Five Questions After Our Draw with Man Utd (plus Player Ratings)

January 31, 2021
Pepe Goes Close

Nil-nil draws can be boring or they can be exciting. Yesterday’s stalemate with Manchester United at the Emirates was in the latter category.

We had chances to win it, but we also had chances to lose it and a draw felt a fair result at the final whistle.

And let’s pause here for a moment to give credit to Mikel Arteta and his players. A few weeks ago we were talking relegation. Yesterday we went toe to toe with a team that’s been on a great run that took them to the top of the table, where they were sitting just a week ago.

That is progress.

Inspired by comments from AA readers after the game, here are some questions that have emerged from Arsenal’s performance. Please share your thoughts below.

Are We Expecting Too Much Too Soon From Partey?

There was a split in comments between those who felt Thomas had a bit of an off day and those who thought he was pretty good. To this observer he was a bit of both. He had a couple of his trademark forward charges, was positionally good and played a full 90. On the negative side he lost possession several times, mostly in the second half and very particularly towards the end when tiredness must have been a factor.

To me he shows plenty of evidence of Rolls Royce football, but he’s spent a long time in the repair shop and just needs a bit more running in. He will get more attuned to the way the EPL works as time goes on but he already is clearly our best midfielder.

Has the Long Awaited Pepe Surge Begun?

The mercurial Ivorian was good against Southampton in midweek and had another decent outing yesterday. If his shooting radar had been marginally better he might have had a couple of goals.

He also tracked back well and showed a lot more discipline that we saw from him in his early months at Arsenal, for which credit must go not just to the player, but also to Arteta and his coaching team.

But if Pepe has finally found his feet and is ready to contribute at a high level, our attacking options are starting to look really tasty.

Is the Xhaka Redemption Now a Permanent Feature?

The ups and downs of Granit Xhaka’s time at Arsenal read like a Jason Bourne novel… so have we now reached the Xhaka Supremacy? Even his harshest critics would have a hard time denying that he has been really quite good lately.

He seems to have found a groove alongside Partey, he is playing with intelligence and discipline and (tempting fate) he has stopped the stupid fouls and the infuriating toddler tumbles where he tries to win free kicks. Xhaka has always had good qualities, but they came with frustrating down sides. Remove the down sides and we are looking at a very reliable central midfielder.

Are Tierney and Saka Our Two Most Important Players?

As I wrote in comments, starting yesterday’s game without Tesco and Saka would be the equivalent of Man Utd going into the match without Fernandes and Rashford (which makes our performance and the result even more impressive).

Cedric has filled in well during KT’s absences but we really missed the Scotsman marauding down the left flank and putting in those excellent crosses.

As for Saka… there were times yesterday when Smith Rowe played what to me looked like ‘passes for Saka’. But because Bukayo was not on the pitch and Pepe, for all his improved form, does not have quite the same psychic bond with ESR that Saka does, the balls did not come off because Pepe did not make the right run. Partey may well become the automatic first name on the team sheet in time, but can we all agree that right now it’s Tierney and Saka who jointly hold that position?

How Should We Handle Martinelli?

The young Brazilian had an in-and-out first half and did not reappear for the second period, which I can only assume was because of a tweak. Given his injury history the precautionary principle is probably the right one to adopt with him.

He is struggling a little bit to find his feet since returning to fitness, but he showed typically good movement in this game and worked as hard as ever. One spectacular backtrack to deny Rashford an open goal was particularly noteworthy.

Right now I think the club are handling his return well: use him sparingly and let things take their natural course. A goal will help him tremendously.

Player Ratings From RC78

Leno – 6 – not much to do

Bellerin – 6.5 – had a couple of good moments.

Holding – 7 – Marshalling the defense, especially in the air

Luiz – 7 – Another good outing.

Cedric – 6 – A decent game but a lot of the chances conceded came from his side.

Xhaka – 7 – Tidy.

Partey – 6 – We expect more. Seems to struggle physically a bit.

