While Leno is not the best GK ever, he is showing signs of improvements and is good on his line and decent with his feet.
He really has to do better with his aerial abilities but overall, I would say he is in the top 8 EPL GK.
What about Martinez? He did not really play well nor poorly. He is a bit of a mystery because we have not really seen him play too much but he is not a keeper that has given me much confidence in case Leno gets injured.
It seems that he has definitely some good shot-stopping quality about him but his aerial ability is also limited and his distribution is not great. He is 27 so one year younger than Leno and we can’t call him a promise anymore.
So what do we do? We keep him and satisfy ourselves with his abilities as a back up and hope that Leno stays fit or do we move to invest in a younger maybe less experienced but more promising GK (Areola, Lafont, Donnaruma, Maximiano…)?
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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:
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).
Feel free to share your own line-ups in the comments.
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.
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?
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 :
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 😀)