CB Signing First Priority? A Defence of Our German Tiger

Mustafi, the defenders or our defending: what is to blame?


Our most used back four during the 20017/18 season consisted of Bellerin (RB), Mustafi (CB), Koscielny (CB) and Monreal (LB). I doubt that these four players on their own could have been as poor as our season’s defensive stats show.

Juventus and Barcelona keep casting glances in the direction of Bellerin (so the rumours say). Mustafi is a German international, though he missed out on their World Cup squad (thanks, no doubt, to being at the back line of a team that was conceding silly goals all season long). Koscielny is a French international, out of the World Cup only due to injury. Monreal is runner up to the team’s Player of the Season Award. They just couldn’t have been trash.

We leaked 51 goals this 17/18 season. That’s classic mid table quota. Naturally, opinions lashed out and quickly settled blaming our defenders instead of our defending. That’s understandable as defending is a more elusive target to attack. Yet modern football tells us that whenever possession is lost defending begins irrespective of the location of the ball and all eleven men on the field become potentially defenders. The blame should therefore be on the team, on the defending, directed at either all the players or the tactics or both.

And poor Mustafi! Opinions have selected him as the sacrificial lamb and his blood is being shed daily for the sins of the team. After all, he made two errors that led to goals.

Let us look at Mustafi, not with our jaundiced eyes, but through the eyes of the Squawka Player Performance Score which is … “an advanced algorithm that takes every recorded on-ball action on the football pitch, evaluates its outcome, pitch co-ordinates, playing position of the player ………… and allocates it a score” The performance score simply adds all these scores together. The eyes of Squawka are not infallible but the prejudice of the past does not blur its vision (it’s a robot) so what it says overall might be more factual

The Squawka PPS says that Mustafi is the 10th best defender in the Premiership per 90 minutes played in the 17/18 season amongst those who played up to 10 games. See the list below.

1st, John Stones (Manc)
2nd, Nicolas Otamendi (Manc)
3rd, Danilo (Manc)
4th, Jan Vertonghen (Tot)
5th, Vincent Company (Manc)
6th, Chris Smalling (Manu)
7th, Virgil Van Dijk (Liv)
8th, Phil Jones (Manu)
9th, Nacho Monreal (Arse)
10th, Shkodran Mustafi (Arse)***

By comparison Koshienly is at 15th, Kolasinac at 67th, Holding 69th, Bellerin 75th, and Chambers is at 94th. It might also interest those who want us to make these premiership signings that Tony Alderweireld (Tot) is at 61st and Jonny Evans (WBA) at 65th.

The impulse of many would be to chunk the Squawka PPS overboard because they have never been schooled to doubt themselves occasionally. That’s fine. Let’s see what the reputable WhoScored has in store. This time we will skip ratings and go to the more objective facts of defensive stats.

BY WHOSCORED (for Arsenal players who have played up to 8 matches) :-

Top tackles/game:- Mustafi (2.4), Xhaka (2.1), Monreal (1.9), Kolasinac (1.8).
Top interceptions/game:- Koscielny (2.2), Mustafi (2.1), Monreal (2), Holding (1.8)
Top clearances/game:- Mustafi (6.3), Koscielny (5.4), Chambers (3.7), Holding (3.3).
Top blocks/game:- Chambers (0.9), Holding (0.7), Koscielny (0.6), Mustafi (0.6)

When any player, even if he is a defender defender, has the ball, technically speaking he is attacking (that’s the modern concept), and WhoScored further says that Mustafi achieved 86.2% pass success rate, scored 3 goals and made 1 assist (and the last fact I am reluctant to bring out is that WhoScored also put Mustafi as Arsenal’s highest rated player, and the 13th in the league!). It’s snake and ladders and back to square one.

For those who know how to wrestle with their certainties, it’s time to take eyes off Mustafi and focus on our main defensive undoing, our tactics; a tactics that left our defenders, particularly the central defenders, vulnerable. The good news is that steps are being taken to rectify this. The old guard is gone. We hope the new guard would be up to the task of fixing the tactics. Not that I would complain if the club decides to pay Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly £105m release clause.


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From the Beaches and Gutters of San Sebastián to Manage The Arsenal: Is This Our Man?

See the source image

We are virtually living from moment to moment in expectation of an announcement from the Arsenal FC on the appointment of a new team manager. The dark clouds of division are already gathering amongst the fan base and maybe in the club’s hierarchy as well on whom or whom not to be appointed. If we are to go by the stories making the rounds the front runner Massimino Allegri has opted to remain at Juventus. That has left a lot of signs pointing in the direction of Mikel Arteta. The controversy is whether he has the credentials to prove a success.

