Being a visionary is not as easy as it looks


by Admir Pajic

Back in 2002, Arsenal were arguably the best team in England, if not Europe. We won the league & FA Cup double, we ended the league campaign with 13 league wins on a spin, scored in every single league game in the season, stayed undefeated on the road while beating both Liverpool and Man United in the process.

For those who don’t recall, we beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield despite playing with 10 men following tragi-comical Van Bronckhorst’s second yellow card. We also beat Man United 1-0 at Old Trafford despite playing without both Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.

In September 2002, Mr Wenger said: “I think we can go a whole season unbeaten.” Some people laughed at that idea, just like every time when a man with a vision come up with a bold statement.

Mr Wenger didn’t pull that very statement out if his bottom – he had every reason to believe we could eventually go through whole season without a defeat. He was speaking right after our league campaign during which we stayed undefeated away from home. It’s more difficult to play away than at home, with a 2020-21 season as a sole exception because there were no spectators allowed which meant referees weren’t under usual pressure from the stands to give calls for the home teams.

Mr Wenger just put two and two together: “If we can go through the whole season unbeaten on the road, we can do it at home as well!” He even didn’t say: “We will most certainly do it!I’m positive we will do it.” No. He said: “I think we can go a whole season unbeaten.“ He just stated a possibility and his statements was based on his experience and facts. He didn’t say he had seen it in the crystal ball. He just made a statement.

As we all know, we didn’t stay unbeaten in 2002-03 – we even didn’t win the league – but his statement turned out to be a correct prediction shoved down the throats of all Wenger-haters in 2003-04.

Fast forward to 18th March 2022, six months shy of Mr Wenger’s statement’s 20th birthday.

Only a year ago, when it looked like there are two different universes in Premier League – the first one with Man City and Liverpool pushing each other over 90 points and 90 goals scored and the second one with everyone else – Mr Arteta said Arsenal had to find the way in summer 2022 to “drastically increase their goal output if they are to become title contenders“. 

As Nick Ames of Guardian commented that Arteta’s point “essentially stands“ and that Arsenal “will probably have to find another 30 goals”. At that point of the season, Liverpool had 75 goals scored while Arsenal were on 43. Liverpool were second with 69 points in 29 games, Arsenal were fourth with 51 in 27 (although, with two games in hand). Manchester City weren’t far ahead of Liverpool even if pundits want you to believe they are having a mare of a season – they were top of the league with 70 points in 29 games.

Approximately a year after that comment, Arsenal were top of the league with Liverpool sitting 27 points behind Arsenal (although, with two games in hand). Arsenal have scored 66 goals in 28 games which means we have been scoring 2.36 goals per game which over 38 games means…90 goals.

So, Arsenal have been scoring roughly 0.76 goals per league game more comparing to where we were in March 2022 or 21 goals more (0.76 x 28). We didn’t just buy goals – Jesus, Zinchenko, Jorginho, Saliba and Trossard haven’t scored 21 goals between themselves – but rather managed to produce more goals within the squad. That’s why we have had 14 different goalscorers so far, three of them with double digits and our (in my opinion) best striker isn’t even among them!

Also, let’s not forget all the mocking Ben White attracted after completing his £50m transfer from Brighton to Arsenal in the summer 2021. Those who had read Mr Arteta’s words carefully – interestingly, some of his best visions came after our defeats to Liverpool – knew he was a big admirer of defenders who can play long passes forward. In September 2020, after a defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, Mr Arteta described Liverpool pressing game with these words: “When you get past the Liverpool press, you then hit Van Dijk. He then hits a 60-yard pass to Mo Salah, and they are out of the press. That is quality.”

Now, we enjoy a great season from Bukayo Saka who has dethroned Salah as the best right winger in the league while White is arguably the best RB in the league. Not just that, it’s the relationship between two that has been terrorizing opponents’ defences since Day One and our victory at Selhurst Park. White goes forward, opponents know Saka has so many options – picking overlapping White, using White’s shadow run to make a run of his own, releasing a left-footed shot while White draws left back’s attention to himself – so they can’t decide what to do and when they do, it’s usually a wrong choice.

Which is exactly what used to happen to Liverpool opponents – there were too many options for Jürgen Klopp’s team that their opponents couldn’t possibly cover all of them. You break the press and there is Van Dijk who then sends Mo Salah through on your goal with a 60-yard pass.

