Arsenal face a different pressure now the Premier League title is theirs to f*** up…

Arsenal celebrate at full-time after beating Tottenham in the north London derby. Credit: Alamy
Arsenal celebrate at full-time after beating Tottenham in the north London derby. Credit: Alamy

The Mailbox reflects on the controversies in the two big derbies, with the title now Arsenal’s to lose, unless the Man Utd conspiracy brings down the Gunners.

Get your views in to theeditor@football365.com and come back this afternoon for a bonus Monday Mailbox…

 

Arsenal’s to lose
There comes a time in every premier league season, where if the leaders don’t win, it’s because they F’d it.

We’ve now reached that point. 8 point lead, City on patchy form, Arsenal flying. It’s theirs to lose. Don’t win from here and you’ll always look back with immense regret.

For the record, I hope you don’t mess it up. Would far rather see arsenal champions than City. Good luck to you Gunners. Don’t F it from here.
Mike, LFC, London

 

Derby, ding-dongs and d*ckheads
What can we reflect on from that NLD? From an Arsenal point of view that first half was the most one sided NLD I can recall in recent memory, Arsenal took control and deserved both goals. This Arsenal team is simply man for man technically far superior to Spurs. But that only gets you so far in derby games, you have to be physical, work hard and have an intensity in your play and Arsenal beat spurs in every one of those departments as well. Spurs improved after the break but it was all about keeping them at arms length which Arsenal did comfortably.
Now on to more unsavoury things. Clearly to everyone (except Richard Keys – more on him in a minute) thinks it’s a disgrace that a fan kicked or aimed a kick at Ramsdale. If you get that angry at a football game that that is your action you need to see someone and consider your priorities in life. However don’t overlook the role Richarlison plays in it, needlessly pushing and shoving Ramsdale as he goes to collect his water bottle – it’s hard to think of a more unlikeable player in the league, well suited to the team he plays for.
Now on to Richard Keys, in his comments about the incident he blames Ramsdale, blames Ben White (?) and finally comes round to his obsession by blaming the chief antagoniser with his touchline actions, and Keys enemy No. 1 Arteta. That’s right, Keys blamed Arteta for a fan kicking Ramsdale. At first I thought Keys’ regular rants at Arteta (won’t someone get that man to stay in his technical area!!!) was some attempt to become relevant again, but it is an unhealthy obsession now – and actually it has become potentially dangerous and could incite trouble as more and more knuckle staggers listen to what he says, especially when you see fans enter the pitch to try to assault players.
Finally, after Arsenal received 2 FA charges for failing to control their players v Newcastle and Oxford, and bizarrely Zinchenko was written to by the FA to warn him about his exuberant celebrations are we going to see charges for every team who surrounded the referee since Arsenal’s game v Oxford? Wolves and Forest had a bit of a dust up after the cup game, Newcastle, Leeds, City, Man U and spurs today have all been guilty of what Arsenal were charged for so do the FA have any consistency or did they charge Arsenal twice to detract from two very poor referee calls that Arsenal were complaining about?

Anyway, each game as it comes, another routine away win in the bag. Just need to keep winning matches.
Rich, AFC

 

Kicking Saka
Min 20 GNev “they’ve got a problem with Saka” thanks for that pal. It’s almost like a top class talent up against a converted winger and slow Barcelona reject is a recipe for disaster. He did point out later that Lenglet and Sessegnon clattered the StarBoy to stop him. It’s been a consistent feature of this season and credit the ref for giving the fouls and eventually booking Sessegnon. This is the ying to the Yang of the change in refereeing this season – Saka has been constantly kicked but little been done. The reemergence of 80’s style defending, if unchecked, will start to detract from the spectacle. At best.
Surely Ramsdale will be given a chance to be England’s no.1? As long as no more Richarlisons/Spurs fans have a pop.
And wither T*tt*nh*m? Lads. That was like a latter days George Graham side. Bluster, effort, directness. Minimal craft, skill, movement and fluidity. No Kane and this is bottom half fare.
Looking forward to the FA charges from all games this weekend with pretty much every team getting a handful of players round the ref. Fair enough from the FA, but be consistent and thorough.
Yours
Roscoe P Coltrane

 

…The real heroes of this title charge are the Arsenal medical staff. The Spurs bench had way more quality than the Arsenal one.

