We need a new Giroud

January 20, 2020

Arsenal are looking less like a sinking ship since Mikel Arteta got his hands on the tiller, but recent performances have highlighted a glaring gap in our crew of jolly sailor boys.

While we have all bored each other half to death complaining about the absence of a proper defensive midfielder or pleading for a totemic centre half, it has been little remarked on that we are completely lacking in another area: we don’t have a big, strong striker.

In other words, we need a new Olivier Giroud.

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The handsome Frenchman was popular during his time at Arsenal, but it would also be fair to say that he was somewhat underappreciated. Fans expressed their fondness for him (especially the ladies, ooh la la) but at the same time they would generally say the club needed to buy that famous “world class striker” of our fantasies.

There have been times in recent games (I’m thinking most recently of the second half against Palace, for part of which we were down to 10 men) when we could really have benefitted from having a big, strong centre forward.

Lacazette does OK with his back to goal and can sometimes hold up the ball, but it’s not the way he likes to play and it’s not the best part of his game.

Yet apart from him there’s no-one who could even begin to take on a Giroud type role. Aubameyang? Saka? Martinelli? Do me a favour. They’re all good in their different ways, but none is built for trading elbows with Neanderthal defenders and winning towering headers in a thicket of thugs like Shawcross, Cahill and Maguire.

At the time of writing, it looks like Eddie Nketieh is going to stay with us for the second half of the season rather than going out on another loan. Perhaps he could fill that role, but he seems more of a Welbeck type of player than a ‘big powerful centre forward’.

I’m not suggesting we need such a player as a regular starter. But Arsenal has almost always had at least one big striker who could be thrown on to destabilise a stubborn opposition defence or act as a target man when we’re chasing the game with not long to go.

We all know what it’s like: there are 10 minutes on the clock, we’re a goal down, or we’re all square but desperately chasing the winner… it’s time to let go of the stylish pass and run and just start hoofing the ball into the danger area.

But unless we have a big attacker in there it’s like trying to play piggy in the middle with a midget when the “piggy” is a 7ft basketball star.

Before we had Giroud, Bendtner performed that central striker role for us, as did the likes of Adebayor, Kanu, Hartson and Smith in earlier Arsenal squads. Some were starters, others were specialists off the bench.

If you accept my argument, then the next obvious question is: who? Who could that target man be? I would have been up for bringing Giroud home to N5. He’s out of favour at Chelsea but it looks like he’s on his way to Inter Milan for somewhere between £5m and £8m. Could we have afforded that? Would it have been money well spent?

Is there a big striker in the youth set-up (outside of Nketieh) who’s ready to be given a chance? And if not, where else should we be looking: in the Championship? Perhaps some readers who follow the European leagues more closely than I do can suggest options from overseas…

Or am I barking up the wrong tree completely? Is the ‘big centre forward’ a symbol and symptom of an outmoded style of play?

RockyLives


Match report – Same old, same old!

January 18, 2020

Arsenal 1 Sheffield United 1

Match Report

Same old, same old!

We drop points again to a team with nothing more than Effort, Commitment and Organisation.

That’s it folks. No amount of team or individual player analysis will, in my opinion, move the debate on, or make me feel more content.

So I have a question for AA’ers around the World ( and my attempt at an answer)

Question :- Why can’t we hold on to a 1-0 lead?

In order to give my answer I am going to use the best proponents of this currently around ie Liverpool FC.

My answer will not include an explanation of why we can’t score TWO goals by the way, just why we can’t hold onto one.

Once we are 1-0 up we know, sooner or later we will drop back ( too far) or, be hit on the break. Let’s start with dropping back as an eleven. The reason I believe we can’t defend for long periods like this – compared to Liverpool – is we have no-one, with the exception of Torreira( my MOM today) who can make a high percentage challenge, in midfield, to hold up, to tackle to stop the advance. Liverpool, professionally have three + who can stop these midfield advances.

Then there is the fast break ………… In that circumstance, Liverpool have VVD and Gomez who can take the ball out of the air, control the ball, pass it off safely. And that even applies to the fullbacks although they don’t really need to and can concentrate on attacking!!

How do we fair in this circumstance? Absolutely useless is my assessment. Daviid you say…..well how many times as last man, has he been ridiculously reckless since he came to us? Mustafi and Sokratis….well, no comment!! If you disagree, my question is would you feel confident with either of them in a one on one against even an averagely good centre forward?

Additionally we had two players today who ARE NOT FULLBACKS.

