Christmas came early for Arsenal this year, with Santa delivering a massive bounty of presents to Gunners the world over: Man City losing to Brentford, Newcastle defeating Chelsea (thanks to a Joe Willock goal), Spurs barely winning in a 7 goal match at White Hart Lane, and Arsenal cruising to a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton in the Midlands.
Arsenal started the game slowly and given the results earlier in the day many Gooners were worried that we might not capitalize and extend our lead at the top. I wasn’t worried at all, not when Saliba made an inch perfect tackle which was reviewed by Mike Dean in the VAR, not when Martinelli foolishly turned the ball over and sparked a counter where they got off a clean shot, not when Saliba made a sloppy turnover and Guedes got another shot off, not when Adama clobbered Ramsdale in a counter, not when Podence got off a bicycle kick, and certainly not when Zinchenko was lazy/predictable with the ball and made a lazy tackle to let Podence have a shot on target. Why? Wolves have the worst attack in the League, they are the worst finishers in the league, and they have the very worst finisher I’ve ever seen play football starting up top as a “striker” in Adama Traore.
How bad are Wolves? -7.3 goals-xG from open play, the worst in the league. How bad is Adama? 9 goals in 8 seasons. 9 goals on 158 shots. 5% finishing! Fucking half of the whole world of football average. 12.2 expected goals in 8 seasons. If starting Greased Lightning as a striker was Lopetegui’s “big idea” after taking over Wolves, they are certain to be relegated this season. What Wolves need is to buy three forwards who can finish in January.
Wolves never once raised my blood pressure and Arsenal seemed to understand this, taking a bit of a casual approach in the first half. Part of the reason for the slow start might be down to illness. Arteta after the match revealed that several players were struggling with “tummy issues” and Granit Xhaka was so affected that he had to ask to be subbed off in the 2nd minute.
But despite our seemingly nauseous start, Jesus had a goal disallowed for offside in the 5th minute and another glancing header in the 23rd minute, hit the bar in the 35th minute, had a poor shot in the 39th minute, and even had one of his trademark dribble slaloms blocked in the box. Arsenal dominated possession and Jesus was the main target in the first half.
In the second half, Arteta did something a bit odd. Jesus started popping up in the wide areas more often. This stopped Wolves from doubling and tripling on Saka. It freed Vieira and Øde in midfield. And it was the reason why Øde scored both goals in the match.
The first goal was Vieira’s assist – and it was a beauty of an assist, clipped over the defender’s foot perfectly to Øde in the middle – but it was Jesus’ slide rule pass that made that goal. Jesus has the uncanny knack of making passes and dribbles a microsecond before the defender curries on to what’s happening. Watching the pass in slow mo, I was even surprised by the timing, and I knew what he was going to do!
The second came because Zinchenko got so wide open in the box that he had time to read Ivanhoe before picking out a pass. They defended that one ok, but the ball pinged around and Martinelli had a shot, followed by a shot for Øde, who is a clever finisher and scored easily.
Not enough column inches have been written about Øde’s finishing so here we go: he’s not a panicky power merchant, he’s a cerebral finisher. He waits, he finds the opening, and like any truly great midfield goalscorer*, he passes the ball into the net with supreme precision. Think Özil but with icewater in his veins. If there’s any player I want to have the ball in a goalmouth scramble it’s Martin Ødegaard. And the best part is that he’s going to get better. Smart players like him know their weaknesses and work on them. I bet you that one day – long after he’s won the League with Arsenal – he’s going to win the Capocannoniere for some Serie A side because the manager saw his potential as a second striker.
That was that. They had a few half chances but Arsenal’s defense is just too good at the moment and swallowed up any real chances or palmed them away. And so we go into the worst ever World Cup with a five point advantage over Man City.
What’s next here at 7? Well, I’m not entirely sure. I feel conflicted about watching the World Cup. On the one hand, it’s the World Cup. On the other hand it’s being hosted by Qatar, which is a brutal dictatorship that enslaves foreign workers and murders LGBTQ+ citizens. My son is trans, he wouldn’t be able to go to Qatar, no matter what they say in public about “everyone being welcome”. Yeah, you can go to the World Cup in Qatar. Just whatever you do, don’t be openly gay.
And let’s make no bones about what Qatar stands for. Until very recently they still had wild anti-semitic tropes in their school textbooks. So you can add that to the brew of homophobia, sexism, and religious intolerance.
Not only that but Qatar is wealthy and able to host the World Cup only because they extract oil and natural gas, two things which are literally killing the planet.
Honestly, it’s hard to even consider watching this World Cup.
And yet, it’s the World Cup. It’s the greatest football spectacle in the World. I would love to see Saka or Martinelli lift the World Cup. And imagine Gabriel Jesus as the hero of the World Cup, returning to Arsenal a winner in December. Winning begets winning. We haven’t had a World Cup winner at Arsenal since the Invincibles, have we? Imagine having multiple World Cup winners when Brazil lifts the trophy.
I need to think about it more. If you have advice, I’ll listen, because I honestly don’t know what to do here. Will boycotting the World Cup make things better for any gay folks or foreign workers in Doha? Is it just a foolish principle on my part to skip this one World Cup? And what do I tell Avie? Sorry, son, I’m watching a World Cup being hosted by a country where you would be illegal. A country where you would have to literally escape in order to be yourself. Is it enough to just write in protest here every day? To witness? I don’t know.
*If you think that Frank Lampenalty or Steven Penaltyard were good finishers, I have a crypto scam to sell you.