A New Dawn At Arsenal? Palace Awaits

Its finally here, the football season finally kicks off tonight as we face off against Crystal Palace. What seems like an age from when we last kicked off against Everton on the 22nd May the football is back.

The new shirts are now released; squad numbers have shuffled about, pre season games completed and of course pundits have written off Arsenal’s chances of a good season; we really are ready for the big kick off. Not quite sure why Arsenal is always the overwhelming popular choice for an opening day fixture on the big screen but here we are. Others can look on jealously as the Arsenal play their part in kick starting the new season.

New season new kits

Given the disappointment in how it all ended last season it is refreshing that the general feel about the club from viewing the interviews and footage of the players and squad, talking to other fans or scouring through various social media platforms is one of positivity and belief in the team and the manager.

If we were to circle back this time last year there was such a negative, acrimonious and toxic cloud that surrounded the club. Fans were arguing with each other over support for the manager, ownership was a hot topic as protests were set up outside the stadium in opposition of the Kroenkes, the team preparation and recruitment was unfinished and left us looking far from our optimum for a season start. Covid added the final nail in the coffin as it disrupted our squad and left us with key players missing in the opening games.

Disrupted start last season

Anyway this season it all feels different. Pre-season on the whole was excellent, the results were all positive admittedly against teams at different stages of their own preparation for the coming season. On the whole the result although nice wasn’t the most important factor from these games. The players got minutes and built on their understanding with each other and enhanced their own physical developments and conditioning. We’ve made some shrewd signings and they have slotted straight into the team pretty much hitting the ground running. Of course its pre season and the football season is a totally different level of battle but it’s important that the new guys have integrated so quickly. It takes the pressure off a bit and hopefully the confidence remains sky high when we kick off at Selhurst Park. Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko are likely to start tonight whilst Saliba will make his long awaited debut for the first team in the Premier League (those EFL Trophy games he played in were pretty much U23 games). It’s an exciting time and you’d be hard pushed to locate an Arsenal fan that isn’t looking forward to getting the season started and seeing what is in store for us in the months ahead.

Hit the ground running

Fabio Vieira is still to kick a ball for us and his impact could be a welcome surprise. The transfer window isn’t closed yet as we could well see a couple more additions to the squad whilst many also move on.  

So as mentioned we take on Crystal Palace, 3 points are far from guaranteed as we have come to find them a bit of a bogey team over the years, we relied on an injury time equaliser from Lacazette to snatch a draw at home last season whilst the 3-0 defeat in the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park was a damaging blow to our top four hopes. WIlfried Zaha is a constant thorn in our sides and we certainly won’t be receiving any special favours from our former captain Patrick Vieira on the night. With the Arsenal team’s confidence sky high they will go into the fixture looking for 3 points but know it will not be an easy night. Crystal palace will take inspiration from their results against us and give us a tough battle; any points gained will be truly earned.

need to improve on last season’s results v Palace

So let’s look at the Eagle’s preparation for the new season. They had a few mixed results, drawing with Accrington Stanley and beating Millwall before heading off on a tour of Singapore and Australia where they faced off against Liverpool in a 2-0 defeat followed by a 3-1 loss to Manchester united and then a 1-1 draw with Leeds. They closed out their pre season program with a comfortable 4-2 win over Montpellier, Zaha, Guehi and an Edouard brace contributing to a 4-0 lead. Former Gunner Stephy Mavididi scored the two consolation goals for Montpellier. Much like our preseason you can’t read too much into the results however it’s always good to sign off with a win.

Our line up for the game? I believe the team pretty much picks itself and with a few key players namely Tomiyasu and Tierney not yet ready to play we will be expected to start with the same line up used last week against Sevilla. Ben White will deputise at right back whilst William Saliba will have his first audition for a regular starting spot in the team when everybody is back fit.

Line up from Sevilla expected

I’m certainly excited for the season to start, my fantasy football team is picked and I’ve sent the fixture list to the Mrs so there is no confusion when I’m off to a match. Come on Arsenal! Let’s start the season right and beat Palace; it’s all or nothing now!

