Last gasp

In the 90th minute of yesterday’s match I had the thought that this was “one of those games.” It was one of those games that you’re supposed to win but that you just don’t. A bigger club goes to a smaller club and through a combination of errors and mistakes, plus hard graft by the home team, fueled by fervent support in the stands, the plucky underdogs pull out a shock result. We’ve all seen these games. We saw one the other day when Liverpool was held to a 1-1 draw to Luton and to a lesser extent their 2-2 away to Brighton. These kinds of results happen but – as I sat there watching Arsenal hammering the Luton box trying to get a last gasp goal, I thought – if you want to win the League, you almost have to win them.

In modern parlance we talk about “xG” and how unlucky a team is to allow three goals on 0.5 xG. That’s what happened to Manchester City v. Tottenham and Arsenal v. Luton. A single error at our level can let even the tiniest of Totts score on a big club.

As an aside it’s been remarkable this week watching the pundits fawn over Ange and Spurs. Listening to Football Weekly and The Totally Football Show, you’d hardly believe it if I told you that Spurs have secured a whopping 1 point from their last four matches. Or that they had two red cards, that they’ve conceded 11 goals, and that they were incredibly lucky to get away with a point in their 3-3 draw with Man City. All the talk was about how Ange is “sticking to his principles” and how we all just don’t get it. I totally get it. As someone who watched Arsene Wenger play a stupid high line and very little defense for the best part of a decade I absolutely get it. What we didn’t get in that time were any trophies and we also didn’t get to keep any of our best players. I often come across as a Wenger apologist and I have things I will defend Wenger over but one of the things I won’t defend him from is the criticism that he was too wedded to a playing style which usually beat up on small teams but got shredded when we played against anyone with any mettle. Losing 10-2 to Bayern Munich over two legs? Not for me, mate. Getting eviscerated by Jose Mourinho 6-0 on the anniversary of his 1,000th game? I remember my preview blog for that game. I begged Wenger to play any other way than our set way. Everyone knew what Jose was going to do. Everyone knew what Wenger was going to do. It was infuriating. I was virtually on my knees begging him to shock the world and play counter-attacking football or literally do anything but play his bog standard high line, no-press football. He didn’t change a single thing. Jose and Fabregas ran rampant. But at least Wenger had his principles. So, I totally get it. And if Spurs supporters are happy to have Ange at the club, to routinely take 1 point from four matches because they are sticking to their principles, then I am too. (Rant off)

Against Luton I was reminded a bit of Arsenal’s famous comeback win over Aston Villa in December 2001. A bit of difference in the particulars, Luton never took a 2-0 half-time lead over Arsenal like Villa did in December 2001. Luton also didn’t play play Paul Merson against his former club like Villa did back then. It was at Highbury. And Arsenal didn’t need three 2nd half goals to comeback and take all three points this weekend. But! The important bit is that we got a last-minute winner in both games.

Of course it doesn’t always mean that a game with a last-minute winner will equal a Premier League title. Last year we saw Arsenal win in the 97th minute at home to Bournemouth thanks to Reiss Nelson and we all know that a month later we lost the title in a spectacular collapse. There are tons more games to play and lots of ups and downs ahead.

But I do like the belief I see in these players. I think they know that they are good enough to win the League. I think they are hungry to win the League (especially Declan Rice) and that they will push us all the way.

But to win the title, you need more than heart and motivation, skill and preparation, you also need a bit of luck. You need things to go your way. And with the referees squarely against giving Arsenal any penalties (we had 2 very clear pens denied and 2 that I’ve seen given) for the remainder of the season, I think we are going to have to make our own luck.



  1. Thanks for the post Tim, I couldn’t agree more about the fawning reverence to the way tiny tots play compared to the vitriol hurled at Arsene Wenger, I don’t quite get the Paul Merson reference though?

    1. Merson scored in that 2001 villa match. So did some guy who looks like he drove black cabs for a living.

      Kind of incredible how unfit those players were back in 2001.

  2. Ha, still remember Merson throwing up after his match winning performance in the league cup final in1993.

  3. Thrilled to see Kai getting goals. Jesus is the key to our attack. Odegaard was unplayable and Thank God for Declan Rice!

