Granit for Captain?

March 24, 2019

Granit Xhaka is a marmite player. There are those who think he only ever passes the ball sideways or backwards or, at least, rarely forwards. Some believe Xhaka is an accident waiting to happen, either by dwelling on the ball in our own final third, making ill-advised passes or by lunging into rash challenges. Others see him as the fulcrum of the team, anchoring the midfield, always available, never shirking the hard yards necessary to be defensive central midfielder.

Admittedly, he has picked up 23 yellow cards and 2 reds in his 95 Arsenal appearances so far. In January 2017 there were articles about his appalling red card record with his 9th sending off in 3 years as he was dismissed against Burnley. He’d been unlucky to be sent off a few months earlier when deliberately tripping a Swansea player who’d only just crossed the halfway line. Since then he’s cleaned up his act with no further early baths.

His passing efficacy is up for debate, but not the sheer metronomic volume of those passes. Granit has made just over 500 more passes than the next Arsenal player in the list, 1921 to Lucas Torreira’s 1417. When Xhaka is playing well, the team plays well. He dictates that central area in front of the back four without being the most mobile of defensive anchors in a more Makelele style.

When Granit steps into the bear pit, he wears his heart on his sleeve, geeing up those around him and revving the crowd up on occasion, too. We’ve lacked a vocal presence at the heart of the team for years. A captain like Laurent Koscielny leads by example but it’s doubtful many of his fellow professionals would quake in their boots if Kos decided to take them to task. Granit, on the other hand, does seem to possess a fiery, bullish temperament to be feared and respected

When Auba missed that late pen against the spuds which would have consigned them to a deserved defeat, it was Granit who was immediately there at his side giving him support. No William Gallas ‘sitting on the halfway line crying’ antics for the big Swiss but instead there seems to be a genuine desire to cajole and encourage those around him.

(The tweet above prompted this post, so don’t blame me, blame Cockneys)

Granit always features prominently when playing for his home country, though his Albanian roots perhaps preclude him from being the on-field captain when the present captain, Stephan Lichtsteiner, hangs up his boots.  Off the pitch Granit conducts himself with an air of class and appears to be a fine ambassador for the Club.

Unai Emery certainly seems to hold him in high regard and it is with great anticipation that the Arsenal fans view him lining up a long ranger on that sweet left peg. Ask David De Gea or Mignolet (?)  🙂

What do you think? Is Granit a future captain or would you choose an alternative from the current playing staff?

chas

p.s. I’m choosing to ignore tabloid scaremongering that Granit wants away to progress his career. The man’s just signed a new contract until June 2023, ffs.


Who would you pick in Arsenal’s midfield three? – Poll

February 19, 2019

Time for a poll.

This post has been prompted by various discussions on the site with bloggers stating various individual preferences for our midfield line-up – Guendouzi, Mo Elneny, Xhaka in a double pivot or even Ainsley M-N as a box-to-boxer are among the choices/favourites.

For the purposes of today’s poll let’s assume Unai is playing 4 at the back with his first choice players available. Also assume we have three up front, perhaps in a 2 wide and 1 centre forward formation or alternatively a number 10 behind a striking duo.

Here are the runners and riders for a place in that middle three listed in the order they appear on AFC.com (let’s include Alex Iwobi even though he’s down as a striker).

Mo Elneny

An excellent squad player and perhaps a touch underrated, though rarely gets picked as a first choice starter. Why?

from AFC.com

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Often used as part of the front three on the right side to provide some width. Could he be better employed just in front of two DMs?

Aaron Ramsey

Perhaps his best position (well according to his new Juve boss) is just behind a front two and it’s difficult to deny that proposition. Could he still be used in the middle three? When tried before, his natural tendency to be looking to make bursts forward into the box has sometimes left us exposed in midfield.

Mesut Özil

Another whose best position appears to be just behind the striker(s) in a front three. Then again, he often plays wherever he feels he can do the most damage which might be the cause of his contretemps with Señor Emery.

