Temperatures have plunged, snow has fallen and ice clings to the nation’s trees and rooftops; and somewhere in the Midlands, squatting on an ice floe, a blubbery, jowly creature is licking its flabby lips. Fat Sam the Walrus Man is waiting for us.
Tonight’s opponents, West Bromwich Albion, may be rooted near the bottom of the table but their new manager loves nothing more than putting one over on the Arsenal.
Sam Allardyce took over from Slaven Bilic on December 16th. In his three games in charge, Albion have taken one point, scored one goal and conceded nine.
Overall this season they have conceded more goals (35) than any other Premier League team. So we have a team that can’t score (us) against a team that can’t stop conceding (them): what you might call a resistible force meeting a movable object.
Anyway, don’t let West Brom’s woes lull you into a false sense of security.
For a start, the single point they earned under their new boss was away at the champions, Liverpool. It suggests Allardyce has lost none of his skill for getting a team of lumpen journeymen to perform well against much better opposition (while losing to teams more on their level).
Whether these days we count as ‘much better opposition’ than West Brom or ‘more on their level’ I shall leave up to you.
But I reckon this will be a tough battle for the boys in red and white, with Allardyce in his time-honoured Jurassic fashion sending out his players to ‘get about’ Arsenal. You can just hear him in the dressing room, telling the Baggies’ players that Arsenal a bunch of fancy-dan southern softies who don’t like it up ’em. “Let them know you’re there,” he’ll be saying, “get stuck in.”
Our players will need to win some physical battles before they can win the tactical ones.
Nevertheless, we have sufficient quality to come away with all three points provided that Mikel Arteta is prepared to learn the lessons of the last two games (against Brighton and Chelsea). In those matches we switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation and gave some of our exciting young players their head. It worked and we need to stick with it at West Brom.
This is the sort of game we have to be winning if we are going to salvage any kind of respectability this season. We know that players like Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli are up for the fight, even away in the Midlands on a freezing early January evening. Can we say the same about some of the more senior players?
My heart sank when I saw that Willian is available to play tonight after missing the last couple of matches because of “illness”. Surely El Patron will not start the hopelessly out-of-form Brazilian? Right? Please tell me I’m right.
Luiz is also back after his equally mysterious “illness” but it does not look as if Partey will be ready yet, although perhaps there will be room for him on the bench.
I don’t foresee too many changes, although I think Luiz will come in for Mari despite the latter’s decent performances. There is also a big question mark over our captain. Aubameyang was really poor against Brighton and we were a much better team when Lacazette took up the central attacking role. Laca’s skills are much better suited to it than Auba’s.
I suppose El Patron might consider starting Pepe to give one of the younger players a rest, but I hope not. We have a full week after tonight before our next game. When players are on a roll the best thing is to point them downhill and step out of the way.
I expect this line-up:
Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Tierney
Elneny – Xhaka
Saka – Smith Rowe – Martinelli
Here’s hoping that Elneny cuts out those ‘moments of madness’ that he’s been having in the last few games and that Xhaka brings the same level of performance that he did against the Chavs.
This game will probably feel more like the Brighton match than the Chelsea one, with West Brom keeping 11 men behind the ball for much of the game (that’s the reason I have gone with Laca ahead of Auba in the starting line-up). They will be looking to score from set pieces, so we will need our midfielders to avoid silly fouls around the penalty area.
With a bit of luck, skill and effort we could administer a proper thrashing like Leeds did to West Brom the other day (5-0), but this is far more likely to be a close game. I’m looking for 2-1 to the good guys.
Come on you Gunners.
That’s a brilliant post Rocky. Am glad to be we here once again after a long lull. It has to do with my eyes.
I want to insist that it was not surprising that we have looked so bad in games until recently and that that doesn’t necessarily sums Arteta as incompetent. Like I mentioned in my earlier post both Pep and Klopp didn’t exactly exude confidence in their first seasons at City and Liverpool. I can recall a lot of flak from the Liverpool’s fans and perhaps why a lot kept their faith in Klopp was the pedigree. Arteta didn’t arrive with such and so it’s so easy for a lot to simply dismiss his acumen and suitability.
Can anyone please name a coach he thinks would arrive at the Emirates and put us on same pedestal with two best clubs in the EPL? How many of us fans advocated for Ancelotti or Mourinho when it became apparent that we weren’t going anywhere with Emery?
Did it not look like earlier was a bad appointment last season and is he not making headway at Everton now?
Arsenal became a whipping team to several big sides during the later part of Wenger’s reign because no matter the opposition he would go gung ho. And we all knew how frail we had become defensively.
I wasn’t surprised at Arteta’s decision to prioritise that flailing department. That was what helped us several great results in the EPL and an unexpected FA Cup.
