but for now, the match.

Arsenal were forced to make a change to the starting lineup as Ben White was out with a tight hammy. In came the excellent Rob Holding, with his long, flowing golden mane of hair, which makes him look like a Roman demi-god. At right back, Arteta was able to start 冨安殿 (please refer to him as Tomiyasu-dono, or “milord Tomiyasu” thanks) for the first time since January. Up top, Arteta persisted with Nketiah at center forward. West Ham made five changes to their starting lineup, choosing to rest Michail Antonio, Andriy Yarmolenko, and Tomáš Souček so that they will be fully rested when they get kicked out of the Europa League.

West Ham put in a good shift for the first thirty minutes of each half but dropped off physically in the first half and used subs to give a spark in the second. This was to be expected given the draining first leg against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.

Credit to West Ham, however, for a pressing style which frustrated Arsenal high up the pitch in the first half. Ham played four forwards against Arsenal’s four defenders, squishing Elneny into a space which made it risky to pass to him. The solution would have been for Nketiah – the free player – to drop deep and facilitate but for whatever reason (not for lack of Arteta yelling at him!) he didn’t do it until about 30 minutes or so into the game. As a result, Arsenal often were left passing the ball between the center backs or lumping a long ball to one of the wide forwards which was easily gobbled up by West Ham’s defense.

But once Eddie started dropping deep to collect and create the overload needed to unlock the Wet Hams defense, Arsenal looked decent in attack. I’m not going to say “great” because Arsenal were far from great in attack – generating just 0.9 xG on the day with 0.6 of that going to Eddie Nketiah shooting multiple times from outside the box. However, Arsenal did manage “enough” to get the win.

Both of Arsenal’s goals came from corners. The first was a corner taken by Bukayo Saka – who now has 11 goals and 6 assists this season – and scored by none other than Arsenal Roman Demi-God, Rob Holding. It was a powerful header and Holding’s first ever Premier League goal.

A few seconds later, Aaron Ramsdale was forced into a brilliant save from a glancing header at the near post. After the match, Ramsdale said that Arsenal pride themselves on set pieces and claimed that Arsenal haven’t conceded a goal from a set piece this season. has Arsenal conceding 6 goals from set pieces so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

Arsenal have clearly, however, worked on set plays. Arsenal’s second goal was another corner, again whipped in by Saka but this time feebly defended by Ham. Gabriel collected the ball and crossed to Gabriel, who scored by heading the ball back at Fabianski.

From there, Arsenal needed to defend and then attack at pace, which they did. However, the ball kept coming to Nketiah who kept taking ill advised shots from distance. Some were good-ish shots, well placed anyway, but the idea that he was going to beat Fabianski with a low, slow, shot from outside the box was fanciful. He needed to take the extra step to either beat his marker and get closer to the goal or to hold up play until Ode or Saka arrived. And at least once, he shot when he should have passed to a visibly disgruntled Bukayo Saka.

As the minutes ticked off West Ham lost control of their players and aided by Mike Dean’s bizarre refereeing they tried to goad the Arsenal players into a fight. Dean made many choices in this match which were either bizarre or infuriating. Perhaps the most infuriating choice was when Saka was down injured and he walked over to the player, had a look at him, and decided that he didn’t need treatment. That’s literally not his call. If a player is down injured, the referee can either stop the game or not. But once he stops the game, he needs to call the physios over to have a look at the player. He isn’t a physician, though I’ve no doubt that he thinks he’s qualified. The most bizarre choice was when Eddie Nketiah and Aaron Creswell got into an altercation. Here he gave both players a yellow card, which is fair enough, but the Ham players gathered around Nketiah, pushing and shoving which probably should have seen more than one yellow card. And then after the punishment was doled out Declan Rice ran over to Nketiah bumped chests with the Arsenal man and screamed in his face. It should have been a straight red card in my book but Dean didn’t even book him. I cannot understand how he got away with that.

When the final whistle blew the Arsenal lads celebrated their win and given the heated nature of the final five minutes, with Declan Rice in particular, I felt it was totally understandable that the players would be excited. But as usual, the celebration police came out in droves, tut-tutting at Arsenal “celebrating like they’ve just won the league”. This isn’t a family blog so I feel like I can say this: fuck them. In fact, we should have a fucking open bus parade after every win. And if we somehow manage top four, I think we should make our own trophy and parade it around the world, just to spite these killjoys. If you agree with them, you may want to just consider who you’re getting in bed with.

Arsenal are now in the driver’s seat for 4th place. Win every match and we can’t lose it. I’m still the same guy who said that I don’t think 4th is a must-win this season. 5th or 6th is progress and I think no matter what happens from now to the end of the season I believe we are locked in to a European place. If we lose all of the remaining matches, we will finish the season with 63 points. West Ham are on 52, so if they win all three of their remaining matches, we still finish above them. Ans Wolverhampton’s maximum points is 62. So, not only are we locked in to Europe, we are locked in to Europa League.

Which brings me to the controversial topic at hand – is that good enough? You bet your ass it is. For the fourth place or busters, I know all the arguments, ok. “It’s his squad”, “we paid 200m for these players”, “Arteta is the one to blame for getting rid of Aubameyang” and so on. You’re right, of course, because all of those things are true. But it’s also true that a lot of these players are just not good. Nuno Tavares had another nightmare. Not only was he responsible for their goal (watch it again, he was in Gabriel’s pocket when they passed the ball to Coufal in ACRES of space giving him the freedom to play in any cross he wanted) but he led Arsenal with 7 turnovers and was 2nd on the team in terrible passing with 75% accuracy. I know that he’s young and everything but that is simply an atrocious match. If we had any choice in the matter, he should be dropped completely and loaned out to get some much needed experience. But we have no choice.

