PEA Super – Auba Hat Trick Downs Leeds: Report & Ratings

February 15, 2021
Yes, Pierre, you can keep the ball

A blistering 47 minutes of entertaining football from an attack-minded Arsenal team blew Leeds United away at the Emirates yesterday and secured our first win in four league games.

An Aubameyang hat trick – welcome back Captain! – a full debut for Odegaard and a performance of great bravery and maturity from Saka all contributed to a return of the feel good factor.

After 47 minutes, when we were 4-0 up, we allowed the visitors to get back in the game. Whether we got over-confident or Leeds just finally got their act together is hard to say, but when they pulled it back to 4-2 many a bottom lip was nervously quivering among the Arsenal faithful.

Most of us still remember the awful day when we blew a 4-0 lead away at Newcastle United (mostly thanks to an utterly inept display of refereeing by ‘Fat’ Phil Dowd). But despite one or two close shaves we saw this one home safe, so this is a day for focusing on the positives, of which there were many.

First and foremost was the return to form (and exuberance) of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang: club captain, goal scorer extraordinaire and, of late, a shadow of his former self. Today the sun shone (metaphorically), the shadow disappeared and we got the real thing. Whatever private travails have been troubling him seemed banished – he just looked happier.

Did the goals bring back the happiness or did the happiness bring back the goals? I’ll leave that one for the philosophers among you. What certainly played a part was Mikel Arteta’s decision to start him as the central striker.

I have generally been against using Auba in that role because, frankly, it has seldom worked in the past, leaving the player isolated and unable to influence the game. Yesterday it did work. Why? The key is in the players supporting him in that role. Previously he would be relying on the likes of Elneny, Xhaka, Willock and Willian to create openings for him, but in the very attacking Arsenal line-up that Arteta put out yesterday he was supported by some really positive players: Smith Rowe, Saka, Odegaard, Ceballos.

With that superabundance of creativity, the captain was not left exposed because (a) the quick passing and movement between those players managed to repeatedly break the lines of the Leeds defenders and (b) those defenders could not double up on Auba while other men in red and white were dancing through their ranks like acrobats.

Auba’s first goal came from a familiar position: cutting into the box from the left flank and scoring with his right foot. His step-overs confused the Leeds defender and he surprised the goalkeeper by shooting low in the left hand corner (the ‘keeper’s right).

Soon after that the outstanding Saka jinked into the box only for a Leeds defender to run across him without making any contact with the ball and barge him to the ground: clear penalty (as the referee also thought). Cue the VAR review. The ref was called to ‘take a look at the monitor’ and, lo and behold, he changed his mind. Utterly disgraceful, because the ref is supposed to be called to the monitor only when there is a clear and obvious error, which was most definitely not the case here.

But Saka would not be denied and, minutes later, he chased down the young opposition ‘keeper, who ended up fouling our striker in the box. This one was so blatant that even the VAR officials were too embarrassed to try to overturn it.

Auba hammered a perfect penalty into the side netting – two nil. The third came from a clever ball across the penalty area from Aubameyang, leading to some lovely neat pass-and-move involving Smith Rowe, Bellerin, Ceballos and back to Bellerin again to drive the ball home. As the half time whistle blew I thought we’d seen the best half of football by Arsenal this season. We have had some other good spells, but they were marred by not taking our chances – this time we took them.

Within two minutes of the restart we were four up. Smith Rowe picked out Aubameyang at the back post for an unchallenged header. The TV pundits said it was a misguided shot from Emile. I watched his body language carefully and, to me, it clearly looks like he saw his captain and decided to pick him out. He certainly has the ability to do just that and is also, I feel, a player who more naturally sees himself as a provider than a goalscorer, making the intended pass the more likely probability.

Leeds finally woke up and pulled one back with a powerful header from Struijk (who managed to lose Luiz). That was on 58 minutes. Ten minutes later they got a second through Costa. By this stage Willian had been brought on for Smith Rowe. The hapless Brazilian failed to press along with his team mates, allowing Leeds to break forward quickly and grab a goal.

Cue some nervous moments with a couple of Leeds efforts going close and Luiz making one terrific block in the penalty area. If Leeds had got a third I dread to think what might have happened. But we held firm and banked the points.

A good day.

Player Ratings

Leno – 7

No real chance with the goals, made a couple of good stops when called on.

Bellerin – 7

Took his goal well and linked up well with the forwards at times, but (somewhat typically) was left exposed defensively a few times.

