And so we continue to climb slowly out from the trough of despond into which we had descended after the first three games of the season.
A splendid Martin Odegaard free kick was enough to secure the points away at Burnley yesterday in an unspectacular game during which our forward line failed to fire on all cylinders.
Afterwards Mikel Arteta commented on the fact that Burnley had not mown the pitch prior to the game, meaning that the grass was longer than it should be for a typical EPL fixture.
Longer-than-usual grass will play havoc with a team that likes to play the ball on the ground (a team like, er, Arsenal), but will have less of a negative impact on a team that likes to pump long balls into the box (such as, er, Burnley).
If this really was an issue it may go some way to explaining the very obvious failings in our attack.
Numerous times in the game we created lovely moves and opened up Burnley only for the final pass to be overhit or underhit.
We can only assume that our players were trying to navigate the unreliable pace of the ball across the surface, but had a few of those passes found their mark I am confident we would have had at least one extra goal, maybe more.
But while our attackers struggled, our defence turned in an excellent performance as a unit against a tough, physical Burnley side.
Both Gabriel and White stood up really well to the attempted physical intimidation of Burnley’s lumpen strikers Wood (so named because he resembles a wardrobe) and Barnes (so named because he’s built like a barn).
Gabriel in particular looks the sort of powerful defender who is capable of meeting any physical challenge and, at only 23, his career ceiling is very high.
Elsewhere Tomayisu had another good game, winning all his aerial duels and covering his position well and Tierney, although not as emphatic getting forward as he can be, was a solid anchor at left bank.
In midfield Partey did a good job of keeping us secure and helping to start attacks, while Odegaard roamed with menace, although he faded somewhat in the second half.
There were one or two moments when we got ourselves into trouble with mis-hit passes in our own defensive third (again, possibly, connected with the rolling swathes of prairie that billowed the length and breadth of the Turf Moor pitch). The worst moment was an underhit back pass from White to Ramsdale, resulting in referee Anthony Taylor awarding a penalty to Burnley.
For once, the gods of VAR chose to smile on us, as the replay showed Ramsdale had clearly got the ball before the Burnley attacker went over.
I should also mention that Taylor did well to hand out a couple of bookings to Burnley players early in the game, thereby curtailing their obvious tactic of trying get “get stuck into” us. Good refereeing, which is a rarity.
Ramsdale’s overall performance was also noteworthy: for this fan it is always a pleasure to see a goalie who commands his area and comes for crosses. We had it briefly with Emi Martinez when Leno was injured the season before last: we suddenly saw what a difference it makes when a ‘keeper catches rather than punches; when he comes off his line to dominate the box rather than standing glued to the goal line.
And now we have it again with Ramsdale. Leno is a terrific shot stopper but, based on what I have seen so far, I’ll take Ramsdale any day of the week and especially on a Saturday.
Job done. Six points from the last two games. Two clean sheets. Can we keep the run going? Let’s see… who are we playing next weekend? Aha, what a mouthwatering prospect.
A couple of weeks ago the Spuds were celebrating a league table that had them at the top and us at the bottom as if it were an actual trophy.
You can’t blame them – they’re not very familiar with what trophies look like. But even so, it’s possible that at full time next weekend we and they will be on level points. Of course, this depends on the Chavs beating them later today and on us beating them in the derby, but you never know…
Finally, some AFC Football again! Since there are no cup games at the moment or European football for us this season, it seems we are having AFC Footie withdrawal symptoms…
So today’s game is so welcome! We are playing at Burnley who is also struggling. They are not a great team by any means but they work hard – direct football, long balls, set-pieces pressure… It will be important to be present in the duels, air and on second-balls (knock downs). Ultimately, we should have enough quality and fire power to see them off but we need to start on the front foot with a lot of…Intensity (Mikel’s favourite word). Holding, El Neny probably out and Xhaka is still suspended.
I would play a 343 today with the following line-up:
It is going to come down today to (i) Ramsdale aerial capacity/commanding his box, (ii) Lokonga and AMN to protect our box on knockdown ballsm (iii) on White and Gabriel to neutralize long/direct balls and then (iv) on Tierney, Saka to stretch the defense and Auba’s ability to finish chances. If Laca were starting, then I think ESR will score but I doubt Laca will start but he will come in and be a game changer.
