Read Episode 1 here.
Crystal Palace (A), Liverpool (H) and Manchester City (A) are the three fixtures that greet Evil José on his return to the Premier League. Not ideal. Far from it. But then again this is Arsenal, where even Europa League matches against Vitória Guimarães are made as turbulent as possible due to the unique sense of ennui that has consumed the club, whole, like a lizard swallowing an egg. Or something. I don't know.
Regardless, Evil José is optimistic about the season ahead for a number of reasons. First amongst them is the fact, and it is an indisputable, ironclad fact, that his transfer business has been nothing short of sensational. How else could you possibly describe the additions of three former Gunners legends (Flamini, Djourou and Bendtner)... (yes, yes they are legends, fuck off), two former Inter Milan legends (Pandev and Lucio) and whatever Nemanja Matic is (a very large man who runs like he's trying to climb an escalator the wrong way) for less than £14 million?
Sure, they might have a combined age of 845 but all that #experience is invaluable. You just cannot put a price on it. And if you did, 14 million Great British pounds would be an absolute bargain. Boris Johnson spent over three times that amount on a bridge that genuinely doesn't exist, so yeah. I'd say it's good value. It has to be.
All that is made even sweeter by the gift-wrapped delivery of Granit Xhaka to Evil José's former employees Manchester United who will now surely, at some point, be forced to play a dual midfield pivot of Xhaka and Fred and consequentially break the record for most passes played straight to the advertising hoardings during a regulation football match.
Evil José obviously doesn't care much for the frivolities of his predecessor Unai Emery, however, who managed to spend £72 million on Nicolas Pépé, a player who seems to be staggeringly effective at kicking the ball whenever it is completely stationary and dribbling past Virgil van Dijk once, but apparently not anything else. That's along with an 18-year-old centre back he can't use for an entire season. For fuck sake, Unai. Evil José could have spent that money on luring Romelu Lukaku back from Serie A in January to shore up the Arsenal backline.
The other reason to be positive is that star striker Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang - who I can now confirm has been placed on a training regime to convert him to a right wing-back - was in scintillating goalscoring form during pre-season scoring 11 goals in just eight games.
Yes, we did play two semi-professional outfits from Hong Kong and one from Belgium and yes, nobody else scored more than two goals in those 11 friendlies other than Evil José's defensive midfield anchor David Luiz (who notched four in seven, somehow). Both of those factors do have something of a dampening effect on the Gabon forward's early performances, but it's all about perspective, you know?
Bring on the Eagles *cut to Evil José stood on the desk in his office doing the Vardy celebration*
I'll be honest, the campaign starts with a faint whimper rather than a bang. Not wanting play his trump card too early, that trump card being Pépé and Auba at wing-back, and also because they are both still getting to grips with the intricacies of the position (really isn't that hard, lads. Sprint up and down by the touchline and cross the ball when you get it, if Alan Hutton can do it you can too), Evil José sticks to a fairly normal team selection. Even if it is a little, how do you say, what's the term I'm looking for here... Pulisesque.
A 41-year-old Lucio comes into the middle of a slightly ponderous back three that can only really be summarised using that line from 'Stuck in the Middle With You' by Stealers Wheel. Except replace clowns with 'Sokratis'. And 'Jokers' with Mustafi. Or not. Works either way. Therein lies the beauty, I guess.
Chambers and Kolasinac are given the chance to impress before their spots are mercilessly taken from them by only marginally less unsuitable players whilst David Luiz holds down the midfield behind a particularly sulky duo of Özil and Guendouzi. The exceptionally mobile Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang partners the emphatically immobile Goran Pandev up top. He has a single digit rating in acceleration, agility, jumping reach, pace and stamina. At this point a beached whale moves better than Goran Pandev does. That's just the reality of the situation.
Despite his glaringly apparent physical limitations, Pandev scores the only goal of an otherwise completely forgettable game. Sadly it is ruled out by a VAR check that showed his toenail to be offside as he scored via slide tackle. No, really. He scored via a slide tackle. And VAR fucking robbed me of it. Somebody please let Oscar Wilde know that it's Art that imitates Life and not the other way around.
I am never, ever going to forgive them for this. Although the one positive was getting to see Football Manager's new animation for players reacting to VAR decisions, which I feel is bang on the money:
Just eight lads, living in the moment, not a phone in sight, imitating Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' in exasperation at another Stockley Park nonsense.
Elsewhere in #GoranPandevHighlights (this is a thing. I'm making this a thing), he plays the following pass all the way back to David Luiz on the halfway line during a situation in which he could do just about anything else with the football. David Luiz isn't even in the frame.
