Ainsley Maitland-Niles – where will he fit into Emery’s team?

October 18, 2018

Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Con) is back in full training and in contention for the Leicester game on Monday. Perhaps Monday will come too early for the lad but away to Sporting a few days later could see him return. The question I was asking myself is, ‘what will Unai see as his strengths and eventual starting position?’. Let’s take a look.

Bottom right

Ainsley recently turned 21 and has been with the Club since he was 6 years old, another Mr Arsenal! He made Champions League and Prem debuts in late 2014. The following season he spent on loan at Ipswich, making 32 appearances and scoring 2 goals. Mick McCarthy was initially full of praise but used him less as the loan period drew to a close. (Update: It’s rumoured McCarthy received an X-rated voicemail from Ainsley’s Mum about some kit launch or something which left the poor lad out in the cold, selection-wise – she’s a right box of tricks…..)

Returning to Arsenal, in September 2016 he featured at right back at the City Ground in the EFL cup and we cruised to a 4-0 victory (a game I was lucky enough to be at). His next start the following January was in an FA Cup 4th round match at Southampton where he played in central midfield (we won 5-0 and, again, I was there for another belting away trip 🙂 ).

Here he is, assisting the assister at St Mary’s ………..

The days when the thing Ainsley was most famous for was an incident involving his Mum allegedly lamping Dick Law at the Arsenal training ground are long gone.  Arsene’s final season saw him establish himself as a versatile member of the first team squad, clocking up 15 Prem and 9 Europa League appearances, amongst others.

Wiki describes Maitland-Niles as a midfielder, winger and right full back but he’s also been used at left back when the need has arisen.  At just under 5’10” and a shade over 11 stone, he is still developing the strength required to play in the rough and tumble of the English top flight. Having started Arsenal’s first match of this season against Abu Dhabi FC in the left back position, he broke his left fibula when that fat, ex-spud Kyle Walker sat on him.

Photo by James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images

So, what position does he play? His blistering pace contributed to him being used as a winger in his early career and has also proved useful in his coverage of the flanks when playing at full back. He is good in the tackle, reads the game well and his great engine would appear to make him perfect wingfender material. However, Ainsley’s stated preferred position is midfield and you can easily see how his manoeuvrability and comfortable ease in possession could make him perfect in the centre.

More importantly, what position does Unai Emery think he’s best suited to?

One thing’s for sure, he’ll be clear about what is expected of him when he does get a game. It should be really exciting finding out how Unai gets the best out of him.

chas

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Are Arsenal handling the Ramsey situation well?

October 17, 2018

Just when we thought that the Aaron Ramsey story of ‘will he or won’t he leave the Club’ had been flogged to death, flickers of new life have appeared since he scored ‘that goal at Fulham’, leading me to believe that it needs a bit more flogging and that is exactly what I intend to do.

Ramsey’s contract ends in the summer and he will be a free agent to leave at that point but he can sign a pre-contract with another European team in January. (I think) Obviously if he leaves for free in the summer, the club will miss out on a lucrative transfer fee from any potential sale. Conversely, if he is sold in January, he may miss out on a hefty signing on fee.

There are people who have criticised both the player and the club over how things have been handled. In the player’s case the criticism has been levelled for not wanting to show more loyalty to the club that has nurtured him from a raw talent to the highly rated player that he is today and, as such, Ramsey should show more willing to sign an extension to his present contract. In the club’s case, of course, the criticism is for allowing Ramsey’s contract to have run down as far as it has.

As this has unfolded I have found myself asking what could or should the player or the club have done differently and I have struggled to find an alternative. In the case of Ramsey, I completely respect his right to stay at Arsenal for as long as his contract lasts and not a minute longer and as it draws to a close I also respect his right to seek the best offer that might be out there before committing to Arsenal, and that clearly is what he is doing right now.

In the club’s case, the criticism has been for allowing Ramsey’s contract to run down to the last year, meaning that the club should have got him to sign an extension earlier. Now for the life of me I cannot see how anyone can force a footballer to sign a contract when the person does not want to do so. By way of solution, there have been two suggestions put forward as to how the club should have acted differently. The first is that the club should have offered much more, much earlier: rumours have it that Ramsey wanted his wages to match Özil, we have no proof of that but then again if it is true why shouldn’t he, or at least, why shouldn’t he try?