Luiz – 7

Probably should have done better on Leeds’ first goal and had low passing accuracy (mainly through having to hoof it long when Leeds were pressing). But his defending was pretty solid.

Gabriel – 7.5

A decent performance. He seems to have shaken off the post-injury rust.

Cedric – 7

Tested the Leeds ‘keeper with a wicked shot and did pretty well on both the defensive and offensive ends, without being spectacular.

Xhaka – 7.5

Who would have thought Granit would turn into such a steady and reliable player? The metronome in our midfield.

Ceballos – 7.5

A positive selection from Arteta. Dani had a good game and linked well with the talented youngsters ahead of him (and with Auba of course).

Smith Rowe – 7.5

Speed of thought, speed of feet, speed of passing. I love watching this kid. He was not always in the thick of the action but whatever “it” is, he has it. Also did some excellent tracking back when Leeds had possession.

Odegaard – 7

A fine full debut from the loanee, who looks like a class act. I did not imagine him and Smith Rowe starting together, but between them they could be a devastatingly effective twin pivot to unpick even the most recalcitrant of defences.

Saka – 8

I’m running out of superlatives for Bukayo. It’s not just that he runs, passes and dribbles so well. It’s that he does it in ways and in places that really affect the game. Should have had two penalties, not one. Was a thorn in the Leeds side for the whole match.

Aubameyang – 9

A great ‘Gentleman’s Hat Trick’ (one from open play, one from a dead ball and one from a header). He has scored five in his last two starts. If he’s back to the Auba we know and love so well for the rest of the season that’s (literally) a game changer for us.

SUBS

Willian – 4

As others have said, he just seems to suck the energy out of the team whenever he comes on.

Elneny – 6.5

Came on on 78 minutes and was his usual tidy, industrious self. Contributed to us safely seeing out the game.

Holding – N/A

Got a couple of minutes at the end to help shore up the defence.

RockyLives


Time to Win Again: Leeds Pre-match & Predicted Line-Up

February 14, 2021
Our biggest threat today

After managing zero points in two games from which we should have taken at least four and possibly all six, we’re about to go on a run of challenging fixtures.

We entertain Leeds United today, then we have Benfica away, Manchester City at home, Benfica at home then Leicester away.

So that’s two very important Europa League games (important because that competition is our only chance of salvaging anything from this season) sandwiched between three difficult league games.

In that context today’s visitors represent the “easy” game of the bunch – and it’s vital that we get back to winning ways.

I have written before about the self destructive gene that lurks deep in the current Arsenal DNA. We’re capable of digging a hole, falling into it, heroically climbing our way out with much effort and determination, then slipping on a banana skin and falling straight back down the hole.

Results like the ones against Wolves and Aston Villa really are the pits. In both games we showed some of the footballing class that has dragged our disappointing season back into life. But in both games we also found those banana skins.

Until the players make clear to each other what is acceptable and what’s not, setbacks like those experienced at Wolves and Villa will continue to happen.

That fragility (where two steps forward are always followed by one step back, a trip and a fall down another hole) has been around for years now and I’m not sure how we exorcise it. It is undoubtedly something to do with collective discipline, focus and determination and while those qualities can be inculcated to some degree by the coaches, they really have to come from the players themselves.

But that’s enough negativity. Our good spells – even in those two defeats – are cause for optimism. At times we have played ‘top four’ football and if we click today we should be too good for Leeds.

Partey and Tierney are both still out with injuries, but Leno and Luiz are available again after their one match suspensions (the less said about that the better). We can assume that the German will be back between the sticks after Mat Ryan’s excellent debut last weekend, but whether Luiz gets an instant recall is an interesting question.

I can see why Mikel Arteta picks him so often: he is experienced and much of his play is really good. But you always feel he’s prone to a custard pie moment at any point in any game, as his red and yellow card stats show, as well as the amount of penalties he has given away.

There are certainly alternatives. Gabriel was outstanding until his injury, although he has been rusty since returning; Mari did not do a lot wrong during his run in the team.

Tierney’s continued absence may mean another outing for Cedric at left back, or we could see Saka switched to that position.

There are other difficult choices for El Patron in midfield (where he has to decide who will partner Xhaka in the absence of Partey) and up front, with an embarrassment of riches in terms of attacking options.