We have been so poor overtime now because he understands that we must play more expansive football. Does he have the personnel? I doubt that! The argument our squad is on same pedestal with the best in the league is neither here nor there. If we want to be honest we know what hat we know.
When City’s expensively assembled defence was floundering what did Pep do? He bought a half back for 65m pounds. Can we afford that?
Anyways, football formation is a thing of the mind, what really matters most is the fluidity of a squad.
And for those who have chosen to forget ho do not know, Ferguson, the most successful manager I. The EPL was also nearly sacked in his first season after arriving from Scotland but when we look back today can anyone still argue on his suitability?
Like him or not, Arteta, who is less than a year into his managerial career, needs just a little time to totally have a firm grasp of the Arsenal job.
Very nice to have you back commenting on AA.
I agree with what you say and am in the camp that believes we need to give Arteta more time.
However, I also respect opinions like those of jjgsol, who clearly thinks Arteta is not up to it. He may be right and time will tell.
For now I’m still optimistic about what he can achieve.
Fingers crossed that we continue the recovery tonight.
It will be hard for us to predict where we’ll end up on the league table this season. However, judging from how close the table is we can still make up for lost ground. Once we marshal a winning streak we can become a dark horse for the top four.
Who could have predicted that the Manures would be second on the table level on same points with Liverpool some few weeks ago? Ole’s job was touted as being up for grabs. The narratives was that a round peg in the square hole.
A single creative player might not be the solution to our season but alongside a fit again TP, we could become considerably stronger in the middle of the pack and become more consistent at breaking down defensively minded oppositions.
And I again, I want to point out that the much villified Willian can still come good. We knew we were not procuring a Messi or Ronaldo when he joined so by do we think he isn’t prone to faultering? He had had one of his best season at Chelsea before teaming up with us. He was brilliant in the first two games and he could still come good.
Aubemayang has also hit a dry patch and in the reckoning of many he who should be totally jetissoned. Many even castigated Arteta and Edu for not selling him off. They had forgotten the unforgettable role he had played in past seasons. Not only were his goal crucial to our success in the FA Cup and retaining a bit of dignity in the league.
I think we have a good chance of winning the Europa and FA but not certain if Bayern can retain the Champions League. Liverpool I reckon can retain their league trophy.
I dont think getting sucked into any physical battles is going to be the right course of action tbh. If they want to kick us thats fine we just have to play are own game. Hopefully the referee does his job and well see how those players do on a yellow. Especially with how many cards we attract committing far fewer fouls this season than most teams this season.
If we play high energy move the ball quickly between the lines and get our runners in behind well be fine.
Rocky, there’s no need to panic. Willian , will eventually come good for us. His form has been extremely bad since the their game but never doubt his ability to rise from the ashes. Do you remember a certain Jack Wilshere? A fantastic player destined for the top. He never made it to the zenith however. One of the reasons for not attaining his potentials was partly because he was overplayed by Wenger. He was so good we could not imagine any team put out without him. I am beginning to think we are doing same to Saka. I won’t bat an eye to declare him as our best player of the season so far.
But he is certainly due for a rest and for the tie with West Brom, I’d advocate that he be kept on the bench till a certain auspicious time in the second half.
One of the reasons Arteta hasn’t looks up to scratch recently is his blinding trust in some certain players. We are turning a corner because youths who hitherto weren’t being played are now giving us fresh impetuous.
Since the game against Everton, we seemed to have found our rhythm and why we didn’t notice this was because we weren’t converting created chances.
The inclusion of the youngsters have made our attack quicker and we suddenly don’t look so pedestrian. We surprised Chelsea with our newfound which we also took to Brighton.
The return of Martinelli and inclusion of Smith Rowe has brought a lot of positivity to our team play. Now, we don’t look so ponderous and predictable as we used to.
It will be suicidal to replace Mari with Luis. What will be the reason for that? Luis hasn’t been spectacular and Mari has brought a calmness to our backline. We now play four at the back and Luis’ shakiness in this formation is renowned.
What will give us advantage against Fat Sam today will be to take our chances early. If we do we will be so far ahead that Allardyce won’t have any choice than to urge his players than to attack which would play into our hands.
Game day, looking forward to it, not expecting anything that brought about the term “The Beautiful Game” just 3 ugly points will be do just fine.
My reservation is that in the past refs have been pretty lenient with Allardyce teams when they have set about trying to kick us off the park.
Hopefully that won’t be the case today.
I haven’t given up on Willian and I really hope he comes good for us, but if it was down to me I would make him have to earn his place back in the team with good outings in the Europa League and as substitute appearances in the EPL.
You are right Rocky. Every player must be deserving of his place. Anyone not up to scratch must be made to wait for his turn on the bench and playing in the less glamorous matches.
