Unai’s boys flatten Fulham with flawless finishing

October 8, 2018

Wow, it really is an exciting time to be an Arsenal supporter. With the toxic infighting of last season fading from memory and now, incredibly, nine wins on the bounce it rightly has to be said that the Unai Emery revolution is gathering pace. I can’t remember the last time I found myself looking forward to the next game with such eagerness: you just don’t know what you are going to get.

We continued to make mistakes at the back in the early part of yesterday’s game and I can’t be the only one who feels that a better team is going to punish us to the tune of three quick goals giving us a mountain to climb to get back on level terms; but, on the other hand, there are now elements of our play that suggest that not only could we get top four – we could win the league. More level-headed and certainly more annoying sourpusses will probably say that the truth is somewhere in between.

My take on what turned out to be the thrashing of Fulham was that it was a workman-like performance studded with five incredibly good goals. Our football in general wasn’t that convincing but our goals certainly were. I could go through all of them, describing each in turn but wouldn’t be able to do justice to the fine collection.

Probably the most important was Lacazette’s second; it came at a crucial time, shortly after the restart and dampened down the enthusiasm that Fulham had worked up having scored just before the break. Back in charge Arsenal went on to slowly strangle the life out of the home side and add another three important points to our growing tally.

Yes, we have to continue to fend off accusations that we have not played anyone of note during this run but as dull as the saying goes that you can only beat who is in front of you, we still have had to do it and I for one did not expect us to do it so well as we have and be in this excellent position – especially in the wake of the first two games. Still, I am happy and pleasantly surprised to write that things really are looking good.

Ratings

Leno: looking more confident and I have to say, commanding; I don’t think he could have done any more to stop Fulham’s goal. 7

Bellerin: excellent game, early criticism of his gallivanting down the wing, leaving us exposed at the back is now seen as unfounded as all have noticed that he was acting on instructions and he was not being covered as he is now successfully by Torriera. Hector looked the DB’s. 8

Mustafi: I think it was Fred who said that Shkod seems to be playing better with Holding rather than with Sokratis, this may be true; he did look a little more secure yesterday. 7

Holding: Well, who would have expected him at the start of the season to be in a position to stake a claim to an automatic place in the starting line-up? Not I, but he has. He really is improving his ability of playing the ball out from the back. Pretty much, always in the right place at the right time yesterday. 8

Monreal: everything was going down our left in the first half with he and Iwobi dominating proceedings, all marred by a really annoying bad pass that led to the Fulham goal. 6

Torreira: yep, the image of the Duracell Bunny works for me. Lacazette maybe most people’s man of the match for his goals but that is what I would argue he was supposed to do in the same way as a goalkeeper is supposed to save shots and just because Leno made some fine save does not make him man of the match. Now Torriera on the other hand controlled the game from start to finish and that is why he gets my man of the match. 9

Xhaka: Captain Granit, I know he is flavour of the month and he has been spraying the ball around well recently but he is still guilty of early lapses in concentration that seem to cause heart stopping nightmares early on in the game. We won 1-5 so I don’t want to get too moany. 6

Iwobi: confidence soaring, decision making improving, goal assists coming, what is not to like? Emery still took him off early and you could see the disappointment in his face, the aim was clear and it worked: don’t rest on your laurels Alex, more is still expected. The difference this season to last is that most people now expect him to successfully rise to the challenge. 8

Lacazette: two top goals, tons of hard work, swagger in his play. More excellent man management; he was left out of the team earlier in the season and has risen to the challenge of getting back into the starting eleven. 9

Welbeck: a fans’ favourite, everyone wants him to do well but he has two strikers around him who are at the top of their game and as such Danny is being shown to be the slightly inferior striker that he is. 6

Mkhitaryan: probably the thing he was guilty of was not scoring, that’s not to say that he had the chances it’s just that as those around him were scoring for fun and he was made to look human. I don’t think he had a bad game it’s just that he didn’t have a stellar game as some around him did. 7

Subs

Ramsey: well if that doesn’t win goal of the season then the one that does is going to be very, very special indeed. I have a lot more to say about Aaron but I will save it for another time. 8

