What can Arsenal Supporters Reasonably Expect Next Season?

July 11, 2019

Reasonable is a difficult word so I’ve decided to try to look at current elements from an Arsenal perspective related to how we think we can compete next season in the top 4, which is actually the short and easy part of this for me. If you don’t want a really long read, go to the end for that. I’ve also added a historical perspective because we are the Arsenal and hence have historically based expectations. So here it is:

15 Years ago (Boy were we spoiled !!)

Goalkeeper and Defence : Solid, commanding keeper with physical, fast defenders that were well organized, tactically savvy, good in the air and hard as nails. Also a consistent scoring threat at set pieces.

Midfield : Box to box midfielders, strong, physical skillful and hard working, good defensively complimented by fast skillful wide players who could beat a man. All of them were creative and could score for fun.

Forwards : Fast, devastating finishers, confident, creative and hungry.

The last 10 years (steady decline with odd flashes of brilliance)

Goalkeeper and Defence : No real commanding presence or leadership of the back line. Football playing defenders, physically unimposing and generally poor in the air, didn’t tackle very well and unable to hold a cohesive defensive line. Tendency to give away stupid free kicks which we were ill equipped to defend. Let crosses come in far too easily. (Sagna is exempt from all of this except the crossing thing).

Midfield : Defensive Midfielders were generally a bust (including Alex Song) and went missing at the vital moments. The rest were generally small tricky and very creative, held possession extremely effectively due to being technically sound, very good at short passing triangles and give and goes. Some good free kick technicians and ball strikers and generally a threat to score. Lightweight and unable to defend. (Santi – you’re exempt from criticism – what a tragedy. A complete genius).

Forwards : Apart from a very injury prone RVP who left after his only outstanding season, only Alexis managed more than 20 goals in 2017 until Auba got 22 last year (Ade got 24 in 2008). Other than that, a string of inconsistent finishers often with pace but (other than Giroud) unable to score in the air. Most of these players looked a lot better than they were because of outstanding creativity in the midfield and a team built to attack. (Alexis was the real deal).

Today (Oh dear!!)

Goalkeeper : I think Leno can be the new Jens. Not because he’s German but he will command his defence if he has some support. Just what we need.

Defence : Bellerin, Sokratis and Holding are good enough to do what we need to compete in the top 4 race. We need 2 more to step up and a combination of Monreal and Koscielny to play bit part roles. AMN and Mavro look like good prospects.

Defensive Midfield : Torreira is good enough and will get better. He has all the tools but needs to stop falling over to try and win free kicks. Refs are wising up. Guendouzi is a good prospect. I don’t think Xhaka can do it unless he undergoes a major transformation (mostly in mentality but also agility). If anyone can do this, Dick can !! Need a couple of step ups. Unlikely to be Elneny so maybe Bielik or Chambers. The latter is also too slow at the top 4 level I think. Could maybe play a bit part in defence.

Attacking Midfield : I know this will be unpopular but Ozil is a liability, as is Mkhitaryan. But as sick as it is, without these two we have ZERO creativity. As a group,(including these two and Iwobi) we have ZERO midfield goal scoring threat at the top 4 level.  “ZERO” encompasses scoring the odd goal here and there but really means compared to the rest of the top 4 and how our opposition sees us.

Forwards : We have two of the better forwards in European football right now. Such a shame we have such little ability to create chances for them especially against good teams. They will need a little help throughout the season. Hopefully Eddie or Reiss might help a little but they’ll find it hard to compete against almost all of the Premier League.

What we need

Assuming not too many injuries – unlikely but you can’t plan for what you don’t know about – here’s hoping for some divine intervention !!

1) Some Balls !!!  Let Leno, Sok and Holding scream at the slackers. We need a strong captain. I think Sokratis fits the bill, Holding as a back up.

A solid centre back that can head the ball would be great as long as he can defend. Ditto for a left back.

2) Learn to defend properly without the ball !!! Team effort, tactics and desire along with improved fitness levels. Torreira will be good and hopefully inspire everyone else and lead by example.

A solid DM would be great.

3) Meaningful possession when level or behind !!! City had a difficult time last season breaking down a stubborn Leicester defence until Kompany scored “that goal”. For us it’s the norm and we seldom score that goal. It’s hard to see where the creativity will come from but we do have the goal scorers. We need to improve technically with the ball to avoid being beaten by the high press.

A fast, skillful winger and a #10 that’s willing to defend would be great.