Lucas Torreira

When he first came to the Club and was being gently eased in as a sub, it seemed he was being used as the central DM sweeping across the width of the back four. Now he seems to be established on the right side. Where’s his best posititon?

Celebrating his goal against the spuds

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Mr Versatile means that we’re not sure which is his favoured spot in the team. Could he play in front of a double DM formation where his youth, energy and calmness might be perfect weapons for the position?

Denis Suarez

It’s a bit early in Denis’s Arsenal career to know where he might end up in the team. Does anyone have more of an idea they could share?

Matteo Guendouzi

Still 19, he can’t have imagined he’d play so many games for The Gunners in his first season. Not a natural DM perhaps, but another with a great engine. Maybe he’s also suffered playing in a team which is low on confidence sometimes and others look to him to provide a creative spark.

Granit Xhaka

A marmite player if ever there was one. Usually picked by whatever manager he plays for, so he must be doing something right.  Should Granit get an automatic starting berth?

Alex Iwobi

Another player maybe best suited to a front three position. Has he got the discipline to stay central? Or would he be wasted further back where his dribbling skills might be less useful?

Others

Perhaps one of the Academy lads might be given the opportunity to step up. Smith Rowe and Nelson are on loan, but Joe Willock, in addition to his 2 goals at Blackpool in the FA Cup 3rd round, has had a fine season up to now for Freddie’s u23s .  Robbie Burton and Charlie Gilmour are also getting decent reviews and are names to look out for in the future perhaps.

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Now for the poll. Choose the three you would prefer in your midfield three.

They could be in a 1-2 formation, a 2-1 (double pivot 🙂 ) or any other variation you can think of.  Specify your preference in the comments below.

chas 


Arsenal’s most important player this season is _______?

January 10, 2019

This question was posed on twitter by @ltarsenal and some of the replies were quite surprising, so why not have a crack at it on here while we wait for the weekend?

Runners and Riders (in no particular order)

Rob Holding

Many were surprised when Calum C went out on loan before the season started and a certain lad we bought from Bolton for a £2m was chosen to stay and develop at his home club.  His play this season has been a revelation. Cool, composed, able to bring the ball forward and with an eye for a pass, too. Some might say our defence looking decidely ropey has coincided with his absence.

Lucas Torreira

Eased in slowly frustrating Arsenal fans at the start of the season, Lucas began by making top notch contributions from the bench before getting his starting berth. Perhaps, if LBG is correct and he’s been moved further forward in Unai’s recent formations, his effectiveness has been slightly lessened when not sat right in front of the back four receiving and destroying.

Alex Lacazette

Many replies on twitter mentioned Laca. He is a fans’ favourite and certainly brings an aggressiveness and work rate which often seem responsible for lifting the whole shooting match. Less goals than Auba from perhaps more chances but he’s often won back possession from his feisty closing down (and given away a few free kicks into the bargain!).

Granit Xhaka

To some, Granit’s inclusion in this list would be the biggest shock but he does seem Unai’s first name on the teamsheet in many respects. When we are playing well, he does seem the centre of the well-oiled machine. Countless accurate passes and an ability to switch play others lack. Detractors would say ‘yes, but how many of those passes actually achieve anything’.  Then again, all teams require water carriers, ask Gilberto.

Hector Bellerin

When he’s missing from the team, you do start to realise how important he is on the right side. Still not the finest defender in the world but such a talent on the ball. Arsenal’s right flank without the Catwalk king and, to a lesser extent Micki, has been a little lacking in punch, drive and creativity.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang

Goals from nowhere, some have suggested we’d be floating just below mid-table without Auba’s 14 goals. His strike record in October/November was simply stunning, scoring from virtually all of his shots on target. A fair few of his goals have come when he’s made an entrance off the bench. Some point out his lack of fire, Laca style, but maybe that isn’t the quality he was bought for.