Similarly, Eddie Nketiah. I know that a lot of people like him and that he’s an Arsenal academy guy but he’s not good enough to lead the line at a club like Arsenal. That doesn’t mean he will never be good enough. Just that right now, it’s not great. He works hard, I like him, but man the level there is below what is needed. You put a player like Gabriel Jesus in there, and we are suddenly hugely improved.

And in midfield we have the hard-working Mo Elneny. I like Elneny. I would actually keep Elneny (heck, I’d keep Nketiah!) because he’s a fantastic backup. But I don’t think there’s any question that the levels drop when you play Elneny instead of Thomas Partey. And look, it’s also true that Granit Xhaka isn’t great. He also had a poor night yesterday, 2nd on the team in turnovers with 4. Xhaka does a lot of things well – and he’s an iron man in terms of work rate and injuries – but it’s noticeable that what Arteta has had to do to redeem him after he cupped his ears to the Arsenal fan’s booing him is literally take him out of his preferred position and move him to the left side of Arsenal’s midfield. All of Xhaka’s passing and touch stats are down this season. Arteta has literally just taken the ball away from him (which is what he did when he first started coaching at Arsenal as well, before giving the ball back to him) and made him into a paragon of positional football – stay on the left, help out defensively, go forward when you can. And frankly we all need to give both Arteta and Xhaka huge credit for this change. A lot of players who are used to getting 90 touches a game and running the midfield would be angry if the coach said, hey how about letting Mohammed Elneny run the midfield and you help out Tavares on the left? And just to cap this off: it’s also true that no Arsenal manager has been able to get top four with Granit Xhaka in their midfield.

So, yes the squad is Arteta’s squad. Yes, we did pay 200m for these guys. Yes, Arteta gets into fights with his star players (ones he signed!) and then the club is forced to pay them to go away. But also yes, the squad – and especially the backups – probably aren’t top four quality. So, getting top four would be an amazing achievement in my book and finishing 5th or 6th is completely acceptable to me.

My slogan at work and in life is progress, not perfection and it totally applies here. Get us a couple of good forwards and a good number 8 in midfield and I think we’ve got top three in us but as constructed, right now, 5-6th place is exactly where I’d expect this squad to finish.



  1. Tavares, at this point, really should be a wingback, as he’s OK going forward, but poor defending. I’d say straight wing, but his shooting hasn’t been great either.
    Hopefully Tomi just came off as a precaution. If he’s still healthy, against Spurs, I might be tempted to play Tomi and Cedric.
    Eddie didn’t do great with his shooting, but still feels like a better option than Laca, who would have had none of that breakaway threat.
    I’ve certainly had mixed feelings about Arteta this season. And it’s not like he scraped by with a minimal budget. But credit is due that we are at this point in the season and in pole position to get into CL. Crazy, but if we had managed a win/tie instead of losing those three, we’d be above Chelsea in 3rd.

    1. I think Nuno is getting an overly hard time.

      Yes, he has turned the ball over, usually out of a desire to drive forward but the way, but he offers so many positives that are just plainly ignored. Driving runs, over and underlaps, two footedness, a strong aerial presence. The raw ingredients are completely there. He may need a loan, but he is far from a dud. This is a guy who’s played fewer than a full season of professional football by the way.

      He’s been absolutely instrumental in these three wins in a row. Especially the Chelsea and Man Utd games. Where he singlehandedly broke the game open with the initial goal involvement in both games. First with clever vision – a perfectly weighted pass to force the error for Nketiah to finish. The second with his huge athleticism – to tap in on the back post – a place Tierney would have never been.

      The first goal is key, and on such things our games hinge. We could just have easily been talking about two defeats if it were not for Nuno’s early contributions.

      I think he’s added a hell of a lot to this team. What we have lost in structure, we have gained in goal threat. And what is the f-ing point of the game is it’s not that?!

      I think he’s a breath of fresh air to Arteta-ball, which is programmed to be as robotic and sterile as possible. An unfortunate by-product of the Man City connection.

      I’m fine with Tierney as first choice, but his availability isn’t good enough, and this season, as he would agree, he’s been far from his best. Currently I’d rather watch an exciting player like Nuno who runs like the wind improves every game, than a do-your-job, play-it-safe-every-week left back.

      For him the only way is up and he’s one of my current favourites. But I love Pepe, so what do I know.

      1. He’s ok going forward sometimes but his decision making when he does that is crazy. Yesterday he sprinted with the ball straight up the pitch through the middle and was easily dispossessed, leaving his entire area unguarded. Fullbacks first and foremost have to defend. Second, they have to be good with the ball, not committing tons of turnovers because of the basic nature of their jobs turnovers are a massive problem. Nacho Monreal went an entire seasons losing the ball 12-14 times, Nuno loses the ball 7 times PER GAME. It’s simply unacceptable. And for him to also be poor at passing is just crazy. Attacking is a bonus and is great but your argument is like saying a goalkeeper is good despite leaking goals because he’s got an assist or something.