After the match I notice that he finished with 100% pass accuracy, thanks in no small part to decisions like the above. I already love my balding, mono-browed, completely static, possession-recycling, Macedonian son. Xavi eat your heart out.
The other in-game highlights, and believe me, there weren't many, come from an almost-penalty being awarded to Arsenal and a Wilfried Zaha one-on-one. The almost-penalty comes by way of Sead Kolasinac, the man built like a genetic cross-breed between a keg of stout and another, slightly larger, higher-percentage keg of stout. In real-life he can literally get prodded with a knife and not flinch but it appears all it takes for Evil José's burly protector to crumble to pieces is a moderately firm challenge from Joel Ward on the edge of the area. Go figure.
Palace's only real chance comes from their goalkeeper Vicente Guaita thumping the ball from his own penalty box into the Arsenal penalty box, which Zaha gets to first only to shoot directly at Bernd Leno. Which is thankfully the only way in-game Bernd Leno (and possibly real-life Bernd Leno) can save things. More of this later.
You might be wondering how such a Sunday League thing could possibly happen in a professional game of football and I was too until I watched the footage back and noticed that Lucio, instead of running backwards to head the ball clear, decided to begin moving sideways like a crab slowly journeying to the waters edge during mating season. I don't know why he did this, but I'm not going to argue with the man who scored five goals in just 15 appearances in his debut Bundesliga season. Even if it was 18 years ago. When I was nine years old.
The only real joy for Evil José after such a dour performance, other than the obvious joy Evil José gets from dour performances themselves, is through the post match report that pops into his inbox after the game. Honestly... this is some lock the door, incognito browsing, box of tissues at the ready stuff.
Not only is it entitled 'Hodgson has birthday to forget' - keep going - it also highlights the abundance of tactical fouls Arsenal used to disrupt the flow of the game - don't stop, more, more - gives Man of the Match to a centre-back - almost there, I'm almost there! - and details how Andros Townsend was forced off with a twisted ankle after trying to tackle Kolasinac - OH GOD, YES! YES! YESSSS!
Sorry. Sorry for that mental image. Sorry.
The ecstasy was short-lived. No sooner had Evil José re-gathered himself had Liverpool marched into town to do that thing that Liverpool now always seem to do: pretend they might not win, then score a load of improbable goals and win anyway.
In terms of team selection, Evil José decides to be a touch more ambitious after the 0-0 against Palace, opting to give the fans what they want and test out Pépé and Aubameyang at left wing-back and right wing-back respectively. As he can't trust anyone that runs like a crab against the infamous Liverpool front three of Mane, Salah and Firmino, Lucio is dropped, David Luiz moves back to marshal the other clowns beside him and Nemanja Matic makes his Arsenal debut in the anchor role.
And believe it or not, things start off well. Things start really well. A Mustafi knockdown from a tantalising Özil set-piece leads to a goalmouth scramble in the 9th minute, which is then prodded home by Go Go Gadget legs himself - Matic. A good start. No, a brilliant start. Real-world José Mourinho couldn't have planned it any better himself. Now time to sit back and soak up the pressure for the remaining 80 minutes and seal a gruelling 1-0 win the way God intended, right? RIGHT!?
Err, in short, no. The rest of the game goes like this: Liverpool take a shot. That shot either a) Flies straight into the top corner, b) Straight through Bernd Leno's flailing balloon animal arms or c) Directly into the arse of Nemanja Matic. And if it's c) it still ends up as a goal, either by deflecting in or falling perfectly at the feet of Roberto Firmino near the penalty spot.
Gini Wijnaldum from 25 yards with two players closing him down? That's a goal. Jordan Henderson from the edge of the box? Oh, that's deflected straight into the path of Firmino, and you better believe that's a goal. Henderson again from the exact same place? Of course it's blocked, of course it ends up in the back of the net anyway. Trent Alexander-Arnold from just inside the area? You better believe that's a goal. Top bins, too. Trent Alexander-Arnold just minutes later, from a bit further out? Rinse and repeat baby. You already know that's a goal. And finally James Milner, ol' reliable, from 25 out too? Yep. Gol-fucking-azo son. That's six, if you had lost count. SIX.
Look at these goal locations. LOOK. AT. THEM. Evil José isn't big on xG but you know that if he was he'd have the bar charts and graphs out in the post-match presser demonstrating how lucky Liverpool were to get six goals from these shots, all whilst little Duncan Castles sits there, the trusty bald lapdog, ready to spin it all into a steaming-hot turd of nonsense on Twitter.
