Arsenal: Now What?

August 3, 2020

Unknown                                                     Decisions, decisions…

If you’re anything like me you’re still on a high from our wonderful FA Cup win on Saturday.

Not only did we end a difficult season with some serious silverware and European football secured, we also managed to make the reprobates from N17 really miserable.

Before the cup final they were assured of a place in the group stages of the Europa League, but our victory means they have to play not one, not two, but THREE pre-qualifying games, while we go straight into the groups.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of losers.

Now, I really don’t want to dampen any celebrations that you’re still engaged in, but pretty soon we’ll be starting to think about the new season.

We have many reasons to be optimistic, foremost among them being the presence of Mikel Arteta at the helm of our club.

Not only has he got us playing with purpose and a plan, he also has an ability to improve players. Mustafi, Pepe, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles and Ceballos (among others) have all noticeably got better under El Patron.

So, from that encouraging base, here’s a question for you:

What THREE THINGS would you like to see at Arsenal to give us a chance of being truly competitive next season.

Your choices might involve playing personnel, or tactics, or structural changes at the club, or anything else you like.

I’ll kick it off with my three:

  • Give Mikel Arteta the final say on new signings (even if someone else does the deal-making). Too many recent pieces of business have involved players whose agents happen to be big buddies of Raul Sanllehi. I’d love to think that all those signings have been made purely with the best interests of Arsenal at heart, but I couldn’t swear to it.
  • Offload Mesut Ozil. I say this with a heavy heart because I have loved Ozil’s play during much of his Arsenal career, but he clearly does not fit with Arteta’s new approach. He’s too big a player (and character) to have hanging around the club not playing and his wages are huge. We should facilitate a move even if we have to pay a chunk of his wages at his new club. This will be better for Arsenal, but also for Mesut.
  • Sign a dominant box to box midfielder. From what I have seen of him, Thomas Partey would be just the ticket.

Right, over to you.

RockyLives


The FA Cup Loves Arsenal: Report and Player Ratings

August 2, 2020

Unknown                                         Number 14 holds up number 14

Arsenal loves the FA Cup, but boy does the FA Cup also love Arsenal.

We are the THE FA Cup team. We were before yesterday, we’re even more so now.

What a great win that was, and what a shame it could not have played out in front of 100,000 screaming fans.

We went into the game as slight underdogs despite our heroics in the semi final against Man City.

There was more at stake for us because Chelsea had secured Champions League football and we needed a win to get us into the Europa League.

A similar pressure situation last season played out with us losing 4-1 to Chelsea in the Europa League Final in the arse end of nowhere. In that game we needed to win to get into the Champions League, but we choked badly.

Not so yesterday.

The key difference between the two finals was, of course, the head coach.

Apparently when asked if he suffered from being too indecisive, Unai Emery answered: “I’m not sure. Can I think about it and get back to you?”

Whatever fates conspired to bring us Mikel Arteta as our manager in December last year, I’m just glad they did. Almost from his first game in charge we have looked more organised, more together and more like a team that has a plan.

And all his hard work culminated yesterday in an achievement that can’t be understated. If we had lost I would probably be here trying to rationalise about how a year out of Europe and concentrating on the Premier League might be a good thing.

But let’s be honest. This is a MASSIVE win.

Our hugely promising new boss gets a trophy in his first season. We get European football and the extra £40 million that goes with it. We probably get to keep Aubameyang and our Europa League presence makes it easier to sign the new players we want.

Good times.

And so to yesterday’s game.

I have been present to see us play Chelsea in two FA Cup finals: once at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, in 2002 and once at Wembley in 2017. Both occasions turned out to be memorable.

For the 2020 final I could not be there in person (nor could any Gooner), but it was just as memorable a win.

Arteta picked a team with few surprises. He went for maximum experience up front (Auba-Laca-Pepe) and most of the other positions picked themselves. Only the inclusion of Ainsley Maitland-Niles ahead of Saka raised a few eyebrows, but AMN had earned his place with his performance against Man City.

