Who Should Lead the Line Against Everton?

April 23, 2021

Earlier in the week after, Lacazette’s injury, I brought Aubameyang into the starting line-up of my fantasy side, then I heard the news he is still out.

I began wondering who will be leading the Arsenal lines in tonight’s game. The first name that came to mind was Eddie Nketiah.

After my comments on Sunday you know am not the biggest Eddie supporter but this is the perfect opportunity for him to show us fans what he is made of.

Personally I think he will flop. The fact we recalled him from a loan spell at Leeds where he was not able to get a consistent starting berth shows me he lacks the clinical touch.

Personally I would like to see Balogun leading the line, but against a strong Everton defence that might be too much too soon for the young striker. Another option could be Martinelli, whom I wouldn’t mind leading the line.

So who do you think should be the starting striker against Everton?

Fred


Time for a ‘Kroenke Out’ Campaign?

April 21, 2021
Paper Tiger: official symbol of the European Super League

Well, that was embarrassing.

After stunning us with the announcement that it was part of a new breakaway European Super League, Arsenal has executed a 180 degree turn and is now having nothing to do with the venture.

A tweet from the club said:

As a result of listening to you and the wider football community over recent days we are withdrawing from the proposed Super League. We made a mistake and we apologise for it.

I don’t know what’s more pathetic on the part of the British ‘breakaway’ clubs: their greed and betrayal in entering the thing in the first place or their abject cowardice in the face of the first wave of resistance.

It’s like declaring war on a neighbouring nation and sending your army over the border; then, when it turns out that the enemy has guns and soldiers too, you run away with your tail between your legs.

And as for this “as a result of listening to you” twaddle! Do you think we were born yesterday? What you really mean is: “…as a result of realising that we might be booted out of the Premier League and UEFA competitions, that we might face legislation from the Government, that we might be sued by the European Commission and that even the big TV corporations were saying they’d have nothing to do with us, we are withdrawing…

If the six teams (and their European co-conspirators) had stuck to their guns we might not have liked it, but it would have demonstrated that they had made a serious decision about what they felt was best for their clubs’ financial future and were going to see it through.

Instead it shows that the Super League never had any substance beyond a bunch of wealthy football club owners seeing dollar signs in their imaginations. It was a paper tiger.

But it was a paper tiger we helped build. So now there should be consequences.

Ed Woodward, executive vice chairman of Manchester United, has already resigned; the president of Juventus looks to be on his way out; more heads will surely roll.

What does it mean for Arsenal?

A decision so massive – to abandon our traditional football structures and traditions to break out into a new international league – can only have been approved at the very highest level of our club, namely Stan Kroenke.

It was a serious misjudgement and speaks to a lack of understanding of the game we Brits invented and exported to the world. It has shown that Kroenke and his organisation are not fit owners of a club like Arsenal.

It’s a shame that fans are not currently allowed in stadiums because it’s surely time we all campaigned together to kick KSE out of Arsenal.

RockyLives


Arsenal and the Americanisation of Football: an Unfashionable Opinion

April 19, 2021
Get ready for Soccerball

I have spent a good deal of the last two decades living in North America (the United States then Canada).

As an Arsenal supporter it meant a lot of early starts (particularly when I lived on the west coast of the US) and a lot of bunking off work in the middle of the day to catch the ‘evening’ games.

But thanks to the universal television coverage that’s now available I seldom missed a game while living abroad.

However, while Arsenal remained my one true sporting love I was quite happy to ‘go native’ and develop an interest in those peculiar sports that so excite the Americans (rounders; rugby with armour; netball for tall people etc).

When I lived in Los Angeles I enjoyed watching the LA Dodgers baseball team in their fine old stadium. Maintaining an interest in the NFL and attending Superbowl parties became a normal thing. Living in Canada I learned to love professional basketball and had a season ticket at the Toronto Raptors (returning to the UK the season before the Raptors became NBA champions) and occasionally watched the Bluejays play baseball. I was in the stadium when Toronto FC won the MLS championship in ‘soccer’ in 2017.

I love sport, so I loved all these experiences. But there is something very, very different about American sport when compared with our football. In some ways it is worse, but in other ways it is better (or at least better than the Premier League).

