Missed Chances May Cost Us: Benfica Report & Ratings

February 19, 2021
‘Moses’ Saka parts a red sea of defenders

I don’t know how you feel about omens, but last time we faced Benfica in European competition we drew 1-1 in the away leg only to lose 1-3 in the home tie.

That was in November 1991. Less than six months earlier George Graham’s Arsenal team had celebrated a dominant league title triumph, losing only one game all season.

We were so good that many of us felt that 1991-92 could be the year for us to finally lift the European Cup (for you youngsters, that’s the trophy now known as the Champions League). But it was not to be. Despite scoring our away goal we could not get on top of the Portuguese in the home leg at Highbury and lost in extra time. I was there and it was a miserable night.

People say: ‘history repeats itself.’ I prefer this version: ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes.’ Let’s hope it’s not too close a rhyme next Thursday night when we play the second leg in our home ground of, er, Athens. (By the way, given the amount of Arsenal supporters from the North London Greek community I think we can look on Athens as a spiritual home fixture).

For the ‘away’ leg Mikel Arteta took the highly unusual step of naming an unchanged team, presumably encouraged greatly by our first half display against Leeds United at the weekend.

But where Saturday’s performance was characterised by clinical finishing, last night’s was all about missed chances. On another evening we would have come out victors by a three or four goal margin. Aubameyang missed a sitter early in the first half and had other half-decent chances. Other players had opportunities but couldn’t convert.

A 1-1 scoreline is not at all bad for an ‘away’ leg in European competition but it still leaves us with plenty to do.

Fortunately, we showed enough attacking verve to give us hope that we won’t see a repeat of 1991. Benfica were extremely well organised and had a superbly drilled back line whose offside trap reminded me of those long-gone George Graham years, but we still managed to carve them open numerous times.

At the other end they barely threatened and their goal came from a very soft penalty. Soft not because I am disputing the decision, but because it was one of those situations where a ball is booted at a player from a mere couple of feet away and hits his arm before he can do anything about it.

I thought our stand-out performers were Smith Rowe, who was a constant thorn in their sound down our left flank; Saka (who added another few million quid to his value with our equaliser); and the Luiz-Gabriel axis, which marshalled the defence very well.

I pick out Saka even though he was kept fairly quiet for large parts of the game. Benfica had clearly studied hours and hours of tape of our young star and worked out a highly sophisticated plan to stop him. It amounted to this instruction to ex-Spud defender Jan Vertonghen: “Jan, every time he gets the ball, kick him.”

Despite the big Belgian being all over him like Rooney on a granny, and despite the usual lack of protection from the ref for the constant fouling, Saka still found ways to influence the game in our favour, including getting the vital away goal.

Aubameyang will be frustrated that he did not add to his recent goal scoring run (five in his last two starts before last night). All you can say is that at least he got into positions where you would normally expect him to find the back of the net.

We will go into the return leg as deserved favourites to progress. Given that this competition is our only chance of silverware (and that the prize of a Champions League place is huge) let’s hope we don’t end up regretting last night’s misses.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

Made one good save, had no chance with the well-taken penalty but was mostly untroubled.

Bellerin – 6.5

Tried to contribute to our right-side attack and made some good surging runs forward, but seemed reluctant to feed the ball inside to Odegaard and at other times was not on the same wavelength as Saka.

Luiz – 7.5

Physically strong, read the game well and was happy to clear it long if Benfica’s high press looked like causing us problems.

Gabriel – 7.5

With his CB partner, gave the Benfica forwards barely a sniff.

Cedric – 7

A very typical Ced performance. Plenty of effort and good work; some wayward passing and crossing. But he got the assist for our goal.

Xhaka – 7

One Xhakatastic moment of madness almost cost us dearly, when he played an idiotic long ball across our penalty area straight to a Benfica forward, but apart from that he maintained his very good recent form. Made one terrific sliding tackle in the box.

Ceballos – 7

I felt Dani slowed us down at times, but I may be being harsh and perhaps the right balls weren’t on for him. Nevertheless he did get us forward well for our equaliser and his work rate and tackling are seldom in doubt.

Saka – 7.5

Got our vital away goal and never gave up trying to make things happen despite the man-marking by Vertonghen. His dribbling skills broke the Benfica defence several times and, with a fraction more composure, he might well have had a second goal to his name.

