AFC Wimbledon Up Next For Arsenal. Who Plays?

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

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

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

Quincy: exciting and entertaining talent in these fixtures

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

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

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

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

Chelsea no match for our new kids on the block

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

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

He who shall not be named…

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

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

Enjoy your day people

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

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.

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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Gunners recover to reach next round of FA Cup

I’m not sure what to make of the Arsenal of 2017, another win salvaged after another rotten start. I’m not sure the ticker can take such a roller coaster of a ride, on paper it’s a victory but to witness performances like in the first half do not make for an enjoyable experience.

The FA Cup is a different experience to the league games and a fired up lower league team will always be looking for a big scalp. Preston North End were not going to lay out the carpet for Arsenal, it was a one off cup tie that could go anyone’s way on the day. It was no secret many of the Arsenal big guns would be rested and/or were injured and Preston smelt blood.

The Bournemouth game is still fresh in the mind and it was a question of which Arsenal would start the game on Saturday night. Unfortunately the start was slow and after conceding an early goal it was a worry as to how many goals Preston would score.

To say the team rode their luck is an understatement but rode their luck they did and having survived up to half time at just one goal down it worked in the Gunners favour. Arsene’s team talk at half time is probably one of the easiest he has had to make in his time at the club. The players will have known they were rotten but they had 45 minutes to prove they are far far better than the rubbish they displayed in the first half.

It needed a good start to get the belief back and it worked perfectly as Aaron Ramsey scored within a minute of the restart. 


The perfect way to deflate the momentum of belief the Preston Players had prior to the second half. It was a much better second half performance and once the equaliser went it you couldn’t help but think the winner would follow shortly. It didn’t exactly work out that way as it wasn’t until the last few minutes that Olivier Giroud finished off a quality back heeled pass from Lucas Perez to seal the tie and avoid an unwanted replay.


So into the fourth round draw the Gunners go, they made hard work of it but unlike against Bournemouth a winner was found. Olivier Giroud again the key man up front, he’s now in a run of form that makes him un-droppable. Arsene has a dilemma on his hands once he has a fully fit squad to pick from.

Danny Welbeck who it was great to see get a run out will add to the options up front. Hopefully a positive addition to the squad given the battle the club is in to gain silverware on three fronts this season.


The games will be coming thick and fast and the wheels have slightly come off the Arsenal train since the injuries started to build up so players returning (and hopefully a signing) will aid the Gunners as they march on. We are in the next round, the cup is out the way for now, focus now turns back to the Premiership where it is hoped the poor starts are a thing of the past and Swansea will be a team that wont get a chance to even test us as we stamp our authority from the first whistle. Enjoy your day  people!

 

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Big blow to Arsenal momentum despite 3 goal comeback

Yes it was a comeback; there are certainly some positives to list from salvaging a point from being three goals down but in the grand scheme of things the events of last night were a massive blow.

Losing ground yet again in the race for the championship only further strengthens the claims that maybe this Arsenal falls short on the required quality and strength to be genuine contenders. It should never be a case that Arsenal fans now sit down to watch a Spurs game in which a victory would be in their best interests. Yet here we are, not just falling behind in the race for first but now sucked back plump into a fight to stay in the top four. 

It can be argued that fixture scheduling has been unkind and Liverpool also suffered an away day set back due to the short window for recovery but on reflection you have to question why the effort to comeback couldn’t be applied prior to conceding three goals. Physical fatigue can handicap a performance but mental complacency cannot be excused. Watching the game in the first half you couldn’t help but notice a body language amongst the Arsenal players that screamed “rather be at home”. It’s never enjoyable to see the players not put in the effort and the final score at least showed signs of a change in attitude.



It’s fair to say some of the decisions went against us with the goals, the penalty was harsh and the third goal despite a pathetic show of strength from Bellerin was effectively a foul but no matter how much decisions go against you, you never give up. That’s what it looked like to me from the outside, a sort of acceptance that it wasn’t their day from a few players. To rub further salt in the wounds seeing Ramsey arguing with Sanchez on the pitch was plain embarrassing.

The team at the moment looks threadbare; admittedly Arsene Wenger’s team choice is forced given the loss of players to illness, injuries and international call ups. Maybe this game came at the perfect time given the transfer window has now opened. To be honest there is cover for most positions in the squad but how long can we continue without Santi Cazorla? The player is central to all our good play when Arsenal is firing on all cylinders. Without him there have been multiple combinations to plug the gap but none have quite filled the gap adequately.

 I am not sure how far Santi is from returning to the team but if the club has serious intentions to win the title this year than waiting for the injured star man to return rather than finding a sufficient replacement sums it up. I love Santi but the same thing happened last season and all our momentum derailed in his absence. There’s nothing to guarantee on his eventual return he may not break down again and that is why I feel business needs to be done to ensure a player is brought in to challenge Santi if not replace him. No one currently in the squad is of the level to fill the void and that there is the main problem.

The defence did have an off day but each of the back four have proven themselves this season,  the attack has brought the goals more often than not but the key department of the team which is the midfield engine room has been hit and miss. That extra bit of quality that separates Arsenal from being a good team to a serious title contender is missing and it needs to be addressed before the leading pack are too far out of sight by time the Arsenal get it together.

Please Arsene, make a signing to make us not miss Santi, I know it seems harsh but I honestly believe one of our biggest Achilles heel is the unbreakable bond of respect shown to players in the treatment room. Returning players become like a new signing way too often when in reality returning injured players become more like signing a new injury prone player.

OK, enough of the negativity. I will sign off by congratulating the team on coming back from three goals down, congratulate Olivier Giroud on his continuing to justify his inclusion with vital goals and assists, congratulate Sanchez on his vital goal and continuing to give his all despite being shunted from his central striker position and I would like to congratulate Lucas Perez on getting his first premiership goal and playing his part in the comeback.



Teams don’t often come from three goals down and to think that despite pulling back level Arsenal fans still felt disappointed that all three points weren’t gained shows the belief the fans have in their team. Rival fans will have to delay their visit to the Arsenal Fan TV YouTube page for another time.

For now, let’s hope things get put right with a win at Preston and away to a rejuvenated Swansea team. Until then enjoy your day people. 

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