Leicester City would have risen to second in the Premier League if they had beaten us at the King Power stadium yesterday.
So the fact that we did not just beat them but that we bossed the game from the moment we went behind after six minutes to the final whistle is testament to how well we played.
You can point out that the Foxes were without the influential Maddison and that the in-form Barnes went off injured part way through: but we started without several first teamers including Saka, Aubameyang and Partey and we lost Emile Smith Rowe to injury during the match.
Defeats bring questions of one kind and victories bring questions of another kind. Here are five that arise from yesterday’s win.
Should Cedric Be First Choice at Right Back?
Cedric the Entertainer had a very good game, linking well with Pepe and looking generally secure defensively. We have debated Hector Bellerin’s performances on this blog at great length. He can be very influential but at other times his play seems to be “all sound and fury signifying nothing” to quote young Billy Shakespeare who played left back for Stratford Strollers over 400 years ago. On his current form I would start with Ced as first choice. I suspect that Arteta will not do so, partly because he will want to keep him in reserve as back-up to Kieran Tierney if the young Scot has another injury setback.
Smith Rowe or Odegaard in the Middle?
We got to see both of our putative central playmakers in their preferred position in this game. It’s an interesting contrast. ESR is all fast turns, clever flicks, one-touch passes round the corner and give-and-go moves to break the opposition defence. The Norwegian likes to spend more time on the ball, probing for the killer pass. They could certainly play in the same team and could well form a good understanding, although perhaps not if Smith Rowe is exiled to the left wing. However, if we had to chose one or the other for that central role I would go for ESR because he speeds up our play more than Odegaard. Even so, I’m very happy to have young Martin as back-up.
Is Xhaka Now the Most Underrated Player at Arsenal?
Granit’s time at Arsenal has been eventful to say the least, but this season he has played more minutes than anyone else and has put together a long run of utterly reliable performances. He is the metronome at the base of our midfield and I think a lot of his good work is ignored by fans because (a) we have baggage with him and (b) it is the unspectacular ‘water carrier’ work of closing down opponents, breaking up moves, occupying space and playing simple balls in possession.
When Do We Start with Laca and When Do We Start with Auba?
Obviously in some games we start with both, with Lacazette as the central striker and Aubameyang on the left wing, but increasingly Arteta seems to want to play one or the other. Is it a case of ‘it all depends on the opposition’? For example, against Leicester Lacazette got the nod. This may be partly because Auba played a full game in Greece on Thursday night, but it’s also possible that El Patron knew that Leicester like to sit deep and hit opponents on the break, meaning there would be less space for Auba to run into and more need of a link-up player like Laca. Is that how it will go for the rest of the season – Laca against teams likely to play with a dense defensive set-up and Auba against more expansive opponents?
What’s Our First Choice Centre Back Pairing When All Are Fit?
Rob Holding should return from his concussion absence next weekend so Arteta will have exactly this dilemma. Yesterday Luiz and Mari did very well apart from sloppiness with Leicester’s early goal. Against Benfica Luiz and Gabriel were surprisingly hesitant at times. Holding has put in a string of good performances. So which two are the first choices? Notwithstanding the Benfica wobble I still think it’s Luiz and Gabriel. That’s hard on Holding and Mari who have done little wrong, but I feel Luiz, for all his occasional moments of madness, offers a wealth of experience which is beginning to really make itself felt in games. The nice thing is that if the starting centre halves for our next game are Holding and Mari instead, I will look at the team sheet and think “OK, I’m fine with that.”
against high pressing team, Xhaka would eventually lose possession and lead to concede goals. This fellow cannot be trusted in possession, he would pass the ball to opponent in silly manners in the past. He needs 1 to 2 seconds more than usual footballers to execute his moves.
A nice set of choices that Arteta is facing. Competition for places always raises the bar.
The team looked like they enjoyed the win yesterday and the team spirit is rising.
How are Leicester 3rd? I know they had injuries, but they were rotten. It’s about time Big Nose got found out.
1. Based on recent form, I think Soares should be given the nod.
2. For me, ESR all day when fit. I also still believe that Ceballos could play in that position if ESR is not available. I am yet to be convinced by Odegaard although he is having a decent start as a Gunner. I would rather invest in Ceballos between the 2, even after the Benfica howler.
3. Xhaka is a new player since December but mistakes do creep in. He just has these mistakes in him. I think we should still keep him just because of his work rate. Is he still under-rated? I do not know. Are people still upset with his first few years with us and his fits at the end of last year? Yes. Do we have a better option than him at the moment? No.
