Is There An Aubameyang Problem? Brighton Report & Ratings

December 30, 2020
Auba and out?

Two consecutive wins in the league. A clean sheet. Further encouraging performances from our young players… all in all this was as a good a trip to the seaside as I can remember since the day I won £2.43 on the Penny Falls.

A Lacazette goal (less than a minute after he came on as a substitute) turned out to be the only score in the game as we beat Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex stadium.

We may not have actually built momentum just yet, but we have surveyed the ground and got the architect’s drawings, so we can see that momentum building is on the way.

But the game raised (and possibly answered) one or two questions about our personnel.

Let’s start with the positives:

Bukayo Saka demonstrated again that he is fast becoming the most important player in our current squad. He plays with a maturity beyond his years and, if I think back to his early outings last season when, let’s remember, we were hugely impressed with him, it’s clear that his decision making and all-round game play have improved exponentially.

Pablo Mari: in my last match report I got my wires crossed and called him a Brazilian when, in fact, he is Spanish (as I’m sure you all know). But in the last two games he has played with an un-showy confidence that bodes well for his future with us as first-choice back-up to Gabriel.

Emile Smith Rowe: so modest he doesn’t even bother with a hyphen. I’m not someone who watches our reserve games or our pre-season friendlies so I had seen little of ESR until recently. But against the Seagulls he picked up where he left off against Chelsea, showing a quickness of thought, touch and movement that puts some of his senior colleagues to shame (yes Willian, I’m looking at you).

Bernd Leno: I had my reservations about whether we’d kept the right stopper when we let Martinez go in the summer and kept our big German. After his penalty save against Chelsea and another excellent game against Brighton those doubts are assuaged. He made a couple of top quality stops in this win. Given how hard Brighton were to break down even at 0-0, imagine how tough it would have been if one of those chances has gone in and given them a lead to defend. Leno made sure that never happened.

Now to the negatives:

Mohammed Elneny: in what was otherwise a reasonably tidy outing, Mo nevertheless had two or three moments of madness that almost cost us. If he’s going to play that defensive midfield role he needs to cut those mistakes out of his game. He had a couple of similar loose moments against Chelsea and one day soon these sorts of blunders will cost us dearly.

Finally, I come to Aubameyang. Here’s the question that’s been bumbling around in my brain, rolling from one side of my head to the other, enjoying the sheer emptiness of the space: did our poor performances as a team this season sink Auba’s form, or did Auba’s form help sink our performances as a team?

I’m inclined to the former explanation: namely that our general dysfunctionality and lack of any attacking central midfield/number 10 options meant we have been so crap at chance creation that our poor Gabonese star had had no real chance to shine.

But the angst of our long goal-less and chance-less run seems to have knocked the stuffing out of Auba and he is half the player he was at the end of last season.

Against Brighton I have little doubt that if we had started with exactly the same line-up that walked out to face Chelsea we would have been ahead in the first half and might well have won comfortably.

Lacazette is much better as a central striker in the system we have been employing for the last two games.  We have mostly played without a central attacking midfielder this season (Willian, Ceballos and Laca himself have all been tried in this role with varying degrees of ineffectualness). But Smith Rowe is an actual CAM and his presence changes everything. He can hold up the ball and he looks for a striker to play off. With the best will in the world, that’s not the role to which Auba is suited. Lacazette is much better suited to it because he holds up the ball better, is more committed and, frankly, works harder.

Before you all jump on me, I am not writing off Aubameyang. I love him. He brought me such joy just a few months ago when he won the FA Cup for us. But that was in a team that sat deep and hit (better equipped) opponents on the break. It suited him.

I think Auba can still work wonders for us this season, particularly in big games. But if I were the boss I would rest him for games like Brighton and West Brom, where we are likely to be facing the low bus. Right now, for me, he is not in our optimal starting eleven (although I know that, as captain, he is likely to start more often than not).

