One team went in, and another team came out (Positives Needs & Hopes)[ARS 0-2 AVL]

One team went in, and another team came out

An Arsenal blog from a coach’s perspective

Well, well well. What to make of that?

I actually had time to write this blog on Sunday after the game, but my balloon didn’t just deflate, it felt like it had popped.

Just a feeling, I know. It’s not based on fact either. City just have to draw one game and we still have the superior goal difference. I suppose the pain was unexpected and that’s why the big, bright red and white balloon that has been rising and rising feels like somebody shot it down.

It’s also the inevitability of Manchester City at this time of year. We are starting to experience what Liverpool have had to deal with more than us when you can get nearly 100 points and still not win the league in England.

I’ve been trying to find perspective over the last 24 hours, so as to write this with a rational head. If we do end up winning the league then we would have a claim to be the current best team in the world. Any team that wins this league has that claim whether it is true or not. So is what we are feeling actually a first world problem and we are spoilt? I mean we’ve just started 2024 in almost faultless fashion and fixed every problem we had. It is just one game.

If I may, I think that I speak for quite a few people in that it wasn’t necessarily the fact that we lost. You can lose games that you deserve to win or that you are unfortunate in. You can have a poor period in the game like Sunday, but at this stage of the season you cannot fall asleep for 45 minutes.

What is also so difficult to understand is what on earth happened in the second half?

We’ve all done push-ups/press-ups.. Push-ups are are a weird phenomenon in that you can feel so strong and indestructible and then all of a sudden your arms lock and when you thought you were going from 35 to 135 you simply can’t even get to 36.

I think that I am refusing to admit that we could be facing the same problem that reared it’s very ugly head last season. That our group mentality is not strong enough yet for these final weeks.

It’s most certainly one of the most obvious potential answers because it’s happened before and even though we think that our players are superhuman, they aren’t.

Arsenal could be dealing with the yips.  Starting to feel the heaviness of expectation. It could also be fatigue? Even though we’ve played less minutes than our rivals that doesn’t mean that we aren’t feeling heavy legged. Much like the push-ups though, at half time if you would’ve told me that we were about to go from collectively looking energetic and alive to a team that looked like somebody just told the group that Win the dog had gone missing.

I said last week that Arsenal might need to spend more time off the training field and with the sporting psychologist, and I meant it. We’ve been playing like a team with loose shoulders and we need to address this before it becomes irreversible.

This situation is most certainly fixable though. We do have enough leaders and we have plenty of motivation. Our talent isn’t the problem and blaming one or two players is not the solution either.

The team that went into the changing room at half time looked like a different team that came out. As much as Zinchenko didn’t help and Jesus’ end product is not good, it was a collective problem rather than individual lack.

I have to say that the stadium emptying when Bailey scored their first goal really doesn’t help. I’ve seen the lower tier in the east and west stand run for their life when torrential rain comes, but the exodus really doesn’t help when we are trying to locate energy.

As I tried to solve a problem that I only know so much about, is again what I mentioned last week. It takes me back to raising my wonderful daughter, EllieAnn.

Halfway through her childhood, she was diagnosed with an auto immune disease. Up until that point she had had a fairly straightforward life. More pointedly, she was successful at whatever she did. My wife and I had a conversation when the possibility of EllieAnn stepping away from basketball and football because of her health. EllieAnn wanted to continue and we were trying to be wise. One of the reasons that we decided to keep her in sport was that we felt that God was teaching her the fantastic life lesson of how to deal with adversity. That fairly straightforward life even for a child needed to understand that bumps come for all of us and that she needed to have the tools when she hit another bump. It was one of our better parenting decisions, and now EllieAnn is a super strong lady and even though her life could be easier she at least has access and methods to deal with the tougher times.

Being honest, Arsenal up until the last week, have not faced true adversity this season. They have lost the odd game and dropped points, but doing that in the first half of the season isn’t even close to terminal and can be fixed. It just doesn’t feel the same. We are now in the part of the season where you can’t mess around and every mistake is illuminated.

