Auba’s Back in the House: Newcastle Report & Ratings

January 19, 2021
Captain Happy

There was lots to be encouraged about after last night’s 3-0 home win over an admittedly poor Newcastle United.

Smith Rowe and Saka’s combinations, Cedric’s breakthrough game, a clean sheet, Partey bossing midfield, Smith Rowe’s sublime touch and, of course, our captain getting his mojo back.

Not that Aubameyang’s revival is fully confirmed just yet, but two goals in the second half (including the all-important opener) have set him on the right road. It took time – he was poor in the first half – but his first goal was pure Aubameyang.

Mikel Arteta started with what looked a decent team. Partey returned to play alongside Xhaka; Cedric started at right back (presumably to give Bellerin a break) and Gabriel was obviously not felt to be 100% back to fitness so he was confined to the bench while Luiz started.

The front four seemed full of possibility: Smith Rowe playing behind a front three of Saka, Lacazette and Aubameyang.

So it was somewhat disappointing how the first half played out. We lacked smoothness and struggled to make high quality openings, although Aubameyang managed to hit the post with a chance he would normally have tucked away.

And it was the captain who was drawing my ire in that half. A couple of times he seemed to make half-hearted efforts to get on the end of passes; in addition to the miss mentioned above he also created a chance by cutting into the Newcastle box and trying to curl a low shot into the far corner of the net, but it went several metres wide. In short, nothing was happening for Auba and he looked low on confidence.

Elsewhere there was pleasure to be taken from Emile Smith Rowe’s touch and movement. Here are just a couple of observations from AA readers in the comments after the game:

“I see a hell of a lot of Ozil in his play particularly one/two touch passes and then moving again, he looks for space constantly…” (Gooner in Exile).

ESR reminds me of a combination of two greats, Merson, for his floating running style, and the best first touch player I ever saw, Robert Pires.” (LBG)

High praise indeed. To me he also shows glimpses of Bergkamp at times.

But we must remember how young and inexperienced he is. It would be wrong to expect him to carry the burden of being our sole playmaker for the rest of the season, the “new Ozil” or the “new Bergkamp” or whatever. He will inevitably have a dip in form at some point but, for now, he’s such an exciting prospect.

We went in level at half time, with Newcastle having barely troubled Bernd Leno and a sense that we would need to step it up after the break. Thankfully we did.

Whether it was El Patron’s half time talk, or whether there was any kind of subtle tactical switch (you clever tactics types – help me out here), something changed in the second half. Right from the whistle we were on the front foot and going at the Barcodes in waves.

Five minutes after the restart we got the breakthrough our pressure deserved when Lacazette, having come deep, laid off to Partey who sidestepped an opponent and fired a beautiful long ball over the top for Aubameyang to run on to. If our captain needed an opportunity to kick start his form, this one was tailor made: a foot race, coming in off the left wing, a defender and a goalkeeper to beat… bang! The perfect scenario for him. An emphatic left foot finish put us in front and boy did Auba look happy.

Ten minutes later it was our psychic twosome – Smith Rowe and Saka – combining superbly to put us two up. ESR was released down the left wing and showed brilliant close control as he shimmied round a defender before cutting the ball back into the middle of the penalty area where the late-arriving Saka was there to tuck it home.

By this point the Newcastle heads were so far down they could have juggled them with their feet and there was only going to be one winner.

It was nice, however, that the third goal went to Aubameyang. Cedric and Saka combined well after a Newcastle mistake deep in the Toon left back position. Cedric was freed to get along the goal line from where he cut the ball back to Aubameyang just outside the six yard box for a simple tap in.

Excellent performances from Smith Rowe, Saka, Cedric, Aubameyang, Tierney and Partey give lots of grounds for positivity. At the defensive end Newcastle did not trouble us much but our back line was solid when called on. In particular, as with the recent FA Cup game against the same opposition, Luiz did a good job of containing the giant Andy Carroll and his elbows.

We had 20 attempts on goal including six on target, while restricting Toon to just four attempts, only one of which was on target.

There is a run of tough games coming up in the league, but we have given ourselves a platform from which to build with a degree of confidence.

Player Ratings

Leno – 6

He had little to do but is now such a reassuring figure behind our defence.

Cedric – 8 MoTM

I know many will say Auba should be MoTM, but his performance was inconsistent despite the two goals and he had a poor first half. Cedric, on the other hand, seems to be really settling in to his role. Like many, I had doubts about him but I saw signs of encouragement when he started against Newcastle in the FA Cup (here’s what I said after that game: (“Ced has not convinced me when I have seen him in an Arsenal kit but yesterday he was pretty good. He won tackles, competed hard and mostly passed well…”). Last night he built on that performance to have a really good game at both ends. He was a tiger last night.

Holding – 7

Rock solid Rob was rock solid again.

Luiz – 7

Performed his defensive duties well and didn’t slow us down too much in possession (he mostly laid it off to Xhaka or Partey).

Tierney – 7

Cedric having a good night meant there was less pressure on Tierney to have to drive us forward down the left flank all the time. He was as reliable as ever.

Xhaka – 7

His good run of form continues and he made a very strong contribution last night including some excellent tackling. I don’t want to tempt fate, but the timing of his tackles (and his decision-making around tackling) seem to have got better.

Partey – 7.5

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about the way Thomas plays that just exudes class. Wonderful long ball assist to break the deadlock.

Smith Rowe – 7.5

I can’t add to what I’ve written in the report. A joy to watch (and a lovely post match interview in which he seemed humble, grounded and happy to credit others with his success).

Saka – 7.5

We are spoilt with this young man to the extent that we just expect these sorts of performances now. Excellent.

Aubameyang – 7.5

The first half was a cause for concern but he came roaring back in the second half so fair play to him. If he continues to rediscover his form like this then our attacking options are starting to look sweet.

Lacazette – 7

You always get a tireless shift from Laca and his link-up play was very good.

Subs

Elneny – 6.5

Came on for the excellent Partey when we were two up and did a tidy job.

Willian – 6.5

Replaced the captain on 79 minutes and seemed to link up well with his team mates. Admittedly the game was won, but perhaps the first glimmerings of a return to form?

Martinelli – 6.5

Gabriel got around 10 minutes after coming on for Smith Rowe. Not long enough to really get involved but he showed his usual energy and desire.

RockyLives


Let’s Swipe the Barcodes Again: Newcastle Pre-match & Predicted Line-Up

January 18, 2021

Let’s get this show back on the road

Just over a week ago Newcastle United held us to a goalless draw over 90 minutes in the FA Cup. We managed to beat them in extra time but there’s no extra time in the Premier League so we tonight we have to do better.

The good news is that Tierney and Martinelli are both back in training and are available. That’s particularly pleasing in the case of our Brazilian attacker because his looked like a bad injury when he broke down during the warm-up for the cup game against the Barcodes.

Only Mari remains unavailable because of injury (he is “continuing to rehabilitate” from a calf injury).

It gets boring to keep saying how important each game is, but this one does indeed seem to have some significance.

We ended a truly awful run of form when Mikel Arteta either decided to (or was forced to – take your pick) shake up the team, bring in Emile Smith Rowe and play him in a No 10 role and push Saka out to right wing.

Victories over Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom followed. There was a real sense of momentum. Then we struggled in the cup tie when Arteta brought Willian and Pepe back into the starting line-up. and we huffed and puffed against a well organised Crystal Palace team last week without finding a breakthrough.

Some of the encouragement we felt after West Brom has dissipated a little. We have by no means gone back to the cluelessness of the bad run but there was a lack of smoothness in our play.

To my mind a fairly clear first choice eleven is beginning to come together, but it brings selection problems for El Patron.

Barring injuries and the need to rest players, that team would be Leno – Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney – Partey – (Elneny/Xhaka) – Smith Rowe – Saka – Lacazette – Martinelli.

The two obvious problems are: who plays alongside Partey in central midfield? And can we really drop the captain from our first team?

The answer to the first question should be Elneny. He does his job unfussily and has more positional discipline than Xhaka. But then we’d have to drop Xhaka just as he is finally hitting some really good form and I doubt Arteta will do that.

The second question is one which I fear Arteta will not have the courage to address in the way he should. Martinelli should be starting, with Aubameyang as the back-up option.

For tonight’s match I expect the following:

  • Martinelli will not start because of his recent injury but will probably appear off the bench. I wholeheartedly approve of this approach because he is too important to risk aggravating his injury with a full 90.
  • Therefore Auba will get to start and wear the armband.
  • Tierney will start because he’s almost indispensable. We need better back-up for him.
  • Gabriel will be recalled ahead of Luiz.
  • Saka possibly should be rested but won’t be (Arteta talked in recent days about potential burn-out among the squad).
  • Smith Rowe will start (notwithstanding the burn-out fears) because we really need the three points tonight.

We have almost five days before our next match – an FA Cup fixture away at either Southampton or Shrewsbury, when there will be an opportunity to rest some of the over-worked players.

With the right team selection we should be able to overcome Newcastle. They are struggling to score goals (they couldn’t even bag one against bottom placed, winless Sheffield United in their last outing, losing nil-one in the process). We just need more crispness in our decision making in the final third of the pitch.

