Has Arteta Finally Got His Lean Mean DM Machine?

And What To Do with Mohamed ‘Marmite’ Elneny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal.

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

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

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

Player Ratings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Les Subs:

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

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

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal.

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

Arsenal v Newcastle 2 September 1893

by Andy Kelly

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

Date: Saturday 2 September 1893

Competition: Football League Division Two

Location: Manor Field, Plumstead

Attendance: 10,000

Referee: Joseph Tillotson

Match Report:

Arsenal 2

Shaw, Elliott

Newcastle United 2

Crate, Sorley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts about the match or players:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GunnerN5

TA’s Preferred (maybe predicted) lineup:

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

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

Here is my preferred lineup:

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

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

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

See the source image

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

See the source image

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

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

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

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

See the source image

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

By TotalArsenal.

Great Signings, Victories and Silverware: 12 Gunners Highlights in 2020

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:

By pbarany

8 Observations: Arteta’s Saka Masterstroke, The Wall of Wolves, Pepe’s Nightmare, Who is Going to Miss the Boat?

Three wins in a row give us wings. It is easy to think positive now and there is no doubt that we have something to build on. But what has changed, and what are the positives that could be regarded as structural?

Eight Observations from a glorious week of victories and some excellent football:

  1. Obviously the biggest change has been our formation: from 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. You may say, ah it is just a change of formation and we are overstating the importance of it, but I would politely disagree. The previous formations isolated the three departments of defence, midfield and attack. As a result these had become almost self-sufficient and it just did not work. The team were focused on making attacking breakthroughs via the wings and opponents had sussed us out – we were just so vertical, one-dimensional in our attacking efforts. There was hardly a way through and as soon as we lost the ball we were very susceptible to counter attacks. Our midfield was often outnumbered, our defence left with too much space and too many opponent players to deal with, and our attackers were outnumbered and poorly fed. Something had to change.
  2. The beauty of 4-2-3-1 is that we can play like a harmonica: stretch ourselves out safely when we attack and become compact again when we are defending. The large numbers in midfield, effectively four or five, help us to do the ‘harmonica-ing’ effectively. We now have two walls – the two and the three – in midfield and they give us real balance and compactness, supporting both the defence and our sole attacker up-front. I think this really suits Arsenal’s history or, if you want, our DNA; and I think it is important for the team to reconnect with Arsene’s legacy. The idea of two defence minded midfielders and three attack-minded ones behind a sole attacker really seems to be making all the difference now. The ‘Three’ all have good engines and can defend, pass, control the ball and assist and score. The two at the back can also join the attack but their main role is to keep the pressure on behind the attack and deal with any loss of the ball as soon as possible, allowing the attackers to join the midfield and help regain the ball and start the next attack. They also have to cover for the very attack-minded full backs. It really has been both effective and at times very easy on the eye. But most importantly, it has led to a shift towards more efforts by us on target and just one goal conceded in three games. Early days of course but this formation change looks really good.
  3. In our new formation we have effectively two blocks of players: the block of four and the attacking six. Both interchange with each other depending on what is required. The block of four are the two CBs and the two defensive midfielders, supported by the keeper (often as a sweeper). They are mainly focused on defence but now and again one of the them can get involved in supporting the attack. This is often one of the DMs who is allowed to push forward. Xhaka had that role against the Chavs and Ceballos was our most advanced player v Sam’s Brommers. But the most important thing is that the DMs play mostly in line with each other and form a wall that will not be passed easily. The CBs Holding and Mari have been very effective and so have been Xhaka with either Elneny or Ceballos. There is nothing too fancy about them but they keep the machine running for 90 minutes and make us very solid. A fit again Partey and Gabriel will make the deeper midfield and central defence areas even stronger.
  4. Moving Saka to the right was a masterstroke by Arteta: it strengthened that side enormously and simultaneously freed up the Tierminator on the left. As a result we now have two wings that function really well. Auba/Martinelli work well with Tierney and Hector is working well with Saka. Bukayo is much more two-footed than I thought he was and what a revelation he has been on the right, with beautiful passes, goals and an assist to his name over the last three games. And the same goes for Tierney on the left who has been simply brilliant over the last few games. Paradoxically, but taking away the wing positions in the classical 4-3-3 formation as well as in the 3-4-3 positions, we have actually got much better wing-play now.
  5. The young players have taken their chances with both feet and thus reinvigorated our game. Arteta cleverly placed them in the ‘Three’ together and they have enjoyed themselves tremendously. The experienced players just could not find form and so mixing it up was a clever move by Arteta. Martinelli, ESR, Tierney, Saka, Bellerin and Laca are really thriving in this new system, but it is the youth revolution that has made such a big difference. We now have a Wall of Wolves hunting down the opposition and cleverly combining to break through the opposition’s defensive walls. Especially the (re)introduction of both Martinelli and ESR have given the team the much needed spark.
  6. This change of system is making some early victims. Auba, a pure panther of an attacker, is finding it hard to find his feet in the wolves-pack. His natural instinct to )wait for the ideal moment to kill and then pounce is being compromised by the need to work with the other wolves and supporting his buddies on the left side of attack. I think he will come good again, but it is a challenge for him no doubt about it. Pepe may find it really hard to get into this team and Saka’s recent move to the right is his worst nightmare. I am less positive about his ability to force himself back into the team; maybe he can be the sole CF but competition for this role is stiff. Willian too will have to work hard to get back into the team but as he can play in any of the ‘Three’ positions I am less worried about him. Furthermore, Eddie also has to be careful not to miss the boat now. In fact, all young players have all of a sudden a clear idea of what is required of them in order to make it at Arsenal. This may be frightening for some and especially those close to making it into the first team – AMN, Willock, Nelson, Ceballos – will know that the next five months could well be decisive for their careers at Arsenal. The next lot of talented youngsters may just be able to grab one or more chances, and this will be exciting to watch.
  7. Laca has started to score goals again and it really looks like this new system has given him a new lease of life. Three goals in 1.5 games is very impressive but it is his enthusiasm and connection with the attacking midfielders which has been especially good to see. Laca is on fire again and the big question is who of the young players can stand in for him if and when he cannot play? Is this a chance for Balogun or Molder to make a claim or is it a role that would also work for Eddie?
  8. Arteta deserves a lot of credit. He took a lot of stick but he has found a way to make our team play really good, often beautiful, football using the players much more effectively than before. Was he forced by circumstances like Allezkev has been suggesting? Did he get some tips from his former master Pep after the humbling League cup defeat? Or did he have a Eureka-moment all on his own? Whatever it was Mikel had to implement it, and boy have we seen change of fortunes in the last week!

