The score and the game: it’s a matter of perspective [ARS 2-1 NFO] (Positives Needs & Hopes)

The score and the game 

An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective

A fan’s perspective:

We want to win

We want entertainment 

A coach’s perspective:

We need 3 points

We want our game plan to work

We want to make progress as a group

We would prefer to entertain, if the game allows

I think it’s important that we remember that a coach, and therefore the players, see the game differently.

Watching the Forest game, I felt very content with what I was watching. Actually, I thought that for the first game, it was as close to what you would hope for as you could get. Let me explain.

The formation is settled and allows automatisms which is the obvious difference between Arsenal and most others.

The strategy to play four ball playing defenders allowed for home domination. Again, as fans we expect to have most of the ball against Forest but we had over 80% in the first half. That’s beyond expectations.

The strategy to have Partey fall back into the back three and Rice pull wider to the left side allowed Odegaard, Havertz and Saka to be a dominant feature. BS and MO were running the show and as they are our main two creators then this is vital.

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The way we dealt with turnovers was the most impressive aspect of our game. More often than not when we lost possession, we won it straight back. Havertz isn’t getting much recognition yet but he repeatedly does this. Rice is a sneaky thief. He positions himself to encourage the pass and then pounces.

This area of the game causes broken play and will be the big difference maker against better teams that aren’t as focused or organized as we are.  This might actually be the best part of our game as a team. Even City aren’t as good at this. They specialize in constant tactical and rotational fouling, rather than actually winning the ball back legally.

It’s not fair to ignore the fact that Ramsdale (bar the Brennan Johnson chance) could’ve brought his deck chair and had an hour long nap. Our defending throughout the team was very good. Martinelli is the best at recovering the ball in the whole league and he led the way even though it’s normally midfielders that are supposed to lead the way. Constant recoveries or interceptions. Made to look straightforward. This is absolutely not straightforward. It’s lots of good recruiting, practice and positioning.

The fact that Arsenal made this look easy was almost a problem. A problem on both sides of the ball.

Scoring wasn’t easy but the rest most certainly wasn’t difficult. Arsenal are at a place now where their structure and quality gives them so many options that some games will seem easy.

I think that what we saw against Forest wasn’t complacency or an intentional act of stepping off the gas but the game sure looked like one of those that was 2–0 at half time and was going to end up being 2–0 or 3-0 at the end. Because it was.

Arsenal just need to be aware of this. A reminder that even though the game seemed more like a 5-1 affair, that football can be cruel and one good pass or one imperfect first touch can encourage the opponent and entirely change the game.

I have a Bournemouth friend who once told me this when I was complaining about an Arsenal victory that wasn’t as rampant as I expected….

“I’d love to be as upset as you.”


  • I’ve loved watching Odegaard and Saka’s relationship grow. I’d say that this is the most dangerous part of our team. I’ve noticed since pre-season that Odegaard is picking and choosing when he stays on the right side and when he vacates. Both work. What they’ve figured out is that when there is only one defender on Saka, Odegaard steps away and leaves him one on one. Clever.
  • Martinelli is a reactive dribbler. His hunched over style is him watching the body movements of the defender. If the defender goes the wrong way for a split second that is his invitation. I think that he is better than Saka at the short cross and I remember last season feeling sorry for him that we seemed to miss so many opportunities when he put good balls into great areas. I think he trusts his left foot more than Saka trusts his right, but like my Bournemouth friend would tell me, “I think you’re spoilt.” Martinelli was more effective defending against Forest, and I think we probably did not give him enough of the ball for him to continue tearing their right back apart.
  • Declan Rice is growing and growing in a smart way. He looks like he’s on the precipice of being the headline. Ultimately for three points, the coach simply wants each player to do his part. Rice is yet to go above and beyond, even though he is capable, but he seems like he’s on the precipice of showing us the ‘extra.’ He had more chances in the game than the others and seemed a little quicker to take what he was given. His shooting from distance is a feature, and he’s getting closer. Our opponents do not yet recognize this danger as they are used to the Declan Rice of West, Ham, who just sat between the circles and is now lingering inside and outside the penalty area.
  • Leo Trossard refuses to not make a difference. This is either a character trait, or simply a determination to be noticed. He will get his rewards I’m sure. You can’t consistently make such an obvious difference and be ignored in the long term.
  • Eddie Nketiah has made a bit of a breakthrough. He is still a little 7 out of 10 each game for me, but I’ve noticed an important change. I’ve said for years that he lacks emotion. That he lacks desire and fire. There were a few moments where he decided to drink the same milkshake as Trossard. He’s drinking and try to make a difference in a situation where there was a little hope. His reward was having his name cheered as he left the field which hasn’t happened hardly at all for him in his career at Arsenal to date. The fact that he has scored 14 goals in 16 starts at the Emirates Stadium has to mean something, right?

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  • To take his game to the next level, Saka needs to be a superhero. I think that this is what we will see this season. If I was his coach, I would teach him to be dissatisfied. Some games are petering away and need a superhero. Some games are so tight and need a superhero. Sometimes seem hopeless and need a superhero. I would challenge him to be that man. He has the talent. To simply refuse to lose. To be willing to put the team on his back. The greatest players in any sport do this. They turn the tide or back themselves as their standards are higher. We are seeing this in the United States with the arrival of Messi. Inter Miami were bottom of the league and are now unbeaten since he arrived. I know that he is supremely talented, but when you watch the game you just see a guy that says, ‘No. We aren’t simply waiting until next season and starting again. We are going to win tonight and then we are going to win on Wednesday. Then we will win on Saturday and if we’re losing next Thursday, then just keep giving me the ball and I will make sure that we win. I do wonder if Saka has this healthy anger in him. I think that if I want to believe in anyone at Arsenal, his lovable nature makes me believe he will get there.
  • I’m a fan of Nicolas Jover’s corner kick idea. I think it causes panic. Simple inswinger into the heart of the danger area. Now that we have a much taller team, I’m sure that we will score quite a few from this strategy. It’s almost a childlike idea of believing that if you put the ball right in front of the frame, then the first player to touch it either scores or clears it. I think that would be correct and I expect some of our mountains to win a few for sure.
  • Havertz had a nearly game. Our perception of his performance would’ve been different if Eddie would’ve passed his goal to Havertz who was totally alone at the back post. Also, in the 45th minute when White overlapped and cut it back to a Forest player, Havertz was again alone at the back post for a tap-in. If one or both of those go to him, then he is the hero in the headline. We are going to have to adapt to having a midfielder regularly in that area. He is getting criticized because he played for Chelsea, seems fairly emotionless and therefore not got the loveability factor and is not an eye-catching player with razzle dazzle like many that we have.


  • It does seem that there is a trend with elite coaches. They are not huge fans of change through substitution quite like the others. There is a positive in this, as it certainly shows a trust in the players that they have selected. I do wonder if it is also a stubbornness and a little bit of ego. Arteta has most certainly transformed Arsenal, and is the single largest positive at the club in my opinion. If there is anything that is erratic about him, it is his substitutions. Some days they are effective and others they are too late or absent.
  • To put Forrest away I think there needed to be the occasion for tempo change. The tempo was slow and careful throughout the entire game, which to be fair, led to 87% possession, which is quite remarkable. There is a balance however, with a little more risk and occasion for the tempo needing to be raised to some more one touch combinations in the final third.
  • Should Arsenal have tried to kill the game in the second half? I think to be fair for about half of the second half our strategy of just slowing the game down and constantly recycling the ball looked like a fantastic strategy. My mentality as a coach has always been as follows… Aways use the first 20 minutes of each half to attack and play with high energy. If you’ve just spent your pre-match and half time talks getting the players hyped up, then why would you want them to go out and let air out of the balloon. At home in particular if the crowd are already highly energized then it doesn’t take much from your team to get them to be the 12th man. The mentality is also that if you do this at the beginning of each half and you go behind, then you have time to recover. Getting control of the game and then you can cool it down and manage it rather than panic and chase it.
  • Saka is quick. We see this every 10 minutes of every game. How fast is he though? It’s rare we see him sprint over 15+ yards. Arsenal are not really a strong counter attacking team so we don’t see it much there but it’s defensively that I have a small concern. I know that he was tired and I thought that he needed to be subbed with about 15 minutes left, but his effort to get back when Forest scored was about 75%. I watched it again and I’m reminded that this is his usual defensive effort. I think he could do more.


  • I think that the new referee initiatives are good and right. I also think that they have been chosen because the standard of refereeing is too low and the respect that the players have for the referees is even lower. It’s interesting that all of the initiatives are about treating the referee correctly. If it were me, I would prioritize other areas. Tactical fouling, rotational failing, and the utterly ridiculous ice rink of the penalty area where defenders have to now chop their arms off or are trying to perform that dance when you put your arms behind your back. Maybe it’s line dancing. I should know, I live next to Nashville. I’d fix these first, but hey ho.
  • Marcus Edwards as Saka’s back up. There’s a rumour. Former Spurs player that didn’t really play for Spurs, who is now excelling in Portugal for the team that knocked us out of the Europa. Electric and well balanced winger he would be initially quite devastating as an impact substitute. I have been getting the feeling that Arteta wants to try to utilize Vieira as his alternate, but I think his lack of pace would shut us down on that side of the field to too many areas of attack.

    marcus edwards - Google Search

  • I’d love to keep Kieran Tierney. If I was making a decision though it will be harder. I think he has a role in many games as a closer as he is a very solid defender. Is that worth not getting 30 million though?
  • Forest’s goal should’ve been disallowed. I think there is an argument as to whether the Forest attacker deliberately clattered his head into Havertz’s face, but deliberate or not he missed the ball and it was way too overly aggressive. I often think that it is way too easy for the officials and the VAR to ignore what goes on at a corner because it’s honestly like group wrestling and you could probably give one of seven infractions.