        1. Fullback is also doubly challenging because the pitch you have to work with is cut in half compared to players who play centrally. So a player who is already technically limited in that position becomes a landmine. Witness early Calum Chambers, Jenkinson anytime, Eboue, etc. etc. It’s why Bellerin was so important to our attacking play for so long. It’s why Pep pays a premium to have an incredible possession oriented FB like Cancelo. Arsenal need a player like that. As good as TT is defensively and KT with crossing, neither of them give Arsenal that kind of technical security.

      2. I think he’s both a huge asset and a big liability. Very non-Arteta player, but I kinda like him. As Tim says, his turnover rate is maddening. He has a tendency to dribble his way out of possession. Gets the ball out of our end, dribbles across midfield and gives it away. His defensive positioning is also poor.

        The counterpoint is his speed and athleticism make up for a lot of mistakes. His ability to give opponents fits on defense is also a big asset. This guy has a lot to learn, but he has some qualities that can’t be taught. I just don’t see Cedric as a realistic option on the left. Not physical or fast enough, and the extra touch he takes to move the ball onto his right ffot will cost us in buildup. So, like it or not, I think we’re stuck with him.

        1. He’ll be a beast of a full back. We have a good ‘un. Superb athlete. He just has to learn (thumbs notes) …. er, positioning and defending? 🙂

          You have to look at the player’s price, his age and his ceiling, and then be realistic. For what we got Nuno for, Im not worried. You want to buy high-celing young players for under 10m, and that’s why I think it’s such a shame about Guendo. You want to see a coach hone that exciting youth, and even rawness. No greater thrill for a football fan than watching a young player blossom. Glad I saw a Fabregas come of age, and glad Im seeing the emergence of Saka. Not comparing Nuno to either. Just saying that he’s got qualities that excite me.

          I just hope that he gets through the rest of games with fewer incidents, because he’ll continue get targeted. For the West Ham goal, he wasnt solely at fault. Martinelli was too. Gabi had wandered too central, perhaps reflecting a hunger to play there.

          Nuno, as Hah said, made the clearance against Chelsea that led to Christiansen’s mistake and Eddie’s goal. And yes, he scored on the rebound against United.

          And if we remember our game against Chelsea earlier in the season, Reece James was consistently given lots of space to run into by Tierney. All of this makes me appreciate Tomi more. He has a decent cross on him, but he does his primary job, defending, very well. Let’s hope he didnt go off because we rushed him back and he had a setback.

          Off topic, Im dreaming of adding Declan Rice to our midfield. For their goal, the safe pass was to Mark Noble to his right, but he found Coufal in acres that Nuno had vacated. Which, to be fair, wasnt hard. I really like the player, but he seems out of our price bracket.

          1. Would love Rice, too, but I think Arsecast reports he’s off to Man U.

  2. I’ll add this limited variation on arguments you’ve heard before – the squad that started the season was a top 4 squad with a mid-table manager. If we get top 4, I don’t worry too much about how we get it. If we don’t get top 4, I care quite a lot about how we didn’t get it.

    Also, just figured out our recruitment strategy – angel-themed club song to lure in all the Gabriels. Praise be our 2022-23 front line – Djibril Cisse flanked by Gabbies Martinelli and Jesus.

    1. I’m not sure I agree that was a Top 4 *squad*. Maybe a Top 4 first XI, but no depth, as we saw when we lost first choice LB, RB and CDM at the same time. So we are almost exactly where we should be, and have made space for the right signings to build that actual squad next year.

    2. Come on, this is absolute revisionism. Top 4 squad at the start of the season? Where? Not even top 4 11. Saka and ESR started to look good midway through last season, but there was no guarantee they’d be able to keep that up. Gabi still looks good in moments, but end product isn’t there yet. People were poo-pooing the Ramsdale and Ben White signings, and people said we made a mistake getting Tomi instead of that Spurs guy. Partey was underachieving. Auba and Laca looked the same as they do now.

      We were 8th, and we added two English players people said we overpayed for, two backups who are still backups (Tavares and Sambi), and a RB who pundits said was underwhelming. Meanwhile United had finished 2nd, Pool were Pool (same squad as previously, albeit a bad season), City were City, Chelsea were Chelsea. In what sane universe was that a top 4 squad?

      My guess was 6th. We’d spent money and signed some promising players who would not come good this year. 6th is achieved. If we don’t get top 4 I would be gutted, but I’ve seen enough to know that we’ve performed above expectations this season.

      Honestly, Arsenal fans are a surprisingly demanding bunch.

      1. I’ve said top 4 is an expectation pretty consistently since the beginning of the season. What’s your expectation of this club, genuinely? Is it five year projects all the way through? We had a 10 year project after the Emirates – I was very happy to buy into that. But if you fire the club’s greatest ever for 5th place, how in the world is anyone happy with 6th five years later? It baffles me.

        1. So it sounds like your argument is…
          Wenger fired for dropping to 5th, thus every season thereafter expectation should be 4th place. To evaluate this year, you’ve said that we had middling manager, but top 4 squad.

          It seems to me that for your argument to work, you need this season’s squad to be top 4, which as others have pointed out, is a hard sell.

          Additionally, how could it not be that AW perennially overachieved with a sub Top-4 squad, or that, as PL grew in $$, teams got better, and even AW’s magic with what he had couldn’t cut it anymore?

          You might respond that if he overachieved, why should AW have gone?

