Let’s burst some bubbles: West Ham preview

March 7, 2020
Pop

Today we take on West Ham at the Emirates after a week and a half of ups and downs.

On the down side we crashed out of the Europa League with a home defeat to Olympiacos and our Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira suffered a fractured ankle in the FA Cup tie at Portsmouth.

On the up side, we qualified from that FA Cup tie and now face Sheffield United away for a place in the semi finals; our Invincibles’ record remained intact when Liverpool were thrashed by the mighty Watford and both ‘Pool and the Spuds got dumped out of the FA Cup.

The Hammers are in desperate need of points in the Premier League. They’re out of the bottom three only on goal difference and potential relegation beckons.

However, they did win their last league game (home versus Southampton) so their confidence may have risen a little. Prior to that they had a tough run of games which saw defeats to Liverpool (twice), Manchester City and Leicester, with a 3-3 draw with Brighton in the middle.

They have conceded more goals in the EPL (49) than anyone except the bottom two clubs, Villa and Norwich, so you would hope our attacking players can make hay with that leaky defence.

When it comes to goal scoring however they are only four behind us (they have 35, we have 39 having played one game less). The main threat in this regard is the French striker Sebastien Haller who has seven, but they can pose a goal threat from midfield with Noble, Snodgrass and Fornals.

I’m never sure what I think about the ‘Appy ‘Ammers. They’re certainly not in the Spuds/Chavs class of despicable London clubs who deserve to be beaten and humiliated at every opportunity. But they can be annoying and, frankly, have an overly high opinion of themselves because they used to have a few good players in the days of black-and-white television.

My next-door neighbour is a Hammer and has a dog called Bobby, after former England captain and West Ham legend Bobby Moore. When Bobby met my dog, Dennis (named after you-know-who) Bobby was sent packing. Some things are just immutably written in the laws of nature.

We’ll probably face one former Gunner in Lukas Fabianski, but we won’t be seeing another one-time N5 star whose career never achieved the heady heights we once imagined for him. Apparently the Hammers are trying to buy out Jack Wilshere from his £100k a week contract because he is hardly ever fit to play.

I feel sorry for Jack. He was the subject of some appalling tackles early in his career and was never given adequate protection by the officials. Mind you, there was something about his style of play which invited opponents to dive in on him. Usually he could hop out of the way just in time, leaving the opponent on their arse or otherwise out of the game. But when he got it wrong, he suffered.

Here’s the team I expect Mikel Arteta to choose today:

Leno

Bellerin – Mustafi – Luiz – Saka

Xhaka – Ceballos

Ozil

Pepe – Nketieh – Aubameyang

The only arguable “surprise” there is that I expect El Patron to persist with Eddie given his wonderfully taken goal on Monday night and given Lacazette’s continuing woes.

Bellerin was truly awful against Olympiacos and really needs to pick up. I back him to do so. I know many people have doubts about Pepe but he has been improving and I expect that upward track to continue. After Nelson’s performance against Portsmouth we have a ready-made replacement if Pepe needs to be hooked.

Ozil was another who had an indifferent game against the Greeks but who I expect to bounce back today. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re writing him up as Man of the Match after this one.

We have more than enough about us to take all three points and that’s what I expect us to do.

Come on you Gunners.

RockyLives


What would success this season look like to you?

March 6, 2020

As we are now only 3 months away from the end of the season and we are also 2 months into the Arteta regime, it is a good time to assess or re-assess our expectations for this season.

We started the season poorly and until the end of December, there was a disconnect between the team and the fans to add to the abysmal team performances and results.

Arteta arrived and injected some life and passion into the players and the fans responded. Some results were very positive and others were painful like the loss to Chelsea and Olympiakos but overall, the team is in a more upwards and positive trajectory.

With the Europa League out of our reach now and with the Top 4 seemingly out of our reach too, the FA Cup seems to have become a major priority.

What would it take for you to call the Arsenal season a success given our poor form in the first part of the season?

From my side – success would be:- a top 6 finish (ideally being ahead of the Spurs); – an FA Cup triumph;- Arteta already having the 2020-2021 first XI in his head, which would integrate some of our promising young players like Saka and Martinelli;-Convincing Auba to stay with us.

Over to you fellow blogger

RC78


Arsenal’s first 11 when EVERYONE is fit

March 5, 2020
It’s a miracle

Simple question: if all our players are available, which of them would you put in the starting line-up for an important game?

I know it’s a stretch of the imagination to think of all our lads miraculously leaving the sickbay… Kolasinac with his shoulder un-knackered; Calum Chamber’s cruciate suddenly whole again following a secret late night visit from Glen Hoddle’s old faith healer; Kieran Tierney raring to go… but let’s run with it anyway.

If I had been carrying out this exercise even six weeks ago my team would have looked different to the one I’m about to propose.

For a start, there would have been no place for Ozil (whose Arsenal career seemed to be drifting into insignificance) or Pepe (he was, if we’re totally honest, proving to be a little bit disappointing) or Ceballos (who was turning into the new Denis Suarez) or, heaven help us, Mustafi (no explanation needed).

So it’s something of a surprise to me that this is the team I would select to do battle if all were available:

Leno

Bellerin – Mustafi – Luiz – Tierney

Torreira – Ceballos

Ozil

Pepe – Aubameyang – Saka

Subs: Martinez, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Willock, Martinelli, Lacazette.

Let me briefly explain my thinking. For a start, Mari and Soares were not even up for consideration because I’ve yet to see them play for Arsenal.

The selection of Luiz and Mustafi is based on how they have performed in the last four or five games. They seem to be forming a partnership in which each’s style of play complements the other’s.

Tierney has had a stop-start career at Arsenal so far but has shown enough to make me think the LB slot is his for years to come.

Dropping Xhaka to the bench is what I would do, but I really doubt Mikel Arteta would do the same if he had everyone fit to play. Like Unai Emery and Arsene Wenger he seems to see the Swiss as an essential fulcrum to our play.

Neverthless, I’m replacing him with Torreira and putting Dani Ceballos with him to provide the link-up play to our German midfield magician. In this scenario both Ceballos and Ozil are the beneficiaries of their recent rehabilitation.

I like Lacazette but his form has been too inconsistent this season, so it’s plank-warming for him and a run down the middle for Aubameyang.

With Saka and Pepe (who, at least to this viewer, is getting better with every outing) Auba will get lots of service, and all three have goals in them.

If I have a concern about my line-up it would be the lack of anyone up top to hold up the ball. It’s not really Aubameyang’s game. However, I see a combination of Ceballos and Ozil having a lot of control in central areas of the pitch and I don’t expect us to be playing too many long balls for Auba to contest for (apart from balls over the top for him to run in on goal).

That’s it.

Feel free to share your own line-ups in the comments.

RockyLives

  • This Post was written before the Olympiacos defeat and the Portsmouth victory. I was tempted to re-write it afterwards, but decided not to let one bad performance influence my overall thinking… even though I’m looking at the right back in my line-up and thinking… hmmmm…. not so sure now.

Promoting Youth …….. The AFC, Ajax or Man City way?

March 4, 2020

If there is one club in the world that comes into your mind when it comes to a Youth Academy, it is probably Ajax Amsterdam. 

Considering the country is rather small with less than 20 million people, the academy’s sustained ability to produce talent is rather amazing. 

Ajax is not a rich club in the likes of City, Utd, Real, Bayern, Juve…but it does provide these rich clubs with confirmed talents. It is a bit like the official provider of Dutch-trained talents to the riches of football. Ajax had a good shot at winning the Champions League last year but that was a one-off and they will not dominate European football like in the 70s – yet they may every now and again, get into the last 8 thanks to a uber talented pool of young players. 

Who does not remember the 1995 magic of Van Gaal where he fielded many academy graduates in the final to win the Champions League. These graduates included Van Der Saar,  Seedof, Davids and Kluivert but all were in the early stages of their careers and were starters at Ajax.

