Thank You Freddie: Everton Report & Ratings

December 22, 2019

Like two middle aged men fighting with mops round the back of the school gym after going home time, this was the battle of the caretakers.

Freddie Ljungberg for The Arsenal and Duncan Ferguson for Everton had both been parachuted in to hold the fort after their teams’ failing managers were ousted for crimes against points acquisition.

By yesterday morning both knew this would be their last game in charge, with new managers already announced: Mikel ‘Action Man’ Arteta* for us, and Carlo ‘Could Be An Extra In The Sopranos’ Ancelotti for them.

So, two temporary bosses in their final game; two teams under the watchful eye of their incoming managers; it could have turned out to be anything.

In the end it was a dull 0-0 draw with Arsenal shading it as the better team (just).

Freddie’s final game in charge ended with a clean sheet, a point away from home and a half decent performance.

Our legendary Invincible was dealt a very bad hand when he stepped up from assistant head coach to temporary head coach. The team was on a run of terrible form with confidence shot to hell and no perceptible style or tactics.

To add injury to insult, when Unai Emery was shown the door, his coaching team left with him, leaving Freddie with no back-up. Per Mertesacker joined him from the youth academy but it was still a massive ask to turn things round.

His brief tenure comprised an away draw at Norwich, a home defeat to Brighton, an away win at West Ham, an away draw at Standard Liege, a home loss to Man City and, finally, an away point at Everton: P6 W1 D3 L2.

So at this point I think I can speak for all of us at AA when I say: Thank You Freddie!

In the circumstances it was probably as well as any stand-in could have done results-wise, but Freddie also acquitted himself well in the way he conducted himself and the way he talked about the job (in particular with his courageous frankness about how little support he was getting from the club).

Throughout his tenure Freddie showed a willingness to give young players a chance and that was reflected in his starting 11 for the Everton game.

Emile Smith-Rowe was given his first Premier League start, Saka was again preferred at left back (with Tierney and Kolasinac injured), Maitland-Niles at right back and Nelson and Martinelli further forward.

If Freddie has doubts about some of the senior players, his decision not to pick Ozil, Lacazette and Pepe was an elegant way of expressing them. (Ozil was not on the bench and is allegedly carrying a knock).

After a bright first couple of minutes we fell back into some of the bad habits that have become too familiar recently: poor first touches, misplaced passes, lack of running off the ball, risky balls that fail to come off and put us in immediate trouble. David Luiz in particular seemed to want to misread every pass and foul every Toffee that came in range.

Gradually – very gradually – we settled down and although Everton had the better of the first half, they never threatened our goal and for once Bernd Leno had a quiet time.

We looked good on the break occasionally, with Saka, Nelson and the tireless Martinelli all causing problems at different times. We had one great chance to get a one-on-one with Pickford but Smith-Rowe fluffed what should have been a simple pass to put Martinelli in. And Martinelli would later get through to the left of the Everton goal only to slice his shot wide of the near post.

In the second half our confidence and comfort level grew, even if we were creating few chances. The best opportunity of the game fell to the largely anonymous Aubameyang when a ball across the penalty area reached him on the edge of the six yard box. Unfortunately it was at an awkward height and he could only shin it towards the net without much power (although it still forced Pickford into a good reaction stop).

In the end 0-0 was probably fair given that neither side’s attackers were able to make much headway.

There was plenty for Arteta to feel positive about (especially the young players) and also plenty for him to work on. I said in comments after the game that I feel a lackadaisical attitude has been allowed to creep into our squad in the last year or so. I get the impression that Emery was to discipline what Attila the Hun was to diplomacy and that players were seldom called out for sloppy mistakes.

In his first interview as Arsenal boss Mikel talked about being ruthless and about making sure the culture was right. I think he’ll need to take a firm hand for a while (and risk being disliked by some senior players) until the team learns who’s in charge.

Frankly this group of players probably need to hear some hard truths, so I hope he has at it.

*For American readers, Action Man is the British equivalent of the GI Joe toy, with perfect plastic hair, just like Arteta.

