10 (actually 11) Thoughts: Arsenal 2-2 Nearest and Dearest


Photo: Reuters


Well, I think my pulse has reached something approaching normal once again. It's never ideal for a North London Derby to arrive so early in a campaign, especially when we're a team this much in flux. Ideally, we'd have had a chance to have the new signings bed in and get some of the injured players back (more on that in a minute), but the schedule machine made it not to be. It happens. A point is a point, and I don't think this was an especially bad one, even if we could and maybe should have won it in the end.


1. Most outlets have noted how formlessly frenetic the match was, and in retrospect I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised. What you had here were two sublime attacking units (I hate to compliment them, but it's true), with grievous defensive worries and problematic midfield constructions.

We, of course, were down to both reserve fullbacks, a new signing at one center-half post and arguably our 3rd-choice at the other when Rob Holding recovers from his injury. Conversely, they've decided that Serge Aurier is such a liability at RB that they fielded Davinson Sanchez there - a man who had never found himself there in his entire senior footballing career.

Meanwhile, Unai Emery decided to field three almost identical midfielders (in style, at any rate) with Lucas Torreria furthest forward for some reason, backed by Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. Their lot countered that with Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks, and Eric Lamela - hardly a murderer's row in the center of the park themselves.

This was ALWAYS going to be a Playstation competition between the two sides' corresponding front threes.


2. I'll tell you, though. I wish to hell that Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were available for this one. We kept getting in behind their fullbacks over and over and over again - Sanchez was predictably all at sea on his side, while Danny Rose took an earlyish yellow card, leaving them vulnerable there as well. Saed Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were game and they left it all out there - the end product was just not fit for purpose, though.

Give us our starting FBs and this would have been a goddamn massacre.


3. I will say that one of the big differences was that they were far more streetwise than our mob were. Quelle surprise, though maybe it's not quite fair when they're a largely settled side and we're still learning each other's names, metaphorically speaking.

I dogged them on Twitter for time-wasting from the opening seconds of the second half, but they're the away side with a lead in a local derby. I get it. Also, it was frustrating to watch them tactically foul anything that moved, but as far as I can recall, every one of the five yellow cards they got were purposeful. They broke up enough attacks that - one 20-minute period aside where we battered them from pillar to post - they did just enough to hold us to two goals. It should be noted, by the way, that both of those were down to individual moments of genius - defensively, they weren't that bad at all.


4. You've probably read all about it or watched it yourself by now, but since we talked about moments of genius, let's discuss the moments of brain-dead idiocy that handed the nearest and dearest two goals.

Somehow, Shkrodan Mustafi wasn't even involved.

The first saw Sokratis Papasthopolous go miles out of his way to contest a header that Xhaka already had covered - which, naturally, they BOTH lost out on to Harry Kane. That sent them away, Sokratis was glacially slow getting back, and David Luiz was left caught in two minds on who to cover. Either way, the first shot that came in was gently sent low to Bernd Leno's right, which he somehow daintily palmed back directly into Christian Eriksen's path for the easy tap-in.

Leno is a good goalkeeper - great on his day - but that was fucking abysmal.

The second was Xhaka showing us once again that he's 75% of an excellent footballer, with the other 25% missing along with every cell of brain matter that most humans possess. His challenge on Son-Heung Min in the penalty area was decades late, and utterly without purpose. There was no immediate danger, and loads of covering defenders.

Kane dispatched the penalty because that is a skill he does have. For the record though, that shot in the second half that went off of Leno's right post? The very best don't miss that. Sorry, but that's the real.


5. Speaking of Kane, that thing in second-half injury time - that's either a penalty or a it's a yellow card for simulation. Given that it was never a penalty in a thousand million billion years, it should have been the other one then! I thought Martin Atkinson had a pretty good game, but he bottled that one. I'm sick to my back teeth at how often these fuckers get away with this bullshit just because they're English.

Still, it's Sokratis in a nutshell. He gave the referee a decision to make for absolutely no benefit defensively, and this time the roulette wheel came up with "didn't buy the dive". There's several newbies in the Select Group this season from what I understand, and he won't always be that lucky.

Get well soon, Rob.


6. We looked like such a different outfit once Dani Ceballos came on. I can understand a thought process for not starting him with him being new, never being in a NLD, etc.

We're past that now. First name on the team sheet every week, please.


7. Conversely, we looked a different outfit again once Henrikh Mhkitaryan came on. It tells you everything you need to know that he was on a plane to Rome for his loan move nanoseconds after coming off the pitch here.

I appreciate that it was like one last, final reminder that he's not good enough for what our brain trust envisions Arsenal to be in the next season or two. The funny thing is, for once, I'm not being facetious when I refer to a brain trust - I actually like where we're going.


8. That leads me to my next point, and if you take nothing else away from this report, take this: We're doing fine. Half of Twitter wants Emery gone already, to which I heartily invite them to go support the guys in white. There's too much money sloshing around and too many good teams now for there to be instant gratification. Sure, Arsene Wenger came in for his first season and punched Alex Ferguson's rabble in the mouth in his first go. Great. That was also 1997-98 - I was still wearing flannels tied around my waist back then.

