Arteta to Make a Statement: Chelsea Pre-match and Predicted Line-up

May 12, 2021
“Don’t write me off yet”

Chelsea are in the Champions League final, are playing brilliant football under new coach Thomas Tuchel, are sitting fourth in the EPL and spent £220m in transfer fees this season.

So it seems obvious that it will be an Arsenal win tonight.

Sometimes you just feel it in your bones that your team will win and this is one of those occasions. If I’m wrong, don’t have a go at me, have a go at my ageing skeletal structure.

Most significantly, I feel a win will be a statement of intent from Mikel Arteta, who has come under a huge amount of mostly-justifiable criticism since we limped out of the Europa League with a pair of tepid displays.

There’s no doubt he has made many mistakes in his first full season as a manager but there is a lot of “glass half empty-ism” in most analyses of our campaign.

These analyses tend to overlook the scale of the challenge he had to contend with. In the first half of the season a huge amount of his emotional energy must have been taken up with making sure that a trouble-making clique of senior players was moved out. Anyone who has managed teams of people will tell you how much damage can be done by a small group of malcontents.

Arteta also inherited a woeful defence from Unai Emery. Do you remember all those games when even lowly teams were clocking up 25 or more attempts on goal?

This season we have conceded fewer goals than any of the EPL teams apart from the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. And when you consider how many of those goals have been gifts to the opposition in the form of unforced errors, our record could be even better.

Obviously our problem has been at the pointy end, where we have not been making enough chances and scoring enough goals. But when Arteta was appointed how many of us said “fix the defence first and then we can build on that”? Well, he has done exactly that and now we must give him time to do the second part.

Yes, we need to offload some more underperforming players in the summer and bring in some upgrades, but we are not starting from as insecure a base as it can sometimes feel. It’s time to get behind the manager, back the team and start spreading a few more positive vibes around N5.

As for tonight’s game, Chelsea are clear favourites and they have every incentive to go for the win given that Champions League is not yet assured for them via Premier League position. But we have players who are good enough to take the game to the Chavs and beat them on their own turf, and I fancy we will do so.

I have not seen an update on injuries, so it’s possible Xhaka and Luiz will still be unavailable. On that basis here’s the winning team I expect to see tonight:

Leno

Chambers – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Partey – Elneny

Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

If Xhaka is fit he will start instead of Elneny. And if Smith Rowe, the Beast of Thornton Heath, is unavailable after feeling some muscle pain in the Newcastle game then, hopefully, Odegaard is fit and will play instead.

This is a chance for Arteta and Arsenal to answer their critics and show that the fires of passion and glory are still burning deep inside the Arsenal heart. A chance to make a statement about NEXT season.

Come On You Gunners!

RockyLives


Building our squad around Tierney, Saka and ESR…

May 11, 2021

So basically we have three players that have met expectations this season…Tierney, Saka and ESR

Some that have done relatively OK in Holding, Xhaka, Laca, Mari and we may be able to add Pepe, Gabriel, Chambers, El Neny

Some that have failed to live to expectations in Partey, Martinelli, Auba, Bellerin, Leno, Willian

I am not looking into our loanees (Ceba, Ode) or youth that has not been really used like Nelson, Balogun or Azeez or players that have not been used much like Nketiah or Cedric.

Our stand out performers are clearly young, talented and ready to work their socks off for the team so they are the first three names on the sheet for me. The strike force came together when Laca was on the pitch and I must also admit that Xhaka in most games did well in solidifying our midfield when paired with Partey so this year and just based on performance only especially in 2021, my starters would be:

Ryan – Chambers, Holding, Mari, Tierney – Partey, Xhaka – Saka, ESR, Pepe – Laca

but this first XI does not get you in the top 4 for sure next year…so the idea is to build around our top 3 performers and to make sure that:

  1. We are hard to beat so we need defensive solidity
  2. We can win games so we have the capacity to a. score one more goal than the opponent and b. manage games properly.

In terms of solidity and attacking threat, we do need a better RB and I would say a more industrious Left Forward too. Now if we want to manage the game tempo better and create more chances, we also need a better central midfielders.

