Double Pants Dilemma: Newcastle v Arsenal Match Report and Player Ratings

August 11, 2019

The first game of a new season prompts a strange mix of emotions: excitement, anticipation, hope, nervousness. Perhaps fear.

I imagine it’s the way a bride must feel on the morning of her wedding when everything has been planned just the way she wants it but she has a nagging suspicion that she might be marrying the wrong man.

Well, let’s hope Arsenal’s 2019/20 season is a ‘happily ever after’ story and we don’t end up feeling betrayed, abandoned and embittered with only chocolate and cats to console us.

The auguries were not good for yesterday’s season opener against a Newcastle United team led by new coach Mrs Doubtfire.

There were two reasons for concern: firstly, our opening day form has been pants in recent years. And secondly, for the first time in years our opening match was away from home and, as we all know, our away form has also been pants.

So we had a double pants dilemma, like an anxious incontinence sufferer.

First, our opening day form: in the previous four years, starting with last year, we have managed the following: home defeat to Manchester City; scrappy and somewhat lucky home win against Leicester City; home defeat to Liverpool; home defeat to West Ham.

Next, our overall away form: last season and the one before we contrived to lose exactly half of our away games in the Premier League (19 out of 38) and managed to win only 11 out of 38 – a win rate of just 29%.

Yet, with all that in mind, it was impossible not to feel a bit chipper going into the game.

Most of us would probably agree we had a good transfer window and this has helped the mood music around the club to be more upbeat. There’s a cautious feeling that we have started to plant the seeds of recovery after some frustrating years.

There appears to be a bit more of a clear direction at the club and it’s hard not to be excited about new signings like Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli, and the continuing progress of home-grown talents like Willock and Nelson.

Unai Emery went with a starting line-up that will probably bear little resemblance to our eventual first choice eleven this season (once the broken ones have returned and the new ones have settled). He put his faith in some of the youngsters. Willock, Nelson and Guendouzi started, as did Maitland-Niles and Chambers (does Calum Chambers still count as a youngster?).

Lacazette, rightly, was not risked due to recent injury issues, but was on the bench in case we needed to chase a goal late on. That meant the irrepressible Aubameyang would be carrying most of our attacking hopes.

The first half was a fairly even affair. The Barcodes had a 10 minute spell when they created some half chances, including a shot from noted Nosferatu impersonator Jonjo Shelvey that hit the post (although Leno may just have had it covered).

From our side, we were finding it difficult to break down a well-organised Newcastle defence and whenever it looked like we might find a way through a wayward pass or piece of control would bring an end to things.

But there were promising signs in the way we knocked the ball around at times and it was particularly pleasing to see Willock and Nelson so involved and showing a lot of confidence. Guendouzi, meanwhile, was my stand-out player of the first period. He’s strong, competitive, always makes himself available and is ever keen to get on the front foot: he may look like the dopey sidekick from a 1990s teen movie, but this kid has future leading man written all over him.

In the second half we were the superior team overall, without creating clear cut chances until the breakthrough came courtesy of two men for whom two initials are just not enough: AMN and PEA.

Maitland-Niles showed brilliant anticipation as Newcastle played the ball out from the back. He beat the Newcastle player to the ball around the half way line, took a couple of touches and looked up to see Auba moving into space in the penalty area. Maitland-Niles’s 35-yard* pass to our Gabonese gazelle was beautifully executed. Aubameyang brought it under control and coolly side-footed it past the on-rushing ‘keeper.

Mrs Doubtfire will be fuming at the space given to our striker in the box, but that should not detract from the fact that he found the space or the sublime way in which he finished.

As Auba ran to celebrate with his Number One Best Bro (Lacazette) on the touchline I liked that he turned to beckon Maitland-Niles to join the party.

After that Newcastle huffed and puffed but caused few real scares.

It’s tempting to say that Aubameyang’s quality was the difference, but in truth we displayed superiority in most areas for the majority of the game.

We also got to have a look at Ceballos, Pepe and Martinelli as they came on for Willock, Nelson and Mkhitaryan. There were a couple of nice moments from Pepe in particular, but the main thing was they got their debuts under their belts and they can feel they contributed to a win and a clean sheet.

I think a special word is also merited for our new away kit – and that word is “Yes!” Well done Adidas.

*For younger readers who don’t understand imperial measurements, 35 yards is equivalent to 28 Ells, or 70 Cubits.