4. I would start Laca in most games and would then play Auba on the left…but now we have new issues with the Willian resurgence…and Martinelli’s development. When would I not play Laca up front? When we are playing against high-lines and high-press teams. Then it makes sense to play Auba through the middle and to flank him with pacey wingers like Saka, Pepe, Martinelli.
5. When all fit, I think we should player Holding-Gabriel. I think Luiz-Mari are good back up but I would rather see Holding-Gabriel cement their partnership for the foreseeable future. Let us know forget we still have Mavropanos, Saliba on loan and Chambers that can help there as well. I think Mavro will be sold, Saliba loaned out another year, meaning that Holding, Gabriel, Luiz and Mari will be our CBs next season as well. I think Holding needs to improve still but with a better RB next to him, it will make his life easier. As for Gabriel, he is EPL ready since Day 1 but needs to also work on a few areas.
6. What do we do about Balogun, Nelsson and Nketiah this season?
7. Who will get the chop this summer? Mavro, Chambers, Kola, AMN, Willock, Nelsson, Pepe, Laca, Nketiah?
A) Leno – Soares, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Auba – Laca
B) Ryan – Chambers, Luiz, Mari – Bellerin, Ceballos, El Neny, Willian – Odegaard – Pepe, Martinelli
Thank you Rocky for another post!
Good Post, Rocky,
The unexpected choices that are becoming available throughout the team are surprising, but welcome.
I do not have any definitive alternatives to those you have posited.
I have always been sceptical about the value of Xhaka to the team, mainly because, as many others have said, he has a foul or a poor pass waiting to happen.
However, he has not stood out like a sore thumb in recent games because he has other attributes that benefit the attack, occasionally.
He will eventually fall foul of the referees, because whenever he dallies on the ball, or loses control, he goes into dive mode, and goes down like a sack of potatoes, falling on the ball, and clutching it to his chest.
It has worked for him more times than not, but the refs will work out what he is doing, and depending on where he does it, and gets caught, he could cost us a game.
I do not like divers, but all Premier League teams have their share of them, so until it unravels for Xhaka, I close my eyes and pretend he really was fouled, and then I can claim that Arsenal do not have cheating divers.
Thanks Rocky. Will answer them one by one.
I think that Belli and Soares should be played fairly equally this season but you are right about Soares being important to cover Tierney as well.
I missed the recent post on Belli but to me it feels like a parting of ways is likely, and also not necessarily the wrong thing for both sides.
I really like Belli and he seems to have a great affinity with the club so if he were to go I would always think of him fondly. I just feel there are certain aspects of his game that are missing for this league that will be less obvious in a different league.
My suspicion is he didn’t receive the one to one defensive coaching he should have at a certain younger age (and also coaching on ball delivery and crossing) so now he is a mix of sometimes looking a very effective player om the front foot to one that can put the team under unnecessary pressure or have a promising move break down on with a poor final ball.
It seems Belli fancies a new challenge so we need to maximise value and reinvest. Maybe Lamptey or Aaron’s would be good. If we had one of them plus Cedruc who can cover both FB roles and then look to introduce Bola and Swanson.
What a naughty, controversial blogger you are, Rocky!! Knowing full well you will immediately get gentle dispute with your posed questions.
So here goes:-
1. Cedric for me, remembering he is in fact a left back, and Bola ( and him) as stand in for KT. Sell Hector and use the money, plus plenty more, IF you can find a better defensive right back with a touch of KTs attacking/crossing skills. Another Scotsman would do me, if Tierney and Robertson are anything to go by.
2.Smith- Rowe for me, but why couldn’ t BOdegaard drop slightly and play the No8 position alongside or slightly in front of Partey?
3. Interested in both Meaner’s opinion, and your comment during the game on the culprit(s) for the first goal. Xhaka was playing his dropped left sided position ( when we have possession), on this occasion, but, much wider than normal ( almost on the touchline). Willian came very close to him with a marker and presumably called for the ball. It should never have been passed to him from, perhaps four metres away!
Willian was close pressed and passed back to Xhaka who lost the ball. ( no chance of him catching goalscorer). Cock up fro start from both Arsenal players.
Mari should, of course, have come out to Tielemans and push him wider onto his right and not turned his back initially and tried to track Vardy, but this illustrates the errors in decision making Xhaka regularly makes in games. Perhaps he has made less, with less dire consequences, in recent times.
