The Top 3 teams in the EPL are, at least, within the Top 5 teams in Europe:
Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool, Bayern, Real…
There is a case for Dortmund (as always), Ajax (who is having a great year again) and may be even Atletico Madrid but teams like PSG, Juve, Barcelona and Man Utd or Sevilla or Villareal are looking a bit off the pace SO FAR… the December reality may not be the May-June reality…
In the EPL, the top 3 teams have widened the gap with the rest of the pack until now whether it is Man Utd, Leicester, West Ham, Tottenham and ourselves. At this stage, we cannot totally discard them but Wolves and Aston Villa or Brighton do seem to be fighting more for a Top 8 finish but who knows..
The interesting thing is that there are 5 genuine contenders for the 4th and last Top 4 sports and it is hard to tell which team will come on top comes the end of the season.
Man Utd has a deep and talented squad and now a very good coach so there is a chance that they kick-on…
Tottenham has a good squad and strong coach as well and they may start winning games more regularly in the second half of the season
West Ham has been playing well this season and building on last season’s progress
Leicester has a core group of players that knows how to get things done and a very good coach as well
And then we have been rather good, built a good set-up and shoring things up defensively mostly…
So who will land the prized 4th spot?
I am, of course, hoping for Project Arteta but the other teams have talent and proven coaches so it won’t be easy….The direct games against these teams are going to be key to securing the Top 4….What’s your take?
COYG! Let us finish in the Top 4 and start building a Champions-League worthy team….
A convincing win against a poor Newcastle team. We dominated possession, we dominated the midfield, we dominated also defensively. Overall, we just dominated – we maybe conceded 1-2 chances and I believe we should have been awarded a PK at the end of the game as Lascelles’ elbow into Martinelli’s face was a clear foul and intentional…Anyways…Two very well taken goals by Saka assisted by Tavares and Martinelli by Tomyasu (our wings are working decently 🙂
Ramsdale: Untroubled, calm…6
Tomyasu: Proving to be an astute purchase. An assist and solid going forward and defensively. 7.5
White: Not bothered. Did not take any risks. 6.5
Gabriel: Solid and more daring than White. 7
Tavares: Slowly but surely becoming the Nr.1 option as LB. Bright, brave and solid. Needs to be more aware at times defensively but wonderful going forward. An assist. 8.
Partey: Solid but also guilty of some poor passing once we were up 2-0. 6
Lokonga: Solid, sober. 6.5
Saka: Wonderful before his injury. A goal and plenty of gusto. MOTM. 8
Ode: A rare start. Did not help his cause but did not make it worse either. Some good passing. 6
ESR: A quiet game by his recent standard. 6
Auba: Ghastly. 5.5
Martinelli: Full of life and trickery. A great goal and should have gotten a PK at the end.
Laca: Energetic but not decisive. 5.5
El Neny: N/A.
I think today was a real marker for Arteta’s AFC in many ways
Ramsdale and the back four are rather solid and seem to enjoy defending together.
We were supposed to be excited about Auba, Laca and Pepe but in the end, it seems that our excitement and goals may come from ESR, Martinelli and Saka! ESR and Saka are clear starters now and although he needs to become fitter, Martinelli could be the striker we need. Has the change of guard happened…
Partey, Lokonga – Ode – did not look out of sorts but I still believe this is the area of the pitch that could use some improvement.
The losers: Pepe, Saliba, Auba, Tierney, Cedric/Chambers.
The last few years, we have been crushed by LFC in the EPL at Anfield:
2019/2020: Liverpool 3 – AFC 1
2018/2019: Liverpool 5 – AFC 1
2017/2018: Liverpool 4 – AFC 0
So we had conceded 12 goals and scored two in the last 3 away EPL games at Anfield and it seems that last week-end, we were unable to reverse the tide against Klopp’s Red Army…
This game was supposed to be a benchmark for us in terms of measuring our progress but if you look at the score and the way we conceded the goals, you cannot be objectively optimistic. Of course, LFC are a well-drilled and oiled team with a fantastic trio up front and a robust defense but could we not have done better? Should we not have done better? Wasn’t it Arteta’s responsibility to set-us up better against this formidable team…
4-0, 2 soft goals and then a capitulation….There were weaknesses all over the pitch and on the side line for us. It was a no contest and the better team won convincingly and deservedly.
AFC – Players Rating: Average of 4. / Manager rating: 2 (because of his yellow card, otherwise 3.5)
Not much to say besides the fact that we are still maturing as a team and that we must do better in next game and next time against such opposition.
