Feeling Blue at the Etihad: Report & Player Ratings

October 18, 2020
Dark blue blues

This wasn’t the FA Cup and this time the apprentice did not get one over on the master.

We went down to a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City in which our lads put in a creditable performance, but you’d be hard pushed to say that City did not deserve the points.

We had good spells, created a few decent chances and might even have had a penalty if the VAR bloke had not gone off for a pee at the crucial moment, but overall we were second best.

The positives were that (a) we looked – as usual under Arteta – like a well-organised team whose players all knew their jobs and did their best to carry them out, (b) we limited a very talented team to only one goal and (c) we were still in it right to the end.

The negatives: that there is still a quality gap between our players and theirs and that we caused them so little trouble in the last half hour despite needing to chase the game.

We probably should have had a penalty at the end of the first half when Kyle Walker’s boot reached low earth orbit altitude and almost smacked Gabriel in the hooter. The fact that VAR did not even take a look makes you wonder…

And for all City’s superb close passing and movement, they also gave a masterclass in cynical rotational fouling, breaking up all our break-out attacks with trips, pulls and obstructions. Some (though far from all) were penalised, but the fact that the ref never really made them pay for what was obviously a deliberate tactic is frustrating.

With our next two league games being Leicester at home and Manchester United away, a result yesterday would have taken some of the pressure off those upcoming fixtures. Now you’d have to say we need to be looking for four points from those two tough fixtures. Let’s just hope that Ole is still in the hot seat at Old Toilet when we play United.

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Leno                6

Has a habit of deflecting shots into danger areas. Perhaps there was little he could have done, but I’m not sure. The Martinez discussion (as Redders pointed out in comments) is redundant but I like a ‘keeper who prioritises catching over deflecting or punching. Apart from the City goal, there was another moment when Leno deflected a shot right into the danger area late on (although in that case the shot came from much closer in so he probably had less chance to adjust). On the positive side his footwork was good as we tried to play through City’s high press and his willingness to come out of his box as a sweeper was important on a couple of occasions.

Bellerin           6

Struggled with the City attackers but had some decent moments getting forward. He was criticised by the TV pundits for letting the City attacker cut inside him and shoot for City’s goal.

Luiz                  6

Mostly solid game from the Brazilian mophead, with one almost-classic Luiz moment when he tried to slice a clearance into his own net. His ball usage coming out of defence was pretty good overall.

Gabriel            6

Defensively strong and imposing (he definitely adds solidity to our back line). On a few occasions he lost possession with sloppy passing, which is really bad news in a game where we struggled to keep hold of the ball.

Tierney            6.5

Generally defended well and also got forward well at time. Was on the end of some rough treatment from the City players, mostly ignored by the ref.

Xhaka              6.5

I actually think Granit was an important part of the reason why we stayed in this game. He was always available in midfield and kept possession really well. The problem is he is just not a particularly progressive player so, most of the time, he took safe options with his passing.

Ceballos          6

Dani was relatively uninvolved in the first half. Towards the end of the game as we were chasing a goal he got into the game a bit more, but overall this was not his best performance. It must be hard chasing City players all game long and I can’t fault his work rate, but he wasn’t able to impose himself.

Saka                7 MoTM

Was involved in all our brightest moments and was unlucky not to have bagged a goal when one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Kept trying and looked like our most dangerous outlet.

Pepe                6

I had high hopes for Pepe in this one but he struggled to make an impression. I did notice him tracking back well and taking his defensive duties seriously, which is a positive.

Willian            4

Made virtually no impact on the game at all and the decision to play him centrally in attack was a mistake. He was too lightweight to contend with City’s strong defenders and he just didn’t do enough on the ball to cause them any problems.

Aubameyang  6

Had very little opportunity to get on the scoresheet. One chance (incorrectly flagged for offside) was saved by City’s ‘keeper and he almost got on the end of a good Luiz cross late on. He still looked like class whenever he had the ball but just could not make anything happen.