Enjoy your day people

This post will also feature on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Please feel free to join my fantasy league

Transfer Deadline Day – Is Mikel content?

So we have reached Transfer Deadline Day. That dreaded day which plays Russian Roulette with football fans mental health when activity has been non-existent throughout the month.

The transfer window is a time which I hate the most as it almost feels like daily a new name pops up as a potential target. The usual ITKs make an appearance whilst drip feeding nuggets of information which only succeed in whipping up a frenzy of speculation.

How genuine these links are can be debatable but for many information starved fans they run with it and go through a cycle of emotions as a player is linked, is close then the deal allegedly breaks down or they join another club whilst no actual concrete proof exists to prove Arsenal were even in for the player.

As I write this there has been no new signings confirmed to counter the string of exits that occurred this month. When you look at the bigger picture you wonder where Mikel Arteta is looking to improve the playing squad.

Centre Midfield

At the start of the month we were clearly short of players but by time we play our next game v Wolves on 10th Feb we should in theory have back all the players we lost to Afcon. Where we were short in midfield Granit Xhaka will return to the line up, Thomas Partey will miss the next game but will be back to complete what seems Arteta’s first choice to play in the middle. Mohammed Elneny will be back as cover alongside Sambi.

First choice pairing

Arteta had utilised the loss of Xhaka and Partey to drop Odegaard deeper so in trying to work out the thinking of Mikel Arteta he would in theory believe he has enough experienced midfield cover whilst having the option to blood the younger talents of Charlie Patino and Miguel Azeez.

That puts into doubt the desperation to get long linked player Arthur Melo to sign on the dotted line.

Flanks

Having looked at the amount of football Martinelli and Saka have had to play recently, the returning Pepe (if he’s still in the good books) could provide alternative cover on the flanks but he is only one player. One would think that would be a position to look at however Emile Smith Rowe could and has been used in the flank positions this season. Would Pepe and ESR be seen as able cover for flanks with the addition to blood a youngster like Salah Eddine or Omari Hutchinson?

Not to forget Arteta has often brought Eddie Nketiah off the bench to also occupy a flank position. Not a popular choice to play there but I’m just going on evidence of what Mikel Arteta has opted for (recently against Burnley Nketiah replaced ESR to play there).

Full back

In defence there might be a case for recruitments but looking at the full back areas it seems Arteta has decided on his first choice full backs and has decided on his back up in the form of Tavares, Cedric Soares and emergency cover Ben White. Cedric may not be flavour of the month with fans at the moment but he provides experienced cover if needed to be called upon.

won the back up race with Chambers and AMN

Centre Back

The Centre back position is treading a fine line as beyond the first choice pairing of Ben White and Gabriel we have Rob Holding available to step in but beyond that other than drafting in versatile players who have slotted in there before such as Elneny and Tierney its seems a big risk to not have more experience available to cover.

Despite all the plaudits for the masses of talent pouring through the revolving doors at Hale End we aren’t quite at the stage to have an available youngster banging on the first team door that specialises at centre back.

Closest you would think is Omar Rekik who will be coming back to the club fresh from achieving some full international football experience at the Afcon. Initially a Dutch youth international when we signed him from Hertha Berlin; he switched allegiance to Tunisia and was drafted into their squad for the recent Afcon tournament.

 Making his debut earlier this year for his country it is experience that will no doubt aid in his development however he is yet to kick a ball in anger for the Arsenal first team apart from a couple appearances in pre season. It would see a major jump up the development ladder but the young defender would be high on confidence given his recent experience out in Cameroon.

Very risky a strategy but just trying to think through Arteta eyes I can’t see any signing coming in that would be an experienced stop gap as we had that already in players like Mari and Chambers. If a player does come in it would likely be young and for the future (although William Saliba would have something to say about that).

So after going through full back, centre back, centre mid and flanks there is the possibility that Arteta is content with what he has so far?