The big five professional North American leagues (the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS) are closed shops. No matter how badly a team performs it can never be relegated. In fact, in most sports it gets rewarded for being crap by getting first pick of the following year’s crop of talented youngsters.

This ‘draft’ system is very effective in the American context and allows a greater churn of success, with teams often having a great few years then sinking back down until they can slowly build and rise again. Salary caps and other spending restrictions help ensure that a few very rich teams are not allowed to dominate.

It’s very different to the way things operate in English footy, where a tiny number of clubs with megarich owners can win most of the prizes most of the time (yes, I know – Leicester City – but they are the exception that proves the rule).

In the English Premier League, since its inception in 1992, only seven different clubs have become champions (Man Utd, Blackburn, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, Leicester, Liverpool). That’s seven clubs in 28 seasons (it will be seven in 29 in a few weeks’ time).

In that same period there have been 16 different Superbowl winners; 11 different NBA champions; 16 different winners of the World Series in baseball; and 15 winners of the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League. In soccer, the MLS started in 1996 and in the 25 seasons since then, it has had 13 separate champions.

That churn is one of the good things about American sport. Supporters of every team can feel that they will have a chance of ‘going all the way’ one day and that the deck is not permanently stacked against them.

As I have mentioned, it is only made possible through a combination of spending restrictions and the use of a draft scheme (and the draft system itself can function only because college sport is so strictly regulated and organised in the US and is seen as a conveyor belt for sending talent into the pro leagues: there is no equivalent in this country).

All of which brings us to the bombshell announcement of plans for a European Super League and of Arsenal’s participation in this revolution.

Most fans have reacted furiously, of course, and it’s obvious to see why: the idea of a European league with no relegation for the founder clubs cuts against everything we have grown up knowing and loving about our national game.

But to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I can see why some of the ‘big’ clubs are keen on the idea. Long gone are the days when clubs were owned by local businessmen-made-good who were passionate about their team. It’s big corporate business now, with all the attendant soullessness, greed and corruption. 

And if you’re a big corporation and you are offered the chance of a gold-plated safety net that means your investment can never entirely collapse, then why wouldn’t you go for it? The idea that you could invest hundreds of millions of pounds into a club and see it end up in the Championship or worse must be horrifying to the super-rich owners. 

My instinct is to oppose the ESL for the very reason that the corporate owners want to embrace it: namely that it is a break with one of the most fundamental traditions of the game – the never-ending elevator of success and failure, with all teams having the chance to ride it to the summit or take it all the way down to the basement of non-league.

But my opposition is half-hearted because the elevator is broken anyway. It wasn’t in great shape before the formation of the Premier League (only nine different champions in the 28 years before the EPL, compared with the seven champions in the 28 years since); and it has been even worse in the EPL era.

When the football authorities allowed the super-rich to buy up football clubs without any restrictions on spending they ensured that all but a handful of clubs would ever be allowed to ride the ‘up’ elevator all the way to the top.

There was a brief period of optimism when it looked like UEFA was going to be serious about its Financial Fair Play regulations, but with clubs like Manchester City able to spend millions on the world’s best lawyers to justify their disregard of FFP it was always going to be a futile hope.

The restrictions still nominally apply but everyone knows they mean nothing.

In that light we can see the ESL as an inevitable continuation of what was begun with the formation of the EPL in 1992: big clubs moving ever closer to ensuring they could not fail financially.

It’s all a bit depressing, but it was depressing before yesterday’s announcement anyway.

I realise this won’t be a popular opinion, but a closed European Super League with no relegation but with strict spending regulations might be more enjoyable than what we currently have (although I say this without any idea of whether they are proposing such restrictions for the ESL. If they’re not, then forget it).

A league of teams with broadly equivalent budgets might make the game more exciting, might lead to more ‘churn’ and might feel less depressingly predictable than our current “which sugar daddy team will win the title this year?” approach.

There are other obvious downsides to the ESL, not least the killer blow it would deliver to the routine of the ‘away game’ for supporters. It would end up (again) similar to American sports where fans generally don’t travel to away games.

The formation of the ESL would be the final Americanisation of our beautiful game, but it’s the logical conclusion of where it has been heading for well over a generation.