Pepe – 7.5 – Created chances, full of running but last touch but not there.

ESR – 6.5 – Industrious but lacked the spark today

Martinelli – 6.5 – Looked good when played.

Laca – 7 – A fantastic attitude and unlucky not to score on his free kick.

SUBS

Willian – a good entrance but still slows the game down.

Odegaard – not enough time to assess.

Nketiah – not enough time to assess.

RockyLives





What’s Needed To Beat Man Utd: Prematch & Predicted Line-Up

January 30, 2021
It’s all down to player availability

Our recent resurgence faces a tough challenge today as we entertain Manchester United, currently sitting second in the Premier League and on a terrific run of results until their slip-up against Sheffield United in midweek.

We can take solace from the fact that prior to the Blades we were the last team to beat them in the league, winning 1-0 at Old Trafford on November 1st.

Unfortunately after that game we went on a terrible run during which we couldn’t buy a sniff of a goal let alone a win, whereas the red Mancs bounced straight back and won 10 of their next 13 (the three they didn’t win were draws against Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester, so that’s not too shabby).

On paper you would have to say they are strong favourites to win today. Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes have 31 goals between them in all competitions; Paul Pogba is in arguably his best form since arriving in Manchester and they have started improving at the back.

A draw would not be a bad result for Arsenal, but I think we have the players to win this one if the breaks go our way.

A lot will depend on which players are available. If we can start with Partey, Tierney, Smith Rowe and Aubameyang – all of whom are currently doubtful – we have the quality to compete with Man Utd all across the park.

At the time of writing (on Friday afternoon) Partey looks likely to be available (he pulled up with cramp towards the end of the Southampton game but otherwise did not seem injured); Aubameyang has been declared unavailable (he is quarantining after flying to Gabon and back to visit his sick mother, apparently); there is no news of Tierney and Smith Rowe. Dani Ceballos and Pablo Mari have been back in training but whether they’re available to start is anyone’s guess.

I can’t imagine our new loan singing Martin Odegaard will be involved (Arteta referred to him needing match fitness) but I suppose he could be on the bench.

One area of encouragement for us is in attack. In recent games – when our new first-choice stars have started – we have begun to show glimpses of excellence: beautiful attacking sequences built on speed, one-touch passing, great movement off the ball and complete understanding between the players involved.

Smith Rowe, Saka and Lacazette in particular have been at the heart of these moves. If we can avoid being dominated in midfield and get our front line playing at that level then I fancy us to score a couple. For all their recent improvements, United have still found it difficult to keep clean sheets, conceding two goals to Sheffield United (twice), Leicester, Leeds and Southampton during their winning run.

I am going to stay positive with my predicted line-up and assume that all our ‘doubtfuls’ except Auba will be fit for today. If Tierney is still out then Cedric slots in at left back, where he did an excellent job in midweek. In the absence of Aubameyang we could start Martinelli, but I would not rule out switching Saka to the left and playing Pepe on the right after his decent outing against the Saints.

Smith Rowe is the tricky one. If he’s not available then I fear Mikel Arteta will start Willian, in which case my optimism levels will plummet. I would rather try Ceballos in the Number 10 role if he’s fit enough.

Here’s the likely starting eleven:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Pepe – Smith Rowe – Saka

Lacazette

It’s nice to be looking forward to a big game instead of dreading it. This one will probably come down to fine margins – quality finishing; great goalkeeping; refereeing decisions – but if we come away with all three points our season will start to look very different.

Come on you Gunners.

RockyLives


Liverpool in Arsenal’s Sights?

January 28, 2021
We’re behind you…

Well here’s a funny thing.

Who remembers how the Arsenal world was feeling just before Christmas?

While Santa was loading his sleigh with goodies and little children everywhere were excitedly hanging up their stockings, Gooners were weeping into their mince pies.

An appalling run of results and form had seen us plummet faster than Harry Kane when he gets in the opponents’ penalty area.