Odegaard – 7

Looks good whenever he’s on the ball (and when he’s off it). Excellent speed of thought and play. Along with Saka and Smith Rowe, Martin helps speed up our play, which is vital for success at the highest level.

Smith Rowe – 8 (MoTM)

I love watching this lad play. His touch is sublime, he is brave and he is fast (both of foot and of brain). To think how good he is at this young age is to get really excited about our future prospects.

Aubameyang – 6

Should have put us ahead early in the first half. He knows it. He’ll probably score against Man City at the weekend.

SUBS

Tierney – 7

Great to see Tesco back and for him to get some minutes before facing Man City on Sunday. He looked as good as ever apart from one misplaced cross. The fact that it was such a surprise to see his attempted cross go straight out of play is testament to how good he is.

Martinelli – 6.5

Came on in the 77th minute. His intent was obvious from the start but Benfica had shut up shop by that stage and it was hard to make chances.

Pepe – 6.5

Came on with Martinelli. Had a few decent moments but nothing quite came off for him.

Elneny & Willian – N/A

Came on at the very end for who-knows-what reason.

RockyLives


The Benfica Dilemma: Go for it? Or Play it Safe? Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

February 18, 2021
Not Portugal. Or England.

The Europa League is our last chance of tangible success this season.

An amazing run in the league could get us into the top six or even challenging for a top four spot, but you’d have to be wearing very rose tinted glasses to place much store in that eventuality.

So that means that if we really want something to cheer, we’re going to have to win the Europa League… and that’s a tall task. It’s not that we don’t have the footballing talent to win it, more than there is a hell of a long way to go and any team needs the rub of the green to win a cup competition.

This is the round of 32, remember. With two-legged fixtures all the way except the final that means we’d have to get through 11 more games to lift the cup.

So, with Manchester City waiting for us on Sunday in the league, how should Mikel Arteta approach his team selection for tonight?

The logic would indicate that this competition should take priority, since if we win it we (a) get to drink a lot and celebrate a trophy (b) qualify for next year’s Champions’ League (a huge prize) and (c) get to laugh our socks off at the noisy neighbours (again).

But my suspicion is that El Patron is still wearing the old rose tinted spectacles as far as the league is concerned and will try to have it both ways, by putting out a fairly strong team in Rome but also keeping some key players back for Sunday.

At the time of writing, Tierney is back in training but Partey is still out. Everyone else is available. I can’t see Tierney being rushed back – he’s one of our most important players and has been struggling with niggling injuries ever since arriving in N5.

So what sort of starting line-up does that leave us with? Benfica are no pushover, even if their league form in Portugal has been indifferent since the start of 2021 (five defeats, one draw and only two wins in their last eight) so we certainly won’t be putting out a second-string eleven.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan given another outing in goal and Holding’s absence from the starting line-up against Leeds likely indicates a Holding-Mari partnership at centre back. Pepe will surely start, having been relegated to the bench last weekend. We could see Martinelli but I think he’ll be on the bench.

Here’s the team I expect:

Ryan

Chambers – Holding- Mari – Cedric

Xhaka – Elneny

Pepe – Odegaard – Aubameyang

Lacazette

I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if I was miles out with that guess, but you never know.

If I’m close to being correct, then the starting eleven to face Man City (assuming Partey is still out) would be:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Smith Rowe – Pepe

Aubameyang

Whatever the personnel, here’s hoping an English club can beat a Portuguese one in an “away” fixture in Italy. What strange times we live in.