Within minutes of the kick-off we could have been one up when a cross from AMN on the left found Aubameyang at the near post, a yard ahead of his defender. Auba failed to connect properly with the header and it went wide.

After that, everything started to go wrong.

Chelsea seized control of midfield and looked hungrier than us and, dare I say it, more skillful. Mount, Pulisic and Kovacic were pulling us apart and running through the gaps in our MF at will.

Xhaka was caught dwelling on the ball, leading to an early chance for Mount. Minutes later the Blues were ahead after a slick move that ended with Pulisic chipping over Martinez.

We looked so ragged in the opening 15 minutes that I can’t have been alone in fearing another Baku.

The one sign of encouragement was that it was not our defence that was at fault (for a change) but our midfield.

Gradually, though, we settled into the game. I would need to watch a replay to figure out whether we started doing something different in midfield or whether we just upped our commitment level as a team (perhaps the more tech savvy among you can explain).

Whatever it was, we began to dominate the game from the 15 minute mark onwards. Pepe was unlucky not to have got himself a cup final goal when his stunning shot into the Chelsea net was correctly ruled out for an earlier narrow offside.

We barely had time to get over that disappointment when we got a clear penalty. A ball over the top sent Aubameyang racing towards goal. Azpilicueta tried to foul him outside the box but Auba was strong enough to keep going so the Chelsea captain fouled him inside the box as well.

VAR ruminated, but it was a bang on penalty. Azpilicueta was spared a red card because of the “double jeopardy” rule (the officials decided he had been making an honest attempt to get the ball, which is pretty debatable).

I could barely watch as Auba ran up, but amid all the pressure of a cup final, and knowing how important it was for Arsenal to win this game, he was as cool as a cucumber and slotted a perfect, unstoppable penalty into the side netting.

We were back on terms and pressing so hard for a second that it was a disappointment when half time came.

The second half started pretty even. At times we sat back and let Chelsea dominate possession, but we allowed few clear-cut chances. Meanwhile we looked dangerous going forward.

In a season during which the gods of football have seldom been kind to Arsenal, they seemed to be smiling on us at Wembley.

Chelsea lost their captain, Azpilicueta, and their most dangerous player, Pulisic, to hamstring pulls and that must have interfered with Frank Lampard’s plans for the game.

But the goal that gave us the lead (and eventually the Cup itself) was down to absolute top class play by three Arsenal players.

Bellerin broke from deep in our own half at speed, leaving two Chelsea players for dead with a brilliant poke-ahead nutmeg as he surged towards the opposition penalty area. The ball was almost out of his control but his bravery in going into a 50/50 saw it pop out to Pepe, whose first couple of touches were pure class, after which he rolled a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of our captain.

Aubameyang’s next moves were sublime. He feinted to cut inside, leaving Zouma doing the zumba in an empty dancehall, then switched back onto his left foot and dinked the ball over Caballero with consummate skill.

What a joy it was to see that trademark somersault celebration twice in an FA Cup final.

The balance tipped further in Arsenal’s favour when Kovacic was harshly sent off for a second yellow (his first yellow was justified, but the second was not even a foul).

Ten man Chelsea huffed and puffed, but we never looked like letting them get back into it, even though my heart was pumping like a piston engine in the last 10 minutes. The most dangerous moment from the Blues was in the dying minutes when Pedro cut into our box along the goal line, but the oh-so-impressive Martinez dived at his feet to smother the chance, leaving the unfortunate Pedro with what looked like a dislocated shoulder.

It was a metaphor for the game. Overall, Arteta’s strategy and the new sense of togetherness in our team combined to smother Chelsea and dislocate young Frankie Lampard’s best-laid plans.

So there you have it.

Our 14th FA Cup win. We love that competition. And that competition loves us.

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Martinez         9

I think I’m a bit in love with big Emi. He made excellent saves as always (one full length dive to stop a shot from Mount was outstanding) and he actually catches crosses instead of punching them! Late on he dived fearlessly at Pedro’s feet to protect our lead. He even cried in his post-match interview. Make no mistake, we have two Number One ‘keepers at our club now.