It’s easy to forget that there was a long way to where we sit now. We haven’t picked a single point against Man City in the league since a draw in 2016-17. We had lost nine out of last twelve league games v Liverpool since the opening day of 2016-17 before beating them in the league this season. It takes time, it takes vision, it takes going through tough times, being mocked by the ignorant before everything finally starts to pay off.

17 Replies to “Being a visionary is not as easy as it looks”

  1. Nice article Admir

    It’s obviously no coincidence that you choose to finish with:

    “We haven’t picked a single point against Man City in the league since a draw in 2016-17. We had lost nine out of last twelve league games v Liverpool since the opening day of 2016-17 before beating them in the league this season”

    since if we are to lift the title this season those to matches are going to be key.

    When you look at both Man City’s and our remaining fixtures there is no doubt that ours is the tougher set. But that is why we have opened up a 5 point gap. (As nice as 8 sounds it is an illusion really as man City’s game in hand is West Ham at home.) We have beaten just about everyone we should have and that has given us this little cushion, but we have very little wiggle room.

    Apart from Man City and Liverpool away we have Newcastle away, and 2 more London Derby’s.

    But before we get to what we need to do lets see what City are up against and what they might do.

    On paper the toughest 2 teams they have to play are Liverpool and of course our good selves, but both at home, and that’s enormous. They also have Chelsea at home. I expect them to beat both Liverpool and Chelsea, as I did and do us. Being realistic they should brush aside all their other home opponents.

    So how about their away games. Well, 2 they should breeze through, Southampton and Everton. But they do have 3 you could put into the ‘tricky’ category, 7th placed Brighton, 8th placed Brentford and 9th placed Fulham but honestly, I still expect them to win them after all we won those 3 away games 4-2, 3-0 and 3-0 respectively. Tricky, but well beatable.

    So, back to those ‘key’ matches. I realise many may not agree but I think we will lose at both Man City and Liverpool and draw at Newcastle. Dropping those 8 points means we will finish on 91 points

    If City go unbeaten they finish on 94 points, so given they will almost certainly shade our goal difference we need them to drop 4 points somewhere along the line. As I say, I expect them to win all their home matches so it’s going to have to be away at 2 of those ‘tricky’ away matches, the most likely places being Brighton and Brentford, but as I said, we won those 3 away games 4-2, 3-0 and 3-0 respectively so it doesn’t seem likely they will if we are honest.

    In conclusion, I’m really sorry but I find it difficult to see where Man City are going to drop points, and as such we are going to have to do it ourselves and that means taking more points than I predict from Man City, Liverpool and Newcastle.

    It goes without saying if we can get a draw at Man City that would be enormous. That gives Man City just 1 point of wiggle room, and that’s even if we still lose at Liverpool and draw at Newcastle.

    What we do have on our side is Man City’s incredibly packed and high pressure run in. Apart from every one of their PL games being a cup final they also have the CL, not to mention the FA Cup. Even with their squad that is going to test them to the limit.

    If we do as I suspect, and just drop points at Man City, Liverpool and Newcastle, and Man City still pip us, then we will not of ‘capitulated’ as I know many of our detractors will say, Man City will of won it, fair and square (the Brentford goal will still rankle though).

    All I know is, this season has been extraordinary and I expect it to continue to be so right up until the final match, I just hope my inherent pessimism is totally misplaced.

  2. Nitram,
    I mostly agree with your analysis of the remaining fixtures. However, I believe Arsenal will get something out of the match at Anfield. Certainly a point but perhaps all three. City continue to be a terrific football club but with the fixture congestion you pointed out, I think they won’t go unbeaten. I hope it doesn’t go down to goal difference. City has already won the league that way.

  3. Just watched our Women in the Champions League quarter final first leg. Whoever the referee was made the PGMO idiots look good. The pitch was so tilted we were playing up the side of a mountain. Bayern Munich won 1-0. Second leg at the Emirated next Wednesday evening. I just hope for a referee with even the most basic knowledge of the game.

  4. goonersince72

    I agree Liverpool is the hardest to predict in as much as they have looked extremely vulnerable, but on their day they do show glimpses of their old self.

    Depends which team turns up.

