Creation 1 Denial 3: Arsenal holds off Arsenal in Leicester domination [LEI 0-1 ARS] (Positive Needs & Hopes)

Creation 1 Denial 3

An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective 

This game was an odd one. 

It seemed like we were playing ourselves. Leicester are so predictable. Played the same way in the same formation for so long. Coming up against a team that has a smart coach with a smart backroom team killed Leicester as Rodgers without Maddison is dry and again, predictable.

The game was just Arsenal. 

Could we create enough, more. We had control of the entire 96 minutes. It was also a case of could we nullify the little that they offered. All Arsenal. Arsenal vs Arsenal. If we didn’t win, it was only because we would’ve beaten ourselves. 

This is a true compliment to Arteta. He has coached our team so well to the point where we can go to what should be a top 8 team and control the entire game for 96 minutes.

This has put us in a position to see what we saw. 

So starting with the creation part…

Honestly, that has become once again the primary struggle. We might just be right now the most secure team in European football in the middle third of the field. When we lose possession it feels like a small electric shock. To the point where I get overly upset because it is so rare and seems so very unnecessary.

That must be an indirect compliment

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about something that I’ve talked about too much, but I feel that we spend the largest chunk of the game finding the most complicated way of turning wonderful possession in to clear chances. So, what ends up happening is very very few clear-cut chances.

The perfect example is the goal.

In the first half Trossard, or whoever would’ve received the ball out wide, would not have gone one on one. They rejected the opportunity to take a risk by taking the man on or in Trossard’s case, passing it through his legs, and they would have passed it backwards and retained possession. The problem then becomes that you are now playing four against nine.

When we were flying earlier in the season, we were taking quicker decisions and more risks in the final third.

We were also being far more dangerous in wide areas. 

I am currently leading a retreat for my high school soccer team in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The boys were watching the first half and even though their knowledge of the game is nothing like a European kid, they kept on commenting that Arsenal were trying to penetrate in central areas when it was so compact. Sometimes we look like we are trying to win the Premier League Goal of the Season competition rather than the Premier League. 

My biggest beef in the last year or so has been that we rarely use the space behind the defence. I often use Manchester City as the model because they are playing a similar style. For years they have been dinking the ball over the top from the edge of the box to third man runners who are taking risks and making little runs. Getting into Zone 16 and 18 consistently and creating simple tap ins.

Grid JDP

Then you look at Liverpool, who are the second most successful team in recent years. Their superpower is transitioning at full speed. The rock ‘n’ roll football of Klopp. So frequently over the last five years, Liverpool are transitioning in three vs four scenarios. Far more direct with less lateral and backwards passes to get set up. They scored so many goals when Mane, Salah or whoever went one on one with the goalkeeper.

How often are Arsenal one on one? 

I’ve just described three of the simple ways to score goals in modern football, and we are not utilizing any of them well enough.

This might sound like complaining when we are having our best season in around 20 years, but being a coach I always go to improvement, and this is certainly our area.

Even though we completely controlled the game, I don’t believe we deserved to score more than one goal. That statement should not represent a game where a team look like they should be 4 goals dominant.

Then we come to the other side of the game. 

For the majority of the season Arsenal have looked more solid as a group defensively than any other version since the early 2000’s.

It’s not a talent issue even though we have talented defenders. The structure set in place is a part of it for sure. For me it is more about determination than anything else. The desire to keep clean sheets isn’t just something that happens in the huddle. It seems to be born out of a hatred of conceding. You have to get to that point if you want to follow through.

I remember when I was a young coach having an epiphany. I can’t remember if somebody told me this or if I figured it out for myself. Either way, it was the realization that if you don’t let a goal in then you can never lose. Sounds almost idiotic and obvious, but the point was more that if that is the case, then surely defending becomes the most important part of the game. The realization also that you can score 3 goals and still lose. Such simple thoughts, but also so profound.

Away from home Gabriel has led the way. It’s as if he has been given the big stick and becomes Braveheart.