Predicted Line-Up:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Smith Rowe

Saka – Lacazette – Aubameyang

I fancy us to win by a couple. Let’s see.

RockyLives

 


Ozil and Out?

January 16, 2021
Thanks for the good times, Mesut

Has the Mesut Ozil-Arsenal saga finally come to an end?

Media reports suggest that the club and player have come to an agreement to terminate his contract after seven and a half years in N5, with the German star heading off to Fenerbahce of Turkey (thanks to Sue of this parish for spotting the news).

It’s obviously a good thing for both parties that this unhappy narrative now has a final chapter. It cannot have been good for squad dynamics to have such a talented player and big character (who was also on an enormous salary) hanging around while being denied the chance to kick a ball in anger.

Rather than re-hash all the arguments about him, and in the spirit of moving forward positively, let’s celebrate the good times that we had with Ozil by remembering our favourite moments.

I’m going to go for the period when he and Alexis Sanchez seemed to have a telepathic relationship, creating goals and chances for each other (and working together to create goals for team mates).

Over to you.

RockyLIves


One of Those Nights: Arsenal v Palace Report & Ratings

January 15, 2021
A middle-of-the-road performance

In the 1970s the soft rock band Eagles had a hit with ‘One of These Nights,’ and that just about sums up our nil-nil draw with the Eagles of Crystal Palace last night.

From an Arsenal perspective it was one of those nights where things didn’t really gel. We weren’t bad the way we were a few weeks ago when our chance creation collapsed to almost zero, but nor were we good.

Our starting line-up saw a number of changes from the team that beat Newcastle in the cup, some forced by injury, others not.

Tierney was ruled out with ‘muscle tiredness’ (although it was later revealed he’s to have an MRI scan, which is a concern) and was replaced with Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Luiz was brought back in to central defence in place of Mari (and with Gabriel being given further recovery time, presumably).

In midfield Ceballos replaced Elneny (with Partey on the bench).

Up front, the recently successful ‘three amigos’ of Lacazette, Saka and Smith Rowe were reunited, which gave grounds for optimism given the slickness of some of their interplay of late.

Whether it was the changes, the dogged resistance of our opponents or just ‘one of those nights,’ we ended up huffing and puffing but failed to blow any houses down, let alone a palace. Although we were dominant overall there were periods when Palace were well on top and they had the best two chances of the game. So, all in all, a neutral observer would probably feel a draw was a fair result.

We started brightly, with Ceballos in particular looking to drive forward. Several promising team moves broke down with the final ball being executed poorly or intercepted. Any one of those chances could have put us in front with a bit more composure and quality.

Maitland-Niles had the unenviable task of trying to fill in for the outstanding Tierney and ended up having a poor night. He’s not a natural left back, of course, so we need to cut him some slack, but his crossing was wayward and many of our moves seemed to break down when the ball reached him. On the positive side he showed an electric turn of pace once or twice and he never hides.

Palace have a very dangerous forward line and in the last 15 minutes of the first half they began to play a bit, going into the break as the team looking most likely to score. We’d had one let-off when a header from centre half Tomkins came back off the crossbar.

The fact that Palace carried that attacking threat probably played a part in our struggle to get the ball forward into dangerous areas the way we had against Toon and West Brom. The Palace strikers closed us down from the back and that forced us to kick long or have our midfielders and attackers come too deep to collect the ball.

In the final half hour it was clear that the visitors were happy to hold out for a point (with an outside hope for a breakaway goal to bag all three), so we were in the ascendancy for long periods but we just could not get the vital breakthrough.

It didn’t help that our recent revolutionary idea of passing the ball forwards seemed to have been forgotten and we reverted to a lot of sideways and backwards passing at times when there were forward options available.

I’m not knocking the side-to-side approach per se. Sometimes it’s important to retain possession and probe for an opening, but in this game we were taking cautious options when better ones were available. The honourable exceptions to this were Smith Rowe and Saka. The latter also contributed a succession of outstanding crosses – from corners, free kicks and open play. Sadly we couldn’t get anyone to add a decisive finish, although Holding had two headers that went wide.

Palace almost grabbed a winner towards the end when a Benteke header looked to be heading goalwards until Leno – who’d had little to do in terms of shot-stopping – pulled off another outstanding save. He’s really earning his bacon.

Pepe replaced Maitland-Niles on 65 minutes, Partey came on for Ceballos four minutes later and Nketiah got nine minutes plus stoppage team, but none of those changes made much of a difference and the match ended in stalemate.