4) To kill off games when we’re ahead and playing well !!! A major weakness of Arsenal since the mid 2000’s has been our inability to kill off vulnerable opposition. We haven’t been able to soak up pressure which is an essential element of counter attacking, which takes speed, desire and finishing. Laca and Auba need to be clinical especially against better sides. We need to transition quicker to defence in the event we don’t score.

A good finisher who can also score in the air would be great.

How can we achieve this?

A) Follow a plan designed by Unai.

I’ve read a lot about us not having a “style of play” or “certain way of playing”. Those observations are valid – to a point. I just don’t think we have a good enough squad of players to dictate games and be one thing, which might be the entire point of this extended article. Nor do I believe we have the resources or the reputation in Europe right now to bring in outstanding players. To compete in the top 4 this coming season, we need to deconstruct our opposition and make a fairly rigid plan for each game. That might be to increase possession or play on the counter. It might be different for every game, depending on who or where we play. Hopefully Unai is up to the task. And most of all, that the players, staff and fans respond to his methods.

orB) Change the structure of the club.

Buy everyone we need (see “would be great” above) and start winning immediately. 5 or 6 key 80m signings (and a new manager for some people reading this – but not me!!) would do the trick !! It’s that easy. It’s also never going to happen.

So my answer to the question of what we can reasonably expect next season is, at best we can expect a tough season with a somewhat rugged team playing efficient if not always attractive football. But if we can become hard to beat and score a few goals, it opens our opposition up and often, that’s how you can win games comfortably. I think tactics, game planning and strategy are our only hope of competing effectively this season. But it will be a building block for next season and beyond if we can do it. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be easy.

Mike M

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Possession Football with a High Press is Arsenal’s route back to the top … if we can afford it!

July 9, 2019

The champions of 4 out of the 5 Major leagues have the most possession-based football in that league. – City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG.
Only Juve is behind two rivals, namely Inter and Napoli.

So I would say that at the moment, possession football is winning. The philosophy being that if you have the ball, you can’t be hurt by the opponent and you can hurt your opponent. Now, you have to use the ball effectively and this is the key.

Interestingly in the EPL, the top 5 teams have the highest possession rate in this order: City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal.

You cannot play possession football all the time – I think all the teams mentioned above (except maybe PSG) are adept also at the high press. Again, if you get the ball in the opponent’s half, you can hurt them quickly because they have less time to react to the loss of the ball and if you do a good use of the ball, you will score or at least create chances. Barcelona is amazing at the doing that and so is City. Bayern and PSG slightly less so.

Basically, I believe Emery is more keen to turn us into a mix between Atletico and maybe Bayern type of team. The team that impressed me the most was the last Bayern Munich team that won the CL with Heinckes. They were lethal on transition and were good at possession but they were so balanced and so cohesive. The wings were very active – the mid was solid – the forward hard working and clinical. The only weak point was Dante who had that year an amazing season. Bayern is trying to recreate such a team now.

Possession football is very popular and effective these days. However, my feeling is that the teams with high possession are also the most effective at getting the ball back (hence the high possession as well). Unsurprisingly they are also among the richest clubs. The players in these squads can also adapt to these demanding systems – look at what De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero do at City and what Sane, Wijnaldum do at Liverpool or Rakitic, Verratti…

We don’t have confirmed players like that but I am hopeful over Maitland-Nyles, Lucas Torreira, Guendouzi, Iwobi and Kolasinac within our squad so things are not as gloomy as some may believe. We will only know how strong we will be for sure when the transfer window closes.

RC78


Did Unai Emery train the Pep out of the Arsenal players last season?

July 8, 2019

It seems like there’s still very much a verdict out on Unai Emery. Which is justifiable and understandable.

The players needed and probably got a bit of a culture shock. I don’t think he inherited a good enough squad to do it the way he would have liked.

Remember Pep’s first year at the Man City? I distinctly remember people saying he was training them too hard and he was going to burn out his poor millionaire superstars. I think he did too. They didn’t win much.

It appears we hit a wall and burned out too last season. So for me it bodes well. Ask any City fan, Raheem Stirling, David Silva, Fernandino, Kevin De Bruyne and I’m certain a few more how they feel about it now. Alternatively you could ask Joe Hart (learn to pass it Joe or you can’t play for us), Jesus Navas, Eliaquim Malanga, Samir Nasri, John Stones, Bernard Mendy etc. who may see it differently. I hope you get my point.