    That’s a big swing from 1 to 3 points. Those will be precious come May. I’ve been a Raya cheerleader but those two mistakes were awful. I’m much more willing to forgive the occasional bad pass leading to a goal vs. the two mistakes yesterday. Granted, any keeper will have occasional miscues, but two in one game makes you ask big questions. I’d give him a rest for a game and let Ramsdale have another turn – which I’d like to see regardless. I was hoping Arteta would deliver on that 2 keeper idea. Every other game or so keeps them both engaged and fresh. There are enough fixtures to do that – I know it’s never done but we have a rare opportunity with 2 keepers good enough to do it.

    Also, I’ve been reluctant to get dragged into the refereeing conversations all season, but yesterday was infuriating. How is Gabriel being pulled by the shirt with 2 hands in the box not a penalty? Ludicrous! And VAR reviewed it??? Saka and Martinelli were getting kicked all over the pitch – I was screaming at F*cking Ross Barkley all game – what a hack. (Was extra miserable when he scored BTW) So if that’s not bad enough Arteta gets a yellow for celebrating a game winner in the 96th minute?!? OMFG there is absolutely a PGMOL directive to go after him and Arsenal. I simply can’t conceive of how that is justified, especially after allowing Luton to go full Stoke on us with no consequences. We’ll have to win the league 12 v 11 every week.

  4. watching the villa-man city game. i’ve never seen pep’s man city get absolutely little-brothered before. they really miss rodri. let’s go, unai.

  5. The way Aston Villa crushed City is incredible, joint most shots conceded and least shots created by a Pep team in the league is insane! City literally had 2 shots (the second essentially being a rebound of the first) in the game!

    Anyway, Aston Villa is currently in what I believe is a record-equalling 14-game winning streak at home. We also happen to be the last team to beat them at home, and we’re facing them there next match.

    We also happen to be the best Away team in the league, meaning we’re gonna see the best Home team face the best Away team coming up. Should be an exciting game coming up!

    That said, I’m predicting a 0-0. Seeing that Emery’s yet to have a 0-0 scoreline in England, I’ve never been more sure of a boring draw scoreline in my life!

  6. la gunner, i’m gonna take exception with you saying that david raya made two “mistakes” in the game on tuesday. while they were errors, they were not mistakes. his errors were a result of bad soccer.

    my definition of a mistake is something that happens due to being unaware or uneducated, or doing something untypical. an example of being uneducated is simple; anything considered a rookie mistake. an example of an untypical action is the aaron ramsdale throw the other day. we’ve seen ramsdale throw the ball plenty of times but have never seen that; it was untypical. i’m going to say that the errors david raya made on tuesday were not mistakes but more an indicator of who he is…because we’ve seen these errors before, especially the 3rd goal on tuesday.

    in recent history, my favorite goal keeper is gianluigi buffon and my least favorite keeper is manuel neuer. while i’ve never met either, it’s clear to me that buffon is the better keeper. he’s got nearly 200 caps for italy and only just retired earlier this year…at 45-years old. in that time, how many howlers have you seen from him? they’ve mostly been from him coming too far off his line. as a technician, he’s the most fundamentally sound keeper i’ve ever seen. he seems to have been a professional who focused on doing the little stuff right every single day.

    neuer, on the other hand, is a more talented keeper. i’d never tell a young player to mimic neuer; if you don’t have neuer’s athletic ability, you can’t do what he does. neuer’s game relies on his athleticism. when that fades, his game will go into the toilet. compared to buffon, we’ve seen neuer have plenty of gaffs.

    the difference, in my opinion, is that neuer will make seemingly impossible saves more frequently than buffon. however, buffon will make the saves he’s supposed to make more often than neuer. in a similar mold, i believe raya is more talented yet will concede more savable chances than ramsdale. what arteta will do is predictable but remains to be seen.

    1. Seems to me a bit of semantics whether to call those errors or mistakes. Looked to me like he was trying to catch the corner, when he should have been trying to punch it in that kind of traffic.
      And he should have stopped the second one. Period. It wasn’t that hard a shot from Barkley. My sense is that most of the time, Leno, Ramsdale and Martinez all stop that, but then again, maybe Raya does most of the time too. Even De Gea, who can be a spectacularly good shot stopper, had the occasional error in him.

