As we approach the final game of a turbulent season and start thinking about planning for the next campaign, it’s time to run the measure over our squad to decide who is worth keeping and who should be disposed of.
GK: Leno – Some see some improvements, some see a recurring liability. What is your take?
RB: Bellerin – Some see a Gunner for life, some see a shadow of the promise he once had. What is your take?
RB: Soares – Some see a versatile squad player, some see an expendable player. What is your take?
RB/DM/CM/AM: Maitland-Niles – Some see a versatile squad player, some see an expendable player. What is your take?
CB: Mavropanos – One to bring back as part of our rotation at CB, or one to cash in?
DM/CM: Elneny – A squad player, a starter or just another one that needs to be shipped out?
DM/CM: Guendouzi, Torreira – A glimmer of hope to be back with us; or out forever?
CM/AM: Willock – A home-grown who deserves a chance? Or a player with unfulfilled promise at AFC?
RW/FW: Nelson – Another one for the future that deserves a chance? Or should he develop elsewhere?
LW/FW: Willian – To pay or not to pay for this once reliable EPL performer?
CF/ST: Lacazette – The glue to our game? Or an older CF who needs to find playing time somewhere else?
CF/ST: Nketiah – With Balogun extended, is that the end of the road for him at AFC?
Saliba will not be sold but may be loaned out again…
The following 13 players are staying for sure and one could argue a place for El Neny too:
A patchy performance at Crystal Palace saw us extend our winning run to four consecutive games and leave us with an outside chance of securing the blessing/curse (delete as applicable) of a place in the new third tier of European competition.
A small number of home fans were allowed into the stadium and they made plenty of noise, not least because this was the last home game for manager Roy Hodgson before his retirement. That particular bond between manager and club is a strong one given that Roy supported Palace when he was a lad.
As LBG described in yesterday’s Post, Roy has been one of the most decent men in football, equally gracious in victory or defeat.
But there’s no place for sentiment once the ref blows the whistle and it was pleasing to see Arsenal play well enough to grab all three points.
We were wearing our new yellow away kit for the first time, about which I have this to say: the shirts are great (and are a nod to our 1971 Double-winning season) but they just don’t work without the dark blue shorts. Having shirts, shorts and socks all in the same shade of yellow made us look like a bunch of agitated bananas.
Palace under Hodgson have become a reliable mid-table team, always well-drilled and well organised, and they have had some success against us in recent years including a 3-0 thumping in 2017 towards the end of Arsene’s Wenger’s reign (a dismal evening fixture at which I had the misfortune to be present).
However, we have been on a generally upward curve since Boxing Day despite some supporters’ bewildering refusal to recognise the fact (if you compile a league table based only on results since Christmas we are third) so it was no real surprise that we came away with the win.
We showed plenty of good movement early on with Smith Rowe and Saka working well together and with Pepe having some success down our right flank. Clear-cut chances were few and once Palace settled down they posed a threat, particularly from set pieces and high balls into the box.
We took the lead in the 36th minute. Tierney and Saka worked a give-and-go down our left side, including an audacious back heel from Saka from which the Scot put in a perfect cross for Pepe to volley home with his weaker (right) foot. At half time we went in one up and looking comfortable.
Remembering the occasion, the Palace players showed a lot more determination in the second half, clearly hoping to get a result that would send Woy off happy into his sunset years. Leno was called on to make several smart saves (his recent form has been excellent) and we seemed to lose our way, particularly in midfield.
The Palace equaliser came in the 62nd minute when Benteke got in front of our defenders to powerfully head home a free kick from the edge of the six yard box. There were suspicions of a foul on Elneny and of a possible offside, but the VAR lottery came up trumps for Palace on this occasion and the goal stood.
Knowing we needed a win to maintain any hope of European football you would have expected some real urgency from the Arsenal players, but it was slow to emerge.
Immediately after the equaliser the tiring Saka was replaced with Odegaard, who probed consistently from the central attacking midfield position without ever being able to make anything happen. We seemed to have run out of ideas.
Arteta threw Martinelli into the fray on 77 minutes and the two substitutions finally paid off as we entered stoppage time. Odegaard pinged in a clever diagonal cross from the right that invited Martinelli to attack the ball. He got there marginally ahead of the defender and improvised to move it across goal off his thigh before slotting home.
Then in the final added minute (the 95th of the game) Pepe scored a terrific individual effort, cutting in from the left, bamboozling three defenders and tucking the ball home inside the far post.
In the end a comfortable win, but one that was not without its frustrating periods for us Gunners.
