Arsenal navigate past AFC Wimbledon in their ‘Behind Closed Doors’ game

Well it was surprising to learn that the Carabao Third round tie against AFC Wimbledon wasn’t televised and available anywhere. I cannot recall the last time this was the case; understandably this news didn’t go down well with many supporters who don’t have the opportunity to view Arsenal games without access to streams and television broadcasts.

On one hand you could argue if there was only one game in the season you could afford to miss it was a third round League Cup game against League One opposition. The game was won comfortably enough, No future stars were making their debuts and a juicier tie against Leeds comes next which no doubt will be televised.

The atmosphere and those in attendance was definitely the epitome of a family affair. The reduced cost tickets allowed many fans to be able to bring along members of their family that wouldn’t normally be in attendance for the bread and butter league games. Children and Elderly parents/relatives were there in abundance and all together made for a very enjoyable relaxed and fun experience.

The Line-Up raised a few eyebrows in terms of the starting of Thomas Partey taking into account the small matter of a North London Derby merely days away. Definitely felt like a risk not worth taking but thankfully the Ghanaian came through his cameo appearance unscathed. Mikel gave His reasoning behind the selection of our midfield enforcer after the game. The rest of the line-up tended to favour one I alluded to in my blog post yesterday.

partey-reason

Mikel Arteta used the opportunity to give valuable minutes to all his fringe players and give them a chance to make a case for selection against Tottenham. The line-up certainly had the feel of players shoehorned in rather than a tactical selection to beat our opponents. The quality was littered throughout the team so the expectation was there to outclass Wimbledon regardless of who operated where on the pitch.

The performance on a whole was hardly what I would describe as swashbuckling. At times the football was disjointed with a few misplaced passes here and there but this would be expected with the amount of rust on the pitch. Despite a place in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup being on offer this game had more of a feel of a pre season friendly which provided an opportunity to provide match fitness and fine tune some sharpness.

Gabriel Martinelli was tasked with operating on the right flank, we have been used to him being utilised on the left and/or centrally so it was interesting to see him playing on the right. I have to confess I had always assumed he was left footed given his frequent use on the left but I don’t recall at any point he used his left foot, often playing in some nice crosses from the flanks with his right.

Tavares impressed quite a few with his tenacity and drive from the left. He certainly emits a level of Athleticism and attacking verve that has the potential to get bums off seats when he is on the ball.  I can only assume he is a converted winger because he loves to attack. He can drift past a man with ease at times and you can see the attacking side of his game is where he enjoys and excels. The defensive side of his game will be tested in future for sure but for now he has integrated well into the first team set up.

Leno returned and although I’m not 100 percent convinced this has sealed his fate as cup keeper for rest of season, it was important to keep up his sharpness. He didn’t have much to do in the game as from an attacking perspective most of the danger was dealt with by the defence. When he was called upon he did make a couple good saves but generally was untroubled.

Despite the comfort from a Lacazette penalty the team seemed to be going through the motions without providing much end product. The introduction of Emile Smith Rowe and then Saka firstly raised the crowd and secondly added a bit of much needed quality in the final third to turn half chances into goals.

esr-on
Definitely lifted crowd when our Hale End boys came on

ESR scored his first goal of the season and after having looked good for a goal in all his appearances this season this could be the trigger to spark a whole lot more from him.

Eddie Nketiah scored the pick of the bunch with a quality back heel from a Cedric cut back. Happy with his goal the fans sung his name long and loud until he was replaced by Balogun. It’s easy to forget this was the competition that put him on many fans radar with a double against Norwich in what was effectively his debut. Although he didn’t have the best of games he put the ball in the back of the net which is what you want from your strikers. Goals add confidence and it will do him a world of good moving forward.

Overall this game was the perfect opportunity to provide vital minutes to those in need, the win was secured and to be honest there wasn’t much to look too deep into the performance other than that. The family orientated crowd were left pleased by the result and Mikel managed to get his players to come through the game unscathed and ready for the battle on Sunday.

Enjoy your day people

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

AFC Wimbledon Up Next For Arsenal. Who Plays?

How do you predict a line up for a game like this? AFC Wimbledon are the visitors to the Emirates for the Carabao Cup fourth round tie and there is a clamour for one or two exciting prospects to get some much anticipated minutes for the first team.