On the plus side we had 11 attempts on goal (four of them on target) and we completed 600 passes (to Palace’s 259).

Being harsh, I would say that we lacked quality at times in this one. Sometimes it was poor touches that let us down, sometimes poor decisions and failing to see better balls that were available. You can’t help but feel that with Tierney and Martinelli in the side and, perhaps, with Partey starting, the game might have turned out differently.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

Didn’t have too much to do but every time he was needed he was flawless and he pulled off one exceptional save towards the end.

Bellerin – 5

Defensively Hector was fine but he did not link up well with Saka and Smith Rowe ahead of him. I spotted many moments when he could have played a forward pass for a give-and-go and instead he turned backwards or sideways. He’s an experienced pro and we need more from him.

Holding – 7

Showed why he deserved his new contract. He was defensively rock solid, had a couple of attempts on goal and brought the ball out of defence really well at times.

Luiz – 6.5

A decent outing from David. He was always looking for those long forward balls as he moved out of defence but Palace left few of our players open so most didn’t come off or were abandoned for the sideways pass. His defence was strong.

Maitland-Niles – 4.5

I feel bad for AMN but it just didn’t happen last night. He wasn’t helped by having the lacklustre Aubameyang in front of him but his touch and decision-making were poor and he lost possession too often.

Ceballos – 6

I really don’t know what to make of Dani. He was our best player in the opening 20, driving forward from the centre of midfield. Then he mostly faded out. He also has a way of playing that looks as if the ball is always not quite under his control. He seems to get away with it a lot of the time so maybe it’s a talent rather than a flaw, but he always seems on the verge of losing possession. His touch is poor for someone from Real Madrid.

Xhaka – 7.5 MoTM

Granit’s run of good form continues. He was tidy, decisive and committed in defence, making a few excellent tackles and blocks. He gave away a couple of silly free kicks as is his wont, but overall it was a good outing.

Saka – 7

He earned an extra half point for the sheer quality of his crossing which, on another night, would probably have brought him an assist or two. He had good moments but was not able to have as much of an influence as he has in some recent games (partly because of the Bellerin issue mentioned above).

Smith Rowe – 6.5

Things didn’t quite come off for ESR but he always plays on the front foot and tries to break the lines with incisive passing and quick running off the ball. He almost created a winner for us when he got down the right and fired in a low cross for Lacazette, only for the late-arriving Bellerin to get in the way and slice the ball out of play.

Aubameyang – 5

The captain had a couple of OK attempts on goal and tried to get involved, but his form is poor at the moment. Our left side, with Maitland-Niles and Auba, just didn’t function well.

Lacazette – 6.5

There were few opportunities for Laca but his workrate was outstanding. The fact that his team mates were not gelling behind meant that he was more isolated than in recent games so it was harder to make any kind of decisive impact.

SUBS

Pepe – 5

He didn’t really change anything. Nicolas has this busy way of running with the ball that looks kind-of exciting, but it always seems to go nowhere (or, more typically, straight into the nearest clump of opposition defenders).

Partey – 5

Didn’t make a difference but it was good to see him get pitch time again.

Nketiah – 6

Eddie got about 13 minutes in all and looked busy and energetic.

ALTERNATIVE RATINGS FROM RC78

Leno – 6
Bellerin – 5
Holding – 7
Luiz – 6
AMN – 5.5
Xhaka – 7.5
Ceba – 6
Saka – 6.5
ESR – 6
Auba – 6
Laca – 6

RockyLives


Who will be close to the Part(e)y?

January 14, 2021
Partey's perfect partner? Elneny's Arsenal renaissance spells trouble for  Xhaka and Ceballos | Goal.com

By all accounts and means, one of our starting central midfielder will be Partey. We hope that unlike Pepe and Willian, he will not disappoint and that he will hit the ground running like Gabriel or Tierney. He is super highly rated by Edu and Arteta and they bought him to be an angular part of our central midfield.

Arteta seems to have opted for a 4231 (42121, if you would like) set up. This means he will have a double pivot playing in front of the defense with one player more defensive minded (a la Gilberto Silva) and one player that will be given more responsibilities to move the ball forward (a la Cazorla/Ramsey/Parlour?).

Partey is considered to be a versatile and complete midfielder but how will Arteta use him?

If used as a more defensive-minded midfielder, who should play next to him (Ceba? Xhaka? Willok? AMN?) ?

If used as a more “central midfielder/box to box midfielder”, who should play next to him (El Neny, Xhaka, AMN, Chambers?) ?

