Uncomfortably perfect: points secured, lesson learned [BHA 2-4 ARS](Positives Needs & Hopes)


An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective by Mike McDonald

Would it have been better to have won that game 0-3?


We would have a better goal difference and the confidence of a clean sheet.. I’d take it for sure.

Maybe it’s the coach in me but I think in the long run the adversity we suffered is more important than a comfortable win and clean sheet.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who put the recliner in recliner mode after the third goal. Brighton looked defeated and we looked so confident.
It isn’t just us fans that need to not recline when playing a Premier League game. The players know that the game isn’t won but there’s a problem. The body language of the opponent and the confidence of your teammates lies to you. Not wanting to exaggerate as if Premier League teams come back from three goals down frequently, but unlike other leagues, there has always been a ‘never give up’ mentality in English football, even after the influx of foreign players. The fans just won’t allow their team to give up.
What is so very important though is for our players to not lose their composure in future games when a comeback looks on the cards.

Overcoming adversity is one of the only parts of the game that you cannot replicate in practice and prepare for. No matter how competitive you make practice and whether you reward the team that wins or punish the team that loses, you cannot fool them into thinking that practice is as important as three points.
So, I might be alone but in retrospect, I found this game as close to perfect as you can get.
Before the game started, I would wish for my front three to all score, again. I love that they are sharing the goals equally. Much more healthy than one player scoring 80% of your goals. Then I would want one of my attacking midfielders to keep his enthusiasm to shoot up because it’s doubtful we will win the league if it’s just our forwards scoring. So that part was about as perfect as you can get. Then crazy ole me would rather this team win a few games this season after struggling through adversity than sail through in second gear. I just think that it’s healthier to prepare the players for the emotions that adversity brings than the ease of brilliance.

As a coach the other thing that I need to experience personally is who is a sunny day player and who can turn adversity around. I want to know before it’s too late. For all the teams that I have coached I always make sure that we have difficult games at the beginning of the season. I need to know which players I can trust when things get rough and I need my players to experience adversity early. It is absolutely true that you learn more in adversity than in victory and again, as a coach, I need to know. Even though rustiness may have been the main factor, the game swung when we subbed White, Partey and Zinchenko off.
The replacements are certainly good enough in most situations but perhaps subbing all three players that bring such a high level of technical confidence to the rest of our team will be noted by Arteta. Maybe he will realize that these three switches when you’re 3-0 up at the Emirates is a different thing to trying it against a competent team away from home. Maybe I’m being harsh and smart after the event, but that was a lot of reliability that jogged off to the bench.
Arteta might also come to the conclusion that some of our players relaxed their shoulders too much when he made those subs. Regardless of what you tell the players, changes send messages, and the subs probably told our players that ‘game was done.’

Finally, we have three very tricky league games coming up. Our defenders will be more active. The coach needs the defenders to practice defending. He needs it to happen when you’re winning by two or three goals, and not when It’s 0–0 away to Spurs.

Ramsdale won’t agree but that game was quite possibly perfect in retrospect.

So much gained. So much learned.

As Pete @LeGrove said today, “The loss to City was my favorite of 2022”
Similar thought. Think on this.

New Arsenal seem to see adversity differently. Glorious.

Thrive on adversity


* I found this thought after the game whilst considering why we are 7 points clear….Man City lost their identity of goalscoring wingers & getting their wingers into areas for dangerous cut-backs. Liverpool lost their identity of midfield compactness/physicality to sustain wave after wave of pressure. Arsenal gained both concepts & it’s why we are 7 points clear.

       There is so much more to it of course, but I think that this might be the main factor.

* It is so important that your attacking threat comes from all three areas. Haaland would not have 21 league goals if the opponents defenders felt comfortable focusing solely on him. Not long ago, Saka was getting double, triple and quadruple teamed. Opponents did not see a threat in Lacazette in particular, so felt comfortable to do this. As soon as we addressed that then Saka gets 12 goal involvement’s in 14 games. He just needed a fair amount of room to breathe in. Just think that our front three in the last two games cost a total of £7M .

* It sure looks like we have been working at the training ground on combinations inside the penalty area. When you have a player in the form of his life in Odegaard, any pass in any size phone box is possible as proven yesterday. Added to that the defenders see the penalty area as an ice rink They really don’t want to breathe on you let alone tackle you. My teams play a game at training where it is essentially a 20 yard match using the width of the penalty area. Prior to the game we always do rondos and passing drills in small spaces. My teaching point is that they have the capacity to show composure in a rondo and in a grid so they are capable of more than they think inside a penalty area. Arsenal look like they are mastering composure in the area of the field that makes most players nervous.


* Back in the day there was the really odd Player Cam feature on live coverage of the Premier League. You may remember. It was largely pointless and didn’t last long. There are a few players that you would benefit from watching a Player Cam on though. Ben White is one. There are so many sneaky ways that he fouls players off the ball and away from the main camera. It’s an art form that deserves its own term. He got ‘Benjied,’ perhaps?