Against Brighton Auba did OK. He was really unlucky not to score when he got on the end of a Saka cross only for the ball to fly off the knee of the Brighton ‘keeper, Sanchez.

But he did not conduct the press with the vigour that Lacazette does; he did not chase down their goalkeeper with the determination of Martinelli; and his touch and passing left a lot to be desired.

He is a man out of form who maybe needs a rest.

But that’s enough about Auba. Here are a few overall thoughts about the game – take them or leave them: I’m no tactician and, as Roy Walker always encouraged us in Catchphrase, I can only “say what I see.”

Brighton are struggling this season but they knocked the ball around really well, were confident in possession and in playing out from the back and seemed to be trying hard for each other and their manager. It made me think two things: one, they’re staying up; and two, the overall quality of play in the Premier League is now ludicrously high. 

This game (as Redders mentioned in the comments) had a sense of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” about it: after the dynamic win against Chelsea it was something of a crash back down to earth. But that’s not completely surprising:  the West Londoners wanted to out-play us and consequently gave us space in which to play; the East Sussexers* were less ambitious and dropped 11 men behind the ball whenever we had possession, making it harder to get any fluidity to our play.

Nevertheless, this formation of four at the back, two holding midfielders, a CAM (Smith Rowe), two wide attacking midfielders and a central striker looks like our best bet for further success this year.

Next up it’s Fat Sam the Walrus Man, smarting from a 0-5 thrashing at the hands of Leeds United. 

We can guarantee two things: one, Sam will spend the next few days on tightening up his defence, so there’s no chance of us achieving a similar result; two, he’ll tell his players that Arsenal “don’t like it up ‘em”, so brace yourself for some heavy tackles and all-round crappy behaviour from the West Brom players.

Still, there’s enough about us now to feel a degree of confidence that we can come away with the points.

RockyLives 

Player Ratings

Leno – 8

Some very good stops when it was 0-0. But that bit of ball-juggling on his own six yard line gave this observer palpitations.

Bellerin – 7

Not everyone in AA comments was happy with Hector, but I thought he did pretty well.

Holding – 7

One misplaced pass put us in danger, but other than that Big Rob was committed and solid and even set up the move that led to our winner.

Mari – 7

I’m liking him. No fuss, but exudes a confidence in his own ability and never hides from receiving the ball.

Tierney – 7

Not as dominant as in the Chelsea game, but a typically committed outing. He managed to get to the byline a couple of times to get crosses in.

Elneny – 6

He’s tidy, he makes himself available at the right times, but in the last two games he has had several kamikaze moments. He needs to cut it out because it will cost us.

Xhaka – 7

A decent follow-up to his good outing against Chelsea. 

Saka – 8 (MoTM)

Most of our best moments in this game came from Bukayo. His excellent (and strong) run set up our winner for Lacazette. He was unlucky not to have another assist after putting Aubameyang in with a great chance. The future of Arsenal. The only criticism is that he took three corners all of which hit the first defender.

Martinelli – 6.5

The packed ranks of Brighton defenders made it hard for Gabriel to have the same impact as he did against Chelsea, but he worked hard and had some good moments.

Smith Rowe – 7.5

I’m liking this lad more and more. His touch and speed of thought and play are exceptional. He’s only going to get better and should now be considered a first team automatic choice expect when he needs to be rested to avoid over-playing.

Aubameyang – 5.5

His touch and passing were off, his half-hearted efforts to close down the opposition goalie and defenders compare badly with those of Martinelli and he can’t hold up the ball like Lacazette. He is still very important for Arsenal but Arteta needs to figure out a better way to use him.

Subs

Lacazette – 8

What more can you ask for? Came on and scored the winner inside less than half a minute with a clever and skillful finish. Resumed his impressive work rate from the Chelsea game.

Ceballos – 6

Came on in the 81st minute. Ran around a bit.

Maitland-Niles – 6.5

Only got one minute plus stoppage time, but did some decent time-wasting hold-up play in the Brighton corner.

