review / Wolves 0-2 Arsenal - Gunners Continue Winning Streak Against Impressive Wolves Side
Arsenal refound their groove in spectacular fashion, as the Gunners defeated a much-fancied Wolves side 2-0.Goals from Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette were enough to see off Nuno Espirito Santo’s team, but that was far from the whole story. Chances missed and some tough calls from Mikel Arteta led to this victory.Our Spanish boss made the call to include David Luiz in the lineup. With our opponent starting as the favourite, it meant all eyes would be on this call. If Luiz made an error, Arteta could have his judgement called into question.Saka also kept out record signing Nicolas Pepe from the lineup and Arteta continued with his midfield experiment, with Tierney, Kolasinac and Soares all taking turns to convert from wing-back to a more diverse responsibility.It was Wolves who started the stronger and as expected, Adama Traore was in the thick of things. His effort in the first minute was saved by Martinez – an early warning.Wolves were looking the stronger, but as the favourite and the home side, the onus was on them to produce and create.We slowly started to assert ourselves though, and key to that was the work that both Ceballos and Xhaka were putting in. It was leading to sniffs at goal, with the final touch just lacking.Then, around the half hour mark, Saka was inches away from sliding in Auba, but a timely interception stopped what would be a certain goal. Then, mere minutes later, we came even closer, with Nketiah taking it early, a la Wrighty, and his half-volley toward the near post was uncomfortably saved by Patricio onto the post.Then, a minute before half time, we struck a hammer blow – and what a goal it was. Tierney was put in out wide by Auba, and his first time cross was low and deflected up. Fortunately, boy wonder Saka followed the flight of the ball, adapted his body and thumped in a sumptuous volley that left Patricio no chance.It gave us the lead on the half time whistle, and we had matched Wolves for the most part – and crucially, created the better chances. Given that Wolves hadn’t conceded for well over 400 minutes, that is nothing to be sniffed at.Saka’s first PL goal was the difference, and it fired up Wolves, who came out in the second half in the ascendancy. Plenty of ball, but no end threat however. We were holding firm.It prompted changes from both Nuno and Arteta, with Jota coming on for Wolves, and Maitland-Niles coming on for Tierney.Then, two crucial moments.First, David Luiz made a last-ditch block on Jota with the goal looking likely, and then Traore was clean through, but his attempted chip over the onrushing Martinez went just over the bar.We were living dangerously, with Wolves baring their teeth. We were struggling to get the ball for prolonged periods of time. With around fifteen minutes left, Arteta threw the dice, with Willock coming on for Saka, and Bellerin on for Soares.Two more subs were then made, with Lacazette coming on for Nketiah and Torreira making his first appearance since the lockdown, coming on for Ceballos.And it would be two subs who would clinch the points for the visiting Gunners.Willock was out wide and his ball into the box was straight to Laca’s feet. The French striker used his first touch to put the ball to his left, he turned his man and smashed his effort past Patricio.It was a fabulous goal and a timely reminder of what Lacazette brings to the team.It was also the winning goal, in a match where we were the underdog.Some great performances for this game, what can Arteta build on?Options are crucialNketiah deserved his start, but Arteta made a change when the game started to change and brought on Willock and Lacazette – who both combined for the second goal. Maitland-Niles solidified things a little when he came on, and we seem to have ample back up in a fair amount of positions. It is important to have able options that can change matches – exactly what happened here.Sign AubaReportedly £250k a week. That’s how much Auba wants. He didn’t score here, but how he developed the build-up at times was great to see. Far more than just a goal machine – how much would he cost to replace?Tough Run – but full of confidenceThis win couldn’t have come at a better time. With games against Leicester, Liverpool and the North London Derby coming up, we needed this boost. We should have enough belief to go into these games with confidence – and our side is far better with a bit of swagger.Luiz played well!The Brazilian has performed well at times this season, but his mistakes overshadow this! During this game, he dealt well with Jiminez and didn’t let us down. Credit where its due.Next up is our fixture against Leicester City. Another tough game.Have your say, rate our performances here.
column / A love letter to Bernd Leno, my Arsenal player of the season
When Neal Maupay charged Bernd Leno last weekend, I was alone in my living room. I watched Leno collect the ball for which he’d come out to the edge of his box. I said out loud, “Oh no,” when Maupay then ran into him with all the momentum of a school physics problem: if Object A is travelling at x miles per hour in a forward direction, and Object B is using his arms to catch y object at the apex of his jump, what is the probability that someone is going to get hurt?Leno’s injury will cause him to miss the rest of this season, but I am thankful that the setback is not as serious as initially feared. I think that, as Arsenal fans, the specter of career-changing injuries is always on our minds: from Aaron Ramsey to Eduardo, from Abou Diaby’s persistent struggles to Santi Cazorla nearly losing his leg to infection. Tired stereotypes of German stoicism aside, I genuinely can’t remember ever seeing or hearing Leno express pain the way he did last Saturday at Brighton when he was stretchered off the pitch.I’ve been watching Leno play football since talent and circumstance conspired to push him into the spotlight at just 19 years old. Back in 2011, Leno was on loan from VfB Stuttgart at Bayer Leverkusen, whose established no.1, Rene Adler, was sidelined by a long-term injury. Within a couple weeks, Leno had kept three clean sheets in his first three games. A month after that, he became the youngest German goalkeeper to ever play in the UEFA Champions League when Bayer Leverkusen took on Chelsea in a group stage match. By November, Leno had cemented his place not just as Adler’s stand-in but as the club’s long-term solution; Leverkusen signed Leno permanently for €9 million that November, and he would remain their no.1 for the next seven years.When Arsenal signed Leno for €22 million in 2018, I was excited. Now, I was under no illusion that he was the greatest of any list you can make on goalkeeping: years of playing for a club that didn’t really know how to defend—and who, at one point, didn’t even have a goalkeeping coach—had hindered Leno’s development as a goalkeeper. But his talent and temperament remained: teammates recall that, even at 19, Leno exuded calmness and maturity. He had the reflexes, but more importantly one could argue, he had the steady temperament of a veteran keeper far beyond his years. So perhaps it’s no wonder that Leno’s goalkeeping role model is not Jens Lehmann or Petr Cech or other veteran keepers he’s trained alongside, but rather Iker Casillas. “He’s calm and no-nonsense,” Leno says of Casillas. “I’m the same. I don’t have to make a show of myself to stand out.”Since arriving in North London, Leno hasn’t made as big a splash as you might expect for a marquee, sea-change goalkeeper signing (say, the way Kepa has). Arsenal’s perennial defensive woes have something to do with it. But the other part of it is that Leno does his job quietly, calmly, and good goalkeeping doesn’t always draw attention because an effective negative tends to be most effective at its most invisible. Leno has made 113 saves in the Premier League this season, which is second only to Martin Dubravka who has made 116. Leno’s 70.6% save rate this season may not seem that impressive at first glance, but you also have to consider the quality of the shots coming at the keeper: better quality shots are harder to save. When the outfield players are allowing the opposition to take high xG shots, you can expect a goalkeeper’s save percentage to take a dive. What’s more, Arsenal have conceded on average a whopping 14.8 shots per game, which is the kind of number you might expect to see from a team battling relegation. The fact that Arsenal are instead sitting pretty within touching distance of a European berth is something that we as fans shouldn’t take for granted.Advanced goalkeeping stats tell a better story: the quality of shots Leno has faced this season has led to a PSxG± of +7.3. This stat, post-shot expected goals minus goals allowed, takes into account the xG of the shot and therefore better measures a goalkeeper’s ability to actually add value to a game by stopping quality chances. Among goalkeepers who have played more than 15 games this season, Leno’s PSxG± of +7.3 is third in the league behind only Vincente Guaita with +8.7 and Martin Dubravka with +8.8. (Hugo Lloris is another leader in PSxG± with +7.7, but due to injury he missed a large chunk of the season so a direct comparison is harder to make against keepers who have played the full season.)But of course, it is not just shot stopping that defines a good keeper in the modern game. The sea change that we’ve all been talking about the past few years is Arsenal learning as a team to play out from the back. The concept will elicit mixed feelings in some, I know. But like it or not Arsenal are doing it—and Leno has been a huge part of that. A goalkeeper’s passing stats are always hugely dependent on the team style, and speaks more to coaching than anything else. A keeper who plays for a team with a high possession short passing style will have better stats than a keeper who plays for a team that relies on long balls and an old fashioned counter-attacking style. With that in mind, Leno’s stats this season show that his marked weakness is in long balls: he recorded a league low of just 28.1% completion of passes over 40 yards. However, Arsenal and Leno play some of the shortest balls out the back among the entire league, with Leno delivering an average pass length of just 31.9 yards. The only goalkeeper in the league with shorter average passes? Manchester City’s Ederson.For comparison, Rui Patricio has one of the better long pass completion percentages in the league at 47.4%, and his average pass length is 44 yards. An even longer passer is Lukasz Fabianski, who currently holds a 50.1 yard average pass length while maintaining a respectable 43% completion rate.It’s not surprising to me that, at the time of his injury, Leno was WhoScored’s top-rated goalkeeper of the season with an average 6.88 rating. Behind him are Martin Dubravka, Vincente Guaita, Kasper Schmeichel, and Alisson. Of course player ratings are notoriously inaccurate, depending on where you get them, and also for the simple fact that one number (to one decimal point) hardly captures the complexities of what happens on a football pitch. But there's no doubt that Leno’s injury is a blow to the team. While I am very much looking forward to seeing what Emi Martinez can do with this chance he’s been given, losing Leno for the rest of the season is a hard thing to swallow. The vagaries of chance and injury are ever-present in football, sure. But the fact that Maupay went on to make headlines not for what he did to Leno, but for a quick sound-byte on how Arsenal had it coming to them—and the fact that Martin Atkinson chose to look the other way, not even issuing a card to Maupay for blatant player endangerment—and, what’s more, the ensuing fan discourse on how Maupay “didn’t mean it”, or how Arsenal players of old would have done the same to opposition keepers—all of it leaves a bad aftertaste. The travesty of Atkinson’s refereeing is a long topic for another day. As far as the narrative among fans has gone, all I can say is: an Arsenal player doing something wrong is still wrong. And most importantly, the question of intention has no place in this discussion: if a driver takes a careless turn and hits a pedestrian, “I didn’t mean to hit that person” is not an acceptable excuse. Similarly, if a player performs a dangerous action leading directly to another person’s injury, then intent is secondary and there must be consequences—from the match officials, from the club, and in the court of public opinion—not least so that this kind of situation stops happening. Because next time, Bernd Leno—or whichever goalkeeper encounters another Maupay—might not be so lucky.For now, I only hope that Leno’s recovery goes well and that this injury doesn’t result in long-term consequences for his career. He has progressed nicely as a goalkeeper since coming to Arsenal, and this season especially Leno has provided the kind of stability that the team very much needed during this time of upheaval and change. Despite the fact that he will miss the rest of the season, Bernd Leno must be a top contender for Arsenal’s player of the season, and with good reason. The team needs him to come back and deliver the same performances again next year.