Now it’s all down to the final day where, if we beat Brighton and both Spuds and Everton fail to win, we will finish in seventh place and can start looking forward to some big European night games in Montenegro and Macedonia.
Such an outcome would not be to everyone’s taste, but surely we’d all be happy with a final day celebration of St Totteringham’s Day, right?
Leno – 8
Made some top saves and continued his excellent form. He seems to have settled down with his passing out from the back as well and we were seldom troubled despite Palace’s occasional high press.
Chambers – 7
Contributed well at both ends and continued his good run. Is he removing the need to enter the market for a RB this summer?
Holding – 7
Gabriel – 6.5
His ball use is still shaky at times and he might have done better with Benteke’s goal, but his strength and speed were important for us on the night.
Tierney – 7
Solid outing despite having the crowd on his back for most of the game. His involvement in the opening goal was of the highest quality.
Partey – 6.5
Generally did well, although he lost the ball a few too many times during Palace’s good spell in the second half.
Elneny – 6.5
Same as Partey.
Pepe – 8.5 (MoTM)
Two superbly taken goals. Nico pestered the Palace left back all night and linked up well with his team mates. He is making progress and should be providing 15+ goals for us next season.
Smith Rowe – 7
Good in the first half, faded a little in the second.
Saka – 7.5
Always looking to make something happen, always taking on defenders. That back heel that led to our opening goal was sensational.
Aubameyang – 6
Another mostly anonymous outing from the captain.
Odegaard – 7
Plays on the front foot and supplied the assist for our all-important second goal.
Martinelli – 7.5
His goal was all about determination and drive. It will do his confidence a world of good and I hope he gets some decent game time against Brighton.
As we prepare for our penultimate game of a crazy season, the sporting grapevine has announced the pending retirement of surely the most travelled manager in British footballing history.
Roy Hodgson, a Geordie by birth, started his childhood supporting life at Selhurst Park and “the Palace.” (He recalls having seen the great Real Madrid side of Puskas and di Stefano in a midweek game there).
He was even briefly a sometime player for them, although he didn’t make the first team. But what a career begun in the depths of Souf London!! Having given up on a playing career he began coaching in Sweden – Halmstad and, later, Malmo – where his team famously knocked Inter Milan out of the European Cup in the 89/90 season.
The Italians must have been impressed because he immediately went there briefly, before coaching Switzerland, the UAE and Finland. His reputation brought him back to the UK, and spells at Bristol City and Blackburn, before probably his most successful achievements at Fulham.
Many will still remember an unlucky loss in extra time in a UEFA Cup final, and his coaching prowess then brought him brief periods at Liverpool and West Brom, before England called.
The full circle back to his beloved Palace was then completed and, with due reverence to a fine man and coach of the old school, I personally, hope we can spoil your farewell (with fans) to the Park, tonight.
Never been one for predicting what Mikel will do for selection, so will make my own outrageous choices and expect to get three or four right:
The news that Harry Kane supposedly wants to leave the Spuds in an attempt to win some silverware is amusing and long overdue.
It would be hard to overstate his importance to the noisy neighbours since he broke into their first team. His goal scoring stats in the Premier League alone (not counting European and domestic cup competitions) are as follows:
2018/19: 17 (impacted by injury)
2019/20: 18 (impacted by injury_
2020/21: 22 (two games still to play)
It’s a phenomenally consistent track record without which it is hard to imagine Totteringham having been as competitive as they have been during his time at the club.
Although their deluded fans think of their club as one of the “big six”, the hard truth is that Kane’s exploits have helped them flatter to deceive.
There will be no shortage of suitors for Kane’s signature even at an expected price of £150m, with Manchester City and Manchester United top of the list.
It would be nice to fantasise about him coming to N5 (Sol Campbell Mark II) but there is no chance of that. Personally I hope he goes to one of the European giants like Madrid or Juve so we no longer have to put up with his irritating habit of scoring against us.
Assuming a deal is agreed this summer, the Spuds will have a hefty transfer kitty to play with. However, they have shown in the past that they are capable of blowing large sums on mediocre players.
Also they are still trying to pay off the costs of building their Armitage Shanks arena, so it’s entirely plausible to imagine that Daniel Levy will syphon off some of the funds to bring down the debt rather than boost up the squad.
Combined with the club’s need for a new manager it should mean that the N17 miscreants are in for a transitional period, which gives us a chance to restore the traditional pecking order in North London.
Given that we have been displaying ‘top four’ form since Boxing Day there is every reason to be optimistic that the good ship Arsenal, which has been stuck in the doldrums for several years, is finally getting a bit of breeze back in her sails.
Captain Mikel may not have convinced everyone that he’s the right man to have at the helm, but at least there is a growing sense that we have started out on the journey.
The Spuds, on the other hand, will have the wind taken out of their sails with Kane’s likely departure and may be heading into their own period of being becalmed.
The upshot of all this is that if you’re a betting man (or woman), a little punt on the certainty of St Totteringham’s Day happening next season may well be worth a go.
My Post a few days ago showing how Arsenal’s form since Boxing Day has been good enough to secure a top four finish if spread across a whole season prompted a vigorous debate.
If anything the weight of opinion was stacked against my optimistic outlook, with a sense that many supporters (including those who comment here on AA) have little faith in the ability of Mikel Arteta to bring back the good times to N5.
That more pessimistic outlook may well prove to be correct, but I’ll keep banging my drum for our young manager until the facts tell me otherwise.
And to that end I wanted to say a quick word about some of the “alternatives to Arteta” whom fans have mentioned over the last year-to-18-months.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us were prepared to give Arteta a chance when he was appointed, but that we undoubtedly had reservations about the fact that he was young, inexperienced and had never managed any club let alone a ‘top’ club like Arsenal.
But when things went a bit south in the first half of this season I read (and heard) a lot of comments along the lines of “we should have gone for…”
Among the names in the frame were Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers, David Moyes, Marcelo Bielsa, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Rafa Benitez. Some people even mentioned a certain Jose Mourinho, but the less said about that the better.
Taking a quick look at how those ‘alternative Arsenal managers’ have done over the last season or so quickly demonstrates that there are no easy answers in football.
Brendan Rodgers has been the one clear success story, head and shoulders above the rest. He has steered Leicester City to an FA Cup win and almost certainly a Champions League place next year.
But after that, the other contenders aren’t so impressive. David Moyes has probably overachieved at West Ham given how poor they have been in recent years. At one point the Irons were looking like a good outside bet for a top four finish, but they have fallen away badly in the latter part of the season and it’s not inconceivable that Arsenal could overtake them. Their late season decline reminds me of what used to regularly happen when Moyes was in charge at Everton.
And speaking of Everton, Ancelotti was probably top of the list of managers whom some fans said we should have appointed instead of Arteta (he took up his post at Goodison at almost the same time that Arteta took over at Arsenal).
Rather like Moyes, Ancelotti had an impressive first half of the season but Everton are currently one place and one point above us in the table and, again, we may well finish ahead of them.
Leeds, too, had a strong start to their campaign but have fallen away really badly under Marcelo Bielsa and now languish in 10th place, while Southampton, under Hasenhuttl (a manager whom I was touting as a possible prospect for us!) are in 14th after a poor season.
And what of Rafa Benitez you may ask? Well, he left his Chinese league club in April, having had a very indifferent season with them. He has not currently found a new coaching role.
I’m sure there are many other managers who were mooted in relation to Arsenal and whom I have overlooked here, but some will have been unattainable for a club like ours and others unavailable as realistic options for other reasons.
My point is not to criticise the coaches mentioned above: they are mostly very good. It is to make a plea for judging Arteta by a reasonable standard. If we had had Ancelotti, Bielsa, Benitez etc would we have had a better season in 2020-21? We’ll never know, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as simple as “appoint Ancelotti, get top four” as we’ve seen with his campaign at Everton.
This debate will no doubt rumble on for a long time (probably until Christmas, by which time we will know whether we are properly competitive under Arteta or whether it’s time for a change), but the comparison with other “might have been” Arsenal managers is an interesting diversion in the mean time.
It’s still unlikely we’ll finish as high as seventh in the Premier League, but not impossible.
If we do so we will be eligible for the new third-tier European tournament, the Europa Conference League.
It will serve as the bottom level of the existing Europa League competition, which is being cut from 48 to 32 teams in the group stage.
The Conference League will primarily be contested by teams from lower-ranked UEFA member associations. No teams will qualify directly to the group stage, with 10 teams eliminated in a round of play-offs and the rest coming from the Europa Conference League qualifiers. The winners of the competition are awarded a position in the Europa League the following season, unless they qualify for the Champions League.
Who can’t fail to be excited by the prospect of matching ourselves against the best that Latvia, Finland and Bosnia have to offer?
So, would it be beneficial or harmful for us to qualify for this competition?
I have drawn up some Pros and Cons but I’m sure it’s not an exhaustive list so please add your own thoughts in the comments.
It would bring in additional revenue (although how much is not clear. The Europa League is already a long way behind the Champions League for generating income and this third competition will presumably be less well funded even than that).
It would provide an opportunity for young players to cut their teeth at a competitive level and gain experience of European club football.
There would be more games for we fans to enjoy. Without this competition we will have the decidedly unfamiliar routine of games only at weekends with no regular midweek fare outside of the Carabao Cup. We have been spoilt with twice-a-week football for a quarter of a century. Will we cope without it? We might have to take up hobbies.
We may have some easy wins, which will give us something to smile about if Season 2021/22 turns out to be anything like as challenging as this one.
Without European football next season we would have a real opportunity to focus on our Premier League campaign (something that worked well for Leicester when they became champions and also for Chelsea, who won the title in a season when they were not in Europe). I’m not saying we have a realistic shot at being champions, but we do have a shot at CL qualification.
Even if we used mostly young players in the Europa Conference it would still entail Arteta and the coaching staff having to fly to weird small towns all over Europe in the middle of the week, no doubt removing them from first team preparation for two or more days at a time with a resultant knock-on effect.
Even if we entered the competition, went all the way and won it, the prize is rubbish: a place in the following season’s Europa League. Big deal. If we have not qualified for the Champions League or the Europa League through our EPL position next season then our problems will go way beyond the perils of playing in Kazakhstan on a Thursday night.
The money generated from the competition will probably be small beer for a club like Arsenal.
I’m still intrigued by the fall out from our battling 1-0 win at Chelsea.
The performance seems to have really frustrated – even angered – some supporters and led to an air of pessimism about our chances of progressing under Mikel Arteta.
That view is wrong and the statistics prove it.
Before I explain, first let me say that everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I welcome a variety of viewpoints. Real truth probably lies somewhere in the centre of a Venn diagram of all the different fan convictions.
But there really has been progress under El Patron. It’s just that our crappy first half of the season has blinded us to the improvements that have taken place, compounded by our disappointing exit from the Europa League.
Here’s how much progress we’ve made: if our form since Boxing Day was replicated across the whole season we would be ending this campaign with 71 points and, almost certainly, a place in the top four, qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Starting with that Boxing Day victory over Chelsea, our league form has been as follows: P22 – W12 – D5 – L5 – F38 – A17
In that run (which comprises more than half of the season) we have averaged a little over 1.86 points per game.
If we had managed that form over the whole campaign we would end up with 38 games x 1.86 points, leading to that total of 71 points at the end of the season.
And even though we know our goal scoring has been sub par, during that run we have achieved just under two goals per game (on average).
Obviously there are important caveats: you don’t win titles (or, indeed, qualify for European places) on the basis of how you play for HALF a season. Similarly you could argue that some of our results (such as Wednesday’s win at Stamford Bridge) might not have happened if the circumstances were different and we were battling for a top four spot, with all that added pressure.
But there is surely something positive to take from the fact that for almost five months now our league form has been at a level that, if extrapolated across a whole season, would make us a top four team?
I suppose it all comes down to which one you think is the ‘real’ Arteta Arsenal: the team that had a pre-Christmas run of 12 games where our dismal stats were: W2 – D2 – L8; or the team that has delivered the post-Christmas stats line listed above.
Given that it’s the latter that is the more recent I know where my money’s going – and it fills me with optimism for the promise of next season.
After our 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge last night there was a divide in the great confederation that is Arsenaldom. Some supporters saw positive signs in a gutsy, defensive effort and others saw a continuation of a sterile, cautious and uncreative brand of football.
I am unashamedly in the former camp.
Chelsea, as I said in yesterday’s Post, have become darlings of the pundit class since Thomas Tuchel took over as head coach.
Coming in to last night’s game the Blues had lost only one of their last 16 matches (a strange aberration against West Brom), a run that included victories over Man City and Liverpool. They have also made it to the FA Cup final and the final of the Champions League.
After completing their transfer ban they spent £220m on players in the last year or so and have a squad full of talent envied even by the other rich teams.
So for us to go there and beat them matters, it really does.
We took the chance they handed to us and secured an early lead, then we put in an all-team defensive effort that fans would have loved in the days of George Graham, reducing Chelsea to very few clear cut chances despite all the possession they had.
And I’m not buying the idea that the Chavs weren’t really trying. They were desperate for the win because there’s certainly no guarantee they’ll win the Champions League final, meaning they need a top four finish to guarantee CL next year.
We rode our luck a couple of times, first at 0-0 when Gabriel and Mari contrived to put Havertz through on goal for a one-on-one that he should have converted but skied over the bar. And later in the game when Chelsea hit the crossbar twice in quick succession (the first from an excellent Leno save).
