Arsenal, onwards and upwards.

July 9, 2020

Unknown-1It’s funny how little time it takes to get used to winning? Only three wins against varying strengths of opposition, none of which is in the top four but still it sent me out into the post lockdown world with a reassuring sense of wellbeing — if this was going to be the new normal then I am all in.

I know, as we all do, that these things don’t last for ever. One person commented on the site after the Wolves excitement that we shouldn’t get carried away and reminded us of the twenty match unbeaten run we had with Emery and also reminded us how that came to an end. When reading this the thought that sprang to my mind was: don’t get carried away? I was ecstatic at the time and would happily work my self up into the same state of euphoria should we ever come anywhere near achieving that again.

But, as the saying goes the higher you fly the harder you fall, and I felt robbed against Leicester, another VAR farce, the referee was only shown the most damning angle rather than the one that showed Nketiah innocently trying to toe the ball past the defender. Nketiah stays on and we win and more importantly my sense of wellbeing continues.

Still, perhaps I shouldn’t feel too down, it did turn out a draw and our twenty game unbeaten run is still on the cards (smiley face) and although, as some have pointed out that Nketiah will miss three very important games: Spuds, Liverpool and City, I think there could be some tactical advantages to be had that may not immediately spring to mind.

Stating the obvious, Nketiah is one of the newer crop of young talent and if we want him to stay he is going to have to be given game time. But he is learning on the job at our expense. In the new normal Nketiah has been alternating with Lacazette and to a degree it has been working but there is a huge Gamboonian elephant in the room in the form of Aubamayang who is head and shoulders a better number nine than the pair of them put together.

I will try and stop myself disappearing down a tactical rabbit hole and put things simply: with Nketiah’s loss Arteta could be forced to play Auba at number nine which then allows Pepe to play in his favoured position on the right flank with Saka moving to Auba’s present position on the left.

This strikes me as a win, win, win situation, Saka has 10 assists from the left which is amazing and I see no reason why that can’t continue, Pepe is really coming into form and has been more effective on the right than Saka and then there is the goal scoring machine in Aubamayang being fed by those two, what’s not to like?

Spuds on Sunday, oh please make that frontline happen Mikel; he won’t, he will start with Lacazette who will run his heart out but when he tires and there is no Nketiah to bring on to relieve him I find it difficult to imagine that the scenario I have just painted would not have crossed Arteta’s mind and will possibly be utilised.

So Mikel, I know you are reading, if you need any other tactical advise just drop a line in comments below, we are always here to help.

Spuds on Sunday………unleash hell boys, unleash hell………………..LB


The Pleasure in Disappointment: Leicester Report & Ratings

July 8, 2020

 

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                                                        Reddie Eddie Go

Disappointment is a single word but it can have many nuances.

In the second half of Unai Emery’s tenure at Arsenal I became increasingly disappointed with him, with our team, with the results and with the way we were playing.

Last night, as our tired players trooped off the park following the 1-1 home draw with Leicester City, I was also disappointed.

But they were different forms of disappointment. The clue is in the dictionary definition of the word:

disappointment

/dɪsəˈpɔɪntm(ə)nt/

noun

sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations.

In the former example (during the Emery era), my disappointment stemmed from the fact that my ‘expectations’ in the broader sense were most certainly being non-fulfilled.

Those expectations were that, notwithstanding issues of finances or of starting from a weak position, Arsenal should be demonstrating an ability to improve, to learn, to plan and to make progress. In short, we should be competing for the big prizes or showing that we are building towards being able to compete for them. Under Emery we were getting further and further away from being able to do that.

So, the disappointment at emphatically failing to come anywhere near those expectations was overwhelming: there was just nothing to be positive about: not even a glimmer at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Now contrast that with the disappointment from last night’s game. After 98 minutes of play I was disappointed because we had not managed to get all three points against the team sitting third in the league before the start of play. That’s a pleasurable form of disappointment because it sits in an overall context of positivity.

It’s the disappointment that says: “We really could have won that, but for some unlucky breaks,” not the kind that says: “So we failed to win again – what did we expect?”

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that there are clear and visible signs of progress under Mikel Arteta and last night’s performance was another piece of evidence in support of that notion.

We have a plan; the players seem to understand the plan; they give their utmost to enact the plan.

The game was going very much like the recent match at Wolves until Eddie Nketieh’s sending off: we dominated the first half, scored a good goal and could (should) have scored a couple more.

The opposition came out more determinedly in the second half and gave us trouble for 15 to 20 minutes. As in the game at Molineux, El Patron responded with sensible substitutions… but that’s when our ‘lucky horseshoe’ ran out of luck.

