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.

New Season, New Hope. Bring on the Bees.

So here we are, the summer has flown by (hasn’t even felt like it’s started if you’re in the UK) and now we reach the point of a new season to get our teeth into.

A new season, a season that comes with a new hope, a hope that we can eradicate a lot of the negatives from the previous season and build on a steady upward curve back to where we expect to be.

Whether you are a fan of the manager or not first and foremost we are fans of Arsenal Football Club and want success and the very best fortunes for the club of our hearts. Football fortunes are not achieved overnight and we are currently delving in a dip of a J-curve to where we want to be.

Good to have the fans back in stadiums

I totally understand optimism is waning as a lot of our transfer business is certainly incomplete and in an ideal world we wouldn’t be in this situation. One thing we can admit is this is not a new phenomenon and we have often left business (to the fans frustrations, even well into the Wenger years) to the very last day.

Football transfers when you don’t have an unlimited stream of money flooding your club are often approached like a game of poker. The price of a player can shoot up based on leaked information or the potential buyer showing their cards early and getting dragged into a bidding war.

We’ve heard the testament of former players about transfer deadline day and a lot of the actual decision making is out of the hands of the players even when they want a mover early into a transfer window as negotiations are left to the money men to duke it out for their best interests.

We as fans know where we need strengthening and we know the club are doing business behind the scenes, unfortunately we cannot expect names to be dropped in Mikel Arteta’s press conferences as that can affect negotiations. We just have to hope they are working on securing the right players and get the deals over the line.

One of those deals doesn’t seem to include Aaron Ramsdale anymore. A linked player that has truly split the fan base’s opinion on the abilities he has to offer. Other keepers will now be sought as pretty much all Arsenal fans will agree Runnarson falls short of the level required for a back up keeper.

Either way, transfer business will be on hold whilst we focus our attention to our opening day opponents Brentford, newly promoted and first timers to the premier league. Definitely a likable club and a team we cannot take for granted. Over the years we’ve had a few former players represent Brentford. Highly rated Josh Dasilva fancied bettering his career chances at Brentford over Arsenal and has gone on to develop into a key and impressive member of the Brentford squad. He now has the platform to show his talents at the highest level in England and has every chance to fulfil his potential at this level.

Dominic Thomson made the move to Brentford a couple years back and although not a first team regular, time is on his side to break into the first team.

One former player we remember fondly is Nico Yennaris, oops I mean Li Ke enjoyed a good career at Brentford. Although no longer at the club he completes a trio of former Arsenal player with recent connections between the clubs.

The real danger we have to look out for tonight is Ivan Toney. A player who steps up to the Premier League off the back of a highly prolific season in the Championship where he broke the record for most goals scored in that division over a season. Gone are the days when a striker from the Championship had to prove they were good enough for the Premier League.

We have had recent evidence from the likes of Ollie Watkins at Aston Villa or Patrick Bamford at Leeds United who have proved themselves as fully capable of delivering in the Premier League. Toney needs to be kept quiet at all costs, the Griffin park Community Stadium crowd will be buzzing with new season buoyancy and it’ll require our defence to be on top of their game to keep the crowd and the Brentford attack quiet.

I’d expect new boy Ben White to make his full debut and his recovery pace will be key to stemming the flow of the oppositions attacks. Partey will be a big miss and I hope the injuries won’t be such a regular feature this season.

New boy ready to impress?

Up front I genuinely believe despite the lack of pre season goals that our captain will deliver this season. Write off Aubamyang at your peril, he still has the quality in his boots and do not underestimate how much an early goal into the season will help him kick on. I don’t believe any more striking talent will be coming in and so the responsibility will lie at the feet of Auba, Laca and a now up to speed Pepe.  

Yes, there is a hell of a lot that needs to be fixed at the club but I’m still looking forward to this season and what it could bring. We don’t have the added distraction of Europe and so should make a far bigger impact on the league table than we did last season.

I can’t wait to get back into the Emirates and cheer on the boys, alas for tonight I’ll have to settle for my Armchair but I’m certainly looking forward to having football back. Come on Arsenal!  

