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August 2021

Arsenal’s Opener: The good, the bad and the unpredictable.

By Don McMahon

Once I had digested the entirety of the Arsenal Leicester game, I decided to write a review based on wearing two hats; a referee’s viewpoint and a certified coaches’ viewpoint, so here goes. I will describe or break down the key elements of the game as follows:

  1. Team lineup,
  2. Fitness levels,
  3. Tactical prowess,
  4. Psychological  performance,
  5. Style and substance,
  6. team chemistry,
  7. individual performances,
  8. the opponents,
  9. the key moments,
  10. 155 things we learned…..what does this performance bode for the rest of the season?

But first I want to get the officiating review out of the way. In my humble opinion, Dean had a very decent game, allowing play to flow, refusing to fall for simulation, catching serious foul play but avoiding excessive intervention, good collaboration with his assistants,etc. All in all a good performance from a man we have come to mistrust, but the season is yet young! Enough said….

1)Team lineup: we all know who played but it was apparent that the absence of Mustafi and Koscielny would be felt and it was. Our defence- suffered from lack of cohesion and experience. The rest of the lineup was powerful but had Sanchez been available, I believe it would not have been such a close game as there were ample opportunities for a wriggler like him to find space to score.

2)Fitness: we were clearly the fitter team, especially towards the last quarter of the game. This fitness and subsequent work rate was THE key to our victory. I was really impressed with Lacazette, who fitted in like a glove in terms of his ability to motor.

3)Tactical prowess: Wenger switched his tactics around the 60th minute from 3 at the back to 4, because I believe he saw Leicester starting to fade and knew that they would try more long balls to Vardy, so he cut that option out very well. He also substituted at the perfect moment, when we had the momentum and 2 of his 3 substitutes scored! If that isn’t managerial genius, what is?

4)When we went down 3- 2, I feared that we’d drop our heads and play out the game like we have done so often in the past BUT instead, we picked up the pace (already very high) and NEVER looked like conceding nor abandoning the fight. The spirit, the fightback and the determination to win only got stronger as the game wore on, and it really wore Leicester down in the last 15 minutes. That is the mental strength Wenger always talks about and it was also helped by the fair officiating!

5)Style and substance: What really caught my eye was our new tendency to shoot from distance, combined with our more physical style and rapid passing (give and go) in the opponent’s penalty area. Lacazette didn’t ever back down and he took a beating. Kolasinac was a beast and powered his way through the entire game. The Ox shredded Mahrez time and time again and we had excellent play on both wings.  I discount the poor defending as it will be quickly remedied with the return of Kos, Per and Mustafi. Holding isn’t quite ready for prime time yet but he’ll learn by getting his arse-nal scalded I am sure. We seem to have real options and substance in every position this season.

6)Team chemistry: Arsenal play a beautiful one-touch, rapid and massive counter-attacking game. While a fluid chemistry isn’t quite there yet, we saw continuous glimpses of it starting from the midfield and carrying on into the opponent’s penalty area. I particularly liked the support Ozil got from Xhaka, Kolasinac, the Ox and Welbeck. The thought that we’ll soon have Alexis and eventually Santi back is very encouraging and maybe even Wilshere?

7)Individual performances: I noticed that Cech had a hard time commanding his area. In my opinion, 2 of the 3 goals Leicester scored were partly due to his failure to cut out potentially damaging crosses into the box. The Ox had moved up a gear this season and I never appreciated how fast he is in the stretch. He is leaving opponents behind like a train leaves the station, I can only hope this continues. What a player Giroud is! He comes on and scores the winner. Ramsey gets us the equalizer and Welbeck also brings us level but my man of the match has to be the Ox, whose drive and speed really caused Leicester headaches all night. Ozil didn’t have a standout performance but he did force the Leicester defence to cover him very tightly and that was essential to breaking down their tightly packed defense. Elneny was his usual energetic self and Monreal handled a difficult situation well.

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8)Leicester played well defensively and really worked very well on the break but they were outclassed by a better team. Arsenal controlled the play about 70% of the time and had it not been for Schmeichel, the score could have been much higher. They will do ok this season but teams whose defences are better prepared for the Vardy phenomena will hold a high line and cut out his attacking effectiveness. They (Leicester) really need to up their fitness levels as they faded rapidly in the last 15 minutes and they were lucky to escape with only 2 goals in that period. Teams that park the bus this season are in for a punishing time against high scoring teams like the Arsenal!

9)The key moment for Arsenal in my opinion was when Dean refused to allow Mahrez to get away with simulation. This gave the Arsenal a feeling that finally the field was level and they could play like they wanted without fear of punishment. It is very strange for me to compliment Dean but he did control the game well, and didn’t allow rough stuff, nor award penalties that were debatable at best.  When your team can play to their best, they will show their best.

10) There are a lot of positives to take from this performance and with Sanchez,Santi, Mustafi,Per and Koscielny returning, it is a certainty that we’ll only get stronger defensively, especially If we get good officiating like we got on Friday! May the Football gods keep smiling on us.