Player Ratings

Leno: dealt with everything that came his way. In particular I enjoyed the moment in the second half where he came out of his area to head the ball clear and snuff out a dangerous Newcastle attack. 7.5

Maitland-Niles: excellent overall game from the young fullback and his anticipation and skill directly led to our winning goal. 8

Monreal: solid and unspectacular from Nacho, but he did little wrong. 7

Sokratis: it’s hard to get excited about our Greek colossus, but he is a very dependable defender and had a good game. 7

Chambers: a year on loan playing in midfield has been good for Chambers. I fancy he could be one of the surprise success stories of the season. Like his central defence partner he was solid. 7

Xhaka: seemed more subdued than usual but was tidy and played some very nice attacking passes at times. 6.5

Guendouzi: all energy all the time. I love the way he turns his body as he receives the ball so he is always ready to surge towards the opposition end. 8

Nelson: confident and tidy. It’s very encouraging to have players like him and Willock coming through, not least for the way it can inspire other up-and-coming talents at the club. 7

Willock: this lad’s a class act. 7.5

Mkhitaryan: I know he’s not a fan favourite but I thought he was lively in the first half and helped create some of our better chances. His final ball let him down a couple of times and he faded in the second half. 6

Aubameyang: exuberant, talented and full of energy – what a great player to have wearing the Arsenal shirt. MoTM 8.5.

Subs:

Ceballos: misplaced a few passes as he tried to find his feet, but grew into the game.

Pepe: showed one or two very nice moments of skill. Looking forward to seeing more of him.

Martinelli: a Brazilian forward at the Arsenal? What’s not to like?

RockyLives

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Pepe to wing it for Arsenal

July 30, 2019

We have been renowned as a predominantly attacking club ever since the start of the Wenger era, but over the last few years we have arguably seriously overlooked one area of our attacking department within the squad.

Earlier Wenger teams seemed to be bolstered by high quality, attacking, goal-scoring, pacey wide players, but for the last number of years this position has seemingly been overlooked at Arsenal to the point it almost appeared as if it was deemed non important to us in the modern era. However, a good look around at the other top sides seemed to highlight that all other clubs deemed these positions to be of high importance, and most often set up with these players in a 4-3-3 system, or a close variation on this.

Fingers are currently crossed throughout goonerdom that Pepe will be the new man to wing it for Arsenal.

The modern wide player seems to be something between a winger and a wing forward that operate either side of a lead striker most often, with the majority of the top clubs, in a rotating front 3 sharing goal-scoring responsibility. These wing forward players also give the attacking width that can stretch the opposition without relying solely on the full-backs for width, so arguably also provide extra problems for the opposition in wide areas, with the wing forward and the overlapping full-back combining during the game.

Another factor in having specialised attacking wide players is that the full-backs don’t need to be permanently camped high up the pitch, and can therefore choose the right moments to get forward and join the attack, thus ensuring they are still, for the most part, covering their defensive responsibilities as part of the back 4.

I feel we have suffered a fair bit at times in not having these players in recent years, preventing us from being able to deploy a more balanced, but still attack orientated, formation. It is why I am excited this forthcoming season by the prospect of young players like Saka and Nelson coming into the first team environment and giving us something I feel we have missed for many years. If we were also to add one more top established attacking wide player, like Zaha or Pepe, to this then my legs will start to literally quiver in anticipated excitement.

One big question though is how should these wing forward players be deployed? Which particular player should line up on which side? Here are a few comments from yours truly, Fred, and LBG to get the thought process going.

Fred says:

Yea Nelson hasn’t impressed at all with Eddie I actually think je should be playing on the left on the 433 to start the season, I know it isn’t his natural position but he is a rich vain of form

GoonerB says (in response):

Fred, I had always assumed that Nelsons natural position was on the left side of the striker. I have still to watch the last 3 games which I have got recorded. Does this mean that Nelson has been operating from the right side? I seem to recall that most of the decent footage you see of him when he has done something in games, either in our academy matches or last seasons loan, seem to show him operating from the left. Either way Fred, I would agree with you that Reiss Nelson is a left inside forward predominantly, and should be utilised this way.

LBG says (in response):

Nelson is a left sided wide attacker, but as is customary left sided players nowadays are often used on the right and cut in to hit shots with their left foot. I personally want wide players to go round the fullback and cross from the byline, like olden times.

GoonerB says:

Wilf would really take up the position of Nelson while Pepe would take up the position of Saka but as I say pepe looks like he could move in centrally behind a single number 9 as well which may give us the better balance and also squad options.

Fred says (in response):

Think u got that wrong Saka plays on left and Nelson on right

So with the inside forwards, or wide attacking players, (or whichever other description you prefer), it would seem the jury is out as how to best deploy them. Academy players that are still developing should arguably spend time playing in 2-3 positions to develop their all round understanding, but I would suggest that once a player starts to become more of a first team regular that they should have a preferred specialist position (or side) where most of their play takes place.

Both Nelson and Saka, at their still tender ages, seem to have played both sides at different times, if you watch any footage of them. Maybe to date Saka has had more time on the left and Nelson on the right, but as a left footer and right footer, respectively, I would suggest it is now time to deploy Saka from the right and Nelson from the left if they are to become top class prolific goal scoring pacey winger / wing forward type players.