Goalkeeper

In the goal keeping area there’s not much to discuss. I can’t see Leno leaving in this window. The rumours of the American keeper Turner doing the rounds suggest he will be an acquisition for the summer and so planned for next season. This will mean the German will likely be kept on and tasked to find a new club for next season.

Playmaker/No.10

Can’t see much call for recruitment in that position. Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard have that role stitched up whilst Lacazette has often occupied that position too when called upon and it’s also a role Bukayo Saka could well fill if required.

Central Striker

Now we have reached a position that seems to be the most in need to have acquisitions made. Given the massive cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the future of Pierre Emerick Aubamyang we find ourselves in a situation where our options are threadbare. Right now our two options to lead the line lay with Lacazette and Nketiah. If we cannot find any chance for reconciliation between the manager and the Gabon international then we will need personnel to come through the Emirates doors.

The lack of a main source of goals from our central striker has been one of our biggest Achilles heels in the team. One would suggest a striker that adds goals would be the missing piece to dovetail the growth of the team so far and take them up a notch in the ladder of improvement under Mikel Arteta.

Ostracised or not we have to admit the goals had dried up for Aubamyang long before his fall out with the manager. Alex Lacazette has filled in ably but at the wrong end of 30 there isn’t much scope to improve on what he offers already. Eddie Nketiah despite coming through the ranks and proving himself to be a decent striker he just falls of what we need for a striker in the role to get the optimum from our system.

It’s no fault of his own and he could probably move to another club which is more of a fit in football style to his strengths and bag a hatful of goals at Premier League level. Eddie feeds off service whilst we likely need a striker that can both feed of service and make goals out of nothing. It just seems there’s more demanded for the type of striker we need in terms of physicality, link up play, strength, finishing and creating goals for others (gosh, that’s a unicorn right there).

To get that type of profile of player is no easy feat and you have to wonder if that type of player is obtainable in this window at a not so inflated price.   

Vlahovic seemed the name that dominated all the rumours but that was put to bed when he signed on the dotted line for Juventus. Much similar to Locatelli last summer it led to a lot of acrimony on the social media amongst Arsenal fans at the players we lost out on.

here next season?

Nketiah and Lacazette are both players on course to leave at end of the season on a free. Throw in Aubamyang and that’s three players tasked with helping our fight for top four that are unlikely to be part of the set up next season. Balogun is out at Middlesbrough gaining valuable experience and Mika Biereth or the recently recalled Nikolaj Moller should not really be tasked with saving our season if any unfortunate injuries occur.

In fairness Mikel Arteta earned some kudos for what at the time was regarded as underwhelming signings but indeed turned out to be shrewd acquisitions which were all a success to some measure. Can Arteta repeat that trick again this window? Well first he needs to sign someone, the question is who? Callum Chambers joined Aston Villa completely out of the blue. Does Arteta and Edu have some deals under wraps to surprise us. Let’s see how the day unfolds, they have certainly cut things fine.

will moments like this return?

Going out of both cups in January probably put a pause on some potential deals getting over the line sooner but even without the cups there is still plenty to play for to the end of season. Arteta needs to ensure all the steps he has made forward this season are not regressing by the end when there are clear points in the season where mistakes could be pinpointed. Our January dealings so far could very much be the Damocles sword that swings above his head for the rest of the season.   

Arsenal Out Of The FA Cup Thanks To Their Own Doing.

This was a bad day at office, a really really bad day at the office. There’s just no scope available to defend it. We were terrible from the first whistle to the end and can have no complaints about the final result. We are out of the FA Cup; we started the day talking about going for number 15 and ended it wondering when we will break this 2022 New Year’s resolution of losing every game.

We had the luxury of the game being beamed free and to all on national television. No subscriptions needed, this was on ITV and the whole nation had the chance to witness the new Arsenal being formed in Mikel Arteta’s vision. The new Arsenal that went toe to toe with Manchester City and but for an awful referee’s performance should have walked away with all three points.