For the midfield I would feel more comfortable with Elneny and Xhaka together but I fancy Arteta will give Ceballos a go. Dani can be really influential but he also fades out of games for periods, so if he does start today he’ll need to be fully focused.

Up front I think Arteta will make his selection headache easier by switching Saka to left back and starting the sort-of in-form Pepe up front. Our most productive area is likely to be the interplay between the advancing Saka, Smith Rowe, Lacazette and Pepe.

Odegaard and Mrtinelli are solid attacking options on the bench. If Willian gets anywhere near the pitch I will weep.

Here’s the team I think El Patron will pick:

Leno

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Saka

Xhaka – Ceballos

Pepe – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang

Lacazette

It will be a hard fought game and if we come out on top I suspect it will be by a single goal. Taking our chances and avoiding banana skins are the orders of the day.

Come on you Gunners!

RockyLives


Loan watch

February 12, 2021
Image result for Saliba Willock

SALIBA – The new Varane or the new Squilacci?

Saliba, a highly touted and well regarded young central defender, who has been recruited for 20+ Mln but has yet to feature for us. Currently in Nice where he is doing rather well after a very slow start. He has played in a back 3 and a back 4 and has been able to accommodate. He has recently spoken out about his disappointment at not being given a chance by Arteta – not sure it was smart to do so…Clearly a talented CB but clearly not as talented as Fofana…What do we do with him? We could ship him out easily this summer at no loss. We could also keep him and hope that he will grow with us and be part of our CB options along with Holding, Gabriel, Mari and eventually Luiz and Chambers..So what do we do: Keep / Loan out again next year / Sell

KOLASINACAuf Wiedersehen!

The writing is on the wall for Kola. He has been a good soldier for us, plenty of promise the first year but then, physical issues and lack of adaptation to the defensive rigor required in the EPL. So: Thank you and good bye.

TORREIRAAdios amigo?

A player that had a decent start of life at Arsenal before dipping in the pecking order. Definitely a fighting character and an OK midfielder but is he good enough to be part of our midfield options? Not sure. He is not used too much by Atletico. What do you think: Keep or Sell?

GUENDOUZIDr. Ramsey and Mr. Song?

A divisive player in all clubs he joined. Clearly a big character and a big potential but is his ego stopping his evolution? Rather solid everywhere: getting the ball back, driving the ball, passing the ball. A lack of discipline on the pitch too…Is he one of those players that get axed in bug clubs because of being divas? So: Keep or Sell?

AMNA Loan to grow or a prelude to departure?

A fan’s favourite I would say. A cool cucumber and always a positive attitude on the pitch. But has been hampered in his progress, by injuries and maybe his versatility. He is now playing in midfield at WBA on loan. Let us see how he fares. So do we believe in him or do we let him go?

WILLOCKThe last chance

Willock, an exceptional player in our youth set-up like Nketiah in a way. A positive start at AFC and then it seems that the EPL became a bit too big for him. He is now at Newcastle and hoping to show that he can compete at EPL level. He started brightly at Newcastle but let us see what he does until the end of the year…So do you believe that we will keep him or sell him?


Holding, AMN, Saka to the Euro with England?

February 10, 2021
Image result for Saka Holding England

Let us hope that the Euro takes place this year…In case it does, do you think that any of our English players would make it on Southgate’s team?

Rob Holding – CB –

The competition there includes Stones, Gomes, Maguire, Dier, Mings, Coady, Keane and eventually K. Walker. That is a lot of players but Holding is in form. Does Southgate rate him? Not sure…

Assessment – Probably in the reserve team but will not go to the Euro

AMN – Wing Back

The competition there includes Trent-Arnold, Walker, Trippier, Bissaka, Reece James, Chilwell, Luke Shaw and Saka too.

I think on the right side of the pitch, it is almost impossible. On the left side, there might be a place to take as Shaw is not guaranteed a spot whereas Chilwell is. Now, Southgate may decide to only take 7 defenders in total and to bank on Saka as a player that can play in this position as well…

Assessment – Will miss out the team and the reserve team too. Will not go to the Euro.

Saka – FW/Wingback

The wingback competition was listed above and up front, there is Sterling, Sancho, Greenwood, Rashford, Hudson-Odoi and you can include Grealish and Foden to the list too..So very touch indeed.

I think Saka’s card to play is that he can play on both sides and as a wingback and as a forward. So his versatility will be well appreciated by Southgate in the end. As Southgate will need to accommodate his attacking talent and I think he will take less defenders…

Assessment – Will go to the Euro if he stays fit.

