11 games to go

“Obviously, we lost Tomi very early in the game and we lost Saliba.” – Arteta

Arsenal suffered more injuries than just Tomi and Saliba as it’s notable that Gabriel Jesus was also removed at half time (intentionally and not due to injury). Tomiyasu’s injury seems most serious and Arteta sounded a bit worried on that front. Hopefully Saliba and Jesus are just precautionary and they will be back quickly.

That said, I don’t think it was the injuries which were most of the cause of yesterday’s problems. Jesus looked rusty but had a number of really good moves to remind us what he brings to the team. Also, his sub (Trossard) never disappoints me. I love how quickly he turns and attacks the defense, which he did time and again.

What I have said in the past and will say again is that the drop from first team to backups is often the biggest problem. I say that without wanting to “scapegoat” anyone: it’s no single player’s fault for Arsenal going out yesterday and criticism of a player doesn’t mean that I am blaming them for the defeat.

Jorginho, for example, is magnificent passing the ball and I think for a lot of folks who are used to watching him play for Chelsea or maybe even Napoli we didn’t get to see that side of his game featured enough. It was his ball through for Martinelli which richly deserved an assist, but Martinelli missed. At least we got a goal from that pass as Xhaka swept home the follow up. However, Jorginho isn’t quite as robust and fast as Arsenal’s #5 – and despite the fact he often gets away with some tackles that would make Xhaka blush, he’s bypassed in midfield too easily.

But again, it’s not his fault Arsenal were knocked out.

“We allowed too many spaces, were late and didn’t win enough duels there. We gave the ball away many, many times. Sometimes time after time.” – Arteta.

It’s also not Fabio Vieira’s fault that Arsenal lost but I also thought he had a particularly poor game, gave the ball away far too often (4 dispossessed, 0/3 dribbles), didn’t create anything for his teammates (0 key passes) and didn’t work hard enough to win it back (0 tackles or interceptions, 1 blocked pass). Vieira had just 2.6% of possession (47 touches) in 100 minutes of play, Ødegaard had 25 touches (1 key pass, 1 shot, 1 dribble, 1 blocked pass) in 20 minutes of play. Yes, Arsenal were very much “going for it” those last 20 minutes and Sporting were holding on but I feel it’s undeniable that the Vieira/Nelson axis on the right was very poor throughout – even before Saliba went out.

“And then the last 20 minutes, we got the flow and the momentum, we got into the final third much more and created three big chances, and we didn’t score.” – Arteta

Arsenal did create all of the chances in the last 20 minutes, after Arteta brought on Ødegaard and finally took control of the game, but I think there was technically just one big chance (according to Opta) and that fell to Holding. I think that Opta’s definition here might be a bit unfair, I would have given Gabriel’s close range header the “big chance” designation as it forced a world class save from Adan. So, I agree with Arteta here: after minute 100, Arsenal probably did enough to win the game and were unlucky.

“at the end it comes to the penalties, it’s a lottery, and today it didn’t go our way” – Arteta

“Penalties are a lottery” is one of those cliches in football that I despise. Maybe Arteta is trying to make his team feel better but in almost every instance, penalties are NOT a lottery. The team who practices more, who studies their opponent more diligently, who fakes the keeper better, and who strikes the ball more purely, almost always win a penalty shoot out. It is one of the few times that a coach can prepare his team and that players can prepare themselves.

Where I would agree with Arteta is that in this one instance, there were a lot of poor penalties on both sides – Ramsdale could have saved two and Adan saved one and got a hand on Trossard’s pen – and on another day the result could have gone differently.

BUT… Penalties are a skill: both at taking them and saving them. This isn’t intended as a criticism of Martinelli as a player or his overall skill at taking penalties, but the fact is that he struck it poorly and put it in a bad position which made it easy for the keeper to save. We have seen Bukayo Saka bounce back from a poor penalty for England, which I am certain he did through hard work and extra practice. I hope that Martinelli does the same.

“Nayim when the walls fell. Seaman on the ocean.” – How a Tamarian might describe Sporting’s goal.

Sporting’s only goal was a perfectly struck ball by Pote (Pedro G.) over Aaron Ramsdale to score. It was a goal much like one which I never saw live but which I’m aware of as an Arsenal supporter: Nayim over Seaman in the 1995 Cup Winner’s Cup Final. They aren’t exactly the same, of course (I think Pote’s is a much more technically perfect ball), and they didn’t have the same outcome (Nayim’s shot wins the game outright), but it’s inevitable to draw a comparison because they are very similar. I suppose if Arsenal are going to lose a match in the Europa League, then it should be to a team who essentially scored a ~1% chance goal on a perfect strike and scored every single one of their penalty kicks at the end.