In almost his first action on the pitch Nketieh, showing his usual commitment, over-reached for a ball and nicked a Leicester player on the knee. Slow motion replays made it look worse than it probably was but when the referee upgraded his yellow to a red after reviewing the replay, we couldn’t have too many arguments. There was no malicious intent on Nketieh’s part and he will no doubt learn from this, but it means he misses three big games coming up.

After that it was backs-against-the-wall time and, as we tried to soak up the pressure, our regular nemesis Jamie Vardy snuck in to grab a goal.

We held on to the 90th minute at which point the ‘8 minutes of extra time’ sign was a bit alarming, but we managed to kill the game off with clever time wasting and stalwart defending.

I would like to think that, but for the red card, this match would have continued to resemble the Wolves game and Arteta’s substitutions would have led to us grabbing a second goal and securing the three points. We’ll never know, but I feel there’s a good chance that’s exactly what would have happened.

PLAYER RATINGS

Martinez         8

If he keeps this up, Bernt Leno is going to have a tough time getting back in the first team. Made a couple of great stops and could do nothing about Vardy’s goal. He’s becoming a large and reassuring presence at the base of our defence.

Bellerin           7

A solid outing from Hector. He made some good contributions going forward (he would have had an assist if Lacazette had steered his open-goal header away from Schmeichel) and was switched on at the back.

Mustafi           7

Another reliable outing. I don’t want to tempt fate but he seems to have reduced the silly mistakes and the back three clearly suits him.

Luiz                  7.5

The back three really suits Luiz too. Good defending and some excellent distribution. Played a full part in our ‘Alamo’ defending after we went down to 10 men.

Kolasinac        7

I’m sounding like a stuck record, but he also seems more secure in a back three. Took some knocks but battled well.

Tierney            8 (MoTM)

This lad gets better every time you watch him. Determined defending, great energy and boy can he cross.

Xhaka              7.5

Our metronome kept things ticking over in midfield until we went down to 10 men, at which point he put in a full shift defensively and wasted time by falling over a lot to win free kicks.

Ceballos          7.5

The Spaniard is really settling into this role and system. A good and disciplined performance with a superb defence-splitting pass for our goal.

Saka                7

More involved than he had been against Wolves and, just as in that game, made a crucial contribution, in this case setting up Aubameyang for our goal.

Lacazette        7

Unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. He should have done better with the header from Bellerin’s cross but was industrious and hard working as ever.

Aubameyang  7.5

Tireless outing from the captain, who was in the right place at the right time to grab our goal.

SUBS

 

Willock (71 mins)       7

Nketieh (71 mins)      N/A

Torreira (80 mins)      7

Maitland-Niles (93 mins)       6

  

RockyLives

 

 


Leicester Pre-Match: Can We Keep the Run Going?

July 7, 2020

Pepe                                                             Pepe to start tonight?

We tamed the Wolves, now it’s time for the Foxes.

The fox is a smaller animal, of course, but it’s fast, sneaky and an expert at theft.

When I was living in South West London over a decade ago we kept a few chickens in our reasonably large back garden.

They lived in a pretty little wooden chicken house, which I fortified against urban foxes to the best of my ability: wire mesh on the grass all around to stop them digging under; stone slabs under the hutch itself; security lighting.

Add in a couple of control towers and machine guns and the entire scene might have come from The Great Escape.

The foxes got in and killed the chickens.

How do we stop them pulling a similar smash-grab-and-throttle tonight at The Emirates?

We’re on a roll with four wins on the trot and confidence is visibly building. We have just signed two of our most exciting young prospects to new deals and there is even a (very) outside chance of Champions League football next year.

But Leicester are a dangerous side, with Jamie Vardy as the epitome of Fantastic Mister Fox (he’s leading the race for the Golden Boot, with 21 goals so far, two ahead of Aubameyang).

They are third in the league table which, when you look at the two teams above them, is a hell of an achievement: it means that after Liverpool and Manchester City, they are currently the ‘best of the rest.’

However, there are factors in our favour apart from our recent run of decent form. Since the lockdown ended Leicester have struggled to recapture their pre-pandemic consistency. In the four league games they’ve played since the restart they have managed: D, D, L, W.

And across the season they have been stronger at home than away.

If our new defensive set-up (now definitively to be known as ‘The Horseshoe’) can nullify Vardy there’s no reason why we can’t come away with the points. We certainly have players who can score if they get the chance, and we will get chances.

The main question for El Patron is whether he needs to rest some of Saturday’s starters, even though we have a five-day gap after tonight before our visit to the Armitage Shanks Arena in N17.

Here’s my stab at the line-up:

Martinez

Bellerin – Mustafi – Luiz – Kolasinac – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Pepe – Nketieh – Aubameyang

I’ve gone with Bellerin because Soares didn’t entirely convince against Wolves and is coming back from injury.

And I think new dad Pepe will get the nod ahead of Saka.

And if I have to tip someone to be our hero on the night, it’s going to be Pepe.

Come on you Reds!