So what’s your take on our players’ chances to join England at the Euro?

Here is my predicted group for England, barring injuries:

Henderson, Pickford, Pope

Bissaka, Trent-Arnold, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Mings, Chilwell, Saka

Rice, Dier, Henderson, Mount

Sterling, Sancho, Grealish, Maddison or Foden

Kane, Rashford, Greenwood, Lewin


Poldi, Tormeister? Another under-rated player?

February 8, 2021
Image result for Podolski shirtless arsenal
This picture is for Sue as she requested to see Poldi, shirtless.

So we were talking about Depay earlier and how he could be an interesting recruit for us and then I thought, did we have a similar player in our team in the last 10 years? And the only name that came to my mind was Podolski, although Podolski played more as a forward-striker than Depay.

Also, I was thinking about German players that played for us or players that joined us from Germany as we were saying goodbye to Ozil, Sokratis, Mustafi recently and, again, Podolski came to my mind. Like Ozil, Metersacker and Mustafi, Podolski was part of the German squad that won the World Cup in 2014.

Podolski played 60 EPL games for us, scoring 19 times and assisting 11 assists. So one goal or assist every 2 games BUT…scored 11 goals and delivered 9 assists in his first season and scored 8 goals and 2 assists in his second season. He also played a key role of FA Cup win in 2014, thereby contributing to ending our trophy drought.

Overall, Poldi scored 31 goals and delivered 17 assists in 82 games across all competitions including 8 goals and 1 assist in 12 Champions League games.

So was Poldi under-rated when he left us by both clubs and fans? Do you miss his left foot and his excitement when he scored a goal? And for @Sue – do you miss his looks?

Anyways…how do you feel about Poldi?


ARS-Cov-2 Virus Downs Gunners – Vaccine Urgently Needed: Villa Report & Ratings

February 7, 2021
Too late, we’ve already tested positive: for Self-Destructivitis

*It’s your lucky (or unlucky!) day today: not one match report from AA but two. You can find RC’s report (first posted last night) here: https://arsenalarsenal.net/2021/02/06/saving-private-arsenal and here’s the second one…

An old disease has returned to haunt Arsenal.

In the later Arsene Wenger period, through most of Unai Emery’s reign and on occasion during the Mikel Arteta era we have suffered from the virus of self destructiveness.

We don’t need opponents in order to lose games: we’re perfectly capable of losing them all on our own.

The symptoms of this disease include mystifying defensive mix-ups, an abundance of red cards and penalties conceded, suicidal goalkeeping and own goals.

In our good run of form since Christmas I had allowed myself to believe that we were finally shaking off the ailment; that whatever treatment had been stumbled upon by Arteta and his assistants was beginning to work.

Alas it was a false dawn.

In the last two games we have lost twice because we were outplayed by Arsenal. At Wolves Arsenal beat us by giving away an unnecessary penalty and reducing our ranks to first 10, then nine men. Yesterday at Aston Villa Arsenal beat us by gifting the opposition a goal in the opening two minutes.

We’ve seen it all before, of course, you know the type of thing: bad defending that leaves our centre backs flat footed as an opposition striker bears down on goal, forcing the former to rugby tackle the latter; miscommunications of the “After you, Claude” variety where two of our players inexplicably agree to let an opponent walk between them and take the ball; always managing to get a vital toe on the ball when it’s heading towards goal (vital for the opposition, that is, in order to deflect it past our ‘keeper).

Please can Pfizer, or AstraZeneca or Moderna or Johnson & Johnson come up with a vaccination that immunises against self-inflicted stupidity?

I was really looking forward to yesterday’s game, but once we gifted a goal to Villa my heart sank. We really pick our moments, don’t we? Here it was the opening minute so that we get the energy sucked out of us before we’ve even started; at Wolves it was a few seconds before half time when we looked to be going in one up, then immediately after the restart so that whatever we’d planned at half time went straight out the window…

It makes me wonder why we keep pressing the self destruct button. The best teams don’t do it (or they do it so rarely that it’s an aberration, not a case of ‘here we go again’).

Are we lacking a Tony Adams to pin players up against the wall of the dressing room after the match and warn them that if they ever do that again they will be needing a visit to the dentist? Do we need a psychology coach to help our players concentrate better? What is it?

