Wolves Pose a Foxy Threat: Pre-match and Predicted Line-up

November 29, 2020
Fox and Wolf: two predators with the same plan

Just over a month ago we got mugged by the Leicester Fox, hitting us on the break and taking all three points after soaking up our (mostly toothless) pressure.

Tonight we entertain the Wolf, and his game plan is going to be very similar: defend deep and pounce when we are over-exposed. 

Leicester did it with Jamie Vardy. Wolverhampton Wanderers will be hoping to pull the same trick with Raul Jimenez, who is another dangerous striker.

What’s the old saying, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? Well, will be fooled twice? Will we be cursing the sucker punch again come the final whistle this evening?

Given our recent league form, Wolves will be feeling pretty confident about keeping a clean sheet.

But if El Patron can just release the handbrake even a little, I think they could be in for a spanking. In fact, I am going to make the bold prediction that we will win 4-1.

Yes, I know, the idea of us bulging the onion bag four times in 90 minutes when we haven’t managed it once from open play in nine hours of EPL action does seem a bit bonkers. But when a damn breaks, it breaks big. And our scoring drought is due to end with a flash flood of goals. Or even a flood of flash goals, which will do just as well.

I believe this will happen even though we are likely going to be depleted in terms of available players.

Partey, Saka and Willian are all doubtful through injury and Pepe is suspended. Kolasinac and Elneny are both in the Plague House (although asymptomatic) having been in contact with someone with Covid.

However, this gives El Patron an opportunity to change a few things and to try and inject into the Premier League side some of the positivity we have seen in the Europa League team. One way of doing that would be to include some of the players who have been doing so well in Europe.

It’s way past time that our goal scoring problem was addressed and we know that Arteta will have been devoting every waking minute (and probably some dreaming minutes too) to figuring out how to do it.

I’m going to assume that the ‘doubtful’ players will not be in the starting eleven (although hopefully one or more may be on the bench) and predict the following line-up:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Willock – Xhaka – Ceballos

Nelson – Nketiah – Aubameyang

I would like to see a starting role for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but I can’t see Arteta being that cavalier. He will probably stick with Xhaka and Ceballos.

Ceballos is a strange player. In some games he is the best player on the pitch; in most games he works very hard and is, well, average. If he could get more consistent he could become one of the first names on the team sheet: he certainly has the potential. Maybe tonight?

Right, here’s hoping we send the wolfpack scurrying back to the Midlands with their tails between their legs.

RockyLives


The Secret Messages in Arsene Wenger’s Desert Island Discs

November 28, 2020
No man is an island, but there is an island called Man. Funny, that.

The great Arsene Wenger recently appeared on the BBC radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a celebrity guest is interviewed about their life. Along the way they  are asked to name eight songs they would like to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island.

We’re not meant to ask how they would play these songs on their desert island, given the presumptive lack of electricity, smartphones, decks and the like. You kind of have to just go with it.

Our most successful ever boss made his choices, and I don’t think you have to delve too deep to find the hidden messages relating to his time at Arsenal.

Here are his songs in the order they were played, along with my psychoanalytical decoding of them:

Could You Be Loved? (Bob Marley and the Wailers)

This is obviously a reference to his arrival at the Marble Halls back in 1996. We had transitioned from the George Graham era by appointing Bruce Rioch for a short-lived stint, only to wake up one morning and discover that our new boss was going to be some French bloke we’d never heard of who had recently been plying his managerial trade in that footballing mecca that is Japan. The London Evening Standard famously greeted the appointment with the headline “Arsene Who?” Arriving to a tidal wave of skepticism, swiftly followed by some scurrilous, untrue and libellous personal attacks mounted by Spuds fans working in the City of London, Arsene must indeed have wondered whether he could ever be loved in this new and hostile environment. Well, there’s no need to wonder any more. Yes, Arsene: you could be loved. And you were.

Imagine (John Lennon)

The key words in this classic are the following:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one.

When Arsene took up his tenure it would have been hard to imagine the revolution he was about to inspire at Arsenal and in English football in general. And the key to his revolution was that he was prepared to dream: he was not just going to accept the limitations of the hand he’d been dealt. Turn a squad of boozing, brawling bad boys into paragons of broccoli-eating virtue? Why not. Turn “Donkey” Adams into a player who would stride forward and bang home a goal in a league title winning game? Why not. Arsene was a dreamer, his dreams came true… and so did ours.

