Silent Stan… and now Jabbering Josh?

August 20, 2019

What a funny old world it is.

Josh Kroenke, son of the famously silent owner of Arsenal has given an interesting  interview about the club.

It contains more words about Arsenal than his old man has managed in public in the last 10 years. And that’s only in the first paragraph.

Anyway, I’ll ‘bullet point’ a few of the things he’s said. It would be good to see what AA-ers think about the fact of the interview and about its content.

  • Josh says our dismal effort in the Europa League final last season led to ‘aggressive’ methods in this summer’s transfer market.
  • A major concern was that being out of the Champions League places would reduce our appeal to world class talents.
  • Josh says: “As the second half of the match unfolded, understanding the position we were in and some of the targets as we headed into the summer from a transfer standpoint, we had to rethink some of our strategy based on that last 45 minutes. We knew we wouldn’t have Champions League football and that’s what those type of talents are after. My main message to Vinai [Venkatesham, managing director] and Raul [Sanllehi, head of football] coming back from Baku on the plane and then throughout meetings all day the following day with them and Unai [Emery, head coach], was: ‘Let’s be aggressive and find out what’s possible’.”
  • He also hints that the Kroenkes may have injected money into the club this summer: “I’m not going to go into too much detail – people can read between the lines of being aggressive and what that might mean. It’s going to be a private matter for us here at the club, but I hope our fans understand that by being aggressive that’s exactly what we were”.
  • He says the “aggressive” policy was NOT prompted by fan discontent.
  • He says we will be “proactive again” in the January window.

Over to you…


Ceballos and Luiz are Key to Beating Liverpool

August 20, 2019

Ceballos has changed my mind regarding the Pool away game. He goes straight on to the team sheet. I believe we can beat Pool away.

They are an excellent team. They press, have pace, energy, physical presence, technical ability, a formidable front 3, and have counter attacking ability – whilst we press, have pace, energy, physical presence, technical ability, a formidable front 3, and have counter attacking ability………. ooh ditto.

Our key is to get our combinations right. I buck the trend in feeling that Willock is slightly ahead of Gouzi for a game like this during to being slightly quicker and more dynamic, and Liverpool play at a very fast pace. Also he is probably ahead of Torreira fitness wise at the moment.

I dont think we can get away with 2 box-to-box type midfielders working out who goes and who covers with Pool at Anfield. Surely this is a game to play Luiz in front of the back 4 at the base of our midfield.

I see it as 2 triangles or pyramids in a mirror image sharing an apex point, that being Luiz. It is a variation on the 4-3-3 but is more a 4-1-2-3:



I believe we can topple the mighty Pool at Anfield with that. It has everything covered in shape, defence, pace and high energy, ball distribution, and goals.


Ceballos is the new Vieira

August 19, 2019

What on earth is he talking about? What is he smoking, is he mad? Shameless click bait headings, the site has gone to the dogs. But give me a second, there is a slither of method to my madness, do you remember how at the beginning of Wenger’s tenure he was able to scour the lesser-known parts of France and French speaking Africa capable of unearthing hidden gems such as Vieira? Well, and here is the connection, Emery seems to be doing a good job of doing the same in Spain.

Real or Barca will always get first dibs on the top players in Spain and Latin America, this level of player are not on our radar, not the first edition signings anyway but there are so many who it just does not work out for, whether it be for reasons that the competition for the position they play is so intense that the chances of braking into the first team is next to impossible and this, off course, is where we are with Ceballos.

It must be so hard for players like that whose dream it is to play for one of the big two in Spain and then finally get signed, have all there their family and friends tell them how pleased they are for them and then have to face the humbling reality that they are unlikely to make it into the first team.

It is here that Emery comes in; it is his reassuring hand that helps players like Ceballos cross the much-feared precipice that exists in their minds on the way out of Real Madrid.