So, is it fair to say that this is as much a part of the process as learning to be defensively organized? City and especially Liverpool have lost big games as part of their process to get to where they achieved Premier League and Champions League glory. They weren’t in the hole that Arsenal were in when Mikel took over. Their journey has been different. Our hole was deeper and our rise has been quicker.

This is certainly some comfort today because as disappointed as we are we have to also learn to be understanding. Again, what Arsenal are trying to do could have them labeled as the best team in the world in mid May and that would honestly be seen in the list of football moments as the sort of achievement that books are written about.

The final truth is that this feels like the penultimate game of the season. That Manchester City simply have to beat West ham at home and they’ve won the league and that we blew it. That is not what has happened. Two of the toughest fixtures in the Premier League this season have been Fulham away and Brighton away. They have been difficult for everybody apart from us. Tottenham are City’s nemesis and so let’s remember not to overreact, especially as the coaching staff are spending the next two days returning the players to positivity and it really doesn’t help Arsenal Football Club if we are negative.


Kai Havertz:

Changing Kai‘s position may have been a problem with automatisms as Jesus is an agent of chaos and not predictable, but it didn’t seem to mess it up. Alongside Odegaard, he was our best player. Now that his football life has settled, you can see what Arteta is trying to do with him at left eight. You can see what a huge threat he is there. You can see the plan. Regardless of what happens this season, that performance alone gives me a serenity over the need to upgrade in this area. Alongside his energy and physical effort, which are remarkably consistent, it was his movement and Arteta’s tactical plan in how to take advantage of Aston Villa’s high line. Repeatedly, he was making runs from 5 yards off their line in behind. The runs were timed to perfection and when his confidence in front of goal matches his footballing intelligence, we will simply have the best left eight in the Premier League. A player capable of everything. Fast, good in the air, hard-working, serene and composed, fantastic, footballing intelligence off the ball and consistency.

We need to look to the story of Kai Havertz as an example of how patience and encouragement and a very funny song have brought the best out of a player who was arguably seen as the worst signing of the summer based on his transfer fee and mediocre performances. Arsenal can rebound just like he has


Perhaps there should be another award in football. Maybe it should be the ‘Playground award.’ Harkening back to the days where it was break time and we hustled to pick teams and the same kid got chosen first every time. Why? Because he was the best footballer. Simple as that. There is now an argument that Martin Odegaard is the best footballer in the Premier League. The one that would get picked first in the playground. This tag is best described by a player who primarily understands the game better than the others and secondly he can execute at a high-level on a consistent basis. Not a moody player. Not an inconsistent player. A difference maker. I went to a school called JFK in Hemel Hempstead and everybody wanted Marc Liburd on their team. We all called him Flymo. I think back to why everybody wanted Marc on their team and it sums up Odegaard too. Subconsciously we want a footballer on our team that can win it for us all by himself. Not necessarily a dribbler as that phrase suggests but a player who has magic in their boots.

The modern millennial fan has a tendency to follow players rather than a team. Not all but many, especially here in the States, where the culture promotes this. If I didn’t support a team, I’d support Martin Odegaard.


I just saw this.

This is the amount of points dropped in 2024.

Arsenal 5

City 6

Liverpool 7

Did City and Liverpool fans throw in the towel after they lost? Maybe because there are idiots everywhere but whatever tournament you are trying to win in football it isn’t a one game affair. None of them are. The least is winning the League Cup, and I know that there are seven needed to win the FA Cup. Anyway, my point being that what happened on Sunday is normal. It is part of it. The way it happened was definitely odd and depressing but it’s important to breathe before you use your thumbs I think.


He seems to be regaining his best form. Not there yet, but he certainly looks like he is trying. I think this is evidenced by willingness to keep improving and I see that in his movement off the ball.

