Arsenal highlights to celebrate in 2020
Happy New Year, BK-ers! Well, last year was a low point on so many levels – individual, family and professional life, community, sports & recreation – but (while hoping for a better 2021) we have to acknowledge the positive aspects and events as well.
Putting the challenges and downsides aside, here is my TOP 12 Arsenal Highlights countdown. I hope I didn’t leave out anything important, but please share if you miss anything from the list, or if you propose a different order.
12. Loan transfers of first team and U23 players
Even though they seemingly didn’t have a place in Arteta’s plans we didn’t sell Torreira, Guendouzi or Mavropanos on probably the worst bear market of recent times. Maybe they come around, or achieve a better sales value. So far Konstantinos and Matteo seem to have a fine season; unfortunately Torreira has been marginalized in Madrid.
Similarly positive that after several years of poor loaning activities the academy managed to find regular playing opportunities for no less than 14+1 U23 squad members. And while most of them needs to be carefully evaluated only at the end of the season, I might be bold enough to say that Daniell Ballard’s stay at Blackpool and Matt Smith’s loan to Swindon Town becoming real success stories, plus Mark McGuinness and Harry Clarke are doing good, too.
11. Martinelli, Chambers and Mari recovered from their long-term injuries
It’s a cliché to say ’this happened at the worst possible time’; in reality there is never a good occasion to suffer a serious injury. Pablo had just made his stand in the team when injured against Man City, Gabriel was on a high (and a highly expected return from the Covid-lockdown), and Calum’s injury-ridden history just culminated in a long-term cruciate ligament rupture.
Yet, all of them came back, healed maybe a bit sooner than expected, and successfully reintegrated into full training as well as competitive games. There is a good chance that Martinelli will remain a first team regular, with Mari and Chambers providing depth and rotation opportunities, it’s nice to have them all back.
10. 6 wins (100%) in the Europa League group stages
Let’s not open a bottle of champagne just yet, but the difficulty of such a performance is clear if I highlight that no other team managed to keep that record this year or the last season. Arteta was too cautious and conservative in team selection to my taste, but maybe that could have been the key to these impeccable statistics.
The youngsters made us proud, and the +15 goal difference is quite respectable. I would advise not to extrapolate from these results – as we had unusually easy opponents – but I hope the effect these victories boosted aour B team’s confidence will be long-lasting, and there will be several victories yet to come in the EL.
9. Promising U23 signings
Maybe the word ’promising’ is redundant in the title, as the mere fact we have U23 reinforcements is already good news, since the last time we bought somebody – bar Hillson for a last minute backup GK last year – was the signing of Nwakali back in 2016 (which didn’t turn out so well). It might not be favourable for the average academy players, but competition is good for the top talents.
Dinzeyi will have a hard time competing with Ballad, Medley, McGuinness and Clarke to compete for first team opportunities, but he’s doing fine this season. Akinola could become the next Partey, Lewis and Ideho are for the future, and Möller combines the stature and aerial skills of Giroud with the technical abilities of Rooney – hence his nickname is the next Ibrahimovic.
8. Fans are slowly being integrated back to stadiums
While we managed to have a good run without spectators last season (see later) it is always better to play in front of a crowd. Of course there is a huge difference between 2000 fans scattered across the huge stadium or 60.000+ supporters singing and cheering, but in 2021 I’m already trying to become more of a ’glass is half full’ type of guy.
The stadiums are half-open, the vaccines are being distributed, so let’s hope that before the end of the campaign we can play again in front of a full stadium. I would rather go for this being the Emirates, but I could settle with the Wembley and/or the Miejski Stadium in Gdansk if Arsenal reach the final of the FA Cup and/or the Europa League.
7. Nketiah breaking youth records
What can I say? I hope Eddie becoming the Three (Young) Lions’ all-time record goalscorer at U21 level made everybody proud. Even if you would prefer Balogun to take his place as Lacazette’s understudy. Nketiah looks like the ultimate poacher, but he works and fights hard, and shows some leadership skills, too.
He is six strikes ahead of U21 Harry Kane, and his speed of scoring a goal every 63 minutes is quite astonishing. Iw we merge his U21 stats with U20 & U19 caps that makes 23 goals in 23 competitive games. How about that? Scoring in the PL is much harder than 42 goals in 52 games for Arsenal U18 and U23 teams, but Eddie is just 21, and I believe he is destined to be a top striker.
6. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Saka were called-up (and played several times) for England’s senior team
Our academy is competing with the best in the country not only quantitatively but qualitatively as well. While I think Southgate is an overrated manager it is nice to see AMN (23) and Saka (19) being invited to the national team and getting minutes there. There was some luck involved – injuries and lack of form in the LWB department – but our boys grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Surprising and interesting, but we have 2 more players enjoying their first international call-ups in 2020. They are Karl Hein (18, GK) for Estonia, and Daniel Ballard (21, CB) for Northern Ireland. The interesting part has nothing to do with their young age, but rather the fact that they are both waiting for their first senior competitive minutes in an Arsenal jersey.
5. Signing Thomas Partey
For many it was the best news of the summer: we managed a coup to sign the experienced and versatile Atletico Madrid midfielder by triggering his release clause. His introduction to the team was seamless deserving the MotM award for his second Arsenal start, in our away win against Manchester United.
We know Thomas is capable of doing great things on his own (dribbles, tackles, important interceptions, long shots), but his presence also enables more offensive-minded midfielders like Ceballos, Saka and ESR to get involved more in attacks. When he gets fully fit he should start in most PL games, but there will be some experimenting until the best partnerships are found and tested.
4. Aubameyang, Martinelli, and Saka sign new contracts
For quite some supporters the best day was when our captain, PEA signed his contract extension. And while the last 14 rounds didn’t exactly reassure his hunger and motivation, the fact he signed along with new contracts to Martinelli and Saka should be really among the greatest highlights of the past year.
Because of their different Arsenal history they are on different trajectories too, but I believe they all have important roles to play in Arsenal’s short and long-term future.
3. Signing Gabriel Magalhães
Most of you agreed with me when I gave a 10/10 (or a perfect 5/7 if you catch my drift) when evaluating the summer signing in October. Almost 3 months, another PL goal, a red card and a Covid-infection later I still think he deserves to be among the top 3 things that happened to us in 2020. The tall, young, left-footed Brazilian settled in London and Arsenal quick and well, played good to great in each of the games he was involved in (even those we lost). Gabriel is commanding in the air and unaffected by the concentration curse that is typical of Luiz, Shkodran, Rob and Sokratis, thus having the highest average rating from WhoScored and the best talent-rating from FootballCritic. He even scored a goal. And the best is that we bought him for a reasonable price. Sven ’diamond eye’ Mislintat would be proud of such a signing. The next Virgin van Dijk might not be an overstatement after all.
2. Positive play and good results against TOP 6 opponents
Arsene Wenger was often criticized for playing poor against top opponents. This has changed, mostly because of Arteta, but some credit is due to Emery. I hope you will read this as smiling as I did when writing this, but it is hard to collect them all from the 2020 calendar year:
- We defeated Man City in the semi-final of the FA Cup
- We won against Liverpool in our home PL fixture thanks to extreme luck, but our victory in the Community Shield and Carabao Cup (both on penalties) were the result of us being the better team.
- Our 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge counts as a victory as we played the majority of the game with 10 men and a goal behind, and also for Martinelli scoring the goal of the season in the 63th minute (2 key passes, 2 goals, what a game). And the FA Cup final will have his own paragraph a bit later.
- We were the better team than MU in both our fixtures in 2020; at home we won by 2:0, on the road it was only 0:1, but the difference could have been much bigger
- Acknowledging Leicester becoming a top team our 10-men home 1:1 and our 0:2 Carabao Cup victory could and should be mentioned here.
Do you want to feel nostalgic? Here is a compilation from our best 2020 matches edited and uploaded by Arsenal FC:
1. 14th FA Cup victory topped with winning the Charity Shield
I guess it is no surprise that I voted our FA Cup victory as the highlight of the past calendar year. Not just because we deservedly beaten Chelsea, not just because that let us compete in the Europa League (giving Tottenham the harder ’scenic route’ through qualifications), but mostly because we showed that even with a squad worth about half of Liverpool or Manchester City we are (were) capable of beating anybody in an exciting, entertaining and convincing way.
That demonstrated that Arteta is a young, yet capable coach/manager (the jury is still out, but let’s stick to the ’glass half full’ narrative), and Arsenal is a team to be afraid of – especially in the Wembley. Let’s go back to those ways and try to defend the cup. COYRRG!
Do you still want to feel nostalgic? Here is clip about the road to our 14th FA Cup victory: