A walk in the Forest

I took few notes. They weren’t needed.

Saka was kicked. The very first minute of the game. His first touch. It’s a clear, deliberate tactic now on the part of the opposition. Arsenal supporters are calling it “hack-a-Saka”. The referee didn’t give a yellow card but it was a yellow-worthy kick. A few minutes later the same guy (Lodi) stomped on his calf. The TV announcers didn’t even mention that foul. They kept saying Saka had fallen over. Making it sound like Saka was just clumsy, or that it’s his own fault for being kicked.

I’m sick and tired of watching him get kicked every weekend, personally. And it’s clear that there’s a bias against Saka by the referees. That yellow card for “diving” the other day is my strongest evidence. Especially since that referee let other, much more blatant, dives go and waved the player to his feet.

The first half was a bit strange. Arsenal scored early, with a lovely cross from Saka and a diving header for Martinelli. After the goal they held up a shirt in honor of Pablo Mari – their teammate who had been hospitalized after a knife attack. But what was strange is that Forest didn’t seem to want to play. They weren’t pressing us no matter how far up the pitch we carried the ball. Their counters were tepid at best. And they just didn’t seem to be bothered that the scoreline was 1-0.

If the first half was tepid, the second half was scalding. My initial reaction to Reiss Nelson’s game was that he was barely involved. He doesn’t do what Saka does – receive the ball and take on a defender. But he did eventually get involved. Maybe he was just slow to warm up. After all, before yesterday he’d only played 73 total minutes of football since May: two of those three games were as a sub.

You could say, however, that Nelson took his chance with both hands. Almost literally, since he scored a brace and set up a third.

The only blot on the copy book is that Jesus didn’t score. You could sense how desperate everyone was to get him a goal. He had a few half chances but in the end, he’ll have to make due with just the two assists.

In the end it’s a bit funny. Because Arsenal are now widely touted as a legitimate title challenger but it speaks to how powerful they are that everyone still thinks Man City are the presumptive winners. 538 even went so far as to INCREASE City’s odds after this weekend’s football, giving City a 73% chance of winning the League. Arsenal’s chances are steady at 16% but what bumped City up is that Liverpool’s chances have evaporated.

That’s all well and fine by me. Less pressure on us. And I still tend to agree with that assessment. We are flying. We are playing well. We are playing some of the most wonderful football I’ve seen since 2008. But as an Arsenal supporter I’m always scanning the horizon looking for dark clouds. I probably won’t get too excited about Arsenal’s title chances until, oh I don’t know, how about April?



  1. The Saka kicking is super frustrating. It’s been obvious for a few matches. I get it, refs have been told to let play go a little more this season. But what’s happening to Saka isn’t normal play…it’s specific kicking and fouling to rough him up. What happened to Wilshere was a little different, but if he isn’t given more protection, I’m, afraid we’re going to end up with the same result, a very promising career shortened.
    And on a related note, it’s a good thing Xhaka is tough. On the “If That Was Granit Xhaka” scale, the studs up into the ankle tackle he took would certainly have been a straight red rather than a yellow if he was on the giving rather than receiving end.

    Hopefully we start strong against Zurich and can rest a bunch of folks for Chelsea. A win there and against Wolves would put us in a place I would never have imagined before the start of the season. And yes, still pretty unlikely we’d finish above City, but absent a bunch of injuries, second is starting to look quite doable.

  2. Nice to occasionally watch a stroll in the park in the Barclays Hunger Games. But I’m firmly on the manage expectations bandwagon as well. It’s all very well asking what’s the point of being a fan if not to hope. Then that hope runs up against Death Stars like United, Chelsea and City, and suddenly people want Klopp or John Henry’s head on a pike.

    My more limited hope is that Reiss’ contribution results in more fringe players getting more meaningful rotation minutes. Some of them are not seizing legitimate chances, but others clearly need a more regular 30 minutes instead of an after-thought 5.

    Partey or Gabriel M need to respond more directly to Saka being kicked. The PL never learns unless these things elevate to a brawl. The referees are derivative offenders, the primaries are the coaches and players who wouldn’t dare try this against their golf and track buddies.

  3. Typical Gooner comment perhaps, but we have always been kicked and physically abused because of the kind football we play and we have got evolve and be smarter about how we handle this. I don’t know how exactly but I knew it was wrong let Saka carry on after spending so long on the turf on such pain. Of course he wasn’t going off at first and that is why we love him but he should not have been allowed to continue because Inwpuld have bet my house that he was done. Really makes me angry.

  4. Great Post. As Arsenal fans we are accustomed to believe (at the back of our heads) ‘it’s the hope that kills’. There’s something special about this season though with cautious optimisms. If I’m the dreamer, then thou art the dream. Enjoying the moment as are all gunners all over the planet.

