Winter solstice 2023

Good morning and welcome to 2024. Make sure when you date your checks* that you put 2024 and not 2023!

It may be a new year but Arsenal have the same old problems: the squad isn’t deep enough, the attack isn’t incisive enough, and Arteta’s system is overly predictable. The result is that Arsenal have taken 10 points from a possible 21 in the month of December (P7 W3 D1 L3) and collapsed out of the title race** once again.

Some of what I’m saying here is hyperbole and some is my honest opinion. The hyperbole is that we are only 5 points off the League leaders, Liverpool. So, is it a collapse? Sort of, yes. We have lost two in a row and taken 4 points from the last 5 matches. That is a collapse and if it were any other team but our own beloved, we would all be laughing.

But there are a lot of football matches left to play and (hopefully) some more ups and downs for Arsenal and the other clubs at the top of the table. We cannot discount the effect that the AFCON and Asian cups will have on Liverpool and Spurs. Plus, Unai Emery is going to have a correction soon, I’ve watched their matches and they have been incredibly lucky lately. They could finish top four but it would be a bigger story than Leicester winning the League if they won the League. Even finishing top four is a stretch, and I say that knowing how many points they have taken so far.

We should also look at Arsenal’s last match with a bit of perspective: Arsenal had played a draining match just two days earlier and Fulham had four days rest. Arsenal’s game relies heavily on superior fitness and if we don’t have that, we can get into trouble quickly.

That said, I’m not sure that “fitness” (against Full Hams) and “bad luck” (against Villa and Wet Hams) can fully explain the poor results in December because it’s also a fact that Arsenal don’t have enough clinical finishers and also I think teams have started to work out what the Arsenal game plan is and have the ability to counter it.

I know that some of you are going to be mad at me for saying this but when Arteta brought on Reiss Nelson I let out a groan. Yep, he scored that winner against… Bournemouth? Forest? One of those two.. last year but let’s be crystal clear about his contributions: Reiss Nelson has scored in just 3 of his 43 Premier League appearances. He’s no “bench monster” and Fulham must have looked at him coming off the bench and thought “so what?” And again, this might make you angry but my biggest problem with Nelson (who is a great guy and a consummate professional) is that he adds almost nothing else. He does get a shot once in a while but his other contributions are virtually invisible.

It’s not Nelson’s fault. I don’t think he’s intentionally not trying to do things. He’s just not good enough to play for Arsenal.

Another thing to make folks angry is my view of Eddie Nketiah. Very nice guy, works real hard, literally only scores in three games a season. Of course, you need guys who contribute once in a while and Eddie has literally won us a few matches, including one against Man U – which sounds more impressive than it is when you consider how god awful Man U are these days. But, while I don’t think of him as our worst option, he isn’t really a player who inspires confidence that Arsenal are going to score. And while he does work hard closing down when we are out of possession the only thing he seems to add to Arsenal up top in possession is the occasional good run.

There are other problems at Arsenal right now as well. The first is that Martinelli’s contributions have fallen off a cliff, into the Marianas Trench. Two goals and two assists in the League this season make his goals+assists per90 a 0.28: this is down from 0.65 last season. And those numbers are pretty close to what the xG+xA per90 looked like over the last two seasons.

We also have to consider Vieira, Havertz, and Smith Rowe in these — uhh, awards? Vieira rarely even plays but when he does he’s anonymous for huge portions of the games. Havertz is a decent defender (if you like yellow cards!) and may, may, may contribute some day? But I was clearly overly hopeful that he could play as the Arsenal #9 and give us some different looks. Maybe Arteta will release the Kairaken and put Kai up top? We are just crossing the ball uselessly to Jesus and Eddie at the moment, maybe he can be our Fellaini. And I was a huge fan of Smith Rowe but it looks increasingly like he’s just not going to kick on from his high water mark of 21/22. It’s a real shame but I wonder if injuries have killed his career?

