The Spirit of Arsenal Makes a Welcome Return

Editorial: Ten men Gunners come from behind twice to avoid defeat at Chelsea

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Granted, it was another draw for Mikel Arteta, but the significance of this game could be far greater for the future, because up against the odds in a major way, his players reacted and somehow avoided what looked to be an inevitable defeat at Stamford Bridge.

For once, it felt like Arsenal were greater than the sum of their parts, with a post-Luiz red card back four of (first game back) Bellerin, the hapless Mustafi, midfielder Granit Xhaka and teenage winger Bukayo Saka. For 25 minutes we even had Mesut Ozil trying to play holding midfielder next to Torreira, before the head coach finally saw sense and pulled the invisible number 10. In fairness, even with Ozil on the pitch the ten men showed resilience and spirit, a real surprise after some of the collapses we have seen with eleven players. It was testament to the intensity Arteta demands from his men.

The head coach will have learned a lot about his players last night. Pretty much any Arsenal fan could have told him the Shkodran Mustafi will do enough stupid things in a game to outweigh any defensive benefits he might bring. He gave the ball directly to Chelsea players twice last night before the underhit backpass that cost a goal from the penalty spot and David Luiz’s red card. When Arteta came in he offered everyone a clean slate. But he has surely seen enough from Mustafi in the two matches against Chelsea to inform him that the number 20 simply isn’t worth the risk. You simply cannot play out from the back if you can’t pass the ball in a reliable manner. It’s Russian roulette.

As for Ozil, he tried hard. His pass accuracy was apparently 100%, but I’d argue that’s because he hardly touched the ball and when he did, just played safe short passes. He failed to impact the game. Arteta has given him opportunities to do so, yet his contributions have been fleeting. Technically good, but simply not delivering. A real quandary given how much of the club’s wage budget he swallows up. I feel that the Premier League has got more intense since Ozil arrived in 2013, and he’s failed to adapt. I don’t think he’s worth his place in the starting eleven, even if he does run around and try to close space more than he used to, because his contribution on the ball seems so negligible. The best you could say about him is that he is a link man that keeps the ball moving, retains possession, but is that enough? That’s a decision for the head coach. It seemed noticeable that when Guendouzi replaced Ozil, the ten men seemed to step up a gear.

The attempts on goal count was 19 to 2 in favour of Chelsea. That tells you all you need to know about the game, and in truth, a number of the home side’s chances came when Arsenal had eleven men on the pitch. Once down to ten though, it was backs to the wall. Critical was the quality of the finishing with the two goals. Martinelli may have been fortunate to see Kante lose his footing at the key moment, a little reminiscent of John Terry’s slip the last time Arsenal won at the Bridge back in 2011. But the young Brazilian kept his head and finished coolly to level the scores.

Not only that, but the character of the team was demonstrated by their having to come back a second time after Azpilicueta’s 84th minute goal. It looked cruel after all the efforts expended, but with nothing to lose, Arsenal kept going and a full back scoring a key goal at the Bridge brought back more memories – of Nigel Winterburn in 1997 and Silvinho in 2000. Bellerin used his supposedly weaker left foot, but it was a pearl of a shot, bending into the corner.

Sure, it’s just a point, but in the uphill task of redefining Arsenal’s identity, last night may come to be seen as a key moment for Arteta’s team. A draw that definitely felt like a win, and a platform. The players will be able to look at each other and know they are prepared to battle for each other. It was a real team effort, against the odds, that defied logic and indeed the kind of limp uncommitted performances we have seen so often over the last five years. There certainly felt like an element of ‘We’ve got our Arsenal back’ – not so much the free-wheeling expansive play that brought about that chant away at Fulham last season, but the spirit of the Gunners as we remember from the George Graham days, and Wenger’s best teams.

I celebrated the goals last night with an intensity I have rarely felt for many seasons, partly because it was backs to the wall and against the odds. I felt connected with the team, got the idea that it actually mattered to the players. In a sense, perhaps they needed the jolt to their complacency that the handicap of being a player down provided. They had to battle or get humiliated. And battle they did – especially the youngsters. It was so encouraging that they didn’t give up, and a huge part of that mentality must surely be down to the manager.