That picture and your writing of Fat Sam sums it up quite nicely.
Willian and Luiz can sit their a$$e$ on the pine!
Mikel has to roll with what is a winning combination so far.
With regards to Auba, been looking at data, heat maps and service, the guy is not getting the types of service he needs, floated in crosses are NOT his thing. Unless Mikel has told the team to rip in some low crosses it is a waste of time and space to play Auba. He will be a silent passenger against a “low block 6-4-0.”
Again, I say bring in the youngsters, Balo or Nelson, two different types of players yes, but each can be used to help in the box or heaven forbid draw us a penalty.
So, same set up as before and sub the youth out at 65-70 minutes, with Willock, AMN or whatever other runner who wants to earn some playing time.
AFC needs to help send the “fat man” down.
Thanks Rocky. I would play Auba to the left of Laca to start with Saka on the right. Martinelli can come off the bench as we dont want to overplay him too much too quickly. Auba is one if the best finishers out there and I feel a brace is on the cards to kickstart his season imminently.
I agree with Akinzo also that Willian will come good but only in the number 10 role so would play him there today again with some protection for ESR who should be slowly transitioned into becoming the main man for that position.
I like the line up. It should line up as you predicted Rocky, just with Auba where you had Martinelli, Ceballos instead of Elneny and Mari instead of Luiz.
Akinzo, I am on your camp that Arteta needs time and could be brilliant for us. I also agree somewhat with jjgsol though that he hasn’t got as much this season from this side as he should have done.
My difference to jjgaol though is that I dont see it as an indication of him not coming good, but do feel he has errored in not changing the formation early enough. However he has changed it recently and I think if he can develop around this formation then we can build and progress.
I notice you mentioned that you felt formations were largely unimportant. This is the bit where I disagree with you. I feel it is of the upmost importance and is one if the key factors that allows for the fluidity of play that you mentioned.
The 2 key differences are in playing that extra creative CM instead of an extra CB and in utilising attacking left footers from the right and right footers from the left, and the switch of Saka over to the right is very important.
Almost there on the lineup, but where will the pressing come from?
Let’s see what we have in our locker today.
Onward and upward.
Interesting that Mikel has not started Willian and Luiz, who were pretty much automatic choices until recently.
I would have been happy with Luiz at CB (he has generally done well for us with one or two very notable exceptions), but I’m also happy with Mari. It’s good that Mikel is showing the players they can keep their place if they do well.
Resting Martinelli probably makes sense, but with a week before our next game I’d have been tempted to start him and take him off after 65 or 70.
The one area that slightly troubles me is Ceballos for Elneny. Presumably that means Xhaka will drop back to being the deepest lying midfielder and he’s just not as fast or athletic as the Ninny in that role. Of course I could be wrong and Dani may play there. Not long until we find out.
I don’t mind Auba starting, even though a packed defence will probably mean there will be few of the types of chances he thrives on. You do feel someone is going to cop a hat trick from him at some point soon.
I loved your opening bit in this post Rocky but felt you were a bit harsh on the poor old Walrus in your comparison to Allardyce. I mean, there not the prettiest, but there not that bad
Rocky don’t we play in fa cup mid week
No Fred – I think our next game is Saturday against Newcastle in the FA Cup.
Unless they’re messing around with the fixtures because of Covid
Ok rocky I mixed up the thought mid week was fa and weekend was league but it the other way around weekend fa and next mid week league
Dang that was the shot/cross that Auba is so good at getting onto!
Why isn’t Auba throwing the kitchen sink at these crosses?
Yea he moving so lazy
What a great goal! Tierney…..
Tesco to the Rescue!
Not that we need rescuing – we’ve been looking good.
TBH I think Auba did as well as he could to get on the end of those crosses.
Are we sure we’re not misspelling Tierney … should it be Thierry
Tierney for Captain, now
And there you see the future of the Arsenal: Saka and Smith Rowe. What a great playing relationship they have. And well done Laca – great pre-asssist.
Saka goal reminds me of our goal against Leicester
That second goal was pure poetry. Laca, ESR and Saka … the yoof is showing the way again.
One more goal and get Saka rapped up in a warm duvet.
Well that was pretty good first half.
The conditions are deteriorating – the players slipping and the ball holding up in the slushy grass.
We’ll need to be careful when we’re knocking it around at the back in the second half. I’d prefer to see Leno and the defenders go lock more often that not.
Great attacking performance, pressing the ball all over the pitch and winning the 50/50s. The game is far from over … I wouldn’t like to be in range of Sam’s hairdryer just now.
Just want Mikel to be mindful that Bel is on yellow, and Saka and ESR do not need to play all 90…..
Playing quite well, and wish Auba would have scored to get him feeling it again!
What can Arsenal do to get another goal?