column / Win, draw, or lose, wear your Arsenal shirt with pride
On Wednesday night, after 102 days of no Premier League football, Arsenal will finally be back on our screens as they face the regular daunting task of facing the defending champions, Manchester City. The reason of why that is daunting couldn't be clearer; Man City have won their last six games against us in all competitions. If we whittle that down to the Premier League only, you have to go back to 2015 for the last time we beat them, in a game where Mathieu Flamini helped defend the back four of Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal against the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Strange times indeed. Even Joel Campbell played, for goodness sake. We won 2-1.Since then in all competitions we haven't managed to beat them in 90 minutes (we did beat them in extra-time in the 2017 FA Cup).However, things are different now. We have a manager who used to be Man City's right-hand man to the current City manager, a man who used to play for our club, won silverware here and is instilling his philosophy under the team.You can hear more about my optimism about us possibly getting something from our game in hand against City when I made an appearance on The Headline Makers on the March 3! (It's been a while!)." style="height: 522px;">But none of this actually matters. There is something greater at play at Arsenal right now that I just wanted to share with you.It's been a long and hard three months. People have been laid off their jobs, have less income, lives have been lost because of the worst pandemic in 100 years. Taking it's toll on the National Health Service here in the UK.Not only has this changed every aspect of people's lives but the realisation that not all of us are equal when it comes to life, based on the colour of our skin, has also been in the news recently. With protests over police brutality in the US, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a talking point. Which is why I was more than overjoyed when Arsenal released they would be wearing this shirt against Man City." style="height: 518px;">There is a lot more Arsenal Football Club can do. The fact that we are owned by a man who gave $1million to Donald Trump's inauguration (even though he also gave $100,000 to Hilary Clinton's US 2016 presidential campaign- hedging bets anyone?) is a biggie. But usually owners of massive football clubs who have a mass amount of wealth aren't generally good people. But with Arsenal even bringing awareness of the causes, causes that most of their players believe in, it's worth more than it's weight in gold. It's also worth noting all the charitable work The Arsenal Foundation have put in during these last three months, making sure the most vulnerable in the community have had food as well as basic supplies and educational resources.The club I've been brought up in, showing the same morals as I do, to look out for the vulnerable, not shying away from something like Black Lives Matter movement (which is important as someone who is mixed-race), means a lot to me. So while I'm expecting a draw on Wednesday, I'll be wearing my shirt with pride.
column / Football’s Coming Home....The Arsenal are Back
So, it’s finally here, ladies and gentlemen! Tomorrow, The Arsenal are back in action, as we take on Manchester City in the Behind Closed Doors Premier League at the Etihad.I’m sure I’m not the only one that, just a few short months ago, had this romantic notion that the end of lockdown would be this one magical moment, when the whole world emerge ceremoniously from their homes in unison, rejoicing at the defeat of the evil Coronavirus. Street parties, hugging strangers, licking train and bus seats…the lot.In years to come, people would ask "“where were you when lockdown ended?”Football, of course, would be a part of that ceremony, returning with great fanfare - with the first whistle of the first game going down as a significant moment in our history.In years to come, people would ask you where you were at the precise moment Granit Xhaka shanked the first pass a footballer had made on football’s return from the wilderness into row Z. The moment we knew that The Arsenal were back. The reality is unfortunately, but necessarily, something else.Instead we have had gradual easing of lockdown (there are not two words in the English language that you could use, after the turmoil of the last few months, more underwhelming than “gradual easing” are there?), and the only thing coming close to resembling anything ceremonious is when the doors to Primark opened.As far as football goes, there will be no fanfare – there will be no fans there.The pubs are still closed as well, so there’s no popping out for a couple of hours to watch the game.Instead, some of us will have to adjust our match day routines. That’s not a problem though is it? Most of us have gotten used to completely adjusting our day-to-day lives over the last few months as it is.A quick note to anyone that is able to go out and watch the game in a bar or pub. If you’re one of those lucky bastards, it’s probably best that we don’t talk to each other until I’m able to do the same. Nothing personal, let’s just leave it there.Yes, many of us are going to have to embrace the return of The Arsenal in the confines of our own home. Even if you don’t have to change your routine as far as physically watching the match goes, I do think that behind closed doors football will still have that edge missing from it. They can pipe crowd noise into your stream as much as they like, but it still won’t be the same as an Arsenal matchday crowd!With that in mind, here’s a little guide I’ve put together if any of you wish to use it to try and simulate a regular matchday.Most of this is based on my own experience and matchday routines, but you might be able to relate to some of it. If not, feel free to join in anyway, it’s not as if you have anything better to do on a Wednesday night.I would advise trying to rope other members of your household into joining in with this. Even if they have no interest in watching the game, there is every chance that they will join in just to humour you, if only due to a genuine fear of your increasingly odd behaviour over the last few months without football.The Behind Closed Doors Premier League Pre-Match Experience For me, it’s always the pub. Always has been since I was old enough to drink (that’s 14, right?)Of course, that idea is out of the window for now, so here’s how you can recreate this part of the pre-match ritual at home.Firstly, find a room in your home that you’re not watching the game in.Walk around your home for a while texting the other members of your household and arrange to meet them in the room you’ve nominated.Arrive ten minutes late and moan about how busy it is.Once there, it’s not as easy as just sitting or standing there with an alcoholic beverage in your hand. Not if you really want to recreate the matchday pub atmosphere. This is where it becomes tricky, because current social distancing guidelines certainly don’t allow for you to have a few hundred people in your home.Also, you can’t just walk up to the fridge and get yourself a beer. Where’s the fun in that??Nominate someone as a bartender and set something up as a bar. A table would be ideal, but if that’s not possible, I’m sure you’ll be able to improvise.Then, get everyone else in your home to stand in a line in front of you (come on, it’s rare that you’ll just walk straight up to the bar and get served ain’t it?)Once there is only one person left in front of you, get another one of them to push in front of you, then let out an expletive under your breath, before holding your money or card out ever further, until you are almost over the makeshift bar.Once you do get served, all drinks must be poured into a plastic glass, rendering it flat as a pancake, in a state that you wouldn’t usually drink it, but it’s a matchday and you would drink a pint of elephants piss if you were told it would get you drunk.Once you have your drink, get your friends to stand so close to you that you may as well be wearing the same pants. Spilling of drink is not a problem here, in fact it’s encouraged if you really want to recreate the pre-match experience. If you haven’t got beer on your trainers before kick-off, is it even football?Once you have repeated this a few times, you need to work out how long it takes you to move from your makeshift pub to the TV. Let’s say for this example that it takes 30 seconds. Exactly 40 seconds before kick-off, get yourself another drink and chuck it down your neck. This should give you the desired 30 seconds to get to your destination. The problem here is that you really should have a quick trip to the toilet before you leave. Do this, then hurry to the TV room, doing that half-run, half-walk thing, arriving at your seat just as the game kicks off.The Behind Closed Doors Premier League Stadium Simulator To be honest, by now, after all of these stressful, depressing football-free weeks, you can be forgiven for just sitting down and watching The Arsenal again. I know we’re not out of the woods yet as far as the pandemic goes, but I think we all need this welcome distraction.For that reason, I won’t dictate to you how you should go about this, but if you do want to continue to recreate the matchday experience, here are a couple of pointers for you….The angry man behind you - If you have kids, get your least favourite child to sit behind you and shout abuse at a player of your choice every ten minutes (Ozil is usually a good one for this.)If you don't have kids, then the friend or family member that you dislike the most will do. After around the third time, start turning round and glaring at the little shit. Increase the intensity of your glare each time, muttering the word “c**t” when turning to face the game again. Depending on how the game is going, the choice is yours as to whether you stand up and tell your child / friend / family member to “f**k off and support Tottenham then!” or words to that effect.Toilet Breaks – You’re in your own home, you’ve had a few beers before the game, you can pee comfortably whenever you like, right?Wrong.Look, there’s no point doing this at all if you’re not going to do it properly. If you must go, be sure to squeeze past your housemates, maybe treading on a couple of toes along the way. Again, your friends or family can help by doing one of those little half smile, eyebrow raise things that in body language actually means “for f***s sake….”If you can hold it until half-time, then just sit there tapping your feet, but be warned – this will most certainly effect your enjoyment of the game, as the only thing you will be able to concentrate on is not pissing yourself in your seat, thus never being able to attend a match again.As for the rest of it, you don’t really need me to remind you of how it goes, do you? It may have been a while, but I’m sure after a few minutes, it will be like it never went away.Should we lose, the Twitter meltdown is going to be EPIC. There will be a lot of people that have been storing up their anger to unleash on social media since March. That’s a whole lot of anger, my friends. It’s going to be a sight to behold!We may never have that “where were you when lockdown ended?” moment, but at some point in the coming weeks, I’m sure we most certainly will have our very own “where were you for Arsenal Twitter’s first meltdown when football came home?” moment….Enjoy the game, people!Up The Arsenal
column / Is it time for Arsenal to bring Aaron Ramsey home?