Without doubt there is a lot going for him but his lack of managerial experience weighs heavily in the opposite direction.

Before we begin our discourse on his suitability or otherwise we need to appreciate that the management structure in the club has changed from what it was when Wenger was at the helm of affairs. The club now has a two-tier system for team management such that a manager is now only a little more than a head-coach. In most of Europe where this two-tier system exists managers are termed head-coaches. The suitability of Arteta, therefore, has to be considered in the light of him as a head-coach.

There are some remarkable similarities between Arteta and Pep Guardiola. Pep is a La Masia product. Arteta is also. Pep was a holding midfielder for Barcelona. Arteta was for Arsenal. Pep had a slight frame and lacked athleticism. So was Arteta. Pep compensated for these lacks with technique, intelligence, timing, positioning, tidiness, excellent reading of the game and creativity. So was Arteta. Pep became captain of Barcelona. Arteta became captain of Arsenal. Both were the metronomes of their teams. Pep became manager of Barcelona B team at 35 years. Arteta became assistant manager of Manchester City at 34yrs. Pep became manager of Barcelona first team at 36 years. At 36 years Arteta became manager of …???. Remarkable!

What does it take to be a good coach? Of great importance is that the coach must be gifted in the less technical areas of management that includes self discipline, hard work, and man management. Arteta’s reputation indicates he has these in abundance. He was very much respected and loved as an Arsenal captain. On the more technical side, a theoretical knowledge of tactical systems does not alone make one a good tactician. That can be crammed into the head easily by anybody. It is the degree of the insightfulness that determines the potency of the knowledge. Arteta’s reading of the game is exceptional, be it offensively or defensively. He also understands players and understands how to improve them. Many players have testified to how in his playing days, he helped them improve their game. What more as a coach, where the latest of such tributes to hit the media came from the Brazilian international Fernandinho of Manchester City.

Wenger trusted him a lot and it was easy to see that his opinions were welcomed. If Wenger is consulted, and it stands to reason that he would be, I expect him to endorse Arteta’s candidature. On Guardiola’s part, he is thrilled working with and having his altar ego Arteta as his assistant. He has said he wouldn’t stand on the way of his career. He called him a good friend. They obviously understand each other. What greater recommendation can he again give.

Arteta’s poor score, however, is in the area of actual coaching experience. But even here there has been a lot of informal as well as formal tutelage. Important as a starting point is that Arteta is a very serious minded person with an impeccable record on and off the field. All through his playing career he had exhibited his passion for coaching and so had kept that faculty open to learning. In his injury riddled final two years as a player he operated informally more as a coach under Wenger’s structure and that was when stories started coming out that he could be retained at Arsenal in a coaching capacity. Again in this past two seasons he has understudied and contributed to the man who is regarded as one of the best managers in world football. These expousures added to his innate coaching qualities have placed him on a height where his readiness for the plum job cannot be ignored. Lest it’s forgotten any manager carries the authority of the club and how he is respected depends on himself not on his age. If Emmanuel Macron can head France at 39 I do not see why Arteta with these CVs cannot head the coaching crew at 36.

A further argument on Arteta’s side is that he knows the Arsenal system. We dare not engage a manager who is far removed from Wenger’s philosophy because our current squad have been assembled on the bases of that philosophy. If we wish for a big departure from our style then there must be a huge overhaul in personnel which would require big, big money. That, we all know, is out of the question.

I am not trying to say that Arteta is the best in the market or should be the one to be appointed. But if it happens to be him, we should give him all our support. Who knows, we might be up for another “Arteta who?”.

With Wenger now gone, space has been created for unity amongst the fans, not for a new division that would see us out of the frying pan into the fire.

By PE.

