Monthly Archives: September 2020

September 28th – Liverpool 3 Arsenal 1

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And I had thought we’d go through the season undefeated. How can we lose to such a lowly team as Liverpool? Devastating loss to a team in turmoil. If you can’t beat Liverpool at Anfield what chance is there for this club?

What did you expect? The players we have are not that different from those from last year. We started with Elneny and Xhaka in midfield. And yet, we stayed in this game for longer than I’d imagine. We kept the shape and the system in place for most of the game. Compared to prior years and the capitulation we’ve seen for so many years, this was, yet again, real progress. There are signs that we have a backbone.

This Liverpool team will murder so many teams this year. They are really quite impressive. There are very few weaknesses in that team. And yet, we could have drawn level if Cigarette would have lite up the net rather than bounce it off Allison. Of course, if Liverpool had taken all their chances they would have been well out of sight by then.

They are relentless, aggressive and talented. And we’re not. But then, 3 or 4 years ago they weren’t either. We can’t expect to be at their level. Not with some of the players we have. Arteta seems to have improved each player in the starting eleven perform better. That’s all he can do. But we need strengthening. Not in order to beat Liverpool but just in order to bolster this team. We need more competition in midfield. We need more creativity and we also need more defensive resolve. Declan Rice would be a nice fit 

Who would have predicted 2 months ago (or any time in the last three years) that Elneny would start at Anfield today. Not that he was too shabby and it’s not his fault we lost today. But it tells you something about the available talent as our disposal. Xhaka was pretty quiet today and maybe that’s because he was working so hard to defend. His forward pass that split their midfield helped create our goal. But thereafter, he was not able to contribute too much.

Maitland-Niles was just so hard-working again. He plays three positions simultaneously – a defensive wing-back, third full-back and attacking winger. Another impressive performance from him. He worked so hard to shut down Alexander-Arnold and nullify – as best anyone can – that threat. To think we might have sold him already. Give him another season to mature and develop a little more composure and he will become part of the backbone of this team.

Holding had his hands full with Mane; since leaving Southampton he has developed into a world class striker. He tormented Holding but Holding did really well against him. Holdings problem came with his poor distribution. But that’s usually because there were not sufficient options from his own players ahead of him. Elney and Xhaka rarely picked up the ball off the defense today. And that was dues to the relentless pressing we were under. There are very few teams as forceful and domineering as Liverpool – thankfully.

Willian was invisible today. A poor contribution but still superior than Pepe. For that second goal Willian should have been tracking back to mark Robertson. Though Bellerin was dragged into the middle too often for crosses, Willian should have done better. After that goal, Willian then did track back to defend another overlap. So maybe the lesson was learned.

Bellerin still suffers from position lapses; it’s a judgement issue with him. It’s not experience (or lack of) because he’s been around for long-enough. But then others – Luiz – suffer from this as well. He, in a homage to Mustafa, always attacked the play and is attracted to the ball. That’s what caused their first goal. He and Xhaka both fouled their players and got pulled out of position. Then Tierney got beaten on the inside. Today was not one of his best games for us. But then, again, the standard of the opposition will do that to you. I suspect we left Gabriel on the bench today because Arteta wanted Luiz’s distribution from the back to challenge the high-line of Liverpool. A number of his passes created some fear in their backline. Once with MN and then a few more with Willian. Unfortunately not too many for Aubameyang.

Aubameyang was very quiet today. He barely touched the ball. Most of his energy was spent chasing down their defenders and closing down their space. It’s not his fault. Only when Ceballos came on did we have some creative spark. That’s the reason why we need players in midfield with more diversity to their game. Who would have bet that it would be Xhaka to come off before Elneny? A fair decision based on performance but telling nonetheless. And, when they happened, we looked both sharper, more creative and yet more vulnerable to their counter-attack.

Pepe replacing Willian exposed both Bellerin and Holding. I’m really not sure this guy is ever going to make it in this league. As skillful as he is I doubt that he is physically tough enough (or mentally). Yes  he’s young so time is on his side but he’s been with us for a year now and I don’t see too much evolution. This game is much more physical than that in the French league. Against teams that give him space and sit back he’ll look excellent – against Crystal Palace or Newcastle. But against the better teams I doubt he’ll be able to contribute. That’s where we need Willian or an energized Nelson.