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLives


51 Uses for a Willian

February 16, 2021
Rollercoaster tester?
  1. Ceiling duster.
  2. Ornamental tree.
  3. Door stop.
  4. Traffic beacon.
  5. Hat stand.
  6. Microphone.
  7. Christmas tree ornament.
  8. Car dashboard toy.
  9. Snow depth marker.
  10. Actor in a Jackson Five biopic.
  11. Lamp stand.
  12. Maritime buoy.
  13. Fluffer.
  14. Music conductor (‘s baton).
  15. Key ring.
  16. Hitching post.
  17. Van Der Graaf Generator demonstrator.
  18. Bird’s nest.
  19. Footman in Bridgerton.
  20. Clerk of the court.
  21. Drumstick.
  22. Mr Bobblehead action figure.
  23. Torpedo tube polisher.
  24. Supermarket sign holder.
  25. Make-up brush.
  26. Window cleaner.
  27. Cathedral gargoyle.
  28. Catwalk model.
  29. Star Wars extra.
  30. Bitcoin miner.
  31. Elon Musk ‘mission to Mars’ volunteer.
  32. Riverdance chorus boy.
  33. Member of Parliament.
  34. Bog snorkeller.
  35. Rollercoaster tester.
  36. Snake milker.
  37. E-sports professional.
  38. Hair double for Sideshow Bob.
  39. Windsock.
  40. Butler.
  41. Dog walker.
  42. Garden gnome.
  43. Water feature.
  44. Aileron.
  45. Celebrity Love Island contestant.
  46. John Terry’s food taster.
  47. American Picker.
  48. Beefeater.
  49. Flower arranger.
  50. Children’s party entertainer (clown).
  51. Dynamic attacking footballer in the Premier League.

Sorry about No. 51 – it was a joke.

And yes, I know I’m being hard on poor, out-of-form Willian. I would like nothing better than for him to remember how to play football and start contributing goals and assists for The Arsenal.

But if he can’t do that (soon), then any of 1 to 50 works just fine for me…

RockyLives


Smith Röwdegaard: the Answer to our Dreams?

February 16, 2021
Be still my beating heart

I was not alone in being surprised by Mikel Arteta’s team selection for the Leeds game on Sunday.

When we signed Martin Odegaard on loan I imagined he would be back-up for Emile Smith Rowe, but a back-up who would get plenty of game time because of the need to not overplay ESR.

What I did not expect was for them to line up alongside each other as they did at the weekend, especially when we had other attacking players like Pepe, Martinelli and (oh dear) Willian available.

But it worked. What’s more, the way both young men played was incredibly pleasing on the eye: fast, intelligent movement, first time passes, cheeky little moments of skill and control.

Watching them you realised you were watching Rolls Royce footballers – players who have perfect touch and control and are also half a second ahead of anyone else on the pitch in their reading of the game.

If a persistent problem for Arsenal (not just this season but going back several years) has been unpicking defences when teams ‘park the bus’, then our blonde-on-blonde twin pivot are exactly the tool needed to pick the lock.

Of course there’s a big proviso. If we commit to playing them both on a regular basis, does this mean we will lack defensive solidity and stability. On Sunday Xhaka and Ceballos did an excellent job of controlling midfield in the first half and I don’t see why that combo, or Xhaka-Partey could not give us the sound platform needed to unleash the Röwdegaard on a regular basis.

If we wanted to be really daring we could put Röwdegaard behind a front striker (Auba or Laca), with two wide attacking players as well (Saka and Pepe, for example). But that would require a defensive midfielder of incredible discipline and ability – a Gilberto Silva if you like – and I’m not sure we have that person in our ranks at the moment.

We saw against Leeds how difficult the Röwdegaard can make it for opposition defenders (with Saka playing a huge part as well, of course). The problems our attack-minded young players caused the defenders in that game meant there was more space for Aubameyang to play in as well.

ESR and Odegaard are both young and in many ways still learning their trade, but if they fulfil their potential then it would be like having Bergkamp and Ozil starting in the same team; or Fabregas and Brady. Am I getting too carried away? What do you think? How would you line up our attacking options?

RockyLives


PEA Super – Auba Hat Trick Downs Leeds: Report & Ratings

February 15, 2021
Yes, Pierre, you can keep the ball

A blistering 47 minutes of entertaining football from an attack-minded Arsenal team blew Leeds United away at the Emirates yesterday and secured our first win in four league games.

An Aubameyang hat trick – welcome back Captain! – a full debut for Odegaard and a performance of great bravery and maturity from Saka all contributed to a return of the feel good factor.

After 47 minutes, when we were 4-0 up, we allowed the visitors to get back in the game. Whether we got over-confident or Leeds just finally got their act together is hard to say, but when they pulled it back to 4-2 many a bottom lip was nervously quivering among the Arsenal faithful.

Most of us still remember the awful day when we blew a 4-0 lead away at Newcastle United (mostly thanks to an utterly inept display of refereeing by ‘Fat’ Phil Dowd). But despite one or two close shaves we saw this one home safe, so this is a day for focusing on the positives, of which there were many.