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal Player Ratings: Two MOTM, ESR Arteta’s Link-up Beast, Ceballos Impresses

West Brom 0 – 4 Arsenal.

Well now that was a joy to watch on a cold and wet Saturday night! We will analyse the game over the next couple of days, but here are the player ratings.

Arsenal swingt als vanouds en maakt gehakt van West Brom

Player Ratings

Leno: 7 – Not much to do but one decent low safe and good involvement with the rest of the team. Once again enjoyed the aerial protection of both Holding and Mari.

Bellerin: 6.5 – Worked hard to support the attack but final ball into the box remains below par. It is costing us goals.

Holding and Mari: 7.5 and 7 – Kings in the air and really up for the fight. They kept it simple except for a couple of loose passes. Half a point extra for Robbo for his Tierney assist.

Tierney: 9 -MOTM – superb attacking game on the left and he scored the all important first goal – his second goal for the club. He had an assist and could have had a hat-trick of assists tonight.

Ceballos: 7.5 – a few great attacking balls over the top and he kept it relatively tidy in midfield. A bit more composure in attack would make him even more effective.

Xhaka: 7 – a very tidy performance sitting between attack and defence. Nothing fancy but Granit was constantly available and did the simple passing and positioning well.

ESR: 8 – great assist for the goal of the season (so far) and Emile really linked up play between the lines well once again. He is our linkup Beast and key to Arteta’s new system. Loved his shot that led to Laca’s first goal.

Saka: 8.5 – The Silk scored a great team goal and he just offered that extra class in creating chances. Also some fine defensive contributions. Rest him for a while now, Mikel.

Auba: 6.5 – no goals again but he was close and Pierre wanted it so badly but it just did not come off.

Laca: 9 -MOTM – superb display but Alex who really loves playing in our 4-2-3-1 system. Took both his goals really well and he also had a good part to play in our second (team) goal. He played for the team and the team rewarded him with two goals.

Subs:

Maitland-Niles: 7 – took over well from Hector.

Willian: 6.5 – got involved quite a bit but struggled to be effective – final ball still too tame.

Willock: 6 – really struggling to come on and adjust to the tempo of the game. Needs a start.

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v WBA Preview/ Lineup: Samba Boys Return, AMN for Elneny, Laca or Auba?

Arsenal v West Bromich Albion – January 2nd 2021

The club was founded as West Bromwich Strollers in 1878 by workers from George Salter’s Spring Works in West Bromwich, in the Black Country . They were renamed West Bromwich Albion in 1880, becoming the first team to adopt the Albion suffix; Albion was a district of West Bromwich where some of the players lived or worked, close to what is today Greets Green.The club joined the Birmingham & District Football Association in 1881 and became eligible for their first competition, the Birmingham Cup.

They reached the quarter-finals, beating several longer-established clubs on the way. In1883, Albion won their first trophy, the Staffordshire Cup. Albion joined the Football Association in the same year; this enabled them to enter the FA Cup for the first time in the 1883–84 season. In 1885 the club turned professional, and in 1886 they reached the FA Cup final for the first time, losing 2–0 to Blackburn Rovers in a replay. They reached the final again in 1887, but lost 2–0 to Aston Villa. In 1888 the team won the trophy for the first time, beating strong favourites Preston North End 2–1 in the final. As FA Cup winners, they qualified to play in a Football World Championship game against Scottish Cup winners Renton, which ended in a 4–1 defeat.

In March 1888, William McGregor wrote to what he considered to be the top five English teams, including Albion, informing them of his intention to form an association of clubs that would play each other home and away each season. Thus when the Football League started later that year, Albion became one of the twelve founder members.

Albion’s second FA Cup success came in 1892, beating Aston Villa 3–0. They met Villa again in the 1895 final, but lost 1–0. The team suffered relegation to Division Two in 1900–01, their first season at The Hawthorns. They were promoted as champions the following season but relegated again in 1903–04. The club won the Division Two championship once more in 1910–11, and the following season reached another FA Cup Final, where they were defeated by Second Division Barnsley in a replay.

Albion won the Football League title in 1919–20 for the only time in their history following the end of World War I, their totals of 104 goals and 60 points both breaking the previous league records. The team finished as Division One runners-up in 1924–25, narrowly losing out to Huddersfield Town, but were relegated in 1926–27. In 1930–31, they won promotion as well as the FA Cup, beating Birmingham 2–1 in the final. The “double” of winning the FA Cup and promotion has not been achieved before or since. Albion reached the final again in 1935, losing to Sheffield Wednesday, but were relegated three years later. They gained promotion in 1948–49, and there followed the club’s longest unbroken spell in the top flight of English football, a total of 24 years.

The speed with which the club became established following its foundation is illustrated by the fact that it outgrew four successive grounds in its first seven years. The first was Cooper’s Hill, where they played from 1878 to 1879. From 1879 to 1881, they appear to have alternated between Cooper’s Hill and Dartmouth Park. During the 1881–82 season, they played at Bunn’s Field, also known as the Birches. This had a capacity of between 1,500 and 2,000, and was Albion’s first enclosed ground, allowing the club to charge an entrance fee for the first time. From 1882 to 1885, as the popularity of football increased, Albion rented the Four Acres ground from the well-established West Bromwich Dartmouth Cricket Club. But they quickly outgrew this new home and soon needed to move again. From 1885 to 1900, Albion played at Stoney Lane; their tenure of this ground was arguably the most successful period in the club’s history, as they won the FA Cup twice and were runners-up three times.

The throstle effigy has been a feature of the Woodman corner since the 1970s.

By 1900, when the lease on Stoney Lane expired, the club needed a bigger ground yet again and so made its last move to date. All of Albion’s previous grounds had been close to the centre of West Bromwich, but on this occasion they took up a site on the town’s border with Handsworth and Smethwick. The new ground was named The Hawthorns, after the hawthorn bushes that covered the area and were cleared to make way for it.

Premier League Away Games
SeasonWDLGFGA
26-Dec-021  21
02-May-051  20
15-Oct-05  112
03-Mar-091  31
19-Mar-11 1 22
13-May-121  32
06-Apr-131  21
06-Oct-13 1 11
29-Nov-141  10
21-Nov-15  112
18-Mar-17  113
31-Dec-17 1 11
Total :6332016

It’s been three years since we last played the Baggies at the Hawthorns and we drew the game 1-1. Our overall away record has been positive but we only managed to win one point in our last three visits, however those games were played between 2015 & 2017.

Arsenal v WBA – Away Games
AllWDLGFGA
Div 12212206473
PL6332016
Total2815238489

Albion have a miserable record so far in the 2020/21 Premier League, they have only gained eight points from their first sixteen games. It appeared that their new manager, Sam Alardyce, had them on a corrected course with a determined 1-1 draw against Liverpool but that quickly changed with a 5-0 loss against Leeds United.

What team will show up against Arsenal?

GunnerN5

TA’s Preferred Lineup v WBA:

I know this will not be popular with many but I would start Willian today. He has had a good rest and will relish to play with his fellow countryman, Martinelli, and the super talented Saka around him in this formation (which will suit him much better). I get the perceived lack of work-rate thing and that he is a former Chav and all that, but I still rate him highly. I would be happy to see another start for Mari but a rest will do him good and we could do with Luiz’s leadership and balls over the top tomorrow. Elneny may have played too many games in December but I still think we need him to start again. He is the most natural available partner for Xhaka and together they will do another cup-game sort of performance. However, I am hoping that AMN will see some action in midfield too tomorrow.

Up-front it is a toss between Auba or Laca. I feel Auba has a brace in him but for this he does not necessarily need to start. So I would go for Laca to run the defence down and Auba to pick them off from the 65th minute or so. Saka could do with a rest but he is in such good form right now and we really could do with making it three in three wins, that I don’t think we can keep him out. Hopefully Nelson or ESR will get some playing time in Saka’s position later on.

Arsenal in 2021: 4-2-3-1 Strongest Team plus One New Player

For many reasons 2020 will be remembered as a year of lows and a few highs. We Gunners have experienced the football lows but we are also one of the few sets of lucky supporters who actually had something to celebrate. Arteta gave us an unforgettable summer, but after that it has been a real roller-coaster. Are Arsenal a team in decline and doomed, or are we slowly witnessing the start of a new beginning?

It is still early days but it looks like Arteta is going to play the 4-2-3-1 formation more regularly from now on. I would welcome that. Reducing the number of out and out attackers i.e. pure finishers to just one would suit me fine. I, like Wenger in the previous decade, like lots of skillful midfielders who know how to defend, pass the ball well and are able to hold on to it, or dribble with it, on a constant basis. Playing Auba, Laca and Pepe up-front really has not paid off and I doubt it ever will. It was time for change.

We have a lot of good midfielders and if Arteta were to opt for the 2 + 3 midfielders formation from now on then the likes of Martinelli, Willian, ESR, Saka, Willock, Nelson and AMN should have plenty of opportunity to play first team football in all competitions. The question is whether we would need to add real quality in the ‘2’ or ‘3’ this January, or that we should better spend our money in another area. Do we have a more urgent need to add a more all-round CF than we currently have (one who is strong in the air and does hold up play really well)? Or should we add another defender to strengthen our defence?

Now let’s imagine, just for a bit of winter-fun, the club manage to let a few players go who are no longer required and are able to free up funds to buy one just quality player for around £40m this January: who would you like us to get? You can spend less, or more if you have to, but it can only be one player. Furthermore, what would be your strongest eleven to beat the vast majority of teams in the PL? So I am not talking about the one off occasions of playing Pool or Man City but how we can beat the sort of teams who got the better of us in recent months on a regular basis.

I am wary to put forward my team as I am more interested in the views of our bloggers (and new bloggers are very welcome too) and I don’t want to influence this too much. But just to kick-start the discussion, here is my strongest 11 + 1 newly purchased player:

I am certain about all positions except CF, Nr10, and RB. I love Hector and would not want to lose him, but this is the position I reckon we have the strongest need to buy an upgrade. With a more mobile style of football with strong runs into the box by midfielders, we may not need the strong-in-the-air CF as much as we did when we were playing the 3-4-3 formation. I am also less convinced that we most urgently need a new nr10, but I know that many disagree with this. So if it was up to me, I would go for a quality right back and I have been very impressed by Ajax’s Mazraoui, lately. I think he would offer on the right what Tierney offers on the left.

So there you go, that’s my choice…. What is yours?

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal Player Ratings: Arteta Creates The Complete Midfielder, Laca Takes the Pee, Obvious MOTM

After an under par first-half performance, the boys stepped it up in the second half and earned themselves a hard-fought win on the south coast. This was all about fitness levels for ninety minutes and patience; and it seemed to me that Arteta had instructed the boys to start compact and not to use too much energy initially. In the second half, the brakes were loosened and the boys started to combine some fine passes which led to a few more than half-decent chances. Unfortunately, Auba lacked once again his ‘normal’ cool and precision and Martinelli was also not decisive if and when a half-chance came to him.

Lacazette gouden wissel, Leeds sloopt Liverpool-bedwinger West Brom

But Arteta was on it; he brought on Laca and within 21 seconds – the expected time for most mammals larger than a rat to pee – he struck gold. A glorious run from our own half by Saka, shrugging off players like they were made of fluff in the process, made all the difference. Saka’s run was impressive enough, but he still had the composure to look up, spot Laca, and place the ball perfectly in front of him – the ball was never off the ground. Laca had time to take the all important first touch and then he found the net like a seasoned sharpshooter. It really was the only and decisive highlight of the game. It was not vintage Arsenal, but the salt and dirt from this game will have tasted extra nice when the boys took their showers after the game. It was a victory of cup game proportions. Arsenal just had to win it, and win they did.

Player Ratings – all boys get an extra half point for commitment.

Leno: 8 – this was a very assured performance by our German goalkeeper. I loved the way he got down quickly and decisively twice, holding on to the ball in the process. Assured in the air, as he once again enjoyed the protection of two classical, ‘English’ CBs. Distribution was not bad, especially with so few options for him for the long balls.

Tierney: 7.5 – did his job in defence well and tried hard to make things happen in attack, with a few peaches of crosses.

Mari and Holding: 7.5 – strong in the air and calm on the ground. Brighton were disappointing and they were only going to score from a high ball into the box today. Both Mari and Holding were not having it and bossed the castle all game long. Passing out from the back and long balls are for both a work in progress, but these boys will fight for us all the way.

Bellerin: 7.5 – it looks like Hector is starting to find his groove again, and he really likes working with Saka both in attack and in defence.

Elneny: 7 – looked tired at times and made a few mistakes, but he also made one or two vital interceptions and always reads the game well when we are defending.

Xhaka: 7.5 – nothing fancy today, just hard work, concentration and reading the game well for ninety minutes. It’s sad to think that just one mistake will make many Gooners jump on him again. Arteta simply loves him.

Martinelli: 7 – BHA knew that the danger would come from Marti and Saka, and they were on them constantly in the first half. They also were very disciplined in blocking off the sides and kept us at bay for quite a while. Marti was less influential than in the Chelsea game, but his hard work was nevertheless important for us.

ESR: 8 – Emile really impressed me with his positioning and discipline; he gave hardly anything away and avoided making fouls for ninety minutes. He may be regarded as a nr10 by many but today he showed he is on his way to becoming a complete midfielder.

Saka: 8.5 – MOTM – worked hard and played so maturely. And then that run, dribble and quality ball into the box for Laca that made all the difference. A very, very fine assist. He is so good Arteta just does not dare to take him off… yet he has to be careful not to overplay Bukayo.

Auba: 6 – Pierre is struggling to regain his phenomenal form of last seasons, and once again he was not sharp when it mattered. But I did like his work rate in defence and so a six seems appropriate.

Subs:

Laca: 8 – to come off the bench like that and take your chance with such calm and calculated execution is very special. This was not a tap in but a fine goal that earned us three points (or two if you are pedantic about it 😉 ). This is were experience pays off; a masterstroke by Arteta.

Ceballos and AMN were not long enough on the pitch to pass judgement.

By TotalArsenal.