A Bubble That Needs Bursting: West Ham Prematch & Predicted Line-Up

March 21, 2021
Can we make the Hammers’ hopes go POP?

Who would have thought even six months ago that facing West Ham in a Premier League game might be a daunting prospect?

David Moyes has done an indisputably good job of turning London’s perpetual also-rans into a serious team that merits its current position in the top five.

The Irons lost their first two games of the season (to Newcastle and, somewhat unluckily, to us) but since then have only been beaten by Liverpool, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. Not bad, eh?

They have been doing the business against the mid- and lower-table clubs. Sadly, that group includes us at the moment, given that we currently lie 10th in the table, seven points behind today’s opponents.

And yet…

I feel that the current Arsenal team has the tools with which to hurt the Hammers and burst their bubble.

Odegaard is starting to look like an excellent prospect, Saka causes problems for anyone, Tierney is a menace down our left flank and we have begun adding goals from midfield.

The crucial thing (and I am afraid this is becoming a familiar refrain) is that we do not shoot ourselves in the foot. We managed to avoid the worst sort of self-harming errors in the last two games (against Olimpiacos and Totteringham). Can we keep that level of focus for a third game? Can we get a rare clean sheet?

Team news is positive, with Bukayo Saka recovered from his muscle strain and available to play. Mikel Arteta might be tempted to keep him on the bench but I suspect he would rather start him and hope to take him off before the end.

Another injury boost was the news that Willian is still a doubt for today. Everyone else should be fit if selected.

Here’s the team I fancy will start:

Leno

Cedric – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Odegaard – Aubameyang

Lacazette

I hope I am wrong and that Smith Rowe gets to start (perhaps with Auba as central striker and Laca on the bench), but I could see El Patron keeping him in reserve, partly to manage his minutes and avoid potential injury.

It should be a close, competitive game. Let’s hope we can come out on top.

Come On You Gunners.

RockyLives


Are We Only 3 Players Away from Being Credible EPL Title Contenders?

March 20, 2021
The 3 Important Things You're Not Getting Done – Time Management Ninja
A Puzzle for the weekend…

As we were discussing the possibility of including Foden, Grealish or Mount in our squad, I reflected on our squad both in terms of starting XI and depth.

As Henry rightly mentioned after our win against the Spurs, we need to find consistency in our performances and as Arteta said, we need to improve our game management as well. But Henry also mentioned that we have a good squad overall and it is hard to argue against that. It is just we also have inconsistent players and players that can give goals aways or get red carded or commit fouls when there is no need for it…

Based on the above and looking at our squad, I think that it is fair to say that:

  1. We could use an upgrade at the Right-Back Position;
  2. We could also use a better player in midfield to play along side Partey;
  3. We could also improve on the left wing too.

There is definitely also a shout for improving our GK and CB options but I don’t think we will invest in either of these positions this summer since the club backed Leno.

RB – I think the pressure is mounting on Bellerin now as Cedric is clearly making a case to be our starter, but Cedric is by no means a great RB, he is just better than Bellerin at the moment. We need a defensively reliable RB who can also provide inputs to our attacking game, just like Tierney on the left 🙂 Easier said than done but Emerson (Sevilla, on loan from Barcelona) is really impressive in La Liga and may be persuaded to join AFC’s growing Brazilian contingent. Some have also mentionned Lamptey from Brighton and the former Chelsea player Trippier is also said to be considering a return to the EPL but do we want a former Spurs?

CM – Here we have the conundrum of how we want to use Partey. Do we want him to play as a CM or as a DM. If the former, then we need someone who could also cover the defense. If the latter, then we need someone who could drive the ball forward and pass the ball. Xhaka’s form has been rather fine since the Christmas holidays but he can still be a liability and looking into a more composed and reliable player would be of great value for the team. I didn’t see much of him but Ward-Prowse is getting a lot of positive reviews while it could be difficult to tempt Ndidi/Kante to join us. Other options include Veretout, Pellegrini and Aouar for example.

LW – Auba plays there, Willian plays there, Martinelli plays there, Saka and Pepe can play there and we also saw that ESR can play there too! It seems that it is a well covered position but in reality, we need a pendant to Saka. Someone who can really play as a LW – score and create goals while also putting in the defensive shift. In that sense, Grealish makes a lot of sense to me but it is unlikely that we could afford him. There is also Kostic from Frankfurt who has a great engine and delivery and last but not least, we have Depay who is expected to leave Lyon for free this summer. There are others like Cunha, Raphinha amongs others but if we want to really boost this position, we need someone with lots of creativity like Grealish or one that will put in a great shift for the team like Kostic IMHO.

Leno – Emerson, Holding, Gabs, Tierney – Partey, Ward-Prowse – Saka, Smithe-Rowe, Grealish – Auba

Ryan – Bellerin, Luiz, Mari, Cedric – El Neny, Xhaka – Pepe, Odegaard (?), Martinelli – Laca

+ Willian (?), Azeez, RN, Balogun.

Does that make sense to you? Do you think that with these three additions we would be credible EPL title contenders?

Do you think that we are only three players away from being title contenders? Or do you think it is five? Which positions would you target and why?

RC78


Arsenal Stumble Through, Tottenham Spexit… Report & Ratings

March 19, 2021
Bye bye Totts

Two North London clubs went into European competition last night with two goal leads tucked away in their back pocket and a clear expectation of progressing to the next round.

This morning the team from N5 are European Remainers. The team from N17 are experiencing the trauma of Spexit. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be laughing yourself silly right now.

We shan’t dwell on the problems facing the noisy neighbours who, let us remember, were also comprehensively outplayed by us in the North London Derby on Sunday, but let’s just say this: Mourinho In! Please keep Jose for as long as you can!

The travails of Totteringham helped divert attention from our own lacklustre performance on the night. Playing at home against a fairly average Olimpiacos team and with a 3-1 lead from the first leg, this really should have been a cakewalk for Arsenal.

But whether there was tiredness following the NLD (although the five changes made by Arteta to the starting 11 should have provided plenty of fresh legs: 10 of them to be precise) or whether it’s simply hard for players to get their heads round a scenario where you can lose but still win, things just did not click in last night’s game.

Let’s start with the line-up. El Patron sent out a familiar back five (Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney). Partey was rested, with Elneny partnering Xhaka in midfield. Ceballos took the central attacking midfield role with Pepe on his right and Smith Rowe to the left, and we had Aubameyang back off the naughty step and playing as the central striker.

On paper it looked well capable of doing the job and, in terms of chances created on the night, it should easily have done so. However, it was one of those evenings where Aubameyang passed up golden opportunities and where our overall play was sloppy and careless at times.

Unfortunately the selection of Ceballos did not work out. I hoped that getting the opportunity to play in the CAM position would really spark the Spaniard into life and, indeed, he played some incisive passes in the early part of the game.

But we have been spoilt recently by having been exposed to lots of minutes of Odegaard and Smith Rowe playing with speed and dynamism. By comparison Ceballos looked leaden-footed and slow. He needs more touches than either Ode or ESR and seems to run with the ball always slightly under his feet, slowing him down.

I don’t want to beat up on Dani, who has had some good moments in an Arsenal shirt, but you can’t help but feel that we won’t be seeing him in N5 next season.

The move that led to the Olimpiacos goal was initially caused by Ceballos (not for the first time) being indecisive and getting caught on the ball and then dispossessed. However, he was well up the pitch and Luiz can share some of the blame for allowing El Arabi to cut back inside before sending a deflected shot past Leno and into our net.

By that time (the 51st minute) we should have already put the game beyond doubt, Aubameyang having blasted over from close range and Pepe almost scoring when an attempted square ball for Auba deflected off the Olimpiacos ‘keeper and trickled past the post.

But the Greeks, knowing they needed three goals, had started the second half determinedly and we were having trouble controlling possession and keeping them at bay. Careless passes, lingering in possession, bad decision-making all contributed to shifting the momentum in favour of Olimpiacos.

Within minutes of going behind Arteta made two changes which helped wrest control back in our direction: the struggling Ceballos was replaced by Odegaard and Elneny, who had not made any major errors but was not making his presence felt strongly enough in midfield, gave way to Partey.