          I think the environment changed, and the club didn’t want to rely on AW to be both a manager and pick the players. Maybe modernization has its costs, and we’ve seen the club’s recruitment strategy swing all over the place, but this doesn’t mean that it wasn’t time for him to go, or that a coherent recruitment strategy wouldn’t ever emerge. The club has made some bad moves in the transfer market, but we’ve finally cleared the deadwood out. There seems to be something of a strategy in place that doesn’t involve buying aging Chelsea players, or paying players like Auba or Ozil to sit on the bench. Although, as I’ve said in recent comments, I’m not entirely convinced we’re headed in the right direction yet. We are headed in *a* direction. Time will tell if Arteta’s vision is the right one.

          is not the same question as

          I would be willing to criticize Arteta if he didn’t get us 4th this season, given the opportunity that’s opened up. But premising criticism on a claim that he underperformed with this season’s squad is not as persuasive, because I don’t think many people saw this squad as top 4 ready at the beginning of the season, including the manager himself.

          1. That last para is very confusing, but to make my own expectations clear – it’s not 4th minimum every season. In terms of the league – a manager’s first season needs to be something above 8th, second season has to be 4th, third season needs to see either an improvement in league position or a deep CL run. Else, change manager. An FA Cup win can lengthen that timeline by a year or so.

            If the manager feels they are not being backed in the transfer market, I would very much like them to shout it from the rooftops, instead of trying to protect the club’s “image”. Else, players bought/signed by a manager are presumed to be targeted at putting the club on a three year timeline towards a title challenge. For example, I do not want to hear about how Nuno Tavares is “not good enough” for Arteta’s vision when he was purchased 12 months ago *with Arteta’s presumed approval*. Same for re-signing Aubameyang, similar for not replacing Xhaka.

            A club like United – that won 5 titles in 7 years not that long ago – can afford to take a decade to reset expectations and think long-term out of its ongoing identity crisis. A club like Arsenal – which bought ten years of managed expectations to build a stadium that the fans were not desperate for – should not have the luxury of “projects”. Especially when they’re itching to raise ticket prices again, and constantly scheming to monetise other kinds of engagement.

  3. I didn’t understand the elaborate praise Nketiah was getting on some shows after the game… really, a striker just a notch or two better might have buried at least one of those chances and put the game out of reach. Agreed that when Tavares has the ball, I’m usually holding my breath. And Xhaka made a few “suicide” passes yesterday, like the one chip to Tomiyasu’s chest when he had a West Ham player 4 paces away and so the ball was coughed up and next thing you know West Ham is breaking. Stuff like that was happening all over the pitch. But we survived.

    You have to figure Liverpool will beat Spuds – they basically have to. And so, if we can beat Leeds (won’t be easy) we may be going into the NL derby 5 points clear and really, a draw will be like a win for us. Newcastle will be on vacation and Everton might be looking at a do-or-die game the last day, but at home and with Champions League at stake, we should be able to get over the line.

    If we get Champions League, that opens up so many possibilities for addressing roster weaknesses. Gabriel Jesus, Domenic Calvert-Lewin (hopefully Everton go down and have to sell), Youri Tielemans, a proper back up for Tomiyasu…

    1. I’d prioritize a proper back-up for Tierney, tbh! Cedric could probably do the job for another year, whereas Tavares badly needs a loan. Maybe Cucurella…

  4. I was thinking the same things watching these past few games. We have had replacement level talent in multiple positions over the past 6 matches and somehow still on course for a top 4 finish ahead of teams who really should be ahead of us given track record in prior seasons (spurs) or money invested (united). Only 3 points behind chelsea as well which is crazy.

    The El-Neny thing deserves a special mention. He stepped into the team out of nowhere after barely playing and has provided stability in both phases. He kind of rescued us from the midfield oblivion that resulted when Lokonga was asked to play that role. We knew the abyssal dropoff form Partey to his replacement was there, but El-Neny brough the floor of that abyss high enough that we could survive the fall.

    To me Lokonga and Tavares are in a similar situation. Both are young players who are being exploited by other teams because they’ve simply not learned basic positional football at this level, and in Lokonga’s case, lack the size/athleticism to compensate. I’m not worried because the tools are there. They’ll be much better next year. Both players were an investment in the future and it can’t be much of a surprise that they are not there yet in their rookie campaign.

    Yes, a lot of money was invested in this team and for good reason. Every player who was signed to fulfill a first team role has done so: Ben White, Tomiyasu-dono, Ramsdale, Gabriel, Odegaard and Partey have all been brilliant additions, which is a reflection on them as players, the recruitment process that identified them, the negotiating team that landed them, and, crucially, the players they replaced (Pick of Mustafi, David Luiz or Sokratis for BW and Gabriel, a physically diminished Hector Bellerin for TT, twilight disaffected Mesut Ozil for Odegaard, Leno for Ramsdale, and Guendouzi or The Onion Knight for Partey).

    But this team needs even more than that. We can’t keep trotting out Nketiah, god bless him, as a center forward or as anything in the first team. He has good speed, technique and desire. But he lacks awareness with the ball and makes poor decisions when well placed, and I’m not sure that’s something that can be dramatically improved upon at this point in his career. Center forwards on teams like Arsenal need to make good decisions with the ball every time they touch it and I just don’t see Eddie being capable of that. As good as El-Neny has been compared to rookie Lokonga, he will limit this team’s offensive potential just by being on the pitch because of his risk averse style and inability to carry the ball. Granit Xhaka has been covered ad nauseum. Those are three positions the club must address this summer, at a minimum, if it wants to stay in the Champions League.

    1. I love this post, thoughtful criticism and balanced positivity. Thanks Doc!

  5. “West Ham put in a good shift for the first thirty minutes of each half but dropped off physically in the first half and used subs to give a spark in the second. This was to be expected given the draining first leg against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.”

    Frame that.

    For those of us saying at the start of the season that 8th to 6th or 5th with no European football (and effectively, close to no cup football) does not represent progress, this is exactly why. Arteta was given all of the tools to lead Arsenal to a Champions League place. If he pips Chelsea to third, now we’re talking.

    Said so from match 1, will say it again.

  6. (Pick of Mustafi, David Luiz or Sokratis for BW and Gabriel, a physically diminished Hector Bellerin for TT, twilight disaffected Mesut Ozil for Odegaard, Leno for Ramsdale, and Guendouzi or The Onion Knight for Partey).

    Doc – this post really puts things in perspective for me. Thank you! As I look at this list, I think there were some ballsey choices made. Young and/or unproven over established or veteran. Those were some big calls. A lot of people didn’t want to see Bellerin, Ozil or Leno go. We paid full price for Partey. He let Auba go, too. In hindsight, I think they were all good calls. (Some might quibble about Guen and Auba) but you’ve gotta hand it to Edu and Arteta. We have secured Europa league, are in the driver’s seat for CL, have slashed the wage bill, and have the youngest team in the PL. The magnitude and audacity of this overhaul have been astounding when you sit back and think about it.

    Agree that while Eddie has upgraded our CF in the last few weeks, we need to find better for CL football. And midfield needs reinforcing. Xhaka and Mo have been admirable (although yesterday was far from brilliant). Two strong midfielders and two forwards and this team has big possibilities.

    1. Agree fully with that last line. The rest of it has this sense of “Behold The Process” that I can’t get behind at all.

      For “big calls”, I would suggest “failure to use viable resources”. For “cut the wage bill”, maybe “passed up tens of millions in possible transfer fees”. “Magnitude and audacity?” – an astonishing amount of rope (including permission to play two seasons of dour non-scoring football) that other managers would have killed for.

      Still, he’s here. And if we get 4th, it’s undoubted progress.

      1. Clearly we’re at odds, and I respect your perspective on this. I can see why you might not agree with the choices made, but not how you wouldn’t recognize the high-risk nature of them. That’s what I mean by audacity.

        And this is where I suspect we really diverge -This club had major issues at the end of the Wenger era that continued on into the Emery tenure. The roster was a mess. The salaries were ridiculous. The football was awful. It wasn’t something that could be fixed with a new manager overnight. It’s the kind of thing United are still struggling with since Fergie left. It’s a massive amount of change.

        Wenger wasn’t willing to accept that or do it. Emery tried but the players ran roughshod over him. Arteta came in and alienated a lot of people. Yep, he made enemies and he made mistakes and upset a lot of people. He’s also put us in a much better long-term position than we’ve been in for a long time.

        One of the biggest achievements for Arteta/Edu appears to be getting the owner’s buy-in to make these big changes. To agree to forgo transfer fees for outgoing players to get their wages off the books. To get rid of more experienced players and go with such a young team. To go with such a small squad. To stick with him as manager despite how awful we were last December and after the first 3 games this season. We may all think these were questionable at the time, but here we are 4 games from CL football.

        I don’t think he’s been right every time. I lost my patience last winter and was teetering on Arteta out early on this season. But change is hard, change is ugly and it upsets and alienates people. Now I see a team that is fighting for every ball, is 100% behind the coach and a fan base at the stadium that is by all reports also energized. Our metrics are better this year and we have a good shot at CL. I call that progress, with or without CL.

        1. I think his biggest strength is getting the owner’s backing in the transfer market. It’s not a small achievement to get a budget out of KSE. However, that whole episode with him and Edu traveling to the States in January and returning without a mandate to buy a new striker (speculation I admit) was not a good sign of his continuing ability to do so.

          If they actually spend this summer, I will stand happily corrected. But we’ve seen this dance between season ticket renewals and transfer rumours before.

  7. 4th wasn’t a realistic expectation with this squad until the Arsenal dropped out of Caribou Cup and the FA Cup along with other contenders underperforming – all which added up by Jan’ 22.

    It was at this point that in my opinion people started revising their expectations, perhaps on relatively infirm ground of hope than objectivity.

    This is not to say that I am ‘4th or bust’, but under those circumstances anything less than 4th would certainly have been somewhat of a disappointment.

    And recently, until the Spuds’ draw it did look shaky after the three loss-three win seesaw.

    Given where Villarreal are languishing in the La Liga table and the atrocious display – in terms of entertainment value – against Liverpool, I do believe Arteta is a much better choice. We have at-times played attractive football this season that made actually regret missing out on matches this season – a habit I picked up after listless displays over the last two years.
    And if Arteta et al are able to get 4th out of this squad while substantially refreshing it and building it for the foreseeable future AND also conserving cash by not panic-buying in the Winter – full credit to him, the executive staff and the board.

    This however does not excuse his inability to work with star players – something that he should iron out. When Arsenal re-capture some of the lost glory of the years gone by and start attracting bigger players to the club – this will otherwise become a potential banana skin.