It’s important that we remember that there are so many ways to win football games. We could be absolutely terrible against Wolves and have a Saka moment and win the game. Nobody would really care about the terrible, so players like him become more important.


It doesn’t seem like it now but that first half had many glimpses of ArtetaBall. Quick movement on and off the ball, Pro active movement with accurate passing to the correct foot with one player in each vertical zone. Rotating players dragging opponents into areas they wish not to go and calm accurate finishing. This will get lost but it happened. I’m sure Mikel will remind them of this because if we do this for two halves, we win.



This is a graphic to show the last six results that we’ve had when we started Zinchenko at left back and Havertz at left eight. I’m fully aware that this could mean nothing and these are only two players involved in a game of 11 men.


I think it’s worth consideration though because we don’t drop many points these days, and there might be a pattern as to when we do.

Sliding doors moments:

It seems kind of worthless trying to evaluate Trossard’s miss. It wasn’t good, but probably more of a good save than a bad miss. Probably.

There was another sliding doors moment in the game that has been missed.

Image 1

This one.

It was so strange, because Odegaard was playing so very well. He is the main one with an eye for this pass. It was such an Arsenal thing to do though. Only have one through ball opportunity in the game, which has needed to be corrected for years, and ignore it. So very frustrating and it’s somewhat embodies the game itself.

Saka actually had four opportunities for the ball in behind and to be fair to Odegaard he played one which was a beauty. Great to see Saka doing this because it’s his biggest need of improvement but we need to be looking for this as that is likely the easiest opportunity we will get.

Jesus and Zinchenko:

A short while ago, you might remember my outlandish idea to have Gabriel Jesus play left eight. I still stand by this.

It looks unlikely that he will be the starting center forward next season and he still has so much to offer. He is a guy that is going to get you between five and 10 goals a season, if fully fit, and not to be relied upon as he gets over excited in the penalty area. I found this statistic that I thought was interesting even though it’s not great.

IMG 4444

I maintain that although there are elements of the striker position that he is very good at, and some that he is elite at, but that he could still bring these qualities in another area of the field and not have the burden of goalscoring. If you talk to Granit Xhaka and compare how he felt about his goalscoring responsibility and how Kai Havertz or Gabriel Jesus feel, I think you would get a very different answer. One player would tell you that he ‘hopes’ to get between five or 10 goals this season, and the other will tell you that he ‘has’ to get 12+. We might actually find that Jesus would score double the amount of goals if the burden was lifted from him. He looks burdened by this yet absolutely does not play the rest of his game as if he is burdened.

In typical fashion, I have come up with another cheeky idea…

I think everybody would agree that Zinchenko is a very good footballer, but he is ideally not a full back.

I do love him as in the inverted fallback and we can’t pretend that it hasn’t worked because he has been pivotal in our development. If you look at his skill set the defensive elements are very few. He is outstanding in the air, especially for his height and extremely comfortable on the ball which in the modern game is very important. The rest of it he is either OK or a liability. I think that his skill set is far more suited to wear Martin Odegaard plays. I think he would flourish. He has very similar technical levels to Odegaard and his absolute strength is his passing ability. I would imagine, if played in this position, that he is equally as capable as Odegaard in front of goal, because he’s arguably the most technical player at Arsenal. If he isn’t, then it’s Odegaard that he’s tied with.

I wonder if Mikel already knows this? That he is willing to have him play as the inverted left back and is OK with the risk and reward. He would be at least a good option as a back up on both sides.

As a central midfielder for the Ukraine he has similar defensive responsibilities but in the PL his positioning is one of his weaknesses.

Image 2

He did this twice on Sunday. In a side as well organized as Arsenal, you really stand out and as you can see in the image, Ollie Watkins knows he is available if they look up.

Would love to know your thoughts on my idea of Zinchenko as a back up to Odegaard?


