Xhaka: Quality?  Or the Most Overrated Player of Recent Years (and That Says Something!)?

May 31, 2021
Granit Xhaka: Saint…
…or Sinner?


As we (hopefully) approach the departure of my bete noir, and as an attempt to explain to some “what I see” of this anachronism, I thought I might be a bit controversial ahead of the Euros.


So… here is my list of pros and cons regarding Mr Xhaka:

I will start with pros (there are some, but IMO, they don’t make up for the cons):

  1. Xhaka, given enough time, has a reasonable-to-good range of passing skills. He even has a powerful shot (on four occasions, anyway).

2. Xhaka is rarely injured and consequently plays many games in a season.

3. Xhaka has improved slightly his tackling skills in the second half of this season. About time, given how long he has been with us.

4. Xhaka seems to have convinced Mikel Arteta, Jose Moaninho, the recent managers of the Swiss team that he is an essential cog in their teams.


That’s it from me, I’m afraid, unless you wish to include, like Luiz, he seems to be a popular member of the squad.


And now to the Cons:

1. Xhaka is slow of thought and, especially, action. This means if he doesn’t get time on the ball he panics. This results in him either losing the ball or, sometimes worse, to use a phrase from my rugby days, in him “shovelling sh*t”. This means he passes to another player, usually on top of him, resulting in them losing it, and occasionally this season even leading directly to a goal against. 

2. Xhaka (although I have to admit he seems to have improved in this area as I said above) always has a last ditch ridiculous tackle in him. This used to happen in the box or as last man in defence with the inevitable consequences. 

3. Linked closely with the above, Xhaka doesn’t seem to know that quite apart from the referee and two linesmen/women, there are cameras all over the place watching him. When he makes a stupid tackle, pulls a player back or similar he screams “injustice”, “I didn’t do it guv”, “you must be be joking – I got the ball”! This not only pisses off referees (who get so much wrong) so that when they see something they know is right, they say to themselves, “I’ll remember you for the future.”

4. Again linked, the above behaviour can have a detrimental effect on immature young players. This was particularly evident with Guendouzi, who, in my opinion, often copied Xhaka’s lead in the time he was at the Club.

5. Xhaka likes to use the “professional tricks of the trade”, so despised by me especially. His current one, when trapped with the ball by an opposition press, usually close to the touch line, is to flop down on top of the ball like a grounded dolphin, suggesting he has been brutally assaulted sexually from behind.

6. Despite his lack of injuries, resulting in regular selection, he tires dramatically in the last quarter of the game, and is rarely able to cover back successfully against on-rushing opposition. At this point he is good at pointing to others to do the job, or even balling them out when a poor outcome ensues.

7. Xhaka, doesn’t really have a right foot, so – especially when on the left side of defence – he turns inwards (always) and perpetuates that awful “horseshoe” tactic, I also so despise.

That’s where I’ll leave it AAers. You gather, using my own eyes, rather than Moaninho’s one, that I don’t rate the man much.

Apart from his disrespect of the Club and captaincy on being sent off, I don’t have anything against the man per se, and wish him best of luck at Roma and with Moaninho, GHH.

LBG


Too many CBs at Arsenal… who should go and who should stay?

May 30, 2021
One down, how many more to follow?

Here are the players that are currently in our squad as CBs:

  1. Holding
  2. Gabriel
  3. Mari
  4. Mavropanos
  5. Saliba

We also know that Chambers, Tierney and even Xhaka could play there.

So we have five CBs and then three players that can play CB if needed, including two defenders. So technically, we have a lot of CB options.

We should keep 4 CBs as part of our rotation (knowing that Chambers or Tierney could play there if needed) and it seems that Holding, Gabriel and Mari are all staying so who should be our fourth one?

A. Mavropanos who had a good season in Germany.

B. Saliba who had a good run at Nice although nothing stellar either.

C. A new face.

If we decide to keep only 4 CBs (which makes sense tbh), we have a few options:

  1. Sell/loan Mavro, sell/loan Saliba and bring in a CB
  2. Keep Mavro, loan/sell Saliba
  3. Keep Saliba, loan/sell Mavro

My inkiling is that Arteta will want five CBs in the end and may keep either Mavro or Saliba and bring in an experienced CB in the squad.

If we need liquidity, then Mavro will be sold… tough choices regarding Mavro and Saliba. For me, Saliba needs another loan but in the EPL…

What are your thoughts?

RC78


Arsenal’s Player of the Season Revealed

May 29, 2021
The votes are in…

Thanks to everyone who voted in this week’s series of polls to select our Players of the Season in a number of different categories.

We had hundreds of votes in every poll and some fascinating results.

In each case I will give the top three players and the percentage of the vote they received. There’s no need to publish the lower end of the scoring, although you may be interested to know that every player in every category got at least some votes: yes, some people even voted Willian our Attacking Player of the Year. It takes all sorts I suppose.

So let’s start with the big one:

Player of the Season

Winner: BUKAYO SAKA – 55%

Runner-up: Kieran Tierney – 9%

Third Equal: Granit Xhaka/Nicolas Pepe – 8%

Congratulations to Bukayo. It’s hard to argue with that result. He has been outstanding this season and even when he seemed tired towards the end of the campaign he still managed to make telling contributions. When you think about how young he is you can only be excited about where he can go from here.

And to add to his garlands, let’s move on to the next category:

Young Player of the Season

Winner: BUKAYO SAKA – 51%

Runner-up: Emile Smith Rowe – 35%

Third: Kieran Tierney – 10%

At least the next category will give someone else a look in – Saka was not among the nominees for this one.

Most Improved Player of the Season

Winner: NICOLAS PEPE – 53%

Runner-up: Rob Holding – 17%

Third Equal: Granit Xhaka/Calum Chambers – 9%

It seemed to take Nico a long time to convince Mikel Arteta to have faith in him, but his contribution in the second half of the season was very good. He can be lethal cutting in from the wings and shooting with great accuracy. His two goals in the final game of the season against Brighton were perfect examples, both placed with power rather than blasted with hope. He could be huge for us next season if this upturn in his form continues.

Now we move on to the most popular players in the three areas of defence, midfield and attack.

Defensive Player of the Season

Winner: KIERAN TIERNEY – 55%

Runner-up: Rob Holding – 21%

Third: Gabriel – 7%

No big surprises here. Tierney has rapidly established himself as one of the best fullbacks in the EPL. Rob Holding’s second place is fair reward for a mostly solid and consistent season despite playing alongside a constantly changing rota of CB partners.

Midfield Player of the Season

Winner: BUKAYO SAKA – 47%

Runner-up: Emile Smith Rowe – 24%

Third: Granit Xhaka – 19%

Saka again, but it’s nice to see a lot of votes for ESR, who is my favourite player to watch in the current squad. Xhaka gets deserved recognition for a strong and consistent second half of the campaign.

Attacking Player of the Season

Winner: NICOLAS PEPE – 52%

Runner-up: Alexandre Lacazette – 34%

Third: Gabriel Martinelli – 9%

I wonder how many people would have predicted at Christmas that the Ivorian would be the fans’ attacking player of the season by the end of May? Not many, that’s for sure. The unproductive Willian occupied the space that should have been Pepe’s for the first half of the season but Nico certainly seized his chance when he got back into the first team rotation.

So, a great night at the Arsenal Oscars for Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe, with Kieran Tierney also getting among the honours.

Happy with the results? Outraged? The comment section is there to capture your thoughts…

RockyLives


Arsenal’s Overall Player of the Season: You Vote

May 28, 2021
Who will be this year’s fan favourite?

Welcome to the last day of voting for Arsenal Arsenal‘s players of the season.

In recent days you have been given the chance to vote for our player of the year in each of the three main categories (Defence, Midfield, Attack). If you have not yet cast your vote in those polls you can still do so – you can find them in ‘recent posts’.

Today it’s time to vote for our overall Player of the Season, as well as Young Player (23 and under) and Most Improved Player.

For these categories I have taken the liberty of compiling shortlists of players whom I think can be realistically considered for the various honours, even if some of them are a bit of a long shot. If your favourite player has not been listed I apologise, but feel free to remonstrate with me in the comments.

For example – and possibly controversially – I have not included Saka, ESR and Tierney in the “most improved” category because the season before last was their first real season of playing and they did not have a full season then, either through injury or not being regular members of the first team squad, so comparisons don’t really work.

Bear in mind for all the votes that we are considering players’ performances in this season only, so please try and put heroics and disasters from previous seasons out of your mind.

Results from all this week’s polls will be published tomorrow.

Have at it.

RockyLives


Arsenal’s Players of the Season: You Vote – Part 3 – Attack

May 27, 2021
Flashback to the One and Only

Today is your chance to vote for our Attacking Player of the Season.

Perhaps the toughest category for a clear-cut winner… but maybe not, it all depends on how we all vote.

You can still vote for Defensive and Midfield Players of the Season by visiting the Posts from yesterday and Tuesday (you can find them in the ‘recent posts’ menu on the right).

Feel free to discuss the options in comments. And if you feel compelled to vote for Willian please seek help immediately.

Tomorrow we’ll vote for overall Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Most Improved Player of the Year.

The results for all the polls will be published on Saturday.

RockyLives


Arsenal’s Players of the Season: You Vote – Part 2 – Midfield

May 26, 2021
A reminder of one of the greatest midfielders ever to play for The Arsenal

Welcome to Day Two of our ‘Players of the Season’ series of polls.

We started yesterday with Defensive Player of the Season (if you missed it you can still vote by visiting that post).

Today we move onto the midfield. Please don’t complain if you think players have been listed in the wrong category: all designations have been taken from the official Arsenal website.

Tomorrow we move on to Attacking Player of the Season. Then on Friday we’ll have Overall Player of the Season, Young Player and Most Improved Player.

Results will be published on Saturday.

Have fun.

RockyLives


Arsenal’s Players of the Season: You Vote – Part 1 – Defence

May 25, 2021
Flashback to when Arsenal defenders were true giants

I don’t suppose any of us loved the Premier League season 2020/21, but now it’s gone, along with its empty stadiums, daft Euro Super League, terrible VAR decisions, crappy pre-Christmas Arsenal run and much more.

So now we can reflect on how our players did during the campaign and vote for our favourites in a series of polls here on Arsenal Arsenal.

Whether you’re a regular or just dropping in today you are welcome to vote for our Defensive, Midfield and Attacking Players of the Year as well as our Overall Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Most Improved Player.

Today we start with the Defensive Player of the Year (including goalies, although in practice that just means Leno, given that Runarsson and Ryan did not play enough games to be considered).

Tomorrow we’ll move on to Midfield, then the Attackers on Thursday.

On Friday we’ll vote for Overall Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Most Improved Player.

The results will be published on Saturday.

Feel free to debate the options in comments.

Enjoy….

RockyLives


Arsenal Finish Well: Brighton Report & Ratings

May 24, 2021
Finishing in Style

Our recent good form continued into the final day of the season with a well deserved home win over Brighton & Hove Albion in front of 10,000 noisy fans.

Two beautifully taken Nicolas Pepe goals secured the three points although a scoreline of 4-0 or 5-0 would not have unduly flattered us.

We also dodged a bullet by not qualifying for the Europa No-Hoper Conference competition. Results elsewhere meant that it will be Totteringham who will be trooping off to Montenegro and Latvia on Thursday nights, while we stay home and focus 100% on the Premier League and domestic cups.

It would have been nice to celebrate St Totteringham’s Day, but not at the cost of having to enter a competition with a minuscule financial upside, a laughable prize for the winner and a serious potential for disruption. By May next year the Spuds will quite likely be rueing those two late goals against Leicester.

Another benefit of not having to compete in a Euro competition is that we will not need such a bloated squad so we can clear out the unwanted and fringe players and focus on a really high quality nucleus, much of which is already in place.

Arteta made a couple of changes from the team that beat Chelsea, giving Saka a well deserved rest and bringing Xhaka back in for Elneny. Aubameyang was up front again ahead of Pepe, Odegaard and Smith Rowe.

The home crowd were in great voice and were happy to let Josh Kroenke (who was attending) know what they thought of his family’s stewardship of our club.

Despite the atmosphere Brighton started on the front foot and it took 10 minutes or so before Arsenal got into gear. After that it was mostly one way traffic. Odegaard and Smith Rowe came close to unlocking the Seagulls’ defence; Tierney fizzed a great cross through the six yard box but none of our forwards had gambled on being on the end of it.

We thought we had the breakthrough in the 31st minute when Holding poked the ball home from a corner but he was correctly flagged for offside.

There was little threat at the other end but we had a narrow escape when Smith Rowe dwelt on the ball on the half way line and had it pinched off him. A three-on-two break in Brighton’s favour was fortunately snuffed out by the alert Tierney.

Just before half time Gabriel sent a looping header onto the crossbar: it was an inch away from being a goal, but we trooped off at half time still on level terms.

Five minutes after the restart the in-form Pepe put us ahead, controlling a Chambers pass and firing home through the Brighton keeper’s legs.

Ten minutes later Pepe got his second, picking up the ball from Odegaard on the right wing and cutting inside before slotting home low in the far corner. What I liked about both of Pepe’s goals was that he didn’t just blast them: in each case he chose his spot and slotted him with laser-like accuracy. Forget the ludicrous price tag, the Pepe we have seen in the second half of the season can be a big asset in the next campaign.

The match played out with Arsenal fully in control. Aubameyang was set free down the left but sliced his shot well wide; Thomas Partey was unlucky not to get his first Arsenal goal when Xhaka rifled a pass into him in the Brighton box. Partey’s control and instant shot were top class, but the ball came back off the bar.

In the final 15 minutes Saka, Lacazette and Martinelli all got the chance to come on and feel the love of the crowd, as did the players they replaced (Smith Rowe, Aubameyang and Odegaard) who all got standing ovations.

In the end we had 16 attempts on goal (five on target) and 11 corners in an attacking display. There has been criticism of our lack of creativity under Arteta but there was plenty of creativity and attacking intent yesterday.

We end the season with the same league position as last time (eighth) but with five more points.

Perhaps more importantly, we have seen an indisputable improvement in results since Christmas – a 24 game run of W14-D5-L5 since Boxing Day. The Arteta critics don’t want to hear it, but that’s solid Top Four form and bodes well for the coming season. It’s a return of 1.95 points per game which, if sustained across a full season, would give us 74 points (the same total that was good enough to get Manchester United the runners-up spot this time round).

A relatively small number of key signings, added to the talented young players who have come into their own this year, could see us being even more competitive next time.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

Not too busy, but looked confident playing out from the back and dealt well with crosses.

Chambers – 7

Typically reliable. I would not be unhappy with Chambo getting a run at the RB slot next season.

Holding – 7

It’s becoming almost boring to keep saying how solid and reliable Holding is. An underrated player.

Gabriel – 7

Love his power and speed. Like Holding he was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. A good performance.

Tierney – 7.5

Alert and decisive at the back; always dangerous going forward. Great player.

Partey – 7

A good game from Thomas. He seems to be ironing out his issues with misplaced passing and looked dominant in midfield at times. Also unlucky not to score (he had two good shots which did not take the usual Row Z trajectory, much to everyone’s astonishment).

Xhaka – 7.5

A tidy, accomplished performance. When he plays like this Xhaka is a real asset.

Pepe – 8

The boy has an eye for goal. He was involved for most of the game and never stops trying to take on defenders. It’s frustrating at times because inevitably he will lose the ball in some of the attempts, but you need players doing this to break the lines and Nico has been doing it well in recent outings.

Odegaard – 8.5 (MoTM)

Pulled all the strings in the CAM position. A really good game from the young man. It may well have been his last appearance in an Arsenal shirt but I would be pleased if we were able to keep him.

Smith Rowe – 7.5

Another dynamic, progressive outing from ESR.

Aubameyang – 6

It’s just not happening for the captain at the moment.

SUBS

Saka – 7

Lacazette – 7

Martinelli – 7

RockyLives


Arsenal Owe It To Fans To Blow Brighton Away: Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

May 23, 2021
The 2020/21 Squad: Some are gone, some will be going – but which ones?