      Speaking of Barkley, I’m not a fan, but he played well. He knew he is bigger and stronger than Odegaard and used that to his advantage.
      I could say roughly the same about Luton. They paid significantly less for their entire team than we paid for Rice. Is it any wonder they try to play to their strengths?
      Finally…results are going our way. City lost (bad without Rodri). Newcastle lost. Spurs lost (Ange is not a genius?!).
      Villa are going to be tough. Bummed that Tomi is injured again, as he was playing very well. We’re back to being very thin on the back line.

      1. Joshuad – Both were bad mistakes/errors, and they’re not actions or reactions that are fundamental to the way he or Arsenal plays. Maybe what you’re trying to unpack is the general perception that this is the fifth or sixth big mistake he’s made, when all the other “mistakes” were “bad” passes. Contrary to perception, I suspect Arteta is happy to live with all of those, because he wants the keeper to pass ambitiously.

        But yesterday was likely the first game that he would (privately) consider a poor performance by his keeper, and Raya would likely agree. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be dropped, but I doubt he wants to test that notion any more than he did yesterday.

        1. i’m wearing my coaching hat tonight. this is why i think the errors raya made were fundamental to how he plays:

          on the first goal, he got beat on a cross. keepers are taught to attack the ball at the highest possible point every time. why? because players can’t typically jump with their head higher than a keeper can with his hand. adebayo was 6 inches higher than raya’s hand; no freaking way he jumps higher than raya can with his hand. it’s not the first time he’s gotten beaten to a cross. it’s just the first time he’s given up a goal.

          on the second goal, keepers are taught to set their feet before a shot comes in. why? if their feet are off the ground, they can’t react positively to most shots until, first, their feet get back on the ground. a keeper can only get his feet back to the ground as quickly as gravity allows it. this causes a perceived delay in reaction time. raya’s feet were off the ground when barkley (who i also thought had a great game) took his shot. at that range, a keeper’s feet have to be set. there was nothing remarkable about the barkley shot. raya was so bad, he fell back trying to make the save. keepers are taught to attack the ball diving forward, not falling backward. in fairness to raya, it was probably because his reaction to the shot was late because his feet weren’t set and by the time he reacted, the ball was nearly past him.

          failure to attack the ball at the highest point and failure to set your feet before a shot are not mistakes. they’re habits. you either do these things the right way every day in training or you don’t. according to aristotle, you are what you repeatedly do. this is who raya is. tuesday just happened to be the first time his habits/bad soccer cost arsenal more than a single goal.

  7. Going to be an interesting weekend.

    Kevin De Bruyne’s return is not far away and if he find his form quickly after his return, I can’t see Manchester City not being the team to beat.

    Liverpool is shipping way too many goals, but they are nothing to sneeze at.

    Thankfully, we can begin laughing at Sp$rs again. PostecogWHO? It is after all, the history of the Tottenham.

    Aston Villa are punching way above their weight and Unai Emery must deserve credit for that. Their home form is the best in the league and they played a great game against City. But we’ve had a “fortress” at Emirates Stadium in the past and it never won us the title.

    We are thin in areas and an injury crisis is always one match away. Not just for us, but our history makes many of us nervous.

    Aston Villa 1, Arsenal 2

  8. How was that a handball? Didn’t the ball hit the defender’s elbow first? So making it a pen? Not conclusive at all.

    I don’t think the boys played badly at all tonight. Just Saliba could have marked No-Neck McGinn a bit tighter and Odegaard should have buried his trademark penalty box cutback finish.

    I am actually quite impressed we performed so much better than Man City against the same opposition.

  9. Tim, your writing should have spoiler alerts, too many things have become predictable, when I couldn’t see them earlier. E.g. your prediction about Jose Mourinho’s 3 and Klopp’s 7 year itches.

    You had predicted that we will not get another penalty in the near future post Arteta calling out the referees performance in public. In today’s match against Villa I knew before hand that we were never going to get the penalty & any goal we scored will be watched very carefully!

    Both in the Luton game & today there were blatant anti-arsenal decisions and carefully the media avoiding that topic!

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