There were a few injuries to key players, but never really any simultaneous key player injuries.

Or maybe Arteta just has more luck with this than Wenger did.
Suds (Durban Gooner)

 

Hu-go Lloris
Firstly – and quite frankly, obviously – f*ck Lloris. I’m pretty sure if I search the myriad of emails I’ve been sending in down the years, a good % of them will be slating him. Rightly so.

Secondly, if we actually played liked we (currently) are in this 2nd half on the regular, I wouldn’t grumble. Even if we lost. A bit of commitment, some urgency and just acting like you’re interested goes a long way. Is the passing still pedestrian a lot of the time and some of the players not fit for purpose? Yes. However, I feel like the team are generally playing with a massive inferiority complex and it’s just not warranted. Man for man, we have a lot of decent players.

The likes of Lloris, Dier, Sess and Doherty aren’t useful for what we’d like to achieve. Never mind the squad players. Still, Kane, Kulu, Romero, Richi and Sonny (when he returns from this funk) is a stellar group of players.

Top 4 is probably our limit considering United’s rude health, Arsenal + Newcastle doing silly things and even the shittest version of City being streets ahead of us.

Arsenal, clearly with a level of comfort being 2 nil up, meant we were always going to have more of the ball and also, just by the law of averages, couldn’t have possibly been as horrific as the 1st half. Still, would be nice to play the first half of football as we had the second. Or attempt to.

Lloris is incomprehensible. It’s mind boggling how he continues to play. Where is Ian Walker when you need him? I’d genuinely start Forster. All these stats about him having 3 or 4 errors directly leading to us conceding is also bollocks. I’ve watched Spurs all season and he’s made at least 427 errors that lead directly to goals.

It’s just finished and now Arsenal are celebrating in front of their fans like they’ve won the league. Different stadium, different players – familiar feeling and scenes.

Meh.
Glen, Stratford Spur

 

…We were woeful. I usually write in with some sort of pithy missive to soothe the pain but that was an ordeal. They were first to every lose ball without fail and made us play sideways football for the majority of the game.

They’re really going to win the league, and who can really say they’ve not been good value for it so far?

Oh, and f*ck that idiot for trying to kick Ramsdale. Shambles.
Jon (misses Lamela every derby day), Lincoln

Read more: Tottenham 0-2 Arsenal: 16 Conclusions on the new Premier League favourites and familiar Spurs failings

Change needed at Liverpool
Watching the latest disappointing Liverpool result fills me with increasing dread about the next few games coming up (Chelsea, Wolves, Newcastle, Real Madrid).

The Liverpool midfield is stodgy, slow and ageing which admittedly will happen to all teams eventually. They no longer can cover the ground, provide the cover for the full backs and create or unlock teams.

I think the biggest question is does he have the capacity/courage/will to see what is plainly obvious and change it? He is clearly an incredible manager and achieved huge amounts in which case how are we still persisting with a midfield 3 of Henderson (legs have gone), Fabinho (no form this season and now doesn’t provide attacking or defensive cover) and Thiago (needs physical players next to him). The eyes don’t deceive and neither do the numbers he must have access to.

This is the list of our midfielders:

Milner – too old
Keita – leaving in 6 months
Alex Oxlade – leaving in 6 months
Jones – young prospect
Elliot – young prospect
Carvalho – young prospect
Fabinho
Thiago
Henderson
Melo – joke
Looking at that list why are we spending £40m on a forward when we desperately need 2 established midfielders right now. Putting all our eggs in the Bellingham basket is a massive risk and we need a new approach this season.

