When is the best time to see the mighty Arsenal play?

That was a question in the back of my mind on Saturday when I went up to visit Goodison for the first time, courtesy of Total Arsenal finding himself with a spare ticket.

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Any chance to see Arsenal play is a pretty good time in my book.  But I have to say, I went
to this game with considerable trepidation.  We had crashed out of two cups in the
previous five days, and our injury depleted squad was bound to be tired, whereas Everton
were fresh from a week’s rest after a famous victory.  It was all teed up for the final nail to
be hammered into our season; or just maybe it was the right moment for the long awaited
bounce back!?

The journey north from Oxford didn’t provide encouragement.  Around me in the carriage
there were a smattering of conversations from traveling Gooners, almost all bemoaning
our missed chances, lack of class signings and the familiar sense of complacency against
sides that had been there for the beating.  It didn’t sound like many of the away support
were traveling with high confidence.

Arriving at Lime Street station and meeting up with TA – two punctual trains; maybe things were looking up? We then had to navigate our way to the grounds.  This should have been pretty straightforward.  But we had arrived comfortably early, before the main crowds, and despite being directed twice to the fan bus loading area, it took us some time to find our bus.  Arriving at the grounds finally and things were warming up.  A sea of blue and white before us circling the grounds, with beer, pies, hot dogs and fish and chips being consumed in industrial quantities.  Little clusters of red and white weaved in between.

The atmosphere was entirely benign, with no sense of tension between the opposing fans nor any sense of threat in the air.

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Into the grounds after a swift beer and the away support were in good voice already.  We
watched the Arsenal players taking pot shots in front of us – I have to say, not without
great success! The wild swipes that were being taken, most of them missing the goal
entirely, did not inspire confidence that the shooting boots were on today.  Elneny was
particularly wide of the mark I noticed.  And then the game was off! It was end to end play,
with their attacks down our left side, whilst we attacked down both flanks, perhaps more
down our left wing in the early stages.  And before any pattern had settled we scored.  I
didn’t register the through ball, but I watched in slow motion with my mouth opening as
Danny rounded the keeper and stayed calm with his finish.  And then the place erupted!

The settling effect on the fans, as well as the players was immediate and palpable.

The singing never stopped from there.  A couple of the cheer leaders were standing just in
front of TA and me.  They never let the singing pause for more than a few of seconds.  I
joined in a couple of times, to be honest in a very restrained way – and yet when I came
out of the grounds I was hoarse!  How those guys kept going at full bore all through the
game is quite beyond me.  That’s commitment though!

The game continued pretty much end to end, with more of the play coming over to our
right flank.  Up front our formation looked quite difficult to define.  Danny often seemed to be over on the left, with Iwobi more central.  Sanchez was his usual industrious self, direct and hard running, but not always taking the ball into dangerous areas.  The movement was constant, but Ozil was having a relatively quiet day, not able to join things up as he can.  The people who really caught the eye were Elneny and Coq; for me Elneny stood out in the first half, but faded a bit in the second. But the Coq was on top form all the way through the game.  It wasn’t great thumping tackles, but they were running everywhere, intercepting, picking up loose balls while others were scrapping and keeping things tidy in front of our back line.  They were simply outstanding, controlled the midfield and made life easy for our CBs.

The back line also looked solid.  Both Gabby and Kos had some hard physical encounters
with Lukaku, and they stayed strong through these, leaving the Everton attack rendered
pretty blunt.  Lukaku is absolutely massive by the way!  I knew he was big of course, but in
the flesh he is even bigger than on TV.  Our CBs did really well against him, and on this
showing he would not be a player who would make our first 11 visibly stronger.  The other
player who looked notably bigger was Ospina – he is no midget by any means, and looked
a very good quality GK to have as our first reserve.  Our full backs both had solid games,
with Bellerin perhaps catching the eye more, though that reflects Nacho’s style – he does
everything with the minimum of fuss but the maximum effect.