Player Ratings

Leno 6

For once had a quiet game and got the clean sheet that his excellent recent performances have deserved.

Maitland-Niles 7

A very decent all-round performance from AMN. He was alert, strong in the challenge and offered help in attack at times.

Calum Chambers 7.5

He’s looking like our most accomplished centre half at the moment (at least until Holding returns). Got the MoTM award from Steve McManaman on the television.

David Luiz 6.5

Had an erratic first 20 minutes but was pretty solid thereafter.

Saka 7.5

What a good young prospect this lad is. He did well with his defensive duties and was dangerous when he attacked. This sort of experience (playing fullback) will make him a better attacking player in the long run.

Xhaka 7.5

A really tidy game from Granit. He is always comfortable on the ball and was our best outlet when we had to play out from the back through Everton’s press.

Torreira 7

Tried one silly and unnecessary flick pass in the first half which almost put Everton through on our goal, but overall had a solid game.

Smith-Rowe 5

I was delighted to see him start, but whether it was nerves or just an off day he seemed to be playing with steel capped Dr Martens instead of footy boots. His first touch was terrible and his passing was way off. In the second half he had a decent chance to take a shot at goal but hesitated because he seemed to be intimidated by the presence of Aubameyang (who was in a worse position to take the shot). It doesn’t matter though. We’ve seen enough of this young man to know he’ll come good.

Nelson 6.5

A solid shift and some good attacking moments, but there were times when he could have imposed himself more.

Martinelli 7.5

How can any Arsenal fan not love this kid? Non-stop chasing, running and pressuring despite being kicked off the park. He could have done better with a shooting chance but his attitude is exemplary.

Aubameyang 5

Not involved for most of the game. It’s not really his fault as he does not work as a central striker with the type of system we were using. Looked a bit peeved when substituted. I don’t see him as a captain.

Subs

Willock 7

Came on for Smith-Rowe and looked pretty good.

Lacazette 6

Had about 15 minutes but the chances didn’t fall his way. His effort was as good as we’ve come to expect.

Head Coach 8 (MoTM)

Thank you Freddie.

RockyLives


Freddie – Arsenal’s Secret Sauce?

September 28, 2019

Can anyone remember the last time we had such a good crop of home-grown young players?

I’ve been wracking my brains (doesn’t take long) and I’d have to go all the way back to the George Graham era, when the likes of Rocastle, Thomas, Merson, Adams, Hayes, Davis and yes, even Perry Groves all came through together.

Prior to that it’s probably the wonderful Dublin connection that brought us O’Leary, Brady and Stapleton all at the same time in the early 1970s

We have had many “promising” youngsters over the years who shine for a while but seldom make the grade (Frimpong, Traore, Akpom, Hoyte… add your own suggestions).

Some one-offs have broken through (Gibbs, Wilshere) but there has not been – until now – that sense of a unit of contemporary players who have come through the Academy together and all look capable of commanding a first team place.

A reasonable question is why now?

Have we just been lucky? Have our junior talent scouts upped their game? Has coaching improved at the Academy? Is there something in the water?

It’s a tough one to answer without detailed inside knowledge, but Rasp made an interesting comment on Wednesday as we all basked in the satisfaction of thrashing Notts Forest. He said: “I’m beginning to love Freddie as a coach as much as I did as a player … he must take a lot of credit for the emerging players after his work in the academy … our next Arsenal manager? …. is it too early to hope?”

Leaving aside whether Freddie Ljungberg could be a future Head Coach for us, can he take credit (or at least share the credit) for the development of players like Willock, Nelson, Saka, Smith-Rowe, Nketieh and others?

The former red-haired one joined as an Academy coach on July 12th2016, working under Andries Jonker. At that time the young stars now breaking into our first team were aged 15 or 16, so they most certainly would have worked with Freddie and built a rapport with him. And they would have known enough about him to grasp what an Arsenal legend he is.