As a side, what a fantastic job ETH is doing. It puts to bed that OGS was a decent manager considering what ETH has achieved in 5 months….makes me feel a bit sick.
Zaki LFC

 

Painful transition
My message to all my fellow Liverpool fans; brace yourselves for impact, because this is going to hurt.
It looks like Liverpool may well have to suffer for a bit while this transition runs its course- and that’s being optimistic- this may well be much worse than a combination of transitional pains and fatigue/injuries. Time will tell.
But that’s not what is bothering me. What’s hurting is how much silverware was left behind. I might be biased, but Liverpool 2018- 2022 was an absolute masterpiece. Points totals can be misleading these days, but what Liverpool pulled off in 2019 and 2022 was easily good enough to win any league at any other time in any place, with the exception of the EPL in those very same years. That’s not to say Liverpool deserved those titles; City were slightly better. Liverpool were just unlucky to run into a combination of petro billions and an outstanding manager. It was never harder to win the league than in those seasons, so of course Liverpool would produce a brilliant team at that exact moment . To make matters worse, this season City have dropped off again, and Liverpool have decided to follow suit- so now we may have to endure somebody else winning a league title. And actually lifting the trophy in front of their fans. Might be Arsenal. Might be Newcastle. It might even be, you know, that lot we beat 9-0 last season. Liverpool got one league for 3 amazing seasons, after 5 years of carefully building a legendary team. The very idea that Utd,Arsenal, or Newcastle may go straight from mediocrity to title winners so easily really hurts me.
Then there’s Europe. Falling one game short on two occasions might have been tolerable had we run into a historically brilliant unit, as United did in 09 and 11. Madrid were no such team,but they just did enough on both occasions. But there was no more than the rub of the green in both games.
That’s football. Now, we have to endure others enjoying success, while all the while, our rivals can laugh off talk of the great Liverpool team of 2018-22, as, you know, ” They only won one league” . Plenty of idiots out there sadly.
We know better- we know how awesome they truly were. We know what an incredible team it was. Until Klopp’s next masterpiece, that’ll have to do.
Bryan

 

United and Liverpool taking it in turns
Just a quick observation from my 35+ years of watching football…

Is there some rule in the universe which says that Manchester United and Liverpool cannot both be brilliant at the same time over a period of more than 8 months? Granted there have been moments when they’ve both been good/great, but it’s normally condensed into a single season (and even then I can think of maximum 3 instances of this). But the rule appears to be when one is flying, the other is struggling.
Rob, Worthing.

 

When City are vulnerable
As someone with no dog in the game said to me, “had that happened against my side, I’d be incensed”. That’s all there is to say, unless you want to write in and say you’re totes cool about that goal being given against your team when you are 1-0 up at your local rivals with just over 10 minutes to go. If you do think that, then get to the keyboard. I imagine the editor of Football 365 wants to hear from you.

The law will now be tweaked as what happened was undoubtedly extremely quick thinking by Marcus Rashford but totally not what was intended. This will be the second high profile goal scored against City that will provoke a law change – the first was Llorente’s for Spurs in that ludicrous Champions League match, City haters will be pleased to know the entertainment is not yet over. The next time we played Spurs, Laporte scored basically the same goal that Llorente did but what was legal and given six months earlier was now illegal and disallowed. So you know what to expect at the next Manchester Derby.

A bigger concern for City is that yet again we conceded a strange or unlucky goal in a high-profile match which cannot be legislated for, but then conceded a pretty poor one almost straight away. This remains our defensive achilles heel. I get why Manuel Akanji is getting some criticism, but he was excellent for 80 minutes and this problem predates his arrival by years. If you are playing Guardiola’s City and score a lucky goal like that, don’t celebrate. Get back to your kick off position. You have a five minute window in which your chance of scoring again is hugely enhanced. Pep has to sort this out.
Mark Meadowcroft

 

F365 part of the conspiracy
“controversial… fortunate… contentious… disputed… went their way”

Lads – language matters.

Man Utd benefit from cheating, favouritism, corruption in front of millions of eyes every week and revel in it. The officiating infrastructure is shameless in reverse engineering justification for frankly outrageous decisions that simply don’t even get considered for any other team.

The language you and other sports reporting outlets use when describing this matters.

