AN ARSENAL VS CITY TRILOGY TO DECIDE IT ALL (MAYBE)

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It’s been a real nostalgic few days for me. I spent time in London at its wintery best, hanging with beautiful people and my Arsenal family… now I’m in New York, staying where I used to live, and it’s just a whole whoosh of feelings.

Hold on, am I writing a diary here?

Anyway, what a couple of great cities, truly, the best there is. I know this is a boring opener, but Londoners sometimes don’t appreciate how incredible their city is. That new Elizabeth Line feels like it could only exist in Tokyo or London. A feat of engineering genius, but also, an outrageously beautiful piece of design.

Anyway, ENOUGH ABOUT TUNNELS ALREADY.

Arsenal leadership are dealing with the very painful news that once again, Big Mo is out for an unspecified amount of time. I really feel for him, he’s such a good guy, no one deserves the back-to-back luck he’s had. I think he’ll get renewed regardless, which is good news.

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CUP STRATEGY, BUBBLE WRAPPED MIDFIELDERS, AND FEAR OF DARK ARTS

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The transfer window has about 6 days to go and it’s looking clearer than ever that if we want to sustain a title challenge, we are going to need to add some more bodies to the team.

We play Manchester City on Friday. If I know Mikel Arteta like you do, there’s about zero chance he’s going to give anything outside 100% to that game. Prize money is weak, we’re going to make Europa League, the manager has already won the FA Cup. It doesn’t really hold value when you’re fighting for the biggest prize in England.

… but, Mikel will no doubt believe the prize is a psychological edge.

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BEST FOOTBALL EVER – HOW WE GOT THERE (LONG READ)

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Have you been into the rival fan GCs? Lathering your artisnal smug salt into the gaping wounds of literally anyone who criticised our great club over the past 3 seasons?

Good job.

As a fan base, I hope people think we’re unbearable now, we deserve to be as annoying as Liverpool fans after a Champions League win, and as triumphant as Spurs fans were after that Audi Cup win. We’re back and it’s hard to know where to look!

I told a story on the latest podcast about going to The Rocket after the game. They had a United vs Arsenal classic on the big screen. It was circa 1997-98. I was there, watching the football back then, mesmerised by the speed, power and technical WOWness of it all. But when I watched it the other night, it felt very basic compared to the era of football we’re watching now.

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ARSENAL MONSTER UNITED (LONG READ)

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Make no mistake about it, Arsenal’s win over Manchester United wasn’t close, it wasn’t about the details, it was a good old-fashioned spanking for the ages. 63 touches in their box, 25 strikes at their goals, an xG of 3.16. All those numbers represent the best we’ve done against any team this season.

Mikel Arteta and his boys put on a masterclass for the ages, an iconic game that entertained the crowds thirsty for a victory, the atmosphere had something about it… it felt like that ‘something special’ we knew was brewing had real substance. The evening felt like a title-winning performance you look back on and point to as the moment.

That was my first game at the stadium this season, my oh my, what a game to pick. The whole of North London was electric. I’ve never wandered around before a United game and felt a mood like it. There were nerves, sure, but not the nerves of 10 years ago that festered in the pit of your stomach. No, these were the nerves that something exciting was about to happen. Ashburton Army deserves a huge amount of credit for what they do every game, but what is so striking about the ground these days is there is no singing section… it’s everyone. All game. As loud as possible. I overheard one of the guys next to me make a joke about the tannoy guy asking for people to take their seats, ‘take our seats? We haven’t taken our seats in the North Bank all season.’ Clearly the relaxing of rules is making for a better noise experience.

I won’t do play-by-play commentary of the game, but overall, the takeaway I had from the game was the only reason it felt close was two pretty lucky goals. Marcus Rashford, who genuinely looked like Thierry Henry out wide in the first 30 minutes, crashed a stunning shot past Ramsdale from outside the box. The goal of a man who is fighting for his next contract. Mad to me that United wasted a year of that player’s form on the dreadful Ronaldo idea. The second goal game from an Aaron Ramsdale mess in the box, the ball didn’t clear Lisandro, he looped a very speculative header just over Gabriel. United had 4 shots on target from 6 total and scored from two of them.

Going down against United, weirdly, was kind of what we needed at this stage of the season. Conceding against a big team, on the rise, that can defend, was the sort of challenge young players need. It didn’t take long to respond, 8 minutes in total. Zinchenko was really at the heart of the goal, playing deft vertical balls into Granit and Odegaard, the ball wound up wide with Xhaka, he weighted a perfect delivery into Eddie who had an age to fluff his lines, but instead, buried his header past De Gea.

