Arsenal v Burnley Afterthoughts: We Do It to Ourselves, We do, And That’s What Really Hurts

Burnley 1 -1 Arsenal

Well that was disappointing. A must win game in which we were the much better team but still managed to give away two precious points. I know that Arsenal are in transition under Arteta and that setbacks are to be expected, but too many times have we lost now to a team that we should have beaten with some ease.

The main culprits are a lack of concentration/calm and a much needed sense of urgency and purpose, leading to both costly mistakes and untaken great chances in almost every game. Today, we saw Xhaka misplacing a ball under pressure and via a lucky bounce disappear into the net. So frustrating. The Xhaka-haters are out in force tonight but, although it was him who should have passed better, it clearly was also a team mistake. Xhaka, facing his own goal keeper in the box, had a player closely behind him and his passing options were limited after he received the ball from Leno who, in my opinion, should have opted for a different player at that moment in time. Fact is that we allowed Burnley back into the game when we should have been up by two or three goals already, if we had had the better bounce of the ball. That is football, though.

The second half performance was frustrating for a long time but, clearly, VAR(ce) and lady luck were not on our side. It was not to be and we just have to move on.

Eight quick observations:

  1. The pitch was slow and hard. This did not help us in moving the ball quickly and accurately, and the ball had more bounce than usual, which may explain Pepe’s air shot in a great position.
  2. After Arsenal scored the early goal the boys put the foot off the gas. I missed the required urgency to get that all important second goal, and it showed in the way the likes of Auba and Saka took their chances. Then in the second half there actually seemed to be too much urgency, leading to a lack of composure when it mattered.
  3. Partey had possibly his worst game in an Arsenal shirt. For large parts he had to chase the game and he offered very little going forward. I am a huge fan of Thomas and I expect he was nowhere near 100%, but he should not play if this is what he is going to do on the pitch. Arteta waited much too long with replacing him. Ceballos made good contributions from the moment he came on and was unlucky not to score.
  4. We missed the glue-man, ESR, a lot. I like Odegaard and thought he worked reasonably hard, but running constantly between the lines and being the one that connects them is not Martin’s big skill, it seems. I also thought that Saka looked rusty, which goes to show that sometimes a break is not what a player needs.
  5. However, Willian did a lot of the link up play well today, and it was his quick move – letting the ball roll past him rather than taking a first touch with his back towards the opponent’s goal – that made all the difference: he was able to give it quicker to Auba who then had enough space to do his dance and surprise the keeper enough to score again.
  6. It was great to see Chambers getting a start today but he struggled in the RB position, both defensively and in attack. I will not be hard on him as he deserves more time to get back into the rhythm of things. Not having the attacking threat of either Soares (ideally) or Bellerin really did not help us today, though.
  7. Tierney was also much quieter today, and it made me wonder whether the boys were holding back a bit for what they may see as the much bigger game: the Europa League encounter with Olympiacos. The pitch was slow but the players were too, and maybe that early goal really did not help us in that respect.
  8. We all know that we should have had a penalty for handling in the box, and it is clear that VAR remains a work in progress. Subjectivity and interpretations of the rules seem to dominate certain aspects of VAR decision making, and as long as this is the case it will remain contentious and, to be frank, a pain in the backside.

Let’s quickly forget about this game. Arteta knows that these continuous silly mistakes have to be ironed out, but this will take time. We also lacked luck, but in the end we did not deserve to take all three points because the boys left it too late to mean business and turn things round.

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Burnley Preview/ Lineup. Are We Getting Close to Arsenal’s Strongest 11?

The heating is broken (from Tuesday) and it is freezing in my office room, so this will be a very short post. Arsenal have an early kick off against Dyche’s Clarets tomorrow.

What do we know about Burnley? They are currently 15th in the league mainly due to a relatively good defence as their attack is very poor: just 19 goals which is the second lowest tally. They have the fourth most negative goal difference of minus 16 but, as Leicester experienced midweek, they make themselves hard to beat and Arsenal will have to be on the ball from the start to crack huskey Dyche’s resilient bus-parkers.

How should we line up against them? Well all had a good rest and only ESR is not (yet) available, so the gaffer can choose from a large pool of talent and hungry players.

Here is my preferred lineup:

I am also happy with a start for Auba and/or Willian in this one, but they could have a game on Thursday. Arteta will have to give and take a bit here. I am also happy with Mari and Holding getting a start at the back, but right now I reckon Big Gab and Luiz are giving us the widest skill set and good chemistry in defence. A start for Bellerin would be ok with me, but Soares is in fine form and, to be honest, is the better full back. In fact, this may be close to Arsenal’s strongest lineup…. What do you think?

Looking forward to this one.

C O M E O N Y O U R I P R O A R I N G G U N N E R S !

By TotalArsenal.

Will it Ever Get as Good Again for the Gunners?!

Arsenals Top Season 2003-2004

Step up – Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles.

They are the only team to go unbeaten for a complete season since Preston North End went unbeaten in the inaugural season of the Football League in 1889 with a record of:

P22, W18, D4. L0, GF74, GA15, Pts58. In retaining the Premier League Championship in 2001/02 Arsenal had also equalled Preston North Ends record of going unbeaten away for the entire season by beating Manchester United 0-1 at Old Trafford in our final away game.

Arsene only used 22 players in the whole season with Jens Lehmann playing in all 38 games – which included 15 shut outs.

