Arteta is Gaining Weight

October 11, 2020
Not a fatty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RockyLives


Sokratis to the Championship?

October 10, 2020
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A lot of letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RockyLives


Arsenal’s New African Dawn

October 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does any of this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

RockyLives


Pick Your Europa League Starting 11

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

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

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

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

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

Runarsson

Soares – Holding – Luiz – Kolasinac

Maitland-Niles – Xhaka – Willock

Willian- Nketieh – Nelson

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

Over to you.

RockyLives


Who are Arsenal’s biggest Top 4 rivals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where does that leave us?

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

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

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

What do you think?

RockyLives


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

October 5, 2020

Arteta and Edu have:

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

So are you happy with the business we have done?


Never Bring a Knife to a Gunfight: Arsenal v Sheffield Utd Report & Ratings

October 5, 2020
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Sheffield’s foolhardy charge into the Arsenal artillery

In Tennyson’s stirring poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ six hundred British cavalrymen charge the Turkish lines with their sabres drawn.

There’s just one problem, the Turks have cannons. 

As Tennsyon puts it:

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

   Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of hell

   Rode the six hundred.

Yesterday the Blades of Sheffield United showed some steel against the Gunners of Arsenal, but in the end they were no match for a few volleys of grape and roundshot.

Obviously I am not comparing the Crimean War with the Premier League (the Premier League is much more important), but you know how I like a military analogy.

The Sheffielders earned much respect last season. They were in the top six for long spells and ended up finishing only one place and two points behind your favourite boys in red and white. Home and away we managed only one point against them.

So, despite a poor start to this campaign, it was obvious they were going to be no pushover.

Action Man made changes both from the team that knocked Liverpool out of the Reindeer Cup and from the one that faced them in the league last Monday.

Luiz was recalled to central defence alongside Gabriel, with Bellerin and Tierney as fullbacks. Elneny (in ahead of Xhaka) and Ceballos took the central midfield positions, Saka wide mid and a front three of Willian, Nketieh and Aubameyang.

The first half was tight with very few chances. The best ones were created by Arsenal (an Aubameyang ball into the box for Nketieh that the young striker couldn’t control, some decent moves down the left flank with no end product, an Auba shot tipped over by Sheffield’s ‘keeper).

United’s best chance came early on when a daydreaming Luiz was slow to react to a pass across the back from Gabriel. Some Sheffield Burke closed him down and won the ball and was bearing down on goal only for Leno – showing brilliant anticipation – to save the Brazilian’s bacon.

Luiz, as is his wont, compounded his initial error by tugging his opponent’s shirt. For some reason VAR chose to ignore the tug, but eight out of 10 times that would have been a red card for Luiz. I’ll always love him for his heroics in our run to lift the FA Cup, but you can never feel fully secure when he’s at the back.

Arsenal dominated possession in the first half and created whatever chances were going, so naturally the rubbish commentary team on Sky concluded that Sheffield had had the better of it.

The second half started with Sheffield having more possession and occasionally threatening us so, after 10 minutes, El Patron made his first change, Nketieh coming off for Pepe. The Ivorian had an immediate impact, troubling Sheffield with his direct running and quick passing.

The breakthrough came in the 61st minute when a fast-passing move involving Willian, Pepe and Elneny ended with Bellerin floating a perfect cross over the six yard box for Saka to head in with precision. I had never thought about Saka’s heading ability before, but if that goal is anything to go by it’s yet another string to his very impressive bow.

Three minutes later the continually dangerous Pepe cut in from the right wing and fired a deliciously placed low shot into the far corner for two-nil.

For the next 20 minutes we controlled things like a boss, passing the ball around the back and barely giving the Sheffield players a touch. However, I did start to worry we were getting a bit too cavalier (and we’ve already seen what happens to cavalrymen, haven’t we?). We started pushing for a third and I noticed some of our players becoming more lackadaisical about hurrying back when our moves broke down.

We paid the price on 84 minutes when Eddie McGoldrick, who’s not looking anything like his 55 years, cut in from Sheffield’s right side and curled a shot just inside of Leno’s right post, giving the German no chance.

The final six minutes (plus four added) were a bit nervy, with plenty of Sheffield balls into our box. The defence stood up well and when the whistle blew you’d have to be an idiot (or a Sky pundit) to deny that we deserved all three points.

In a weekend of strange and surprising results this could prove to be an important win for the Arsenal.

Player Ratings

Leno                            7

Aside from one questionable decision to punch in his six yard box when catching might have been better, Leno was good, albeit with little to do. His most significant moment was early on, coming way off his line to spare Luiz’s blushes.

Bellerin                       7.5

Hector has been good in recent outings and had two assists today. If he’s getting back to his best it could have a big bearing on our season.

Gabriel                        7.5

Very good outing. Looks like a quality player.

Luiz                              6.5

He had a wobbly first 15 minutes (and was lucky not to be red carded) but improved steadily thereafter and made some good defensive contributions including one diving headed clearance in our penalty area.

Tierney                        7

Defensively sound and got some good balls into the box without finding anyone on the end of them.

Elneny                         7.5

I’m one of those odd people who has always quite liked the Ninny. Mostly I like his economy on the ball – he seldom loses possession. The down side is that he doesn’t make too many progressive passes, but today his late run into the box and first time pass helped lead to our first goal.                         

Ceballos                      8 MoTM

A very good performance from Dani – kept everything moving in midfield, showed great composure when under pressure, defended well and pushed us forward when necessary.

Saka                            7.5

Took his goal really well and was industrious all game long. So much quality for one so young.

Willian                        6.5

A few good moments and definitely looked better when Nketieh went off and he moved a bit more central, but I think we can expect more from him.

Nketieh                       6.5

Had one good chance early on but couldn’t control an over-the-top ball from Aubameyang. Apart from that he had few opportunities to make an impact but put in a hard-working shift.

Aubameyang              7

Came close with an excellent shot and was a constant threat down our left side. His mere presence means other players get more space in the final third because defenders are so nervous about what he can do.

Subs

Pepe                            8

Came on and changed the game. Terrific goal which turned out to be our winner. Even did some good defending late on.

Xhaka                          7

Steady enough.

Maitland-Niles           6

One fumbled attempt at a chest-down in the box almost cost us, but he was OK.

RockyLives


Arsenal vs Sheffield United. COYRRG

October 4, 2020

Arsenal team to play Sheffield United

—————-Leno

Bellerin, Gabriel, Luiz, Tierney

—————–Elneney

—–Ceballos—————–Saka

Willian—-Nketiah—–Aubamayang


Like the team, return to a back 4 and Elneny gives a bit more defensive nous than Xhaka, meaning that Ceballos can move further forward.


Carabao Cup – Another visit to Anfield, different outcome?

October 1, 2020

A few days after our defeat to LFC in the EPL, we are back at Anfield to play the Carabao Cup.

What we know for sure is that Klopp will field promising young players (Jones, Brewster…) and his usual subs but his subs include Jota, Xhaqiri, Origi, Milner, Oxlade (is he fit to play?), Minamino…so it is not like they are going to throw the game away…

On our side, Arteta will also give some playing time to our subs and younger players so I can imagine Arteta fielding:

Runnarson – Soares, Saliba, Gabriel, Tierney – Ceba, Xhaka, Saka – Pepe, Nketiah, Nelson

In any case, I do not expect something out of this game except entertainment. Would be good to win but if we lose, I wouldn’t be too distraught.