Fortune Favours the Brave: Ten Takeaways from #MCIARS (5 Positives/ 5 Needs)

Waiting for the BraveMan


Since I started writing, I’ve always held back from being over emotional or reactionary. Even though it is arguably the essence of fandom, I feel that we miss context when we do.

My post match knee jerk reaction was one of great frustration. After doing the GunnersTown Pub Podcast, my perspective changed somewhat. As I sit down to write this I expected to have dialed back my upset. I’m still struggling.

My struggle is based on the huge frustration I felt watching Willian play, as it looked like he was set up to be the key but was instead having a vertical nap.


Willian is a player that I was very excited to acquire. His skill set is so broad and his athletic qualities belie his age. I’m certainly not writing him off but this broad skill set is the reason I can’t shake this. Arsenal desperately need a player who can connect the midfield to the forward line. Not only was he given the ‘False 9’ role, it is this central role he craves. I don’t expect for him to be great on his first outing, maybe not even particularly good, but what I do expect for any player is to not hide.

From the first minute, Arsenal’s midfield were needing an out ball. Some relief. I even paused the TV a few times to see Xhaka and Ceballos looking directly at Willian. He has the pace to run behind, but wasn’t. He has the experience to know where pockets of space are between the lines but he wasn’t there either. He was hula-hooped with either Rodri or Ruben Dias. Not good enough.

My frustration is birthed in knowing that we now have a coach who sets us up with a good game plan, appropriate for each game. He trusts his players to at least make themselves available, and then they don’t. We had other opportunities and one player can be poor and you still get a result. It just so happens that we changed our formation for Willian and he didn’t play like he was grateful for this show of trust.

Moving forward, I don’t actually feel like I know if Willian would be the creative link as an Attacking Midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or an effective False 9. I don’t know because I’ve seen him between the lines 5 times now and beside the Fulham game, I found it hard to recognize that he was even out there. I will maintain that Willian is potentially elite. I have no anti-Willian narrative I’m trying to support, just growing frustration that he keeps starting games, keeps being trusted at the expense of others, and I think he looks like he’s on the Maracana with his flip flops on.

This frustration is linked to a wider thought.

Team wide there is a growing need for bravery.

I noticed in the 88th minute that Gabriel strode through the midfield. Almost a ‘sod this’ thought. It screamed at me….. WHY NOW!!

I’m fully understanding of the need to not give the ball away. I’m understanding that you most certainly can’t do it in your own half in the modern transition game. I also see that we have greatly improved at playing out of the back and that you certainly can’t take risks there. You can however open your hips and take a look forward. You can also run past the player off the ball hoping for a penetrative one touch. You can (if you are Willian) come towards the ball, roll your marker and accelerate into the final third… play Auba in…. far corner…GOAL! I’ll keep hoping 🙂

Arsenal do have a BraveMan. He has just turned 19. I’m really not sure if the others need to be relying solely on him though.

skysports-bukayo-saka-arsenal 4923293

A creative solution within?

The BraveMan however, needs to be plural.



  • Man City’s number 1 route to goal is getting in the box, close to the byline and cutting it back. We cut that off with clever coaching.
  • We should’ve leant into Saka more in the second half as he was the only adventurous one in the first half. As they say over here, he is a triple threat. On the dribble, with the pass, running off the ball. I’d like to think that he has a first team slot when Arteta dreams of his optimal line up.
  • Gabriel was faultless. I wonder what the key is to a young, non-English speaking, new to the PL player and can we give the special juice to Saliba? Gabriel gives me great hope. I think we have a special one there.


  • Xhaka was targeted to be pressed and we were smart enough to play around him initially. On the ball, he made many intelligent decisions and off the ball he was strong and savvy. All this leads to my next thought…..
  • …… with the arrival of Thomas Partey I expect to see Xhaka, ElNeny, Ceballos and Willock to improve quickly. They will all see that he is a level higher. They will have no choice but to step up as competition has just risen and all of them have seen the bench recently, so no complacency.



  • Our press may not have caught City out, but they are arguably the best team in World Football. It wasn’t always triggered at the right time. Normally one of your CM’s is the verbal trigger but in the second half there was a lot of wasted energy when some pressed and others didn’t. If in doubt, don’t press good teams. You become a cone.
  • Dani Ceballos isn’t normally nervous but he seemed to be yesterday. Not sure why? He may have been overly concerned with not giving cheap possession away.
  • Xhaka and Ceballos need to feed Auba over the top more frequently.
  • I believe we have a set piece coach. It’s not working yet.
  • In time let’s hope Pepe can replicate Mahrez or Salah. Such similar profiles, but one huge difference. The latter two play inside right. Closer to goal. This utilizes their most dangerous assets, dribbling, assisting and shooting far post. They have 4 times the opportunities to accomplish this list as they aren’t wide or a secondary focus. If we can put Auba central then we don’t need him to play inside left which would stop Pepe from having to offer the attacking width.


  • Has David Luiz ever scored a free kick?
  • As Pep moved Walker AND Cancelo to Auba’s side to counteract his pace, I would’ve loved to see Auba centrally and Willian on the left as the Willian experiment wasn’t working.



