In this podcast we look back and forward, hoping to make sense of a strange season and odd expectations for next season.
In this podcast we look back and forward, hoping to make sense of a strange season and odd expectations for next season.
On a sunny afternoon we blew away an insipid Wolves team, ending the season with a little flourish. This was a thoroughly enjoyable, not to mention heartwarming final day, and I don’t think we need to be cynical about it.
The football was stunning from the first to the last minute. And while we were deadly in the first half-hour, there was much to enjoy in the remainder of the match when we fluffed some expertly worked openings.
The quality of our play suggested the progress made over the last two years or so isn’t in danger of evaporating. Naturally this performance, with all pressure removed, could lend credence to the idea that our failings have been psychological.
Well fine, the sharp end of next season is a long way away. And if we go into 23-24 touted as also-rans because of how it ended this year, well maybe that’s all the better. Now isn’t the time to go into too much detail on what has gone wrong.
But I can’t get over how much better #5 looked all of a sudden, drifting around in his new half-back role. His passing was crisp, he won the ball back imperiously, and he made all the right calls when he was squeezed. He was pivotal in the build-up to the first two goals, both scored by Xhaka, in what many believe is his send-off.
#5 wasn’t the only one who appeared rejuvenated. Ramsdale picked out players through the lines once more, Jesus was electric on the ball and bothersome when breathing down defenders’ necks, and Trossard rediscovered his final pass.
Meanwhile Saka looked sharper than he’s been for weeks. As a consequence he was fouled all over the pitch and had to go off, but not before making his mark.
Jesus showed up on the right for the first goal, and, once again, his accomplished wing work must make him a candidate to stand in for Saka occasionally. Xhaka showed up in boundless space to head home.
For the second, Saka, looking suddenly unburdened, twisted the defender inside and out, sparking pandemonium that gave Xhaka the opening to make it two. This was a couple of opportunistic goals, from a player who has transformed his game in the service of the team. When it comes to professionalism, and the fidelity to execute the manager’s gameplan on the pitch, we won’t find another like him.
The third arrived before the half-hour and was a finely crafted move involving Partey and Odegaard, before Trossard nudged an inviting ball into Saka’s path. Saka cut inside the defender and curled it beyond Sá. It came in a match with zero stakes, but this was a goal as beautiful as any we’ve scored this season.
As a group we pressed ferociously, and taking a moment to look at it, we played in a kind of compact 4-4-2 off the ball, with Odegaard pushing highest alongside Jesus out of possession.
Trossard’s vision came to the fore again when he picked out Jesus at the back post, although the defender gave hours to ponder his options. Still, the whole situation was only made possible by an exquisite pass from Jorginho.
The fifth goal was easily the scrappiest, and the biggest sign that Wolves were already on holiday. They failed to deal with a set piece, and Kiwior dug out a shot with his weaker foot that skewed out of the keeper’s grip.
So yes, we turned it on when it no longer mattered, against a lacklustre and maybe demotivated opponent. But I’m taking heart from the idea that we can turn it on at all. You can only beat what’s in front of you, even if they weren’t really here.
As a parting gift, the team produced a one-game encapsulation of all of the best things about our season. And if that does turn out to be Xhaka’s last match for Arsenal, then it could hardly have gone better.
Arsenal bowed out of the title race with a meek defeat at Forest, whose win secured their own survival. Their goal was a lucky ricochet, but it’s not like we deserved anything, scraping together little more than a few snatched shots.
I don’t know how you felt, but as spring approached and we powered through those seven wins on the bounce, this fixture looked no less daunting than the other big ones in a season back-loaded with difficult matches.
And so it proved, in a fusty, drab game of football played almost entirely on a sliver of pitch midway into the Forest half. Even in defeat, we’ve had our moments this season. Everton away, remembered as a low-point, we circulated the ball with a breeziness that would surprise you if you watched it back.
Last week, for heaven’s sake, we worked it into interesting positions in the first half but didn’t keep our cool.
No hint of solace at the City Ground. Not so much as a flash of inspiration. Maybe it’s fitting that we produced, for my money, our worst performance of the season on the day when our title charge crashed and burned.
We came in with a new, untested lineup, with No. 5 in the Zinchenko role. Fair enough, this is completely new territory for him, but it was a pallid imitation. I hope we don’t repeat it.
Then again a playmaking full-back feeding pass after pass between the lines is a ludicrous notion. Maybe if Zinchenko is unavailable, which isn’t that uncommon, we should rethink things. Or perhaps we should be on the lookout for a similar profile in the summer, if it even exists.