Gabriel Leads The Way

Leicester troubled Man Utd. Should’ve been at least 2-0 up. That game and others could’ve swung north or south. Yesterday’s game wasn’t. So, why wasn’t it? Leicester had opportunities every 4-5 minutes to form attacks. But barely anything happened. Are Leicester terrible like their 0.01XG suggests? Or did Arsenal just repeatedly stop them at the entrance to the fun zone and bounce them out. ‘You’re not good enough, you’re not coming in.’

Gabriel and Saliba as the two main bouncers supported admirably by White, Zinchenko and Ramsdale closing the club door as Leicester get up from being bounced and try to knock again.

There is something quite chest thumping about a comfortable 1-0 win.

Only the best of the best can play that out with such confidence and not melt into a gibbering wreck gifting the opponent 10-15 minutes of entrance to the fun zone as panic sets in at the front door.

If Arsenal don’t win the league, I think it’ll be because we falter in a few games due to over complicating it. 

If Arsenal do win the league it may well be because we fix this issue or it could be simpler than that.

It could be that we get back to being consistently elite at denying.


  • Another reason that we might win the league is because we have introduced two players that are having immediate impact. That are challenging what was the same 11 players each week, to step up their game. It will be harsh on Jorginho if Thomas Partey takes over as the deep lying playmaker. Jorginho is making a consistent difference, and that is the difference. What other team in the league has two deep line play makers that can do this? City don’t. United’s midfield is affected every time Casemiro decides to get suspended. The rest of them barely have one player in that position that is being successful. There’s an argument that this is the most important position on the field as this player directs the traffic and controls the game. Trossard has re-energized Martinelli and can do the same for Eddie. His link play and technical level is part of Arsenal’s ability to keep the ball and give us 96 minute dominance. His goal was a thing of beauty, as well as the intentionality in his pass for the winning goal. He is an interesting player. He doesn’t really make you go ‘Wow’ but he certainly is a player who has decisive moments. I think that’s the best way to describe him. Decisive moments.

Trossard shines

  • Xhaka looked like his game is returning. The last few games he hasn’t been a ‘factor.’ He was an instigator again. 
  • is it a positive that Arsenal didn’t take any shots whatsoever in the final 30 minutes of the game? Does that show control when a goal isn’t needed. If I was Italian, I think I would love that. I’m really not sure which column this thought should be in.


  • When Arsenal were firing they were creating quicker overloads. I’m not sure if we are intentionally more conservative in our play, but the dynamism on the wings is noticeably less.
  • Oh, I wish that we were more aggressive inside the penalty area. Such quick wingers yet so few penalty kicks. So many opportunities to body defenders and refuse to have the ball cleared out. Also, so few players in the box. Sometimes I go to a 1000 foot view with my writing and notice a complaining spirit. At least sometimes it feels that way. I suppose that when you write, and I have to analyze the good and bad, then both seem so illuminated, and possibly exaggerated. I just wish there was a significant increase in the level of aggression in the penalty area. The determination I see in the defensive third is honestly not replicated in the final third. 
  • My thought in the opening piece about a struggle to create simple chances, shrinks itself down to this single thought… I think Arsenal still need to become better at sensing opportunity.


  • Great to hear that Marquinhos had such a positive impact with an assist and a goal in his first opportunity at Norwich. There is certainly a player in there. He’s young enough to where he might be good enough for our first team, but either way I see a player that will make a career at a decent level.
  • I can see why VAR took away Trossard’s goal. Ben White is absolutely one of the sneakiest players in the league. In fact, I think he wins the Sneaky Player of the Year award. I think the awards are decided in February anyway or at least they used to be which I never understood. As if they had to be delivered by horse and cart and it took three months to do so. Anyway, I can see why they gave it but I’ve never seen that given, and the grabbing of arms, pressing on the top of players shoulders so they can’t jump and all the other clever ways that players deceive officials in a crowded penalty area makes me wonder why this decision was made. Not wanting to be unnecessarily controversial but it seemed like they wanted to find something wrong with that goal and so they searched for it. It is even more frustrating when an absolute stonewall penalty is looked at and denied when Saka was bundled over. Again, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if they enjoyed denying Arsenal that penalty kick. They were awfully quick to decide that there was ‘nothing to see here.’