  5. You start to see why floppers flop. At a certain point, it’s your only defense. The refs won’t do anything about it and you get tired of being kicked. So you go down when there’s a light breeze. Defenders then have to be careful because they know you will go down without a lot of contact, and maybe it prevents the odd kick here and there.

    I’m 100% convinced it’s racially driven, too. The only way it changes is if Saka singlehandedly wins England the world cup and is named Captain. And maybe still he doesn’t get the protection now afforded Kane. It’s unbelievable to me that there are only white male referees in the prem in this day and age.

    Rant aside, yesterday was delightful. 5 was superb, and I’m thrilled for Reiss. Every time we get to sing “We’re top of the league” it’s a moment to savor.

    1. Well said, LA.

      I would encourage everyone (myself included) to put the Gooner angst aside for a hot minute and enjoy this thumping win and being #1 for however long.

      It’s so great to see this team playing right now.

  6. Teams now have a lot of tape on what Arsenal try to do and a sort of blueprint is developing. You get tight to the forwards when their back is to goal try to bully them off the ball. When they do have the ball you get every body in front of them and funnel possession wide. You double/triple team Saka. Then when you start to win some balls in midfield you play early passes into the wide channels to pace and power type forwards. You make lots of fouls and junk the game up so they can’t establish any flow. It’s a draining style to play against week after week, especially when there is a permissive style of refereeing.

    I can’t fault Gabi Jesus at all for his commitment or his general play, but does feel like his finishing and his sharpness around the box has fallen off of a cliff in recent matches. He’s shanking his shots, he’s miscontrolling passes, and he’s losing duels he used to win. One of the hallmarks of his early form was his ability to hold the ball up against bigger defenders. I haven’t seen that at all since Leeds. Fair or unfair, he has to provide more end product or this charge cannot last, simple as that. Arteta has said as much in his pre-game press conference as well. I did think he looked very busy and very engaged in this match but his end product wasn’t good enough. There is a statistical deep dive on this over on Arseblog News if anybody is interested.

    Most importantly, and I think the Forest match highlights this, is just belief that we can play this way and win this way. We forget how young this team is, and how much history they are fighitng every week, the ghosts of thrashings and soft goals past. You scratch the surface even a little and those old wounds are laid bare again. We are not going to get an easier fixture all season than Nottingham Forest at home, but we made hard work of it for much of the first half. We could be forgiven for thinking here we go again, Arsenal losing their grip on a 1-0 lead in a game they should win. As soon as it was 2-0 it was like the players could breathe again, and they said to themselves, right, let’s just get the result that we deserve here. They just don’t play with the confidence befitting their ability often enough. Once that sinks in and they develop a hard outer shell, watch out.

    1. Nice analysis, Doc.

      But here’s the thing… strikers hit scoreless patches. Perhaps some sympathy for Aubameyang’s is due. Jesus’ value, compared to Auba’s though, is that he contributes so much more all round — brings others into the game, in a way we hoped and dreamed Laca would. 5 goals and 6 assists. He’d perhaps have like that to be 8 goals and 3 assists.

      He will find his touch again. But man, what about our 2 young wide forwards? What is Martinelli’s ceiling? Did he just pip someone (Raphinha?) for a seat on Brazil’s plane to the world cup? I’d say he has, but I’m just a biased gooner. On the minus side, we should know the extent of Saka’s injury today or tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

      btw, did Reiss remove the need — identified in the offseason — for another wide attacking goalscorer like a Gakpo? Or is the sample size too small? Telling that HE was the early sub, when we thought that Marquinhos was ahead of him. Must be tearing it up in training.

      1. You might just want to accept that Jesus is going to miss a lot of chances and is probably not going to match his xG.

  7. Nice one Alexis! You go, man!

    Except from today’s Times:
    Alexis Sánchez relishing clash with old rivals Tottenham Hotspur – and wants revenge on Antonio Conte

    “Sánchez spent four seasons at Arsenal, losing one of his seven matches against Tottenham in all competitions and scoring twice against them. He joined Marseille on a free transfer in August and is among four players at the French club with an Arsenal link, alongside the former players Mattéo Guendouzi and Sead Kolasinac and the loanee Nuno Tavares.

    “Beating Spurs was a great joy and special and these memories I hold dear to my heart and cherish,” Sánchez, 33, said. “I have great affection for Arsenal and great memories from my time there, especially the fans. Great memories. Every single player has motivation to play and win. We all want to bring the victory back. In the dressing room, there is a lot of passion. Playing in front of the fans with their atmosphere is super important and that will drive us on.”

  8. What a win what a game of football what magic from Reese Nelson. If you are on about Jesus not nailing crosses, you are missing the forest for the trees.

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