Benfica Round 2 – A Must Win: Prematch & Predicted Line-up

February 25, 2021
Not England. Or Portugal.

Poor finishing let us down in the first leg of our Europa League ‘Round of 32’ tie against Benfica in Rome.

We had the chances to be comfortably home and hosed but didn’t take them. We gave away a soft penalty and then equalised through Bukayo Saka (with what could be an important ‘away’ goal) but in the end had to settle for a point.

If we are a bit more clinical tonight it should be relatively straightforward to qualify, but you always have to beware of the word ‘should’ when it comes to European football.

We should have beaten Benfica in the return leg at Highbury in the European Cup in 1991, but we lost 1-3. We should have won the UEFA Cup final against Galatasaray in Copenhagen in 2000 but we didn’t. In general, given the quality of the teams we had in the George Graham and Arsene Wenger years, we should have more European silverware in our trophy cabinet.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic about tonight: it’s just a reminder that succeeding in Euro footy has never been easy.

We’re playing our ‘home’ leg in Athens as the Covid strangeness rumbles on, but the absence of crowds makes the whole idea of ‘home’ or ‘away’ redundant. However, the one way it could come into play is if the tie goes to extra time, in which case any Benfica goal in the added half hour would still count double, as an ‘away’ goal.

I have never thought that was a particularly fair law. The team that plays at home in the second leg gets 90 minutes (in the first leg) to score an away goal; the team that plays away in the second leg gets a potential 120 minutes to score an away goal. Anyway, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Team news is that Holding is unavailable because of concussion protocols and our only other doubt is Thomas Partey, but Mikel Arteta was making generally positive noises yesterday about the possibility of his being able to play.

In yesterday’s Post I wrote that I hope El Patron reunites the Saka-Laca-Smith Rowe unit that has produced some of our best football this season. It would require Smith Rowe being played more centrally rather than being shunted out wide to make way for Martin Odegaard.

The Norwegian looks to have the potential to be a class act, but I would prefer to see ESR who, to this observer at least, has emerged as one of our most effective players since getting his chance in the win against Chelsea.

Benfica never really troubled our defence in the first leg but they need to score at least once tonight so I’m sure we will have more defending to do in this game. Let’s hope we stay focused at the back and avoid the self-inflicted wounds that we’re so familiar with.

Here’s the team I expect to start:

Leno

Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Odegaard – Smith Row

Aubameyang

The team I would prefer to see start would include the same back five as above (Tierney looked knackered in the Manchester City game on Sunday but hopefully his match fitness is returning) and the same pair at the base of midfield, but my attacking line-up would be:

Saka – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

Let’s hope whatever team we put out does the job and gets us into the Round of 16. At that point we’re only seven games away from a trophy and a berth in the Champions League next year…

Come On You Gunners!

RockyLives


The Benfica Triangle Mystery

February 24, 2021
Arteta’s formation for tomorrow’s game?

A triangle with special – perhaps supernatural – powers has the potential to see us comfortably past our Portuguese opposition tomorrow night. But there’s a mystery.

The mystery is that our young manager will probably not use this magical, three-sided phenomenon that has the power to make opposition hopes disappear.

The triangle to which I am referring involves three players: Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Alexandre Lacazette. When they are set up with Laca as the point, Saka as the right hand corner and ESR as the left we play our most devastating football.

Other players can contribute by adding tangents (notably Aubameyang and Bellerin) but it’s the triangle that holds the key.

It all started when injuries, illness, quarantining and suspensions forced El Patron to have a rethink about personnel and tactics for the league game against Chelsea in late December.

Lacazette’s lonely struggles up front were suddenly eased when he had a truly creative player behind (ESR) and a gifted young superstar (Saka) playing in his ideal position of wide right. The three clicked almost immediately and vastly improved performances followed.

Their mutual interplay allowed us to pierce the most recalcitrant of defences with fast, incisive movement and one-touch passing.

So much for the history, what about the mystery?