What didn’t help was that, come the 20th minute, Forest had no reason to venture into our half beyond the occasional furtive counter.
Their goal was a bit cruel if we’re honest. High up the pitch, Odegaard misplaced a pass pretty drastically, creating an instant overload, similar to the Walcott for Southampton.
Gibbs-White advanced and played it through to Awoniyi, but Gabriel read it all the way and got his challenge in, only to see it rebound off the striker’s shin and past Ramsdale who had already committed. Bad as we were, that goal was unlucky.
We spent the rest of the match wading into and floundering in an extremely congested space about ten yards outside their box. When Jesus, Saka or Odegaard did get on the ball their options were limited to the point where you couldn’t really criticise them as individuals for not advancing the attack any further.
With supply lines throttled, Xhaka, whose game has hinged on receiving the ball far up the pitch, was completely redundant.
This was a collective capitulation, so it doesn’t feel right to single anyone out. What was noticeable was an absence of dynamism across the pitch. You can partly put it down to absentees, including Nelson with illness, as well as a pervasive jadedness that has infected the team in the last couple of fixtures. Maybe the Newcastle win drained the team’s last reserves of moxy.
Whatever, there’s very little to say about a match with almost no clear-cut openings, in which we went long periods without mustering a shot, dominating the ball with the most sterile, the most barren possession.
Forest expended a lot of energy to close those gaps, and as they tired, they saw out the second half with a series of “injuries”, each one killing any suggestion of momentum on our part.
In one annoying passage, Jesus was yanked back by a Forest defender and got booked by Taylor for complaining about it. There’s not much else to say.
I hope, with the title an impossibility, we’ll produce a little more zest against Wolves next weekend. It would be a nice way to bring the curtain down on what we’ll agree has been a positive season, once the smoke of the last few weeks clears.
In their Arsenal-Brighton match review Shotta and Blackburn George are surprised by the manner the Gunners were outplayed by Brighton. This is the culmination of a trend of declining performances ever since coughing up a 2-goal lead to Liverpool in early April, similarly away to West Ham and then having to come from behind to draw with a now-relegated Southampton. While recognizing Arteta and the team have progressed more than expected, the loss to Brighton made them fear that the team is still capable of the dire standards of previous years. A sad end to an exciting PL season, so what next?
In this podcast we look at the Newcastle performance and wax lyrical about some aspects of team.
We went to Newcastle and earned a rousing win at a superclub, to keep another superclub looking over their shoulder.
For all the deserved criticism since Liverpool, you would have to be dead inside not to derive extreme satisfaction from this win. It was an outing we’ll look back on fondly for a long time.
Was that our performance of the season? I mean, I think we’ve played better football, and we certainly gave up a few chances. But there are other factors, like Wimbledon-on-Tyne’s home record, as well as the stakes on an afternoon where defeat would surely have ended our season.
Then you’ve got the referee. During the game, with a shaky hand, I made a note saying one of the reasons I hope we win is because we need to be able to talk about Chris Kavanagh. The bar for a Newcasgtle foul was in the stratosphere—and a yellow, I dunno, in deep space?
We got clobbered in this match. In fact I can’t think of a player who didn’t get his achilles raked, face shouldered, or back elbowed. The better we played, the dirtier Newcastle became. In all this, the referee was more of a casual observer, until one of our players committed an infraction of course.
Of our best performers, Ramsdale made a few key saves, among them a reflex palm to keep Schär’s header out, Xhaka represented the Arsenal cause with characteristic passion and art, while Odegaard sparkled at times.
Physically Jesus finally looked back to his pre-injury shape, constantly harassing their CBs and deep midfielders, in a way that will be vital when we face Brighton next week.
On the other hand, Zinchenko struggled defensively, perhaps because a lot of Newcastle’s resources were directed towards exploiting him. When he was on the ball and able to play centrally he did contribute to a few memorable moves. Still, Arteta made the right call when he brought Tierney on after an hour, and his freshness, turn of speed and defensive awareness blunted Newcastle’s right hand side.
But my favourite player was Jorginho, who brings craft in possession, and also in the way he battles. He competes for the ball with a cunning a few of our players could learn from. How I wish we could have got him in his 20s.
Early on in both halves, Newcastle’s menace came from their football instead of their violence. We looked cold in the first ten minutes, giving encouragement to their pressing by misconnecting over and over. Murphy hit the post, and then they had a penalty chalked off after VAR showed the ball hit Kiwior’s thigh. Of course, Kavanagh blew for it without hesitation.
