Arsenal v Benfica Afterthoughts: King Kieran, Saka is like Fabregas, ESR and Ode are One Too Many?

Arsenal 3- 2 Benfica: post-game thoughts.

Arsenal made it hard for themselves but I am still delighted that the team made it to the next round in the Europa League. Benfica gave us a lesson in efficiency. We were easily the better team over both legs but still got through by the skin of our teeth. The difference between the two teams, besides quality of players, is the way chances are taken when they present themselves. Benfica took theirs perfectly and we did not, especially in the first leg in Rome. Furthermore, we had to work hard to create chances against a well-drilled Portuguese team – some may say that’s a tautology – and they were simply presented with three gifts to which they replied with a ‘muito obrigado’: a penalty in the first leg, and an ‘ideal free kick’ and a ‘walk the ball into the net after a headed pass by us’ in the second leg. This naivety almost cost us.

We have to learn from this as we will not get away with it again in the next leg, or the leg after that.

The balance in midfield remains the big issue, as it has been for donkeys years. Yes Ceballos can pick a beauty of a pass and is able to drive the ball forward well, but he has no defensive nous. He may produce a good block or interception occasionally but being a defensive midfielder is much more than that. Furthermore, Xhaka does not like playing with Ceballos as they don’t compliment each other at all. My big question to Mikel would be, why are you playing Ceballos ahead of Elneny when you have three attacking, creative midfielders in front of Xhaka and Ceballos already? Why not play Elneny in the absence of Partey. Luckily, the latter was fit enough to come on for the last half hour and that was a big factor for turning things round.

Partey has presence and occupies a space, a big space. it is his and he will not be passed. This is the difference between a proper deeper laying midfielder and a makeshift one. As soon as Thomas came on we had a chance to change things round again. Willian entered the field at the same time and what this meant was that Tierney was no longer alone in cracking the left side and his passes and crosses into the box would be more likely to lead to an end-product.

In practical terms the game turned again when Tierney scored that unbelievably calm and collected second goal. It was game on and his battle cry would have made Robert the Bruce proud. King Kieran showed once again that no matter how organised and disciplined the instructions of the manager are – and I rate Mikel very highly for this – there comes a time when the passion needs to kick in: the ‘We are The Arsenal and We Will Be Victorious No Matter Fecking What!’. Kieran is the embodiment this spirit.

Two more players made the difference last night. We all know who they are. Auba finished very well this time round and Saka just made it all happen. Two assists – eight in the EL already this season – of the highest quality pulled us over the line. The thing with Saka is that, just like Fabregas when he started to strut his stuff as a teenager, he is soooo efficient and purposeful in all that he does. There is hardly any frivolity in his play and demeanor: defenders cannot psyche him out or ruffle him physically; he just responds with a quality run past them or a peach of a cross in the box as soon as he can do so again. Bukayo is just bang on the money and that is why he has it all to become one of the greatest Gunners ever.

My final comment on the match is regarding the inclusion of both ESR and Odegaard in the starting-11. Do we really need both of them to start? I can see that they make us unpredictable in our attacking play when they are both on the pitch and I am willing to give it more time. Yet with Saka also on the team and Arteta also playing Ceballos a bit deeper and who of course can and will pick a key pass when possible, are we not better served with another attacker in the three behind the CF? And by playing both of ESR and Odegaard are we actually diluting their skills and influence a bit? One to keep an eye on, I reckon.

In a few minutes we will know who we are going to get in the next round. Whoever it is, Arteta needs to sit down with the boys and make sure some important lessons are taught before we take them on.

By TotalArsenal.

54 thoughts on “Arsenal v Benfica Afterthoughts: King Kieran, Saka is like Fabregas, ESR and Ode are One Too Many?

  • Some good games and no all British ties…
    Ajax v Young Boys
    Dynamo Kiev v Villarreal
    Roma v Shaktar Donestsk
    Olympiakos v Arsenal
    Dinamo Zagreb v Tottenham
    Manchester United v AC Milan
    Slavia Prague v Rangers
    Granada v Molde

  • Total, I think that Ceballos and Xhaka did ok with the insurance of a third centre back behind them as was the case last season, but this season you have to be better to do that job with us using a back four, it’s why we need an upgrade in centre midfield, I’ve been saying it for ages and I’m not trying to be wise after the event, it’s why I wanted Partey in front of Aouar last summer, we’re just not resilient enough in that department.

  • Total I think that Arteta picked Ceballos because he can pick a pass, Elneny is just too negative if you’re trying to win a game but he’s perfect if you’re trying to protect a lead, we really missed Partey, you could see the difference he made when he came on.

