Arsenal 1-1 Prague: fiddly taps

Arsenal are a bit like one of those old, fidgety bathroom faucets: on the one side you have a cold water valve, on the other side the hot water valve. You open the hot water valve first because it always takes a moment to clear out the cold water, but then when the hot water starts flowing, it’s scalding hot, so you quickly flick on the cold water and all the sudden the stream is icy cold. So, you then have to sit there fiddling with the taps until you get the exact right temperature. Then just when you lower your face into the sink to splash it with perfectly warmed water, someone flushes a toilet, sapping off all the cold water, and you burn the shit out of your hands.

Getting the balance right in a team is difficult under normal circumstances but in a pandemic, with multiple injuries to key players, it takes the most minute changes to the valves to get the temperature just right. And with Arsenal against Slavia Prague last night, Arteta seemed tentative to open any valves at first. Content with just a slight trickle of lukewarm water. But then he sort of opened things up, got the temperature and flow sort of right before one final adjustment. Things were perfect, the bathroom mirror was steamy, water was flowing like a Miyazaki film, and Cedric Soares flushed the toilet.

But Arteta’s starting lineup was the slow trickle. Lacazette got the nod in the CF spot, with Willian on the left, Smith Rowe dictating play, and Bukayo Saka providing pace. In midfield and defense, he fielded what were probably his most assured and trusted players available: Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, and Cedric with Partey and Xhaka just in front of them. It wasn’t the lineup most of us would have gone with, it felt too conservative up top and I think fans were crying out for more hot water in the form of Aubameyang and Pepe, but Arteta seemed more worried about not getting burned.

The match ended with Arsenal getting 1.8 xG and 4 big chances, one of which was massive. But other than Saka’s chalked off shot for offside (which wasn’t really offside and would have tested VAR) it took until the 60th minute before Arsenal created anything meaningful. But on the other hand, Arsenal were doing a great job of holding Slavia to speculative shots from distance, and not getting opened up too much. The tap was cold, it was a slow trickle, but the important thing from Arteta’s perspective was that Arsenal didn’t get burnt.

This is one strategy with the figety old faucet problem. If you go to a bed and breakfast or something, you might be tempted to just turn on both taps full flow. That’s what I would do. But Arteta is apparently the kind of guy who just barely turns the taps on and waits to see what comes out. His strategy is patience, whilst mine is wild swings hot and cold. In the end, we both arrive at our perfect equilibrium. I just waste more water.

For me, the starting lineup was all wrong: we needed more speed up front, someone who would take up more central forward positions, and who would make runs in behind the Slavia Prague defense. After all, my logic goes, if they are going to press high, they are going to leave space behind and when you do break their lines (which you will do), you want a speedy, intelligent forward. And I was left frustrated watching Arsenal yesterday. There were at least two times when Thomas Partey broke the press, started a counter and Lacazette was nowhere to be found, Willian was trudging along behind the play, while Smith Rowe and Saka both went wide. Right in front of Partey there was a gaping hole, the Prague defense was scrambling, and there was no one to pass to.

At other times when Arsenal had counter attacking chances it was even worse. Those were the moments when Willian and Lacazette led the charge. It was so slow, neither player wanted to (or maybe they can’t?) run behind the defense, and there was one time when both players seemed to want to drop to collect but there was no one in front of them.

This was the imbalance in the starting lineup. Willian doesn’t even try to get past a man anymore and Lacazette’s main role in this Arsenal side is to drop, collect, and pass forward. But pass it to WHO?

Arteta counters those of us who wanted a hotter start by pointing to how Arsenal created enough with his lineup to win the game and he’s right. Lacazette missed an incredibly easy chance one-v-one with the keeper. And Saka kept putting in dangerous crosses which either went to no one or were missed (by Lacazette). And Arteta points out that holding Aubameyang back gave him options off the bench. Which is also true, because Auba came on and almost immediately scored with what Arteta (wrongly) called a “tap-in” and ended up creating what should have been the game-winning chance for Nicolas Pepe.

But there was also something about that start which we all knew would turn out wrong. Last week Arteta said he wanted his players to show balls but instead of him taking the game by the balls, he went ultra conservative and even praised himself for his late subs by pointing out that he wanted to wait to see how they changed their lineup before he changed his. But if you want your players to be brave, maybe you should be brave? Maybe he thinks he was being brave, by holding back Aubameyang until the 78th minute? I don’t. I think he was being reactive, waiting to see what the temperature of the taps were.