That break allowed us to think clearly for the first time, and within seconds we had the lead. Just as in the fight back against Southampton, Odegaard stepped up, drilling a long shot through Botman’s legs and past Pope, who might have done better, but who cares.
We relaxed right away, and played half an hour of symphonic football, picking holes in Newcastle’s high line, and drawing one-on-one saves against Martinelli, Saka and then Odegaard. While we could have put the game to bed in theory, I can’t have been the only one who could see the upside of not racing to a 2-0 lead in the first half.
Newcastle tore at us again at the start of the second period. Isak nodded their best chance of the game onto the post, and then Ramsdale’s stupendous save kept Schär out. This time we always carried a threat on the break, and responded when Martinelli curled it onto the crossbar.
The game’s crucial moment arrived in the 57th minute, when Xhaka’s last-ditch tackle saved a goal and set up a serene final act.
While the home team couldn’t dent the scoreline, they never stopped trying to inflict blunt trauma. It’s one of the reasons our second goal was such a treat. Perhaps tired of losing so many duels, Schär steamed into Jesus on the touchline and dipped his shoulder on the way through. It was one of many Newcastle challenges that could have done real damage.
Shortly after, when the always effervescent Martinelli wriggled to the byline and cut it back, Schär was the man to jab it in at the near post. If he hadn’t intervened, I think Odegaard was in a great position and might have scored at the back post. No matter, it was funnier this way.
So the story does not end at St James’s Park this season. We now look comfortable as hunters, and the difference is small enough to make it interesting. It’s fitting too that we played like we deserve to be at the top end of the table on the day we sealed a top two finish.
Wherever this regained spirit takes us, this was a match that should give us confidence for away trips in Europe next season. Botman, Guimarães, Trippier and Isak are Champions League footballers, and St James’s Park is as fierce as any atmosphere we’ll face on the continent.
In this Manchester City – Arsenal match review Blackburn George @arseblagger (suspended on Twitter) is not surprised that the Gunners were “humbled and outclassed” by the Citizens as this was his prediction in the previous podcast. City has the better players and the better coach. On the day City was unbeatable. Neither he nor Shotta think its worthwhile trying to find scapegoats for this defeat. To the contrary Arsenal has come a long way within a year but City are a a cut above as they look likely to win their 5th title in six years. The Gunners have exceeded expectations by qualifying for the Champions League and simply need to recover from this defeat and finish the season as strong as they started.
Good morning, or is it?
As the sun went down in Manchester about 9 AM so too did the light go from our title hopes. Truth be told after the first 8 minutes of play it was clear we were in for a humbling and a lesson in football. It was complete dominance from start to finish, they were simply too good and we had no answers to their superiority all over the pitch.
It looked like their set up with a more conventional four at the back, took us by surprise and our press was ineffective, with them passing through us, or over us, creating havoc in our box, the final score 4-1, flattered us.
I said in the last podcast that we don’t have a single player that would get into their team, harsh perhaps? But I think that was clearly on show last night. They are quite simply a magnificent football team. Ok, with a 2 billion pound spend they should be, but they are. There are no excuses, that was our best eleven , bar one player, and we were totally outclassed.
It would be easy for me to point a finger at certain players that under performed, but I won’t, because I only have 10 fingers. Again, that might be harsh, but only on Ramsdale. However, if I was put on the spot, my first 3 finger points would be at Partey, Jesus and our skipper. Rob Holding was perhaps the pick of our outfield players, and that’s just plain wrong.
On the bright side, because of other results last night,we will be in the CL next season, which I would have taken as a success at the start of the season, so I suppose being involved in a title challenge has been a great bonus, and a lot of fun.
It’s a disappointing result and performance, but there’s no point naval gazing, we were just beaten by a vastly superior team, that had a good night. on their own turf.
In this podcast we look at dropped points against Southampton on the back of Liverpool and West Ham and my conclusions point the finger at certain players that seem beyond criticism. Then we try to assess our chances against City on Wednesday night.
Now, as I’m currently off twitter ( for reasons discussed in this podcast ) if anyone could promote this podcast for us, I will be very grateful.
It’s late on Friday night and I have no idea where to begin. So I’ll just start with Ramsdale passing it to Alcaraz with 20 seconds on the clock. Now, if you’ve watched Arsenal at all this season you’ll know that Ramsdale is good for a flub like this.
