Arsenal must have drank their water and taken two painkillers, because if there was any chance of a hangover after the loss to Newcastle, Arsenal certainly looked sober and clear-eyed yesterday as they blew away bottom boys Burnley, 3-1 at home.
I can’t tell if it was a slow start or if I was just eager to get Arsenal on the scoresheet but watching the first 30 minutes I felt like Arsenal were simply going through the motions. But in retrospect the Gunners created several good chances with Gabriel, Havertz and Saka all going very close in the first 30 minutes. David Raya also played a part making two decent saves look easier than they were, one from Gudmundson when he was played clean through which probably spared the defense some blushes.
Kai Havertz got his 4th consecutive start with Ødegaard out injured and in this little run of games I’ve finally landed on why Kai is struggling. The difference between most other leagues and the Premier League is the sheer speed the game is played at. Not just the running speed, footspeed, or just pure athleticism, I mean the speed of thought, the tactical speed (making sure players are in the right positions to close down quickly), and the subsequent requirement that players in possession and out of possession can perform actions quickly and flawlessly without extra motions. This is why Havertz has struggled making the jump from Bundesliga to the Premier League: he simply cannot seem to do things quickly and with a great economy of movement. Everything he tries takes an extra touch, his shots seem to often take an ice age, and even his tackling and defending is late which often leads to a yellow card. He also doesn’t even seem to think of runs or imagine where the ball will be on a cross often until it’s just a fraction off. He’s just a half step off everything.
Can Mikel Arteta train Havertz to be a quicker and more decisive player? Can he teach him when NOT to tackle and when to make the right run? That is the £70m question. But, here’s the thing: Granit Xhaka was EXACTLY the same way for his first few years in the Premier League. It was infuriating to watch him slow the game down with his extra touches and the way he had to have time to compose himself on the ball. Teams figured this out and relentlessly pressed him into oblivion. This is also why Xhaka was such a bad tackler for so long, he was just too often a fraction late in his tackles.
What Arteta did with Xhaka was moved him up the pitch, took away the responsibility of being the main man and last defender, and trained him over two years to play quickly in the system that Arteta has constructed which makes it both possible and required that players play quickly into pre-set areas. Instead of Wenger’s “solo jazz” formation which had Xhaka at the base, plucking the strings and setting the tempo of an undefined song; Arteta gave him an accompanying role in a Phillip Glass concert, he blended in, never missed a beat, and was able to shine through in that forward position.
In yesterday’s match against Burnley, Havertz had one of his best performances to date in terms of reading the game and one-touch passing. That is possibly because Burnley is a Championship team in the Premier League and give opponents time and space that other Premier League teams don’t. But it’s also possible that he’s learning to read Arteta’s sheet music and after a few weeks of practice, is getting better at blending in with the orchestra. We’ll have to see how he gets on from here. (Observation off)
Trossard opened the scoring with a brave header, throwing himself into the opposition goal stanchion to push the ball over the line. The move started from Zinchenko’s cross to Saka, Saka headed the ball back across the net (Havertz was there but he was late and weak, lol), and Trossard banged the ball in. It was the 1000th goal scored by Arsenal at the new Arsenal stadium, the first goal was scored by Gilberto, and the 500th goal was scored by Arteta.
Burnley equalized after Tomiyasu was out muscled by Luca Koleosho – who is apparently an American? – and then an unholy bobble ensued in the Arsenal box. Brownhill hit the shot, it took a deflection off Gabriel (I think), and Raya was wrong-footed.
Arsenal’s 2nd goal pretty much sealed the deal, however. Arsenal have now scored 26 goals this season (3rd best) and yet only have 10 goals from open play (mid-table). Arsenal have 6 penalty goals (lead the League) and 8 goals from set pieces (FK and corners) which leads the League over Man City and Everton with 6 apiece. Arsenal actually only have 3 assists this season directly from the corner kick or dead ball: one by Saka on the right and one by Trossard on the left. Which means that 5/8 of our dead ball goals are coming from a scramble. Martinelli normally takes the corners on the left but he’s actively bad at them and Arteta has been trying more creative options on that side since last season. I think putting Trossard on those kicks (since we only do inswingers) is the right call but I’d like to see Saka given a chance to try an outswinger – I think that the reason why we hate outswingers is that they are easier to turn into counter attacking situations but we are the only team in the League who NEVER try outswingers. In a sense, it’s wild that we are so good at corners when we are so utterly predictable at them.