We’ve seen incremental progress in aspects of the play under Arteta, but after seeing the balls that achieved last night’s comeback, we know that the spirit is there. With that, it makes winning football matches easier. More of this please.

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26
comments

  1. GoonerRon

    Jan 23, 2020, 14:55 #116357

    I’ve always said Mustafi would be a very decent CB for a team like Burnley. No requirement to play the ball out from the back, no need to play with a really high defensive line. Just get in position, defend for your life and get rid.

  2. itsRonagain2

    Jan 23, 2020, 11:52 #116351

    Hi John - yes, most are poor arent they. Defensive play has been neutered by the rules and attitudes to the game favouring goals thus favouring the attackers all of the time. Its wrong and its made a farce of football really. Players have forgotten how to tackle properly too as tackling is more or less outlawed as well. Many of the defences are like the Keystone cops.

  3. John F

    Jan 23, 2020, 08:51 #116345

    If you look at the first half at Chelsea the midfield could not keep hold of the ball longer then a few seconds and it kept coming straight back onto the defence. Mustafi got caught up in the panic of the moment as most defenders would if the players in front are not doing their job. I do not think Mustafi is a good defender his lack of awareness of what is going on around him is his issue but I have never doubted his commitment. There are not too many teams who have a good defence now just look at Chelsea and the way they defended against us.

  4. itsRonagain2

    Jan 23, 2020, 07:39 #116344

    Good stuff lads about centre half’s. Being tall I had the odd games as result of being asked to fill in at the position. I really didn’t like it. I think the position of CH or goalkeeper are the two hardest positions to play. It was that limited area you mention that got to me plus the ball is always coming to you. No respite , no chance of having a lazy 5 mins to recover and have a minute. I couldn’t organise and direct others either. Too much hassle and the blames always on you when team gets caught flat. I was like Luiz and was always going AWOL ha ha. Never liked defence. It calls for discipline doesn’t it. Preferred doing my own thing up top ! ! Mustafi s comments are very true. So true about playing there for Arsenal post 2008. Any defender of note who AFC may have enquired about would have looked at that shambles under Wengo and avoided joining us. We underestimate how many centre backs careers have been wrecked by playing for us this last 15 years. Vermaelen is another good eg of one of them. I always thought Djourou had potential to play well there in a good side too. He was abandoned by gung ho team mates and feeble middle men though. Good point about Macguire. I reckon him and Lindelof though in a better team would make a strong reargaurd. Man U have no midfield though do they so they’re always exposed.

  5. markymark

    Jan 23, 2020, 07:16 #116343

    Arsenal had Martinelli 4 times on trial and passed over him. He then scored a bloody 70yrd flyer for UTD and is now going to be sold for 150ml! I seriously think the last 10 years have been the above. It’s Nice, whether it be Edu or some other contact has been really smart with this purchase.

  6. A Cornish Gooner

    Jan 23, 2020, 01:33 #116342

    AM and Ron. And £80m world class CB Harry Maguire now nowhere near the player he was.

  7. ArsenalMagna

    Jan 23, 2020, 00:49 #116341

    Also agree with you Ron re: Mustafi. I remember going to see Arsenal host Fulham years ago and seeing how Vermaelen had become a gibbering wreck, virtually shaking with anxiety about marking his man - not surprising when given no screen in front of him. I played CB for a while and had an inane coach who didn't understand the importance of a midfield screen... the truth is that you can only dominate a small space around you as a CB - a small but essential zone - so it's hard to move out to block/tackle, hard to track/stop that run from the winger inside the full-back and tough to win a ball on a cross vs a tall/strong attacker whose got the momentum of running, and has more flexibility in terms of space they can take. Van Dijk is a world class defender but he has a three-man midfield rock in front of him, with all the real creativity coming from the full backs and front three, who also win it high up to keep the pressure off him! When he plays for Holland he looks a shadow of his club self. I don't know why any CB in their right mind would have joined Wenger's Arsenal post-2008.