I can see Laca and Auba score today but I am not sure we will win…especially if we play Ode and ESR together so I can see a draw at 2-2 or a hard fought 2-1 win for us.
COYG! Let us climb the EPL table, 3 points at a time
So we have played 3 games in the EPL for 3 losses against:
Brentford: 2-0 away
Chelsea: 0-2 at home
Man City 5-0 away
So 0 point, 0 goal scored, 9 goals conceded.
Our next few games are:
Norwich at home
Tottenham at home
Palace at home
So 3 games at home against Norwich, Tottenham and Palace and 2 away at Burnley and Brighton.
Besides Tottenham, none of the team are “EPL power houses” although Brighton is improving with quality players and Norwich can be dangerous at times.
15 points to be taken and I would stay that we should expect/aim to take at least 10 points BUT if we do not win against Norwich, it could become very tough for us to catch the top half of the EPL table because others may take more points than us and the gap will widen but also because the mood around the team won’t change…until we get a convincing win. For that, I believe that the Norwich game could be a defining game in our season. Win it and you change the mood and get on an upward trajectory…otherwise, we re stuck and pressure piles on the team and Arteta…
So here is my preferred line-up if players are fit enough to start:
FGG and GB were having a debate on our tactical approach:
Under Wenger, we were clearly attack-minded and towards the end, with a clear leaning towards possession football;
Under Emery, we were tactically like a cameleon – changing according to the opponents but the idea was clearly based on quick transition football;
Under Arteta, we are still unsure. It started quite brightly as a counter-attacking team but since then, there has been vague attempts at various types of football
Ultimately, the point was that whatever the brand of football chosen, you need to also have quality players and in the last few years, our squad is not as competitive as it used to be in comparison to other EPL squads. Man City, Chelsea changed the EPL with heavy investors and Liverpool followed suite together with Man Utd. Now, other teams like Leicester, Tottenham, Everton are also investing more willingly and all of them have improved their scouting capability…At one point, we were the best at unearthing talent especially from the continent and we were also very popular because of Wenger and his type of football and his care for young players…now this has gone…
So we sit, as a team that is yet looking for its identity under Arteta. It is full of promising players but they may never fullfill their potential/talent or may decide to export it elsewhere…Who Knows? The point is that maybe, finishing in the Top 6 would be actually a fair target for us – ambitious enough but not too ambitious…Would you be surprised if:
Tier A: Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd finished above us?
Tier B: What about Leicester, Tottenham, Everton, West Ham, Aston Villa, Leeds and Wolves?
We clearly are a notch down from the City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd at the moment but what about the other 7? Can we beat them to a top 6 finish? Is our squad in terms of quality better than the Tier B teams?
On another note, seems Arteta may be willing to play with a back 3 and would be happy if he stuck to this idea for a few months…
Is that our most solid team:
Ramsdale – Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel – AMN, Partey, El Neny, Tierney – Saka, Laca, ESR?
Transfer window is over. Arsenal tops the chart in the EPL this season in terms of net spender…but then again, if you look at the pedigree of players joining clubs, you would say that Chelsea and Man Utd have done well with respectively Lukaku-Saul and Ronaldo-Sancho-Varane. On an interesting note, Chelsea have bought for roughtly 100 Mln but recouped most of their investment through the sales of players like Tomori, Zouma and Abraham for example…
Anyways – let us look at our squad:
GK: Leno, Ramsdale, Okonkwo
RB: Tomiyasu, Chambers, Soares
CB: White, Holding, Gabriel, Mari
LB: Tierney, Tavares, Kolasinac
DM: Xhaka, El Neny, Lokonga
CM: Partey, AMN
CAM: Odegaard, ESR
RFW: Saka, Pepe
LFW: Auba, Martinelli
CF: Laca, Balogun, Nketiah
How would you set-up the team given the players we have? Who will be in your starting XI when all players are fit?