Aubameyang: treat em mean to keep em keen. Raring to go as soon as he came on and gave a master class in finishing. 8

Guendouzi: superb cameo, ok the game was won but he offered so much to the midfield. 7

PS. If Ozil had played we would have won 1-8

LB

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Danny quells the swarm – Brentford Ratings

September 27, 2018

First Half

Two goals from Danny in the first half had Arsenal cruising as the interval approached. His first came from a Matteo Guendouzi pinpoint cross after a short corner. The many Arsenal runs in the box confused Brentford who forgot to mark the only player who stood still; but what a fine header it was from Welbz.

The second goal was warmly applauded by Mr Emery as it probably encapsulated all he wants from his players on the break. Brentford were pressing high, eventually the ball came to Lichtsteiner in a 50:50 challenge – no contest, Micki slipped the ball inside his marker freeing Iwobi on the burst. The Nigerian cockney used his mirrors to perfectly judge the run of Monreal steaming up behind him. A perfect perpendicular pass to the waiting Mancunian and it was two nil.

Second half

Arsenal quickly lulled themselves into a false sense of security in the opening few minutes of the second period. Emile Smith Rowe had a couple of decent positions which came to nothing; his usual youthful confidence giving way to indecision or a bad choice. Brentford fought for their hive like workers not drones and started to create some chances.

Their free kick to pull the game back to 2-1 was excellent but resulted from Guendouzi giving away a nonsensical free kick in a dangerous position. Suddenly the commentator was interested – he started to think he might see what he was hoping for after all.

Lacazette came on for ESR and proceeded to stink the place out with a complacent attitude and poor use of the ball. His touch was off even when slipped through by Guendouzi in prime real estate territory. Another sub was required.

Enter Lucas Torreira, avenger of evil and possessor of large hairy feet capable of mopping up in front of the back four. Things started to settle and the final quarter of the game left the commentator a little bereft of excitement and lacking in hope that all his dreams of a Brentford comeback would still come true.

Lacazette finally showed some class as he stroked home the third in the dying moments and it was through to the next round we go.

Summary

Unai Emery’s first League Cup team was a strong one and in the final reckoning, it needed to be.

Ratings

Leno – not ready to displace the helmet as yet but steady and secure after an early blip….6

Lichtsteiner – struggled just a touch with the pace of his youthful winger but used his enormous experience to redress the balance….6

Mustafi – only one really comical moment giving the ball away and then falling over. Just the one hair-raising moment is quite good for him….6

Holding – don’t remember much that he did good or bad. Is that good or bad?….6

Monreal – Nacho is a real 100 percenter and was justly rewarded with an excellent slide rule assist. It’s a good job the Beast is back to share some of his workload….7

Elneny – he stood out for me simply because he did almost nothing of note apart from run around like a headless chicken. A DM he is not….5

Guendouzi – the odd sloppy pass but 95% of his work was rapid, incisive and clever. Was fouled quite nastily by Yennaris which Dean overlooked completely….8

Mkhitaryan – Henrikh played very well when we were on top but sometimes appears to lack the cojones for a scrap. Excellent use of the ball in the build up to the second goal….7

Iwobi – Another fine performance from Alex….7

Smith Rowe – Playing a little further forward seemed detrimental to Emile’s play though he showed some bright moments in the first period. He seems better coming from deep to me….6

Welbeck – two great goals which effectively won the game – is Brentford his level? – I sincerely hope not….8

Subs

Lacazette – one awful moment after another until his opportunist’s goal late on….5

Torreira – steadied the ship according to LB….7

Ramsey – didn’t really add much more than the player he replaced, Elneny….6

Mike Dean – just as bad as we all know he can be – fat, old and incompetent….3

chas


Hardly convincing but we’ll take it – Everton ratings

September 24, 2018

Injury doubt, Lucas Torreira, was declared fit to make his first Prem start replacing Matteo Guendouzi but apart from that, an unchanged Arsenal were set to face their next challenge in the rebuilding process.