  8. ArsenalMagna

    Jan 23, 2020, 00:30 #116340

    @Ron the reason so many fans and the media love Ozil is because, when given lots of space, his play is very pleasing on the eye. People wrongly assume that a footballer who plays stylishly equates to that same player being top quality. Ozil is one up from Adel Taraabt... The only context Ozil really thrives is playing for elite, workmanlike teams who lack creativity, which he can provide as long as his teammates dominate the game well enough for him. Hence he played well for Germany and Real Madrid (La Liga teams when he was there were so weak bar Barca, and although Ozil did OK against the Catalans that was because he had lots of space due to being kept up for counterattacks). He also played some great football for us in recent games, but only in the context of the whole team high pressing and dominating the game for him. He can't, nor could he ever, handle the physicality of English football, and with such long spells on the sidelines and his current age, he's not suited to being anything more than a backup playmaker.

  9. itsRonagain2

    Jan 22, 2020, 23:56 #116339

    A very rude man Marky. I went in to a game on the coach with the supporters club once. The driver didn’t go into the game and was on the coach with his mate. They saw Keown outside the Club level entrance at the North end of the ground and tried to get him to sign a programme. He hadn’t got a pen and neither had they so asked a fan by them if he had one. Keown went off in one whinging he was late and they shdt be asking for signatures with no pen. Got a real cob on him,’ bloody hell ‘this and bloody hell that towards the guy ...... as he stropped off like a big ugly silly diva. He was with Poyet at the time who worked for espn as I recall back then . Poyet stood chatting and signing stuff. Ps. He owed Wengo all his support for that title medal Wengo squeezed for him by sending him on for 5 mins in that game at the end of Keowns last Season so he had the min quota of appearances. 10 I think it was back then.

  10. markymark

    Jan 22, 2020, 22:26 #116338

    On mention of Keown I met with a group of PR ladies a few years back who’s job in was to hawk the Premier trophy around and do the glad talking meet players and photo shoots etc. Much to my surprise at the time . They loved Peter Schmeichel thought he was a lovely gent. Martin Keown was loathed in comparison. Found it quite disappointing at the time but then after hearing his pathetic Wenger defence it started to ring true

  11. markymark

    Jan 22, 2020, 22:18 #116337

    I read an article extrapolating UTD’s form , which has been carried over to Burnley tonight . They are likely to finish 8-9th. Current form keeps us between 12-10. A run could see us 5-6th Certainly keeps things interesting

  12. itsRonagain2

    Jan 22, 2020, 21:02 #116336

    CG. That’s the voice of Arsenal mate - Keown. The self appointed authority on the club. TV football cd serve itself well if sacked the lot of them. Have one anchor man per match and one commentator same as Moore. Hill , Coleman and Lynsm et al did for years. Guy s who know the game. In the main , these ex players are poor. Say anything for impact and effect and all of em bask in their own re invention of themselves. They must think we ve all had insomnia for yrs and can’t recall how limited they were as players, Keown being a prime eg.

  13. Exiled in Pt

    Jan 22, 2020, 21:00 #116335

    Mustafi and many others would probably find some confidence if they were told just to put their laces through it now and then, instead of trying to use the keeper as a sweeper. The playing suicide out from the back game is so unnecessary it's crazy.

  14. markymark

    Jan 22, 2020, 20:53 #116334

    I think that we attack players for lack of physical effort when 90% of it is actually mental effort . A change of style a shake up and the level of concentration has to go through the roof. Mustafi told a truth when he said a Center back to have an ordinary game cannot make one mistake . It does some it up really well, the level of professionalism needed. Note that Arteta’s question when seeing the coaching staff was do we have “drones” available. So from that we can guess modern footballers are probably wired up in training and being monitored by drones and other methods. Sort of takes the fun out of imagining oneself as a footballer. In truth this is also Mustafi’s eulogy. His statement suggests he’s not up to the rigours of the premiership and nor is probably Ozil. Good points previously from Ron and Magna My thoughts are that we are on a results lag. The sheer change is creating massive effort for small improvements. The UTD game , this game are sign posts along the way to recovery . I’m expecting a run of 5-6 games where we go through a spurt . Let’s hop e so anyway

  15. itsRonagain2

    Jan 22, 2020, 20:45 #116333

    I’ve always felt a bit sorry for Mustafi to be honest. Brilliant he isn’t but he’s always been whole hearted. I feel with sny central defended we ve had since 2006 they have to judged on what’s around them and what’s immediately in front of them in the middle. We ve had poor full backs and feeble little midfield men scurrying about like mice all who’ve left the CB s exposed to cover width and centrally in all this time and add to that , the lack of rigour in the defensive coaching and you’ve got a shambles. We ve not had a class defender since Campbell I know that but all of them since have looked bad. It can’t be because they can’t plsy the game. Van Dyke would nt stroll about picking off everything if he d been playing for us. He d have his finger on the red panic button same as all the others have done. We ve had a few show promise over the years but all have regressed into nerve wracked jellies. Mustafi s one in a long line.