So in conclusion, Mikel, I feel you are on a loser, unless you can get some large, strong, quick midfielders and defenders in ………… or show us how to score two (or preferably three or four goals).

Sorry very down.

LBG


Arsenal v Sheffield United prematch

January 18, 2020

I have to admit to feeling disconsolate after last weeks draw against Crystal Palace. Not because we played badly or gave the game away but because ‘lady luck’ was definitely against us in the way, Torreira went off at half-time,  Palace scored and how Aubameyang went into a tackle that got him sent off. In all honesty Aubameyang was probably just as disconsolate as me and hopefully he still had some Xmas chocolate too.

So, today we begin a run of three games without our captain and main goal scorer. In yesterday’s post, Rocky discussed how others will need to step up to the plate and start putting the ball in the back of the net. Since playing under Arteta, Aubameyang was also working hard defensively and so we’re going to miss that part of his game too.

But, as others have discussed, the opportunities are there for Martinelli, Nelson, Lacazette and Nketiah to make it hard for Arteta to leave them out. I’m looking forward to seeing them at some point. Last week I suggested that Lacazette would have found his scoring boots, but he hadn’t …….. come on Laca, do it in front of the home crowd.

There will be late tests for Kolasinac and Torreira. Torreira will be a huge miss as was evident in the second half against Palace, no-one else can do what he does as effectively. Pepe or Nelson to start? Arteta has been saying great things about Nelson and that Pepe needs to improve in training.

Sheffield United have a great away record sadly, although they have lost in their last two outings and their record against London teams isn’t good. Clutching at straws there because we need a win and having sent The Emirates into delirium against Man U I’m hoping it’s three points for the good guys today.

Arteta had this to say about Sheffield United

“I’ve been very impressed. Everything they do has a real sense, they are really difficult to break down.

“The solidarity in their team is incredible, how hard they work for each other and they have very clear principles – in attack and in defence.

“So it will be a very difficult test. I already warned the players today.”

Lets hope the players heed the warnings this time and come out ready for a fight. Sheffield United have the least number of shots on goal (71) in the league ……….. I’ll just leave that there 😉

I’m suggesting this team for today …………

Leno

AMN   Sokratis   Luiz   Saka

Xhaka   Torreira (fingers crossed)

Ozil

Nelson   Lacazette   Martinelli

The sun is going to shine all day in North London and our mate chas is coming to the game. Great omens.

COYG

peachesgooner

 


The Princes and the PEA: who will take advantage of Auba’s absence?

January 17, 2020

It’s disappointing news that the club’s appeal against Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s red card has failed and he will miss the next three matches.

I know I’m in a minority in thinking the ref’s original decision (yellow card) was correct after Auba’s wild tackle on the Crystal Palace midfielder Max Meyer at the weekend. There was no malice, just a combination of over eagerness and bad timing.

But what’s done is done.

Now, as Mikel Arteta says, we have to see the next three games as an opportunity for the understudies to our funky Gabon to step up and be counted.

Auba is our attacking king, which means there are several princes who would love to take his crown. Which of them do we think will thrive while the monarch is missing?

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Lacazette

If Auba is the king, then Laca is the prince-who-once-was-king. His finishing and poaching instincts in and around the box have made him a consistent scorer since he arrived in N5, but his current dry spell makes the Sahara look like a jacuzzi. It’s likely that he will continue to be the central striker, which means his role will not significantly change while Auba’s out. But maybe there’ll be a psychological boost because he’ll know that (a) we’ll be relying on him even more without his strike partner and number one chum and (b) maybe Auba’s clinical record in front of goal has been intimidating Laca and this opportunity to be the main star all on his own might be just what he needs.

Summary: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The Lion of Lyon will find those long-lost scoring boots at last.

Pepe

I feel we’re still a long way from seeing the best of Pepe. He has shown glimpses of real class and we know he can finish. But his performances are also erratic and he tends to lose the ball more than one would like. Nevertheless, if he gets the game time this could be a chance to show he can make up for Auba’s absence.

Summary: I have a funny feeling Pepe is going to chip in two or three goals in the next few games if – and it’s a big IF – he gets the on-pitch minutes.

Ozil

Obviously Ozil’s role is not directly affected by the lack of Aubameyang, but will he be encouraged to be more aggressive about getting on the scoresheet himself? He is surprisingly patchy in front of goal for a player with such sublime footballing gifts, but we have seen him score some lovely goals over the years.

Summary: Unlikely to be our saviour.