First Half

Again it was a case of not much happening at all. Everton harried and chased with extreme vigour and application, though without really troubling the helmeted one, partly due to their own jitters in front of goaL At the sharp end Arsenal were blunt, with even the Terrier struggling to make much of an impact. Nacho Monreal had the only effort on target for the Gunners in the first period but could only place the ball well within Pickford’s reach.

Greek philosopher, Sokratis, left the arena after half an hour  having damaged his hip mopping up after his prone centre back partner.  Rob Holding looked reasonably assured and confident entering the fray which was a great relief.  Mustafi grabbed the senior partner role with both hands and made no further obvious blunders.

Everton produced a few worrying moments for the Arsenal defence but Petr Cech stood firm.

Second Half

The first goal when it arrived was of such quality that it shone like a sparkling, golden nugget sifted from the silty detritus of the river bed. Ramsey’s first significant contribution to the whole game was to find Laca inside the box. The Frenchman produced a curling finish of stunning execution quite unlike anything up to that point. A real beauty.

A few minutes later and we were two up as PEA finished off a 3 on 1 break. Did we care that he appeared a yard offside when Ramsey flicked the ball forward to him?….did we heck as like.

The Toffees huffed and puffed but our Czech in goal made sure his performance put him strongly in the running for MOTM.

Theo got a bang on the eye and was replaced after looking one of Everton’s least effective players. The defence held firm with Torreira marshalling the area in front of the back four in a fashion quite unlike we’ve seen for many a year. A clean sheet against all the odds. Wonders never cease.

Summary

After some nervous moments in the first half for those of us with dodgy tickers, the team consolidated in the second with two well taken goals and a clean sheet. Job done.

Ratings (LB)

Cech – Outstanding, MOTM by a country mile, and noticeably so much more commanding with his feet….10

Bellerin – so much better both attacking and defending. It was possibly the Terrier who made this all work….8

Nacho – workman like performance, no frills, no spills….7

Mustafi – bizarrely got better when Holding came on. Absolute pants before that….5

Sokratis –  I thought we were doomed when he went off. Interesting to watch him starting to tell Mustafi off, much improved….7

Terrier – hard to really believe that he is still only 22. If that is what he can do in his first start we have good things in store….7

Xhaka – nightmare start with school boy errors at every turn. But, he is a very experienced player and he started to find his range as the game went on….6

Ramsey – looked lost in the first half but after the half time magic orange juice, started to look the player we are trying to persuade to stay at the club….6

Özil – I have said so many times that there are 2 Ozils, the one you see on telly and the one you see live, I was not at the game and he looked under the weather….6

Aubameyang – always happy when he scores, he plays so much like TH14 down the left, I keep on expecting him to accelerate past the defender and am confused when he doesn’t….7

Lacazette – picked himself up from his horizontal protest in the week and found the net with a very important breakthrough goal. Crap celebration but will gladly suffer it as much as he wants to do it….7

Subs

Holding – Thursday obviously gave him some confidence and he was an able deputy….7

Iwobi – added fresh legs, he looks a big old unit these days….6

Welbeck….6


Sticky Taffy Pudding – Cardiff ratings

September 3, 2018

Well, the world feels a whole lot better having beaten Cardiff than had we drawn. We got there in the end but not after more stressful defending nightmares. The image that came to mind was of a group of eleven men dressed in red and white Father Christmas outfits arriving in Cardiff bearing gifts (or should that be goals) for all the poor local children who had gone without for so long. The only thing missing from the cartoon was big white bushy beards.

Mustafi’s bullet header opened the scoring

I am really tempted to say that everything new that Emery has introduced is causing downright panic and everything that was already there is working really well. The attack was already there and it is getting closer to firing on all cylinders. First rate goals from Aubameyang and Lacazette back this up. Was the defence any better last season? Mah, maybe not. Was the midfield cover of the defence better last season, mah also maybe not? Perhaps, I should have said that I was tempted to say that ‘almost’ everything that Emery has introduced has caused downright panic.

