How Do The Gunners Move Forward? Formation Or Personnel?

We’ve had at least 24-48hrs to calm down from the match against Leicester. An amount of time to dissipate the red mist  and see things a little bit more clearly (or at very least not want to smash your tv).

I’m no angel; I wasn’t best pleased with the result and was left asking so many questions and not finding many solutions to what I had raised.

Understandably no defeat is taken nicely, even if you’ve won a group in qualifying and throw the kids in for the dead rubber last game you still want a win at the very least avoid defeat.

Its human nature really, at the start of Mikel Arteta’s tenure with the club many made the statement that this is a long term project and Mikel will needs time. We can’t expect to be challenging for the title within 6 months. There will be plenty bumps along the way, lots of ups and downs, mistakes will be made especially from a young inexperienced manager but the key thing is to give him time and our full backing.

When Arsene left we entered unfamiliar territory for many Arsenal fans that knew nothing but Arsene. There was evidence over at Manchester United that to replace someone after such a prolonged amount of time would not be a smooth transition. Unai Emery was just the wrong choice for manager and despite some early warning signs things were not going well he cannot turn around and say he wasn’t given a chance to get things right.

Anyway no point me bleating on about the recent managerial history of the club, we are all well aware. I suppose the point of me bringing it up was to highlight it’s far too early to sound the alarm bells.

To take some positives from the football this weekend is not many teams made much advancement at the top, plenty of dropped points by our rivals and therefore Arteta has some food for thought moving forward. Arsenal are still there or thereabouts and the team has plenty scope for improvement.

The manager will have learned a lot from Sunday’s game. Yes we can rue the injustices of the ruled out goal from Lacazette but we must not also dismiss the blatant 2nd yellow card Hector Bellerin should have received. One incorrectly ruled moment turned out key but a game in which we were in control we should have done a lot more when we were on top.

No point singling out one striker’s performance but ask questions of why when on top are we as a team are not putting teams to the sword?

The key factor that comes to mind is the lack of a creative fulcrum to dovetail the newly instilled tenacity and focus. The big question to ask yourself is does that lay with the tactics or lack of personnel. You could argue both really, let’s have a looks at both sides:

The Formation

The team set up with a 433 formation however maybe due to the easing in of four at the back over utilising three centre backs there is more emphasis on the midfield 3 acting as a shield than supporting attacks. I would certainly bracket Partey and Xhaka as more defensive minded whilst Ceballos is great at dictating play advancing from deep and is equally comfortable mucking it in the middle of the park putting his foot in.

It would be interesting to see Ceballos advancing further forward to see if he could make things happen in a freer role. Sunday’s tactics seemed to focus more on utilising the timed runs of the fullbacks. A tactic that seemed to work in the sense that the ball was finding those players in advanced positions Bellerin especially however the most was not made of those situations.

With the spaces vacated by the full backs the midfield three were as it seems instructed to fill the gaps left by them. Again it added to the stability and you could argue from a defensive sense the team is looking more solid for setting up that way. It’s the attack which seems to be suffering and you have to wonder if by having a more disciplined set up, the attack being left to make the magic happen by themselves was always bound to eventually struggle when teams wised up to that being go to tactic.

This is where you have to look at the other question regarding:

The Personnel

The game vs. Leicester was the perfect example of a team set out to nullify the opposition. Especially with Vardy on the bench the team came with a game plan to soak up and nullify Arsenal and then hopefully nick something with the introduction of Vardy later in the game. Leicester aren’t the first and won’t be the last to play with the majority of their men behind the ball and soak up the pressure. When you take into account how much Arsenal rely on counter attack and pace we were left in a catch 22 situation where other than individual moments of brilliance we would struggle getting in behind a deep defensive line.

It’s situations like that where you are left screaming out for a creative player that can thread a pass through the eye of a needle and get the attackers in on goal. You could argue we have a player that fits that description on our paid staff but let’s not go there with the Ö word. In terms of whom we have available who can play, who could maybe play in the midfield three at the tip as a creative outlet?