I’m not sure if anyone else should be regarded as a contender.

What do you think? Could you make a case for someone not listed above.

Mesut anyone?

chas


Emery’s Bermuda Triangle

January 7, 2019

Prompted by my Bros to expand on my criticism of Dick’s current tactics evident at the Fulham game, I offer another controversial effort for the perusal of AAers the world over.

I qualify what I am going to say in advance with the facts that…….

  1. We have lost Holding for a long time.
  2. Have not had Kos (and may never have the old Kos) for  a long time.
  3. Have missed an Improved Hector and reliable Nacho in recent weeks.
  4. Let alone had no chance to see the other Greek God, Mav, who I think could prove in the future to be the solution, together with Holding, to Dick’s Bermuda Triangle.

To explain:- Dick has regularly opted recently for the following three players in the vital “central triangle of defence”, and it is here he is making his mistake. Mustafi and Sokratis as CBs, with Xhaka in the central holding/receiving slot.

I will start with the CBs (without really needing to for anyone with eyes).

Sokratis has got guts, is committed and occasionally is in the right place at the right time (See fourth goal against Fulham). But good enough for us as a CB? Nah!

Mustafi is dog’s poo (thought I’d do your job for you, ed). Positionally poor, rarely wins a header as he is a short arse, slide tackles late and nowhere near the ball. Good enough for us as a CB? Nah!

Now, given this criticism, Dick has doubled the problems in his triangle by allowing Xhaka to play at the top as holding/receiver of passes from these two! Xhaka is in my eyes massively overrated. Sure he can spray long balls, but only when the oppo back off, and these long balls are rarely “dynamic” in their effect. (He is no Alonso). Under pressure he shovels poop, and under real pressure, he makes potentially disastrous passes. (He is no Gilberto). He cannot tackle really, and is regularly booked for this (lack of) “skill”. (He is no Kante……or for that matter, Terrier). And much of this slaughtering criticism is because he is not quick enough of thought or limb.

Sorry, I seem to have been a little scathing!

Does he deserve a place in the starting eleven? Well, for the moment my answer is ‘yes’. But play him forward of Terrier and Ouzi (alongside each other and in front of the defence). Both of these two are better at the job required there and, will shore up some of the defensive frailty currently evident. “For the moment” for that is the position I advocate for A M-N in the future, and then it could be bye bye Xhaka for me.

My view, sorry if you think I am still drunk with joy from my recent Birthday.

Written by LBG

Arsenal’s Interlull – Who’s involved and when?

November 13, 2018

It’s getting more difficult to find words to describe how horrendously tedious these regular international breaks actually are.

There will be 9 games for Arsenal in December – just imagine how much easier December could be if we dropped two of the international breaks, enabling fixtures to be more evenly spread. Injuries will inevitably mount as fatigue sets in. Clubs with the biggest squads and those teams which contain less international players will benefit.

Pros for the November break

Aside from Mesut still giving Die Mannschaft the finger, Terrier won’t have to travel halfway around the world this time around as he’s playing at the home of North London’s finest Club on Friday and then in Paris.

Cons (not A.M-N)

Two manc players have withdrawn from the French squad, so Laca has been called up.

Micki is playing away with Armenia, which means less travelling as the games are in Gibraltar and Liechtenstein

There are another 256 cons but I can’t be bothered to list them.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Mikhi – Armenia

Friday 16th Nov Gibraltar (A) Uefa Nations League (UNL)

Monday 19th Nov Liechtenstein (A) UNL

 

Auba – Gabon

Saturday 17th Nov Mali (H) AFCON

REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Terrier – Uruguay

Friday 16th Nov Brazil (Emirates Stadium) Friendly

Tuesday 20th Nov France (A) Friendly

 

Granit – Switzerland

Wednesday 14th Nov – Qatar (H) Friendly attempting to pretend Qatar are part of football

Sunday 18th Nov Belgium (H) UNL

 