It is difficult to imagine having a second team, almost impossible, if there is it is probably a token suburban entity but in Spain this is the norm. Ceballos, although born in Andalucía and I am assuming that as he played for Betis that that was his boyhood team there is no doubt in my mind that his second team is Real Madrid; he has nationalist tattoos and as such he will hate Barcelona and the symbol of desired independence from Spain that it represents to so many and that will most certainly include Ceballos.

Yes, we only have him on loan but I like the way we are going about these things; I thought Dennis Suarez was a smart piece of business, ok it didn’t work out and it might seem glaringly obvious now but it is easy to remember that he was and I assume still is a Barcelona player and that is not something that happens easily.

It was a clever piece of business because we got to try it before we bought it and hey, thank goodness we didn’t spend a chunk of our meagre transfer resources on him, again easy after the fact. The same is obviously true of Ceballos; he has had one start perhaps by Christmas other clubs could have worked his game out and found a way to nullify him – but right now, I will have none of that negativity, we have got ourselves a gem, if he blossoms so much that Real Madrid give him a guarantee that he will be a first team regular then he will obviously return but failing that he will be ours for so many obvious reasons.

Where will he play? There is little doubt that this is a long-term play to replace Ozil. That’s to say; it would be hugely risky to break the bank to try and buy a ready made replacement for him, the chances of failure are high just look at Ozil himself, everyone’s favourite for so long and is now viewed by so many as a huge expensive albatross, can you imagine accidently having two of those on the books? Ceballos like Suarez is a suck it and see type of thing, there are risks but they are greatly reduced.

Back to Ozil for a moment, in my opinion the club are doing everything they can to off load him in this European transfer window, I know I have said before things like: I loved you Mesut but you broke my heart and that certainly was the way I felt after his dismal display in the Europa final but like any lost love a twinkling of the minds eye returns after time and in this case I find myself sighing when images of his goal against Ludagrets flash in front of me.

My guess is that the club will fail to sell Ozil in this window and we will get to see the return of the Thin White Duke making for a pairing with Ceballos on certain occasions, all of which, force exotic images of Ozil and Cazorla back into my head.

Ooooooh to be.


Dani’s Dazzling Debut .. against the new Stoke!

August 18, 2019

Arsenal 2 -1 Stoke

I can’t take the credit for our opposition’s name (nice one LBG) but Tony Pullis has shrunk 6 inches, put on 3 stone and gone ginger and balder. Apart from that, all’s well in The Potteries.

We started with a different line up to last week. I had Torreira and Chambers with either Ozil or Miki in my pre match. Liam had Ceballos. We thought Xhaka might not make it because of the injury. So full debuts for Ceballos, Luis and Willock, Guendouzi and Nelson also included. I liked the line-up I must admit.

We started well and for 15 minutes, I was drooling !! Laca had just missed what I thought was a really straightforward header but from the resulting corner, he scored such a Laca goal. It was awesome.

After we scored, we lost the initiative and struggled with stopping them doing what they’re good at and gave away far too many set pieces.

Guendouzi on Tarkowski at said set pieces was hard to understand but I guess we were zonal for the most part. Their equaliser wasn’t a huge surprise but I was literally mesmerized by our midfield.

Even though we went in level, at no point did I ever think we wouldn’t win this game (in fact in the end I was a little disappointed we didn’t win by more).

The second half seemed a lot more comfortable and I can’t really put my finger on why. I know Pepe came on and so I have to attribute it to that in some part.

Everyone seemed confident on the ball and after an Auba miss from a sublime ball by Pepe, he did exactly what Laca did earlier and scored a great goal almost immediately.

I thought the rest of the game was solid and the subs came in to help shore us up but we never really looked in danger of conceding.

Player Ratings as follows:

Leno – 7 : Could maybe have helped the defense out a little more but Stoke is such a hard team for keepers. Mark my words, they’ll terrorize quite a few keepers this season.

AMN – 7 : Wasn’t outstanding, wasn’t bad. I rate him at present based on the fact that he’s playing out of position and will give him the benefit at the moment. No concentration lapses.

