Torreira and Xhaka – what are their best positions?

August 29, 2019
This week there has been a lot of discussion about how our collection of mid-fielders fit into different systems and what our best combination could be. The following comments formed part of that discussion a couple of days ago.
Mike M says:

FGG. Here’s a question that I don’t know the answer to, mostly because I didn’t really know anything about him before we signed him but what role do you think we signed Torreira for?

I really though he’d be our anchor DM along with Xhaka. Indeed when we signed Xhaka I thought that’s what he was too !! Now I understand interchanging so if LT or XG go forward, someone covers them but without the ball, shouldn’t they be our deep lying midfielder and if we lose the ball, be busting a gut to get back in front of the defence centrally? Or is it that the roles are changing in the PL?

fatgingergooner says:

Mike,

I have to say that they’ve both baffled me a little as well. I think roles have changed a little in that clubs now realise you can get more from a HM player than just tackling, so in that respect these 2 could be perfect modern day players as they both offer more (Xhaka with his long passing and Torreira with his attacking play) but the problem seems to be that neither does the defensive part well enough in the first place!

I can’t answer your question about why they were bought, but what I would say is that there are a couple of things to ponder when looking at the signings. Firstly, they were bought by different managers who have different ideas about what our midfield should look like, and secondly, and probably more importantly, they were both bought within a certain budget limitation.

What I mean by that is sometimes when you don’t have infinite financial backing, you have to compromise a little bit on a players skill set and hope that you can develop him as you want, which is always a bit of a gamble. Maybe both managers saw tenacious, tough tackling players and thought they could mould them into a HM type, but actually when they’ve had them on the training ground, it’s turned out that they don’t quite have the discipline or the ability to read the game as they had hoped.

Xhaka just seems to lack the ability to sniff danger before it’s happened, whereas Torreira doesn’t quite have the positional discipline required and seems to enjoy getting involved in the attack a little more than expected. I wonder if both were bought with that HM position in mind but it just hasn’t worked out.

I actually think they were our best partnership last season and their skill sets complimented each other fairly well. I’d like to see them get another crack as a pair or maybe even as a 3 with Willock behind 3 attacking players.

It seems to me that we have been collecting mid-fielders in the hope that some turn out to be the players we require in the positions we need them. If Emery is going to find the right combination, how long is it going to take?

peachesgooner

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Arsenal in The Middle of a Defensive Dilemma

August 16, 2019

Let’s look at the best DM’s around and figure out who we’d take if we had our choice. Then let’s see who we have and what they’re capable of. Then come to a conclusion on how we should best set up.

For me, past best was Busquets. Best now is Kante in my opinion.

A good DM needs the following attributes in this order

1) Positional discipline
2) Ability to win the ball including anticipation and agility
3) Reading the game and opponents in possession
4) Pressure in our defensive third to stop easy balls though and behind the last line
5) Ball distribution
6) Offensive threat and creativity including goals

I think Busquets had 1-4 in spades and 5 was just a Barca thing. Kante has 1-4. Strangely enough Sarri didn’t think that was enough and brought in Georginho who has #1 and 5 but lacks the rest from what I see.

If I could pick a DM for us it would be Kante. His extreme engine makes him better than the rest just because if he is out of position his recovery speed is incredible. Leicester and Chelsea will attest to that.

So what do we have?  No Kante. That’s certain.

Torreira is the closest in my opinion. Probably a little better distribution but definitely the best at winning possession and breaking up play.

Guendouzi has the engine but lacks a little positional discipline and probably not as good a ball winner.

You all probably know how I feel about Xhaka but if not, let me clarify. He has 5 and 6. No clue about 1-4. Probably our least effective DM as far as I can see.

Luiz would be proficient at 2 and 5 and Chambers at 1 and 4.

So for me,Torreira is way ahead and Guendouzi next best. For those of you that think Willock, I’d agree 100% on one contingency. Emery.

And that’s where I see the solution lies. UE needs to act like a manager in control of his team and instruct – no DEMAND that his DM plays the role. I think Joe Willock would happily do the job if he’s given the task and he checks all the boxes. So come on Unai, sort it out and make us solid. Pep, Klopp and Pochettino would. Will you?

Mike M


Do we need to play with a holding midfielder? If so, who?

August 13, 2019

Liam posed this question to GoonerB…

I agree that a Guendouzi/Xhaka midfield pairing isnt likely to work in big games, but what pairing would you prefer moving forward?

This is the response from GoonerB …

Liam, your question earlier about how to set up with the midfield behind our front 3 (assuming that will be Auba, Laca and Pepe as 1st choice). I am not too sure what the best answer is to the midfield 3. I feel the problem is that we haven’t been playing with what I would view as a holding midfielder.