It doesn’t make him unique as a Premier League goalkeeper, but he has passed it straight to opposing attackers several times this season.
Tonight, Alcaraz took the gift in his stride and got his shot away faster than other attackers have done in this situation. From my perspective, Ramsdale could also have made a better fist of saving the shot, which came at a decent height.
Before long, we were two down. My thinking on this goal is that because we like to play with a lot of men ahead of the ball, moments of sloppiness early in the build up can unbalance us catastrophically. Even more if we’re chasing the game.
Here Saka played a loose pass infield to our No. 5, who lunged to control it. Odegaard charged in to rescue things, but made them worse by passing straight to an SFC shirt. All three midfielders were now wrong side with Southampton breaking.
Even deep into his 30s, Walcott lives for scenarios like this, and was able to isolate Gabriel, receiving a neat pass from Alcaraz and slotting into the corner with sangfroid.
One of the players caught high up the pitch was Fabio Vieira. He wasn’t at fault for the goal, but had little impact on the game, and was hooked early in the second half. We’ll see what he looks like in the summer with a preseason behind him, but, to play manager, I think I’d have gone with Jorginho in midfield for this one.
At 2-0 down we finally started playing. First, Zinchenko zipped a low ball across the six-yard box, with nobody able to react.
Then the Ukrainian picked it up in midfield for what felt like the first time. He played one of those signature incisive passes to Odegaard, who bent the ball inside their left-back to Saka on the move. When we do manage to get Saka one-on-one, defenders are screwed either way.
Here Saka opted for the byline, and cut it back for Martinelli, who adjusted his feet beautifully to whack a low volley beyond Bazunu. If you had to pick an archetypal 22-23 Arsenal goal it would surely look a lot like this.
Our first goal came on the 20th minute, and the first half didn’t end until the 53rd. But in that time we didn’t exactly pepper their goal. Odegaard headed over from a Martinelli cross, and a flicked header by White was cleared off the line, and that was it for the rest of the first period.
The game seemed to drift, and it wasn’t helped by a lengthy stoppage for Bednarek’s awkward fall. Thankfully he appeared to be OK, though it was alarming to see him trying to fight his way back onto the pitch having clearly been unconscious.
For a game that will be remembered for its drama, it’s no stretch to say that the middle third was uneventful. Aside from half-chances in our favour, and a curious, negative half-time switch by Southampton to a back 5, nothing much happened until we gifted them their third and most frustrating goal.
I don’t even want to go back and relive it, but as far as I recall our No.5 gave the ball away cheaply and we conceded a corner. Then our marking was all over the place as we allowed an SFC player to win his header in the middle of the six yard box. The ball looped to Ćaleta-Car who eluded Zinchenko and stepped in for an easy finish.
The stadium was crestfallen. With 20 minutes still to go, the crowd thinned out, no doubt discouraged by Jesus skying a presentable chance on the volley and then straight-up missing a header at the back post.
Arsenal were doing many of the right things, but appeared to have set themselves an impossible target. Every time an attack broke down we had to wait for up to a minute for the game to restart, and it’s a mystery how Bazunu managed to get through the match without a booking. Ederson dallied on a single goal kick on Wednesday night and was carded instantly.
Once again, we were squeezing SFC without cutting through them, and the goal to make it 3-2 was a moment of solo inspiration from Odegaard. A nifty one-two with White forced a narrow opening, and he seized upon it with panache, arcing the ball into the bottom corner.
Two minutes later, Trossard managed to find the gap between a Southampton defender’s legs—Nelson forced a save from Bazunu and Saka was there to equalise on the rebound.
Southampton were now ragged, and when our third goal went in, eight minutes of injury time seemed like it might be enough for us to get the winner. Nelson came agonizingly close when his effort was deflected wide, and then Trossard clattered a shot off the top of the bar.
And with time almost up, when we needed to keep an unsteady Southampton under the cosh, our No. 5 elected to shoot from 35 yards when it was the last thing he should have done. He blasted it over the bar, bringing this nauseating roller coaster ride to an appropriate end.
The stats show that Southampton were implausibly clinical in punishing our mistakes. But who’s to say we wouldn’t have offered up even more clear-cut opportunities had they missed the ones we gave them?
Full time left us with many contrasting emotions to process. Some of those are positive for sure, but it’s not easy to take heart from a desperate draw against the league’s bottom team.
Still, while I think we’re under no illusions about the magnitude of the challenge ahead next week, you never know. So let’s go with that.