However, the story is not that simple. Because by March 2017 Freddie was gone. Jonker was lured away to be the new manager of Vfl Wolfsburg and he took the Fredster with him. Freddie’s spell with the Academy was just eight and a half months.

Things didn’t work out for Jonker at Wolfsburg. Within six months of arriving he was given the chop along with his coaching team, including Ljungberg. But Arsenal had obviously liked what they’d seen when Freddie was at the Academy and he was soon back as Under 23 coach, starting in June last year. A year after that he was promoted to the first team coaching set-up.

So yes, Freddie can take some credit for having influenced the current crop of young Gunners. Certainly the continuity for them of having been coached by him at youth level and now at senior level must have its advantages.

But perhaps the overlooked man in all this is Andries Jonker, who has not had a job since getting the boot at Wolfsburg. It is generally accepted  within Arsenal that it was Jonker who completely overhauled our Academy coaching structure when he arrived at the start of the 2014/15 season.

He changed the way players were educated within the club, which meant they could spend more time at the training ground in each other’s company. He was also instrumental in the building of the new training facilities at Hale End, where three pitches were put aside exclusively for Academy use.

So really it’s Jonker, not Freddie who is the secret sauce behind the emergence of our new generation, even though Freddie was one of the ingredients in that sauce.

If you have an alternative theory as to why the new crop are doing so well, I’d love to hear it.

And also, what do you feel about the Academy now being in the hands of the BFG? To answer my own question, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Per Mertesacker was one of the most intelligent players (and men) we have had at the club for years, as well as being an outstanding defender, a great captain and apparently a figure who was liked and respected by all. If he can build on the Jonker (and Freddie) foundations, then our Academy should be able to provide a conveyer belt of future first teamers for years to come.

RockyLives


Gabriel Martinelli … Be Excited … Be Very Excited

June 18, 2019

All the signs are that the Brazillian hot prospect Gabriel Martinelli will be announced as an Arsenal player in the next few days. He was 18 yesterday and is now eligible to sign a professional contract in the UK.

We should be excited for 2 reasons …

  1. He is a highly regarded emerging talent and was being courted by several top clubs.
  2. He points to a new way forward for Arsenal. A new more vibrant and energetic era for the club begins here.

The late season capitulation showed us that whatever it is that had seeped into the fabric of the club in recent years still persists. The only answer is to bring in new blood and to change the culture and that process is taking place this summer.

Martinelli was at Corinthians when Edu was Sporting Director and seems likely to be the first player brought in by our soon to be new Technical Director as part of further shakeups behind the scenes that have already seen Freddie Ljunberg swap jobs with Steve Bould. Francis Cagigao is highly regarded at the club and has also played a role in the transfer after having previously been a scout. He was responsible spotting players such as Lauren, Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin so we can see that his credentials are first rate.

Edu will be announced as the new Head of Recruitment when he takes up the post officially on 7th July. We are getting things right behind the scenes and this should enable us to be more effective at the sharp end with qualified and competent specialist management making the important decisions.

So why get excited about Martinelli?

A few facts:

  • He was born in Guarulhos, São Paulo
  • He signed his first professional contract on 4 November 2017 with Ituano FC
  • He was promoted to the first team for the 2019 Campeonato Paulista where he scored six goals during the competition, the club’s top goalscorer
  • He’s a predominantly right footed wide attacking player who can also play as a striker
  • He’s quick, and direct and loves to dribble.
  • He has trialled for Man Utd and Barcelona.
  • He’s rumoured to be joining for around £6m.
  • He’s seen as a replacement for Welbeck.
  • He scored 10 goals and had 6 assists in 31 games last season.

There is a new order that is emerging in the EPL. Most clubs that are being sold are being snapped up by owners who have agendas beyond football and are prepared to invest heavily in search of success. Arsenal may be in the bottom half of the league when it comes to funds available for transfers so we have to spend wisely.

Of course Martinelli is a risk, as are all young players.  Let’s hope we invest in some of the youth under our very noses already in our academy too …. the likes of Willock, Nelson, Bielik, Nketieh, Smith-Rowe and Sheaf could negate the need to look any further.