Saka

Aged just 18, Bukayo Saka has been one of the success stories of the season. He has shown energy and ability as a wide attacker, has filled in valiantly at left back when needed and even managed a couple of goals in the Europa League. On the face of it he could come in as a straight replacement for Aubameyang in the left forward role.

Summary: Not a shabby option by any means, but will he get the nod ahead of Martinelli?

Martinelli

For my money the young Brazilian is the most exciting prospect among the emerging talent at Arsenal. Although still raw (he’s also 18) he has shown hints that – if he continues to progress – he could develop into a Ronaldo/Van Persie type of player. He is brave, decisive and can score with both feet and with his head. If he is preferred on the left wing while Auba’s out he could do very well indeed.

Summary: Probably the fans’ favourite to start in place of Auba. If he does, expect him to do well.

Nelson

Reiss Nelson seems further down the conversation surrounding our attacking options when compared with Martinelli, Saka, Pepe or even Nketieh. But there are rumours that Arteta sees something of a Raheem Sterling in him and he has impressed in his recent outings.

Summary: It wouldn’t be a total surprise (to me, anyway) if Nelson got a lot of game time in the coming fixtures.

In conclusion, I expect Lacazette to continue as central striker for the two up-coming league games (Sheffield United and Chelsea). I think Pepe will start on the right for those games with Martinelli on the left.

For the FA Cup tie away at Bournemouth I’m guessing Martinelli as central striker (a rest for Laca), with Nelson on the right and Saka on the left.

But no combination would surprise me as Arteta continues to figure out how to get the most out of his squad.

Who will emerge as our golden booted hero in the next week-and-a-bit? My money is on Lacazette, with a key supporting role from Pepe.

RockyLives


How much do the Kroenke’s care if Arsenal are a big club?

January 15, 2020

Here on A.A we try and keep everything as positive as possible, both in our comments and topics of conversation. However, we all know that this is not possible at all times because to ignore other, less favourable, aspects would be burying our head in the sand.

I for one am full of hope for our new era under Arteta. I actually believe it could eventually be viewed almost as significant as Wengers arrival. A big call to make I know.

However, I do think that our level of success under Arteta will be aligned with how Kroenke handles the club over the next 2-3 years. I think there is every chance that Arteta could eventually turn out to be the be the premier coach and tactician in world football, but will still be sold short on what he could potentially deliver without the right happenings going on behind the scene, and that starts with Kroenke.

It may be a good time to discuss the Kroenke regime to date, from its inception to the present date and what we feel will happen in the future. Does the past handling by Kroenke represent his future handling of the club, or will he change direction and focus from now?

I say this in light of the recent Deloitte standings of the worlds most affluent football clubs. It seems the Kroenke regime has overseen a dramatic slide in our standing on this list.

I haven’t got the full information year on year to hand (maybe someone can source it) but I believe at one point, a few years ago, we were only behind the likes of Real, Barca and Utd (possibly Bayern as well). Now we are out of the top 10 and been usurped by Spurs.

We have some esteemed bloggers on here with in depth accountancy knowledge, so it would be interesting to hear their views on this, but also their opinions on whether the past has any bearing on the future, and how they see us shaping up (relative to our rivals) as a traditional big club moving forwards.

GoonerB


Can Gran-Douzi Work?

January 13, 2020

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Saturday’s injury to Lucas Torreira should focus the mind on what we do when he’s not available.

He went off at half time after some rough-house treatment from Crystal Palace’s players (and with the useless referee having given him no protection).

It was bad timing for the pint-sized Uruguayan dynamo: since Unai Emery’s departure he has looked really good in the holding midfield role.

Hopefully he’ll be fit for Saturday’s home game against Sheffield United but even if he is we won’t be able to play him in every game without a break for the rest of the season.

Which brings us to the back-up option.

Assuming that we don’t buy or borrow another defensively minded midfielder in the January window (which seems unlikely), Arteta’s favoured alternative to Torreira appears to be a combination of Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi.

This will go down like a rat sandwich with a section of supporters who maintain that the Gran-Douzi axis is a liability.

That harsh observation is based on the occasions when the pair have played together under Unai Emery. In those outings Arsenal were incapable of stemming the attacking play of whichever opponent we were facing, leading to a ridiculous number of attempts on our goal and making poor old Bernt Leno the busiest ‘keeper in the EPL.

But was it the fault of Guendouzi and Xhaka in tandem? Or was it just that the whole team was floundering under Emery’s chaotic management?

Well, now we have something to compare those outings with.

The Gran-Douzi duo has played three halves of football under Mikel Arteta: they started against Leeds United in the FA Cup and played the second half against Palace after Torreira’s injury.