  • Did you know that “Sussex” derives from “South Saxons”? Likewise Essex is “East Saxons”, Wessex is “West Saxons” and Middlesex is “Middle Saxons”. But it does beg the question: whatever happened to the North Saxons? Why don’t we have a place called Nossex?


Brighton Away: Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

December 29, 2020
Mods and Rockers get stuck in during a previous fixture in Brighton

It’s all well and good that we beat Chelsea at the weekend, but that game is over and done with and it will mean next to nothing if we can’t follow it up.

We all got a bit ahead of ourselves earlier this season after winning at Old Trafford. We said things like “this will kick start our season” and “now just watch us fly.”

I watched us fly…. right into the nearest wind turbine. It turned out we followed up that solid victory against a traditionally ‘top six’ side with a run that brought us only two points out of a possible 21 in our next seven league games. We were properly mangled.

So tonight we need to see a performance that is every bit as committed, energetic and dynamic as the one against Chelsea. Most of all, we are going to need to take some fight to the seaside, because Brighton will be giving us nothing for free.

After Brighton we have games against West Brom and Crystal Palace: so that’s three fixtures from which an Arsenal team would normally expect to take at least seven points and possibly all nine.

But we have struggled against so-called “lower” teams this year. We scraped a fortunate win against Sheffield United, we lost to Wolves and Burnley and were second best in a draw with Southampton.

One reason has been our inability to break down teams who park the bus against us (by the way, how come no-one ever uses the phrase ‘park the bus’ any more? It’s low block this, low block that, when any fool can see that it’s just the same old tactic of sticking a Routemaster in front of the goal and hoping for the best. Perhaps we can compromise, swap the Routemaster for a single-decker and call it “the low bus”).

Chelsea played us with the intention of dominating the game, so we were not faced with the usual 11 men behind the ball scenario and, accordingly, we were able to play more fluid football.

We can’t expect the same approach from Brighton, but there are still grounds for optimism. The introduction of Martinelli and Smith Rowe against the Chavs, with Saka as the right wing back, massively improved the way we played.

Those three linked well with each other and with our fullbacks and also with Lacazette in front of them and Xhaka behind (who was more advanced than usual because he knew Elneny was guarding the back door).

Our full backs got to the byline more instead of having to cross from short of the opposition penalty area and Smith Rowe proved a very effective fulcrum for our attacking moves and worked well with Lacazette, who had a good all round game.

We have seen the likes of Willian, Pepe and Aubameyang used in most league games this season and they do not seem to have the right skillset to break down double ranks of defenders.

Which brings us to the question of team selection. Gabriel is out with a positive Covid test; Partey is still on the way back from injury and Luiz and Willian are both unavailable until January 31st for mysterious reasons.

The one important player who did not start against Chelsea but who is available tonight is the captain, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. He was on the bench on Saturday, presumably being protected as he recovered from a calf strain, and you would imagine he will start against Brighton.

I don’t envy Mikel Arteta having to make that call. If it was down to me I would go with exactly the same eleven who started in West London. They have earned the chance to do it all over again and, frankly, Martinelli is better suited to taking on the “low bus” than Auba is. But Aubameyang is the biggest star in the team and also the captain, so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be left out.

One option would be to play him centrally instead of Lacazette, but that role really does not suit him and, in any case, Lacazette deserves to keep his place.

Here’s the line-up I expect Arteta to go for:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Mari – Tierney

Xhaka – Elneny

Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

Martinelli to be kept to the bench (officially on the grounds that he needs to be eased back in carefully after his long injury, but really so that Auba can be played).

If I’m right it will be a shame, because I cannot wait to see that wonderful partnership between Tierney and Martinelli working its magic down our left flank again.

Whatever team we put out, let’s all hope they can build on that Chelsea win with another solid three points. It’s time to really watch us fly, this time with added turbine-avoidance.

If we get a decent run going, who knows what this season could yet hold for us?