Avec Le Temps (Leo Ferre)

This French song is all about loss, and how time inevitably brings loss to us all. It is quite clearly a reflection on his later years at Arsenal, when success was harder to come by, some sections of the fan base turned against him and players in whom he had placed such high hopes let him down. It is one of the sadder songs in his selection and indicates that the wounds from his Arsenal departure are still painful.

Your Song (Elton John)

I like this one. It is about the giving of a gift. In Elton’s case, at the time he wrote it he was a struggling artist trying to make it, down on luck and out of dough. The only gift he had to give was the gift of a song:

I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you.

Arsene’s gift was a way of playing football that was pure lyrical beauty on a pitch. It was something that had never been seen in England before – football as pure art. He gave that gift to us, and boy were we happy.

Evidemment (France Gall)

Another example of Arsene smuggling in his angst by way of a song sung in French. This one has some pretty traumatized sentiments:

There’s like a bitter taste in us

Like a taste of dust in everything

And the anger following us everywhere

There are silences that say a lot

More than all the words we admit

And all these questions that don’t make sense.

At whom could this be aimed? Ivan Gazidis perhaps? Certainly against the Arsenal Board who, he felt, had pressured him to leave before his contract was up – something he vowed never to do. Subsequently he would say that the hostility from the Board was unjustifiable and that his exit was “very hard, very brutal.”

The Wonder of You (Elvis Presley)

On the face of it this tune was chosen to represent Arsene’s Arsenal experience, given that it’s the song played before every home game these days. But, as you and I know, ALL the songs in his selection are about Arsenal, our club being the defining relationship of Arsene’s life. So what is he really saying with this one? To me there’s no doubt. This song is dedicated to Thierry Henry, perhaps the greatest of all Arsene’s signings.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Jacques Brel)

Another French language misery melody, this time about the singer being dumped. So, this is quite obviously a song about Robin van Persie. 

Don’t leave me

I beg you.

Brave Sir Robin was nursed through year after year of injury problems (and was paid handsomely every limping step of the way). He then had one amazing season where he stayed fit and played out of his skin… then immediately decamped for Old Trafford, the ungrateful so-and-so. As the song says:

I offer you pearls of rain
From places in me where there is no rain…

Please don’t leave me.

My Way (Frank Sinatra)

Regrets? He has a few, but then again, too few to mention. I love that Arsene chose this as his final song (although somewhat surprised that he did not opt for its French equivalent, “Je ne regrette rien” by Edith Piaf). It is his metaphorical two fingers up to all the critics and doubters who have plagued him all his career. It’s a triumphant song that takes responsibility for everything he did at Arsenal: the good, the bad, the frustrating, the extraordinary. Yes Arsene, you did it your way. Au revoir, mon ami.

RockyLives


Arsenal Remember How to Play Football: Molde Report & Ratings

November 27, 2020
Pepe’s Redemption Song

Molde 0 – 3 Arsenal (Europa League Group Stages)

After our constipated recent outings in the Premier League, we once again used the Europa League to rediscover how to play attacking football: and the key factor was a good dose of the runs.

We passed and moved, passed and moved with positive intent for much of the game and, crucially, we did it with runners off the ball. A stark contrast with our EPL form where we pass and stand still, pass and stand still, pass back to the ‘keeper.

Overall it was an encouraging performance with good outings from some of the young starters and pleasing cameos.

As expected, Mikel Arteta made numerous changes from the team that ground out a dour nil-nil at Elland Road.

Runarsson started in goal again, David Luiz (back from celebrating the birth of his baby girl) and Mustafi were at CB, with Cedric and Maitland-Niles as the fullbacks. Xhaka, Willock and Nelson were in MF behind a front three of Pepe, Nketiah and Lacazette.

Although we ran out comfortable winners it was not all plain sailing and in the first half (just as in the fixture at the Emirates) Molde did pretty well and should have gone ahead when one of their players managed to miss an open goal tap-in in an embarrassing manner seldom seen before (although Gervinho away at Bradford comes to mind).

But the encouraging thing right from the start was the way Arsenal were prepared to play with attacking intent.