Immediately we looked better, with Ode in particular grabbing the game by the scruff of its neck and driving us forward. Olimpiacos were still threatening us and you could see we were nervous, but now we were taking the game back to them as well.

Odegaard played a neat one-two with Pepe but blasted his shot over the bar; Pepe fired a Tierney cross goalwards only for the ball to unluckily deflect off ESR’s head then Aubameyang got through for a one-on-one with the goalie (the sort of chance we’ve seen him score many, many times) but chipped it wide.

Partey, meanwhile, had a few sloppy moments of his own, including giving away an unnecessary free kick just outside our penalty area, but his strength in midfield and willingness to break up Olimpiacos moves and drive forward were another important element in seeing us safely through to the end.

The wind finally went out of the opposition’s sails when Ba was sent off after getting two yellow cards in quick succession (one for putting an arm across Tierney’s face and a second for dissent).

In the end it was a disappointing result on the night, but with the satisfaction of knowing we were through to the last eight of the Europa League.

Meanwhile in Zagreb….

Player Ratings from RC78

Leno – 5
Bellerin – 5
Luiz – 5
Gabs – 6
Tierney – 7
Xhaka – 6
El Neny – 5
Pepe – 6
Ceba – 4
ESR – 5
Auba – 4

Personally I would give Gabriel 8 and MoTM – I thought he was outstanding in defence. And I would give Odegaard 7.5 for his performance with a 7 for Partey. But then I’m always a bit more generous with my ratings than RC 🙂

RockyLives


Start Strong Then Rest Players: Olimpiacos Prematch and Predicted Line-up

March 18, 2021
More of this please

We are very much in pole position in our Round of 16 Europa League tie as we entertain Olimpiacos at the Emirates tonight.

A (mostly) impressive 3-1 win in the away leg has given us a good cushion and makes us strong favourites to progress to the last eight.

Mikel Arteta will be tempted to rest some players who have clocked up a lot of minutes this season, including Saka (who exited the North London Derby early with some muscle concerns), Smith Rowe, Partey and Xhaka.

However, our struggles in the Premier League have made our European campaign of paramount importance and I suspect El Patron will start with a strong team and hope to take players off from early in the second half provided we haven’t run into trouble.

If we do run into trouble, recent form indicates that it will be probably be self-inflicted. That was certainly the case in the first leg of this tie, when a badly chosen pass from Leno was followed by some prime doziness on the part of Ceballos to allow the Greeks to score.

If you recall, we did our best to help out our opponents on two other occasions in that game (one lazy pass from Odegaard and one Luiz blunder in the box) but fortunately we were not punished and we finished the game very strongly.

In general our play has ranged between decent and very, very good since we beat Chelsea in December and most of our dropped points have come from self inflicted wounds.

Still, the win over Totteringham showed that we can get through a tough game without shooting ourselves in the foot. Now we need the same level of focus for this match.

I don’t want to get carried away when there is such a long way to go in the EL but, my goodness, what an end to the season it would be if we clinched that title: a trophy and a berth in next season’s Champions League. It would have a huge transformational effect on our progress.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

According to the club all our players are fit (well done to the medical and physio team!), although Saka will be monitored closely between now and kick-off and seems unlikely to be risked. To be honest the lad needs a break anyway.

I would like to see Martinelli get a start but… there’s Willian… and Arteta seems to love picking Willian despite the fact we can all see that he offers less than pretty much any of the alternatives so…

Here’s the line-up I’m expecting (although I wouldn’t be laying out any money on the accuracy of my prediction for this one):

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Mari – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Pepe – Odegaard – Willian

Aubameyang

The Greeks were pretty poor for most of the first leg and provided we leave the clown car in the garage we should be on course for a comfortable evening.

Famous last words and all that.

Come On You Gunners!

RockyLives


Grealish, Foden or Mount: who would improve Arsenal the most?

March 17, 2021
Should we Mount a bid?

This Post from LBG was briefly published earlier this month but was quickly gazumped by another Post that was inadvertently uploaded at the same time. It deserves a revisit now.