Pre match prediction: Brentford 1-3 Arsenal 

Finally, for a bit of fun feel free to join my Gambeanosnitch FPL league. Link and/or code below:

https://fantasy.premierleague.com/leagues/auto-join/768b48

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

Harry Kane Has Never Delivered For England When It Mattered Most

Now this is a conversation I have had with my friends over the years, it always crops up around international tournament time and yes that circle includes a Spurs supporting friend who vehemently denies the claim and counters with the accusation I have a bias in my argument.

It’s something I would always struggle to clear given my allegiance to the Arsenal but if the rose tinted glasses are removed and replaced with I guess a Saint George’s flag print sunglass then hopefully you can understand my thought process.

St George’s Flag tinted glasses

The timing of the discussion couldn’t be better timed as we head into a clash with Germany which could make or break our charge to the European Championships final. Following a very underwhelming contribution in the group stage Harry Kane really needs to come with the goods and 1. Prove to himself that the Spurs trophy barren spell can’t be contributed to his tendency to go missing in the biggest games with the most riding on them.

2. Prove to Europe and the rest of the world on the grand stage that he is the elite striker we hail him as in the Premier League and not someone who is a good fit around better players but not a talisman that leads by example and wins the biggest games on his own (minus penalties).

So what is the point you are trying to make I hear you ask. Well depending on your age you tend to look back on tournaments of the past and have various memories etched into your memory banks of moments of individual brilliance that changed or won games. The moments you look back and say that’s what made me fall in love with the game.

Sometimes it’s from your own country, who can forget David Platt at Italia ’90 with that game changing winning volley against the Belgians? How about more recently that Gazza goal against the Scots in Euro ’96?

Platt moment etched in legacy fans memories

Interestingly I saw a segment prior to our recent game against Scotland and Rashford and Foden were viewing footage of that goal and admitted having vague memories of it but a lot of history they didn’t know was revealed by the presenter such as the dentist chair celebration. Firstly it made me feel old but also made me realise how well it was remembered by those who witnessed it at the time. Iconic and goes down in legend as a great moment for England.

Yes it was just a group game but the sheer brilliance was memorable. There are always two things we remember the individual brilliance or THAT moment that turned a defeat into an all square situation or turned a draw into a victory.

Those old enough to remember  will recall Gary Lineker as quite a handy striker and not just the TV personality we see today and would remember some critical important goals Lineker would deliver when England’s hopes laid at his feet in international tournaments (‘86 and ‘90 come to mind).

Lineker scored key goals for England

Yeah but if he was so good why didn’t he win us the whole tournament you may ask.

Well the best can only do so much. The best teams more so that individuals win the biggest tournaments for most countries (shhhh Greece).

But there are many teams that may have not gone all the way but their stars, their Talismen delivered for them at key moments along their journey.

Think Cristiano Ronaldo always pulling it out of the bag for Portugal, think of Histro Stoichkov heroics leading Bulgaria to World Cup ’94 semi finals, Think Luca Modric producing for country leading to a World Cup Final and Player of The Tournament gong, Think even a youthful Wayne Rooney taking the international stage by storm at Euro ’04. Zidane, Xavi and Iniesta the list could go on and on.

World took notice of Rooney after his Euro ’04 moments

So I’m not just talking about individual isolated memorable moments but also the Star men, the headliners of a country delivering on the biggest stage for their country and proving why they were touted as such.

Now let’s turn our attentions to Harry Kane. He’s had two international tournaments under his belt now. Lead the line and yes walked away with personal accolade of Golden boot at the 2018 World Cup. But now putting you on the spot tell me that key moment you remember from Harry Kane that told the World (or even just you) Harry has arrived? That key moment in a game with everything riding on it he rose above his peers and dragged his country to victory?

Group games are important in the sense that if you do the business you then get to the meaty part of knockout football. Harry Kane has delivered plenty in group games but are they really considered the tension heavy games where everything counts? Apart from a final group game requiring a result to qualify, they generally are the ones where personal tallies can stack up.

