Saka to Liverpool?

March 11, 2020
 
Make him an offer he can't refuse
Make him an offer he can’t refuse.
If the headline shocked you, it’s because it’s intended to.

We know that the champions-elect are sniffing around our talented young attacker/wingback and they’re not the only ones. If our club doesn’t get its act together we could lose him before his Arsenal career has barely started.

Bukayo Saka has a year left on his Arsenal contract and I would love to be able to sit here and say: “It’s OK, the Arsenal would never let such a highly valued player just walk out the door.”

But we all know that’s not true. To have earned precisely nothing from the departures of Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck last summer is evidence of serious failure at the highest levels of the club.

So how can we be confident that we won’t make the same mistake with Saka? Or that we won’t be forced to sell him at the end of this season?

After all, if he has his head turned by a club that’s currently more successful than we are he can just refuse to sign a contract extension. In those circumstances – and given what happened with Ramsey in particular – it seems inconceivable that the club would not decide that the lesser of two evils is to sell him and take the money rather than wait and let him leave for nothing.

We can only hope that behind the scenes the club is doing all it can to sign him up to a long contract extension. He has shown enough in his outings this season to demonstrate that he can play, score goals and make assists at the highest level.

We have a few things in our favour. Firstly, the fact that Saka has come all the way through the Arsenal youth system, so our club is the only one he has ever known. It has been his home, his school, his family, his place of work and the place where he gets to hang with his mates.

Secondly, he has emerged into the Arsenal first team alongside a group of young players with whom he has already been sharing the ups and downs of football life for many years. We should not underestimate the power of the friendship bonds formed between young men like Saka, Nelson, Willock, Smith-Rowe, Nketieh and Martinelli. You can imagine them wanting to go on to win the big prizes with one another.

Finally, we have the presence (in both senses of the word) of our new head coach, Mikel Arteta. If Emery were still in charge at Arsenal I could well see our best young players being tempted away by the likes of Liverpool or Manchester City. With Arteta at the helm there is a sense of direction and optimism that has been (mostly) lacking for a number of years.

But those three reasons to persuade Saka to stay will not be enough unless the club does its bit in making the young man an acceptable offer. 

Ever since the stadium move we have had a bad habit of blowing deals with penny pinching. 

Take our pursuit of Luis Suarez some years ago when he was at Liverpool. Our inept management team believed he had a £40m buy-out clause so we offered that number plus a pound for a player who was arguably the best striker in the world at the time. The bid, unsurprisingly, was seen in the Liverpool boardroom as a case of us trying to extract the urine; they dug in their heels and we never got Suarez. I’m fairly sure that if we had gone in with a £45m offer we would have got our man and the recent history of Arsenal might have been very different.

I’m not saying we should give Saka a stupidly high number for his new contract (the club has to consider the impact of any raise he gets on the other promising young players who will soon be knocking on the door asking for comparable increases).

But there has to be a concerted effort to make him an attractive offer and to wrap it up in a lovely big bundle of affection and commitment. We should be saying that we see Saka as a future Arsenal legend in the mould of Henry, Pires, Wright and Ljungberg.

If the club lets Saka go, it will be a dereliction of duty that will seriously dent our faith in the management team’s ability to take us back where we belong: competing for the Premier League and the Champions League.

A year later the same issue will be coming up with Guendouzi and Nketieh, so we should be considering extending them even as early as this summer to avoid any cliff edge negotiations in the future.

Will Saka stay? What do you think?

RockyLives


Leave Pepe alone

March 10, 2020

Pepe has been having a frustrating season so far. He has shown glimpse of brilliance in the game, good set-piece delivery and good camaraderie with his teammates BUT he has also been guilty of not playing direct enough, not taking on his defender on a one-on-one enough, always cutting back inside, too many times playing a sideways and backwards.

He still managed 8 assists and 6 goals this season I believe in 32 games, which is not bad in a first season but still low given his hefty fee.

Arteta has recently opened up about Pepe’s stuggle to adapt to the EPL. He also indicated that he will personally work with him to make him more aware of attacking and defensive positioning.

Arteta has helped Sterling and Sane flourish so I am sure that he can help our 24 yearld old Ivorian winger to become a potent force for us.

So for those doubting Pepe, I would say give it a rest and leave him alone 🙂

We must play him week in and week out to ensure that he is applying Arteta’s advice so that he can progress quickly.

I expected him to hit good form as of now but seems his adaptation is taking a bit longer than anticipated.

Nelson is a great option off the bench and his directness will come in handy as a sub to unblock some sticky situations.

If Pepe manages 10 assists in the EPL and 8 goals in his first season, it would not have been a stellar season but it would not have been a poor one either so I hope that he can manage to rack up 4 more assists and 4 more goals in the EPL and then I also hope that he can be our FA Cup Hero to ensure that all AFC fans support him when we start next year 🙂

Allez Pepe! COYG!

RC78


Arsenal keep West Ham in their place.

March 8, 2020

So our Champions League hopes remain narrowly alive; as the saying goes, we have to take one game at a time and win them as they come along and that is exactly what we did, not pretty, but another important three points on the score board.

It took, what seemed to be an eternity, for VAR to realise that it is our god given right to beat the lesser teams of our shared capital. West Ham will always be in our shadows, a lesser team and a lesser club, their supporters spent most of the game vocalising where they thought best another, lesser, club stick their blue flag, funnily enough I found myself agreeing.

The team selection wasn’t that much of a surprise, although, Socratis keeping his place over Bellerin suggests that it is not just we the fans who can see that Hector is taking slightly longer than perhaps was expected to regain his former effectiveness; still, I am a big Bellerin fan and hope that he regains his former respect sooner rather than later.