Subs

Lacazette        5

Ran around a lot but spoiled a couple of our better opportunities late on by making bad passes.

Partey             N/A

Nice to see him make his debut, but there was to be no ‘dream start’ to his Arsenal career.

Nketieh           N/A


Partey Time at the Etihad? Arsenal Pre-match and Predicted Starting 11

October 17, 2020
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Partey to Feature?

Welcome back, real football. I have missed you.

Internationals are OK in big tournaments (World Cup, Euros, African Cup of Nations etc) but the rest of the time? Nah.

This evening Mikel Arteta’s carefully tended Arsenal revival faces a significant challenge away at the Etihad.

There are several interesting dimensions to the clash: Action Man facing his old boss and mentor Pep Guardiola; a possible first run out for Thomas Partey in an Arsenal shirt; Manchester City coming off the back of some questionable results including a thrashing by Leicester and a draw with Leeds.

As Arsenal fans, all we can hope for is that the growing improvement we have been showing under Arteta’s leadership maintains its momentum, regardless of the result.

We have definitely been better organised and more defensively secure, although we have still made heavy weather of some games, including the victories over Sheffield United and, a few weeks earlier, West Ham.

However, we seem to be able to up our game against the “better” teams, perhaps because they don’t sit back and defend so deeply against us, which exposes our lack of midfield creativity.

This is a tough one to call and I would be happy with a point, but also feel we should go in to the game seriously intending to win all three. Auba will be our principal threat as always, but I have high hopes of Pepe getting on the scoresheet.

Indeed my line-up includes a start for Pepe (he deserves it after his showing against Sheffield) and, I’m afraid, I have limited our new boy Partey to the bench, but with a debut appearance at some point in the game.

My reason for not starting Partey is that he joined up with the squad only a couple of days ago after his international exertions and will not have had much time to absorb Arteta’s coaching preferences. However, as I say, I expect him to get a run out from the subs’ bench.

I am leaving out Tierney because, at the time of writing, it is unclear whether he has been declared safe to play after having come into contact with someone who had Covid 19, but the omens don’t look good. We could really do with him against City. In his absence I prefer AMN over Kola.

Given City’s attacking prowess, it has to be a back five, but switching to a back four when we’re in possession.

My starting 11:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Luiz  – Gabriel – Maitland-Niles

Xhaka – Ceballos

Pepe – Lacazette – Aubameyang

Come on the Mighty Arse!

RockyLives


How High Can Eddie Fly?

October 14, 2020
Eagle
Beagle

Congratulations to Eddie Nketiah for becoming the top scorer of all time at England Under 21 level.

It raises a question: how good can Eddie be? Will he be Eddie the Eagle? Or Eddie the Beagle? 

Nothing against beagles, of course, but we don’t associate them with soaring to great heights, do we?

I happen to think he can be very, very good so I have been surprised by the lukewarm reaction to him from fans generally, including from commenters here on Arsenal Arsenal.

A couple of things to mention about his achievement last night in the U21 game against Turkey: first, he scored not long after missing a penalty (he hit the post), which shows character; second, he was the team captain on the night, which tells you what the England set-up think of him.

That late goal gave him 14 goals at U21 level, eclipsing the previous record holders, Geordie legend Alan Shearer and the unlucky former Arsenal player Francis Jeffers, whose career was blighted by injury. 

Ready, Eddie, Go!

So, what about the perception of him among Arsenal supporters? Before you all jump on me I’m not suggesting that we haven’t appreciated his efforts or aren’t rooting for him to do well.

It’s just that I don’t get any sense of excitement around him, in the way Manchester United fans were hugely optimistic when Marcus Rashford emerged, or the way Chelsea supporters got all tingly about Tammy Abraham and now Mason Mount.

I reckon that many of us see Eddie as a good young home-grown striker in a long line of good young home-grown strikers who never make it at Arsenal.

Jay Simpson, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Chuka Aneke, Chuba Akpom, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Jeremie Aliadiere, Arturo Lupoli, Jerome Thomas, Jay Bothroyd, Tyreece John-Jules (still with us but on loan at Doncaster) and others too obscure to mention. 

Will Eddie’s name be added to that long roll of not-quite-honour?

Time will tell, of course, but I fear we supporters are underestimating Eddie. He looks to me to have some of the qualities of Ian Wright in the way he makes his runs into the box and the composure he has when tucking the ball away.

This season he’s had two goals in six appearances, some of which were substitute appearances. It’s not a spectacular return but not bad in terms of goals per minute.

More importantly, Mikel Arteta and his team seem to think highly of him and are starting to trust him with important game time, including starting matches.

The odds are stacked against any young striker making the grade at a top club, but I have more hope for Eddie than I had for any of the players on that long list, and I suspect the club has the same hopes.

This could turn into a breakout season for the young South Londoner who was originally snapped up by Chelsea’s youth scouts before we poached him and brought him into the light.

And what an asset he would be if he can continue developing: a player who will have cost only the sums invested in bringing him through the youth system but who might end up being worth many tens of millions. Someone who will either score many goals for us or bring in a very large transfer fee if he moves.

Am I being too optimistic?

RockyLives


Arsenal’s DNA Under Arteta

October 12, 2020

In the heyday of Arsene Wenger’s reign in N5 the phrase “Arsenal’s DNA” came into common parlance and most people understood what it meant.

It stood for a style of play that was attacking, intelligent, skill-based and successful. It was in opposition to what were then the ‘traditional’ values of the English game: blood and thunder, physicality, “let them know you’re there,” defenders told to “just hoof it.”

Wenger’s teams, while perfectly capable of standing up for themselves physically (especially his early teams) preferred to win with greater skill.

And the idea of having ball-playing defenders was more or less pioneered in this period.

That was Arsenal’s DNA under Wenger.

But what is the club’s DNA under our new boss, Mikel Arteta?

Is it too early to ask that question?

If not, what answers might we consider?

We would like to propose that the Arsenal/Arteta DNA can best be described in one word: flexibility.

Flexibility in players (Saka, Maitland-Niles, Smith-Rowe, Tierney, Willian and others all used in different positions).

And flexibility in formation, depending on circumstances such as the nature of the opposition, the phase of the game, whether or not we are in possession and so on.

How would you describe Arsenal’s DNA under the leadership of Mikel?

LBG/RockyLives


Arteta is Gaining Weight

October 11, 2020
Not a fatty

Apologies if you clicked on the headline hoping to see an unflattering picture of Mikel Arteta carrying a bit of timber.

That’s not the kind of weight I’m talking about.

If tubby managers are your thing I would refer you to archive images of Sam Allardyce, Steve Bruce, Chris Wilder and – for you really incorrigible chubby chasers – Diego Maradona.

I want to talk about ‘weight’ as a phenomenalogical concept, more akin to ‘gravitas’ or ‘substance’.

All the most successful football managers have it, regardless of whether they’re built like a barrage balloon or are so small they would blow away in a breeze.

Love ’em or loathe ’em, Wenger, Ferguson, Mourinho, Klopp, Guardiola, Ancelotti all had or have the gravity of a small planet, attracting success and devotion in equal measure.

It comes, I think, from a combination of innate character strength, a clear vision and an obsessive work ethic, with communication skills thrown in.

Most Arsenal fans have been encouraged by Arteta’s start to his managerial career.

In short order he has stopped the decline that was becoming precipitous under Unai Emery, brought back a sense of organisation to the team, stamped his authority on the squad (to some players’ cost) and even won a trophy in his first half-season in charge.

People are beginning to notice and there have been several news stories in the past week that have all attested to his capabilities.

For a start, there was an excellent interview with Nicklas Bendtner on Arseblog’s Arsecast podcast on Friday. During a wide ranging discussion about the big Dane’s life, career and time at Arsenal, Arseblog asked him what he thought of Mikel Arteta, with whom he had played.