In Euro 2016 he was the main man but I don’t believe he scored a goal in the tournament. Wayne Rooney was on penalty duties in those days so Harry had to deliver the old fashioned way. After navigating past the group stage Iceland awaited and we all know how that went down.  As one of the star men he was missing when it mattered most.

Fast forward to World Cup 2018 and yes he came with the goals alright. In group games he put the might of Tunisia and Panama to the sword. Built up a healthy goal record and was rested against decent opposition in Belgium.  In the knockouts he got the opening penalty goal against Columbia followed by blanks against Sweden and Croatia. The Sweden game not so much a reason to criticise as it’s a game that we all expected England to win. Against Croatia in the semi finals, the first real quality opposition we faced, that was the game where the Elite are expected to deliver. That was the game with everything poised we needed our talisman to provide and yet the only memorable moment from Harry Kane all England fans remember was him not squaring the ball to Raheem Sterling to make it 2-0 and potentially seal the game.  We went out, Kane went missing again and the rest is history.

Kane remembered most for this in England’s biggest game

This time around in 2021 Kane hasn’t even delivered in the group stages but the door is open for him to bury all the criticism and provide a performance or key goals to take England past Germany.

My argument is more so to the fact Harry Kane hasn’t delivered yet for England but he still has time to prove otherwise. Until then his CV reads:  scored loads v Panama and won Golden boot, went missing when needed most.

Until he does deliver when it matters I could reuse this article tournament upon tournament until he does.

I’m not biased at all. Just telling it as it is.

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

Season Done. No Europe No Problem For Gunners.

So the season has (domestically) drawn to a close, Arsenal ended the season in 8th place in the end. Certainly not a finishing position we would have expected at the start of the season but here we are. I often highlight the impact the pandemic played as part in this outcome and its definitely a factor but not an excuse. All 19 other teams faced the same changes to situation. Some adapted better than others whilst many on assessment would feel they could have done much better.

An inexperienced manager faced a daunting challenge not faced by any experienced manager in history. He faced challenges, struggled to resolve initially then found a way to improve. Regardless of the circulating last 23 games (or now 24 games) form table that did the rounds for the past week enough damage was maybe done in that bad November/December spell to really sway the opinions of many fans on whether he is the right man to take the club forward.

We ended the season strongly and if anything it has shown we have a base to build from, the introduction of a number of youngsters in 2nd part of season played a part in the upturn in form and should lay the basis for Arteta to build around next season. Whether it’s too little too late for the fans and those responsible for the hiring and firing we will see. It’s important that whoever is in charge come August that we get behind the team and be that 12th man.

As confirmed after the results yesterday that assault on the new season will come without European football. For the majority of fans it will come as a blessing to not be involved in the Europa Conference League. A competition that will provide the cons of Thursday/Sunday fatigued football minus the pay off with the golden carrot of Champions League football to expect.

It was a competition when first announced was sneered at; it really seemed a bit of an embarrassment to be part of. Yes its European football but the standard/level of teams involved really hit home how bottom of the barrel we would be scraping if we qualified. The fact it was a reality going into the final round of games had fans calling for the team to lose just to avoid it happening.

I personally never wish Arsenal to lose and wanted a good win against Brighton first then deal with the consequences second. Although I did not agree I did emphasise with the Arsenal fans that thought that way. In the end we avoided qualifying for the competition and missed out on finishing above Spurs. The ideal outcome would have been Everton putting in a better effort against Man City and taking that spot whilst we won and Spurs lost to Leicester. Good thing I’m not a betting man as I’d be out of pocket.

A few positives from yesterday:

Pepe:

The Ivorian has had an indifferent start to his career at Arsenal, not helped by the price tag and expectation to single handedly win games for us because of it. It is refreshing to see his contributions this season have improved and there are signs that the player we first expected has reared his head and leaves us with optimism that his upward turn in contributions will continue into next season. Yesterdays 2 goals showed how much of a danger he can be and how important a run of games can have on a player.

Holding/Gabriel Clean sheet:

Yes, you read right, Holding and Gabriel played together and we achieved a clean sheet. There has been many grumbles that the two cannot play together and through a combination of bad fortune and some avoidable situations the stats backed up that claim. Holding has had a much improved season, whether he is seen as the elite level Arsenal fans expect the jury is still out but there’s no denying he’s always given his all for Arsenal and has registered some impressive performances.

Not toothless in defence

Gabriel seemed to have experienced second season syndrome halfway through his first season. He started the season on fire, looked the player we have missed for many a year then he got struck down with Covid 19 and since his return his performances have not matched the levels prior the sickness.  He hasn’t become a bad player overnight and has just struggled to return to his optimum level,. A full preseason will help him get back to the levels we have witnessed. He has a higher ceiling of potential than any of the other defenders we had this season and there’s nothing to indicate he can’t raise that bar once again. It was nice that the two managed a clean sheet and got that monkey off their back.  

Fans back:

Like a broken record I cannot overstate how the pandemic and crucially the lack of fans have played a part in our fortunes. It was refreshing to witness the fans cheering on the team not just in our game but across the Premier League for the past two rounds of games. It makes a difference, it really does. As an away player the abuse can help raise your own game, look at how Tierney played his part in our opening goal despite getting booed for pretty much the whole game by the Crystal Palace fans. Additionally the roar from home fans can inspire the home team onto victory. There was a feel good factor that could be seen in the player’s faces from playing in front of the fans yesterday. The fans acted as a 12th man and it made a difference yesterday. The freak stats of there being more away wins than home this season in the Premier League will be a thing of the past when the fans are back regularly next season. God forbid Covid 19 doesn’t take control again and some normality resumes. I certainly can’t wait to get back to the Emirates.

For now there’s a lot to reflect on for the season past, there’s likely to be a big summer of transfer activity not to mention the uncertainty of our ownership and whether the #KroenkeOut movement will prevail. These topics I will address in future posts but for now let’s wave goodbye to a season we would rather not experience again in our lifetime. Enjoy the Conference League Spurs!

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

What Options Next For Arsenal If They Fail On Thursday?

So, as Thursday approaches in what seems our most important game of the season so far we are left wondering what next based on the outcome from that game? Will an awkward reunion with Unai Emery be on the cards or will there be a need for the whole world to gobble us up as we struggle to come to terms with another failure in the Europa league? A competition we can admittedly say is below the level we aspire to be at but at same time haven’t managed to lift that trophy in the few years we have been competitors in.

Let’s take a look hypothetically at god forbid if we do crash out on the competition this week. What happens next? What do we want to see for the rest of our rollercoaster of a season?

Hang the DJ Manager

It’s hard not to notice the grumbles of disapproval of Mikel Arteta growing louder and louder in recent months across social media. Whether I agree with it or not a lot of fans are not in his corner right now and every result, every passage of play, every team line-up, every decision off the pitch is micro analysed to the point Arteta cannot win (even when he wins!). A firing in my opinion is too easy a cop out at this stage, yes the season on reflection has been terrible but expectations have to be aligned. We signed up for a long term project with a lot of bumps along the way not a ‘We should be challenging Man City to the very end in his first full season in charge’ expectation. Not even the current champions are sitting in a Champion’s League spot right now. Anyway let’s park the Arteta Out debate for now and just consider what do we do next?

Ditch the personnel not in future plans

Now with Europa League success off the table, there’s a debate to be had on whether to go all out to qualify for next seasons instalment of the competition. The true question to ask is should Mikel at this stage with not much on the table to chase; persevere with the players he may not wholeheartedly believe in and/or those he does have faith in but just let him down. Mindset could be switched to next season and those players he wants to keep. Before the season is done it may be an idea to just swing the hatchet now and give minutes and opportunities to those he sees a future in.

I don’t know what goes through Arteta’s mind, it may not simply be a case of those players he picks are the ones he believes in. Is Lacazette seen as part of the future? Has Xhaka been a heavy fixture in midfield not because of his faith from the manager but more so because all other alternative options were worse? Was the choice to sell Martinez and keep Leno agreed by the manager or was rank pulled by higher up to make some money for other transfers? Does Willian have something mandated in his contract to ensure he played? There are many more questions that could be put out there, only one man knows the answer to those questions and that is the manager. What would be nice to see is Mikel being given the freedom of choice to start building with immediate effect and no longer pander to any pressures to play anyone through higher intervention or contract clauses because there’s effectively nothing left to win.