THREE STICKS OF DYNAMITE HANGING ON THE WALL…

…and if one stick of dynamite (money was no object, and they were available) should accidentally fall… into your lap, who would you choose: GREALISH? FODEN? or MOUNT?

So I will start with Grealish. A true Maverick. Able to almost single handedly carry an average team into contention for a top four finish. Strong, quick, sneaky, snidey, eye for goal (and for a penalty, especially). Not sure he would be a great team player if there was equal talent around him. 8/10.


Foden. Has all the skills it seems. Scores vital goals, pace, works hard for a team of hard workers, some with consummate skill. Will he take the lead in a team of lesser ability? 8/10


My choice would be Mount. A real team player, pace, eye for goal and (as he has shown recently) the ability to make it happen. Great close control and, my favourite football word, “dynamic” in his thought and deed. 9/10

But, who needs ’em?

If our own stick of dynamite can add to his Merson-glide across the ground, his Wilshere shoulder drop, and his Fabregas final pass, I for one will be in heaven. all we need from you, EMILE SMITH ROWE, is goals and, as a youngster, they will surely come.

LBG


The Last 15 Minutes vs Tottenham Explained

March 16, 2021
What we need

Resilience is a wall built brick by brick, it’s not a single unit that can be erected overnight.

The last 15 minutes against the Spuds on Sunday were difficult to watch even though we had completely dominated the game up to that point.

RC’s excellent Post yesterday about resilience raised some interesting questions about the physical and mental strength of some of our players.

But I want to consider our mental resilience as a group.

First, if you can bear it, let’s remember those nerve-wracking final minutes:

79: Spuds get a corner following a mistake by Partey.

81. Partey kicks the ball straight out for a corner, while not under pressure.

82. Partey gives it away again.

82. Xhaka dives in and gets booked, giving Spuds a free kick outside the penalty area.

83. Kane heads it into the net. Offside.

84. Tierney boots the ball long, straight to the opposition.

86. Luiz concedes a corner.

86. Moura gets a cross in, Luiz clears for a corner.

87. Corner comes in. Leno, unchallenged, inexplicably chooses to punch rather than catch.

88. Xhaka commits another foul – Spuds have a free kick in the middle of the park.

89. Partey fouls Kane, giving Spuds another free kick just outside our box.

90. Kane hits the post, it bounces back to Sanchez who fires it goalwards. Gabriel brilliantly stops it with his head.

92. We give the ball away again.

94. Gabriel commits a foul in a dangerous spot right outside our penalty area.

94. Kane takes it: over the bar.

95. Final whistle. You can come out from behind the sofa.

What that litany of panic, bad decision-making and nervousness shows us is how frail our collective mental strength is: even in a game where we were clearly superior (so much so that the likes of Lamela and Kane were reduced to off-the-ball vindictiveness since we would not let them play) we came close to psychological collapse at the end.

The reasons can be found in all the carelessly dropped points throughout this season: Xhaka playing a brilliant snooker shot (into the pocket off the attacker’s chest) against Burnley; Ceballos being dispossessed by an opponent against Olimpiacos, leading to a goal; Leno’s questionable choices when passing out from the back; Leno rushing out of the goal to handle the ball and collect a red card; any number of Luiz penalty give-aways; any number of unnecessary fouls by Xhaka; air shots by the likes of Pepe and Lacazette.

We have been burnt so often by our own mistakes that our skin is still raw and unhealed, making us vulnerable to picking up another scar.

I don’t want to go into the individual reasons for that catalogue of cock-ups (we have done plenty of that in recent weeks). But if you think about the overall effect – the sense it must give our boys that no matter how well they’re playing they have the capacity to self destruct – you can see how those final minutes against the noisy neighbours played out the way they did.

So how do we counteract that sense of fear?

There’s only one way: it has to be done bit by bit, piece by piece. The wall of psychological security we need to build around ourselves only gets done one brick at a time. And here’s the good news: games like the one at the weekend, where we buckle but don’t break, represent a brick.

Every time we overcome our nerves and see out a tight game without blowing up, another brick is added. And the more bricks there are in the wall, the greater the chances that we won’t succumb.

If I can mix my metaphors, each new brick, each piece of evidence that we can prevail in adversity, is part of a virtual circle making the arrival of the next brick that bit more likely.

