If Only Granit was Rock Solid … The Xhaka Debate …

July 31, 2019

Following our defeat last Sunday, the discussion began to focus on the role of Granit Xhaka.


In many ways it was a typical Xhaka performance.

Could it be that we are looking for the next weak link as the new players arrive and consequently the quality of the squad improves?

Is Granit part of that mind-set that has taken defeat too philosophically in recent years? I want our players to really hurt after a poor performance, and like me, I want that hurt to go on for days .. usually right up to the next game and the opportunity for redemption.

I want a player in his position to orchestrate the game, to be the solid anchor that holds everything together, who protects the defence and instigates the attacks. A player who can drive the play forward … a leader.

Others sought a more technical analysis of Granit’s role in the side. Here are some very interesting takes on his effect on the team:


The area that actually concerned me most was the base of our midfield. I think as much as we talk about our CD, it is the porous lack of protection directly in front of the back line that is a major cause of concern with me. We certainly need to be looking at our central defence independently, but we need to consider that first line of defence, their screen, as well.

In our line up yesterday that chief responsibility should have fallen on Xhaka, but I watched carefully, and for me he was constantly positioning himself about 10m too far forwards leaving dangerous players on our goal side of him, when it probably should be the other way around.

He lacks pace so does not make up that ground if they gain possession, so the defence are massively exposed and caught between retreating towards goal or having one of them step out to try and cut off what the defensive midfield should for the most part be dealing with.

It is almost as if he doesn’t see it as his role and sees himself as more a creator, and that this responsibility should fall to others to pick up the mantle. Interestingly that was his role before he came to us and he was always paired with someone who covered behind him defensively more.

The problem here is that often more creative players than him end up holding a deeper position to cover for his wanderlust, and I saw that on a few times with Ceballos at times.

Also, the odd Hollywood ball or decent forward pass at times aside, Xhaka actually slows our game down to much and we lack forward momentum. I actually started to feel that I was watching a more shouty, face scowly, Denilson.

It wouldn’t surprise me that, like Denilson, Xhake has great stats for touches on the ball and number of passes and completion rate, but most of the time they are very reserved and safe and don’t make anything happen.

I noted that Ceballos drove us forward far more effectively when he got on the ball so he shouldn’t be covering defensively behind Xhaka. Neither should Torreira when he comes back who I also feel has more forward incisive play in him than Xhaka, and I still maintain that Iwobi could be an excellent forward thinking BTB player as well.

It all makes me wonder exactly what he specialises in and brings to us. He seems to not want to be the chief DM, so we are left still searching for that player, but in the role he seems to prefer for himself we have better options.

I kind of feel that Douzi is also a bit Xhaka like in that assessment at present as I have watched him more but at his age can develop in a couple of potential directions more so should stay with us, maybe not regular first team standard yet though. When those 2 play together I don’t feel we look that strong or balanced.

If we were to bring in a specialist holding midfielder (with what we seem to be about to spend elsewhere) we need to free up squad space, funds and wages. I just feel he is not quite right for us and we aren’t balanced in midfield with him. Again I feel he is probably a good CM at a slightly lower level.

Mike M’s response:

Gooner B, agree wholeheartedly. I think my question is how does UE see these players. I agree giving the young players game time is a good idea but he is playing Xhaka and Mustafi as well as the other 4 i mentioned too. Does that mean in his mind they’re staying to be part of the squad for next season?

I’m not sure so that’s my question. I’ll say this too, however unpopular it might be, I’d take Mustafi’s effort and attitude (I really think he tries hard, he’s just not very good or smart) over Xhaka, Miki, Ozil any day. I still think he needs to go, but I’m really stuck on attitude and mentality with this team right now. Am I wrong? Are there any positives in mentality we can take from what we’ve seen so far.

This from LBG

More high class, spot on analysis of Xhaka! Your analysis of his positional sense as a central midfielder is exactly mine. I believe he does not regard it as his responsibility either to hold a defensive position when we don’t have the ball or make a corrective run to pick up loose attacking players in dangerous forward positions. I believe in fact this the crux of our defensive frailty- ” the base of the midfield “.

As most know, I don’t even regard highly his so called spray passing ability as he is too slow in those passes and they are quite often cut out. Given his lack of pace too, he’s argumentative, sometimes ridiculously, attitude to officials, one might guess I have little regard for him and believe any success in the Swiss team is largely due to the quality around him. Said, done, nothing more from me on Xhaka, except an hooray if we sell him.

RC78’s view:

I am a firm believer that having Mustafi and Xhaka on the pitch for us will continue to hamper our chances and will lead to goals and chances conceded. If I could sell only 2 players, they would be my top pick. I d rather give Bielik and Chambers a chance than to see Xhaka and Mustafi play for us again.

You may see the above comments as harsh criticism. We should not be looking for the next scapegoat. The abuse directed at Mustafi shames us all. Any player wearing the shirt should get our unconditional support at games.

So try to be objective and let us know how you value Xhaka’s role in the team.


Pepe to wing it for Arsenal

July 30, 2019

We have been renowned as a predominantly attacking club ever since the start of the Wenger era, but over the last few years we have arguably seriously overlooked one area of our attacking department within the squad.

Earlier Wenger teams seemed to be bolstered by high quality, attacking, goal-scoring, pacey wide players, but for the last number of years this position has seemingly been overlooked at Arsenal to the point it almost appeared as if it was deemed non important to us in the modern era. However, a good look around at the other top sides seemed to highlight that all other clubs deemed these positions to be of high importance, and most often set up with these players in a 4-3-3 system, or a close variation on this.

Fingers are currently crossed throughout goonerdom that Pepe will be the new man to wing it for Arsenal.

The modern wide player seems to be something between a winger and a wing forward that operate either side of a lead striker most often, with the majority of the top clubs, in a rotating front 3 sharing goal-scoring responsibility. These wing forward players also give the attacking width that can stretch the opposition without relying solely on the full-backs for width, so arguably also provide extra problems for the opposition in wide areas, with the wing forward and the overlapping full-back combining during the game.

Another factor in having specialised attacking wide players is that the full-backs don’t need to be permanently camped high up the pitch, and can therefore choose the right moments to get forward and join the attack, thus ensuring they are still, for the most part, covering their defensive responsibilities as part of the back 4.

I feel we have suffered a fair bit at times in not having these players in recent years, preventing us from being able to deploy a more balanced, but still attack orientated, formation. It is why I am excited this forthcoming season by the prospect of young players like Saka and Nelson coming into the first team environment and giving us something I feel we have missed for many years. If we were also to add one more top established attacking wide player, like Zaha or Pepe, to this then my legs will start to literally quiver in anticipated excitement.

One big question though is how should these wing forward players be deployed? Which particular player should line up on which side? Here are a few comments from yours truly, Fred, and LBG to get the thought process going.

Fred says:

Yea Nelson hasn’t impressed at all with Eddie I actually think je should be playing on the left on the 433 to start the season, I know it isn’t his natural position but he is a rich vain of form

GoonerB says (in response):

Fred, I had always assumed that Nelsons natural position was on the left side of the striker. I have still to watch the last 3 games which I have got recorded. Does this mean that Nelson has been operating from the right side? I seem to recall that most of the decent footage you see of him when he has done something in games, either in our academy matches or last seasons loan, seem to show him operating from the left. Either way Fred, I would agree with you that Reiss Nelson is a left inside forward predominantly, and should be utilised this way.

LBG says (in response):

Nelson is a left sided wide attacker, but as is customary left sided players nowadays are often used on the right and cut in to hit shots with their left foot. I personally want wide players to go round the fullback and cross from the byline, like olden times.

GoonerB says:

Wilf would really take up the position of Nelson while Pepe would take up the position of Saka but as I say pepe looks like he could move in centrally behind a single number 9 as well which may give us the better balance and also squad options.

Fred says (in response):

Think u got that wrong Saka plays on left and Nelson on right

So with the inside forwards, or wide attacking players, (or whichever other description you prefer), it would seem the jury is out as how to best deploy them. Academy players that are still developing should arguably spend time playing in 2-3 positions to develop their all round understanding, but I would suggest that once a player starts to become more of a first team regular that they should have a preferred specialist position (or side) where most of their play takes place.

Both Nelson and Saka, at their still tender ages, seem to have played both sides at different times, if you watch any footage of them. Maybe to date Saka has had more time on the left and Nelson on the right, but as a left footer and right footer, respectively, I would suggest it is now time to deploy Saka from the right and Nelson from the left if they are to become top class prolific goal scoring pacey winger / wing forward type players.

Why do I say this? Well if you were to make a list of all recent (maybe last 10 years) top level attacking wide players, at the top clubs, it is nearly always right footed players on the left and left footed players on the right. However I would love to hear your thoughts on this AA’ers.



The Emirates Hic-Cup … Arsenal 1 Lyon 2 – Match Report and Player Ratings

July 29, 2019

This was the sixth of our preseason games. We fielded a mixed side comprising Leno, AMN, Chambers, Sokratis, Monreal, Willock, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and Lacazette.

My initial thought was that I was glad to see Willock playing consistently in the first team and that we are moving away from the Mkhitaryan and Mesut combo. In reality, I suspect they were probably rested because of the attack earlier in the week. With Mkhitaryan seemingly playing on the left, I wondered who’s going to be playing the Mesut role?


First Half

There was a minute of applause for former Arsenal player Jose Antonio Reyes who was taken from us way to soon, may he rest in peace.

One thing I have noticed is how quickly Arsenal have been starting games in the preseason, and this game was no exception. Monreal hasn’t looked up to it early in preseason, but today he was sharp, on one occasion bursting down the  left flank and crossing but not finding an Arsenal shirt, and then on another being bundled over in penalty box. Sadly the ref wasn’t having any of it.

Lacazette was replaced early on by Nelson. He was seen later wearing a protective boot –   let’s hope this was just for precaution. Aubameyang moved to central striker with Mkhitaryan now playing on the right. Willock looked really bright,  collecting the ball from Guendouzi and smartly turning for a low shot into the keeper, and then soon after was involved in an attacking move in the penalty box. But he was eventually smothered by the  amassed defenders.

Arsenal displayed some great interchanging football. The opening goal came when Mkhitaryan who crossed to Aubamyang who headed the ball home, making it 1 nil to The Arsenal. Lyon had an appeal for hand ball by Chambers turned down, I wondered when I saw it if this would have been given in the EPL this season. Willock was ever present and was our best player in the first half.


Second Half

The first change for the second half was Nketiah on for Guendouzi. With this, Aubameyang moved back out to the right, Mkhitaryan was now playing the link between midfield and attack which I think his best position, and with Eddie as striker.

The two sides were going at it second half with Lyon now creating more. Nketiah headed a ball over the bar, and then fluffed his lines again missing a cross from Nelson. Soon after that, Nketiah received a ball in the box and turned sharply but his shot was smothered by the keeper. The chant of Eddie, Eddie, Eddie rang round The Emirates, he really is a fans’ favourite.

Some poor defending by Maitland-Nyles  failing to block a cross led to the equaliser from Dembele. Shortly after, AMN did make a great block on Dembele showing he can play with discipline. Arsenal thought they had restored their lead when Martinelli put the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled as offside. Soon after, we failed to operate the offside trap correctly and Dembele made it 1-2 for Lyon. Arsenal had a few more opportunities but couldn’t take their chances. Lyon were crowned 2019 Emirates Cup Champions – not a big deal, it’s always been a slightly embarrassing competition, but still, it’s better to win than lose.


Arsenal’s second loss in preseason was frustrating. We were in control in both games and yet ended up losing. It was another promising performance by the Arsenal youngsters. Nelson had a good industrious game, although he struggled to get through Lyon’s defense. Willock was amazing once again and Eddie did the hard work by getting into the goal scoring positions but then  lacked the composure he had shown in earlier preseason games.

If only Arsenal could change how they defend. Good to see Chambers back and at least he put in a good defensive performance. There was one occasion when Sokratis brought down Dembele and was lucky not avoid a card. We’ve seen it many times before. Our defenders are too slow to play such a high line.



Leno 7 – solid game but was left exposed for both goals

Maitland-Nyles 6  – needs to work on his defending

Sokratis 6 – solid today but still reckless when given the chance

Chambers 7 – was solid again nice to see him finally getting his chance

Monreal 6  – looked lively

Wiilock 9 – another great game and shouldn’t have been taken off …  MOTM

Xhaka 5 – Can the crowd please stop telling him to shoot

Guendouzi 5 – Nice to see him back

Mkhitaryan 6 – great assist for the goal

Aubameyang 7 –  took his chance well and caused trouble whole game

Lacazette 5 – let’s hope it nothing serious



Nketiah 7 – impressive as always, unlucky again not to score

Nelson 6  – I’m still waiting for him to impress me



How the Nicolas Pepe deal was really done ….

July 28, 2019

Despite being bombarded with stories that Arsenal could only afford the £40m offered for Zaha, it seems clear that the club is trying to buy Nicolas Pepe for a deal thought to be in the region of £72m ….. How?

Past transfer shenanigans have shown that deals can be made on a whim and a handshake at times, with players being snatched off the treatment table when having a medical for one club to jumping straight on a plane to sign for another.

Deals are done in car parks, engineered by other players, a casual phone call … all sorts of chicanery can be involved.

Mike M came up with this possible (albeit tongue in cheek) script of how the negotiations between Lille and Arsenal were conducted ….

Imaginary conversation:

Lille 1 : So we need $80m for Pepe or we’re not selling.
Lille 2: Hey Boss, Arsenal are on the phone inquiring about Pepe.
Lille 1: Tell them to forget it. They only have $40m they can’t afford him.
Lille 2: I told them, they still want to talk to you
Lille 1: What a colossal waste of time. Ok put them on.
Lille 1: So you’re interested in Pepe huh, my assistant already told you he’s not in your price range. We want $95m.

Arsenal: What is our price range? How do you know?

Lille 1: Everyone knows. It was in the media.

Arsenal. We’ll give you $65m structured as follows … (blah blah).

Lille 1: No we want at least $90m

Arsenal : The player wants to come to us, lets figure it out.

Lille 1: Ok.

Lots of talking……..

Arsenal: so $72m it is structured in the following way …. (blah blah)

Lille 1 : Ok. You’re lucky the player wants to join you. We already have offers of $80m. Deal. Hang up phone.

Arsenal 1: So they thought we only had $40m to spend. You think if we’d announced we had $100m they would have settled for $72m?

Arsenal 2: Hard to say, but I’m glad we didn’t kill that press rumour, it certainly didn’t hurt.


Lille 1: So I guess we did good. They only had $40m and we ended up getting $72 from them.
Lille 2: Good job Boss, I’d have never believed that a few hours ago.


NB – Hope we get him now !!!!!!

Mike M

40 Million Lies … Vinai tells it like it is …

July 27, 2019

Vinai Venkatesham was asked about the much touted figure of £40m as Arsenal’s transfer budget at a Q & A session with the Arsenal Supporters’ Club two days ago.

His answers didn’t conform with the agendas of many news outlets and so were only reported accurately by those who care about Arsenal … not those who seek profit from disseminating fake news. The figure of £40m had been so widely reported that it was accepted as fact by the majority of Arsenal supporters.

Here are the bullet points of VV’s response to the £40m question:

  • I don’t recognise this £40m figure
  • That doesn’t come from us, that doesn’t come from the club.
  • We never ever, ever, ever talk about how much money we have to spend because that’s the least helpful thing you can do.
  • It is true that our funds are more limited after three years in the Europa League, but the budget isn’t £40m.
  • We have the budget to make a difference, but as Raul (Sanllehi) says, this is a particularly tough window and we’re in the middle of it.
  • I sense and understand the frustration, but there is a huge amount of misinformation out there in the market.
  • About 85% of what you read just isn’t true.

Is Vinai lying? I don’t think so.

Maybe those who are more comfortable feeling a sense of injustice and have an intrinsic lack of trust in our management will continue to believe the negative press directed at Arsenal, but I would say that these few well chosen words by Mr. Venkatesham should be seen as very good news.



Bielik, Mavropanos or Mustafi? Which one should stay?

July 26, 2019

Bielik is coming out of his best full season with Charlton and had a very good Euros with Poland.

He is  home-grown and has 2 years remaining on his contract at age 21. He can play CB but was good at DM with Charlton.

Mavropanos hardly played for us.

He is 21 and has 3 years remaining on his contract.

He has shown some glimpses of true defending talent when he played but also had some rash and hairy moments.

He has been injured for a while now and needs to get fit.

We all know about Mustafi. He joined in 2016 and has failed to live up to the expectations we had of a World Cup winner.

Whether we play a back 4 or a back 5, we need at least 5 CBs. Sokratis, Holding and Monreal already make for three. Surely a CB will be brought in to replace Koscielny. There is one spot left, so…  who should it go to? Bielik, Mavro, or should we keep Mustafi?

Have your say and explain your reasoning.



Dani Ceballos … the ‘Real’ Deal

July 25, 2019

The smoke has turned into fire … any moment the club will announce that Dani Ceballos has joined Arsenal from Real Madrid on a one year loan deal.

The exact details of that deal are not known, the optimists will hope that there is an option to buy at the end of the 12 months … I very much doubt it, Real Madrid are not in the habit of letting developing talent go cheaply.

Ceballos is not Denis Suarez. He’s already proven quality. He has very good close control. He can weave through a defence and find a killer pass, he is a free kick specialist … he scores goals.

Feast your eyes on this  … but a note of caution, no-one can know how he will adapt to the EPL. He’ll get a kicked all over the park if he starts embarrassing opposition players as easily as you’ll see in this video ….

Dani was being courted by many top clubs and should already assume hero status by virtue of choosing The Arsenal over ‘that lot down the road’.

The boring stuff:

  • He’s 22, a Spanish national who has represented them at U19s, U21’s and in the full national side
  • He’s 5ft 10in, a midfielder who can play in several positions but is most effective in the advanced role of a No. 10.
  • He joined Sevilla as a youngster, signed his first professional contract with Real Betis and joined Real Madrid in 2017

There is no doubt that Arsenal are restricted in what they can spend. The loan deal for Ceballos (effectively coming on a free for the year) to some extent balances the plan to sign William Saliba and then send him back on loan. That deal involves delayed payment and so much of our £45m mini war chest remains … currently it may be in the region of £39m if you deduct the £6m paid for Martinelli.

Make no mistake, this is progress. We are getting a player who will significantly improve the quality of the squad. Ceballos is a Real Madrid player and a Spain International. The new management team have pulled off a major coup … the Saliba deal is all but in the bag … what next I wonder? … Would a centre back be too much to ask?