Well, what an opportunity missed for one or more of the substitutes. Your team is either fatigued, depressed, or simply cannot get back into the game, and here you come. Whether you be Smith-Rowe, Eddie or Martinelli you have the opportunity to be a hero. You should bring a fresh energy because there’s absolutely zero excuse for not having that. You should have ‘give me the ball and give it to me again’ attitude. All three of them have this capability, particularly Martinelli and Smith Rowe. I did however get an uncomfortable vibe from them that they were just out there to get the ball when it was given to them. No desire to put on the cape and change our fortunes. That is not an expectation for a substitute because that would be too heavy but there is an expectation when you are losing or even drawing, that you would at least try.

This might be one of the reasons that ESR moves on in the summer, because there are other very talented footballers, who are simply more demanding. Martinelli is normally this way. I was so upset after the game seeing laughing and joking with Diego Carlos. Players should learn to at least fake that they are devastated like the fans, even just for their sake. This really rubbed me up the wrong way.


Gabriel Heinze:

Very interesting to see that Arteta is interested in Heinze joining the coaching staff. I wonder if this is to replace Airpod Albert or Carlos Cuesta who are getting offers from elsewhere. I fully trust Arteta’s judgement but pine for Santi Cazorla. That will happen (I am speaking it into existence) when Santi retires.


IMG 4459

Like you, I am thrilled for Granit Xhaka. You have to admire any human who shows sacrifice. He played in a system that exposed him for so long under Wenger and only got to flourish for a while at Arsenal. Such a shame as he was obviously a much better player than we even think. If he was played to his personal strength for the entirety of his career at Arsenal, he could be up with Tony Adams as far as impact and leadership.

Even though he is in his prime to go and sign for any new team in a new league and be a candidate for Player of the Season as a passing midfielder is quite incredible. His goal to secure the game on Saturday was typical Xhaka. Such wonderful technique in one of the most underrated left feet in the modern era.


Max has lots of thoughts this week. Some are his Dad’s too.

Carlos and Watkins:

Ollie Watkins is a very interesting player. On some level I think he is exactly what we need. His main strength being his efficiency in front of goal and reliability in this area. The rest of his game is probably Aston Villa level. I guess it depends what the club want.

Max disagrees with me on this but I really liked Diego Carlos at Sevilla and he was probably MOTM on Sunday. Extremely fast, built like an American Football player amongst other interesting qualities. I doubt Villa would sell but he’s worth consideration.


His agent has just tried to nudge Arsenal to go for him. Saying that we are his best option, but that we won’t put the money down. He may still be an option and we may just be playing the game because his agent is correct in that we are the best option for him.

I’m sure agent demands are also an issue with Arsenal.

If he really is our preferred choice, then it could be a long summer whilst we watch the dance.

According to Gunnerblog, a left back is a priority for Arsenal this summer. I wonder if it will be a traditional left back that overlaps rather than inverts? Or just a version of Zinchenko that is better defensively? I wonder about Theo Hernandez at AC Milan, Grimaldo at Leverkusen, Ait-Nouri at Wolves, and even Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich. If I was to take a guess I’d say that we may opt for Miguel Gutierrez at Girona. I think he fits the description of a more defensively capable version of Zinchenko, as he plays centrally more than on the left. Quite lovely footballer to watch. With big bucks being spent at striker and winger, a cheaper option might be what we have to do.

Florian Wirtz:

If I was him I’d stay at Leverkusen. I think the whole team should because if you leave a coach like Pep, Arteta or Xabi Alonso, I don’t think you would be satisfied with your next coach. He is likely going to be a candidate for best player in the world in a year or two. He is the sort of player that you buy if you have a chance because he’s just better and young too. He plays as an attacking midfielder and would be such an amazing purchase if Arsenal could pull it off. I think City go hard for Wirtz or Musiala. Whichever they don’t get, Arsenal should try for.

