Arsenal 2023/24 Chapter 4: relax!

The Good

Fabio Vieira was brought on in the second half and put in a performance which should give Arteta something to think about: should he start instead of Havertz? This isn’t a cut on Kai, but with Man City what we often see is big signings come in and take a year or so to earn their starting spot. We know that these systems (Arsenal’s and City’s) are very complex and that they take a long time to learn. Even Declan Rice, who I think is an incredibly intelligent footballer, has admitted that he’s overwhelmed with all the information he’s had to absorb. This isn’t to say that Havertz is dumb but there were a number of times against Fulham where it looked like he and Martinelli have never played together. He didn’t have a lot of misplaced passes, not a lot of turnovers, and did help create a few chances but it was just that when he was off with Nelli, he was WAY off. Overall, I like Havertz and think he’s going to be our long term starter but right now, Vieira is simply sharper.

The other good news is that I think we can all stop worrying about Nketiah. We know what he brings to the team, we know he’s not a ball to feet player (like Jesus) but he’s a good off-the-ball runner (sometimes) and can create chances with his movement. My only beef with him is that he tends to fade in and out of levels of activity. I could be misreading the tactics from Arteta here but far too often I just see Nketiah standing still in the middle and not reading the runs of his teammates.

The Bad

I’m still convinced that Mikel Arteta is, at heart, a defensive coach. I think Pep is as well, but Arteta is a step above Pep when it comes to his love of good defensive performances. After the win over Palace away last weekend, Arteta was interviewed and he was buzzing with praise for his team’s defense. It’s good to remember that we played a low-block defense in that game. I know that we all think it’s simple to play low block and that every team can just go to low block but it’s actually something you have to drill. And that fits with Arteta’s career at Arsenal. The first six months to a year were almost nothing but low-block defending. It was a huge part of my frustration with him as a coach. And I often to this day complain that the team “turtles” when we have a lead – by which I mean that we revert to a low block countering team.

I’ve started to understand better why we do this – it saves energy and closes spaces at the back where we might get exposed if we are pressing high. We can’t be a high pressing team for 90 minutes in 60 games a season. So, I get why we do it.

But I still don’t like it. I don’t like it because letting a team have the ball is incredibly dangerous. These are Premier League teams. Almost every team in the Premier League* can score goals and has practice playing against a low block defense – maybe not in game situ but definitely in practice. And in games where the opponent has 10 men, like yesterday with Fulham, with a 1-goal lead, I think it’s just outright the wrong call.

I also wanted Trossard to start this match and Arteta obliged. Trossard is an all-action forward and true to type he was working very hard to get the ball and try to create chances. He had 6 SCA, 3 key passes, and generated 0.7 expected assists. Trossard was a baller, but he wasn’t a shot caller: he had 0 shots for himself (and 10 turnovers) and that Arsenal team yesterday needed someone to TAKE the shots. Enter Eddie.

I’m not saying Trossard is bad or that he had a bad game, I am saying that he wasn’t the CF we needed yesterday and until we get some of the wide players (and the #8/10) making runs into the box for him, he’s not going to be my first choice CF.

I should also mention here that Saka should have done better on their second. You can question whether he should have been in that position to defend at all (rather than a CB) but the fact is that he was and he didn’t close the man and turned his back on the shot. Not great.

The Ugly

Mikel Arteta persisted with Thomas Partey as “RB” and once again was punished with a classic Thomas Partey moment. It’s funny because for years people have been saying that Partey is a great defender and for years I’ve been saying “ehhh…” He is a solid defender 90% of the time but last season I pointed out multiple times his brain suddenly shuts off and he goes on walkabout somewhere and lets people just wander in behind him. Now, I know that opinion is divided here and that half the people blame Saka and the other half blame Partey but I think it’s Partey’s fault for the first goal. When you invert from RB, you have to do it intelligently and in that situation he was far too eager to get forward, didn’t read the pressure Bukayo was under, and let an opponent literally just have the entirety of the right back position. Sorry but sometimes you are “pinned” as a defender and can’t go forward. You have to understand when that’s happening and not go bombing up the pitch. So, while Saka was dispossessed and it looked like he passed back, I was blaming Partey for that first goal.

The bigger question is why play Thomas at RB at all? Well, because we don’t have another FB who can invert. Benjamin White? Great CB! Not an inverting FB. Kiwior? We tried that. Same as White. Tomi? Suspended. Tierney? Probably worse as an inverting FB than Kiwior. Soares? Does he materially even exist?

That then begs the question of whether we should be playing inverted FBs at all. The only answer I have for that is another question: have we practiced anything other than the box midfield or low block defense? I don’t know but I don’t see any evidence that we have.

But it does beg the question why we aren’t just starting out as a 343 with Gabriel – Saliba – White and then two pivots in midfield and Havertz (Vieira) and Odegaard in front. I don’t know. I’m not Arteta but I would say that right now if we did that it would essentially be Partey in that double pivot, in which case the only thing we’ve done is switched Gabriel in.