And in the end he got burnt. He can blame the players (which he did again) and Cedric did flush it all away late with two very strange bits of football at the end of the game but it is also just as true that his tentative starting lineup, which took over 60 minutes to get going in this game because he failed to get the balance right in attack, failed to punish a Slavia Prague side which was there for the taking. He could have done better. He could have been bolder. And if we fail to go through to the next round, it will be because Arteta got this game wrong.



  1. Yes, yes, and yes…(another fine write-up)

    I thought Arteta was a sleek, modern AirBnB in Lahaina or Miami, but he is looking more like a rustic bed and breakfast near Natick or Mystic.

    I don’t like old finicky appliances, and I don’t frequent rustic bed and breakfasts.

    I’m beginning to sour on Mikel.

  2. Agree with your take. Two thoughts:

    – I’m bored of this non-football. We’re not an attacking team, we’re not a defensive team. We’re just a really, really mediocre team. The manager’s fear of losing is killing the team.

    – The biggest concern from yesterday’s game was the lack of confidence. Players played out of position (Cedric); relationships that work well cast to one side (Saka and ESR combine so well when they play on the same side); and some of our better players (Thomas and Gabriel) are regressing big time. Feels like the players are in a rut and not enjoying their football. The pressure won’t let up until something gives.

    1. ESR looked tentative with a stuck handbrake, as if he was detailed to cover up Williams❤️. So naturally had to run behind Williams like a maid to see Arteta baby “ shows his potential “ and does not soil his nappies instead. Waste of talent

  3. Agree on pretty much everything.
    I’ve been trying to stay positive relative to Arteta. He’s a likeable guy, clearly smart, and usually says the right things(though his post-match comments yesterday were an exception).
    But a some point, he needs to show progress, and I don’t see much, maybe even regression. A lot of bad decisions last night.
    Willian was poor, slow and risk adverse. Lacazette is pretty limited, at this point, he’s giving us a lot less than Giroud would. Not sure what’s going on with Partey, but his form has dropped as well.
    The substitution thing though, that was a disaster. It was obvious that they were open to runs in behind. They were playing poorly compared to their matches against Leicester and Rangers. Continuing with the slow, conservative players we had on was stupid. With 5 subs, there was no excuse for not bringing one or two of Auba/Pepe/Martinelli much earlier, either at half or 50-60 mins in. We could have been several goals up and not sitting on a knife edge.

    Given we’re pretty much done in league, I’d like to see the younger players this weekend. Then an attacking lineup in Prague. If he starts that same lineup again, I’m done with him.

  4. Agree on all points Tim.

    Blessed are the meek for they will inherit……the CL berth via the back door?!?!?

    Demanding the players show balls and courage ( publicly no less) while himself going for a safety first set up is a bit ironic.

    Other than his line ups, tactics, subs, constant play by play instructions, and lack of courage to exploit opponents weaknesses e.g. Liverpool’s championship level CB pairing, or Slavia’s freshly back from a skull fracture, face mask and head gear wearing keeper, I really can’t find much fault in Arteta’s game.

    1. “how can the players show their balls when they are kept in Arteta’s gym bag?”

      1. 😂😂
        The way you develop the story, I again reiterate you should write that book one cannot put down

  5. Going back to Prague and needing goals was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to this group though.
    At least now the chicken $hit approach should be a none starter , and you know with 1:0 score line that’s what it would’ve been.
    No one can tell me this Arsenal side doesn’t have enough to go there with the right mind set and beat the mighty Slavs, whatever their home patch record might be.

    1. Knedliky is what you might go for while in Prague, which is one of my favorite cities in Europe.

      1. i’ve been to prague once back in the late 90s. in fact, i caught the women’s world bodybuilding championship. there were some big girls in there. none were whooping my ass, i’m just saying. likewise, i remember the food being really good.

  6. Great post Tim. Thanks

    It’s easy to criticize in retrospect but its very difficult to get the team the balance right when the players who are available either don’t provide much in the way of end product in the penalty box or the ones who you might expect to score are out of form. Arteta could have started Auba and Pepe but Auba has been out of form for a while and he has been most useless. I can’t remember the last goal he scored and Pepe is usually not very good. Had he started those 2 and we struggle we would be criticizing for starting them. Saka and Smith-Rowe have done as well as can be expected and you can’t fault them in this game but you also can’t count on them to provide the end product we need in the penalty area. The idea that our strategy and tactics were overly conservative is hard to accept when we created more then enough decent chances but xG or big chances mean very little when you don’t have a scorer in your line up. Nothing Arteta or any manager can do when he doesn’t have anyone he can count on to turn those chances into actual goals scored.

