Eight Positive Arsenal Developments and the One Big Elephant on The Pitch

It has been very good since our win over Chelsea: some good football at times, five wins and a draw in all competitions, 2.2 goals scored per game and just one conceded. Something to build on and now we will face a number of challenging games and I bet the boys are looking forward to it, such is the hunger and confidence at the moment. How will we do against the likes of Southampton, Man United, Wolves etc? As always, we should only focus on one game at a time (OGAAT), but that does not mean we cannot look at the team and make a general statement about the strength of it. I have noticed a number of developments in the team which I would like to share with you. Please add yours if you can think of anymore.

Eight Positive Developments at Arsenal

  1. The first development is that after many seasons we now finally have real quality CBs… and there is competition. A good PL team needs a solid pair of CBs and Arteta can choose from four players: Luiz, Holding, Gabriel and Mari (and Chambers?). They are all fit now and eager to play and you tell me what the best pairing is! Many will exclude Luiz if they can but if he is surrounded by the right players he still has lots to offer. My favourite pairing is probably Holding-Gabriel but I have also really liked Mari’s no-nonsense and committed performances. This is a beautiful headache for Mikel and long may it continue.
  2. The second development is the balance we now have in midfield. Elneny has been fantastic in recent weeks and no doubt this is down to Arteta’s coaching. It takes a former midfielder to get the best out of his midfielders and I have no doubt that Arteta and Elneny get on very well. Xhaka is also one of his favourites and together they form a more than decent deep-midfield pair. But now, finally, Arteta can add Partey to the mix and he does offer something different. So, a good midfield can become a great one. Left-footed Xhaka and right-footed Partey seems to be the strongest combination, with Elneny a very good back-up for either of them. This should allow a youngster to try and claim the fourth spot, but neither Willock or AMN seem to have convinced Mikel that they have what it takes to fill one of these crucial positions in the team as yet. It would not surprise me if Arteta were to buy another left-footed defensive midfielder in the next six months or so but really hope that he doesn’t need to.
  3. The third development is the one we have been most enthusiastic about: the emergence of the three super youngsters, Martinelli, ESR and Saka. Okay we already knew how good Martinelli and Saka are from the previous campaign, but together with ESR they really have stepped up a level. Martinelli is so hungry and desperate to play and score; you totally sense that nothing else matters to him at the moment. ESR has been dancing on the pitch with the ball whilst always keeping his head up when it matters. Saka – the Silk – has been so graceful and powerful and he can just play anywhere where he is needed on the pitch… and that for a boy born just days before the 9/11 attack – yes that is how young he is! These three are loved by the whole team and they have great masters to learn from, and together they provide the team with the much needed energy. Without this sort of joy and existential energy nothing of note happens.
  4. The fourth development is the emergence of two equally dangerous wings. With Xhaka and Partey we can feed both wings with both defensive and attacking support. They both are very strong positionally and read the game so well. They are quick passers and can play the long ball well too. This allows the full backs to work with the advanced midfielders in a really effective way. ESR can help out on each wing and so we can increase the numbers when we are attacking on the wings. Auba/Martinelli and Tierney on the left and Saka/Willian and Bellerin/Soares on the right have been making a lot of progress in recent games. Hector’s attacking contributions remain under par but Saka’s plays well with the loyal Spaniard. Soares played really well v the Barcodes and he may actually be the stronger option for the right full back position. But the most important thing is that we can now spread our attacks and become less predictable.
  5. The fifth development is the rebirth of Alexander Lacazette. I must admit I didn’t think this would be possible anymore. He revels in the ‘free CF’ role for which he has the engine and right attitude. His link up play has been impressive and he always keeps defenders busy. I also really like his desire to get stuck in and get bruised. The only problem is that no other attacker seems to be able to play that role, other than Martinelli possibly. We are seeing less of Eddie at the moment and I wonder whether the new formation and style of play is something he can adapt to. I hope so as Eddie is a great lad who cares for the shirt (and his imaginary phone 🙂 ).
  6. The sixth development is the growing maturity of Bernd Leno. I think he really is benefiting from the strength of the CBs in front of him and the 4-2-3-1 formation. We play so much more solid now and hardly give anything away anymore, so Bernd can be calm and focused on the moments he needs to make the difference. He has made some superb saves recently, and you can tell that attackers are fearing him now. His distribution has much improved since last season too. The big elephant on the pitch is of course who is going to replace him if and when he is unavailable. This surely is our big priority this January.
  7. The seventh development is the Auba-Partey link up. Balls over the top from the right from right-footed Partey could just make the difference for Auba. Okay it is early days, but I sense that Auba will be more effective when the ball is played like that, as he can make the first touch with his left foot and can watch the pass all the way. Luiz, Tierney and Xhaka have all tried to supply Auba from the left with their left feet but it didn’t really work well until now. Auba is best when given the ball in space and the more he can be launched the better.
  8. The eighth development is the youth involvement. Paradoxically, because of the high level performances of young Guns ESR and Saka in particular, the bar has got higher and the likes of AMN, Willock, Eddie and Nelson are currently struggling to make the grade with Arteta. So they will have to work even harder but I have no doubt that they will get a fair chance. This may mean that one or two should go out on loan, which should never be seen as a punishment or demotion but simply as a good opportunity to grow somewhere a bit more suited to them at this stage of their footie careers. We are also blessed with more good youngsters coming through and Arteta may well feel that it is time for one or two (temporary) promotions. But there is no doubt in my mind that Arteta will give the youngsters a chance; how couldn’t he after the new life the team and he were given by Saka, ESR and Martinelli?!