Wobbly – Nigeria

Saturday 17th Nov South Africa (A) AFCON

Tuesday 20 Nov Uganda (H) Friendly

 

Big Sok – Greece

Thursday 15th Nov – Finland (H) UNL

Sunday 18th Nov – Estonia (H) UNL

Rambo – Wales

Friday 16th Nov – Denmark (H) UNL

Tuesday 20th Nov – Albania (A) Friendly

 

Mo Elneny

Friday 16th Nov – Tunisia (H) AFCON

Tuesday 20th Nov – United Arab Emirates (A) Friendly

 

Bernd Leno

Thursday 15th Nov – Russia (H) Friendly

Monday 19th Nov – Netherlands (H) UNL

Getty Images

Bournemouth away will be our first fixture when we get back to proper football on November 25th, hopefully with no more casualties.

Apologies for any inaccuracies/omissions.

chas


Toon dooned by a Xhaka boom

September 16, 2018

First Half

Nothing happened. Hopes (and fears) for a deluge of goals were battered on a sea of directionless football from both sides. No shots on target, virtually no shots. Duller than a day trip to Sunderland.

Second half

Another half time sub, presumably a firework or two tactically inserted and a different Arsenal emerged for the second period. The ball suddenly became an important ingredient in the footballers’ toolkit. Torreira injected an urgency and positive momentum that the first 45 had totally lacked.

Ozil and Ramsey, instead of looking like Arsenal’s equivalent of Lampard/Gerrard, started to enjoy finding each other. Every player looked hungry for the ball and keen to find space for a pass when not in possession.

Auba was fouled a few yards outside the area and it looked as though Torreira had decided he fancied a pop. Lo and behold, Granit produced a peach and Arsenal’s first goal direct from a free kick for donkeys. Beauty.

The whole red and white machine was suddenly infused with extra confidence and a second looked likely as Toon heads dropped. Mesut passed the ball into the net 10 minutes later after a blocked effort from Laca and that looked to be enough to see off the demoralised barcodes.

Arsenal, being Arsenal regardless of who the manager is, still managed to give us all kittens in the final 5 minutes of the match. First Cech had to make his first meaningful save from a free header at the back post, before an identical chance was duly despatched as injury time began. Thank Dennis there were only the three extra minutes to endure.

Summary

Guendouzi must have been perplexed seeing the Arsenal side which emerged from the tunnel after half time. It looked one he might have enjoyed playing in. That first period, on the other hand, probably made him grateful he’d been hooked.

Why did we ease off after the second goal? Was the tactic to allow the opposition to come on to us and then to pick them off on the counter? Two goals rarely seems like a convincing lead where Arsenal are concerned.

Anyway it turned out that they were enough in the final reckoning. Another away win, three points in the bag plus two home fixtures next up and things look a whole lot rosier than when we were in ‘crisis’  a few games ago.

Ratings

Cech – more comedy on the floor from Petr’s feet. A couple of dangerous passes followed by humping it up the pitch. Strange. Had little to do with his hands, one decent stop from the header and numerous catches of overhit lofted balls into the area….6

Bellerin – acres of space behind him in the first half. Good job Shkodran is always there to cover with his lightning pace. Still think Lichtsteiner behind him makes sense. Hector is always dangerous going forward though….6

Mustafi – some good stuff in amongst some typically crazy moments….5

Sokratis – stoic and resolute from our stone faced Greek. Made several important tackles, blocks and interceptions plus he even showed a yard of pace. Settling in nicely….7

Monreal – competent without having too much to do….6

Guendouzi – seems to have lost just a touch of his earlier confidence. Though when passing backwards is your only option as it was in that appalling first half, it’s always going to be a struggle….5

Xhaka – grew into the game, usual high number of passes and a glorious peach of a dead ball which sailed into the net….7

Ramsey – completely anonymous and disinterested in the first period. Much better when the football began in the second….5

Ozil – looked especially pleased to mark his 200th appearance with a goal….6

Laca – tried hard to make an impact throughout. Didn’t have a great deal of service….6

Auba – no smiles in the first half and didn’t look comfortable on the ball before finally being withdrawn….5

Subs

Torreira – another 45 minutes for the Uruguayan. Seemed to make an immediate impact with tempo and forward movement….6

Mkhitaryan – tidy in possession without achieving much at all….5

Welbeck – one impressive break but didn’t have the balance to finish off a fine chance….5

Manager – changed things at half time which was much needed….6

chas


Is Xhaka Pants?