After just one season in Italy, Aaron Ramsey is on the move again as Juventus signaled this week that the midfielder is available for transfer. The club cite financial concerns due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as the reasoning behind this decision. Fans will remember that Ramsey never managed more than a bit role during his stint in Turin. Across 24 games for Juventus, Ramsey played a total of 1,097 minutes—which comes out to an average of just 45 minutes per appearance. For comparison: Ramsey averaged 67.8 minutes per game for Cardiff City, and 64.9 minutes per game for Arsenal. For even more context: super-sub Olivier Giroud averaged 49.6 minutes per game in his appearances for Chelsea.Numbers lie all the time, of course. But when it comes to dozen substitute appearances for a £400,000/week salary, the numbers just don’t add up—not even if you’re Juventus FC, the sharkiest shark in the Italian football shark tank, free-wheeling masters of the free transfer, making it rain while rolling through title after domestic title. Which is a long way of saying: of course Juventus were going to let Ramsey go. The writing’s been on the wall for months. And that brings us to the hot topic of the day: should Arsenal bring Aaron Ramsey home? Put it another way: should Arsenal splash some cash to re-sign a player that they let go on a free transfer last year? Where’s the line between quitting while you’re ahead, and swallowing the price of your past mistakes?What makes the heart grow fonderOne can’t help but think that at least part of today’s debate is motivated by the second-hand guilt that fans felt at the way Arsenal let Ramsey go. You may have heard of the behavior known as Basking In Reflected Glory (BIRG, or BIRGing). It’s one of the basic behaviors of sports fans: boasting about your chosen team’s successes and making that joy your own. The converse of BIRGing is CORFing—or Cutting Off Reflected Failure, as you might do with a particularly obnoxious relative or, say, institutionalized racism, which makes you look bad by association. The CORFing mechanism doesn’t operate quite the same for sports fans, however: fans tend to feel their team’s disappointments just as personally as they do the glories. Go sideways from this theoretical framework and you can see how such identification with a club, and with a player as beloved as Ramsey, makes Drowning In Reflected Shame just as plausible.The circumstances of Ramsey’s departure from Arsenal were less than ideal, to say the least. Those months of rumors and recrimination never gave us a satisfying answer of just what the hell Ramsey was asking that was so unacceptable that Arsenal would rescind a contract offer and let one of their most talismanic players walk away for free. “He was asking for too much money,” is the line that most will adopt when defending the club’s actions. Which seems fair enough, until you factor in the opportunity costs involved in releasing a player of Ramsey’s quality—not the least of which the immense financial blow that is missing out on Champions League for yet another season—the money argument looks short-sighted at best and an outright lie at worst. No, there’s no guarantee that Ramsey’s presence would have secured a top four finish for Arsenal. But the absence of a hardworking, goalscoring, turns-up-for-big-games-like-clockwork midfielder has certainly not helped Arsenal in their quest for redemption following Unai Emery’s ill-fated tenure.Fiscal responsibility, and other lies Ivan told youMuch of the blame (if we’re assigning blame) will fall to the coach’s system, and to the board and owner’s anemic interpretation of ambition. Balancing the books and fiscal responsibility are well and good in the realm of theory. In the realm of reality, professional men’s football at Arsenal’s level is a game like Monopoly, i.e. where money is fake. For all that he operates like one, Stan Kroenke isn’t some penny-pinching homemaker trying to stretch a stimulus paycheck as far as it’ll go. At the Premier League level, spending money generates value in and of itself—as the examples of Chelsea and Manchester City have demonstrated. Even if expenditure doesn’t generate on-field success, marquee signings and naked financial ambition elevate the club’s brand. The justification for handing Neymar or Eden Hazard a blank check is not that they will win you everything in sight (though they’ll probably help). Sporting success isn’t guaranteed, no matter how much is spent, but brand success ties directly into that ability to trot out all-star lineups and bang the publicity drum. Real Madrid have been doing it for decades.I won’t argue that this should be Arsenal’s modus operandi, because I disagree with it on every level imaginable. This is just to say: arguments that begin and end with “Arsenal can’t afford to do that, financially” hold about as much water as a Danaïdean sieve. It’s absurd to claim the club should be some model of self-sustaining, responsible capitalism while operating in a decidedly irresponsible capitalist football framework, from which the owner himself has profited so immeasurably. Responsible, self-sustaining operations would dictate policies in the direction of member-based democratic decision-making, horizontal ownership structure, and investment in every level of the club: not just the highly-paid executives, players, and coaches, but also match day workers, support staff, media managers and interns, not to mention the women’s side. Talking about financial responsibility while ignoring the unjust economic practices that underpin the club’s business is like protecting your hardwood floors from water damage while the house is on fire.Aaron Ramsey 2020? So where does that leave us with regards to a potential Ramsey homecoming?It’s not news to anyone that Arsenal have been hurt by the lack of goal scoring ability in midfield. Whatever else you might say about his ability or lack thereof, Ramsey has always been able to make the late runs and provide that additional goal threat. That, combined with Ramsey’s identification with the club—and fans’ intense identification with him—makes a sound case for bringing him back on board. But bringing Ramsey back, and for a net loss at that, will amount to nothing less than a public admission by Arsenal that they made a huge error letting him go in the first place. Not much has changed at the executive level since Ramsey left, so the club won’t even have that excuse to fall back on. This is not a case of a young player going to another club to get some playing experience and prove himself worthy, before returning in glory to the club he wanted to play for all along (see: Philipp Lahm’s loan spell at VfB Stuttgart from 2003 to 2005). Ramsey proved all he needed to prove during his time at Arsenal. He established himself as a fan favorite, a consummate team player, and a reliable constant during even the most turbulent times. The only thing that would be proven by this potential return would be just how badly Ramsey’s 2018/19 contract negotiations were mismanaged.Then there’s the question of whether Ramsey even wants to come back. Arsenal can’t offer him Champions League football. Arsenal can’t offer him the security or ambition that multitudes of other clubs—several of whom even have the budget to secure his services—could offer. What Arsenal are coming to the negotiating table with (if there is a table) is the kind of nostalgia that leaves so many ex-Gunners reminiscing about their time in North London. From Alexander Hleb naming leaving Arsenal as his biggest mistake, to Cesc Fabregas working overtime to rehab his image as an Arsenal legend despite dishing out the biggest betrayal the fans have seen in decades—there are some players that, for better or worse, just can’t let Arsenal go.Is Aaron Ramsey one of those players? The romantic would like to believe yes. The pragmatist says Ramsey is so notoriously reserved that there isn’t enough data to draw a conclusion. Ramsey isn’t like Wojciech Szczęsny, whose feelings on Arsenal are well documented: “The thing that sticks out not playing for Arsenal is, although when you lose it hurts just as much, when you win it doesn’t taste as good.” While Szczęsny continued to assert his identification with Arsenal—in banterous Instagram messages and heart-felt interview quotes—Ramsey has hardly mentioned Arsenal since his departure. (Notable exception: reposting his own “sit down he said” photo on Instagram, a year after his last North London Derby.)Arsene Wenger once said of Fabregas’ transfer to FC Barcelona that it was “an affair of the heart.” The decision to pass on Fabregas, once he left Barcelona, however, was a matter of practicality: by then, the Arsenal team was well on its way to evolving past the set-up built around one midfielder. Ramsey doesn’t hold the same position as Fabregas, tactically or emotionally. But Arsenal are also not the same team that turned down a former captain in 2014. With the departures of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, and Alex Iwobi in recent years, something of an emotional core has been gutted. There are arguments to be made for the relative efficacy of any of these players—but there can be no argument that they were a constant source of pride and identification for the fans. I’d argue that that kind of feeling is near priceless.The realist in me is not holding out much hope for a homecoming this summer, whatever Juventus’ and Ramsey’s asking price. It’s doubtful that the same Arsenal board that let Ramsey walk in the first place would be willing to admit fault and ask him back, as much as the romantic in every fan would like to see a happy resolution, a fix-it of sorts to a bittersweet farewell.