The second is that the club should have threatened to leave him on the bench for six months, or some such Draconian action, unless he made a decision. This suggestion is so impractical that it borders on infantile; the negative effect it would have on the other players not to mention steering other potential signings away would be profound to say the least. Most other players at the club, certainly the young ones will (or certainly would) like to envisage themselves in the same situation as Ramsey and that is, as their contracts near an end they will be in demand – having options as to where their career may take them. If that strongarm tactic of threatening to be sent to the stands is attempted on one player, it follows that other players would believe that it would be tried with them. Who in their right mind would want to work in that environment when you have other choices and how would that endear the world’s elite footballers to the Home of Football? There would only be one loser in this scenario and that would be the club. Or perhaps two losers – you and me, also, missing out on viewing the players that the club should be attracting.

The same people who criticise the club have pointed to other clubs’ success in stopping players run down their contracts. This to me is like comparing apples with oranges. In Man City’s case when a player nears the end of his contract he knows that no-one else out there can match the wages that City can pay and therefore there is no point in shopping around for a potential higher wage because it will never happen, the player is in the situation of take it or leave it and most of them take it.

Some of the same people point to Tottenham as being more comparable and sing their praises as how they have managed to tie their talent down long before they reach the dangerous area we are in with Ramsey right now. This is true up to a point; they have managed to get Kane and Alli to sign extensions and, at first sight it does looks like Tottenham have been more savvy.

But if we drill down a bit, other things appear. Firstly, there is only Kane and Alli that any other top club would fight over, so apart from increasing their wages the enticement/caveat that must have been explained to Kane (for example), is that if you leave for City (again for example) you will be fighting for your place and that might affect the upward trajectory that you’re currently enjoying at Tottenham. The same is true if you join United and even if you wanted to go back to the club you dreamed about playing for as a child, you will still have to vie for a starting berth with Aubameyang and Lacazette, whereas if you stay at Tottenham you will remain top dog. The opposite is the case with Ramsey; he is vying with Özil for prime pitch real estate.

In the last few months pretty much everything in the Ramsey case has followed the increasingly well-trodden path taken previously by Sanchez and Özil. Both refused to sign a new contract, this generated headlines that served as advertisement to the fact that they would listen to offers from other clubs. Sanchez and Ozil were pampered by Arsenal in an attempt to get them to stay; that’s to say, both players always played whenever and wherever they wanted; the same was true of Ramsey – until something totally different happened, Arsenal withdrew the offer of a four year contract – a brilliant piece of business in my opinion. Ramsey will continue as before following the usual path but, by withdrawing the contract offer, the Club are saying to other clubs that we are prepared to let him go and thereby letting potential suitors know that there will be no resistance from Arsenal if someone wants to buy him in January.

In brief, Arsenal have removed the obstacle of the four year contract and by doing so are making it easier for other clubs to believe that they can sign Ramsey which, in turn, increases the possibility of getting something from him, by way of a transfer fee, in January.

The other advantage of withdrawing the contract offer is that it frees up Emery to pick Ramsey as and when he wants rather than having to pander to him in an attempt to entice him to stay. A big part of me wants him to re-sign but another part of me really wants to hasten the time when Emery has all the players and the team that he sees in his mind’s eye. Is Ramsey part of that? I don’t know. It should be interesting to see how this one pans out.

Please feel free to disagree with anything up there, in fact, the more the better.

LB


Mustafi or Holding – who partners the Greek Colossus – Poll?

October 16, 2018

Morning all, fellow suffering Gunners.

Back to me poll do-da to help fill the gap.

Pretty sure we’d all be pretty close now after 8 league games to picking Unai’s starting XI.

I’m by far and away the most knowledgeable on this site when it comes to attacking football, but beyond useless when it comes to defenders, so although it appalls me to admit this, I need your help.

My interest in defenders goes no further than Tony Adams, although I’m aware that when it comes to the overall defence, continuity is vital as it’s the misunderstandings that lead to more let-ins than anything else.