Holding           8

What is it with this lad and the Cup Final? He played a blinder against Chelsea in 2017 and did the same yesterday. Fought for everything, made no mistakes and even looked fast at times.

Luiz                  8.5

Let’s be honest, we were all worried before the game, weren’t we? Was it going to be Loco Luiz the one-man apocalypse, or Dependable David, the man who kept Man City at bay? Thank goodness it was the latter. The Brazilian didn’t put a foot wrong.

Tierney            8

Such an honest player as well as a talented one. If there’s one thing we’ve been missing in recent years at Arsenal it’s players like Tierney who make no fuss, but give every drop of blood, sweat and tears for the cause. I’m sure Nigel Winterburn is proud of him.

Bellerin           8

Fine effort from Hector and without his skill and bravery the winning goal would not have happened. He’s had an in-and-out season but made a full contribution yesterday.

Maitland-Niles            8

Justified his selection. He was dangerous going forward (particularly in the first half) and worked very hard on the defensive end. There were stories a few weeks ago saying he wanted to leave Arsenal. I suspect that if Arteta tells him he sees a positive future for him at Arsenal, he’ll stay.

Xhaka              8

I was tempted to mark him down for his sloppiness in the first 10 minutes, but in truth the whole team was slow getting into this game. After that he was excellent. His control and distribution was as good as we’ve come to expect but I particularly liked his committed tackling and the way he managed to do this without the recklessness that attracts cards.

Ceballos          8.5

Terrific outing from Dani. He has become a vital component in linking defence to attack but I also love his tackling and his tracking back, even very late in the game when he must have been running on fumes. Sometimes his effort reminded me of those dogged, all-action midfielders we had in the early George Graham era (Rocastle, Thomas, Davis, Williams).

Pepe                8

So unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. He is starting to influence games more and seems to be using the ball more intelligently (signs of Arteta’s coaching paying off?). The up side with Pepe is that there still seems to be plenty of scope for him to improve.

Lacazette        8

Laca’s tireless work in chasing down the Chelsea defenders and working to keep moves going when we were in possession could easily go unnoticed, but it was a vital element in our win.

Aubameyang  9.5       MoTM

It would have been a 10 for the captain but for that missed header early on. What a player. This will probably always be known as the “Aubameyang Final.” It was his first trophy with Arsenal and will surely go a long way towards convincing him to sign an extension with us.

Subs

Nketieh           7

Got 10 minutes in a cup final, which can’t be a bad thing at his stage of development. Looked sharp and was unlucky that the ref ignored several blatant fouls on him.

Sokratis           7

Came on for Luiz and had one or two good moments in what was probably his last game as a Gunner.

Kolasinac        7

Came on with one minute to go, but I can’t mark him down when he played in a team that’s just won the Cup!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


AFC v Chelsea FA Cup Final – I’ll settle for the result in 2017

August 1, 2020

Three years ago, we lifted the FA Cup. The goals were scored by Sanchez and Ramsey and Giroud provided an assist. Sanchez and Ramsey are now in Serie A and Giroud has swapped teams just like David Luiz.

AFC had conceded a goal to usual suspect Diego Costa despite being a man up………..and rolled out winners 2-1. This win made Arsene Wenger the most successful coach in the competition.

We had played this final in a 343 set up with Holding as part of a back 3 expertly marshalled by Per Mertesacker. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bellerin played as wing backs with Xhaka and Ramsey in the middle of the park  while Ozil was playing behind Wellbeck and Sanchez.

Three years have gone by and both teams meet again. This year the games between Chelsea and Arsenal were electric and fun to watch and Arteta must still rue the loss to Chelsea at home………..

So the questions are many as we prepare for this confrontation with our other London enemy. Will we play with 4 at the back or will we continue with 3 at the back?

I think we will play with 3 at the back and here are my predicted line-ups:

Martinez – Holding, Luiz, Tierney – Bellerin, Ceba, Xhaka, Saka – Pepe, Nketiah, Auba

Caballero – Rudiger, Chrisenten, Azpi – James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso – Willian, Pulisic – Giroud

I think Lampard will play it safe and will keep a lot of attacking options up his sleeve on the bench.

