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

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Ainsley Maitland-Niles – where will he fit into Emery’s team?

October 18, 2018

Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Con) is back in full training and in contention for the Leicester game on Monday. Perhaps Monday will come too early for the lad but away to Sporting a few days later could see him return. The question I was asking myself is, ‘what will Unai see as his strengths and eventual starting position?’. Let’s take a look.

Bottom right

Ainsley recently turned 21 and has been with the Club since he was 6 years old, another Mr Arsenal! He made Champions League and Prem debuts in late 2014. The following season he spent on loan at Ipswich, making 32 appearances and scoring 2 goals. Mick McCarthy was initially full of praise but used him less as the loan period drew to a close. (Update: It’s rumoured McCarthy received an X-rated voicemail from Ainsley’s Mum about some kit launch or something which left the poor lad out in the cold, selection-wise – she’s a right box of tricks…..)

Returning to Arsenal, in September 2016 he featured at right back at the City Ground in the EFL cup and we cruised to a 4-0 victory (a game I was lucky enough to be at). His next start the following January was in an FA Cup 4th round match at Southampton where he played in central midfield (we won 5-0 and, again, I was there for another belting away trip 🙂 ).

Here he is, assisting the assister at St Mary’s ………..

The days when the thing Ainsley was most famous for was an incident involving his Mum allegedly lamping Dick Law at the Arsenal training ground are long gone.  Arsene’s final season saw him establish himself as a versatile member of the first team squad, clocking up 15 Prem and 9 Europa League appearances, amongst others.

Wiki describes Maitland-Niles as a midfielder, winger and right full back but he’s also been used at left back when the need has arisen.  At just under 5’10” and a shade over 11 stone, he is still developing the strength required to play in the rough and tumble of the English top flight. Having started Arsenal’s first match of this season against Abu Dhabi FC in the left back position, he broke his left fibula when that fat, ex-spud Kyle Walker sat on him.

Photo by James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images

So, what position does he play? His blistering pace contributed to him being used as a winger in his early career and has also proved useful in his coverage of the flanks when playing at full back. He is good in the tackle, reads the game well and his great engine would appear to make him perfect wingfender material. However, Ainsley’s stated preferred position is midfield and you can easily see how his manoeuvrability and comfortable ease in possession could make him perfect in the centre.

More importantly, what position does Unai Emery think he’s best suited to?

One thing’s for sure, he’ll be clear about what is expected of him when he does get a game. It should be really exciting finding out how Unai gets the best out of him.

chas


Are Arsenal handling the Ramsey situation well?

October 17, 2018

Just when we thought that the Aaron Ramsey story of ‘will he or won’t he leave the Club’ had been flogged to death, flickers of new life have appeared since he scored ‘that goal at Fulham’, leading me to believe that it needs a bit more flogging and that is exactly what I intend to do.

Ramsey’s contract ends in the summer and he will be a free agent to leave at that point but he can sign a pre-contract with another European team in January. (I think) Obviously if he leaves for free in the summer, the club will miss out on a lucrative transfer fee from any potential sale. Conversely, if he is sold in January, he may miss out on a hefty signing on fee.

There are people who have criticised both the player and the club over how things have been handled. In the player’s case the criticism has been levelled for not wanting to show more loyalty to the club that has nurtured him from a raw talent to the highly rated player that he is today and, as such, Ramsey should show more willing to sign an extension to his present contract. In the club’s case, of course, the criticism is for allowing Ramsey’s contract to have run down as far as it has.

As this has unfolded I have found myself asking what could or should the player or the club have done differently and I have struggled to find an alternative. In the case of Ramsey, I completely respect his right to stay at Arsenal for as long as his contract lasts and not a minute longer and as it draws to a close I also respect his right to seek the best offer that might be out there before committing to Arsenal, and that clearly is what he is doing right now.

In the club’s case, the criticism has been for allowing Ramsey’s contract to run down to the last year, meaning that the club should have got him to sign an extension earlier. Now for the life of me I cannot see how anyone can force a footballer to sign a contract when the person does not want to do so. By way of solution, there have been two suggestions put forward as to how the club should have acted differently. The first is that the club should have offered much more, much earlier: rumours have it that Ramsey wanted his wages to match Özil, we have no proof of that but then again if it is true why shouldn’t he, or at least, why shouldn’t he try?