Overall, it’s hard to be too negative today. This is an impressive Liverpool team. We are clearly a work in progress. Arteta, yet again, deployed the right system, the right tactics thus allowing us to be competitive. Go back just a year and we would (if fact, were) demolished. This team is moving in the right direction. When you see the missteps (and luck) of a Chelsea and ManUnited, then there is an outside chance of the top four. But for that we need reinforcements. The defense if starting to take shape. Gabriel looks like a backbone addition to our team. We have enough center-halfs now. But, again, who would have predicted we could field such an organized and structure team without Guendouzi, Torreira and (even) Ozil? Three players who were central to the Emery (failed) era. We need to move them on so Arteta can restructure and continue the rebuild. As I’ve mentioned a number of times, he need 2+ transfer windows. He needs that balance of world-class players alongside our Hale End kids. He needs to maximize the opportunities for Aubameyang but having quality players unlock opposition defenses. Otherwise there was no point in re-signing our captain.

I remain relentlessly optimistic about this team now. Even though we lost, I have yet more belief in this manager and therefore this team. Even his after-match interview was reminiscent of the old days of Wenger. He was calm, rationale and realistic about the entire performance. He clearly understands our weaknesses and where we need to improve. We just need to give him the time and the players in order to do this.

I do wonder whether the lack of fans is helping Arteta. It removes the pressure from the players while they are having to make so many adjustments. And it allows him to instruct them from the sidelines without being drowned out by the noise. At this stage of both his career and at this stage of the team, that’s invaluable. And for the younger, less experienced players it allows them to play with less fear.

So, one more trip to Liverpool for the stupid Cup. I’ll watch it but really don’t care. Sunday versus Sheffield United is more compelling. This will be a chance to see whether we can create and dominate. Today was about defending and counter-attacking. Sunday will be completely different. It will be another opportunity to see some incremental progress. And that makes us worth watching again.

-LB7

September 19th – Arsenal 2 West Ham United 1

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And he’s back. By popular demand. Welcome to the new world order. Welcome to the new season. A few weeks after the last one. Welcome to Artetas world. Arteta knows best. On F. A. Cup later; nearly a year removed from the accountant. Arsenal have a team. A style. And some points.

Though we weren’t as lucky as we were when we beat this lot 1-0 last season, we certainty should consider our selves fortunate. But 2 wins in two games. Not too shabby that. One Community Shield (which ranks even lower than the NoHoppa Cup) and the prized F. A. Cup.

So, its’ good-bye Emil. And please take Kolinsac with you on the way out please. How depressing to see him starting. Let’s hope Tesco-boy makes a rapid recovery. That it’s the same hip injury that he had at Celtic is worrying. We need him back. We can’t afford for him to be injury prone. We need for Kolinsac to return to the Bundesleague. Post his give-away against Sp*rs, I’d hope we’d seen the last of him. He is a disgrace, a disaster, a dumb, defensively demented dreadful defender. Let’s give him away. I’d pay to ship him. I’d buy his ticket (one-way, coach only – no luggage and no prebooked seat, preferably using the middle seat in the back-row right by the toilets with no inclining chair). So Kieran, please come back quickly. Before Oct 5th. We can’t get in the way of this transfer.

On the other side I’d snap off any hand that offered in excess of £25 for Hector. Sure we should give him time to receive from his ACL. He’s one of more interesting personalities with many thought out perspectives and opinions. But on the pitch I’m not sure he’ll ever develop that much more. With Holding playing behind him it’s not surprising that both last week and this week, our creative play happens down the left.

And Holding, another lovable player, does not seem like he has the pace to be part of our long term defensive needs. We need him this year. Just until the new French kid learns to tie his own shoe-laces and is allowed out at night (unaccompanied).

That just leaves our new Brazilian. Two games in and you have to think we’ve caught a good one. Assured and technical with just a touch of physicality, Gabriel could be part of our defense for many years. Dare I say he has a Koscielny like presence about him. He could be our own Van Gabriel. And he’s young. He is certainly no Sokratis nor the much missed Mustafa. This one is a keeper (well, a center-half actually).

Next week the real opposition turn up. We will have to revert to our F. A. Cup winning strategy. Everyone behind the ball, hunker-down and wait for the counter-attack. And by then, hopefully, we’d have consigned Kolinsac to the road-side pickup. TO be placed is some smelly, dumpster.