Have a think about that and instead of a piece analysing why a ref “could give” the next f*cking nonsense decision their way, do a piece on why the ref wouldn’t give a second’s thought to calling Rashford offside were he in any other jersey.

Otherwise your neutrally-couched terms are just another part of that supporting corrupting infrastructure.
Darragh, Spurs, Ireland

Offside or not
From MOTD pundits to your 16 Conclusions (and the great Pep himself) you’re all wrong about the Rashford offside and contributing to the misguided vitriol that continues to rain down on referees (and VAR) who do a pretty good job of getting most decisions right these days. It wasn’t a shocking decision. It was the right decision.

The first line of the offside law literally says that being in an offside position in and of itself is not an offence. Moreover, Rashford never became active, so no offence was ultimately committed. It doesn’t matter what fans think about how the laws should be interpreted, what pictures from different angles show regarding the supposed space between Bruno, the defenders or the ball, or whether by simply being there Rashford may have influenced the behaviour of the defenders or the keeper. By the letter of the law — either seeking to obstruct a defender or play the ball (or blocking the keeper’s line of vision to the ball) — he wasn’t active, so an offside offence was not committed despite him being in an offside position.

It wasn’t Rashford who influenced the defenders’ movement anyway. It was their perception that he was offside — or rather that his offside position would constitute an offence — that made them stop defending before they eventually turned and chased him. They made that assumption and they were wrong. For him to have committed an offence, they needed to get close to him and force him to engage by touching the ball or shielding it from them, at which point he would have become active. The fact is that they got nowhere near him, so he didn’t do this, and therefore remained inactive.

The problem is that the defenders (not to mention fans and pundits) haven’t moved on in their understanding of the laws of the game. Instead of moaning about how “I just don’t understand offside anymore” they should educate themselves. You cannot easily spring an offside trap now: if an attacking player in an offside position has not committed an offence — something defenders have to assume until they know differently — then they have to keep playing to the end of the phase of play. This is literally the most basic lesson we all learn when starting out as kids — play to the whistle — and it has only been reinforced at the top level by VAR. The City defenders didn’t do that and were punished, deservedly so. Bad luck.

It’s worth remembering why there is constant tinkering with offside: to encourage attacking play. I remember George Graham’s Arsenal. It was awful: every time a ball was played forward they stepped out and it ruined the game, slowing it down and neutering attacks without actually having to do anything meaningful. All of the recent changes to the offside law have made elite football more complex, more interesting and generated more goals. It’s quite right that any defender stepping out is taking a massive risk, especially given how the best teams play such high lines. Indeed, if defenders for uber-rich, uber-dominant, financially doped clubs could rely on attackers being offside just by being near the ball or in their broad vicinity they would have even-greater licence to play even higher, further suffocating the weaker teams to an even-greater extent than they can now. The fact they can’t instinctively rely on the linesman’s flag to save them evens the playing field slightly and makes for a better spectacle. Plus, there’s no finer sight in world football than one of Guardiola’s finely-calibrated ball-hogging machines that has just spent the past interminable hour recycling possession getting nailed on the break.
Matt, Sheffield

 

 

…Play the whistle.

It’s the first thing I was told when I started playing organised team sport. Don’t wait for the referee or the linesman to bail you out, play until you hear the whistle.

Think your opponent is offside or a foul has been committed? If you haven’t heard a whistle you need to keep playing until you do.

In the interest of transparency, I’m a United fan and none of the three high profile offside calls across the past two weekends sit well with me as a football lover.

Salah was off in The Cup, the Wolves centre back wasn’t sure, had to play the ball and in doing so inadvertently played Salah on. Don’t like it.

Wolves’ winner that wasn’t was a complete shambles. Who was off? Were they actually off? Who knows for sure.

As for yesterday, while Rashford doesn’t end up playing the ball it’s pretty obvious he’s involved in the play. If anything, it was a moment of genius improvisation and opportunism from Bruno to nip in and steal the chance.

However, all three City players involved didn’t engage in the play as they would normally because they were waiting for a whistle that didn’t come.