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLives


Martinelli & Smith Rowe: Rest Them or Unleash Them?

December 27, 2020
The Future

We’ll have a full pre-match report for the Brighton game tomorrow, but to stir the pot (as it were) here’s a big conundrum that Mikel Arteta has to grapple with: does he start Smith Rowe and Martinelli against the Seagulls after their hugely encouraging outings against Chelsea on Saturday?

There’s no doubting that the pair injected a sense of energy, skill and pace into our team against the West Londoners and, based on that, it seems obvious that they should start against Brighton.

And yet… Martinelli recently returned from a really serious injury and has played a fair bit of football in the last week (just over a half against Manchester City and 70 minutes against the Chavs). In the Man City game he also took a hefty blow which forced him off early.

With that in mind, would we be taking too much of a risk by starting him tomorrow? He looks like our most exciting and dangerous attacker so the last thing we need is for him to suffer another long absence.

Likewise with Smith Rowe. Although he has not had the same injury problems as Martinelli, he has had very limited first team experienced and almost all young players who make a breakthrough into the senior line-up risk hitting a wall if they’re over-played.

There’s also the question of Aubameyang’s return. He was on the bench on Saturday and is likely to be fit to start against Brighton. As the captain you’d have to assume he’s an automatic pick, but who gets dropped? Martinelli? Smith Rowe? Saka?

Based on the evidence so far this season, I say we look better with that young trio than with Auba, but can you really see El Patron making that call?

All I know is that if our starting line-up includes Auba, Pepe and Willian with no place for Smith Rowe and Martinelli I will feel somewhat deflated.

What would you do if you were Arteta?

RockyLives


Granit Xhaka: an Apology (plus Chelsea Report & Ratings)

December 26, 2020
Xhaka – I’ve always loved him

It has been brought to my attention that certain words in my preview of yesterday’s home game against Chelsea could be construed to have been critical of Granit Xhaka.

That was certainly not my intention. When I wrote: “One thing that will sink my spirits instantly will be if the team sheet includes the names ‘Willian’ and ‘Xhaka,'” what I really meant was: “Granit Xhaka is a crucial member of our squad and is vital to our chances of success today.”

Likewise when I referred to his contributions this season as being “truly awful” I meant by his own high standards and that he is a vital cog in our armoury.

I would like to apologise for any misunderstanding arising from my poor choice of words. And now to the game itself:

Woo-hoo! That was something, wasn’t it? Who expected that result? (Well, apart from Total Arsenal, who predicted a 4-1 win to the boys in red and white, which was close enough).

A 3-1 victory over Chelsea was exactly the late Christmas present we all needed. We’re not out of the woods by any means, but we can now glimpse a bit of daylight through the tree trunks in the distance.

There were encouraging signs even before kick-off when we saw what looked to be a genuinely exciting line-up. A front three of Martinelli, Lacazette and Smith-Rowe exuded potential, particularly with Saka and Tierney also in the starting eleven. Mari was brought in at centre back alongside Holding.

It would be nice to think Mikel Arteta chose this selection of players for pure footballing reasons, but it seems likely that his hand was forced, at least partly. Aubameyang, although on the bench, was returning from injury, while Gabriel was ruled out for Covid reasons.

Right from the off the presence of Martinelli and ESR made a big difference to the intensity of our play. Those two young men showed more commitment and determination in the first half than many of our senior players have shown all season.

In that half we terrorised the Chavs down our left flank, with Tierney linking up really well with Martinelli and ESR. Elneny was playing the role of holding midfielder, allowing the aforementioned Xhaka to move into a more central mid position. And lo and behold, in this role our lump of Swiss marmite discovered a whole new concept: the forward pass.