2003-04  Arsene Wenger’s -Invincibles
CountryPosPlayerAppsSubsGamesGoals
GermanyGoalJens Lehmann380380
FranceFwdThierry Henry3703730
Ivory CoastDefKole Toure361371
FranceMidRobert Pires3333614
EnglandDefSol Campbell350351
EnglandDefAshley Cole320320
CameroonDefLauren302320
BrazilMidGilberto Silva293324
SwedenMidFreddie Ljungberg273304
FranceMidPatrick Vieira290293
BrazilMidEdu1217292
NetherlandsFwdDenis Bergkamp217284
EnglandMidRay Parlour1210220
FranceDefPascal Cygan108180
SpainFwdJose Antonio-Reyes76132
FranceFwdSylvain Wiltord84123
FranceDefGael Clichy75120
FranceFwdJeremie Aliadiere 37100
NigeriaFwdKanu37101
EnglandDefMartin Keown37100
EnglandMidDavid Bentley 1010
EnglandDefJustin Hoyte0110
 
Arsenal 2003-04 Season Results
 
    VWDLGFGAPts
1Aug16EvertonH1  213
2Aug24BoroA1  403
3Aug27Aston VillaH1  203
4Aug31Man CA1  213
5Sep13PortsmouthH 1 111
6Sep21Man UA 1 001
7Sep26NewcastleH1  323
8Oct4LiverpoolA1  213
9Oct18ChelseaH1  213
10Oct26CharltonA 1 111
11Nov1LeedsA1  413
12Nov8TottenhamH1  213
13Nov22BirminghamA1  303
14Nov30FulhamH 1 001
15Dec6LeicesterA 1 111
16Dec14BlackburnH1  103
17Dec20BoltonA 1 111
18Dec26WolvesH1  303
19Dec29SaintsA1  103
20Jan7EvertonA 1 111
21Jan10BoroH1  413
22Jan18Aston VillaA1  203
23Feb1Man CH1  213
24Feb7WolvesA1  313
25Feb10SaintsH1  203
26Feb21ChelseaA1  213
27Feb28CharltonH1  213
28Mar13BlackburnA1  203
29Mar20BoltonH1  213
30Mar28Man UH 1 111
31Apr9LiverpoolH1  423
32Apr11NewcastleA 1 001
33Apr16LeedsH1  503
34Apr25TottenhamA 1 221
35May1BirminghamH 1 001
36May4PortsmouthA 1 111
37May9FulhamA1  103
38May15LeicesterH1  213
Totals: 26120732690

Although he performed well throughout the 2002/03 season long-serving keeper David Seaman was released at the end of the campaign. Arsenal brought in Jens Lehmann from Borussia Dortmund for a mere £1.5 million – a steal, considering just how important he would be for Arsenal over the next 12 months. Due to building the Emirates there were no big-name signings; club captain Patrick Vieira signed a new contract in the face of strong interest from Manchester United, Chelsea, and Real Madrid. With Arsene not make any big changes to the squad, and with no major departures, Arsenal started the season with the same group of players as the previous season.

The season kicked off with Arsenal in inspired form. A 2-1 home victory over Everton on the opening day was followed up with 4-0 win over Middlesbrough, a 2-0 win over Aston Villa and a 2-1 away victory over David Seaman and Manchester City. With just four games played, Arsenal had already put three points between them and fellow title-chasers Manchester United, leaving them sitting comfortably in first place, having scored ten and conceded just two.

Our unbeaten run came close to ending at Old Trafford in the sixth game of the season when United were awarded a penalty in injury time (no surprise there) but (our least liked player) Ruud van Nistelrooy stepped up and missed the penalty and the match ended tied at 0–0. Tempers boiled over in the game dubbed the ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ following Vieira being given a red card.

October presented a tough schedule with a trip to Anfield and a home game against Chelsea.  Despite falling behind against Liverpool we recovered to win 2-1. Going into the Chelsea game, both sides were level at the top of the table and were also undefeated in the league. The game appeared to be heading for a draw until a Carlo Cudicini blunder saw Thierry Henry give Arsenal the win, bringing an end to Chelsea’s unbeaten run. Despite the fact we had still not lost a poor 0-0 draw against Fulham on Nov 30th gave Chelsea the chance to take over at the top of the table.

 At the turn of the year Arsenal had made it half way through the season without tasting defeat in the Premier League and the unbeaten season began to take place: but despite this feat, Arsenal entered 2004 in second place, one point behind leaders Manchester United.

See the source image

The Gunners’ first game of the year once again ended with a lacklustre draw against Everton, while United secured a victory to increase their lead to three points. Although, things picked up with a dominant 4-1 win over Middlesbrough, which saw us draw level with United on points, goal difference and goals scored. Henry then began a goal scoring run which would see him net in each of the club’s next six games, the second and third of which came against Aston Villa a week later giving Arsenal all three points. Despite a trip to title chasers Chelsea and a visit to Manchester City, February would prove to be one of the best months in the campaign, with five wins in five games.

After 30 games Arsenal had officially beaten the Premier League record of consecutive game without defeat.

On April 25th we went to White Hart Lane knowing knew that a single point would be enough to end any chance of a late Chelsea comeback. Goals from Vieira and Pirés were enough to secure a 2-2 draw that handed Arsenal the trophy at the home of the North London pretenders with four games to spare.

We saw out the final month of Premier League action comfortably, with a bore draw against Birmingham City followed up with a 1-1 draw at Portsmouth and a 1-0 victory over Fulham. Despite going behind in their final game against Leicester City, Arsenal bossed the second-half, claiming victory thanks to goals from Henry and Vieira.