  5. @ Nitram
    Arsenals away form has been really good all season , we play a much tighter game , two (2) exceptions Everton , whole team didn’t turn up and Aston Villa where we were lacks and open but got out of jail .
    Man City will have maybe 3 to 4 days rest between games with at least 16 games to play Premier League , Champions League and FA Cup , we’ve got to do our job and put MC under pressure .
    Haven’t done my homework but I think MC struggled against Crystal Palace because it came after a CL game .
    Other than the dreaded injuries we will have 6 days rest between games except for maybe 2 where it might be 3 or 4 , that’s where I think we have an advantage .

  6. Andrew

    I thought the same. Diabolical performance from the ref, and how we didn’t get at least a draw out of it I’ll never know. Much the better side, especially in the second half.

  7. Steve Vallins

    Again, as with goonersince72 I tend to agree.

    Hey, I think we can win at Liverpool. But they have had the ‘sign’ over us for a long time and as such it’s a psychological hill to climb as well as a physical one. I just don’t think we’ll come away with anything. And of course we can win at Newcastle but they will be ultra motivated, fighting for a CL spot and as such we will do well to come away with a point. And finally of course we could get something at the Etihad but it’s a big ask.

    I’m just being honest, I think it’s going to be very very tough to get much from those 3 matches.

    So when you say “Other than the dreaded injuries we will have 6 days rest between games except for maybe 2 where it might be 3 or 4 , that’s where I think we have an advantage” I agree that is where our best hope lies.

    If they do have the nigh on immaculate run in that I think they will need to beat us then credit where credits due, they will of earned it.

  8. Guys,

    I believe that at least a tie to Pool and City are possible, and I am convinced City will lose some points along the way.
    As of today, this PL title is ours to lose and our only priority is to go at it game after game, and not fear anyone.
    Any psychological signs, IMHO, are gone. This team is a new team, the players are hungry and have something to prove and wrongs to right. They are, as of today, the best team in the league. And they’ll want to stay in that position.
    And other teams will have their random events and injuries as well, as we are seeing happening now.
    8 points clear with a game in hand for City is a situation pretty much no one had dreamed about.

  9. @Nitram

    Thanks for kind words.

    I do have my fears when it comes to our fixture list comparing to the one of Man C.

    For starters, they play Liverpool at home while we play Liverpool away.

    Liverpool have picked 30 points out of 39 available at home which is bettered only by Arsenal (35/42) and Man C (34/39). Away from home, they have picked just 12 out of 39 which is 12th best record in the league. Those are reasons for pessimism. A reason for optimism is that two of their three away victories came against Spurs and Newcastle which means they have felt more comfortable in big away games than against upper mid-table teams (Brentford without Toney 1-3, Brighton 0-3) or teams in the relegation scrap (Wolves 0-3, Bournemouth 0-1, even their only home defeat was against Leeds).

    Man C have at least two CL games and a tricky FA Cup game before the game against us. Sheffield U are a team that will try to make the most of their historic visit to Wembley and will probably go beyond.

    You wrote:

    “So how about their away games. Well, 2 they should breeze through, Southampton and Everton. But they do have 3 you could put into the ‘tricky’ category, 7th placed Brighton, 8th placed Brentford and 9th placed Fulham but honestly, I still expect them to win them after all we won those 3 away games 4-2, 3-0 and 3-0 respectively. Tricky, but well beatable.”

    It’s worth noting City have been beaten by Southampton in League Cup this season (2-0). We have dropped two points there thanks to awful refereeing performance by Robert Jones but they will fight for their lives.

    As for Everton, they are one of two teams that have left Etihad undefeated this season. It was a sucker punch by Demaral Grai but they fought well to earn that point and it was under Frank Lampard.

    Whilst I agree Fulham are likely to fold against Big Seven team again (they have lost to Newcastle, Spurs, Man United and Arsenal at home), Brighton are a different story. I wouldn’t put too much in our 4-2 win there as they were without both Caicedo and Mac Allister. They are now in the Champions League place tussle and playing some mesmerizing football in the process. Brentford away probably depends on if Brentford are still fighting for a European place next season and if Ivan Toney’s suspension for betting kicks in. They are the only team that have beaten City at Etihad this season.

    Finally, Man C have the trickiest possible fixture coming up on 26th April. It’s against the best team in the league this season, the best away team in the league this season and the only team that has managed to play technically better football than City. As Rorschach from “The Watchmen” would yell at the other prisoners, many of whom he had sent to prison as a vigilante, while being taken away by the prison guards: “I’m not locked in here with you. You are locked in here with me!”