Of course Arteta may not have plans to use his midfield three in such a way but let’s just hypothesize that he may. Do we have the creative player that could make that mark from the personnel we have? Well the short answer is yes but the longer deeper answer is which player exactly?

Well I would say take your pick from the Following: Saka, Ceballos, Willian and Emile Smith Rowe.

Four players I feel have the adaptability, agilty and potential for a pass in their locker.

Saka we’ve seen play in a number of positions for the club now but I do recall him playing in a midfield three as the advanced creative hub, It may have been against Sheffield United last season (don’t quote me on that) but at the time it gave us the fans an insight into his versatility and proved he could play there.

Willian is a bit of an unknown but it is clear he has the technical ability and strength to play further forward in a midfield three. I avoid watching Chelsea as much as I can so I can’t recall times he played there for the club that I would have noticed. Nevertheless he can be an option in the middle, his versatility will be key for us this season.

Ceballos as I mentioned earlier is definitely a creative player with a bit of bite, it’s that extra tenacity that probably works against him as he is more trusted to protect as well as provide ball retention. He has always looked impressive coming from deep and always demands the ball, it’s worth a shot trying him further advanced, there’s nothing to lose.

Emile Smith Rowe would seem like the perfect player to be given a shot in that role however his injury problems are becoming a concern. There’s nothing the Arsenal fans would like more than to see this kid fulfil his potential but the persistent little injuries tend to hinder his progress. I’d like to think the longer delay to his return is a planned schedule to ensure his return won’t result in breaking down two to three games in.

I may have missed off other potential options, feel free to let me know in the comments. I’ve deliberately left out the quality starlets in our youth set up, players such as Charlie Patino, Omari Hutchinson et al, as their time will come but in the current team I can’t see Arteta making such a leap of faith for now.

There’s a chance to give Arteta something to think about before January transfer window otherwise there may be a renewed more aggressive move for Houssem Aouar. Time will tell, let see how this plays out.

Enjoy you day people.

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

Eddie Nketiah: It’s Only Just The Beginning.

On Wednesday Eddie Nketiah came off the bench for England U21 to net a goal in a 3-3 draw with Andorra. The result itself was a bit of a shock given Andorra are rock bottom of the Euro 2021 qualifying group table though on closer look it seems a few more important players were rested for this fixture with Eddie being one of them. After coming on he bagged what looked to be the winner only for England to concede again and finish with scores level.

The significant take away from Eddie’s scoring feat was the fact that he netted his 13th goal for England u21’s which put him joint level as the record scorer for England at that level. A goal scoring record that is shared with Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers. A feat that has to be applauded but at the same time reality checked as it is at an u21 standard. However the two players he shares the record with couldn’t provide more evidence of absolute polar opposites in terms of senior England careers that Eddie could have.

Alan Shearer went on to be one of the greatest most prolific goal scorers in England History whilst Francis Jeffers managed to make only one senior appearance for England (all be it scoring and boasting a 100% record).

You have to say the ball is in Eddie’s court in terms of how he shapes his future. He has certainly put in the hard work up to this stage to make the most of his opportunities.

He has the belief of his manager which has earned him starts in the premiership for Arsenal; he’s scoring freely for England U21 and likely to be in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. It’s the kind of path any aspiring young striker would love to be following and yet when you ask fans for their view on Eddie you get mixed responses. 

There’s a large contingent of people who do not believe Eddie to be good enough for Arsenal and would sooner have him replaced with a more favourable experienced striker. In this day and age where fans expect the finished article instantly (particularly at larger clubs) there’s certainly less patience to see through the development of young players even more so strikers if the output isn’t that of the finished article.

Eddie Nketiah is still learning his craft and the capacity for his development and improvement is massive. Can he achieve it whilst at Arsenal?  As echoed earlier the ball is in his court and he will have to achieve this while constantly having questions thrown at him about his abilities.

Now on one hand I can understand where some of the fans are coming from. If you were to describe the type of player Eddie Nketiah is in a few short words then Fox in the box is a common and rather accurate descriptor used for the young striker. He is a striker that often finds himself on the end of balls played into the box; using his pace to nip in ahead of the defender and finish with aplomb.