We took the lead in the second half from Bukayo Saka, a moment that really did feel like him announcing himself as the top boy in the league. It was all him, he cut in from the wing, switched his auto-target at De Gea’s far post, and launched a missile that had no chance of missing. Luke Shaw must have felt pig sick, he stepped off him, no understanding the ramifications. Those are the moments big players set up in, we know he’s a big player, but did we know he wanted to be in the same conversations Mo Salah used to be in?

I think most of us that have a memory of football longer than 5 years understand the pattern of big games with big teams. If you are a title contender, the last 15 minutes is where you come to play. All the big teams over the years do mad things when the game looks dead. You could sense in the air that Arsenal was going to do something.  United started to fade, their defensive line dropped deeper and deeper, and Arsenal looked like sharks thrashing around a small fishing boat in a Spielberg movie.

The final moment came from Arsenal creating overloads. Tomi, Saka, and Odegaard pulled United one way, Saka found Partey in the middle, he scuffed a pass to Trossard who did well to drop deep, collect and drive forward. He picked out Zinchenko who powered towards the box, threaded a pass to an incoming Odegaard (5 players around him), his shot was miscued, but Eddie was there waiting to fox in the box it for our third. It was a weird sensation cheering, then having to wait, but my word, when they announced the goal we lost our minds.

Does any photo sum up the mentality of Arsenal this season better than this one?

So what do you take from that?

Arsenal are title contenders. We cannot escape the truth. No longer can we hide from the reality that has been BEGGING us to just be honest with the world.

It is now the halfway point of the season, we have 50 points, and a goal difference of +29. This is the youngest squad in the league showing ruthless efficiency. We’ve dealt with injuries to key players, we’ve managed an unlucky defeat, we’ve played tough away games, and we’ve broken records for points totals at this stage of the season.

This is not normal to a fanbase that has had what can only be described as an abusive relationship with hope. But look, where are the weaknesses in the squad these days? Who has a better system in the league? Is there a squad of players that look hungrier than ours? Not in my opinion.

Jurgen Klopp is so rattled he’s making negative references about Arsene Wenger. Pep G is singing our praises in the media, whilst lamenting his home support, and questioning the hunger of his expensively assembled squad.

What do you have at Arsenal? Total harmony. We have the loudest fanbase in the Premier League. Our squad is one of the most likable in world football, packed full of humble talent, everyone pulling in the same direction. There’s nothing disturbing rumbling beneath the surface.

Who wants to debate with me whether Mikel Arteta is a generational coach in 2023? Who wants to mock his sauce levels? Does anyone talk about finishing 8th anymore? No, they don’t. He’s a top 3 coach in the Premier League, he’s already better than Antonio Conte, who has been so bad at Spurs, there are reports he hasn’t been offered a new deal.

What I love so much is getting to this stage involved suffering. My favourite insight into life of late is that if you want to be part of anything truly great, personally or professionally, you have to be prepared to suffer. The current culture doesn’t accept that. You see it all around you, people that work on iconic films, on historic projects, or videogames that sell in the billions complain that work/life balance wasn’t right, or they are the victim of something hideous. That mindset, that you can be part of greatness, and not feel pain, is what drives the culture around football. I wrote extensively about what was going to happen at Arsenal, and that it would require some pain…

… it takes a few windows to get to the right squad balance.

… it takes time to acclimate players into a complex system.

… we can’t buy readymade talent, so it’ll take time for players to develop

… great teams have to suffer setbacks

… it’s better to not sign anyone than sign a player not right for the system

… some players you love won’t make it

… culture ain’t for everyone

At every step of the way, there have been outpourings of complaining because people didn’t like the suffering.

But now, there is no more suffering. The only pain we’ll feel moving forward is top-level suffering of fine margins.

Remember when everyone would get their panties in a twist over other clubs fans mocking us? Look at them now…

Mark Goldbridge thinks the blame of that result is because the Glazers didn’t spend money. Incorrect.

Chelsea fans thought spending £500m indiscriminately would keep them in the conversation, it’s done the opposite.

Spurs fans think their problems are money-related, nothing to do with hiring dinosaur managers on the decline, instead of investing in a system.

Those big clubs struggling at the moment are failing to deal with reality. Success comes with pain and throwing money at the problem is like taking painkillers for something terminal. At some point, you have to face up to the fact that to succeed you need a long-term vision and you need to suffer for it.

We suffered, we took the hit of two 8th-place finishes, and we invested in an idea. We suffered in ‘trust the process’ purgatory. But we did it the right way. Chelsea, United, and Liverpool fans don’t get that they will have to suffer as well, and even if they do everything right, they are competing against two clubs that have the best managers in the business, along with elite talent ID. It’s a great place to be.

Back to some commentary on the game.

