A Shameless Robbery: Arsenal flick the fortress switch while disarming The Hammers [Ars 2-0 WHU]

A Shameless Robbery


Sometimes it’s hard to not listen to the Arsenal Vision post match instant reaction before I write these posts. I’m a fan of their work and it’s my personal post match pub. Today I had a drive home from an actual pub and so I couldn’t resist. We all see different things when we watch the game and I really don’t want to replicate the thoughts of others. Last night, I heard one of the best Arsenal related thoughts of the season to date. Elliot stated how much he enjoyed the fact that we finally moved away from “focusing on neutralizing their strengths to attacking their weaknesses.” So insightful. Some people have a real gift of explaining what others feel but can’t quite articulate.

Was yesterday confidence reborn or was it simply the birth of a new Colney focus?

After the first 30 minutes we seemed to loosen up. The start was cautious from both teams but Arsenal broke loose of their shackles first. Sometimes we start fast at home, sometimes we allow Arteta to analyze before we attempt to take advantage of opponents weaknesses. Previously our movement in the final third has felt wrapped in a comfort blanket of fear. A case of ‘if I make this dynamic off ball run, I might be out of position if they counter.’ There is a timing to when you go, as Tavares is learning, but you can’t live in ‘what if land’ if the timing is right.

The security to attack West Ham’s weaknesses has been given secure foundations these last few months. Arteta clearly started the post transfer window season by trying to give us defensive structure. As organized as West Ham were, we were equal or better. To add to this structure we have clearly been working on winning duels and second balls. The game was advertised as an end to end basketball match but we refused to let them past the 3 point line. Our confidence in our structure and ball winning ability also lent into our hugely successful nullification of their big danger man, Bowen.  Such smart coaching to not only start by trigger pressing on Diop but to angle our defensive posture to discourage passes to the right. Avoiding West Ham’s centrally located traps was equally clever.

The frequent and quicker switches to Saka were burning Masuaku’s calves. The tactic to move Odegaard back over to the right to overload with Saka was a consistent threat. Having Laca drop into midfield and bring Dawson with him, gave room to Martinelli. In previous ‘big games’ Saka has been asked to get goal side but we often left him high and allowed the youthful legs and willingness of Martinelli to defend. Again, as Elliot said, allowing us to ‘attack their weaknesses’ and with our most dangerous player too. I think in the past we’ve forgotten that tactics are like a game of chicken. Leaving Saka high means Masuaku, who is one of the best attacking left backs in the PL, can’t comfortably get forward.


The clearest evidence of the attacking mentality came after half time where we pushed hard for the second. This is the lemonade that we’ve all being waiting to be refreshed by. We can only hope that we don’t revert to the ‘Arsenal Bingo’ of my last blog. That we are learning that the accelerator leans into our players strengths. That our home fans energize us when we do.

We are now building a little fortress at the Emirates. Just don’t let me inside. I’m a shameless robber.


  • Not the most important positive of the game, but I loved that we surrounded the referee to get Coufal his first yellow card.
  • Saka is starting to blossom again. He’s had a slow start to the season but he was totally in charge of his duel against Masuaku. He has such a variety of options on the ball and his ability to make good connections leaves the opponents with a conundrum. West Ham, like many others, brought three players over to deal with him. It opened up Martinelli when Odegaard was quick to open his hips and switch it. I’m sure we will see this tactic more and more.