Nacho – 7 : Nacho. What more is there to say. Tierney will probably be an upgrade but this guy doesn’t hurt us in any way.

Sokratis – 8 : He did miss a couple of headers in the first half but he was very good in the 2nd. A couple of crunching tackles and I wonder if he fed off Luiz a little.

Luiz – 7.5 : Probably as good as Sok but I’m going to be a little harsh here and say he was at fault for the goal. I know it took a deflection but he was a yard behind the line and that’s going to cost us against better sides. Looked like a Gooner and led by example and was very animated. Awesome debut.

Guendouzi – 8 : I think he showed what a disciplined DM should be. This kid is such an asset to us and I think he’s going to get better and better. Hardly put a foot wrong (I’ll take corrections on that if I’m wrong – maybe I have an agenda !!). Let’s see how he does against better teams for sure, but did everything that was asked.

Willock – 8 : I love this kid. He’s strong, powerful, confident but not arrogant. I said a while back the mark of a good player is how his opposition views him. In no time flat, teams are going to hate playing against this lad. He’s got it all. Again, he gets his grade based on the fact he’s a 19 yr old rookie. Wasn’t perfect but always showed and covered.

Ceballos – 10 : I can’t really say enough about how well he played. My son Liam has been raving about him and I think most of the comments on here have been tempered by the fact that he’s a fairly unknown quantity especially in the PL. Well here’s our answer.

Nelson – 6.5 : Didn’t have his best game but looks like he got a knock. Wasn’t scared to play against a rugged team. He’s exciting and I love the fact Dick is playing him, he’s well worth a punt. Not his best game but he’s 19. There’s a lot more to come from this kid imo.

Laca – 7.5 : Very good comeback after injury, maybe not 100% match fit but did all that could be asked and scored a very good goal upon return.

Auba – 9 : Stoke were terrified of this guy. At the moment he’s almost unplayable and the biggest surprise is that he only got 1. I guarantee he’s creating space for others right now just by being on the field.

Subs :

Pepe – 7 : One world class ball, one world class dribble and a little inconsistency. He’s going to be fun and hard to watch all at the same time but if this guy doesn’t excite you, maybe you’re not a football person !! Kidding but I think he’s going to be special for us.

Torreira and Kola – No grade, but came in to do a job and got it done.

Summary : This is very important so let me say it – we beat Burnley (the new Stoke) 2-1 at home. It’s tempting to read into all of the excitement and positivity and think we’re Spuds of 5 years ago. So let’s not be that. Instead I’ll say this. For the first time in a while, I expected us to win. I saw a midfield trio that would run through walls for each other. For their team mates. For Us fans. For the Badge. There was an attitude about Arsenal today that we’ve been missing. We gave Burnley a run for their money, struggled for a while, then beat them. We’re a work in progress with a lot of work to do for sure. But I finally think we have a map, a destination and the means to get there.

Our current squad, allowing for the loss of Ramsey but adding Pepe, Ceballos, Luiz and Willock plus the continuing improvement of Guendouzi, the top class Laca and Auba and a very good keeper in Leno is the foundation of a new era at Arsenal. That’s not really up for debate. The question is, can we go down the new road successfully.

Two games into the season against two mediocre opponents would lead most people to think it’s fanciful at best to make such an assumption. I probably agree. But I’m happy to go on the record as saying I am very optimistic for our next two games. The fear we have often displayed, the mental frailty seems a little foreign to this current crop. So if I’m wrong then it’s going to be a little longer road. But I for one can’t wait to see.

Go Gooooooooooooooners!!!

Mike M

First Home Game of the Season … Arsenal vs Burnley

August 17, 2019

Emery had some very complimentary words for Dyche and his Burnley team. He commented that they were among the best teams in the league when it came to long balls, physicality and fighting for the second balls. Emery knows their game plan and he knows their top players.

Will he adapt our team to be able to cope with their game plan or will he try to impose our pace and trickery to them especially since we re playing at home.?