RockyLives


Hello, Hello, Arsenal are back, Arsenal are back.

July 5, 2020

A very clever game plan, hatched by Arteta and superbly executed by the team, enabling us to come away from Molineux will all three points. No easy task as that ground had become a fortress and seen a fair few top teams unexpectedly tumble.

Continuing with Rocky’s theme from his excellent pre-match, I wouldn’t say Wolves were slain, it struck me as being more akin to slowly having the life squeezed out of them, not the deadly rapid bite of a rattle snake but the slow asphyxiation of a large Boa constrictor.

The horse-shoe football that took place for the best part of the first half was clearly designed to drain Wolves of enthusiasm. Luiz to Soares, back to Luiz out to Kolasinac, back to Luiz, over and over creating the shape of a horse-shoe. Of course, I cannot be certain that it was Arteta’s plan to drain Wolves of enthusiasm but it certainly worked on me. Occasionally, the ball would be played to Xhaka or Ceballos in midfield but they simply played it back and the horse-shoe continued. It was starting to get hard to see how things would change. Saka and Soares looked strangers and understandably so as it was the first game they played together and you know when things are bad, when Mustafi has to shout to try and get the front line to make runs.

But then it changed, like an arm wrestle of evenly matched men, something eventually has to give and it did. A cross from Tierney was deflected invitingly for the waiting Saka to hit home. Not as easy to score as I have just said as he still had work to do to readjust his body quickly after the deflection but the young man did so superbly and deserved his first premiership goal.

Wolves naturally increased the pressure in search of an equaliser but it was back to the hypnotic defensive horse-shoe and Wolves remained under our spell for the remainder of the half.

Arteta’s game plan became more readable with the sequence that the substitutes were introduced. For a moment it didn’t make sense why AMN replaced Tierney but then it all fell into place; AMN was sent on to be the enforcer, to add some street fighting brute strength to deal with the marauding Traore and he carried it off well, controlled but forceful.

By this time Wolves had thrown caution to the wind and were coming on to us very high up putting pay to the horse-shoe, good in one sense but a bit worrying in the other as it seemed only a question of time before an equaliser appeared. Time for more substitutions; Bellerin and Willock came on to shore things up and they did so effectively. Hector looked serious; he has got some real competition for his place at last and Willock slots into that role of chasing down and carrying the ball out so well but as Wolves may have started to think that it may not be their day we were still not out of the woods. Time for further substitutions and what turned out to be the coup de gras. Is there a player who likes scoring more than Lacazette? He just lights up, it is as though it is the reason he lives, a superbly taken goal and as it turned out, game over.

Martinez: my MOTM, I arrive at this by asking myself: who played better than is normally expected? All the team played well but for me our man between the sticks certainly played better than I was aware he could. 9

Soares: defended well in his first start, obviously need more time to really get to gripes with what he is about but so far so good. 7

Mustafi: solid, no mess ups, all good 8

Luiz: back to his commanding best. 9

Kolasinac: didn’t realise he had the discipline to play in a three man back line but 2 clean sheets can’t be stiffed at. 7

Tierney: going from strength to strength. 8

Ceballos: slightly more subdued after his commanding performance against Norwich. It was his job to feed the attack which left a bit to be desired, still, very glad we have him. 7

Xhaka: hmmm, one of his key jobs as a midfielder was to create chances for the forward line, he wasn’t really doing that but there is no denying that his experience is very useful. 7

Saka: If Martinez gets injured would Saka go in goal? He probably does have the skills to play keeper. A very exciting versatile prospect, although, it wasn’t all champagne and new contracts today, but hey, if you score you get extra points. 8

Nketiah: really good first half shot that surprised the keeper, all still going in the right direction. 7

Aubamayang: got better and better as the game went on, a class act. 8

LB


Into the Wolves’ Lair

July 4, 2020

According to legend the last wolf in Britain was slain in a remote region of the Scottish highlands in 1743.

The beast had supposedly killed a woman and her two children walking across a barren hill and the local Laird decided to raise a tainchel (a posse made up of hunters and clansmen) to track and kill the animal.

The tainchel could not leave without the Laird’s head stalker and tracker, one MacQueen of Pall a’ Chrocain, but when the appointed time came, and with dozens of heavily armed men with dogs waiting, MacQueen was nowhere to be seen.

After nearly an hour the Laird was furious with his chief stalker and resolved to set about the hunt without him. At that moment MacQueen came striding over the hill.

“Where hae ye been?” yelled the Laird. In reply MacQueen simply threw back his plaid cloak to reveal the severed head of the wolf, then explained what had happened: “As I came through the slochd (ravine) by east the hill there, I foregathered wi’ the beast. My long dog there turned him. I bucked wi’ him, and dirkit him, and syne whuttled his craig (cut his throat), and brought awa’ his countenance for fear he might come alive again, for they are very precarious creatures.”