  • Really enjoyed that post, thought provoking and to the point Total, thanks for that…

    Olympiarkos, a home from home, a lucky ground for Arsenal and some unfinished business from last season with the added spice of a Sokratis reunion.

  • Cheers Kev, I cannot really remember any good game when the Xhaka-Ceballos partnership properly worked, but three CBs would of course help.

    I really don’t think there was a need for an extra pass-picker when we were already playing ESR, Ode and Bukayo. Although Elneny is less capable than Ceballos, he does pick a pass himself now and again, but defensively it makes such a difference when we play Elneny that I just cannot see why Mikel is persevering with Ceballos in that position but there you go. Especially when we are also pushing the full backs up so much.

    Partey is of course THE man for the position and everything crossed that he now will be fully fit for a long while.

  • I guess what comes to mind Total is that trio of games last season vs Liverpool, vs Man City and vs Chelsea, I mean even Mustafi put in a shift in a couple of them and Luiz of course and sitting in front of them fighting for everything was Ceballos and Xhaka, but in general you are right mate, it’s a massive summer coming up and KSE, the club, Edu etc can not afford to waste it.

    I really hope that club gets a lot of it’s business done pronto and doesn’t go in for those ridiculously nerve juggling deadline day punts…

  • TA, good points to ponder on as we go back to Athens again for the next round. I think Tierney is capable of more goals and Arteta should encourage Tierney to go for it when he is a better position than go for a cross.
    Regarding Ode and ESR, iam with you and paying them both unless Ode has the confidence to go for goals is actually making us a bit predictable. When the defense understands that only Auba and Saka will go for goals and the rest of them are more providers, it becomes easy for them to mark them out. That’s where Tierney, Ode and ESR needs to go for goals. There was one particular cross when ESR in the middle of 18 yrd box dummied it for no one, instead of taking a shot. Ode looks pretty goal shy, but each of them being a goal threat makes the opponent more weary. Its also too much to expect ESR to work his magic from wings.
    Dani once again showed our team’s lack of footballing intelligence especially in defense. He should have just headed it out which would have given time for our defense to re-org. Also heading backward from such a long way away when Leno was still in his box had lower percentage of success than to heading the ball out.
    Relieved though with a Win, onward to the next one now.

  • Hi Madhu, I think Ode has goals in him and he gets in good positions and has a pop but it is not coming off as yet. Early days though.

    What is the weather like in Southern India?

  • Hi TA, Weather is getting hotter, we are officially still in Winter till 11th March, but its already 32 at noon, but goes down to 17 by the night.
    Weather getting better in UK yet?

  • That sounds like bliss, Madhu. 😊

    It is getting better here, now about 12 degrees. Still quite windy though. We are not allowed to travel unfortunately, so have to do with local walks or a drive on the city’s periphery.

    How is the Covid-19 situation in your area?

  • A good post TA. Tierney is great and, given the injuries he has had, he keeps bouncing back and quickly gets into his groove. We need his drive and passion elsewhere in our team. But, where would we be without Bukayo? I’m quite worried that we may run him into the ground though. There were times last nights when he looked a bit less sharp than normal (although even then his performance was still better than some of his colleagues).

    I have been very critical of Willian but last night I thought he actually made a difference when he came on. Let us hope that continues. I’m also a bit worried about how Laca is feeling. He was a top scorer and now he’s warming the bench due to tactical changes by MA. I may be wrong but, I think we got some pretty decent results when Xhaka, Laca and Saka (and ESR) started together.

  • Cheers OX10,

    I am worried about Saka too but he does seem to be wise in how he uses his energy. He has an old head and reminds me of Cesc in that respect.

    Agreed re Laca. I wonder whether he will be off loaded this summer, and Arteta is hoping to give other attackers a chance soon. I like Laca a lot though.

  • I’m in Benson, South Oxfordshire (OX10). Sometimes my posts come through as OxfordshireMusicLover due to some quirk with WordPress or my own ignorance!

  • LTArsenal™
    Granit Xhaka has started 11 games back to back for Arsenal, playing the full 90 minutes in each of them, and at a consistent level. Basically started every game in every competition since January 15th.

  • TA, Covid here has been ok. Slowly we are seeing numbers going up in the last week after several months of low numbers. Hoping that it’s not the second wave.

    Glad to know it’s 12 now in UK. I have endured -40 for 3 years in Edmonton. I know how horrible winters can be physically and mentally. Hope you guys have a great summer though.