    To me the more concerning thing about Arteta is the fact that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in 14 games. That is one thing the manager should be able to fix. We don’t have enough firepower in this squad to overcome a defense which can’t keep clean sheets.

    1. Watched the replay. The 1-1 Laca missed as well as other misses looked more difficult to miss than to score, Williams pointless scurrying around, feeling a bit that Laca , Auba, Partey, maybe Xaka have downed tools. Laca is limited , but given their friendship, might be in support of humiliated mate.

  7. I just checked and the last time Auba scored was 7 games ago against Burnley. He has scored only 9 league goals in 26 league games this season. We have not seen anything like the golden boot winning player from the last 2 season. We clearly need him to score if we want to have a good chance of success. However, my impression is that if he does not score he has almost no positive influence on the game which leaves the manager in a no win situation since he has not been scoring in most games. Do you continue to run him out game after game and hope he plays himself back into form or put someone else out there who might contribute in some other way? Either way the fans are going to second guess the decisions

  8. Laca is another dilemma. Clearly he has limitations but he is our leading scorer this year. Can a team which already has a shortage of firepower stop using its leading scorer? The limitations of this squad mean there are some questions which don’t really have a good answer.

  9. wow, the doom and gloom.

    look, arsenal had an uncharacteristically poor game and still nearly won. how many games will everyone suck in the same game? i don’t think it happens again. think about how many times arsenal hit the woodwork. how many 1v1s has lacazette missed in his career? that was his one for the next 3 years.

    in the immortal words of the great aaron rodgers, R-E-L-A-X. in a knock out competition, i acknowledge the best team doesn’t always win…but most of the time, they do. arsenal are the better team. they simply had a bad day. if i were arteta, i wouldn’t make wholesale changes based on the performance yesterday. if need be, i would make a change or two. arsenal will be in the semi-finals.

    1. It was a completely incorrect setup against a high pressing team. Watching Willian and Lacazette trudge forward on counters was embarrassing and you could see Lacazette’s confidence draining the closer he got to the keeper.

  10. We needed a left back with a left foot, so when under pressure, he can play the safe ball down the line, instead of passing it backwards and sideways. Cedric regularly puts Gabriel under pressure. Prague obviously knew this and pressed accordingly. Expect more of the same next week. My 10 cents says they get another goal from their right hand side.

    We also needed a centre forward who is looking to get into the 6 yard box, rather than hanging about on the edge of the box, or out on the touchline.

    On the night, we had neither.

    We’ve got very promising youngsters continually being let down by our more “experienced” players.

    “Lions led by lambs”

  11. Excellent analysis and analogy.

    The silver lining to that late Slavia equaliser is the effect it will have on Arteta’s strategy and line-up for the second leg. Given how conservative a coach he has shown himself to be recently, Arteta would have selected a team and a strategy to hold onto a 1-0 lead which is something we just cannot do anymore. It’s a toss up how we would react to losing a goal in those circumstances – sometimes we react well as against the Spammers (after losing three), on other occasions we get the jitters and lose another one or two (as against the Spammers).

    I think we (and Arteta) are far better going there to play a one-off cup tie that we have to win, though 0-0 would indeed have been better (was that the plan from the outset?). It’s never smart to give away an away goal but this may just be to our advantage. Select a team to win the game, set out to win. We can create more chances in Prague. We simply have to take them this time. Go win, Arsenal!

  12. He did get it wrong, I agree. More importantly, he got it wrong for the players he put on the pitch. In a home game of two legs. He’s lost the ability to think sharply under the accumulation of bad results in spite of his game plans. On too many occasions going forward on Thursday there was no ‘next move’ options open to players. Arteta’s right that we mis-managed the game – all 8 minutes of it! – again. Selection before the game was so obviously not what was required and subsequent substitutions during the game way too late. In a home game he needed to react to what he doubtless sees happening in the squad. He does not want to deal with the dynamic between players and within the group I fear. Put in a decent few hours of training and you’re in the starting 11, especially if you are senior. Inexperience and I fear, someone not comfortable dealing with managing spaces – the stuff that does not conform to set positioning, set interactions and set roles and responsibilities. What can be conceived on paper is all that exists for him. That includes, I suspect, scaring the bejesus out of the players before the game by linking our game too heavily to the competencies of the opposition. I do believe that another manager could have the same effect as Tuchel at Chelsea simply be being a half-way decent manager, with experience of the game AND the men and boys who play it. I’m at a point where I want to know what he and Edu have planned in summer transfers before I let them spend a penny! Not going to happen I know, but essential surely if we don’t want to spend another season ‘in transition’ with the wrong players. Sadly, Willian, Auba, are going nowhere. Auba looks and plays like someone who has developed a nasty dependency or is running scared, probably both. Maybe Luis stays too. Those are our senior role-models! Laca, at least a hard worker with supportive relationships with the younger forwards, will be sold. Our two loaners will return to Real Madrid. They might sell us the one most of us don’t want.
    What I’m trying to say here is that Arteta’s inability in managing footballers of differing degrees of talent, differing temperaments, different ages is a key issue in where we are in our season. Knowing what I know about people and their ability to change this is a significant factor. How quickly someone he respects can get through to him, how easily he accepts his short- coming, how adept he will be at communicating it to the players and how readily they are on the up- take will be decisive for our performance next season. Do we have the time for this learning on the job? Think Lampard and Tuchel.