“We wanted to go through and we put everything into it, the effort the boys put when it wasn’t our best day, individually and collectively, the hunger and the desire they showed to win, the way they were tracking back was incredible, they really wanted it and today it didn’t happen. We need to put our heads up, look towards Crystal Palace, it’s 11 games left, the first one starts on Sunday.” – Arteta

Arsenal are now out of every competition except the Premier League. On the one hand it sucks to be out of Europe but on the other hand we now have just one thing to focus on: winning every game in the Premier League and winning the first League title for Arsenal since the Invincibles.

On that front, Crystal Palace fired Patrick Vieira this morning after Palace went the entire year of 2023 without a single win. Who knows who the new manager will be but I can’t see anyone organizing them any better to face us this weekend than Vieira had done.

Their problem isn’t organization, it is scoring goals. They literally just don’t have a goal-scorer and once again a good coach is brought down because they don’t have someone to reliably score them goals. Wenger once said “show me a good coach and I’ll show you a good striker” – which he simply meant as “good goal-scorers (having one) often makes or breaks a coach”.

Given the profligacy of their main forwards in front of goal, I’m probably courting disaster to say this but, I can’t see any way that Palace will suddenly start scoring goals under a new coach in the next two days. They probably won’t even have a permanent coach in place by then or if they do, he will have had a max of one or two days to install a system.

All of this is to say that even if we are tired after 120 minutes of football, even if we have injuries to Saliba and Tomi, and even if we are mentally drained after a big loss, Arsenal should have enough to beat Palace. They are just a poorly constructed team.

After that, Arsenal get a few weeks rest as FIFA lines its pockets with more filthy lucre.



  1. “Arsenal should have enough to beat XXX”

    “Its that sort of thinking that got us into this mess.” – Jack Sparrow

    Whenever the team feels they have an easy match, we inevitably slip up on the banana peel. They may not say so (media bytes) but it is there on the subconscious and shows in the performance. Just rocking up and hoping to win. See Everton, Both Sporting games, even Bournemouth (which we salvaged somehow).

    Been a problem since Wenger years.

    Hopefully this loss serves as a reminder that no team can be underestimated and Arsenal is wary of Palace.

  2. Arteta gambled a little with this matchby playing a partially changed side. I was fine with that. That gamble turned into a bigger problem when we had to use two subs in the first half and then had less ability to change things up. And yeah, they got pretty lucky with that goal, and the fact that Ramsdale, who guessed correctly, didn’t stop one or two of their pens. But they also played well, and deserve the win.
    As far as Palace goes, I do expect to see a reaction, and not a repeat of the Everton-Dyche new manager bounce. The players know all their eggs are in one basket now. And we’re at home.
    And on the plus side, City got pretty much the hardest road they could get in the CL. Bayern then likely Real Madrid. That should keep their attention divided.

    1. I hope City focus almost solely on winning the Champions League. I hear pep wants to do it for Julia Roberts’ love!

  3. Fantastic Next Generation reference there, maestro. Well done.

    Win the next match.


  4. Sums the game with sporting up well.

    Only one problem, AFC have not won at palace since 2018.
    So, no, it is not going to be a walkover, and palace is just a win above the relegation zone and will be playing every game as a “cup” game too.

    1. Pretty sure we’re at home, not away.

      Also, shifting gears…what’s the deal with Serie A? For a league that’s supposedly a little weaker, they’ve done very well in Europe this year? 6 teams left in the various competitions, including 3 in the CL.

      1. I think there’s a hint of luck there. Napoli are incredibly good but the rest of those (CL) sides are poor. I’ll take Napoli as the only one of them to advance.

        And in EL, Juve could easily beat Man U. Juve are not nearly as bad as their place on the table suggests (they were deducted points for gross financial irregularities).

    2. Aaron
      “ Only one problem, AFC have not won at palace since 2018”

      1. We’re at home.
      2. We beat them at their ground opening game of THIS season.

    3. I think Palace should be higher than their current position in the league. Slightly controversial perhaps, but I don’t view Vieira as a top manager. He’s in a similar bracket as Graham Potter (Brighton days) or Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves days), or David Moyes (Everton days). He can organize a team, he can motivate them, and he can get the odd result against anyone when his team is fired up. What he doesn’t do well is consistently orchestrate an attack despite having gifted fowards. Over time that results in too many low scoring draws, morale becomes deflated and individuals begin to suffer, searching questions are asked, and it’s curtains.