It was one of Xhaka’s forward passes that led to our opening goal. Picking up the ball in the middle of the Chelsea half he looked up and saw Tierney advancing down the left wing. His pass was perfectly placed and beautifully weighted for our young Scot to race on to, skin the Chelsea defender Reece James and get into the box. James made an ill-advised lunge for the ball and brought down Tierney. The TV pundits tried to say that Tierney had “bought” the penalty by looking for contact and going down too easily, but close watching of the replay shows that James clips the back of his left foot, causing him to fall. One hundred per cent a penalty. Lacazette stepped up, sent Mendy the wrong way and passed it into the net. One nil to the Arsenal.

Ten minutes later Xhaka went from provider to scorer, banging home a superb free kick from outside the Chelsea penalty area.

We supporters were pinching ourselves. Could we really have scored not one but two goals? Against a strongly fancied side sitting fifth in the league?

We carried on with the pressure in the second half and got our just reward in the 56th minute when an attack down our right (for a change) saw Bellerin lay the ball off to Smith-Rowe who cut it inside for Saka. What followed next was either a brilliant piece of improvisation by the young Londoner or a very fortunate sliced cross that ended up in the net. For me there’s no doubt he meant it.

We had chances to put the match completely beyond Chelsea’s reach (an Elneny shot crashed off the underside of the crossbar, Martinelli was unlucky with an overhead kick and Lacazette forced a good save from Mendy in a one-on-one which really should have been buried).

But we didn’t, substitutions were made, we lost our rhythm and Chelsea finished strongly. Abraham chested a goal in in the 85th minute and a few minutes later Chelsea earned a penalty of their own when Mari (who had been having a decent game) brought down Mason Mount.

I can’t have been alone in fearing that, if it went to 3-2 with five minutes of added time still to come, we would have struggled psychologically to hang on. And God only knows what throwing away a three goal lead would have done to our confidence for the rest of the season. But cometh the hour, cometh the big German. Bernd Leno dived to his left to save brilliantly from Jorginho and calm our nerves.

Chelsea’s heads went down and we saw out the final minutes without incident.

All in all an excellent display from the starters given how low we have been on form and confidence, with encouraging performances from many players. If Smith-Rowe and Martinelli have not booked their places in the starting eleven for Brighton on Tuesday night then there’s no justice. Indeed we looked quite a bit shakier when Pepe and Willock came on for Martinelli and Smith-Rowe.

Player Ratings

Leno – 8

Had very little to do but boy did we need that penalty save. If we had let slip a three goal lead it would be hard to see us recovering psychologically.

Bellerin – 7

Captain on the night. Led by example, was very solid and drove forward well at times.

Holding – 7.5

Big Rob has become very reliable and is now very much a first choice defender alongside Gabriel.

Mari – 6.5

Giving up the penalty will hopefully be a learning experience, but overall a good outing from the tall Brazilian Spaniard.

Tierney – 8.5 (MoTM)

Brilliant outing from Tesco, both defending and attacking, where he will have given Reece James nightmares and won the penalty for our first goal.

Elneny – 6

Mo did OK but had a few dicey moments, losing possession in dangerous areas.

Xhaka – 8

Made one, scored one, passed forwards and even won a trademark free kick with his classic baby fall. A really good answer to his critics. He appeared to enjoy playing in a slightly more advanced position.

Saka – 8

A great talent. Always intelligent with his running and passing and scored a stunner.

Martinelli – 8

You could tell he was frustrated not to get on the scoresheet but whenever he got the ball you could see the looks of fear in the eyes of the Chelsea defenders.

Smith-Rowe – 8

His touch and control are already better than most of the rest of the squad and we really benefitted as a team from having someone playing a proper Number 10 role. He felt like the oil in our machine last night.

Lacazette – 8

Outstanding effort from Lacazette, who ran all game long closing down the Chelsea defenders, linked up well with his team mates and took the penalty with aplomb. He really thrived with having Smith-Rowe behind him instead of being asked to be the main hold-up player. Scored the pen and should have had another when he went one-on-one with Mendy.

RockyLives


Balogun Off? Tuchel In? Can a Win Over Chelsea Ease the Sense of Crisis at Arsenal?