Sadly, and hopefully only for now, I’m having to leave Laurent out of the equation and just hope he makes a full and speedy return. He would make the poll irrelevant.

So, here we go. Same as before,  4-2-3-1. Difference today is that I’m insisting Sokratis is a starter, so you’re picking the other CB. Does Holding have a real future? If so, and it’s a close call between him and Mustafi, would that swing it? I have no idea.

mickydidit89


Where do you think we’ll finish in the Prem? – Poll

October 15, 2018

So after not quite a quarter of League games played and not quite half of all of our Premiership opponents played once, where do we stand? The table says 4th, above the spuds on goal difference and only two points behind the three-way joint leaders. The enforced interlull break gives us time to have a look at the progress of Unai Emery’s new Arsenal.

After two tricky opening fixtures against City and the chavs, we’ve had a run of 6 games that many predicted had a good potential chance of reaping a full 18 points and that’s exactly what’s happened. Has it been straightforward, maybe not?

I keep seeing articles written by analyst types who predict that Arsenal cannot keep defying the xG or expected goals stats. In at least three of our matches we’ve been predicted, using expected goals, to have drawn or lost games: these were Everton, Watford and Fulham.

 REUTERS/Hannah McKay

In two of these, Everton and Watford, it’s easy to see how we might have drawn or lost both games on the balance of play. To keep beating the xG a team has to show superlative finishing by taking chances (difficult and easy) and also be a little fortunate not to have the opposition capitalise on theirs. The Fulham game was a little different as Fulham had many efforts which were hopeful and dire in equal measure.

Enough waffle, the point being that we’ve pulled through in tight games and secured the points without playing that brilliantly. To continue and consolidate our march up the table, we’ll need to step up a gear.

How are other possible top 6 opponents getting on?

Abu Dhabi FC

City have carried on where they left off last season; in fact some analysts suggest they’ve improved. They’ve certainly made light of missing De Bruyne through injury. The borefest 0-0 against ‘Pool showed that Pep fears Liverpool after getting caned twice last season. Enough, in fact, to set his team’s stall out with the main aim of not conceding.

Dippers

Klippety has Liverpool firing again, though that front three of Salah, Firmino and Mané haven’t quite been banging the goals in at last term’s rate as of yet.

Blue London Oilers

Have, perhaps, been carried a little by Hazard’s sparkling form, though have also had the easiest start of the top 6.

spuds

Not really started that well but are on the same points as us. Their squad looks a little threadbare with Poxyttino unable to spend in the summer. Let’s hope their new ground opening at Christmas gives them a bad present rather than a boost.

Newton Heath Wealth Merchants

Their start to this season has been very amusing. Long may it continue.

Anyway, back to the poll – where do you think we’ll end up come May?

Admittedly it’s such early days that any answer is more likely to be a guess or hope than anything else………..

Up the Arse.


Alex Iwobi – What’s changed?

October 14, 2018

Following on from Friday’s post and the idea that youth players may not have that drive and hunger to succeed, let’s take a look at Alex Iwobi who appears to be emerging from his chrysalis like a Giant Swallowtail this season. How has a player who in the past sometimes didn’t appear to know himself which way his feet were going to dance, suddenly be staking a claim for a starting spot in our first choice eleven?

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Alex came to this country at the age 4 as his father sought a new start in England. His blood is rich in footballing gravy with the magnificent Jay Jay Okocha, his uncle.

Alex Joined Arsenal while still at Primary school aged 8.

At not too far off 12 stone and a shade under 6 feet tall, Alex is a fairly big old unit to have such twinkling feet. He made his debut on 27th Oct 2015 in the League Cup and his Premier League debut 4 days after, as a late sub. Alex’s first Premier start came against Everton on 19th March 2016 and was capped by a splendid goal which featured a run from the halfway line.

Iwobi’s career at the Home of Football has flattered to deceive so far. He has made respectable appearance numbers in the past two seasons without ever really establishing himself a permanent niche. Though, it has to be said, those two seasons weren’t really Arsenal’s finest in recent decades.