The obvious example is the insistence of Emery to have Cech play the ball out to players waiting near the corner flags only to have it passed back to the keeper who continually deals with it like a hot potato and on more than one occasion passed it out badly creating a goal scoring opportunity for the opposition.

You might expect that I am going to rip into Emery at this point but you would be wrong. Let’s ask: if all this manoeuvre went well and Cech had the foot skills to carry this off what is Emery trying to achieve? I obviously can’t be certain but what I can see happening is that the opposition are being drawn forward and are staying there in the hope of exploiting an error; this in turn, creates space beyond these advanced opposition players which gives our attackers incredibly valuable and extremely important extra space to operate in up front.

Not convinced? Did West Ham and Cardiff park the bus, surely we would have expected them to do so, it certainly would have happened last season, so why didn’t it – because they were cleverly manoeuvred away from it.

If this turns out to be right then Unai Emery deserves a lot of praise but in the mean time watching Arsenal has become a viewing past time that should be avoided by the faint-hearted.

Laca celebrating Auba’s goal – Photo by Geoff CADDICK / AFP

This obviously is a work in progress but I would bet a barrel of Danish herrings that that is exactly what Leno has been brought in to do. The new keeper will be slowly introduced through the Europa and the Caribou and by the end of the season or, if not, by Christmas he will be our number one keeper. Why not start with him now? Woooo, hold your horses, too much change too quickly can be very risky. Cech is still a fine keeper and after the ten minutes at the start of the game and ten minutes after the restart he reverts back into an absolute first class keeper.

Two wins in two games and apart from some Keystone moments there are some real signs of progress being made. Perhaps I should have been tempted to have said that quite a few things that Emery is doing are working. Lol.

Do you want me to describe the game? Is there a need? Mah, we all saw it.

Mesut looks left out of the bromance

Cech: notice that after the first ten minutes of cartoon football he changed back to clearing the ball however he saw fit, this is not a player defying his manager; it is a player carrying out instructions. 8 for his keeping but for his footwork, hmmm, not so much.

Bellerin: I really wanted to say that his crosses into the box continued to improve but they didn’t. The message has finally been received that he needs to be covered when he is advanced and play breaks down; this was done by Guendouzi and then better by Torriera. 5

TAWTH: Good goal; still continues to be a headline star in Arsenal’s defensive comedy show. 6

GB: starting to get his feet under the table, maybe a bit better this week. 5

Monreal: nothing spectacular today, not sure he fully understands what the plan is. 5

Guendouzi: still a bright spot, obviously the player that is not tainted by previous seasons and also seems to be the player that Emery feels he can most easily mould to the way he wants the team to play. 5

Xhaka: someone whisper to him that the food in Italy is very good. 4

Ramsey: no lack of trying, he knows he is getting prime real estate on the pitch; the much sort after terrain where Mesut’s mansion usually sits is not often vacated. He is aware that he is being given a chance and he is doing his best to take it. A bit slow in his manoeuvrings at times which slowed our counter attacks down but on another day he will score a hat trick so all is well really. 7

Ozil: you have to bear in mind that when writing about Mesut I start from a point of thinking that the man can do no wrong. It made me laugh watching Ozil today, shunted out to the right obviously on Emery’s orders he decided that rather than spend another weekend in the sick bay he would tow the line; he stayed out there for 50 minutes and was completely ineffective. Clearly bored of such nonsense, he then reverted back to what Mesut does best – playing where ever he likes and he was magnificent; watch his involvement in the Aubameyang and the Lacazette goals and the play in general around that time. Emery had his opportunity to reassert his control by hooking him off later on. 7

Lacazette: Man of the Match; Emery has man managed him well, the Butcher’s dog was let off the lead from minute one today and he was just dying to get stuck in. 8

Aubameyang: great goal, should do his confidence the world of good. 7

Oh, I have just seen the spud result, there clearly is a god.

Written by LB


4-3-3 …. Who plays in the front three?

August 31, 2018

Having sorted out our right flank issues on Tuesday plus deciding who should partner Lucas Torreira on Wednesday, it’s time to shift our attention to the business end of the team and the front three.