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal Player Ratings: Three MOTM, Xhaka-Partey in Total Control, Rob Majestic!

That was one of our best games, and not just because of a good second half or that we played against a poor Newcastle United. It was such a good game because we had control over all proceedings from the start. We lacked quality in our final balls and finishing in the first half, but Arsenal were dominant in all areas and it was only a matter of time before they would start scoring. The Magpies were poor in midfield and attack but they know how to defend and Arsenal just had to keep going at them and cracks would eventually appear. When they did the boys finished well and they could even have scored a few more.

Aubameyang vindt ondanks enorme misser het goede gevoel terug

Player Ratings:

Leno: 7 – kept his gloves clean and had nothing noteworthy to do.

Tierney: 7.5 – good game in all areas of the pitch. Couple of fab crosses and tenacious in defence and the one to ones.

Luiz: 7 – not much to do in defence but he formed a calm and organised partnership with Holdingho all game long. Really ambitions at our corners but just lacked a bit of composure after making the good runs.

Holding: 7.5– a very tidy shift from Robbo. Solid in the air and on the ground and did not allow any attackers any time on the ball.

Soares: 7.5 – started off a bit rusty but once he got into the game Cedric was very effective, both in defence and attack. Great determination and control for his assist and he also put some very sharp crosses in.

Xhaka: 7.5 – absolute ball magnet through his great positioning and anticipation skills. So much went through him in this game. First signs of a good partnership with Partey in the making.

Partey: 7.5 – less involved in the first half but even then he was positionally strong with great protection of the defence. More involved in the second half in which he had a great assist and a pre-assist (for which he gets an extra half point).

Auba: 8 – MOTM at times painful to watch on the ball and a lack of form and confidence can clearly drag down even the best, but a superb first goal with his left made an end to it; and his second goal followed soon. Is Auba back? Well without those goals he would not have received more than a six…

ESR: 8 – MOTM a great battling performance and an extra whole point for his assist for the Saka goal. That was the best moment of the game. His link up play energises the team and makes others better footballers.

Saka: 8 – MOTM good run and fine finish for his goal for which he gets an extra point. So many good attacking contributions during the game and always a joy to watch.

Laca: 7 – worked his socks off and created passing opportunities and space for others all game long. But no goals or assists which will frustrate him a bit.

Subs:

Elneny: 6 – tidy job.

Willian: 6 – tried to keep it going but without much impact.

Martinelli: – not long enough on the pitch.

Arsenal v Magpies Preview/ Lineup: A Double Boost on the Left and the Return of Big Gab

After a bit of a setback against the Eagles last Thursday, the boys are back in action again on Monday. Once again we are meeting the Barcodes at the home of football, but this time it is not for the FA Cup but for the league. All is not well in the Newcastle camp it appears, with players rebelling against the manager’s tactics and you name it. The cacophony of all those shouting and screaming magpies must be deafening!

So will they be up for it tomorrow or become easy pray for the hopefully again firing-from-all-cylinders Gunners?

The Eagles game saw us shooting many blanks and we lacked the ability to somehow crack their solid defence. This was bound to happen to us at some point again and I am not too worried about it – all teams have had these sorts of frustrating games in recent weeks. We saw Pool and Manu miss a load of (half) chances today, and the Chavs only overcame a determined and well-organised Fulham as a result of a lucky bounce rather than a well worked out attack, yesterday. Teams are becoming really good at defending and the only way to crack them is by applying high levels of energy (whilst protecting the shape of the team), taking a half-chance and hoping for a lucky bounce of the ball, it seems. We lacked that sort of energy on Thursday, and also did not take our half-chances or had the benefit from a benevolent bounce of the ball in the opposition’s box. Yet I was impressed by our defending and Xhaka had an inspired game in midfield. Would we have done better with Tierney, Mari, Elneny and Martinelli involved in the game? Probably, but we will never know. I fully trust Areta to have made the right call on the night.

We know that the Magpies will in all likelihood play a similar game as in the FA Cup game: make it hard for us to play out from the back, sit deep when we get through their midfield and hope to get something from a breakaway or, more likely, a set piece or high cross into the box. So we need to be disciplined and have a solid midfield, especially with such adventurous full backs Arteta likes to deploy. Up-front we need energy, close ball control, excellent movement and ability to take our (half)chances. For this we will need to reintroduce the aforementioned players, or at least some of them.

My preferred lineup is:

Mari does not yet appear fit to play and it is time to reenter Gabriel anyway. Maybe Arteta will give Holding a rest and play Luiz instead, but I would like to see the Gab-Hold duo tomorrow. Hopefully TIerney is available again but if not I would like to see Gabriel play at left back (and then Luiz to play with Holding). In the middle we need to reintroduce a solid defensive midfielder, either Partey or Elneny for Ceballos, as to keep our shape and discipline which will allow the whole team to play better, both in attack and defence. Xhaka may need a rest as he had a very busy game v Newcastle.