The second is that the club should have threatened to leave him on the bench for six months, or some such Draconian action, unless he made a decision. This suggestion is so impractical that it borders on infantile; the negative effect it would have on the other players not to mention steering other potential signings away would be profound to say the least. Most other players at the club, certainly the young ones will (or certainly would) like to envisage themselves in the same situation as Ramsey and that is, as their contracts near an end they will be in demand – having options as to where their career may take them. If that strongarm tactic of threatening to be sent to the stands is attempted on one player, it follows that other players would believe that it would be tried with them. Who in their right mind would want to work in that environment when you have other choices and how would that endear the world’s elite footballers to the Home of Football? There would only be one loser in this scenario and that would be the club. Or perhaps two losers – you and me, also, missing out on viewing the players that the club should be attracting.

The same people who criticise the club have pointed to other clubs’ success in stopping players run down their contracts. This to me is like comparing apples with oranges. In Man City’s case when a player nears the end of his contract he knows that no-one else out there can match the wages that City can pay and therefore there is no point in shopping around for a potential higher wage because it will never happen, the player is in the situation of take it or leave it and most of them take it.

Some of the same people point to Tottenham as being more comparable and sing their praises as how they have managed to tie their talent down long before they reach the dangerous area we are in with Ramsey right now. This is true up to a point; they have managed to get Kane and Alli to sign extensions and, at first sight it does looks like Tottenham have been more savvy.

But if we drill down a bit, other things appear. Firstly, there is only Kane and Alli that any other top club would fight over, so apart from increasing their wages the enticement/caveat that must have been explained to Kane (for example), is that if you leave for City (again for example) you will be fighting for your place and that might affect the upward trajectory that you’re currently enjoying at Tottenham. The same is true if you join United and even if you wanted to go back to the club you dreamed about playing for as a child, you will still have to vie for a starting berth with Aubameyang and Lacazette, whereas if you stay at Tottenham you will remain top dog. The opposite is the case with Ramsey; he is vying with Özil for prime pitch real estate.

In the last few months pretty much everything in the Ramsey case has followed the increasingly well-trodden path taken previously by Sanchez and Özil. Both refused to sign a new contract, this generated headlines that served as advertisement to the fact that they would listen to offers from other clubs. Sanchez and Ozil were pampered by Arsenal in an attempt to get them to stay; that’s to say, both players always played whenever and wherever they wanted; the same was true of Ramsey – until something totally different happened, Arsenal withdrew the offer of a four year contract – a brilliant piece of business in my opinion. Ramsey will continue as before following the usual path but, by withdrawing the contract offer, the Club are saying to other clubs that we are prepared to let him go and thereby letting potential suitors know that there will be no resistance from Arsenal if someone wants to buy him in January.

In brief, Arsenal have removed the obstacle of the four year contract and by doing so are making it easier for other clubs to believe that they can sign Ramsey which, in turn, increases the possibility of getting something from him, by way of a transfer fee, in January.

The other advantage of withdrawing the contract offer is that it frees up Emery to pick Ramsey as and when he wants rather than having to pander to him in an attempt to entice him to stay. A big part of me wants him to re-sign but another part of me really wants to hasten the time when Emery has all the players and the team that he sees in his mind’s eye. Is Ramsey part of that? I don’t know. It should be interesting to see how this one pans out.

Please feel free to disagree with anything up there, in fact, the more the better.

LB


Where do you think we’ll finish in the Prem? – Poll

October 15, 2018

So after not quite a quarter of League games played and not quite half of all of our Premiership opponents played once, where do we stand? The table says 4th, above the spuds on goal difference and only two points behind the three-way joint leaders. The enforced interlull break gives us time to have a look at the progress of Unai Emery’s new Arsenal.

After two tricky opening fixtures against City and the chavs, we’ve had a run of 6 games that many predicted had a good potential chance of reaping a full 18 points and that’s exactly what’s happened. Has it been straightforward, maybe not?

I keep seeing articles written by analyst types who predict that Arsenal cannot keep defying the xG or expected goals stats. In at least three of our matches we’ve been predicted, using expected goals, to have drawn or lost games: these were Everton, Watford and Fulham.

 REUTERS/Hannah McKay

In two of these, Everton and Watford, it’s easy to see how we might have drawn or lost both games on the balance of play. To keep beating the xG a team has to show superlative finishing by taking chances (difficult and easy) and also be a little fortunate not to have the opposition capitalise on theirs. The Fulham game was a little different as Fulham had many efforts which were hopeful and dire in equal measure.