Why do I say this? Well if you were to make a list of all recent (maybe last 10 years) top level attacking wide players, at the top clubs, it is nearly always right footed players on the left and left footed players on the right. However I would love to hear your thoughts on this AA’ers.

GoonerB

 


The Emirates Hic-Cup … Arsenal 1 Lyon 2 – Match Report and Player Ratings

July 29, 2019

This was the sixth of our preseason games. We fielded a mixed side comprising Leno, AMN, Chambers, Sokratis, Monreal, Willock, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and Lacazette.

My initial thought was that I was glad to see Willock playing consistently in the first team and that we are moving away from the Mkhitaryan and Mesut combo. In reality, I suspect they were probably rested because of the attack earlier in the week. With Mkhitaryan seemingly playing on the left, I wondered who’s going to be playing the Mesut role?

 

First Half

There was a minute of applause for former Arsenal player Jose Antonio Reyes who was taken from us way to soon, may he rest in peace.

One thing I have noticed is how quickly Arsenal have been starting games in the preseason, and this game was no exception. Monreal hasn’t looked up to it early in preseason, but today he was sharp, on one occasion bursting down the  left flank and crossing but not finding an Arsenal shirt, and then on another being bundled over in penalty box. Sadly the ref wasn’t having any of it.

Lacazette was replaced early on by Nelson. He was seen later wearing a protective boot –   let’s hope this was just for precaution. Aubameyang moved to central striker with Mkhitaryan now playing on the right. Willock looked really bright,  collecting the ball from Guendouzi and smartly turning for a low shot into the keeper, and then soon after was involved in an attacking move in the penalty box. But he was eventually smothered by the  amassed defenders.

Arsenal displayed some great interchanging football. The opening goal came when Mkhitaryan who crossed to Aubamyang who headed the ball home, making it 1 nil to The Arsenal. Lyon had an appeal for hand ball by Chambers turned down, I wondered when I saw it if this would have been given in the EPL this season. Willock was ever present and was our best player in the first half.

 

Second Half

The first change for the second half was Nketiah on for Guendouzi. With this, Aubameyang moved back out to the right, Mkhitaryan was now playing the link between midfield and attack which I think his best position, and with Eddie as striker.

The two sides were going at it second half with Lyon now creating more. Nketiah headed a ball over the bar, and then fluffed his lines again missing a cross from Nelson. Soon after that, Nketiah received a ball in the box and turned sharply but his shot was smothered by the keeper. The chant of Eddie, Eddie, Eddie rang round The Emirates, he really is a fans’ favourite.

Some poor defending by Maitland-Nyles  failing to block a cross led to the equaliser from Dembele. Shortly after, AMN did make a great block on Dembele showing he can play with discipline. Arsenal thought they had restored their lead when Martinelli put the ball in the back of the net but it was ruled as offside. Soon after, we failed to operate the offside trap correctly and Dembele made it 1-2 for Lyon. Arsenal had a few more opportunities but couldn’t take their chances. Lyon were crowned 2019 Emirates Cup Champions – not a big deal, it’s always been a slightly embarrassing competition, but still, it’s better to win than lose.

Conclusion

Arsenal’s second loss in preseason was frustrating. We were in control in both games and yet ended up losing. It was another promising performance by the Arsenal youngsters. Nelson had a good industrious game, although he struggled to get through Lyon’s defense. Willock was amazing once again and Eddie did the hard work by getting into the goal scoring positions but then  lacked the composure he had shown in earlier preseason games.

If only Arsenal could change how they defend. Good to see Chambers back and at least he put in a good defensive performance. There was one occasion when Sokratis brought down Dembele and was lucky not avoid a card. We’ve seen it many times before. Our defenders are too slow to play such a high line.

 

Ratings

Leno 7 – solid game but was left exposed for both goals

Maitland-Nyles 6  – needs to work on his defending

Sokratis 6 – solid today but still reckless when given the chance

Chambers 7 – was solid again nice to see him finally getting his chance

Monreal 6  – looked lively

Wiilock 9 – another great game and shouldn’t have been taken off …  MOTM

Xhaka 5 – Can the crowd please stop telling him to shoot

Guendouzi 5 – Nice to see him back

Mkhitaryan 6 – great assist for the goal

Aubameyang 7 –  took his chance well and caused trouble whole game

Lacazette 5 – let’s hope it nothing serious

 

Subs

Nketiah 7 – impressive as always, unlucky again not to score

Nelson 6  – I’m still waiting for him to impress me

fred1266

 


A Youth Revolution?

May 19, 2019

So disappointed with the belief seemingly held by Dick, some here on our blog, and so called “knowledgeable commentators” on other sites, that pressure to produce results in the Premier League prevents the Manager from blooding youth regularly.