RockyLives


A Chance for Arsenal to Close the Gap on Spurs: Fulham Preview & Predicted Line-Up

April 18, 2021
Limbering up for the visit of Fulham

After the heroics in Prague we entertain Fulham at the Emirates today in an early kick-off and we’re likely to see some squad rotation.

The calendar is kind to us in the immediate future (we don’t play again until Everton’s visit on Friday evening, then have six days before the first leg of the Europa League semi final in Spain). Even so, there must be some tired legs from last Thursday and Mikel Arteta will want to protect his star assets.

The real need for rotation will come after the first game against Villareal, when we have only 43 hours before we take the field at Newcastle unless the fixture gets moved.

Team news is that Tierney will be out for some time (I don’t think we’ll see him again this season); Luiz is still a few weeks away following ‘a small procedure’ on his knee; Aubameyang remains unavailable because of malaria and Odegaard’s ankle problem keeps him out, although he may be ready for the first Villareal game.

It will be interesting to see if El Patron persists with Xhaka at left back and Chambers at right. I suspect Xhaka will play but this may be a fixture where Arteta lets Bellerin have a rare run out.

Ceballos’s last two outings have been a refreshing change from his poor form prior to that and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him and Partey get another run out in midfield.

I would be tempted to rest Smith Rowe, but with Odegaard out we are short of options in the central attacking midfield role so the Croydon De Bruyne may get another start.

It seems like a game where Martinelli could (and should) get a run out from the first whistle, but knowing Arteta I expect to see the older, more frustrating Brazilian get the nod.

Our opponents have had a disappointing season. We hammered them in the first game of the season – a game which, with hindsight, was remarkable for the fact that Willian looked like a great player and had three assist. Little did we know then that that was the last we would see of ‘good’ Willian.

The Cottagers started the season with four straight defeats then managed to steady the ship a little with a run of draws intermingled with defeats and the occasional win, but just lately their form has plummeted again. They have lost their last four games – all against teams in the top half of the table – scoring two and conceding nine.

On paper you would expect us to win this one and close the gap on the N17 degenerates to just two points. Europa League glory is obviously the big target left for us in this campaign, but finishing above the noisy neighbours would be amusing given how generally poor our season has been.

Here’s my guess at the starting team:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Xhaka

Partey – Ceballos

Willian – Smith Rowe – Pepe

Lacazette

Let’s hope there’s no post-Europa hangover and we pick up where we left off against Prague and Sheffield United.

Come On You Gunners.

RockyLives


Auba, Laca, Nketiah, Balogun, Martinelli – Which Forwards for next year?

April 17, 2021

LBG on the Laca debate: “Lacazette is finishing the season on a high. He may even lead us to glory in the Europa Cup and the Champions League next season. Should we extend his contract ( like Aubang, please not like Aubang!!) or cash in on a player who could otherwise be holding up the development of Martinelli and Balogun?”

Maxwell’s response: “LBG – a difficult one. Laca is my favourite player over the past three seasons. He rarely leaves anything out on the pitch. My preference would be to move Aubamayang on, not because he’s done anything wrong, his current slump notwithstanding, but as many have observed on here, he doesn’t fit well with Arteta’s design. I would then offer Laca a limited extension, maybe two years, but heavily incentivised, so that the base number wasn’t too eye watering. Mind you, I wish they’d do that with ALL contracts! He seems to have such a positive effect on the young players, he’d be worth retaining as they develop.”

Interesting debate started by LBG and a very interesting response from Maxwell…

Here is my 2 cents:

  1. Auba will not be moved on and will not want to move so that’s settled…I am hoping that he rediscovers his form so that we avoid another “Ozil” saga
  2. Laca will also stay. Arteta really rates him, He likes his ability to bring the team together and his leadership qualities. He is also liking Laca’s goals so I can see him getting a 2 year extension, indeed.
  3. Martinelli will also stay and he will be competing for the LFW position rather than the CF. Arteta is really working hard with him also on the personality aspect and everyone knows he is our future starter as LFW so no chance that he is leaving.
  4. Balogun has been extended and Arteta and Edu really rate him. I think he may be allowed to go on loan next year if we can’t give enough playing time in the first half of the season.
  5. This leaves us with Nketiah who I think will be allowed to leave and he may joined by Nelson, Willock and maybe AMN too.