Whether you want to admit it or not, unless you're Dirty Oil Blood Money FC with Pep Guardiola's genius behind it, Liverpool are the standard to follow in this respect. Jurgen Klopp came in to the mess that he inherited (not just in squad composition but also psychically after the traumatic way they threw away the title with Steven Gerrard's slip and all) and built a team - to a plan, over time. They didn't go from that to Champions League winners and within a hair of displacing DOBMFC at the top right away. It took years and several transfer windows to do it. They made mistakes - Lorius Karius, anyone? I'll concede the point that it's hard to see us spending the GDP of Spain for someone like Virgil Van Dijk, but it's disingenuous at best to act like we're standing still.

This one transfer window alone, we cleared out an enormous amount of deadwood (Mustafi aside, though there's always January) and brought in a good amount of legitimate talent. Nicolas Pepe was a bit frustrating on the day but the INTENT was there. The fire, the spark, the attacking thrust was on full display. The goals and assists will come. Tierney is on the way. William Saliba will be here next season. Ceballos is an absolute baller.

Like, give it a second, will you?


9. Back at the ranch, our two goals were the kind of highlight-reel stuff we haven't seen in a while. Lacazette's goal was the most thoroughly Laca goal there is - the sashay through a million defenders in an impossibly tight space, the impossible angle to shoot, the thunderbastard finish that would have taken Hugo Lloris' head off clear into the 35th row if he had been stupid enough to get in front of it. I've always said in this parish that goals at the beginning and end of halves are so crucial - and in this case getting it back to 1-2 gave us our belief back for the second half.

As for the second goal, Aubameyang's little toe-poke past a stranded Lloris was an exquisite bit of skill, but it was all all all all all all about Guendouzi's raking cross-field pass to get it out to him. How does a 20-year old have that vision, that technique, the *chutzpah* to even TRY that?


10. And that, friends, is what we should focus on more than anything else here. Over the course of a long season, dropping two points here is not the worst thing in the world. The disappointment will fade. What will remain - indelibly so at that - is Guendouzi's arrival as a crucial part of this club as we build to the Arsenal team that is going to challenge for the big pots again.

He was everywhere.

Again, this is such a quintessentially Arsenal success story - a kid that came from France's second division (much like Laurent Koscielny, remember) to become an integral part of the club. He's got the heart, the fight, the balls, the spirit. He's everything we've been lacking over the last few years.

We can question why Ceballos didn't come on sooner, why Mhkitaryan came on instead of Ozil or Joe Willock, but years from now we're not going to remember that.

We're going to remember that Matteo Fucking Guendouzi become the dude on this day.



11. Awww hell, fuck it, let's do a bonus one.

If nothing else, this told me that Spuds' time is up. It's over. If this is the best you got when we're still scrambling trying to figure our shit out and you've got mostly your whole team here, well, from where I'm sitting, you've kind of blown your load, huh gentlemen?

I mean, never forget that the Champions League can be a crapshoot at times, like any knockout tournament is. Let's not forget that they Forrest Gumped their way through that thing last year and still couldn't get it done in the end, because you're Tottenham and you know you are. This shit is in your DNA. You can no sooner reverse that then I can make myself 6'5".

You honestly think your manager is going to stick around too much longer? Eriksen already wants to go. At some point SOMEONE will come calling for Son, who is really your best player at the end of the day. Kane might stick around out of some kind of misplaced loyalty - him and Winks and that overrated shitbird Dele Alli. Well? So what? That alone and maybe Lloris stays, and you're still like the 7th best team in England.

I can't wait for the clock to strike midnight on you, and I doubly can't wait to read the English press as they so so so so so wish it not to be true. And NBC Sports, while we're at it.

Sod you all. It's our time now.



Man of the Match: Guendouzi. Duh.

5 Thoughts: Arsenal 2-1 Burnley


Photo: Shutterstock


Let's get this out of the way - this team isn't going to win the league. Letting Burnley of all sides have the most shots on goal in a first half since Liverpool a few years ago isn't exactly a portent of a side equipped to take on Manchester City's dirty oil blood money mercenaries.

On the other hand, who cares? At this stage of my life, all I ask of my football club is that they fight for the shirt, they attack and they play some good football. You know what? Our Arsenal has that in absolute spades now.


1. You can set your watch by Burnley, can't you? They played a modicum more of football than they usually do, but despite that they still are a festival of long balls and snide tactical fouls. I even think that Mike Dean had a halfway decent game by his graded-on-the-world's-biggest-curve standards, but some of what he let them get away with was absolutely shocking. Ashley Barnes went up for one header and kneed Matteo Guendozi directly in the back. I mean, he didn't even try to hide it, and somehow this went unspotted. Look, I'm a referee myself...I know what a red card is when I see it and if that's not excessive use of force then the term has absolutely no meaning.