September 12, 2018

Well. is he?

Xhaka has become the butt of the doubters and stands in danger of getting the Eboue, Cygan, Squillaci, Stepanovs or Song treatment. None of them were bad players but only two of them were able to turn the “haters” (horrible modern word).

At Cardiff, Xhaka made 99 passes at a success rate of 86%, almost all of which were forward passes, yet what do most fans focus on? A pass he made up the pitch that led to a goal. Nothing said about the awful defending by the MF’s or the defenders, No, the fault was all Xhaka’s. He was even castigated for taking a yellow stopping a counter-attack,  a tactic we have been calling for. Yes, he has lapses of concentration but he is far and away our best player to distribute the ball after receiving a pass from the CB’s.

What do Emery and Wenger see in him? There must be something as Granit has been first choice for both managers ever since his arrival 3 seasons ago.

The man has a vicious and accurate shot on him. Could it be the coaching which has curbed his ability to score from distance or could it be that he knows the crowd reaction should his shot hit Row X?

Every player needs confidence, they need to feel loved yet the modern fan expects perfection and that pressure can make a player hide. It is the manager who has to help players overcome the pressure.

There are other players whom the faithful have doubts about; Mustafi, Bellerin, Ramsey, Cech and even Ozil. Does open criticism help them improve? My hope is that the players do not watch Arsenal TV which is dominated by airheads.

So, is Xhaka pants? What do you think?

Written by Big Raddy


International Rescue – who’s coming back unscathed?

September 10, 2018

Saturday

Along with Danny Welbeck’s five minute cameo for England and the surrounding controversy, some other Arsenal players were involved in action for their national sides.

Mo Elneny had a leisurely run out for Egypt in a 6-0 win against Niger in their opening African Nations Cup qualifier. He even managed to pop up with the final goal of the six, which apparently bounced off the keeper into the net. Sounds a cracker!

Difficult to find a photo of Mo playing but they might be his dreads in the background!

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang equalised against Burundi, thus salvaging a draw for Gabon in more African Cup action. Auba also captained the side.

Granit played the full ninety for Switzerland as they cruised past Iceland on Saturday. Granit was booked – Quelle Surprise!  Stephan Lichtsteiner didn’t even appear to be on the bench?????

Sokratis Papastathopoulos also played the full match in Greece’s sparkling 1-0 win over Estonia.

Lucas Torreira was substituted at half time playing for Uruguay versus Mexico and apparently had ice applied to his calf during the second half. Cosmic.

Sunday

Rambo lost with Wales to a couple of spawny efforts from Eriksen.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan also lost in Armenia’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Macedonia.

Tuesday

Granit, Stephan and Danny could feature in the tedious England Switzerland friendly at Wembley.

Sokratis will again have the chance to hone his skills against Hungary in one of the group C games of the UEFA Nations Cup.


Give the new guys a try, Unai!

September 5, 2018

Hopefully most AAers are prepared to give Dick a real chance to get things right before they decry too much his tactics or methods.

I for one am looking for, amongst many other things, a change in attacking style. For many of the last five to ten years of the Wenger era we heard regularly from pundits and other “experts” the phrases……..

“typical Arsenal trying to walk the ball into the net”

or

“Arsenal – always trying to score the perfect goal”.

And as we know occasionally we managed to do just that!! Witness Jack W. against Norwich. But, for me, in the last two seasons we often seemed to do away with the “ball into the net” bit entirely!