Enough waffle, the point being that we’ve pulled through in tight games and secured the points without playing that brilliantly. To continue and consolidate our march up the table, we’ll need to step up a gear.

How are other possible top 6 opponents getting on?

Abu Dhabi FC

City have carried on where they left off last season; in fact some analysts suggest they’ve improved. They’ve certainly made light of missing De Bruyne through injury. The borefest 0-0 against ‘Pool showed that Pep fears Liverpool after getting caned twice last season. Enough, in fact, to set his team’s stall out with the main aim of not conceding.

Dippers

Klippety has Liverpool firing again, though that front three of Salah, Firmino and Mané haven’t quite been banging the goals in at last term’s rate as of yet.

Blue London Oilers

Have, perhaps, been carried a little by Hazard’s sparkling form, though have also had the easiest start of the top 6.

spuds

Not really started that well but are on the same points as us. Their squad looks a little threadbare with Poxyttino unable to spend in the summer. Let’s hope their new ground opening at Christmas gives them a bad present rather than a boost.

Newton Heath Wealth Merchants

Their start to this season has been very amusing. Long may it continue.

Anyway, back to the poll – where do you think we’ll end up come May?

Admittedly it’s such early days that any answer is more likely to be a guess or hope than anything else………..

Up the Arse.


Alex Iwobi – What’s changed?

October 14, 2018

Following on from Friday’s post and the idea that youth players may not have that drive and hunger to succeed, let’s take a look at Alex Iwobi who appears to be emerging from his chrysalis like a Giant Swallowtail this season. How has a player who in the past sometimes didn’t appear to know himself which way his feet were going to dance, suddenly be staking a claim for a starting spot in our first choice eleven?

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Alex came to this country at the age 4 as his father sought a new start in England. His blood is rich in footballing gravy with the magnificent Jay Jay Okocha, his uncle.

Alex Joined Arsenal while still at Primary school aged 8.

At not too far off 12 stone and a shade under 6 feet tall, Alex is a fairly big old unit to have such twinkling feet. He made his debut on 27th Oct 2015 in the League Cup and his Premier League debut 4 days after, as a late sub. Alex’s first Premier start came against Everton on 19th March 2016 and was capped by a splendid goal which featured a run from the halfway line.

Iwobi’s career at the Home of Football has flattered to deceive so far. He has made respectable appearance numbers in the past two seasons without ever really establishing himself a permanent niche. Though, it has to be said, those two seasons weren’t really Arsenal’s finest in recent decades.

In May 2018 Arsene Wenger announced he would be leaving the club, and Alex Iwobi described the great man as an “inspiration” and stated it was sad but also exciting. That ‘exciting’ reference has been echoed by everyone who follows the Gunners, as an overdue, new era beckoned.

This season has begun really well for BIG17 with 5 Prem appearances, 4 assists and the equaliser against Chelsea up to now. He started against the chavs, West Ham and Fulham, and came on as a sub against Everton and Watford.

In a 4-3-3 Alex usually plays left side in the front three. The recent Arsenal formation employed by Unai Emery in the game at Craven Cottage appeared to suit him; playing more as the outside left midfielder in a middle 4. Unai Emery seems to hold the Cockney Naija boy in high regard and this season could be a monster for the lad.

So what’s changed about Alex this season? All round, his decision-making has improved, with far less running up blind alleys. Although his finishing is still a little rushed with a tendency to lift his head and spoon the ball over the bar, his passing has been top notch. He’s far less likely to give the ball away but also doesn’t seem afraid to turn and drive forwards rather than just lay the ball back from whence it came.

Has Unai been encouraging him to take players on and thus create that vital opening needed to open up massed Premiership defences? The youtube video above amply demonstrates the many tricks and skills Alex employs to beat a man.

He also seems more tactically aware defensively, covering a tremendous amount of ground up and down that left flank. Although tackling is not his strong point, much defensive work these days is more about creating pressure on the man with the ball and limiting passing options for the opposition.

This does seem a critical point in Wobbly’s Arsenal career. He could really cement his future at the Gunners by adding great end-product to those glittering, silky skills. Good luck to the lad, he’s definitely the closest we have to a Mr Arsenal.

The change at the top of the Club is having all sorts of trickle down effects and Alex seems to be one of those benefitting.

chas


Who exactly is Unai Emery?