Ajax is a talent factory with a very clear model – they recruit young players more based on technical skills and football IQ rather than just focusing on physical abilities. The youth team trains in the same way that the professional team trains and there is only one system: 4-3-3. If you make it through the ranks by the age of 17, you are almost guaranteed a spot in the professional squad and will probably get some playing time and if you are very talented, you will be a starter. 

Most of the transfer money is re-injected into the youth development system. Ajax plays in a league with maybe 2 or 3 competitors with PSV, AZ and Feyenoord at times breaking the Ajax national hegemony. The league will never become a huge league like the EPL so maybe Ajax’s model is suited for their league and it is definitely sustainable. 

Dortmund and Leipzig have been following the same model to a certain extent BUT they focus their attention also in attracting promising players into their ranks. You know about Dortmund’s Sancho and Haaland and you are now discovering the likes of Upamecano, Nkunku and Werner in Leipzing since they caused a bit of pain to our best enemy’s in North London last week. 

The point is – if Arsenal cannot or does not want to compete financially with the likes of City, Utd, Chelsea or Liverpool (and most likely Everton soon), then which model should we adopt? Shall we adopt an Ajax model blended with Dortmund/Leipzig so that we can compete in domestic Cups and European Leagues? Or shall we really try to bridge the financial gap with the wealthy EPL clubs and start spending bigs every summer?

Arteta seems to be keen to integrate the young players into our team, maybe he knows that we will have to rely on them since our tranfer kitty will be reduced since we won’t qualify for the CL so he fees like he has no choice but to rely on the youth. BFG and Ljungberg are keen for the youth to make the first team and I think that the three of them will agree that the Academy players should get used to playing in Arteta’s favoured system 4231 but that requires Vincatesh and Edu’s validation…

Our young players seem very promising with Saliba, Saka, Douzi, Willock, Smith-Rowe, Martinelli, Nelsson and Nketiah leading the way but can Arteta really bank on them to bring EPL points into our basket? Are they ready? Can we afford to play them more regularly so that in 2 or 3 years, we could sell them to the highest bidder? What is the right model for us? It is hard to tell but this summer, our management team will need to come up with a 3 years plan and will need to stick to it…Whether it is to heavily invest or build a team full of Academy graduates, these models come with positives and negatives but a model should be selected. The good news is that if we decide to go the Ajax/Dortmund model, maybe our good friends Overmars and Bergkamp could help 😛

Back to you fellow AAers – what is your favoured model?

RC78


Put a Sok in it! Portsmouth report & player ratings

March 3, 2020
Sok it to me!

Many of the greatest footballers ever to have graced the turf have preferred to go by a single moniker.

Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zico, Perrygroves to mention but a few. Well, now we can add a new hero to that list: Sokratis.

I had always assumed that our tough Greek defender chose to go by his forename because of the obvious difficulties associated with his surname, which contains 17 consonants and 23 vowels. If his surname were printed on his Arsenal shirt it would start on his back, wrap round his chest and trickle down his leg.

But today we know better. Today Sokratis joins the pantheon of mononymous greats on merit alone. His goal just before half time in last night’s F.A. Cup fifth round tie at Portsmouth was perfectly timed and perfectly taken.

When Mikel Arteta’s line-up was announced for the game and Sokratis was in at right back, I commented that “he’s not a bad player, but he’s no right back.” Ahem… what I meant was that really he’s a Number 9. Honest.

The line-up had nine changes from the team that lost so dispiritingly to Olympiacos last Thursday, with El Patron deciding to give youth a chance.

Martinez was back between the sticks. The only truly experienced heads were at the defensive end of things (Sokratis, Luiz, Mari on his debut and Torreira). Apart from them it was the Arsenal creche all the way: another start up front for Nketieh; Martinelli and Nelson out wide; Doozy and Willock (who sound like a cartoon duo) in midfield and Bukayo Saka at LB/wingback.

I, for one, was very pleased to see such an exciting young line-up, but when the game started it took some time for our lads to get into their stride.