With the caveat that I’m sure Mikel Arteta and his backroom staff are trying to be careful with the playing time of an injury-troubled youngster like Smith Rowe, it has been surprising to see El Patron mess around with the successful formation he stumbled across: a bit like a gold prospector finding a great big nugget in a certain location one day, then deciding to search somewhere completely different the next.

Since the arrival on loan of Martin Odegaard young Emile has been shunted out to the wing. Odegaard has shown some nice skill and Arteta has spoken very positively about him: he clearly has potential. But he had a pretty ineffectual game against Manchester City. Smith Rowe, on the other hand, has been in excellent form and looked better than Odegaard when he came on as a sub against the light blue Mancs.

On form alone Smith Rowe should be keeping his place as an attacking central midfielder, quite apart from the fact that it does not make sense to prioritise a loan player who will likely be off in the summer over a very viable home grown option.

Then there’s Saka. He has been devastating when cutting inside from the right and playing give-and-go football with ESR, Lacazette and others. But in some recent games he has been moved to the left side. There may be understandable tactical reasons for this, but it still feels like a waste.

Finally, I get a sense that El Patron is now favouring Aubameyang as the central striker ahead of Lacazette. Auba can certainly score as we all know, but he is just not as good at link-up play as the Frenchman. When Auba starts, one side of our Power Triangle is missing.

All our most successful teams have had these magical patterns where a few key players are on the same wavelength and work wonders together: Cole-Pires-Henry and Rocastle-Thomas-Merson spring to mind. If you get a combo that works, stick with it.

I hope Arteta sees the sense of this, but I’m not holding my breath.

RockyLives


Hector Protector or Detractor? Help Me Out…

February 23, 2021
A conundrum

Is there a current player at Arsenal who divides opinion more evenly than Hector Bellerin?

You’ll always find dissenting voices among fans when it comes to an assessment of any player, but usually the majority lean one way or the other.

For example, for Xhaka, Laca and Luiz the needle hovers somewhere in the range between “meh” and “get rid.” With Willian it is firmly stuck on “get rid.” With Tierney and Saka it’s at the opposite end of the dial. Et cetera.

But when it comes to the little Spanish fashion icon who patrols the right flank of our defence, that poor old needle doesn’t know where to go. Apart, possibly, from into the ink jar and then into Hector’s skin for his latest stylish tattoo.

For a good two or three seasons I have read columns and seen comments from supporters saying that Bellerin has not turned into the player we all thought he would be: that his defending and positioning are suspect, that his attacking effectiveness is limited and that he has a tendency to switch off at key moments.

Equally I have seen many opinions from people who broadly support him and his abilities. They note how consistent he has been, how his speed is still a real asset (even if he has lost one or two mph since his long term injury) and how he manages to provide goal assists fairly regularly.

Perhaps he has looked bad at times in recent years because the whole team has been bad and has been going through some tough transitional times.

My own view is that, as mentioned, that long injury lay off had a very big impact on him and it took him a very long time to get back in the groove. But once he had a good run of games under him I felt he was a pretty solid first choice in his position and have generally remained a supporter: a Hector Protector, if you will.

But in recent games I have been watching him quite closely and I am starting to have some doubts. Am I slowly changing into a Hector Detractor? Not sure.

What has bugged me about his recent outings is that whether it’s Pepe or Saka in front of him there are too many times in a game when he does not seem to be on the same wavelength as his more advanced partner.

He still regularly makes those surging runs from the RB position deep into opposition territory, but often they come to nothing and the ball is lost or, more typically, Hector checks, looks around for a bit, then turns and plays the ball backwards, killing any momentum we might have been making.

So what’s the answer? Is he good enough or not? It’s possible that the emergence of Kieran Tierney as a real dynamic force in the left back position has made Bellerin look worse by comparison. We can see with our own eyes how effective KT is, yet his stats are not so different from Hector’s: Bellerin has made 27 appearances in all competitions this season (25 as a starter) and has one goal and three assists to his name; Tierney has 20 starts with one goal and two assists.