And then there’s Jesus. Jesus, in theory, offers Arsenal the exact kind of nimble dribbler that we should take advantage of when teams park the bus against us. He’s never going to be a 20-goals-a-season guy but we do need him to be a 100-dribbles-a-season guy, which he was last year (111 attempted dribbles). This season he has fewer attempted dribbles per90 (3.85 this v. 4.85 last) but noticeably he’s been well off the mark the last four matches. He’s only attempted a total of 5 dribbles in those 4 matches which makes me wonder if he is carrying an injury or something. If Jesus isn’t dribbling and causing chaos, he’s not hugely useful to Arsenal. So I understand why Arteta dropped him. The problem is that he was dropped for Nketiah, who if he isn’t bundling in a ball from 6 inches isn’t hugely useful to Arsenal either.

Martin Ødegaard is another one who has had a dip in production. His npxG+xA is down from 0.52 last season to 0.35 this season. Only Trossard and Saka have matched or exceeded their npxG+xA per90 from last season.

The result here is that Bukayo Saka plays every single second of every single match, gets doubled constantly, gets kicked constantly, and Arsenal end up struggling to get goals. We are 5th in xG this season, just 0.4 (total, not per game) above Aston Villa. Interestingly, that only 0.08 fewer than last season BUT each season is different and this season there are more teams who are playing well so our attack looks poor in comparison to the other teams at the top of the League.

But what can Arsenal do about it? The rumor is that we are going to go for Ivan Toney. I’m fine with that (though don’t be surprised if Brentford ask for £100m or something) as long as we have an escape clause for WHEN he starts betting on his own football games again. But the problem is that the options are thin out there right now. There just aren’t a lot of “clinical finishers” in football right now and the ones who do exist are hugely valuable. How could we pry away Son from Spurs? Right? That’s the kind of player we need, really. And with my limited data mining capabilities I’m not finding too many. Hopefully, the Arsenal have a better scouting network and recruitment team than “some guy who is looking at FBREF”.

A wide player isn’t the worst idea either. Who on this team actually replaces Saka on the right? No one, maybe Kai Havertz. Vieira? Smith Rowe? Who can come in and give Martinelli a run? Reiss Nelson? It’s just a bit thin in many departments at the moment. And that’s not even looking at Øde, who I suppose has Vieira as his backup?

It all just seems like we are a bit light. Which is contrary to what I said at the start of the season, I know. But I didn’t expect so many of the Arsenal starting lineup to take a big dump on their form.

But here’s the other thing that’s true: our attack has been pretty predictable this season and that’s on Arteta. I think since Newcastle teams have worked out how to stop us playing and we have paid the price this month. Arteta needs to work up some new plans, some new attacking patterns. That’s just bottom line. That’s his entire job (not holding lightbulbs). He needs to add value to this team and I’m not sure his rigid methods and predictable playing style are quite doing it at the moment.

Anyway, I don’t know where Arsenal go from here. Hopefully we go up. Hopefully we get our mojo back. Maybe we buy someone. And maybe this is just the season low. After all, winter solstice was just a few days ago and from this point on, the days are supposed to get longer and brighter.


*Checks are an old fashioned technology which allows you to withdraw money from a bank account by signing a piece of paper that has some numbers on it. Older people use them to slow down lines at the grocery store.
**Five points off the League leaders, Liverpool. Five. If “Spurs are in the title race”, then Arsenal are in the title race.


  1. Happy New Year Tim
    Ivan Toney never did bet against or for “His own Teams”. Well, he may have done, but never was caught at it. He’d risk a life ban, so I doubt if he take that kind of chance.

    1. He absolutely bet on Brentford matches, using his insider knowledge.

      He should be banned for life.

      But more worrying is that he seems unrepentant. In my opinion, as an addict, he hasn’t hit rock bottom yet. He will get worse, I have no doubt.

      1. My apologies. Just checked this and have read the report in Sporting Times which said that The Commission decided that he did bet against his own team on occasions, but this did not amount to match fixing. I don’t understand how he got away with just an eight match ban.