So here is our forward line for me:

CF: Auba, Laca, Balo + 1 recruit a la “Giroud” (An aerial threat)

Wingers: Saka, Pepe, Martinelli and maybe Willian (?) although would be nice to replace Willian by F. Kostic for example.

What about you? Does Laca stay? Does he leave? Does Nketiah stay or does he leave?


We Looked Like a Team: Prague Report & Ratings

April 16, 2021
A Team

Mikel Arteta has been accused of prioritising caution at times, but last night he sent out an attacking line-up and it paid off.

In 24 minutes we completely overran Slavia Prague, scored three good goals and were a Rizla paper away from having a fourth. We looked like a team that knew what it was about in all departments.

After that early goal burst the tie was over. So over, in fact, that the Prague coach subbed off four of his first-teamers at half time, clearly deciding it was better to save them for domestic competition than waste their energy in a lost cause.

The team performance was good throughout and wiped away the frustration of the first leg, during which we had spurned several good chances to make the tie safe and allowed Prague to score a late equaliser.

Now the semi final awaits, in the shape of Villareal and the spectre of Uni Emery.

Emery’s tenure in N5 is not fondly remembered by most Gooners, but his side pose a serious obstacle between us and a Europa League final. As a manager he has won the competition three times and took Arsenal to a final (about which the less said the better).

We can worry about Emery and his team in two weeks time (the press will have a field day with that storyline), but for now we can bask in a very accomplished away win and the fact that we have scored seven goals in our last two games.

We knew we had to score in Prague and El Patron selected a team that would give us the best chance of doing so. Odegaard was not available through injury and the captain, Aubameyang, was unwell (it was revealed he is suffering from malaria: blood sucking parasites are a problem in football, but usually they’re called agents).

Nevertheless, we still had plenty of attacking firepower to choose from and a front four of Lacazette with Saka, Smith Rowe and Pepe behind looked promising. Partey and Ceballos had the midfield duty while Xhaka was used at left back again, Chambers at RB and a Holding-Mari partnership in the middle. Leno was in goal and hoping for his first clean sheet since before he started shaving.

The Xhaka at LB thing is interesting. He is properly left footed (which is good) and is a very neat footballer who’s comfortable on the ball (also good), but he’s not fast (less good) and is therefore not the sort of fullback who’s going to be bombing up and down the line. However, as a way of managing the absence of Kieran Tierney it clearly has merit.

As I’ve mentioned, we started very much on the front foot and had the ball in the net after 14 minutes. A lovely move ended with Saka firing a goal-bound shot across the Prague ‘keeper who did well to tip it onto the post. It rebounded kindly for Smith Rowe to stroke home only for VAR to rule it out for the most fractional of offsides.

Our disappointment did not last long. Four minutes later some beautiful footwork from Smith Rowe at the apex of the Prague area ended with him nutmegging a defender to slide the ball to Pepe. The Ivorian stayed strong despite the attentions of another defender, dummied the ‘keeper then lifted the ball into the net from a tight angle. One-nil and the vital away goal in the bag.

Three minutes later the excellent Saka was brought down in the penalty area and Lacazette (captain for the night) sent the goalie the wrong way with a well taken spot kick. And after another three minutes we were three up when Saka drove into the area from the right, shaped to shoot to the far post (the ‘keeper’s right) but instead slotted home cleverly at the near post, leaving the goalie rooted to the spot.

After that it was all about game management – and we did, indeed, manage the game well. With such a comfortable lead we inevitably eased up a little and Prague were finally able to make some attacking headway of their own, but they seldom caused us any real trouble. All our back four did well and the Holding-Mari partnership was very good (again).

Given the amount of scars we Arsenal fans have from self-inflicted wounds I suspect no-one really relaxed until Lacazette killed off any minuscule Prague hopes with a fourth in the 77th minute, displaying some gorgeous footwork to bamboozle the defender and fire home.

In the later minutes there were runs-out for Elneny, Martinelli, Nketiah, Cedric and Balogun as we coasted to a well earned win.

A friend texted to say it reminded him of the time when the great Arsenal teams of the early Wenger years would kill a game stone dead inside half an hour with three or four goals then spend the rest of the match taking it easy while not letting the opposition have a sniff of goal.