In front of a boisterous and confident Pompey crowd it was no surprise that the home side started with energy and enthusiasm and had the better of the first half, with a couple of half decent chances (including, worryingly, some more or less uncontested headers in our box).

For our part we mostly passed sideways and backwards and sideways again. In comments I described it as “constipated football”. We had one or two good moments (with Saka on the left and Nelson on the right) but were a bit toothless.

To listen to the BT Sport commentary team you’d think we were being humiliated by the League One team, so desperate were they for every sports journalist’s wet dream, the ‘big cup upset.’ 

In fact, lackluster though we were, we dominated possession and neither team really looked like scoring. The most significant moment of the half (until Sok’s late strike) was what looked like a nasty injury to Torreira. He was piled into by the Portsmouth centre back James Bolton who won the ball fairly, but whose follow-through was borderline reckless. The Terrier went off on a stretcher to applause from some of the home fans but abuse from others. Reports today suggest the injury may not be as serious as it looked last night.

And so to the Sokratis goal. Great work down the right from Reiss Nelson (not for the first time) saw a low cross fired in which was volleyed home by Sokratis with all the aplomb of a van Persie or Bergkamp. It was a crucial strike, deflating an “up for it” Pompey just before the break.

We opened the second half with an equally powerful dagger blow. Nelson again dong excellent work on the right wing and putting in a cross which was met by Nketieh’s well-judged run. Even so, the striker had a lot to do to control the ball at high speed and get it past the Pompey ‘keeper. A really high quality goal.

From then on we dominated possession and created more chances. The wind had well and truly gone out of Pompey’s sails and we never looked like relinquishing our lead.

And so we move on the quarter finals of a competition that this club has made its own. Here’s hoping for a good home draw…

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Martinez 6

Looked shaky under high balls once or twice but was tidy with most of what came his way.

Sokratis 7

Got skinned at right back several times in the first 20 minutes, but seemed more solid afterwards. Superb (and important) strike for our opener.

Mari 7

A very tidy debut by the big Spaniard. He’s a physically imposing figure but I was also impressed with his good footwork. A promising start.

Luiz 7

Didn’t do much wrong and brought the ball forward well at times. Doesn’t entirely inspire confidence aerially in our own box.

Saka 7.5

This lad never lets us down. Solid defensive play and always a threat going forward.

Torreira 6

Was doing fine until clobbered.

Guendouzi 7.5

Typically energetic performance from Doozy. He must be such a nuisance to play against. In general he used the ball well as well, although he is undoubtedly hampered by his one-footedness. Got booked for taking the piss out of Mike Dean, whoch earned him an extra half a point.

Willock 5

The one youngster who struggled on the night. He did not seem particularly at the races and looked absolutely knackered from about half way through the second half. Perhaps he’s carrying an injury? Even so, games like this are to be expected from young players.

Nelson 8 MoTM

A coming-of-age game for young Reiss, who has shown flashes of brilliance in earlier games this season but never had as big an impact as he did last night. More of this and he’ll be pushing for starts ahead of Pepe.

Martinelli 7.5

Great all round attitude and effort, with plenty of skill to go along with it.

Nketieh 7.5

Took his goal beautifully (in terms of the run, the control and the finish) and worked hard pressing from the front when Portsmouth had possession. He’s making a strong case for being selected ahead of Lacazette on a regular basis.

Subs

Ceballos 7

On early for the injured Torreira, Dani was tidy and gritty. Sold outing.

Maitland-Niles/Xhaka 

On late too late to get ratings.


Come on Arsenal … we love the FA Cup

March 2, 2020

Tonight we turn our attention to the FA Cup, with a place in the quarter final up for grabs! We travel to the south coast to face league one promotion chasers Portsmouth. This will be the first time we’ve met since 2009.

After our disappointing exit from the Europa league, this is now our last chance of some silverware this season. I love the FA cup, so am hoping Mikel fields a very strong 11, as we’re all in need of a pick me up!