Well, it seems there are still wolves in Britain in this day and age, they are still highly dangerous and today we go to ‘buck and dirk’ with them in their lair.

Who will be our MacQueen?

You have to give credit to Wolves. They have had a good season under a manager who seems to have both passion and a plan. They will be a tough challenge.

But enough about them. We are entering this fray with some green shoots of renewal finally growing under our feet after our disappointing post-lockdown start.

I happen to feel that the enforced separation of the squad during the lockdown affected us more than most teams in the Premier League. Mikel Arteta, let’s be honest, inherited a complete sh*t show when he took the helm at Arsenal.

Before the pandemic hit you got the sense he was beginning to get more out of the players and that they were starting to buy into his vision.

The enforced break allowed all that good work to dissipate and when we tried to hit the reset button against Manchester City and then Brighton the wheels fell off. 

Somehow or other Arteta got us functioning again and three wins on the trot are grounds for optimisim.  Meanwhile the mood music around the club has become much sweeter this week with the news that Saka and Martinelli – our brightest young prospects – have signed new long term deals. There are even strong rumours that Aubameyang is ready to commit his future to N5.

To cap things off, the Spuds crashed and burned in midweek and now sit behind us in the table after an equal number of games.

My glass is usually half full so I expect nothing less then a win today.

Here’s my projected starting 11:

Martinez

Bellerin – Mustafi – Luiz – Kolasinac – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Nketieh – Aubameyang

Who will be our MacQueen? After their heroics in midweek I’m tempted to say either Ceballos or Aubameyang, but I think today could be Saka’s day if he starts.

Time to slay some Wolves.

RockyLives


“Saka signs and a 4-0 win… what a day!”

July 2, 2020

It turned out a comfortable win with a score line that we would have expected before the start. It doesn’t always turn out that way of course but I think we deserved a bit of reminding that we are the pride of London and that is how I feel again – proud.



The fitness levels are pretty much back to where they should be; Arteta is enjoying watching his plans being played out effectively and things are looking up. Hard games to come of course but winning is always good preparation.

The game: we were dominant for the majority of the first half, Lacazette should have done better with his opportunities; we got a let off when Norwich hit the post with a forty yard screamer but then it was time for Auba to get that fifty goal monkey off his shoulder and Kruel kindly obliged by making a hash of a Cruff turn in his area which Auba pounced on and slotted home. Xhaka finished off the team goal of the game all before the break, outstanding long ball from Luiz to Tierney who played a precise short pass to Auba who deftly rolled it into the path of the oncoming Xhaka who fired it under Kruels body. Norwich tried to make a fist of things early in the second half before a sloppy back pass gifted Auba his second of the game. Now you may have been happy at this stage, I certainly was but the best was yet to come: who expected that screamer from Soares, it was hilarious when the camera cut to our executive team of Edu et al falling off their seats in shocked celebration. Welcome to the home of football Cedric Soares, that was one heck of a debut.

Martinez: some fine saves, right place right time, good distribution, clearly revelling in his opportunity, clean sheet. What’s not to like? 8

Mustafi: nothing rash, kept it simple, all the cables plugged into the right sockets, not sure why he went off, injury I suppose. 6

Luiz: I have tried not to like him, I tried really hard after the City game but as hard as I try I can’t, yeah, yeah, yeah, defence schmence, I loved the long pass out to Tierney which lead to Xhaka’s goal. 7

Kolasinac: a left footed player on the left of central defence clearly goes along way. I know it was only Norwich but he looked pretty good. 7

Bellerin: Hector who? I haven’t jumped up of the sofa for a long time when someone has scored but that is exactly what I did and shouted wow in excitement when Soares scored. 5

Xhaka: looked pretty happy and the first goal of the season to boot; his experience goes a long way. 7

Ceballos: superb, back up to speed and back to his creative best, his passes were opening up Norwich like a tin of sardines in the first half and he continued to be our most creative player in the second half, probably would have got my MOTM but you know where that is going. 8

Tierney: many people have commented on the intelligence and the accuracy of his crossing and it is true but them there crosses are still nowhere near as good as Saka’s. The young Scot is a defender the other plays eemmm, take your pick. 7

Nelson: there was a time not so long ago when that left wing spot was up for grabs – not anymore it has been claimed with both hands or by the left foot of Pepe. I don’t want to be too harsh here there is still a lot more to come. 6

Lacazette: he tries too hard and his frustration is palpable, deep breaths Laca, deep breaths. Not sure how the future of this one plays out, good to have Nketiah and Martinelli knocking at the door though. 5

Aubamayang: MOTM, of course, clinical finishing, fiftieth and fifty-first goals for the Arsenal Football Club. He looked really happy today, pleased for him. 9

Ooh to be (thanks Sue)

LB