Bad day at the office

We spent the last couple days applauding the club for their bold and inspiring No More Red campaign which meant we would be donning the unique white only kit in the aid of awareness and support for an end to knife crime violence. Unfortunately what was an amazing gesture was then left tainted by a performance that didn’t allow the shirts and the cause a result it warranted. The campaign hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and I’m sure it will result in so many positives for the youth of today, it’s just sad that on the pitch there was nothing memorable to recall.

So, one of the biggest problems with yesterday’s game was the personnel that were available to be utilised. We went into the game with an absolute threadbare squad and questions have to be asked why we put ourselves into such a position?

We all are excited by the talent that is being churned out with such regularity these days from Hale End but the bench we had for the game yesterday was a worry. Filled with a majority of youngsters who haven’t played for a single minute in the first team is not ideal in the worst case scenario where we need to chase the game.

Yes, the argument is due to AFCON call ups, Injuries and Covid-19 this forced the hand of Mikel Arteta and we had to hope the quality on the pitch was enough to do the job asked of the manager so that we wouldn’t be in desperate measures.

This is where I argue why we have made the move to loan out players without adequate replacements signed or available within? Now I’m not saying having Ainsley Maitland Niles and Forlarin Balogun would have single handily won us the tie but you cannot deny these are players of first team experience which could have been options.

At what point do we honour the wishes of an unhappy player over the needs for the club at that very moment in time. Could we not have decided to loan out AMN until after the FA Cup game? At the end of the day we are making a loan deal here, not a multi million pound sale with the risk of losing a big fee due to a potential injury. Whilst we were struggling to get a foothold in the game at the City Ground Ainsley Maitland Niles was in action for Roma against Juventus.

Player we could have done with yesterday

The AFCON that has reduced the availability of Thomas Partey, Elneny and Pepe, all players that would make a difference for us yesterday was not a surprise competition that came out of the blue. The loss of these players has been anticipated well in advance so why hasn’t any potential cover/replacement been acquired in preparation?

Names have been mentioned but nothing has materialised at what could be a make or break week for our season. The first hurdle of the FA Cup is now gone, we face a testing trip to Anfield this Thursday  for the Carabao Cup Semi Final followed but a battle against our North London rivals Tottenham on Sunday. We need personnel, personnel that can hit the ground running because at this stage it would be massively unfair to now burden our untried youngsters with the responsibility to salvage our hopes for a top 4 finish and any last remaining chance of silverware.

As it stands we are left with Xhaka and Emile Smith-Rowe returning to bolster our options. I just don’t think it’s enough to rely on because we would be making a massive assumption no other injuries or Covid-19 infections will occur between now and when/if anyone comes in.

I know Forlarin Balogun has had a lukewarm impact this season so far but he still would have been a viable option starting or from the bench yesterday. Eddie Nketiah lacked any impact for the frontline yesterday and it would have been more reassuring if Balogun was available in addition to Lacazette. Like I said we have a three game week and should have been in a position to have some players afforded minutes only in emergency and not a self inflicted emergency due to some questionable decisions on transfers/loans.

I had mentioned in my blog yesterday that I didn’t think Mikel Arteta would start Charlie Patino yesterday due to the fact that we were playing away. That’s not to say Charlie wouldn’t be able to handle pressure but more to fact youngsters have usually been afforded starts with a home crowd behind them to ease them into a game. The belief is there in Charlie and it’s hoped the start for him was more to do with faith and not down to lack of options.

I’m not a football manager and never have been but I would question blooding any young starlet it would be beneficial to have an experienced partner next to them to help guide them. In such a game Xhaka would have been a good partner but as we know he is out with Covid-19. So what we ended up with yesterday was Patino partnered with Sambi Lokonga. Sambi has had a great start to his Arsenal career but he is still technically in his integration phase into the Arsenal midfield. He’s very young and still developing his game, he then had the added responsibility to look out for a younger more inexperienced partner in Charlie.

Now this is not to say the midfield was overrun by any means but my point is it’s not the ideal scenario to partner such limited collective experience in the middle of the park. And this is what takes you back to the question why did we have no other alternative options when we knew so many numbers would be missing for that position of the field?

We have had Jack Wilshere training with the club for the last few months; can you tell me registering him as a player even as cover for this month is such a terrible idea? The issue with Jack has always been the injuries not the ability. Having Jack Wilshere rather than nobody is not a crazy, ludicrous idea. He has been training with the club, would know the plays and would fill in instantly if needed.

An opportunity missed?

I just struggle to get my head around the decision to let bodies go and not have cover especially when you have one literally on your doorstep.

One thing we as a club suffer from is doing things the right way at detriment to our advantages. We often used to hear the term the team is too soft, you need a nasty, dirty bastard on the pitch to do the horrible things that benefit the team. The same almost applies in off field actions; you want the club to act in best possible way to achieve the end goals.

Look at Liverpool  for example, to determine they had the best chance of advancing past us in the Semi Final of the Carabao Cup they ensured the game for the first leg was postponed to benefit their cause in order  to have availability of their stronger players. We all know their Covid-19 outbreak excuse was very suspect but they used every sneaky tactic within the rulebook to gain their advantage. They ensured they could do whatever they had in their power to work for them rather than face a beating at the Emirates. That’s the mindset we need to incorporate at times to ensure Arsenal comes out on top. It’s fine being sneaky and have a dirty streak on the pitch but you need that off the pitch to maximise your chances to win things.

This is where as I mentioned earlier we have sent out Ainsley Maitland Niles and soon Forlarin Balogun on loan because they need the loan rather than stopping to assess, “wait, we may need these players this week, lets delay the loan deal and use them”.

So back to the game (although right now I’d rather forget it) lets touch briefly on the Tavares incident. We are all likely in agreement that the young Portuguese was not having the best of games. The passes and decision making were not quite coming off and Mikel Arteta decided in all his wisdom the best action was to hook the player after 30 odd minutes. Not only can that cause a potential disruption in the dressing room but it also provided great embarrassment to a player in a week where we need to make the most of the limited bodies we have available for some massive games.

He wasn’t having the best game as I mentioned but Mikel had the added advantage of being able to coach and provide instructions to the player as he was situated on the same side as the manager. This was the perfect opportunity to coach the player out of a bad patch of form on the pitch. Instead Arteta chose to substitute him rather than seeing out until half time. Now there may have been an exchange of dissent from the player not picked up by the cameras which could have played a part in the decision but I personally felt the 34th minute wasn’t the best time to flex the non-negotiable muscles.  Plenty Arsenal players were misplacing passes and not performing to the best of their ability so it just felt bizarre given the limited options we already had available.   I hope this moment didn’t lead to any backlash in the dressing room which could result in some disciplinary action because at this moment in time we cannot afford to cut off our nose to spite our face. We need every available player fighting for the team in harmony right now.

Now despite what seems to be coming off as a bit of a rant (I am writing this article immediately after the final whistle), I am not calling for the managers head. We are moving in the right direction, the players acquired match the DNA of how he wants to play and the team will hit inevitable bumps along the way. Yesterday I have to state he got things wrong, the team were lethargic and stale, his in game decisions could have been better and whether it is in his control or not the transfer business should have been timed to not leave us short in numbers especially for the competitions we have realistic chances of winning.

Right now it seems we are going to have to fumble our way through next few weeks with just plan A on the pitch as we have no alternatives to offer a Plan B or C. Our opponents will be able to telegraph in what team we play as we have limited options, I just hope we can ride that storm and our plan A team can do the business in the remainder of our make or break week and/or month.

Enjoy your day people

This post will also feature on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Try to enjoy your day people, better days ahead

What Does Future Hold For Lacazette At Arsenal?

What’s going to happen now with Alexandre Lacazette? It’s a nice conundrum to have and testament to how he’s turned around favour with the club and fans that it is now a valid question to be asked. Do we do all we can to keep him? Do we cash in? Should it be a long term reward for his form or a short term extension until we get a shiny new striker for the future?

Our French talisman is in the final year of his contract and could well leave at the very end of the season for free. It’s always gutting to lose a player on a free especially when you consider the heavy investment to get them into the club in the first place. More so when said player is in good form and clearly still offers value to the current team.

Back in 2017 Arsene Wenger, after a long chase finally acquired the striker from Lyon in a deal that was roughly around £46m and at the time looked to be an excellent coup even if deemed slightly over inflated due to Lyon’s hard bargaining. A prolific striker with a near 1 in 2 record at Lyon, it was hoped he would be the 30 goal a season powerhouse we had missed since Robin Van Persie left.

Goal machine in France

It’s fair to say it hasn’t quite worked out that way for him at Arsenal as the goal ratio lengthened whilst turning out for the Gunners but that isn’t to say the Frenchman has been a failure. Expectations may have been higher but he has always put in 100% when called upon and scored some very important goals along the way. His bromance with Aubamyang was a refreshing thing to behold with some amusing goal celebrations along the way.

Now at the age of 30 Lacazette has a decision to make, when players reach north of 30 they often tend to look at their next contract being the opportunity for one last big contract to see out the latter years of their career. Given his current form it will certainly give Mikel Arteta food for thought as he builds for the future, Is Lacazette part of that vision?

In this situation the player holds the cards and it is hard to call how it could all pan out. Lacazette hardly got a look in at the start of the season and you wouldn’t blame him for counting down the days until he sees out his contract. With his recent selection he has been putting in performances, getting goals and feeling wanted so could have a change of heart. I suppose it could come down to the type of contract that is put down on the table for him. Gunners Town put out a twitter poll earlier in the week asking if Lacazette should be offered a year’s extension before he can negotiate with other clubs from January.

It’s clear as day that once those last 6 months are reached you might as well start sending round the ‘Sorry you’re leaving’ card around the office because it would take an incredible turn around to secure a players services at that stage.

The poll was in favour of a one year’s extension, hardly a landslide but indicative enough the fans see value in keeping him on the short term. I struggle to see an outcome where Lacazette would take a one year extension over something more long term.

The over 30 one year contract deal was something that led to many premature exits from Arsene Wenger’s invincible squad and fast forward 15 odd years it still doesn’t have the lure now.

The two options the club would be considering now are to either cash in during the next window or offer a longer term contract. Two decisions that could divide the fan base:

  1. To lose Lacazette from the current squad could affect all harmony within the squad and put a dent into the progress and development achieved so far this season. We would need to find an able replacement that could offer a similar skill set and traits to replace what Lacazette offers. Eddie Nketiah in a similar position to the Frenchman and Folarin Balogun are waiting for their chance but lack the strengths of Lacazette’s game such as his strength and ability to bring others into play. Unless a readymade replacement comes in or the system is adapted to get the best out of the players we have I can’t see beyond it being a massive loss to the team in what is a make or break season for Mikel Arteta.
  2. To offer Lacazette a long term contract would allay some fears but at the same time could trigger some acrimony amongst the fans as they demand a newer, shiner model to take the club forward beyond this season. On one hand a longer contract may not definitively translate into Lacazette being a part of the longer term plan but more provides the club with an opportunity to cash in on the player and generate some funds for further recruitment. One thing it will do is remove the doubt for rest of season and allow the player, manager and rest of team to focus on other things on the pitch.

One worrying factor amongst all this is the allure of a club with unlimited funds like Newcastle to start sniffing around. Lacazette is the exact type of profile the club would want spearheading their evolution into a more serious club. Money won’t be a barrier so the opportunity for one final big payday and not need to relocate to Qatar is already a tempting proposition. Allan Saint-Maximin already has the potential to strike up an Aubamyang style bromance with him. The more I think about it the more tempting a move it seems for him.

dripping with cash

It all comes down to how much Lacazette is wanted by the Arsenal and what they do to show it and additionally how wanted and appreciated does Lacazette feel on reflection over his time at the club? Football negotiations often reflect the highest risk card games; everybody has to make the move that best suits their own interests. When things are finely poised you just have to lay down your cards and hope your hand is the winning one.

Enjoy your day people

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

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.

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