2003-04 League Table
  PWDLFAPts
1Arsenal3826120732690
2Chelsea382477673079
3Man U382369643575
4Liverpool38161210553760
5Newcastle3813178524056
6Aston Villa38151112484456
7Charlton38141113515153
8Bolton38141113485653
9Fulham38141014524652
10Birmingham38121412434850
11Boro3813916445248
12Saints38121115444547
13Portsmouth3812917475445
14Tottenham3813619475745
15Blackburn3812818515944
16Man C3891415555441
17Everton3891217455739
18Leicester3861517486533
19Leeds388921407933
20Wolves3871219387733

After Arsenal completed the only 38-match season unbeaten, the Premier League commissioned a unique gold trophy to commemorate the achievement. Arsène Wenger was presented the trophy as a parting gift from the club after his last home game as manager on 6 May 2018.

GunnerN5

Arsenal Finally Have a Triple-Beast of a Midfield

Every team needs a solid defence and a sharp attack but success depends for a large part on the quality of its midfield: the core of every team. For many years, Arsene and then Unai have struggled to get the midfield right, but we may finally be witnessing the birth of a PL-winning midfield right in front of us. I am of course talking about the combination of Xhaka-Partey-ESR. The latter may play in front of the other two but he really is a proper all-round midfielder and forms a great trio with them.

Thomas Partey is the missing link here of course. He has that Vieiraesque presence on the pitch and skill set, and if he can get back to full fitness will become a force to reckon with. I have a feeling that he will continue to struggle for a while and we will only see the best of him, as in a consistent way, from next season onwards. That is why Elneny is also really important. He may not excite everyone but Mo is tidy and reads the game well, positions himself well and has that great ability to allow other players to shine. Granit loves playing with Elneny, and they know each other of course for a long time, going back to their days at Basel (2010-12). We have also seen evidence of Partey combining well with Elneny, so it looks like Mo is the ideal man to be the spare tire that will be used regularly.

I agree with Kev that we need to have at least one more quality DM(like player) going forward as we cannot rely on Xhaka (150+ games for Arsenal already) continue to be fit all the time. It takes a midfielder to appreciate a midfielder and it is obvious that Mikel loves what Granit has to offer and will continue to build the team around the Xhaka-Partey partnership; and I am pretty sure that Emile will become part of this potentially all conquering midfield.

I know that many will not agree with this but right now there is no better deeper laying midfielder in the league than Xhaka. Combine him with the right player and he will become the nerve-center of the team: he holds us together and translates Mikel’s tactical instructions on the pitch to a T. Like all deeper laying midfielders he will now and again make a mistake as they are under so much pressure these days, but focusing on this would be besides the point. Arteta has a great influence over him and this is leading to a calmer style of play and less sanctions, and so, at the great age of 28, Granit is turning into a powering Matterhorn of a midfielder right now. Like the BFG and Giroud, who also were not the greatest athletes but had great intelligence on the pitch, slowly but steadily fans are learning to appreciate and even love Granit the longer he wears the red and white colours. One day, the club might even put up a statue outside the stadium for him. 😉

What I love about ESR is that he does not want to be the poster-boy whose sole focus is on producing insane through-balls all the time. He has really surprised me, and credit to especially Highbury Harmony who predicted a breakthrough for Emile a few months ago.

He is more of a Freddie Ljungberg than a Mesut Ozil, if you ask me. He keeps his head up when on the ball and when he is about to receive the ball – the sign of a great player of course – but he will battle with his head down, his sleeves up and socks down for the ball at all times. And that is what reminds me of Freddie. Both have that ability to get stuck in and yet create those beautiful moments of vision and technical mastery as well. Emile is therefore the ideal fit for partnering the DM-pivot duo of Granit and Thomas as they need somebody to come close to them when needed and run between the lines to offload the ball to under pressure. Emile is very tidy with the ball and always looks to combine with another player in the most advantageous way. Therefore he is the glue of the team and is superb at connecting up midfield with attack. And on top of it all he can also produce those breathtaking through-balls when there is an opportunity.

ESR has of course another couple or even trio of players to work with: the fellow players in the ‘three’ (in our current 4-2-3-1 formation) behind the attacker, and the attacker himself. Only Saka is a given at the moment who truly has made the position on the right his. On the left of ESR there is real competition with either Auba, Pepe or Willian taking this spot. It may explain why Martinelli is having to wait for his chance right now (so no need to worry). Our CF is also a ‘choice-situation’ with either Laca or Auba getting the nod from Mikel – and this is also a position Martinelli (and Eddie and Balogun) are competing for. But Emile will play with them all and will just get on with it, knowing that he will get great support behind him from both Thomas and Granit.

No doubt we are not there yet, but I have confidence that the midfield of Granit-Thomas-Emile(Saka and Pepe/Auba/Willian) will be one that will get us back to the top. Elneny is great backup and there is one more backup position to fill. This will be either Willock or AMN, who are making good progress with their loan clubs, or from the market this summer. Finally, we need backup/competition for ESR and that is where I see one of Odegaard and Ceballos, or one of the youngsters making their claim. Exciting stuff fellow Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Leicester Afterthoughts

With the Arsenal players not returning to the U.K. from Athens until Friday and a midday kick off for Sunday at Leicester looming it didn’t leave a lot of recovery time for the players and with that in mind Mikel Arteta risked the wrath of the online #Arteta Out brigade and made six changes from the win over Benfica.

It was a brave decision and could have easily blown up in his face but Mikel put the health and welfare of his players first and therefore deserves all the plaudits. I can’t lie, when I saw the team I wasn’t confident myself.