All of this free-kickery matches up quite well with my perceptions of how Arsenal play: very conservative in possession, trying not to conceded a counter, pressing high and trying to get goals off defense (2), but doing our best to be patient in the buildup and attack. We actively try to win corners, Arsenal lead the League by some margin in corners with 106 (8.8 per game, Man U are 2nd in the League with 84 corners) and do so with Martinelli and others getting to the end line and putting in a drag back. It’s a surprisingly dangerous tactic as the dragbacks themselves are deadly and we are particularly good on corners because – I have pointed this out before – we don’t play nice and like to station a man RIGHT on the opposition keeper’s toes.
Arsenal’s third goal also came from a corner (it counts as a goal from a corner) and again Trossard made the delivery, again Arsenal made a clusterfuck around the keeper, and this time Burnley couldn’t clear. Up stepped Zinchenko who skizzors kicked the ball into the net. It was a bit lucky or tremendous skill whichever you prefer.
The end of the match was quite boring although there was a red card for Vieira. If you were expecting the officials to give Arsenal ANY benefit of the doubt on ANY calls for the rest of the season, I have a bridge in London to sell you. Apart from Fergie and Man U, I have never seen it work that way for Arsenal. If Arsenal complain about officiating, what I’ve seen happen is that the officials say “ok” and double down against us. I almost hate to point this out but that’s exactly what happened with Wenger. The officials hated him – Mike Dean said he was “scared” of Arsene – and officials like Mike Dean ended up holding their whistle in any borderline calls in Arsenal’s favor. You can go look at his record and see that he literally quit making red card calls and penalty calls in Arsenal matches but especially in Arsenal’s favor.
Before kickoff I predicted on Bluesky (I don’t post on or use the fascist propaganda site formerly known as Twitter) that if any Arsenal player even remotely pushes an opponent or gets anywhere close to a red card we would see the officials immediately blow up, which they did. Saka was called for a minor push on a cross, which is fucking hilarious since the so-called independent panel of judges decided that Gabriel getting shoved over wasn’t worthy of a foul. And Vieira was given a red card for a high boot to the knee in a 50-50 challenge. I’ve seen that latter one ignored probably 90/100 times but again, if there is anything even remotely close to a red card, Arsenal will be getting it from now on. Especially Havertz.
I would also expect our penalties to go away. We lead the League in pens (6, ManC has 3) and if we get even a single penalty from PGMOL trained officials in these final 26 matches I will be utterly shocked. ANYTHING borderline will not go our way.
This is how white power structures operate. Anything that makes them uncomfortable, especially criticism, is immediately met with the full force of the institution in opposition. You see it happen all the time: taking the knee in the NFL, the reaction that right-wingers have to “critical race theory”, and so on. This is how the machine (which I include the press, etc.) silences criticism. Managers are publicly ridiculed for questioning the referees and managers who lick referee boots are publicly hailed as a shining example. Fans who question referees are ridiculed as conspiracy nuts (I’ve even done this) and everyone is told that criticizing the system is stupid, pointless, and childish. People who even show evidence that officials have been biased against their teams are quickly dismissed as nuts and their criticisms are almost never taken seriously. And teams that lodge complaints are punished with the harshest possible interpretations of every law of the game. Dismiss, ridicule, and punish. Given the insane decisions of the independent review panel (that Joelinton’s huge shove wasn’t a foul and 2/5 of the panelists saying that Guimaraes wasn’t a red card) I fully expect the PGMOL and the referees to double down on their absurd vision of how games should be called and to make sure that Arsenal are punished for their outburst all season.