When you’re taking half chances and scoring at crucial moments in a game, victories look easy. If the boys at the sharp end are misfiring, as against the chavs 2 weeks ago, it doesn’t matter how many golden opportunities are created, you’ll always struggle.

Unai Emery is still moulding the Arsenal players into new shapes but he does seem to favour 4-3-3 (or 4-2-1-3). The front three are a little undefined as yet. Let’s take a look at the runners and riders.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang – yet to break his duck early on this season after scoring for fun during Arsenal’s tepid second half of last season. Has a career average of about a goal every other game and was prolific for Dortmund. Our most versatile out and out striker which is probably why he gets pushed out to the left flank to accommodate Alexandre Lacazette.

courtesy GK Edits

Alexandre Lacazette – only slightly lower strike rate across his career than Auba, scoring at just under a goal in every two. Perhaps our most natural finisher. He doesn’t seem to score many tap-ins for Arsenal which either says something about the type of chances created by his teammates or about his natural positioning as a striker. Seems to enjoy bouncing off Auba, though maybe the pair are better suited to playing together in a 4-4-2?

Danny Welbeck – Danny appears to be 3rd in the pecking order of strikers, though his physicality could make him an enticing prospect as a powerful left sided attacker. Gets into great scoring positions but often seems to lack that killer instinct in front of the posts. It would appear that when everyone else is fit, he is destined to be our best hope of a goal from the bench, Lord Bendtner style.

Alex Iwobi – a starter against the chavs and hammers, Alex is the go-to player for left side wing duties when Auba is chosen at centre forward. This is probably due to his natural ability to take players on. Bit of a marmite player with some choosing to dismiss him outright.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – His high work rate and creativity up front seem to have made him one of the first names on Emery’s teamsheet. Expecting him to be constantly helping wingfender Bellerin with defensive duties is too much of an ask. I keep expecting his goals and assists figures to explode once the manager settles on a final plan of attack. Could he play as the tip of a midfield triangle?

Mesut Özil – Mesut doesn’t appear to have found a conclusive position in Unai’s team structure as yet. He seems the man most likely to create a goal-scoring chance with just one pass that we possess. Does he play left side in a front three or the furthest forward of the middle three? Answers on a postcard. I’d imagine he’s hankering for Arsene to appear and to tell him, ‘just play where you like while you dismantle the opposition’.

Aaron Ramsey – the Welsh Messi would also love the free role in any set up. He’s been used as part of a double pivot, as a box-to-boxer, as a number 10 and a right flanker up front. Like Mesut he’s another who doesn’t naturally fit into any particular slot in Unai Emery’s team structure wall chart. Reading LB’s Cardiff match report from November 2013 yesterday reminded us that Aaron has goals in him. Wouldn’t it be great if he could hit double figures again?

Of the other three who had fine pre-seasons, Reiss Nelson would appear to be off to Hoffenheim this week (hopefully just on loan) and Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah haven’t made the bench in our first three games.

Similarly to choosing a midfield partner for Lucas Torriera, there will always be an element of mix and match when selecting a front 3 depending on the opposition and if we’re home or away.

On paper an Auba, Laca and Micki combination looks to have the most goals in it. Alexandre hasn’t been chosen to start a 90 minutes up to now and if he was chosen, would it mean Auba moving out to the left wing? Choosing a front three might be based on other factors in addition to goals such as team balance, the fabled high press and workrate. It’ll be interesting to see if Mesut can find a natural slot in the new manager’s plans, perhaps starting on that left side but then dropping into more of a number 10 role at times.

It was only a few weeks ago in pre-season that we were talking about an embarrassment of riches up front but we know it will take time for the new boss to find the right blend.

I’m really looking forward to everything clicking into place soon and for the goals to start raining in – as, I’m sure, are we all.