Based on recent results and set-up, it seems that the back 5 has been settled for now and that our attacking midfielders (including on the wings) and CF have also kind of been identified too…

Leno – Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney – Partey, ? – ESR – Saka, Auba (or Martinelli) – Laca

So how would you use Partey and who would you like to pair-up with him in midfield?


Holding the Fort for the long-term…

January 13, 2021
Sport news Arsenal confirm Rob Holding signs a new three-year contract  until 2024 with the

In the past few days, we have been discussing our Conundrum at full-back. Some very interesting discussions indeed. It seems that unlike last years, there is a bit more confidence in our Center-Back options.

The general feeling is that Gabriel has been a good acquisition and that Mari has done the job well when called upon. There are still some (justifiably?) doubts about David Luiz and the majority of us think that Arteta has done well to take Sokratis out of the squad, send Saliba on loan and reduce the playing time of a player like Mustafi. We have also realized that, if we are really in need, Tierney could play at LCB although it would be a waste given his top performances at LB and Chambers has deputized decently at RCB at times.

That leaves us with Holding. Yesterday was a very gloomy day for some of us as we saw Man Utd go top of the EPL after their win over Burnley but there was also a potentially good news with the extension of Holding’s contract.

Holding’s career at AFC has been very inconsistent to say the least. Initially, Holding had done excellent and then he got injured and when he came back, he really struggled. Then his injuries continue to plague his career with us but since April-May last year, he seems to have hit good form and his performances have been more consistent. He has been solid at the back for the most part lately but when we were struggling, he also struggled especially in one-on-one situations. His main weaknesses, namely speed and at times also positioning, do get exposed and when they do, we are in deep trouble. He has not been helped by sub-par performances by Bellerin and Soares. However, one must say that overall in the last 6 months, he has been more of a “good performer”. So is his extension a good news? What are your views on Holding holding the fort for us? Is he a squad player or an automatic starter?

COYG!


Arsenal: Conundrum at LEFT Back?

January 12, 2021
Where’s the cover?

Yesterday RC79 asked whether there was an issue with our right back position and whether or not we ought to be going into the market for a replacement for Hector Bellerin or for a better ‘back-up’ option than Cedric.

It prompted an interesting discussion that ranged across the merits or otherwise of Bellerin, Cedric, Maitland-Niles, Chambers and up-and-coming youth team prospects.

But GoonerB threw a spanner in the works by suggesting we were looking in the wrong place. Our problem was not at right back, but at left back. Here’s his argument:

When analysing the squad I start from the position of accepting two main things. 

Firstly that behind a world class 1st 11, a successful squad needs useful utility and squad players in it that will not sulk if they are 2nd choice, but are of decent quality and will always give their all when called upon.

Secondly, that I don’t expect us to have world class cover in all positions right now; we are still a developing team, but are further on than I think many believe.

I am in agreement with RA that we should look within more, particularly our academy players, when looking for back up options. They tick the boxes of generally not sulking at being 2nd choice and work hard to impress when called upon.

As this season progresses we will learn more about certain players and this will help us be more certain what we need to do in the summer. 

The jury is out for me on many players and I don’t want us to rush in our judgement on certain players. Some, like Willian and Pepe, that have been flattering to deceive, may come good with confidence placed in them. Some will prove to not be good enough as 1st choice or suitable as a number two.

My feelings on Bellerin tend to yoyo. Sometimes I feel he is stepping up but at other times I feel he is lacking in certain qualities that he should have in his locker by now. 

He is not a new arrival, has had a lot of playing time in his best position, and is a decent age now. Having said that I want to see how he goes for the rest of the season and in the right balanced formation.

I also agree with those that would keep Chambers. Let us not forget that many felt he was looking our best defender pre-latest injury, and I also concur that he could be useful in three positions. 

I see him at worst as one of those highly useful squad players that can be as important as the single superstar.

I’m actually less concerned about right back with options from Bellerin, Soares, AMN and Chambers. We can see if a quality upgrade is needed in the summer but would also like to see the youngster RA mentioned given a go (Zac Swanson ).

At left full back we have no questions on quality with our first choice, but we have no back up options, AMN aside and I’m not sure about that one. I’d like to see AMN used more often but in a different role to Tierney’s back up.

We just loaned out our 2nd choice and I believe Bola is also out on loan, so unless he is recalled we look sparse on options should something happen to Tierney. I also worry about our back up options to Leno so, for me, GK and LFB are the areas that we could potentially suffer in more than RFB this season.

One final thing. Total Arsenal, you said in comments that you thought it was a masterstroke to move Saka to the attacking right. Well on this very site there is a cerebrally-challenged blogging moron who has called for this for some time, in addition to a couple of the other more esteemed bloggers on here. Maybe Mikel should have started looking in on AA earlier in the season.