  • Charles Watts
    Arteta on whether he will make changes against Leicester:

    “Let’s see how we are feeling tomorrow. Today the players are still in Greece, we have to travel back on a four-hour flight but we won’t use that as an excuse. We have to deal with that.”

  • Dan Critchlow
    Spurs will have to switch to playing their home leg first. For the RO16 onwards, you switch the order of the legs, instead of switching to Wednesday as in the RO32.

    Spurs have to switch instead of us because we have priority as domestic cup champions.

  • TA I am an IT architect and was consulting for a Canadian utility client of my company.
    I have been to UK many times as well mainly to Solihull and Hinkley. That’s how my love affair with Arsenal started more than 2 decades back.

  • Ah, so you could have become a Villa or Leicester supporter but you went for the mighty Arsenal instead! 😁

    I am right in thinking that India are big players in the world of It? And why is that so?

  • I’ve always thought Madhu that Edmonton was actually a bit of a dump…

    But then I’m thinking of North London.

  • Ha ha Yes TA, i instantly fell in love with Bergkamp, Thierry etal and the thrilling football.
    Well regarding IT and India, when we moved from a predominantly socialist economy to a open/Mixed economy in 1990’s Govt gave a lot of benefits to industries. My hometown of Bangalore was one of the pioneer in this field as it was already home to Knowledge based Public Sectors with multiple universities providing degrees in pure sciences and Engineering. They took advantage of Govt’s policies and built companies which are now behemoth’s including the company that i work for. Initially we were the backroom, cheap coders for Multi Nationals but slowly the Indian IT industry started moving up the value chain.
    Indian middleclass were always obsessed with education and this was because the previous generations worked mainly as Civil servants for the British empire. They embraced IT as it provided them economic upward mobility and especially in Southern India. Slowly other parts of India gained momentum and now IT is big in India, but predominantly major companies are in Southern India.
    That is the story TA of India’s progress in IT and that’s why you see there are many Indian origin CEO’s in Silicon Valley companies as well.

  • @Kev, Edmonton is the city of Oilers of NHL. The weather makes it horrible in winters. Summers are short barely 3 months. The city is small with population of less than a Million with fantastic infrastructure, good schools and Universities. There are good restaurants around, but the city lives for Hockey and Oilers are huge. In short its the city of the great Wayne Gretzky. Its an OK city to live in though apart from the weather 🙂

  • Thanks v much for the excellent and fascinating background info, Madhu. It is a real success story and what a great career you and many others are having as a result of it!

  • My Pleasure TA, yes not only career but the sheer joy of working with multi cultural environment, travelling and experiencing multiple societies has enriched my life so much.

  • Kev , I agree with what you’re saying about a big summer coming up. We should be transitioning from a rebuilding team to a contending team… for top 4 hopefully.
    But if they play games with targets, it won’t give any confidence to players considering joining, or deciding whether to stay with us. A small statement of intent would be useful. By signing 2 solid players, preferably one to supplement Smith Rowe, and another quality CM to give Xhaka a break, and to rotate with Partey.

    So far, even though he presses a bit, Ødegaard has the look of a luxury player. Still reminds me of Ozil, who was great, but I’d like either a harder worker like Buendia, or at least someone who attacks the goal much more from his position. Maybe I’m watching Bruno Fernandez too much, or remembering young Cesc.

  • It’s all about perceptions Johnno, buying a Partey was a big statement, it’s makes other players and agents take notice, it makes them think that we’re ambitious.

  • Ah Kev now I get it. Well the Edmonton I lived in was in Canada :). Iam a lifetime gooner nothing to do with Tottenham :).

  • Partey was a strong signing Kev, for sure. Unlucky with the injuries so far. He needs rotation which he had at Atletico. Problem is that he came into a non existent midfield aside from Xhaka, who is a very specific type of player, after getting rid of 2 players with loans. Thomas wasn’t just an upgrade, but filling a huge hole. I like Dani but Arteta is still working to turn him into a box to box, and Elneny is not a top 4 player honestly. Useful, but if he’s starting league games it says a lot about the club.

    TA makes a good point about Smith Rowe and Ødegaard starting together. I think its designed to really ride on Aubameyang completely. Maybe another player with pace and looking to score aggressively would be wiser. We have a few options in Pepe, Reiss Nelson, Willian, and of course Martinelli.

  • Sound point from TA and Jnyc on the Odegaard-ESR tandem. Madhu also could be right on the assist focus here, but this formation is still in the making.
    I think Arteta likes to experiment moving players out of (their original) position. Some of them became instant hits, like Saka (LW) trading places with Pepe (RW), but the Laca to AM or Willock to AM were less of success stories.

    Keeping both ESR and Odegaard on the pitch seems to serve the sole purpose of having the 2 in-form and creative youngsters actively together (as well as maybe confuting that signing Martin happened on the expense of ESR’s minutes), but didn’t prove to be really effective so far. At the moment they don’t seem to have major synergies together, and one of them occupying a winger position further blocks players like Martinelli and Pepe to get form- and confidence-boosting minutes.

  • Madhu, the Edmonton you know sounds very nice as is most of Canada I imagine but the Edmonton I know is a toilet, which is quite apt as it’s close to a football stadium shaped like a toilet bowl… 😉

  • Even though Odegaard hasn’t blown me away yet I can still see the quality he possesses and the potential he has, but for some reason, and this is just me, I’ve never really felt that he’s a long term signing for Arsenal as Real Madrid have made it fairly clear that they want him back and that’s never happened with Ceballos!

    It looks like Woodman Snr the goalkeeper coach at Arsenal is being released from his contract with Arsenal this summer and Cana, the man who brought us Runarsson, is taking over as the man in charge of all things goalkeeper related. That may make signing Woodman Jnr more difficult if the interest is still there?

  • Some very interesting afterthoughts from last Thursday’s game and great posers too, re the Ceballos-Elneny debate and the Ode + ESR question.

    Look, I have seen Ceballos put in a good shift as a DM while also managing some forward passes; it would seem he is preferred by Arteta, usually in games where Bellerin is required to bomb forward (that’s what he does better than his defending, in any case) a lot, thus leaving Ceballos as cover or as tag team defending against clever wingers. He is adept at dispossessing opposition players in a way few Arsenal midfielders do. However, he does have a changer in him as he anxiously seeks to get Zidane’s attention, a contract at Arsenal or suitors from La Liga. It isn’t easy. The fact he is trusted to stay back to cover for the CBS, at corner kick routines lends credence to what I just posited.

    What I am saying is I can understand Arteta’s thought process with the choice of Ceballos over Elneny, but I agree with you that, maybe, Arteta should reconsider when we have enough attacking talent ahead of the DM pivot.

    Personally, I won’t play Ode and ESR together, either. For one, they are a bit similar in purpose and influence, with Odegaard being a bit more forward thinking, even in tight situations, where ESR is keen to retain possession by taking the safest options when in doubt. It may be a situation to give some time before changing it. I would sooner have Martinelli, Willian or Pepe as the 3rd attacking midfielders in that three, especially if the result is to play ESR as a winger.

  • Lol, Kev. To be honest, the only Edmonton I know of is the one in Canada. I have been about London a bit and never heard of it. Which begs the question how much your time as a London cabbie, exploring the backstreets of the city, has helped your knowledge of the place, dump that you say it is. 😝😀

  • Strange refereeing decisions going on in the WBA v Brighton game. What else can you expect when the ref is Lee Mason? Dunk takes a quick free kick and scores the equalizer. Ref disallowed the goal initially, because he hadn’t blown his whistle. Dunk makes the case that he blew the whistle (or at least, held the whistle to his mouth). Mason then gives the goal; only to hear from the VAR before asking for a re-take, as showed he hadn’t blown the whistle before the kick was taken.

    The players and managers must be wondering what was going on.

  • A very well balanced, truth-seeking comment, Erismus. The one big positive I see in playing both ESR and Ødegaard is that defenders don’t know where the killer pass will come from, especially when Saka the wizard is also on the pitch.

    It is early days but our stats when both play together are not too shabby until now.

    So although I am as sceptical as you and others are, I feel more time is warranted.

    Have you been able to get reunited with your wife and kids yet?

  • There was a time when all a player had to do was say to the referee if it was ok to take the kick and if the ref nodded or said ok, then that was fine, after all where is the advantage if that’s not the case.

  • Eris I live in a small town in the County of Essex called Wickford, I think it’s an old name that refers to a river crossing in old English.

    I also know of a couple of Wickford’s that aren’t a million miles away from Johnno, one in Rhode Island and one in Maryland. Maybe one of the Pilgrim Fathers was born in Essex in my locality and took that name to the New World? 🙂

  • Well, TA. The wife was able to make her way over to Nigeria to spend a month, but has had to return to Toronto.
    We should all be together, late April, for sure.

    Yeah, Kev. There was no need for all that confusion.

  • Tell me about it, TA. The pandemic has made spontaneous trips impossible. However, good thing we now have all the video communication technology available. We can spend hours just chatting, collectively.

    But nothing beats the physical contact; for sure.

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