A cliche loss to Dyche

Football is full of cliches. And one of the most annoying and pervasive are the ones about effort, graft, and hard work. When a manager is struggling or his team has failed to score recently, they will often say that the other team “wanted it more” or “we aren’t working hard enough”. This canard is almost always the last resort of a failing manager or one who is out of ideas. His team may lack organization without the ball, and lacks a clear plan with the ball, but he will often say “they just wanted it more.”

“Hard work” and “they wanted it more” is often derided but the reason it sticks around is because hard work can and usually does matter, but only in addition to other factors like talent, good organization, and a cunning attack plan. It’s annoying because hard work alone isn’t enough but hard work can make up for a lot and get you three points.

It’s also an incredibly annoying cliche because it suggests that the other team aren’t working hard enough. If they only worked harder, they could overcome the hard work of the other team, and then go on to win the game. They can “earn the right to play”.

But it’s simplistic as well because often what the more technical team (this cliche usually is directed at two clubs with a large disparity between talents) really needs to do is be more patient, play the ball around well, and make the other team run around, exhaust themselves, and then go on to win the game. City do it all the time and to be fair, so too a lot of teams in world football. In fact, hard work and good organization aren’t usually enough to win. But the reason the cliche clings tenaciously to football’s buttocks is because every once in a while, it comes true. And with today’s loss to Everton, we are on the verge (as Gooners) of an entire week of enduring tired cliches about “hard work” and “soft underbellies”.

Everton did outwork Arsenal in the first half, or at least for the first 35 minutes. And it was as frustrating to watch from an Arsenal perspective as I’m sure it was fun to watch from an Everton one. Hey look, I’m not above begging my team to work harder. I’ve been there in Munich and cheered on Arsenal as they out hustled Bayern and nearly got a result that would put them through to the next round. On that day it was 90 minutes of pure adrenaline and man I thought we were going to do, only to come up short thanks to the (now abandoned) away goals rule. And as a player, I’ve been on teams that successfully ran their opponents off the pitch. So, I do not look down on teams that play hard, fight for points, and put their bodies on the line.

So, congrats to Everton today. They did what Newcastle did to Arsenal a few weeks ago: they worked incredibly hard, closed down space, made it difficult to play through the lines, and pressured Arsenal into turnovers. Unlike Newcastle, they got 3 points off league leaders and it’s hard to say that they didn’t deserve it. They probably should have had a few more goals (at least one in the first half) and it was a bit difficult to tell where Arsenal were going to get a goal today, such was the quality of their organization.

From an Arsenal perspective, the first 35 minutes were “one of the worst we’ve seen this season.” Everton’s mid-block pressure forced several turnovers from Partey and Xhaka. And when we got forward, Dyche was hip to the two wide forwards and double-teamed Saka and Martinelli, limiting them both to mostly speculative chances. I believe Arsenal had the right approach, keep playing our style and force them into an error. As the game wore on, that’s exactly what happened and in the 2nd half we forced their mid-block into a low-block and created chances.

Everton scored just when Arsenal were starting to get a grip on the game and it was a bit fortunate for them: a goal gave them something to fight for, which they did very well – pulling out all the stops, with time wasting, throwing on players whose sole job is to disrupt, and feigning injury at every opportunity. I think it’s exactly what Arsenal would do if we were in a relegation battle, had spent money profligately, and were managed by a man who looks like he uses a Manscaped shaver on his head.

Arsenal could have won a penalty in the 2nd half when Neal Maupay crashed into Gabriel but the referee waived it away. I think if the roles had been reversed we would have been livid if Arsenal had a penalty called against them. And I think that because I’ve seen it happen and the response.

So, all in all a very bad day at the office for Arsenal and a good one for Everton. There was considerable relief around Goodison at fulltime and I can’t blame them. Everton supporters haven’t had much to celebrate lately and much to be frustrated with: watching Frank Lampard* as manager of my club would be enough to put me off football if I’m honest.

I want to highlight a few things in closing.

First, left-side corners are now a problem. We cannot seem to create chances on the left side from corners. Part of the issue, I think, is that we insist on inswingers; Arsenal have taken just 4 outswingers and 1 straight corner in 87 tries, the fewest outswingers of any team in the League. On the Saka side, this works great but on the Martinelli side, it’s simply not working at all. In fact, we are so set on inswinging corners that at one point Ødegaard came over to take a left-sided corner and Trossard waved him away, and then took the worst corner of the season. I feel confident that Arteta knows this and that they will work on something. I loved the corner to the top of the box by Saka late in the 2nd half. Let’s see some switch up of play on that side, please.

And finally, there are a few players whose form has dipped in the last few weeks. I’m not going to name names because there’s a strong tendency among the Arsenal supporters to scapegoat players after a bad result but I’d be surprised if we don’t all see it. The thing I’m telling myself right now is that these players have been very good up to now, that they were a huge part of why we are top of the League (STILL), and that ALL players go through periods of poor form. Every. Single. Player. Struggles. At. Some. Point.

The key thing is consistency. Every one of these players had it at one point and I’m backing them to find it again.


*You know your managerial career is in trouble when Sean Dyche is an immediate upgrade.


  1. As soon as Sean Dyche was hired I said to myself “uh oh”, this is exactly the scenario we do not need. Goodison park, for some reason, has been a bogey ground for a while, the new manager bounce will be fully activated and Sean Dyche has never given us an easy game in his own turf.
    I think, “let’s not panic” though, really this is what we deserved at Leeds if we’re honest and maybe even Southampton.
    I’ll only start panicking if we drop points at Brentford.

  2. This was always going to be a potential problem when they dumped Lampard and brought in Dyche. Playing a physical team at their home, desparate for a win, and with a new manager that likes that style.
    I’m not too bothered, as I wasn’t too bothered by the Cup loss to City.
    But, as you say, we’ve had a couple of players with a drop in form. They need to bounce back and the team in general needs to play well against Brentford at home next week to make sure we have some momentum going into the critical City match.
    And it sounds like Jesus is practicing now? Hopefully he’ll be back soon as we could certainly use him in matches like that.

  3. The new manager bounce. It happens in part because of unpredictability. Teams don’t know what to expect and so on match day the new coach can pull a few tricks out of his bag. It also happens because the players actually start trying to win instead of trying to get the manager sacked. The Sean Dyche new manager bounce is especially bad news for Arsenal as we haven’t had a good time of it against his Burnley teams in the recent past. He’s bearing the torch for Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis as the latest incarnation of the definitely British home cooked football values like playing heavy, being direct and out hustling your technically superior opponent until you get a jammy set piece goal, on repeat. But he’s actually also really good at organizing a defensive press and teaching proper spacing. That plus their size advantage plus their hustle was too much for an Arsenal side not at their best. And some of the raw materials there are better than their record suggests. This same team, even under the utterly incompetent Lampard, held city to a 1-1 recently.

    I thought Mikel couldn’t wait to get Jorginho and Trossard on in this game. We needed the additional layers of technical security against their aggression. But then the team had to adjust to there being no genuine outlet on the left flank. I actually thought Martinelli looked so much improved before he was subbed, coming more central and being more careful with his passes. He was creating some interesting overloads with Saka and Odegaard. Trossard did well but he was not a like for like replacement and I think we lost the vertical threat without Martinelli and that allowed them to pinch in even more. I’m not sure about the fit with Trossard and Zinny on the same flank as they both want to come inside and combine. I think he’s much more of a natural fit with Tierney. Maybe Trossard for Nketiah was the move, in hindsight. Jorginho didn’t seem to affect the game much but I have to watch again more closely.

    This would’ve been a great game for Gabby Jesus. He would have helped anchor us into their half earlier with his more involved, more combative style. I know Martinelli misses him. He hasn’t been the same player since the WC, and I wonder how much of that is due to not having his compatriot there to be his creative foil and vacate spaces in the penalty box for him to run into. Eddie hardly leaves the penalty box and Zinchenko doesn’t overlap, which means Martinelli is often outnumbered on his flank with nobody to combine with. Xhaka tries to give him underlaps but opponents are wise to that now and he’s not really quick enough to be a direct threat. That’s a balance issue that Mikel needs to address.

