Arsenal 0-2 WHU: frustrating

I am not mad. Please do not put in the papers that I got mad. I’m annoyed.

Playing against West Ham was never going to be easy. We knew what they were going to do, they knew what we were going to do, and both teams did exactly what they both wanted to do. They just got lucky, they finished their chances, and we didn’t. And to see how lucky, you just need to know that David Moyes has tried this same plan 22 times before and never once gotten a win at Arsenal (his record at Arsenal is now 1-4-18).

To be slightly more technical (without boring you) the West Ham plan is to sit deep, concede very little space in the middle, and hit Arsenal on the counter. By conceding the ball and not trying to play out from the back like so many teams do these days, West Ham deny Arteta’s men one of their most potent forms of attack: the high press. They literally set up to frustrate Arsenal.

The workaround for this approach is to have players like Jesus, Saka, Odegaard, Trossard, and Martinelli who can break down the low block with creative dribbles and swift interchanges. And for about 20 minutes that’s exactly what it looked like we were going to do. Some of that early football was incredible. There was a play where we had a flick, a backheel, a successful dribble, and even a nutmeg all in one move.

That was the 4th minute. That was also the sequence with Saka’s only successful dribble in the match.

Jesus only even attempted one dribble in the game (47th minute). Ødegaard completed just 1 of 6 attempted dribbles (68th minute). And Arsenal only had two successful dribbles in the West Ham 18 yard box: Saka in the 4th minute and Martinelli in the 50th. Attempting and winning those kinds of dribbles are crucial against a low block team because it sows chaos and creates space by forcing the defenders to move out of their set positions. Jesus looked completely out of the game. I don’t know if he has an injury or what but he didn’t look like he was ever going to get into this match: as evidenced by the fact that he only even tried one dribble all day.


If the dribble isn’t working a team could try to pass through their lines. But if the defensive team keeps its shape, this is incredibly difficult to pull off. You have to be both perfect in the pass and the run. And here’s where I think Trossard and Ødegaard just had bad days. Neither could make that final ball pass and we only had the one real chance in the 41st minute, when Saka hit the post. You should go take a look at Arsenal’s pass map for this game: there’s a shell in the middle of the 18 yard box.


An attacking team could also put in crosses but if they are on the ground they are very similar to the passes above. And if they are in the air they need someone to win them. Aerial crosses are always going to be low percentage when you’re lobbing in to Gabriel Jesus. He’s not the worst in the air (Lacazette) but he’s not good. Arsenal won one aerial duel in the WHU 18 yard box in this match, William Saliba in the 91st minute. Things might have been different if we’d had Kai Havertz, he’s at least a decent option in the air, but he was suspended for having too many yellow cards. So, we had our smallest possible starting attack, who were off the mark in terms of passing (Trossard had so many turnovers), couldn’t seem to dribble, and couldn’t win anything in the air.


And the defending team needs some luck of their own, which they got. They got a stroke of luck when the ball went out of play but no one was able to call it and VAR decided that it wasn’t a clear and obvious error. There was a perplexing moment when Peacock showed an angle where you could see clear daylight between the ball and the line but that angle was never shown again as they opted for the angle that the refs supposedly saw where Bowen’s leg was in the way.

This isn’t the first time a ball went out of play and Arsenal’s opponents subsequently scored, this season.

If you remember, there was the goal for Newcastle. Which is the match that I suspect prompted the backlash by the officials against Arsenal: we haven’t had a single marginal call go our way since Arteta criticized the referees that day.

I will say that defensively, Arsenal didn’t do well on that possession. Rice let Paqueta turn him too easily, no one closed down on the cross, Bowen was wide open at the near post and probably should have scored anyway, the clearance was fumbled and a bit lucky it wasn’t an own goal, and then a bunch of guys stood around as Bowen played the ball back to Souchek. Trossard makes a late attempt to defend but Zinchenko does absolutely nothing. In fact, he had yet another match in which I question the logic of him even playing for Arsenal much less playing as a “defender”. Out of possession he gets rinsed so often that it’s not even funny anymore. His tackles are so late and so obviously bad that he reminds me of peak bad-era Xhaka.

West Ham added a 2nd goal from a beautiful cross and header by former Arsenal defender Konstantinos Mavropanos. Congratulations to him.

And while I’m criticizing Zinchenko I have to give a shout out to Declan Rice who tried to give away a third goal with his own frustrating tackle in the box late in the game. David Raya provided the only.. RAYA sunshine on the day with a pretty good save off the ensuing penalty.