The word “relegation” was being bandied about and there was a sense of foreboding in the air. And it wasn’t just Santa Claus who was contemplating a sack. Speculation was rife that Mikel Arteta would soon be looking for employment elsewhere.

Now, just a month later, everything looks different and no fact sums that up more acutely than this one: right now we are just four points behind Liverpool, the reigning Premier League champions and last year’s all-conquering heroes.

Admittedly we are four point behind having played one game more, so we could be seven points in their wake, but I make the point to show what a strange game football is and, in particular, how unpredictable this season is in the EPL.

This week’s results are another case in point: table-topping Manchester United lose at home to bottom placed Sheffield United; highly fancied Aston Villa vanquished by Burnely; top four challengers including Leicester, Everton and Chelsea all dropping points.

Teams are going on great runs for five or six games then, for inscrutable reasons, suddenly seeing their form go down the toilet (Chelsea are a perfect example).

This augurs both well and ominously for Arsenal. We had our terrible run. Right now we’re on an excellent run, but is it reasonable to expect us to keep it up?

There will probably be bumps in the road and for we fans it will be important to maintain perspective. We’ll need to remember the old Rudyard Kipling line about treating triumph and failure as equal impostors.

But the volatility of the Premier League this season also offers a real chance of redemption for us. If we can maintain a degree of consistency (and we have the players to do so) then we have a chance of gradually creeping up the table while others stutter.

Normally at this stage of the season and with this many points we would already be ruling out a top four finish for the boys in red and white, but this year of all years… I’m not so sure.

Keep the faith Gooners.

RockyLives


Pepe, Saka, Laca score as AFC beats Saints

January 26, 2021
Southampton 1-3 Arsenal: Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette  on target as Gunners win - Eurosport

Our unbeaten streak in the EPL has been extended to 6 with a good win against the Saints!

A pleasant football match with both teams trying to create chances early on. We should have been up in the first minute but Laca missed a glorious opportunity. That lost opportunity proved costly as the Saints scored right away on a corner where their player is left unmarked in the middle of our surface area…But Pepe who was given a start on the left wing as Auba was missing restored parity with a well taken goal from a good assist from Xhaka. Fast forward and Laca atones for his miss with a glorious assist to Saka who rounded the keeper to finish in the empty net. But Saka is a kind player and after receiving a beautiful diagonal pass from Cedric, he first times a cross in front of goal for Lacazette. From then on, Saints tried to push and Luiz almost handed them a goal but Holding and Leno saved him the blushes. Another good save from Leno and the game was over.

Overall, we played well going forward and we were good enough at the back although we could have defended better. Our game management is improving for sure. Leno, Holding, Partey, Xhaka, Saka and Laca are in good form and Cedric had a great game at LB while Pepe showed some quality and had a decent game overall, scoring a vital goal. Arteta knows his set-up and is definitely close to having his starting XI.

Leno – 7. A solid performance.

Bellerin – 6. Still seems like our weak link

Holding – 7. Another solid outing

Luiz – 6.5. Not a bad performance but was the weaker CB and almost gave a goal away.

Cedric – 7.5. A very good game at LB. Impressive diagonal long passes and did the job defensively.

Partey – 6.5. Started brightly and then faded before going out in the second half. When he will be fully fit, he will be our heart and lung in midfield.

Xhaka – 7.5. Another assist and a tidy game. A bit slow at times but clearly a good spell for him.

Saka – 8. An assist, a goal and constantly creating chances. MOTM

ESR – 7. Industrious but went out injured.

Pepe – 7. A well taken goal and a positive attitude overall. A good showing but could have done better in some instances. Was this game the turning point of his AFC career?

Laca – 7.5. An assist, a goal and his usual drive, shame he missed his opening chance.


Back to Winning Ways: Southampton Prematch & Predicted Line-up

January 26, 2021
Back to make martyrs of the Saints

We had a disappointing performance on the south coast on Saturday that got the result it deserved in the FA Cup. Tonight I expect to see a stronger Arsenal team take all three points in the Premier League match-up.