I’m not suggesting the two players are comparable – KT clearly offers a greater offensive threat and would have far more assists if our attackers had been more clinical in front of goal. But Tierney is a special player. Our best left back in recent years was Ashley Cole and he played in a team where the right back was Lauren. Ralph was a brilliant defender, but he was not in Cole’s class as an attacking fullback. It didn’t matter.

Is that where we are with Bellerin? We just have to accept that we’re lucky to have a potentially world class LB and that Hector is a perfectly good role player in the RB position?

Or should we be looking to upgrade? On one level, you can pretty much always upgrade in any position in theory. But in the summer, with limited resources and cash, would you rather we spend big bucks on a significant upgrade at RB or on a new striker, or a new midfielder?

Anyway, I have ended this Post just as conflicted about Hector as I was when I started writing it.

Help me out here… how should we really rate Hector Bellerin? And what should we do with him?

RockyLives


Let us try to finish in the top half of the table at least…

February 21, 2021
Image result for Arteta

So here we go again, another loss against City in the EPL. The first 15 minutes were rather embarrassing, conceding an early and silly goal, hardly touching the ball and running like headless chickens. After that, City was not very dangerous but always in control and we hardly created a chance. The gap between City and AFC is rather big and it does not seem to get narrower. City exposed our limits but also this game showed that we could, at times, also compete with the best of the best so I suppose there are some positives to take from the game as well, including:

  • Saka is just too good
  • We managed to keep City at bay for quite a while after we conceded the goal.

I thought the line-up was odd and the omission of ESR and Laca really stood out for me for this game.

So another loss and almost the end of our hope to qualify for Europe via the league this year. We have to put in a good shift in the Europa League now. Here are the ratings:

Leno – 6 – Not a bad outing and a good save.

Bellerin – 4 – Another yellow and another average performance

Holding – 5.5 – Not great on the goal but then a steady performance before being substituted by Luiz who brought nothing to the party.

Mari – 6 – Rather solid

Tierney – 4.5 – Torrid first 15 mins and then struggled also going forward.

Xhaka – 6 – Rather solid

El Neny – 5.5 – Rather solid but lacked quality passing or dribbling

Pepe – 4.5 – Not helped by Bellerin and not doing enough overall. A game to forget.

Odegaard – 5 – A mistake to play him in this game. Looked lost, at best.

Saka – 8 – Our shining star

Auba – 4.5 – Even less involved than Pepe…not a good outing

Arteta – 4. Poor team selection and not getting results against big team. I don’t think he will be able to continue on this run of form comes Jan 2022. We need results and improvement, now – also in the EPL!

So let us aim to finish in the top 10, ideally above Tottenham.


Time for an Upset: Man City Prematch & Predicted Line-Up

February 21, 2021
How your humble scribe looked on waking up this morning

What I most love about match days is that I always wake up with an advanced case of “football fan over-optimism syndrome.”

So even today, as we prepare to welcome the supremely in-form champions-to-be Manchester City, I kind of fancy our chances.

On paper there’s no point in us even turning up, but luckily we play on grass and, football being football, anything is possible.

The tender small shoots of my optimism are not built solely on delusion and hope (those two travelling companions of every supporter’s psyche). I have a few scraps of evidence to support my position:

  1. For some reason we tend to play quite well against the better teams. Not always, but sometimes. Our abysmal run of form earlier in the season was ended when we thrashed Chelsea, who at the time were flying. Last season we beat Manchester City and Chelsea on our way to lifting the FA Cup. We’ve taken four points from two games against Manchester United in the league.
  2. We have been playing some really nice football in recent games. The first half against Leeds; a fair bit of the Benfica match where we were let down by our finishing; the Southampton win. Even the games we’ve lost (Wolves and Villa) were characterised by us playing well but shooting ourselves in the foot.
  3. We now have some truly creative players capable of hurting any opposition. Saka first and foremost, but also Smith Rowe and Odegaard.
  4. Kieran Tierney is back and, let’s face it, he’d be happy to take on City all on his own.

If I was to do a similar list of reasons why the light blue Mancs will probably win today it would, of course, be much longer and would include things like “David Luiz’s tendency to give away penalties” and “our ability to conjure a clown-show moment from the most promising of situations.”