  16. Pauljames

    Jan 22, 2020, 20:42 #116332

    Hope I’m wrong but Pepe looks like the new Gervinho to me, whilst the limitations of Ozil and Mustafi are long standing and obvious, their last chances have been and gone and they will surely be moved on in the summer.

  17. CORNISH GOONER

    Jan 22, 2020, 19:38 #116331

    Barring Ozil, Ron is right - the modern EPL isn't really for him, I don't think any other member of last night's team deserves criticism, even Mustafi, because his confidence has been destroyed by management, fans & us keyboard warriors. Apart from the incidents Kev mentions (OK a goal gifted) he played very well & is one of our more athletic defenders. The media make me smile - Martinelli played at a level beyond his years but got very lucky with his goal but this was not going to stop Keown & others virtually saying that he now carries the team. Contrast this with criticism of Pepe who has a more laid back style but who, imo, is one of the few capable of moments of real innovation & brilliance - but he needs better support. There are loads of names out there in the transfer market - exotic names, big fees & unproven quality. Me? I'd prefer additions in the summer - as for now, proper coaching from Mikel & co. with most of those we already have BUT backed by real commitment from a better owner. Gabriel as things stand will be away in a year or so, along with one or two others & our exciting new manager.

  18. Paulo75

    Jan 22, 2020, 19:14 #116330

    Hopefully the level of performance and commitment will become the norm going forward, certainly early signs are promising. We should be mindful Arteta is trying to make the best of what he has available for now until he begins making his own mark on the Club personnel wise in the summer. I don't see many of the current squad being part of his plans int he medium to long term but it is what it is for now. The Europa League is the obvious target this year so if we can continue to show some steel and get some key players back into the side maybe it'll be 3rd time lucky.

  19. Bard

    Jan 22, 2020, 17:25 #116329

    You're right Ron. How ridiculous to be so pleased they put a shift in. Shows how crap it's been to date. I remember when we beat City under Wenger being amazed and surprised at how 'at it' we were that day. It should be a given not optional. Certainly not on those wages.

  20. itsRonagain2

    Jan 22, 2020, 14:58 #116328

    A good summation Kev. Bang on re Ozil. I think hes always been a fairweather show pony really. English footballs not for him and never was. I keep hearing pundits saying he is great he is on his day? Ive never figured it. Has he ever had ' his day' at Arsenal? I accept it might be me. psychologically impaired after seeing his disgusting surrender , leaving his inept team mates to it at the 5-1 at Anfield 5/6 years ago , but ive seen little since that marked a step up from that day. Good fighting last night but its come to some thing when we celebrate seeing our team do some thing as basic actually fight in a game. Hes got to be shot of the Wenger conditioned slackers as you say. The players have had it far too easy for far to long. It hasn't taken a genius to work that out having seen us this last 10 years. The younger players are doing their best to pull the club around on their own effectively and its supposed to be the other way around!

  21. Nos89

    Jan 22, 2020, 12:31 #116327

    The reality of the situation is that we now find ourselves below Southampton. We are closer to the bottom 3 than the top 4 and we've only won two league matches since Emery was sacked. Sooner rather than later we have to start winning football matches. Arteta is making progress with structure of team and players mentality but we need a run of winning games. On last nights game Xhaka played and organised that back line better than anyone has for a few years, and it seemed more of natural position for him than the DM role. He took up the role Luiz has started to play with passing long out from the back, really well. I loved what arteta said after the game when asked if that is xhaka's new role, he said something like when you're happy in your mind you can play any position on the pitch. Saka, Martinelli, Xhaka and even Ozil to an extent played out of position and fought for the team. That's a real positive to take from last night's draw. Now, lets win a few games please.