December 26, 2020

Ex BBC journalist David Ornstein, whose reports are usually on the money, says that our promising young striker Folarin Balogun may leave on a free transfer, with Liverpool a likely destination.

My thought on hearing the news was: “Well, why wouldn’t he go to Liverpool?” It’s a sad indictment of the relative standing of the two clubs at the moment.

Meanwhile there are reports that Arsenal are thinking about sacking Arteta and bringing in Thomas Tuchel, the German coach who recently left Paris St Germain. Tuchel did a great job at Borussia Dortmund and got PSG to a Champions League final.

Both of these stories point to a club (our club) that is currently being very badly managed and is slipping deeper into crisis.

The Tuchel story may just be ‘paper talk’, but the Balogun one seems genuine and is particularly embarrassing. Our inability to secure an up-and-coming youth talent speaks volumes about how things are being done (or not done) behind the scenes.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we need an overhaul at the highest levels of management (by which I do not mean Arteta, but the team above him).

Today’s game brings an even sharper focus on our problems. We entertain Chelsea, who are currently fifth in the table and 11 points ahead of us.

Not many Arsenal fans will expect us to win, but you never know. I start every match day feeling optimistic and this one is no different, even though that may seem delusional.

One thing that will sink my spirits instantly will be if the team sheet includes the names “Willian” and “Xhaka.” Unfortunately I expect it will. Arteta seems to want to persist with certain players despite all the evidence that their contributions to our campaign have been truly awful so far.

Their continued presence is, I am sure, partly to do with the absence of fans in the stadium. If supporters were present I think Willian would either be well away from the first team or would have significantly upped his game. As it is he can coast through matches doing absolutely nothing and still get picked for the next game. He is starting to look like one of the worst signings ever made at Arsenal (although there is stiff competition for that title).

Injury news is that Aubameyang will have a late fitness test for a calf strain; Partey is not back yet but Martinelli may be available after suffering bruising to his shin when he was clobbered by the Man City ‘keeper on Tuesday.

Here’s the line-up I expect from El Patron:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Ceballos – Xhaka – Elneny

Pepe – Lacazette – Aubameyang/Martinelli

If we lose, you can expect those Thomas Tuchel stories to heat up.

If we win, well, it might be just the boost we need going into a run of games from which we should be expecting to take points.

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLIves


A Fairy Tale of N5

December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas to all AA-ers everywhere, past and present.

May 2021 bring all your hopes to glorious fruition, both personal and footballing.

And thank you to all those who have continued to support this blog through some lean footballing times.

In deference to the season, here is a re-working of the brilliant Pogues song “A Fairy Tale of New York,” from an Arsenal perspective.

It was Christmas Evening

In North London

An old man said to me, we won’t win another thing,

And then he sang a song,

“We love you Arsenal,”

I turned my face away

And dreamed about you.

God I’m a lucky one,

Born to support the Gun,

I’ve got a feeling

This year there’s lots to do,

So happy Christmas,

I love you Arsenal,

I can see a better time

When all our dreams come true:

We’ll get far bigger stars

Our dead wood will be sold,

But the league won’t be easy

It’s a place for the bold

When I stood in the Stand

On a cold Christmas Eve

You promised me

Glory was waiting for me.

We had Adams

We had Petit

Lined up beside Paddy

When the team finished playing

We howled out for more,

Ljungberg was winging

All the Gooners were singing

We stood in the corner

And cheered when we scored.

The boys from the Highbury North Bank Stand

Were singing Brady’s name

And the sh*t was piling up

Down Tottenham way:

They are scum

They are junk

They smell worse than a skunk

And it’s been sixty years since they’ve had a parade,

They’re bumfluff, they’re maggots,

They’re cheap lousy braggarts,

Happy Christmas from Arsenal

You’re still in our shade.

The boys from the Highbury Clock End Stand

Still singing Brady’s name

And the cups were coming in

To line our shelves.