There is no shame losing to LFC, Man City or Chelsea but we need to put in better performances, grind out some results. I would be super happy if we finished 4th behind them but will it happen? Are we the best of the rest? Some teams have better squads like Man Utd for example and some teams play better as a team like West Ham this year or Leicester last year…Is a top 5 finish and a Cup win, the minimum for Arteta this year?
Our progress this season has been mostly positive after the dreadful start of losing the first three games.
Key partnerships in defence, midfield and attack have gradually taken shape and given us grounds for optimism.
However, we are still unconvincing at times and can make heavy weather of games we should be dominating.
On paper Liverpool will be strong favourites today and a defeat for our boys is likely.
However, I watched the Scousers’ recent defeat at the hands of West Ham. They were pretty unconvincing at times in that game and looked vulnerable at the back. We certainly have the attacking personnel to hurt them if we play to the best of our abilities.
But with their in-form attackers we’ll have our work cut out to keep a clean sheet. We need Ramsdale to be on top form and for the White-Gabriel axis to continue functioning as well as it has done in many games this season.
There are late fitness questions about Aubameyang and Partey. Let’s hope they both get the nod to play.
Predicted line up:
Tomayisu – White – Gabriel – Tierney
Partey – Maitland-Niles
Saka – Lacazette – Smith Rowe
Even if we go down to defeat, the manner of losing is important. If we get thrashed there’s a danger it will damage our recent momentum; if we end up second best in a close-fought game we’ll be able to take pride and credit from it.
But I’m going for a sneaky 1-2 away win for the good guys.
So as we have Ramsdale, Saka and ESR in the England squad and we also have Balogun in the youth set-up, it may be time to reflect on our English contingent at AFC since 1990 and onwards…Who will make it in your ultimate all English AFC XI?
Needless to sat that ESR’s trajectory in the last 18 months has been fast and ascending. Not only has he managed to establish himself as a regular starter at AFC, he has also impressed his coaches at England Under-21 and his bright start of the season has seen him get his very first call-up to the senior England national team…
Quick recap: ESR is a 21 yo attacking midfielder, an AFC academy graduate who also had short but useful loan spells at Leipzig and Huddersfield town. He has represented England at youth level and has won the 2017 Fifa U-17 World Cup with Brewster, Foden, Gibbs-White, Hudson-Odoi and Sancho amongst others. This season he has registered 5 goals and 2 assists including 4 goals and 2 assists in the EPL. He operates as an attacking left midfielder from the left side…
Hence drawing comparisons with Pires and Hleb but also with KDB who started as a wide attacking midfielder in Germany…
So ESR works hard, had a decent eye for a pass and a goal. He is not necessarily fast but he is not slow either. He is not a winger crazy about dribbling and crossing from the touchline and he is not a fake 9 either or a 10 in the mould of Ozil. He is also not an 8.
So according to you, is ESR more like Robbie Pires, Hleb or K. De Bruyne? Our nemesis R. Ferdinand says that he is a blend of Pires and Hleb and for once, he may not be totally off the mark
Arsenal’s dominance over Watford at The Emirates yesterday should have seen us ‘home and hosed’ with half an hour to spare, but in the end we endured some nervous late moments before claiming the three points.
There were plenty of pluses: the unbeaten run now stretches to 10 games in the Premier League and Carabao Cup; we kept another clean sheet; Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a good game filling in for the injured Thomas Partey and most of our players put in a high quality shift.
But a nagging concern over our ability to take our chances when they come continues to haunt this team and potentially threatens to derail the good work Mikel Arteta has been doing since the disastrous start to the season.
The win moved us up to fifth in the table, six points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and only three points off second place. But if you rearranged the table simply by the metric of “goals scored” we would be in 10th place behind the likes of Everton, Palace and Villa.
Obviously the figures are skewed by the fact we failed to score at all in the opening three league games, and it’s good that our new defensive solidity means we do not have to keep scoring large numbers of goals to win games, but there’s no doubt we could be more efficient in front of goal.
Yesterday, for example, we missed another penalty and we had other opportunities that a more clinical team would have put away.
The chief culprit was the captain, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. I don’t want to be too hard on him because – for one thing – his seven goals in 10 games so far this season is hardly a poor return.
However, he should have definitely added one (and more likely two) to his tally against Watford. The missed penalty was a poor effort and follows on from his equally poor penalty against Aston Villa. In the latter case he was able to spare his blushes by knocking in the rebound, but there was no such luck yesterday.