  • Speaking of Ødegaard, when he is set free he plays like a conductor. I feel that there is still so much more to come from him even though he has added goals and is opening his hips more frequently.
  • Lacazette could be a very important member of our squad for the rest of the season. If we bring in another striker, he will be able to take the pressure off this player. Behind the scenes he is respected as he cares for others. As we transition into a new captain or leadership group, he gives us the chance to transition without unnecessary rush. On the field, he’s starting to believe in his ability to do more than just lay the ball off. He has started to turn, run with the ball, play make and become a second central creative link. What was also obvious was that he wasn’t sulking because his best friend looks like he is going to be elbowed out. I didn’t feel confident that this would be his reaction, but delighted that he played his best game of the season when he could’ve chucked it in.
  • The ever-growing fortress that I talked about earlier is off the back of our fifth clean sheet in a row at home. As the Emirates crowd can be quick to turn it is vital that we make them feel like the fortress is growing rather than being built, knocked down and then built again from week to week.
  • Tomiyasu had another fine game. I think the frequent accolades that fans are verbalizing will be even more obvious when Cedric rotates with him. As good a player is, sometimes you realize his true value when his replacement simply cannot do the same.
  • Thomas Partey may not have been the star of the show but he had a positive outing. It is interesting that he has not been rotated. Some players only achieve their peak with a run of games and will never do it otherwise. Arteta is probably trying to play him into form before resting him and bringing Sambi back in. It was also good to see that he had two spectacular shots that were goal bound and blocked. It’s so interesting that he has been so supremely unsuccessful at shooting, yet he refuses to stop. I think I admire that. I think.
  • Martinelli’s breakout game against Chelsea away a couple of seasons ago has seemed like a world away from his next episode. He is such a modern player. So defensively willing, athletically powerful and fast, and so composed in front of goal for somebody so young. I was interested to read Arteta say that he is “able to put more gears into his game instead of doing everything at 100 mph.“
  • I’ve felt this for a while and probably because Theo Walcott had the same issue. Players that are lauded as youngsters for their speed often get carried away with it. The better players who are gifted with this attribute understand that you have to only utilize it as a surprise rather than as a staple.
  • I really loved this tweet from Dean @thechug31 I think he’s right!


  • I noticed the intelligence in the final 15 minutes to try to avoid set plays at all costs. Understanding that we had a numerical advantage, there were also enough attacks where West Ham were trying to coax us into fouling them. When you are a man up your advantage disappears at set plays. 


  • Granit Xhaka hurts my brain. So many Arsenal fans that I respect have opposing views about him. There seems to be very few in the grey area. I thought he did well in some parts yesterday and was a hindrance in others. He excelled in raising the tempo in tight spaces but given time and space often refused to turn and counter attack or took way too long. I think I live in the grey area.
  • Moving forward, if Arsenal can play with the same level of broad shoulders in away games then fourth place could be ours. Christmas offers us many opportunities to prove that we can control games mentally and so we sit in wait and hope.
  • Do you get the feeling before an Arsenal goal arrives that we play football on the precipice of a cliff? It seems like everything is so precise and one nudge ends it all and could see us tumbling down. Tactically, this is because we use the full width of the pitch and each player is somewhat isolated from his teammates. So what we see is errant passes giving opportunity to quick counters as we recover a compact shape.


  • In the modern game the majority of the chances you create are because of the movement or the decision making of your center forward. Long gone are the days when your center forward just waits for service. He’s becoming an inverse play maker. As good as Lacazette was yesterday I think we all see that we need the option of somebody with more devastation to their game.
  • I’m going to leave the Auba chat for my podcast (below). I did like this picture I found today though…


  • Declan Rice is rather good. 

I’m sure that he is going to go to one of the top clubs in Europe probably in England, but I would love for us to be in the mix. I think he has more Stephen Gerrard in him than N’Galo Kanté. He is turning into a complete midfielder. What I admire about Rice more than any other trait is his confidence at such a tender age. It probably helps that he has been trusted to consistently anchor England’s midfield in major competition but he handles it so well.


I was blessed yesterday to be back at the Hops and Holler Arsenal pub in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

On this occasion I met three lovely young ladies called Terry, Linda and Donna. Max loved it when Donna shouted, “Come on Odee” and Come on lil Aaron!” Terry told me the story about how they came to support Arsenal only five years ago. She had suffered a family tragedy and wanted to find solace in a soccer team. After much research she chose Arsenal as she loved the traditions of the club. She then coaxed Donna and Linda to support our great club too! They embraced my son who thinks that he’s the big stuff in the Arsenal pub and so here’s a picture of the deadly foursome…


Max had already polished off 3 of those Bud Light buckets on the left 😉

In my 15 minute podcast below I give my views on the Aubameyang situation, why Xhaka is playing so quickly after his injury and I give our coach some well-deserved credit.