Arsenal probably should have had a penalty of their own but honestly, we aren’t getting anything that is even remotely close at this point. I think we’ve been denied at least three pens since the Newcastle match (according to my notes there’s Saka in this match, one for Jesus against Villa, and Gabriel against Luton) and you can go ahead and bank on us not getting another penalty all season.




  1. A frustrating day indeed. We probably win that match more often than not. But as you say, the 50/50 calls are mostly not going out way, and the finishing is becoming a real problem.
    There’s probably little that can be done about the calls at this point. But if we really want to compete with Pool and City for the title, we need to generate more goals from the front three. Zinchenko has significant issues in defense, but if we were scoring more, it wouldn’t be a problem. Part of the issue is that he slows it down in attack as well.
    I’m not a fan of Partey, but he moves the ball forward quickly. Xhaka too. We’re missing that at the moment.
    But the biggest issue at the moment is Martinelli and Jesus. Neither are being at all productive, which means Saka gets a ton of attention and gets shut down frequently. We need a better option, particularly for Jesus, but it’s going to take a miracle to find one in Jan.

  2. Tim, glad to see you post a few in a row. You’re one of the first blogs I check for new posts and your thoughts have been dearly missed as of recent. And cheers to the regular posters on the comment section; I feel I know some of you guys from your consistent sharing. You’re a good group.

    Now the game; and the season:
    If we’re frustrated then how do you think the players feel? Having traded control for blitzkrieg maybe it’s about managing expectations. Arteta returns to the “if we keep creating the chances then they will eventually start scoring”. I think the team is a bit jaded but they trust their gaffer.

    The table puts us in a great place with this modification. Do we wait to see if the numbers are borne out or do we dip into a January market to add something we lack and WHAT do we add if anything at all?

    My ‘hot take’ is that we don’t have the alternative to play through teams that are well disciplined. Is $pending a load of our budget on a player like that worth it? I don’t think we will find out. I’m expecting an addition/subtraction in the front 2-3 this summer.

    Is the safer bet to invest in a more solid defensive midfielder in January? Cover for Partey etc.?Who would be available and at what price? I don’t think we will spend there unless we can find a good deal and I don’t know if any good deals.

    How about at the back? Well, we’ve got plenty of options, however they find themselves injured and unavailable. Do we buy now and sell in the summer? I think here’s the spot where they might find a deal. I have no information to support this, just some good ol’ long suffering’ arsenintuition.

    We will trust in the numbers, save money for an upgrade and make some trade-ins this summer.

    Random (not random): anyone missing Tierney right now? Assuming he’d be healthy, I’d take a bit of him and file him in the Elneny folder.

    Geez that’s a lot to read, sorry.

    1. No need to apologize for your write up. It’s not that much, actually.

      Tierney: yeah, I always liked him but he’s not really dynamic enough on the ball. Which is, I think, some proof that Arteta didn’t quite have the clear on-field tactical plan that we have now when he first started (I think, however, Tierney DOES show that the plan all along was a “culture change”).

      As for the other two pieces:

      One name that comes up a lot for forward is Ivan Toney. I was really put off by his answers about his gambling addiction. He still seems in denial and I don’t think he’s hit rock bottom yet. I’d want an iron-clad rider on that contract that we can cut him loose if he gets caught gambling again.

      As for DM, I don’t think Jorginho is that bad (I’m higher on him than most of you all seem to be) but yeah, someone young and robust would be nice. If Sambi had kicked on, he would be perfect. Surely there’s a young French/Dutch guy out there who deserves a chance at the Arsenal. I hope the stattos are doing their job and finding him!

  3. We outperformed XG last season cuz Partey broke lines in the 1st phase, giving the ball directly to Saka or freeing Ode gaard or Xhaka to play in btw the lines. Rice, for all his good attributes can’t do that. Havertz is also more of an off-ball operator. Odegaard drops deeper this season & was creating less than 1.6 chances per game until the last 5 when he started creating 4

    Brentford away last season showed Partey’s importance. Odegaard didn’t play the match (won 3 nil). Fabio did nothing apart from scoring . Partey bossed that match.

  4. Apart from Osimhen (I like his hunger), there’s really no top available striker. Guirassy has had a hot 18 months at 27. Solanke, a hot half season at 26 (style of play reminds of Giroud – with the 1- touch football around the box).All the rest is potential: … Sesko (2nd season at leipzig) Openda has even shown more potential.

    Boniface (1st season at leverkusen), like him cuz he dribnles for a big man..