Passing for passing sake drives me mad! If you receive the ball over a short distance as, say a midfielder, from a defender or fellow midfielder, it’s not compulsory to play it back to him, once, twice, three times. You are not playing that one touch game in a circle where you try to make twenty passes, or nutmeg one of the players in the middle, so you can then make a high pitched stupid noise in unison to ridicule him.

Instead you have a choice. Receive the ball on the half turn, sense where the nearest opponent is and sometimes “turn”, then get your head up and look for a pass forward with a sense of urgency. This is one of the reasons I loved Santi so much, and felt of all the players missed most in those two seasons, his was by far the most serious loss.

I nearly left the conversation on the site post Sunday’s game to the regulars, as I didn’t feel I could add much to the debate. But then, like some kind of soft drug addict, I was suckered in by two things.

Firstly, LB’s question to himself,  which player “is decisive and moves the ball forward quicker than most any other player?” (like Manshitty and to some extent, Totteringham, I thought)

………the answer he said, was Guendouzi.

Added to this I have my own question. Who does the same, and is also more accurate than both Ramsey or Xhaka?

……….and the answer for me, is Torreira.

Play them both and alongside each other.

The second trigger for me was the degree of praise offered by a number of respected regulars to both Xhaka and Ramsey for their Sunday performances. I have a follow up question to any and all, but especially the statisticians. Of the 162 total passes made by Ramsey and Xhaka on Sunday, how many had no influence whatsoever on the game whether successful or not?

Play the new generation Dick, as part of the new chapter for our Club, and see how it goes.

Written by LBG


Who partners Torreira? – Poll

August 29, 2018

Having sorted out Arsenal’s right side rearguard and assisting flank provider yesterday, today we turn our attention to the midfield pivot.

Everyone is clamouring for Lucas Torreira to start just in front of the back four. Surely the only reason for this not happening so far is due to fitness and/or acclimatisation. So Torreira is a given.

The question then arises, ‘who partners him?’ or, in fact, ‘can he handle the job on his Jack Jones?’.

Let’s take a look at the candidates………………..

Granit Xhaka – building up some decent experience of Premiership skirmishes, Granit possesses a fine left foot. His passing range is good though eye of the needle passes are rare. He’s more of a spread it wide to the wingfenders kind of midfielder.

Mo Elneny – economical, functional and effective, Mo does his job with a minimum of fuss, shifting the ball to others in better positions to deliver a telling pass. Has a great engine and is very mobile.

Matteo Guendouzi – his storming pre-season earned him a place in the team for our opening fixtures. Has a keen eye for a pass and really does like to play the ball forwards into dangerous positions which makes him stand out. Let’s hope the occasional misplaced pass so far, doesn’t knock his confidence too much and he continues to shine.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles – it has been mooted that A M-N could be an effective element of a double pivot. Fast, confident and excellent in the tackle, he does seem to possess the necessary attributes. Has become a bit of a utility player with Arsenal’s need for an auxiliary left back and others suggest his natural position is further up the line providing ammo for the strikers.

Aaron Ramsey – could Aaron find the discipline required to remain in that central area of the midfield? Or maybe Lucas requires a partner with more of a box-to-box feel.  Perhaps Aaron might partner Torreira against particular types of opposition? Though maybe Rambo’s creativity and eye for goal are wasted playing in a deeper role.

Mesut Ozil – perhaps Unai has asked Mesut if he fancies becoming more of a Pirlo-style midfielder, conducting the whole orchestra from a deeper podium and that has caused some consternation. Apparently Mesut has had the highest number of turnovers so far of anyone playing in Emery’s new Arsenal high press.

What do you think? Perhaps you don’t think Lucas Torriera will be the first name on the team sheet even when he has got used to London and the English Premier League?

Maybe Unai Emery already has a good idea of his ideal team members and all with be revealed in the fullness of time.

chas