I’d never be a Spud,

It’s just not in my blood

I have more pride than that

So I picked Arsenal,

I gave them all my dreams

And put them with your own,

Can’t make it all alone,

Together our dreams will come true.

The boys from the Highbury Upper East Stand

Still singing Brady’s name

Good times are coming back

To Arsenal.

RockyLives, with apologies to Shane MacGowan (who’s an Everton fan)


Runarssaurus – Our New Comedy Mascot: Man City Report

December 23, 2020

Move over Gunnersaurus, there’s a new comedy act in town.

He’s there to amuse the kids and provide moments of slapstick fun for all the family.

Yes, it’s Runarssaurus! Laugh, as he flaps his hands in the air while the ball flies off the head of an opposition striker; giggle, as he cleverly guides a tame shot into our net using nothing but his own patent rubber wrists.

Or perhaps, as Bob Monkhouse once said: “When I said I wanted to grow up to be a comedian they laughed. They’re not laughing now.”

We’re not laughing now, are we?

A slick Man City side dumped us out of the Carabao cup last night, winning 4-1 at the Emirates in a game that turned into a horror show for our young reserve goalie, Alex Runarsson.

I feel bad for writing the headline and making fun of the lad, but his signing always seemed a bit odd (he was a reserve ‘keeper in the French Ligue 2 and not particularly rated by his team’s supporters. His stats were bang average or worse).

But apparently our goalkeeping coach had worked with him previously and ‘saw something in him’. Hmmm.

Anyway, the kid didn’t buy himself and nor does he pick himself so if it looks like he’s just not up to it at this level of football it’s not his fault, it’s on the club and the coaches.

And who knows, maybe he has immense strength of character and this will be the making of him, which would be wonderful for him and us… although somehow I doubt it.

The sad thing was that after going behind after two minutes (a headed goal for which Mustafi and Runarsson probably share most responsibility) we had hauled ourselves back into the game with an excellent Lacazette goal following not one but two superb crosses from Martinelli.

At 1-1 we were very much in the game, at least until Martinelli got crocked in a 50-50 with the City ‘keeper. Could or should the ‘keeper have been booked or red carded? I don’t know. If it was the other way round I’d be saying that he was quick off his line and got the ball.

Nevertheless, we were in the game. Then came City’s second and Runarsson’s humiliation. A Mahrez free kick came straight at him at a perfect height to catch or (if you’re Leno) to punch away. Runarsson did neither, merely deflecting the ball into our goal with the most limp wristed effort I’ve seen since John Inman was free.

It was going to be tough enough eking out a result against the most financially doped team in the Premier League without gifting them a goal. Our heads went down and the last two City goals were just the botulism on the cake.

Can I make a plea to our recruitment team: if we’re going to sign a crap goalie, please can we sign a BIG crap goalie. There aren’t many small, successful ‘keepers at the highest level and poor young Runarsson looked like a player in a schoolboy team last night.

To compound a miserable night, Martinelli looked to be in quite a bit of difficulty after his injury (why the heck he came out for the second half at all is a mystery). He was by far the brightest spark for us in a gloomy evening so let’s hope this is not serious.

If you’d asked me if I’d take a 4-1 defeat in the Carabao Cup and a league win over Chelsea on Boxing Day I’d have bitten your hand off. We’ve done the first part so, hey, we’re sure to win on Saturday. Aren’t we?

RockyLives


Up For The Cup? Man City Quarter Final Preview

December 22, 2020
Ready for the Reindeer Cup?

In a very seasonal fixture we entertain Manchester City tonight in the quarter final of the Caribou Cup.

Caribou, as you all know, are also called “reindeer” and tend to be kept busy at this time of year pulling Santa’s sleigh.

It would be nice to think we could win and get closer to winning a trophy in this so-far abysmal season. If we manage to beat City we would play the semi final on January 5th, meaning (if we win again) that we could have a Wembley appearance booked by the first week of the new year.

I know it’s only the Reindeer Cup, but that would lift spirits a little bit, wouldn’t it?