  22. TonyEvans

    Jan 22, 2020, 12:25 #116326

    Great stuff second half, especially from young Martinelli and Saka. Queue a big money bid from Barca in the not too distant future - how Arsenal respond will tell us much about whether there is any real ambition left at the club.

  23. Exiled in Pt

    Jan 22, 2020, 12:16 #116325

    Great battling performance once down to 10 men and showed some real spirit . Lets hope they can build on it as we have had many a false dawn .We need that commitment in the next 3 league games to start putting some distance from the bottom half of the table . A good win in the cup on Saturday would be good too .

  24. GoonerRon

    Jan 22, 2020, 11:58 #116324

    That was the sweetest point I can remember winning for ages. The effort, commitment and sheer will to not lose the game could end up being a real coming-of-age moment for this team and also the manager. Leaving Martinelli on straight after the red was a brave move and kept us dangerous enough for Chelsea to be cautious. When he did bring Holding on he went to a back three and pushed Bellerin much higher up which got him into position to score. I know I’ve been bleating on about bad luck lately and I thought Abraham could easily have been flagged for offside as he was in Leno’s eye line when the cross came in. On a previous post there was talk of asset value being diminished in our club which is right, although this season I think it’s recovering as Martinelli and Saka are both £50m players in the making, perhaps already so in Martinelli’s case considering his goal output. So proud of them all, they displayed what is expected of a player with the cannon on their chest last night - that fight is now the benchmark going forward.

  25. Bard

    Jan 22, 2020, 11:36 #116323

    Same here Kev. The result doesnt matter too much but the performance does. We put in a proper shift. I totally agree about Ozil. The game passes him by these days. He doesnt have the athleticism needed. I do like him when he is on it but sadly those days are few and far between.

  26. ArsenalMagna

    Jan 22, 2020, 11:32 #116322

    That whole sequence leading to Luiz's red card really summed up the personnel we have at CB. Trying to play it out from the back while pushing up requires CBs who don't lose their heads easily; a feeble, panicked pass from Mustafi and then Luiz charges in needlessly. If Luiz had made an attempt at the ball, the rules dictate that that would have been a yellow card only, but instead he took a red card and a penalty. Luiz has generally looked great at CB under Arteta, but only with the protection around him (which is reasonable for any CB to expect to have). Leave him on his own and he goes AWOL. Feel a bit sorry for Mustafi in that he came out and said CB is so hard to play - that you have to play a 'perfect' game to have a 'normal' game in that position, which is true. On the other hand, he says social media comments brought him down and linger in his mind whilst on the pitch - don't be on social media then!! Anyway, I was delighted with that performance last night, and it's so good to see fight/spirit from the team after Wenger did so much to drill it out of the players, and club, in general. That said (and this point will probably go under the radar), if Arteta sticks with Ozil and Pepe performing like they did last night, it could well unravel his publicly proclaimed philosophy that a place in the team requires hard work. Ozil and Pepe's lethargy could spread to other players feeling 'why should I try when Pepe/Ozil don't?' Ozil covers a lot of ground but his pressing is half-hearted, he doesn't want to do the physical stuff, and he's only creative/effective when the rest of the team dominate the game for him. He was never meant to be in this team - he was panic bought by the board in 2013 following our loss to Villa, a mindless strategy designed to appease the fans. It crippled the existing strategy of using a playmaker infinitely superior to Ozil, Santi Cazorla, and Ozil was only given a contract extension, on huge terms, as a means by our idiotic board to save face, and make it seem like we could keep our star players. You can see that Lacazette is now really a (very sophisticated) 10 and not a 9, and that he should take Ozil's place over the next few years, as he's superior both offensively and defensively. Auba should move to the 9 role, and Martinelli and Saka should share left wing responsibilities. As for Pepe, you can see he's got the makings of a world-class player, but he doesn't track back anywhere near enough, sometimes even letting the full-back push up while he stays up-field. His efforts at tackling/blocking are lazy/weak, and he should stay on the sidelines for a while, till he makes an effort on those fronts. Nelson and Maitland-Niles could both fill in for him very well on the right flank.