The mad monks mantra

In the last three matches Arsenal have scored 7 goals. Scoring at least two goals a game is a great indication that Arsenal’s attacking play is unhampered. And yet, we have people saying that Arsenal need to drop Rob Holding, because he hurts our build up.

In the last three matches Arsenal have conceded 7 goals. Each of those 7 goals were down to mostly individual errors. Against Southampton Ramsdale passes a weak as piss pass to Zinchenko, it’s intercepted and Thomas Partey half-ass defends the situation. For the second goal Partey turns the ball over and then Gabriel forgets he has a player to defend, instead electing to watch seagulls or something. And for the third goal, Holding tries to win the first header but doesn’t and then Zinchenko just goes full Mustafi and lets his man score a tap in at the far post.

I’ve had someone tell me that those three goals are actually Holding’s fault. One, Ramsdale didn’t want to pass to Holding. Two, Holding was 15 yards too deep. Three, Holding didn’t win the initial header. Even if all of these are true, they still don’t excuse the other glaring errors.

Against West Ham, it is true that Holding was bodied by Antonio. Antonio is a good player who uses his physicality to great effect. However, the two goals we conceded were down to Partey turning the ball over and Gabriel conceding a penalty and for the second Tierney just utterly losing Bowen and Gabriel falling asleep again. Someone please tell me how these are somehow Holding’s fault. And while you’re at it, tell me how Saka’s missed penalty is Holding’s fault.

Against Liverpool, the whole team was ass whupped. Holding did concede a penalty, though I think it’s a soft as baby shit pen, but let’s put the blame where it deserves to be put, squarely on him. But for the first goal, you see Holding actually had to defend two guys because Ben White was nowhere. On the overlap he can’t prevent the cross (because, again, he was defending two dudes) and then Jota isn’t defended by Xhaka and once again Gabriel fucks up his marking and lets golden boot winner Mo Salah waltz in at the far post.

It is a fact that putting Holding in instead of Saliba changes things up for Arsenal. We are the only club that has had an almost static back four this entire season, rotating almost zero players, especially in the CB pair. Gabriel always had a rick in him but it looks like Saliba covered his ass and maybe Holding doesn’t. Or maybe playing with Holding makes Gabriel nervous, like he’s on a first date with Salma Hayek.

I’m not going to lie to you, I saw that Arteta made Partey drop deeper and collect the ball instead of relying on Holding to initiate the attack. And yeah, maybe Ramsdale didn’t want to pass to Holding. Rob Holding isn’t William Saliba.

There are a lot of folks calling for Partey to play RB, that way we can put Benjamin White in at CB, and move Zinchenko to DM and play Tierney at LB. That’s the kind of Galaxy brain thinking that resulted in a 5-0 20 minute first half for Tottenham the other day. Unless Arteta has been secretly working on this scheme for the last 6 months, in which case I wonder why we never deployed it, those kinds of lineup changes are the exact thing that will get you a hiding.

The even funnier part of this is that Partey is a huge part of the problem. He is the one who cannot handle pressure at the moment. Zinchenko also seems to be wilting a bit.

We all knew all along that squad depth was the problem. That squad depth was going to prevent us from winning the League. And here we are, looking at that problem head on. I don’t know if moving around the chess pieces is going to fix that problem, or exacerbate it. If I were to guess, it’s the latter.

To beat Manchester City in the League requires near perfection. When Liverpool won the League in 2020, they did it with 99 points. That’s 15 points less than the maximum you can get in a season. They had had 97 points the season before that, losing just once the entire season. City won the League that year by one point. That’s what it takes to beat Manchester City, folks. You have to have as close to a perfect season as possible, and then actually go two points better.

City have 70 points and 8 games to play. Even if Arsenal beat them in Manchester (which I’m going to go ahead and say isn’t happening) I would expect Manchester City to finish the season with 91 points. Arsenal would have to win every game to finish with 93.

I seriously suggest you manage your expectations for tomorrow’s match. Manchester City look like a runaway forest fire right now. They are destroying everything in their path. Arsenal need to be perfect for the rest of the season, Arsenal need to dig a trench deep and wide to stop that fire. And I don’t think that some galaxy brain lineup changes are going to be what does it.