The second goal came after a period of more sustained pressure on us.  We seemed to be
standing back more and this was beginning to worry me.  Was it a tactic to draw them out,
or just absorbing pressure? I don’t know, but it worked! I had just expressed my concern
that we were going to concede when, quick as a flash we countered, Bellerin passed
forward, and Iwobi controlled and finished like a quality striker.  What a wonderful way for
a talented young player to mark his first start.  We can only hope that this really propels his game forward through added confidence.  We had the game secure and the first half
ended with some slick movements of players relieved of their tension and out to enjoy
themselves and remind people what a good team this Arsenal are.

The second half was more of a routine affair.  Our players defended more than in the first
and a couple appeared to tire a bit.  But it never felt anxious.  The subs came, but didn’t
really inject anything much new.  I confess I’m not convinced by Gibbs as a defensive sub;
it always seems to signal we are sitting back now, and that isn’t the formation that makes
us play our best.  Giroud’s goal, or its ruling out, was a complete mystery to those in line
with it.  And Goodison not having much in the way of any screen replay system meant it
remained that way for the rest of the game.  We looked comfortable and it was a great way
to spend the last 45 min, secure that we would be returning home with smiles on our

Stopping for some food we took our reflections at the end of the game.  Firstly, it was great
that Wenger had held faith with his youth and players who had shown form – Danny and
Iwobi in particular.  Elneny is looking good value; not yet a world beater, but a good player
and improving.  Coq is back to his best, totally dominant form.  Lack of goals from Giroud
and the absent Walcott remain a worry.  What’s the story with Mert – is he being given a
prod by Wenger or has he been supplanted in the order of merit? And finally, though it was
the much awaited bounce back, we needed to remember that Everton really were pretty
poor on the day; I could not (and still can’t) think of a single blues player who stood out on
merit from that performance.

But the game gives us hope.  My view remains that if we win all our remaining games we
will win the league.  I doubt we will be able to do it sadly, but I’ve not given up.  Whatever
the final positions, we need to show fight and develop some form, as we don’t need to be
looking over our shoulders either.  But at least we have an interlull without overwhelming
angst to deal with!  A great day to be a Gooner; let’s hope for more next weekend!

by Ab



23 thoughts on “When is the best time to see the mighty Arsenal play?

  • Cheers, AB. Just the ticket to get us back to matches of real importance. Great report, backing up TA’s one that puts us readers inside the ground with you. Many thanks.

    I was amused at your visual realisation that Lukaku is a big fellow, more so than on screen? If I cast my mind back 50 years watching Coventry play (‘live’, not on tele), I have a picture of George Curtis, our mighty centre half. He looked like a giant on the pitch …. But when my mate and I saw him once, close up and personal, he was a good two inches smaller than me.
    Such a disappointment 😀

    I just want to add a couple of points on your observations.

    One regarding Gibbs. When he comes on as a late sub, I don’t see him being used so much defensively, rather more as an outlet for our attack? True, it is a sign that we are trying to see out a game, but by leaving Monreal on the pitch means he is never too far from the CB’s?
    However, I still think there is one position where Gibbs is second to none, and that is at our attacking set-pieces. He can stand on the centre circle and use his pace to reach any ball hoofed out of defence should they try and counter. His heading and first touch are also reliable with any ball aimed directly at him. I will miss him for that if he gets edged out by any new signing(Aurier?), and for his last ditch tackles. It has been noticeable though, that by playing less he has remained fit? (Fingers crossed as I type!).

    Per Mertersaker? On this occasion I think Gabby was chosen because of the threat of Lukaku?
    Both could handle him physically, say, at set pieces, but despite his size the big Belgique is deceptively quick. Ergo, Gabby was the right choice. Per will be back(Terminator style)!

    Unfortunately, with Internationals going on, both Iwobi and Elneny have travelled afar for the same AFCON game, which may bring some selection headaches at the weekend?

  • Thanks Gerry. Yes, Gibbs is a conundrum. He is Arsenal through and through, an excellent player and, were he fit more often, would be a perfectly acceptable first choice LB. His problem is Nacho is both fitter and more reliable, and any argument around first choice has long gone. Gibbs is too good to simply discard and, because Nacho has not given him much space through injury, Wenger seems to be trying to give him game time elsewhere, or perhaps even coach him into a new type of role? For all his quality, when he comes on as a sub for a winger, it seems to signal a collective shift of mindset, into one of caution and containment. Our defence ought to be more solid for the change, and yet it never quite feels like it to me. I’m not sure what we do about it or where this leaves Gibbs – ironically now fit, he sits on the bench!