That also begs the question of why Gabriel isn’t playing. I’ve heard from a few sources that Gabriel and Arteta had a bust up. My suspicion is that this is true because that’s what Arteta does: he has bust ups with players and then drops them. But the question is whether Gabriel was dropped before or after the argument and I suspect it was before.

The reason why I think Gabriel got mad is because he was probably told by Arteta that as long as Zinchenko and Timber were out (our two FBs who can reliably invert) he wouldn’t be starting because Arsenal needed Thomas to start at “RB”.

Now all of this is speculation – just as even the so-called bust up is speculation – and maybe we don’t need to speculate at all. Maybe the simple thing to ask is “is it working”? The answer is.. ehhh.

Fact is that we are creating 2.0 xG per game this season and conceding 0.9 xGA. So, statistically we are fine. We are also undefeated and but for a couple of really dumb moments yesterday against Fulham (and a very lucky first goal) would have walked away with all three points.

We are playing poorly, however, and it’s not been a fun ride even if we are undefeated so far. We are also going to face much tougher opponents very soon (Man U in London next). But I think some of the screechy freaking out among the fan base is actually quite funny and some folks need to take a breath or go outside and touch grass.

Look, Jesus played a few minutes yesterday, Zinchenko has played a few minutes, and I hope that both of them are healthy and ready to play Manchester United on Sunday. If Zinchenko starts we will have a definitive answer as to whether or not Gabriel is in the dog house. If Jesus starts we will no longer wonder if Nketiah should start. And then the only question will be will Havertz start or will Vieira get the nod?

One last thing on all of this. I want to point out how last year when Zinchenko went down, Arsenal had the same problem we are having this year. That problem is that the left-side buildup sucks, we end up focusing too much on the right, we rely too heavily on big switches to get the ball to Martinelli, and the number 8’s production (offensively) dries up.

We absolutely need Zinchenko (or Timber). His ability on the left creates great little triangles with Nelli and the #8. And that attack also allows us to move Benjamin White into the RB position, which then allows us to create the same kinds of triangles and overloads on the right. Jesus allows us to help buildup through the middle and now that we have Rice we can drop Partey off the face of the planet.

This is why I think that some of the frustration among the fans is a wild overreaction and it comes from many fans having too high expectations for Arsenal this season. We are not a title challenger. We are going to get top four this season, have a good Champions League run (this is where Arteta’s “turtle” defense will be very handy), and we are going to build the team for a title run next season. It would probably be smart of Arsenal to buy another invertable FB (if we can find one) sooner rather than later but other than that I’m actually quite happy with this team this season.

I’m also not down in the dumps about the draw yesterday. It did suck but shit happens. The goals were either freaky or a result of terrible defending by one of my favorite players and I’m not going to let a lapse by Saka even remotely lessen my love for him. Because everything about him tells me that of all of us, that goal will hurt him more than it hurt us and he will work harder than we can imagine to try to make sure it never happens again.

Let’s all just relax a bit and look forward to a big win over Ten Hag and United.


*Except Everton


  1. I’m not hugely worried about yesterday, unless Arteta persists with Partey at RB and Gabriel dropped. If that continues, then we have a problem, as it doesn’t work. I expect Zinch to come in and Gabriel too. But even if Zinch can’t play, we should be playing Gabriel with Tomi and White on the outside.
    The Gabriel thing is a big concern…it’s not like Arteta falling out with some older and overpaid player. Gabriel is young and good. Arteta needs to figure that situation out. Maybe the Kroenkes have a giant offer from Saudi that is almost done, but that’s a big risk, as we’re very unlikely to find a comparable replacement for any fee. Guess we’ll see by the United match.

  2. Two things..

    The author’s asterisk game is next level. Every time I read this blog I enjoy that aspect.

    And.. I’ve only watched a handful of Premier League matches this season but EVERY SINGLE ONE has had a red card. I have no problem with red cards overall. Sometimes a referee needs to send a player off. I’ve always felt that two yellows should result in a suspension for the player, but that you can and must sub for them. It’s my opinion that 10 v 11 isn’t fun to watch. And there have been some absolutely disastrous red card decisions so far this year.

  3. $h*t, as 7 am says, happens. It’s still $h!t though and it’s inevitability does make it any easier.

    Saka makes mistakes but imagine this team without him. Now that is $h:t that should never happen. He retires here and he gets his own statue, right next to The King. Saka and Henry, brothers in bronze.

    My big worry is our finishing. We should have 8-9 goals by now. If we are saving them for ManUre, let’s have them!

    Preparing for a string of gigs in September/October. Back in time for (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Will catch the games and blogs as I can.

    Up the Arsenal.