But Lord, I hope I’m wrong. Maybe it will be exactly what we needed. Or maybe Holding will rise to the occasion. Or we’ll just get turned over. Either way it kind of doesn’t matter. Like a mad monk chanting a mantra, I keep telling myself; it ain’t over until it’s actually over, enjoy the ride, it’s been great, we can get them next year if need be, we weren’t even supposed to be in the title race, we can buy players to add squad depth this summer, it took Liverpool years to finally beat Manchester City to the title…



  1. sorry to hijack the thread but i’d just finished this post on the previous thread when you posted this new one….

    i’m going to play devil’s advocate and defend arteta’s decision to play fabio. first, we don’t know what fabio (can’t call him vieira) looks like in training. he’s mates with martinelli and they likely have a good chemistry that we just haven’t seen in the premier league yet. second, arteta has to build a team. why undermine your team building by playing a striker (trossard or emile) in midfield when you have a fully fit center mid in fabio? likewise, fabio needs the reps to adapt to the league. playing the bottom team at home seems an ideal moment to give him a start.

    i’ve been critical of arteta in the past but all of my criticisms have been of his ability to manage big players or players with big personalities; the jury’s still out on that. i’ve always praised him for his intelligence and tactical knowledge. was his decision to play fabio the smartest? all things considered, it probably was. personally, i would have played zinchenko in the xhaka spot with tierney at left back…but it wasn’t my call. i don’t think the decision to play fabio was imperially poor. i can empathize with arteta’s need to build a team that transcends a single match against southampton on a friday night in mid-april. although fabio didn’t set the world alight, he may have made a big step forward that will see his contribution significantly improved moving forward. we’ll see.

  2. you’re absolutely right about rob holding. he’s been very good. who has a better 4th-choice center back? the folks trying to blame holding are nuts; arteta is not. i don’t expect him to have a knee-jerk reaction because of what some assclown on twitter says.

    partey has been absolutely brilliant at cdm all season long. even in the liverpool game, i thought he was excellent; don’t agree with the notion that he can’t handle pressure. however, his most recent two performances have not been his best. i’m hoping partey can resume normal service….you know what they say about form and class.

    a few months ago, i expressed concern with zinchenko. he’s a good player but, in my opinion, a mediocre defender. he got beat like a drum for the liverpool equalizer. likewise, the 3rd goal arsenal conceded against southampton was criminal. i’ve said more than a few times, a defender has to be able to defend first and foremost…everything else he does is gravy. when i expressed my concerns with zinchenko, i hypothesized that if arsenal fail to win the league, defensive errors by zinchenko were likely to feature prominently. i hope i’m wrong but if you remove his errors that led to those two goals, arsenal would have earned 7 points out of 9 instead of the measly 3. when you’re being chased by the fucking terminator, ie. man city, those four points matter. we’ll see if we survive the machine.

  3. it’s funny, tim. you referred to man city as earth scorching, destroying everything in their path. i referred to them as the terminator. it’s like melting your engines at maximum warp only to turn on the rear view monitor to see a borg cube making light work of closing you down.

    …it’s like running full-speed from jason voorhees in that hockey mask, while he’s walking but he still catches you. man city are relentless.

      1. Holding did rise to the occasion, our stars didn’t. As a team we did accomplish champion league ….It’s now on us to show we truly deserved our final standing.

  4. I am planning to live in the moment tomorrow
    Let’s see where the glass ends up

  5. I see at 1-1 game tomorrow. Which doesn’t really help us, but maybe Everton and Brighton will trip up City if they are distracted by their games with Real Madrid.

    Agree that it’s not Holding that’s the problem. Partey has dropped a bit since coming back off his injury. The first West Ham goal was due to a weak flick move that didn’t come off. And Zinchenko, for all the good stuff he does, he really is a weak defender. The Southampton second goal was scored by the man he was supposed to be marking. TAA did the panna on him in the Liverpool game.

    1. Let me be a typical Gooner of yore and say unequivocally that they they are going to take us apart tomorrow.

      Think of Wenger’s 1000th game. What could have been a wonderful and celebratory occasion turned into a 6-0 bloodbath. No, I’m still not over it and never will be.

      If we turn the script somehow and beat The Borg and do not get assimilated, it will be one of the monumental victories in my 20+ years of following the Arsenal. Is resistance futile?

      1. Oh, and I really dig the fact that there are many 7 am readers that will get all Star Trek references. Also cool that Elon Musk is ponying up the $8 bucks for Shatner’s blue Twitter mark even though Bill said shove it!

  6. So, just settle for another loss or go for it, that is the situation before Mikel and the team.

    AFC have won only 2 times since 2015 in 20 games.
    1 of those wins was in the FA Cup.

    Can’t stand $h*tTy and their undue influence on futbol in general, realizing they are not the only thing wrong with the futbol universe.