Instead Suarez, Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Micky, Elneny, Jenkinson, Chambers to name a few of the non controversial  ones, labour to make a mark, to make a difference, and rarely achieve. Saka and Amaechi may yet have seats on Arsenal’s extended bench for the Europa Final – but is it enough?

Mavididi playing for Juve

Stephy Mavididi signed for Juve u23s in 2018 and is now on the verge of the first team. Ismael Bennacer’s performances at Empoli have caught the eye of Napoli. Chuba Akpom has won the title in the Greek league. Donyell Malen is a regular in a PSV Eindhoven side that pushed Ajax close for the Dutch title.

Arsenal have one of the most talented set of youngsters in their Academy and U18s that we have ever had. They are the legacy of Liam Brady and now the future under Freddie. But only if they are given a proper window of opportunity. Scouts from all over Europe are ready to snap them up, are visiting each and every game they are involved in. They understand the Arsenal system, the Arsenal family, and they want to succeed big time.

Well, I’m sorry, the Club is doing them a disservice.

Nelson, Smith-Rowe, Nketiah, Willock, Amaechi, John Jules, Pleguezuelo, Medley, Thompson, Saka, Mavrapanos are all worthy of significant game time. This is a serious watershed moment.

We are close to losing potentially top class talent, but at the very least, better quality than many who have gone through the motions this season. Give ’em a (proper) go, Dick, and save the money on bigger gambles you are considering.

LBG


Was Arsène Right?

October 20, 2018

Before I begin, can I ask that if anyone reads this who really knows about player development to kindly leave a comment, because this post is a question as much as an observation, and I suspect that like myself, most regulars on this site would be guessing.

We all heard terms such as Project Youth during the Wenger years, and we also noted that very few players emerged through the Arsenal ranks to have top flight careers, whether at Arsenal or anywhere else.

We now appear to be on the threshold of seeing a very good looking bunch possibly breaking through, with the likes of M-N, Iwobi, Nelson, Eddie and Smith Rowe.

One of my criticisms of the way the project unfolded under Arsène was that most of these players appeared during their sporadic appearances in a variety of positions, while I always believed they should be developed in specific positions.

I’m beginning to think I was wrong. Here’s why.

It strikes me that our homegrown players are relatively late developers, but perhaps there is good reason for this. I’ll expand this thought with a few questions/observations:

  • playing them in a variety of positions could simply be to give them game time when opportunities open up through injuries
  • or, could this have been a deliberate strategy to make them more complete players?
  • examples: we’ve seen Iwobi left, central and right midfield, likewise, M-N left and right back as well as defensive and attacking midfield
  • I get the impression Unai has a more structured approach to positional duties, but will he, and the players, have benefited from Arsene’s more fluid approach?

mickydidit89


Should AFC follow the Chelsea model?

October 12, 2018

LB recently wrote (briefly) about the efficiency of the Chelsea model i.e. buying every youngster from anywhere, lending them out all over Europe, and not using their Academy to develop players.

Arsenal, however, choose to take a different path; bringing young players through the ranks at the Hale End Academy with the intention of giving youth a chance. So far we have some exciting players who have come through – Smith Rowe (Lab), Iwobi, Nketiah, Nelson and Maitland-Niles (Cons) have all been with the club since childhood. Add in Catwalk who arrived as a 16 year-old and we can see this appears to work.

But will it bring us the Title?

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The Chavs sign world class players as men and they have delivered the PL. Does it matter that they are mercenaries with no Chelsea connection? There is no JT or Butch Wilkins. Even the very best of their imported youth doesn’t get a sniff (Christensen the Danish CB is a wonderful player – are you listening Unai?)

Man City are hoovering up the best of the World’s academy players and lending them out but I expect City to use some of these Wonderkids, and they have promoted Foden into the first team squad which is good for Ingerlund and City. However, it does not stop them from having €30m+ players in every position.

Liverpool are interesting. €70m+ for a CB and Gk, shitloads on strikers and MF’s yet 3 players from the yoof and lower leagues in defence. But they have spent hundreds of millions to get where they are and have yet to win any silverware.

Spurs? Who cares?

In my opinion, the days of a club winning the PL with homegrowns is well gone. We must hope that the mix of Academy players plus World Class imports like Terrier, PEA and Laca brought in, will bring us a title. Though sadly, I doubt it.

written by Big Raddy


Ok, your turn. Be Arsene – How do you play the rest of the season?

March 3, 2018

Obviously, full focus on The Europa.

Moi? I’d use the league games to discover who I wanted in next season’s first team squad so that I knew exactly who would be surplus to requirements before the summer window opens.

I’d want to see more action from Iwobi, M-N, Nelson and Nketiah.

Out of those, I reckon it’s time to really nail down M-N’s ideal position

Finally, that brings me to a dedicated Holding Midfielder/DM. Do we have one?

Written by MickyDidIt89