Even so, tonight’s game is surely an occasion for El Patron to play several of the younger and more fringe players. After all, our Premier League form is the real crisis area right now and we face Chelsea on Boxing Day.

Given the wealth of talent available to the pale blue Mancs, even a second string side from them will be packed with ability, so this will be a difficult fixture for whichever group of Arsenal lads we send out.

It also makes me think Arteta will opt for a back three/five to give us more defensive security in the hope we can do again to City what we did to them in the FA Cup last season (soak up pressure with the ‘low block’ and catch them on the break).

Here’s my (highly unlikely to be accurate) predicted line-up, bearing in mind that Xhaka is suspended and Partey and Auba are both unavailable through injury:

Runarsson

Soares – Chambers – Mustafi – Mari – Kolasinac

Maitland-Niles – Elneny

Nelson – Balogun – Smith-Rowe

For all our league woes, we have continued to shine in the cup competitions, so I wouldn’t rule out us winning this one, whoever starts.

Come On You Gunners.

RockyLives


Arteta wants fighters not victims. Which players have the required fighting spirit to take us back to the top half of the EPL?

December 21, 2020

I think we all agree with Arteta that we want to see fighters on the pitch and to be honest, while this may have been an issue in the last few years, I feel like we do have some players with fighting spirit and a positive mindset to fight for our club and victories. Name your perceived fighters and perceived victims.

Who would make it in the New Zealand Rugby Squad?


Pick your “best side” when all fit and available

December 20, 2020

It seems that we are actually going to have to fight very hard for a top 8 finish this season. Who would have thought this would be the case after our Community Shield victory and the signings of Gabriel and Partey?

The point is that we are cruelly lacking…points so far this season. We have not won any games in two months in the EPL and although there has been a bit of misfortune, overall, we have not performed well and we have not managed to be “hard to break down” nor “hard to stop/contain”. I know the players are the ones on the pitch but I also think that the coach has his responsibilities. We just have not been good enough this season (except maybe in the Europa League).

So who should lead Arteta field to steer us back in the top half?

GK: We let Martinez go so we have to rely on Leno as our GK.

RB: Bellerin did have some good games but mostly, he has been ineffective. AMN needs to improve some more defensively but he has been OK while Soares is at best a sub so AMN for me.

CB: Gabriel has been great until he got his red card. Luiz is still among our Top 3 defenders and although Holding is not as consistent as we wanted, who do we play ahead of him? Saliba/Sok are not qualified, Mari/Chambers are recovering and Mustafi remains a liability…

LB: Tierney has been sensational as a LCB and LB and I think he should be played as LB as his crossing is rather good.

DM/CM: Partey is key, El Neny has played well. Ceballos has been our most dangerous midfielder thanks to his passing. So we do we start? Partey-El Neny for me.

RFW: Saka is really our creative force these days. His runs and timings have been good and he can pbbly cause havoc if played on the right side too. Willian has been abysmal and Pepe not consistent enough. What about Nelson? Hard to say so far.

ST: Martinelli for me. I think he can hold up the ball and not only create for others but also for himself. He is also good at making runs inside the box. Nketiah works hard but not enough end product, same for Laca. As for Balogun, maybe a bit light still although a great prospect.

LFW: It has to be Auba. I think that with Saka on the right and Martinelli in the middle, he will be able to rediscover his shooting boots. With Tierney’s overalaps, he will have the chance to cut inside.

So here it is for me, if we stick to a back 3 system:

Leno – Holding, Luiz, Gabriel – AMN, Partey, El Neny, Tierney – Saka, Martinelli, Auba

Bench: Runnarsson, Saliba, Mari, Bellerin, Xhaka, Willock, Nelson, Willian, ESR, Pepe, Nketiah, Balogun

Offload in January: Soares, Chambers, Mustafi, Sokratis, Kola, Laca

What do you say? Is that starting XI our best when all are fit and available?