        1. I think he got a 6 months ban, which is.. 23 matches actually. But that still seems light for what he admitted to doing (betting on his own team). Here in the states we still have a ban on Pete Rose for basically the same thing. It’s pretty incredible how lax the UK is about gambling and betting on football.

    1. That still implicates insider knowledge, which is a (further) lack of judgment in addition to his apparent gambling addiction.

  2. Very happy new year Tim to you and your own. Love reading your posts. On point as usual. My take? MA8 is afraid. He cares more about not losing than TRYING to win. I watched a few docs on YouTube recently from our heroes of yesteryear. DB 10, TH14, MK (can’t remember his number lol) LD2 Nutty Nige and the common denominator with all was they played without fear. AW gave them licence to express. AW played Jazz Footie. By comparison MA8 has them playing geometry football. Like everything is so precise so meticulous. Every player is following his explicit instructions. They are not allowed to be adventurous or daring. Loosen the handbrake Mik
    Let the players have their heads and play with freedom. It’s painful to watch this team with so much quality being asked to play in such a methodical drab way. Even ht other day me n my boy said watch “trossard n Jesus then Riess for Benny Blanco circa 75/80 mins. No ESR WTF?

  3. Think you’ve pretty much nailed it. I don’t think the title is gone. But we’re a little thinner than perhaps anticipated, and have spent much of the season playing a little too safely.
    Hopefully this lull is well-timed. I’d like to beat Pool in the FA Cup, but a loss away to them shouldn’t be seen as catastrophic as long as we don’t get battered. Then we’ve got a couple of should be easier matches against Forest and Palace before we get Pool again in league. So Arteta has some time and margin to make adjustments (and assuming he can stay healthy, it’s a decent time for Tomi to be gone as well). But we do need some combination of a break/shake-up and new blood. We’ll see what happens.

  4. The lack of depth is the biggest issue for me. Outside of our front 3, we have to accept that Nelson, Eddie or even ESR are not the names you would expect to change anything. Jota for example is someone you see having an impact when LFC is struggling. Anyway.

    My second issue is that we are asking our front 3 to press and create. At some point we need to have a forward score some goals. I was checking a French account today who deals with stats and asked whether Arsenal is wasteful (similar to say Nunez) and it is clear that we are not. We just do not create enough of big chances. And when we do, we have complete inability to finish it.

    The comment on Saka replacement. I cannot stop thinking we have him already and that’s Jesus. Every time he played on the wing I liked what he did. I also like that he can create the chaos that we need so much.

    So where do we go from there? I have no idea but I cannot stop thinking that Arteta needs to evolve his attacking play. Even if we were to buy new players, can the system allow them to flourish?

  5. Adding a top striker (Toney?) would be nice but very difficult. Maybe the Fulham game was the kick in the butt the team needed. If not, maybe try Havertz up front now that he has got a bit more into the groove of things, Zinchenko as the left 8, and save both Jesus and Trossard as game changing subs and/or backup for Saka and Martinelli?

  6. These past matches matches we shouldn’t have lost. Teams lose form, I get it, but I don’t get what happened to us.

    We topped the table at year’s end and now we are clinging to 4th place. Not a happy new year.

    I’ve never been a fan of January transfers, and I am unconvinced that fresh blood will help us do anything.

    We need to fix our defensive lapses and convert, convert, convert our offensive opportunities. Pretty simple.

    I watch Thierry Henry on You Tube every year during the holidays. FFS was that guy magnificent or what? So happy that he came to us, so happy that Wenger converted him into the absolute forward player that he was. Not just the goals, not just gliding through opposition defense like they weren’t there, but the assists. A complete player who made the impossible not just possible, but at times routine.

  7. That is intresting, that You play disc golf. I was searching in google “disc golf odds” and this site came up. Do You follow disc golf as a sport also?

      1. Good. Been in this world new for 11 years and in Europe (and also in Canada) You can make bets on disc golf also.

  8. i know many have wanted to see havertz at center forward but, for me, he’s no center forward. we’ll see how it goes.

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