4. Sorry, I prefer Laca as a starter more often than Aubang, especially with IMO, his superior link up with the rat-a tat play of Saka and Smith-Rowe. Will Aubang still be with us next year?
5. I think the final CB pairing might be Gabriel and Saliba but in the meantime prefer Gabriel, Holding and Mari. Luiz has a Brazilian sparkle to him on occasions, and is plainly appreciated by the squad in general behind the scenes. I unfortunately, still feel there is as much “fools gold” in the pan as the real stuff.
As far as CD goes I am with you Rocky and quite happy at present with our main 4 being Luiz, Gabriel, Mari, Holding. I’m fairly happy with any combo with those 4 at present.
The other considerations you mention Rocky could almost be answered with one overriding thought in mind. That being the formation we go with.
Personally I think we should more or less always go with a back 4 moving forwards, but the real question from now could centre on how attacking we line up in midfield in terms of whether we play with 2 defensive (or holding) midfielders or 1.
We need at least 2 players like Xhaka, Ceballos, Elneny, in addition to Partey, so that we can play the system with 2 DM’s in a 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3, depensing on how you prefer to state it.
However as we progress we could become a bit more City like and play 1 DM (Rodri > Partey) with 2 other midfielders who are a more attacking or box to box types, as follows:
RB ————- CB ———— CB —————–LB
———– Odegaard ———— ESR
In that system Auba may be the best option up top because when he vacated the central space to the left side both Martinelli or ESR can angle in and attack the central space as well as the 2 more right sided players.
With 2 DM’s and 3 behind the striker maybe Laca holds the ball up more for the 3 who would look to work off his hold up and link play.
I think there is far more to come from Odegaard who I hope we can secure due to the cover he and ESR offer each other but also the option of playing the 2 together in that 4-1-4-1 system.
Laca and Auba can both be utilised separately or together (as you indicated Rocky) depending on our preferred set up and the opposition.
Much up front next season could also depend on whether Laca and Ballogun stay as well. My gut feeling is that we may be recruiting another striker this summer due to doubts over Laca and Ballogun. I like the look of Edouard at Celtic.
Ooooh, good questions.
Who would I want to start against Olympiacos, for example,? Cedric, no doubt. Although, I agree with GB and his prediction that the RB will be alternated between he and Bellerin for the rest of the season. The only thing that has been said that I do not share and that is the suggestion that Cedric is a left back or left wing back. He is right footed, he is a right wing back and a good stand in for Tierney.
Smith-Rowe, I am still confused as to what we are doing with Odegaard, why are we shunting ESR out on the left rather than the other way round. ESR offers more of a goal threat and I suspect that, that is what the final decision will be based on — who scores the more goals.
Xhaka: well all I can say is that I am glad he has improved rather than got worse. And he has improved, there is no doubt but we all know we could do better and rather than spending funds to secure Ceballos I would prefer it spent on a Xhaka upgrade.
The really good thing about the central defence is that pretty much any combination of the 4 mentioned works. Would they get into the World’s best eleven? No, but they are not a bad bunch to have.
I forgot the Laca/ Auba question. The fact that we have them both at the club highlights some very poor decision making. I suppose it is good that we have the choice but it rarely works with both of them on the pitch.
Also, could I say on the Leicester game there was some higher technical detail to our game both with and without the ball that might suggest Arteta’s team development really is taking shape.
Firstly without the ball our pressing was technically at a very high level. I think there is more to pressing than just having the nearest players “rush” the opposition player on the ball.
If you noticed, not only did we get on their players quickly so denying them time to settle in possession, but we pressed with intelligent positioning to cut off the passing options.
This meant quite often that as we positioned ourselves first then honedbin on said player they were forces into the least attractive release of the ball and we often won it back either with that risky pass or the next one as that one in turn was forced.
Willian actually did this really well on a couple of occasions forcing their error or surrender of possession within 1-2 passes by making the first player play a pass he really didn’t want to.
This demonstrates a real higher level understanding on the press in our game that is taking shape.
Once in possession I was impressed with many of our one touch passes and lay offs, complete with intelligent runners off the ball, that seems to be becoming more fluid and regular in our game. This also meant that as Leicester thought they might hem us in we beat them with 1-2 slick 1 touch passes or lay offs and were then on the front foot.
Odegaard was by and large excellent with that quick slick movement of the ball before the opposition could get to us and really should be a player we look to secure if we can. I really dont think the argument should be between him and ESR in the long run. I think they can play independently of each other when one is rested but could form a devastating CM partnership with that potential 4-1-4-1 attacking line up.
“Honed in on said player they were forced”
I just thought that I would bring this info to your attention:
1. Depay’s contract at Lyon ends in June. He will leave for free. The guy has been really sensational again with Lyon last season and this season too. He has matured. If you do not want to pay for Ceba or Odegaard and you need a player that can drive the ball, pass the ball and score goals, he is available for free…
2. Filip Kostic is having another good season at Frankfurt. He plays on the left wing as a wing back or midfielder. We may even be able to make him into a back-up for Tierney. Tireless worker and a fantastic cross.
3. Zielinski will be allowed to leave Napoli. The central midfielder has a knack for goals and is also a tireless worker.
4. Milik has a clause in his contract that he can leave Marseille already in June. A great forward. He started two goals for Marseille and scored 2 goals since joining at the end of the winter transfer window. By the end of this season, he will have gotten some rhythm back and will again be a threat. A very astute acquisition for anybody on the look out for a good forward. Very cheap.
Mavrapanos smashes his ex team mates – Kolasinac and Mustafi.
Sincere apologies regarding my error on Soares. I had been under the impression, having played for Southampton on the left, he had been bought as cover for KT. Plainly he is stronger, and prefers, the right.
What’s clear thankfully, is he is more adaptable than Bellerin or Kolasinac were on their opposite sides!
All very interesting questions:
1) Cedric/Hector is probably a flip of a coin. Hector has a bit more pace to make up ground tracking back, Cedric is a little cleverer with the ball in the attacking third. But we have KT ripping up the left which allows others to pivot to the right so is attacking play as essential an ingredient on the right?
2+4) I feel both these questions are intrinsically linked, Laca is the better of the two centre forwards back to goal, PEA is better running into channels and playing off shoulders of defenders, there is an argument to say one pair is Odegaard/PEA and the other ESR/Laca, I think the left and right flanks can work out for Saka and ESR when Odegaard is central, I also think in games where ESR/Laca is the choice there is an option of playing Odegaard slightly deeper and allowing him to feed the men in front as he seems to have a pretty good range of passing and appears more Cesc like than Ozil/Pires which is where ESR fits. This may all become irrelevant if we can get a fit Martinelli in the future as he can do both hold up and channel running. Question, is Odegaard a stop gap or do we want him full time? I wouldn’t object as it may mean we are looking to build for the future finally with younger players for a system rather than stop gap players to plug holes.
3) no Xhaka is not the most underrated I think that title is still Holding’s. Xhaka does show on occasion more quality than we expect, but it is fairly standard fayre like passing to someone ten yards ahead that should not really wow us as fans, it just does when he gets one or two right a game.
Perversely I think one of the other underrated players is KT, yes he gets plaudits and we miss him when he is gone but I am not sure we realise just how good he is, I am talking one of the best left backs I have ever seen good and maybe going to be up there with one of the best Arsenal left backs ever, and we have a tradition of having some pretty good ones (Samson, Winterburn, Cole for starters that I have seen live). From his first performances for Arsenal I liked his uncompromising attitude, a good footballer which you could see in every touch, pass and tackle but most importantly he was unfussy, he played what he saw and did it early and simply. But now he excited going forward and for some reason his forays into opposition territory don’t bring the fear of exposure that the run of Hector does on the other side as he seems to always make the final cross or shot that gives himself time to recover back or results in a goal. Very rarely do we see him chasing back having given away the ball.
5) following on from 3, Holding for me has to start, he appears the only truly right sided centre back with the other three all being conventional lefties although Luiz can play with either foot as is the way so often with Brazilians. I also think he is the calmest presence, on performances this season I think my preference would be Holding-Mari. Although Gabriel will eventually take the Mari role I feel he has had some shaky games since returning and it can’t be easy with many changes going on around him especially missing KT.
I’d also like to add that I really enjoyed Willian’s performance against Leicester, that was the energy and movement I expected when we signed him, it would be good to see him offer some competition and relief for the likes of ESR and Saka who cannot play every game despite their age. Also Pepe had a more convincing display and took their young full back to task. Rodgers clearly identified Pepe for rotational fouling but Pepe did well to keep targeting the fullback and eventually gave himself an easier game by getting him booked.
Based on the weekend, Soares could also be one of the “keys” to Pepe.
Hey Rocky – I ll put a post up
Well done RC – are you posting it or would you like me to?