In any case, the good things is that we have 3 young British players including 2 that came through our ranks and have basically been our stand out performers this year. This is something to celebrate. Now let us build a team in which they can flourish and take us back to where we belong, namely to the trophy winners’ group.

COYG


Smith Rowe: the Jewel in Arsenal’s (Slightly Battered) Crown

May 10, 2021
All hail the Beast of Thornton Heath

I shall resist the urge to make jokes about Willian getting his first Arsenal goal at a point in the season where it does not matter one tiny, insignificant, flying fluck.

In a comfortable win over already-doomed West Brom (a win which saw Fat Sam relegated for the first time in his career) it was the quality of some of our young players that stood out, not for the first time this season.

Saka, thrust back into the left back role, terrorised the right side of the Baggie’s defence; Martinelli tried hard without finding space to make a huge impact and Emile Smith Rowe pulled the strings.

I have felt for some time that ESR has the highest potential ceiling out of a crop of very high-flying youngsters who do great credit to the Hale End academy that has shaped them.

This is Smith Rowe’s first half-season of regular football and, at just 20, he already displays such a wonderful array of talents that I am convinced he will end up being the most valuable out of all that group of young stars.

His first touch is sublime, easily the best in the current Arsenal squad and on a level with that of Santi Cazorla and Pires. It’s not just that he can bring the ball under control so elegantly and comfortably, it’s that he does so with attacking intent, controlling it in such a way that the very act of control pivots him away from a defender or into space, or allows him to ‘turn the corner’ for a give-and-go. I could watch it all day.

Then there’s his passing, which is invariably forward-minded, incisive and intelligent. He knows where to be on the pitch and where to put the ball for his team mates.

He is fast, tireless and getting stronger as the season progresses.

The one thing that can take a while to develop with talented young attacking midfielders is the goalscoring touch and, in that regard, ESR is no exception: yesterday was his first league goal in an Arsenal shirt. But the power and technique with which he hammered home that volleyed goal against West Brom suggests there is a lot more to come.

Next season (if he doesn’t have the all-too-common ‘second season dip’ experienced by a lot of young breakthrough players) I think we can expect ESR to pitch in with 10 to 15 goals for us.

I know some will say that Saka or Martinelli are better prospects and they might be right. But I see Saka as an outstanding example of a type of player we know well – a fast, skilful, intelligent wide attacker who can make and score goals: a Marwood, a Limpar or a Ljungberg. He can and should be a massive asset moving forward.

Martinelli also has a high ceiling, even though he has struggled with form and injuries this season. I base my high hopes for the Brazilian on the fearless and direct approach he showed in our last campaign, as well as his hunger to get on the scoresheet. However, it seems it’s taking a while for his first touch to return and he really needs to nail that skill to progress at the top level. Nevertheless, you could see him – if he develops properly – in the mould of a Cristiano Ronaldo.

But Smith Rowe can be the player who brings the magic: the wizard who does things no-one expects, who cuts open defences with impossible passes and has eyes in the back of his head. He can be a De Bruyne, a Le Tissier, a Merson, a Brady.

After that hymn of praise for the young man I don’t want to spend too much time on yesterday’s performance. We looked in control for most of the game apart from a 15 minute spell after the Baggies pulled a goal back. It can’t have been easy for the lads to fire themselves up after the disappointment of last Thursday so they should be commended for the way they went about their business.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

No mistakes, some good saves and commanded his box well. The best outing from Leno for some time.

Chambers – 7

I’m really enjoying this run of form from CC, even though I still don’t see him as a RB. I would like to see him given a run at CB or DM. He’s a decent footballer and should be part of our plans moving forward.

Holding – 6.5

Solid.

Gabriel – 6.5

Solid and looked comfortable on the ball (which is not always the case).

Ceballos – 6.5

Dani is a limited player and very one-footed, but he did some good work here, particularly in the first half.

Elneny – 6.5

Goes about his work unfussily and seriously. I know he’s not a fan favourite but he’s a decent squad player.

Willian – 6

Finally got a goal when (in both season terms and game terms) it didn’t really matter. Did nothing to suggest he should be in N5 next season. Let’s hope someone in the MLS is prepared to take him.