October 11, 2018

Most of us know his football CV, an underwhelming football career, moving into management after a serious injury to his knee; successfully taking lower league sides up through the divisions before landing the respected job at Valencia. He stayed there for three seasons doing perfectly well and then bizarrely he left to work with Spartak Moscow. Now for the life of me I cannot work out why he would want to go and work in Moscow, so if anyone can throw some light on this please do. He was sacked after 6 months due to bad results.

He returned to Spain to take the reins of Sevilla and, as we all know, he won the Europa three times. Sensibly in my opinion he moved on, I say sensibly because the only way was down after that kind of success. He took the offer to join PSG and won a series of various French trophies which no one cares about because it is about as meaningful as reading the list of Celtic’s palmares.

It is thought that the reason he left PSG was because he found it impossible to micro manage the likes of Neymar. I have added the word micro myself as that in my opinion is what he does and by the way I am in all favour of it as it seems to be working well at the home of football.

Gazidis gave some cock and ball story on how the club were interviewing 5 different candidates for Wenger’s job, yeah, yeah, yeah. In reality it seems we were hours away from appointing the only decent option available and that was Arteta. Now if you were not scared about the idea of someone with zero managerial experience taking the helm then you should have been. Anyway, rather than drag up the past I believe we got lucky in the sense that all of a sudden PSG wanted rid of Emery and we needed someone just like him. So, right place right time.

Interestingly, or certainly interestingly to me, we seemed to have got lucky in a similar way with our Director of Football, Raul Sanllehi. This guy’s credentials are something special; to keep it short, he really was the top dog at Barcelona for a long, long time, no easy task in that cut throat world. From what I can gather he was, among many other things, the one that was able to keep “Team Messi” on side for so long; he finally fell from grace over losing Neymar. Lucky us, right place right time.

Sanllehi (far right seated)

Back to Unai Emery, let’s start with his full name and an explanation “Unai Emery Etxegoien” It is very common in Spain to have two last names “Etxegoien” is his mother’s name and is as Basque as Basque can be, I can’t find the meaning so if anyone can please let me know?

Quick language history lesson, the majority of languages in Europe descended from the region now called India hence the name Indo European. But Basque predates all of them; it is a Stone Age language that has somehow survived. Quick story, most languages have to deal with the Anglo Saxon bulldozer, the word computer is a good recent example; most countries, in an attempt to stop even more English entering their language’s vocabulary found a replacement that sounded a bit more like their own. France = ordinateur, you get the drift. But Basque is so old that they had issues long before when the new-fangled “Scissors” came along, so being a Stone Age language their solution was to use the Basque equivalent of Two Sharp Stones, get it? You have no idea how much I dine out on that story in Spain.

Our Manager’s first name, Unai, is very common in the Basque Country and it means ‘shepherd’. His father’s name, Emery is confusing because it does not sound Basque and it does not sound Spanish, again if anyone knows the origin please let me know.

To me the Basque Country represents the industrial north of Spain; I think it is possible to draw direct comparisons with the UK: “Sophistication, I’ve been to Leeds”. I put this down to why Emery is poorly dressed: the jacket he wears fits him so badly, the shirt looks like something that the club gives out to anyone working there and the tie is sloppy.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the Basque Country because they do have the beautiful San Sebastian (or Donostia in Basque) and by way of example, it has as many Michelin-starred restaurants in that little town as we do in London. I do not pray at the Michelin Guide’s altar but it does give an idea of how the town takes its food seriously and trust me I have put in hours and hours of research into this!  That care for food does trickle down to the more everyday eateries such as Tapas Bars.

Tapas, we have all heard of Tapas, what does it mean and where does it come from? It comes from the Spanish word ‘Tapar’ which means to cover and goes back to, let’s say, Shakespearean times – a long time ago. Coachmen used to enter the inn, get a tankard of beer or wine and on top would be slices of ham or cheese covering the top of the tankard. Tapar = cover, Tapas = expensive “covers” you find in the now fashionable Upper Street, Islington. There is one last important thing here and that is because Basques want to protect their own language: remember Two Sharp Stones? Well, in the Basque Country, Tapas are called Pinxos and they are on another level of fantasticness.

Again back to Emery and in particular his hair: the style of slicked back and dyed has, without any shadow of a doubt, been influenced by his time at Seville; they take their appearance a lot more seriously down there; watch the crowd come out of the main bull ring in Seville, a very dressy occasion, and you will see half the men with that hair style.

Photo by Lindsey PARNABY / AFP/Getty Images

So who is Unai Emery? I think I have hardly scratched the surface. I wanted to go into how much he has changed the club but realised that I have waffled on for longer than I expected – maybe next time.