    On Mert your guess is as good as mine. I’ve been assuming his return to the heart of the defence for a while, and its not happened. Will it come next game? Maybe, but it would be a bit harsh dropping Gabby after a very good outing at Goodison if so. It seems reasonable to take some comfort from there being competition for places at least; and while we are winning this seems fine. But if we have a defensive slip then the question will be posed around whether there is uncertainty over our best team. I doubt there is any such uncertainty in Wenger’s mind, but the pattern has yet to emerge such that we observers can feel equally sure. Whether the players are clear on the score, or like us are trying to work it out, is the bit of insight I would love to possess.

  • A real joy to read, AB, thanks 🙂

    So agreed re Lukaku. Many fellow Gooners only see his performances on MOTD, but when you watch him during the whole game he is quite disappointing. His stats are good though, it has to be said. Like you I loved the singing and the guys in front of us were great. It made me think again about the one in front of us who kept saying after the Ossssssssssssssssssspina collective shout…. HAHAHA as loud as he could, without fail. 🙂

    It was great to watch the game with you and let’s see whether we can get tickets for next season’s Everton – Arsenal!

    FMJ, thanks for the videos yesterday. Still very young but indeed full of promise. Will keep an eye on him.

    Gotta go FFGs but keep up the good work and don’t be shy when it comes to commenting….

  • OK, TA, I’ll comment… 😀

    Hi Ab… Well worth the wait and the timing, to my mind at least, like Gerry says, is very good… We’ve got matches to play, so let’s get to them…and what better way than to get an ‘up close and personal’ view of the most recent… 😀

    What I really enjoyed about your description is the dual-edged element about being a true supporter. You go to the match hoping for the best but also (very) worried about the opposite. (I’m pleased you got to experience the former…) You didn’t mention anything about banners or fan protests but maybe, given the good result, they seemed very much on the periphery. I’ve only gotten to see a couple of Arsenal matches in the stadium (and a handful of other football in Europe and South of our borders) but there are always memorable elements the cameras don’t catch.

    The sport is changing–big time–esp. at the highest level, from being a “live” performance akin to theatre (we spell it “theater…”) to one that is seen on video and broadcast worldwide. There’s the ninety+ minutes of live “feed” and then the repackaging into highlights plus opinion. Incredibly, in England, where the Saturday 3 o’clock matches are still kept off the telly (to try and get bums in seats) the MOTD and endless discussion of the big moments (punditry) probably has even more of an out-sized influence.

    It’s all part of the new football AND media experience which, I fear, is creating the expectation that, if you choose to support Arsenal (or any of the “big clubs”) you are entitled to a happy ending–or at least that you get to have your voice (if it jibes with those amplified by the press and the pundits), no matter how reactive, heard… At the prices you pay, (or don’t pay), why not?…

    If you look at the table, the other “big” teams are chasing us… But their fans are happier (maybe, I have no idea…) because they’ve got Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte coming (or Klopp already in…) and are not stuck in our groundhog day, (wash, rinse, repeat…) cycle…

    I realize that I’m “stuck” on this theme, so I won’t repeat myself (more than I have already…) but I do think it’s true and I also think it’s really undermining the team which folks (purport to) support. Is constant change really better? Our owner (Kroenke) doesn’t think so, but he only cares about his money. Still, if we want the future to be better isn’t it best to finish as high as we can AND build from that platform? Unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon for folks to want their club to lose if it helps force change, a stance which really bugs me… If I’m gonna muster support for my club (amidst all of this sort of stupidity from its “fans”) I probably will do so BECAUSE of the (Wenger/Kroenke) contrarian position.