In attack we should see a start for Martinelli who is available again! Saka should hopefully play and in the centre of the three attacking mids it will probably be either ESR or Willian. I am wary of overusing ESR at this stage and he looked a bit tired to me on Thursday. Willian between Saka and Martinelli and with Laca up-front could be treat to watch, but Arteta should stick with the in-form Emile if he is fully fit to play.

Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.

An In-depth Analysis of Benfica, Arsenal’s next Europa League Opponent

Benfica, an impressionist preview

See the source image


Well, yesterday was the day of the big game in (Porto-Benfica) Portugal. I was right in front of my TV screen at 21.00 (London time), and “impressionist” is because even though I don’t know 2021 Portuguese football well, I had to watch the game with the sound turned off, since my wife was watching tv 3 feet to my left – which is why some details are bound to have eluded me.


Anyway, to the point (at last): it was not a football game, it was a “football” battle. The players spent their time kicking one another about the pitch – all the more so since refereeing was awful, much, much too lenient, so much so that in the second half things were not far from being out of control (both benches should have been sent off for threatening to invade the pitch).


Benfica? Mates, we’re in for a very bumpy ride. They are a well-organized, well-drilled, … dirty team (I’ve always loved Portuguese football, but I really can’t put it otherwise). They were presented in 4-4-2:
Odysseas
Gilberto-Otamendi-Vertonghen-Tavarez
Rafa-Weigl-Pizzi-Grimaldo
Séférovic-Darwin


but they are almost always three in central defence: at the moment they get into possession, Weigl slides back between Otamendi and Vertonghen, so that they turn into:


Odysseas
Otamendi-Weigl-Vertonghen
Gilberto-Rafa-Pizzi-Grimaldo-Tavarez
Séférovic-Darwin
when they are dispossessed, they shift to:
Odysseas
Rafa-Gilberto-Otamendi-Vertonghen-Tavarez
Weigl-Pizzi-Grimaldo
Darwin-Séférovic


Of course, the key players in that system are those who are asked to shift positions in the blink of an eye. Two are outstanding, imo:
Weigl, a DM who has made me think a lot of young Busquets – he has the same seemingly effortless turnarounds right in the middle of pressing opponents, always followed by one of these key passes dear to PB, either short of long (his decision-making is excellent). He has the responsibility of putting the team back on track when in possession, which is why he slides back to CB position, from where he plays like a 21st century Beckenbauer. I don’t think he gave the ball away once, and I think he was the only player on the pitch not to have committed any foul. It might be a good idea to have a guy marking/pressing him in those Beckenbauer moments, Laca is good at that.


Rafa Siva, a right-wing-attacking-midfielder, who had already impressed me against Santa Clara: just as Kieran is our spark, he is Benfica’s; he was the one who made me think that the great tradition of fast, skilful, imaginative, combative too, Portuguese (I think he’s Portuguese, he might be Brazilian, now I think of it) players has not been wiped out. You can’t help but feel sorry for him, thinking of what he could provide in a more attack-minded team.


There was something eery about the way they played, because I couldn’t help but have in mind what Mikel tried to implement at The Arsenal in his 3-at-the-back period, with Granit sliding back and Ainsley sliding forward. The flaws in Benfica’s game are the same as ours were, then: predictability, lack of creativity. Most of their attacks are bound to end up with a high-ball-cross from one of either wings; Tavarez is good at that, Gilberto is not, and obviously kicking long-high balls into the box is neither Rafa’s nor Grimaldo’s thing, so that for whole spells, both players look a bit … lost.


Having said that, crossing make more sense for them than it did for us, when the recipients were either Laca or Auba who sometimes look as though they are afraid of heading Kieran’s crosses. Benfica’s target-men are made for this kind of football: Darwin-Séférovic are the Ollie-kind of CFs, strong, not very mobile, but just as with Ollie, there’s more than meets the eye in them. Darwin was not on a very good night, but you can feel there’s more to him than that; as for Séférovic, he looks almost ponderous, but he pulled a wonderful, subtle assist on Grimaldo’s goal (a great chip over the keeper, too). The goal was an example of how deadly they can be on the break; Darwin wasted a chance Rafa had provided after a great run, and the same Darwin hit the post after a very decent, quick, counter-attacking move.
More generally, I hope we won’t be on a high-ball night against them, because they are very good at it, all over the pitch, but especially in both boxes, with the attackers I just mentioned, but also with Otamendi-Vertonghen in their own box, as well as with Odysseas who strikes me as being an excellent keeper indeed.


Their taste for high balls goes along with a taste for elbowing the faces of the opponents competing with them. How Otamendi/Pizzi/Tavarez/Séférovic/Vertonghen were not yellowed well before HT is a mystery only the ref can solve (can he?).


Pizzi (their captain!!!) was the dirtiest player on the pitch; he should have been sent off after ten minutes, but only got a yellow in the second half, after Porto’s CF had been shown a red (for a leg-breaking tackle that needed to be VAR’d by the ref to be turned into a red!!).
I don’t think they can get away with such belligerent tactics in EL, but who knows? I’m afraid a player like Pizzi could get Granit-on-a-bad-night to be sent off, I’m also afraid Jorge Jesus might do his homework well, identify Kieran as our main (only?) danger, and put a contract over his head. Refereeing will be key, anyway.