Our passes were forwards-looking, our players were making runs off the ball and were also remembering the “go” part of “give and go.”

Until the opening goal from Pepe, we looked positive, exciting and dangerous… except for our final decision making, where things invariably went wrong. Mistimed passes in the penalty area, failing to see the killer pass, wayward shots, inaccurate crosses… we were doing it all.

It was annoying but the mere fact we were playing attacking football made up for it to some extent.

The breakthrough came via Pepe on 50 minutes. Up until that point the Ivorian had been incredibly busy and involved, but was also a bit frustrating. Comments here on AA during the game referenced his apparent unwillingness to take the first time pass or first time shot. He always seems to want another couple of touches.

Pepe continued to be influential and industrious right to the end and I found myself reappraising his performance. The jury is very much out on him and he has been in the doghouse this week since his red card at Leeds. He has the burden of being our record signing. Also the ‘too many touches’ issue is definitely a thing.

But he had been threatening the Molde goal, particularly when cutting in from the right and shooting with his left. His first attempt went a few feet wide. His second hit the woodwork, but by his third attempt he’d obviously got his range right and we were one up.

Often we football fans have to overcome our positive bias (every trip on one of our players should be a red card, every trip on of theirs is just a ‘coming together’), but we also need to overcome negative biases as well. When the narrative around a player turns sour, even his good qualities can be unfairly dismissed. So to be clear, Pepe was very good last night.

If I imagine that performance having been put in by, say, Raheem Sterling, people would be raving about how good it was.

Willock and Nelson also had excellent outings, Runarsson did not have a huge amount to do but what he had, he did well. Nketiah was busy and hard working but did not stand out as much as some of the other youngsters.

The biggest disappointment on the night was Lacazette, who (one suspects) was in the team to try and get his goal scoring rhythm kick started. On last night’s showing he should be nowhere near the first team on Sunday.

Two of our young stars combined for our second goal, Willock crossing for Nelson to fire home from the six yard box.

The icing on the cake came late on, with the arrivals of Emile Smith-Rowe (whom many of us had hoped would start) and Folarin Balogun. ESR showed some impressive touches and passing range and made our third with a neat pass for 19-year-old Balogun who turned well and fired home for his first senior Arsenal goal.

So we have 12 points from 12 and are more or less certain to top our group.

The Europa League continues to provide enjoyment in an up and down season.

And several of the young players are now very clearly knocking on El Patron’s door to be included as regulars in our Premier League starting line-up.

The million dollar question is whether we can convert the attacking-mindedness of our EL form into our EPL games.

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Runarsson – 7

Did all that was asked of him

Cedric – 7

I have my doubts about Ced but he was pretty decent last night.

Mustafi – 7

Nothing to dislike about the German’s performance.

Luiz – 7

Replaced at half time by Holding, presumably for an injury. Was comfortable until that point.

Maitland-Niles – 7.5

I would like to see AMN used more in our EPL campaign. He seems to have matured considerably since last season.

Xhaka – 7.5

Sat deep, worked very hard and allowed the more progressive-minded midfielders to do their stuff.

Willock – 8

He started our last league game and should be in the 11 for Sunday after this performance.

Nelson – 8

How he’s not being started ahead of Willian is a complete mystery. Nelson has bags of skill and looks strong and decisive. More first team minutes please Mikel.

Lacazette – 6

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

Nketiah – 6.5

Things didn’t really go his way and his opportunities to make an impact were limited.

Pepe – 8.5 (MoTM)

Notwithstanding some issues with dwelling on the ball too long, Pepe was by far the biggest influence on last night’s outcome.

SUBS

Holding – 7

Played all the second half and was comfortingly reliable.

Ceballos – 7

Came on at 62 minutes and slotted in well.

Tierney – 7

Who doesn’t love Tesco?

Smith-Rowe – 7.5

Positive cameo including an assist.

Balogun – 7.5

Well done son, may that be the first of many, many first team goals for the Arse.


Let’s Be Bolder in Molde: Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

November 25, 2020
Can Emile take centre stage?

What a strange world it is when you find yourself celebrating the return of Thursday night Eurotrash footy.

But given our Premier League woes of late, the Europa League has felt like a positive distraction. Hell, we’ve even scored some goals (nine in three games).