LB


Unai’s boys flatten Fulham with flawless finishing

October 8, 2018

Wow, it really is an exciting time to be an Arsenal supporter. With the toxic infighting of last season fading from memory and now, incredibly, nine wins on the bounce it rightly has to be said that the Unai Emery revolution is gathering pace. I can’t remember the last time I found myself looking forward to the next game with such eagerness: you just don’t know what you are going to get.

We continued to make mistakes at the back in the early part of yesterday’s game and I can’t be the only one who feels that a better team is going to punish us to the tune of three quick goals giving us a mountain to climb to get back on level terms; but, on the other hand, there are now elements of our play that suggest that not only could we get top four – we could win the league. More level-headed and certainly more annoying sourpusses will probably say that the truth is somewhere in between.

My take on what turned out to be the thrashing of Fulham was that it was a workman-like performance studded with five incredibly good goals. Our football in general wasn’t that convincing but our goals certainly were. I could go through all of them, describing each in turn but wouldn’t be able to do justice to the fine collection.

Probably the most important was Lacazette’s second; it came at a crucial time, shortly after the restart and dampened down the enthusiasm that Fulham had worked up having scored just before the break. Back in charge Arsenal went on to slowly strangle the life out of the home side and add another three important points to our growing tally.

Yes, we have to continue to fend off accusations that we have not played anyone of note during this run but as dull as the saying goes that you can only beat who is in front of you, we still have had to do it and I for one did not expect us to do it so well as we have and be in this excellent position – especially in the wake of the first two games. Still, I am happy and pleasantly surprised to write that things really are looking good.

Ratings

Leno: looking more confident and I have to say, commanding; I don’t think he could have done any more to stop Fulham’s goal. 7

Bellerin: excellent game, early criticism of his gallivanting down the wing, leaving us exposed at the back is now seen as unfounded as all have noticed that he was acting on instructions and he was not being covered as he is now successfully by Torriera. Hector looked the DB’s. 8

Mustafi: I think it was Fred who said that Shkod seems to be playing better with Holding rather than with Sokratis, this may be true; he did look a little more secure yesterday. 7

Holding: Well, who would have expected him at the start of the season to be in a position to stake a claim to an automatic place in the starting line-up? Not I, but he has. He really is improving his ability of playing the ball out from the back. Pretty much, always in the right place at the right time yesterday. 8

Monreal: everything was going down our left in the first half with he and Iwobi dominating proceedings, all marred by a really annoying bad pass that led to the Fulham goal. 6

Torreira: yep, the image of the Duracell Bunny works for me. Lacazette maybe most people’s man of the match for his goals but that is what I would argue he was supposed to do in the same way as a goalkeeper is supposed to save shots and just because Leno made some fine save does not make him man of the match. Now Torriera on the other hand controlled the game from start to finish and that is why he gets my man of the match. 9

Xhaka: Captain Granit, I know he is flavour of the month and he has been spraying the ball around well recently but he is still guilty of early lapses in concentration that seem to cause heart stopping nightmares early on in the game. We won 1-5 so I don’t want to get too moany. 6

Iwobi: confidence soaring, decision making improving, goal assists coming, what is not to like? Emery still took him off early and you could see the disappointment in his face, the aim was clear and it worked: don’t rest on your laurels Alex, more is still expected. The difference this season to last is that most people now expect him to successfully rise to the challenge. 8

Lacazette: two top goals, tons of hard work, swagger in his play. More excellent man management; he was left out of the team earlier in the season and has risen to the challenge of getting back into the starting eleven. 9

Welbeck: a fans’ favourite, everyone wants him to do well but he has two strikers around him who are at the top of their game and as such Danny is being shown to be the slightly inferior striker that he is. 6

Mkhitaryan: probably the thing he was guilty of was not scoring, that’s not to say that he had the chances it’s just that as those around him were scoring for fun and he was made to look human. I don’t think he had a bad game it’s just that he didn’t have a stellar game as some around him did. 7

Subs

Ramsey: well if that doesn’t win goal of the season then the one that does is going to be very, very special indeed. I have a lot more to say about Aaron but I will save it for another time. 8

Aubameyang: treat em mean to keep em keen. Raring to go as soon as he came on and gave a master class in finishing. 8

Guendouzi: superb cameo, ok the game was won but he offered so much to the midfield. 7

PS. If Ozil had played we would have won 1-8

LB