First and foremost was the return to form (and exuberance) of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang: club captain, goal scorer extraordinaire and, of late, a shadow of his former self. Today the sun shone (metaphorically), the shadow disappeared and we got the real thing. Whatever private travails have been troubling him seemed banished – he just looked happier.

Did the goals bring back the happiness or did the happiness bring back the goals? I’ll leave that one for the philosophers among you. What certainly played a part was Mikel Arteta’s decision to start him as the central striker.

I have generally been against using Auba in that role because, frankly, it has seldom worked in the past, leaving the player isolated and unable to influence the game. Yesterday it did work. Why? The key is in the players supporting him in that role. Previously he would be relying on the likes of Elneny, Xhaka, Willock and Willian to create openings for him, but in the very attacking Arsenal line-up that Arteta put out yesterday he was supported by some really positive players: Smith Rowe, Saka, Odegaard, Ceballos.

With that superabundance of creativity, the captain was not left exposed because (a) the quick passing and movement between those players managed to repeatedly break the lines of the Leeds defenders and (b) those defenders could not double up on Auba while other men in red and white were dancing through their ranks like acrobats.

Auba’s first goal came from a familiar position: cutting into the box from the left flank and scoring with his right foot. His step-overs confused the Leeds defender and he surprised the goalkeeper by shooting low in the left hand corner (the ‘keeper’s right).

Soon after that the outstanding Saka jinked into the box only for a Leeds defender to run across him without making any contact with the ball and barge him to the ground: clear penalty (as the referee also thought). Cue the VAR review. The ref was called to ‘take a look at the monitor’ and, lo and behold, he changed his mind. Utterly disgraceful, because the ref is supposed to be called to the monitor only when there is a clear and obvious error, which was most definitely not the case here.

But Saka would not be denied and, minutes later, he chased down the young opposition ‘keeper, who ended up fouling our striker in the box. This one was so blatant that even the VAR officials were too embarrassed to try to overturn it.

Auba hammered a perfect penalty into the side netting – two nil. The third came from a clever ball across the penalty area from Aubameyang, leading to some lovely neat pass-and-move involving Smith Rowe, Bellerin, Ceballos and back to Bellerin again to drive the ball home. As the half time whistle blew I thought we’d seen the best half of football by Arsenal this season. We have had some other good spells, but they were marred by not taking our chances – this time we took them.

Within two minutes of the restart we were four up. Smith Rowe picked out Aubameyang at the back post for an unchallenged header. The TV pundits said it was a misguided shot from Emile. I watched his body language carefully and, to me, it clearly looks like he saw his captain and decided to pick him out. He certainly has the ability to do just that and is also, I feel, a player who more naturally sees himself as a provider than a goalscorer, making the intended pass the more likely probability.

Leeds finally woke up and pulled one back with a powerful header from Struijk (who managed to lose Luiz). That was on 58 minutes. Ten minutes later they got a second through Costa. By this stage Willian had been brought on for Smith Rowe. The hapless Brazilian failed to press along with his team mates, allowing Leeds to break forward quickly and grab a goal.

Cue some nervous moments with a couple of Leeds efforts going close and Luiz making one terrific block in the penalty area. If Leeds had got a third I dread to think what might have happened. But we held firm and banked the points.

A good day.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

No real chance with the goals, made a couple of good stops when called on.

Bellerin – 7

Took his goal well and linked up well with the forwards at times, but (somewhat typically) was left exposed defensively a few times.

Luiz – 7

Probably should have done better on Leeds’ first goal and had low passing accuracy (mainly through having to hoof it long when Leeds were pressing). But his defending was pretty solid.

Gabriel – 7.5

A decent performance. He seems to have shaken off the post-injury rust.

Cedric – 7

Tested the Leeds ‘keeper with a wicked shot and did pretty well on both the defensive and offensive ends, without being spectacular.

Xhaka – 7.5

Who would have thought Granit would turn into such a steady and reliable player? The metronome in our midfield.

Ceballos – 7.5

A positive selection from Arteta. Dani had a good game and linked well with the talented youngsters ahead of him (and with Auba of course).