    TA keeps a much better and more balanced view and I know he had a great time at the game with you Ab…He’s also a clever fellow and he’s getting quite good at giving titles to posts which get lots of views… That previous one (about buying the “new Sol” and “new Henry”) got over 15,000 hits, some 10 times more than the ones about actual matches or with less clever titles…The one that Pony Eye wrote about Arteta, to which TA (unless it was you, PE…) gave a title about “this under-appreciated mid-field maestro…” got even more… My point, for better or worse, is that for most “Gooners” it’s NOT about the matches, it’s about the hope (for change), no matter how irrational its form…

    Anyhow, I’m still into the matches so I really appreciate the report from Goodison. Now, I’ve got a preview to write–against Watford at home (gulp…) a repeat of probably the low point of the season… But I’ll probably work on that over the next couple of days and put it out on Friday which is also April Fools Day, so…

    Beware the title… 😀

  • Ab, if the atmosphere was entirely benign, your post is entirely without turbulence. You caught the ball and its beatuful aura so delicately in your snapshot.

    There is something so refreshing and cheering about the team’s performance against Everton and Barca. Is it due to ;
    1) the line up with the new trio of Welbz, Elneny and Iwobi,
    2) or is it that we find ourselves in our elements playing against attacking teams,
    3) or is there a tweak in our formation, that has done the magic?

    Maybe all of the above. Obviously there was concerted high press in those two matches and Welbz and Iwobi press better than Giroud and Walcott respectively. High press demands high defensive line which is better suited to to Gabby’s attributes than Per’s.

    Welbz drifts wide left, Iwobi goes centrally behind Ozil who becomes about the highest positioned player. Looks closer to a 4:3:3 or a 4:1:2:3 of cause without prejudice to all the movements and interchanges of positions.

    A high pressing team taxes itself very severely and must be quick and tidy in its passing game. Meet Mo Elneny, one of the new trio.

    The big, big question is whether the pressing game will be as valid against bus parking teams.
    The answer awaits this weekend against Watford. Or should we expect Wenger to do some tweaking to the team? As for me, leave me with my new hearth throb, and don’t as yet Mr Wenger, do any tweaking, please.

  • Hey PE, who (exactly) is warming your heart(h)… I can’t tell if you’re discussing Elneny or Welbeck, Iwobi AND Elneny…

    I’m feeling pretty chuffed about putting the Egyptian into my avatar before he struck at Barca. I’m really enjoying his strong engine and self-less but never hiding style of play…

    Did Arsenal really do that much high pressing at Everton or did the home team just look out of sorts without Gareth Barry and their best ball playing CB (John Stones), not to mention their usual keeper, Tim Howard, out of the line-up?

    I’m glad others are thinking about actual matches including the next one (given that I’ve got to write the preview). I think there might need to be some tweaking esp. given that a few players played big minutes in real (not friendly..) matches and/or traveled long distances. I know Alexis played a lot and so did Ospina. Did Gabriel play with the Brazil national team? Elneny and Iwobi played against each other somewhere on your continent… Welbeck played in Germany but not back in London? Ozil played a full 90 last night and scored late, I think. Giroud yes, Kos no but both traveled to Russia?


  • Well written A B and certainly worth the wait. It’s been a while since I travelled away, but I have enjoyed some great days out, Goodison being one of my favourites. That said I cracked my head on a barrier there celebrating a John Radford goal, which probably explains a lot.

    The juices are flowing again for the weekend and I am hopeful that we will carry some momentum into the Watford game. I really like the BFG and he has been a solid performer for a long time, although obviously getting caught for pace now and again. However I am really hopeful that Gabby will step up his game and make himself a regular. I think 17ht quite rightly pointed out that he is a little hot headed now and again, but I really like the passion he displays. Can’t remember who it was against, but he recently put in a crunching tackle and got up punching the air. I know not everyone likes this type of thing, but personally I love it. Used correctly it can lift a team and Lift the crowd when games are stagnating. If we are going to challenge for the title this season, big injection of passion could make all the difference.


  • Stoke(s) the hearth of my passion and warm(s) my heart, I mean, by the all and the one. Got me, HT?

    Everybody goes “Everton played poorly”. Truth is that our high press disrupted their elegant passing style. Welbz, Alexis and Iwobi are good at man pressing (miss Rosicky here). Ozil presses the passing lanes. Backing this front three is the ubiquitous Elneny. Behind Eln lying in wait the interception king, le Coq, man and space presser and bringing up the rear sit the very proactive pair of Kos and Gabby. All this intensity within a crunched up area of the field. This might actually get Leicester and Vardy salivating but but not the beautiful bride Everton.