And as you can see from the above, Evil José's side were reasonably unlucky. Liverpool had 35 shots but only one clear cut chance to Arsenal's four. Lacazette, that lusciously bearded Frenchman, had a fucking stinker. As you can also see, the three between the defensive and midfield lines played quite well, particularly the rampaging mohawk that is Aubameyang. Don't ask about Nicolas Pépé please. He got hauled off at half-time. Mo Salah was treating him like a lion treats a ribeye steak tossed into its enclosure.
Two late goals from David Luiz (a thumping 35-yard free-kick because FM felt bad for us) and Kolasinac, who activated 'stabproof vest' mode to rumble through the Liverpool defence until he was literally on the goal-line, made the result slightly less respectful but not quite enough to prevent it from being very clearly and very deeply disrespectful.
6-3 the final score and many, many hard lessons to be learned after only two games. To the Etihad then. Yikes.
Despite being the worst performing in training for three consecutive weeks after turning in ratings of 6.35 (bad), 6.1 (very bad) and 5.75 (fucking abysmal), despite Evil José taking him aside and telling him to pick his socks up, Nicklas Bendtner gets the start ahead of Pandev purely on the basis that he seems like the type of person who could ruffle the fairly ruffle-able feathers of John Stones; that prim, ball-playing English peacock that he is.
As both Lacazette and Pépé were woeful in the last game Evil José is also forced into something of a rejig against a strong City XI. Lucio returns, as does the mugger-batterer, whilst the typically hapless Shkodran Mustafi is moved over into the position in which he stood on the pitch a couple of times whilst the rest of his Germany teammates around him went about winning the World Cup.
For much of the first half Guardiola's team are left frustrated by Evil José's deep eight-man block. That is, of course, until Rodrigo picks up the ball 30 (thirty!) yards out and slams it into the top corner like it's oh so easy. Like he's playing for fucking Liverpool.
Bernardo Silva doubles their advantage before half-time with a banger of a free-kick from even further out. He then makes it 3-0 with a header despite being tightly marked by all three of: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (6 foot 1), Matteo Guendouzi (6 foot 1) and Sead Kolasinac (6 foot, but also 6 foot wide, a pure Oxo cube of a man). Honestly. What is this game? No, what is life?
But then it happens. The faintest glimmer of something. Hope. Joy. Beauty. Something. Nicklas Bendtner with the ball. And with time. And space.
You know what that means. You know you can't leave Nicklas Bendtner like that.
It all starts with a powerful headed clearance from Aubameyang, ably defending in his own box, and Nicklas Bendtner showing all the unquenchable desire Nicklas Bendtner is known for to get to the ball first. Even despite possessing physical stats only marginally better than Goran 'The Beached Whale' Pandev.
When he does - eventually - get to the ball that absolutely nobody else on the pitch seems bothered about retrieving, he drives forward into the open space in front of him. In fact, he does so with such enthusiasm and panache that, for a second at least, it looks as though he is going to dribble the ball straight out of play.
But no, he gets that arrogant Danish head up, spots the run of the substitute Lacazette and plays what can only be described as 'the best pass in the history of football (played by Nicklas Bendtner)'.
Which Laca finishes with the aplomb the assist demanded.
Even better, Evil José took the time to give his old enemy a bit of a finger-wag just to let him know how much of a nonsense it is that a 6 foot 4 Danish lad who's been past it since the age of 22 is carving his team open with cross-field bullet passes. It's the small victories.
On the surface however, yeah, no wins in three games isn't a great return. It's not even a good one. Or an OK one. Or an acceptable one. But this is just the beginning. We know there will be an abundance of shithousery to come.
After all, Evil José's mission statement is not to keep the Arsenal fanbase happy. It certainly isn't to keep the angry bois at AFTV happy. It's to boil their piss even more, if anything.
He deals in the results business, and the trophies business, and fortunately for him a kind run of fixtures in the form of Sheffield United, Newcastle United and APOEL Nicosia in the Europa League gives him a glorious opportunity to pick up some momentum. Do you know what he does with that opportunity? He takes it in both gnarled hands and strangles it to death until the opportunity is cold and lifeless and pale on the kitchen floor.
I.e. here's Mesut Özil putting the Gunners 5-0 up against Sheffield United after only 52 minutes.
The pundits aren't raving about your overlapping centre-backs and how you've managed to turn Lys Mousset and David McGoldrick into an actual competent Premier League strike force now, are they Chris? ARE THEY? CHRIS?
To be continued.