We now have an undisputed hot first eleven – make that first sixteen, with the top players who can’t get into the starting line-up at the moment. I think it’s fair to say there’s not one player in that group who is not worth more than when he got into the squad. Some, if we had to move them on, would make the club massive spondulicks.
However, as the Gabriel Jesus situation has illustrated, when injuries happen, as they surely will, it’s who’s behind the superstars that make the difference to success chasing honours.
Arsenal supporters don’t seem over enthusiastic about some of our back-up players, but I would like to put in a good word for some of them.
One of my favourite players, since he joined us for diddly-squat from Bolton, while Man City were paying a sultan’s ransom for Stones, is Rob Holding. An integral part of the Mertesacker FA Cup win, he has always given everything to the cause. He’s not fast, he doesn’t read the game brilliantly in open play, his distribution can be iffy. But if you want backs-to-the-wall defending deep in your area and deep in the game, I certainly always feel comfortable when Arteta sends him on, and he holds up five fingers to indicate the strategy. Moreover, he seems totally happy with his role as back-up penalty box specialist. If he is required he’s always ready and reliable. From what one sees in training videos, he’s popular and influential.
On the same level, and all of the above, is Mo Elneny. He also lacks speed. He can be a bit lightweight in one-on-ones. But he rarely gives the ball away, has good control and reasonable vision, and also never seems to complain or sulk at his lack of minutes on the pitch.
I guess I should include Eddie Nketiah, simply because if everyone’s fit he’s unlikely to start. But really, I do believe he’s now first team quality. The way he took his goal against West Ham – well, actually, I think it was better than GJ himself might have done! The main reason for adding him is the patience and mentality he has shown, waiting for his chance – and the way he has seized it when required.
I also think Cedric Soares has been underrated, but only because of the huge drop-off from our magnificent Tomiyasu, White, Tierney and Zinchenko. Notwithstanding, he is utterly reliable, and another who is always ready to be patient and then do a job when called upon. It seems he might be leaving, which is a shame, but a couple of youngsters in the shape of Sousa and Walters are emerging to push him further down the pecking order.
Matt Turner showed in the World Cup, firstly why Arsenal were keen to buy him, and secondly, how exponentially he has improved since he joined us. He’s still a notch down from the charismatic Ramsdale, but not so much that I’d be fretting if he has to play. Another who bides his time patiently.
I only perceive one player in the entire squad who is letting the side down: Sambi Lokonga. If he survives the January window, I can see him being off-loaded in the summer. He has loads of skill and physical attributes, but his mentality has been lost. The result is that when he is given time in a game, he fails to fulfil his potential. It’s a shame, but he’s the epitome of attitude defeating talent. I believe there will be plenty of suitors on the continent, and he will flourish in the right environment.
I have no doubt that in the coming months we will need our yeoman back-ups, and I’m certainly content to see Elneny’s Nketia’s Turner’s and Holding’s name on the team sheet (and Cedric’s, should he still be at the club after January).
With the craving for new Arsenal content reaching Fever Pitch you really are helping to fuel the fires and incredibly you are still being able to find unique angles, top read again Maxwell. Thank you for making the effort.
Re Nketiah. “The way he took his goal against West Ham – well, actually, I think it was better than GJ himself might have done!”
I don’t think anyone has been brave enough to say that but it’s true.
I really appreciate this being a blog that values Nketiah, and acknowledges his skills and commitment instead of abusing him for allegedly not being yet – and/or never will become – Arsenal quality. Perfect post, Maxwell.
I think that loyalty and patience are wildly underrated traits, and even if Abraham or Toney would be slight improvements over Eddie (probably a little and temporary) their purchase price, their 200k+ salary and their instant demand for playing minutes would disrupt the locker room balance now, and even more so when Jesus becomes available.
Similar applies to Soares. He was a decent backup RB and was seemingly constant for being the plan B, but since White has hijacked the starting RB role Cedric became third choice, so – especially with Walter and/or Brook Norton-Cuffy breathing down his neck I’m afraid that the wise choice is letting him go in January, even though we won’t see a sizable transfer fee for him.
I further agree with Maxwell re Holding: he is not simply good, but he is content, loyal and generally a lovable character. Turner probably likewise, at least at the moment he seems satisfied with having arrived from the MLS, playing in cup games and still being #1 for the USA team.
Where we have different opinions are re Elneny and Lokonga. I think Mo is a really great guy, with a cool personality and the tendency to subject his own needs under the team’s. Nevertheless I’m afraid that from the entire first team he is the only player with a worrying huge gap between him and his first choice counterpart. (Yes, even Saka-Nelson included.) He has a big heart and a near unlimited stamina, but his technical skills and decision making abilities making him a liability against – wait for it – low level opponents.
Elneny made some memorable performances against teams like Chelsea and Manchester United when he was substituting Partey, but back then we needed a proper DM. However against bottom-tier clubs (European and domestic cup games) when we dominate ball possession, having Mohamed on the pitch is a half man advantage to the opponent, as he is too slow to transit defense into offense, and besides his long range he poses no threat in the passing department.
On the other hand Sambi has a great potential as well as leadership abilities, only need to be materialized and improved upon. If we make a midfield transfer in January maybe he will go on a loan to get acquainted to the England football, but I think his long-term place is with Arsenal. But he has to be patient as for a couple of years the first choice line-up will start with Xhaka and Partey (or maybe SMS).
My apologies for the long comment broken into 3; apparently there is a character limit in the blog.
Really enjoyed reading that pb, some good points.
Nice post Max, our yeomen came to the stage again at Brighton and did their best, whether that was enough I’ll leave for others to opine, but they’re a valuable part of any squad and have played their part so far in this historic season.
I agree Pb first goal came cause tomi wasn’t ready for action and it gave Brighton some confidence
Saliba making some silly mistake like Gabriel us to make lol
Quite funny really, only a few months ago it seemed impossible to think any other way than Gabriel being the error prone CB and Saliba being the rock and yet here we are with a complete role reversal.
So true LB I remember me and RC saying we should pair saliba with white cause of Gabriel minor lapses
Probably saliba a bit tired due to WC journey and Gabriel fully focus since he didn’t make the team
The big change in Gabriel seemed to come immediately after he signed his new five year contract. I think it is easy to imagine Arteta and Edu sitting him down and saying: here is your new contract but what we want from you is to stop getting silly cards from lashing out. If this is the case he has responded well.
The weekend that just keeps in giving.
Fred, LB, maybe I see something that isn’t there, but might there be a similar process with Jesus and Nketiah?
At some point the common consensus (or at least the majority opinion) was that Jesus is the 2nd best striker in the PL, and Eddie couldn’t find an empty net. Then it turned into Gabi doing incredible work for the team, only the goals are missing sometimes, while Nketiah is a poacher but below Arsenal quality. And now it is (probably not the majority opinion though) more of Jesus presses the opponents and creates opportunities for his teammates, while Eddie scores every bloody game he starts.
Similarly to the Saliba vs. Gabriel conundrum I would refrain from jumping to conclusion, but I would gladly go as far as saying, things are rarely black or White.
Not sure I understand your question PB
Interesting thought pb; put simply, I think we will end up with a Saliba knocking the WC rust off and getting back to his imperious best and Jesus returning (who can resist the second coming) and being better than before and by that I mean doing all the things he does so well for the good of the team and scoring goals again for fun.
Sweet dreams are made of this who am I………….
I guess a byproduct of having a successful, talented team/squad is seeing our players linked to other clubs, it’s annoying because we think there isn’t a better place for them to beand a lot of it is politics, agents looking for better deals and planting rumours, it just goes with the territory of being the form team.
The other byproduct of having a successful talented team/squad is that we become the club that up and coming stars want to come to.