    Play players that can control the ball, progress the ball, score and keep the ball as defense or capitulate as expected. Viera can’t keep the ball, he is not physical enough, and Holding can’t keep the ball as he does not possess quickness or super close control.

    If one has been paying attention, other that Ode in mid, Zinc is the only guy that can move the ball forward from our third of the field, at the halfway line, and in the final third. I know he is a defensive liability, and that is where Saliba calmed everyone down enough to play as a solid defense does.

    The math says that if Mikel plays Holding and the same 11 as before he has a 10% of winning per the previous 20 matches, knowing those games really have no influence on this game and is not a causal relationship. Reality says it is more accurate than not.

    A 1-1 draw would not be horrible if, and that is a big if, we can win all our games, and $h*tTy lose 1. Most likely not going to happen, the same with a loss and the previous statement, but a WIN, a WIN might just do it!

    Galvanize the squad into really believing they can do it.

    I know which I prefer, a chance

    1. Yeah, but what’s the solution to the Rob Holding problem? There isn’t one. So, you might as well just play him. It’s pretty simple really.

      1. That’s it. There’s a couple possibilities like moving White, Partey and Tierney around. But they are all pretty major shuffles. And unless we have practiced them a lot, you risk having something like the recent Spurs debacle, where a new formation caused them to be ripped apart.

  7. Play Holding at cb and might as well not play the game.

    Put Zinc at rb, White at cb next to Gabriel and Tierney at lb.

    538 had the Celtics at 80% last year and the Warriors blew them away in the last 3 games after losing the first game at home. Kerr made changes and changed the outcome of the series.

    It is soccer not rocket science, and if Pep can’t be beaten with his current team, how come he has not won CL with them? Because the coaches outcoached him in a Cup format and final.

    Mikel could do it too!

    1. Unless this Galaxy Brain plan you’ve cooked up has been practiced extensively, it’s a sure way to blow up the season.

      This is soccer, not basketball. 1 goal wins games.

      Also, I mentioned Steve Kerr a few years ago, compared and contrasted to Mikel Arteta. They literally couldn’t be different thinkers and men. It’s like Wenger and Mourinho.

    2. That worked so well for Spurs this past weekend, changing systems going into a big game. I’ve never seen Zinchenko play RB, ever. Grealish will tear him apart.
      White has to stay on the right. If we had Tomiyasu healthy, maybe there would be more changes. But we don/t

  8. Automaticity, yes, I know it.
    Never said Kerr and Mikel had the same type of coaching styles.
    Never said they were the same sport.
    Am saying to change tactics in game, before the game or after crappy games.

    So, no, I am not galaxy braining it, am literally asking for Mikel to play White in a position he played in many games at cb, and Zinc to play rb instead of left back and Tierney in his normal position, not monsterous changes, yes, Tomi played rb and lb interchangeably, and so could Zinc, and White can play cb. Mikel would be asking players to play soccer on a field, with other players they have played with before somewhere on the pitch. Is it optimal, hell no, but watching Holding and company getting torn to shreds is not my cup of tea either.

    Yes, 1-0 for AFC

    Unless, we want to lose by that scoreline or worse, which is almost sure to happen if he sets up the exact same way, the squad is reed thin on confidence, yet somehow the team is expected to believe, and we are expected to believe that the outcome will be different if we put out the same squad as the 3 previous games.

    Maybe we can lose 1-0 and call it a moral victory or some $h*te, and continue to crater the run in.

    Then, I would again challenge the structure of AFC on the direction of the club no matter where we finish.

    Knocked of of all Cups, have 1 game a week, and crater the run in trophyless, in the best start of 31 games in AFC history, and we will do better next year with more games and maybe an improved squad, forget that nonsense.

    Obviously, this is all conjecture, Mikel could change the squad make up and AFC get blown out or he can do nothing and “keep the hell going” and most likely get blasted again.

    I just prefer to beat those bastard oilers no matter what, and will happily eat crow it Mikel does it his way with the same 11 as the last 3 games or Holding at cb.

    However as 538 says a 19% chance, which is reality is much less!

  9. Thinking about it more, to keep it inline with what others are saying, and keeping it simple.

    Play 3 at the back, everyone the same, but Trossard on for Viera/Xhake and just go for it.

    Works for me.

  10. Don’t get criticism of Holding. He has been better than can be expected of a 4th choice CB. Absense makes the heart grow fonder. Lets not forget team with Saliba in it also conceeded “stupid” goals this season.