We also had Mari making his debut for what must have been an injured Mustafi. You can never be sure which category a tall centre back is going to fall into; we all hope for another in the Big Tone mould but Stepanovs still haunts us. Mari started poorly giving the ball away and being caught out of position but it has to be said that he grew in confidence and became more effective as the game went on.

The first half was pretty dull with a near miss from Socratis who headed just over from a corner; a couple of good chances fell to West Ham who should have been ahead but hey ho. The second half started as usual with greater purpose; Arteta slowly increased the intensity with the inclusion of Nelson for Pepe and just before that Lacazette for Nketiah who added a lot more drive to our play before getting the all important winner.

Player Ratings

Leno: great save in the second half, clean sheet; all in all a very good day at the office. 9

Socratis: I suppose he was included to give Hector a bit more recovery time, he certainly helped aerially, didn’t do too much wrong and came close to scoring which would have been the second game on the trot. 7

Luiz: the thing to realise here is imagine he wasn’t an Arsenal player and we had to make do with Socratis and Mustafi at the back and you start to see why we should be grateful for his presence, well I am anyway. A superb performance today, so obviously an Arsenal player it makes me wonder how and why he ever played anywhere else. 8

Mari: got better as the game went on, gave us a lot more authority in the air and left me feeling quite good that he is on our books. 7

Saka: why does Saka play every game, is it because of other injuries, no it is not, it is because of his contract. The powers that be are making sure that he gets everything he wants as an enticement to stay and what he wants most of all is to play, and play he did. It is clearly not an accident that he has got the amount of assists that he has; he is the most potent threat from either wing by some considerable distance. 7

Xhaka: I want to scream at him, just give the ball to Saka but far too often he missed the opportunity; he didn’t play that badly, no silly mistakes and a game without a yellow, whatever next. 6

Ceballos: MOTM: the guy was everywhere, driving us forward and mopping up when it was inevitably needed. 9

Ozil: Mesut put in a decent shift without setting the place on fire. 7

Pepe: as I have said before there is an interesting little duel going on between Pepe and Nelson I have to admit I much prefer Nelson’s more direct approach. 6

Aubamayang: it’s like putting a racehorse in with a team of horses pulling a tractor – a complete waste. 6

Nketiah: didn’t get any service and unsurprisingly wasn’t able to flourish. 5

Not a game that will stay long in the memory but three valuable points should never be stiffed at.

LB


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


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.

A Ray of Hope on a gloomy horizon

February 28, 2020

So the result and the way we played were hugely disappointing! We conceded two cheap goals on set pieces where our defending was suspicious.

Leno was again guilty in the build up and in conceding goals and Bellerin was just horrible the whole game. Luiz had a tough night as well. Xhaka went back to his old slow habits and Ozil was also unseen for large parts of the game. Pepe was rather unsuccessful in creating danger and Laca was also not too good but he hardly got any service.

So out of the competition, probably no European cup for us next year and we will also now lose Aubameyang this summer.

But there is a slight Ray of hope:-

Auba is still with us and we better enjoy his goal scoring while we can.

Saka can be considered a starter now for us.

In a sudden twist of fate, Mustafi is now actually our most solid defender.

As we look to next season already, we know that we need new players and maybe a new GK as well.

Bellerin needs to be challenged big time at RB, Kola will need to go and a better LB option is also needed and we still need two CBs as it is time to get rid of our Greeks and maybe send Holding on loan.

At DM, we still need a player and if we don’t keep Ceballos, we need a player there too. We’ll need to replace Aubameyang as well.

But we have Saka and we have Martinelli and Arteta and this gives me hope.

COYG!

RC78


Arsenal v Olympiacos pre-match

February 27, 2020

Europa League football is upon us tonight and we have the return leg against Olympiacos at The Emirates. Last week’s game finished 1-0 to us and having scored an all important away goal we’ll be looking to add more to our tally and not concede (obviously).

I’m sure North London has a fair amount of Olympiacos supporters in residence and so the stadium should be packed and rocking for this game. Night-time football is so special and even though it’s not the Champions League, a European game under the lights has that inspiring feel about it. Now that we’re in the knock out stages of the competition there will also be a nervous edge. With the big prize of Champions League football for the winner of this competition every care must be taken to progress.

This was Arteta’s response when asked about how important European football was to the club and whether it affected his team selection.

“We have three different routes to Europe. We have to try to maximise the three of them and we go game by game,” he said.

“That’s all we can do at the moment because the objectives are still so far behind.”

It’s quite difficult to predict Mikel’s line up for games now that we know that he chooses players on their performance in training rather than reputation. I’m hoping that Saka managed some rest after Sunday but was also able to impress Arteta so that he is included tonight. We are short of left-backs now that Kolasinac is injured too.

Tonight I would hope to see Pepe, Martinelli and Lacazette ……… so how does he fit Aubameyang in?

Bellerin should return at right-back with Mustafi (first name on the team sheet after recent performances) and Luiz paired at centre-back.

Torreira should start alongside Xhaka with hopefully Ozil just behind the front three. Only who will the front three be? The FA Cup game on Monday could see some of these rested so lets play the best team tonight and progress in the competion.

Here’s my stab at a team …….

Leno

Bellerin   Mustafi   Luiz   Saka

Torreira   Xhaka

Ozil

Pepe   Lacazette   Aubameyang

It’s snowing heavily out of my window which is not great but according to all sources it’ll stop by midday. I’m looking forward to the game.

COYG

peachesgooner