Well, I am definitely satisfied with what I saw. I would hope that when I go back to work as a teacher after the summer holidays that there is some grace from my boss and that he doesn’t go in with a 2 foot sliding tackle if I make a mistake or am not quite the teacher that I am capable of being at the very beginning of the school year. I’m finishing up writing this as I’m watching Chelsea v Liverpool. If I supported either of these clubs, I would be far more concerned. This is like a game of basketball and not just any kind of basketball. One of those ones in the NBA where the players take attacking seriously but defending is an afterthought.

This is going to be another good season.

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10 Responses to The score and the game: it’s a matter of perspective [ARS 2-1 NFO] (Positives Needs & Hopes)

  1. Ian August 14, 2023 at 10:41 am #

    That’s an outstanding summary, Mike. You put many of my thoughts ‘on paper’ very effectively and muster thoughtful insights that had passed me by. A big “Yes” from me to pretty much all you say herein, particularly Bukayo as our Superhero and Rice on the precipice (his play was a long way ahead of where I expected it would be). Marcus Edwards ‘hope’ sounds good – but isn’t impact sub primarily why we resigned Reiss Nelson?

    The goal lost on Saturday is likely to be a primary feature of focus in training today and so, may be something of a blessing in retrospect as Arteta will see it as something that mustn’t happen again.

  2. allezkev August 14, 2023 at 10:47 am #

    I unfortunately missed the game and selective highlights on Match of the Day tell you pretty much zero regarding the balance of the game, but like you I saw some other football and the mistakes made by referees are simply appalling, the linesman is basically pointless, he has no real authority anymore and it makes me wonder if you really need top referees running the line if all you need is a fellow raising his flag to the order of VAR, maybe a class 2 referee would do the trick (obviously not of course)? But you make a great point regarding the rule changes and how they’re taking subjective decision making away from officials who seem uncomfortable at making a decision based on their own ability, so yes, leave it to VAR or struck instructions from above and just be an automaton.

  3. allezkev August 14, 2023 at 10:49 am #

    strict instructions

  4. Andy August 14, 2023 at 11:20 am #

    Welcome to the new season Mike. I always look forward to your take on the game as you see things that I don’t notice. I thought we lacked urgency in the second half and didn’t have the energy to step it up even when Trossard came on. I think your spot on about the subs.

  5. allezkev August 15, 2023 at 1:16 am #

    I only heard about this evening s game at Old Trafford but once again the officials failed lamentably to do their job, thereferee maybe has an excus3 as apparently his view was obstructed but VAR just refused to take the difficult but correct decision. Will the VAR guy face any repercussions? Unlikely… Howard Webb talks the talk but talk is cheap…

  6. Graham August 15, 2023 at 3:13 am #

    Excellent analysis.
    I do kinda disagree with your take on the second half. The psychological boost to our guys in getting a hatfull of goals would be immense – to say nothing of the effect it would have on future matches against the rest of the league. Our team has the capacity to do that against any team in the lower half of the division. Yes, MA was probably working on a tactical template; but, as Nigel W. mentioned on the Arsenal audio ‘cast – a 2-0 score is always dangerous. He was right.
    Positive goal difference will almost certainly be needed come the games in April/May.

  7. Bob August 15, 2023 at 11:33 am #

    Mike!! Thank you for sharing your thought. The boys are amazing! The fighting spirit well shown by everyone all over the game. We have depth of squad, various tactical options, and fitness level as if it is a midseason already. A very promising sign that we can deliver elite performance with consistent basis this year. Hopefully!!

  8. Francis Redheart August 15, 2023 at 3:04 pm #

    Hello Mikey,

    I loved the match because of the unpredictable nature of our XI. Havertz was good to my eyes and Rice was quietly impressive as well.

    The sad thing was Timber getting injured when he was signed for this kind of situation. Wish him all the best

  9. Michael Harris August 16, 2023 at 7:20 pm #

    Great stuff as Per Mike!

  10. Dennis the Menace August 17, 2023 at 9:14 pm #

    Thanks for another great article Mike. It’s great analysis. I wonder how Arteta will respond in-game when teams react tactically to the inverted left back. For example, the opposition playing a 4-4-2 but with two deep strikers so that one can cover Zinchenko and meaning the rest of the team can still double up on Martinelli or Saka. I guess this is where Arteta makes a tactical change by either asking White to invert on the opposite side or brings on Partey to do that. Or does he perhaps simply do nothing and let Rice, Odegaard and Havertz dominate the midfield using both their own positional play and the natural opportunities that the opposition’s use of a 4-4-2 allows?

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