Obviously the big difference is what to do about it. City just bought better players for a shed load of money. We can’t. So one of our alternatives is to promote the youngsters, which is what recent posts have been about. It’s VERY important that we’re very careful here if we use this strategy. Reiss Nelson will not turn into Ryiad Mahrez in one season, nor Eddie into Sergio Aguero. As a believer in a much needed mentality shift, I can’t see a problem with bringing in a young player to replace some of our current squad who just don’t seem to have a good enough attitude and/or work ethic.

But if we do, just make sure we temper our expectations of the team and manager so we give them a chance to succeed. Because it took City 2 years and Liverpool 3 years to do it and I’m not sure we can compete with either one of them financially (certainly the City, but probably Liverpool now too).

Mike M


Nearly Kieran Tierney

June 29, 2019

According to AA’s transfer correspondent RC78, all the signs are that Kieran Tierney will be the first top quality player to join Arsenal this transfer window.

In characteristic  style, we are testing the water with bids well below Celtic’s valuation. So far offers of £15m and then £17.5m have been rejected with Celtic holding out for a package thought to be in the region of £25m. It seems likely that if we dig a bit deeper and come up with £20m plus add-ons, the player will be ours.

Celtic are prepared to sell and the player wants to come to The Arsenal. Much as I admire Nacho, he’s been a great servant to the team, but we need to invest in the future and 22 year old Tierney is a much needed upgrade.

The Celtic supporters love Tierney. Although still only very young, he has captained the side and consistently put in performances to a very high standard. He has his own song on the terraces, and this one  was was released … it’s worth watching for the bullet left foot shot into the top corner from 40 yards ….

Don’t get too carried away by that goal, he’s not (currently) a prolific goalscorer having scored 5 goals in 102 league appearences for Celtic, but he does embody all the attributes that it appears Unai Emery seeks in his players.

He’s strong, aggressive in his play, works very hard but has the pace and skill to get forward and deliver quality crosses into the box. Physically he’s perfectly built for the role of left back. He’s 5ft 10in, lean and muscular … and brave. He’s not a player to give up on a 50/50 ball or to shirk a hard challenge .. he’s a winner.

We need to spend our £40m transfer budget wisely. If half of it goes to buy Tierney and we can find another player of similar age and quality to reinforce elsewhere on the pitch then the task or rebuilding Arsenal will be off to a good start.

Arsenal have had many great players from North of the border over the years … and from Ireland for that matter. Let’s hope that with KT, we return to some of those great old traditions and put some Scottish steel in our back line.

Rasp 


Lacazette’s our best player … Xhaka only just scrapes in … but Ozil is gone

June 26, 2019

First let me start by making it clear that what follows is just my subjective view of the qualities that are needed to make a top footballer … you may well disagree.

This is a pictorial representation of how I would define those qualities.

Let’s look at these criteria in order of importance …

Attitude … a player can have all the skill in the world, but if he isn’t fully committed to the team and prepared to ‘leave it all on the pitch’, then that counts for nothing. I give you Paul Pogba. An unhappy player can drag the whole dressing room down.

Technical Ability … every football fan’s favourite attribute in a player, and the one that adds the most value if the player possesses the other qualities.

Football Brain … a much maligned term. Ability in terms of technique is not necessarily connected with making the right decisions on the pitch. Great players have the vision to see things others don’t. I’m a fan of Iwobi. He has impressive technique, but all too often his final ball is the wrong one = his football brain needs tuning! If he can improve in that department we will have a top quality player. Santi Cazorla was an example of a midfield Maestro with an excellent football brain, if only we could find another player of his quality.

Strength and Pace … these are important attributes in the modern high intensity EPL. Pace is required at the back as well through to the front now, especially if we play a high press with a high defensive line.

Age and Injuries … players inevitably go into physical decline in their early thirties. A player in his late teens would be regarded as an asset as they have yet to gain experience and their transfer value is more likely to go up than down. Players who have a succession of injuries, like Welbeck, Wilshere etc may be loved by the fans, but they can’t contribute unless they’re on the pitch. Can anyone think of a player who has had a constant string of injuries (excluding one off injuries like breaks and ACL problems) who has ever subsequently gone injury free for the rest of their career?

Experience … most would agree that a blend of experience and youth is the right balance. But not all older players have good attitude and therefore their example to the upcoming players is not helpful to the team. The experienced players need to be the leaders on the pitch, the ones who steady the ship if things begin to go wrong.

It seemed only logical to apply these criteria to our current squad members to see how their total contribution to the team could be assessed.