It’s clear to me that Auba should not be taking the pens, particularly when Lacazette is on the pitch. Across his career Aubameyang has scored 30 penalties and missed 11 – a successful conversion rate of 73%. Lacazette, by comparison, has scored 30 from the spot and missed three – a conversion rate of 91%.
Surely it’s a no-brainer to let the Frenchman step up and take the spot kicks from now on? I hope El Patron has sufficient cojones to lay down the law with his captain in regard to this issue.
The other chance for an Auba goal yesterday came early on in an incident where we got the ball in the net courtesy of Saka, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
Maitland-Niles pulled some great moves around the edge of the Watford box, culminating in a clever pass in to Lacazette. Laca got the ball across goal only for Foster, the Watford ‘keeper, to palm the ball to Auba on the edge of the six yard box. It was begging to be hit first time (or to be quickly controlled and fired home on the second touch) but Auba miscontrolled it with a contact that also meant Saka was offside when he tucked it away.
All in all it wasn’t Auba’s best day in an Arsenal shirt, but that’s the kind of striker he is – he can have seemingly poor games and still pop up with a goal at a vital moment. (He almost managed it late on yesterday when he was millimetres away from getting on the end of an Odegaard pass into the Watford penalty area). He remains the best attacker at the club and he’s exactly the sort of man you want on the pitch when we face Liverpool in our next league fixture.
Elsewhere I though the defence was excellent once again. White and Gabriel seem to really complement each other’s game and the two fullbacks were solid when called on and adventurous when opportunities arose.
There had been concern before kick off when it was apparent Thomas was not in the squad. He was rested because of a tight groin. Given his injury history with us that was a sensible call.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles came in as his replacement (getting the nod ahead of the more experienced Elneny) and had a really good game. He showed plenty of skill on the ball to create opportunities going forward but was also intelligent and disciplined about his positioning when Watford had the ball.
He created one clear chance, made 10 out of 12 successful passes in the attacking third, had two successful dribbles, made eight ball recoveries (the most of any Arsenal player) and won five out of five tackles.
This performance follows on from an excellent game against Leeds in the Carabao Cup (where I rated him as Man of the Match) and reveals a significant uptick in AMN’s trajectory. He has a real chance to make himself part of the Arsenal story this season and I hope he does so.
Saka, Laca and Smith Rowe all put in decent performances, the latter on hand to stroke home the only goal of the game and secure the points.
Finally a word about the referee. It was a tough game to handle because it was marred by countless fouls, particularly from the visitors whose plan seemed to be to break up our rhythm by whatever means they could. But how Kevin Friend allowed the ex Spud Danny Rose to avoid punishment for some awful fouls is a complete mystery. At one point, apparently, Arsenal as a whole had committed four fouls and received three yellow cards while Rose personally had committed four fouls and got away scot free.
His assault on Lacazette (that led to our penalty) would probably have been a red card incident for some refs and certainly a yellow card for most, but Rose must have naughty pictures of Kevin Friend hidden in a safe somewhere.
Now we have a long, boring international break before we resume league action against Liverpool, who were deservedly beaten yesterday by a buoyant West Ham. No doubt the Scousers will aim to bounce back strongly against us, but if they play the way did against the Irons we are more than capable of getting a result.
One pleasant side effect of the Liverpool loss – their first of the season – was that we can once again wish each other a HAPPY INVINCIBLES DAY!
Ramsdale – 7
Quiet for most of the game but had to make a couple of smart saves late on. He also nearly cost us by coming out of his goal and misjudging the ball, leaving a goalscoring opportunity for Watford’s King from a tight angle. Fortunately the ball hit the side netting.
Tomayisu – 7
Another low-fuss, no-nonsense outing from the summer singing. He has made the RB position his own and that’s that.
White – 8 (MoTM)
Excellent in defence and capable of breaking the opposition lines when he surges forward.
Gabriel – 7.5
Did nothing wrong and his physicality was needed against a physically strong Watford team.
Tavares – 7
This lad is so comfortable on the ball and also has great recovery speed when he gets into difficulties.
Lokonga – 7
As reliable in MF as we’ve come to expect. With AMN having more licence to get forward it was important that Sambi remained disciplined and that’s exactly what he did.
Maitland-Niles – 7.5
As mentioned above, another good outing for AMN.
Saka – 7.5
Always probing from the right wing, always a threat: defenders must hate seeing him with the ball at his feet. Unlucky to have his goal ruled out for offside, although it was the correct call.
Lacazette – 7
A busy, intelligent performance.