      Coaching the attack is the hardest part of football. It requires bravery, it requires outstanding recruitment, and it requires a team that works well together from back to front. Anyone can organize a team quickly to keep some clean sheets. Getting them to score consistently at this level is where the elites separate themselves.

  5. I do have a problem with rotation. This was “win or go home” kind of game so you have to go with your strongest starting XI from the start, not after 70 minutes while chasing a winner. Odegaard, Partey, and even Saka should all have started the game. You score 2-3 goals, then you can use the bench. This was not a League Cup game against a team from a lower division. Emery did it too, in a way (and subsequently, I was done with him afterwards). He prioritised Europa League over top 4, and started with a weakened lineup against Crystal Palace (ironically who we play next) with our next Europa League game in mind. We lost that game to CP 3-2, and it cost us the top 4. And, of course, we also got hammered by Chelsea in Europa League final. Are we going to win the league this year? I sure hope so… because if we don’t, then this gamble yesterday might prove very costly. Again, nobody can say for certain that we would’ve reached AND won the Europa League final but at least we would have a chance had we progressed, and I’m sure we would have if Mikel used the best players at his disposal to begin with.

    1. I think you’re right. Had we played Odegaard, Saka and Partey from the start, we probably advance. The counter argument takes a longer view. First, there’s protection of the team’s best players from injury for the competition we really want, which is the league. That’s why Jorginho played. Second, and almost as important, is development of the squad players. That’s why Vieira played. He’s a player who is being groomed for a key first team role and getting these games is the only way he’s going to get there. Nelson was selected for both of the above reasons, except I’m less confident he is seen as a future first team player.

  6. Got that one wrong, and glad I did.
    Still, gassed, Saliba and Zinc possibly out, not going to be an easy out.

  7. Very good summary. I was impressed with the Sporting team both from an organizational and individual quality perspective. They had many players with technical ability and physical potential, especially up front. They also played an incredibly committed game.

    Tactically, the issues were less about structure and more about mistakes and inability to erase them. Any mistake or loss of possession resulted in Sporting getting easy entries through dribbles and that’s how their goal came about as well. These statistics alone are harrowing:

    Arsenal were dispossessed 14 times, and had 12 poor touches and two errors.

    Sporting completed 14 key passes and had 13 successful dribbles.

    Most of these successful dribbles came in a flurry at the start of the second half which culminated in their goal and triggered Arteta to shore up the listing ship by bringing Partey and Saka on. After that, Arsenal had a vice grip on the game but couldn’t put the ball in the net. All things considered, I was disappointed but not terribly surprised or dismayed. This competition was icing on our proverbial cake, nothing more.

    Not many teams have exposed the Jorginho-Xhaka axis, because the team’s structure is so good, but Sporting did. Add Vieira into the midfield mix and it’s a technically high level unit but one that lacks athleticism, size and quickness, not to mention tackling or dribble penetration. I see that as less of an issue with individual players and more of an issue of cohesion and balance between them. All three of Xhaka, Jorginho and Vieira are possession based, ball to feet midfielders who need physical, mobile players around them to offset their physical shortcomings, and we just don’t have enough of that in the squad right now.

    And this should be no surprise. This squad was built with the aim of getting back into the UCL, and that aim is already accomplished. This squad was not built to fight on two fronts, a fact amply demonstrated by inglorious exits from the domestic cups earlier this season. I think addressing that will be to goal of next summer’s transfer window.

  8. Pep’s got on my nerves this year, but credit where it’s due. The image of him misty-eyed in the City film room mouthing “I’m just a girl” as Notting Hill replays for the fourth time is funny.

  9. Probably sour grapes but I thought the referee allowed a lot of physical stuff from Sporting that were fouls and yellow cards for us. I’m not going to rewatch the game to back that up, sorry ;-). Just a gut reaction from the live game. Hats off to Sporting too, they pressed really well and forced a lot of errors from our backups.

    Odegaard is sooooooo good…

    1. I noticed a lot of folks on twitter were quite angry with the ref; many from la Liga were saying “welcome to Lahoz” and the like, as if he was famous for some sort of refereeing.

      I don’t watch la liga so I have no biases for or against that guy and I didn’t see what others were seeing. I thought he had a completely normal, if not even good, game.

  10. Glad to be out. Only the league matters. Then, if you are champions, the CL. The rest is a distraction for a team in our position.