    Our technical level is such that a state of chaos gives us the advantage, deft touches, feints and back heels on one side, bamboozlement on the other side. I feel like a baby, so excited! We need just 21 out of the possible 24points and it can be done. 76 pts will see us home. My wager, Leicester’s regression to their mean starts this weekend. Also for the Spuds in this home stretch, though less aggressive, but enough to make them assume their traditional role behind us.

  • Nice PE…and I like what you’re saying about the pressing stuff. Alexis on the right is also a new look for the teams we play…That’s a LOT of pace (and smarts…) between him and Bellerin, almost to the point that our opponents should just boot it once the ball gets over on that side…

    On the other hand, I do think the Martinez situation at Everton is similar to Wenger’s at Arsenal, esp. now that they (supposedly) have money to burn… He is committed to a certain style of play but everybody needs results… I fear that he really needs to win the FA Cup if he wants another go-round at the club…

    Similarly, we’re back at it on Saturday at 3… What do we do about Quique’s bus this weekend considering the travels and stresses our players were under during the break?… Welbeck should be ready but Iwobi, Elneny and Alexis will be fresh off the plane… Also, do you have any insight about the Egypt-Nigeria match and our players’ involvement? I guess I can do a little of my own research, but I didn’t get where I am by not being lazy…


  • Hi HT and thanks for the comments. Yes there was a brief banner incident as were leaving the stand. Its a shame as it was the only fight I saw throughout the day, and between two opposing groups of Arsenal fans. Whatever your view of the club and how it should be run, it quite bizarre that any Arsenal fan should end up fighting with another Arsenal fan at the end of a game we have just won! Such is the peculiar world of modern football, and I guess modern society. Everyone feels ‘entitled’ to be better off than the average, and to get the ‘best’ deals, kids, services, fortune for their trouble. Nobody seems to remember the billions of other folk all expecting the same. Hey ho I say, what else is there to say?

  • Thanks for the kind words PE. And for the thoughtful questions posed. One thing I will say about TV coverage is that it makes viewing the pattern of formations that much easier, compared with peering nearer ground level across the field from one corner. So the formation aspect of your question I find really difficult to answer. I could see clearly the effort that our players were making, and those that stood out were the fresh blood, either recruited, back from injury or newly brought into the top squad. They all had clear incentive to put in the effort, and it would be easy to ascribe it to just this. But disappointing for what that would say for our team spirit were that to be true.

    My conclusion is that we have found a good balance with Danny and Elneny in particular, and Iwobi providing the sort of energetic improvisation that comes with an emerging talent. The core of our team, as it always was, very good. We didn’t have a run of poor fortune in the game – hitting the woodwork multiple times etc. And Everton were undeniably poor. Like you though I hope we reward a good performance with continuity and we allow the confidence to bloom. We have a point to prove this weekend against Watford, as well as a decent hope for dropped points elsewhere. And with more players coming back from injury I expect a strong start from us as well as a strong bench to work with.

  • Thanks Retsub. I’m torn on the CB question too. My assumption all season is that Mert gets the first spot alongside Kos for all the good things he brings, with others around him covering for his main shortcoming. Gabby looked like he was a work in progress, like Kos looked a few years back. But he is fast, and he is strong. However, he stood up to Lukaku well at Goodison, and there will be few more physical than that. And if the talent and mental facilities are there, then he needs to be given the chance to hone them by playing first team. So I won’t begrudge him a start against Watford, and if the rest of the squad around him remain the same then I doubt he will let us down. He will pick up the odd card and concede the odd penalty for us at present that is true, but Mert has not been blemish-free either. I guess if Gabby starts this Saturday then we can assume he has ‘officially’ taken the first team spot for the moment.

  • HT. Your last question – and I can’t claim research here, just happened to read some reports – were that Elneny played the 90 and Iwobi was a second half sub. Looking at Elneny’s age and engine I suspect we play on with him at this stage of the season. Iwobi should be reasonably fresh.