And tonight we’re away in Norway, playing our return fixture against Molde, who were the best of our opponents so far. I had thought Vienna would be the potential threat to us topping our group but Molde had a lot more about them.

They went a goal up against us at the Emirates and the eventual 4-1 score line in our favour flattered us (there were two own goals in the mix).

Although there will undoubtedly be a lot of changes from the team that Mikel Arteta would pick for a EPL game, I hope El Patron uses the opportunity to set us up in an attacking way and go for some goals. 

It’s a chance for him to experiment with a more progressive formation, which he must surely be contemplating for the Premier League team as well.

The team news is that Elneny and Kolasinac are both still quarantined (although asymptomatic) as a Covid precaution; Saka, Partey and Willian have not travelled to Norway because of injuries, although the latter did fly to Antarctica to open a nightclub. OK, I made that bit up.

However David Luiz has travelled, following the birth of his baby daughter. 

Victory would give us 12 points out of 12 and more or less guarantee that we top the group but I don’t see this being an easy game. I could see a 1-0 or 2-1 score line in Arsenal’s favour if we don’t sit back too much.

The Pepe question is an interesting one: Arteta seemed really angry with him after his red card at Leeds, but given that he is banned for three games in the Prem, surely it makes sense to use him against Molde and save someone else’s legs?

I would not be totally surprised to see Lacazette start (El Patron perhaps hoping to kick start a goal scoring run from the Frenchman), but I have gone with a line-up that I prefer.

Also, it would be great to see Emile Smith-Rowe get a full game in a playmaker role. A lot of Arsenal supporters have pinned their hopes on ESR as the answer to our lack of creativity. It may be asking too much of a very young and inexperienced player (certainly at EPL level) but we’ll never know unless we play him.

Here’s my stab at the line-up:

Runarsson

Soares – Mustafi – Luiz – Tierney

Willock – Xhaka – AMN

Smith-Rowe

Pepe –  Nketiah 

Come On You Gunners.

RockyLives


Radical Answer to Arsenal’s Creativity Crisis

November 25, 2020

It is impossible to deny that we have a serious problem with creating chances and scoring goals.

We haven’t netted from open play in the Premier League for what seems like eons.

We make fewer chances than a rigged slot machine and when we do get a sniff of goal we’re firing more blanks than the waiting room at the men’s fertility clinic.

So what’s the answer?

The debate so far has centred on whether Aubameyang should be played as a central striker, but surely that’s not the only possible route to fixing our problem?

What about more radical solutions?

My first thought was to wonder whether there is a way we can bring Mesut Ozil back into the squad. I don’t know how strict the Premier League rules are, but I suspect that we would not be able to change our final squad list unless we were hit by exceptional circumstances (like half the squad going down with Covid).

Right now the German would surely add something to our goal threat, but I fear that that horse has bolted (and we don’t need to revisit the Ozil debate again).

Nevertheless, the key surely has to be in midfield. Yes, our strikers have all had their boots on the wrong feet this season, but they have been given so few opportunities that it’s hard for them to get their eye in.

So who, in our squad, has the ability to play as a Number 10? Some regulars here are keen for Emile Smith-Rowe to be given a chance. I confess I have seen very little of the lad, but right now I’d play Mel Smith ahead of Willian if he was (a) alive and (b) available.

And with what we’re currently getting from Willian, Pepe, Lacazette and Ceballos in particular it’s tempting to say why not just go all-in on youth and give ESR, Willock, Nelson, AMN and Nketieh a proper run as starters.

The other potential contender for No 10 has to be Saka. The kid is a revelation (when he came on against Leeds at the weekend we immediately looked a better team even though we were down to 10 men).

Could Bukayo work in the playmaker role? He is relatively inexperienced for such a responsibility but surely it has to be worth a try. He seems to have the skill, determination and vision.

Another hope on the (not too distant) horizon is the return to fitness of Gabriel Martinelli. The Brazilian showed great potential in his debut season last year and, again, surely merits a chance ahead of Willian or Pepe in the wide roles. He could also potentially play in the centre forward position (we have seen how good he is in the air).

And this brings me to one of my favourite ideas: that we revert to an old fashioned 4-4-2, with a front two of Aubameyang plus one. The ‘one’ would need to be more physically dominant that Auba. Eddie might be able to do it in time; Lacazette just isn’t mobile enough… but when Martinelli gets back to match fitness he could be the answer.

In my fantasy 4-4-2 we have Auba and Martinelli up front, Saka and Nelson/Pepe as the wingers and Partey plus Elneny/Xhaka in the middle.

For a more traditional approach, maybe Ceballos could be tried at No 10 when Partey is back in the team. It would mean sacrificing a wide player, so we have a midfield of Partey and Elneny/Xhaka, with Ceballos in an advanced role behind a front two of Auba/Laca or Auba/Eddie or Auba/Martinelli. I’m not sure that Ceballos really has it in him to pull off that role, but it may be worth a try.

A couple of final ideas:

Attempt to fix our creativity problem from deep by playing Luiz in midfield or as one of three CBs, but with licence to roam forward and spray those passes around.

Play Xhaka and Elneny at the base of midfield, with Partey ahead of them and relieved of some of his defensive responsibilities. In this role Partey would be free to burst forward and break the lines, creating opportunities for others and himself, Aaron Ramsey style.

The final option is we go big in the January transfer window for a playmaker like Houssem Aouar, whom we tried to sign in the summer.

OK, over to you: what would be your radical solution to our creativity problems?

RockyLives


Arteta: Have Faith

November 24, 2020

Playing devil’s advocate I think a draw away at Leeds playing almost half the game a man down would not be so bad had it had not come on the back of that previous game with Villa, and if Spuds were not in such good form. 

This all adds to the angst but we are still only seven points away. A win at Villa and a draw against Leicester, which should have been quite achievable, would see us only three behind the leaders having already played at Anfield, the Etihad and Old Trafford. Small margins eh.

I was happy to see us move to a back four because the team needs this. Despite what the weekend threw up we still need that move to a back four for us to progress, and we shouldn’t make a knee jerk reaction away from it after one game against tricky opposition with much of it played with 10 men. We are kind of entering another transition phase. 

Our defence and work off the ball has improved immeasurably but now we need to find the flair and increased goal threat to go with it. Arteta hasn’t got every call right to date and has maybe misjudged when to make the changes in the transition, but the most successful managers have had tough periods when their credentials have been called into question, and I still massively believe he will move us on. 

Don’t forget that he inherited a massively dysfunctional squad with little confidence and no identity. You can’t correct every aspect of the side in one hit from there, and he is likely doing the right thing by making us tougher to beat as a first port of call, even if not that pretty on the eye at present.

I still feel that we need a four pronged goal threat to really kick on. That comes from the No 9, the No 10 and the two wing forwards. Again I will say that I feel that the two wing forwards need to be, for the most part, inverted wide players to increase our goal threat, in other words a left footer on the right and vice versa to the left. Add a number 10 who can create and score in front of two DM’s and you have a potent attack while still retaining defensive solidity.

Regarding Leeds, most teams that come up into the EPL from the championship need to adapt from a more functional way of playing to a style with more guile and quality. Not so Biesla’s Leeds who were already being groomed as an EPL side even while battling their way out of the championship. They arrived already playing like an EPL quality side and have proven to be tough opposition for other bigger clubs as well before this weekend.

I took a few things away from this game: 

Firstly how much better and more comfortable Auba is when getting on the ball in deeper areas rather than holding the high central line where he sees less of the ball.

His game is not best suited to holding the ball up with back to goal with defenders on his back and with fewer touches on the ball. He is far better suited to getting on the ball more in deeper areas and receiving the ball going through on goal. I think the attacking left wing forward position is the right one for him and we just need to get the rest of the forward line formation right to get him firing.

This means he needs the right No 9 to cover that work up top and act as a link player with him. Do we have that player in Laca or Eddie? Not sure. The most ideal type of striker would be a Lewandowski type. Laca isn’t as bad as many believe and he kind of does a bit of a Firmino job for us up top, operating as the foil even if not scoring himself. Eddie has that eye for goal so should also get a big look in. Putting Auba up top is not the answer to our issues and he should play off one of the other two mentioned.

