5 Thoughts: Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal

I didn't see the match because of that whole pesky "day job" thing, so these will be shortform.

1. Literally everything mentioned in the Tweet screenshot above - from both people.

2. I only saw one brief replay, but I'm 100% convinced that Granit Xhaka didn't duck out of the way of their goal, for a few reasons. First, people will do literally anything to twist any given circumstance into their own silly Twitter agendas. Second, if you're getting out of the way of something, you're not going to duck your heard *forward* like that. Trust me, in my long time as a goalkeeper I've admittedly ducked out of the way of some close-in rockets coming straight for my face. You would too. Anyway, when you do that, the natural instinct is to turn your head back and away from the ball, usually with your hands going up in some fashion.

If anything, my suspicion is that Xhaka was trying to head that away and was prevented from doing so when the ball's trajectory changed after it was deflected.

Occam's Razor, children. Look it up.

3. Despite everything above, I'm damn sure disappointed that we couldn't find a way to win it. Don't get this twisted, we're not anywhere near where we could and should be at this point. Long-time readers know that I loathe United more than any other club in the world, for a multitude of reasons. The last few years have been their lot somehow finding a lower nadir than the previous Worst United Side of the Last Three Decades, and we still can't consistently defeat them. It's maddening. It's like the same kryptonite that affects them has also done so to us. There's something Shakespearean in that, admittedly, though I'd much prefer a good murder mystery.

At the very least, for the love of Dennis, can we batter these fuckers at the Emirates? Please and thank you.

4. Apparently, our boy Matteo Guendouzi had another storming performance. Call me crazy, but I think that lad just might be a player. Also, no prizes for guessing that it was The Mighty Auba that got us out of jail again, huh?


Aww, Hugh. Buddy. Pal. You're a good dude and all but this is fantastically spoken like someone who has refereed zero games.

Here is the screenshot he posted:

This is, once again, a case of armchair-refereeing a match based on a frozen nanosecond in time. It's hideously unfair.

As an AR myself, I can see exactly what went wrong here - notice how he's looking left, towards the player with the ball. Now, look at how the defender is running left at speed, and Auba is running right at speed. In real time, they will pass each other in, what, a second? Less than that? In the time it takes the AR to turn his head after the ball is played, Auba is probably a good 3-4 yards past him, and the AR has to recreate in his mind what he believed to have happened in at most a second before he pops the flag up or not.

If he pops it up late, his assessor will bollock him. If Auba WAS offside and he didn't put the flag up, his assessor will bollock him. Probably for this, as it happened, his assessor will bollock him. All I'm saying is that these guys live a reality that the public at large has zero fucking comprehension about. Less than none.

I'm not saying he got it right - obviously, the screengrab makes it abundantly clear that he didn't. But, to act like it's some unbelievably preposterous act of someone miles out of their depth is also absurd and unfair.

Ideally, as an AR you want to be looking straight ahead at that line and hear the sound of the ball being kicked. However, this isn't a Sunday-league kickabout at the local bog, there's 70,000 screaming people there - it's not exactly always possible. As an AR you have to be aware of the ball location, the line of the second-to-last defender AND in the back of your mind remember that if the ball goes out over the sideline in your quadrant, you're fully responsible for determining who it went out off of.

This is hard enough doing it for a U-14 match, let alone in the English Premier League. We always want them to get it right, but at the end of the day, they're human beings. This is EXACTLY the purpose that VAR serves when it's used correctly.

Anyway, hopping off my soapbox, I just want to again stress that we're now through a brutal stretch of the fixture list and we're right in the vicinity of where we want to be. Would you trade places with the guys we played today? I wouldn't.

PS - Nicolas Pepe will come good, Twitter-dorks. Have even the smallest bit of perspective, please.

5 Thoughts: Arsenal 3-2 Aston Villa

Photo: Getty Images

Just like we drew it up - right, guys?

The rest of the day on Sunday kind of got away from me, so I won't focus so much on what happened in the match itself - you've all read reports and seen highlights by now. Still, since I actually saw this one (won't always be the case during youth soccer season, with my referee duties and all), I wanted to get some thoughts down on the larger picture.

1. I genuinely do not get the fervor behind the Emery Out movement. How's that for a scorcher of a take?

I've been meaning to go on the record about this at some point, even in the knowledge that our defense is a Chernobyl-level event and every match against mid-table dross like this is much more of an adventure than we would like. I have eyes, I can see all that.

But, my god, no one on earth can take what Unai Emery inherited and turn them into peak-era Barcelona in three transfer windows - not without spending Oil Money FC levels of cash, anyway. I'm continually astonished at how people can see this Liverpool side annihilating everything in their wake and not connect the dots. You know, the one that *didn't* fire Jurgen Klopp when Simon Mignolet was chucking them into his own net for fun? The one that lost in the final of the Europa League in his first season? The one that finished in EIGHTH PLACE that season?