Smith Rowe – 7.5

Speed of thought, speed of feet, speed of passing. I love watching this kid. He was not always in the thick of the action but whatever “it” is, he has it. Also did some excellent tracking back when Leeds had possession.

Odegaard – 7

A fine full debut from the loanee, who looks like a class act. I did not imagine him and Smith Rowe starting together, but between them they could be a devastatingly effective twin pivot to unpick even the most recalcitrant of defences.

Saka – 8

I’m running out of superlatives for Bukayo. It’s not just that he runs, passes and dribbles so well. It’s that he does it in ways and in places that really affect the game. Should have had two penalties, not one. Was a thorn in the Leeds side for the whole match.

Aubameyang – 9

A great ‘Gentleman’s Hat Trick’ (one from open play, one from a dead ball and one from a header). He has scored five in his last two starts. If he’s back to the Auba we know and love so well for the rest of the season that’s (literally) a game changer for us.

SUBS

Willian – 4

As others have said, he just seems to suck the energy out of the team whenever he comes on.

Elneny – 6.5

Came on on 78 minutes and was his usual tidy, industrious self. Contributed to us safely seeing out the game.

Holding – N/A

Got a couple of minutes at the end to help shore up the defence.

RockyLives


Time to Win Again: Leeds Pre-match & Predicted Line-Up

February 14, 2021
Our biggest threat today

After managing zero points in two games from which we should have taken at least four and possibly all six, we’re about to go on a run of challenging fixtures.

We entertain Leeds United today, then we have Benfica away, Manchester City at home, Benfica at home then Leicester away.

So that’s two very important Europa League games (important because that competition is our only chance of salvaging anything from this season) sandwiched between three difficult league games.

In that context today’s visitors represent the “easy” game of the bunch – and it’s vital that we get back to winning ways.

I have written before about the self destructive gene that lurks deep in the current Arsenal DNA. We’re capable of digging a hole, falling into it, heroically climbing our way out with much effort and determination, then slipping on a banana skin and falling straight back down the hole.

Results like the ones against Wolves and Aston Villa really are the pits. In both games we showed some of the footballing class that has dragged our disappointing season back into life. But in both games we also found those banana skins.

Until the players make clear to each other what is acceptable and what’s not, setbacks like those experienced at Wolves and Villa will continue to happen.

That fragility (where two steps forward are always followed by one step back, a trip and a fall down another hole) has been around for years now and I’m not sure how we exorcise it. It is undoubtedly something to do with collective discipline, focus and determination and while those qualities can be inculcated to some degree by the coaches, they really have to come from the players themselves.

But that’s enough negativity. Our good spells – even in those two defeats – are cause for optimism. At times we have played ‘top four’ football and if we click today we should be too good for Leeds.

Partey and Tierney are both still out with injuries, but Leno and Luiz are available again after their one match suspensions (the less said about that the better). We can assume that the German will be back between the sticks after Mat Ryan’s excellent debut last weekend, but whether Luiz gets an instant recall is an interesting question.

I can see why Mikel Arteta picks him so often: he is experienced and much of his play is really good. But you always feel he’s prone to a custard pie moment at any point in any game, as his red and yellow card stats show, as well as the amount of penalties he has given away.

There are certainly alternatives. Gabriel was outstanding until his injury, although he has been rusty since returning; Mari did not do a lot wrong during his run in the team.

Tierney’s continued absence may mean another outing for Cedric at left back, or we could see Saka switched to that position.

There are other difficult choices for El Patron in midfield (where he has to decide who will partner Xhaka in the absence of Partey) and up front, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of attacking options.

For the midfield I would feel more comfortable with Elneny and Xhaka together but I fancy Arteta will give Ceballos a go. Dani can be really influential but he also fades out of games for periods, so if he does start today he’ll need to be fully focused.

Up front I think Arteta will make his selection headache easier by switching Saka to left back and starting the sort-of in-form Pepe up front. Our most productive area is likely to be the interplay between the advancing Saka, Smith Rowe, Lacazette and Pepe.

Odegaard and Mrtinelli are solid attacking options on the bench. If Willian gets anywhere near the pitch I will weep.

Here’s the team I think El Patron will pick:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Saka

Xhaka – Ceballos

Pepe – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

It will be a hard fought game and if we come out on top I suspect it will be by a single goal. Taking our chances and avoiding banana skins are the orders of the day.