Secondly we need to get Saka playing higher up the pitch. That goal scoring opportunity wasn’t as easy as it seemed. The ball already took him wide narrowing down his angle past the keeper, and really the keeper did well rather than Saka doing badly.

However, the ability of Saka to get through on goal should mean we look to get him playing a role that allows him to do this more often. The 4-2-3-1 is right but I think Mikel still needs to find his best combinations in this formation and maybe Saka should be considered for the number 10 role, or be in competition with Pepe as the inverted right side attacker. 

Pepe could, however, still become a big player for us and needs to be handled well after his fall from grace, but Saka should fill in that position in his absence in the EPL games. 

So I think the biggest questions are who plays No 9 and who plays the attacking CM / No 10 role, with the biggest question being on the No 10 / ACM role.

In reality I would like to see Auba, Saka and Pepe line up from left to right behind either Laca or Eddie with Partey + one other sitting behind.

GoonerB


Breathing Space: Leeds Report & Player Ratings

November 23, 2020
Red Pepe

Any complaints that we left Elland Road with only a point yesterday?

I didn’t think so.

We were second best for much of the game, we played with 10 men from the 51st minute, Leeds hit the woodwork three times and Leno had to make some outstanding saves.

So, all in all, a point is not to be sniffed at. And it gives El Patron a bit of breathing space to try and figure out solutions to our obvious problems.

If we had lost the chorus of negativity (currently registering about the same decibels as a lively night at the local folk club) would have hit AC/DC stadium concert level.

Yesterday we saw a team still shellshocked and nervous from the spanking we suffered at the hands of Aston Villa two weeks earlier. Caution was always going to be the order of the day.

Added to that psychological handicap, we were also lacking what may well be our first choice central midfield pairing of Elneny (Covid) and Partey (thigh strain).

And we must remember that Arteta had barely any time to work with most of his first team players because they were all away on international duty.

Nevertheless, he made some interesting changes to our starting line-up, bringing Willock into the team and giving a start to Pepe. Xhaka and Ceballos were the natural choices for central midfield given our absentees and the defence seems to be picking itself these days.

I was disappointed to see Willian start after his poor recent form, but Arteta has shown he can rehabilitate players on whom many of us had given up, so why not the moptop Brazilian?

I watched the game on a variable stream so there were parts that I missed, but overall I took away the following points:

Our defence is not in bad shape and the three goals conceded to Villa were an aberration.

We are still striving to find a midfield that works to create chances.

Consequently we create very few chances.

Leeds were on top for much of the game but it never felt like we were being dominated..

Our forwards are all shorn of touch, confidence and good decision making.

Normally a sending off can be described as a turning point in a game, but Pepe’s red card did not change things much at all. We created our best moments when we were down to 10 men and – crazy though it seems when they hit the post and crossbar three times – we restricted Leeds to few clearcut chances.

I have read a lot of comments from people slagging off Pepe, but I think we have enough of an idea of the guy to know that that was very out of character, and we don’t know what the Leeds muppet was saying or doing to provoke such a reaction.

It’s unfortunate, but it happens. Interestingly the officials who were so keen to take their time with the VAR for that incident had no such issues when there appeared to be a clear handball in our favour in the Leeds box late on.

In the end a point was probably more than we deserved, but we could even have nicked all three if Saka had put away a really good one-on-one chance after a splendid run and through ball from Bellerin. Saka tried to go round the ‘keeper when a more instinctive striker would have taken it first time.

Plenty of work for El Patron, but a couple of positive results will change the mood very quickly.

If we beat Wolves in our next league game I fancy our chances of bursting the Spuds’ bubble when we visit the Armitage Shanks Arena a week later.

RockyLives

Player Ratings from RC78

Leno 8 – our MOTM
Bellerin 6 – nothing too good but nothing too bad either
Holding 7 – did well
Gabriel 8 – clearly a solid defender
Tierney 7 – did well but shy going forward even when we were 11
Pepe 3 – sloppy match for him and a stupid dismissal
Xhaka 7 – a solid performance
Ceballos 5 – not a worthy starter
Willock 6 – willing and tried but not enough edge going forward or defensively
Willian 4 – a ghastly appearance
Auba 5 – where is last year’s Auba?

Saka 6 – a good game until the injury and he could/should have put us one nil up.
Nelson 6 – added pace and trickery


Back with a Bang? Leeds pre-match and predicted line-up

November 22, 2020
A false dawn over N17

My word, the Premier League table makes for ugly reading this morning.

Not that I can get too worked up about seeing the N17 reprobates up in nosebleed territory.

Their supporters have a near-60 year history of getting over excited and they’ve experienced more false Dawns than RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Let them start celebrating as if they are certs to win the league; let them keep harping on about how the current season finishes in 2021 and that they always win things in a year “that ends in a 1” (a tradition that conveniently overlooks the years 1891, 1911, 1931, 1941, 1971, 2001 and 2011). Let’s just remind them that the Arsenal likes to win things in years that start with a 1, or a 2.

The toxic combination of the EPL’s nastiest club and the EPL’s nastiest manager will bring about its own inevitable downfall, even if the poison turns out to be the slow working variety.

Aside from the Spuds, all the other results yesterday were not great from an Arsenal perspective. Manchester United and Chelsea both won. Meanwhile Aston Villa, whom we had made look like champions-in-waiting, were beaten at home by lowly Brighton.

We are in real danger of being left behind if we don’t start putting a run of results together soon.

It has been very up and down so far, with encouraging wins (Man Utd away) being interspersed with frustrating losses (Leicester and Villa at home). However, for all the frustration of flip-flopping between victories and defeats it’s worth remembering that from a points perspective it’s better to win one and lose one than to have two draws, even though the latter allows you to feel good about being undefeated.

Leeds at Elland Road will be no pushover. They have had some good results already this season and have an impressive manager.

We have team selection issues through injury (Partey is still out and Elneny and Kolasinac tested positive for Covid) and possible exhaustion of players used very heavily on international duty (Saka and Tierney played a lot of minutes while Aubameyang ended up sleeping on an airport floor in Africa).

But our biggest issue remains the same: we’re just not creating chances. El Patron has had two weeks to try and figure out how to rectify that problem, even if he has had to do so without most of his squad.

Will he start Aubameyang down the middle as so many have been demanding? I suspect not. But I do expect changes. Here’s the line-up I think we might see:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Maitland-Niles – Xhaka – Ceballos

Pepe – Nketiah – Aubameyang

I will be extremely disappointed if Willian is in the starting eleven. He has been awful all season apart from the opening day victory over Fulham and against Aston Villa he was worse than awful.

A win today will restore some belief.

Come on you Reds.

RockyLives


Arsenal or England?

November 18, 2020

As the international break rumbles on, I thought you might enjoy a ‘thought experiment’ that I have played with my mates in the pub on occasion.

It tests how your allegiance to The Arsenal compares with your support for the England national team.

If you’re not English, please substitute your own national side for the boys with the three lions on their shirt.

It’s pretty simple and comes down to a series of questions to which the first part is always: “Would you rather England win the next World Cup or…”

Have at it.

RockyLives


Who is our MVP so far this season?

November 16, 2020

As the international break is coming to an end soon and as we edge closer to seeing club football again, I tried to reflect on which player has been our stand out performance this season so far. I came up with a preliminary short-list and please feel free to add more names and/or disagree:

Saka – This young man has been nothing short of phenomenal since he has broken into the first team. He is of course still learning but his work rate, decision-making and ability to attack with poise and create chances have impressed me.

Tierney – His work rate and the quality of his delivery are truly impressive and the best thing is that he is still improving. He has played well at LCB and at LB. A solid start of the season.

Gabriel – Who would have thought our summer signing from Lille would bring defensive physicality and solidity from his first start? Impressive start to a Gunner’s life.

El Neny – Seen by many (including myself) as a definite goner, he has come back with energy, enthusiasm and real purpose to end the opponent’s progression towards our goal. Mismanaged before or just a change in form due to better physical condition? Whatever the reason is, he appears to be the first name on the sheet in the middle of the park next to Partey.

So who is your MVP so far? The omission of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Nketiah, Pepe, Willian, Ceballos would be explained by our lack of attacking edge and creativity so far this season but feel free to convince me that they are our MVP so far 😛

Hope everyone is safe and sound. Good luck everyone.

PS: Saka did well yesterday against Belgium but Grealish and Kane were really amazing. Shame that England won’t make the Final Four of the League of Nations.