  • More good stuff, Ab, thanks again for all the info…

    I wonder if you (or others…) might comment on the Everton defenders, esp. the English ones, as I got to see them in a bit more action with the national team last night… I will admit I was only watching with half an eye on the game (i.e., while doing other stuff)…

    Stones is a guy many folks like and early season he was heavily linked with a bid from Mourniho’s Chelsea… That slip last night which led to the handball and goal won’t help him and he was dropped to the bench but came on as a sub in our match. What’s up with all that?… Also Jagielka, pushed off the ball (but not given the whistle) seemed “at fault” for Holland’s 2nd goal. He sure didn’t look too good in our match for the first goal and then missed the open header after Ospina took his knock. That was a pivotal moment, I fear, but luckily,it swung our way. We weren’t so lucky with the ref, Clattenburg on the Alexis pen shout nor with the linesman on Giroud’s called back goal… So yeah, we got some breaks but not enough of them to keep folks from wanting to fight each other, etc., etc…

    My point, if I actually have one, is that defending in England (what exactly is the reffing standard, Surely Jagielka had to believe that thing last night was a foul?…) seems very tough, esp. if you’re at a club that also values playing it out of the back…

  • I like the look of Stones HT. Though I think there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance of him coming to play for us. His touch on the ball is silky smooth in that way that Ozil plays. And given some filling out and a bit of experience he could be a real quality player. Does he have combative leadership qualities to go with that? Hard to know, but not evident yet, in the way that they were with a young Tony Adams – though they came with some faults too of course!

    CB does look like a hard place to excel at the moment HT; whether that’s a condition of the PL or something wider I find it hard to judge. Of all the players in the PL perhaps only Kompany would demand the World Class status, and only then when fit. Why is there such a dearth? The perfect CB needs physical presence, pace, combative spirit, leadership qualities in spades, discipline and vast experience to read a game and anticipate; there’s a good case for it being one of the more cerebral roles, rather than the old style ‘big lump’. I guess there are few that fit that full profile, and spotting them young before they are unaffordable must be the toughest thing. It won’t be easy finding the next Sol Campbell, but we have to try, as I think the right player here makes the heart of a great team.

  • Well described, Ab…

    I wouldn’t look past Chambers just yet. He’s not as slow as many folks make him out to be and he’s already absorbed his share of own goal, er, experience… He just turned 21 in January… He’s pretty strong on the ball, too, (see his work as a deep lying mid vs Bournemouth…) though some will never forgive him for a mistake he almost made vs Liverpool in the early season even though it didn’t lead to a goal… Overall, although he seems quite versatile, CB in the BFG mold (mould?…) seems his best spot. He might need to get a bit more decisive/stronger in the air…

    Which probably brings me full circle… If nobody can ever make a mistake how can they actually play football? That’s the pressure these boys are under. The manager bears that weight but since he cannot be fired he’s under no pressure at all and (thus) everything is misery… or at least a can’t-win situation…which seems particularly tough given that all our remaining games are must-wins…

    Here’s the list you get (from Transfermarkt) if you just want to buy your way to the top…


    OK, with that, I should probably quit for the evening… 😀 😦

  • Sorry I’m late to the party, but a very enjoyable read AB, with some well thought out comments following on…

    Retsub, I’m with you mate, there’s nothing like a well-executed, full-bloodied challenge, to get the fans animated and out of their seats…

    Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira were all exponents of the art and all big favourites of mine.

  • Jack Wilshere pencilled in for an U21 game against Newcastle on April 8th…

    Petr Cech should return against Watford and Santi can’t be far off a return…

  • I’ll try again TA – worded very carefully 😀 😀 😀 (triple smileys)

    The BBC are reporting that any changes to our relationship with the EU could affect 400 players currently employed in the EPL – 75% failing visa requirements …

    That said, I think AW is being very canny in the purchase of youngsters we have, as, by the time the ’17-’18 season comes along they will be eligible to play under the ‘home grown’ rules. Otherwise, if any replacements that are brought in, requiring visas, during the next transfer window will need to be balanced very carefully? Whilst at the same time the UK born ‘quality’ talents will have their prices rocketing sky high – eg John Stones at £50m might not be such a daft idea??
    (However, my feeling/hope is we grab the ‘Rennes boy’ for £35m and look forward to the 2018/19 season with great relish!)

    p.s. It’s okay TA, this will be buried by the New Post very shortly 😀

  • Gerry is right…or left… or somewhere… Most likely deep in his own head… 😀

    Here is a…


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