I expect a bit of both so here is my expected line up with Luiz being handed his first start and us to play in a 352:

This team has pace and physicality. Only question mark would be on Guendouzi as he could well give way to LT or eventually Mkhy.

I say it will be a tough battle but we will come out victorious. 2-1 with Auba and Chambers to score while we concede a goal on a corner courtesy of Tarkowski.

Don’t forget that Burnley won 3-0 in their opening game with Barnes scoring two and their left back providing assists as well. We know the danger but let s keep our good record vs Burnley and put in a strong display. CYYG!


Arsenal in The Middle of a Defensive Dilemma

August 16, 2019

Let’s look at the best DM’s around and figure out who we’d take if we had our choice. Then let’s see who we have and what they’re capable of. Then come to a conclusion on how we should best set up.

For me, past best was Busquets. Best now is Kante in my opinion.

A good DM needs the following attributes in this order

1) Positional discipline
2) Ability to win the ball including anticipation and agility
3) Reading the game and opponents in possession
4) Pressure in our defensive third to stop easy balls though and behind the last line
5) Ball distribution
6) Offensive threat and creativity including goals

I think Busquets had 1-4 in spades and 5 was just a Barca thing. Kante has 1-4. Strangely enough Sarri didn’t think that was enough and brought in Georginho who has #1 and 5 but lacks the rest from what I see.

If I could pick a DM for us it would be Kante. His extreme engine makes him better than the rest just because if he is out of position his recovery speed is incredible. Leicester and Chelsea will attest to that.

So what do we have?  No Kante. That’s certain.

Torreira is the closest in my opinion. Probably a little better distribution but definitely the best at winning possession and breaking up play.

Guendouzi has the engine but lacks a little positional discipline and probably not as good a ball winner.

You all probably know how I feel about Xhaka but if not, let me clarify. He has 5 and 6. No clue about 1-4. Probably our least effective DM as far as I can see.

Luiz would be proficient at 2 and 5 and Chambers at 1 and 4.

So for me,Torreira is way ahead and Guendouzi next best. For those of you that think Willock, I’d agree 100% on one contingency. Emery.

And that’s where I see the solution lies. UE needs to act like a manager in control of his team and instruct – no DEMAND that his DM plays the role. I think Joe Willock would happily do the job if he’s given the task and he checks all the boxes. So come on Unai, sort it out and make us solid. Pep, Klopp and Pochettino would. Will you?

Mike M

David Luiz Could Mean The End Of Ozil

August 15, 2019

Arsenal’s signing of David Luiz on the final day of the transfer window divided opinion among the faithful.

But love or hate the fuzzy-haired Brazilian beanpole, I fancy that few of us have fully considered the impact he’s likely to have on our style of play this season.

It could be massive, and here’s why.

Although we have had some good footballing centre backs (Mertesacker stands out in recent years) we have never had what you might call a “deep-lying playmaker.” And that’s exactly what Luiz is when given the chance.

How does a deep-lying playmaker affect the way we play? Well, in just about every way you can think of…

We have grown used to Arsenal teams where the primary responsibility for creativity has come from attacking midfielders or withdrawn strikers: the likes of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey (some of the time), Fabregas, Arshavin even Sanchez on occasion.

In this system our defenders’ job is to bring the ball out from the back and give it to the “creative” players ahead of them (an alternative being to push it down the wings to wide players who, invariably with Arsenal, then cut inside and lay it off to the creatives).

It’s not an unusual approach – most top teams do it (although some make better use of wide attackers than we do). But at Arsenal in the later Wenger years and also during Emery’s first season it has led to a constipated way of playing: we get an uncomfortable blockage in the middle and when we eventually manage to squeeze it out there’s a huge feeling of relief, only to start all over again.

The build-up is slower, opponents can organise their defence and we need to use guile to break them down rather than speed and power. When we manage a rare breakaway goal (as we did with the winner at Newcastle) we all get excited and remark how it’s the sort of goal we used to score during the Invincibles era.

