It was the 88th minute. Arsenal were down 3-1 at a supposedly hostile stadium, in a match which would probably turn out to be the defeat which would seal their fate in the title race. It should have been a moment when the home supporters were signing to the rafters. If the tables were turned and Arsenal had we been on the winning end and looking greedily at our first league title since 2004, the noise inside our stadium would have been like a Tunguska blast. And yet, the only supporters singing at the “Etihad” stadium were the Arsenal supporters, the away supporters, as they had done the whole match and as they would do long after the match was over.
I think it was 1987 when I first started having animosity toward the sports teams that I loved. When I was a child, I loved the Dallas Cowboys – all of them. I cannot think of a player on that team that I didn’t like. Every player was a hero and coach Tom Landry a god. As I got a little older I switched* to a more local team, the Seattle Seahawks. I loved Ground Chuck and Kenny Easley but I think it was Brian Bosworth who first did it for me. The Boz was a bit of a disaster waiting to happen. Banned from college athletics for steroid use, he threatened to not play for Seattle if we drafted him. We drafted him anyway and then promptly gave him the biggest rookie contract in NFL history. With all the hype around him, you’d have thought he would be an unstoppable machine, our very own Lawrence Taylor. But the only thing unstoppable was his mouth and when Bo Jackson smashed him after he made some kind of comment about stopping Jackson, I literally laughed out loud. The Boz retired after a whopping 24 games, a shoulder injury (which he’d had insured through Lloyd’s of London) forcing him to quit.
From there, the floodgates opened a bit. For the Sonics, there were quite a few players I didn’t care for, too many to name, and besides which, who really cares? Those men came to do a job, did it mostly to the best of their abilities, and most of them retired to play golf or something.
The point of this digression is that I was thinking about it yesterday, while playing disc golf, and remember how much I loved all the players (or at least didn’t hate them) that played for the Cowboys and my early years as a Seahawks fan. I miss that innocence. That sort of just love for the game that I had before I started “getting realistic” and “just being honest”. It’s tough to bottle back up once it’s out but for me, watching yesterday’s match and listening to the away supporters cheer the entire time – despite the fact that Thomas Partey, for example, had the worst of three progressively worse appearances for Arsenal – just reminded me a bit of that pure, innocent, love and joy that supporting a sports team can give you.
As for the game itself, it was predictable. We all knew going in that Arsenal were the underdogs. Whereas the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Abu Dhabi can afford two-£50m players in every position – they can bring on players like Foden, Mahrez, and Alvarez – Arsenal are on a more modest budget and the drop-off from our starting players to our 3rd choice players is pretty steep.
One player who I think has been most affected by the forced changes in the lineup was Thomas Partey. He had what could only be called a nightmare of a match. Not only was he unable to drive the team forward but he was running into unusual positions, leaving massive gaps in coverage, and completely lost Kevin de Bruyne on nearly every possession – twice just letting de Bruyne run past him into open space. It’s no exaggeration that had Haaland been a little more in tuned with de Bruyne he could have had a hat trick in the first half.
We all knew all along that squad depth would be the problem. We honestly aren’t even supposed to be here (BTW: still top of the League). A title challenge wasn’t even a consideration at the start of the season, qualifying for the Champions League was all we wanted because we all know that there’s still quite a bit of squad building to do. The squad depth and ability to play multiple ways is just not there at the moment. Look at what City are able to do: pass opponents to death if they want, or invite the opponent to press high and hit long balls up to Haaland and de Bruyne if they want. It’s remarkable what financial doping, systemic cheating, and pumping billions of pounds into a sportswashing regime (to put lipstick on the pig that is the fact that they are one of the countries which is killing the earth with fossil fuels) can do to a sport. It can turn an otherwise competitive event into hyper competition, where the winners need to literally achieve god-like status to win.
We didn’t achieve god-like status this season. We got very close and like Icarus, our wings were burned and we have fallen back down to earth.
But let’s finish the season strong and go again next season.
*My father was in the military my whole life. I was born in Pennsylvania but I grew up all over the world; Germany, Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and here in Washington state. That is my excuse for having so many different NFL teams when I was little.
I celebrated Holding’s goal like we had won the match. In about 15 years of following the Arsenal, this was literally the first time that i watched a match from start till the end despite knowing how it was going to end for us.
There was a moment when Jack Grealish held up the ball near the touchline and made a forward pass while three Arsenal shorts were hounding him at close range.