This type of fixture was the very kind that we would experience in the past under Arsene Wenger, a line-up littered with the brightest talents banging on the door from the youth set up. Many came in and dazzled leaving us salivating at a bright future for the Arsenal. It served well as a toe into the first team, a chance to gain experience against opposition that although may not deliberately roll over to take a battering the quality of the ‘new class’ would shine through and excel against them.

Fabregas, Wilshere, Bendtner, Vela to name a few were players that grabbed their opportunities with both hands and never looked back. Admittedly Lupoli, Quincy, Eisfeld also grabbed their chances in the League Cup with both hands but experienced contrasting futures at Arsenal. Either way an early round home league cup tie was always a good gateway to the future talent on Arsenal’s books and games that with the lower costs to attend always felt good value to money.

Quincy: exciting and entertaining talent in these fixtures

That philosophy certainly changed over the years as the league campaigns became more pressurised and valuable minutes were favoured for first teamers over the promising kids. Well, that reason and Chelsea seemed to buy snap up any promising talent before any other club had a chance.

So the big question is what side of the fence does Mikel Arteta sit with regards to using this fixture to blood some of the promising youngsters making a mark in the Premier League 2 this season? It’s not that he has shunned talent evident by the trust thrust upon the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka last season. He may not have given them their debuts but it’s fair to say he showed an element of trust in them enough for them to now be the established first team starters they are today.

If we look at last season Arteta did refuse the temptation to blood a youthful team in the Europa league group stage last season with the group won and a dead rubber fixture against Dundalk was on the table. Instead the line-up was littered with Fringe whilst Miguel Azeez and Folarin Balogun who were the kids on everybody’s lips had to settle with places on the bench.

Although not a dead rubber, taking on League One AFC Wimbledon at home is a fixture you’d expect Arsenal to win even with a team full of youngsters.  Especially after their emphatic 6-1 victory over Chelsea at the weekend confidence would be sky high from the new class.

Chelsea no match for our new kids on the block

Here’s the part where I pour some cold water on the anticipation of a youth team exhibition tonight. No European football has led to limited minutes for a number of the first team squad. They need minutes on the pitch and if not a run out tonight when else will they play? Alas over the course of the season their services with be called upon but there’s going to be a lot of unproductive weekends for many of these players. How else do they show the manager they should be considered than putting in a performance in these types of games to build up some sharpness and register back up on the manager’s radar? Which players are we thinking of? Well let’s start with Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland Niles,  Gabriel Martinelli, Callum Chambers, Alex Lacazette, Rob Holding, Folarin Balogun and a now in contention Mohammed Elneny to name a few. That’s eight outfield players I’ve named needing minutes and more likely to be the ones starting the game.

The bench however could be open season and there is an opportunity for the earlier mentioned Chelsea slayers to at least occupy some of the bench. Whether they get on the pitch will be down to the manager and how the game is going. I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning the name of one player who has been the talk of the town over the past few weeks with a growing CV of video evidence to back up the early tips of the immense potential that Arsenal have on their books. The level of pressure on this kid is through the roof and already at this stage of not even making his first team debut I am sure 99% of you reading this are well aware of who I am talking about and how good he could be.

He who shall not be named…

The Gunnerstown Site have been keen followers of this player of potential with scouting reports made long before the inroads he has made over the last couple seasons. It would be exciting to see him get minutes but at the same time there really is no rush to blood him, he is developing well and there is no doubt his time will come. He just needs to be managed right and we have to put trust into Per Mertesacker and his team to provide best advice to Mikel  on when he will be ready to make his first team debut. Integration is key and the training with the first team this season will be invaluable to his development.

So AFC Wimbledon, what can we say about them? Well as mentioned earlier they reside in League One, they’ve had a reasonable start to their league campaign sitting in 7th place whilst losing their most recent game at home one nil to Plymouth Argyle. Whilst being one of the highest scorers in League One their top scorer is actually one of their central defenders Will Nightingale with 4 goals for them this season. We will definitely need to be focused on set plays to keep him at bay. If, from an Arsenal perspective if you are going to the game and you want a pantomime villain then look no further than George Marsh. A tough tackling defensive midfielder who was released by Tottenham at the end of last season and snapped up by AFC Wimbledon. He may be no goal threat but always be wary of a former Spurs player looking to make a point, Watch your ankles lads!

Enjoy your day people

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Burnley v Arsenal, Will Arteta Stick Or Twist?

So next up for the Gunners is what can be deemed a difficult trip to Burnley. A team that fits the template perfectly for Arsenal kryptonite over the years. A big strong physical side with the potential to disrupt and spoil any attempts at any fancy football whilst giving the opposition defence no easy ride.

 After looking on jealously this past week as many teams got stuck into European football (Europa league and above) it really did hit home how important it is that Arsenal get back into the European competition as soon as possible. It almost had the air of an international football break as the midweek had an empty feel to it with no interest for Arsenal.

Time will tell if the extra day’s recovery has any kind of advantage over the teams that are currently competing in Europe. A Saturday kick off at 3pm was such a rarity over the last few years due to the Thursday/Sunday Europa schedules that it felt nice last week against Norwich and again we get to experience it today. It’s something we could witness again as the norm if Champions league football was secured come the end of the season, wishful thinking maybe but not impossible. Admittedly being more involved in Champions league usually equates to more TV schedule kick off time and date changes but it’s a nicer problem to have than no Europe at all.

Knowing the physical and aerial dangers posed by the likes of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes one of the big questions posed to Mikel Arteta will be how to set up the defensive back line and with which personnel?  Last week, we witnessed a great first partnership between Ben White and Gabriel who snuffed out pretty much any dangers posed by Norwich. Will Mikel pursue some continuity to allow that partnership to grow by sticking with that pairing? He could alternatively add a third centre back into the mix by drafting in one of the more physically imposing defenders such as Pablo Mari, Callum Chambers or Rob Holding? Holding unfortunately has been ruled out so that leaves the option of Chambers, Mari or pushing Tomiyasu inside and playing someone else in the right back role.

It seems a bit unfair on Ben White that the memories of a tough baptism of fire against Brentford’s physical, long ball approach has virtually written off his abilities to handle any attack that sets up that way. He had a bad day at the office that day as did pretty much the whole starting eleven and despite his transfer fee he is still young and learning his craft. He needs a game for redemption to show the fans and pundits alike, “See, I’m not a weak link to this method”. Until he does come out unscathed from taking on such an attack that cloud of doubt will no doubt remain and hover like a bad smell.

An off day not an every day…

The addition of Tomiyasu has added much needed height from a defensive aspect and it was refreshing to see him winning pretty much every high ball flown his direction last week. It could be an effective enough foil to complement White who could drop and sweep for long balls played to his side as the Japanese defender challenges.

The important thing is we have a capable squad with a number of strengths that could be utilised depending on the opposition we play. Mari hasn’t come off well from the Brentford game either and has been written off by many but many times last season he was a very capable defender. One game should never be used to draw all conclusions on a player. This is why they train all week, why they review their performances as a team. They can work on where they went wrong and make sure those same faults are not a regular occurrence.

Midfield will be an interesting choice. Last week Ainsley Maitland Niles took advantage of a suspended Xhaka and an un-risked Thomas Partey to line up in his preferred position alongside Sambi Lokonga. He did alright there whilst not showing anything to prove he would be starting if all available players were fit. The question is whether Mikel Arteta will partner AMN or Lokonga with Partey. It’s pretty nailed on that a fit Xhaka would be favoured over both by Arteta but with him not available it’s hard to call. Sambi Lokonga would get my vote as he hasn’t put a foot wrong since coming in and just oozes a silky calmness you don’t teach but comes naturally.

In the no.10 role Emile Smith-Rowe started the game on the bench whilst Martin Odegaard took up the responsibility. The selection last week may have been forced by Smith-Rowe’s illness that caused him to pull out of the England u-21 squad left him short of full fitness. Whilst on paper it seems a straight battle between the two playmakers to start in the no.10 role it wouldn’t be a shock to see Smith-Rowe deployed in one of the wide roles. In his youth he played across the three front positions often and he did make one or two starts in that position last season. Smith-Rowe playing wide right or left could come at the expense of Pepe or Saka for example.

where does he play?

One thing Mikel Arteta has this season is options and he has at his exposal the option to bring in Martinelli and Smith-Rowe. Either way they are all players that would be good choices from bench if game isn’t going our way.

Aubamyang as captain would give the impression he would be a starter but Lacazette could easily be chosen to add more of a physical presence and hold up play up front. Aubamyang could be deployed on the left side of attack as another wide option.

It does seem a lot of changes suggested whilst Mikel has been more of an advocate for sticking with winning line ups over making drastic changes. We will see come 2pm when line-ups are released.

What is important is we build on the 3 points gained last week. Burnley currently occupies one of the bottom three places but a win for them would allow them to leapfrog Arsenal. They are yet to win a home game in the Premier league after a draw with Leeds and losing to Brighton. It might be a bit more motivation for them to register points for their fans especially to make up for their 2nd half collapse against Everton on Monday gone.

What Arsenal need to do is take full advantage of Burnley’s fragile confidence and not provide a booster like they did in the same fixture last season where a mix up playing out from the back gifted them an easy equalising goal.

There is a great opportunity to take the three points today, come on boys, let’s do this.

Enjoy your day people

P.S I decided to put myself forward as a fans forum representative for season ticket holders this season. Fans get to vote for their representative. Please help me out by casting a vote for me Dwayne Bingham.

Cast your vote here

Thanks guys

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Arsenal damned if they do, damned if they don’t against West Brom.

In what seems at the eye of a very turbulent, virulent storm the Arsenal had a chance to potentially break a run of goalless winless games with their Carabao third round tie against West Brom. A game you would be forgiven for having fresh memories of Premier League West Brom of last season rather than one of the form teams of the Championship who are scoring goals for fun.

Winning was not a standard formality and Mikel Arteta had to be mindful to pick a team that would be capable of winning the tie. He went as strong as he could sacrificing the opportunity to blood any fresh faced youngsters in the process. It was easy to predict newly signed Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale would make their first appearances for their new employers.

West Brom surprisingly made eleven changes from their last Championship game which on paper should have made it an easier task for the Gunners to complete but playing weakened teams can often have the opposite effect on the opposition as psychologically the expectation levels go through the roof which can add pressure on the stronger team to not only win but score early and score lots of goals in the process.

The lineup did raise a few eyebrows to start with when it was unsure how the defenders would line up. Kolasinac, Chambers, Tavares and Holding led to initial assumptions Tavares would be shunted to right back again to add to his bizarre run out there on Sunday and Kolasinac squashed the initial rumours he was in Turkey finalising a move to Fernabache. The Tavares idea was baffling considering Ainsley Maitland Niles was on the bench. However once the game started it was clear Tavares occupied his natural position on the left with Chambers playing right back. Kolasinac slotted into the defence as the left sided centre back alongside Holding.

Against stronger opposition a risk of sorts but against a roughly young team less of a risk. Elneny occupied the midfield shield alongside Xhaka whilst Odegaard was tasked with adding the quality to supply to the attackers of Aubamyang, Pepe, and Saka.

Have to admit after an initial shaky start the team settled into their flow. There was never quite the big threat from West Brom and most of their attacks were dealt with quite comfortably. The only real dangers came from our own players with a couple of under hit passes playing the defence into trouble at times. One moment required Aaron Ramsdale to rush out quickly to beat the ball away from the incoming Zahore which resulted in the West Brom attacker coming off worse in the challenge.

The midfield held their own but it was clear how integral Partey would be in the midfield axis when he returns. Mohammend Elneny in the first half seemed to have more touches than any other player on the pitch. Always looking to receive the ball but the range of delivery and movement was limited. If anything it hamstrung our progression up the field. Not to be critical of Elneny, I believe he is a useful squad player to have, he just keeps things basic and ticking over. He did what he had to do for this game but against better opposition he wouldn’t be a difference maker.

We went in at half time 3-0 up with Aubamyang getting off the mark with two and Pepe adding a third. We managed to take advantage of the West Brom high line getting in behind the defence and although the finishes may not have been elegant by any means you need that bit of luck for the ball to rebound to your attackers in those situations.

Second half the goals flowed, the pick of the goals from a team perspective was scored by Saka, linking up well with Odegaard to receive a back passed one-two and slot past the keeper. From an individual perspective Aubamyang scored a peach to complete his hat trick with the type of finish we used to see from him. This season I have a feeling these will be a lot more frequent than the last 12 or so months.

On reflection it was the perfect game for Arsenal to build up some confidence before the trip to Etihad. After being hit with Covid it was great for Aubamyang and Lacazette to firstly get minutes and secondly bag goals. The new boys were able to get minutes out there with Odegaard slotting back in like he never left. There was a bit of initial rust but he grew in confidence the longer the game went on. Aaron Ramsdale had a steady debut, did everything right when called upon and has certainly put to bed any of the last lingering doubts over his transfer to Arsenal. Tavares does look a good attacking threat, so comfortable on the ball and navigates out of one on one situations with ease. The real test is how he copes defensively against decent attacking teams. For now his integration into the team is going well.

Saka gained more valuable minutes as he seeks to gain full fitness and Pepe getting off the mark was good for him to gain confidence.

I believe you will struggle to find an Arsenal fan treating the victory over West Brom as more than it was:  A decent run out against a weakened team. Arsenal know they will be up against it against Manchester City but the cloud of negativity that hovers over the club after the poor start to the season will have been tamed just a tad.

The players can go into training for the weekend with more of a smile and positive vibe. Good team morale is as important as individual talent when it comes to football. The pressure will still be there but facing Manchester City having not scored a single goal compared to your best striker finding his shooting range makes all the difference psychologically going into a big game.

The draw for the third round resulted in a home tie against AFC Wimbledon (Thanks Kevin Campbell). Should be a nice game with some cheaper tickets where we could blood some youngsters this time.

Enjoy your day people

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Monday Musings on an Arsenal Front

Ok Gooners, so we’ve had a couple days to digest that match from Friday, the anger levels will have reduced, the red mist cleared enough to reflect a bit more objectively and draw some positives that we can build on. No? Fully understand. It still hurts doesn’t it? A whole weekend ruined. I don’t know about you but for me the remaining games of the weekend just didn’t have that same appeal any more. Match of the day was skipped and with the added annoyance of playing on a Friday it made a wretched weekend last even longer.

It’s not an ideal start to the season and only adds to the pressure that befalls Mikel Arteta. The togetherness and team spirit needed going into a new season isn’t quite evident yet and it’s hoped all is well behind the scenes. Let’s get it straight here, amid a number of rumours floating about no one truly knows. Take the rumours on twitter with a pinch of salt. One thing we can expect is to get the reasons delivered to us in HD when Amazon releases their cash cow at the end of the season.

Amazon loving this right now

So next up is Chelsea, a team that could really rub salt into the wounds or could be the confidence boosting jump start we desperately need. It’s not looking great at the moment with the potential loss of both Aubamyang and Lacazette for that fixture. The loss of experienced forwards will be a massive blow and it’s hoped “doubtful” gets upgraded to “available” come match day. They aren’t fully ruled out so we have to hold onto that with a some semblance of hope. As mentioned earlier I’d hold fire on the speculation as nothing is definite at this time. It wasn’t long ago when Aubamyang was accused of all sorts of defiance and trouble making only for it to be revealed he had contracted Malaria. Yes, I understand two players at same time coming down with something doesn’t seem right but I’m going to reserve judgement until more is revealed.

The truth will eventually be revealed

Alleged internal unrest aside what we mustn’t forget is the return of the Highbury Emirates faithful next Sunday. A packed stadium full of Arsenal fans acting as the twelfth man to cheer the team on cannot be understated. Regardless of our views on the ownership or the current manager or even individual players on the pitch what we must do is make sure we come together as one. Beating Chelsea is on par with beating Spurs and you don’t get a sweeter feeling than experiencing that and losing your voice in the process.

We’ve got a week to get our house in order, we may miss vital personnel, and we may also have the chance to blood new signings. Odegaard rumours refuse to go away and it seems there some truth into his unwanted status at Real Madrid and the possibility of returning to Emirates is very real. A signing I would welcome and hope gets over the line. The young Norwegian is just one of a few names bouncing around. One thing is for sure, after the sale of Joe Willock to Newcastle there’s funds to spend. One player who won’t be coming is Tammy Abraham as his transfer to Roma is 90% over the line as at time off writing he is en route to Rome for a medical.

From an outgoing perspective there’s still question marks hanging over the futures of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson,  Sead Kolasinac, Willian, Lucas Torreira,  Hector Bellerin and  Rob Holding. A current injury to Eddie Nketiah has probably halted any transfer dealings for him whilst Flo Balogun could well do with a loan to aid his development.

Torreira enjoying life away from Arsenal

Its stick or twist in the transfer market as the club seems to favour moving on these players before bringing in replacements. A few of the names mentioned could still do a job in the team so it’s interesting to see how things unfold over the coming fortnight.

Well that’s it from me, I hope your week improves from the weekend, and I’ll sign off now with listing a positive, a negative and some food for thought.

Positives:

  • Performance of ESR, Tierney and Lokonga
  • Kit looked nice

Negatives:

  • Playing out from back problems are still here
  • Forwards crisis

Food for Thought:

  • Is Ben white suited to a back three over a centre back pairing?
  • Just who should be kept on to play Right back and who should go?
  • Should Martinelli be our central striker during our forward crisis?

I hope as the season passes the positives far outweigh the negatives. Fingers crossed!

Enjoy your day people

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

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