GoonerB


Conundrum at right back?

January 11, 2021
Bellerin vs Niles: analysing who comes out on top in right-back spot battle
Bellerin, Soares, Maitland-Niles, Chambers – who should start at RB for us?

Based on our discussions on the last post, I thought I would bring the Right-Back discussion on this post.

In a nutshell, here were the different opinions:

  1. Some of us believed that if we were to improve our squad at Right-Back through player acquisition, we should look to sell Bellerin and buy a certain starter and we should keep Soares as a back-up.
  2. Some of us believed that if we were to improve our squad at Right-Back through player acquisition, we should keep Bellerin and buy a player that would actually and truly challenge Bellerin for the starting spot, meaning that Soares should be sold.

Now, this discussion clearly omitted Chambers and AMN so to add more complexity to the issue, what do we do with Chambers and AMN? Are they to be used as squad players or shall we entertain offers for them?

I think that AMN should be given more playing time for sure but that Arteta needs to basically be clear with him about his positioning. I d like to see him in the midfield but I also recall his great performances as a LWB. I think we have to be fair to him and his development.

As for Chambers, I am not sure if there is any space left for him in the team. We have Bellerin, Soares, Holding, Gabriel, Luiz, Mari at CB (plus still Mustafi and Saliba will come back and maybe Celik will be a good surprise), Tierney and AMN playing defensively. He could eventually look to play in the midfield but even there, we have Partey/Xhaka/El Neny and eventually AMN too. So is there really room for Chambers at AFC?

Anyways, looking forward to reading your thoughts. Have a good week everyone! COYG!


Much Was Revealed About Arsenal’s Squad: Newcastle Report & Ratings

January 10, 2021
If Mikel needed food for thought, yesterday’s game was a banquet

Instead of a match report today this is a player report.

Most of us, I’m sure, were able to watch the game live (in the UK it was on the free BBC1 channel) so you don’t need a blow by blow account of what happened.

The bottom line is we started the defence of our trophy successfully, beating Newcastle United with two goals in extra time. The performance was not amazing, but nor was it in the same bracket as those sterile efforts we saw during our long winless and goal-less streak earlier this season. In this game we created many chances during the 90 minutes but could not finish any of them.

But the performance will have been incredibly useful for Mikel Arteta in shaping the direction of his first team for the rest of the season.

Let’s go through all the players who featured and see what their displays tell us about where they should fit in those plans (I have also added a rating for good measure):

Bernd Leno

Newcastle have struggled to create goalscoring opportunities this year and yesterday was no different, but in the 90th minute the big German was called on to pull off a simply brilliant double stop to maintain our presence in the FA Cup. I was among those questioning whether we had kept the right stopper when Martinez left, but a string of excellent displays from Leno have settled that argument. He has even started catching crosses instead of punching everything. Rating: 7.5Automatic Starter.

Cedric Soares

Ced has not convinced me when I have seen him in an Arsenal kit but yesterday he was pretty good. He won tackles, competed hard and (mostly) passed well. Rating: 6.5 – Solid Back-Up To Hector.

David Luiz

Back from illness, Luiz had a decent game. There were few mistakes (and no major ones) and some of his long passing was very good and varies our game nicely. He also competed well physically with that lump of Northumbrian granite that is Andy Carroll. Rating: 7 – In the Conversation as a Starting Centre Back.

Pablo Mari

He has been very good during this recent run but I thought he looked unusually hesitant in the first half against Newcastle. However, from the break onwards he slotted back into his steady, competitive routine. Played some nice passes but also had a few misplaced ones (mostly in that first half). Rating: 7 – In the Conversation as a Starting Centre Back (which is a nice surprise).

Kieran Tierney

Easily the best of the starters. Another outstanding game from Tesco. His speed of thought and action is phenomenal, as are his commitment, energy and drive. He terrorised Newcastle down their right flank and put in killer cross after killer cross. If we’d had Giroud in the team the Frenchman would probably have scored a hat trick courtesy of KT. We’ve come to expect so much from the young Scot that I remember being genuinely surprised when he looked a bit knackered towards the end of extra time (although not so knackered that he couldn’t put in another stunning run and cross for Aubameyang’s goal). Rating: 9 MoTM – Automatic Starter and Future Captain.

Mohammad Elneny

Mo played an important link role between the centre backs (and Leno) and the more advanced areas. He was also tasked with guarding the back door. As we have seen consistently from him this season, he did his job well and unfussily. He’s never going to set the world alight, but he does a job. Rating: 7 – Solid Squad Player.

