Bog Snorkelling in Baku – Qarabag Ratings

October 5, 2018

Another game, another clean sheet, eight wins on the trot; ouch, it is going to hurt when we fall. Or maybe we won’t?

In trying to understand the team selection, it struck me that much of what was going on had more to do with November the 3rd than with a second tier team from Azerbaijan. As the more astute would have realised, we play Liverpool on that day and as much as we should win our two games before, we all know that will be our next real test.

And how does this all link into last night’s win? Answer – the choice of defence. Emery set the team up for the best part of the first half with five at the back:

Lichtsteiner, Holding, Sokratis, Monreal, Kolasinac

Yes, Lichtsteiner and Kolasinac got forward as demonstrated by the first goal but they spent the best part of the first half in the above formation, which against a team of lowly calibre, was belt and braces and unnecessary in my opinion.

Anyway it is just a hunch but if Kolasinac and Monreal start against Liverpool, I can say I was right. Bellerin will obviously replace Lichsteiner.

Once Emery had had a chance to air this experiment, Torriera replaced Monreal at half time and everything calmed down in the way it should have been from the start. I say that as though I know how he does it, but as close as I look, I still don’t understand how the Uruguayan effortlessly seems to be able to have such a huge influence on every game he plays in.

The rest of the team selection was clear that it was designed to give more of the squad a run out. The Guendouzi/Elneny combo is obvious as is Welbeck, Smith-Rowe (Lab) and Iwobi.

courtesy David Price

So enough of that tactics drivel, let’s get onto the serious stuff: Red Shorts? What is that about? The opposition were wearing black shorts so I see no good reason why we should not have been wearing the normal time honoured white shorts. Pink sleeves? Don’t get me started.

It turned out to be a pretty comfortable win, with probably the three players on the pitch that we would most have wanted to have scored the goals, (all in the knowledge that each one of them would benefit confidence-wise from doing so), and so they did.

courtesy David Price

Leno: what a fine goal keeper we have and seamlessly slotting in? Some more great saves…. 8

Lichsteiner: an excellent stand in and proof that the powers that be in the club’s new buying system are working very well, naturally that also applies to Leno…. 7

Holding: why did we loan Chambers to Fulham? Don’t know and don’t care…. 7

Sokratis: it is going to be fascinating to see if Emery sticks with these two on Sunday — he should, they are far from perfect but it made a nice change not to have mop up Mustafi’s usual clangers…. 7

Monreal: Nacho is the most improved player of the squad; he has become authoritative, something that I would never have thought last season; he is clearly benefitting from clearer instruction, the language must help. He tucked in well last tonight as he usually does…. 8

Kolasinac: I loved the way he bulldozed down the wing early on in the game, pushing his opposing defender away like a skittle, pretty good game really…. 7

Guendouzi: getting better and better and now adding goals, it looks like he has a long future at the club…. 8

Elneny: things are moving on and Mo does not seem to be able to keep up, did ok last night but can’t see him being around for too much longer…. 6

Smith Rowe (Lab): the goal obviously did his confidence the world of good, it struck me that he is a striker rather than a midfielder, interesting to see how this one develops…. 7

Iwobi: last season Alex had plateaued; he was going nowhere fast, it is testament to Emery’s man management that he has been given new drive, direction and self belief. I am not sure where it will all end up but at least it is going somewhere…. 8

Welbeck: Danny, Danny, you know I am a fan but you have got to take those chances that come your way…. 6



A Tasty Fixture

October 4, 2018

It is 2869 miles from The Emirates to Baku Stadium (see pic below), thank Dennis the lads aren’t going by coach.

Chas gave us the info on Qarabag where the local food looks simply excellent. Who could not enjoy a plate of pilaf followed up by a baklava or two?


Which means that all I have to write about is the football and, to be quite honest, I know SFA about Qarabag – even less than Eddie! Furthermore, on a dull Copenhagen morning I have little enthusiasm to do much research. Sorry.

As such, I will concentrate on the Men in the White Hats.

We have a number of missing players – PEA, Mhiki, Helmet, AMN, Ramsey, GB, Kos. Last night and this morning we are being told that Spurs lost because they were missing a couple of players – in the unlikely event that we get cheated out of victory, will the media give us the same latitude?


With so many absentees, selection becomes easier for UE.

The main question is whether UE will continue to play Mustafi. We paid €25m too much for the lummox, but does this mean he gets leeway week after week? I guess much depends upon  whether UE trusts Sokratis or Holding to play on the right.

Will Emery play some youth? Perhaps Smith Rowe (Lab) but I doubt it. I expect him to start with a very strong side


Bellerin    GB    Holding    Monreal

Terrier   Xhaka    Iwobi


Lacazette   Welbeck

Given his age, it may be an ideal game to rest Monreal and get Kolasinac on the pitch, the Wardrobe (Kol) has yet to establish himself at Arsenal but has the capability of cementing a place as Monreal tires.

I am looking for 3 points and to top  our group.

Don’t forget the earlier kick-off time



Qarabag FK – Who are ya?

October 2, 2018

Qarabag Futbol Klubu (nickname ‘The Horsemen’) was founded in 1951 and originates from a town called Aghdam situated right on the Azerbaijani border with Armenia. Going through a few name changes (Mehsul, Shafaq and Cooperative Society!), plus a ten year period in the wilderness due to financial troubles, the club eventually re-emerged as part of the Azerbaijan Premier League in 1992.

In 1993, as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh war (which resulted from the collapse of the former Soviet Union), Armenia took control of Qarabag’s home town of Aghdam, subsequently rendering it uninhabitable to discourage any returning Azerbaijanis.

Once home to over 40,000 people, it is now a ghost town plundered for building materials and gradually being reclaimed by nature. Head coach of the team, Allahverdi Bagirov, former leader of the Azerbaijani Popular Front party, fought in the conflict and eventually died when his car ran over an anti-tank mine.

The club moved to Baku, the capital, situated on the coast of the Caspian Sea and has gone from strength to strength. Since 2009 they haven’t placed outside the top 4 in the Azerbaijan Premier League, in fact finishing as champions in the past 5 seasons. Although a fair portion of Qarabag’s support still originates from the Aghdam region, the club is well supported throughout Azerbaijan and continues to be a symbol of hope for over half a million displaced refugees.

Their record in Europe is steadily improving, culminating in participation of the Champions League group phase for the first time last season where they gained two creditable draws against Atletico Madrid which helped to consign Atletico to the Europa (as we know to our cost). Oh yeah, Chelsea were also in their group and managed to beat them 10-0 over the two matches!

This season they went out of the CL in the 3rd qualifying round to Bate Borisov who were in our group in last season’s Europa League. (we beat Bate 10-2 over the two games).

Local Food – includes such dishes as Pilaf (Rice and meat flavoured with saffron, cinnamon and aromatic herbs), Qutab (fried pancake stuffed with meat, spinach, pumpkin or cheese – camel meat is popular in Baku), Kufta bozbash (meatball and potato soup) and Lavangi (a casserole of chicken stuffed with walnuts and herbs).

Dushbara is a traditional Azerbaijani meal, a sort of doughy dumplings filled with ground meat and condiments. Similar stuffed dumplings are popular in many countries, but the Azerbaijani version are quite tiny and served in broth.

Let’s hope the lads don’t eat too much camel before taking the pitch on Thursday (though apparently it’s light, lean and delicious). Wouldn’t want anyone to get the hump if they’re asked to play.