I don’t feel any of Xhaka, Guendouzi, and arguably even Torreira, are actually specialist holding midfielders (that invisible wall) in the way that Gilberto was and say Fernandinho is.

All of them look to be more free roaming box to box or creative defensive midfielders if you like. None of them seem to be that player dedicated to tidying up and being the screen in front of the back 4. Torreira is probably the closest but even he seems to be more suited to being a free roaming defensive midfielder. Willock could also be best suited to the BTB role as well so would join Xhaka, Guondozi and Torreira on the list for that role.

I think that Ozil, Ceballos and Micki are more suited to being ACM’s, so we have a choice of 3 for that role. My feeling is that we need to have a proper holding midfielder, and I wonder if either Chambers or Luiz would make us stronger in that part of the field. Then choose 1 from Torreira, Willock, Xhaka and Douzi for the BTB CM role, and 1 from Ozil, Ceballos and Micki for the ACM position.

I would suggest that while we seem to have a clutch of ‘free roaming box to box defensive midfielders’ who also love to join in the attack there’s needs to be really good on field communication between whoever makes up the two or three in front of the defence to control a defensive screen. I would love to see a midfield that really controls the game.

On to Burnley …………. it will be interesting to see how we set up.

peachesgooner, GoonerB and Liam


Unai, Wake Up! … Xhaka + Özil + Mhki = Disastrous Defending

August 7, 2019

My take on the pre-season is now focused on what we can expect from the coming season based on what we saw, how we ended last season and what improvements, if any, we have made.

Summary of last season is that we had a very effective “new manager bump” which put us in pole position to qualify for the Champions League. However with a typically Arsenally (what we used to refer to as Spursy) finish to the season we blew it in what I think was pretty spectacularly bad fashion. There were fundamental problems:

  1. We couldn’t defend properly and conceded way too many poor goals. My humble opinion on this is that as bad as our defenders appeared to play, we just defended horribly as a team. Our pressing during the first part of the season was quite good but after March, it was amateurish. We had no one who could hold the ball and relieve pressure. We had also signed what I think is a very good keeper which made it all the more frustrating.
  2. We weren’t direct going forward and (as usual) had no plan B if teams parked the bus. Our playmakers (Ozil, Miki and Iwobi) failed fairly miserably as a group. When Ramsey finally got into the team, he offered directness and we played better. When he got hurt, we were done.
  3. We had no heart, balls whatever word you want to use. A team devoid of leadership and such a weak mentality, I thought we were Spurs during the 2000’s!!! Seriously though, both us and Manure were horribly weak mentally and the final positions reflected that.

So I was looking to Unai to change three things really. Mentality, mentality and mentality.

On to pre-season. We won our first few games, beat Bayern and went 2-0 ahead against Madrid. I wrote in my match report I wondered if we’d really turned the corner or if we’d revert to type.

We did the latter. Gave that match away, played really quite well against Lyon (apparently, I didn’t see it) and lost that one, then lost against Barca after I thought, a fairly competent first half performance and a 1-0 lead. I know it’s pre-season but what have we learned?  Apparently not a lot. Here are my concerns with the manager for the coming season.

  1. We still aren’t defending well as a team. I don’t see that has been addressed. It strikes me as strange that at 2-0 ahead against a 10 man Real, then our most experienced defender gets 2 yellows in 5 mins. We had opportunities to kill the game off. We go in 2-0 up at half time, then he brings off Willock and leaves Ozil to defend ahead of our full back. We coughed it up and if Ascencio hadn’t got hurt, would have probably lost. And we still had 2 golden chances to win the game at the end but failed to take them. We lose to Lyon after a couple of marginal decisions and AMN not having the greatest of games. Why? If he’s not motivated after pulling the shirt on, who is? (I know he’s had some problems in his personal life so I’m giving him the benefit). Where’s the manager in this? Then we lose to Barca after being ahead 1-0 at half time because again we take off our best midfielder and put Ozil to defend our right and Miki to defend the left. No wonder we aren’t happy with how they played. They can’t defend !!!!!!!!!! Does Unai know that?
  2. Granit Xhaka. I still don’t put Mustafi in this category, Granit stands alone for me. Maybe I’m mistaken but a holding midfielder needs strength, agility, speed and awareness. Xhaka has none of these. His tackling is poor, he gives away loads of free kicks and possession because he’s poorly positioned, misread the situation or just gets outmuscled, outfought or outrun. Compared him to his top 5 peers. Kante, Jorginho (who’s not great either), Fernandinho, and basically any of the Liverpool or Spuds midfield. Not only would he not get a look in at any of them, he wouldn’t even start at United. Not to mention Wolves, Everton, Leicester. What does he do well? He strikes a ball and makes the occasional sublime pass. But I see the same Xhaka as last season and for those of you that know me, what Emery does with Xhaka was going to define how I see his second season. I have been a fan and advocate of Emery since he started and firmly believed he should be given a year, which he has been. I just don’t understand his persistence with Xhaka.
  3. MENTALITY!!! We are soft. No one expects us to take the lead and hold it. Pre-season has just re-iterated that and in any sport, winning becomes a habit. So does losing and weak mental performance. I know Klopp said you can’t become a big winner without losing big first. Hope he’s right because if so, we’ll win the quadruple this year !!! But I’m not holding my breath. Liverpool, City and Spuds are miles ahead of us in this category. And it’s squarely down to their managers.

In trying to be balanced, I must say I’m completely impressed with our transfer window. Hopefully we’ll sign a central defender which will make it an 11/10 instead of the 8.5/10 it is now. I also believe the signings we have made, although not defensive, will help with our ball retention and therefore indirectly with our defending as a team.

Pepe and Ceballos look like they’ll be tremendous signings and there’s more than one way to defend. So let’s see what Unai has planned. I’m concerned we haven’t signed a CB and if Xhaka starts and Miki and Ozil are deployed in front of our full backs, I see a frustrating season ahead.

Please prove me wrong Unai and Granit !!!!!!!!!

Mike M


If Only Granit was Rock Solid … The Xhaka Debate …

July 31, 2019

Following our defeat last Sunday, the discussion began to focus on the role of Granit Xhaka.

Why?

In many ways it was a typical Xhaka performance.

Could it be that we are looking for the next weak link as the new players arrive and consequently the quality of the squad improves?

Is Granit part of that mind-set that has taken defeat too philosophically in recent years? I want our players to really hurt after a poor performance, and like me, I want that hurt to go on for days .. usually right up to the next game and the opportunity for redemption.

I want a player in his position to orchestrate the game, to be the solid anchor that holds everything together, who protects the defence and instigates the attacks. A player who can drive the play forward … a leader.

Others sought a more technical analysis of Granit’s role in the side. Here are some very interesting takes on his effect on the team:

GoonerB

The area that actually concerned me most was the base of our midfield. I think as much as we talk about our CD, it is the porous lack of protection directly in front of the back line that is a major cause of concern with me. We certainly need to be looking at our central defence independently, but we need to consider that first line of defence, their screen, as well.

In our line up yesterday that chief responsibility should have fallen on Xhaka, but I watched carefully, and for me he was constantly positioning himself about 10m too far forwards leaving dangerous players on our goal side of him, when it probably should be the other way around.

He lacks pace so does not make up that ground if they gain possession, so the defence are massively exposed and caught between retreating towards goal or having one of them step out to try and cut off what the defensive midfield should for the most part be dealing with.

It is almost as if he doesn’t see it as his role and sees himself as more a creator, and that this responsibility should fall to others to pick up the mantle. Interestingly that was his role before he came to us and he was always paired with someone who covered behind him defensively more.

The problem here is that often more creative players than him end up holding a deeper position to cover for his wanderlust, and I saw that on a few times with Ceballos at times.

Also, the odd Hollywood ball or decent forward pass at times aside, Xhaka actually slows our game down to much and we lack forward momentum. I actually started to feel that I was watching a more shouty, face scowly, Denilson.

It wouldn’t surprise me that, like Denilson, Xhake has great stats for touches on the ball and number of passes and completion rate, but most of the time they are very reserved and safe and don’t make anything happen.

I noted that Ceballos drove us forward far more effectively when he got on the ball so he shouldn’t be covering defensively behind Xhaka. Neither should Torreira when he comes back who I also feel has more forward incisive play in him than Xhaka, and I still maintain that Iwobi could be an excellent forward thinking BTB player as well.

It all makes me wonder exactly what he specialises in and brings to us. He seems to not want to be the chief DM, so we are left still searching for that player, but in the role he seems to prefer for himself we have better options.

I kind of feel that Douzi is also a bit Xhaka like in that assessment at present as I have watched him more but at his age can develop in a couple of potential directions more so should stay with us, maybe not regular first team standard yet though. When those 2 play together I don’t feel we look that strong or balanced.

If we were to bring in a specialist holding midfielder (with what we seem to be about to spend elsewhere) we need to free up squad space, funds and wages. I just feel he is not quite right for us and we aren’t balanced in midfield with him. Again I feel he is probably a good CM at a slightly lower level.

Mike M’s response:

Gooner B, agree wholeheartedly. I think my question is how does UE see these players. I agree giving the young players game time is a good idea but he is playing Xhaka and Mustafi as well as the other 4 i mentioned too. Does that mean in his mind they’re staying to be part of the squad for next season?