As for Arteta, should he continue with the 343 set-up, he does not have many options to choose from and I suppose there could be a case for Laca, AMN or Kola in the line-up but I don’t think we will see them from the on-set.

I am expecting a tough and engaged match, full of physical engagement and provocation. The type of match that may not be so pretty to watch but very stressful.

I have to say I am not too optimistic about the outcome and I think we will most likely be outgunned because they have more options from the bench to come and make difference.

That said, we love a challenge and I think that Arteta and some players like Luiz, Xhaka, Laca and Auba will want to show the fans and pundits that they are able to lift trophies at AFC and I think our young guns like Saka and Nketiah will play their heart out too so let us see…

Most likely outcome: Chelsea to win probably 2-1 but heart outcome: Arsenal to beat the odds and win 3-2

COYG!

RC78


Arteta, Lampard and Ole

July 27, 2020

Three young coaches that had the chance to play in the EPL relatively recently and under some of the best coaches…They were all given a chance as head coach this year in the EPL and here are some concluding remarks:

1. These young coaches seem to have a knack for man and team management;

2. These young coaches are not afraid of bold choices, of calling a cat a cat and in calling out the pundits whenever they can

3. They all have pretty clear game plans:- Arteta is keen on high intensity and pressing game and very much about managing spaces. – Lampard and Ole are more on the side of quick transition game as well as on stretching teams out wide so a lot of crosses going in the box and a very active role from the full backs.

4. Lampard and Ole reached Top 4. Arteta did not.

5. Lampard has really put his trust in young players this season and was rewarded.

6. Ole was able to rely on his experienced players and the eclosion of Greenwood and confirmation of Bissaka.

7. Lampard and Ole are backed by strong financial commitments from their owners and Lampard has already made some astute acquistion for next year. What about Arteta? WIll he get financial backing?

In any case – I am annoyed we finished behind Tottenham, Chelsea and Man Utd. Cannot have any complaints about LFC, Man City nor Watford. I feel sorry for Rodgers – it seems he never gets his team to finish the job…

I feel like Arteta is building his blueprint for AFC success:

1. The non-negotiables: commitment, working for the team and club success

2. Fair and performance-based squad selection

3. Growing some young players into our starting XI (Saka, Martinelli…)

I did not like Ole as a player – with RVN and Roy Keane, they really annoyed me as Man Utd players. I always liked Lampard’s game but could not stand that he played for Chelsea. However, we have to admit they did a good job and we also have to admit that Arteta has brought belief and stimulus to our team – he ll definitely need to work on game management and keeping victories (we dropped too many points from a winning position under him). Most importantly, I hope that the owners will give him the necessary means to compete next year so that he can finish in the Top 4. LFC, Man City, Utd, Chelsea, Tottenham and Everton will all inject serious cash to strengthen their squad.

Given our needs, we need to inject more to catch up…One of the major key to Arteta’s success is the financial backing and I hope that the owners will live up to their promises to Arteta otherwise, he is the type of coach that will leave at the end of next year if he does not feel supported and he will have plenty of suitors within and outside the EPL.

Come on Arteta! COYG!

RC78


Keep Calm & Carry On – Aston Villa Report & Player Ratings

July 22, 2020

Unknown-1

I can’t say I’m too surprised by that result and performance.

We’ve had five very tough games in quick succession with Wolves, Leicester, Spurs, Liverpool and City.

There was always going to be a drop-off given that a lot of the same players have been involved in those matches.

I can’t really say I’m too concerned about the Premier League. If the options were finishing 6th or winning the FA Cup then you’d have to be a f**king idiot to choose 6th.

The players brought it when it really mattered and if they do the same against Chelsea then I couldn’t care less if Watford beat us 12-0 in the last game of the season.

FGG

Player Ratings from RockyLives

It was a poor team performance, with our lads struggling to be on the same wavelength so the ratings reflect that.