After a fractious season Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal can send us into the summer months with some cause for optimism if the team continues its upward trend and dispatches today’s visitors with style.

With (some) fans back in the stadium it would be nice to think the players will be motivated to put on a show and give us an entertaining game with plenty of goals and a good win.

Three points would mean we’ll have ended the season with five wins on the bounce and with post-Christmas form that puts us behind only Manchester City and Manchester United over a span of 22 games.

It would give us a final total of 61 points, which would be three more than last season and would therefore be further evidence of improvement, albeit incremental.

There is also the outside chance of qualifying for the Europa Bottom Feeders Commemorative Challenge Trophy and of finishing above the noisy neighbours.

Of course Brighton will be aiming to finish strongly themselves, even though they have nothing other than league position to play for.

They may be encouraged by our poor home form this season, but you would have to hope that the presence of 10,000 fired-up supporters will help us with that particular deficiency.

With lots of talk of a summer clear-out, it may be the last chance for fans to see some of our players in an Arsenal shirt. We know David Luiz is leaving, but he may be given a start (or possibly a run-out as a sub) if he passes a late fitness test.

Bellerin is definitely out with an injury he picked up against Chelsea, so we may have seen the last of him. Mat Ryan can’t pay against the club that loaned him to us.

Here’s my predicted line-up:

Leno

Chambers – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Partey – Xhaka

Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

Come on You Gunners: Let’s finish with style.

RockyLives


Kroenke Out? Or Kroenke Get Your Wallet Out?

May 22, 2021
Only Fans…

Before our final game of the season tomorrow – a home fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion – there will be another demonstration against the club’s owners, Kroenke Sports Entertainment (KSE).

If you’re one of the lucky 10,000 who has a ticket for the game, will you be turning up early to join the demo? Even if you don’t have a ticket are you planning to go anyway to attend the protest?

I believe most Arsenal supporters would like a change of ownership, even though there is no guarantee that things will be better under a new regime (there’s always the danger of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” as The Who once said in their aptly titled hit “Won’t Get Fooled Again“).

KSE have done themselves no favours with their cack-handed involvement in the short-lived European Super League, a footballing institution with a briefer lifespan than anything we’ve ever witnessed in the game apart from Totteringham’s tenure at the top of the Premier League.

Meanwhile the emotional bond between Leicester City’s owner, Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha and his club, city and fans that was evident in the FA Cup Final has reminded many of us that it is still possible to have a wealthy owner who truly cares about his club and not just about the bottom line.

The one putative buyer waiting in the wings for Arsenal is Daniel Ek, a billionaire founder of the Spotify music streaming service. By Kroenke standards Ek is a pauper, and his enquiry about a sale was allegedly dismissed out of hand by KSE.

Nevertheless, a combination of the recent bad press around KSE’s Super League involvement – and the sense among fans that Arsenal have been on a slowly declining trajectory ever since KSE took over – may prompt some kind of action from the owners.

Some are speculating that this might take the form of an injection of cash into the club for new transfers this summer.

If I were Stan or Josh Kroenke I would see this as exactly the right time to provide Mikel Arteta with some extra financial muscle. I know that not everyone among the fandom (or indeed among the regulars on this blog) believes Arteta is the right man to take us forward, but I suspect the Kroenkes will look at the fact that we have been the third best Premier League team since Christmas and will see that as something to build on.

KSE have certainly not lost money with their Arsenal investment (‘big’ clubs with instant name and brand recognition and an international following are assets that continually appreciate), but they must also be aware that footballing success would raise the club’s value even higher.

A £200m investment, for example, would easily recoup itself if it led to participation in the Champions League for the following two or three seasons.

With that in mind there is a business reason (as well as a PR one) for KSE to consider releasing additional cash, although I have no great confidence that they will do so.

So I’ll leave you with a question: would you rather that KSE agreed to sell, with all the uncertainty that that will bring? Or would you reluctantly accept KSE sticking around if they started to invest the sort of money in the team that would allow us to seriously upgrade our personnel?

RockyLives