But, I think there's an argument that this is a good thing. Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos, some of our kids, some of our incumbents...they got through a game like this not only with no injury but they also saw out a result with professional aplomb. We haven't always had that, so I think it's worth mentioning and celebrating.


2. Ceballos is really, really, really good. WHAT a footballer.

I mean, I don't know what Real Madrid's situation is. I don't know what sequence of factors has led to this guy not being able to get in their team, but I hope it continues just long enough for them to agree to sell him to us on a permanent basis.

He's not only super-talented in his technique and his footballing brain, but he's got some fight in him too. Our second goal only happened because he won the ball back in Burnley's third of the field, and played in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before the Clarets could get all ten of their center-halves back in position. Auba's finish was excellent, of course, but he never gets the chance if Ceballos doesn't put that on a plate for him.

And that, right there, is something different than we've seen in years past...even last season, which despite everything else was categorically a step forward for the club. This team now has verve and fight and a little bit of steel to them, and Ceballos embodied all of that just in his one performance today.


3. Even after watching all 90 minutes of this, I don't know if Alexandre Lacazette was specifically the striker with Auba on the wing, or vice versa. You know what? That's a damn good thing.

People, in my estimation, get too caught up in formations and what they think tactics are sometimes. It's almost like they envision this whole thing as a foosball table in real life. Football is, and always will be, a far more fluid proposition than that. Time and space are the currencies of this sport, and movement is how you acquire it. If we've managed to forge a style of playing where we have a more amorphous attacking line that could mean either or both are furthest forward at any given time, or our wingers are and the forwards arrive late at the top of the penalty area for a cut-back? Fantastic! That's exactly what we should be doing!

The knock on us in years past - and a legit one at that - is that we've been ponderous and slow and sideways and eminently predictable. It's hard to say that we're like that now based on today's evidence (though of course we're only two games in and there's a lot of proving still to do). Now? My read is that we have options and a range of different looks that we can give an opposing defense to try and pull them out of position.

I get that it's one thing to do that against Burnley and quite another to do that against Liverpool or the Nearest and Dearest, but my god at least we're bringing a gun to a gunfight now.


4. A casual observer may see the number of shots the Clarets had and the scoreline and somehow assume that they may have been hard done by today. Nah, fam. First off, their goal relied on a huge amount of luck with the deflection that took the ball past our back line and directly into Barnes' path for his finish. Other than that? Most of their chances (other than one mad 5-minute stretch in the first half) were long-range no-hopers that they skied into the Van Allen Belt. I genuinely cannot think of one top-class save that Bernd Leno had to make today.

Nick Pope, on the other hand, deserves some props for keeping this from turning into a cricket score. His angles, anticipation and positioning were all on point. You can see why he's in the England team these days, and on this evidence there's an argument for him taking Jordan Pickford's shirt. Replace him with his deputy Joe Hart, and we're probably having a much different conversation right now.

Even with Alexandre Lacazette's goal to open the scoring, I'm not sure there's much he could have done about that. Generally, keepers should never be nutmegged but there's always exceptions. In this case, as a keeper I wouldn't have expected the Frenchman to get a shot away while parked on his bum to begin with, and in this specific case he didn't have the cover on his far post that he should have had either. Laca was able to get that shot away so quickly. no human would have been able to react in time. Not David De Gea, not Manuel Neuer, not Ederson, not Allison. No one.


5. Another notable aspect of this game that strikes me as a sign of progress is how we saw out the game from 2-1 with a minimum of fuss. We got the winner in the 64th minute, and if you think back, Burnley never had that moment to make us have our hearts in our mouth. Even with their set piece prowess, the corner kicks and free kicks they had later on ended up presenting no danger whatsoever.

David Luiz, whatever we may have thought of him in the past, came in and seamlessly integrated himself into our defense. He was vocal, he got stuck in, and if you ask me he's a massively underrated reason why we won today.

Beyond that, it has to be said that Matteo Guendouzi had a performance that belied his youth and inexperience. He was asked to take on a massive responsibility in the center of the park, and he delivered over and over again. It's never easy for a literal child to go toe-to-toe with Stoke City's spiritual heirs, but he did so without complaint. More of this, please.

Also, a frustration that I always had with late-stage Arsene Wenger sides was how nice and clean and Boy Scoutish we were. Here, we did what we had to in order to win. We fouled when we had to. We cleared it row Z when we had to. Leno wasted time and even faked an injury once. I'm fantastically not interested in people who tut-tut about that sort of thing. Fuck all the way fucking off, your favorite team does it too.

Win the game. Do your job. Arsenal did that today, and I sure as shit won't apologize for it.


Things get much more difficult now with a trip to Liverpool next and a home North London Derby right after it. You know what, though? I think this team is up for the fight and even if we don't get 6 points out of that (spoiler alert: we're not getting 6 points out of that), we'll at least give a good account of ourselves. That's all we can ask for, if you ask me.


Man of the Match: There's an argument for their keeper, but for my money it's Dani Ceballos going away.