The table below ranks the players based on the criteria I have described. The rating is on a scale from 0.1 to 1.0 for each category, with a maximum total score of 6. You may think the scores are all too high, but they are relevant to one another and so it serves as a comparison.

There is no mention of wages as that is a matter between the club and the player and should not be relevant to performance on the pitch. If a player is committed, it doesn’t matter how much he’s paid.

I would suggest that a cut-off point of 4.5 and above determines whether a player is worth keeping. Below 4.5 and they could be sold to provide funds for players that would score higher in the ratings.

I’ve given you loads to disagree with … as stated at the start, this is all just my opinion … tell me why I’m wrong ….

Rasp


Sell Aubameyang for £70m …. Deal or No Deal?

June 19, 2019

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, our 2018/19 golden boot winning striker turned 30 this week. There have been rumours that Man Utd are considering making a £70m bid for him. If we accepted such a bid, we would make a nett profit of around £14m, so not a massive return on our investment on the surface. But, in these times of austerity and with a rumoured transfer budget of a paltry £40m … what could we do with that extra £70m? … or even a £100m+ if we sell Xhaka as well. Seal a leaky defence? Buy a midfield maestro to replace Ramsey? Bring in proper wide attacking players? Maybe all of the those options?

This question was posed by blogger LBG a few days ago …

So let’s heat things up!
If we get an offer of 70m for a 30 year old Aubameyang from Manure, and an offer of 35m for Xhaka, I say sell them both and use the 100m to fill the gaps we actually have.

These are some of the responses it has drawn …

From Sue …

Atletico want Xhaka (you’re having a giraffe, right?!) albeit I’d quite happily drive him to the airport & bundle Mustafi in the car too & tell them it’s a bogof deal… oh happy days 😝

This from Els …

LBG – too risky for me to sell Auba and Xhaka. We already have too much business to do and too many first teamers to replace. We need to keep as much consistency as possible now. Other than that £105m for those too would be nice. I’d want to replace with a good few academy promotions and then some free transfers. Then we give all that money to Ramsey see if he’ll come back.

RC78 posted this …

I am happy to let both El Neny and Xhaka go but I d like to keep Auba unless we have an offer exceeding 50 Mln pounds for him.

From GoonerB …

LBG in answer to your question, if we were to get £35m for Xhaka and £70m+ for Auba I would take it. I love Auba but at 30 years old those figures are tempting and those funds could secure a key but expensive option elsewhere.

Aaron’s thoughts …

Sell Auba and Xhaka for $100+ million, in a New York second. I will be encouraged if we buy some CB’s and another strong DM. We do not want any injury prone hail mary’s or 35 year old cast off’s. Bring up someone exceptional, a 20-25 year gem that actually has a body that can take the EPL punishment.

It would appear from the above that there is an acceptance amongst some of the fanbase that we may have to do a ‘Liverpool’ and sell one gem (or maybe two) to buy different gems that could plug some gaping holes in the team … or do you think otherwise?


Arsenal’s Century Club – Ian Wright – Wright – Wright

May 26, 2019

Nineteen players have achieved the feat of scoring 100 goals for the Club over the past 96 years. The players are sorted by the number of games taken to reach the 100 goal mark. Ian Wright sits at number 2.

Ian Edward Wright, MBE (born 3 November 1963) was born in Woolwich, London.

Wright’s father absconded and left mother his Nesta to raise her family in a one-bedroom house in Brockley, South London. Ian said “That house wasn’t a good place for me, which is probably why I would stay outside kicking a tennis ball against a brick wall for hours on end,” He was bullied by an older step-brother, but it was his step-father’s cruelty which caused him most pain. “One of the few things my brother and I looked forward to in the house was Match of the Day, and my step dad used to take that away from us – just because he could.”

Wrighty as a boy

Wright’s primary school teacher Sydney Pigden taught him to read and write and made him the register and milk monitor. Tony Davis and Harold Palmer, who ran a local football team Ten-Em-Bee used pick him up at his house and drive him directly to training in an effort to keep him focused and out of trouble with the police. However in 1982, at 19 years old, he ended up in Chelmsford Prison for two weeks for non-payment of driving fines.

 

Despite having had trials at Southend United and Brighton during his teens, he was unable to attract sufficient interest to win a professional contract offer. Reverting to playing for amateur and non-league teams, he was left disillusioned about his chances of a career as a professional footballer.