Bendtner said it was obvious even back then that Arteta had the qualities to be a successful coach. He also told the Guardian that Arteta had “an iron will almost unlike anything I have ever known.”

Next up, Dani Ceballos gave a press interview in which he explained why he had pressured Real Madrid to allow him to return to Arsenal this season.

This is the key quote: “With Mikel I found happiness as a player and as a person. And that is key for a player.”

Madrid may be one of the two or three biggest clubs in the world, but the pull of Arteta brought the talented midfielder back to N5.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, came Arsene Wenger’s endorsement of Action Man.

Speaking in the Observer the great Frenchman, when asked if he had advice for Arteta, said: “To continue to have a grip on the team as he has at the moment, and to go to the end of his beliefs.”

Adding that he thought Arsenal could be a “surprise package” this season he backed us to finish in the top four or even better.

All these observations point to a growing sense among many well- informed people within the game that Arsenal may have a very special young manager on their hands.

An intelligent, focused, serious and strong personality who has learnt from two of the best coaches of the modern era in Wenger and Guardiola.

I don’t want to go overboard. Many a career has burned brightly for a short time only to sputter out and disappear.

But all the indications are that we have found a gem. And that the club’s owners need to back him all the way because if they don’t, you can guarantee that others will.

RockyLives


Sokratis to the Championship?

October 10, 2020
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A lot of letters

I don’t suppose that Sokratis Papastathopoulos is the favourite player of many Arsenal fans.

When the bean counters are working out which players’ names have been the most popular for shirt sales I doubt that the Greek Colossus features highly on the list.

And to be fair, if you wanted a shirt with his full surname on it you’d need shoulders as wide as Neil Ruddock’s arse.

But… (or should that be ‘butt’?)… I want to say a word or two in favour of Sokratis.

I am motivated by the news that he has been excluded from our Europa League squad (along with Mesut Ozil) and will also apparently be left out of our Premier League squad list, due on October 20th.

He’s a victim of problems we have meeting the criteria for home grown players etc, an issue aggravated by our inability to move players on during the transfer window (including him).

We were left with more central defenders than the sea wall at Brighton, making it inevitable that someone in that position would be left out.

Supposedly Sokratis came close to securing a move but it didn’t pan out and now he’s to be left in the cold.

It feels unfair on a player who always gave 100% every time he pulled on an Arsenal shirt. He may not have been a Tony Adams or a Sol Campbell, but he is a solid defender who did well for us at CB and also at RB when called upon.

At times during the last two seasons he seemed to be the only defender we had who was prepared to show a bit of muscle when needed.

There are two opportunities now for him to salvage his season:

1) The club ends his contract and lets him seek a role as a free agent. This is what West Ham have done for Jack Wilshire. In that case he could go to Europe or elsewhere as an out-of-contract player (I believe).

2) He gets a loan out to a club in the Championship or the Scottish Premier League. Both may feel like a step down, but a robust and experienced defender like Sokratis could make a huge contribution at a SPL club or a team vying for promotion from the Championship. Any of those teams whose start to the new season has been hampered by a leaky defence could do a lot worse than put a Sok in it.

No doubt we’d have to pay part of his wages, but without a move we’d he paying a hundred percent of them, so that’s a no brainier.

Whatever happens, I appreciate the committed performances Sokratis has given us and wish him nothing but success for the future.

RockyLives


Arsenal’s New African Dawn

October 9, 2020

An aspect to the Thomas Partey signing that has not been much commented on is the way in which it contributes to restoring an African core at Arsenal.

Although we have had individual African players in the team and squad pretty much continually in the modern era, it has been some time since they formed a significant contingent.

The most celebrated cohort were part of the Invincibles team of 2003-4 and included dead-eyed Lauren from Cameroon, the mercurially gifted Nigerian Nwankwo Kanu and Kolo Toure, a teak wardrobe fitted with a Ferrari engine. And that’s not even counting the peerless Patrick Vieira who, although born in Senegal, moved to France aged eight and therefore counts as a Frenchman.