  4. I never promote myself here, but of you’re in Europe and love blues based rock, please do check out my friends Rebecca and Megan, the Lovell sisters and the band this fall:

      1. Thanks, but I have “my people” for that;) Label just hired a wonderful young Brit lady who is doing some great promo stuff for us. Life is good right right now. Just refurbished a rare and stunning 1960 Tele which I am definitely taking on the road with me. Classic two single coil pick-ups and otherwise unadorned and dripping with country twang and dirty blues.

  5. I am a bit worried. Arteta is no “galaxy brain” as some fans have hyped & home game fans have higher expectations (title challenge) in part because how we played in first half of last year & noises made by hierarchy in summer. This means team will probably make more mistakes (because wrong personnel are deployed in unfamiliar positions) and crowd will be unforgiving leading to same atmosphere as was witnessed in late Unai era.

  6. is it possible that gabriel wants to leave? those guys in saudi are paying a lot of money to players. likewise, real madrid is the biggest team in the world and young players dream of playing there. i don’t know why gabriel’s not in the team but the reason why had better be because he wants to leave and not some nonsense with arteta. we’ll see.

    my take on kai is that he only seems to play when he’s around the ball and switches off when the ball’s away from him. this seemingly inconsistent engagement means he sees things way too late which makes him sloppy defensively. i used to think he was the heir apparent to mesut. nope; he’s nowhere near mesut’s level. add to that, he fouls more than xhaka. am i dismissing him? no…because he can learn to stay engaged. we’ll see if he has the desire to learn.

    fabio was brilliant when he came on. like torreira, his stature means he’s not a typical cm but unlike torreira, he seems to know what his limits are. he’s inventive, kinetic, and clever. if he’d hit that scissor kick near the end, the top would have blown off the building. he has a real chance to usurp havertz, particularly because of the bromance he and martinelli have…they truly want to see each other do well. perhaps their friendship can translate to an enhanced football chemistry.

    both fulham goals have to lie at bukayo’s feet. i love the kid and he’ll learn from those errors but those goals were due to his poor decisions. even if partey was deeper for their first goal, the back pass from bukayo was far too sloppy. as for partey, we should give him grace. he’s not a right back but he’s trying his best to do an unfamiliar job for the team due to injuries. he may understand the duties associated with inverting as a right back but it’s clearly not intuitive to him…that takes many reps to develop. he’s doing the best he can and we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

    1. I’m with you, Josh, especially about Saka and Partey. I adore Saka and he’s clearly our best player, but he had a (for him) stinker Saturday. Regardless of whether Partey was too aggressive in moving into midfield, Saka cannot make that pass without looking, which is essentially what he did. It was a terrible pass.

      I think Partey is being asked to play a very unfamiliar role, and it will result in growing pains. I would say the same for our entire “new system” with right hand inversion. Turns out new playing styles are hard. Especially in the PL. You can only practice so much at Colney. You have to try it in real matches – and you choose games like Fulham and Forest to do it. We are going to get worse before we’re better.

      But I can’t take this, “We need to go back to what worked last year” mentality. That system is great, but it requires a specific set of players – namely Wilo and Zinny – to make it work. Zinny can’t play 60 games, folks. And Wilo will need a rest. We can’t play the same way every game. Lots of team were figuring it out at the end of last season. So we’re bedding in new players and a new system. We will be unpredictable and harder for opponents to prepare for. That’s what it takes to win trophies now.

      So as Tim said, “Relax.” We will get better as the season goes on. And present a bigger challenge for opponents. It won’t happen overnight. And by XG, we played better vs. Fulham than CP. 3 games into the season should not be panic time.

  7. i wanted to share my thoughts on the rubiales dude that kissed that girl from the spain team after their world cup win. this dude is from the spanish school of jackassery. could i understand him being excited in the moment? without condoning his behavior, yes i could understand. how difficult is it to hold your hand up and admit to that? instead, this guy tries to defend the indefensible and justify his behavior on that day. then, he doubles down, saying stupid stuff like “she wanted it”. seriously, this dude is an assclown.

    what’s worse is that the spanish fa have done nothing to reprimand this guy or support the young lady. instead, they’re opting to double down on his assertion, saying that she’s lying about not wanting to be kissed.

    this is the same spanish fa that allowed luis aragones to call thierry henry a black shit with no reprimand. instead of owning the fact that he’d said the wrong thing, aragones went on moaning about how he’s not a racist. meanwhile, he sent jose antonio reyes, a 19-year old kid, back to north london in a dressing room full of black guys after offending the most popular player at the club.

    being in positions of power means you take care of your charges. their needs supersede yours. if you can’t put your feelings on the back burner and take care of your people, you have no reason being in that position of power. reyes shouldn’t have had to worry about any racial undertones or defending anyone; he should have simply had to focus on his football. same with the spanish women’s team. these young ladies are supposed to be celebrating their world cup win. instead, we’re talking about this egomaniacal, self-serving coward. what’s worse is the spanish fa support these guys. disgraceful.

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