But he eventually overcame his deprived childhood, his abusive step-father and a spell in prison to become a professional footballer relatively late in life.  A Crystal Palace talent scout, Peter Prentice, happened to see Wright playing for Dulwich Hamlet and invited him to have a trial at Selhurst Park. “It was only a three-month trial but I’d done it: I was able to call myself a professional footballer,” Wright said. “After nearly 11 years of rejection, bullying, prison and all sorts of nonsense, and I had finally gotten my dream.”

Having impressed then-manager Steve Coppell, he signed professional terms for Crystal Palace in August 1985, just three months short of his 22nd birthday. He quickly made his mark in his first season, scoring nine goals to finish as Palace’s second-highest scorer. When Mark Bright arrived on the Palace scene the following year the duo soon established a successful striking partnership and it was largely their goals which took the club to top flight via the playoffs in 1989. Ian was particularly instrumental that season, scoring 24 goals in the Second Division and a grand total of 33 in all competitions.

An ankle injury reduced his initial impact in the First Division. However, after recovering from the injury he made a dramatic appearance as a ‘super-sub’, in the 1990 FA Cup Final against Manchester United. He equalised for Palace a few minutes after coming onto the field forcing extra time, then putting them ahead in extra time. The eventual score was 3–3, but Palace lost the replay 1–0.

With attention-grabbing goals in the league and in the 3-3 FA Cup Final draw against Manchester United in 1990, it was little surprise when Wright gained the attention of bigger clubs. Arsenal paid a club record £2.5 million for the striker in 1991. At the time Arsenal were reigning champions and there were question marks over the necessity of the signing: Alan Smith, Kevin Campbell, Paul Merson and Anders Limpar were already among the clubs’ ranks He scored on his debut against Leicester City in a League Cup tie, and then scored a hat-trick on his League debut against Southampton. He won the Golden Boot in his first season by scoring 29 league goals, five of which were for Palace, and 31 in all competitions. He scored a hat-trick in the final game of the season against Southampton; his third goal being the last ever scored in the old First Division.

He went on to be Arsenal’s top scorer for six seasons in a row. He played a major part in the club’s success during the 1990s, winning an FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993; he scored in both the FA Cup Final and the replay against Sheffield Wednesday. Ian also helped Arsenal reach the 1994 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final, although he was suspended for the final in which Arsenal beat Parma 1–0.

The period that followed proved to be a difficult time for both Ian and Arsenal, manager George Graham was dismissed over illegal payments, and under caretaker Stewart Houston they could only manage a 12th place finish in the league. The arrival of Bruce Rioch heralded a bleaker time; the two did not get on and eventually Wright handed in a transfer request, which he later retracted. The arrival of Dennis Bergkamp heralded a brief but fruitful striking partnership, and in their first season playing together they helped Arsenal finish fifth in the league and qualify for the UEFA Cup. They also reached the Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals, where they went out on away goals to eventual winners Aston Villa.

By the time Arsène Wenger had arrived at Arsenal in September 1996, Ian was nearly 33. Despite his age, he continued to score regularly (being the second highest Premier League scorer in 1996–97 with 23 goals), and on 13 September 1997 he broke Cliff Bastin’s Arsenal goal scoring record with a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers. His final goal at Highbury came on 4 October 1997 against Barnsley and was his 300th career goal for both Crystal Palace and Arsenal. He scored his final goal for Arsenal on 6 January 1998 in a League Cup quarter-final victory against West Ham United.

While he was still a professional footballer at Arsenal, he published his autobiography, Mr Wright. In 1993, he wrote and released a single called “Do The Right Thing”. The song was co-written and produced by Chris Lowe (of Pet Shop Boys) and reached #43 the UK Singles Chart.

Shortly after his retirement from playing in 2000, Ian was awarded the MBE for his services to football.

In total he registered 185 goals for Arsenal; a record that has since been passed only by fellow Hall of Fame and Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry. On 15 July 2008, he finished 4th in ‘50 Greatest Gunners’ listed on the Arsenal website.

Wright went on to play for West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Celtic and finally Burnley (helping them to win promotion) before his retirement in 2000. Since retirement Wright has made a career in punditry and television work.

Clubs: Crystal Palace, Arsenal, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Burnley
Caps: 33, 9 goals
Honours: 1 Premier League, 2 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winners’ Cup

Shortly after his retirement from playing in 2000, Ian was awarded the MBE for his services to football.

click to see expanded

Ian scored his 100th goal for Arsenal against Crystal Palace at Highbury on October 1st, 1994.

GunnerN5