I’m also wondering whether Pepe might be headed in the same direction. Willian was not as involved today – it’s hard when you’re playing in front of Hector. But he’s still superior to Pepe. Even when he came on for 15 minutes, he still failed to get past WHU full-backs. He still looks all flair and no substance. A luxury player who will score third goal in a 3-0 victory but never the goal to turn a loss into a draw or a draw into a win. Unlike young Eddie. Hard working and purely opportunistic. Less gifted but more effective. Right place at the right time. Our own little fox-in-the-box. Remember that obsession over a decade or so ago? Only took us 20 years to replace Franny Jeffers. But Eddie is not as ugly and way more effective.

That’s two goals on the bounce for Cigarette. Someone has lite him up in front of goal. But, overall, I thought his contribution was pretty weak today. Too often he under hit his passes or failed to take the chances he was presented with. Not that they were clear cut but each time he’s need one too many touches. But he scored so, thank you nonetheless.     

It’s was good to see Saka back on the left. He is a bright spark and clearly part of our long-term solution. WHU did an effective job in closing down his space today but he still worked hard, defended well and attempted to create. Overall, our creative play was too slow and too square. Both goals involved Saka. The few times we played vertical not horizontal. It’s no coincidence both goals involved him and came down the left.

Xhaka was not at his best today. Too many errant passes. Too many times nearly getting caught in possession. Against a better team that will be punished. But, thankfully, it was only West Ham. Ceballos and he did not create enough and should have increased the tempo of the game. But, again, Ceballos, was involved in the winning goal. He works so much harder than he did under our prior Accountant.

Two wins now, two more than this time last year. And we have a shape, a set of tactics. And, more importantly, a manager. Not a coach. But a manager. We lost Raul. We lost Ivan. And we lost our accountant. But we gained a manager. We find the soul of our club. We finally had a direction. A purpose. Something to believe in. And a trophy. Someone we managed to dodge abject failure last season. Qualifying for Europe was a minor miracle. And given what we were like up to November, thoroughly undeserved. But it was a live-saver. It meant we could keep our talisman, our leader and the future golden boot winner, Aubameyang. I remember when we signed him, scratching my head wondering why we needed another striker when we already had Cigarette. But after more or less singlehandedly winning the semi-final and then final in addition to his countless goals, it’s clear it was mandatory that we could keep him. No more Van Persie departures of a captain. And, again, step forward MA to accept the plaudits for that.

This is all part of the resurrection of Arsenal. The rebuild is well in hand. This year won’t take us to the promised land. But within a couple of more transfer windows we will be there; back competing for the premiership with Man City and Crystal Palace; world beating Crystal Palace! Arteta needs time. It’s a wonder what he’s achieved with so little. That midfield needs a rework though. A box to box midfielder. Some more creativity. And a real defensive midfield player. Ideally all wrapped up in one player.

Torreira seems headed for the exit. I always enjoyed watching him play. Emery killed this guy. Confidence is fragile. And for a period, he was that dominant defensive midfield player. Our little Kante. Until Emery bore him to death with his numbers and spreadsheets. And know, with the more technical approach of MA, he’s not going to cut it. The few times he played, his link-up play and distribution were exposed. But I also felt he was trying too hard. He’d lost his way, his confidence and therefore dashed around too much and was a little out of sorts. He needs a stable, consistent run in a team to rediscover his ability. He’s just not going to get that at Arsenal. And we could do with some filthy luca – we need the money.

I am an optimist by nature. Or just simple in the head. Maybe the latter is a requirement for the former. Either way, I’m am optimistic about our future. Whereas under the accountant I was always looking for signs of progress and development, some indication we were moving in the right direction. Under Arteta I know. He is the one. If I honestly had to rank the best PL managers I’d start with Klop then Pepe followed by Arteta; I’m that optimistic. With the youth coming through and the cleaning out of the dross (Kolinsac, Ozil etc) we have a bright future. But that means we also have to be a little patient. We were fortunate to grab the three points today (though last season we would have found a way to lose).  Next week will demonstrate how much further we have to develop. But we know that. We are not at the level where we can really compete; remember it took Klopp five years. We need three years. This season will, at times, test our resolve. We will find ways to throw away points; we will be outclassed by the best teams. But, as we proved at the end of last season, we will compete and fight. We will have the right tactics even if we don’t have the right players. Yet. But we have the right manager.

Oh it’s good to be back

-LB7