Smith Rowe – 7.5
A little quieter than he can be, but he did lots of good work and got the all important goal.
Aubameyang – 6
Missed a pen and fluffed his lines a few times, but at least he was close to getting on the end of things at times.
Odegaard – 7
Came on in the 69th minute and slotted in well, creating a couple of good opportunities.
Elneny – 7
Although he only got 10 minutes (four regulation plus six stoppage) I thought Mo really got involved and helped see us home. He had several good moments to break up Watford moves.
It seems like a long time since we took the field against Leicester City, had an outstanding 20 minutes then lived dangerously for the rest of the match.
Today we’re back in action at The Emirates against Watford.
If we win we’ll go to joint fourth in the table (on points) for a short while at least. Technically we’ll be fifth because our goal difference is currently 10 adrift of the fourth placed team, West Ham.
The Hammers play Liverpool later today and a draw or victory for them in that game (neither of which is out of the question given how well they have been playing) would keep them above us on points as well as goal difference.
But it’s all irrelevant if we don’t do the business against Watford in the 2pm kick-off.
There should be no shortage of confidence in our squad and today is a great opportunity to build on the momentum we have gained since the opening three games of the season.
The only injury issues appear to be Xhaka (still recovering from his serious knee injury) and Tierney, who is a doubt with an ankle problem. Tavares has been doing well enough when he has had to stand in for Tesco that the Scotsman’s absence is not the worry it used to be.
Watford have had a bumpy start to the season and have conceded 18 goals so far (in 10 games) so you have to fancy our chances of putting at least a couple past them.
However, as we know only too well, there are no easy games in the Premier League and if we take anything for granted we could easily come unstuck.
Fortunately the commitment and focus the players have been displaying recently bodes well and it would be nice to think that this could be the sort of game where we’re in the driving seat with half an hour to go, giving us the opportunity to let some back-up players have a run out.
The main selection issues surround the question of who will partner Partey in central midfield and who gets the nod at the attacking end of things (particularly at Number 10, where it could be any one of Lacazette, Smith Rowe or Odegaard).
I doubt many Arsenal supporters would argue with the suggestion that Thomas Partey is an automatic starter in our current first choice team.
But who should play alongside him?
This conundrum was brought home to me by the way we struggled to take control of the middle of the park for long periods against Leicester City.
This is not to criticise what was an excellent team performance with some of the most committed defending I have seen from an Arsenal team in a long time. Leicester, we do not need to be reminded, are a dangerous side and don’t get dominated by many teams.
But there were times when we rode our luck and when getting even an extra minute or two of possession in the central areas would have given us a breather and helped take the wind out of Leicester’s sails. It would also have meant a bit less nail chewing among the Arsenal faithful.
Lokonga started with Partey in that game and did very well. He’s an exciting prospect who may well emerge as the automatic Partey partner over the next season or two.
But what about our other options?
As I see it – and not counting promising up-and-comers like Azeez (who is on loan anyway) – they are as follows: Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Elneny and Odegaard.
Ode has been tried a couple of times in central midfield to mixed effect. He can pick a pass for sure, but does not seem suited to winning the midfield battles and is perhaps more effective further forward.
Xhaka – when fit – is still (I suspect) Arteta’s preferred option at the base of the midfield alongside Partey. His career with us has had more ups and downs than his native Alps, but let’s not forget that he played a big part in the 3-1 win over Totteringham in late September.
Lokonga, as I mentioned, may prove to be the natural partner in time (his combination of speed, athleticism and skill are very appealing) but he is relatively inexperienced for such a key role.
Elneny, who had a poor game against Leeds in the Carabao Cup, is now surely no more than a “break glass in case of emergency” type of player who will see little game time while others are fit. He has had decent outings for us in the past but has never really made it hard for the manager to drop him.
That leaves Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who – in contrast – was excellent against Leeds in the same game. I would like to see him given more opportunities alongside Partey. A run of games might help build his confidence and get him into a positive ‘rhythm of play.’ He has the athleticism and skill but needs to prove he can consistently apply discipline and intelligence to his game.
Outside of those five options we are looking at either promoting a young player into the first team or going into the market in January to add a new central midfielder, perhaps one with a defensive mindset. This would only be an option if one or both of Elneny and Xhaka were sold, I imagine.
For now it looks as though Arteta prefers Lokonga until Xhaka returns from injury. I would like to see AMN get more game time, but I’m not unhappy with either option. I hope the Odegaard in central mid experiment has run its course (although it’s possible El Patron thinks he can convert Ode into an all round central mid player in time).