It’s not as if we didn’t start with an exciting line-up yesterday. Apart from the absences of Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno we had arguably our strongest possible team out.

And if KT had been there I doubt we would have conceded the Villa goal. Cedric, a right footer playing left back, tried to cushion a pass back towards Gabriel, whom he’d seen start to move towards him. For some reason Gabriel changed his mind and moved away so that Cedric’s pass failed to reach him and Traore nipped in and collected the ball for Villa.

I’m not sure who was more at fault out of the two of them, but it was certainly a Classic Arsenal Miscommunication  in the time-honoured tradition.

The only thing you can say for conceding so early is that you have plenty of time to put the damage right but, as I’ve mentioned, the Villa goal seemed to discombobulate us. Whatever instructions the players had had drummed into their heads pre-game were immediately rendered redundant.

As the first half wore on we got into the game and occasionally threatened but, as El Patron pointed out afterwards, our decision making in and around the box was extremely poor. I thought Pepe in particular had a frustrating game: he was doing lots of good things to create dangerous situations but invariably fluffed his lines at the crucial moment (shooting when he should have passed, passing when he should have shot, running into defenders and losing the ball, over-hitting crosses). And don’t me get started on our dead ball situations.

Elsewhere on the pitch we were misplacing a lot of passes (even booting the ball straight out for throw-ins on at least three occasions that I can recall, two of them by Thomas Partey).

To their credit Villa defended very well and always looked dangerous on the break with Grealish, Barkley and Watkins.

Our best chance to share the points came from a Xhaka free kick which was beautifully placed into the top corner of the goal… and was brilliantly saved by our FA Cup hero Martinez (naturally). It looked to me like one of those shots that, had it gone in, would have been described by the commentators as unstoppable. But our old back-up custodian stopped it.

At the other end Mat Ryan, on his debut, had a very decent outing. He had no chance with the Villa goal because of an unlucky deflection off Holding, but he made several good stops and seems to have a knack for getting distance on the ball when he pushes it away (Leno please note).

Aubameyang replaced Lacazette for a half-hour of complete anonymity; Odegaard came on for Cedric on 65 minutes and for reasons known only to himself, Arteta brought on Willian when Partey went off injured with a quarter of an hour to go. Why not bring on Martinelli, who at least tries? Willian’s first contribution was to get to the by line and put the ball out for a Villa goal kick. Thereafter he did his usual trick of probing with the ball for a while before passing backwards.

I never thought we would score and we didn’t. We should have had at least four points from the week just gone, instead we have none.

Bring on the vaccination.

Player Ratings

Ryan – 7

One of the few bright spots. Made some good saves, displayed fast, accurate distribution skills and came out well for a cross at one point. Looked solid.

Bellerin – 5

Hector got forward a lot but lost possession carelessly too many times and did not seem on the same wavelength as Saka and Smith Rowe. His defending was reasonably good but he has to be better when helping the attack.

Holding – 5.5

Probably should have got closer to Watkins for the Villa goal and made some careless errors. Not up to his own recent standard.

Gabriel – 5.5

At least partially at fault for the goal, but competed reasonably well thereafter.

Cedric – 5

On his wrong side again, but he shares the blame for the Villa goal and was uncharacteristically sloppy with his passing.

Xhaka – 6.5

One of our better performers. Always looks good on the ball and tried to get us moving forward.

Partey – 6

Bit of an in-and-out game for Thomas. Some wildly mis-hit passes, but also some strong play in the middle of the park until pulling up with injury. Let’s hope it’s not too serious.

Saka – 7

Singled out for brutal rotational fouling by the Villa players and given very little protection by a weak referee, but Bukayo got up from every foul and got straight back into the action. He tried really hard and was part of our best moves, but couldn’t find a way through the Villa defence.

Smith Rowe – 7

We saw plenty of his lovely movement, control, interplay and passing. Had a decent chance that was blocked in the six yard box. A more experienced player would probably have gone down for a penalty as he was being fouled.

Pepe – 6

Plenty of effort and some good skill, but frustrating lack of end product.

Lacazette – 5.5

Seemed a bit lower energy than usual.

SUBS

Aubameyang – 3

Might as well not have bothered. His only real contribution was to play a beautifully cushioned pass into an attacking player who nearly scored. The problem was the attacking player was wearing claret and blue and he nearly scored for Villa. Whatever is going on with Auba needs to be sorted out or he needs to be kept away from the team.