And for all these reasons, a large variety of football bets can be placed at top bookmaker sites to get in on the action.

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20 comments to Arsenal’s Opener: The good, the bad and the unpredictable.

  • Chris


    any insight as to why Mw Wenger switched Bellerin to the left- and the Ox to the right-back positions ?
    There must have been a reason ?

  • Josif

    Personally, I don’t put too much at our defensive issues in the opening match.

    Firstly, we were without four central defenders of which at least two would have started had they been available (Koscielny and Mustafi for sure, Mertesacker and Gabriel maybe). In the absence of Mertesacker we didn’t have our natural leader in the defence, someone who is a real master of positioning and set-piece defending which was used by Leicester players.

    Secondly, our attack was free-flowing with Lacazette being surprisingly good in link-up play. I admit I had my doubts about him (as Walter knows) but it seems he is on the right path to prove me wrong. I like being wrong in that way! I can’t imagine how great our attack will be with Alexis linking up with Lacazette and Mesut.

    Thirdly, our main midfield axis Ramsey-Xhaka was the key of our victory. Xhaka assisted for our last two goals with his first assist being a true master-piece that I’m surprised nobody has praised so far. If Alli tried to pass the ball with the outside of his boot in a way Xhaka did, he’d probably twist his ankle. Rambo added more energy and natural attacking sense which resulted with a well-taken goal and a couple of chances to score on the either side of his goal.

    Fourthly, Kolašinac had a great debut but it seems that we might enjoy in the energy on both of our flanks. Both Ox and Bellerin can repeat runs ad infinitum and Kolašinac/Monreal can charge down the left flank. Monreal deserves a special praise for his development as a central defender.

    Fifthly, Giroud scored a great goal given the circumstances (he had a Leicester thug literally all over himself!). He linked up well with Lacazette after his introduction and it seems we might score 100 goals in the league if we keep our focus on the league.

    If I have to state my disappointment, it’s how Elneny put Xhaka in trouble before their second goal. I have a feeling he could be the weakest link in our team right now, whether because it was difficult for him to play with a different back-three behind his back or because he doesn’t provide enough drive to our team in a way Rambo does.

    Which leads me to conclusion: I’d bet on our current team to win the league if we keep our best players, focus solely on the league and sign another midfielder closer to the quality of Ramsey and Xhaka than any of Elneny, Wilshere and Coquelin are. If we don’t, City are the favourites to win the league.

  • Jammy J

    Knowing how good of a ref Dean can be, just makes his continuously disgraceful displays, all the more infuriating. There are some refs that just seem plain incompetent, but the likes of Dean and Clattenburg, can, clearly, be extremely good referees, when they want to be (or are permitted to be).

  • Laos gooner

    Good question from Chris and I would like to know if there is an answer. I have to agree with the comments about the boy Dean and I am still taking it in, a game with such a dubious characteur in the middle and we are not discussing blatantly wrong decisions. I wonder if this is due to the imminent arrival of the video assistant referee. If, at its time of introduction, there is a significant difference in decision making, then it will be clear that either ineptitude or match fixing has been at work, so the corrections must be addressed before it is all too apparent to everyone. It would make an interesting season if we are to see the rules of the game equally applied to all teams, I believe.

  • colario

    Dean. Not surprised by his performance.
    His masters are easier on us in what call ‘highlight games’ The recent cup final games we have played in are a good example.
    Friday night’s game was a ‘highlight’ game. In my opinion Dean was merely obeying orders.

  • omgarsenal

    Chris…..I am not a master tactician but if it were my call, I’d have done it to take advantage of a tiring Leicester. Both the OX and Bellerin are very,very fast and direct attacking fullbacks. this can confuse a defender who is tired and beginning to flag. Adrian Clarke, in his match analysis, noticed that Wenger was taking advantage of Leicester’s obvious defensive errors as the game went on and his substitutions of Ramsey and Giroud really profited from this tiredness.

  • Goonereris

    16/08/2017 at 12:29 pm

    any insight as to why Mw Wenger switched Bellerin to the left- and the Ox to the right-back positions ?
    There must have been a reason?

    My thoughts: IIt was to give us more thrust down the right where the Ox is stronger and admittedly, better going forward than Bellerin. Bellerin was required to do more defending, upon the switch, as Leicester are stronger on their right side with Mahrez and Simpson. Bellerin could afford to sit in and Kolasinac could mop up, was Wenger’s consideration. Hence, you saw the Ox bombed forward more freely, to make crosses or shoot. He had the most crosses and shots on the day, which came from that right hand side.

  • Goonereris

    Oh, and I also agree, Dean was a surprise. He did his job with a great deal of fairness and instinct. Like when he didn’t give the penalty for Ndidi’s handball in their box and Ozil’s handball, which the media and pundits moaned about, while failing to mention Ndid’s incident or the fact we have not scored directly from Ozil being allowed to go on or from that corner kick. The goal came after Leicester failed to clear their lines.