Martinez – 7

Holding – 7 (MoTM)

Luiz – 6

Kolasinac – 5

Cedric – 5

Saka – 5

Ceballos – 5

Torreira – 5

Nketieh – 5.5

Aubameyang – 6

Lacazette – 6

Subs

Xhaka – 6

Pepe – 6

Tierney – 7

Willock – 5

 


Hard Pounding Ahead: Arsenal at Villa Preview and Predicted Line-Up

July 21, 2020

Unknown-9                      The boys in red and white line up defensively against Villa

Tonight, a desperate Aston Villa side will throw everything they’ve got at us to try and cling on to their place in the Premier League.

It will, as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo, be a case of “hard pounding.”

Villa are in the drop zone with two games to go. Their only chance of survival is to catch Watford, who are three points ahead of them (also with two games to play) and a better goal difference.

Fail to win tonight, and Villa are effectively down.

Couple that with the sheer amount of games our squad has played recently and the need for rotation and this result is far from certain.

Since the restart Villa have won only one game (against Palace) but they have had one of the toughest runs-in of any team, with almost all their opponents in the top half of the table including Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea, Wolves and Sheffield United.

There would be something typically Arsenal-ish about beating Liverpool and Man City then losing to lowly Villa, but I have a feeling we’ll come through this one OK.

The optimism in our squad is obvious and few of the players are guaranteed a start in our FA Cup Final team, so all are playing for places.

With another game on Saturday and then a week’s rest before the Final, I expect El Patron to make quite a few changes tonight.

Here’s my predicted (preferred) line up:

Martinez

Soares – Sokratis – Holding – Kolasinac

Torreira – Xhaka – Willock

Saka – Nketieh – Nelson

My team may be more radical than Arteta will go with, but we’ll see.

I’m sure that Nketieh will start after completing his harsh three match ban and Nelson deserves another shot after scoring on his last appearance (and playing well).

This will be a very different challenge compared with our last two games, where we sat back against superior teams and soaked up pressure.

Villa are clearly nowhere near the class of Man City and Liverpool. However, they need all three points so they will have to come at us.

I would be tempted to play a tight defensive game and hit them on the break, even though their league position suggests we should try to just come out and steamroller them.

We’re getting better at playing out from the back and we have players with the speed and skill to kill Villa on the counter, hence my ostensibly cautious approach.

Grealish is the stand-out talent in the Brummies’ side. He’s also their top scorer in the PL with seven. It’s quite striking (pun intended) that not a single Villa player is in double figures for goals this season, a fact that goes a long way towards explaining why they’re in trouble.

I have two concerns from an Arsenal perspective: our vulnerability at set pieces (as in the second Spuds goal) and the risk of injury to any of our key players.

Fingers crossed for a win and to maintaining the outside chance of qualifying for Europe through our league position as well as the FA Cup.

RockyLives

 


David Luiz: Redemption Time?

July 20, 2020

happy luiz

What is a professional footballer?

They can be heroes, they can be villains. They are symbols of our tribe (or of some enemy tribe). They are cyphers into whom we pour our hopes and dreams, but also our fears and frustrations.

Sometimes we forget they are people, just like us but with better foot-eye co-ordination.

I was reminded of this when watching David Luiz’s interview with BT Sport after his man of the match performance against Manchester City on Saturday night.

During the conversation, with Luiz still flushed from his recent efforts, he gave the usual professional footballer answers, praising his team mates, referring to “giving one hundred per cent” and so on.

He was also honest about the gulf between Arsenal and the likes of Man City (“the other team is miles away in front of us, but we were humble…”).

But then the interviewer got to the question he really wanted to ask. Just a few weeks earlier Arsenal had succumbed to a humiliating defeat against Manchester City in an empty Etihad Stadium, and Luiz had been the chief villain.

The Brazilian had gifted City a goal just before half time and then, early in the second half, gave away a penalty and got sent off in the process.

The interviewer obviously wanted to raise these past indiscretions but didn’t quite have the courage to just come out with it. Instead he beat around the bush:

And what a different story to the Premier League game against Manchester City just after the restart,” he mumbled, “when there was a lot of criticism of Arsenal’s spirit, a lot of criticism of the defending…

Luiz knew what was being asked and put the interviewer out of his misery by interrupting.