With the return of the Premier League quickly approaching, our squad seems to be in a healthy position. With the exception of Calum Chambers - who has only recently returned to the training field for light, off-the-ball rehab - everyone is available for selection. Lucas Torreira has recovered from the ankle injury that he picked up at Fratton Park on March 3rd, Héctor Bellerín is seemingly over his underlying knee injury and Kieran Tierney also appears to be fully fit at last. Our fixture list is very congested, and it is fair to assume that every member of the squad will be given minutes in which to prove themselves. The only player who could be a fixture in the XI on a weekly basis is Bernd Leno, but even that is not a guarantee. Mikel Arteta has a selection headache on his hands. Given our usually lengthy injury list, this is a pleasant change. Competition for places can only benefit the squad as a whole. Those who are chosen will have to perform at a high level. If they do not, they won’t play. It’s that simple. Throughout this article, I will examine each position in the 4-2-3-1 system that Arteta seems to favour, and give the lowdown on those competing, the strengths and weaknesses associated with each, and my verdict on who should be our preferred option. Some positions in particular are very tough to call, so my preference may be different to yours. If this is the case, feel free to let me know your thoughts on the issue in the comments section below. Goalkeeper. The first position is undoubtedly the most straightforward. Emiliano Martinez has proven himself to be a reliable number two throughout the season. When called upon, he has performed relatively well, he is very vocal and has played a key role in helping both Gabriel Martinelli and Pablo Marí adjust to life in London. So far this campaign, the Argentinian has kept 5 clean sheets in 11 starts, which is a respectable return - regardless of the quality of opposition. In terms of weaknesses, the 27-year old has a tendency to command his box - regardless of what the situation requires. This isn’t always an issue - in fact, it is often beneficial. However, it occasionally puts his defenders under added pressure. This certainly isn’t a regular occurrence, but it is potentially something for him to work on, nonetheless. Regarding Bernd Leno, our defensive woes have provided the German with the chance to prove just how good his shot-stopping can be. Often facing 10+ shots per game, the 28-year old has certainly earned his wages yet again this season. Since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen, he has been one of our standout performers. Over the past decade, the goalkeeping position has caused us problems. Personnel has changed, the outcome has not. However, since Leno’s arrival in July 2018, the goalkeeping position has progressed from an area of weakness to one of our biggest strengths. He is a fantastic shot-stopper, from both long and short range. In the Premier League this season, our number one has made 104 saves. Only Newcastle’s Martin Dúbravka has made more. His clean-sheet total of 8 from 30 is somewhat underwhelming, but I think we can all agree that this is largely down to the defence in front of him, rather than Bernd himself. If you keep on presenting your opponents with clearcut chances, they are bound to find the net sooner or later, regardless of goalkeeping heroics. There have been some mistakes along the way, but this applies to every goalkeeper in world football. Although Leno certainly needs to be wary of losing his concentration, he certainly makes up for his occasional errors. In terms of standout weaknesses, his long-range passing has seemingly regressed since his arrival. Perhaps it is down to the style of coaching. This is the only immediate area of concern. My verdict: I like Martinez, and think that he is underrated by some fans, but it is impossible to look past Bernd Leno for this one. Right back. There are three options for the right back position. The first of these is Cédric Soares. If I’m honest, I don’t know too much about his game. Although I have seen him in action for Southampton over the past few years, he only featured 4 times while on loan at Inter Milan, and it yet to feature for a single minute at Arsenal due to injury woes. From the outside, his arrival looked to be as a squad player. He can provide competition for Bellerín whilst allowing Maitland-Niles to transition into midfield. Perhaps I will be proven wrong, but I can’t see him featuring too often. Speaking of Ainsley, toying with the idea of midfield sums up one of the biggest problems associated with him. Namely, nobody seems entirely certain on his best position. Although he has had some solid displays at full-back, he has equally underperformed on many occasions. Many fans reminisce over his performance at Old Trafford in 2018 and wonder whether he is better suited to a role in central midfield. Maitland-Niles himself has repeatedly emphasized that he views himself as a winger, but his performances in that position have been equally inconsistent. Although he was very impressive against Liverpool in the League Cup, he was so poor against Vitória at the Emirates that he was withdrawn at half-time. We all know his strengths. He is athletic, his interplay is quite impressive and he offers great overlapping runs when playing at right back. However, his ability on the ball sometimes makes him lethargic with his distribution, and he can give away possession carelessly. The final option is Héctor Bellerín. Although his return from injury was eagerly anticipated by many fans, he has not lived up to those expectations as of yet. Despite a late equaliser at Stamford Bridge, the Spaniard has really struggled at times since returning to action. Arteta has since revealed that Héctor never fully recovered from the initial injury which kept him sidelined in December, so we have to hope that lockdown has provided him with the medium to return to full fitness at his own pace. Regarding his strengths, the most obvious is his blistering speed. Although he appears to have lost a yard since his injury, this is to be expected. Particularly in the case of an ACL injury, it can take players years to return to top speed - if they do so at all. However, an underrated aspect of his game is his passing ability. Not necessarily his crossing, but his interplay in general. Last season, he managed 5 assists in just 19 Premier League games. For context, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold had only recorded 3 in the same time period. This is not to suggest that he will be providing 10-15 assists per season like Trent does, but it proves that he can pick out a pass when necessary. I also believe that he is a better defensive player than Maitland-Niles. This is important in allowing the winger in front of him to have more freedom. In the case of Nicolas Pépé, this could prove key, as we know how effective he can be on the counter attack. Even if Bellerín’s presence allows Pépé/Nelson’s starting position to be 5 yards higher up the field, it could prove to be much more problematic for opposition defences. Another major positive is the leadership that Héctor provides on the field, as well as his constant communication with fellow defenders. In terms of weaknesses, he isn’t fantastic at winning aerial duels, and his one-v-one defending can be sloppy on occasions. However, I would argue that these same criticisms are applicable to the players that he is in competition with. My verdict: I would start Bellerín, push Maitland-Niles into midfield and use Cédric as a backup plan. He could prove to be very useful if Héctor’s previous injuries continue to negatively impact his performances. Centre backs. Since Arteta has arrived, our centre backs seem to have improved significantly. A mix of better coaching, a more functional system and rotations in personnel have led to the side picking up 7 clean sheets in 13 games so far in 2020. Comparatively, our last 7 clean sheets prior to this run span all the way back to April 15th, 2019. Collectively, we have improved, but which defenders provide us with the best chance of success going forward? The first candidate is David Luiz. Signed from Chelsea on deadline day, the move of the experienced Brazilian raised many an eyebrow. Everybody in football is fully aware that he is more than capable when in possession, but his quality off the ball isn’t quite as reliable. Given our frailties throughout the 2018/19 campaign, fans were understandably skeptical about his arrival. Initially, he really struggled - as did all of his defensive partners. The latter stages of Unai Emery‘s tenure were not pretty for anyone, and our defenders were certainly no exceptions. One could argue that any defender would have struggled in the same circumstances, but Luiz made some individual errors along the way, for example: conceding penalties against both Liverpool and Watford. However, since Arteta’s arrival, David’s performances have been top drawer. He has quickly emerged as the first choice central defender and his ball playing qualities are seen much more often under the new regime. A key figure in the dressing room, who is one of the biggest leaders in the squad. Love him or hate him, he has won everything there is to win at club level. Impressive aerially. Composed in possession. Strong in the challenge. The main concerns are his lack of mobility and his tendency to lose concentration at key moments in the game. If he can keep those to a minimum, he is in with a very good chance of starting and earning a new contract to boot. Option two is Shkodran Mustafi. If you had told me last September that Mustafi would be one of our most impressive performers in 2020, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, here we are. Arteta’s arrival provided the players with a clean slate. Regardless of your fortunes in the years gone by, you had an opportunity to have a fresh start. Mustafi was one of many players to benefit from this. He was introduced to the side as a result of injuries to both Calum Chambers and Sokratis. Since then, he has impressed. There was one error at Stamford Bridge that could have proven to be costly, but apart from that he has been almost faultless. The German is dominant in the air and gradually improving in his ground duels. However, the obvious concern remains: can he sustain this form? Or is it simply a purple patch? The answer to that question remains to be seen. I would like to think that his mistakes are behind him, but time will tell. Option three is another player who we haven’t seen too much of: Pablo Marí. The Brazilian joined on loan in January, but was in the middle of his pre-season, due to the alternate schedule of Brazilian football. As a result, his opportunities since arriving have been few and far between. We have only seen him feature twice - against Portsmouth and West Ham United. Although it is important to account for the fact that both sides are far from the finished article, Marí has largely been impressive. His debut came at Fratton Park, and he looked right at home. Next to David Luiz, he dealt with everything thrown at him with ease and demonstrated an impressive passing range too. Against West Ham, he made one poor judgement early in the game, but improved throughout and was key in earning another clean sheet for the team. This is a very small sample size to judge him on, but he has one quality that may force Arteta’s hand: he is left-footed. Our head coach has made it clear from the offset that he wants one centre back to be left-footed in order to improve the balance of the side, as well as accelerating our build-up and transitional play. As it stands, Marí is the only centre half at the club who ticks this box. As a result, he could find himself in the XI quite often. The fourth option is Rob Holding. The last year or so has been so disappointing for Holding. He was sporadically used throughout the 2017/18 season, but performed very well when recalled to the side by Unai Emery. Just when he appeared to be a fixture in the side, alongside Shkodran Mustafi, he