  • I’m hoping that this 6 week stint of very tough games gives us the rhythm to keep playing the rest of the season with a similar focus and intensity.



We’ve just played the best two teams in the League away from home. We may have lost both, but let us not forget that clubs don’t 180 overnight.

The biggest general difference in this new Arsenal is that we are now respected and competitive.


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5 Responses to Fortune Favours the Brave: Ten Takeaways from #MCIARS (5 Positives/ 5 Needs)

  1. Andy October 18, 2020 at 10:10 am #

    Good article as usual Mike. Agree with your thoughts on Willian who hasn’t added anything since Fulham and this whole side is timid. Looking at Everton who have been in a similar position to us as a club take the game to Liverpool with power and pace, I do wonder what’s holding us back. Why are we so scared? Perhaps Partey will bring us that bravery. I hope he speeds up the transitions as I can’t stand another game where the ball goes backwards whilst the opposing team pressures us into a mistake or hoofing the ball up the pitch where our forwards have no chance of getting it.

  2. allezkev October 18, 2020 at 11:56 am #

    Yes, exactly how I felt MM a big missed opportunity for me because I thought that we could have taken City, they didn’t take us lightly and they have strengthened a lot defensively with some really big units who just love to run their studs down your achilles. The rotational fouling from City was excellent and that’s where we need to be because we’re still naive in that dept and you don’t win anything by being nice.

    Once more Mike you hit the nerve regarding Willian, I was so pleased when we got him as Chelsea didn’t offer him a two year deal for a laugh they wanted to keep him and other big clubs were also interested as well, but Arsenal pushed the boat out and I was pleased about them showing that ambition but now I’m worried that we might have signed another guy who is just coasting through his last big contract. I kept thinking that Reiss Nelson couldn’t have done any worse than him in that position at a fraction of the cost?

    I was also really disappointed with Pepe, I mean what does he bring to the table other than allowing himself to be forced onto his wrong foot and losing possession? I don’t want to be harsh on him as I really like him but he’s been with us long enough now and I’m still continually being disappointed by his end result because there usually isn’t one.

    You look at players like Willian and Pepe and think, well at least they can take a good corner or a decent free kick, but neither seemed to ‘on it’ in that area of their game and when Luiz as I expected lifted his free kick into the stands I just threw my hands up in disgust – make the keeper have to make a save for heavens sake that has to be the minimum, if you can’t do that then you shouldn’t be taking the direct free kicks. I mean do we as a team practice this sphere of the game seriously in training or are they all messing about? Corners, free kicks, throw ins, all important aspects of the game but when do you really get excited when we get a corner for example?

    Loved what Saka brought to our play and I’m hoping against hope that Martinelli returns as he was because some of these big time Charlie’s might just find themselves warming the bench when he’s back, Arteta won’t mess about.

    Free kicks aside I thought Luiz was solid and Gabriel is fast becoming a big favourite of mine, but I can’t escape a feeling of a missed opportunity from this one. But I think we’ll beat them in the cup up there and that’s the thing because to me this Arsenal team are very much still a cup team.

    Onwards and Upwards.

  3. Blave October 18, 2020 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks for another well-written post. I must say, I’m really glad I found this website and once again I find myself in agreement with your thoughts. Gabriel really looks terrific. Let’s pray nobody pulls a Jordan Pickford maneuver on him. Saka was excellent once again. I said his extension was the best news of the season at the time and it seems more true than ever.

    Unfortuantely, the end result was disappointing and it’s fair to say we went down somewhat meekly but it’s also worth pointing out we didn’t get pasted (by either City or Liverpool) like we have in seasons past. Hopefully integrating Partey will increase everyone else’s attacking potency so we can start to go toe to toe with top clubs. It’s not hard to imagine his presence might have snuffed out their goal chance from developing the way it did as well.

    • Dave Seager October 18, 2020 at 5:37 pm #

      Thanks. Mike is indeed an excellent columnist. Dave

  4. Victor Thompson October 18, 2020 at 10:47 pm #

    Mike, I share your thoughts about Willian, I think I wrote to you some time ago to say that I thought it was a good bit of business.
    Just out of interest, I read the Sun because its sports page is better presented than its neigbours. I read this mornings critique and unfortunately, I threw the paper in the bin, which is probably the best place for it. Their rating per person was a uniform 6 for our players whilst Man City were uniform 7,s with exceptions of 8 for Sterling and a 9 for Aguero.How could any professional sports writer insult Saka by bracketing him with mediocre City players? Their estimation was obtained from an organisation which supplies text to commercial publishers! I think I will give it a miss from now on.

    I am not disheartened by the result because Pepe had his team sorted well before the match and it was unexpectedly strengthened with the return of Aguero. We have only been playing with a reinforcement of our weakest link i.e. the defence for a short time. The art of playing from the back forward is also in transit and it has plenty of room for improvemet. Man City were dirty throughout the match and they played as good as they are capable of. Having seen Gabriel in action and a brief appearance from Partey, I am eagerly looking to see these two getting stuck in. Partey looks as if he is a born leader and has natural charisma.

    Your usual followers have picked up on your well analysed articles and Dave is also among your supporters. I am delighted that you are being recognised as a reporter/coach and someone who knows what he is writing about.

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