When asked to expand on his other strengths that is where many would fall short on providing an answer to respond with. When describing the template for a modern day striker the general consensus is an all-rounder. A player with pace and power, who can finish, that has the ability to drop deep and bring others into play, a tireless runner  who can trouble defenders and a player who can assist his teammates. Seems a lot really for the ultimate striker but nowadays when you find a striker that exhibits one or two of those attributes the criticism will always be the highlighting of the attributes they don’t have from that list. It’s fair to say Eddie doesn’t tick all those boxes yet and until he does he won’t escape the criticism. When you think of his loan to Leeds united, depending on what side of the fence you sit his loan was a success or failure.  He rarely started games but his impact from the bench was appreciated from Leeds with some important goals. Patrick Bamford was the preferred starter and yet he was hardly getting on score sheet. Why was he being played ahead of the Arsenal starlet who was getting more goals per minute in comparison?

The clear answer was what Bamford brought to the overall play of the Leeds team. If you watched Leeds play he was key to the success of their system. His link up play brought others into attack and if you avoid the goals to games stats and observed the gameplay it was easier to appreciate what Bamford contributed. Saying that Bamford’s finishing leaves a lot to be desired and is what separates him from being a good striker and an elite one. Eddie was a far better finisher but the other aspects to his game were still to be worked on, this resulted in his super sub role for the club.

Sending Eddie out on loan was a chance for him to get the minutes and improve and enhance the aspects of his game he needed to work on. With him not getting that at Leeds it made up the mind of Mikel Arteta to cut his loan short return to Arsenal and give him more game time at a higher standard.

Eddie is only 21 and still developing under Arteta, he is improving and the important thing is not to dismiss what he can become because of what he shows now. Players need time and you only need to look at Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring for England against Wales on his England debut to see how a young player can come to fruition. Everton fans would be telling lies if they didn’t admit that at times they questioned the abilities of the youngster and whether he was good enough to be the main Everton striker. A player who served his apprenticeship with loans to lower league clubs and representing the England youth teams didn’t set the world alight with his scoring record in his first couple seasons with the Toffees.

 The early promise plateaued a bit but under Carlo Ancelotti he has taken his game to the next level and is now first name on the team sheet and seen as one of the top strikers in the premiership. Patience and belief in his ability is what has gotten him to where he is now, he also is still developing and learning and getting better. Anyone who dismisses Nketiah just needs to take a look over at Goodison Park.

It reached a point where many fans were calling for Nketiah to be ditched in order to make space for young striker Folarin Balogun. A top talent in our youth set up no doubt but to see comments claiming Balogun to be a better player without having kicked a single ball in 1st team senior football is quite ludicrous. Balogun could well go on to be an even better player than Eddie but there’s a level of apprenticeship that needs to be completed before strolling straight into the Arsenal 1st team. Not everyone makes the transition into first team football from a prolific youth career. We mustn’t forget Nketiah was also prolific in youth, made scoring appearances early into his 1st team career, completed a loan out gained more experience and has returned and contributed.

Nketiah is not the finished article but Nketiah is not finished either. His story is only in the first few pages. It’s just a case of whether the end of his story is more likened to Alan Shearers than Francis Jeffers?

Enjoy you day people.

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How Do You Solve A Problem Like Reiss Nelson?

How do you solve a problem like Reiss Nelson? The young Englishman was one of the most exciting talents coming through the academy in years.  While the first team was going through a bit of transition the fans were screaming out for one of their own to lift spirits and hopes. A massive buzz was emanating from the youth ranks, a few YouTube clips surfaced of a younger Nelson skipping past defenders with such ease you couldn’t help but ask who is this kid?

Information and access to youth football isn’t as restricted as maybe it was many years ago so if you wanted to see the stats and view some games of this player in person it was obtainable after a few clicks on your mouse. Reiss Nelson was the real deal and the buzz led to calls from the fans for Arsene Wenger to give us a glimpse of him in the first team.