* There is now a fair argument that Martin Odegaard is the form player in the Premier League. I think that he is certainly one of the best five footballers in the league. Let’s have a go at this… Kevin Debruyne is one for sure. Even though his all around game isn’t elite, Haaland certainly knows how to play centre forward against anyone. I would say that Thomas Partey and Rodri would be in there as they might be two of the only defensive midfielders in world football who can both destroy and control games. Odegaard is a composer and everybody else is part of his orchestra. Salah and Son or Kane would have a shout but not so loudly this season. DeBruyne is affecting games with his elite quality beyond perhaps anybody in world football. Odegaard is doing it in a different way. He seems to have a full picture of his surroundings and is able to see and execute passes that others aren’t even considering. Evidenced clearly by his pass to Martinelli for the 4th goal. There are others that could make this pass as there was lots of space to make it in, but very very few that would have because they wouldn’t have seen it. I think that if Arsenal win the league, there is every chance that Martin Ødegaard will win Player of the Year.

* I still have a concern that we are not taking full advantage of the opportunities that come into our 6 yard box,. One of them as I mentioned in my last blog is the importance of a striker remembering to move his feet when somebody else is shooting.  Nketiah’s goal yesterday was exactly this. Everybody else stood and ball watched and he kept moving towards the goalkeeper in case it was spilled and it was. Ordinarily, you’ll get one of these per game, so that is one freebie that you could take or pass up.

* When will Gabriel Magalhaes get some credit? He deserves to for the warrior he is especially away from home. When Saliba was somewhat rusty we needed Gabriel to be clean and he was. You often see him during away games taking the initiative to fire up his colleagues during adversity. I think he is the type of athlete that thrives in adversity. Loves it.

* Many months ago I was repeatedly complaining that Arsenal lacked communication in the back line when the opponents floated into the spaces in front of them. We were too quick to allow them to turn and attack our back four. That has been addressed and is the reason that we do not suffer this season from wave after wave of attacks.

* I noticed a change in Xhaka in the 82nd minute. The change from years gone by. He was being pushed and shoved in the box and old Xhaka would’ve taken his anger out and tripped the Brighton attacker. The new Xhaka is a far better player on so many levels.

* It was such a joy to have my beautiful wife and daughter with me at the Knox Gooners Pub for the game. I am a lucky man to be blessed to have such love in my life and Lori is equally delighted to have married a hairy man with such a delicious lemon jacket. EllieAnn will be writing this blog one day. She was at the front of the line when talent and joyful smiles were dished out ❤️

A family affair

Big shoutout to @KnoxGooners who found the best venue in Knoxville for the new Arsenal pub. To have about 50 Arsenal fans show up on a yucky day in East Tennessee is an example of the reach of Arsenal Football Club.

Knox Gooners

You might be interested in this map. It shows the most popular football teams in each state. Some are the local MLS team but many are not. Arsenal are the most popular in 5 states.

Supporters USA map


* The hardest situation to deal with in modern football is defending the second wave coming into the box when the ball is being cut back. I think that every team deals with it sometimes and not others. Defenders find it hard because they have to have their eyes on the cross and the advantage is with the attackers who can run into the box and then just stop, therefore creating a cut back. To nullify it there needs to be attention paid to midfielders following runners and taking responsibility. Arteta seems to improve everything given time, so I’m not concerned.

* As well as Saka is playing he does have a naughty tendency to switch off defensively at the end of games. Almost everything in the last 30 minutes was coming down his side and he was ball watching and seemed to lack desire to help Tomiyasu. When we sign another winger Arteta will find it easier to challenge Saka to stay on the field for a full 90 minutes if we have an equal threat on the bench. To do this he must remain focused on his defensive game in the last minutes of games.

* I think Ramsdale needs to be more aggressive on set plays. When he is he has such clean hands but doesn’t seem to ever put his body through opponents. Seems to be half committed and wave his fist at too many crosses when he’s in a crowd rather than take people out. I also noticed that he made a really odd decision on Brighton’s second goal. Even though it was clearly Saliba’s fault, Ramsdale diving forward like Superman rather than sideways was the reason the ball went into the net.

* There were a handful of opportunities yesterday to play Saka and Martinelli in behind. We look at our fourth goal and see how much power, pace and especially fitness we show late in games. We rarely play the ball behind the defense in the first 2/3 of the game. Liverpool have found so much success over the last few years with their rock ‘n’ roll style. They consistently break at speed and have at least one attacker running in behind to offer the simplest route to goal. This also gives the defenders the issue of who goes with him and who watches the other players who are making different movements.