Thoughts? Who  would you have in our front three?

chas

 


Last Gasp Laca – Chelsea Chastened by Iwobi pen

August 2, 2018

Let’s just cut to the chase, dive straight in and talk about the best part of the ninety four minutes, no I don’t mean the last gasp goal from Lacazette that saved us from one of most horrible feelings that there can be no matter what the competition – losing to Chelsea is never a good look and never a good feeling; no, I am talking about something so much more uplifting, what is it, what is it, all this build up, is it going to be worth it? Oh yes it is – Guendouzi’s body check on Hudson-Odoi. The irritating upstart had been messing Hector around all game when suddenly bosh, have some of that you dirty chav; Guendouzi who is rapidly coming one of my favourite players showed him what is what and left the annoying blue mess writhing on the deck.

It is staggering that he is only 19 and has been playing in French lower league. There is no doubt in my mind that he has made Elneny redundant and some may say Xhaka too. Granit is a bit of a marmite player so I understand where some people are coming from but it is a bit early for that. Incredibly there is a lot of similarity in their style play but if anything the young Frenchman moves that ball around just that bit quicker, so although, I don’t expect that it will be long until Granit returns he will know he has serious competition for his place and he will not have the protection of being a shiny new Emery signing: Xhaka is a product of the old regime. Should be interesting, we shall see. Can’t stop thinking about that body check – love it.

Chelsea put out a pretty strong side and carved our defence open like a Sunday roast. You can say that with Monreal, Torreira and Xhaka in the mix things might have been a bit different – perhaps, but even with all three of them there I don’t think we would have stopped their goal and what’s more I predict we will suffer an awful lot more of that kind. Koscielny might have done something about it but that is a long way off.

The best form of defence is attack, well it is going to have to be, although, fortunately we are blessed in that department. And there is Iwobi – Barn Door meet Iwobi, Iwobi meet Barn Door, no Alex it’s over there; he should have scored and given us a slightly calmer finish.

But cometh the, (how on earth am I going to make this one work? No idea.) cometh Lacazette. We all saw it; he was more potent in 5 minutes than the rest of the attack had been for seventy minutes. The Butcher’s Dog got himself on the score sheet again and has surely earned himself a starting berth against City.

Cech was awesome. The step up for Smith-Rowe was a tad far; I bet he regrets not taking the shot on when that golden chance appeared. Kolasinac: we have done this one, he is just filling in. The central defence pairing, well if you can see some upside please let me know?

Mah, it was only a friendly and we avoided losing which no one likes. Next up, the caring sharing, kind hearted souls from Italy’s capital – Lazio. Onwards and upwards.

Written by LB


The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw?

July 31, 2018

For years, according to the Gooner blogdom experts, we’ve been 2 or 3 players away from having a team capable of mounting a serious assault on the Premiership summit.

Arsenal goals Centurion he may have become, but Monsieur Giroud (gorgeous though he was) never looked capable of pushing the team that little bit further with 25 or 30 league goals in a season. Now we have Auba and Laca who both seem to have a much more natural, born-goalscorer’s disposition.

Again, perceived wisdom from the multitude of fan social media sites would have it that Arsenal have lacked a key player at the key defensive midfield position since first Gilberto, and then the Flamini of 2008, left the squad.

Step forward one Lucas Torreira, the man born in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. Could he be the man to put the beef back into that crucial zone just in front of Arsenal’s back four?

                      Courtesy AFC/Getty

Slight of stature in the mould of a Makelele or Kante, he is swift across the ground, strong in the tackle and appears to possess that uncanny knack of sensing where his team’s defence is vulnerable.

An apprenticeship at Pescara in Serie B, followed by two successful seasons at mid-table Sampdoria in Serie A, have seen his star rise enough for him to make his international debut this year and then look completely at home on the world stage at Russia 2018. His previous manager at Sampdoria rates him up there with the best – ‘second most effective DM in Europe’ after the loathsome Sergio Busquets.

At 22 and with his best years ahead of him, he’s decided to join the best Club in the world. There’s a real buzz about Arsenal’s pre-season; could our new Uruguayan signing be the final piece of the puzzle?

Some might be wary of building up hopes too high even before Unai Emery’s Arsenal has emerged from its chrysalis properly and they’re probably right, but who knows, fingers crossed, we could be in for a real treat this season.