Joe Willock

I so wanted Joe to have a great game, but it was not to be. I cannot fault his industry (he was heavily involved the entire time he was on the pitch) and he almost scored with a decent downward header. But… I was watching him closely and I have to confess to being worried whether he has what it takes to play at the highest level (where Arsenal aspire to be). His touch is often poor, he plays as one-footedly as most of the blokes on Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning and he does not seem to see the game as quickly and decisively as some of our other youngsters. I hope I’m wrong and that this was just a poor outing, but those failings I just mentioned seem more fundamental than form-related, although perhaps they can be put down to nerves, or trying too hard (who knows?). Rating: 5 – Hard to See a Big Future at Arsenal for Him.

Nicolas Pepe

If we were to put aside the price tag and pretend we got him in from the French League for 10 million, what would we think about Pepe? Against the Barcodes he was busy, had attempts on goal, made dribbles and linked up well with teammates. All in all an OK outing. The trouble is it’s impossible not to make the comparison with another player who also plays in the wide right role: Saka. By that standard Pepe is not incisive or decisive enough to merit automatic starter status. Rating: 6.5 – Impact Player off the Bench.

Willian

I’ve been highly critical of the Brazilian since he joined Arsenal and I’m far from alone. He was another player to whom I paid special attention last night. I see some commentators are slaughtering him for his performance (I read Arseblog’s ratings and he gave Willian a 3). But I have no doubt that some of this is the result of expectation bias (we expect Willian to be rubbish and therefore we see everything he does as rubbish). In fact he was better last night than he was during our terrible run. If his performance against Newcastle was a 3, then some of those earlier performances (where he seemed uninterested and made zero effort) should have been rated at -3 (but weren’t). He actually linked up well at times, made himself available more and was generally tidy. Having said all that, he certainly did not do enough to change anyone’s mind about where he fits in the team. Rating: 6 – Could be an OK Bench Player (but £192k per week is a lot to pay for that role).

Reiss Nelson

Reiss has had some good outings in cup competitions before, but appears to have been a long way out of the manager’s thinking recently. However, an injury to poor Martinelli during the warm-up gave him the opportunity to give the boss a problem last night. And young Reiss seized it with both hands… then fumbled it, juggled it and left it lying shattered on the floor. He had a really good run and attempt on goal in the opening minutes but, after that, struggled to make any impact at all. It didn’t happen and his touch was really poor (if it had been better he might well have scored during the first half when put through into the penalty area). I’m sad to say that, like Willock, there seems to be a fundamental quality gap. Rating: 5 – Hard to See a Future at Arsenal for Him

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang

The captain finally ended his goal drought in extra time with a tap in from Tierney, but he had other chances earlier that went begging (sometimes through poor finishing, sometimes from good defending or goalkeeping). My view is that the central striker role does not suit Auba. He just does not do the link-up stuff as well as Lacazette. Nevertheless, he worked hard and did indeed get into goalscoring positions throughout the game. Hopefully now he’s ended the drought the goals will start flowing. Rating: 6.5 – Should Compete With Martinelli for the Wide Left Attacking Role

SUBS

Emile Smith Rowe

Replaced Nelson on 57″ and we immediately went up a gear. However, it took ESR a little while to get into the pace of the game and there were a few wayward passes and errors along the way (but then, even Baby Jesus probably had a snotty nose once in a while). However, his movement and decisiveness immediately made us look more threatening and he got more dangerous as the game went on. I love players who seem to know what to do before they have even received the ball (contrast that with someone like Willock, who has to receive the ball and then consider his options: at the highest level that split second makes all the difference). Smith Rowe is one of those players. In the end it was Emile who broke the deadlock, finishing off a lovely move involving Saka and Lacazette. That trio is developing a really exciting sense of synergy. Rating: 7.5 – Automatic Starter But With Regular Rest Games

Granit Xhaka

Xhaka came on in the 66th minute for Willock and immediately started playing with a crispness that reflected badly on Willock’s efforts. Our Swiss midfielder is a hard one to work out. Sometimes he looks terrible and seems to have nothing in his locker except slow movement, backwards and sideways passing and that infuriating toddler tumble to try and win free kicks. At other times he looks pure class, and this cameo appearance was in the latter category. He is much, much better when not tasked with being the main defensive midfielder, which means he works well when Elneny is behind him. In his 54 or so minutes last night he barely put a foot wrong: he sped up our movement, his passing was incisive (and progressive!) and he was at the centre of much that we did. He nearly scored with a terrific volley. On this form he is an asset. Rating: 7.5 – In the Conversation as a Starting Central Midfielder.