Until about 2009 our African representation remained strong, with players like Emmanuel Eboue, Alex Song and Emmanuel Adebayor coming in and overlapping with the likes of Kolo and Kanu as their Arsenal careers wound down.

We would regularly have three or even four Africans taking the pitch at the same time during that period.

In the years since we have seen other Africans come and go, with varying degrees of success – Marouane Chamakh (Morocco), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria), Gervinho (Ivory Coast) – but we never again had a solid crew from the world’s second biggest continent. Until now.

With the arrival of Partey it is entirely likely that we will see four Africans together in our first team at some point this season: Aubameyang, Partey, Pepe and Elneny.

Crucially, they are not just bit part players, Auba is our captain and best player, Pepe is our costliest ever signing and is starting to show what he’s capable of, Elneny is a tidy and reliable central midfielder who looks to be another of Mikel Arteta’s extraordinary reclamation projects and Partey… well, let’s just hope he is all that we think he is.

Does any of this matter?

On one level, talking about “Africans” is a ludicrous generalisation. Africa is massive and full of countries with people and climates as diverse as it’s possible to imagine: what does someone born in the steamy jungles of the Congo have in common with a lad who developed his skills kicking a rag ball in the shadow of the pyramids?

Yet we still have a sense that there is something a bit different about African football. It’s tempting to fall into the patronising language of “exuberance” and “joyfulness”, but we have all moved past those kind of adjectives (I hope). The days of African national teams arriving at the World Cup and playing in a manner as naïve as it was entertaining are long gone.

Yet there is something indefinable about African football. It remains different from European football in the same way that we recognise South American football as being different.

The best explanation I can come up with is that many African players seem to have a strong sense of enjoying playing the game, and playing it in a progressive manner (even the defenders).

It may all mean very little given how international the game is these days, but I am quietly pleased at this new-old development at the Arsenal.

Perhaps readers might like to share their favourite moments from our previous African heroes. My own would be two involving Kanu: first, his hat trick against Chelsea in 1999, the third of which was an astonishing shot from right on the goal line half way between the corner flag and the Chelsea net. Second, a goal he scored (in Europe, I think) where he was one-on-one with the ‘keeper but more or less just let the ball roll into the net without touching it, having completely bamboozled the goalie with his body movement.

RockyLives


Pick Your Europa League Starting 11

October 8, 2020
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The transfer window is over, there are some really tough Premier League games coming up and the club (apparently) has registered its squad for the Europa League campaign… minus the names of Ozil and Sokratis.

With all that in mind, here’s a simple question: what would be your starting line-up in our first EL fixture (away at Rapid Vienna on October 22nd)?

Vienna are the toughest of our group stage opponents so I think we’ll put out a reasonably strong side (there will be more scope for fringe players against Dundalk in particular).

However, with a league fixture against Leicester City just two days later, Action Man has some juggling to do. We don’t want to jeopardise Premier League points, but nor do we want to get our EL campaign off to a bad start and break the momentum we’re building.

Here’s my suggestion. Feel free to add yours in comments:

Runarsson

Soares – Holding – Luiz – Kolasinac

Maitland-Niles – Xhaka – Willock

Willian- Nketieh – Nelson

With some firepower on the bench should we need it (in the shape of Auba, Laca and Ceballos).

Over to you.

RockyLives


Who are Arsenal’s biggest Top 4 rivals?

October 7, 2020
Mikel Arteta leads out the Arsenal back room staff

After an unexpected and exhilarating end to the transfer window it is time to take stock.

Everyone agrees that adding Thomas Partey to our squad has significantly strengthened it. His arrival also gives Action Man more options in how to set up the team.

Signing a 27-year-old at the peak of his game, as well as a Premier League old hand like Willian, inclines me to think that the club is making a serious bid for a Champions League spot this season.