What can I say? They’re not a great team, and the Santi-Aaron-Mesut-Alexis Arsenal would have wounded them, because of the lack of mobility of key defensive players (Otamendi-Vertonghen-Pizzi). 2021 Arsenal I’m not that sure. Key passes delivered over or through their defending line from the space between the edge of the centre circle and the edge of their penalty area can hurt them, as one of them did on Porto’s equalizer, but those are tricky passes and there are not many among the lads who are sure providers of them. Of course the other solution, is the kind of move that ended up with Bukayo’s goal against WBA, Emil is very good at triggering them, actually Emil-Laca-Bukayo is the perfect trident for such moves, so …

See the source image


They’ll be a tough nut to crack, that’s for sure, because they have a clear plan, which is to annihilate the other team’s strengths, and physically intimidate them. Jorge Jesus’s coaching is the perfect illustration of that; in both games I saw he took out his only creative players, Waldschmidt (who had been the best player on the pitch – he wasn’t even picked yesterday) against Santa Clara, and Grimaldo/Rafa yesterday. Two goalless draws and kicking us out after a penalty shootout wouldn’t bother him at all, from what I’ve seen. There’s no way we’ll make it to the next round with a “B” or “A’” team – and let’s all pray for Bernd to be kept out of harm’s way; Rúnarsson under their high-ball-bombing is the stuff an eternity of nightmares is made on. On the other hand, Gilberto is their obvious weaker link, and since he’ll have to face Kieran, both nights may turn into nightmares for him and his team too.

COYG

By LE GALL

Arsenal V Crystal Palace Preview/Line-up: Arsenal Strongest Eleven? And Focus on an Arsenal Hero

Arsenal Heroes

Charles Frederick “Charlie” George

Charlie was born 10 October 1950 in Islington, North London.

Brought up deep in Arsenal territory, Charlie was just a nipper when he made his first trip to Highbury to see the Gunners play. His fiery nature showed up early in his life when he was expelled from a local school. As a young boy he played for Islington Schoolboys before he realised his dream when in May 1966 he signed as an apprentice at Arsenal and turned professional eighteen months later. In a short period of three to four years he had progressed from standing on the terraces watching his heroes to actually playing among them.

He made his debut against Everton in the opening game of the 1969/70 season and scored his first goal against West Bromwich Albion two games later. Unfortunately, ill-discipline marred his initial season and as a result he spent three months in the reserves. He was reinstated in the spring and as a19-year-old he helped the Gunners to European Fairs Cup glory. He brought a swagger previously unseen in a Bertie Mee side, and his impact meant he attracted much of the pre-season hype in the summer of 1970. It wasn’t a case of if he would be good but more a case of just how good he would become. Disaster lurked just around the corner when after scoring at Goodison Park on the opening day of the League season; Charlie suffered a broken ankle which kept him out until the New Year. During his absence he was replaced up front by Ray Kennedy. His skills and creativity allowed him to thrive in his new role as an attacking midfielder and from there he gave the team an added dimension that would prove to pay the ultimate dividend on a historic day at Wembley in May 1971.

Arsenal had wrapped up the league title at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane on the Monday when Ray Kennedy headed home a cross from George Armstrong – now just a short few days later they had to face Bill Shankley’s Liverpool in the FA Cup final. After 90 minutes the game was goalless but just two minutes into extra time Liverpool were ahead through Steve Heighway. Nine minutes later Eddie Kelly started what would be a remarkable Arsenal comeback. With eight minutes to go the game looked destined for a draw with both sets of players dead on their feet until George, Arsenal’s long-haired talisman, stepped up. John Radford squared the ball just outside the box and George took a touch to steady himself before lashing a thunderbolt of a shot past Ray Clemence into the Liverpool goal.

The game commentator described the goal as follows –

Radford to George – George –

HE SCORES!

GEORGE HAS DONE IT!

GEORGE HAS DONE IT!

His celebration is almost as famous as the goal itself as he dropped to the floor in exhaustion and lay flat on his back as his team-mates celebrated. It remains one of the most rousing and lasting images in Arsenal’s history as well as the history of the FA Cup.

With the FA Cup win Arsenal completed their first League and Cup double.

He played four more seasons at Highbury, however the latter stages of his career with Arsenal were hampered with injuries and his rebellious streak which created issues with the club’s management; during the 1971–72 season he was disciplined by the club twice, first after head butting Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan, and then for flicking a V-sign at Derby County’s fans after scoring away at the Baseball Ground. He scored eleven goals in both 1971–72 and 1972–73 but his form declined and he only scored five times in 28 matches in 1973–74 and once again ill discipline caused a problem and he was dropped from the first team in 1974–75 after falling out with manager Bertie Mee. By Christmas 1974 he had been transfer listed, and he moved to Derby County in July 1975 for ÂŁ100,000.

He spent three and a half years at Derby but, predictably, he fell out with coach Don Revie after being substituted and he was never picked again. He also had a loan spell at St George’s Budapest in Australia. After Derby, he went on to play for the Minnesota Kicks in the North American Soccer League, where he made 18 appearances in the1978 season. He then returned to England with Southampton and then he had a short period on loan to Nottingham Forest in 1980, he could not agree an extension to his loan at Forest and returned to Southampton, playing his last league game for them on 14 March 1981. In the summer of 1981 he left the club to move to Bulova in Hong Kong. A year later he returned to England to have short spells with Bournemouth and Derby County for a second time, and had a short time with Scottish side Dundee United before retiring in 1983.