picked up a severe injury at Old Trafford. His recovery took almost a full year, and he was undoubtedly missed throughout the latter stages of the campaign. If he had been available for selection in Baku, perhaps we could have seen a different outcome entirely. Nonetheless, that is all water under the bridge now. He eventually returned to action against Nottingham Forest in September 2019. He was given the armband, and went on to score the second goal in our 5-0 win. It was a great milestone for him, and filled fans with optimism for his future. However, he has failed to kick on since that game. Although opportunities haven’t been as frequent as he would like, Rob has struggled when he has been included in the side - even against the so-called lesser sides. As I mentioned earlier with Bellerín, it is common for players to struggle to return to their pre-injury performance level at first, but the biggest concern is that he has been back with the squad for almost six months, and there has been very minimal progress. I hope that he can prove me wrong, but I don’t see him being a starter for the remainder of the season.The final option is Sokratis. The Greek has predominantly been used as a right back since Arteta has arrived, but I think it is fair to say that he is more accustomed to a role in the centre. As well as that, the arrival of Cédric in January would perhaps suggest that Sokratis will not be a regular on the right-hand side. Although his performances have improved since Arteta’s arrival, I personally don’t feel like Sokratis will be part of the first XI. He has proven at times this season that he can perform to a high level, but his consistency is a huge issue. In the case of Luiz, he can sometimes make up for his defensive sloppiness with his quality on the ball, but Sokratis is not blessed with this luxury. With the fixture list set to be incredibly congested, it is fair to assume that almost all of the squad will feature at times, but I personally feel like Sokratis’ involvement will be less than that of his competition. My verdict: David Luiz is my first choice. Following that, I would opt for Marí and see how he performs. The side seems more balanced with a left-footed player on the teamsheet, and he is the only option who matches that criteria. If he is underwhelming, my next choices would be Holding and Mustafi. I would use Sokratis as a squad player, rather than a regular. Left back. Option one is Kieran Tierney. Although the Scotsman has been very unlucky with a run of injuries since his arrival, it is important that we remember just how good he can be at his best. Admittedly, the quality in the Scottish league is poor, but it has also produced the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson. Obviously, not all players who have made the transition from Scottish football to the English game have been success stories, but this pair prove that it is certainly possible. Regarding his qualities, Tierney is very quick, but also more than capable physically. Aswell as that, he has a fantastic final ball. When he has featured for us this season, this has been evident, with assists against Standard Liège and Vitória. For Celtic, he managed to provide 29 assists during his final three seasons with the club. His biggest weakness is exactly what has prevented him from featuring consistently since joining - his record with injuries. Hopefully the lockdown period has allowed the 23-year old to return to full fitness, and he can now kick on under the guidance of Mikel Arteta. The second and final option is Sead Kolašinac. You may be wondering why I am not mentioning Bukayo Saka in the race, but I believe that his long-term future lies further up the field, as I will come to later. Sead is another player who has been plagued by injuries recently, but we have seen what he has to offer in English football over the past three years. Physically, he is almost unstoppable. Offensively, he gets into great positions. However, his final ball can often let him down, and he is positionally suspect at the back. He has been linked with a move away by some media outlets, and this could potentially be beneficial for all involved. If Tierney can return to full fitness, I feel like Saka could provide adequate cover, if worst comes to worst - even though he is not natural to the position. The Bosnian earns an excessive wage and, given our financial situation, every pound counts. My verdict: Tierney starts. Kolašinac offers cover. Utilise Saka further forward, unless we suffer injury setbacks. Central midfield. It would appear that Mikel Arteta favours a system with two central midfielders: one defensive and one box-to-box. There are realistically four candidates between the two positions, as I have included Maitland-Niles earlier in the analysis. Although I would prefer to see him deployed in midfield, I don’t think that we will see it too often prior to the 2020/21 campaign. Option one is Dani Ceballos. The Spaniard’s loan spell has been extended to cover the remainder of the current season. He was largely ineffective during Unai Emery’s tenure, but a positional tweak from Arteta appears to be benefitting his game. Rather than utilising him as a number ten, Dani is now playing in a much deeper area. This means that we are less reliant on him to provide the killer pass, which is key. Although he is technically gifted, he is usually content with retaining possession rather than attempting the passes that we have seen from Mesut Özil during his time at the club. With the German ahead of him, Ceballos’ ball retention is much more important for the side. He wins the ball back and gives it to those who can make a difference in an offensive sense. The only issue with this new role is that he is not accustomed to having defensive responsibilities. It is important to note that he has certain defensive qualities but, in comparison to Lucas Torreira, the side looks more vulnerable through the middle upon his inclusion. The second option is Granit Xhaka. The Swiss captain is another player who has found a new lease of life under Arteta. His exit seemed inevitable, but he is now a key member of the squad and the XI itself. His passing range is impeccable - with the exception of occasional lapses in concentration. Defensively, he has come on a lot over the past few months, which is potentially down to him filling in at centre back and left back on regular occasions. Xhaka is a natural leader, and a proper team player. He sacrifices himself to allow the likes of Kolašinac and Saka to burst forward without leaving us susceptible to opposition counter-attacks. In my opinion, Xhaka has established himself as the club’s first choice midfielder over the past few months. Ceballos has improved, but he is only here on loan. Torreira started very well under Arteta, but has since seemingly fallen out of favour and Guendouzi’s attitude problem off the field is influencing his play time. As is the case for Mustafi, the biggest concern with Xhaka is sustaining his recent form. Since signing from Borussia Mönchengladbach, he has gone through many spells of impressive performances, but these have almost always been followed by poor displays and individual errors. It is absolutely crucial that Granit breaks this cycle and kicks on in the months to come. As mentioned above, Mattéo Guendouzi’s playtime has been sporadic since the arrival of our new head coach. He seems to be one of the only members of the squad who were performing at a higher level when Emery was in charge. His replacement has always placed a huge emphasis on representing the values of Arsenal Football Club - not just on the pitch, but in your day-to-day life aswell. Unfortunately, Guendouzi has not impressed him in that regard. There was apparently a warning in Dubai, and this was not the first time that he had to be spoken to. Of course, it is important to consider that Mattéo only recently turned 21, so a certain degree of immaturity is common for players that age. However, if he wishes to reach his potential and become one of the key figures at the club going forward, he must grow up quickly. He may have gotten away with it while Emery was in charge, but this is a new regime entirely. In terms of his qualities, he has a great passing range, carries the ball with little to no effort and wins fouls more often than almost anyone in the squad. Attitude aside, his biggest weakness is probably his defensive discipline. He is often inclined to chase the ball, which can leave his midfield partner exposed. He has also started to engage in simulation in recent months, which I sincerely hope is just a phase. Defending a young player through a dip in form is one thing, condoning cheating is another. The final option is Lucas Torreira. The Uruguayan was immense during his early days in London, but has failed to maintain this level of performance over the past year or so. Initially, Arteta’s arrival seemed to benefit him. The pivot of Xhaka and Torreira was working well but, since then, our head coach has opted for other players in central midfield - at Lucas’ expense. The confusion regarding his role in the squad has once again led to an influx of reports linking him with a move back to Italy. This has happened in the past too, but I am more concerned this time round. As it stands, the central midfield area is certainly one which we need to strengthen. Particularly with Dani Ceballos returning to Madrid. Thomas Partey has been linked by many publications, but we will have to wait and see how that pans out. Until then, I think it is important that we keep Torreira happy. The last thing we need is losing two midfielders, only for the Partey deal to fall through. Torreira is probably our most natural defensive midfielder, at the moment. He is strong in the tackle and disciplined positionally. He might not have the passing range of Ceballos or Xhaka, but he uses the ball relatively well nonetheless. My verdict: Xhaka as the first choice. Use Ceballos alongside him when we expect to dominate the ball. Use Torreira in Dani’s place when it is set to be a cagey affair/we are underdogs. Use Guendouzi as a squad player until he proves that he is willing to buy into the new way of thinking. Number ten. Another area which ideally needs addressing in the upcoming transfer window is the number ten position. With Emile Smith-Rowe on loan at Huddersfield, we find ourselves with only two realistic options: Mesut Özil and Joe Willock. Ceballos proved earlier in the season that the sole responsibility of creativity is a burden to him, and we have since realised that he thrives in a deeper role. As a result, I won’t be taking him into account in this discussion. Mesut Özil has always divided opinion. I, for one, believe that he has been a great servant to the club. He undeniably has his weaknesses, but I feel like some fans expect too much from him nowadays. While we all know that he has been far from his best this season, he has performed quite well under Arteta - all things considered. Mesut turns 32 in October. At the same age, many players move to an easier league, ahead of their retirement. Özil is still here. Still playing in the toughest league in the world, week in, week out. Ideally, we should be looking to replace him in the summer, but in the meantime we can’t. We all know his qualities, he retains the ball immensely and has superb vision. Although his assist tally is very underwhelming this campaign, he still has the ability to pick out passes that other players can only dream of. Similarly, we are all fully aware of his weaknesses. Defensive contribution doesn’t often enter the German’s thinking. In his defence, he has improved in this regard since the change of management, but it is certainly not one of his best qualities. He also has the tendency to fade in games which are more physically demanding. Despite his imperfections, we might have to use him on a weekly basis for the remainder of the season, due to a lack of alternatives. The only competition is Joe Willock. The youngster was a success story in the opening weeks of the season, but we have seen his confidence and performance level drop significantly in the time that followed. His opportunities have been limited to predominantly cup games since Arteta’s arrival, and he appears to be slowly but surely improving. As I mentioned in the case of Guendouzi, it is very normal for youngsters to face dips in form. We must stick by him. If we don’t, the chances of him reaching his potential in an Arsenal shirt are reduced significantly. I like Willock, but I don’t feel like he will be a starter too often in the weeks to come. He is definitely a good option to have, but I feel like a loan might be beneficial next year. He carries the ball very well and has a good eye for goal aswell, but he offers minimal defensive cover and struggles to create too many opportunities for his teammates. My verdict: although I acknowledge that his performances have often been sub-par throughout the course of the season, I feel like Özil has to start if we wish to deploy this system. It is more so down to a lack of options, rather than his recent displays. Hopefully he can continue to improve under Arteta. Willock could prove to be a great rotational option and late-game substitute. Right wing. There are two realistic choices for this position. The first of these is our record signing, Nicolas Pépé. The Ivorian has had a mixed first season in English football, but he was really finding his feet prior to the break. The instructions and encouragement of Arteta were seemingly benefitting the winger, and his performances improved accordingly. He is quick. He is powerful. He is incredibly technically gifted. His end product hasn’t always been perfect, but it is improving almost every week. He genuinely has all of the qualities required in order to be a resounding success in the Premier League. The issue is consistency. Admittedly, this isn’t solely his fault. The adaptation to three different managers has not made things easy for him. Nor have our collective struggles or the toxic atmosphere surrounding the club at times. Regardless, Pépé has been impressive in 2020, and I firmly believe that the best is very much still to come from him. Remain patient, stick by him, and he will prove to the doubters just how good he can be. Since arriving, Mikel has taken interest in the development of Reiss Nelson. Following his first game in charge, he had a lengthy talk with the Englishman as they returned to the dressing room. This wasn’t in a menacing manner whatsoever, quite the opposite. The Spaniard put his arm around him and was seemingly offering him encouragement following a mixed display. At Manchester City, Arteta had a key involvement in the development of both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané. Both players have addressed this publicly. With Reiss, perhaps he sees similar potential. Although he was unlucky with an injury in January, he has performed very well when called upon. The battle between him and Pépé for the right wing spot should be very interesting. Both players have great capabilities, and they should keep one another on their toes. If they face a dip in form, they know that they will be omitted from next week’s squad. This level of competition should bring out the best in both players. My verdict: personally, I think Pépé has to start initially. He was showing signs of real promise over the past few months, and he deserves the chance to carry on from where he left off. If he fails to produce, Nelson is a fantastic option to have. With the fixtures coming thick and fast, I am sure that both players will be provided with many opportunities to shine. Left wing. The left wing position is arguably the toughest choice of them all. Firstly, there remains the question of whether Aubameyang will be viewed as a striker or a winger by Arteta. Although I personally prefer him through the middle, our friendly against Charlton would perhaps indicate that we will be seeing our skipper operating from the left in the coming weeks. As a result, I will be including him in this section of the article, rather than that of the strikers. Option one is Bukayo Saka. Despite the majority of his games this season coming at left back, Saka’s future lies further forward. In a sense, his game has massively benefitted from the presence of Xhaka. The extra cover provided by the Swiss has essentially allowed the teenager to play as a secondary left winger, even when he lines up as part of a traditional back four. The return of Kieran Tierney could impact his playing time. As could the inclusion of Aubameyang in a wide position. Unfortunately, I feel like Saka’s weekly presence in the team may have to be put on hold for the time being. This is a shame, as he was excelling prior to the break. Perhaps I will be proven wrong, and he will continue in the XI, but Tierney seems to give more balance to the side. As well as that, excluding Aubameyang from the side is almost unthinkable. Saka has a great turn of pace, a fantastic final ball and the ability to beat a man with ease. No teenager in Europe’s top five leagues has provided more assists this season than the 18-year old. His biggest weakness is probably his aerial ability, but this would presumably not be as prominent an issue if he were to be utilised on the flank, rather than in defence. As was the case for Reiss Nelson, even though Saka might not be the first choice option in his respective position, this is not to say that he will not feature at all. Playing two games per week, along with the newly introduced system of five substitutes, will allow each member of the squad to get minutes. Hopefully he can take full advantage. Option two is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Regardless of whether you prefer him in the centre or on the flank, Aubameyang has to start. Our skipper, our top goalscorer and arguably our most valuable player. The Gabonese captain has been nothing short of world class since arriving. Regardless of where he operates, regardless of our collective fortunes, regardless of the man in charge, he always manages to produce an impressive tally. Even though he missed a period in January due to suspension, he sits in second place in the race for the golden boot with 17 goals. His pace is often focused on, but what stands out more to me is his positional sense. Rival fans are quick to point out the fact that many of his goals are tap-ins or easy chances. My response would be: then why can’t every striker produce similar numbers? The ability to transform half chances into sitters via your positional sense is a skill, not a flaw in your game. This is what Aubameyang does best. He is gradually becoming more accustomed to his role on the wing, and his defensive contribution is becoming more evident, as is his linkup. His interplay with Nicolas Pépé in particular springs to mind. Maybe he’ll play on the left, maybe he’ll pay in the middle, or maybe we’ll see a mixture of the two. Regardless of where he plays, the key factor is that he mustplay. The final option for the left wing spot is Gabriel Martinelli. The fact that we will quite possibly have to bench two players out of Aubameyang, Martinelli and Saka is incredible. They have probably been our three most impressive outfield performers this season, yet there may only be room for one of them in the XI. Like Saka, Martinelli has shown great promise throughout the year. He has maturity beyond his years and has made the transition from the fourth tier in Brazil to Premier League football look effortless. Despite his limited minutes, the 18-year old has managed 10 goals and 5 assists so far this campaign, which is a very respectable return. Coupled with his seemingly endless energy, he has quickly become one of the most promising talents in English football. The transfer fee of £6m is looking like a steal. There is no standout weakness in his game. He is slightly raw, but I feel like that will change with time. He will certainly feature in the months to come, but this may be as an impact sub or rotational player in the immediate future. My verdict: if Aubameyang is considered a winger by Arteta, he has to start, regardless of the quality of Saka/Martinelli. However, should put captain require a rest or be forced to play through the middle, both players mentioned provide fantastic backup. Striker. The final position to address is that of the striker. Although Alexandre Lacazette has been misfiring for large portions of the 2019/20 season, Arteta appears to be very keen on the Frenchman. However, the same could be said for his competitor, Eddie Nketiah. The youngster was close to a loan move to Bristol City before Mikel intervened. He was apparently so impressed with him in training that he blocked the move. This is a huge confidence boost for any 20-year old. Alexandre Lacazette has had a sub-par season to date. Unfortunately, there is no denying that fact. I completely understand that his game isn’t just about goals, so it is unfair to judge him solely on that basis. However, his energy and linkup have also been a shadow of what we became accustomed to throughout the 2018/19 campaign. Regardless of his goal drought at the time, Mikel stood by Lacazette in the early months of his tenure and included him in the side. Gradually, his form began to improve, but he is still a long way from the performances that earned him our Player of the Year award last season. In our friendly game against Charlton, he was yet again in the starting XI, and he marked his return with a stunning finish from the edge of the area. Obviously, Charlton are not world beaters, and the intensity of a friendly cannot be compared to that of the Premier League, but the goal should improve his confidence if nothing else. Over the past few months, he was reluctant to take shots from distance, so this goal could potentially change that mindset. Perhaps he has allowed his goal drought and the constant links away from the club to get to his head in the months gone by. Hopefully he can put those thoughts to one side and perform to the best of his ability for the remainder of the season, regardless of where his future lies.Eddie Nketiah was a surprise inclusion against Newcastle United and, although he wasn’t at his best in that game, he showed enough for Arteta to take note. He has since been included against Everton and West Ham in the Premier League, along with numerous cup outings aswell. During this time, he has scored his first Premier League goal at the Emirates, and also found the net against Bournemouth and Portsmouth in the FA Cup. He appears to be a real handful for opposition defenders. His energy is similar to that of Martinelli, and he has a tendency to press relentlessly. His positional sense is similar to Aubameyang. Many of his goals look routine due to his impeccable positional sense. Admittedly, we only have a small sample size of games on which to judge him, but he was also impressive when he featured for Leeds United, and he has proven effective for the England youth teams. He is certainly a great asset to have, and the battle between himself and Lacazette will be interesting to watch. Regarding negatives, he isn’t a particularly gifted dribbler, and his linkup play needs some work. However, he only turned 21 last week. I am sure that these areas will improve with time. My verdict: against a high line, I would play Nketiah. His pressing and pace in behind could prove key in these fixtures. Against teams who sit back and attempt to soak up pressure, Lacazette’s hold-up ability and interplay may be preferable. To conclude, Mikel Arteta has many key decisions to consider. His training methods in the weeks gone by will to prove to be crucial over the next few months, but his lineups will also have an impact on our final league position. Regardless of what he opts for, I will stand by his decisions. For the first time in a long time, I trust the manager’s judgement. If it is different to my own, then I hope he will prove me wrong. If you have any additional thoughts or disagree with any of my reasoning, feel free to leave a comment below. June 17th is only 8 days away now, in the meantime stay safe. Thank you as always for reading!
column / Money Where Your Mouth Is: On Brands and Value Statements
Good morning from a Gooner in the USA.The news broke yesterday that Adidas and Mesut Özil are parting ways. The playmaker’s lucrative $25 million sponsorship deal was negotiated shortly after Özil joined Arsenal in 2013, and is understood to expire later this month. Adidas have decided not to renew their commitment when the current contract runs out, citing economic concerns due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the company’s desire to focus on a new generation of talent.German news sources jumped on the 2018 Erdogan photo controversy and Özil’s criticism of China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims as the reasons behind Adidas “dumping” one of their biggest stars. (It wouldn’t be the first time Özil has suffered retribution from sponsors: amidst the Erdogan controversy, Mercedes-Benz quietly removed Özil from their World Cup ad campaign.) Özil’s agent Dr. Erkut Sögüt, however, has refuted Bild’s claim. According to Sögüt, his client “could sign another deal tomorrow” but is choosing to leave Adidas in order to launch his own brand. The agent explained that Özil wants to promote his own brand while he was still playing, rather than leave it until post-retirement as other players have done.The reasons given by Adidas and Sögüt seem reasonable enough. There is, however, one glaring logical fallacy that leaves this fan skeptical—and that is the lack of any detectable downside in their mutually beneficial partnership. For all the controversies (real, overblown, or absolute nonsense fueled by gossip rags), Özil remains one of the most popular and influential footballers in the world. As for Özil promoting his own brand, there’s a reason athletes save their personal business ventures for retirement. Personal brands hardly suffer from piggybacking off a respected, established brand. The example of Roger Federer’s Nike RF logo comes to mind. You better believe that “RF” made money for everyone involved. It’s hard to believe Adidas wouldn’t have jumped at an opportunity to sell M1Ö branded merchandise.If anything, Özil’s history of cutting ties with institutions he no longer trusts (from Schalke 04 to the Germany NT) makes it plausible that the decision to terminate was driven by his side of proceedings. But if so, the decision is questionable at best, if not outright hubristic. As for Adidas, the German sportswear company shelled out a whopping $391 million to become Arsenal FC’s kit sponsors last season; one of the driving reasons behind their interest was reported to be Özil’s intense marketability. And when it comes to “focusing on a new generation,” it’s worth noting that Adidas remains the sponsors of Özil’s former national teammates Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, and Manuel Neuer—none of whom are exactly spring chickens.With all that being said, it’s neither useful nor particularly interesting to speculate on the petty politics behind this sponsorship deal. For one, Adidas keeps a famously tight lid on negotiations so information will be scarce. Both parties have now given their sides of the story. If you choose to believe what Bild reported, Adidas are dropping a golden goose of a player to distance themselves from years-old controversies. If you choose to believe Dr. Sögüt, we’ll soon be seeing fans kitted out in M1Ö hats, shirts, shorts, snoods, you name it. (Personally, I could go for some socks.)What I will say is this: sponsorships, like all investments and monetary commitment, are a statement of value—of a company’s priority, alignment, and goals. The primary goal of any corporation is obviously to promote their brand and thereby grow their customer base and increase profit, because that’s capitalism. But how a particular company or brand goes about that business—who they choose to represent them, as Özil represented Adidas—is a statement of value. For a person, actions speak louder than words. For a company, money speaks where their communications—from advertisements to public statements—obfuscate, spin, and tell pretty focus-group tested lies. The mechanisms of brand management, and the embedded value statements or lack thereof, are more obvious than ever right now. This is where I apologize for the ungainly pivot. Still, a pivot must be made to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, one more violent death in a long history of racism in the U.S., and its explosive consequences. As civil rights protests sweep this country and elicit sympathetic rallies and demonstrations from across the world, every company, personality, and institution with a communications department worth their salt has put out some form of statement—from the bare minimum of posting a hashtag to take advantage of social media trends, to Ben & Jerry’s outright condemnation of white supremacy. In the German Bundesliga, four players sent messages of support. Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring for Gladbach. Schalke’s Weston McKennie wore a “Justice for George” armband. Over at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi revealed messages on their undershirts that read: “Justice for George Floyd.” Sancho received a yellow card for displaying his shirt message by stripping off his kit during a goal celebration. Following the weekend’s games, the DFB control committee opened an investigation into the four players—was met by a resounding outcry from fans, journalists, and clubs, and even managed to get FIFA, that bastion of moral mediocrity, to issue a statement urging restraint and common sense—after which said committee announced they would not seek further sanctions against the players. That the DFB opened the investigation at all speaks volumes. Common sense said: stand down, anti-racism and police violence is every person’s fight, here are four young men standing up for their beliefs and for their own humanity. But in that moment, the DFB did not act as an agent of common sense. The DFB took action in their role as brand managers; it was their obligation to investigate whether saying “we demand justice for George Floyd” was on brand for the Bundesliga. The rules banning political messages exist not to make football an apolitical space (because, come on, any reasonable person can see all the political statements football and its governing bodies make every year, every day, by getting in bed with sponsors and partners that have known records of labor and human rights abuses). For all the reflexive “stick to sports” talk, football has never been apolitical—it cannot be, when football has been wielded by authoritarian regimes as a tool of propaganda, as well as served as a gathering space and stage for radical social change. Today, Kick It Out and Rainbow Laces campaigns prominently exist within football, with the blessing of clubs and governing bodies. And therein lies the key: with their blessing. The “no political messages” rule only applies to unauthorized messages, like the one Sancho displayed after scoring at the weekend. We know why authorized political messages are authorized. They’re the ones that have been vetted and approved and will provide a net benefit to brand value and profit. Rainbow laces and decals equal merchandise that sells. Anti-racism slogans are great as long as they turn a buck. Every entity from Amazon to the NFL to the Chinese government have rushed to condemn racism in the U.S. and declare their support for a more just and equitable future—but how many of them are willing to make that future happen by, say, leveling pay structures or divesting from supply chains and labor practices firmly rooted in centuries of colonization, empire, and the dehumanization of black lives? I’ll give you a rough estimate: zero.Which is why I say: follow the money. Because under capitalism, investment is a value statement. Whether it’s a sponsorship spat or a brand piggybacking on a popular uprising for justice, more often than not it’s money and not words that will tell the true story.
women / Welcome to Arsenal - Steph Catley
The last WSL season was only officially completed weeks ago – but Arsenal have begun preparations early.The Gunners have signed Aussie full-back Steph Catley from Melbourne Victory.Catley, 26, has been playing for the Matilda’s for eight years, since her 18th birthday, and has amassed an impressive 82 caps for her country. Her experience isn’t just on the international stage either. Catley has experienced the Women’s League in America too, playing for Portland Thorns and Orlando Pride. This highlights her quality, which will be greatly received at Arsenal.Our new signing has previous experience with some of our own – she played alongside our current captain Kim Little and defender Jen Beattie, whilst being managed by Joe Montemurro at Melbourne.Catley told the Arsenal website “Arsenal is a place where I've imagined myself playing for a long time,"She continued “"This will be my first taste of European football and obviously there's so much to look forward to and so many big occasions to come. I can't wait to get started."If we do have a weakness, then it will be in defence. Last season saw us bang in plenty of goals but shutting out the likes of City and Chelsea proved difficult. With Catley – Vice Captain for Australia – we have the nous and skill to shut up shop more effectively. She is also at home switching defensive positions – something boss Joe Montemurro is especially keen on;“"We're privileged to have Steph at the club," head coach Joe Montemurro added."She suits our fluidity and she's very good in a positional sense, but more importantly she's very effective going forward, so we're excited to have her as part of the squad and we're looking forward to some exciting times together."Catley will feel at home at Arsenal, with Montemurro and Caitlin Foord both Aussies. Her style and experience will be a great asset for our Women’s team and we can look forward to launching an even stronger title assault next season.
women / Thank You Danielle Carter - Our Number 9
Eleven years is a long time.Eleven years in footballing career terms? That is the majority of the whole journey.Start pro at eighteen, fast forward eight years and you’re 29, enjoying your best years and looking to leave a legacy.That is exactly what Arsenal striker Danielle Carter did with her eleven years at the club. Our Number 9 bagged goals with alacrity, with trophies nearly as frequent.Four FA Cups, five League Cups and four titles. That’s quite the haul. But her longevity should be held up as just as glorious as her silverware.Players don’t stay at a club for such a long time without being pretty good at what they do. Danielle Carter certainly fits into that category. The England striker had a few strengths – her close control was one of her assets, along with her physicality and positioning – but put simply, Carter was good at grabbing goals.Outside the box, predatory strikes, instinctive finishes, Carter proved to be a real menace for us up top. With so many trophies, it would be hard to pick out a highlight, but one of the best moments of her career has to be the FA Cup winning goal in 2016, when she dazzled Chelsea’s left-back with footwork, jinked inside and wrapped her foot around the ball from the angle of the box. The result was a bending effort that nestled into the top corner.It was a world class effort - especially given the occasion, and quite reminiscent of Freddie Ljungberg’s Cup winning goal in 2002 against Chelsea.There was much more than this though.She played a big part of Arsenal’s success during her time at the club. Carter achieved a criminally low amount of caps for England, as one of the best of the WSL in her time, Carter should and could have spearheaded many different England tournament campaigns.She did just that in the red and white of Arsenal.Two serious knee injuries have massively impacted her playing time, but Danielle is the consummate professional who will no doubt continue to score freely wherever she goes next. It is just a pity she doesn’t get to say goodbye to us fans properly.With a degree under her belt, Carter has shown she excels in whatever she puts her mind to.Gooners wish her the best in everything she does – and I want to thank her for her goals, her attitude and her quite frankly hilarious social media accounts.Thanks Danielle, go and smash it.
women / Lia Walti - Our Swiss Masterpiece
When Pedro Losa left Arsenal, it was perceived that he left them in a better state than what he had inherited.Our attacking threat had truly been boosted. Scoring goals like they were going out of fashion, we would put teams to the sword. But Losa was unable to remedy the side’s biggest weakness – shipping goals.It left Losa’s bid to win the WSL scuppered and it was left to current boss Joe Montemurro to mastermind our tactical elevation – and key to this has been Lia Walti.The Swiss midfielder joined Arsenal in the summer of 2018 and operates in the base of midfield – but ‘operates’ is an underwhelming way of what Walti does for Arsenal and how she makes us tick.Montemurro is known for adapting his players and flexing his tactics so his players can overlap and leave the opposition trying to track the movements.With Walti, he simply found a player who brings his plans together.The Swiss midfielder has quite excellent distribution from deep, setting players like Nobbs, Miedema and Little free with a swipe of her boot. She also possesses a great tactical positioning. When we are under pressure, Walti is always in the right place to put out fires and reclaim possession.She keeps our rhythm going and was instrumental in our title-winning season in 2019/19. Unfortunately, Walti suffered an ACL rupture in April of that season, but she had left her imprint on the campaign.Walti has been back in action for a few months now and next season we will see the return of a fully fit Walti – which sets our other players free.Our Swiss midfielder had a good pedigree in both her native Switzerland and in Germany with Turbine Potsdam. She is now underlining the reputation she had made their and with her national team.Walti is simply vital to Montemurro’s plans – and hopefully we will see her underline this in our next campaign.
women / Manuela Zinsberger - Big Gloves to Fill
Have you ever joined a new company and the stories about your predecessor have followed you around for far too long?“Oh, THEY used to do that far quicker you know.”“It’s just that THEY used to do it this way.”“You weren’t here, but when THEY were here, this used to happen.”That sort of thing.Well, our current goalkeeper Manuella Zinsberger would have had some big goalkeeper gloves to fill.The Austrian number one joined Arsenal in 2019 after spending five years at Bayern Munich. She joined the season after Arsenal had reclaimed the WSL title for the first time in seven years. She also joined to replace a certain Sari Van Veenendaal.Van Veenendaal in 2019, after leaving Arsenal, then went on to perform wonders in the Netherlands goal in the 2019 Womens World Cup, going on to be voted into the Team of the Cup and guiding her side all the way to the Final.Those are quite some gloves to fill, but Zinsberger has shown in her short time in the Arsenal goal that her fierce will to win and her capabilities are more than enough to see us win the title again.The Austrian is already synonymous for her scary competitive nature on the pitch – often screaming with fists clenched once victory has been achieved. Zinsberger has also reassured fans who have seen her in action – there is definitely hope after Van Veenendaal.Zinsberger has been Austria’s number one for seven years – since she was just seventeen. Also, five years as the chosen keeper for German giants Bayern Munich tells us all that Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro has chosen a real winner in Zinsberger.Half of her appearances in the recently expired short season ended as clean sheets and her stopping ratio of 0.7 (rounded up) really bode well for our next campaign.The biggest compliment to Manuela Zinsberger is that we have forgotten how good Van Veenendaal was. Zinsberger can deliver exactly what we need for the future.
women / Arsenal Women Defender Allowed To Leave
The paint on the latest season is still wet, but Arsenal are already making moves to reshape their squad in preparation to regain the title that was taken from them.Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2019/20 season was culled early, with Chelsea being crowned victors despite having our girls having seven games to play to claw back a four point deficit. The campaign was decided by a points-per-game basis and so the Gunners missed out.Unfortunate, maybe, but Arsenal don’t seem to be standing on ceremony as they are already moving to shape their squad for next season.Joe Montemurro has chopped one from his flock, as defender Louise Quinn has not had her contract renewed. The Irish defender has been allowed to leave, with no contract offer on the table. We say goodbye to Louise after playing for the club for three seasons, making 76 appearances and scoring seven goals.Quinn joined from Notts County and has also played in Sweden. The rangy defender has impressed all in her time at the club and is a real favourite amongst the squad. The Irishwoman also represents her country and has amassed plenty of caps too and for good reason.Quinn initially joined on a short term deal after Notts County went under but it was clear that she was Arsenal-quality and soon signed a longer term deal. In her time at the club she helped Arsenal win the Continental Cup in 2017 and was a key part of our WSL triumph last season, as she and Leah Williamson formed a rock-solid partnership at the heart of the defence.Arsenal are reportedly keen on signing a few players, and Louise Quinn seems to be surplus to requirements, but she can look back on her time with the Gunners with pride.Quinn was a real asset to the club and to Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro. Quinn was strong in the air and on the deck and can look to the future knowing that as a Gunner – she played an integral part in our resurgence back to the top of the Womens game.
women / Danielle Van De Donk - The Dutch Genius and Playmaker Supreme
The Netherlands Women team were far from unheralded, but their Euro2017 triumph was not expected – and thrust their stars into the shop window.They dumped tournament favourites Sweden out of the competition and their free-flowing football was the reason why they were victorious and it took them all the way to the final – where they won 4-2 against Denmark.Their players became hot property and ended up at the biggest clubs in the women’s game. Our very own Vivianne Miedema is the nations record scorer – and Danielle Van De Donk was almost as responsible for the Oranje team’s success.Danielle actually signed for Arsenal before the Netherlands won the tournament – her star was too bright to ignore.The midfielder is adaptable, comfortable in a number of positions. Under current boss Joe Montemurro, Van De Donk (VDD) has been utilized as a winger, a playmaker and a midfielder – much in the same mould as captain Kim Little. The reason why she is able to play in a myriad of positions?Her skills are universal. Van De Donk’s ball control is mesmerizing at times. There are videos of her bewitching full-backs and defenders with skills and feints, but she is much more than just a showpony.Van De Donk has more than 100 caps for her country for good reason. She is an architect on the pitch, able to contribute heavily in goals and assists as she is superb in maximizing weak areas of her opponent and on the pitch. She floats, much like Ozil, but is more than capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck if needed. She often scores late in games too – smacking of composure. To make the difference when it matters most is proof that the blood in her veins runs cold when the pressure rises.VDD was a huge reason why we won the WSL last season. Double figures for both goals and six assists, the Dutch schemer was impossible for defences to pick up.Aside from Vivianne Miedema, Danielle is also joined by Jill Roord at Arsenal from the Dutch ranks. All three possess an incredible goal threat, but when it comes to unlocking defences and truly enterprising football – Van De Donk is unrivalled.The Dutch midfielder and her trademark ponytail will go on and forge a real reputation at Arsenal – although she has gone a fair way of doing that already.