The “central guile” approach was a deliberate policy by Wenger after the break-up of the Invincibles when he was building a team around Cesc Fabregas, modelled on the Barcelona tiki-taka style and we have never really shaken it off since.

What does Luiz offer?

In short, something we have not had for years – a talented play-maker from deep. He can bring the ball out from the back and dictate the play with his excellent range of passing or with his willingness to advance with the ball at his feet, commit opposition players and then find the gaps.

Examples of deep-lying play-makers that come to mind are Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Andrea Pirlo (for Italy and Juventus) and, interestingly enough, Jack Wilshire for England for a while under Roy Hodgson, before injuries lost him his place (again) and then Hodgson lost his place after England’s abysmal performance at the World Cup in Brazil.

Of course, none of those are primarily central defenders like Luiz, so perhaps a better comparison is one of the best players ever to have graced the turf: Franz Beckenbauer at Bayern Munich and as a World Cup winner for West Germany (in the days before German reuinifcation).

Beckenbauer was a more reliable defender than Luiz but his ability to dictate play from the back was similar. Germany built such a successful system around him and this approach that they made two World Cup finals (winning one) and two European Championship finals (again, winning one) with it in just six years.

If this is how Luiz is going to play for us, what are the implications?

Well, for a start there is a lot less need for a playmaker further forward, which might mean curtains for Mesut Ozil. In fact I would not be completely shocked if we offload Ozil before the foreign transfer windows close (DC United anyone?).

Don’t believe me? Look at the Chelsea team that won the Premier League in 2017 with David Luiz playing a central role. Notwithstanding a few appearances from poor old Cesc (after Wenger sadly declined to bring him home to Arsenal as he’d hoped), Chelsea played most of that season without an out-and-out playmaker ahead of Luiz. They had protective midfielders like Kante and Matic and pacey attackers like Hazard, Pedro and Willian, with a despicable but undoubtedly effective goal machine up front in Diego Costa.

I know you could describe Hazard as a playmaker, but really he’s a wide attacker who is blessed with such brilliance that he can bring in other players at will and change games on his own.

Don’t be surprised to see this year’s Arsenal resemble that Chelsea team.

One positive aspect to starting our playmaking from the back is that it gives us a chance to return to the pace-and-power approach that worked so well in the first half of Wenger’s Arsenal tenure.

Although we did not have a defender-playmaker under Wenger we were able to move from defence to attack very quickly, whether through Seaman-Vieira-Overmars-Bergkamp-Anelka or through Lehmann-Vieira-Pires/Ljungberg-Henry.

For Arsenal 2019-20, with Luiz taking the lead playmaking, role perhaps a future first team line-up looks like this: Leno, Bellerin, Chambers, Holding, Tierney, Luiz, Guendouzi, Torreira, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.

Well, I for one would be pretty excited by that. And, of course, we have sufficient squad depth and strength to change it up as needed for particular opponents or if it just isn’t working in a given game.

Am I barking up the wrong tree with this? Or just barking?

Let me know…


Do we need to play with a holding midfielder? If so, who?

August 13, 2019

Liam posed this question to GoonerB…

I agree that a Guendouzi/Xhaka midfield pairing isnt likely to work in big games, but what pairing would you prefer moving forward?

This is the response from GoonerB …

Liam, your question earlier about how to set up with the midfield behind our front 3 (assuming that will be Auba, Laca and Pepe as 1st choice). I am not too sure what the best answer is to the midfield 3. I feel the problem is that we haven’t been playing with what I would view as a holding midfielder.

I don’t feel any of Xhaka, Guendouzi, and arguably even Torreira, are actually specialist holding midfielders (that invisible wall) in the way that Gilberto was and say Fernandinho is.

All of them look to be more free roaming box to box or creative defensive midfielders if you like. None of them seem to be that player dedicated to tidying up and being the screen in front of the back 4. Torreira is probably the closest but even he seems to be more suited to being a free roaming defensive midfielder. Willock could also be best suited to the BTB role as well so would join Xhaka, Guondozi and Torreira on the list for that role.