Always a controversial figure, Charlie had his run-ins with the game’s authorities, but his supporters loved him no less for it. Sadly for him he never got the chance to fulfil his potential on the international stage and the hour he played for England against the Republic of Ireland in 1976 was to be his only cap. A disagreement with then boss Don Revie led to his substitution and a falling out with the England set-up.

After retiring from football he moved to New Milton, Hampshire to run a pub. For some years he had joint ownership in a garage business now he is back at Arsenal where he conducts “Legends” tours, and also acts as a match day host.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – Div 1 Home Games
 WDLGFGAGD
130-Mar-701  202
214-Nov-70 1 110
327-Nov-711  211
426-Mar-731  101
522-Mar-80 1 110
620-Apr-811  321
701-Jan-901  413
823-Feb-911  404
911-Apr-921  413
Total :72022715
Arsenal v Crystal Palace – EPL Home Games
 WDLGFGAGD
108-May-931  303
201-Oct-94  112-1
321-Feb-981  101
414-Feb-051  514
502-Feb-141  202
616-Aug-141  211
717-Apr-16 1 110
801-Jan-171  202
920-Jan-181  413
1021-Apr-19  123-1
1127-Oct-19 1 220
Total :722251114

In our 20 EPL history we have only lost at home twice against Crystal Palace and I cannot forsee that changing and I feel we will continue our winning streak.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – ALL Home Games
 WDLGFGAGD
Division 172022715
Premier722251114
Total :1442471829

GunnerN5

Predicted Line-up v Palace (by TotalArsenal)

Six Team Boosts for Arteta To Push Arsenal Onward and Upwards

It is great to have momentum in terms of quality of our football and latest results, but it is even better when the boss gets a number of team boosts on top of that.

This is the latest team news from Arsenal.com:

  1. Gabriel Martinelli
    Right ankle. Gabi turned his right ankle during the warm-up against Newcastle United on Saturday and was subsequently taken out of the starting line-up.
    Gabi has progressed very well and we’re hoping that he will return to full training with the squad in the next few days.

2. Gabriel Magalhaes
Gabriel is now back in full training and is available for selection for Thursday’s match.

3. Thomas Partey
Thomas is now back in full training with the squad after recovering from an injury to the left thigh. Thomas continues to regain full fitness and will be assessed ahead of Thursday’s match.

So with eight games between now and the weekend of 8 February possibly to come in all competitions, it is great to have these quality players return to the squad. We will be playing Crystal Palace, Newcastle again, Southampton or Shrewsbury in the cup, Southampton (again?), Manchester United, Wolves, Aston Villa, and then the next round of the FA Cup if we get through. This is a great set of games to put our teeth in and try and get as many good results as possible.

In defence we get back Gabriel and he will be ready to give the likes of Mari and Holding a break. Will he walk straight back into the team? Well both Mari and Holding have done very well with just one goal conceded in the premier league in recent matches, so he may have to wait. But sooner or later Big Gab will get his chance again. He is just too good to leave out for long and we have plenty of games to come.

In midfield we should finally get to see Partey again. His best game was obviously against the Mancs and they are coming to THOF on 30 January. Let’s hope he will have played a few games by then so he is ready for the big one. Elneny has played a lot of games recently so it is good for Mikel to have an extra option again.

In attack we could do with the fantastic energy and drive of young Martinelli, a special talent with great eagerness to win. The combo of Martinelli, ESR and Saka behind Laca is the most exciting one right now, and hopefully we will see them in action soon.

These are all fantastic boosts, but there is more to come:

4. Thinning out the squad this month will leave better and more air to breathe for those who stay on. We have too many players whose futures are in jeopardy and this distracts from the obvious goal of becoming a close unit with the single goal of becoming a better and better, cohesive footballing machine.

5. The above may enable Arteta to get another player who will strengthen his team further. We do need to get a better nr2 goalkeeper asap and there are one or two further areas in the squad that could do with strengthening.

6. It will also allow Arteta to promote a few new youngsters, especially after a few of the current wider squad go out on loan. Fresh young blood may just give the whole team another boost.

So plenty to look forward to and Mikel will be feeling much, much better a months or so ago.

By TotalArsenal.

Has Arteta Finally Got His Lean Mean DM Machine?

And What To Do with Mohamed ‘Marmite’ Elneny?

Here at Bergkampesque, it is fair to say, Mohamed Elneny is a ‘Marmite player’: many of us like him but quite a few feel that he is not an Arsenal-level player, or at best a squad player. We are an open blog and encourage exchanges of opinions in order to jointly get closer to the truth. To establish this we need to have a combination of various views and a willingness to allow doubt and modesty into our minds. The former is easy to establish on a blog but the latter is a more of a personal matter.

I was reading through Whoscored the other day and, to my surprise, Mohamed is currently second best in the league at completion of passes with a whopping 92.9% success rate. Elneny is of course a very tidy player and his main focus is on keeping it simply and safe in the (mostly) deeper role in midfield, but his passing is often done under pressure and he does like to make progressive passes whenever possible. He is also one of our best players in terms of defensive stats in terms of interceptions, blogs etc.