The German national team has been in disarray for a few years but with these two they have a legitimate chance of winning the Euros even if their team isn’t quite at their level simply because they are already both in the top 5 attacking midfielders in Europe. If you haven’t seen Florian Wirtz, treat yourself to the variety of what he offers which is…….. everything. He turns defenders into pretzels with his ability to twist and turn. His passing is top level, he is a huge goalscoring threat and he is a willing modern player that has game appreciation for the off ball game.


Another PL centre back option is Murillo at Forest. A very unique centre back that almost plays like a frustrated midfielder. Very similar hero-like defender to Gabriel. Very similar build to Diego Carlos and Arsenal are interested. Forest have had points deduction issues so may have to sell.


Never has the positivity been needed more than this week. If we win in Munich, then we may make history. If we don’t, then we are still capable of winning the Premier League, which would be an unbelievable achievement.

Nothing but positivity needed. I wish I could explain this to the numpties on social media though.

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4 Responses to One team went in, and another team came out (Positives Needs & Hopes)[ARS 0-2 AVL]

  1. RedSky April 16, 2024 at 1:26 pm #

    Enjoyable and enlightening read as always, Mike. It was disappointing (to say the least) to be jostled in the stadium by fans making a rushed exit at 0-1. Before 15 minutes of that second half I’d decided we needed subs to change whatever had happened since the turn. I’d hoped for Partey, ESR and Martinelli. My neighbour’s view (not uncommon) was that “Partey is too rusty – needs game time”. We miss many dimensions of his game, even when Declan is playing. Any thoughts on him over the rest of the season? I’d put Zinchenko at 8 ahead of Vieira but I don’t think Mikel will. I don’t know how you find the time to do your scouting research, it’s impressive. A win on Wednesday night will/would be magnificent and, at our best, it can e achieved.

  2. allezkev April 16, 2024 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks for that Mike, I did hear somebody on a podcast suggest that Villa (h) was the hardest game we had from the last 7 (as it was) because they were the best team and best coached team out of those we had left to face.

    And I guess if you think about Man Utd are a shambles and Tottenham are schizophrenic in nature, you never know who’s going to turn up. It’s in our heads really because both OT and WHL have been difficult venues for us regardless of the state of the home team and that’s how we view those matches. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

    The Fat Lady isn’t singing yet but we’ve got no wiggle room and my confidence in the remaining opponents of Man City is snakes belly proportions.

    Regarding the crowd leaving early, I do have a certain sympathy – the transport services around the Emirates are poor, I doubt that American sports fans would tolerate them, two stations: Holloway Road and Drayton Park have never been upgraded and are not available at the end of a game so you have to stand in an enormous queue to access a train. Not a great experience following a gut wrenching defeat and if it’s raining.

    As for accessing the Emirates by road, it’s hopeless, you have to park miles away if you can park at all and if you chance it, you then have to sit in endless traffic jams as the London Borough Councils of Islington and Hackney have closed off access to so many side streets making an escape to the east or south impossible.

  3. Andy April 16, 2024 at 11:26 pm #

    Hasn’t adversity always been the Arsenal way? or perhaps its just that we always make it difficult for ourselves. If I remember rightly we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times before we won the 1989 league at Anfield. Big players rise to the occasion and all through this team we have big players. Not just good players but winners. Glad to hear EllieAnn overcame. As a dad myself I know how worrying it is.

    Bless you Mike and may your blog for the next game be full of joy

  4. Wicked Willy April 21, 2024 at 6:46 pm #

    I remember when Wirtz broke through, I was SO excited about him. I’ve kind of just left him sitting on the shelf of my awareness, but seeing that video gives me erious vibes. Feet like DB10 and Berbatov, through balls like Cesc/Mesut. Can’t see them letting him go, but he would be SENSATIONAL.

    I do believe we’ve got BIG money to spend this summer. I think we need a midfield four of Rice, Odegaard, FDJ and then one of Musiala/Wirtz/Simons.

    Add a winger (am praying for Rodrygo, but expecting Nico), and a quality defender and we are flying.

    I’m also starting to lean towards Vlahovic up front.

    Exciting times…

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