    I think Zinc’s ball carrying capacity is overrated. He seems to lose balls a lot in 1v1 situations, making wrong decisions & dwellong too long on it and does not have legs or tackles to recover from his mistakes. Teams may also be starting to find antidote to his (and Arsenal’s) inverted LB tactic now that it has lost its novelty.

  11. As Tim pointed, there is no other solution than to play Holding. Kiwior is supposedly talented but he is probably not ready. Arteta sees him everyday and does not select him.
    Holding is good. But Saliba is outstanding, world class really. He gives us confidence, he improves Gabriel, he is fast when needed, composed. The problem is not Holding but the gap between those two players.
    By the way, Holding is not at the level of Stones, Laporte, Diaz, Akanji or Ake. The depth of Man City is staggering.
    I agree that Arsenal shouldn’t change the team too much. Let’s just put Vieira back on the bench. Or in the fitness room. Let’s press high. Let’s take the game to them. Let’s stay in their half.
    And let’s pray.

  12. sorry, aaron, but tim is right. your idea is galaxy brain all day long. like tim said, unless arsenal have been working on some new strategy for weeks in training, trying something this dramatic and unproven could get them ripped to shreds, especially against the sky-blue borg cube. we just watched tottenham get cute and give up 5 goals to newcastle in 20 minutes. you want to follow that mold?

    but worse, to suggest that just because tomiyasu can play alternately at both fullback positions means that zinchenko can do it too is the most un-smart thing you’ve ever said. tomi is a proper defender; the only arsenal player who’s proven he can play anywhere on the arsenal back line. the jury’s still out on whether we should even consider zinchenko a defender. as the kids would say, “he’s so trash, bro.”

    in his last two games, zinchenko is directly responsible for the goals that led to arsenal dropping points. what’s worse is there was nothing special done to beat him. against liverpool, he got cooked by trent on the end line. are you kidding me? he’s on the end line. what did you think he was gonna do? he’s gonna try to meg you, so you push your foot across his body. if you give up the corner, who cares? what you don’t do is stab and get megged in your own penalty box, allowing trent to collapse our defense. i haven’t seen stabbing that bad since the aforementioned jason voorhees stabbed that kid with a rusty screwdriver back on crystal lake. stabbing is what tottenham defenders do. the 3rd goal southampton scored was even worse. allowing a tap in at the back post? bro, trash. that’s 4 points dropped exclusively by zinchenko in his last two appearances but you want to blame holding? nuts!

    what’s worse is your good idea to play this trash defender in a position he’s never played before against the best team in the world, all while disrupting the chemistry that gabriel, holding, and benny blanco have developed over the past month. explain to me why this is a good coaching idea?

  13. JoshuaD,

    You answered your own question, Zinc is not a defender at all, but Tierney is.
    But, I get your point!

    Am just saying if we play exactly the same way as before, with gaps in mid because our press is 5-10 yards further back, and the team gets torn to shreds, than what is the coach even for? Yes, I get the oilers are loaded everywhere, but that does not mean that AFC are 5 goals worse then them every time we play them.

    Something has to change…

    1. you’re not wrong in insisting there be something different. however, the differences you propose are simply not good ideas.

      the real value of a coach/manager is on the training ground, not always with different strategies/personnel. arsenal has a strategy that is sound, the players know it, and it has been successful all season. i say it’s better to provide slight variations to the current strategy than to deviate from what everyone already knows to incorporate a completely new strategy. top flight football is too fast and too unforgiving for players implementing new strategies that require too much thought. their football needs to be intuitive.

      this was unai emery’s issue at arsenal. every game, he was employing a completely different strategy based on who arsenal were playing. i believe he should have employed the same strategy but simply use different variations based on the opponent. players need continuity and predictability from their leaders to be there best. they need to be their best tonight against city. another star trek reference: arsenal need arteta to be locutus tonight or the borg will either assimilate or destroy arsenal.

  14. Holding has excellent games in him, not many, but he does. Just ask Diego Costa. Here’s hoping he can summon one today. Need the rest of the back line to try and not overcompensate for Holding, I think Gabriel has had that in the back of his mind and it’s affecting his play.

    Agree that Viera needs to sit. He can come in at 88 minutes when we’re up by 3. Otherwise sit tight.

    1Nil – love your posts but have to disagree about one thing…there is nothing remotely cool about Elon Musk.