Player Ratings

Leno – 6

Very little to do.

Chambers – 7

He looked very strong in defence and continued to contribute well going forward. It’s nice to see the rehabilitation of a talented young English player continue apace.

Holding – 7

Rock solid. He seems to play particularly well with Mari.

Mari – 7

The more I see of Mari the more I like. He has an air of composed confidence about him and he is also a big unit who seems to relish the physical battles.

Xhaka – 7

Having a good left-footed passer like Xhaka at LB improves our ability to play out from the back compared with using a right footer like Cedric. Granit did his job well.

Partey – 7

I still feel we’re a long way from seeing the best of Thomas, but he had a good game last night particularly in the first half and was a big contributing factor to our early dominance.

Ceballos – 7

I have been harsh on Dani after some of his recent poor performances, but he has now had two good games back to back and I’m delighted for him and us. He worked hard and played some very nice passes in the attacking third.

Saka – 8

What a little bundle of talent. Every time he picked up the ball on the right the Prague defenders looked terrified. Was unlucky not to have an assist with the disallowed goal and scored a beauty.

Smith Rowe – 8

I know I sound like a stuck record, but I just love watching this kid. The first time passes, that way of always playing on the half turn, the sublime first touch, the incredible footwork, the footballing intelligence. I honestly think he could be a £100m player in a couple of years if he can stay free of injuries.

Pepe – 8

Took his goal with aplomb and was part of some excellent moves. In an attacking line-up like the one we sent out last night he can really shine. Forget the price tag, if he continues performing like this he is very much a first team player.

Lacazette – 8 (MoTM)

I suspect most people would give MoTM to Saka but I think Laca played a real captain’s innings last night. Aside from his two goals he worked really hard, dropping deep at times to help start attacks with quick passing and feet. We know the younger players look up to him and last night it showed how much they enjoy playing with him. He should wear the armband for the foreseeable future, assuming Auba will be out for a while.

SUBS

Elneny – 6

Tidy.

Cedric – 6

Tidy.

Nketiah – 6

Didn’t get much opportunity to shine but it was nice to see him get minutes.

Martinelli – 7

Unlucky not to score after a great run into the box (his shot bobbled just wide of the post).

Balogun – 6

Didn’t have time to get much of a look-in, but it was good to see him on the pitch. The mood music around keeping him at N5 is sounding more positive.

RockyLives


A magical or horrible night in Prague?

April 14, 2021

First and foremost, the Covid-19 situation is not really under control in the Czech republic so I am hoping that our club representatives (coaching staff, players…) will be ok.

And now for the game…

We dominated the first game at home although there were the usual hairy defensive moments. We lacked effectiveness in front of the goal and that gap may just be our undoing in the return leg…I hope not but who knows?

I thought we had a good outing against Sheffield but then again, it was Sheffield so we can’t get too carried away. The first leg and Sheffield game did give us some certainties though:

  1. If fit, we gotta play Saka, ESR and Martinelli
  2. Laca is to be our CF as he is in decent form this year so far.
  3. Partey should play in the middle and his partner could be El Neny if we want more impact and Ceballos if we want more slick passing. I d opt for El Neny as a starter.
  4. Chambers and Xhaka should start as FB
  5. Mari should start as CB with Gabriel.

This could be our most important game of the season yet and Arteta may refrain from playing our two most expensive players in Pepe and Auba…strange club and season we are having?

Pepe is showing some decent form lately when coming in as a sub so I am confident that he can unlock the game for us if called upon.

So here is my starting line-up in case it was not obvious from the paragraphs above:

Leno – Chambs, Gabriel, Mari, Xhaka – Partey, El Neny – Saka, ESR, Martinelli – Laca (not Saka, lol)

We have enough ammunitions on the bench then with Bello, Cedric, Ceba, Pepe, Willian, Auba amongst others.

Also, I think that Odegaard will not be missed so much if he doesn’t stay with us beyond this year so I see no reason to play him despite his obvious talent.

The game in Prague has all the elements to lead to an amazing magical night for our club or a horrible one. It is down to the players and the coach to put in the necessary shift to lead our team to the semi-finals and to let us continue to dream of a trophy and CL qualification this season.

COYG!