  • nicky

    Don, a masterly summing up of a bit of a cliff-hanger to begin our season.
    More please. 😉

  • Gord

    OT: Corruption News

    Septic bladder was in the news a few days ago, something about everyone else being bad and he was picked on (I’m clean, I’m clean). It looked like a rehash of old stuff to me, so I didn’t pay much attention.

    Times of Malta has a note. Heading to parliament soon, is a proposed law which will increase maximum jail time to 3 years for bribery (and other?) in sport, and banning from sports facilities for 10 years and some other stuff.

  • para

    Seems like Arsenal is evolving (back) into a team of players who will be more dynamic and inventive on field. Players who can think and make more split second decisions based on experience rather than the slight indecisions we have mostly had over the years.

    So glad to see the types of players coming in has changed too, and for sure it is a pity we are not in CL this season i’m sure, but a year in EL may bring benefits we never dreamed of.

    Arsenal looks to be making another jump in age(i mean growing up) and this can only be good.

    It may be hard for us to see players who we’ve become used to over the years (have to) leave but we knew it would come, and those players coming in are now levels better, and i sense there will be more coming too if the deals get done.

    For sure we are dealing.

  • Andy Mack

    Concerning the Ox/Bellerin switch, I agree with Goonereris.
    Bellerin wasn’t having a great game and his crossing was poor, so although keeping him involved with Mahrez and Vardy is wise from a defensive point of view, from an attacking point Ox was one of our main driving forces on the day, so move him across to the side his crosses may be more affective, whilst giving the Leicester players something different to deal with.

  • Lohit

    @Josif, City’s attack looks like one dimensional with all ticki-taka players and no variety. They brought Mendy who is one of the best crosser of the ball and they have no height in a the box to take advantage of it.

  • Nitram

    Jimmy J

    “There are some refs that just seem plain incompetent, but the likes of Dean and Clattenburg, can, clearly, be extremely good referees, when they want to be”

    I’ve said something similar a few times, basing my thoughts on what I witnessed when they refereed in European or international competitions.

    Not perfect by any means, but they held there own with the best in the World, and performed immeasurably better than when refereeing us.

    As you say Jimmy, infuriating.


    I understand your scepticism, as I too am very sceptical about whether it will continue, but for a different reason. I said straight away after the match how well I thought Dean did, but I added that we saw this last year.

    The reason I think we had a fair shake in the early part of last season is because we where not seen as a threat. The moment we where beginning to show we where, the refereeing changed.

    If you recall it changed on the back of media outrage at the perceived miscarriages of justice that where perceived as going our way.

    We got a few penalties early doors if I remember. A couple of disputed goals. The media where getting their knickers in a right old twist.

    If we start to look anything like a threat, expect something similar to happen this year.

    And one last thing.

    The OX.

    Lets hope he is now the player we all thought he could be. Very very impressive to watch, and stats to match.

  • MickHazel

    Regading OX it would be a kick in the teeth, after being developed by Arsene and the coaching staff, he were to leave on a free next year, especially if he were to sign with Chelsea. Lets hope he sees sense and stays where he is for another few years, he owes the club that developed him.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Nice one Don. That was ultimately a decent win against an effective side who would have been smarting, and clearly motivated over late winners denying them against us in the last few games, well, it happened for them again.
    As for Dean, a couple big mistakes, one for us one against, but I suspect we will see the worst of him and others as the season progresses. The refs are influenced by the media, and now they have the Everton love in to add to their sympathetic view of certain other clubs, including, it seems out neighbours again. Will the spuds get yet another season without a red card on the field, I for one wouldn’t bet against it.
    Will be interesting to see how we are reffed against Stoke .
    Giroud is not a world beater, but a very special player, we should treasure him, he has got us out of a few problem games in his time.

  • finsbury

    “but my man of the match has to be the Ox”

    I saw the same football match as Don.

    What then are we to make of the pontificating podcastateers who have been continuously degrading the observable performances of this football player upon the football pitch? Have they never watched a game of football, or:

    Are they on commission from his agent?

  • Menace

    Dean was not faultless. His talking to (to a Leiceser player) midway in the first half instead of a yellow card was unprofessional (school boys & youth football need talking to not £50k per week professionals). There were several fouls on Lacazette as he went to turn on a defender well away from the ball. Certain bookings if the official was not blind or bent.

  • Nitram


    You certainly have a point, and it may well be the fact that I, and others, make our judgements in the light of relativity.

    Compared to his previous performances this was a masterclass, but as you say, I actually I did say, not perfect.

    Lets see how the Referee review sees it when they analyse every individual incident and see if it was as good as some of us thought, or perhaps not, as you suggest.

  • Oldham Gooner

    Dean was alright I suppose -_-

    @ Josif

    I feel Elneny and Coquelin produce different qualities in midfield compared to our more attack minded players like Ramsey and Xhaka. Elneny’s short passing range is more transitional and helps build a rhythm going forward or back, while Coquelin helps commence counter-attacking moves from midfield through his interceptions and ball winning.

    I love it when we produce great attacking football but I’ll always have a soft spot for players in Gilberto Silva’s old position 😀