As much as it seemed that the occasion had got to the Arsenal and there are still some mental roadblocks to overcome, we have to also accept that no other team – not even Real Madrid for that matter – have that level of quality in all of their starters and most – if not all – of their bench as well (Ceballos is still a backup player at Madrid)
Look at Liverpool – a couple of fatigued key players, ageing lineup and departure of Sadio Mane has pushed them into a rebuild phase in mid-table. Meanwhile City basically bought Grealish for a sizeable amount and could just let him sit and mature for a year. There is no such thing as a rebuild season for city, with their financial doping. Few teams can afford to bench a clutch high quality players without paying all of them a heavy salary.
I believe Arteta and team will learn from this experience. When City went a bit flat late in second half, our subs did control the space and ball well – if only for a brief period. I always felt this was a game where Jorginho should have played from the start instead of Xhaka and Martinelli could have been hooked sooner for Trossard (perhaps from the start).
These are now two run-ins when the team did better than expected but unfortunately wilted at the last hurdle despite having no other games outside of the league. It’s as much mental as it is a squad depth issue, more the latter than the former in my opinion. Not because of the loss to City, but the three games before that.
OTOH, this would be the first time Arsenal qualifies for Champions League with Xhaka – the last remaining Wenger signing.
I don’t see us needing to sign as many players this summer as we did in the last. One clinical center forward imho is what we need the most.
*more the former than the latter
Holding’s a Wenger signing, although it’s debatable as to whether he’ll still be here to play in the Champion’s League. Haaland made him his bitch last night.
Just to emphasize the point here, Man City brought world cup winning striker (Alvarez) and one of the key players in a very strong England side which got to the Euro finals (Foden) along with AFCON winner (Mahrez) off the bench. And they have Kalvin Phillips percolating in their stocks. They are constantly buying top quality players for the future and if they ever have any questions, they can just buy a player to fill a spot. They are also able to just absorb contracts if they have to.
It’s absolutely football manager on a cheat code.
I’m sure Phillips would be available at a reasonable fee. An underused & underrated player
Nah, City are holding on to him, developing him, if he works out then he will be their starting DM for the next 5 years.
But…. Rodri is 5x the player Philips is.
It’s good to have this kind of perspective – we have, by all accounts, overachieved this season, but it’s the hope that kills you when we’ve scaled such heights (even though yes, I know, we are still top of the table).
Still, it was frustrating seeing the same old team sheet yesterday before kickoff. Arteta’s refusal to change it up is Wenger-esque. Yes, playing a totally new setup can be risky, but it wasn’t so long ago we played exclusively a back 3, so it wouldn’t have been completely novel. A 3 5 2 with Saka and Martinelli on the wings lets us put Trossard up with Jesus from the start. I get that the current system is well drilled and that Arteta probably feels the weight of loyalty (also very Wenger) — this setup with these particular guys got us smashing results — BUT it’s too much to expect this young team to go out and do a Liverpool of a few years ago where the opposition knows exactly who is going to play, exactly how we’re going to set up, and they’re still going to get punched in the mouth and swept aside.
Would it have mattered yesterday? Very doubtful. But something’s gotta give and there’s a long way to go before season’s end.
A couple of observations re lineup
1. You have to think beyond just this one match. Unless you can sell it as a huge boost or taking advantage of a weakness, dropping Holding or making a wild lineup change might signal a lack of faith from the manager and that can ripple out over time to infect the team’s confidence long term.
2. Arteta believed he saw a weakness in their team and sent us to press incredibly high. The problem is that Pep now has a route one option available to him, so if a team presses, he can lump it up to Haaland. And Haaland is a friggin’ beast. I think even Saliba would have been bossed in that game. Haaland is just on another level. I’ve never seen a player so powerful, so dominant.
3. But in the end it was really Partey, however, who was the problem. Some are saying he wasn’t fit and maybe that’s true but I’ve not seen a DM fail to track a player so horrifically in a big game since Denilson on Rooney at Old Trafford. I’m very openly not a huge fan of Partey and I don’t think his defensive frailties are a recent development. I’ve seen him play some pretty weak and slow defense a lot but it usually gets papered over by Saliba. Now without Saliba in there, he’s been shown up as weak in D. Which is why Arteta had to play a double-pivot with Jorginho.
I can talk a lot about why the back 3 and double-pivots are terrible and why modern teams don’t use them anymore but I’ll leave that to others.
“Haaland is just on another level. I’ve never seen a player so powerful, so dominant.”
Zlatan in his prime. Drogba in his prime. Haaland is the same quality, just playing in a better team than they ever played in.