I’m not sure so that’s my question. I’ll say this too, however unpopular it might be, I’d take Mustafi’s effort and attitude (I really think he tries hard, he’s just not very good or smart) over Xhaka, Miki, Ozil any day. I still think he needs to go, but I’m really stuck on attitude and mentality with this team right now. Am I wrong? Are there any positives in mentality we can take from what we’ve seen so far.

This from LBG

GoonerB
More high class, spot on analysis of Xhaka! Your analysis of his positional sense as a central midfielder is exactly mine. I believe he does not regard it as his responsibility either to hold a defensive position when we don’t have the ball or make a corrective run to pick up loose attacking players in dangerous forward positions. I believe in fact this the crux of our defensive frailty- ” the base of the midfield “.

As most know, I don’t even regard highly his so called spray passing ability as he is too slow in those passes and they are quite often cut out. Given his lack of pace too, he’s argumentative, sometimes ridiculously, attitude to officials, one might guess I have little regard for him and believe any success in the Swiss team is largely due to the quality around him. Said, done, nothing more from me on Xhaka, except an hooray if we sell him.

RC78’s view:

I am a firm believer that having Mustafi and Xhaka on the pitch for us will continue to hamper our chances and will lead to goals and chances conceded. If I could sell only 2 players, they would be my top pick. I d rather give Bielik and Chambers a chance than to see Xhaka and Mustafi play for us again.

You may see the above comments as harsh criticism. We should not be looking for the next scapegoat. The abuse directed at Mustafi shames us all. Any player wearing the shirt should get our unconditional support at games.

So try to be objective and let us know how you value Xhaka’s role in the team.

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?


How important is it for Arsenal to retain experienced players?

June 15, 2019

Being worried about Arsenal’s continuity with so many players likely to be leaving is a valid concern.

On the technical playing side this does not worry me so much, and I think we need to go through a transition in that sense anyway accepting a season with the promotion of a number of academy players, in excess of what would be normal.

It is maybe not exactly ideal but the first goal is a need to get back to being one of the top 4 in the EPL again, which improves both the incoming revenue and the attractiveness of the club as a destination for top players, then we can focus on securing £60-£80m in their prime players to add to the squad again like our rivals. What I don’t want us to do is spend some of the valuable and limited current transfer funds on so-so players in positions where we have promising young players coming through.

I strongly believe that this crop of youngsters have the ability to take us forwards and, although there will be moments where the inexperience is exposed, I think they will become stronger and stronger as the season goes on if they know that the manager and fans have faith in them.

From a continuity perspective I feel what is more important is the senior leadership around these young players. More than anything they need proper mentors who can pull them up on attitude and application when needed but more often than not be that reassuring positive voice in their ear even when they make a mistake. Unfortunately GN5 in the departure of Cech, Ramsey and Wellbeck we have lost 3 players who are exactly that.

Mesut Ozil is 30 and has won the world cup and ECL so should be exactly that type of positive mentor for our young players. However, despite being a fine player technically he is more of an exasperated looking to the sky type player rather than a positive pat on the back type. I would now sacrifice his technical ability for some more positive players with greater leadership qualities, then look to the youngsters to develop and bring us that technical ability we will lose in him.

That is why I would look at players like Milner and Mata on a free and retain the likes of Kos and Monreal. They may not always be the 1st on the team sheet on may start to reduce the number of games they play but if you have Kos, Socratis, Milner, Mata in the side then you get that type of positive attitude and influence. We will still retain great technical ability in the side anyway.

I would also have a quiet word to Iwobi and Chambers and tell them that although they are young players still, they are now senior young players and need to step up and become mentors and leaders to those who are 5-6 years their junior. I still feel Chambers could become an excellent holding midfield player in the Gilberto mould, and Iwobi a great box to box CM. This is also their year to step up and prove they are top players that we don’t need to replace with external recruitment.

Personally I would be interested in Chilwell and maybe that young defender we are looking at (Andreason or something) as well as maybe Milner and Mata on a free, then look at Iwobi AMN, Chambers, Bielik, Holding, Bellerin, Willock, Smith-Rowe, Saka, Nelson, Douzi and Nketieh to all be senior squad players next year.

I would happily see Ozil, Micki, Elneny, Mustaffi, Lichtensteiner, and sadly corporal Jenks all depart to accommodate this and cleanse the squad and kick start a new and more positive dynasty.

Xhaka I am still in 2 minds about as I see some merit in him as a squad option, but don’t see him as a top class CM, so maybe it is better to let a player that could become that have his spot rather than thwart their progression.

Written by GoonerB