Many thanks to all of you who I have religiously read my work and listen to my thoughts. Feel free to jump in the comments. I always reply.


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6 Responses to A Shameless Robbery: Arsenal flick the fortress switch while disarming The Hammers [Ars 2-0 WHU]

  1. Francis Redemi December 16, 2021 at 9:15 am #

    Hello Mike,

    A hugely satisfying win yesterday. Tierney has won his place back and as you said 5 consecutive clean sheets at home is very admirable.

    Arteta is learning to use his subs better but his ‘over-coaching’ on the sidelines is a.hit irritating.

    I would suggest Ramsdale as the next captain or who do you have in mind?

    Nice post as usual. Please keep up the good work!!

  2. The93rdMinute December 16, 2021 at 9:38 am #

    Hello Mike,
    I always look forward to your analysis. Could you care to write a pre match article as well!?
    Love from an Indian gooner!

  3. DonnaG December 17, 2021 at 12:34 am #

    Loved meeting you and Max, great article.

  4. Aaron Clabo December 17, 2021 at 11:14 pm #

    Outstanding as always!

  5. Bob December 18, 2021 at 4:34 am #


    Thanks for your huge bowl of thought. Winning or losing, your positives, needs and hopes always add up for the positives; eases sorrow when we lost (there are still positives and hopes =D), even better when we won!

    As I mentioned before the match, I feel it coming. What a performance it was. Appreciation for West Ham who defends well. The play hard, they outnumbered us in defence, played tight, and very physical! Yet we can penetrate them twice through the middle, keep calm and standing tall against their physical challenges. Days are gone when our Arsenal becoming weak in front of bullies! I dont pity WHU for the red card, they targeted our players physically, they knew cards will always at risk for such a tactical choice.

    *scoring penalty = scoring against GK + Data Science *
    I would like to highlight our failure to convert penalties. It is a good stance, good aim and good shot from our number 9. Why did we fail to score?

    Because it was the same target as Lacazette did against AFC Wimbledon in September 23rd!!

    Penalty kick should have put the executor upper handed. Assuming it is a direct shot, there are theoritically 5 spor for GK to guess; the probability to make the correct one only 20%. However, football data are literally everywhere accompanied with free short videos. It is very rare to find a penalty scorer who had scored into those 5 different spot equally and randomly. Every penalty scorer has two or three sweet spot for their entire career, less guessing for GK. Narrow it down to the last five penalty taken, GK knows where to jump.

    And Fabianski oozes with confidence before the penalty.

    Football team tried to get the best by giving ‘routine’ responsibility to the best penalty taker. However, it made the data collected then trend predicted. This what happens when some nerdy data guy involved.

    I think the strategy for penalty scoring will evolve. It will probably: train your penalty taker to score to those 5 different spot and capable to execute it at random.

    Or something more fun. Select your penalty taker randomly using random statistic table or random integer generator. I will laugh a lot had we dare to select Tierney or Tomiyasu as penalty taker using random list. Try to guess that last five penalty target taken by Tomiyasu, can you! some game in Japanese league years ago? Go away dear data scientist! We reset the penalty duel to the upper hand of penalty taker.

    Other solution would involve Neymaresque or Maitland-Nilesesque who kicked the ball only after the GK moves. They will definitely score. Too bad we dont have player known as Ainsley Maitland Niles on starting 11 list.

    Or we?

  6. allezkev December 18, 2021 at 10:50 am #

    Thanks Mike, a few hairy moments defensively but West Ham are a really good side and will be competing with us all season for that 4th spot. I remember seeing Alan Ball fouled in the box, getting up and scoring the penalty so despite the Arsene Wenger mantra of not allowing the fouled player to take the pen it’s really in the hands of a players’ technique. They all miss them…

    Maitland Niles has a great technique because his saunters up to the ball giving the goalkeeper no clue and has an ankle that seems to turn on its axis so he can pass it either way past the keeper before grinning at him, he actually seems to enjoy the contest, but I think he gives Arteta the heebie jeebies.

    I think there needs to be more work done on the training ground and more penalty options, I mean can Benjamin White take a good pen or Kieran Tierney or Martinelli, it doesn’t always have to be the same guys or a forward?

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