    1. Spurs is very much a club led by a toxic micro-managing CEO. It’s uncanny that they went through so many previously successful managers only to have Daniel Levy screw up some crucial relationship or put in his own DoF who starts acquiring players without a view towards a consistent playing style.

      It’s a club with no culture and desire for success, and their only aim appears to unearth the next Gareth Bale or Harry Kane to re-sell for GBP 100 million.

      most likely they will bring in another sour tactical guy like Tuchel, and the cycle continues another two years.

      1. Conte holding up a sign that says “please fire me” in big, bold letters. It’s petty and hilarious. It’s not like the Spurs board didn’t back him. They signed lots of players. The money wasn’t well spent but more importantly the one system Conte has them playing is outdated and doesn’t befit a side who wants to be at the big boys’ table.

        It’s funny though because they’re still in the CL places. Last year around this time they were in the same position but it was all rah rah rah because they pipped us to 4th. Now they’re in the same race but with Man United and it’s considered a disaster.

  11. A very decent 4-1 win over CP. Felt that Holding had a good game, but also curious that Arteta’s solution for the back-up right back question now that Tomi and Saliba may be out a few weeks is to put Partey there.

    Does anyone else think the right tactical compromise would be Tierney on the left and Zinch on right ? Hope we don’t reach a situation where we need to think about that.

    1. Hopefully, now that we have just the PL matches and longer breaks between, White stays healthy and can go the full 90 if needed.
      Maybe today was because they felt like they needed a fairly strong and quick defender out there with Holding on that side and Zaha attacking. I think Partey is a better defender and faster than Zinch.
      Beyond that, job well done. Credit to Holding, had a pretty good game the first time he’s had significant minutes.

    2. Partey has experience playing RB from his Athletics days. It makes him the natural choice. I don’t like swapping Zinchenko. He would do ok but it upsets the whole balance of the team because we are used to the LB inverting. All the moving pieces key around that, so trying to invert him from the opposite side is fraught with the risk of positional mishaps all over the pitch as players try to remember that everything is backwards now. I do think Mikel will want his team to be able to play with an inverted FB from either side but this isn’t the time to experiment with that.

      If we don’t invert him then we are asking him to be the defensive anchor in our asymmetric system, to be Benjamin White or Tomiyasu. There’s a reason those guys play there. That role requires top duel winning and defensive acumen, size and speed. City usually plays Kyle Walker or Nathan Ake there. that’s not Zinchenko’s game. Imagine Zaha up against him in those duels today.

      1. Yeah that’s a great point. Arsenal has become very left sided this season and shifting our play to the right will need a big re-jig.

        Partey provides a lot of protection in midfield with his monster forward headers but I guess switching to Jorginho isn’t that too devastating a downgrade.

  12. Rob Holding, take a bow. It’s not easy to be on the bench all year and come in and play like that. He was nearly flawless today.

    Contributions from everyone.

    I love this team.

    1. rob holding was good against sporting as well. this looks like pre-acl tear rob holding we’re seeing. i never forgot how good he was back then…thought he was on the cusp of an england call up before that injury. i was always waiting for that level to return but sometimes it never does. hopefully, it has for him.

      likewise, i haven’t forgotten the stupid sending-off he got against tottenham last season that cost arsenal a top-4 place. but all of that is in the past. the only thing that matters is how good he is in his next game.

  13. tim, i totally agree with you saying penalties are a skill. teams that respect that tend to be rewarded. as a youth coach, i try to ensure my u19’s do penalties at least once a week…not just for the field players but for the keepers. in fact, my keepers take penalties as well. spain went out of the world cup a few months ago because they didn’t respect penalties being a skill.

    i also agree with your assertion concerning vieira. there’s no one that can come in and do a better job with the limited resources he had. there weren’t enough players who possessed the quality to make a difference. the biggest thing he needed was a center forward. edouard was good at celtic but he’s not pulling up trees in england and ayew is simply so far past his best. it’s not like palace were getting trounced by a bunch of mugs. they’ve played the cream of the league and acquitted themselves respectably. now, they’re about to play so lower-half teams where they’re expected to get points…but the chairman has interrupted the continuity that developed. they had the awful preseason tour that seemingly no one could participate due to injury, covid, passport issues, etc. it was the same after the world cup. the club has to own those logistical failures; that’s not on your manager. btw, i thought vieira was brave to take the palace job. nobody wanted that gig.

    the biggest thumb to the eye had to be watching his team get trounced while the away fans sang the name of the manager he just fired.

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