Yesterday I wrote about my fear that we would probably pick up yet another red card at some point in this game (because of the speed of City’s movement and the habit some of our players have of bringing down players who get past them). But after a good night’s sleep I am, as previously stated, feeling more positive so I shall banish such negative thoughts.

Predicting the starting line-up feels both easy and hard. Easy because, in one sense, Arteta seems to have found something close to a first eleven. Hard because most of those players competed for 90 minutes on Thursday night with international travel thrown in, so you’d think there would be rotation today.

But do you really want to rotate your most reliable players against the best team in the country? I’m probably wrong, but I’m going to go with the idea that El Patron will send out a mostly unchanged side for the third game running and hope to rest some before the end when we’re a few goals ahead (haha).

Injury wise, Thomas Partey is said to be ‘progressing well’ from a thigh problem and was being assessed before today’s game. His presence would be a huge boost but I think it’s unlikely he’ll be ready and we will not want to take risks with him.

Here’s my guess at the line-up:

Leno

Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Elneny

Saka – Odegaard – Smith Rowe

Aubameyang

I have Elneny in instead of Ceballos, which would be a bit unlucky for Dani, but Mo gives us more athleticism and is more defensively minded.

I would not be at all surprised to see Lacazette start, with Auba on the left and Smith Rowe on the bench, but if you read this blog regularly you will by now know my feelings about ESR and I will be disappointed if the Croydon De Bruyne doesn’t start.

Keep our concentration, work our socks off, create some chances and who knows what could happen. The one good thing about teams that are on a seemingly irresistible run (like City) is that they always end up meeting resistance in unexpected places. Let the Emirates today be that place.

Come On You Gunners.

RockyLives


Arsenal’s Next Red Card is Already in the Post

February 20, 2021
Maybe Arsenal could be the official sponsor of the Premier League red card?

I am fairly confident we will pick up a red card during tomorrow’s game against in-form Manchester City.

It could be a spectacular straight red as David Luiz performs a scissors kick around Gundogan’s neck in the six yard box, or a low-key second yellow for Granit Xhaka, twice caught out in midfield and deliberately pulling back his opponent to make up for his lack of speed. Or some other catastrophic blunder.

Sorry to start with such a negative prediction, but ironically I reached it by considering our chances against the champions-to-be and surprising myself be not feeling completely daunted.

Yes, they’re unbeaten since November 19th and, yes, they have won 14 of their last 16 in the league (the other two were draws) and, yes, their goal difference is a full 15 – FIFTEEN! – ahead of the second placed team and, yes, they’re playing beautiful football but… we have Kieran Tierney!

Seriously though, I started to think through the sort of attacking players we can now put out – the likes of Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Aubameyang, Martinelli, Pepe and I realised that tomorrow’s game is not automatically a write-off, even though most supporters seem to think so.

We can cause them problems. We have players who can make pretty patterns and create openings and I fully expect us to score.

But then I pondered the problems they will pose us. Apart from the general high level of quality and technical ability in their squad, it’s the speed and skill of their attacking line-up that has proved so deadly.

And that lethal strike force will probably be up against the following back line: Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Tierney. Obviously three of those were starters on Thursday night and Tierney got about half an hour as a sub, but I suspect that Mikel Arteta will send them out again against the pale blue Mancs.

It’s not a great leap from thinking “Man City’s attackers play a lightning fast, one-touch, pass-and-move game” to thinking “David Luiz… Granit Xhaka… oh dear.”

If Holding starts instead of Luiz, the problem remains the same. As the City players try to weave round us into the box it will be all too easy for Luiz, or Holding, or a back-tracking Xhaka to stick out a boot and bring them down. With VAR there’s no escape, particularly as the system seems to have it in for Arsenal.

Gabriel is a much faster defender but he, too, has shown the capacity for a sudden misjudgement leading to expulsion. And Hector Bellerin has a habit of getting caught out of position and having to chase back to make amends, sometimes feeling forced to commit a foul.

Playing City with 11 men will be hard enough. With 10 men it will be almost impossible.