    Igor thiago at club Brugge (22 year old brazillian, having hot half season at Belgium)

    Dallinga (23 year old dutch), having 2nd double figure goals season at Tolouse, France. Scored against Liverpool in Europe recently.

    Ferguson at brighton. Still 19 years old.

    Juve guy who without goals turns to Auba. No contribution.

    Unless someone with hot all round game shows up in 2nd half of season. Think arteta will de-risk ST move by buying Ferguson since he shows promise in EPL.
    Brighton have his replacement…. Sima at Rangers.Maybe Dallinga, if he continues his trajectory.

    1. always been a fan of ferguson at brighton…since he broke into the team. arsenal bought a kid from fulham a few years ago who reminds me of ferguson; don’t know what happened to him.

      boniface is trash. every time i watch leverkusen play, i think that eddie nketiah would be so potent in that team; huge upgrade to boniface. their style suits him.

    2. I’d take a flyer on Vangelis Pavlidis at AZ. He’s not jump-off-the-screen brilliant but there’s a decent chance he could be a good rotational striker like Eduardo or what Giroud should’ve been.

  5. sorry but west ham’s win wasn’t luck. arteta got out-coached by moyes. west ham did everything right; couldn’t have played much better. it’s the best way to play against arsenal.

    i told you guys last year that zinchenko was a mess and if arsenal struggled to win the league, he would play a staring role. how can you win when you count on a defender who can’t defend? salah did nothing special and beat zinchenko like a drum last week; absolutely disgraceful. sure, gabriel should have been closer to cover zinchenko. likewise, raya should have been past his front post instead of in the goal. however, the eye sore was zinchenko. last season, zinchenko was injured like eleven league games. arsenal won 9 and drew 2 with him out of the side. he’s still a liability. we miss timber, tomiyasu, and tierney.

  6. I had the good fortune of being at this match with my family. I can say that your analysis tracks with what I saw live. Literally no space in the middle whatsoever for Arsenal to play through. Trossard struggled mightily (especially in the first half). Everything seemed slightly off with him. A wrong touch, a pass to late, or telegraphed to early. Odegaard was exceptional but his effort seemed wasted on players who couldn’t anticipate what he was trying to do. It was frustrating to say the least. I thought defensively we played ok. Saliba and Rice specifically. But WH took their chances and we didn’t and that’s football.

  7. @Joshuad
    Mika Biereth is on loan at Motherwell. 4 golas in 5 games.

    People who say Martinelli should play as a CF. Unless we use him as a vardy style player. Maybe he will play there as Jesus is suspended for fulham.

  8. By any definition we’re having a good season, so can’t get too mad about this mini goal drought. But if our reasoning for not spending big money on a striker is FFP, you’d have to question how 65 mill on Havertz represented value. He’s doing better now, but that’s still an eye watering layout for what he’s producing.

  9. Since arsenal has unsuccessfully tried to sign a winger 2X (Mudryk & Raphinha), and arteta not trusting Reiss to sub Saka or Martinelli. Even Smith Rowe has more minutes.
    Could he go for another chance creator like Neto in January? (Since strikers may have to wait till the summer)

  10. let’s be serious. arsenal don’t need better players. the last two games, they’ve had the better players and lost both games.

    the problem is arteta strategy has become very predictable because he has zero variation to it; no plan b. how is he expecting arsenal to score? strokes of brilliance? dumb luck? neither of those are sound strategies. he has to respect that teams have figured arsenal out.

    1. The great Arsenal winter slump is back, bleh.

      To the naked eye (not backed by count statistics), it seems that most opposing teams generally let Arsenal have the ball and set-up for a quick counter or a set piece goal.

      The back and forth passing seems to not work against the two banks of 4s a lot of times. Os that a personnel issue or is that a strategic flaw in the way Arteta sets the team up to play?

      Perhaps there is a need to inject some randomness into Arsenal’s play – direct balls to a wide player or a CF which would instill some chaos into the opponents’ midfield thereby obviating them to set up the said two banks of 4s.

      1. This is part of the problem. It’s not just that we need a CF that can score, it’s that we also need a wide player option for Saka/Martinelli. If I’m ESR, I’m looking for a new team. He looked decent in the very small amount of minutes he was given recently. For him not to get on against Fulham was ridiculous.
        Arteta now needs to really show he’s a good coach. We’ve had very few matches this PL season where we really looked GOOD. We played decently against City and Pool, but those were cases where we were perhaps appropriately playing conservatively. Beyond that, we look slow and predictable. Something needs to be changed up.

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