Bukayo Saka

Got the same amount of minutes as Xhaka, having come on for Willian. As we have come to expect, he was heavily involved in our forward movement and picked up where he left off in recent games. He is brave and decisive and, like Smith Rowe, understands the “go” bit of “give and go” (Willian please take note). Inevitably he was part of the move that opened the scoring. A huge prospect as a player. Rating: 7.5 – Automatic Starter Barring Rest Games

DISCLAIMER

If you are offended by some of the more forthright views above, feel free to take issue with them in the comments. It gives me no pleasure to write off a young player’s future career at Arsenal and nothing would make me happier than to be proved wrong.

I can think of other young players who were deemed ‘not good enough’ but came through in time to be significant players for us (Alex Song springs to mind: he was booed off by Arsenal’s travelling fans after his debut away at Fulham).

And of course everything above is just one man’s opinion: if yours is different, it’s just as valid. Please share it.

RockyLives


It’s Our Cup. How Much Do We Want to Keep It?

January 9, 2021
Hands off, it’s ours

They should really call it the AFC Cup, not the FA Cup.

Arsenal are the most successful team in the history of the competition. We have won it 14 times, including four times in the last seven years. It is “our” trophy more than any other in football’s pantheon.

Which all gives Mikel Arteta something of a conundrum today.

We have rediscovered our form in the last three matches thanks to a shift in formation, the introduction of some young players in key roles and the abandonment of certain senior pros who were not pulling their weight.

So does El Patron persist with that winning formula today and start Smith Rowe as a Number 10 and Saka wide right? Does the encouraging partnership of Holding and Mari get another outing at centre back? Do we play Lacazette down the middle again?

Or does the boss look at this competition as being not quite as important as the league games and bring back the likes of Pepe, Willian and Luiz to get them some game time?

Such is the nature of these things that I suspect he will go for a compromise approach, putting out partly a “cup team” but trying to do it in such a way as not to dent our momentum.

We don’t play again until Thursday night (home to Palace in the League), giving us a full five days to recover, so fatigue should not be an issue with selection.

Nevertheless, if El Patron decides to rest someone like Smith Rowe, it can easily be presented to the player as being a decision based on his importance (“I really want to keep you fresh and fit for these vital league games coming up”).

By the same token, in a long season we are bound to need to call on players like Willian, Pepe and Luiz at some point as a result of injuries, suspension or tiredness, so there is sense in keeping them fresh and motivated.

I have no doubt that Arteta will want to come out on top today and to win this competition overall. He won it as a player for Arsenal and again in his first half-season in charge as manager, the latter hugely cementing his position and helping protect him during the recent terrible run of form. And also giving us fans a joyful end to a difficult season, it should be pointed out.

He said in his press conference: “We are the holders, we have to defend that title. We know what it means to the club and the history that is related to the FA Cup. It’s a great competition to play in for us.”

What of our opposition? Steve Bruce seems like a decent bloke but his team have struggled to get into gear this year. Newcastle sit 15th in the Premier League (only four points behind us!) but they have shown some ability to lift themselves for cup games, reaching the quarter finals of the EFL Cup.

Premier League survival will be top priority for Bruce and Newcastle this year but a good cup run can lift spirits and improve league form, so they will be equally keen to do well today.

Through a combination of our recent resurgence, the fact the game is at The Emirates and the quality of the opposition we should prevail, but it won’t be handed to us on a plate. We need the same effort and application we saw against Chelsea and West Brom in particular.

As far as player availability goes, Partey and Gabriel were still being assessed as of yesterday (the former for his thigh injury, the latter for Covid). Everyone else seems to be available.

My guess at the line-up:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Tierney

Xhaka – Elneny

Pepe – Smith Rowe – Martinelli

Lacazette

My reasoning is that Martinelli deserves another start and the cup is an opportunity to rest Aubameyang without it being a case of “dropping the captain.” Much as I would like to see Saka start I fancy either Willian or Pepe will be given the right attacking position and I have plumped for the Ivorian.

I fancy Arteta will want to give Luiz some game time, so Mari will (unluckily) miss out. I don’t have a problem with Luiz starting. He was vital to us winning the trophy last year. We just have to hope he doesn’t have one of those ‘Dopey Daviiiid’ moments.

I suppose we could put Balogun or Eddie in the central striker role but I can’t see either of them being able to slot into it and instantly achieve what Lacazette has done, so I think we’ll persevere with the in-form Frenchman.

If Arteta decides to rest Smith Rowe for this one then the most appropriate replacement might well be Willian (gulp). If so, he really owes the fans a performance.

Over to you. What sort of team should we be putting out today?

RockyLives