Saints fielded as close as they could get to a full strength side against us at the weekend whereas many of our best players were rested, which should help tip the balance in our favour.

I expect to see Smith Rowe, Tierney, Saka, Lacazette and Partey recalled to the starting line-up. It’s not clear at the time of writing what the issue with Aubameyang is and whether he’s available, but if not we will likely start Martinelli again as the left sided attacker.

We saw on Saturday how effective Saints are with the high press and we will face it again tonight and need to do better. Through a combination of Southampton’s efforts and the inability of Xhaka and Elneny to dominate the midfield, we were constantly under pressure when trying to play out from the back.

In fairness our central midfielders were not helped by the ineffectiveness of Willian and Nketiah as our ‘out balls’ in that match (we lost possession every time the ball went to either of them) and Martinelli also struggled to make an impression.

It also didn’t help that we had a right-footed player at left back and that on his return to action after several weeks’ lay-off Gabriel was showing more rust than Del and Rodney’s Reliant Robin.

We will face the same challenge tonight but we will handle it better with Tierney restored and, probably, with Luiz back into central defence alongside Holding. I know that Gabriel is our best long-term prospect at CB, but there’s no need to rush him back after his absence with two full games in four days. And in any case, Luiz may be better suited to handling the Saints press.

The sacking of Frank Lampard showed how few chances you get to succeed in the Premier League. Chelsea are two points ahead of us and still in the FA Cup, but that did not stop Abramovich pulling the plug and switching off the Lamp. If we had an owner like that then Arteta would probably have been out on his ear after our bad run earlier this season.

However, I’m glad that didn’t happen. If a manager is going to become really successful, he needs the chance to make mistakes and fail (temporarily) so he can learn how to react when facing future challenges. It’s a cliche, but you often learn more from defeat than from victory – you just have to not make it too much of a habit.

When Arteta, Lampard and Solskjaer were being written up as the three young guns of EPL management I remember writing that El Patron would outlast the other two in his job. Well, Lamps is out. Ole is riding high at the moment but let’s wait and see. If he is manager at Manchester United at the start of next season I will be very surprised.

Here’s the team I think we’ll see tonight, with Aubameyang in ahead of Martinelli if he’s available and with Cedric preferred to Hector (just a hunch):

Leno

Cedric – Holding – Luiz – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Smith Rowe – Martinelli

Lacazette

That 11 is good enough to win and I expect them to do so.

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLives


Make Some Flipping Money!

January 25, 2021
Damned if we spend, damned if we don’t

We are living in unprecedented times, that much is true, but even I did not know just how much the equilibrium had been knocked out of balance when I read the headlines and distress in some quarters that Arsenal have allowed £160m of talent out the door without recouping a single penny.

I am somewhat surprised.

In the preceding decade the criticism was from the opposite end of the spectrum, and the club’s Board and management were implored to ‘Spend Some F’ing Money’ by all and sundry.

They did, maybe not wisely but they followed the demands to stop taking gambles on young players and start instead to pay big money for established experienced players.

This very rarely ends in anything other than the club taking a loss when the club parts ways with those players bought at 25-28 years old, so why on earth are people getting so upset?

Like anything else in public debate you have the reasoned observer and the lunatics. Last night I read that QAnon supporters and followers were left bereft, dejected and even grieving that what they believed would happen (Trump launching National Guard/Military/Police to mass arrest everyone at Biden’s inauguration in the ultimate arrest of Deep State participants… I kid you not), didn’t happen.

Now I am not putting the ‘SSFM’ brigade in the same boat but it does feel that they have had their beliefs dragged from under them in the same way: they were convinced by media pundits, fellow fans and influencers that the money spent would turn us into some unstoppable force, every million spent was cheered – the bigger the better, we are putting together a title challenge etc etc.

As those dreams faded and died (to borrow a line from those over in the east end of London) they are forced to reflect, some insist that the only way to rebuild will be to spend big again, others have turned their ire at mismanaged contracts and players departing for nothing.