Between now and the end of the season we have the potential to build a decent wall. Not the Great Wall of China, perhaps, but a nice red brick garden wall capable of withstanding the most blustery of gales.

If we get that sort of security in place, next season could finally be the time when we really kick on and get back to where The Arsenal belongs: vying for the big prizes at the top of the table.

RockyLives


Our “Resilient Warriors” Team?

March 15, 2021
Arsenal manager Arteta on victory over rivals Tottenham | Islington Gazette

In these Covid-19 times, we have been hearing about agility and resilience when discussing supply chains, government and businesses. I feel like the term “resilience” is one that has not been used frequently with AFC in the last decade or even 15 years…

We used to have Lehmann – Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole – Ljunberg, Vieira, Silva, Pires – Bergkamp, Henry…All of them were considered talented, robust and strong players…They didn’t suffer too many injuries overall and were able to regularly play full seasons usually except for the odd season…

Yesterday, I thought our team was “resilient” and was ready to put in the shift and work rate required to outmuscle and muffle Tottenham. Then, I thought to myself – when is the last time that I felt like this about our team and I came back to the Wenger teams from 1998 to 2006…

So is yesterday’s squad our most resilient one? Isn’t there a case to include Holding, Mari or El Neny?

Leno – Cedric, Luiz, Gabs, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, Odegaard, ESR – Laca

The work rate from Odegaard, ESR and Laca was particularly impressive and so was Tierney’s. Saka had a bit more issues but clearly that was an exception for him. Partey, Xhaka and Gabs also showed great resilience and fighting spirit and Cedric and Luiz are not to be overlooked either in this department.

Now and given the question marks around Luiz and Xhaka’s ability to be consistent, is there a case to replace them by Holding or Mari for Luiz and by El Neny for Xhaka?

This brings another set of questions for us: What do we do with Bellerin? How do keep Auba (our best scorer) in the squad and whose place does he take (Laca’s or ESR’s?)? Where do Pepe, Willian and Martinelli feature?…

Anyways – make your most resilient XI and share your thoughts 🙂


North London is Red! A deserved win overall

March 14, 2021
Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham: Lacazette downs 10-man Spurs - Football365.com

A resilient line-up started and a very good start to the game punctuated with a beautiful ESR’s strike on the cross bar…A few minutes later and on their first incursion in our half after 30 minutes of play, Lamela scored a screamer with a Rabona! What a goal! But being by far the best team at the Emirates, we came back through our Norwegian playmaker who converted another good cross from Tierney. Overall, we came back right before half-time and it was the least we deserved after hitting the cross-bar by ESR and the post through Cedric!

Second half, we started oddly with Tottenham playing better but we were not to be outdone and in the end, Lacazette managed to get a PK after being played through beautifully by Pepe. Lacazette then scored a good PK, through a nicely taken penalty.

After that, we created some chances but truth be told, Tottenham started to threaten us but Lamela went from Spurs hero to Spurs villain by getting himself sent off for a blatant foul on Tierney. But AFC being AFC, we still remained fragile and Kane scored a header but was off-side and then hit the post on a free-kick.

But the North London Derby was to be ours in 2021 and we saw the game through to Arteta’s relief and joy!

Here are the ratings:

Leno – 5, no saves and no big mistakes. Just average.

Cedric – 7, a good game for him.

Luiz – 6, nothing bad nor good.

Gabs – 6, nothing bad nor good.

Tierney – 7.5, an assist and a good defensive game.

Partey – 5.5. Seems to be struggling with the physicality and pace of the EPL still. Had some random shots but overall, an average outing

Xhaka – 6.5. A solid performance in the middle.

Saka – 5. Looked jaded from the on-set. Pepe – 6. Looked lively, a great pass to Laca for the PK but could have done more.

Odegaard – 8 – What a game for him. At the heart of our passing and a good goal for him in the end. Played well.

ESR – 7 – An excellent first half, a great strike and unlikely not to score.