In May 2018 Arsene Wenger announced he would be leaving the club, and Alex Iwobi described the great man as an “inspiration” and stated it was sad but also exciting. That ‘exciting’ reference has been echoed by everyone who follows the Gunners, as an overdue, new era beckoned.

This season has begun really well for BIG17 with 5 Prem appearances, 4 assists and the equaliser against Chelsea up to now. He started against the chavs, West Ham and Fulham, and came on as a sub against Everton and Watford.

In a 4-3-3 Alex usually plays left side in the front three. The recent Arsenal formation employed by Unai Emery in the game at Craven Cottage appeared to suit him; playing more as the outside left midfielder in a middle 4. Unai Emery seems to hold the Cockney Naija boy in high regard and this season could be a monster for the lad.

So what’s changed about Alex this season? All round, his decision-making has improved, with far less running up blind alleys. Although his finishing is still a little rushed with a tendency to lift his head and spoon the ball over the bar, his passing has been top notch. He’s far less likely to give the ball away but also doesn’t seem afraid to turn and drive forwards rather than just lay the ball back from whence it came.

Has Unai been encouraging him to take players on and thus create that vital opening needed to open up massed Premiership defences? The youtube video above amply demonstrates the many tricks and skills Alex employs to beat a man.

He also seems more tactically aware defensively, covering a tremendous amount of ground up and down that left flank. Although tackling is not his strong point, much defensive work these days is more about creating pressure on the man with the ball and limiting passing options for the opposition.

This does seem a critical point in Wobbly’s Arsenal career. He could really cement his future at the Gunners by adding great end-product to those glittering, silky skills. Good luck to the lad, he’s definitely the closest we have to a Mr Arsenal.

The change at the top of the Club is having all sorts of trickle down effects and Alex seems to be one of those benefitting.

chas


Old School Football – Better or Worse?

October 13, 2018

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Chas published this picture of a game against Leicester in ’71 (which I attended) and it sent me into a land of memories.

Black and White photography

Players wearing the same coloured shorts

Proper numbers – none of this 54 nonsense

Uncovered Clock End

Sideburns

Standing

Leather ball, and only one per game

Mud

Jon Sammels, my one time hero (playing for LCFC)

Real Arsenal shirts

No sponsorship logos

Sensible (?) hair. Not the ridiculous shaved bonces we see today

Proper cannon on the shirt

Charlie (?) on his arse

Our real home ground

Better times? No, just different.

What do you think?

written by Grandad and BOF Big Raddy


Should AFC follow the Chelsea model?

October 12, 2018

LB recently wrote (briefly) about the efficiency of the Chelsea model i.e. buying every youngster from anywhere, lending them out all over Europe, and not using their Academy to develop players.

Arsenal, however, choose to take a different path; bringing young players through the ranks at the Hale End Academy with the intention of giving youth a chance. So far we have some exciting players who have come through – Smith Rowe (Lab), Iwobi, Nketiah, Nelson and Maitland-Niles (Cons) have all been with the club since childhood. Add in Catwalk who arrived as a 16 year-old and we can see this appears to work.

But will it bring us the Title?

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The Chavs sign world class players as men and they have delivered the PL. Does it matter that they are mercenaries with no Chelsea connection? There is no JT or Butch Wilkins. Even the very best of their imported youth doesn’t get a sniff (Christensen the Danish CB is a wonderful player – are you listening Unai?)

Man City are hoovering up the best of the World’s academy players and lending them out but I expect City to use some of these Wonderkids, and they have promoted Foden into the first team squad which is good for Ingerlund and City. However, it does not stop them from having €30m+ players in every position.

Liverpool are interesting. €70m+ for a CB and Gk, shitloads on strikers and MF’s yet 3 players from the yoof and lower leagues in defence. But they have spent hundreds of millions to get where they are and have yet to win any silverware.

Spurs? Who cares?

In my opinion, the days of a club winning the PL with homegrowns is well gone. We must hope that the mix of Academy players plus World Class imports like Terrier, PEA and Laca brought in, will bring us a title. Though sadly, I doubt it.

written by Big Raddy