Come on you Gunners!

RockyLives


Loan watch

February 12, 2021
Image result for Saliba Willock

SALIBA – The new Varane or the new Squilacci?

Saliba, a highly touted and well regarded young central defender, who has been recruited for 20+ Mln but has yet to feature for us. Currently in Nice where he is doing rather well after a very slow start. He has played in a back 3 and a back 4 and has been able to accommodate. He has recently spoken out about his disappointment at not being given a chance by Arteta – not sure it was smart to do so…Clearly a talented CB but clearly not as talented as Fofana…What do we do with him? We could ship him out easily this summer at no loss. We could also keep him and hope that he will grow with us and be part of our CB options along with Holding, Gabriel, Mari and eventually Luiz and Chambers..So what do we do: Keep / Loan out again next year / Sell

KOLASINACAuf Wiedersehen!

The writing is on the wall for Kola. He has been a good soldier for us, plenty of promise the first year but then, physical issues and lack of adaptation to the defensive rigor required in the EPL. So: Thank you and good bye.

TORREIRAAdios amigo?

A player that had a decent start of life at Arsenal before dipping in the pecking order. Definitely a fighting character and an OK midfielder but is he good enough to be part of our midfield options? Not sure. He is not used too much by Atletico. What do you think: Keep or Sell?

GUENDOUZIDr. Ramsey and Mr. Song?

A divisive player in all clubs he joined. Clearly a big character and a big potential but is his ego stopping his evolution? Rather solid everywhere: getting the ball back, driving the ball, passing the ball. A lack of discipline on the pitch too…Is he one of those players that get axed in bug clubs because of being divas? So: Keep or Sell?

AMNA Loan to grow or a prelude to departure?

A fan’s favourite I would say. A cool cucumber and always a positive attitude on the pitch. But has been hampered in his progress, by injuries and maybe his versatility. He is now playing in midfield at WBA on loan. Let us see how he fares. So do we believe in him or do we let him go?

WILLOCKThe last chance

Willock, an exceptional player in our youth set-up like Nketiah in a way. A positive start at AFC and then it seems that the EPL became a bit too big for him. He is now at Newcastle and hoping to show that he can compete at EPL level. He started brightly at Newcastle but let us see what he does until the end of the year…So do you believe that we will keep him or sell him?


Holding, AMN, Saka to the Euro with England?

February 10, 2021
Image result for Saka Holding England

Let us hope that the Euro takes place this year…In case it does, do you think that any of our English players would make it on Southgate’s team?

Rob Holding – CB –

The competition there includes Stones, Gomes, Maguire, Dier, Mings, Coady, Keane and eventually K. Walker. That is a lot of players but Holding is in form. Does Southgate rate him? Not sure…

Assessment – Probably in the reserve team but will not go to the Euro

AMN – Wing Back

The competition there includes Trent-Arnold, Walker, Trippier, Bissaka, Reece James, Chilwell, Luke Shaw and Saka too.

I think on the right side of the pitch, it is almost impossible. On the left side, there might be a place to take as Shaw is not guaranteed a spot whereas Chilwell is. Now, Southgate may decide to only take 7 defenders in total and to bank on Saka as a player that can play in this position as well…

Assessment – Will miss out the team and the reserve team too. Will not go to the Euro.

Saka – FW/Wingback

The wingback competition was listed above and up front, there is Sterling, Sancho, Greenwood, Rashford, Hudson-Odoi and you can include Grealish and Foden to the list too..So very touch indeed.

I think Saka’s card to play is that he can play on both sides and as a wingback and as a forward. So his versatility will be well appreciated by Southgate in the end. As Southgate will need to accommodate his attacking talent and I think he will take less defenders…

Assessment – Will go to the Euro if he stays fit.

So what’s your take on our players’ chances to join England at the Euro?

Here is my predicted group for England, barring injuries:

Henderson, Pickford, Pope

Bissaka, Trent-Arnold, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Mings, Chilwell, Saka

Rice, Dier, Henderson, Mount

Sterling, Sancho, Grealish, Maddison or Foden

Kane, Rashford, Greenwood, Lewin


Poldi, Tormeister? Another under-rated player?

February 8, 2021
Image result for Podolski shirtless arsenal
This picture is for Sue as she requested to see Poldi, shirtless.