Look, I get it. Giving a manager time alone isn't going to guarantee that we're going to reach those heady heights. But, we sure as shit aren't going to by changing managers more than we change our clothes, either. We still have three out of our first-choice back four working their way back from injury, and we're still bedding in a fairly significant number of new players. I don't know if there's anything I hate about  modern fandom more than this collective temper tantrum when we don't get a pony, and we don't get it RIGHT NOW. Get a hold of yourselves, for real.

The thing is, I do think we're trending in the right direction, but with reservations. We haven't brought in players like Nicolas Pepe or Dani Ceballos in a long time. But on the other hand, whatever is going on with Mesut Ozil is inexplicable. How Granit Xhaka hasn't earned himself some time on the subs' bench is beyond my comprehension.

But, I keep coming back to the Klopp example. This guy Emery isn't some random idiot - he's won things everywhere he's gone. My guy is chilling here with three Europa League rings, but Gareth from Twitter reckons that he doesn't know tactics. It's a lack of self-awareness on a galactic scale. Full disclosure, long-time readers will know that I used to say many of those same things about Arsene Wenger here at this very parish. I'm not sure that's the same thing, though...Wenger was two decades in the job by that point and there was ample evidence that he was refusing to change with the times. Also, I fully admit I could have made some of those same points more artfully - the one good thing about getting older is the perspective that comes along with it.

I'm also not saying we give him ten million years to figure it out - if we reach the end of the season and we're not making tangible progress, a clean break at that stage is eminently reasonable. Now? Absolutely bonkers.

2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is The Dude. No one disputes this.

But, my word, someone has to tell me what Tom Heaton was thinking there. He had roughly 14 players in that wall, and still managed to position it in a way that gave Auba that entire far post to shoot at. Then, on top of it, Heaton's first two steps were back the other way, behind his own wall.

Don't take it from me, though. The best goalkeeper follow on Twitter:

3. Also, giving that penalty to Pepe so that he could break his duck with the club was a boss-level move. I only wish we could have gotten our hands on him years ago.

4. The red card shown to Ainsley Maitland-Niles was...umm...not correct.

It's funny because right when it happened, I said to my girlfriend "I think that's a second yellow". In real time, it did look somewhat bad. And, if you were to ask Jonathan Moss, his defense would probably be some version of "it doesn't matter if you got the ball, it can still be a foul". That's actually true, speaking as a registered referee myself. The only criteria - the ONLY criteria - for foul-yellow-red is careless-reckless-excessive use of force. That's it. If you tackle someone, get the ball first but then bisect their leg at the knee on the follow-through, then you're taking an early bath and deservedly so.

But, and this is a Sir Mix-a-Lot sized but, I'm not convinced that AMN's tackle crossed over from careless to reckless. Also, Moss is notoriously on the lower end of the fitness scale and is often further away from these occurrences than he should be. This is all known. Looking back on it, it was a legitimate attempt to win the ball, the tackle itself wasn't wild or out of control, and in the end he was a fraction of a second late, at most. That's a difficult RC for me to justify, even as someone who gives the refs a lot more leeway than most, for obvious reasons.

For me? Assuming he wasn't injured and all that, you pull him aside, remind him that he's on a yellow, and in essence give him his final warning. If he does something borderline like that again, then it's a hell of a lot more justifiable to send him off. At that stage? I thought it was a harsh, on the border of ridiculous decision by a guy who I frankly think is at least one division out of his depth.

5. While I agree with literally 100% of the criticisms around our first half, at the end of the day, we took home three points on a weekend where the Nearest and Dearest, Man United and Chelsea all did not. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, we learned something about Matteo Guendouzi's character on Sunday. Maybe this comeback wasn't quite single-handed, but it wasn't miles away either. Our second goal happened entirely because Guendouzi fought like a demon to win the ball back, drove forward immediately, and then put in the cross that Calum Chambers was able to put away on the second attempt.

Beyond that, he - like Johnny Cash - was everywhere, man. He fought for the shirt, he gave Villa players and the referee what-for when it was required, and in general was every bit a future club captain in my eyes.

Oh, and Chambers should get more game time now.

Moving on, we've got Nottingham Forest in a League Cup diversion before next weekend's visit to Old Trafford. That one is going to be interesting. We've still got legions of issues of our own to address, and we do have a long history of gifting three points to modern-era terrible United sides. However...if we can go up there and do the business, that just may define our whole season. I mean it. That may just kill the Ole Era dead up there, and unless they hit some kind of miracle shot with the replacement, it'll be another season of transition for them. One less top four rival to worry about. Yes, please!