    1. I wholly agree with you BERNIE, the management of players, tactics and games has been troubling so far, and seems to look even more bleak as we go on.

      I must say that the Tuchel to Chelsea thing in January, after he was available for what seemed like forever, really hurt me. Some might have seen him as a reject of PSG, but we are not really the club to buy someone out of their contract at a particular club, unless they are an assistant at a top club or managing a lesser side.

      When we didn’t get him after Arsene I understood that the relationship between him and Sven was prickly, and only one could be around. When we stuck by Sven, I felt that we had chosen long-term success in the market over Tuchel. Plus, there were many quality coaches available at that time. Right now though? Tuchel was a top tactician who has managed at clubs of every size and has been a success, while playing a dominant and free flowing style that does not drain players like Klopp. Basically the in-between of Pep and Klopp, and we left him for Chelsea to pick up and elevate their squad into performing at their true potential.

      When Tuchel went to Chelsea, I was reminded of Arsene being given (or him giving himself) a new contract after we had won our second FA Cup, when Klopp was available. This time we had managers like Marcelinno, Allegri, Quique Setién, Lucien Favre, Eddie Howe, Marco Silva and the afore mentioned Tuchel, all available. That period didn’t really speak of patience, it set the standard as to the goals and aims of this club, the standards and the accountability they put on work being done by both the players and the coaching staff. But I don’t think we didn’t want to make a change, I think Arsenal put too much in the Mikel Arteta bucket to abandon it at any point so soon, no matter what happens.

      What we are, is a club that is very bad a succession planning. Succession planning for coaches, first team players, youth players and even the top management positions. i really hope Edu, Vinai and the new director of football operations, Richard Garlick, can outline a plan that will push this club forward and protect us from any unforeseen incidents, appointment errors, financial woes or player departures.

      It really is Wenger all over again, but this time, with a young coach that does not know how to handle too many things that he has been entrusted with.

      I still believe that we will win in Prague, or at least I hope. I still smile when we win, and until the day comes when that doe not happen, I will continue wishing the best Arsenal.

    2. i agree with much of what you say, bernie. bottom line, arteta is the arsenal manager. will he be able to get from this team what he needs to see them be their best is the ultimate question.

      people are always talking about whether one player is good enough or another player’s limitations. bottom line, arsenal’s has a squad with the talent to routinely grace the champions league but they’re in 9th place. seriously, what the heck is 9th place this late in the season for a club like arsenal? it’s the management, full stop.

  13. Laca certainly is a limited player an he had a miserable game in the mid week Europa league however he is easily our leading scorer this season. With Auba looking less and less like the golden boot winner from the last couple years we need someone in the lineup capable of scoring goals. Laca isn’t great and will probably finish in the low to mid teens for the 3rd season in a row but right now he is the best we have. We really cant afford to sell him unless you think Auba will somehow turn back the calendar and regain his best form next year. I think the latter is highly unlikely.

    1. i’ll emphatically say that i hate the “he’s limited” argument. what does that even mean? all players are “limited”. if you don’t explain how a player is limited, your argument lacks legitimacy. i call that kind of description “lip service”. it’s vague, ambiguous, and endeavors to find validation on naive ears.

      lacazette is a very decent center forward. he’s also proven he can be prolific. how many in world football are clearly better center forwards than lacazette? he’s certainly the best arsenal has, including an in-form aubameyang. simply put, if you play auba at center forward, he will score. however, if you play lacazette at center forward, arsenal will score.

      bottom line, the struggles of this team are on arteta. he’s done a lot of the chalk board stuff right but i don’t trust his ability to manage players. more specifically, he’s not getting the best out of some really good arsenal players. is aubameyang incapable of scoring more goals? is willian really a striker? such a conservative approach has minimized arsenal. good result at the weekend but a club like arsenal should expect to win the remainder of their league games and this europa league. we’ll see how it’s all managed.

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