But we also might have had a penalty in the closing stages when Partey was tripped in the Chelsea box. He was booked for diving but replays showed he had been clipped by the defender. It would have been a soft penalty, but by the way the rules are interpreted it should have been given.
What most encouraged me was how all our players worked hard for each other and for the team as a whole. There were some great blocks, some brave headers in the box and a huge amount of effort from a well organised group of players.
So what of the lack of creativity issue? I saw comments from people saying it was embarrassing watching Arsenal last night, so limited were our ambitions.
There’s a consensus building among a section of the support that we are too cautious under Mikel Arteta, to the extent that we don’t create chances and are boring to watch.
Sorry, not buying it. In the context of last night’s game – protecting an early lead against a talented team who really needed the win – there is no shame in doubling down on defence.
Do the supporters’ memories not extend back to last Sunday, when we put three past West Brom? Or to the Sunday before when we cruised to a 2-0 win at Newcastle?
Under the supposedly useless and over-cautious Arteta we have lost only two out of our last 11 Premier League games (Liverpool and Everton) in a run that has included wins over Leicester, Spuds and now Chelsea. In that run we have scored 23 goals (an average of more than two goals per game) and conceded 13. Not bad for a rubbish team with a ‘tactically constipated’ manager.
I understand the doubts. Arteta has made plenty of mistakes in his first full season in charge not just of Arsenal but of any football team. But I think the odour of disappointment that descended on N5 after our tame exit from the Europa League has infected us all and distorted what’s really going on.
As I mentioned in my pre-match yesterday (in which I also predicted an Arsenal win, ahem), our defensive record under Arteta this season is excellent, even though it doesn’t feel that way. Only Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs have conceded fewer goals in the EPL.
Someone might have pointed out that fact to Alan ‘Smudger’ Smith who was co-commenting for Sky and seemed amazed that we did not concede the hatful of goals that he expected, the miserable Brummie git.
I was one of those who advocated that Arteta’s first job was to tighten up the defence after the comical profligacy of the Unai Emery reign. He has done that and done it really well. It feels worse than it is because all the self inflicted wounds we suffered this season are still fresh in the memory.
Now the test will be whether Arteta can move to the next stage and add greater creativity in attack. We have several players already in place who can help with that pivot, notably Smith Rowe and Saka.
You see what you want to see. Last night I saw signs that things are starting to come together for Arteta’s Arsenal and that we will be significantly more competitive next season. Perhaps I’m deluded, but that’s where I stand.
Leno – 8
I have had plenty of criticism for Leno this season, but he was excellent last night. Tipping Zouma’s late header onto the bar was an outstanding piece of work. He was also decisive and commanding in the box.
Holding – 7.5
In a back three Big Rob defended strongly and well. He was also mostly secure when playing out from the back despite the high press from Chelsea.
Mari – 7
One early mistake aside, he was solid and dealt well with Giroud when he came on.
Gabriel – 7
A shaky first 20 minutes during which he looked uncomfortable on the ball, but settled afterwards and defended well.
Saka – 6
Looked tired and not entirely comfortable in the right wing back position. The boy needs a rest.
Partey – 7.5
In the first 15 minutes he made quite a few mistakes, giving the ball away under pressure. After that he found his feet and had a really good game. With Chelsea dominating possession his main work was defensive and he did it well. Should have had a penalty late on but was ludicrously booked instead.
Elneny – 7
Tireless effort from Mo, including some very intelligent off-the-ball positioning at times to help stifle Chelsea’s attacking moves.
Tierney – 7
Not vintage Tesco – he seems still to be not fully match fit following injury – but there was still a lot to like about Kieran’s effort.
Odegaard – 6.5
He seemed to fade in the second half but ran his socks off and made a big contribution in the first half.
Smith Rowe – 8 (MoTM)
My favourite player had an excellent game. The way he receives the ball on the turn and accelerates away from markers is a joy to watch and was important in relieving the pressure on our defence at times last night. Got another goal too.
Aubameyang – 6.5
Did really well to pick out ESR for the goal assist. After that the game state meant he was inevitably not too involved. Was he disgruntled to be taken off? If so, why?
Bellerin – 6.5
Replaced Saka and looked sharp until his injury.
Lacazette – 6.5
Typical hard-running Laca effort.
Chambers – 6.5
Came on in the 88th minute and helped us hold out for the win.
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:
Chambers – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney
Partey – Elneny
Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang
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.
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:
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:
We are hard to beat so we need defensive solidity
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.