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Five Positives to Build on For the New Manager

The season is over and it is very hard not to feel deflated. Yet if we look at last season with an eye on the future, there are five positive to take from it:

  1. Arsene has gone and whether you liked him or not in the end, it is something to adjust to for everyone. A gentleman who loved and lived the club has gone after 22 years and that leaves a hole behind the size of Russia. The positive in this is that the club actually made that decision and Wenger went along with it in a gentlemanly way. A new manager needs to be announced soon, but if the BoD is really concerned about season ticket renewals they better make sure they pick a worthy replacement for Mr Wenger. I have heard from season ticket holders who are holding back renewals until they know who will be picked (and they are saying ‘Anybody but Arteta’). We are sliding away from the top four – who will also not sit still this summer – and another season (or two) of this and it may become very hard to reconnect and have a chance to win the title within the next decade or so. So a big decision has to be made but at least we are now in a position to do so.
  2. Xhaka in the deeper midfield position. I have been a fan of Granit from the start: an intelligent player with charisma, vision and personality. Wenger tried Xhaka in different positions but it is clear he is a born deeper midfielder who can orchestrate our midfield with simplicity and crisp passing. We need that pivot in our team and Granit is just the man. Now I hear you say he is not a typical DM; and to that I say yes and no. His positioning and reading of the game is sound and he makes many good interceptions but he comes with a few limitations in terms of pure DM-qualities. In the modern game that is okay as long as his partner is the ideal one. Ramsey is not that guy as he wants to go forward as much as possible which leaves Xhaka exposed. Elneny and Xhaka are a more complete partnership imo. The decision the new manager has to make is whether to go with Xhaka-Elneny/new purchase or with Rambo/new purchase(pure DM). My hope and money is on the Swiss-Egyptian double pivot for next season and beyond. A quality DM-minded player should ideally be bought and Maitland-Niles deserves a promotion too.
  3. Our home form has been the absolute opposite of our away form. Second best away form only to the Champions. Clearly, we need to address our approach to away games but this is for the new manager to sort and will be a mixture of strategic and psychological preparations for each and every game. We also need more leadership in our first eleven, and for me that means strengthening the spine of the team i.e. GK, CB and possibly the central midfield position (as per point two above). Nevertheless, our strong home form is a big positive of last season and a good basis to build on.
  4. Our attack has been transformed over the last few months. Getting Aubameyang cost us dearly –  both money-wise and having to let go the eligible for UEFA-league football Giroud – but, together with the purchase of the also very-Arsenalesque Mkhi, we have now a brilliant balance in attack. The combo of Mesut, Laca, Auba and Mkhi up-front, all in their prime years, really has the potential to become as potent as our revered foursome Henry, Bergkamp, Ljunberg and Pires. These four will take care of the goals and will allow the rest of the players to play more defensively. Of course it is a team game, both in terms of attacking and defending, but we now have the sort of attackers who can make things happen against any team whilst the rest is focusing on not giving too much away. This allows the new manager to make an almost instant impact by having two sub-teams so to speak: one that defends a clean sheet with their lives and one that gets us the goals. Gradually these two can become integrated into a smooth one-team machine that can rival for the title eventually.
  5. The final big positive of last season for me is the quality of our full backs. Nacho has been such a force and does not look like slowing down anytime soon; he was arguably our best player. I have also high hopes for Kola to improve significantly next season. Like many here, I have been critical of young Hector but he has improved a lot over the season. As a wing back you are going to leave your CB colleagues exposed at times and Bellerin needs to find a better balance between when to go and when to stay behind. I reckon with good (team)coaching this will improve further next season. But what really pleased me recently is Hector’s much sharper deliveries into the box. It would be silly to replace him now he is at the verge of breaking  through, but a good nr.2 should definitely be considered, either from within the squad or newly purchased.

By building further on these considerable positives and focussing on defending and leading better through tactics, team talk and new purchases, the new manager can make real progress in the coming season. An experienced manager who gets time to sort things out is of course what is needed right now. Somebody who has the proven tactical ability to make a team defend well and hard to beat as well as the vision to play (a form of) total football going forward. It does not have to be a big name but I cannot see why we couldn’t attract one. But it definitely needs to be somebody with tons of potential combined with real first team management experience.

The Juve boss would be ideal right now and Arteta would be a romantic mistake with potentially huge consequences. I sense it will not be either of them but time will tell. We are at a big crossroads and the club now need to justify their decision ‘to allow Arsene to go’ and their recent investments in overheads in the management team. One of the richest clubs in Europe and with everything going for it, Arsenal should now show real ambition and incisiveness.

By TotalArsenal.

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Thoughts on Arsenal’s New Season Squad

When Arsene Wenger agreed to manage Arsenal back in the summer of 1996, it was a huge huge gamble for the club and for Arsene himself.
Dr Joseph Venglos had already shown what difficulties could arise for a foreign coach in England during his short and disappointing stint at Aston Villa, so the pitfalls were obvious.

But Arsene pulled off a stroke of genius, a move that won over the fan base in one swoop, a move that succeeded beyond even his wildest dreams: he signed Patrick Vieira, probably the most successful and productive transfer in his entire career.
That one transfer not only convinced the fans that we had a guy who knew what he was doing, it also transformed a team that was gradually winding down despite the additions of Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt a year earlier.