Laca – 8 – A goal, a very good performance up front. A constant nuisance. MOTM

Arteta – 8. Great team selection and set-up


Let’s See What We’re Made Of: Tottenham Prematch & Predicted Line-Up

March 14, 2021
The Arsenal training manual for today’s game

I have three main areas of concern going into this afternoon’s derby clash with the noisy neighbours.

Firstly, our inability to shake the habit of gifting goals (or goal scoring opportunities) to our opponents through unforced errors.

Secondly, the attacking threat posed by the Spuds with their front three of Kane, Bale and Son, all of whom can score and one of whom (Kane) has the record for goals scored in this fixture.

Thirdly, our generally poor record against teams managed by Jose Mourinho.

All three factors make me nervous about how today is going to pan out, but there are counterweights in the other half of the scales that can provide grounds for optimism:

The renewed scoring form of Aubameyang, the sudden uptick in goals being scored from midfield, the dynamism of our attacking play, the fact that, despite their decent run of late, the Spuds’ form has been up and down like a yoyo this season.

Going back to my three areas of concern, if we can eliminate the first one by not shooting ourselves in the foot we are definitely in with a chance.

The tactics will be interesting to observe today. We lost at the Armitage Shanks arena when, despite being the home team, the Totts sat back and invited us onto them, then hit us on the break.

However, Mourinho must have been looking at our recent catastrophes playing out from the back and will surely be tempted to try a high press and force more errors. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Here’s the team I expect Mikel Arteta to send out:

Leno

Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Pepe – Odegaard – Willian

Aubameyang

I think Saka might be saved for use as an impact sub (he has played an awful lot of minutes this season and looked tired in the last two games).

I would start with Smith Rowe in the middle and Odegaard on the bench, but the Norwegian had a good game in midweek and I fancy Arteta will stick with him.

It goes without saying that I don’t want to see Willian start, but Arteta (who apparently was instrumental in bringing the Brazilian to the club) clearly can’t admit the signing was a mistake.

At the back Luiz and Gabriel seem to be emerging as the first choice CBs. Luiz always has a kamikaze moment in him, but on the other hand he tends to do well in the big games and this is a big game.

If it were down to me, we’d start with this line-up:

Leno

Cedric – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Pepe – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

It’s about time we beat this lot again – let’s hope today is the day.

Come On You Gunners!

RockyLives


We Can Be Heroes: Who Will Win the Derby for Arsenal?

March 13, 2021
Cometh the hour…

Naturally there will be a full pre-match tomorrow for our league game against the N17 swamp dwellers, but as a foretaste here’s something to ponder.

Which of our players can be a hero tomorrow? Who has the potential to become the sort of opponent that makes Spud hearts sink?

Over the years many Arsenal players have had a good scoring record against the enemy: Henry, Wright, Pires, Ljungberg, Vieira to name but a few have all sent Totteringham fans weeping their way home.

Now the time is ripe for another Arsenal hero to emerge, starting at the Emirates this weekend: a player who can win the game for us and become a thorn in the Totts’ side for a long time to come.

We need someone to counter the effect that Harry Kane has in the other direction. His success against us in derby games has made him a legend in the nastier parts of north London and for some time now we have had no real answer.

The most obvious candidates in our current set-up are Aubameyang, Saka and Pepe. Perhaps Smith Rowe, Partey or Odegaard could step up from midfield. After his towering goal against Olimpiacos, maybe even Gabriel could be a contender.

But if we’re looking for a player who can terrorise them enemy for several seasons to come then that probably rules out Auba (too old) and Odegaard (on loan with no guarantee he’ll stay).

Which leaves Saka, ESR, Partey and Pepe. Funnily enough I could see Pepe potentially being the man we need except for the fact that Arteta is reluctant to give him a consistent run of games. El Patron just does not seem to feel he can rely on the Ivorian.

As for Partey, I would love to think he could do to the Spuds what Vieira so successfully did, but so far he has not really demonstrated a goal scoring touch.

Which leaves Saka and ESR. Of those two the obvious candidate – because he is the more natural goal scorer – is Bukayo Saka and that’s who I’m going to plump for.

Whether he starts tomorrow’s game or comes on as a sub, Oh Great Gods of Football let it be Saka who scores a winner and begins a reign of terror that will silence the noisy neighbours for years to come.

What do you think?