I think that Ozil, Ceballos and Micki are more suited to being ACM’s, so we have a choice of 3 for that role. My feeling is that we need to have a proper holding midfielder, and I wonder if either Chambers or Luiz would make us stronger in that part of the field. Then choose 1 from Torreira, Willock, Xhaka and Douzi for the BTB CM role, and 1 from Ozil, Ceballos and Micki for the ACM position.

I would suggest that while we seem to have a clutch of ‘free roaming box to box defensive midfielders’ who also love to join in the attack there’s needs to be really good on field communication between whoever makes up the two or three in front of the defence to control a defensive screen. I would love to see a midfield that really controls the game.

On to Burnley …………. it will be interesting to see how we set up.

peachesgooner, GoonerB and Liam

My personal Arsenal journey … and a taste for Marmite …

August 13, 2019

I was not a natural football supporter. I came from a middle-class south London Jewish family with no sporting pretensions. At primary school, all my friends supported the big teams of the time, though I doubt if they ever went to watch Manchester United, Tottenham or Wolverhampton in the flesh. Already one of life’s rebels at the age of six, I decided this was too easy, just following someone because they’re good, so I got hold of the current table, and started at the bottom of the list to work up. This was the Third Division North, and I soon arrived at Tranmere Rovers. I liked the name, they seemed appropriately about as unfashionable and unsuccessful as you can get, so I announced to the world that henceforth I was a Tranmere Rovers supporter.

Fast forward ten years, to an adolescent rugger bugger at public school. One Saturday, 6th September 1969 as it happens, I was hanging out with my mates Geoff and David and their girl friends, wondering what to do. Someone (not me!) suggested going to watch a football match, so we checked the paper and found that West Ham were at home. I remember a tediously long tube journey before we arrived at West Ham underground station. My first ever football match was to be… TARAH!! West Ham versus Tottenham Hotspur.

This was the beginning of the skinhead era, and we approached the old Boleyn ground cowering between hordes dressed identically in high Doc Martens, short jeans, t-shirts, and the signature hair. We shuffled through the nearest turnstile, and stood amid the intimidating army. The worst part however, was that they didn’t wear any colours, scarves, hats or other identifying paraphernalia. So we didn’t know who to cheer! That is, until Spurs scored, and those immediately around us went wild. Then of course, we cheered loudly for Spurs until the final whistle. They won 1 – 0.

My next forays into the closed world of Association Football were to Highbury.

I had a friend who lived at Highbury Barn, and he used to take me along to the odd match. Even then, I was aware of a different climate in and around the ground. I was at one Tottenham game where I witnessed from the East Stand the ravening pack of Spurs animals attempt to invade the North Bank. But otherwise it always seemed a more civilised, a more genteel environment, far more appropriate for this sheltered nincompoop from south London. I liked it at Highbury, I wanted Arsenal to win, but I could not yet call myself a supporter (I imagine that some of you, lifelong members of the tribe, would say that I still can’t).

Then it was off to university up north, where I followed York City through two promotions, and occasionally Leeds United, then in their pomp under Don Revie.

All this gave me a growing taste for attending football matches, so that when I returned to London, I decided that I needed to find a team to follow regularly. I should, of course, have headed straight for Highbury, but my liberal education informed that I should give everyone a chance – well, not literally everyone: I restricted myself to the First Division. I wanted to see what kind of experience each club provided. West Ham was the pits. The intimidation there still makes me shudder on dark wet nights. Chelsea pretended class, but were actually crass, and the toxic hatred was barely concealed by smart clothes.

Spurs were shabby and rather sad, like a retired colonel in India who got left behind when independence came. There was little atmosphere, and the streets around the ground… well, you know, don’t you. They still are. They did play pretty football though, with Hoddle and Ardiles in their ranks. Fulham was peaceful enough down by the Thames, but you had the feeling it would be rude to disturb them. Funnily enough, many years later when I was having a go playing rugby league, that was my home ground! QPR was by a long way my second favourite venue. They were doing very well at the time, managed by Dave Sexton and led by Gerry Francis. But such a small, out-of-date ground!