Drogba has a huge mythology around him but reality is he only had two 20+ goal seasons. Zlatan I will accept but they are pretty different, at least what I remember of Zlatan.
What questions does Edu take from this game and this season going into the summer? Xhaka has had a great season, but do Arsenal need an upgrade so the middle press isn’t by-passed so easily? If Partey has dropped, and Jorginho is limited, does Arsenal go for a young DM? Can Tomiyasu stay healthy and back-up Zin and White on left and right? When Saka is off, who can step in for him?
Do they have a right-footed CB upgrade for Holding? If Saliba needs back surgery, do Arsenal need a new starting CB going into next year? Is that Tomiyasu in the short term? Does White shift back to CB? Do you sell Saliba to PSG for big money? Can Fabio Vieira hack it in the Premier League? Who is better – Eddie Nketiah or Folarin Balogun? Which do you sell? What happens to Emile Smith-Rowe now with Trossard around? If Arsenal are serious there is lots of heavy lifting ahead still.
In hindsight, I’d have played Tierney at LB, where his speed would have helped. Move Zinch into the Xhaka role and drop Xhaka, as he was a liability yesterday. Might have been tempted to drop Partey too, given how poor he’s been lately. Jorghino isn’t fast, but he probably wouldn’t have been any worse than Partey was yesterday. And having him sit deeper might also have helped. Really need Caicedo or Rice this summer (both would be great but doubtful we can do this).
Jesus while he worked hard, hasn’t been any kind of threat since returning from injury. His ability to press and dribble is useful, but ultimately we need goals from that role. Nketiah or Balogun need to be given some serious time to prove themselves as an option.
OTOH, feels to me like Reiss could be the wing alternative we’ve been looking for. He’s been pretty good when given the time.
I can sort of see what you’re saying about Jesus, he was nullified in this match and dropped an egg against Wet Hams but prior to that he did score 4 goals in 3 matches. 4 goals in the last 5 matches is pretty good.
Zin for Xhaka means a system change. Tierney cannot play the inverted LB role. All season we relied on Zin coming inside when we’re in possession to create a double pivot with Partey. Rice is coming, I believe that, and that will give Arteta the tactical flexibility to go with a Partey/Rice double pivot in big games and use Tierney more as a normal LB which probably works better with Trossard or Smith-Rowe even. Balogun will force a sale and between him and whatever Arsenal can get for Tavares, maybe also buy Aaron Hickey from Brentford as long term cover at LB/RB – before City buy him.
Well, I guess we’d never know now if 3-4-3 (or 3-5-2) would’ve worked yesterday. But conceding 2-2-3-4 (11 total) goals in the last 4 games is the stuff the nightmares are made of. Horrendous defending, and shocking performances all around, with Partey being the “standout”. I think him and Ramsdale could use a breather so to speak (aka ride the bench for a bit).
I saw this from about a month ago. I knew how this season would end. With a whimper not a bang.
Not enough gas in the tank physically or emotionally to end the season on the up. Two consecutive years now.
MCFC will get their due in good time. But we can’t complain about financial doping when it was in our hands to defeat it, and we faltered at the time of asking.
Great teams , no matter the sport, play their best or at least play well in the final stretch.
Champions League and 2nd place is fantastic! But we could have done more.
City did NOT beat us to the title. instead we threw away this season with a late string of poor performances. It’s on us.
It’s been a great season for us and we have so over performed. In the end, we can’t come close to their quality in depth so we run out of gas.
Because they are cheating and have been doing it for more than a decade.
What’s the point of this league if they let City cheat like this? If you really want a spectacle, I don’t understand why they don’t let them dope and pay off refs while they are at it. It’s not sport.
No one wants to really change it because they still all make a lot of money. But it would be great if the other teams just played their reserves and essentially boycotted Man City’s games. Let them play with themselves.
I think the narrative of City being ‘financially doped up’ is, while true, a bit overplayed if I’m being honest. They’re not even the highest spenders, I’m sure Utd and Chelsea have spent more.
I don’t think there’s one real answer as to why we’ve been so crap for the majority of the past 4 games but we have been awful.
Everyone saying the gulf between us and city is humongous is ignoring the fact that we would have at least matched them if we’d played them any time between August and February. It’s just very unfortunate timing that our dip has happened now.
I didn’t expect us to beat Pool or City away, I expected a draw which we got at Anfield but the results and performances against West Ham and Southampton were truly woeful and hard to explain, the swagger we’ve had all season seemed to just disappear overnight.
If our form and confidence wasn’t so low, this would in no way be over yet but let’s just see, football can be crazy.
if arsenal fail to win the league, it’s not only because city are so strong. city relinquished the initiative when they dropped points early in the season, integrating haaland. arsenal haven’t capitalize by winning the games that they were supposed to win. champions win those game. when you’re top and play the bottom team at home on a friday night, you’re supposed to win that game. when you’re up 2 goals at liverpool and your keeper plays as well as ramsdale did, you’re supposed to win that game. arsenal are supposed to beat west ham. wenger used to talk all the time about consistency. arsenal have been incredibly consistent this season. however, they failed to maintain consistency for this stretch, allowing them to be caught by that sky blue machine.
now that haaland has been properly assimilated into the borg, err, man city collective, nobody’s beating them. they’re the best team in the world; an absolute machine. they steamrolled bayern, they’re going to steamroll real madrid, and they’re going to win the treble. what i do like that arteta has done is copy the city mold.
i mentioned this before but, if you pay attention, arsenal aren’t building with a starter and a backup for each position. they seem to be building with two players for each position; both high quality and close enough in technical level to compete with each other. this is what man city have done. unfortunately, it’s hit and miss with some signings.
more importantly, this is how the game grows. knowing that you have to compete every single day in training with someone who’s just as talented as you is a great motivator. just think, arsenal were willing to pay £100 million for this ukrainian kid to come in and compete with with their leading scorer. is arteta as willing to shake things up as edu? what does trossard have to do to get a start? is the quality of the starters simply too high? we’ll see.
How did Leicester City win the P.L? How did the NY Giants who barely scraped into the NLF playoffs beat the 18-0 (including post-season) New England Patriots?
That stuff happens and it wasn’t a monumental ask like those examples for us this year. All we had to do, as you’ve said, is win the games we were favored to win.
I’m left frustrated for the 2nd consecutive year.
you’re right about last year being frustrated. while i often speak on holding being sent off against spurs, it wasn’t the loss to spurs that killed our top 4 hopes. thanks to spurs being spursy, arsenal were still in it. however, it was the loss to newcastle that killed off the top 4.
interesting, you mention leicester’s winning the championship. in that season, leicester loss to arsenal both home and away. that didn’t stop them becoming champions. they were more consistent. arsenal were better, but like the aforementioned 18-0 patriots, arsenal got down on their knees and blew it…with both hands and a lot of spit. prophetically, it won’t be the ass-whooping we suffered at the eithad that i’ll reflect upon. that was only 3 points. i’ll reflect on the 6 points dropped in the 3 games preceding that beating.
Josh, Arsenal bid was nowhere near £100m for Mudryk.
We will never know the exact details but some of the add ons were pie in the sky type like winning balon d’or.
The problem with trying to compete with City using their model is that Pep is still better than Arteta, and City will always spend more.
the price of mudryk wasn’t the point. it was about arsenal spending top dollar for competition for their top scorer; having 2 players potentially good enough to start for a championship team in each position.
Funny nobody calls out Ramsdale, defenders busy pushing KDB wide and he concedes such a goal after 6 minutes, that angle and distance he had ample time to see that shot. The same with Southampton game conceding after a minute and yu blame players like Party and Holding who had to cover a lot of ground because Xhaka was way too slow to cover his position and Odegaard was way to advanced to provide any form of defense. The keeper is not helping at all in this title push. There was a reason why he was playing for clubs like Sheffield Utd. If the club doesn’t upgrade the goalie position the end will be the same
Brian Bosworth was a terrible draft pick decisions but still not as bad as Tony Mandarich the Packers picked in 1988. Another roided out white dude who after having stopped juicing due to NFL’s stricter drug testing policy shrunk in size and ability.
Honestly, there is some crazy stuff here in the comments. “I dont know, did Man City really spend that much? Are you kidding me?
They spent over $1B in 5 years to initiallly build the club and then steadily poured more than anyone else into the club.
Yes, they were morons initially. Like Chelsea are today and ManU often does. But they then got smart and bought all of barcelonas A team scouts and team builders, got the best coach and then started spending more smartly but still big. Guess what. You don’t get Pep and all those dudes running you r back room unless you show them how you can out spend everyone else and get everything they dreamed for.
Pep has never worked for anyone that wasn’t able to own their league. I’m not blaming him. I’m just pointing out the facts.
Even if they get the best people and they are the best team, it’s still cheating to fake financial reports and sponsorships. Ill you can beat a cheater but it’s really hard. Ask Liverpool.
Fulham should have had a penalty, and that City are a really shitty side that I hope get utterly demolished by Real.
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