Ederson half-heartedly came off his line, Walker half-heartedly looked to close the space and Akanji showed precious little urgency to impact the play.

They all operated under the presumption the referee would stop play. Once he didn’t and the ball ended up in the back of the net, they’re at the mercy of the murky, grey areas of interpretation.

In reality I understand City’s frustrations. I’ve no sympathy for them, but I understand the how and why they’d be annoyed.
Sean Peter-Budge, Melbourne

 

Offside or not?
Back in the old days, offside was very, very simple. If you were on the pitch and in an offside position, regardless of any involvement in the play, offside was called.

Then they tried to make it so that lazy players not being arsed to get onside but on the other side of the pitch shouldn’t be called offside and then, in time, that’s led us to where we are now which is a confused nonsense and having created more problems than it solved.

In simple terms, the old adage was “what are you doing on a football field if you’re not interfering with play” so if your lazy winger couldn’t be bothered to get back onside from the corner, your goal was ruled out and his team-mates would give him a suitable shoeing later. Frankly, given the farce we now have with yesterday a prime example, I’m not sure we’ve improved on where we used to be. Just as an idea, why don’t we go and give it a trial again? It can’t be any worse than the shambles we currently have. Other sports manage fine with the idea of ‘on the pitch + offside = offside’ regardless of involvement, so why can’t football?
Alex, York Mag.

 

…Rashford’s goal was the most perfect example of a section of the offside rule being unfit for purpose. We all know that he distracted the other players, including the goalkeeper, and that what happened should fall under the bracket of ‘interfering with play’.

Yet by the letter of the law, he has not played the ball and therefore the decision was correct. You’d really have to wonder how much football people actually watch if they have to check the rules on this one. Pep can mutter darkly about conspiracies all he wants, but every team has benefited from this nonsensical rule down the ages. Jonathan Wilson pointed to a similar incident from April 1971 in a match between West Brom and Leeds in an article yesterday. Leeds were going full-tilt for the title and lost out by 1 point to an Arsenal side that went on to win the double. Go watch it, it’s even more of a mess than yesterday’s. But still correct by the letter of the law.

Then, as yesterday, the only thing you can do when faced with this situation is play to the whistle and hope for the best. The Leeds player played to a linesman’s flag, and the City defenders to an assumption as to what decision was going to be made as soon as the ball was played. These guys are paid thousands of pounds a week so they should know what the rules are and act appropriately, no matter how impractical and removed from common sense they may be.
Pablo, MUFC, Dublin.

 

…Rashford was offside in the spirit of the law if not by the letter. Nothing he did fell within the definition of interfering with play as he didn’t impede anyone yet everyone changed their behaviour due to his presence. It seems in a bid to remove subjectivity they’ve made the law even more ludicrous than it already was. It looks like salt and pepper shakers are you to be replaced by papers on human behaviour in future bids to explain the offside law.

On the flip side, it was poor defending from City. Why did Akanji stop when he thought Rashford was off? He couldn’t see behind him so that’s some level of trust in his fellow defenders and rule number one is play to the whistle. And what if Rashford had also stopped? Bruno had still made the run so was Akanji content to let Walker deal with that. Walker was also too easily put off by Rashford’s presence. A top quality defender would’ve wiped both of them out.

I’m fairly certain Guardiola was being sarcastic when he said he had ridiculous ideas for beating United but being rubbish and having one shot on target is a ridiculous and terrible plan for winning at Old Trafford. The main argument against the possession heavy style associated with Pep and Barca etc is that it can be boring. City usually make this argument look ridiculous by scoring lots of goals (though their dominance is in itself quite dull) but when they have 71% possession and manage one shot on target it does sort of beg the question: what’s the point of all that possession?

By contrast United we’re as effective as they needed to be, having four times as many shots on target with a fraction of City’s possession. Ten Hag went full Fergie with his own ridiculous ideas of playing Shaw at centre back against an actual cyborg and Fred man marking De Bruyne. Both went swimmingly even if De Bruyne did break his shackles briefly to set up the goal. Erik’s ability to organise United and his confidence to make such tactically astute decisions is why United are looking greater than the sum of their parts for the first time in a long time.