Finally, back to Highbury, where I at once felt at home. I had wasted most of a season coming to this conclusion, but Arsenal was for me, and I was thenceforth for Arsenal.

All of which chequered history leads me to believe that I have a different perspective from those who grew up hating Spurs and their fans. For one thing, I don’t find myself getting drawn along with the Zeitgeist. When Sanchez was the Saviour, all I could see was his selfishness and poor team dynamic. Olivier Giroud always made me laugh and cry simultaneously, with brilliant moments interspersed with barndoor banjo moments. Likewise, Laurent Koscielny, who I liked very much, although every intercession he made, my heart was in my mouth knowing how rash he could be. Now this unpleasant demonising of Mustafi, where a growing tide of hate from his own supporters is attempting to wash him out of the Emirates. For his sake, I hope he decides to go. I remember how down on Aaron Ramsey the crowd were, every time he came back from injury and took a while to get back up to speed. Suddenly, when he was leaving, he was lionised by those same fickle people. Jon Sammels was the same. He was my favourite Arsenal player at the time, but most of the crowd seemed to loathe him.

Time to stop this ramble. I was intending to write about “marmite” players, some of whom I’ve mentioned. But on reflection I find that an awful lot of players are marmite to me. That is, I suffer an internal conflict about them, loving and hating simultaneously. Each player, in their moment, brings happiness and frustration. Even Dennis used to, like when he showed his evil side tackling opponents. Danny Welbeck. I absolutely loved him. But his banjo was even smaller than Giroud’s. Then he scored THAT goal against Leicester in the ninety third minute. Sanchez, though I disliked his role in the team, scored and set up some absolutely wonderful goals. I could go on and on and on and on and… Side Show Bob (Mark One)? Well, let’s wait and see.


Double Pants Dilemma: Newcastle v Arsenal Match Report and Player Ratings

August 11, 2019

The first game of a new season prompts a strange mix of emotions: excitement, anticipation, hope, nervousness. Perhaps fear.

I imagine it’s the way a bride must feel on the morning of her wedding when everything has been planned just the way she wants it but she has a nagging suspicion that she might be marrying the wrong man.

Well, let’s hope Arsenal’s 2019/20 season is a ‘happily ever after’ story and we don’t end up feeling betrayed, abandoned and embittered with only chocolate and cats to console us.

The auguries were not good for yesterday’s season opener against a Newcastle United team led by new coach Mrs Doubtfire.

There were two reasons for concern: firstly, our opening day form has been pants in recent years. And secondly, for the first time in years our opening match was away from home and, as we all know, our away form has also been pants.

So we had a double pants dilemma, like an anxious incontinence sufferer.

First, our opening day form: in the previous four years, starting with last year, we have managed the following: home defeat to Manchester City; scrappy and somewhat lucky home win against Leicester City; home defeat to Liverpool; home defeat to West Ham.

Next, our overall away form: last season and the one before we contrived to lose exactly half of our away games in the Premier League (19 out of 38) and managed to win only 11 out of 38 – a win rate of just 29%.

Yet, with all that in mind, it was impossible not to feel a bit chipper going into the game.

Most of us would probably agree we had a good transfer window and this has helped the mood music around the club to be more upbeat. There’s a cautious feeling that we have started to plant the seeds of recovery after some frustrating years.

There appears to be a bit more of a clear direction at the club and it’s hard not to be excited about new signings like Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli, and the continuing progress of home-grown talents like Willock and Nelson.

Unai Emery went with a starting line-up that will probably bear little resemblance to our eventual first choice eleven this season (once the broken ones have returned and the new ones have settled). He put his faith in some of the youngsters. Willock, Nelson and Guendouzi started, as did Maitland-Niles and Chambers (does Calum Chambers still count as a youngster?).