Leandro Trossard was the preferred weapon of choice to come on to drive the game to the end. My take? He’s a lot faster than a lot of the pre-game commentators let on. He’s very two footed, he has total control of the ball, and he moves the ball at speed. I really got some strong Santi Cazorla vibes from him. His impact was key to the 3 points yesterday, I’m very excited to see what he can do for us. I’m a little worried that ESR didn’t get the nod, but I guess he’s way behind in form and probably needs some more cup games to get sharp.

There were too many top-level performances to pick a MoTM, but Zinchenko was up there. You don’t truly grasp his game and movement until you watch what he does in the ground. He’s so alert, always moving into space to make himself available. He has that unique skill of making the game look incredibly easy, like he’s dominating a 5-aside game. His passing is so precise and it has dare devel levels of verticality to it. I thought he was a nightmare for United yesterday, they couldn’t handle him packing out our midfield.

Eddie Nketiah put in a proper #9 performance. So many people came up to me after the game to say ‘how does Jesus get back in?’, it’s a good question, and it’s the sort that Mikel needed Eddie to ask of him. I wrote before his second stint in the team that people really underestimate his all-round game and his ability to learn from those around him. His United performance was best practice. He was available, he controlled the ball really well, it generally stuck to him, he was alert, I thought he looked like a man enjoying his game. Most importantly? He scored two MASSIVE goals in a MASSIVE game. 9 goals in 1200 minutes of football this season. Who is saying he shouldn’t have the #14 shirt? Who is offering that sort of value for £100k a week? Eddie isn’t in the ‘who is the best back-up’ conversation, he’s in conversations about the best strikers in the league these days. He has it all, eat it up, another elite-level Hale-Ender has hit the level.

Final talking point is our midfield. Partey, Xhaka and Odegaard. Those are three immensely talented players at the top of their game. Martin Odegaard is the best at what he does at the moment, I’ve always been impressed with his play, but yesterday, I was blown away by the driving nature of his game. He is electric, the fans stand to watch him on the ball, he was pumping the stadium like peak-Patrick at one point. £35m? What a steal. Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka are the best pairing in the league, great friends off the pitch, and superstars on it. They offer so much control and threat. Defensively, watching Partey gallop back to cover an error was spectacular. This is a combo no one saw coming, but what a delight. If there’s a danger to our season, it’s one of those two not being available for a stretch, they are indispensable.

So to close out, what an exceptional day out. That was one of the best days of football I’ve had in 20 years. It was incredible to meet so many happy people, to sit in a previously soulless Emirates and feel alive, and watch the sort of football we could only have dreamed of 3 years ago.

… and remember, we are only getting started. This squad, technically, has 4 years until it ‘should’ be winning titles.

There’s a long way to go this season, there will be bumps in the road, the media is waiting to call off our title run, so expect things to get panicky if there’s a dry 3 game run… but remember, the key is to be within spitting distance of Manchester City by the time Champions League returns. Decisions will need to be made for them on priorities, and my suspicion is the trophy eluding Pep G will consciously or subconsciously occupy more of their attention. Then we’re cooking.

Ok, long one today, our On The Whistle Podcast should be out by about 4pm GMT later. I am very sorry if you were sat on the link last night. Come join live later!


ARSENAL VS MANCHESTER UNITED – A GAME OF MEANING AGAIN

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It’ll be a short post from me today because I am LIVE from N5 this afternoon, looking forward to tucking into a bit of SPANKING UNITED ON TOAST, you hear me?

Yes you do.

This is a HUGE game for Arsenal. Liverpool and Chelsea played out a very drab 0-0 draw yesterday, so if we’re living in a ‘competing for top 4’ world, they would very much be part of that equation.

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ARSENAL TAKE TRANSFER SAUCE TO DANGEROUS HEAT LEVELS

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When something bad happens in your life, like say, you fall in love with a transfer. The most positive people around you will say, ‘something better will come of it, just you wait.’

Well smack my arse and call me Dennis, that person was RIGHT.

Arsenal signed Leandro Trossard from Brighton, Mikel wants him in the mixer for United.

“It is good work from everyone at the club to complete the signing of Leandro. He is a versatile player with high technical ability, intelligence and a great deal of experience in the Premier League and at international level.

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xSPURSINESS LEVELS HIT NEW LEVELS UNDER CONTE

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Oh my fucking word, did you see that Spurs performance last night?

They broke the habit of a season and went 2-0 up against Manchester City, nearly gifting us the title in the process, then they went in for a chat at halftime and conceded FOUR GOALS IN A HALF.

Can you imagine having to suffer all the pain of Conte-ball, without the defensive security? That was what Emeryball was like!

xSPURSINESS, my new predictive metric for Conte’s side, was quite low. It would have been Spursy to lose to Arsenal then smash City… did I expect them to concede 4 goals in a half? No chance.  (more…)