I have been at an Arsenal match as accredited media before, but not at The Emirates, so last night was a first for me. Consequently, I feel compelled to endeavour to write something of merit, beyond a basic match report. Of course, that will not be problematic as last night was about so much more than a football match.
Last night was about football as a whole in England, about the ownership of Arsenal Football Club and about the American ownership, who this week, have managed to take themselves from distrusted and tolerated at best to hated in a matter of a few short days. Thousands of disgruntled passionate Gooners turned up to peacefully and vocally register their displeasure and demand that that Stan Kroenke and KSE, sell up at the earliest opportunity. The numbers were impressive and must have been noted by all interested parties.
For the BBC in their match report to suggest there were a 1000 there is laughable, when to me it looked and felt four or five times that. The sheer numbers and the noise may not make KSE rush into an early decision, but it simply must have registered with them. At the very least the Kroenkes must realise how much their detached scorn of the Arsenal fanbase has hurt, so let us see how they react. I think we can all be certain that last night was not a one-off protest and the scale of it will not be lost on the Government review team led by Tracey Crouch. Arsenal Fan Groups such as AST, AISA, Red Action and the BSM, have worked superbly in tandem this week – galvanized by the failed ESL debacle – and I am certain they will ensure that our club has a strong voice where required.
I was in North London, as Seager Media, my tiny new venture’s first official engagement, at the invite of the club, but I want to use this opportunity to state very clearly again, as I have on social media, the club that I interact with is not KSE. The individuals who reached out to me in troubled personal times are the club, not KSE. The individuals who represent the institution we love, with such class and distinction are the club, not KSE. I was chatting to longstanding staff, who had invited me to last night’s match, and they are as concerned as you and I. These people, one of whom told me they still chat to George Graham most weeks, which gives you an idea how long they have proudly worked for Arsenal. These wonderful people have not forgotten Rocky’s words, they live by them, and they too are hurting at the moment.
Neatly, and yet depressingly the subject of proudly representing the cannon, segues nicely (or not so nicely) into the team representing us on the pitch. Arteta has and will point to possession, control and chances created to suggest Arsenal deserved more than a 1 nil defeat. He will also point to another strange VAR call, on a Pepe offside, somewhat earlier in the move that led to an on-field penalty decision in our favour. On the penalty, I do have sympathy with him, and it must be frustrating, but he simply cannot keep suggesting in post-match interviews that he is content with how his team played.
Arsenal, deprived of both leading scorers, gave Eddie Nketiah the task of leading the line, ahead of, on paper, a creative threesome. He worked hard, and in the first half I noted on several occasions some excellent hold up play, but obviously he is not a solution,long-term. Smith Rowe seemed muted to me last night and even Saka, with him, often opted for the safe pass, rather than the riskier incisive one. Both were subdued and I was surprised it was Pepe, of the three supporting cast to be substituted first. The Frenchman at least, offered more threat and invention. On the few occasions he (on the left), Saka, or Chambers (again preferred to Bellerin or Cedric) did get good low, pacey crosses in, there was no one, or only Nketiah to attack them. Here is Arteta’s main issue, to be resolved, in my view, based on recent games – he needs to get the midfielders who are not involved in the build up to be attacking the box.
Ceballos was always drifting left and never attacking the box, Partey equally does not and neither do Xhaka or Elneny when they are playing in midfield. One of the two pivots should be attacking the penalty area when Arsenal are attacking. (Dare I say as Ramsey, would have done, or – interestingly – as Joe Willock does all the time, which has resulted in the last two of his three goals for Newcastle.) In addition, conventionally in a 4231, if the build up is on the opposite wing, the wide player not involved should become the second striker, and this was not happening last night or often enough for Arsenal at present. In short, we should have two players in the box and one arriving, and if we did, so some of the excellent balls whipped in might have been converted.
I have, even until last night, believed that a strong finish to the league campaign could still see us qualify for the Europe again via league position, but the last two limp outings, last night and against Fulham, have finally caused me to admit we are now in an all eggs-on-winning-the-Europa-League situation. Arteta has only a few days to make some huge decisions before the first leg against Emery’s Villareal and I am not sure if last night will have helped him in any positive fashion. Much will of course depend on how Aubameyang trains this week, but the decision on who leads the line is a huge, one and I was disappointed that the manager did not give himself longer to see Martinelli in the roles. Twenty minutes will have only reaffirmed that the Brazilian can lead the press better than any, and that was severely lacking last night, Nketiah began well with the press and was joined by Smith Rowe or Ceballos, but it faded rapidly. In Spain, this will be a tactic I am sure Arteta will want to employ effectively so we may see Martinelli backed up by a now fit Odegaard.
I think one of the few positives from last night was the central defensive pairing of Holding, proudly donning the arm band, and Mari – highly vocal I noticed – being in the ground. They work well together, and I think they will play together on Thursday night, as will Leno, despite his howler; apart from that, the Spaniard has some serious thinking to do. Xhaka has filled in well at left back but Richarlison exposed his limitations in the role and I believe we will see him back with Partey. I hope this means the Ghanaian can get a bit closer to the opposition box, so he does not have to keep shooting at Row Z! This leaves a huge call on left back but given when Tierney is playing it is our most attacking outlet, I want to see Saka there until the Scot is fit.
I know many will disagree, and I know it is not ideal, but we need a leftie at left back, as we all saw what happened with Cedric utilised and with Saka playing there, we know Xhaka will cover and allow the England International to still be a creative threat. This tough call will also allow Arteta to bring Ødegaard back in without dropping either of Smith Rowe or Pepe. That only leaves the decision on right back, where Arteta seems to have favoured Bellerin in Europe.
Thanks for reading, thanks for the real Arsenal, inviting me to cover the match inside the stadium, and thanks to our fabulous support for turning out in their thousands to vocalise our collective discontent. I was outside for a while but please take it from me, the singing that went on long and hard was heard loud and clear by everyone within, including the players for sure. It is a shame it did not inspire them out of their collective malaise, but I think perhaps Santi Cazorla was smiling to himself in Qatar.
We should give ourselves and our supporter groups a collective pat on the back this week and be in no doubt that KSE know how we feel.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.