Alas his moment came back around 2017 when he was afforded some minutes in pre-season for the club. As per the Wenger way he was he was eased into first team proceedings and not thrown into his favoured position to start with. There were plenty senior players ahead of him who also required the first team minutes and so he was berthed as a wing back for those pre-season games. Wing back offered a little less pressure in that role and a chance to gain valuable minutes and experience with the first team.

You could call that season as his break out into the first team. Although he didn’t make many appearances he managed to get starts in the customary League Cup and Europa League competitions that season as well as a Premiership debut. We saw flashes of the talent but the exposure was limited due to the talent ahead of him such as Alexis Sanchez, Iwobi, Ozil and a soon to join Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The appearances he did make were nothing ground breaking, just ok. And that’s where the problem laid; Reiss looked good but never quite had a game where you were left thinking “wow”.

Again it would be harsh to be critical on him in his first season in the first team but it was felt that the kid we saw in the clips terrorising defenders that got the fans excited was locked away somewhere inside. The fans wanted that player unleashed; Things weren’t great on the first team front with the whole Sanchez leaving saga and the Wenger Out thing at the time. It was clear by the end of that season that Reiss had outgrown the youth/reserve level but wasn’t yet at a stage to trouble the players ahead of him in his position in the first team.

He needed minutes to develop and he needed men’s football to take him to the next level. That duly came with a loan move to Hoffenheim. Arsene Wenger by this time had moved on and Unai Emery sanctioned the loan move after ensuring prior he signed a new long term deal at the club. The move to Germany proved to be a success as he was given the exposure to first team football at a far higher standard than u23 football. He scored some goals, got minutes and returned back to the club with a new level of confidence you would expect. Now was the time to kick on and make the right wing berth his own in the first team.

Armed with a new contract Reiss headed to Germany

The appearances that season did improve vastly for Nelson and he certainly could identify as a member of the first team then. He scored his first goals for the club and featured across all the competitions but and there is a big but here. His appearances were again ok but nothing ground breaking. As a fan I so badly wanted him to have defenders for breakfast like I remembered in the clips from his younger days but it just never materialised on a regular level. You could argue that it doesn’t help when the club was in turmoil from the turgid football played under Emery and the once again negative vibes emanating from the stands. It could have been the tactics, it could have been the manager uncertainty or the fans unrest but whatever the factor we the fans never really saw a breakout performance from Nelson where we could look back and say “wow, what a talent this kid will go far.”

For example think back to days when we had Quincy Owusu-Agbeiyie making appearances in the League Cup games and he would have fans on their feet applauding some performances so impressive you would be forgiven for thinking you was witnessing the birth of a new superstar.

Quincy made things look easy against minnows

Admittedly that was a false dawn and once Quincy played for the first team he seemed far out of depth against Premier League standard players compared to the cannon fodder from League 1 and League 2 he would terrorise. It is that transition to taking on the highest level of opponent that sets apart promise from true talent.

Reiss Nelson showed promise in the earlier part of his Arsenal career and to me now he is showing glimpses of his talent, this to me sets him apart from Quincy. Although the individual impact in games have been short of man of the match awards I have seen enough glimpses under Mikel Arteta that shows he does have in the locker what he threatened to show in his youth. Sometimes it just takes the right manager to unlock the potential and he has every chance achieving that under Arteta. Its rare to get the next superstar ready and packaged off the youth team shelf. An apprenticeship often has to be served as the kinks are ironed out and adaption achieved. It’s not quite there yet for Reiss but he has time on his side and with the belief of the right manager will show that more consistently as he matures. On Wednesday night against Leicester I saw Nelson look far more comfortable and composed on the ball. He was intelligent with his distribution, had a couple speculative chances that fizzed just wide and for balance missed a very good chance in front of goal he really should have hit the target with at minimum.

Yes, the Leicester team was weaker given the level of the competition but still littered with a majority of premiership level players. He looked like one of the players likely to make things happen for the team however one of the biggest problems to happen to the Reiss Nelson story is the emergence of Bukayo Saka. The younger youngster looked so classy in that Leicester win leaving Arsenal fans purring at his talent.