Ignore the noise, we have seen in the last few weeks what is possible placing a bit of trust in the players from the academy and adding one or two competent individuals. I dare say we have a few more financial losses to come. Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe will surely all see a loss when they eventually depart, but are we really going to be churlish and say the club should never have bought Aubameyang when the time comes that he leaves on a free?

Gooner in Exile


Saints & Sinners: Southampton Report & Ratings

January 24, 2021
Houston, we have a problem

You have to admit, we are a classy club.

Yes, the FA Cup is our trophy. We own it. It should be called the AFC Cup and its permanent home is on a plinth in a cabinet in N5. But we’re so nice that on certain occasions we consent to lend it out to others. Yesterday was one of those occasions. We have generously bowed out of the 2021-22 tournament to give someone else a chance.

It must have been our intention, right? We put in such a poor and disjointed performance at St Mary’s that it’s the only explanation.

Either way, a very committed Saints side emerged as 1-0 victors. There was an element of luck about their goal, but even the most biased of Arsenal fans would surely admit they deserved their win.

For Mikel Arteta, the game will have reinforced some conclusions that he already seems to have reached: namely that Willian and Pepe are just not doing enough to be considered starters for an important game and that our best team is one that includes the names Saka, Smith Rowe, Tierney and Partey.

El Patron made seven changes from our last league game, resting Smith Rowe (not even on the bench), Lacazette and Tierney and giving starts to Willian, Pepe, Elneny, Cedric, Martinelli, Gabriel and Nketiah. Aubameyang pulled out on the day of the game because of a family issue.

Right from the kick-off it was clear Southampton were going to press us with real commitment and organisation. Our playing out from the back has been good recently, but it wasn’t in this one – which is not entirely surprising when you consider we had a right-footed left back and a rusty Gabriel making his first start since contracting Covid 19.

The Saints press meant we were unable to play through midfield and when we did get down the flanks we were unable to make anything happen. Cedric and Martinelli were not on the same wavelength and other communication issues cropped up elsewhere.

Players who have been reliable for several weeks started making mistakes (Rob Holding in particular) and at times we played like a bunch of blokes who’d never set eyes on each other before until they’d met in the pub car park half an hour earlier.

I really wanted Willian and Pepe to shine. We need them to show some decent form between now and the end of the season. But they were really poor. Pepe was invisible for most of the first half and Willian seemed to make a speciality of ignoring forward passes that were clearly on, taking too many touches, then passing backwards (on the occasions when he didn’t just lose possession).

Pepe was a bit better towards the end and set up a couple of chances for Nketiah. He possibly still has something to offer and maybe could become more influential with a run of games, but as for a use for Willian… I just don’t know. Do the cleaning staff at the Emirates need a new duster?

The Southampton goal came from a low shot which went through Cedric’s legs and looked to be covered by Leno until a deflection from Gabriel took it past him. The German had earlier made an excellent low stop but there was nothing he could do about this one.

At the other end Martinelli got through for a one-on-one with the Saints ‘keeper but fluffed his shot (admittedly a difficult technique – trying to volley a ball coming over the shoulder from behind). The Brazilian was energetic as usual but failed to make much of an impact on the game.

The second half saw more of the same until the final 20 minutes when Southampton started to tire (and also began to instinctively protect their lead) and our substitutes added a bit more intelligence and intensity to our play.

Partey and Saka came on just before the hour mark for Martinelli and Elneny. I can only imagine the club are still being careful with Martinelli’s minutes otherwise surely it would have been one of Pepe or Willian coming off (or even Nketiah).

Partey and Saka immediately made a difference and we started to threaten the opposition goal at last. A Saka cross almost found the head of Lacazette (who’d come on for Bellerin on 71 minutes) and Nketiah had a couple of chances including one really good one in the dying moments that he snatched at and skied over the bar.

The whistle ended a disappointing day for us in Hampshire. Arteta blamed the defeat on poor finishing in the second half, but the truth is we were second best overall.

We return to St Mary’s on Tuesday and some observers seem to think this win gives Southampton a psychological advantage over us for the league game but I’m not buying that. With our first team regulars restored it will be a totally different kettle of fish and I expect us to take all the points.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

The only starter to really come out of the game with any credit.

Bellerin – 5

An indifferent performance.

Holding – 5.5

Usually so dependable, Big Rob misplaced too many passes in this one, although still performed his defensive duties well. He had one half chance to score and took his shot with all the finesse of a true centre half.

Gabriel – 5

A shaky, rusty performance from the returning CB. We know how good he is from his performances earlier in the season, but on this evidence it’s going to take him a while to get back to his best.

Cedric – 5

Some good intent from Ced with decent attacking forays but his crossing was terrible (admittedly he was on the wrong side of the park, but even when he cut onto his right those crosses were hit with a driver when a nine-iron was called for).

Xhaka – 5

What he did on the ball was fine, but what he didn’t do was get enough of a grip in midfield, so we were forced to play wide or punt long balls forward.

Elneny – 5

Same as Xhaka.

Willian – 3

He can’t want to play this badly, so what’s wrong with him? A truly terrible outing. We would have been better with 10 men and no Willian. And I mean that seriously, not as a joke. At least we would have lost possession less frequently.

Pepe – 4

He had some “moments” in the second half as Saints sat back. His footwork was good at times but he flatters to deceive. He was invisible for large parts of this game and is not a difference-maker.

Martinelli – 5

Willing as ever, but nothing much came off for him.

Nketiah – 4.5

Eddie was not involved enough in the first half (not all his fault but he could have done more) and when he did get a couple of decent chances he fluffed his lines.

Subs

Partey – 7

He immediately improved us for the better, helped take charge of midfield and got us moving forward at long last.

Saka – 7

His half hour or so had the main benefit of highlighting why Pepe and Willian should be kept away from the first team. Dynamic running, slick passing and intelligent all-round play.

Lacazette – 6

Not on long enough to have much of an impact.

RockyLives


Arteta’s Dilemma: Rotation, Rotation, Rotation – Southampton FA Cup Pre-Match and Predicted 11

January 23, 2021
Matt Ryan – will he turn out to be a keeper?

It’s back to FA Cup action today as we play Saints away in the early kick-off (12.15pm).

The irony with a game like this is that just as Mikel Arteta has got the closest to knowing his first choice 11 since taking over from Unai Emery, today is not a day to play them all.

Not that El Patron won’t want to win. As you know, my view is they should rename the trophy the AFC Cup because it’s OURS, and Arteta has won it as both a player and a manager at Arsenal. He will be desperate to triumph today.

But our league campaign is also vital and we are due to play the same opposition in the EPL on Tuesday night, so there will need to be rotation for today’s game.

Southampton are a decent team and we have struggled on recent trips to their ground on the south coast, so I fully expect this to be a close one.

The main team news is that we have signed a new back-up ‘keeper from Brighton – Matt Ryan, an Aussie who has supported Arsenal since he was a young lad and says he used to get up at 4am to watch our games. I have no idea how good he is but if he starts or is on the bench today it probably means bad news for Alex Runarrson.

I feel some sympathy for Runarrson. He had one game and made a couple of howlers, but football is a brutal sport at the top level.

You would expect our back-up goalie to get a run out in a cup game, but this may be just a bit too soon for Ryan so I expect to see Leno between the sticks.

There are strong rumours that Norwegian playmaker Martin Odegaard will be arriving on loan from Real Madrid. I don’t follow much European football so I can’t tell you much about him except that my son is very excited and describes him as “Ozil with extra work effort.”

Injury wise, Mari won’t be available but is due back in training next week and Dani Ceballos is being assessed before today’s game but is probably available.

With rotation in mind, here’s my predicted starting line-up.

Leno

Cedric – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Elneny – Ceballos

Willock

Pepe – Lacazette – Aubameyang

Let’s win in the normal 90 and power on to the Fifth Round.