Many supporters will regard Elneny as an unexciting player, but I beg to differ. With many teams trying to pressure Arsenal when Leno has the ball, Elneny and Xhaka, and soon hopefully also Partey, need to have nerves of steel and a good awareness of all players on our half of the pitch. They also need a good first touch and of course a good ability to pass the ball sharply and yet with feeling: an over-hit and misdirected pass can easily be disastrous. So for Elneny to be one of the best passers in the league is really something to take note of.

I have said this before and know that not everybody agrees with it, but in a 4-2-3-1 formation it is important to have two solid DMs who form a great pair together. They may not set the team on-fire but have a pivotal role to play in the team. The more sexy attacking midfield play is likely to come mostly from the ‘3’ and the full backs/wing backs. If and when we play in this formations it is important to become compact and disciplined when we have to defend and push up together when we are building up an attack or want to apply pressure on the opponent in their own box. The double DM-pivot plays a vital part in this and I have been very impressed in Mohamed’s role in all of this. There is still a case for one of the DMs to help support the attack now and again, but for this an excellent intuitive relationship between the DMs is a prerequisite – and of course also the required skill-set, which, it is fair to say, Elneny is generally lacking (although he can sometimes surprise us all with a peach of a pass or through-ball). Elneny has a very good positional awareness and reads the game well, and quietly he has become important to Arteta.

Now the biggest question is what to do with Mohamed if and when Partey is fully fit to return?

I have no doubt that Partey is technically an upgrade to the Egyptian Mr Tidy and our signing from Atletico Madrid is yet to make a real impact on the team. We have hardly seen the man in action but it looks like he is close to a return now. A fully fit Partey will have to play and it is most likely that he will be paired with Xhaka, who may not be loved by every Arsenal fan but has played almost constantly under all three Arsenal managers. There is no doubt in my mind that Arteta rates him highly (and secretly is his captain on the pitch).

I am a big fan of Xhaka too (which is well known here) but also open to a combo of Partey-Elneny, at least in some games. Yet I am mostly looking forward to the pairing of Xhaka and Partey, even though this may need some time to properly gel into a lean and mean Double-DM machine. Elneny is the ideal back up and is likely to be able to play well with either of them. Of course we need more depth in midfield as these positions often suffer from injuries and suspensions, so another question is who can be our ‘fourth’ DM?

But that is side question for now; the main question to BK regulars as well as readers who have not yet commented (you are very welcome!) for this post is: what to do with Elneny; should he be first choice for the Double-DM-pivot or back-up? Or should he even be sold for a better player?

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal Player Ratings: Two MOTM, ESR Slays the Beast of the North-East, Auba at Last!

Well the boys made hard work of it but in the end the best team won, and this game will have provided Arteta with some good lessons about the level of his wider squad players. 25 shots and nine on target shows that we created plenty of chances and should not have made such hard work of it, but the Barcodes were impressive with their determination not to lose and they gave us a proper game; only by bringing on quality subs were we able to swipe them eventually. A deeper analysis of the game and ‘fringe’ players will follow but here are the player ratings, for now.

Emile Smith Rowe scores Arsenal's first goal against Newcastle
A rare moment of pure quality: ESR billiards the ball in from an acute angle.

Player Ratings:

Leno – 8 – superb double save at a crucial stage in the game. Close to MOTM. Really seems to be in his element at the moment.

Tierney – 8.5 – Shared MOTM – another fantastic performance. I wanted to rest him for this game and give AMN the spot, but it became quickly obvious why Arteta needed Kieran to start against the rows of five and four Magpies. Tierney must be Gaelic for ‘thrust’ (it is not) because no other player has such ability to make it to the byline and put in such venomous crosses. Half a point extra for the fine assist (of which he could have had a few tonight).

Mari – 7.5 – very tidy and committed. I am starting to see why Arteta was keen on him.

Luiz – 7.5 – stood his ground and seemed to enjoy himself against Andy Carroll. Both Mari and Luiz gave very little away.

Soares – 7 – solid, non-sexy performance. It is clear to me now that he was bought to be a solid nr.2 in a key position, and he did a decent job tonight.

Elneny – 7.5 – tidy, disciplined, no-nonsense midfield-defensive play. Excellent squad player.

Willock – 5 – I so want Joe to do well but like Guendouzi and Ceballos he just misses the ‘ Doube DM-pivot’ positioning and discipline to be a success there right now. Find space, anticipate a pass and know where the ball will need to go when you get it; work closely with your fellow DM and protect the defence, whilst also focusing on supporting the attack when possible. Joe has a lot going for him but I am starting to feel that a loan spell would do him good.

Pepe – 6.5 – this is the sort of game in which I would expect Pepe to show us all he has got. Too many bad decisions and he still lacks a connection with his fellow players. But he put in a shift.

Willian – 6.5 – similar to Pepe, I had hoped he would come to life today. Willian was one of our better players in the first half with excellent work between the lines, but, disappointingly, he faded quickly in the second half.

Nelson – 5 – a game to forget for him. Lacked confidence and seemed not to wake up during the game.