    I do however wish to ask people of what they thought of the potential ‘handball’ in the build-up to Gabriel’s goal and the controversial studs-up slide from Ramsdale/yellow-card to Bowen.

    I do feel that slide was dangerous and somewhat reckless in that could have gone horribly wrong for Arsenal (DOGSO, dangerous play Red Card) and perhaps Bowen as well if any contact was made (severe injury).

  8. If possible sign lokonga and Tavares to longer deals and loan them out and get better players for now cos they limit the team.

  9. Tell you what I really liked on Saturday… will to win.

    If we cant score pretty goals from our forwards, bully them in at set pieces from our big lump centre backs. Set pieces has been one area of outstanding improvement from Arteta and his team. Happy for Holding. He’s missed a hatful of headers over the years. Now if one of them can become our Koscielny (important goals from the back), that’d be a great addition to our offense.

    In case it has escaped anyone’s attention, four goals from our last 3 games have come from unusual sources — Nuno, Xhaka, Holding and Gabriel (who had done so before but was hardly a regular). It says to me that the team is pulling together in a collective will to win.

    Also, great example being set from the sidelines by Laca, who not playing, but joining fully in the celebrations.

  10. With respect, I dont understand the wage bill argument. “MA will be judged to be a success if he dumps two salaries”, said no one ever. We never paid above market rate for anyone ever, not even our recently departed two highest wage earners. They were on high wages, not ridiculous ones that were financially crippling, or market-outlier ones.

    What is more, we are/were subsidising the remainder of their salaries (to season’s end in Auba’s case) while they played for other teams. So that is a false economy. Not only that… the Auba money would have been pumped right back into Vlahovic’s wages had we got him, while still paying Auba in full for the remainder of the season.

    Moreover, we haven’t improved contract management, and Nketiah for example will leave, without £0 fee to Arsenal, at the precise moment he has pumped up his value. Laca leaves for not even a nominal. Salary savings are offset by bad value management on Guendo (we’re leaving £15m on the table), Mavro and Torreira. The only financial outcome worth celebrating is getting Willian to dump 2 years of his fat salary, sparing blushes all round. Willian is foregoing £12m, if memory serves.

    Dont get me wrong. There’s much to like (see comment above), but let’s get some perspective on this wage bill thing. I know that we all want to rally behind the team, and that’s a good thing. I do too. Im liking the direction of travel, but there’s a lot to do to improve the stewardship of the club, on and off the field.

    But give Jack his jacket. The manager seems to have a team of warriors with plenty of fight, and a fan base increasingly rallying to his side. Heck, even Elneny is looking like a proper midfielder. Onwards.

    1. Cutting the wage bill should not be an achievement we celebrate in itself, but it matters. It puts us on a much better footing. It gives us the funds to bring in the players we really need, and to make the salary structure more equitable for all.

      According to, we reduced our annual wage bill by £65 million – from £152m last season to £87m this season.

      I don’t think that’s right, but even so, if it’s £40m, the money we saved in one year has more than made up for any salary and transfer fee losses.

      Cutting that from our wage bill while improving our league position by 3 or 4 places is a pretty impressive managerial achievement. If Klopp or Potter had done it we would rightly be impressed.

      We are now well placed to bring in a couple of players on £200k per week – level with Partey who is now the highest earner – plus one or two youngsters. That should get us the kind of quality we need, and it will help ensure more equality and collective responsibility. (For comparison Bruno Fernandes’ new contract at United is reported to be £240k per week – £90k less than Ozil was on at Arsenal in 2017).

      There’s the net £183 million we spent in transfer fees under this manager of course. That’s a lot of money. But in spending that money we’ve completely changed the profile of the squad from unfancied or older players who were losing value to hot younger players who should increase their value. The net value of our squad is now going up, not down. If you spend money on assets whose value is increasing faster than inflation then that’s not spending money, that’s making money.

  11. I was never an Arteta out and my expectations before the season’s start were pretty modest
    (top six on 65 points or thereabouts ), but I can certainly understand where the ”top four is a must ” folks are coming from.
    I’ve heard the “no one expected Arsenal to make top four this season” line trotted out endlessly, and while that might be true, lets play the devil’s advocate and asked that same question but with a twist.

    Would you have expected Arsenal to finish top four in Arteta’s third season in which we played 10-15 games less but spent more than others, had you known United would blow up their season by firing the manager who got them top two on 74 points and 73 goals scored the last, and hire someone midseason on interim bases who said a total rebuild was needed and 6 years to do it in( lol)?

    And if you’d known Spurs would fire their seventh choice manager and hire one midseason that had turned them down last Summer because he never fancied them and only reconsidered because he got bored while jobless, and then proceeded to add three new players in key positions and tried to integrate them seamlessly without a preseason ?

    Because if you would’ve said fourth under these circumstances was still a stretch, then one of the things the club needs to be congratulated on is…………lowering the expectations, and by some distance too.

  12. Despite the recent Arsenal goals uptick, striking has to be prioritised above all else.

    CL is going to be enormously helpful in attracting top talent. Rangnick’s been telling the press ManUre are after two strikers. No doubt Chelsea and others with equally deep pockets will all be tapping up a limited talent pool.

    It’ll be interesting if the Kroenke corporate edict of buying ‘up and comers’ is maintained. It does feel like the owners are playing moneyball in the hope they strike gold.

