Good morning and welcome to the 2023/24 football season and your Community Shield Champions, The Arsenal Football Club!
Before we get started, I’m changing the rules for commenting around here: I am going to require registration in order to comment. I’m doing this for a number of reasons. You have to register everywhere else in the world to comment and so I’m going to do the same here. It will make it a lot easier to moderate comments and it will make people more accountable for their comments. I will not be allowing any transphobic, racist, or other types of hateful speech and I will also not allow any rape apologists to comment on the blog.
And now before you get angry and say “what about free speech, Tim?” Well, free speech only applies to the government, not to individuals and certainly not to businesses. As we recently found out, the Supreme Court ruled that businesses no longer have to treat LGBTQ+ customers (even ones that don’t exist) as equals and can in fact discriminate. So, I will also be discriminating; but against homophobes, conservatives, QAnon supporters, 911 truthers, Birthers, MAGAs, racists, transphobes, sexists, and misogynists. 7amkickoff has never and will never be a platform for your hate. And before you get all “but aren’t you doing what they’re doing?” please take 15 minutes and educate yourself on the Paradox of Tolerance. I’m not interested in arguing this at all. If you feel compelled to argue with me on this point, go ahead and write out your argument and then delete it before you hit send. And whatever you do, don’t try to argue with me about it on twitter. I’ll just block you. I have no tolerance left for the intolerant and the weasels who want to argue these “intellectual” ideas that cause real world harm.
The other good thing that forcing you to register does is that it makes banning you sting a lot more and cuts down on people pretending to be multiple people. In the past when I would ban someone, we had people just put in a bunch of different fake email addresses and I would have to ban them by their IP address, which is messy and annoying. This cleans some of that up. I know some of you will have multiple email addresses and there will probably be at least one weirdo who goes out and makes up a new email address after they get banned but hey if you want to do all that work, be my guest. I’ll just keep banning you and if you keep at it, I’ll ban your IP address.
So, anyway that’s the main change. The other change here is that I no longer give a fuck. I mean, I love Arsenal still (of course) but I’m really not interested in debate about the Arsenal and honestly don’t enjoy most of the interactions around the club. I love the football, I love some of the fans, but the vast majority of the culture around football is toxic and annoying. Writing about football is incredibly repetitive, the conversations are insanely repetitive, and people only seem to live these days to point out how they were right (once) and someone else was wrong. When I started this blog in 2008 I was one of those people. I pretended that I started the blog to practice my writing but in reality most of the motivation was in ORDER to tell people they were wrong and I was right. Then there would be a big public fight and we’d block each other. Yay! Football!
But look, folks, that was… 16 years ago in January. I mean, fuck. I’m tired of it. I really want to try to stay positive this season and just enjoy the football. You know? So, please, I beg of you, please, do not start engaging with me (or anyone else) in the “I was right, remember when you said, etc etc.” nonsense. I’ve been writing what is essentially an opinion piece nearly every day for 16 years. I’m bound to get things wrong! I’m bound to have at least 600 bad opinions for you to pick apart. Congratulations, on finding one.
Please just try to have fun and don’t hate vulnerable people. That’s all I ask. Ok, and now for some bad opinions for you to complain about!
Arsenal beat Man City in what I thought was quite impressive manner yesterday. With Gabriel Jesus out we saw what I think is going to be the hallmark of the season; Arteta’s tactical flexibility. Arteta clearly went out and got players in who can fill a number of roles on the pitch. So much of the debate this summer has been “what position is Rice/Havertz/Timber best at” or “where will Rice/Havertz/Timber play this season?” and what we saw yesterday against City is that they will play where they are needed.
I believe that Havertz was bought to play in the Xhaka spot but the great news is that he can also fill in at #9 and can even play on the right when Saka needs a break. Yesterday, I was impressed by his hold-up play at the number 9 and while he didn’t score a goal (he only got two chances) I think the misses he made were quite exaggerated as “big chances”. The first was entirely manufactured by his own turn. The idea that “he should score from there” is not quite how I viewed it. Both times he was under pressure and had multiple bodies stopping him, these weren’t empty netters or one-v-ones with the keeper. If he’d have scored, it would have been impressive, rather than just banal.
The second player I was impressed with is Rice. Yesterday he showed off his versatility and leadership playing in the sort of #8 role that Xhaka played in last season, albeit not quite as adventurous. Rice is going to get a lot of stick this season. But this is my second main point about Arsenal FC this year: I think this is another developmental season. I know some folks expect Arteta to win the League this year but if you look at the age profile of the players we have and bought, most of them are going to be hitting their prime over the next three years. It’s also true that Rice has come from an entirely different football program into this much more intellectually demanding style of play. I think he understands it (sort of) but to go from low block countering into the Arsenal system of high pressing and positional play is going to take a few months to get hold of. This is going to be exacerbated by point number one: that tactical flexibility that is required of all the players now. In essence Rice has to learn two new positions at Arsenal. That’s going to take time.
That said, Rice seems to have a good grasp of the system and even remonstrated his teammates (especially Partey who had another atrocious match) on where to press and how they were supposed to be positioning themselves. This for me is probably going to be Rice’s real strength, his on field leadership. Arteta was Wenger’s on-field general. He knew exactly how Arsene wanted to play and transmitted that to his teammates. I think Rice will be able to do the same. At least he seems to have already taken that on. That bodes well, in my eyes, because I was expecting him to take a year to bed in but it looks like he’s already got a strong grasp of the Arsenal system.
That said, he did look a bit out of place in the #8 role and didn’t quite get forward the way Xhaka used to. That could be an instinctual thing. Some of us just don’t like going forward! I felt like he was being a little too conservative, which I understand because I think he didn’t trust Partey’s defense at all and for good reason.
Jurrien Timber was yet another impressive signing for me. His ball control is superb and his defensive awareness is very good. Despite being played out of position on the left, he was excellent throughout his cameo. He will be able to play a number of positions across the back line and – this is my third point – adds serious depth to Arsenal’s defense. People complained about Arsenal playing Rob Holding last season – a complaint I felt was unjust and which I showed was mainly actually Partey’s fault – and so this year, we probably won’t have to play Rob Holding.
Arsenal’s depth is now what I would call “pretty good verging on fuckin’ excellent”. We have a number of players who can play a number of positions and multiples for each position. Leandro Trossard, for example, came on for Havertz and scored the tying goal yesterday!
Arsenal’s depth will get “fuckin’ excellent” when we sign Raya. Raya is going to push Ramsdale for the starting spot at Arsenal, I’m telling you. He is probably a better keeper than Aaron and I say that with a ton of love for Ramsdale but it’s just how I feel and what I’ve seen of both keepers. At the very least Raya offers another option for Arteta: his long balls are so absolutely eye wateringly good that Arteta can drop Raya in with Havertz and it really stretches the opponents. This isn’t a bag on Ramsdale, he made a crucial save to win the Charity Shield yesterday! But it’s just a fact that players need competition or they will get stale.
Oh by the way, I told you all that Arsenal would be shopping for a top class backup keeper this season. I mean it was obvious that Matt Turner wasn’t up to the task and Runnarson outright sucks. It didn’t hurt us last year but I love that Arteta will no longer have a problem with starting keepers next season. I mean barring a calamity! (uncomfortable grin emoji)
Anyway, I’m looking forward to a new season at the Arsenal. Should be a good one!