In the first half against Leeds they (and the team as a whole) were woeful. It was beginning to look like we could not control a game with that pair at the base of the midfield. But then came Arteta’s famously shouty half time talk, we emerged for the second half with better tactics (pushing our line 15 yards further up the pitch) and we looked like a team.

For that half, it certainly seemed as if Xhaka and Guendouzi could control a midfield and mostly neutralise the opposition.

Then we come to the second half against Palace. Although we conceded a goal in the half and were unable to score ourselves, we were never overrun. Indeed, after we went down to 10 men Palace barely had a sniff of goal and we might even have nicked all three points with a bit of luck.

As with the second half against Leeds, Gran-Douzi maintained positional discipline and the team as whole successfully kept a high line.

The absence of Torreira meant Xhaka sat deeper than he had when the Uruguayan was on the pitch, while Guendouzi had a bit more freedom to roam forward but still prioritised his defensive duties.

Clearly the Terrier is our first choice in the holding midfield role, but under Arteta’s coaching I think we’re beginning to see that Gran-Douzi can provide acceptable cover when he’s not available.

If you think I’m being overoptimistic, feel free to share your thoughts in comments.

RockyLives


Excessive Farce: Crystal Palace report and Player Ratings

January 12, 2020

If Meghan and Harry have taught us anything it’s that you don’t escape from the Palace unscathed.

And scathed we most certainly were: by VAR (again), by the “excessive force” rule, by an unlucky deflection (again), by injuries (again) and by erratic officiating (again).

Our 1-1 draw away at Crystal Palace was a mixed bag and will have given Mikel Arteta plenty to think about.

We started with the same 11 that started against Manchester United, with Torreira as the holding midfielder, Ozil behind the front three and Pepe out wide, and we picked up right where we’d left off against the Mancs.

We were terrific for half an hour, dominating play and possession and getting a deserved goal from Aubameyang after a lovely passing move. The final two touches, from Ozil and Lacazatte, were sublime and Auba stroked the ball into the corner of the net in Henryesque style.

Torreira_12.jpg

But after 30 minutes the mood changed. You expect any Premier League team to have periods where it refuses to let you call all the shots (particularly when they’re the home team) and, sure enough, Palace came back at us hard.

I’m not sure whether it was something that clicked in the minds of the Palace players organically or whether there was an instruction from the bench, but our opponents suddenly turned into Wimbledon circa 1987.

(If you don’t remember the Wimbledon “Crazy Gang”, with such charming characters as Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu, Mick Harford and Dennis Wise, look at some old footage of probably the dirtiest and hardest team ever to play at the top flight. You’ll find the video in the Horror section. The only team that wasn’t intimidated by them was Tony Adams’s Arsenal – but that’s another story for another day).

The Palace players started throwing themselves into challenges, fouling us at every opportunity and, frankly, bullying us. The referee, Paul Tierney (sadly no relation), could have put a stop to it with a couple of yellow cards but he let most of the nastiness go. The noisy home fans were clearly intimidating him. Every time a Palace player went to ground after a mild coming together the fans would scream with outrage and the ref would dutifully award the free kick against Arsenal.

Whenever an Arsenal man stayed on the ground after yet another filthy tackle the crowd would burst into “same old Arsenal, always cheating” and the ref would mostly allow play to go on.

The result was that no yellow card was shown to a Palace man until the 71st minute, which was ridiculous.

Nevertheless we weathered the storm to half time without too much in the way of chances for Palace.

The bad news started when the team came out for the second half. Lucas Torreira, who has blossomed in the defensive midfield position since Arteta took over, did not take the field. He had been kicked from pillar to post in the first half and could not continue. At the time of writing I don’t know what his injury is but I hope it’s not serious.

Guendouzi replaced him but losing the Uruguayan affected our shape and balance, with Xhaka having to drop back into the more overtly holding role.

Palace continued to play dirty, the ref continued to let them and the game was not a great spectacle. Despite the fouls, we were holding our own but could not get any grip on possession. Ozil was mostly uninvolved and Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles were not getting forward as much as we would have liked.

Misfortune struck in the 54th minute. A Palace attack saw the ball fall to Jordan Ayew in the box. His shot took a huge deflection off Luiz and looped over Leno into the net.

It was disappointing and unlucky, but if I was an Eagles supporter I would probably feel my team deserved it if only for the amount of physical effort they were putting in.

As I’m not an Eagles supporter I think the dirty, cheating, scummy little toe-rags were lucky as hell and deserved nothing.