Odegaard – 5.5

Looked slick on the ball and showed signs of linking up well with Smith Rowe and Saka. Had a good chance but blasted his shot over the bar. Nevertheless, it will be good to see more of him.

Willian – 4

More involved than the invisible Auba, but another immensely frustrating cameo. In a situation like this, where we are chasing a game, it surely has to be Martinelli every time. Even Nketiah. Willian currently offers nothing.

RockyLives


Saving private Arsenal…

February 6, 2021
Image result for Mings Watkins
Mings, Watkins and Grealish pile misery on Arsenal

Another game in February and another loss…and still the bitter taste of the Wolves’ defeat after this villain defeat.

If you look at the stats, we dominated the game but when you look at the game, we could have lost 4-0 with the errors we made in our own are and the fact that we hardly hit the target. Martinez reminded us of how good he was, especially on that Pepe’s strike. I do not agree with Arteta’s assessment that we deserved the win. I think we played positive and energetic football but defensive lapses and lack of final product in the last third were just glaring today.

Ryan had a rough start with a goal conceded in the first 2 mins but then kept us in the game

Bellerin and Cedric were not great today – neither at the back, neither going forward

Holding-Gabriel – Holding was solid as per his recent outing but Gabriel is still struggling to find his original form

Xhaka-Partey – Xhaka was tidy and Partey had some really good spells and also some lapses. Sad to see Partey off injured, again..

Saka-Pepe – Both played with energy and tried to create and shoot and dribble…Saka the main threat but I am liking Pepe’s attitude these days on the pitch.

ESR – Energetic but lacking the spark/creativity.

Laca – An OK display. Missed a golden opportunity to delivery an assist to Saka in the first hald.

Auba – Nice to him again on the pitch but still not scoring goals. Worrying still.

Odegaard – A good entrance.

Willian – Needs to justify his salary…how can he struggle so much with us?

Ref – no comment. Arteta really upset with the Konsa foul.

Let us try to finish in the Top 10 at least…


From the Ridiculous to the Sublime: Arsenal to Bounce Back at Villa (plus predicted line-up)

February 6, 2021
The Arsenal team bus returning from Wolves in midweek

There was a gut-punchingly high degree of ridiculousness about our defeat at Wolves on Tuesday night.

Another red card for David Luiz, albeit for the tiniest accidental contact with a Wolves player; the subsequent ‘double jeopardy’ of both a penalty and a red card; Bernd Leno’s brain fart; Moutinho scoring a once-a-season screamer… well, you know the story.

Today I expect us to get back to winning ways at Aston Villa.

And yes, I know they gave us a sound thrashing when they visited the Emirates earlier in the season, but we were a different team then and so were they.

Since that defeat we have found a new formation, new personnel and we have disinfected the training ground to remove the stale smell of mouldering, unwanted players.

The Villans, meanwhile, have struggled for wins since Christmas. They’ve won just two out of seven and have lost to West Ham, Burnley and the two Manc clubs.

There’s no doubt they are a good team and have some excellent players. At the start of the season I had them down as one of my ‘dark horse’ tips for a potential top four finish. Now they’re one point above us, although they have two games in hand following Covid-related disruption to their fixtures.

Ollie Watkins remains their top scorer (nine goals in the league), but they also pose a scoring threat from midfield with Grealish, Barkley and El Ghazi, who have 14 between them.

But enough about the opposition. What about the Mighty Arse? For almost all the first half at Wolves we played the best football we’ve seen all season. Our forward movement was outstanding, we were solid at the back and the Partey-Xhaka axis in midfield was in complete control. We should perhaps have been two or three up by the time the penalty and red card derailed us. Even with 10 men I think we might have won, but Leno’s mad moment put paid to any hope of that.

The question is, can the players put the freakishness of what happened next out of their minds, write it off as ‘one of those things’ and bounce back to winning ways? I don’t see why not. If I was in their boots I’d feel as if I had been cheated out of three points and would want to make amends as soon as possible.

As part of the fall-out of the Molineux clown show, Leno and Luiz are both unavailable today (serving one-game bans). I know many fans will be unperturbed by the absence of Luiz given his propensity for triggering cataclysmic events (even if he sometimes seems unlucky) but his defensive work has been generally good this season. However, we have good strength-in-depth at CB with Mari and Gabriel.

