Arsenal Player Ratings: Two MotM, Soares like a new Signing, ESR the Glue Man

Well that was much better by Arsenal. We pressed them high and gave them little time. It almost payed off immediately but Laca was probably still cold when he got the chance. We then conceded a good set piece goal by Southampton and we had even more work to do. Two fine goals by Pepe and Saka turned things round, though. The Saints were still dangerous in the first half and they had a few half chances to equalise. But the second half was ours, and a fine move between Willian, Soares, Saka and Laca finished it all off beautifully. We will analyse the game in the next few days.

Player Ratings:

Leno: 8 – Good stops and great presence.

Soares: 8 – very committed game with fab passes and resolute defending. He has a really good physical balance when he plays. It is like having a new player!

Luiz: 7 – seemed tired towards the end, but a good battling performance.

Holding: 7.5 – solid and excellent reading of any danger, solid in the air and on the ground.

Bellerin: 7 – as always committed, just his final ball lacks either purpose or conviction, but a good team player to have.

Partey: 7.5 – still getting into things but solid in midfield and he adds that fighting spirit and footballing intelligence we have missed for so long.

Xhaka: 8 – extra half point for the assist. Solid performance especially in first half when he pushed up a lot.

Pepe: 8 – much better by Nicolas. He seemed so much more free and happy on the left. Great goal.

ESR: 7.5 – great, involved game with and without the ball. He is the glue of the team.

Saka: 8.5 – the Silk was a joy to watch. He is so on the ball. A goal and an assist. Shared MotM.

Laca: 8.5 – worked hard, made things happen and a great goal and assist. Happy Days! Shared MotM.

Subs: Not long enough on the pitch to pass judgement. But they did OK.

By TotalArsenal

Danke Vielmals, Mesut Ozil: I Blame Klopp and Guardiola For your Arsenal Demise.

It has finally been announced by the club that Mesut has left us for Fenerbahce. I am feeling both a sense of relief and sadness, and I am pretty sure not to be the only one.

What to say about Mesut Ozil that has not already been said? We know the stats (a fabulous 0.46 goal/assist per game during his time at Arsenal) and we know what he was capable of. I think if I had to describe Ozil in a few words it would be: magician, autonomous, and in search of beauty. The latter and the former put him close to the Gunner after which this weblog is named; the middle description may have been his undoing but it also made Mesut who he was. Ozil seemed always a bit loose from the group, like the team was 10 + 1. For a long time I did not see that as a negative at all: Mesut was looking for ways to serve the team with his forward passes and through-balls, to give impetus to our attacking play and for this he needed freedom, space and autonomy. Wenger was very happy with this and so were we the fans.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ozil helped Arsenal significantly with emerging from the era of club-austerity, post the move to the Emirates, and to put us back on the PL and European map. We had missed the brilliance of Bergkamp and then Fabregas and badly needed a new magician. Mesut made us play at a different level from then onwards and, significantly, his signing enabled us to attract other near superstars and superstars too: Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Pepe and maybe also young-super promising talents such as Martinelli. Big signings for an ambitious club like Arsenal are often meant to be statements of intent and I cannot think of a bigger statement than bringing Ozil to the home of football back in 2014.

As long as he was producing goals and assists nobody ever complained about Mesut’s perceived lack of work rate. Ozil delivered and many fans felt that if he were surrounded by better players he would even do better. In fact, the trio of Ozil, Sanchez and Giroud may never have looked as the best of friends but they actually all made each other better, more effective footballers. Giroud did the hold up play and made space for others whilst also scoring a shed load of goals; Ozil found him with ease, and; Sanchez was there to profit from the services of both of them. If we had had a better deep-midfield and defence in those Ozil/Sanchez/Giroud years we may well have won the league at least once. Once the trio was broken up none of them came anywhere near their previous performance levels, and I think Ozil suffered most from this separation.

Mesut will always be one of the most elegant footballers we have ever had. His vision and ability to produce magnificent through-balls, balls over the top, crosses and set-pieces made him a joy to watch. His first touch was sublime and he could pass the ball with the measurements of a top snooker player. Wenger and Ozil were on the same wavelength and highly loyal to each other. In fact, the relationship was so strong that when Cesc, the prodigal son, wanted to return back to THOF, Arsene kept the door closed and told Fabregas that he had a new son. Ozil fully met Arsene’s quest for beautiful footie on the pitch and for a long time it felt that he was the one player around which the Frenchman was going to build another all-conquering team.

So what when wrong?

I blame Klopp and Guardiola, and to some extent Mourinho. The latter had already shown, when he first joined Chelsea from Porto, what a ‘machine-like team’ can achieve. Luckily, his football was rightly regarded as hard on the eye and he had to change his approach, especially when he returned to the UK for a second stint. But then came Klopp and Guardiola and they had their teams play a very disciplined, hard working football that was both successful AND (regarded as) beautiful to watch. Both teams have raised the level of football enormously and Wenger’s approach built around the genius of Ozil simply fell behind. Something had to change.

Ozil ran as much as anybody on the pitch but these were his runs and not necessarily what was required in terms of team tactics/discipline. The independent, autonomous nr10 had to become an integral part of the machine. Arsene had to adjust his team and he needed a more disciplined approach, but he just could not get it right anymore.

And then came Emery and he wanted Ozil to play a more disciplined and energetic game, but without Sanchez and Giroud, who had left when Wenger was still in charge, he became much less successful. The magic had gone and the relationship between Ozil and Emery got worse.

The Spaniard was sacked and new-man Arteta tried hard to reestablish Mesut in the team. Initially, it looked like Mikel was able to get Ozil back to something like his best and fully on board with his plans…. then something went wrong and I rather don’t want to speculate on what that could have been. Arteta decided that Mesut did not fit into his plans anymore and I think that the main reason for this was a footballing one. Arsenal needed to move on and play a different kind of football and we are now starting to see what this could look like. Ozil could still have added value to our team but if your most prominent player does not fully buy in, or is not really able to play the required style of football and associated instructions to the highest order, then it is time to go separate ways.

It is a sad end to a nowadays long period of an Arsenal career. Mesut has said all the right things and left us in a classy way. All parties will feel a sense of a relief and both the player and club can now move on. I wish him all the best and that he can rekindle his career in his second homeland.

Danke Vielmals, Mesut, for the beauty, the gasps, the new ‘era’ and your contributions to the three FA Cup wins!

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Saints Afterthoughts and Player Ratings: Only Two Above Par, No MOTM

Arsenal 0 – 1 Southampton.

Arteta rekent na bekerzeperd snel op nieuws over Ødegaard

Well that was a disappointing performance by the boys and sadly we are out of the FA cup very early on. The draw was unfavourable with having to play first Southampton and then Wolves if we had been successful today, and both were away games too. I was hoping for a strong line-up but Arteta made a whopping seven changes from our victory against the Barcodes. By doing so, he showed us that the league is his priority this season. But who could argue that the team he put out could not have been victorious today? On paper it was a more than decent team, even against an almost full-strengths Southampton, and I think that by putting out this ‘second string’ team (except for four regulars) Arteta made a statement to the BOD too: the wider squad is not as strong as you may think and I need some more players (and please try and sell a few to partly fund these).

For me the biggest disappointments were the lack of cohesion between the players and the rustiness of many of them. Big Gab tried to compensate for his rustiness with mad application of his duties; as a result he was all over the place during the first half. Martinelli was an eager beaver as we have become used to but there was no sharpness and connection with his fellow players today. Willian did not lead our attack as we should expect from him and also looked a yard short. Pepe blew hot and cold but luckily got a bit better in the second half.

It really looked like the whole team played together for the first time and that cost the Gunners the game. The Saints did not impress other than with their strong discipline and positional play. They created a few half-chances and had a lucky bounce of the ball for the goal that beat us. But they were the better team simply because they played like one, and Arteta has to wonder whether it would not have been better to play his first team with say just three or four changes instead. Momentum is important for us and a win is a tonic that lasts at least four days. I think I understand why he is prioritising the league: even winning the FA Cup would not be enough to compensate for a poor league finish this season; and Mikel will be judged by us, the BOD and the media mostly on how he will finish in the league. Let’s be honest about that. Not that I expect us to finish in the top four, or maybe even in the top six, this season, but during this traditional year Arteta will have to establish a clear sense of progress and a very strong base (system of play, team cohesion and performance culture) to build on next season. We simply have not got the squad depth and cohesion to do well in more than one or two major competitions this season.

The FA Cup and UEFA Cup are great prices but they also distract from the big plan: making Arsenal a top four team again as soon as reasonably possible. Yet I cannot deny that I am feeling a bit low tonight and that the boys have disappointed us.

Player ratings are hard to do as ultimately football is a team sport and an individual’s performance is affected by those of his team mates, and Arsenal did not play like a team today. I must also add that the way the pitch was half in very bright sunshine and half in a dark shadow did not help me in making a good judgement about the players’ performances. I am going to put all the players into three groups: Below Par (5), Just About Okay (6), Okay Plus (7).

Below Par: Eddie, Martinelli, Willian, Big Gab, Bellerin.

Just About Okay: Elneny, Xhaka, Holding, Soares, Leno, Laca, Pepe.

Okay Plus: Partey, Saka.

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Saints Preview/ Lineup: Power and Brains in Midfield Key, Marti to Motor us On!

We are travelling to play high-flying Saints for the FA cup tomorrow, and then we will face them again at St Mary’s in the league on Tuesday. Of course it is about OGAAT but it is impossible to prepare for tomorrow’s game without one eye on Tuesday’s. The team are buoyed by our excellent win v the Barcodes on Monday, and all legs should be fresh again. But how should Mikel use his squad to produce not one but two wins v Southampton?

We are lucky to have an almost fit squad in late January, so Mikel has options. Ceballos will be assessed before the game and Mari appears not to be ready yet, but that is it. Let’s say that Arteta will want one pair of fresh, experienced legs in all areas for Tuesday’s encounter: one fit defender, midfielder and attacker? Let’s say Mari is fit then and one of Luiz, Holding or Gabriel should join him. It also seems that Arteta is ready to use Chambers again which may give us an extra option in central defence, but also RFB and DM… Or is four days enough rest to not have to worry about fatigue/injury of any of our players? Still, it would be good for Arteta to have the option of playing two fresh CBs on Saturday and Tuesday. We need at least one fit DM and one fit CF, and possibly also one fit creative midfielder on Tuesday. I am convinced that energy and therefore fitness levels will be a prerequisite for double success for the Gunners.

The Saints, as we know from last month’s hard-fought draw, are a well organised and disciplined team with a lot of balance and confidence: a sort of Crystal Palace of the south coast: not sexy but solid. They are very good at rebounds and counter attacks and our central midfield duo will be well tested again. In our 1-1 draw we played without Tierney, Xhaka and Partey and Gabriel got sent off after twice trying to fill a hole left in midfield by the Elneny-Ceballos combo. Let’s hope the boys and manager have learned from that painful lesson.

In that game Arsenal had only 35% possession of the ball and had less shots on goal than the Saints – Arsenal managed to get four on target and the Saints three, though. I was very impressed with the CB duo of Vestergaard and Bednarek and they will again be a force to reckon with. Ings will be available again and no doubt the fabulous Ward-Prowse will provide a major creative threat, especially from his set pieces. So our players need to avoid silly fouls and take the game to the Southampton half of the pitch as much as possible. It will be key to out-power and out-discipline them in central midfield, and this should be a great game for our shiny toy of a summer signing, Partey.

I feel we need to start with a very strong team and mean business from the start. Forget about Tuesday’s game altogether when we are on the pitch, and show them who the Kings of the FA Cup are.

So here is my preferred team to beat the Saints:

I would keep Luiz, Xhaka, ESR and Auba on the bench, and hopefully Arteta does not need to use them. These four will all play on Tuesday if it was up to me. I am tempted to rest Saka too but neither Nelson or Pepe have had convincing performances recently and leaving Bukayo out would weaken us right now. Same goes for Tierney and Holding. Soares had a good game v the Barcodes so why not give him another game so Bellerin can play fully fit on Tuesday? I would love to see how Willian will do with the young puppies of Martinelli and Saka around him and Laca up-front (and the DM beasts of Partey and Elneny behind him). I cannot wait to see Martinelli. Gabriel will motor us on in attack and his enthusiasm and attacking thrust could well make the difference tomorrow.

So this is my preferred team.. what is yours?!

By TotalArsenal.

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 £100,000.

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.