    You’ve got clubs like Palace and Brighton making smart low outlay young player purchases and clubs like Liverpool who identify and buy the top talent just about to make elite grade (Diaz, Jota). Still feels like Arsenal need to sharpen up their recruitment game.

    Next season with Europe (and hopefully deeper runs in the domestic cups), the club could be easily looking at 25% more games. This squad isn’t strong enough for that. Plus the number of minutes given to academy players this season is close to zero. That has to change. Another big Summer ahead but hopefully based on a champions league platform.

  13. First off, Eid Mubarak to anyone who is celebrating.

    I wasn’t very happy with what I saw in the West Ham game, but I missed most of the 2nd half due to work calls. I intended to watch it again, but haven’t so far, and I figure what’s the point. We won, which is what matters.

    I read through all the comments here on Nuno Tavares and had a thought that maybe he could make a Bale-esque transformation to the wing. He’s got the speed and a good shot on him. Allowing him the freedom might also allow him to develop his technique away from the pressures of defending.

    I’m with Claude on the false economy of this wage bill thing. It’s been mismanaged as far as I’m concerned. I also don’t buy into the young players concept. I’d take Nketiah/Balogun leading the line as a youth project. Not a 23y/o 60m purchase. Performance is all that matters if you’re spending like that.

    Not a top 4 or bust guy, but I would count not making top 4 a failure nonetheless. Last season, we had the manager himself talk about points being enough for EL a season before, and the post Boxing day table as proof of the process working. Add in no Europe plus another round of heavy spending and top 4 was always a realistic target. I don’t understand why it’s deemed otherwise.

    Next season we’ll need a larger squad with more rotations, and face better and different challenges. While other clubs will also improve their squads after a lull in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. That’s when the real test comes. Arsenal back in the CL (hopefully) where we belong. A squad paid and built for the manager, in his 3rd full season in the job. But first we need to get there. Here’s hoping we will do it.

  14. Off topic, but for all the cynicism around it, the new Europa Conference League has been a success. That’s a proper semi final lineup.

  15. If Villareal actually pull this off against Liverpool, can we just be clear that Emery is objectively a better manager than Arteta. Actually, hang that. Even if they don’t.

    He is in Arsenal’s past, he made some inexplicable choices. But replacing him with an amateur… the disrespect. Come on. Come on. And for all those going our squad is light years behind etc, take note. That Villareal team has two Premier League ‘rejects’ in midfield and they’re competing because they’re being coached properly.

  16. “n fact, we should have a fucking open bus parade after every win. And if we somehow manage top four, I think we should make our own trophy and parade it around the world, just to spite these killjoys.”

    F*cking love this!

    1. When someone tut-tuts you for celebrating too much, go full Ramsdale in their face and make them cry like a little Bruno.

  17. Thanks for the post Tim, and for the comments all.

    Many of the comments above that seem to be based on the idea that the club is not really trying to improve, it’s selling us “the project” but it’s really trying to lower our expectations while it cuts costs and makes money. “The project” goes in scare quotes because it’s a big lie.

    First, if you think we all suffer now from lowered expectations, then surely Tim is wrong and the the critics are right to have a go at Arsenal for over-celebrating simple victories over clubs we should expect to beat?

    Second, I understand – “the project” COULD mean the club promising a future that never arrives, keeping us happy with mediocrity, while the owners lines their own pockets and pick yours.

    But to me “the project” is about increasing expectations, not lowering them. It’s about saying that where we are is not good enough. My expectations have certainly gone up. I used to be resigned to 4th at best. Now I’m expecting us to continue our development and hopefully by 2024 to be challenging City and Liverpool at 90 points per season. It’s a sea change for me.

    It also just means that we (finally) have a plan. High expectations are meaningless without a plan. Ambition is meaningless without a plan. It’s not just management-speak or a crooked sales pitch, I think it’s actually really crucial.

    As Arteta said in that interview with Sky, you start with your goal and work backwards – which means that you do some things now, even when you might not be ready, even if they don’t make much sense in isolation, because if you don’t do them now you will never reach where you want to go. You have all the steps and you need to go through them.

    It takes time, and that time is not unlimited, but you can’t skip steps.

    This is good management, and I’m afraid that I didn’t see any of that before at the club. It used to be more like:

    1. Buy players
    2. ?????
    3. Win the league!

    THW14 in a great comment upthread is crystal clear that s/he thinks after 10 years of managed expectations Arsenal can’t afford the luxury of “a project”. I think it’s the opposite: after 10 years of managed expectations we can’t afford any more of the complacency and drift that set in to the club as a result. We need the project.

    Maybe you just disagree with the details of this particular project and the choices that have been made and OK but that’s for a different comment I guess.

    Last boring point: another trigger issue for some is “culture”. But it’s pretty simple – if we want to change outcomes, we have to change behaviours. If we want to change behaviours, we have to change people’s beliefs and attitudes towards what they are doing. That’s all “culture change” is. Again, it’s fundamental if we want to improve.

    1. “Second, I understand – “the project” COULD mean the club promising a future that never arrives, keeping us happy with mediocrity, while the owners lines their own pockets and pick yours.”

      Fair play – as long as that’s got through, I’m happy to just watch the chips fall where they may. I really wish I could feel about this team the way I felt about the first crop of the post-Highbury project. The extent to which the club, manager and players took a blowtorch to that goodwill over the next decade…. wow.

      I admired our current manager as a player. He seems fundamentally a decent hard-working guy. Pretty much all his shortcomings can be put down to lack of experience, which is not a crime (at least, not his crime). I really like all our players, bar one. I even like the ones the manager doesn’t seem to care for, and who get written off every other month (before they remind us they’re not that useless).

      I’m going to focus on those positives more. The conversation here helps, much much more than the “hail the manager or get lost” boorishness elsewhere.

  18. The culture of a club has to include its management culture. You have to take the whole. i dont buy the notion that Arteta is some pure white knight. That he has a monololy on virtuousness, or right. He’s a young manager who has never been head honcho at a big club. Even his most ardent supporters should be objective enough to admit that he has made mistakes.

    I’ll go further… he is a part of any problems with culture at the club, because boy has he presided over a poor management culture. I say this as someone who is rallying to him. I am an Arsenal supporter. If he succeeds, Arsenal succeeds, and that’s what I want. It does not mean, however, that I should bin all of my past criticisms of him; or that my misgivings about his management style vanish. I detect, on the part of many gooners, a desire to sue for peace, which means renouncing all of their previously held positions, and saying, “I was wrong about everything”. That’s not how support works for me.

    I also don’t like the ease with which fans turn on players; seemingly happy to support and laud players only when the management does so. So we have gooners slamming Thierry Henry on social media for making the entirely fair and logical point that Saliba wasn’t even given the chance to fail by Arsenal, and implying that the player’s emergence and stellar play have made a mockery of Arsenal’s decision-making around him. Sure, people will spin, in a king’s new clothes kind of way that it was a brilliant strategy; but this was a player we placed behind Mari, Mustafi, Holding and even Kolasinac and Tierney, who have played CB for us. This was a player who did not play a single game for Arsenal between start of the season in August 2020, and the January 2021 window… who promptly went to Nice and killed it, getting award after award. This is a player considered a generational talent who some (including Tim) reckon — the way the cookie has crumbled — will probably leave this summer without ever suiting up for us. You cant spin that.

    Arsene said on TV yesterday that Arsenal didnt give Emery enough time. His was not a criticism of Mikel… it was his take, as a fellow former manager. I await the incoming barbs from Arteta supporters; some of whom (not all) give off strong cult vibes. Is Arsene wrong, though? The clamour for Arteta began before we even hired Unai, and there was general impatience at his standing in the way of our manifest destiny. We the fans demanded that (me included), and the owners listened.

    So Im not sold on Arteta as a culture soldier. Auba had timekeeping problems before he pressed him into signing a contract extension. Does anyone believe that he’d have come down so hard on Auba (indefinite, rolling, never-ending ban and all) if he’d had15 goals by December? He was judged to be expendable, even if the severity of his punishment was out of all proportion to the crime. We also know from the journos — AND FROM ARTETA HIMSELF — that Auba was a great example to the young players in many ways. What I’d objectively give Arteta credit for if he guides the team to 4th or 3rd is gambling on constructive dismissal, not doing a panic buy in January (this is huge), and making the most of his depleted forward resources for the run-in. You don’t have to like it, but you can give it props for being ruthlessly ballsy.

    That said he’s presided over poor management culture, combined with piousness (non-negotiables and all that management-speak). Shard has shared a few stories about how he treats lessers. Im not saying that all the players were nice, agreeable people; but which sports dressing room full of rich millionaires ever is? Or, in Arsene’s case having a cabal of boozers? Behaviours? Start with the man in the mirror. We are prepared to take big losses in the market to paper over our young manager’s inability to effectively manage players of all kinds. I don’t know that the owners would want to do that indefinitely. The next few months are crucial… where we end up, and how we build on that. But as we’ve argued, his jobs looks safe, regardless.

    Apart from giving Arteta virtually unlimited leeway on this nebulous “culture”, it is kind of surprising to see the extent to which gooners are prepared to lower their expectations to match the shortcomings of the manager. All of this said, I am backing Arsenal and Arteta fully in the run-in. There is no contradiction in bleeding Arsenal when it comes to what’s happening on the pitch, and being clear eyed about how the club is run off it.

  19. Greg

    If we want to change outcomes, we just have to improve performance. While I agree culture is very important in an organisation, I completely disagree with making that your pitch to everyone. What you’re really pushing for with that is just enforcement. Culture is deeper than that and something that grows organically, out of the spotlight for the most part, and by setting an example rather than making an example – or several.

    Even for improving behaviour you have other ways of achieving that. It’s where man management comes in. It’s a good thing these players have bought in. It is also true they are all players for whom Arsenal is the best spot to be in their careers. It’s a black mark against the manager that he didn’t get others who could help, and who had cost a lot of money (even with his blessing) to also buy in to this ‘culture’.

    Other ways to improve are
    through signings. which cost money. He’s got that.
    And through better tactics. I see improvement here, but it’s hard for me to tell because it’s juxtaposed against us getting worse before this.

    I am annoyed the club keeps pushing the idea that we’re ahead of schedule if we get 4th. Even Wenger’s teams had budgeted to finish out of the CL spots once every 4 years. It was never used as a way to lower expectations.

    I hope we finish top 4. I hope we sign some great players. I hope Arteta becomes a great manager for us in all aspects, and I especially hope they uphold and build on the culture of Arsenal, instead of this narrative that we were a culture in ruins and in need of a saviour like Arteta. I’m just not of the view they’ve done a good job on the whole.

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