* I wonder if you have noticed recently that whether it is watching Arsenal or the World Cup, that it seems rare for a player to dribble around a committed goalkeeper. On both occasions yesterday when we squeezed through Zinchenko and Martinelli on the left side of the 6 yard box, Sanchez had committed himself. The easiest route to goal is to simply dance around him and slot it in. He wants you to take the shot and a pass is always a possibility, but it is rare that you have enough time to look up to pick one out.


* I hope that the fanbase look at Saliba and Tomiyasu’s overall body of work and leave them alone. Both of them were rusty yesterday, and I think they deserve for it to be called rust.

* The next big decision will be if we rotate on Tuesday and how much. Most interesting situation will be at striker. Do you think that Eddie could play three games in a week or so as he hasn’t played as much this season? As logical as it may seem that he has more minutes in his legs, it also becomes an issue that he isn’t yet at peak fitness because he hasn’t played 90 consecutive minutes this season apart from the last two games. Tomi will come in for Gabriel and move White back centrally. I do wonder if Tierney AND Zinchenko play with Zinchenko taking Xhaka’s role.

* Mitoma can play. I remember talking about him the last time we played Brighton. He actually plays like an Arsenal player. He was actually playing university football three years ago so much credit to him. I can see Aston Villa looking at him after they get rid of Coutinho. I could see Dortmund being an even better option for him.

* I’d like to make a plea on behalf of Layth at The Gooner Fanzine. The Gooner has been on sale ever since I can remember. I remember spending my extra 2 pounds on it as a youngster rather than the official program. With the current cost of living crisis, The Gooner is in a tough spot. I have been lucky enough to write for this legendary publication for over a year and this makes me a proud man. Would you consider subscribing to receive The Gooner? Not just to keep it alive but it is truly a fantastic read every month. You can do so at

Thanks for considering.

* The ref. Anthony Taylor. Oh my! A ref of his level is excused from getting 1 yellow card wrong, but all three! I was reminded today that not a single player has been booked this season for fouling Saka.

* Folks starting to say that we are growing past Rob Holding. I’m not sure. Every team needs squad players that are content. He may not be but he has to know his place in such a talented group. He does have value and a role too. Coming on to solidify the victory by being a specialist against desperate teams. Every team needs this player.

* I wonder if either of Brighton’s absent Central Midfielders will end up at Arsenal? Caicedo has unbelievable interception and tackling ability, and Mac Allister is currently one of the best all-around midfielders in Europe. Such a quick rise to stardom.


In my lifetime I’ve seen coaches be successful in their first job. I’ve seen them win titles in their first job. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a coach turn a team and club around like Mikel Arteta.

Looking back on the day that he came to the Emirates with Manchester City and watched City toy with us. It was so pitiful. Now we look at a club who has turned 180 degrees under Arteta. This is something I’ve never seen before from a new coach.

I remember my first blog after he joined as coach. It was ‘Everything just changed.’ It’s the most right I’ve been in a sea of wrong predictions. As clever as I feel I bow down and humble myself to the man who didn’t predict it from his armchair, but actually did it in reality.


In my 20 minute podcast below I discuss the need to find a striker alternative amongst other topics and discuss where ESR may play in the short term.

I hope that 2023 brings you and your family hope. The world seems a little messed up and hope is needed for a brighter day. I hope that brighter day knocks on your door.

, , , , , , ,

4 Responses to Uncomfortably perfect: points secured, lesson learned [BHA 2-4 ARS](Positives Needs & Hopes)

  1. Jax January 1, 2023 at 9:25 am #

    How come you & your lovely family are able to get down to the pub with the country six feet under snow? Happy new year to all USA Gooners, this is going to be our year.

  2. Ronald Bolo January 1, 2023 at 2:50 pm #

    Brilliant stat

    Arsenal is the only prem team to have more than 4 players create 20 chances from open play.
    And they are 5. Amazing players.
    7 goals in 2 games within a span of 5 days. Plus we have scored in all games so far this season.

    Like Mike always says, goal scoring is the best part of football. Onwards and upwards gooners. Happy new year guys

  3. Andy January 1, 2023 at 3:22 pm #

    Happy New year to you and your family Mike.

    Excellent points as usual. Would we be able to play with so much confidence without Partey? Can’t remember anyone boss the midfield like this since Viera. Can’t remember so many world class players in so many positions.

    I liked your point about Harland and the city wingers. Reminds me of how Ian Wright changed the dynamic of the Arsenal team. We were successful but stopped being competitive in the league and became a cup team. I think his qualities will have a similar effect on city.

    I also think we will see big rotations for the f a cup and if we go out early we shouldn’t be disappointed. Success in the league and Europe is more important

  4. Bobby January 1, 2023 at 4:17 pm #

    Ramsdale diving forward – wasn’t that a Bob Wilson trait from many years ago?

Your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Designed by Batmandela

%d bloggers like this: