Our central midfield conundrum

August 10, 2020

Arteta said he knows where to strengthen the team. We also know that he wants to have more control of the game and more creativity in the middle of the park. So how will he address our midfield’s lack of robustness and creativity? It will be an act that requires fine balance because we also have to make some key decisions regarding our younger players like Willock and ESR for example.

So who is likely to stay this summer?- Xhaka has won Arteta’s trust and Ceba is due to extend his loan so these two are for sure staying. – Willock seems to be seen as a massive talent and Arteta recently had some really positive words about ESR.

Verdict: Xhaka, Ceba, Willock to stay for sure

So who is likely to go out this summer?-

Mkhitaryan is most likely not coming back to us and will be staying at Roma. People say we might do a swap deal with J. Kluivert but I ‘d rather want another player from Roma like Veretout or Pellegrini. –

Guendouzi is a goner, unfortunately. He is a player that I believe will go on to become a very solid central midfielder. I believe he should leave the EPL and join a team in Italy, France (ligue 1), Germany or Spain to further ply his trade. I can seem him in a team like AC Milan for example. He d form a great partnership next to Bennacer and Kessie. –

Ozil has also been frozen out and I think for him, it will take a destination like Barcelona, Bayern Munich (top clubs) or Monaco, L.A (more glittery clubs) to end his story at AFC. We saw some greatness from Ozil but his time is up – Arteta could not be clearer. – Question marks remain around Torreira and ESR…

Verdict: Mkhitaryan, Guendouzi, Ozil to leave for sure and I believe they may be joined by Torreira. Arteta to keep ESR and if he does not get enough playing time by December, he will be loaned out again…

Based on the above, these are our midfielders (before any acquisition) for next year:

DM: CM: Xhaka, Ceba AM: Willock, ESR

Given the above, I am rather certain we will invest in a DM and a CM. We have been pursuing Partey for a long time so hopefully this move materializes but let us keep in mind that Partey is not a DM per say but could be played as a trio in midfield. As we are still looking for a DM, I would say to make a move for Brozovic, Declan Rice, Zakaria, Neves or Zubeldia or Capoue (not ideal) as the likes of Ndidi may be impossible to get. If we do not get Partey, then we could go for Vecino, Veretout or Doucoure.

So, possible central midfield options Partey, Xhaka – Ceba ; Capoue – Willock, ESR OR
Brozovic, Xhaka – Ceba; Zubeldia – Willock, ESR

Any thoughts?

RC78

Note: This post was written before the idea that Willian may be about to join from Chelsea.


Arsenal Player(s) of the Season: How You Voted

August 9, 2020

Thank you to the many people who voted in our series of polls for Player(s) of the Season over the last 24 hours.

Before going to the results, I want to give you a trickier question to answer in the comments below.

The question is (and obviously it’s just a bit of fun): Who do you predict to be Arsenal’s overall Player of the Season for NEXT season (2020-21)?

You can select players in the current squad or players you think/hope/expect to come to Arsenal during the close season. Up to you. Have some fun…

And now for the results for 2019-20:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (78%)

Runner-up: Emi Martinez (7%)

Unknown

 

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Bukayo Saka (62%)

Runner-up: Gabriel Martinelli (18%)

 

DEFENDER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Kieran Tierney (54%)

Runner-up: David Luiz (20%)

 

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Winner: Emi Martinez (42%)

Runner-up: Granit Xhaka (26%)

 

MIDFIELDER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Dani Ceballos (46%)

Runner-up: Granit Xhaka (35%)

 

ATTACKING PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Winner: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (66%)

Runner-up: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (34%)

 

Congratulations to the winners. A few surprises in there (at least from this observer’s perspective).

RockyLives

 


Arsenal Arsenal’s Player(s) of the Year: Vote Now

August 8, 2020

Well, that was a funny old season, wasn’t it?

Our beloved Arsenal took us to the depths of despondency, the cusp of disharmony and, worst of all, the brink of apathy.

When fans of a club cease to really care – when they can’t even summon up the passion to be all that bothered about another disastrous performance – that club is facing a serious problem.

But there was a twist in the tail. Somehow Arsenal belatedly stumbled on the right manager for the moment and massaged our tortured souls with a truly unexpected happy ending.

If I could sum up that season as an image, it would be of being dragged helpless through an enormous cactus patch, only to find that when you get to the other side a spectacular banquet is waiting with supermodels eager to serve you.

But as we reflect on this weirdest of campaigns, perhaps it’s time to add to the positive vibes by considering our best players of the season.

Cast your votes in the categories below and between us all we’ll decide who deserves the laurels.

RockyLives

 

 

 

 


Arsenal: Now What?

August 3, 2020

Unknown                                                     Decisions, decisions…

If you’re anything like me you’re still on a high from our wonderful FA Cup win on Saturday.

Not only did we end a difficult season with some serious silverware and European football secured, we also managed to make the reprobates from N17 really miserable.

Before the cup final they were assured of a place in the group stages of the Europa League, but our victory means they have to play not one, not two, but THREE pre-qualifying games, while we go straight into the groups.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of losers.

Now, I really don’t want to dampen any celebrations that you’re still engaged in, but pretty soon we’ll be starting to think about the new season.

We have many reasons to be optimistic, foremost among them being the presence of Mikel Arteta at the helm of our club.

Not only has he got us playing with purpose and a plan, he also has an ability to improve players. Mustafi, Pepe, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles and Ceballos (among others) have all noticeably got better under El Patron.

So, from that encouraging base, here’s a question for you:

What THREE THINGS would you like to see at Arsenal to give us a chance of being truly competitive next season.

Your choices might involve playing personnel, or tactics, or structural changes at the club, or anything else you like.

I’ll kick it off with my three:

  • Give Mikel Arteta the final say on new signings (even if someone else does the deal-making). Too many recent pieces of business have involved players whose agents happen to be big buddies of Raul Sanllehi. I’d love to think that all those signings have been made purely with the best interests of Arsenal at heart, but I couldn’t swear to it.
  • Offload Mesut Ozil. I say this with a heavy heart because I have loved Ozil’s play during much of his Arsenal career, but he clearly does not fit with Arteta’s new approach. He’s too big a player (and character) to have hanging around the club not playing and his wages are huge. We should facilitate a move even if we have to pay a chunk of his wages at his new club. This will be better for Arsenal, but also for Mesut.
  • Sign a dominant box to box midfielder. From what I have seen of him, Thomas Partey would be just the ticket.

Right, over to you.

RockyLives


The FA Cup Loves Arsenal: Report and Player Ratings

August 2, 2020

Unknown                                         Number 14 holds up number 14

Arsenal loves the FA Cup, but boy does the FA Cup also love Arsenal.

We are the THE FA Cup team. We were before yesterday, we’re even more so now.

What a great win that was, and what a shame it could not have played out in front of 100,000 screaming fans.

We went into the game as slight underdogs despite our heroics in the semi final against Man City.

There was more at stake for us because Chelsea had secured Champions League football and we needed a win to get us into the Europa League.

A similar pressure situation last season played out with us losing 4-1 to Chelsea in the Europa League Final in the arse end of nowhere. In that game we needed to win to get into the Champions League, but we choked badly.

Not so yesterday.

The key difference between the two finals was, of course, the head coach.

Apparently when asked if he suffered from being too indecisive, Unai Emery answered: “I’m not sure. Can I think about it and get back to you?”

Whatever fates conspired to bring us Mikel Arteta as our manager in December last year, I’m just glad they did. Almost from his first game in charge we have looked more organised, more together and more like a team that has a plan.

And all his hard work culminated yesterday in an achievement that can’t be understated. If we had lost I would probably be here trying to rationalise about how a year out of Europe and concentrating on the Premier League might be a good thing.

But let’s be honest. This is a MASSIVE win.

Our hugely promising new boss gets a trophy in his first season. We get European football and the extra £40 million that goes with it. We probably get to keep Aubameyang and our Europa League presence makes it easier to sign the new players we want.

Good times.

And so to yesterday’s game.

I have been present to see us play Chelsea in two FA Cup finals: once at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, in 2002 and once at Wembley in 2017. Both occasions turned out to be memorable.

For the 2020 final I could not be there in person (nor could any Gooner), but it was just as memorable a win.

Arteta picked a team with few surprises. He went for maximum experience up front (Auba-Laca-Pepe) and most of the other positions picked themselves. Only the inclusion of Ainsley Maitland-Niles ahead of Saka raised a few eyebrows, but AMN had earned his place with his performance against Man City.

Within minutes of the kick-off we could have been one up when a cross from AMN on the left found Aubameyang at the near post, a yard ahead of his defender. Auba failed to connect properly with the header and it went wide.

After that, everything started to go wrong.

Chelsea seized control of midfield and looked hungrier than us and, dare I say it, more skillful. Mount, Pulisic and Kovacic were pulling us apart and running through the gaps in our MF at will.

Xhaka was caught dwelling on the ball, leading to an early chance for Mount. Minutes later the Blues were ahead after a slick move that ended with Pulisic chipping over Martinez.

We looked so ragged in the opening 15 minutes that I can’t have been alone in fearing another Baku.

The one sign of encouragement was that it was not our defence that was at fault (for a change) but our midfield.

Gradually, though, we settled into the game. I would need to watch a replay to figure out whether we started doing something different in midfield or whether we just upped our commitment level as a team (perhaps the more tech savvy among you can explain).

Whatever it was, we began to dominate the game from the 15 minute mark onwards. Pepe was unlucky not to have got himself a cup final goal when his stunning shot into the Chelsea net was correctly ruled out for an earlier narrow offside.

We barely had time to get over that disappointment when we got a clear penalty. A ball over the top sent Aubameyang racing towards goal. Azpilicueta tried to foul him outside the box but Auba was strong enough to keep going so the Chelsea captain fouled him inside the box as well.

VAR ruminated, but it was a bang on penalty. Azpilicueta was spared a red card because of the “double jeopardy” rule (the officials decided he had been making an honest attempt to get the ball, which is pretty debatable).

I could barely watch as Auba ran up, but amid all the pressure of a cup final, and knowing how important it was for Arsenal to win this game, he was as cool as a cucumber and slotted a perfect, unstoppable penalty into the side netting.

We were back on terms and pressing so hard for a second that it was a disappointment when half time came.

The second half started pretty even. At times we sat back and let Chelsea dominate possession, but we allowed few clear-cut chances. Meanwhile we looked dangerous going forward.

In a season during which the gods of football have seldom been kind to Arsenal, they seemed to be smiling on us at Wembley.

Chelsea lost their captain, Azpilicueta, and their most dangerous player, Pulisic, to hamstring pulls and that must have interfered with Frank Lampard’s plans for the game.

But the goal that gave us the lead (and eventually the Cup itself) was down to absolute top class play by three Arsenal players.

Bellerin broke from deep in our own half at speed, leaving two Chelsea players for dead with a brilliant poke-ahead nutmeg as he surged towards the opposition penalty area. The ball was almost out of his control but his bravery in going into a 50/50 saw it pop out to Pepe, whose first couple of touches were pure class, after which he rolled a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of our captain.

Aubameyang’s next moves were sublime. He feinted to cut inside, leaving Zouma doing the zumba in an empty dancehall, then switched back onto his left foot and dinked the ball over Caballero with consummate skill.

What a joy it was to see that trademark somersault celebration twice in an FA Cup final.

The balance tipped further in Arsenal’s favour when Kovacic was harshly sent off for a second yellow (his first yellow was justified, but the second was not even a foul).

Ten man Chelsea huffed and puffed, but we never looked like letting them get back into it, even though my heart was pumping like a piston engine in the last 10 minutes. The most dangerous moment from the Blues was in the dying minutes when Pedro cut into our box along the goal line, but the oh-so-impressive Martinez dived at his feet to smother the chance, leaving the unfortunate Pedro with what looked like a dislocated shoulder.

It was a metaphor for the game. Overall, Arteta’s strategy and the new sense of togetherness in our team combined to smother Chelsea and dislocate young Frankie Lampard’s best-laid plans.

So there you have it.

Our 14th FA Cup win. We love that competition. And that competition loves us.

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Martinez         9

I think I’m a bit in love with big Emi. He made excellent saves as always (one full length dive to stop a shot from Mount was outstanding) and he actually catches crosses instead of punching them! Late on he dived fearlessly at Pedro’s feet to protect our lead. He even cried in his post-match interview. Make no mistake, we have two Number One ‘keepers at our club now.

Holding           8

What is it with this lad and the Cup Final? He played a blinder against Chelsea in 2017 and did the same yesterday. Fought for everything, made no mistakes and even looked fast at times.

Luiz                  8.5

Let’s be honest, we were all worried before the game, weren’t we? Was it going to be Loco Luiz the one-man apocalypse, or Dependable David, the man who kept Man City at bay? Thank goodness it was the latter. The Brazilian didn’t put a foot wrong.

Tierney            8

Such an honest player as well as a talented one. If there’s one thing we’ve been missing in recent years at Arsenal it’s players like Tierney who make no fuss, but give every drop of blood, sweat and tears for the cause. I’m sure Nigel Winterburn is proud of him.

Bellerin           8

Fine effort from Hector and without his skill and bravery the winning goal would not have happened. He’s had an in-and-out season but made a full contribution yesterday.

Maitland-Niles            8

Justified his selection. He was dangerous going forward (particularly in the first half) and worked very hard on the defensive end. There were stories a few weeks ago saying he wanted to leave Arsenal. I suspect that if Arteta tells him he sees a positive future for him at Arsenal, he’ll stay.

Xhaka              8

I was tempted to mark him down for his sloppiness in the first 10 minutes, but in truth the whole team was slow getting into this game. After that he was excellent. His control and distribution was as good as we’ve come to expect but I particularly liked his committed tackling and the way he managed to do this without the recklessness that attracts cards.

Ceballos          8.5

Terrific outing from Dani. He has become a vital component in linking defence to attack but I also love his tackling and his tracking back, even very late in the game when he must have been running on fumes. Sometimes his effort reminded me of those dogged, all-action midfielders we had in the early George Graham era (Rocastle, Thomas, Davis, Williams).

Pepe                8

So unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. He is starting to influence games more and seems to be using the ball more intelligently (signs of Arteta’s coaching paying off?). The up side with Pepe is that there still seems to be plenty of scope for him to improve.

Lacazette        8

Laca’s tireless work in chasing down the Chelsea defenders and working to keep moves going when we were in possession could easily go unnoticed, but it was a vital element in our win.

Aubameyang  9.5       MoTM

It would have been a 10 for the captain but for that missed header early on. What a player. This will probably always be known as the “Aubameyang Final.” It was his first trophy with Arsenal and will surely go a long way towards convincing him to sign an extension with us.

Subs

Nketieh           7

Got 10 minutes in a cup final, which can’t be a bad thing at his stage of development. Looked sharp and was unlucky that the ref ignored several blatant fouls on him.

Sokratis           7

Came on for Luiz and had one or two good moments in what was probably his last game as a Gunner.

Kolasinac        7

Came on with one minute to go, but I can’t mark him down when he played in a team that’s just won the Cup!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


AFC v Chelsea FA Cup Final – I’ll settle for the result in 2017

August 1, 2020

Three years ago, we lifted the FA Cup. The goals were scored by Sanchez and Ramsey and Giroud provided an assist. Sanchez and Ramsey are now in Serie A and Giroud has swapped teams just like David Luiz.

AFC had conceded a goal to usual suspect Diego Costa despite being a man up………..and rolled out winners 2-1. This win made Arsene Wenger the most successful coach in the competition.

We had played this final in a 343 set up with Holding as part of a back 3 expertly marshalled by Per Mertesacker. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bellerin played as wing backs with Xhaka and Ramsey in the middle of the park  while Ozil was playing behind Wellbeck and Sanchez.

Three years have gone by and both teams meet again. This year the games between Chelsea and Arsenal were electric and fun to watch and Arteta must still rue the loss to Chelsea at home………..

So the questions are many as we prepare for this confrontation with our other London enemy. Will we play with 4 at the back or will we continue with 3 at the back?

I think we will play with 3 at the back and here are my predicted line-ups:

Martinez – Holding, Luiz, Tierney – Bellerin, Ceba, Xhaka, Saka – Pepe, Nketiah, Auba

Caballero – Rudiger, Chrisenten, Azpi – James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso – Willian, Pulisic – Giroud

I think Lampard will play it safe and will keep a lot of attacking options up his sleeve on the bench.

As for Arteta, should he continue with the 343 set-up, he does not have many options to choose from and I suppose there could be a case for Laca, AMN or Kola in the line-up but I don’t think we will see them from the on-set.

I am expecting a tough and engaged match, full of physical engagement and provocation. The type of match that may not be so pretty to watch but very stressful.

I have to say I am not too optimistic about the outcome and I think we will most likely be outgunned because they have more options from the bench to come and make difference.

That said, we love a challenge and I think that Arteta and some players like Luiz, Xhaka, Laca and Auba will want to show the fans and pundits that they are able to lift trophies at AFC and I think our young guns like Saka and Nketiah will play their heart out too so let us see…

Most likely outcome: Chelsea to win probably 2-1 but heart outcome: Arsenal to beat the odds and win 3-2

COYG!

RC78