A lot of criticism on me, no? You can say that.”

He went on to say that he had taken the blame for those mistakes and had been working hard every day.

It reminded me that the players we support and idolise and curse and criticise are not oblivious to what is being said about them.

While blogs like this one (and the many others in the Arsenal blogosphere) devote whole columns to how crap certain players are (I have done it myself), with plenty of pile-on in the comments, it’s easy to imagine that none of this negative vibe reaches the players. But it clearly does.

Luiz knew what we are all saying about him after the Man City league game. He already knew what plenty of pundits – amateur and professional – have long said about him (that he’s unreliable and accident-prone).

But his interview on Saturday was a reminder that he is trying. Trying to be the best he can. Trying to do his job. He talked about surviving.

It made me warm to him a little more, despite the frustration he can inspire.

None of this is to say that we cannot or should not criticise players. It’s our right as supporters and, often, it serves as a form of catharsis for us after a bad result. Angry people always want someone to blame and footy fans are no different.

But when we’re firing our barbs, let’s always keep a little space in our hearts to remember the humanity of our targets.

David Luiz will always be David Luiz. He will have mad moments in defence in the future, but hopefully he will have more games like Saturday’s, when his leadership, experience, bravery and skill helped propel us to another FA Cup Final.

He has been a zero and a chump for Arsenal at times this year. But the story of this season is not over and, who knows, maybe he’ll end it a hero and a champ.

RockyLives


Arsenal Are Best Team in England – Cup Semi Final Report & Player Ratings

July 19, 2020

Unknown-8

             David Luiz keeps out the Man City hordes, while Martinez stands guard

Who remembers playing “next goal wins” as a schoolboy?

You’d be playing footy with a bunch of other urchins in the street or in the back garden or on the local playground. It was getting on to dark and most kids knew they were due home for their tea soon.

Invariably someone would say “next goal wins.” It would really piss me off. There were so many times when my team was winning something like 27–16 and the other lot would score the “next goal” and claim victory.

This manner of victory was not in the Football Association rulebook, or in the Marquis of Queensbury code. It would doubtless cut little ice at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.  But there was a certain moral weight to this playground Darwinism: what had gone before didn’t matter – “next goal wins” was the only measure by which to judge the victor because it was the most recent register of superiority.

By the rules of the playground, Arsenal are now the best team in England.

A week ago Liverpool were the best team, Manchester City were the second best. Now we’ve beaten them both so it stands to reason, doesn’t it? We must be England’s best!

What a game. What a performance. What a result.

The commentators said that some bookies were giving 8-1 odds on Arsenal beating City at Wembley. I hope plenty of Gooners took the bait and gave those flash bar stewards a nasty cold bath.

You will find, if you look back at yesterday’s pre-match, that I predicted a win for the boys in red and white.

Admittedly I thought we’d win by the odd goal and only after extra time, but I had a strong feeling that the FA Cup loves Arsenal and that we would prevail.

El Patron made several changes to the team that started against Liverpool on Wednesday night. Torreira, Saka, Nelson and Holding were out, as well as the cup tied Soares. In came Bellerin, Mustafi, Ceballos, Maitland-Niles and Aubameyang.

For the first 20 minutes we could barely get a kick and whenever we gained possession we treated the ball as if it was covered in a massive viral load of coronavirus.

But, one or two minor aberrations aside, we defended diligently and City, for all their possession and pressing, created little.

Then we woke up. David Luiz played a lovely ball through the centre of the park to pick out Aubameyang, who stayed a yard ahead of the defenders as he bore down on goal. You’d have put your shirt on him scoring, but you’d have been walking home bareback. Instead of passing the ball either side of the ‘keeper Auba fired it straight at him.

I immediately thought “we can’t pass up opportunities like that”. But we didn’t have to wait long for Auba to make amends. A lovely move involving 10 Arsenal players found Pepe on the right wing. He played a perfect cross to the back post where Auba came steaming in and contrived a terrific finish with the outside of his boot.