3 points with style – what happened?

April 12, 2021

A strange feeling during and after the game…We managed the game well, we controlled the game and we scored some nice goals. Ceballos had a good game – it has been a long time coming! Xhaka didn’t disappoint. Partey bossed the midfield. Pepe was running back. Martinelli scored. Holding and Mari were solid and Leno didn’t do anything wrong…What happened?

We won the midfield battle and Ceba was key to this together with Saka and…Laca. Once you control the midfield, the game is easier and the passing flows. Martinelli and Pepe made themselves available through their runs and Laca by dropping back. It was quite a good display and the first goal was very nice to watch but I also liked the last one with that beautiful Partey turn and assist and Laca’s cool finish. The second one was not bad as Pepe got the ball back, drove it forward, forced a good save from the GK but not good enough to keep Martinelli off the score sheet.

Only issue with yesterday’s game is Saka’s injury. Other issue that nobody wants to dwell on is that the team does relatively well without Auba starting. I also agree with Arteta that Laca seems to be in a good place at the moment. I am hoping that he will score 2 goals vs Slavia this week with Pepe assisting at least one of them…

Leno – 6

Chambers – 6

Holding – 6

Mari – 6

Xhaka – 6

Partey – 7

Ceba – 8

Pepe – 7

Saka – 7

Martinelli – 7

Laca – 8

To AFC: More assured displays like this please!


A Chance for Some Fringe Players to Shine? Sheffield United Prematch & Predicted Line-Up

April 11, 2021
Azeez, please

The psychological flaw that runs through this Arsenal team was in evidence again on Thursday night when we blew our chances of going to Prague with a lead and a clean sheet.

That return leg now takes on huge dimensions. If we don’t qualify our season is over with weeks to go.

It should mean some of our best players will be rested (or at least not risked) as we take on bottom placed Sheffield United today.

Tierney is out for ‘four to six weeks’ and Luiz is also unavailable after undergoing a minor procedure, so they definitely won’t feature.

Odegaard and Smith Rowe are both being assessed for ankle injuries. In the circumstances it would be crazy if the club took a gamble with playing them today instead of wrapping them in cotton wool until Thursday. I think it would also be mad to play Saka today.

This is a game you would expect us to win, but with the current Arsenal team nothing can be taken for granted and I don’t think many fans will be feeling overoptimistic about our chances, even against a team that has managed only four wins in 30 games.

Perhaps Mikel Arteta will feel emboldened to give a chance to some younger and fringe players.

Many of his senior men, like Willian, Ceballos, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe have – to varying degrees – been letting him down badly all season.

We’re going to finish somewhere in mid table (outside of the European positions) whatever happens, so why not use our remaining league games to start planning for next season?

Martinelli, Azeez and Balogun could all be considered for starts and I would like to see Mat Ryan given a run out in goal instead of the increasingly shaky Bernd Leno.

I don’t really expect many changes, but supporters would cut the team a lot more slack if it had promising youngsters in it instead of the players who have disappointed on a regular basis.

I’m going to go with my hopes rather than my expectations and predict this starting line-up:

Ryan

Chambers – Holding – Mari – Cedric

Xhaka – Partey

Azeez

Nelson – Balogun – Martinelli

A convincing performance and a solid win would help steady nerves before the serious business of the Europa League in four days time.

RockyLives


Giving the stick to be beaten…

April 8, 2021

Leno – 6, a good outing today to be honest.
Bellerin – 5, his usual average self.
Holding – 6, solid at the back and interesting up front.
Gabriel – 6, solid.
Cedric – 4, a poor outing.
Xhaka – 6, solid.
Partey – 4, disappoing.
Saka – 6, a good showing but clearly needs more time.
ESR – 5, looking for rhythm but industrious.
Willian – 3, his usual poor self.
Laca – 5, interesting link-up, a great but missed opportunity.

Pepe – 6, decisive.
Auba – 6, decisive.
Martinelli – 5, clearly hungry.
El Neny – 5, more impact than Partey somehow.

Should have been a victory, ends in a draw…Lack of cutting edge up front and some nervy moments at the back especially with Cedric. Nothing won but nothing lost either. Disappointing. Slavia has not lost at home in a long long time. It is going to be an interesting game in Prague.