Lacazette, rightly, was not risked due to recent injury issues, but was on the bench in case we needed to chase a goal late on. That meant the irrepressible Aubameyang would be carrying most of our attacking hopes.

The first half was a fairly even affair. The Barcodes had a 10 minute spell when they created some half chances, including a shot from noted Nosferatu impersonator Jonjo Shelvey that hit the post (although Leno may just have had it covered).

From our side, we were finding it difficult to break down a well-organised Newcastle defence and whenever it looked like we might find a way through a wayward pass or piece of control would bring an end to things.

But there were promising signs in the way we knocked the ball around at times and it was particularly pleasing to see Willock and Nelson so involved and showing a lot of confidence. Guendouzi, meanwhile, was my stand-out player of the first period. He’s strong, competitive, always makes himself available and is ever keen to get on the front foot: he may look like the dopey sidekick from a 1990s teen movie, but this kid has future leading man written all over him.

In the second half we were the superior team overall, without creating clear cut chances until the breakthrough came courtesy of two men for whom two initials are just not enough: AMN and PEA.

Maitland-Niles showed brilliant anticipation as Newcastle played the ball out from the back. He beat the Newcastle player to the ball around the half way line, took a couple of touches and looked up to see Auba moving into space in the penalty area. Maitland-Niles’s 35-yard* pass to our Gabonese gazelle was beautifully executed. Aubameyang brought it under control and coolly side-footed it past the on-rushing ‘keeper.

Mrs Doubtfire will be fuming at the space given to our striker in the box, but that should not detract from the fact that he found the space or the sublime way in which he finished.

As Auba ran to celebrate with his Number One Best Bro (Lacazette) on the touchline I liked that he turned to beckon Maitland-Niles to join the party.

After that Newcastle huffed and puffed but caused few real scares.

It’s tempting to say that Aubameyang’s quality was the difference, but in truth we displayed superiority in most areas for the majority of the game.

We also got to have a look at Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli as they came on for Willock, Nelson and Mkhitaryan. There were a couple of nice moments from Pepe in particular, but the main thing was they got their debuts under their belts and they can feel they contributed to a win and a clean sheet.

I think a special word is also merited for our new away kit – and that word is “Yes!” Well done Adidas.

*For younger readers who don’t understand imperial measurements, 35 yards is equivalent to 28 Ells, or 70 Cubits.

Player Ratings

Leno: dealt with everything that came his way. In particular I enjoyed the moment in the second half where he came out of his area to head the ball clear and snuff out a dangerous Newcastle attack. 7.5

Maitland-Niles: excellent overall game from the young fullback and his anticipation and skill directly led to our winning goal. 8

Monreal: solid and unspectacular from Nacho, but he did little wrong. 7

Sokratis: it’s hard to get excited about our Greek colossus, but he is a very dependable defender and had a good game. 7

Chambers: a year on loan playing in midfield has been good for Chambers. I fancy he could be one of the surprise success stories of the season. Like his central defence partner he was solid. 7

Xhaka: seemed more subdued than usual but was tidy and played some very nice attacking passes at times. 6.5

Guendouzi: all energy all the time. I love the way he turns his body as he receives the ball so he is always ready to surge towards the opposition end. 8

Nelson: confident and tidy. It’s very encouraging to have players like him and Willock coming through, not least for the way it can inspire other up-and-coming talents at the club. 7

Willock: this lad’s a class act. 7.5

Mkhitaryan: I know he’s not a fan favourite but I thought he was lively in the first half and helped create some of our better chances. His final ball let him down a couple of times and he faded in the second half. 6

Aubameyang: exuberant, talented and full of energy – what a great player to have wearing the Arsenal shirt. MoTM 8.5.


Ceballos: misplaced a few passes as he tried to find his feet, but grew into the game.

Pepe: showed one or two very nice moments of skill. Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Martinelli: a Brazilian forward at the Arsenal? What’s not to like?