I know some will say “Of course! That should be the least of our aims,” but let’s be realistic: we finished eighth in the league last season, 43 points behind the champions and 10 points adrift of fourth place. It is by no means automatic that we are in the race for top four this time round. In fact, we could have a considerably improved season and finish sixth or fifth, just a point or two off the fourth spot. It would be progress, even if it didn’t get us Champions League football.

But, as I say, I think the club is serious about bouncing back up to where we belong in this campaign and that’s why they splashed out on Partey (the whole amount paid up front in cash, bear in mind), re-signed Aubameyang on a lucrative deal as well as signing Willian.

So, if we’re going for Top 4, whom do we have to be better than?

I’m going to argue that Liverpool and Manchester City are shoo-ins for two of the top four spots (notwithstanding some strange results in the early part of the season). Feel free to argue in comments if you think differently.

So that means we are fighting for one of two spots.

The other main contenders for those places are Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester United and Totteringham. I’m also going to throw Everton in the mix because they have started well under an excellent manager and have also made some really good acquisitions. I am tempted to add Aston Villa too.

Of those teams – our direct rivals, if you like – who is strongest?

The Spuds’ front three of Bale, Kane and Son is extremely dangerous and their manager, for all his faults, is a proven winner. Sad to say, I see our noisy neighbours being very much in the Top 4 chase unless Mourinho’s notorious divide-and-rule approach to management causes internal divisions. However, it’s also worth pointing out that despite that attacking threesome, the Spuds lack strength in depth.

Manchester United are also a serious threat, particularly since adding Cavani to their squad. If he can stay fit (a very big IF) he could transform the team’s fortunes. But United’s biggest handicap is their manager. Ole Gunnar has never looked the part and after the recent thrashing at the hands of the Totts he could soon be Ole Goner. I just hope he’s still there when we play them in a couple of weeks. Despite the money and the history and big signings I see United staying off the pace unless they get a really good new manager in, in which case we’ll need to watch out. Pochettino anyone?

Chelsea made it into fourth place last season and will be there or there abouts this time round. As with Man Utd, I think their coach is their weakness. Although he has looked better than Solskjaer, I don’t find Frank Lampard convincing. Nevertheless, the Chavs were the biggest spenders in the Premier League during this transfer window and they have an abundance of quality players.

Leicester are just always in the mix these days (they finished fifth last year) and always seem to punch above their weight. With Vardy still as lethal as ever they will continue to do well. There’ll be no repeat of their magical 2016 triumph, but they can’t be ruled out of top four contention.

Everton worry me. Ancelotti really knows his business and he’s made some great additions to their squad, not least James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucoure. I see them pushing hard all season long. Maybe overall squad strength will turn out to be their Achille’s heel, particularly if key players get injured.

Finally, a word for Aston Villa. Their thrashing of Liverpool is being considered a one-off, but they are a well organised team with some outstanding players, especially Grealish. Adding Ross Barkley at the end of the transfer window was also an excellent bit of business. He has under-performed for much of his career but I have a feeling that Villa (and a partnership with Grealish) will bring out the best in him.

So where does that leave us?

Right now, I see the fight for third and fourth place coming down to Arsenal, Everton and Totteringham, with the two London clubs having enough to edge out the Toffees at the death.

And my prediction for the end of season table is this:

  1. Liverpool
  2. Manchester City
  3. Arsenal
  4. Totteringham
  5. Everton
  6. Chelsea
  7. Leicester City
  8. Aston Villa
  9. Manchester United

What do you think?

RockyLives


Rate the transfer window based on the “Ins” as we are not sure yet of the “Outs”

October 5, 2020

Arteta and Edu have:

  1. Managed to extend Auba
  2. Managed to bring Ceba back
  3. Managed to get Willian on a free
  4. Managed to land Gabriel
  5. Decided to keep Soares and Mari on long-term deal after their loan
  6. Replaced Martinez by Runnarsson
  7. Done two relatively obscure investments in 2 young players: a defender and a striker.

So are you happy with the business we have done?