Missing Leno could be a bigger headache, with our new goalkeeping loanee Mat Ryan having also been out crocked. It could mean another start for Runnarson, who has had a variable beginning to his Arsenal career. He has made some terrible clangers but also seems to be a good shot stopper. It hardly fills this observer with confidence but if he’s going to be the man between the sticks he deserves our full support and best wishes. And the fact that I might previously have suggested we call him Runnarsaurus and make him our new mascot is neither here nor there.

Ryan has been back in training so it’s possible the Aussie will make his Arsenal debut instead if deemed fit enough. Let’s hope our FA Cup hero, Martinez, does not have a blinder for the Villa.

Elsewhere Mari is available again and Kieran Tierney is the only player still in the sick bay. I am glad the club is not rushing back our talismanic fullback – he’s so precious that he probably gets stalked by Gollum.

There are selection headaches for Mikel Arteta up front, with Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe, Martinelli and Lacazette all available, not to mention Nketiah. Pepe was continuing his good recent form in the Wolves game until the red card and scored a terrific goal. He seems to enjoy playing on the left better than the right.

Cedric, meanwhile, has quelled many supporters’ doubts about him and proven to be a solid back-up at either right or left fullback.

Here’s the starting eleven I’m expecting:

Ryan/Runnarson

Bellerin – Holding – Gabriel – Cedric

Xhaka – Partey

Saka – Smith Rowe – Pepe

Lacazette

Essentially I think (and hope) that El Patron will stick with what’s been working, keeping Pepe and Saka in the wide roles and letting Smith Rowe pull the strings. Partey and Xhaka should be capable of resisting Villa’s dangerous midfield.

We have a full week before our next game so there’s no need to worry about over-playing some of the squad.

This game won’t be easy – Villa are too talented to be a pushover. But if we can get our groove going I fancy that our forward line has more than enough talent and confidence to breach their defence at least twice.

Come on You Gunners.

RockyLives


Reviewing our season’s expectations…

February 4, 2021
Image result for Europa League trophy

Here is the picture so far:

  1. We have lost our FA Cup, losing to Southampton in the 4th Round
  2. We are out of the Carabao Cup, losing to Man City in the quarter-finals
  3. We have played 22 games in the EPL, collected 31 points and sit 9 points behind 4th placed Liverpool (they have played one less game than us) and 5 points behind Everton (they have played 2 games less than us) and we are 17 points ahead of the best placed bottom 3 team.
  4. We are still qualified in the Europa League, where we had a flawless group stage and are now facing Benfica in the Round of 32.

So two trophies are out of reach already, a top 4 finish is clearly going to be tough and a top 6 finish may even be difficult. The Europa League then becomes DE FACTO our best chance for trophy/success.

So what shall be our expectations for this season?

A. Finish in Top 8 and win the Europa League

B. Finish in Top 17 and win the Europa League

C. Aim to find our best XI this season, soak in the Arteta’s game plan and do our best in the EPL and EL.

D. Other?


Arsenal Jekyll and Team goHyde or a game of two halves…

February 2, 2021
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

What a weird game it was! A very frustrating loss to be honest.

Our first 45 minutes were nothing short of brilliant. We defended quite decently especially in the middle of the park and our attacking game was at times amazing! Saka was absolutely brilliant, Laca’s hold up and link up plays were great, Pepe had a positive attitude and scored a good goal and Partey was pulling the strings in midfield while Cedric was also having a good game going forward. ESR also had a few good moments. We were so unlucky to only have scored one goal but all was going well…until Luiz got a red card, which is hard to understand because it seems there was actually no contact. So we lose Luiz and we concede a PK, which was well taken to be honest.

4 minutes into the second half and Moutinho scores a screamer. Could Partey or Leno do better? Hard to say. And then we hang in the game and we have a few openings to maybe draw…but it was not meant to be for us as Leno also gets red-carded. This red-card is actually harder to contest – what was Leno thinking? Stay in your box and collect the ball, mate…After that, it was a matter of just the game ending.

Overall, I felt that our first 45 minutes were the best of the season. It was nice to see us play so well. But then, our dark side resurfaced with losing a ball in the middle of the park leading to a very harsh sending off and then Leno just lost his mind in the second half…So the second half was clearly to be forgotten.

The positives: Saka, Partey, Holding, Laca, Pepe, Xhaka, Cedric + the first 45 minutes! And seeing Auba play.

The negatives: Ref, Leno, Luiz (?)

Could do better: ESR, Bellerin