Nelson and Saka chasing that first team glory

One of the reasons Nelson probably gets a hard time from critics is the emergence of Saka which in comparison makes Nelsons progress look less impressive. It’s just one of those things; Saka came into the team at a time of need, took his chance and hasn’t looked back. The journey of his transition into a first team player was one that many expected for Nelson but has been achieved at a far quicker rate and now you have to admit he is well ahead of Nelson now in terms of first team status. Again this is not to say Reiss is past it, far from it and the talent is there to be unlocked it just doesn’t help when a younger kid who wasn’t on the radar when you came on the scene makes a bigger impact. People will always use it to compare often unfairly but it’s hard not to compare the development of two young players coming through at the same time.

It has been reported that Nelson has now been made available for loan by Arteta. Something I don’t think indicates lack of belief from the manager but identification that to keep on developing he needs a pathway to first team football that isn’t heavily congested as it is by the likes of Pepe, Willian and co. The Hoffenheim loan helped push Nelson’s development on and another loan which I hope would be to a Premiership club will help push him on even further. He is still looking the part for England U21 and is a talent many clubs would love to have on board. I just hope that A) he goes on loan to a high level club playing the right football and B) does not find the loan such a success that he seeks to continue his career away from Arsenal.

That is always the danger with loans but at the same time given the trajectory Arsenal are headed under Mikel Arteta it is a project any young player would want to be a part of. A loan isn’t a rejection and as long as Nelson knuckles down and works hard he will be a regular feature in the Arsenal first team for years to come and become the player we all saw and believed he will become.

Enjoy you day people.

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An Ugly Win Against The Hammers But The Three Points Vital For Arsenal

Well that wasn’t much fun at all. These kinds of games are the hardest to write about because the negatives cloud over the positives I could elaborate on. However, a win is a win and that victory yesterday gives Arsenal 6 points from 2 games and keeps them in the mix just before some of the tougher fixtures coming up in the next few weeks.

The performance was disjointed and West Ham threatened at times to take all three points but fortunately we managed to dig in and find a winner when all hope seemed lost. Manchester United were beaten convincingly by Crystal Palace in the premiership game prior the Emirates fixture and it served as a warning that anyone can beat anyone on their day.

West Ham will feel hard done by to leave the Emirates with nothing as they refused to roll over and let Arsenal have their cake and eat it. Even after Arsenal had taken the lead through Lacazette the warning signs were there as a number of chances fell to the Hammers.  You wouldn’t be wrong to agree the equaliser was coming and well deserved before half time.

First goal but a game with fewer smiles

Never nice to concede before half time but it still allowed Mikel Arteta to assess and review tactics for a changed 2nd half. It didn’t seem like much had changed in 2nd half other than a greater amount of possession  for the Gunners but the chances were still falling to both sides and almost like a very dull game of chess there was a chance for either team to walk away with victory in the blink of an eye.

Our winning moment did eventually come and if there was a story to take from this game it was noting the two individuals who combined to provide the winner. Dani Ceballos laid on the assist for Eddie Nketiah to slot home the winner; these two individuals were nearly the cause of a much more significant headline with their pre-game altercation before the Fulham game last week. This time it was a more positive exchange between the two and one that benefitted the club in the best possible way.

Besties…

The Sky Sports team couldn’t resist bringing up the Fulham incident in the post-game interview with Eddie who squashed any hint of anything lingering last week as he highlighted all is well with his Spanish team mate.

One thing of note from the game was the potential penalty that could have been conceded by Gabriel. It would have been a harsh penalty if given, it wasn’t given, VAR reviewed and also didn’t give it so we move on. The Sky Sports team were desperate to forcefully push it as some sort of controversy and quite desperately tried to draw parallels with the penalty conceded by Lindelof against Palace an hour earlier. The two were nothing alike and it shouldn’t really be anything deemed significant enough for West Ham to cry foul.