We threatened again before the break and could easily have gone in 2-0 up.

Unsurprisingly, City came out more determined in the second half and we seemed to realise as a team that we’d need a backs-to-the-wall defence with no room for passengers. To the great credit of Arteta and the players he sent out, there were no passengers. Everyone played their part in an outstanding effort.

At one point it was starting to feel inevitable that we would crack. I sent a Whatsapp message to my son (watching in Canada) to say “we either need to get some extended possession or we need a breakaway goal.”

I’m no prophet, but I got lucky with that call because within 60 seconds we were 2-0 up thanks to a great breakaway. Tierney and Pepe did excellent work down out left flank, the former releasing Aubameyang who nutmegged Ederson for the goal.

By this stage 71 minutes had been played and I doubt whether, even at 2-0, any Arsenal supporter felt the result was in the bag.

Sure enough, City came at us in waves of attacks. But everything they threw at us was met by the most committed Arsenal defending I have seen for years. You might almost have thought it was George Graham on the touchline, not Arteta.

Martinez, in another dominant goalkeeping performance, made a great low stop from Mahrez; Laporte fired a powerful shot just wide; Sterling had a chance inside our six yard box… but we kept them out.

The seven minutes of extra time added palpitations to this Gunner’s heart, but we saw it though.

Luiz was a monster, throwing himself into blocks like a Winterburn; Mustafi battled for every scrap; Tierney was magnificent; Bellerin had the right flank sewn up; Xhaka played a perfect game and Ceballos was outstanding.

So now we’re off to yet another Cup Final against either Chelsea or Man Utd. Neither will be easy, but who would bet against us now?

Player Ratings

Martinez – 9

Gets better and better. A truly dominant performance.

Bellerin – 8

One misplaced pass early on which put us in trouble, but completely reliable thereafter.

Mustafi – 8

Back to the form he was showing prior to the Totteringham game. It was sad to see him go off late on with what looks like a hamstring injury.

Luiz – 9 MoTM

A splendid centre half performance. He won everything in the air, completed tackles and blocks and used the ball really well to set up attacks.

Tierney – 8

Such a cool head on those young shoulders. A real Mr Reliable.

Maitland-Niles – 7.5

Outstanding “compete level” on the defensive end, including some terrific one on one defending against Du Bruyne. Had several great opportunities to set up team-mates in goal scoring positions but his crossing with his left foot let him down.

Xhaka – 9

Close call for MoTM. Perfect positioning and reading of the game, particularly in the second half as we stifled City’s waves of attacks.

Ceballos – 8

Whatever magic Arteta has worked on him, it’s certainly impressive. He’s a talented, committed and creative player who was really grown into the rough and tumble of English football.

Pepe – 7

Involved in both goals. Still loses possession a little too easily for me.

Lacazette – 8

No goal, but a typically hard working outing for Laca.

Aubameyang – 8.5

His goals take us to the Cup Final. Two beauties, and he’ll be kicking himself it wasn’t a hat trick.

Subs

Willock – 8

Worked hard and did well disrupting City’s attacks.

Torreira – 8

Likewise.

Holding – 7

On late but added to the cause.

Kolasinac – 7

Likewise

 

RockyLives

 


What Did She Wear? Arsenal v Man City FA Cup Semi Final Preview and Predicted Arsenal Line-Up

July 18, 2020

scene-The-Alamo-John-Wayne

      Arsenal hold off the Liverpool onslaught at the Battle of the Alamo Emirates

What are the odds on us beating the two best teams in the Premier League in just four days?

You would have got very long odds before the kick-off against Liverpool on Wednesday, but they’ll be a lot shorter now.

No question there’s a huge task ahead of El Patron and his crew of happy shipmates tonight, but – as I said in the Liverpool pre-match – it’s one game of football and anything can happen.

But let’s start with the ‘glass half empty’ approach: when we played Manchester City in the league recently the gulf between the teams was embarrassing.

We were way off the pace on our return to action after lockdown and compounded the inferiority of our players (when compared with theirs) by our time-honoured tradition of shooting ourselves in the foot courtesy of a gifted goal (thank you Luiz) followed by a gifted penalty and red card (double thank you Luiz).

Pound for pound, player for player, we have no chance tonight.

But there’s always a different way of looking at that glass of milk.

Taking the “half full” approach, we have seen a definite uptick in performances since the early setbacks against Man City and Brighton.

The Spuds result was a disappointment (and showed how difficult it is to rid ourselves of our kamikaze tendencies) but our performance was OK and we were at least as good as the noisy neighbours overall. Cut out the self-inflicted wounds and we’d have won.

The other reason for optimism is that this is the FA Cup. And the FA Cup is THE Arsenal competition. We have won it more than any other club and there is always a strong sense of destiny linking us and that trophy.

After a disappointing season you should have no doubt that our lads will be desperate to end the campaign with silverware and, more importantly, honour. Getting past Man City is the essential next step to achieving that.

We can take a lot of heart from our defensive effort against Liverpool. Yes, we rode our luck. Yes, it was like the Alamo at times (or like the Alamo would have been if the Texans had suddenly won against the odds instead of, er, being massacred by the Mexicans). But there was a focus about our back play that bodes well for tonight.

Our bigger problem might well be the lack of creativity we’ve been prone to recently. I don’t expect us to make many chances, so it’s vital that we are clinical with whatever opportunities we get.

My prediction: Arsenal to win by the odd goal after extra time. Possibly 3-2.

Here’s the line-up I think El Patron will opt for:

Martinez

Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Tierney – Soares

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Lacazette – Aubameyang

I expect Arteta to switch to a back five/three (including a recall for Bellerin), but one that can become a back four when we’re in possession. Xhaka and Ceballos are automatic names these days. And Pepe will be dropped for Saka. We have to stick with Lacazette as central striker given that he has finally rediscovered his shooting boots.

We need a game with no stupid defensive blunders, 100 per cent concentration and taking whatever chances come our way.

Not a lot to ask for, right?

Altogether now: “She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon, she wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of, er, July…”

RockyLives


Liverpool Pre-match: the Case for the Defence

July 15, 2020

Unknown-7

                                                     Chumps v Champs?

OK, calm down, as our Scouser visitors tonight would say.

I’m not about to mount an argument in favour of the individuals whose defensive errors have blighted our season (and in some cases, seasons past).

Instead, and following on from RA’s bold proposal yesterday, I want to make a case for the best defence – in terms of both personnel and organization – that we can put out for tonight’s Premier League game against the champions.

Liverpool have fully deserved their success this season. They hired a good and passionate manager in 2015 and they have helped him to gradually build the team he wants without overreacting to setbacks along the way.

It would be nice to think there’s a model there for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, but Liverpool’s owners have been far more willing to put their hand in their pocket to back Klopp’s project than our owners are likely to be for Arteta’s.

On this season’s form tonight’s game is a dead rubber. The best attack in the league against a side that specialises in kamikaze defending. On paper we’ll be lucky to lose by fewer than four goals.

The only factor weighing in our favour is that Liverpool have won their title, they’re “home and hosed” and no doubt ready for their summer holidays. So they may not be as committed tonight as they would otherwise be.

(There is, of course, an alternative interpretation: now that they’ve secured the championship all those nerves have vanished and they can play with full, unfettered freedom and joy, in which case… oh dear).

So. How do we set up our defence to have even the slightest chance?

The “Horseshoe” (back three/five) which worked well for a few games was badly undone against Tottenham thanks to the individual defensive errors which have become a hallmark of Arsenal in recent years.

The lack of attacking creativity it sacrifices was also painfully apparent. My view is that we can live with creating fewer chances if the defence is secure. But when the defence is as leaky as a sponge the trade-off ceases to be worth it.

Nevertheless, I expect Arteta to persevere with the Horseshoe tonight, albeit with some changes.

Here’s the line-up I’m predicting:

Martinez

Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Soares – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Lacazette – Aubameyang

It’s a game of football. Anything can happen. Fingers crossed for a surprise win for the good guys.

RockyLives