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!

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.