Auba – 7.5 – here was a man desperately trying to find back his great form. Worked hard and finally took his chance late on. Helped out in defence and midfield and an extra point for the goal. Great to see that smile again.

Les Subs:

Smith Rowe – 8.5 – Shared MOTM – came on at the right time and profited from the tired Barcodes’ legs. Worked so well between the lines and made our ‘harmonica’ work again (together with Xhaka), and then he scored a sublime goal to finally bring the beast of the North-East down (extra point for this).

Xhaka – 8 – especially as long as Partey is out it will be very hard for Arsenal to win a game without Granit. He sets out the lines and looks after the shape of the team like a shepherd. He made the ‘harmonica’ work again (together with ESR). We played so much better once he came on and Xhaka was close to MOTM today.

Saka – 7 – great burst of energy and Bukayo added the fear factor. Good and necessary sub by Arteta.

Lacazette – 7.5 – same as Saka but half a point extra for the determined header that led to his assist for the first goal.

AMN – x – too short on the pitch to judge.

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Magpies Preview and Lineup: Time for Azeez and Balogun, Partey Starter?

Arsenal v Newcastle 2 September 1893

by Andy Kelly

For this game, we go back to Arsenal’s pioneering days when they became the first team south of Birmingham to play in the Football League.

Date: Saturday 2 September 1893

Competition: Football League Division Two

Location: Manor Field, Plumstead

Attendance: 10,000

Referee: Joseph Tillotson

Match Report:

Arsenal 2

Shaw, Elliott

Newcastle United 2

Crate, Sorley

Woolwich Arsenal’s inaugural Football League appearance was played at the club’s “new” ground, the Manor Field, having vacated the Invicta Ground during the summer. A bumper crowd, travelling from all parts of London, turned up to witness the first Football League game played in the south of England.

Joe Powell had the honour of captaining Arsenal for this historic game and won the toss, allowing Newcastle to kick off at 3.30pm on a glorious Autumn afternoon.

Newcastle started well and caused a commotion in Arsenal’s penalty area from a corner, Charlie Williams fisted away and William Jeffery eventually cleared. But Arsenal drew first blood when, after just six minutes of play, Elliott broke through, fed Charlie Booth on the left wing and his cross found Walter Shaw who, with a terrific shot, put the ball into the net just out of Ramsay’s reach. This maiden League goal was met by rapturous applause from the crowd.

The game then settled down, play was very even with each team playing different styles: Newcastle playing more as a unit whilst the Arsenal players preferred to create their own chances. This was much in evidence as Newcastle had a good spell of possession resulting in Jock Sorely forcing Williams into a good save, and winning a series of corners. In amongst Newcastle’s possession, Arsenal twice broke away and James Henderson was unlucky to hit the post and also headed wide from a Booth cross.

Shortly after the break Arsenal went further ahead when, following an impressive solo run from his own half by Booth, Arthur Elliott beat Alex Ramsay with a stinging shot. There was a hint of offside by Elliott but the referee was not best placed to see it.

Thinking that they had won the game, Arsenal eased off which allowed Newcastle to continually press the Arsenal goal. Powell and Williams seemed to be equal to everything Newcastle threw at them but eventually, after 65 minutes, Tom Crate got through to score through a melee of players.

This goal spurred the Magpies on and they equalised in a similar manner a couple of minutes later through Sorley, despite protests for offside from Arsenal. This resulted in a frantic finale as both teams went all out for the win, but no more goals were scored resulting in a 2-2 draw which, on the balance of play, was the fairest result.

Line-ups (Newcastle picture above – Arsenal picture below):

Woolwich Arsenal: C Williams, J Powell, W Jeffery, D Devine, B Buist, D Howat, D Gemmell, J Henderson, W Shaw, A Elliott, C Booth.

Newcastle United: A Ramsay, H Jeffrey, J Miller, R Crielly, W Graham, J McKane, J Bowman, T Crate, W Thompson, J Sorley, J Wallace.

Facts about the match or players:

The crowd was entertained by the band of the 2nd Kent Artillery Volunteers.

Joe Powell would go on to die in tragic circumstances. Complications set in having broken his arm in a game in 1896. He died a few days later from tetanus. His funeral was attended by several thousand fans as well as representatives from Woolwich Arsenal and other football teams. A collection was organised for his wife and children, and the money raised was used to buy a tobacconist shop to provide ongoing income for his family.

William Graham wasn’t wrong with his prediction as Newcastle won the reverse fixture 6-0 later that month. However, in this game a number of Woolwich Arsenal players, including Charlie Booth, were struck by stones thrown from the crowd. The Newcastle committee apologised for the conduct of the home crowd to Arsenal director Fred Beardsley whilst the team were at the railway station making their way home.

Arthur Elliott has the distinction of being the first Arsenal player known to have been sent off during a game. He received his marching orders on 23 November 1892 against Ipswich Town for persistent foul play.

  GFGA 
Arsenal v Newcastle FA Cup Games 
23 Apr 1932L12Final
15 Feb 1936D33 
19 Feb 1936W30 
03 May 1952L01Final
16 May 1998W20Final
09 Mar 2002D11 
23 Mar 2002W30 
26 Jan 2008W30 

We have met Newcastle 8 times in the FA Cup and have a positive record of – W4, D2, L 2 but sadly the only two losses were in the Cup Final.

