Arteta drinking a poisoned chalice?

June 22, 2020

So now we are back to doom and gloom again, a bit like the last 9 months of Emery’s tenure…the deep rooted issues that are crippling our club are resurfacing and to make things worse, some of our important players are either getting injured or are considering leaving (Auba most notably…).

Arteta came in, gave the team a shape, lifted the morale and the improved the team’s connection with the fanbase but has he taken on the impossible job? Are the issues too big to be solved? Will he be given time to succeed by the club and the fans? Will the players still have faith in the club and in him?

 I think, ultimately, it will come down to:

1. Keeping Saka

2. Showing intent on the transfermarket by spending big on the right players.

3. Axing some players

4. Building around our best talents (Saka, Martinelly, Pepe, Tierney?)

Everyone knows our gaps:- 1 RB, 1 CB (at least), 1 DM, 1 CM are badly needed- If we could get another forward and ST (espectially if Laca goes), it would not be superfluous.

Is the job too big or impossible for Arteta? Maybe…maybe not. My fear is that he needs time and financial backing. You can’t build a competitive team for the EPL title with just 3 talented players, you need a squad of 18 excellent or very good players because the EPL is too competitive and other teams have at least that many great players (Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Utd most notably)…

So will there be financial backing? If so – it needs to be clear as of NOW. Look at Chelsea, they have already recruited Werner and Ziyech and are not far away from getting Chilwell and Havertz. They will of course sell some players too but they are investing in players that are coming of age and have proven both in their league and even at European level for Werner and Ziyech.

At the beginning of the season, Chelsea was predicted to struggle but they made some investments on key positions and have also promoted the youth. Their owner is showing intent by buying these players, which will (1) give hope to the confirmed players at the club, (2) convince big players to come and I would not be surprised if Koulibaly or Ruben Dias or Sriniar end up there in the end because they want a solid CB…

So the difference between Lampard and Arteta’s coaching career could just be that one is backed up by his owner and the other isn’t? Arteta is a good coach and I think he certainly has more in him than Lampard but next year at the start of the season, Lampard could line up:

Kepa – James, Koulibaly, Azpi, Chilwell – Kante, Jorginho – Havertz – Ziyech, Werner, PulisicBench: or

Caballero – Palmieri, Rudiger, Tomori, Alonso – Barkley, Kovacic, Mount – Hudson-Odoi, Giroud, Abraham
and we could end up with:

Martinez – Bellerin, Mustafi, Saliba, Tierney – Douzi, Xhaka – Ozil – Pepe, Nketiah, Martinelli or

Macey – Soares, Sokratis, Holding, Kola – ESR, Torreira, Willock – Nelson, Jules, Balogun

It would really be men vs boys…Top 4 team versus top 10 team…

So there is only one way to help Arteta and the team and it is to invest and to invest SMART and BIG to fix the gaps and retain Saka (I think we need to forget Auba, he needs to move on to a bigger team at this stage of his career. Let him go to Juve, Inter, Barcelona, Real Madrid…).

We need to build the team around Pepe, Martinelli, Saka. They need to be put in the best disposition to win games for us but that means that the players behind them are solid enough defensively and can also create…
Some free agents that are worth a look: – Verthongen, Willian, Fraser, Cavani, Ibra-> I don’t care if they played for rival teams.

Some players that want to leave their teams or their teams want them out:- Onana, Cancelo, Semedo, Koulibaly, Upamecano, Gaya, Grimaldo, Telles, Brozovic, Vecino, Paredes, Ruiz, Partey, Zubeldia, Milinkovic-Savic…

I’d rather start the season with: Martinez – Cancelo, Saliba, Verthongen, Tierney – Willian, Xhaka, Partey – Pepe, Martinelli, Saka rather than the team previously mentioned.

I love AFC but I also want them to shine again and if the owner does not back Arteta, I also fear that he will leave because he needs to also look after himself.

RC78


I Want To Scream, Arsenal.

June 21, 2020

It was odd to suddenly discover, that as an Arsenal supporter, I had an agenda during lockdown. With the various permutations of when, if and how the season would resume, it was pointed out to me by a good Arsenal friend that if the season were to be scrapped all clubs would start next season from their respective places that they finished at the end of last season — but — and here’s the kicker: with City being banned from the CL the club next in line would take that last precious CL spot – and guess who came 5th……………….Yep.

I toyed with this for a good while and then when my clutch at that last straw finally slipped I accepted football’s return with some excitement and have been trying to tell myself since Wednesday that it is better to have football back, even with the feeling of dejection that a loss brings, than have no football at all. I was starting to get somewhere with this sense of determination in an effort to force as much positivity into my life as I could. And then, just having watched Brighton take all three points with the last kick of the game all positivity vanished to the point where I am seriously starting to lose the will to live.

It’s good that Arteta is there; at least we are not all starting to run towards a cliff edge screaming change the manager. I couldn’t help but feel for him when his facial expression gave away his sense of almost disbelief as he grappled with the reality of yet another key player out for the remainder of the season. Was there anything good to say about the game, mah.

Leno: I find it hard to contain my anger at what happened, he was clearly pushed. How can I explain it: if I nudged you on purpose and you fell in front of a moving car, shrugging my shoulders and saying sorry would not cut it, the Brighton player should have been sent off at the very least. 9

Hector: lots of running, I am struggling to find the enthusiasm to do this. Pick a number?

Mustafi: ok

Holding: enjoyed watching him. Luiz set the bar so low the pressure was off. 7

Kolasinac: I was quite pleased with Said; I thought he did a reasonable job. 6

Guendouzi: also did a reasonable job, covered the defence well enough, moved the play forward. 6

Ceballos: do you still want Arsenal to sign him – really?

Pepe: I was mentally slagging this player off in my head about how ineffectual he is, running into blind alleys is a waste of time to say the least and then he scored and shut me right up. 7

Lacazette: lots of running and portrayed a sense of determination, who knows? 5

Aubamayang: slightly better than at City but it’s all about the goals, all about the goals Pierre. 6

And now I come to the only reason I have not jumped.

When all seems lost, when things seems they cannot get worse, when you have kicked the cat and said something that you regret to your wife, think of this one happy ray of hope.

Bukayo Saka………….thank you for being an Arsenal player, please stay.

LB


Looking forward to the sea air being a tonic.

June 20, 2020

Afternoon people, many apologies for not be able to publish something earlier.

This afternoon – in fact, very soon – we’ll be kicking off against Brighton, down on the south coast. All football is away to me now as the stadium is out of bounds so it’s very weird.

This is the team if you haven’t seen it:-

Leno

Bellerin  Mustafi  Holding  Kolasinac

Guendouzi

Ceballos Saka

Pepe Lacazette Aubameyang

Subs Martinez Medley Tierney Maitland-Niles Willock Ozil Nelson Martinelli Nketiah

I’m hoping we can keep 11 on the pitch and both CB’s for the whole 90 minutes. Looking forward to seeing how Holding does, I thought he was going to be a mainstay of our defence …… still time.

Ozil has travelled, he must like the seaside air 🙂

Martinelli should see some game time today and I thought Eddie started brightly the other night so I expect he’ll get some minutes.

I was disappointed with Auba and Laca against City but mainly they didn’t really get to see much of the ball so hopefully we can be a bit more creative today. Ceballos worked hard the other night ……… that front five look a mouth watering prospect. Let it be so.

Enjoy the game.

peachesgooner


Is Martinez a keeper?

March 16, 2020

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…)?

So is Martinez a keeper?

RC78


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


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