Wenger also had the common sense to listen to the coaching staff when he arrived, to trust in his own judgement and basically spent his first season watching the players before deciding who he could work with and improve and those he could not.
It showed a very analytical way of team building, not rushing in and tearing everything apart.  Not worrying that it was basically still George Graham’s defence even if they played with more freedom and élan under Wenger.
The following summer, in came Overmars, Grimaldi and Petit and the rest, well you all know the rest…

So now we move onto the homme nouveau this summer, what will he do, who will be his Vieira moment, who will he keep and who will he move on?

By common consensus Arsenal need strengthening in certain areas, the goalkeeper, a defensive midfielder, a centre-back, two young full-backs, a right winger, the list is endless, the new man will certainly have his own ideas for sure. But I would hope that he will maybe take his time, safe in the knowledge that Arsenal are not a sacking club and will give him the time he needs, as will the fans (I hope).

We might see a shift in style, players who maybe aren’t major constituents of the present team may become the next Ray Parlour, from obscurity to main player?
Players who we think are indispensable might be moved on to make way for new players,  may become the next Paul Merson?

This won’t happen overnight, we’ll probably see a few changes, a few tweaks, evolution rather than revolution, well I would really hope so.

I don’t think we have a bad squad, our home record proves that, our home record is second only to the runaway champions, that’s better than Man Utd, better than Liverpool, better than Chelsea and better than that other North London team who always manage to never win anything, despite the media telling anyone who will listen, how wonderful they are.

This Arsenal team has also succeeded in reaching a major domestic cup final and a European semi-final.
Only the away form has been a problem and that’s a tactical issue.

So what does the uomo nuovo do and who does he keep this summer?

The players who I think will form the basis of the squad for next season are:

Aubameyang, Bellerin, Cech, Chambers, Elneny, Holding, Iwobi, Kolasinac, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, Ozil, Monreal, Xhaka, Mavropanos, Welbeck, Wilshere, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles.

You could supplement the above squad with youngsters like:

Macey, Osei-Tutu, Willock, Nketiah, Nelson, Nwakali, Dasilva, Dragomir, Bielik and Smith-Rowe.

The players who I think could be leaving this summer are mainly youngsters, many have been out on loan like Akpom, Asano, Jenkinson and Mavididi. David Ospina is probably the stand out departure from the senior squad who I can see going.

Now onto the ‘Question Marks’, those who could as easily stay as they could easily go over the next few months, for differing reasons like contracts or fitness:

Perez, Bramall, Reine-Adelaide, Sheaf, Martinez, Campbell, Cazorla, Koscielny and Ramsey.

I hope so, now what do you all think?

By Allezkev


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Will WXR in Midfield and LAM – Laca/Auba/Mkhi – Up-Front Finally Give us a Win?


It’s proving difficult writing this piece. The season has gone completely flat to me and to a majority of the fans. We are in need of some spark in activity such as an announcement on a new manager or real signs that we are after some exciting players. At the moment it all feels very much like a funeral march in poor weather, well, that’s until one begins a critical valuation of our situation.

In Lacazette, Aubamayang, and Mkhitaryan (LAM) we have one of the deadliest front trios in Europe. Unluckily for us, the trio have hardly played together since the latter two joined us in the January window. Injuries to Lacazette and then to Mkhitaryan plus Auba’s ineligibility in the Europa League prevented a more regular appearance of them together. Against Burnley, where the three started, they were devastating. They lived up to their hype which aught to have signalled to all that our overall performance this season is far from a reflection of the quality of the team we currently have. With LAM intact, a minimal strengthening of other areas would see us back competing with the very best next season.

Huddersfield is our last match of this campaign and in my opinion using the LAM again is an opportunity to confirm not only their potency as a combo but also their positive effect on the team as a whole. That serves as part of intelligence gathering that would help shape our moves this summer window. Apart from this, LAM need to play because we do not want to end this season with the unenviable stat of being unable to collect a single away point in 2018. It would stink forever. Therefore, it should be demanded that our strongest available team be fielded plus a strong bench.

Wilshere played well the last time and should have another chance to play himself into the England World Cup squad. Iwobi excites me from the deeper midfield role, but I would be keen to see how Ramsey’s box runs fit into the box trusts of LAM.

No match is irrelevant. There is a tiny invisible cup that is won or lost in every match, particularly if it is one that would enter an important record book. Our away fans will be there at the John Smith’s Stadium and millions all over the world will be watching on television, listening to the radio. Even those on the more negative end of the spectrum will notice some eagerness in themselves as they await the result. All should be respected. The truth is we want a win.

Expected team to start:-


Bellerin    Mustafi    Holding    Monreal

     Ramsey        Xhaka        Wilshere

           Mkhitaryan     Aubamayang

BENCH:- Ospina, Chambers, M-Niles, Kolasinac, Iwobi, Nelson, Welbeck.

We need LAM induced intoxication up-front and WXR battling in midfield. That would kill off a few days of tedium waiting for the club’s big move.

By PE.

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Holding, M-Niles Starts, Rambo Returns, WAM up-front: Preview|Line-Up


It is exciting trying to peep into the future. On Sunday against Burnley, we were given a lot of materials to work our dreams with. We completely dismantled Burnley who were conceding on average less than a goal per match in the epl.  It was a match in which the famous handbrake was yanked off allowing us to move the ball with speed and panache. To be candid, I felt some sympathy for Wenger that these fabulous players of his did not start the party for him much earlier in the season. Anyway, it hasn’t diminished his greatness.

The trio of Auba, Mkhi, and Laca flung the window of tomorrow open for us. and I am certain we all liked what we saw. Iwobi played deeper and suddenly became our new Mozart as he ferried the ball across the middle third. Xhaka kept braking the opponent’s lines with his exquisite passing and the old Wilshere of dreams reappeared, the scar of his injuries showing itself as greater maturity. No player on the field was out of tune. I wish that against Leicester we can ask for an encore. Same eleven.

But, with only two days of rest, there is need for some rotation. We must be wary of that bloke ‘fatigue’ who trots around with the handbrake and has injuries hidden in its back pockets.

Rested Mustafi is expected back. Same goes for Ramsey, Welbeck, and Monreal. Our tomorrow in the form of M-Nile and Holding might be among the starters. Just enough changes to make sure the handbrake does not come back. Ozil remains sidelined with a back injury. Our 2018 away record, a far flung statistical distortion, must be brought dead on its path at the King Power Stadium.

Expected line up (6 changes):


M-Niles  Mustafi  Holding  Monreal

      Iwobi        Xhaka        Ramsey

        Mkhi        Auba        Welbeck

BENCH: Ospina, Chambers, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Wilshere , Nelson, Lacazette.

We should use each of the two remaining matches of the season visioning what lies ahead. How much rebuilding do we have to do?  Or should it be essentially a project of self-discovery?  Are we the disastrous away team of this 17/18 season or the amazing home team that is neck to neck with the marvelous Manchester City.  Maybe a clue to the riddle would be found in our last two games of the season, both away to Leicester and Huddersfield.


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Arsene Says Goodbye but The Arsenal Hall of Immortality Says Hello

So that was Arsene’s last home game. Fabulous weather, a clean sheet, five fine goals to the good guys, a warm atmosphere and nothing but positives on an afternoon never to forget. Saying goodbye is not easy, both for the person leaving and for those who are left behind. But it gets a bit easier when you know that the departing man is always welcome at the club, and that he will always be a fan of Arsenal. He may be saying goodbye but the Arsenal hall of immortality is saying hello, come in.

Arsene has done so much for the mighty red and white that he will be remembered for decades at least. It will take some manager to settle at Arsenal and win three league titles, seven FA Cups and go a season – and eventually 49 games – unbeaten whilst playing sublime, attacking football – the Arsenal Way!

On top of all that, with Ashburton Grove he left behind a physical legacy; and with the reputation of our football and values, he achieved an immaterial legacy too. Together they make us very strong on all fronts. Arsene will always be remembered for structurally turning our football club into a sexy and financially-secure football club with a pearl of a stadium, to rival the best in the PL as well as in Europe for many years to come.

The next manager will get to work with a set of fabulous players and a decent enough budget to strengthen the team intelligently. Wenger knows he is leaving something special behind for a new manager with fresh vision, tactical excellence and bags of energy to  take over the baton from him- as all heroes have to do at some point – and push the club all the way to the top.

Arsene is of course sad to leave, and sadness is what most of us felt on Sunday, but soon that deep feeling of satisfaction of having left behind a legacy will settle in for him and us again. As mere mortals the highest achievement on earth is leaving behind a legacy, and, whatever happens next, nobody will ever take this away from him.

Thank you Arsene.

By TotalArsenal.

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