So we were talking about Depay earlier and how he could be an interesting recruit for us and then I thought, did we have a similar player in our team in the last 10 years? And the only name that came to my mind was Podolski, although Podolski played more as a forward-striker than Depay.

Also, I was thinking about German players that played for us or players that joined us from Germany as we were saying goodbye to Ozil, Sokratis, Mustafi recently and, again, Podolski came to my mind. Like Ozil, Metersacker and Mustafi, Podolski was part of the German squad that won the World Cup in 2014.

Podolski played 60 EPL games for us, scoring 19 times and assisting 11 assists. So one goal or assist every 2 games BUT…scored 11 goals and delivered 9 assists in his first season and scored 8 goals and 2 assists in his second season. He also played a key role of FA Cup win in 2014, thereby contributing to ending our trophy drought.

Overall, Poldi scored 31 goals and delivered 17 assists in 82 games across all competitions including 8 goals and 1 assist in 12 Champions League games.

So was Poldi under-rated when he left us by both clubs and fans? Do you miss his left foot and his excitement when he scored a goal? And for @Sue – do you miss his looks?

Anyways…how do you feel about Poldi?


ARS-Cov-2 Virus Downs Gunners – Vaccine Urgently Needed: Villa Report & Ratings

February 7, 2021
Too late, we’ve already tested positive: for Self-Destructivitis

*It’s your lucky (or unlucky!) day today: not one match report from AA but two. You can find RC’s report (first posted last night) here: https://arsenalarsenal.net/2021/02/06/saving-private-arsenal and here’s the second one…

An old disease has returned to haunt Arsenal.

In the later Arsene Wenger period, through most of Unai Emery’s reign and on occasion during the Mikel Arteta era we have suffered from the virus of self destructiveness.

We don’t need opponents in order to lose games: we’re perfectly capable of losing them all on our own.

The symptoms of this disease include mystifying defensive mix-ups, an abundance of red cards and penalties conceded, suicidal goalkeeping and own goals.

In our good run of form since Christmas I had allowed myself to believe that we were finally shaking off the ailment; that whatever treatment had been stumbled upon by Arteta and his assistants was beginning to work.

Alas it was a false dawn.

In the last two games we have lost twice because we were outplayed by Arsenal. At Wolves Arsenal beat us by giving away an unnecessary penalty and reducing our ranks to first 10, then nine men. Yesterday at Aston Villa Arsenal beat us by gifting the opposition a goal in the opening two minutes.

We’ve seen it all before, of course, you know the type of thing: bad defending that leaves our centre backs flat footed as an opposition striker bears down on goal, forcing the former to rugby tackle the latter; miscommunications of the “After you, Claude” variety where two of our players inexplicably agree to let an opponent walk between them and take the ball; always managing to get a vital toe on the ball when it’s heading towards goal (vital for the opposition, that is, in order to deflect it past our ‘keeper).

Please can Pfizer, or AstraZeneca or Moderna or Johnson & Johnson come up with a vaccination that immunises against self-inflicted stupidity?

I was really looking forward to yesterday’s game, but once we gifted a goal to Villa my heart sank. We really pick our moments, don’t we? Here it was the opening minute so that we get the energy sucked out of us before we’ve even started; at Wolves it was a few seconds before half time when we looked to be going in one up, then immediately after the restart so that whatever we’d planned at half time went straight out the window…

It makes me wonder why we keep pressing the self destruct button. The best teams don’t do it (or they do it so rarely that it’s an aberration, not a case of ‘here we go again’).

Are we lacking a Tony Adams to pin players up against the wall of the dressing room after the match and warn them that if they ever do that again they will be needing a visit to the dentist? Do we need a psychology coach to help our players concentrate better? What is it?

It’s not as if we didn’t start with an exciting line-up yesterday. Apart from the absences of Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno we had arguably our strongest possible team out.

And if KT had been there I doubt we would have conceded the Villa goal. Cedric, a right footer playing left back, tried to cushion a pass back towards Gabriel, whom he’d seen start to move towards him. For some reason Gabriel changed his mind and moved away so that Cedric’s pass failed to reach him and Traore nipped in and collected the ball for Villa.

I’m not sure who was more at fault out of the two of them, but it was certainly a Classic Arsenal Miscommunication  in the time-honoured tradition.