    And that’s my biggest hope. We played City at the Emirates during our worst period this season, without two essential members of our first eleven – Thomas Partey and Gabriel Jesus, effectively without three as Ben White was fatigued so Tomi had to deputize for him. The game was still 50-50.

    Now, if we play City with our full-strength team, I believe we can beat them or at least stay undefeated. Winning at Anfield would help as one thought will sneak into Guardiola’s and his players’ mind: “What if we win all eleven games and still finish empty-handed?” They know they can win every one of their eleven games left and still finish second if we win nine games and drop points only at Etihad. They know they can go to 94 points and STILL finish second because there is a team that has been even better than they are.

  10. Chris

    Yep, lots of well reasoned argument and that is of course what may well happen. In fact it’s almost certainly what will happen. By that I mean, it almost certainly wont go exactly as I suggested or form would dictate, that is the beauty of football.

    But when making predictions, which after all is just a bit of ‘fun’ for want of a better word, because that’s what fans like me cant help themselves from doing, all you can do is view each game as you see it.

    With regards to one of your points:

    “Any psychological signs, IMHO, are gone.”

    This is a tricky one but I see where you are coming from. Sometimes these scars can be passed down but as you say this group are different gravy. Not only that there are actually very few of the players left that bear the scars themselves.

    From last years 4-0 defeat we have 6 players that are likely to start. From the previous seasons 3 – 1 defeat we have just 2 in the shape of Holding and Xhaka, who is back to brilliant best.

    None the less, the last 6 seasons are a fact and not a good one, having lost 6, conceding 22 goals and scoring just 4. BUT, Liverpool were the best they have been for decades, they no longer are, and we were the worst we had been for decades, so not so shocking in reality.

    The previous 9 seasons, when we were constantly finishing above Liverpool reads much better: P9 W3 D5 L1 F18 A18

    But that still means only 3 wins in 15 seasons, (well actually it’s18), so a win is still a massive ask.

    So if, as you believe, this current side will carry no burden, and we could well return to the kind of results we were achieving prior to our fall from grace and Liverpool’s rise from the gutter, we should be okay with a draw being the most likely outcome, with a victory a slight possibility.

    I should listen to you more often Chris, 5 minutes talking to you and the World seems a nicer place 🤣

  11. Admir Pajic

    Again as I said to others, all very good points. It’s why this run in should be so enthralling.

    We are indeed the best team in the PL, at least up until now we are, and as such we could indeed win all our matches, or at least go undefeated to the end of the season. And as we have seen Man City are not immune to big wobbles and they do have an extremely busy run in, and as such anything can and probably will happen.

    My friends on here put forward some very positive scenarios supported, as is their want, by some very sound logic and statistical evidence, which gives much food for thought.

    Alas I am by nature, when it comes to Arsenal at least, a pessimist. If we are 4 – 0 up with 4 minutes to go I am still pacing the room. For some reason my brain is managing to fit in 2 serious injuries, a red card and 5 goals, all before the final whistle.

    Maybe I should take more notice of you guys, if only for the sake of my own blood pressure!!!

  12. @Nitram,

    you are welcome anytime to watch a game with me – and or drink whatever…Cyprus is the place now.

    That being said, I really believe the young Gunners and their senior Xhaka are not at all influenced by negative history. If anything, I’d expect them to prove they are made of harder mettle and achieve better results.

    Mr Arteta, or what we are reading/seeing about him is showing more and more signs of being a shrewd coach, a football technician who has nothing to envy to Guardiola and Klopp and who more then any other coach (level with Mr Wenger IMHO) able to make any young player with the right talent a world-wide star. And he has surrounded himself with an organisation that is more and more becoming visible and proving it’s worth. Not just a few individuals. A whole organisation. So the ‘no individual more important then them team’ that prevails on the ground seems to be applied in the organisation as well.

    Yep, I’m enjoying this season more then any I have since I follow Arsenal, which means in 20 years. even the Invincibles did not play this kind of incredible football.

    PS : re your brain – TRUST THE PROCESS !!

  13. Chris

    Believe me, I trust the process. When it comes to Arsenal, my problem is not ‘the process’, the ‘big picture’ the ‘long game’ it’s always the next game, the next 5 minutes!!

    As I said, I always fear the worst. I cant help myself.

  14. @Ben,

    The article on referees and VAR was interesting. What really made my day was seeing that Lineker wanting a change in the laws, and then after they were implemented, flip-flopping to argue against them.

    Pundits, eh?

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