  4. I had the strange sensation in the last 20 minutes or so at not really minding if we were to lose, feeling like we’re going to lose a game or two, why not this one with Iwobi playing well in a plucky team performance and how incredibly much it means to the forty thousand everton heads in that stadium. We’ve never had it that bad and I felt for them, historically they aren’t too different from us in terms of culture and status. And of all the pragmatical managers I have a soft spot for Dyche, if this were a Pulis defeat I’d be clinging onto the toilet bowl. We played alright and I loved Ziniesta’s Muhammad Aliesque swoop on Maupay, and was willing Saka to send the previous corner to him at the D. B-/C+

  5. Precisely 100 percent on the article. We have 3 or 4 players playing below their usual form, and it shows up against low blocks particularly. I also felt we still didn’t have a tactical card to play on the subs bench.

    Hopefully ESR gets back in full match fitness soon, so we can throw him on to add a close quarters dribbling grenade in our midfield.

  6. Also, that Trossard corner at the end. In the words of the current generation: cringe. Obviously, he is not and wouldn’t be a flop like he was, but there were traits of Liverpool Aspas all over that.

  7. A strange defeat. The beautiful Arsenal machine didn’t click today. Less fluidity, more mistimed or misdirected passes. Not for lack of efforts, more for lack of confidence. Ben White not quite himself yet. Odegaard a bit anonymous but offering flashes of ineffective brilliance. Saka less threatening. Martinelli suffocating under the double man marking and not delivering. Xhaka slightly frustrated. Saliba a little less assured. All those small losses are enough to tilt the balance against a motivated team with something to prove. It will get better.

  8. Busy day for me, but I’ll dip in briefly.

    No commenter has mentioned Amadou Onana as yet, but how good was he in the middle of the park? Now THAT was a Vieira redux. Utterly commanding. And outplayed Partey in the time he was on.

    In the churn of transfer rumours last month, he was linked briefly to us. That one I can get behind. Jorginho did OK.

    On the negative side, I hate the living daylights out of Neil Maupay, a talentless firestarter masquerading as a footballer. He IDs a target, and tries to instigate things. Zinch handled it a lot better than Guendouzi.

    And oh, Everton were superb. They played some good stuff — Onana and Gueye in particular — and not just brute ball. The best Arsenal teams have lost games like this. We move. And thank you Spurs for limiting the damage.

    1. Onana is a nice prospect. Powerful on and off the ball, likes a tackle, tall, dynamic and seems a real character too. I suspect we weren’t fully on board for him because he’s not a great passer of the ball. Sean Dyche played to his strengths beautifully. He asked him to break up play, spread the ball wide, then crash the box for crosses. He’s great at those things. At Arsenal, he could do those things but he he would more often be asked combine intricately in the face of a press, progress the ball throug tight margins, receive under pressure facing his own goal and finish chances on the floor with confidence. He’s not that player, not yet anyhow. That said, we could do a lot worse than him as an altrenate to Granit Xhaka. What I like about his fit with us is that he would give us something very different: height and physicality in the final 3rd and can still develop. In exchange though we would become less press resistant and have less control of the game.

      For now he’s exactly where he should be. He needs to play week in, week out to keep developing. Dyche will give him a fabulous schooling in spacing and positioning off the ball. Let’s see if he can maintain this level and develop his passing game further.

  9. martinelli has been struggling lately. is it nketiah, the loss of jesus, or the january transfer window opening and arsenal being linked with his competition? i don’t know. we’ll continue to monitor that situation.

    eddie’s movement is clever but it appears he’s not as kinetic as jesus. what’s the way forward? once again, i don’t know. it’ll be interesting to see if arteta can provide a solution.

    onana is a lovely player but one i don’t think arteta can manage. he’s a bit like guendouzi; a big player with big personality. it was my biggest take away watching him at the world cup. he was incredibly demanding and bossy of those great belgian players; a leader, no question. as successful as arteta has been with this group, the jury’s still out on whether he could manager a player like onana.

    1. When Onana was called into the struggling Belgian team, he made an immediate impact. He called all the balls, offering a possibility to defenders who, up until then, could only pass the ball back to the keeper or far away (above the very frustrated De Bruyne). Onana was unafraid and defeated the high press most times. Young, new in the team and a clear leader already. I was impressed. During interviews, he took a much lower profile and insisted on the fact that he still had a lot to learn and that he needed to work a lot. So, apparently, a modesty that, I think, Guendouzi was unable to display. One to watch and follow.

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