Am I too pessimistic? Or have I identified a fundamental weakness in our squad – something I have previously referred to as a “self destructiveness gene” in our DNA? Nine red cards so far under El Patron and counting. Will it be 10 by tomorrow evening?

RockyLives


Missed Chances May Cost Us: Benfica Report & Ratings

February 19, 2021
‘Moses’ Saka parts a red sea of defenders

I don’t know how you feel about omens, but last time we faced Benfica in European competition we drew 1-1 in the away leg only to lose 1-3 in the home tie.

That was in November 1991. Less than six months earlier George Graham’s Arsenal team had celebrated a dominant league title triumph, losing only one game all season.

We were so good that many of us felt that 1991-92 could be the year for us to finally lift the European Cup (for you youngsters, that’s the trophy now known as the Champions League). But it was not to be. Despite scoring our away goal we could not get on top of the Portuguese in the home leg at Highbury and lost in extra time. I was there and it was a miserable night.

People say: ‘history repeats itself.’ I prefer this version: ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes.’ Let’s hope it’s not too close a rhyme next Thursday night when we play the second leg in our home ground of, er, Athens. (By the way, given the amount of Arsenal supporters from the North London Greek community I think we can look on Athens as a spiritual home fixture).

For the ‘away’ leg Mikel Arteta took the highly unusual step of naming an unchanged team, presumably encouraged greatly by our first half display against Leeds United at the weekend.

But where Saturday’s performance was characterised by clinical finishing, last night’s was all about missed chances. On another evening we would have come out victors by a three or four goal margin. Aubameyang missed a sitter early in the first half and had other half-decent chances. Other players had opportunities but couldn’t convert.

A 1-1 scoreline is not at all bad for an ‘away’ leg in European competition but it still leaves us with plenty to do.

Fortunately, we showed enough attacking verve to give us hope that we won’t see a repeat of 1991. Benfica were extremely well organised and had a superbly drilled back line whose offside trap reminded me of those long-gone George Graham years, but we still managed to carve them open numerous times.

At the other end they barely threatened and their goal came from a very soft penalty. Soft not because I am disputing the decision, but because it was one of those situations where a ball is booted at a player from a mere couple of feet away and hits his arm before he can do anything about it.

I thought our stand-out performers were Smith Rowe, who was a constant thorn in their sound down our left flank; Saka (who added another few million quid to his value with our equaliser); and the Luiz-Gabriel axis, which marshalled the defence very well.

I pick out Saka even though he was kept fairly quiet for large parts of the game. Benfica had clearly studied hours and hours of tape of our young star and worked out a highly sophisticated plan to stop him. It amounted to this instruction to ex-Spud defender Jan Vertonghen: “Jan, every time he gets the ball, kick him.”

Despite the big Belgian being all over him like Rooney on a granny, and despite the usual lack of protection from the ref for the constant fouling, Saka still found ways to influence the game in our favour, including getting the vital away goal.

Aubameyang will be frustrated that he did not add to his recent goal scoring run (five in his last two starts before last night). All you can say is that at least he got into positions where you would normally expect him to find the back of the net.

We will go into the return leg as deserved favourites to progress. Given that this competition is our only chance of silverware (and that the prize of a Champions League place is huge) let’s hope we don’t end up regretting last night’s misses.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

Made one good save, had no chance with the well-taken penalty but was mostly untroubled.

Bellerin – 6.5

Tried to contribute to our right-side attack and made some good surging runs forward, but seemed reluctant to feed the ball inside to Odegaard and at other times was not on the same wavelength as Saka.

Luiz – 7.5

Physically strong, read the game well and was happy to clear it long if Benfica’s high press looked like causing us problems.

Gabriel – 7.5

With his CB partner, gave the Benfica forwards barely a sniff.

Cedric – 7

A very typical Ced performance. Plenty of effort and good work; some wayward passing and crossing. But he got the assist for our goal.

Xhaka – 7

One Xhakatastic moment of madness almost cost us dearly, when he played an idiotic long ball across our penalty area straight to a Benfica forward, but apart from that he maintained his very good recent form. Made one terrific sliding tackle in the box.

Ceballos – 7

I felt Dani slowed us down at times, but I may be being harsh and perhaps the right balls weren’t on for him. Nevertheless he did get us forward well for our equaliser and his work rate and tackling are seldom in doubt.

Saka – 7.5

Got our vital away goal and never gave up trying to make things happen despite the man-marking by Vertonghen. His dribbling skills broke the Benfica defence several times and, with a fraction more composure, he might well have had a second goal to his name.

Odegaard – 7

Looks good whenever he’s on the ball (and when he’s off it). Excellent speed of thought and play. Along with Saka and Smith Rowe, Martin helps speed up our play, which is vital for success at the highest level.

Smith Rowe – 8 (MoTM)

I love watching this lad play. His touch is sublime, he is brave and he is fast (both of foot and of brain). To think how good he is at this young age is to get really excited about our future prospects.

Aubameyang – 6

Should have put us ahead early in the first half. He knows it. He’ll probably score against Man City at the weekend.

SUBS

Tierney – 7

Great to see Tesco back and for him to get some minutes before facing Man City on Sunday. He looked as good as ever apart from one misplaced cross. The fact that it was such a surprise to see his attempted cross go straight out of play is testament to how good he is.

Martinelli – 6.5

Came on in the 77th minute. His intent was obvious from the start but Benfica had shut up shop by that stage and it was hard to make chances.

Pepe – 6.5

Came on with Martinelli. Had a few decent moments but nothing quite came off for him.

Elneny & Willian – N/A

Came on at the very end for who-knows-what reason.

RockyLives


The Benfica Dilemma: Go for it? Or Play it Safe? Prematch and Predicted Line-Up

February 18, 2021
Not Portugal. Or England.

The Europa League is our last chance of tangible success this season.

An amazing run in the league could get us into the top six or even challenging for a top four spot, but you’d have to be wearing very rose tinted glasses to place much store in that eventuality.

So that means that if we really want something to cheer, we’re going to have to win the Europa League… and that’s a tall task. It’s not that we don’t have the footballing talent to win it, more than there is a hell of a long way to go and any team needs the rub of the green to win a cup competition.

This is the round of 32, remember. With two-legged fixtures all the way except the final that means we’d have to get through 11 more games to lift the cup.

So, with Manchester City waiting for us on Sunday in the league, how should Mikel Arteta approach his team selection for tonight?

The logic would indicate that this competition should take priority, since if we win it we (a) get to drink a lot and celebrate a trophy (b) qualify for next year’s Champions’ League (a huge prize) and (c) get to laugh our socks off at the noisy neighbours (again).

But my suspicion is that El Patron is still wearing the old rose tinted spectacles as far as the league is concerned and will try to have it both ways, by putting out a fairly strong team in Rome but also keeping some key players back for Sunday.

At the time of writing, Tierney is back in training but Partey is still out. Everyone else is available. I can’t see Tierney being rushed back – he’s one of our most important players and has been struggling with niggling injuries ever since arriving in N5.

So what sort of starting line-up does that leave us with? Benfica are no pushover, even if their league form in Portugal has been indifferent since the start of 2021 (five defeats, one draw and only two wins in their last eight) so we certainly won’t be putting out a second-string eleven.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan given another outing in goal and Holding’s absence from the starting line-up against Leeds likely indicates a Holding-Mari partnership at centre back. Pepe will surely start, having been relegated to the bench last weekend. We could see Martinelli but I think he’ll be on the bench.

Here’s the team I expect:

Ryan

Chambers – Holding- Mari – Cedric

Xhaka – Elneny

Pepe – Odegaard – Aubameyang

Lacazette

I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if I was miles out with that guess, but you never know.

If I’m close to being correct, then the starting eleven to face Man City (assuming Partey is still out) would be:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Smith Rowe – Pepe

Aubameyang

Whatever the personnel, here’s hoping an English club can beat a Portuguese one in an “away” fixture in Italy. What strange times we live in.

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLives


51 Uses for a Willian

February 16, 2021
Rollercoaster tester?
  1. Ceiling duster.
  2. Ornamental tree.
  3. Door stop.
  4. Traffic beacon.
  5. Hat stand.
  6. Microphone.
  7. Christmas tree ornament.
  8. Car dashboard toy.
  9. Snow depth marker.
  10. Actor in a Jackson Five biopic.
  11. Lamp stand.
  12. Maritime buoy.
  13. Fluffer.
  14. Music conductor (‘s baton).
  15. Key ring.
  16. Hitching post.
  17. Van Der Graaf Generator demonstrator.
  18. Bird’s nest.
  19. Footman in Bridgerton.
  20. Clerk of the court.
  21. Drumstick.
  22. Mr Bobblehead action figure.
  23. Torpedo tube polisher.
  24. Supermarket sign holder.
  25. Make-up brush.
  26. Window cleaner.
  27. Cathedral gargoyle.
  28. Catwalk model.
  29. Star Wars extra.
  30. Bitcoin miner.
  31. Elon Musk ‘mission to Mars’ volunteer.
  32. Riverdance chorus boy.
  33. Member of Parliament.
  34. Bog snorkeller.
  35. Rollercoaster tester.
  36. Snake milker.
  37. E-sports professional.
  38. Hair double for Sideshow Bob.
  39. Windsock.
  40. Butler.
  41. Dog walker.
  42. Garden gnome.
  43. Water feature.
  44. Aileron.
  45. Celebrity Love Island contestant.
  46. John Terry’s food taster.
  47. American Picker.
  48. Beefeater.
  49. Flower arranger.
  50. Children’s party entertainer (clown).
  51. Dynamic attacking footballer in the Premier League.

Sorry about No. 51 – it was a joke.

And yes, I know I’m being hard on poor, out-of-form Willian. I would like nothing better than for him to remember how to play football and start contributing goals and assists for The Arsenal.

But if he can’t do that (soon), then any of 1 to 50 works just fine for me…

RockyLives


Smith Röwdegaard: the Answer to our Dreams?

February 16, 2021
Be still my beating heart

I was not alone in being surprised by Mikel Arteta’s team selection for the Leeds game on Sunday.

When we signed Martin Odegaard on loan I imagined he would be back-up for Emile Smith Rowe, but a back-up who would get plenty of game time because of the need to not overplay ESR.

What I did not expect was for them to line up alongside each other as they did at the weekend, especially when we had other attacking players like Pepe, Martinelli and (oh dear) Willian available.

But it worked. What’s more, the way both young men played was incredibly pleasing on the eye: fast, intelligent movement, first time passes, cheeky little moments of skill and control.

Watching them you realised you were watching Rolls Royce footballers – players who have perfect touch and control and are also half a second ahead of anyone else on the pitch in their reading of the game.

If a persistent problem for Arsenal (not just this season but going back several years) has been unpicking defences when teams ‘park the bus’, then our blonde-on-blonde twin pivot are exactly the tool needed to pick the lock.

Of course there’s a big proviso. If we commit to playing them both on a regular basis, does this mean we will lack defensive solidity and stability. On Sunday Xhaka and Ceballos did an excellent job of controlling midfield in the first half and I don’t see why that combo, or Xhaka-Partey could not give us the sound platform needed to unleash the Röwdegaard on a regular basis.

If we wanted to be really daring we could put Röwdegaard behind a front striker (Auba or Laca), with two wide attacking players as well (Saka and Pepe, for example). But that would require a defensive midfielder of incredible discipline and ability – a Gilberto Silva if you like – and I’m not sure we have that person in our ranks at the moment.

We saw against Leeds how difficult the Röwdegaard can make it for opposition defenders (with Saka playing a huge part as well, of course). The problems our attack-minded young players caused the defenders in that game meant there was more space for Aubameyang to play in as well.

ESR and Odegaard are both young and in many ways still learning their trade, but if they fulfil their potential then it would be like having Bergkamp and Ozil starting in the same team; or Fabregas and Brady. Am I getting too carried away? What do you think? How would you line up our attacking options?

RockyLives