Give the kids minutes

So with that in mind if Mikel was given the freedom to look to next season and with nothing to lose why not blood the kids he sees with big potential to contribute next season. One of the more obvious names to mention is Folarin Balogun, if the rumours that came out the tail end of last week are true that the young prospect is about to put pen to paper on a new contract and commit long term to the Gunners then what is there to lose to play him in all the remaining games. He has been highly talked up by everyone at the cub and it was only the uncertainty of his contract situation that left some negativity hanging over him. When he has played he has excited and offered something different to what we currently have. It would be great to see him get some valuable minutes and Premiership experience in preparation for next season.

Signed Da Ting?

In addition to Balogun the youngster closest to first team action is Miguel Azeez, also very highly rated; he made his first team debut this season and looked impressive in his little cameo. Get him in the midfield from now for some valuable experience, there really is nothing to lose from this and we have a very talented player who could well be our next star off the production line.

Third person I would consider is Joel Lopez, he made the bench in our last Europa League game and although the initial feedback that I’ve read on him is massive ceiling of potential but not first team ready just yet. I can understand with everything to play for chucking him in may have come at a risk but with that side of pressure now off, playing Premiership minutes would be invaluable and actually accelerate his development. It’s no secret we have a problem with cover for left back now that Kieran Tierney is broken so why not play a specialist left back coming through the ranks for rest of season? He may take to it like a duck to water.

You do question how accurate our judgement is on whether players are ready or not and I always like to look at the varying fortunes of our own William Saliba and Wesley Fofana at Leicester. Both very young exciting talents and both starred in the same Saint Etienne team before making big moves to Premiership clubs. One wasn’t deemed ready and shipped out on loan back to France whilst the other was shown some faith and is now considered one of the best young defenders in the league. You just need to look at the league table to see an 11 point difference between the clubs and question who has had more reason to be cautious about impact on their ambitions. It’s a slightly unfair comparison from me as other personal factors did play a part but I do believe we have a talent on our hands who could have at a minimum got minutes in Carabao cup games at expense of maybe Mustafi who clearly wasn’t deemed part of the future.

Provide a last chance to those in last chance saloon

Doesn’t take a genius to work out something has gone terribly wrong between Mikel Arteta and Reiss Nelson. Whether it was a disciplinary decision or something else the young winger has really dropped off the first team scene for past few months only making a few recent squad appearances probably more determined by an injury crisis than merit. The young winger in the early days under Mikel looked like he could potentially be taken under his wing and was being managed carefully for a bigger plan. Not helped by the exponential rise of the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, it seems the development of Nelson has gone stagnant. We know there’s ability in his feet but the chances just haven’t been taken as well as he would have liked or in comparison to the other youngsters I mentioned earlier. However with nothing to lose why not let him play and prove right whatever wrongs that are believed to be there?

What has happened?

Similar scenario applies to Eddie Nketiah, despite getting some minutes at the early part of the season, the performances on a whole were a mixed bag. Unfortunately for the modern day striker taking chances isn’t deemed enough and fans (and possibly the manager) want more all round contributions to the team play. Eddie has suffered from not impacting the game much when he isn’t on the end of chances however despite his absence from first team action he captained England  in the recent U21 Euros group games. On one hand it’s great that the manager showed enough faith in him to make him captain, he holds the record for most England goals at that level but unfortunately his impact in those three group games were minimal to say the least. Not helped by a lack of action for his club which clearly upset his fluidity and momentum leading to quite a bit of rust. So why not give him a run in the team to the end of the season. If it is last chance saloon lets give him get a chance to take that chance.

I was going to touch on maybe selection of a new captain but honestly I struggle to see many worthy candidates from the available players we have that are shoe ins for the honour next season. With that in mind I will leave that discussion for another time but for now let’s just hope everything I discussed doesn’t need to be discussed come full time on Thursday. We still have it all to play for and I hope Friday morning we will be having a conversation about the return of Emery.

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

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