Pepe – 7

Decent performance and a cracking goal. Without the price tag, Pepe would look like a reasonable attacking option worth keeping next season.

Saka – 7.5

Excellent, dynamic performance. Got to the byline and cut the ball back numerous times, including for ESR’s goal. A huge talent.

Smith Rowe – 8 (MoTM)

I think I’ve said enough in the paragraphs above…

Martinelli – 5

Gabi just could not get into the game. I don’t know whether it was just the shape the game took or whether he needs to work on his positioning and runs. Any ideas?

Subs

Lacazette – 6.5

Made a difference in the later stages, winning the ball in midfield several times and trying to make stuff happen.

Tierney – 6

Got some more miles in the tank as he makes his way back from injury.

Partey – 6

Looked fine and managed not to give the ball away in dangerous areas as he did way too often against Villareal.

RockyLives


Rebuilding Starts Now: West Brom Pre-match and Predicted Line-up

May 9, 2021
The Future: Azeez and Balogun

We entertain West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates tonight in a game with little meaning for either side.

The Baggies are certs for relegation barring an unlikely series of miracles and our season ended with a whimper on Thursday night as we were knocked out of the Europa League by the manager we sacked 18 months ago.

An interesting sidebar to our last two games (the 0-0 draw with Villareal and our win over Newcastle) was that the stand-out Arsenal performer in each game was one of our young up-and-comers: Smith Rowe in the Europa League and Martinelli against the Barcodes.

In both games our senior players were the ones who let us down and that fact surely needs to inform Mikel Arteta’s thinking as we enter the final four matches of this dispiriting league campaign.

There is no indication from the club that the manager’s position is under immediate threat, but Arteta must surely know that if there is not a very significant improvement by Christmas he will be on the way out. Fans will be back in the stadium by then and they will be making themselves heard.

How will El Patron react in these circumstances?

I am hoping, hoping, hoping that he uses these remaining fixtures to give some young players a chance to show what they’re made of.

We need game time for Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson, Miguel Azeez, Folarin Balogun, Tolaji Bola and others as well as the more established youngsters Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Saka.

We fans are quick to write off youth players if they don’t immediately set the world alight, but just look at the impact Joe Willock has had in his loan spell at Newcastle: five goals in 11 appearances (many as a substitute) including four in his last four matches.

Given that our team scores fewer goals from midfield than anyone else in the EPL, how much different would things have been if Willock had been given a chance in our set-up? Imagine if those five goals had been scored for us in the last few weeks? We would probably be a few places higher up the table and, who knows, a Willock goal might even have taken us to a Europa League final.

I’m not saying Joe Willock is the new Liam Brady, but perhaps there is an issue with young players being written off too soon.

So, the big question today is whether Arteta will actually roll out the young guns. I have my doubts. In his season and a half with us El Patron has shown himself much less willing that his predecessor to gamble on youth and has preferred to send out the same ‘experienced’ players to underperform again and again (Willian being the most egregious example).

Smith Rowe really only got his breakthrough (along with a more prominent role for Saka) when Arteta’s hand was forced by injuries.

I feel our manager has many good qualities but is hampered by a large dose of over-cautiousness (a condition he shares with Unai Emery). He is someone who is driven by fear of failing more than by a desire to win – a fact that, I feel, explains a lot of his decisions, not just his team selections.

He needs to throw off those mental shackles and start creating a team that goes out to have fun and score goals, not a team that takes to the pitch with guts clenched and an overwhelming fear not to mess things up.

I have some sympathy for Arteta: our gut-clenching, fearful approach is partly a result of the string of ridiculous unforced errors that have blighted our season. A significant number of players are clearly going on to the pitch thinking “I hope I’m not the one who drops a b*llock today.”

It’s a self-imposed psychological handbrake and the only players who seem relatively immune are the young ones.

There is a good case for a big clear-out of senior players this summer, with names like Willian, Pepe, Bellerin, Xhaka and Luiz at the top of the list.

In which case let’s start building our future by using these dead rubber games to blood some more youngsters and start putting in place foundations for a better campaign next season.

Will Arteta do it? I have my doubts, even though we’ll be missing Xhaka, Luiz and Mari today with injuries. Consequently I am sharing the team I would put out, followed by the team I predict Arteta will put out.

Rocky Starting 11:

Ryan

Chambers – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Partey – Azeez

Nelson – Smith Rowe – Martinelli

Nketiah

My bench would include Balogun, who would get at least 30 minutes pitch time.

Likely Starting 11:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Partey – Elneny

Saka – Odegaard – Martinelli

Aubameyang

Kick-off’s at 7pm. Come on You Gunners!

RockyLives


No more Europa League…end of the season in sight. What to do?

May 6, 2021

Emery’s Villareal beats Arteta’s Arsenal logically over the two legs. We had some hope at the end of the first leg with Pepe scoring that PK that kept us in the tie but overall, we were outplayed in Spain. At the Emirates, we did not manage to take control of the game and had a very timid first half. In the second half, we started to play with poise and purpose but we were too scrappy to create real chances and when we did, the posts denied us. Auba very unlucky tonight and our club with him…

My generous grading mostly based on the second half because I do not want to think of the first half again

Leno – 6 ;

Bellerin 6, Holding 7, Mari 6, Tierney 6.5

Partey 5, Odegaard 4

Saka 6, ESR 6, Pepe 6.5

Auba 6

Martinelli – 5

Willian – 4

Laca 6

So what is next for us? There is no more real reason to play this season…except to prepare next season…

So I am hoping to see more of Balogun, Martinelli, ESR, Azeez in the starting line-up and less of Luiz, Willian and Odegaard especially…Let us give playing time to players that will be with us next year and can start positively next year. Let us focus on next year already

ESR, Partey, Saka – Pepe, Balogun, Martinelli – why not?

A sad end to the evening and really to the season but let us build for next year already.


Arsenal vs Villareal, Part II or how to keep or kill hope for the season…

May 6, 2021
John C. Maxwell Quote: “Where there is no hope in the future, there is no  power

So the past week, we have been debating on whom should play against Villareal…The results were quite interesting and at times even astounding…

Ryan – Bellerin, Holding, Mari, Tierney (or Cedric) – Partey, Xhaka (or El Neny) – Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli (or ESR) – Auba

was the most likely line up based on your inputs/votes and comments.

Will Arteta follow your suggestions to start with Ryan and Bellerin? Will he stick to playing Pepe as a false 9 up front? Will he finally start Martinell in the Europa League? Will Auba be our saviour tonight? So many unknowns…

What we know for sure is that Emery’s team will play like they did in Villareal. They will try to score a goal in transition. They will play through balls behind our DMs and they will ask their strikers and wingers to then populate the box…We know how Emery likes to work, although in the end he lost our team but I think it was more due to the over tactical sessions and his man-management skills…Anyways…

To counter an Emery’s team, one has to be good at keeping the ball or at counter-attacking. Arteta wants us to keep the ball so we better be good at it tonight or else, we will be punished on quick transition counter-attacking plays…

Villareal does not have better players overall than our team. They may work better as a team but the second half when we played 10 vs 11 gives me confidence that we can actually put them under pressure and win tonight. My main concern is our ability to shoot ourselves in the foot through silly mistakes and tonight, there is no room for even one silly mistake. We need a clean sheet or 3-4 goals and I am hoping for a clean sheet as I am not sure we can ship more than goals tonight…so here is my predicted line-up and my preferred line-up

Predicted line-up if Tierney is injured: 4231

Leno – Chambers, Holding, Mari, Cedric (or Tierney if fit) – Partey, El Neny – Saka, Odegaard, ESR – Auba

My preferred line-up – 442

Leno – Chambers, Holding, Gabriel, Cedric (or Tierney if fit) – Saka, Partey, El Neny, ESR – Martinelli, Auba

Predicted score at full-time: 2-1 to our boys and we take it to extra-time or even PKs…then it is the lottery…

Let us see what Arteta has in store for us…In any case, it does not have to be pretty, it does not have to be fast but we need a win tonight just to keep our hope for a good season alive…otherwise, there is no need to continue watching AFC the rest of the season as we will not qualify for the CL or EL through the EPL and we are not playing any Cup finals..

So COYG! We need you to win, we need to believe until the end of the season that AFC can win major trophies


Pick your squad for Villareal – Part III – Midfielders

May 4, 2021
Opinion: Does it make sense to play Xhaka, Partey and Elneny together? -  Just Arsenal News

So for this exercise, we will imagine a 4231, which is the most used formation by Arteta…but bear in mind that we could end up playing as a 433 or 442…so in your post, feel free to put your ideal set up…

So who would be our double-pivot

Who will be dribbling on our wings and who will play the astute pass in the middle of the park?

So blog away my friends…

At this stage, the voted squad is:

Ryan – Bello, Holding, Mari, Tierney (or Cedric) –


Pick your squad for Villareal – Part II – Defense

May 3, 2021
Tierney - The win? It's a start, isn't it | Quotes | News | Arsenal.com

So a thin majority wants to start the game with Ryan between the posts…why not? I doubt it will happen but who knows…

We are setting up the team as a 433 or 4231 and in any case, 4 at the back. So who starts for you?

Right back: Bellerin, Chambers or Cedric

RCB: Holding

LCB: Gabriel, Mari

LB: Tierney, Cedric, Xhaka, Saka

The big question mark is over Tierney’s fitness but if he is fit, I think he will start…

Seems Holding and Mari have Arteta’s preference to start as CBs in the Europa League

while Chambers seems to have taken over the starting position as RB…

Who would you like to see on your side?

So who would you like to see as our back four?


Pick your squad to face Villareal – Part I – GK

May 3, 2021

Our Villareal game is definitely the most important game of the season so far…If we quality, we would get the chance to play against Man Utd in the final of the Europa League and earn 1) A major European Trophy ; 2) A spot in next year’s Champions League.

In the recents posts, comments have been raging on whether we should keep Leno as our Nr.1 or whether Ryan’s few but confident outings have given him a real shot at starting against Villareal.

We all know that Leno is very good on his line but he is rash in the air and is not great with his feet. There is always an error in him too and he still does not seem like he is commanding his defense. Ryan also has an error in him but he seems more confident in the air and better at deciding when to play short or long but he is not as good on his line…

In any case, we do not have a great GK in our squad for sure…

As according to you,

and why?


Rest Everyone! Newcastle Prematch & Predicted Line-Up

May 2, 2021
No injuries to key players, please

With our one chance of glory teetering on a knife-edge and due to be resolved on Thursday evening, our trip to Newcastle today feels like an annoyance and an encumbrance.

We have no chance of achieving European qualification via the Premier League so this game is important only in its potential for us to build some momentum and confidence and as an injury risk to key players.

With that in mind I hope Mikel Arteta rests as many of the important players as is reasonably possible, including those returning from recent injuries.

As for Newcastle, they have been involved in a relegation scrap all season and are currently sitting fourth from bottom. However, they are nine points clear of Fulham who are one place below them and their PL survival seems all but guaranteed under the likeable Steve Bruce.

Even so they won’t want to take any chances and they are on a run of good form, unbeaten since March 20th when they went down 0-3 at Brighton. Since then they have drawn with Spuds and Liverpool and beaten Burnley and West Ham.

All in all it could make for a challenging day for the boys in red and white (or whatever colour we wear today). Newcastle have a bigger incentive to win and we’ll have half an eye on Thursday night.

If I were El Patron I would use the game to give some of the fringe players a chance, with a team like this:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric

Xhaka – Azeez

Nelson – Willian – Martineli

Nketiah

In particular I would keep Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Luiz, Aubameyang and Tierney wrapped in cotton wool.

However, I suspect that Arteta will go for a more familiar line-up with only one or two fringe players used and maybe that’s not a terrible idea: a sense of continuity can be beneficial.

I can’t see that the strange formation used in the first leg against Villareal will be tried again but you never know.

Predicted line-up:

Leno

Chambers – Holding – Gabriel – Xhaka

Partey – Ceballos

Saka – Odegaard – Willian

Nketiah

Whatever the team, let’s hope we get a confidence-boosting victory and no injuries.

Come on You Gunners

RockyLives