Gunners To Seek Revenge Minus Aubameyang

The FA Cup weekend is over now, the last one of the season for Arsenal. However disappointing it all felt we have to always look forward. We won’t be adding to our record number of FA Cup wins but there’s still plenty football to be played and targets to be achieved.

We entered this week ready to conclude round two of the matches away to Southampton, a match now with a lot at stake especially for Mikel Arteta’s reputation. The strength of the team was sacrificed at the weekend with one eye firmly placed on obtaining maximum points in the Premier League match up. A masterstroke when it comes off but serious questions will be asked of the manager if that isn’t the case at the final whistle tonight.

With the news breaking yesterday on the dismissal of Frank Lampard as head coach of Chelsea it really does shine a different light on how little time there is allowed for the modern day manager. Admittedly Chelsea have form for sacking managers on a whim and all the goodwill of being deemed a legend player for the club means absolutely nothing when you consider the amount invested over the summer that hasn’t reaped the rewards in the Premier League. Calls for the dismissal of Mikel only weeks ago were rightly ignored as he needed to be afforded time to address the problems he was experiencing. He has a transfer window to make some changes and of course he will live and die by those decisions. Time will tell but as a club Arsenal would be best to not follow the Chelsea blueprint for hiring and firing.

Southampton went full strength against the Gunners in which they are entitled to but the hope is that extra bit of fatigue will show when the two teams meet again. Our saviours so far this season ‘the kids’ will be unleashed from the off and it is hoped they will make the difference.

As per the reasons for Aubameyang to miss the weekend game it seems highly likely he will miss the game tonight which will be a massive miss. Just as it looked like a corner could have finally been turned in his patchy form, any continuity will now be disrupted as he takes time to process his personal issues. We wish our captain well and hope he can overcome his situation with full support from the club, family and close friends.

Even with an off form Aubameyang the opposition will always have a game plan that focuses on nullifying his strengths which in turn opens up spaces for the likes of Saka and Smith Rowe to exploit. Now with him out of the mix for the game who will take his place? There are a number of options, whether they are earned on merit is down to the interpretation of the reader.

Will Pepe be that guy to play on the left? He certainly isn’t the flavour of the month right now with many fans that were keeping the faith giving up. He didn’t have his best game against Southampton. In reality none of his best games have come in the league yet this season. If I’m being honest there is an extra level of scrutinising applied to the Ivoirian’s performances, every touch, every pass, every shot  gets analysed more so than other players. This may lead to a bias on the overall view of his performances and he is almost written off before he kicks a ball. However given the amount of money we paid for him the expectation for him to do more goes hand in hand with the extra scrutiny he receives.

For as much as he didn’t do on Saturday there were some good pieces of play, not enough consistently throughout the 90 minutes but I could think back to a peach of a free kick laid onto Martinelli’s feet that wasn’t capitalised or a sweet through ball to Nketiah that was also wasted. We had a number of years where Ozil would be anonymous in games but his one or two moments of magic would result in chances on goal which when scored would be the only thing we crow about. Before you pick up your pitchforks and demand my extradition to Alcatraz I’m not comparing him to the German I’m just merely stating the fine margins in football when chances are taken.

If Pepe is not the option then we could go with Martinelli? The young Brazilian has been a breath of fresh air since he returned to the team this season after his long layoff. His energy and quality has been a major boost to the team and provided more options for Mikel when choosing his team. If we are being honest on Saturday he didn’t cover himself in glory and was actually more ineffectual than Pepe. This could be down to a number of reasons having just overcome that ankle jarring recently before the Newcastle game. This will likely have led to a bit of time off training and he just needed a tiny bit more time to get his groove back and fire on all cylinders. Time is on his side, he’s young and a one off bad game doesn’t trigger any red flags. The only worry is the stop start to his routine since returning with a couple niggling injuries picked up that could act as a hindrance; other than that he is comfortable operating that left wing. He seems the type that would want to play regardless of his injury state and Arteta needs to fully assess him to ensure he doesn’t trigger anything that could lead to a longer time amount of time on the treatment table.   

If Martinelli isn’t risked to start then another option is Willian… erm. No comment, I have a family I need to provide for.

Two options could be to switch either Saka or Smith-Rowe to the left side, it may not be ideal to remove them from the positions where they have been excelling in recently however both are capable to play there. I doubt Mikel would get any reluctance from either if asked to play in that position and I have every confidence they wouldn’t disappoint.  Playing either there would most likely lead to one of the names I mentioned earlier taking up the vacated spots. It’s a dilemma Mikel will have to think about, it’s good to have options but you have to ensure you make the right choice for the optimum possible outcome.

I didn’t add Reiss Nelson to that list because it’s hard to see how he gets back into reckoning at the moment. His absence from the Arsenal squad on Saturday could be down to a number of things, could there be an impending loan deal in the works? Does Mikel after now having spent a year with him decided he’s just not had an effective enough impact on the team like some of his fellow Hale end graduates? Or has Reiss simply been outed as the mole in the squad? Your guess is as good as mine but the youngsters absence is a question that certainly needs to be addressed to Mikel Arteta. I can’t imagine him being elevated into the match day squad for tonight after his lack of involvement in any capacity on Saturday. As far as I know he has been training regularly and there have been no updates on injuries so let’s see how that one plays out.

Roll on kick off, I’m itching to see the team get over the disappointing result from the weekend and take advantage of the immediate chance to exact revenge on Southampton.

Come on you Gunners!

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

Balogun: Will He Be Making A Mistake Leaving?

Yesterday news had broke through the Athletic that our own Folarin Balogun was due to sign a pre contract agreement with an unnamed foreign club. News that is a bit gutting to many Gunners fans as it is clear as day this kid is a talent and has the potential to be a top player. The speculation on whether he would sign a new contract is something that has swung above the head of the club like Damocles sword for the best part of a year now.

It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to youth football, these kids initially sign medium length contracts to start with in the hope that they develop to the levels that result in being ready for first team football. It is always a gamble and a game of chess between Player, Club and of course their family/agents on whether they prove their worth resulting in a more lucrative, longer term contract.

It’s that in between grey area period in which a player can weigh up their options and then struggle to resist the temptation to peer over into other fields and see if the grass looks a little greener when it becomes apparent  they are a wanted man. When a player is not deemed quite the level that the club are looking for; to then release them is a swift and ruthless process no young player wants to experience. There’s potentially a villain on either side of the negotiation table.

Clubs invest a lot in their youth development and to see fruition of their time and money is always gratifying so when in the odd times when a player decides pass up on a new contract and move elsewhere it can be quite gutting and frustrating. Questions get asked and learning’s are made to avoid losing big talents for nothing in future.

Fans don’t always understand or should I say accept such decisions but when playing devil’s advocate it is not always greed that can lead a player to want to take a slightly different option to take their career to the next stage.

Factors come into play, do they see a path to the first team or is it blocked by other players ahead of them. Some youngsters just want to play football wherever they can get it and see first team opportunities may present themselves a lot sooner at other clubs or it could simply be bad advice from an agent or family. There isn’t always patience from young players and when being told they are not ready yet it may be hard to take especially if they glance at the first team and see themselves as better than senior players in their position. Some may not accept being told they still have flaws to work on when other clubs tell them the opposite and promise first team football.

Arsenal have had their fair share of players lost on a free through reluctance to sign a contract over the years, some of those players have gone on to carve top level careers whilst others have not quite hit the levels they may have envisioned. It really is a gamble and being the star player or biggest prospect at one club doesn’t always equate to being that same stature of player elsewhere.

You could list such names as Marcus McGuane, Josh Dasilva, Xavier Ameachi and Chris Williock as players over recent years who decided to refuse a contract and move on. Let’s have a little look at how those players have fared.

Josh Dasilva was highly rated and it was a bit of a surprise when he went to Brentford, admittedly he has carved out a decent career with the Championship club so far and recently caught the eye in the Carabao Cup victory over Newcastle. He is very much a part of the England youth set up and a regular feature in the U21 squads.  He is definitely on the radar of bigger clubs and it won’t be long before he is gracing the Premiership with either Brentford or another club.  

Marcus McGuane must have believed he hit the jackpot when he secured a move to Barcelona. You can’t begrudge a player when such a European super power comes a knocking. At the time he was on the fringes of the first team making his debut, gaining some valuable minutes in the Europa League for the Gunners. However he made the move to Spain after letting his contract run down, I believe making a first team appearance in a Super Cup game but primarily played for the Barcelona B team. After a while he went on loan to Holland for a season and was then signed by Nottingham Forest playing for their reserve team initially before being sent out on loan this season to Oxford United.  He could well turn out to be a fine player but you can’t help but feel he has taken a lot of sideways moves in his career so far and wonder was it worth leaving Arsenal when he did.

Xavier Ameachi you have to say has been a bit unlucky in his Arsenal career. He looked a top talent in all the times I had seen him and looked a dead cert for the first team. He was up there with Reiss Nelson at the time in my opinion and making that left side of attack his own. Then misfortune struck, he suffered a bad injury that put him out of the team and the limelight for a while. In that time he was on the treatment table the first team then had a requirement for an attacking left sided player and low and behold a kid from the group of scholars younger that Ameachi’s was promoted to the reserves to fill in. Based on impressive performances for the reserves that certain Buyako Saka was afforded minutes in the first team and hasn’t looked back since. Ameachi on the other hand returned to fitness but wasn’t in a position to usurp the new star kid on the block. Seeing his pathway blocked he decided to take on a new adventure abroad in Germany and is currently plying his trade for Hamburger SV. He is still very young and I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before we see him back on these shores hopefully at highest level.

Chris Willock’s name is better known given to the fact his brother Joe is very much a current first team player at Arsenal. Chris was probably deemed as the most talented of the three Willock brothers. He was certainly highly rated within the club and was given first team minutes in the League cup by Arsene Wenger. Sadly he didn’t see his future at the club and upon the expiration of his contract decided to take on an adventure in Portugal by signing for Benfica. Similar to McGuane this didn’t result in first team football for Benfica but a playing career for their B team. This resulted after a couple seasons with some loan spells back in the UK firstly with West Brom and then with Huddersfield Town. He eventually left Benfica and was signed permanently by QPR this season where he’s plying his trade in the Championship.

There’s no guarantee that any of these players if they stayed on with the Arsenal would be first team regulars and still at the club today however we have always had a history of giving opportunities to youngsters. Many of whom carved out good careers for themselves based on the experience provided in the Arsenal team. If Balogun does indeed pass up on signing a contract and moves on he isn’t the first and he won’t be the last to make that choice. There’s no guarantee he will fulfil all potential if he stays same way he cannot be guaranteed he will fulfil it elsewhere. One thing we can assure him as fans is there is a massive belief in his abilities and a massive push mainly on social media for Mikel Arteta to afford him more minutes in the first team.  I for one hope he does stay but if he does decide to move on then good luck to him. We move forward as a club regardless if it’s a first team player or a youth prospect that chooses to leave.

Enjoy you day people.

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

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