It didn’t start well, a mix up between Xhaka and Willian saw Tielemans get a clear run on goal and with Pablo Mari backing off as he watched for Vardy and thus leaving a yawning chasm the Belgian just ran into it and fired across Leno and into the far corner. Leno then almost dropped an almighty clanger to let in Vardy but fortunately recovered the ball before ex England striker could take advantage. That’s when I went into the kitchen to make some lunch because it just looked like another away day tragedy in the making.

Anyway as I was scrambling some eggs in the kitchen we got a penalty and we lost it and got a free kick instead which Pepe didn’t make the most of. Then came the foul on Pepe that led to the free kick, taken by Willian it was perfectly flighted to where Luiz had lost his marker and where Xhaka blocked off another Leicester player so that Luiz had a clear run at the ball and where he met the perfect cross with the perfect header and it was all square. The Leicester players all looked a little shocked and frankly they never really recovered and ended up looking tired, a lot more tired than the Arsenal players.

As I ate my scrambled eggs we got another pen and this one was put away with the minimum of fuss by Lacazette who had led the line like a lion until replaced late in the game by Aubameyang. At half time the Arsenal players left the field with spring in their step whilst the Leicester players looked quite knackered.

The 2nd 45 was all about game management and just doing enough to save those tired legs, Pepe got the 3rd and that was that. Willian put in probably his best display in an Arsenal shirt, he seemed to have all the time he needed to do his thing and a fine thing it was, but, was he afforded those extra seconds because Leicester were knackered, I guess we’ll know more in the remaining games to come but it was encouraging to see him finally producing on the field?

Pepe had a fine game, he is an acquired taste a mixture of skill, trickery and daftness, nope never a dull moment when Nicholas is on the ball, but he was key to this result.
Xhaka was immense with another 90 minutes of leadership and commitment, he hardly ever misses a match and he usually plays the entire 90 minutes but you won’t hear him talking about fatigue.

Soares was very good, especially in the attacking half and after a slow start Mari improved and along with Luiz they had solid performances. I can’t actually fault anyone to be honest as they all contributed in this fine victory, even the subs which I thought Arteta used very wisely.

There was something else that I noticed about this game and for that matter some other games that I’ve watched in recent times and that is the slow debilitating creep of tiredness that is threatening to overwhelm some teams and especially those that don’t rotate as much. Their players are looking jaded and even exhausted with many of them picking up and suffering from soft tissue injuries and worst.

Today I saw what looked like a half fit Jamie Vardy who it seems has some groin issues, he wasn’t a threat for the entire game and that was great for us but Harvey Barnes limped of on 51 minutes and the veteran Jonny Evans limped off on 70 minutes. I’ve since discovered that Barnes needs an operation on I think his knee and that’s as tragic as it probably was avoidable. Smith Rowe also has a slight calf strain but he’ll probably be ok in a couple of weeks.

Back last summer there were moves to continue the temporary but eminently sensible policy of 5 substitutes and everyone across Europe and the Football League took that path, well everyone except a narrow minded group of clubs in the Premier League. It was suggested by them that it would give an unfair advantage to the bigger clubs with the bigger squads.

Well we got through the first half of the season without too much damage and then the 5 subs policy was revived again in December by those Premier League clubs who had originally suggested it and it was thought this time that common sense would prevail. But no. Aston Villa were thought to be the unofficial leaders of the Luddite group which included Burnley, C.Palace, Fulham. Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd, West Ham and Wolves and they all voted it down again – well done.

As so here we are just over 10 weeks later and this is the injury list of those clubs:
Aston Villa 5, Burnley 4, C.Palace 9, Fulham 2, Leeds 7, Leicester 8, Newcastle 7, Sheffield Utd 7, West Ham 6, Wolves 4.

By contrast those clubs able to rotate are thus : Arsenal 1, Chelsea 2, Everton 2, Liverpool 8, Man City 1, Man Utd 5, Tottenham 1, and that with most of them having to negotiate european competitions…

Imagine now if the Aston Villa group had had those extra couple of subs to ease the load and what condition would their squads look like now?

By Allezkev

Arsenal v Leicester: Lineup and Preview. Time for Nelson and Pepe to Hunt the Foxes Down

Arsenal are in Leicester to play the wily Foxes who are licking their European exit-wounds. The elimination will still hurt and the manager and players will want to bounce back straightaway, so Arsenal are warned. The Gunners, on the other hand, have been victorious in Europe after a great comeback in the second half and will play today with a happy head but weary legs. No doubt Leicester will be exhausted too but they simply have to try and win today. Arsenal also need the three points of course, and if we play this cleverly they are up for grabs, despite the odds being against us.

Let’s sit back in this one and play on the counter/rebound. Let the Foxes make the play as they cannot afford to sit back in this one. If we do this with discipline and the right mix of players then I think we can win the game. Some players will need a rest to avoid injuries and I am particularly thinking here of Auba and Saka, but also Bellerin and Odegaard. So I would replace these four and would also give Holding a start instead of Luiz.

My preferred lineup would be:

By all means, Arteta can bring on the likes of Odegaard, Willian, Saka or Auba in the final 20-30 minutes to win the game for us, but let’s not start with them.

Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners!

By TotalArsenal.

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

Arsenal 3- 2 Benfica: post-game thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By TotalArsenal.

How Arsenal’s Dream Team is Going to Win the Title in 2026

The backbone of the 2026 PL-winning (and CL semi-finalist) team

We often flatter ourselves that albeit our current position – and often the performance – is not worthy of the club, but this is a transitional period, and we already have the young talents who are not only destined for greatness but will indeed achieve it in Arsenal’s jersey. I am a hardcore supporter, so I will not challenge this hope, but rather analyze which players already in the squad are capable of reaching world-class heights, and which positions do we need to focus are transfer activities to balance the team.

A few disclaimers in advance

  1. I expect this being a controversial topic, especially where I will put faith in players becoming first class that you consider Championship quality, and I apologize in advance if not including your favorite young talent.
  2. We don’t need 11-14 superstars to win the PL; every high performing team in history had a few ’just OK’ players, some even had free-riders, so unless you consider my nominee a particularly poor lad, we are not necessary in contradiction.
  3. I will break away from 2 major common knowledges of modern football: will not advocate for a mix of U21 and 30+ players, as well as discourage from buying/bringing 4-5 new players every summer transfer window.
  4. I will consider only the U23 squad with regards to future talents, so our promising contingent of the U18 team will not be included. Firstly they will be only about 20-21 in 4 years, and secondly we have very little intel at this time to foresee if some of them are indeed destined to greatness.

Rules of the „game”:

  • Outfield players above 26 are disqualified. I will consider only guys born after 1993 – we already have a 2-years age gap there (nobody in the squad has been born in 1994). This will save me the conflict on Xhaka, of whom I have the highest regards, but including him in the title-winning squad would surely open Pandora’s box.
  • Since goalkeepers are capable of performing on the highest level since their late 30s Leno has given a pass, unfortunately Partey had to be excluded. But this is only a game, so feel free to bend the rules when assembling your own preferred line-up including the then-32-years-old Ghanian.
  • Under ’backbone’ I didn’t mean just 11 players, rather 17. For suspensions, injuries, substitutions and different formations we need extra legs. I will go into more details when discussing the particular positions.

Let’s go by position. Starting with the goalkeeper.

The goalkeeper question will be quick and easy. Leno is good, reliable and ’only’ 28. So although he is already in his prime, that period window could be extended to 2026. Having Martinez as the backup-keeper was great, and crucial for our 14th FA Cup winning campaign, but apparently it wasn’t sustainable.

There is no need to include a 2nd goalkeeper in the squad of 17, as this is a position that seldom gets injured, sent off or subject to rotation. Nevertheless I hope that Ryan turns out well (who is only 5 weeks younger than Bernd), and maybe we can nurture a good goalkeeper from Hein and/or Okonkwo.

What to do wit this position:

  • don’t spend money on GK
  • …beyond signing Ryan permanently if financially and professionally reasonable

Defensive unit

I would like to have 6 capable defenders as the backbone. 3 CBs (for cover, rotation and sometimes even playing together in a back three), 2 full backs (one for each flank) and a deputy full back, who is capable of playing on both sides, and – more importantly – is comfortable with sitting on the bench for most PL games when both first-choice full backs are available. Of course there are no teams with only 6 defenders, but I would put minimal emphasis on the rest if we manage to get this 6 right.

When checking the current contingent, I’m quite optimistic. Luiz and Mari will be overage by 2025, but we have capable players in Arsenal. Apart from a couple of average games I believe Gabriel is already playing at a top level – let’s hope he stays fit and focused. He plays good with his feet and not error-prone. My other candidate for the 3 CB positions is obviously Saliba. While he is far from the required level at the moment, he only turns 20 in 5 weeks. He is tall and already got the ambition to try defense splitting passes from the back. If he continues his development (which is far from guaranteed), then we would be in the green zone. And call me naive, I wouldn’t look elsewhere for the 3rd center back either. Holding is clearly on the rise, Mavropanos is our most underestimated player (besides Nelson), and I secretly hope that one from Ballard or MacGuinness would come through. For the time being I would go with Mavropanos (to have 3 CBs where the shortest is 190cm), but I expect all of them to become reliable players in the next 4-5 years.

Regarding full backs it is easy to pick Tierney, as he is already probably the best left back in the league. I hope that he is on an unlucky streak and not injury prone, but the only priority with him is to stay fit. I have no shame or difficulties picking Belerin at RB, but I’m sure that this opinion is not unanimous. Nevertheless as long as he doesn’t leave us for a better team where he gets more appreciated I think we are not in a huge risk there. When Hector has his better games he is really good both defensively and offensively, but the proportion of his good games are slightly on the decline in the past years. If the coach manages to revert that, then we will have an exquisite defensive line in a few weeks. For the deputy full-back position Ainsley Maitland-Niles would be the obvious candidate, but – to be honest – I’m not entirely sure on his defensive skills, and he is not too keen on playing full back either. Which is a pity, as he has Arsenal DNA written all over him, he is a joy to watch taking penalties, and he has history on both flanks. And as stated above, it could prove difficult to sign a young starlet for a deputy position. But this is not in our hands, so let’s be patient as long as Soares can cover, and see what happens to AMN.

What to do wit this position:

  • don’t spend money on defenders either, but
  • give the youngsters the best coaching and support available
  • we already have the talent, let’s not waste them

Midfielders:

I would prefer to have 5 players here: 2 DMs, 2 CMs and an attacking midfielder. Let’s start with the latter, as it is an easy choice: Emile Smith-Rowe is a great talent and based on his current skills he is destined to the top. If he can stay fit and continue his rising trajectory then our AM role is filled for a while. Still, if we have the opportunity to sign Odegaard I would recommend going for it, as we could see against Leedsand Benfica that they can play together in the same team, and will not suck the minutes from each other. And AM is a high pressing position anyway, so they can substitute each other to prevent late-game fatigue and/or injuries.

Moving back to defensive and central midfield, all our current 3 DMs are reliable, but unfortunately over 27. For those 4 players I think 2 or maybe even 3 of them are within our reach. While the jury is still out, I like how Ceballos is playing, Dani is surprisingly good defensively for a CM, and his passing is smart and reliable. If we can buy him for 20-22M that seems like a no-brainer, but let’s see in the next few months if he can regularly repeat the quality he demonstrated against West Brom, CP and Leeds. For the sake of simplification let’s consider him and Guendouzi to halves: maybe both deliver or both turn out to be a flop, but I count 1 position covered. And I would allocate the 2nd position to one of our U23 starlets, hoping that at least 1 from Azeez, Cottrell, Cirjan and Matt Smith will break into the first team in the next couple of years (so now we don’t have to rely on Bandeira, Hutchinson, Patino or Flores). I’m afraid that we have to purchase the other 2 from the market. Instead of going for the relatively unknown South-American starlets around 10M or gamble with 30M players from the ambitious teams in top leagues I would go directly for the cream. Obviously not now, as we have Xhaka, Partey and Elneny in the squad, but in 2-3 years. For the defensive midfield I would prefer to sign Camavinga or Declan Rice. And for the CM position let’s go for Aouar, unless there is a sale on Frenkie de Jong. Or maybe Gravenberch turns out to be a hit in a few years… Again, this is something we don’t have to rush, unless we sell Elneny and Willock in the summer – which I wouldn’t mind, but I belong to the minority on this matter.

What to do wit this position:

  • carefully check whom we can reintegrate to the team or sell for the right price
  • stop this terminating contract + free transfer madness (Mustafi – who did not only earn MotM in his 2nd Schalke game, but also became player of the week; Mkhi, Sokratis)
  • wait for the right moment, trim the squad and sign only a few players but from the top of their tier

Attacking positions:

Since AMs were already covered in midfield, I would settle for 5 players of high calibre for the attack. 3 wingers – preferably all of them capable of playing on both wings and 2 classic attackers. The great news is that we already employ 3 of the finest wingers: Saka, Martinelli and Pepe, and all of them can still improve in the upcoming years. Plus we have Nelson, whose future is already in jeopardy, but maybe he can still be saved. The bad news is, that we are less fortunate in the striker area. Aubameyang and Lacazette are both great players, but the 2 of them leave hardly enough minutes to youngsters – especially in a single-striker formation – to gain experience, develop and keep a consistently high quality. The question here is no longer if we can save both Nketiah and Balogun, but whether we can save any of them. (Not to mention Möller, as we couldn’t keep Sam Greenwood at the club.)

I don’t see we have any other choice than to let Auba run down his contract. Lacazette doesn’t have such a high salary – and is 2 years younger – so we can theoretically sell him this summer, especially as his contract ends in 2022. It would be a shame, as he provided some of the most important sparkles this season, but losing Balogun and Eddie would be an even bigger shame. And I assume I’m alone with the „let’s not sign anybody this summer!” opinion, so if Edu wants to bring in a striker like Odsonne Edouard or Patson Daka, then he definitely has to sell Lacazette. However my preference would be to keep them both, send Nketiah on loan and give Balogun a few hundreds of EL and cup minutes, but this ship has probably sailed already, as it didn’t happen in January.) The Lacazette strategy should be a delicate one, because if we don’t sell him this summer for a proper price then we should extend his contract, as losing a player of his caliber (as well as value and signing fee) as a free agent is something only the lamest clubs do. Nobody knows what the market will be like this summer, and it would be unwise to sell Alexandre for 18M anyway.

Independent from my preference there is a slight chance that Balogun will stay if and only if Lacazette is sold, so let’s pursue that scenario and assume that Eddie and Folarin will compete for the bench and the EL/cup position thus 1 of Nketiah, Balogun, John-Jules and Möller will stay beyond 2023 and will become a top striker in the PL. Still I would recommend to sign a top forward in 2023 when Auba retires (he makes too much money to keep beyond his 33th birthday, unless he returns to his 30+ goals per season habit), and I would again prefer a TOP 5 stiker instead of someone from a French or German mid-table team. Of course a lot can happen in the next 2 and a half years, but based on the current ’supply’ I would rather break the bank for Mbappe or Haaland (or their equivalent in 2023). Which could prove to be beyond our reality – as they would not be keen on joining a team aspiring to get the 3rd-4th place of the Premier League, but financially could be possible if we don’t spend unnecessary millions every summer and winter transfer window. (Salary shouldn’t be an issue, as Auba and Willian already earn over 250k/month which should be enough to anybody who doesn’t have an ego on par with his talent. But in 2023 we will remove both Willian and Auba from the wage bill, so theoretically we can go beyond 300k if absolutely necessary.)

What to do wit this position:

  • rotate the 3-4 top players for the winger positions properly, so nobody gets untimely burnout, but still get the minutes necessary for their continuous development (this could be a challenge with Willian in the squad, but that ship has already sailed)
  • make a wise decision on the Lacazette exit strategy taking only the club’s long-term best interest into account, independent from the supporters’ and agents’ pressure (this could also be a challenge as I’m not sure if the board possesses the required competency portfolio)
  • nurture our current strikers so at least one reaches a level that all PL teams would be afraid of him
  • when Auba and Willian leaves the club in 2023 purchase a top level striker in his early to mid 20s

Due to magnitude (character-count) reasons, this post ends here and returns in a few days with its conclusion rather than becoming TLDR.

How Arsenal’s 2026 PL-winning (and CL semi-finalist) team could look, what should Arsenal do and what should we avoid to get there?

Following and concluding my previous post on the backbone of our future golden generation, implying that we are only 4-5 years and 3 quality players away from becoming the best team in the UK and one of the best in Europe, let me wrap up with a few popular line-ups in different formations and the 12 laws to guide us on the path leading to it.

4-2-3-1 attacking (current)

–––––––––––Mbappe–––––––––

Martinelli––Smith-Rowe––Saka–

–––––––Azeez––––Aouar––––––

Tierney–Gabriel–Holding–Bellerin

––––––––––––Leno––––––––––––

5-3-2 counterattacking (a.k.a 3-5-2 Italian)

–––––Haaland––Balogun–––––

––––Odegaard–––Ceballos––––

Tierney––Camavinga––Bellerin

––Gabriel––Saliba––Ballard––

––––––––––Leno––––––––––

4-4-2 wing focus

–––––Mbappe–––Nketiah–––––

Saka––Aouar–Odegaard––Pepe

Tierney–Gabriel–Saliba–Bellerin

–––––––––––Leno–––––––––––

4-4-2 central diamond with 2 forward wingers

––Martinelli–––––Nico Pepe––

––––––––Smith-Rowe––––––––

–––––Aouar–––Guendouzi––––

–––––––––––Rice–––––––––––

Tierney–Gabriel–Saliba–Ainsley

–––––––––––Leno–––––––––––

4-3-3 RM/Liverpool style

–––Pepe–––Mbappe–––Saka–––

–––Ceballos––Partey––Aouar–––

Tierney–Gabriel–Holding–Bellerin

––––––––––––Leno–––––––––––

4-1-4-1 (parking the bus)

–––––––––––––Haaland–––––––––––

–Saka––Guendouzi––Ceballos––Pepe–

–––––––––––Camavinga–––––––––––

Tierney–Gabriel–Mavropanos–Bellerin

––––––––––––––Leno–––––––––––––

So at the end of the day/season what should Arsenal do? And what should we avoid? Here are my 10 commandments on the topic – with some admittedly overlapping recommendations:

  1. Further trim the squad! While the current headcount of 26 is not insanely much, we have 7 players expected to come back from loan, and maybe a couple promotions from the Academy. So we should sell/release a few and find new, efficient loan destinations for those who are in Arsenal’s long-term plans.
  2. Don’t give in the temptation to sign players for non-critical positions. Manor Solomon could be a hidden gem, but we need a further winger like squirrels need wildfire. Same applies to Zaha, Dembele and Buendia, as well as attacking midfielders likeDraxler, Brandt and Coutinho. They are all evidently fine players, but – contrary to popular misbeliefs – would not make the team stronger, but weaker. I don’t fancy a new left-back either.
  3. When identifying positions needs strengthening, we cannot go and immediately purchase a superstar, unless/until the current players there are offloaded or retire. If we cannot resist buying, always sell at the same time or beforehand. The more is not the merrier any more. Make sure that the new guy is younger, and at the same time at least a clear level above our current player on the position, so only sign Odsonne Edouard or Jonathan David if we are positive they can score 20+ goals every season AND if we can sell Lacazette for a reasonable price. And it still wouldn’t help Nketiah’s case…
  4. Prioritize individual and team coaching. Focusing only on technical skills and tactical awareness is no longer enough. Motivation is key in order to reach a consistently high performance (which is painfully missing from Arsenal’s PL campaign), especially as the lads don’t play every minute of every game.
  5. When in debt, rather refrain from signing than going for lower quality players or unnecessary additions. Save money – and dressing room locker – on superfluous expenditures (including but not limited to astronomical salaries and transfers pressured by fans and pundits) to allow a critical addition a season later.
  6. Sign Ceballos or Odegaard permanently, preferably both of them. They are quality players, buying them permanently would be real reinforcements, so most of the above mentioned concerns don’t apply. Assess Ryan and buy him on the cheap if worth it.
  7. When we consider a utility/squad player for injury cover we shouldn’t aim for the best in position. To demand (the idea of) Fernandes competing with van de Beek and Wan Bissaka with Max Aarons for starting positions you have to be an entitled brat like most MU supporters. The competition among Giroud, Abraham and Werner didn’t turn out so well for Chelsea, so they are about to sign Haaland. I’m not even commenting that, TA would blue-pencil it anyway. J As I stated I’m not fond of buying a new left back, but if we must, shouldn’t look for Davies or Hernandes, but Dimarco or Karbownik.
  8. Give proper chances to the best academy players (maximum 1-2 per season), and sell or release the rest. But whoever makes it to the first team and proves themselves shouldn’t be hung out to dry.
  9. Forget about free signings combined with insane salary. It has never turned out well for us. Even if we must (?) go with a free transfer, better give a hefty sign-on bonus plus a salary on par with the other players in the team not to disrupt the balance in the dressing room. And no more swap deals involving players not on top of our shortlist.
  10. Review the coaching staff. Evaluate bringing Arsenal legends to the club (Bergkamp, Pires, Cazorla), or consider giving Luiz a player-coach role. Track record of past results could also play a role in appointing backroom staff.
  11. Stop signing players because we have a good relationship with their agent, because they are currently cheap, to land a blow to a rival or to make ourselves look fancy again. In fact, preferably refrain from signing anybody represented by Raiola, Felicevich, or any other disagreeable or unpleasent agent.
  12. Always have the club’s long-term interest in mind, nothing else. On one hand that means no individual comes before the club (player and staff alike), and on the other hand to prefer long-term gains over instant gratification.

By PBarany

Now Is the Time to Sign up Arteta for Five Years: Arsenal v MC Afterthoughts

Another ‘week of three games’ saw us win emphatically against Leeds, draw against Benfica – when we deserved more – and lose narrowly against Pep’s Northern Oilers. What it tells us is that we continue to be a team in progress; that we are not yet a team that can perform on a high level all the time. The problem is that after such a good performance against Leeds our hopes, and with that our expectations, are raised instantly. And then they come crashing down when we lose to the league leaders at our own home of football.

I don’t think we should feel too bad about not winning and also not about our performance. After playing in Rome on Thursday, our second game of the week, we were just not going to be able to put in a 200% team performance needed to beat Man City in their current form. Yet it was a hard game to watch. The team selection did not work. A rusty Tierney and Holding were caught napping early on, and before we knew it Arsenal were one goal down. After that the team played with good organisation and discipline but this came at a cost. We lacked fire in the belly and our passing lacked both precision and determination. It was like looking at 11 players who had their drinks spiked.

Tierney – who cannot be spiked because he is from Wishaw, Scotland – and Holding came into the game pretty soon and produced good performances for the remainder of it. In fact, Kieran was our best player in the first half with his unstoppable drive forwards. The inclusion of Pepe did nothing for the team and I was also disappointed with the combo of Xhaka and Elneny. Mo looked rusty to me and was chasing the game a lot, and Xhaka was pressed back too much by the excellent MC midfield. Odegaard was clearly finding his feet and Auba struggled to keep hold of the ball or produce a half-decent pass. We looked disjointed when we attacked and that was the only thing I found really disappointing.

We let the baby blue Mancs dictate the tempo and were not able to hold on to the ball for more than a second. This made us look poor going forwards even though we managed to keep them from scoring again.

Still, we know that Arteta is working on the team and he had to make some changes from the last two games. Mikel knows that he cannot afford to make more than one, maximum two changes to the ‘core-11’ as things stand. It just leads to a drop in performance straightaway. It shouldn’t of course as all players who started yesterday are good enough to give the league leaders a game all right, but Arteta has too many players who are good but do not really fit into the way he wants the team to play. Players need to be comfortable with the ball in tight spaces, have a good first touch and pass it well. We have a number of those players but the likes of Auba, Pepe, Bellerin and a few others – some of them currently on loan – just do not cut the mustard. That does not mean they are bad players but for Mikel and Arsenal a bespoke system of football is key to success, and in our first eleven we just cannot carry too many who are not good with the ball in tight spaces. On Sunday, we played too many of those sorts of players (Mari and Elneny are okay but not great either – they are squad players).

Arteta had of course no choice as our coming game against Benfica is a must win game and he needs the likes of ESR, Luiz, Big Gab, Ceballos, Soares and (hopefully) Laca to be fully fit and ready for the fight. Gradually, he will be able to build a team with the right sort of players – and oh boy did we miss Partey yesterday – so we have a squad that can perform well in all three games of a week like this.

If we take the long perspective we can be confident that Arteta is on the right path. Well I am. I am loving what he is doing with the team even though it is hard to take in some of our performances at times. I say now is the time to support Mikel and give him a contract extension. Sign him up for five years BOD!

By TotalArsenal.

Arsenal v Man City Preview/Lineup – Reunion of Two Attackers, Elneny or Ceballos, Return of Holdingho?

“One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil. And why, then, should you not pluck at my laurels?” From Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche.

See the source image

Yes Master and Pupil meet again and the former is feeling mighty and on top of the crest of the wave of sweet success. But Arteta knows his former master inside out and he has an almost fully fit squad at his disposal this time round (only Partey is unavailable). So I expect us to give Pep’s boys a good game tomorrow afternoon. Mikel will need to invoke that spirit of last season’s FA Cup semi-final, when the team were just magnificent.

Lethal Aubameyang Sends Arsenal to the Final | Arsenal 2-0 Manchester City | Emirates FA Cup 19/20 – YouTube

I think the big picture will be similar to that game. Arsenal will need to sit back and be disciplined and then play the ball out of the back with confidence and quick, incisive passing. There will be opportunities for our attackers with balls over the top too. We may even dare to press them high at times and take the game to them, but in general I expect Arteta to make us hard to beat and play a few tricks on his former master.

Predicted Lineup:

I have a feeling that Laca will get a start again. He should be fully fit and rested and be able to give the defenders something to think about. Auba will relish another game against the team he scored such a good brace against in the FA Cup semi-final, and I think we will need Laca’s ad Auba’s experience in this game.

This should also be a good game for the return of Holding who just like Laca has been rested for a few games. Big Gab has regained his bounce and form again and seems to be the most natural partner for Holdingho. Tierney or Cedric may get a start and either of them would do a good job. Still Tierney has that little bit extra needed for a game like this.

In midfield it will be Granit plus either Elneny or Ceballos. Again, Elneny has been rested for a while and I expect him to start now. We need his discipline and tidiness, and he is the more natural partner for Xhaka. Ceballos will be a great option from the bench, but Arteta may well start him once more. We just will have to see.

Up-front we need invention and fearlessness and that is exactly what both Saka and ESR have to offer. Maybe Arteta starts with Odegaard instead of ESR, but I reckon it is more likely that Emile gets to run between the lines and give us those much needed short breathing spaces when the relentless Blue Mancunians are all over us.

COYRRGs!

By TotalArsenal.