Now I’m not saying this will be easy, as Fratton Park will be packed to the rafters, and their fans will be their 12th man! Although our away support is amazing so it should be a cracking atmosphere!

I believe Mari will make his debut, this is the line up I’d like to see :

Martinez

AMN     Mari     Holding     Saka,

Guendouzi     Torreira     Willock,

Martinelli     Nketiah     Aubameyang

I’ve picked Saka, but think he needs a rest. If Mustafi is fit then maybe he could deputize?! I’m going to go with a 3-1 win (& hopefully won’t feel the need to turn over to Eastenders 😀)

COYG

Sue


Liverpool: you’re good, but you’re no Invincibles

March 1, 2020
Dream on, Scousers

Good morning Liverpool fans. I know that on Merseyside you probably think that “Hubris” is the new sporty SUV from Fiat, but I’m here to disabuse you of that misconception.

From the Cambridge English dictionary:

Hubris

noun [ U ]

 /ˈhju·brɪs/

an extreme and unreasonable feeling of pride and confidence in yourself

Just over a month ago I wrote a Post on Arsenal Arsenal suggesting that only one team could stop you from emulating our mighty Invincibles of 2004. I fancied that it would come down to Arsenal having to beat your lot in North London on May 2nd.

In the Post I was extremely complimentary about your side. And why wouldn’t I be? Liverpool have been terrific this season, easily the best team in the Premier League.

But that did not stop a bunch of you piling in to the comments with various shades of abuse.*

“Deluded… crawl back to your cesspit… dream on… don’t give up your day job… Man City may well beat us but your shower of sh*t certainly won’t… wake up and watch us trounce your 2004 records…”

Turns out I overestimated you.

I thought you were going to be a serious challenger to the claim of best team of the Premier League era and that only Arsenal’s special reasons to be motivated would give us a chance of stopping you.

But I overlooked something. I had completely forgotten that you had to face another mighty challenge. That’s right: an away trip to a ground which is third after only the Camp Nou and the Allianz Arena in the list of most daunting fortresses in world soccer. Not.

I mean, Watford? And to lose 0-3? And to let Troy Deeney score, a man more out of shape than the actual Troy was after the Greeks had razed it to the ground…?

Hahahahaha. We’re having a terrible season and even we managed a draw there. Under Unai Emery, no less.

I’ve heard there were angry scenes in Liverpool after the game, with shops and houses looted and burned, costing pounds worth of damage.

But I’m not just here to poke fun at you and your hubristic dreams of going through a season unbeaten.

I am also inviting you to come on here and comment to the effect that you now understand and appreciate just how good the Arsenal Invincibles were. 

To go through a full season unbeaten is almost unimaginably difficult and requires a team with qualities you probably only see once in a lifetime. You can only do it with total commitment, total concentration and total professionalism. You can’t have a single off day. No bad day at the office. No sudden stumble against unfancied opposition.

You know that now, don’t you?

I’m impressed that you went 44 games undefeated. Five more and you would have equalled the Invincibles’ record. But it’s so, so hard.

Come to think of it, your great teams of earlier eras never managed it either, did they? Not when you had Dalglish, or Rush, or Aldridge, or Owen, or Toshack and Keegan. You had brilliant teams, but none of them as brilliant as the Invincibles.

And before you jump on to say how crap Arsenal are right now, I’ll beat you to it: yes, we’re struggling. We’re going through a lean period. But you’d know all about that.

Both our great clubs have bragging rights. You have your European Cups, we have our Invincibles. Last Thursday night, when we had yet another disappointing end to a European campaign, the force was with you. Today, it’s with us.

You’ll still be champions this year. But you won’t make history.

These boys did: Lehman, Cole, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Lauren, Parlour, Edu, Gilberto, Campbell, Henry, Toure. 

And in their prime they’d spank your current crop any day of the week because they were mentally tougher. So mentally tough that they refused to allow anyone to beat them in 2003-4. Unlike your lot.

Happy Invincibles Day!

RockyLives

  • Not all the Scouse commenters were impolite. One or two (like C F S 118) made sensible and interesting comments.