  15. Holding is the problem… no wait, Zinchenko is the problem… no, it’s Vieira. How come no one but Tim actually recognised the elephant in the room, and said that it’s due to individual errors? It’s Ramsdale and his cutey fartsey passes. It’s Gabriel and his lack of positional awareness. It’s Partey and his loss of concentration. Goodness me… We either have to play Holding, or go with 3 in the back (White, Gabriel, Tierney) which we did against City in the FA Cup semifinal win a couple of years ago (and that’s with Mustafi, David Luiz, and yes, Tierney). Is it doable? Sure. But it might not be safe as we saw what happened to Spurs when they decided to change formation all of a sudden. I was mulling it over for a couple of days, and I think it’s too much of a risk. So personally, I’d roll with Holding. Zinchenko? Everybody talks how terrible he is at defending. But he’s the only one who actually looks for that vertical/forward pass first and foremost. Without him, our attacks slow down to a crawl for the most part. Yes, we’ve conceded 7 goals in the last 3 games. But we’ve also scored 7. And even though he missed one of those games (I guess he wasn’t responsible for conceding all 7 then) he definitely contributed in the other two offensively. So for me, unless Mikel decides to go with a back 3, I’d start Zinchenko too. Vieira is the only one who needs to sit this one out, I think. Trossard has to start in his place. Again, just my personal observations/opinions.

  16. If it was any other team apart from Man City, I’d almost be tempted to play Rueull Walters. The youth team lost to West Ham last night, but he was exceptional. He can play right back or centre half. Quick, strong and is good coming forward with the ball. I’d far rather have him than Holding. He’s got more to offer and will replace him sooner or later. A big punt, obviously. A shame he hasn’t got more games under his belt.

    1. He was diabolical yesterday. Letting de Bruyney go past him like he did, multiple times, was.. well if it was Denilson the fans would be burning him in effigy.

  17. Well, not sure any of the starters other than maybe Ramsdale in the 1st half had a good game. Don’t know if it’s the pressure, the youth, same team the whole season, or what, but pretty much everyone was below par. Not going to get it done against City playing like they did today. Debruyne and Haaland head and shoulders above, but really most of their team was better.
    And ironically the issue with Holding having to play CB wasn’t his defense. It’s that it meant he couldn’t be the striker :-).

    Going to be interesting to see the reaction to this. Does having the pressure off mean that they will play better? Hope so.

  18. Yeah… that was a disaster because Arsenal weren’t even competitive. City toyed with Arsenal. That is like losing to Birmingham in the 2011 League Cup final, that level of damaging. It damages Arteta, the game plan was all wrong, it has nothing to do with player selection, everything to do with weak pressing and trying too hard to force the ball into Saka. How we could play that open in a major game, is embarrassing.

  19. “Why can’t Arsenal accept that they’re favourites?”

    Because when you go up against a Death Star with heart and sticking tape, it generally doesn’t turn out well. Unless it’s a movie. And even then the megacorp will find a way to ruin it for everybody.

    It’s fine – either the Kroenkes spend another 150 million this summer to have a better crack next year, or they won’t. Little point beating up on the players over it.

  20. I see it as Arteta still learning but I wonder if he’s one-sided in his tactics.i don’t blame the players cos pep set his team to exploit the teams weaknesses but Arteta couldn’t change things up.but it’s all good,just wonder if any other team will ever win the league as long as pep and oil money exist in it.

  21. Coming to this post the morning after the debacle. What a great post this is, Tim. Absolutely on the money. Our willingness to scapegoat individual players is depressing. It goes back a long way in this fanbase – long before those Stateside discovered the round ball game – cf Fever Pitch which notes the terrible treatment of Jon Sammels.

    We have overperformed all season and now our small squad is having a huge impact, not only through the drop-off in quality of replacements for injured players but also the cumulative effect of our inability, by virtue of that drop-off, to rotate key players to preserve freshness. Compare and contrast our opponents last night in their season-long rotation of players and the quality of their bench options. Arteta’s project is a mere 3 years in gestation and seems ahead of schedule. $hitteh’s decade of allegedly illegal financial doping had at least as much impact on the outcome of that match as Pep’s alleged brilliance as a tactician.

    It does look like 5 titles in 6 seasons for that tainted club. The global attraction (and huge TV income) of the Premier League was its competitiveness when compared to one horse leagues like the Bundesliga and Ligue Un or two horse leagues like La Liga and Serie A. The PL bosses should be worried about the dominance of the Oilers. Whether the FA can make the charges stick is questionable but the ability of wealthy organisations and individuals to oil the wheels of justice to ensure a favourable outcome doesn’t encourage optimism.

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