Arsenal FA Cup Final Appearances
 Winner  Loser 
1Cardiff10Arsenal1927
2Arsenal20Huddersfield1930
3Newcastle21Arsenal1932
4Arsenal10Sheffield U1936
5Arsenal20Liverpool1950
6Newcastle10Arsenal1952
7Arsenal21Liverpool19712
8Leeds10Arsenal1972
9Ipswich10Arsenal1978
10Arsenal32Manchester U1979
11West Ham10Arsenal1980
12Arsenal21Sheffield W1993
13Arsenal20Newcastle1998
14Liverpool21Arsenal2001
15Arsenal20Chelsea2002
16Arsenal20Southampton2003
17Arsenal*00Manchester U2005
18Arsenal32Hull City2014
19Arsenal40Aston Villa2015
20Arsenal21Chelsea2017
21Arsenal21Chelsea2020

GunnerN5

TA’s Preferred (maybe predicted) lineup:

I believe a few players could do with a mini-break and a few other players are in need of playing. To the former group I count Tierney, Holding, Saka, Laca and maybe Auba. The latter group could include Partey (fit again?), Gabriel, Elneny, Nelson, AMN, Willock, Eddie, Chambers (if available), Azeez, Pepe and maybe Auba (if it is deemed a good game for scoring a couple).

It is hard to tell how seriously Newcastle will take this game. Maybe the players see it as a good competition to aim for silverware, or they regard this as too hard a game to win (as it is away from home). But as always, Arteta cannot take a win for granted and needs to put out a hungry and strong starting 11.

Here is my preferred lineup:

Most important thing is to have a solid midfield and central defence. So I would opt for experience there. AMN and Soares are the nr2 full backs and they should play. Leno will have to play unless Arteta is a courageous man and will give Runarrson another chance tomorrow. I doubt it, but maybe he should. I love the 4-2-3-1 system as it allows us to give different players a chance to excel,and in the three sort-of-nr10s positions behind the CF – most likely to be Eddie – we can play a number of options. I guess Arteta will play at least one of Pepe, Willian or Auba in that three, and that would be fine with me, but I would love to see how the likes of Willock and Nelson would perform there. Another game for ESR is on the cards but maybe, just maybe, Azeez will get a surprise start? I am also hoping Willian will play in the central nr10 position tomorrow as he could do with a good, confidence building game. Final question is, will Balogun get a chance… maybe even a start?

Arsenal Need a New Captain: Leno, Gabriel, Tierney, Bellerin, Rob, or?

A good team captain can make a big difference, or do they?

See the source image

I always felt that Wenger did not care too much who would be his team captain, especially after the eras of Adams and Vieira. Yet, Fabregas was one of my favourite captains, and I reckon he had/has all the qualities to be one of the best in this era too. Things have changed significantly since those macho Premier League days of Adams and Vieira. This generation of players have so much more power now and they are unlikely to be drawn to, and accepting of, dominant, fear-mongering managers. Communication, enthusing and persuasion are the key words now to get the best out of the players. It is a subtle art and the likes of Klopp, Guardiola, Nuno, Rodgers and also our maestro, Mikel, seem to be very good at it. The days of hairdryer-management seem well and truly over.

See the source image

But what about team captaincy? What makes a good captain? And is Auba a good one?

I think a great ‘modern’ captain needs to be good at the following:

  1. They need to be the on-pitch embodiment of the manager’s football philosophy and tactical instructions. So they need good tactical awareness and ability to communicate these on the pitch;
  2. They need to be extroverts who dare to speak up and lead by example. I am not talking about constant arm waving and shouting, but somebody with a natural talent to impose themselves on the pitch and get the respect of their fellow players (and often also of the oppositions’ players which can avoid things running out of hand at times);
  3. They also need to be able to influence the referee as in building a good rapport with them. This is about a subtle and natural ability to gain respect and the ear of the referee, which will help the captain with dealing with tricky moments and key decisions (a bit less so now with VAR). It also helps with pointing out such things as tactical fouling and possibly getting decisions going our way rather than the opponents’;
  4. Ideally, they need to play somewhere on the pitch where they have a good overview of the team structure and individual players;
  5. They need to have the respect and love of the fans and be excellent communicators (on and) off the pitch;
  6. They need to feel at home at Arsenal, ideally, and be there for the long haul;
  7. They need to speak a very good level of English, as they often need to make themselves clear in just a few second to the referee and/or his fellow players.
  8. They need of course to be a good footballer worthy of selection in the majority of Arsenal’s games.

If you look at the above it is hard to maintain that Auba is good captain material, and I believe that the captaincy is putting him on extra pressure which does not suit our deadly panther at all. If you ask me, Pierre needs to just concentrate on being at the right place at the right time to put the ball between the posts. It may well be time for Arteta to have a good talk with PEA and relieve him of the captaincy duties.

See the source image

So based on the above eight criteria – and by all means add more as you see fit and/or give more weight to some than others – who should be our captain? I have a couple of players for this in mind but have yet to decide, and just for a bit of fun and to kill some time before we start looking at the Barcodes’ game, it would be great to hear your choice and reasons.

By TotalArsenal.