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLives


The Most Underrated Player at Arsenal

January 22, 2021
Most underrated?

Yesterday’s excellent Post by RC about how Sylvain Wiltord may have been under-appreciated during his time at Arsenal set me to thinking: who is the ‘Wiltord’ in the current squad?

Who is our most under-appreciated player right now?

We can rule out Smith Rowe, Saka, Leno, Martinelli, Gabriel, Partey and Tierney because the love-in surrounding that group of talented stars would make a harlot blush.

Holding is not quite at that level of acclaim but also seems to have earned the respect of fans this season and has cemented his first team place.

Likewise, despite poor recent form, I would not include Aubameyang because during his time at Arsenal he has been greatly appreciated and ‘rated’.

And for the purposes of this Post I am ruling out Willian because I am talking about players who are underrated in terms of what they have achieved at (and contribute to) Arsenal, not what they have done elsewhere in their careers. As for Mari and Cedric, we just haven’t seen enough of them yet in the red and white.

I, perhaps controversially, do not consider Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson and Nketiah to be in the conversation (although I would love them to get there in the near future).

So the list of contenders I came up with is: Xhaka, Elneny, Lacazette, Pepe, Luiz and Bellerin. You could include Chambers and Mustafi in that group if that’s your thing, but I’m not.

Now to whittle down that final selection:

Pepe? Clearly he has talent, but (through no fault of his own) he’s saddled with that £72m price tag which raises expectations that he just hasn’t met. He has shown flashes of real ability, but not enough.

Bellerin? I’m not sure you can call Hector underrated during his time at Arsenal and his form in the last couple of seasons (since his serious injury in fact) has been inconsistent. Pass.

Luiz? For all that he infuriates fans with crazy mistakes, he was outstanding in our FA Cup triumph last summer and has been pretty steady this season. A possibility, but he falls somewhere between being not quite good enough to be underrated and not quite bad enough as well. No.

Xhaka? A Marmite player for supporters, but manager after manager has deemed him an important component of their plans. The trouble is I don’t think we can view him as underrated. We know his strengths and weaknesses, what he can and can’t do for the team. Some of us value that contribution, others are fed up with him, but we have his measure. So, it’s a no.

That leaves Elneny and Lacazette and these are my two favourites for the spot of ‘most underrated’.

Elneny because of his un-showy, workmanlike performances, his athleticism and his apparent lack of ego as well as the fact that he seldom loses possession; Laca for being one of those players who – even though he’s no Thierry Henry – contributes important goals and is always prepared to work hard for the team. He has some very poor spells of form, but always seems to come through them.

It’s a toss up, but I’m going for Laca. In fact (as I believe someone said in comments), he is not dissimilar to Sylvain Wiltord and, in the Invincibles team, you could imagine him performing a similar role to Sylvain.

I have watched many games where Laca’s finishing has been off, he has been isolated up front and generally out of sorts, but you never see his head go down and he never stops trying to close down opposition players.

Am I right? Over to you.

RockyLives


Is Sylvain Wiltord underrated?

January 21, 2021
Sylvain Wiltord retires from football | Daily Mail Online

So we have been discussing our up and coming players lately with Tierney, Saka and ESR taking the spotlight. ESR was even compared to Pires…

From the firing French contingency under Wenger at AFC, we hear a lot (and rightly so) about Vieira, Henry, Pires and even Anelka but there is not much mention of Sylvain Wiltord.

With 49 goals in 175 appearances and being a two-times EPL and FA Cup winner, Wiltord was unquestionably part of a fantastic group of players. He wasn’t the fastest, he wasn’t the strongest but he gave his all. He mostly played as a right winger and was used mostly like an “impact bench player” but does the fanbase underrate him?

As a French man, my fondest memory of him is of course his equalizer at the end of regular time in the Euro 2000 final against Italy. As an Arsenal fan, I cannot forget his goal againt Utd which gaves us the title in 2000-2001 and his goal the gollowing year vs Utd in the FA Cup final.

So what is your take on SW?