Playing the odds

Hi folks! Sorry I’ve been away for a few matches. I’ve been a bit busy with the holidays, disc golf, and a number of family things. I used to just share that stuff but I got out of the habit and I’m not sure I’ll get back in the habit, if I’m honest.

I did watch both matches this week and I have a report: two thumbs up! Great results!

Kai Havertz scored a pretty good goal, Bukayo Saka needs to be triple-teamed now, and even when teams know we are attacking through the wings and try to stop it, they can’t. But rather than recap each incident of each match in a 30,000 word post, I just wanted to share a weird observation.

I am preparing for my 2nd ever disc golf tournament – the SeaTac tree smack – and in order to get ready I scouted the course that we will be playing in January. I started out great, following the advice of my more experienced friend, I just put drives in the fairways and started with three easy pars. Immediately after the third par I told my friend Cleveland that I was “just throwing within myself”. And of course, stepped up on hole 4 and instead of playing conservatively, I ripped one. Then I tried another risky shot and landed in a laurel. And I got a bogey. The next hole I got a double, thanks again to some 300 year old laurel bushes, and I was on my way to a stunningly bad +26 on 27 holes.

SeaTac is a tough course, for sure: punishing if you miss the fairways, long, demanding technical shots on most holes, and boasting more than a few tricky and protected greens. It’s also full of distractions (there’s an international airport very close) and easy to get down on yourself about. If there was ever a course where it’s important to approach almost every hole and especially every recovery shot conservatively, it’s SeaTac. It’s an amazing lesson in humility.

The only way this ties in to Arsenal is that in yesterday’s win over Wolves, as the 2nd goal went in for Arsenal, I had that same feeling watching them as I’d had in the early holes at SeaTac: we were off and cruising, playing our game, not trying to do too much, and controlling the game.

I’ve had a hard time over the years getting behind Arteta’s style, which is partly down to my diminishing patience these days. But after Arsenal scored the second goal, Arsenal did the thing that they always do and took their foot off the gas, went into their conservative mode, and controlled the game. The old me (of a few months ago) would have been perturbed by this conservative approach. I grew up on the Invincibles – a team that also controlled games but did so with an arrogance that often drifted into toying with their opponents – and I’ve been acculturated into believing that “good teams will step on the necks of their opponents when they are ahead”.

But modern teams like Man City, Arsenal, and others don’t do that. They control the game in a different, much more, well, controlled way. They are looking to score more goals (of course) and keep a clean sheet by controlling the ball, but just like how I want to play disc golf at SeaTac: they aren’t extending themselves needlessly, creating chances and trying to take the chances when they come, rather than force the chances or put on a show.

So I sat there yesterday and watched Arsenal at 2-0 for a good 45 minutes play pretty boring football and try to see out the game through control. They could have scored a third, and probably would have if the referees were not dead set on refusing every close penalty call in Arsenal’s favor*, and there were a few nervy moments at the end of the game but overall I have settled into “this is just how Arteta wants them to play.”

I get it. It’s down to a science about workloads and other data-driven aspects of the game. We are playing the percentages. No need to put money on low percentage, big payout moments, when the long-term odds are in our favor by playing football this way.

So, I’ve come to accept it. Even if we do occasionally have a little wobble at the end! Which we did.


*Jesus was clearly pulled but the “not enough for me” excuse was deployed. That excuse always raises the question “ok, how much is enough then?” And of course there is no real answer. Like almost all of the laws of the game, it’s just vibes.


  1. Yes, they did ease up some but still had some pretty good chances and probably should have put the match away.
    Wonder if the refs are getting revenge on Arteta with these VAR calls. The arm pull was blatant, and certainly prevented a chance at a goal. Much worse than some that are given in the far reaches of the box for accidental handballs or trips of players going away from goal.
    Eddie also looked like he got cleaned out late on going for a cross. The stream I was watching didn’t even show a replay of that one.
    In any case, we’re still top of the league, top of the group in CL. Not getting any easier with Liverpool in the 3rd round FA though.

  2. 100% a penalty. PGMOL are a joke.

    Haaland gets that.
    Salah gets that.
    Rashford gets that.
    Even Lewis Carl Dunk gets that.

    Arteta’s getting nothing (except yellow cards and a touchline ban) until January.

  3. The cohesion is definitely improving as Arteta settles on a midfield of Rice, Odegaard, Trossard. The goals were the ‘can’t touch this’ kind, really beautiful to watch.

    I was fine with aiming to control the game at 2-0 – they will need to against better teams (especially in the CL) and they can’t keep pushing forward for 90 minutes. Just wish they didn’t have that Zinchenko kind of mistake in them, but that’s unlikely to change this season. For this week – top of the league!

    1. And Spurs and City tied. If only Fulham had hung on to draw with Pool would have pretty much been an ideal set of results for us.

  4. The movement of the front 5 and Zinchenko for Ode’s goal was as beautiful as anything that Wengerball ever served up. And yes, Ode is back to his swaggering best.

    Jesus makes us play. He’s a lynchpin, regardless of his goal returns. His ball intelligence is something else. And didnt you just love how he, Saka and Tomi beat the double team on Bukayo for the first goal?

    We are emerging as a true horses for courses team. Trossard adds to the ball intelligence of the front line; Havertz offers more of a battering-ram presence; Eddie as a poacher — albeit one slightly selfishly focused on scoring rather than buildup.

    Really loving Tomi’s play at the moment, at both ends of the pitch.

  5. Whys is everything called called “SeaTac” in your neck of the woods? Is the the obvious Seattle-Tacoma short form or something else?

    How do you live with so much rain?

    I love seafood and I miss the ocean and my trips to Vancouver.

    I don’t understand why we don’t score more through the middle with both wings (especially Saka o the right) so heavily marked.

    1. 1. Well.. when the white people took the land from the native folks here…
      2. It’s quite nice actually. I prefer it to dry places like Arizona.
      3. Yes!
      4. We don’t have a CF who can score goals, that’s why. Our only goals in the middle come from Ode.

  6. Loved this piece Tim – very much reflects my experience watching the Arsenal this season. Allow me to offer my analogy to a love relationship. Last season was the initial falling in love phase. Things are wild and tumultuous. It’s all new, so every moment could be a deeper involvement – or an abrupt, disastrous finish. There is jeopardy or thrills around every corner. Highest highs and lowest lows. Last year, we had no idea if this young team would pull out a win any week. It could be a 5-0 smashing, or a last minute Bournemouth winner, or we would let teams back in the game after early leads. It was a roller coaster ride, and all so fragile.

    This season we have matured in our relationship. We’ve traded wild rides for stability. We’ve developed trust with our partner, so we have clearer expectations. Less amplitude and fewer wild swings. It’s not all hanging on by a thread. We’re in a committed relationship, and we know what’s coming – we’re not trailblazing every moment. Just like our defense is much less exposed. And we’re not as likely to crumble under pressure. Do we still have bumps in the road? Miscommunications and mistakes? Yes. But we know we can figure out the big issues. It’s a long term relationship. There are still sparks that fly, but we’ve traded them for our sanity.

    The 2-1 on Saturday never REALLY felt nervy the way last season’s 2-1’s did. We would always figure it out. We’re in it for the long term now. That’s how league titles are won. Maybe it’s just my old age, but I like this stable relationship.

Comments are closed.

Related articles