The only thing you can say for conceding so early is that you have plenty of time to put the damage right but, as I’ve mentioned, the Villa goal seemed to discombobulate us. Whatever instructions the players had had drummed into their heads pre-game were immediately rendered redundant.

As the first half wore on we got into the game and occasionally threatened but, as El Patron pointed out afterwards, our decision making in and around the box was extremely poor. I thought Pepe in particular had a frustrating game: he was doing lots of good things to create dangerous situations but invariably fluffed his lines at the crucial moment (shooting when he should have passed, passing when he should have shot, running into defenders and losing the ball, over-hitting crosses). And don’t me get started on our dead ball situations.

Elsewhere on the pitch we were misplacing a lot of passes (even booting the ball straight out for throw-ins on at least three occasions that I can recall, two of them by Thomas Partey).

To their credit Villa defended very well and always looked dangerous on the break with Grealish, Barkley and Watkins.

Our best chance to share the points came from a Xhaka free kick which was beautifully placed into the top corner of the goal… and was brilliantly saved by our FA Cup hero Martinez (naturally). It looked to me like one of those shots that, had it gone in, would have been described by the commentators as unstoppable. But our old back-up custodian stopped it.

At the other end Mat Ryan, on his debut, had a very decent outing. He had no chance with the Villa goal because of an unlucky deflection off Holding, but he made several good stops and seems to have a knack for getting distance on the ball when he pushes it away (Leno please note).

Aubameyang replaced Lacazette for a half-hour of complete anonymity; Odegaard came on for Cedric on 65 minutes and for reasons known only to himself, Arteta brought on Willian when Partey went off injured with a quarter of an hour to go. Why not bring on Martinelli, who at least tries? Willian’s first contribution was to get to the by line and put the ball out for a Villa goal kick. Thereafter he did his usual trick of probing with the ball for a while before passing backwards.

I never thought we would score and we didn’t. We should have had at least four points from the week just gone, instead we have none.

Bring on the vaccination.

Player Ratings

Ryan – 7

One of the few bright spots. Made some good saves, displayed fast, accurate distribution skills and came out well for a cross at one point. Looked solid.

Bellerin – 5

Hector got forward a lot but lost possession carelessly too many times and did not seem on the same wavelength as Saka and Smith Rowe. His defending was reasonably good but he has to be better when helping the attack.

Holding – 5.5

Probably should have got closer to Watkins for the Villa goal and made some careless errors. Not up to his own recent standard.

Gabriel – 5.5

At least partially at fault for the goal, but competed reasonably well thereafter.

Cedric – 5

On his wrong side again, but he shares the blame for the Villa goal and was uncharacteristically sloppy with his passing.

Xhaka – 6.5

One of our better performers. Always looks good on the ball and tried to get us moving forward.

Partey – 6

Bit of an in-and-out game for Thomas. Some wildly mis-hit passes, but also some strong play in the middle of the park until pulling up with injury. Let’s hope it’s not too serious.

Saka – 7

Singled out for brutal rotational fouling by the Villa players and given very little protection by a weak referee, but Bukayo got up from every foul and got straight back into the action. He tried really hard and was part of our best moves, but couldn’t find a way through the Villa defence.

Smith Rowe – 7

We saw plenty of his lovely movement, control, interplay and passing. Had a decent chance that was blocked in the six yard box. A more experienced player would probably have gone down for a penalty as he was being fouled.

Pepe – 6

Plenty of effort and some good skill, but frustrating lack of end product.

Lacazette – 5.5

Seemed a bit lower energy than usual.

SUBS

Aubameyang – 3

Might as well not have bothered. His only real contribution was to play a beautifully cushioned pass into an attacking player who nearly scored. The problem was the attacking player was wearing claret and blue and he nearly scored for Villa. Whatever is going on with Auba needs to be sorted out or he needs to be kept away from the team.

Odegaard – 5.5

Looked slick on the ball and showed signs of linking up well with Smith Rowe and Saka. Had a good chance but blasted his shot over the bar. Nevertheless, it will be good to see more of him.

Willian – 4

More involved than the invisible Auba, but another immensely frustrating cameo. In a situation like this, where we are chasing a game, it surely has to be Martinelli every time. Even Nketiah. Willian currently offers nothing.

RockyLives