Saka PK call

Oh, I wish that VAR was never invented.

I would say that at least 3/4 of every goal that I watch in all the games that I watch, I am unsure as to whether I need to celebrate or simply react.

Most football games are won by one goal, and all that pent-up energy, frustration, joy, and all the other emotions that we experience explode in that one moment. Now that moment has been largely taken away because we aren’t sure if it actually is ‘the moment’ at all.

It’s honestly like VAR was designed by somebody that wanted to ruin the football experience.

If I liked football, I might walk away from it because of this. Thankfully, I don’t like it, I love it, and always have since I was a little boy and so I’m now stuck watching the greatest game on earth, but not knowing if the greatest part of the greatest game has even happened.


I am currently in a season of insanity in my life. Going to three countries in one month as well as the start of my high school soccer season and now managing my son’s soccer team too. Occasionally, I’ll remember to breathe, but not much.

I can’t pretend that this is a burden, because I’m such a blessed man, just tired.

One of the greatest blessings in my life is having the opportunity to positively influence 22 young men. I organized a soccer retreat at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, and I’ve been sitting on the couch most of the day writing this, as they entertain themselves with whatever the modern day teenager entertains themselves with. I’m placing a lot of trust in what is happening downstairs in the game room, the swimming, pool, the movie theater and the sauna.

If I would’ve been given this opportunity as a kid, I would’ve caused havoc. These are good boys though. 

I introduced them to Arsenal today. The average American soccer player doesn’t watch the game. They just watch whatever makes it onto TikTok, Instagram, or FIFA including the incredibly bizarre computer generated image of Arteta that FIFA 2023 has produced. Some of you gamers will know what I’m saying.

MMcD Chilling on the couch

I’m really looking forward to Wednesday. I think Arsenal might just thrash Everton. I think they were really upset at themselves for the performance they put in against them a few weeks ago.

This fixture could actually end up, looking like the one that won the league. The day when we had a game in hand and that game came around after having that game in hand for longer than you should ever keep a game in your hand.

Time to get out the spanking paddle, Arsenal.


No pod today, unfortunately – but previous pods are always available for that rainy day when you have nothing to do. 🙂


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4 Responses to Creation 1 Denial 3: Arsenal holds off Arsenal in Leicester domination [LEI 0-1 ARS] (Positive Needs & Hopes)

  1. Bob February 26, 2023 at 11:04 am #

    Watching on tv from another country is not analysis. I was actually at the game. Arsenal cheated for 45 mins as soon as they scored – they time wasted for the entire half at least 20 minutes should have been added on. Dives, every stop in play was 30-60 seconds minimum wastage. One bit of play for two free kicks took arsenal 10 minutes. Players regularly deciding to have a lie down get the physio on. Embarrassing for a team top of the league. hope Man City win the league – they don’t resort to these tactics.

  2. Andy February 26, 2023 at 2:09 pm #

    Mike, once again thanks for the insightful analysis.

    Just wondering if those implements on the wall in the picture are part of your on pitch training?

  3. Francis Redemi February 26, 2023 at 5:35 pm #

    Hello Mikey Mike,

    Great analysis and insight into the match yesterday.

    I was so angry with Martinelli taking the easy option & passing back and not making the pitch bigger by always cutting in and refusing to use his left foot. I also felt he takes a lot of touches and not really instantaneous in his overall play.

    Sara also needs to play with the #9 and sometimes look to create rather than look to score majority of the time.

    Jorginho was outstanding and a capable deputy for Partey who many fans would be happy to see him back.

    Lokonga played well against Liverpool in the Xhaka position and should be trusted to play as an 8 when he hopefully comes back from his loan.

    My regards to your family and your team.

  4. Melvyn Marks February 27, 2023 at 11:15 am #

    Really enjoyed this article Mike. Although Xhaka may have returned to his previous form, for producing defence spliting passes, I would prefer Jorginho in his new forward position.

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