Gabriel putting his foot in all game

Gabriel carried on where he left from the Fulham game looking assured and composed whilst indulging in the physical battles with gusto. He had to do it all with a new partner in defence due to the pre match warm up injury to Kieran Tierney. The Scotsman has become a favourite with the fans for his professionalism and quality in defence so the news of an injury is one of worry and the hope is the injury was more precaution than anything too serious. The early indications are it being a hip injury, something he has previous with, how long to recover from I guess we will have to wait until official confirmation from the club after diagnosis.

We especially need the quality of Tierney over the next few weeks as the tough games come thick and fast. We face Leicester in league and cup, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United up until the end of October. It will require as many fit bodies available and ready to battle to come through that run of games and not have the feeling of our season being derailed.

Let’s see how it all plays out, fingers crossed starting Wednesday at the King Power Stadium.

Enjoy you day people.

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OK Arsenal – NOW You Can Burst Bubbles.

As the headline states, it is fine to burst some bubbles of the Claret and Blue variety. If it’s all not making much sense this is pretty much a call back to my article last week in which I identified the beginning of a season starts with a full capacity of bubbles of expectation which eventually burst one by one with each failure ensuring that the bubble can no longer be achieved.

We came through last week and so the quadruple is surely still on, obviously. On a serious note we have the visit of West Ham today from the shadily won well-earned stadium of dreams in the hope to build on our excellent start against Fulham. All be it, this is a London derby, its way too early a stage of the season for the West Ham fans and players to give up and so it will require the utmost concentration and focus to ensure West Ham leave the Emirates stadium with nil points.

It seems like a very long time we have not had an arsenal game two to three days after the previous game. Admittedly for us to have played midweek it would have meant we would be rubbing shoulders with our North London rivals taking on the cream of Europe’s finest in the 3rd qualifying rounds of the Europa cup qualification.

The ‘break‘ will have allowed the players to recuperate and be fresh for today’s game. The break certainly allowed the fans to draw their attention from matters on the pitch and absorb all the good feelings from the conclusion of the long running Aubamyang contract situation.  It was nice to finally see the skipper put pen to paper with what some (non-Arsenal affiliated observers) might say was an OTT reveal. Not to me or any other Arsenal fans as we soaked up all the positive words he had to say and all the promo and interviews that followed with Ian Wright et al. It certainly helped fill the void of no football.

It weren’t all super positive news as the transfer of Emi Martinez was also confirmed. This is also a topic that has been covered to death by Arsenal fans on social media so i wont go into it in any depth. The talented Argentinian left on great terms with the fans and he will be held dear to our hearts until he has worldies against us in future meetings. Until then we wish him the best and congratulations on another call up to the Argentina squad yesterday. No doubt another well-earned call up for his recent performances for Arsenal.

In terms of team news I suppose everyone who was available last week are ready to be called upon again. One absence from the line-up is likely to be William Saliba again as he turned out for the U23’s last night in a 2-2 draw with Brighton. I can’t pass too much judgement on his performance as I had only caught about 30 minutes of the match but what I can say is he looked assured and positive on the ball. Always looking up and trying to contribute to the attacks with intelligent balls. I saw some risks in holding onto the ball longer than your average defender but that was counter balanced with how comfortable he is with the ball at his feet. Very much a ball playing centre back he reminded me of Rio Ferdinand in his early days.

William Saliba: His time will come

There is much competition for the centre back places at the moment and his time will come in the first team. There is more experience ahead of him at the moment and we are not in a desperate need to throw anyone in at the moment. It will be good thing for Mikel Arteta to manage his integration into the starting XI, the English lessons are paying off at least, communication is key so its great he is doing all he can to master the language.  David Luiz is back in full training and could potentially be involved in the match day squad so that defensive cover that seemed lacking on the bench last week could be filled by the Brazilian if he doesn’t start.

So we will await and see how everything unfolds today against the Hammers.  My FPL team is already a bust, I need to quickly make some tough decisions before the deadline so with that I will bid you all goodbye and hopefully reconnect tomorrow with a positive review of the game.

Enjoy you day people.

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