A little over 10 minutes later Aubameyang arrived late for a tackle on Palace midfielder Max Meyer and caught the German on the ankle. The referee brandished a yellow, but then the dread news emerged that the VAR official was checking the incident. Arsenal hearts sank throughout the land. Sure enough, with our VAR luck, the yellow was changed to a red and our captain was off.

There was an informative discussion on the blog after this incident. LBG pointed out that the recent rule about excessive force compelled the VAR official to interpret Auba’s challenge as worthy of a sending off.

If them’s the rules then them’s the rules, but to me the punishment is completely lacking in proportionality and common sense. Everyone in the game knows Aubameyang is not a dirty player. He was clearly going for the ball and just got it wrong. A red card and a likely three match ban for what was probably his only serious foul all season? Does that seem just? Not when Ayew could commit eight fouls (some of them really nasty) and not even pick up a yellow. (“I looked over Jordan, what did I see… a two-bob thug who shouldn’t have been on the pitch when he got his jammy goal…”).

The largely anonymous Ozil was replaced by Martinelli immediately afterwards. Arteta clearly did not think a 10 versus 11 battle against a dirty, physical team was the right forum for Ozil to shine and I can’t say I would disagree with him.

Funnily enough, after going down to 10 men we had a better spell and posed more of a threat to the Palace goal than we had since the opening half hour. Our best chance to nick it came from a nice move that concluded with Lacazette laying the ball off to Pepe, whose low left foot shot came back off the post and straight into the arms of Guaita, the Palace ‘keeper. Replays showed that Guaita got the tiniest of touches on Pepe’s shot, which otherwise would have gone in.

Nelson came on for Lacazette in the dying minutes, but the game petered out with Palace probably the happier of the two teams having come from behind to salvage a point.

Three Positives

  • We maintained our shape well throughout the whole game (even when under intense pressure) and the doom mongers who are saying we reverted to an Emery like performance should bear that in mind.
  • Our corners, delivered by Pepe, are looking really dangerous. Luiz was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with a header from one of the four that we had and all of them caused alarm in the Palace defence.
  • We’re continuing our unbeaten run under Mikel Arteta since the Chelsea game. [Thanks to Ray for pointing out my earlier error that we were unbeaten under MA. I had blanked the Chelsea defeat for some reason].

Three Negatives

  • There were signs that our confidence can still suffer when we’re forced on the back foot. We’re carrying mental scars from the last 18 months and they’ll take time to heal.
  • Possibly (probably?) losing Aubameyang for three games.
  • Ozil had one of those games, or at least he did after the first half hour. I wonder what Arteta will make of his performance?

RockyLives

Player Ratings

Leno 6

No chance for the goal. The fact that he had little else to do shows that our system is working much better than under Emery (Palace had only three attempts on target).

Maitland-Niles 6

Didn’t do a lot wrong and marshalled the tricky Zaha well. Might have got forward more.

Sokratis 6.5

Battling performance from the Greek Colossus.

Luiz 7 (MoTM)

Good game from Daviiiiid. Won a lot of balls in the air and was comfortable in possession. Unlucky not to get a goal.

Kolasinac 6

Very good for the first 30, then was a bit more subdued as Palace came into the game. Took some pretty hefty fouls.

Torreira 7

Looks so comfortable in his preferred position. Was mercilessly hacked by the Palace players and given no protection by a weak ref. Sad to lose him at half time. Would probably have been MoTM if he’d stayed on.

Xhaka 6

Forced back into the holding role in the second half. Kept the ball moving in midfield but not one of his better outings.

Ozil 5

Was involved in some nice moves in the first 30 then drifted out of the game. We need more from him when the going gets tough.

Pepe 6

Some good moments, some beautiful whipped-in corners and hit the post with a late effort. But lost the ball too easily too often. Plenty of room for improvement.

Lacazette 7

Tireless. Great assist for the goal. Would have had a second assist but for Pepe’s shot coming back off the post. Didn’t get any real chances to score himself and was booked for repeated fouling, which was laughable when you saw what the Palace players were getting away with.

Aubameyang 7

Lovely finish for his goal. The tackle that saw him sent off was wild but hardly deserving of a red card and three match ban.

Subs

Guendouzi 6

Plenty of running and energy, but he’s still raw and it shows at times.

Martinelli 7

Came on for the final 25 and definitely added something, as he usually does. Aubameyang’s suspension may give him some well-deserved opportunities to start.

Nelson N/A

Came on in injury time.