Which is another contrast to City. The suspicion with Haaland at the start of the season was that he would score a hatful of goals yet not necessarily improve City. It’s hard to argue with that at the moment. I’ve always thought defending deep against City was the best option but their trickery and passing ability around the box makes that a very risky plan. But it seems to me (happy to be disproved by statistics) Haaland possibly detracts from that trickery and is less effective when he doesn’t have space to attack. Perhaps a ridiculous idea that may actually have paid dividends for Pep, may have been dropping Haaland. But then why would you drop a player who contributed to five goals in the previous fixture especially when the opposition are playing a left back at centre back? That’s just ridiculous.

I still expect City to win the title. Arsenal should win it. Talk of a title bid from United is premature and will make the fans all sorts of nervous (and a bit giddy) but we are there. More importantly for this season we’ve got one hand on a top four spot and we look so much better than we did in May. I remember when everyone said United shouldn’t have signed an interim manager and should’ve signed Poch or Conte on the spot. There were those of us that said United’s approach was sensible, particularly after all the other botched appointments we’d made since Fergie. Rangnick made that viewpoint difficult to stand by but it now looks like that was right call. Credit where it’s due, it looks like Murtough and Arnold have played a blinder. I’ll take the strategic long term option over the otactical any day of the week.

One final point: I can understand Pep being particularly salty about that offside decision. But I do love his lack of self awareness when he complains about not getting decisions at Old Trafford. This is a manager who had the entire sporting ecosystem at the club built for him before he’d even arrived. He’s been given every player he’s wanted or needed. He’s got the most prolific goal scorer in the league. He’s had every advantage he could possibly get (in his career really, not just at City) so I think he can probably get over having to play away from home. Might help if they tried winning the game.

Oh and Casemiro is United’s best midfielder since Scholes, if not Keane.
Ash

 

Official standards
My girlfriend is a Wolves fan still seething over referee decisions in the fa and carabao cup so slightly biased but Garey Vance asked when the last time they had decisions in their favour

Now I first read this as a ManCity fan and was writing to say the penalty awarded against Wolves for an armpit handball but then re- read it as a United fan and thought how about the 20 plus years Fergie was in charge when every single decision went your way? Narrows it down for you a bit for you?

I think a better question to ask is how long before we accept the refereeing standard in this country is beyond appalling, for all teams, and a serious review needs to be held.

I suspect it starts at grassroots where I was saddened to learn referees now have to wear body cameras to protect themselves from assaults. This then flips to the top where the FA need to be serious about protecting referees. Instant yellow card for arguing, instant red for swearing either at the ref or linesman. A couple of games being abandoned because of no players and the FA refusing to overturn bans and they’ll soon learn. This will then trickle down the lower leagues and decent people will want to be referees. Not a short term plan but it’s a start.

Back to Wolves and I think they’ll be safe in the league and should beat Liverpool with home advantage on Tuesday.

As for my own Huddersfield still not sure whether they’ll escape. I’m also sad I can’t do a HaHa at Forest This week but am sure they’ll get their comeuppance soon.
Sara HTFC

 

Which way is the right way?
Quick question for all fans of the big clubs, such as Chelsea, Man City and the like.

Would you rather give a manager and squad time to develop, with a clear transfer strategy, with the aim being of developing lots of home-grown talent? The caveat is that you may not win anything for 2-3 years but would be more stable and less scattergun in your transfers (i.e. not Chelsea) and more attractive for talented youngsters.

Or would you rather be like Chelsea, who based on recent activity seem to be buying players for fun, seemingly for short term gain and creating another obstacle for their academy players? If it clicks then that’s a frightening squad, and Chelsea have shown that always win trophies.

As a leeds fan I’d obviously prefer the first option but that depends on us being premier league regulars and being savvy in our transfers (both inbound and outbound). However, we need a big burst of cash and some squad turnover to improve (we cannot defend and don’t take our chances).

What do fans think? Very few clubs balance both youth development and trophies.
Tom

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