Sam’s more like Fred Flintstone…..
Ha – there will be some Barney rubble in the dressing room at HT
Sloppy start to second half. Come on boys, this game is far from won.
Tierney Henry, Mesut Smith-Rowe, and Dennis Saka doing the business.
I am guessing there is a concern about a second yellow with Bellerin.
Surely Mikel wouldn’t let A M-N go to Athletico Madrid, having almost found the key that opens him!!
Well done Laca. He deserves a goal.
That was some wild pressure. Well deserved.
Switch out the youth Mikel….
LBG it spr thierny
Would have liked martinelli to come on and get a goal
What a shot from willian awful
Well, that was a good night’s work.
Goals from open play, clean sheet, team play, what a start to 2021!
Excellent performances all round.
Didn’t expect a game quite so good.
I am glad that Martinelli was kept safe and warm.
I only have sky, so could not see the match.
I am pleased to see that Arteta seems to have taken note of what so many are saying and is changing his style to match the players and what is really needed.
This was WBA, so we should not get too carried away.
Let us see how he sets up the team to play a better opponent.
After the FA Cup it’s Palace and Newcastle at the Ems….
Could it be 5 PL wins on the bounce? I wonder how we’d look going into some big games on the back of that?
Isn’t confidence a wonderful thing!?
He used the same set up against Chelsea jj. I would consider them a better opponent.
Better opponents like who Chelsea,
Fabulous performance in difficult conditions. Ceballos for Elneny was an improvement. Aubas body language at the end was not great. He stopped running and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, there’s no point I can’t score however hard I try. Bring in Partey and get Auba back scoring and I’ll begin to believe we can bag a European place.
Mikel has stuck to his principles and he’s been bold with his team selection. It was always right to stick with him. He’s inherited some players we should never have bought in the first place.
I love a game where there are several contenders for MOTM.
I’d say it’s between KT, Saka, Laca and Holding ( it probably goes to one of the first three given it was a dominant attacking display).
If we could vote for Arsenal captain then Tierney would get my vote all day. He just gives a shit. It feels like it’s been a while since we had a player like that. Also, LB is definitely his best position. He’s too good going forward to be wasted as a LCB. Best crosser in our team by a mile.
ESR, Martinelli and Saka are the future, but Tierney could be the one who leads them through and keeps them grounded.
Agreed FGG – Tierney is a wasted in a centre three.
It seems like we have Saka’s optimum position nailed down as well. Boy is he a good and fearless player.
Holding deserves credit as well for yet another really strong game. I’m sure we all have our doubts about him when it comes to facing the top strikers in the league, but alongside Gabriel (who has speed in his game) he can be a very important player.
And finally the much maligned Xhaka had a very good game apart from one of his toddler tumble attempts to win a FK which the ref rightly ignored and WBA nearly scored.
What are the thoughts on Mari? Seems a really calm figure at the back and is capable of playing in this team. I imagine going forward he’s no more than cover for Gabriel, but I like him. I’m also interested to see how Luiz slots back in this side. Usually he’s a left sided CB, but with Gabriel starting so well and Mari showing he can do a job, I wonder if he’ll get back in. Holding seems to have the right sided CB position down for now and Mustafi would be his cover. Can Luiz, Gabriel or Mari play there if needed?
GoonerB. You are correct, but Chel$ki did not see it coming and were prepared for the previous wing attack style. Once the 2 goals went in, they were knocked for six and unable to respond.
Let us now see a better team come prepared if Arteta persists with this.
I would give credit to Arteta to realise that he had to change, although I am not convinced that the changes for the Chel$ki games were not forced on him and he then found that it worked.
The 2nd goal was pure Wengerball, just like when the Exile was there in the middle doing the passes that ESR did.
Thank you Gunners, thank you Mikel! A great way to celebrate a new year and my Birthday weekend.
Hopefully the abhorrent “horseshoe” of 2020 condemned to oblivion and the vibrant freshness of youth here to stay. ( And Thomas P and Gabriel waiting in the wings to push out the dead wood for good) Life is fine!
Morning all, unable to watch game only seen highlights. What I saw was good. Tierney and Saka really coming into their own and ESR well he has got the goods.
Good to see Lacazette linking up well amongst Saka and ESR. And love Tierney’s cross for Lacas second, basically made it impossible for anyone to miss.
Still question whether much has changed in the way Arteta is asking them to play or whether the players are just doing it right now. From what I saw of the goals that was play without fear.
I voted for Thierry as motm on because he got us started
And once Aubameyang gets his confidence back I expect to see those exact type of goals from him
Yea hope he keeps up the great crossing I use to wonder for a while if he could put in a good one
Besides kolasinac and saliba who else leaving in transfer window
Happy belated LBG