Arsenal lie in wait, with the new season incoming.With the Covid-19 pandemic playing havoc with the footballing calendar, it leaves a very small window between last season and this season. It is great news for us fans as we don’t have to wait long until the action kicks off again but what about the players?It will mean a season without a pre-season. No overseas training trips, no friendlies to gauge the fitness and readiness of our squad.It will mean every team face these shortcomings – it is a great leveller.It will also mean that any benefit a side can grab will be via recruitment, rather than superior preparation.Mikel Arteta took the reins halfway through the last season and rescued the Arsenal. We lifted the Cup and we also defeated Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Man United in his short time.We have genuine hope going into our new season, but is it genuine?Are we riding the wave of optimism that stems from our wonderful FA Cup win over Chelsea? Our Semi-Final triumph over City?Or can we all see the budding fruits of Arteta’s work at Arsenal? The new-found steel within the side that has seen us over many hurdles? The adaptability that can see us switch it up to serve all types of opponent?What could push us closer to a return to the Champions League? It surely has to be recruitment.If Arteta can shift the players that serve no purpose – Ozil, Guendouzi, Sokratis, Holding perhaps – that could boost what meagre fund we do have to splurge on new recruits. It will be key to Arteta’s plans.If Willian is a free transfer this will help, but if we look at our squad, do we really need attackers?It should be our defence that receives most of our focus as it is this area that has seen us shed points at an alarming rate. We need the likes of Lille’s Gabriel Maghaeles to ally with new boy William Saliba to form the hard crust of our backline for years to come, with Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers as backup. That would represent true strength.We need Lucas Torreira to stay on the books, so Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos can have cover and a break. Joe Willock needs to step up and be counted, we need Reiss Nelson to provide competition to Nicolas Pepe, we need Gabriel Martinelli to show his strength and push through, putting pressure on our starters.Without depth, we will derail, through no fault at all on the part f Arteta. Investment is needed, but it needs to be smart. We aren’t as far away from getting back to the top as some people would have us believe…
09 Aug 2020
column / The 55 redundancies show Arsenal is losing its soul
Arsenal fans were upping arms again this week. Now normally, this is because of a transfer rumour, or the actions, or rather, gross inaction of owner Stan Kroenke.In a time where the only thing Arsenal fans had to worry about was whether or not Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would sign a new contract, as well as debating the pros and cons of Willian's potential move to the club. Recently, an air of positivity seemed to be building around the club, due to positive news regarding Gabriel Magalhães, Philippe Coutinho and Aubameyang. Over the past few days, however, that sense of goodwill came crashing down. It all started with a statement Arsenal made on their website. In this statement, the club announced that they are proposing to make 55 employees redundant, ranging from head of scouting Francis Cagiago to, depending on who you speak to, the Arsenal social media manager. Rightfully, fans are angry about this. These are 55 ordinary people who have been told they could very possibly lose their jobs, all so the club can save as much money as they can. To rub salt into the wounds, apparently Arsenal will only save £2 million. £2 million. That’s what the livelihoods of 55 people, many of whom most likely have families, are worth to Arsenal and Stan Kroenke. Let me reiterate; £2 million. It’s not the fact that the sale of a player on the peripheries of Arsenal’s squad would most likely be able to fund these workers. It’s the fact that this decision comes off as incredibly cheap from Arsenal.It's not like the club are broke either. Stan Kroenke is worth upwards of £8 billion, and the club made nearly £500 million in 18/19. While it's not clear how much of that was net profit, it is still a hell of a lot of money, meaning there's no real financial justification for the decision; it just comes down to the club wanting to save what money they've already got. Just to be clear, this is an intention to make employees redundant, meaning the club are currently reviewing the decision. As a result, Arsenal players are fighting tooth and nail to keep the employees at the club. When the playing group agreed to a 12.5% pay cut back in April, they were promised by the club that no employee of the club, no matter how important, would lose their jobs or be redundant. To them, this is a break of promise from the club; and another example of how actions speak louder than words. The fan backlash regarding the decision has been immense as well. Most fans on social media have voiced their disapproval at the decision, in some cases labelling it “shambolic” and “disgraceful.” This, from a fanbase that, given some of the recent debates over the years, probably disagrees on which way toast should be buttered, is quite a positive sign.These potential redundancies have also added to the popular #KroenkeOut campaign on social media, which culminated in a plane being flown over Villa Park when Arsenal travelled there to face Aston Villa saying “Back Arteta, Kroenke Out.” Now regardless on your position on the plane, or the movement on social media, you can’t argue that this sickening behaviour from KSE adds to a long list of disgraceful actions that show that Stan and Josh Kroenke simply see Arsenal as a plaything; something to brag about at cocktail parties. The decision to make 55 Arsenal employees redundant has united the fans and playing group alike. It’s a decision that has smacked of anger, disappointment, broken promises and stinginess. It sickens me that the club with the mantra "class is permanent" have decided to treat their own like this. Could you imagine this happening under George Graham or Arsene Wenger? The players deciding to fight the decision show that while they care, the people in the sadly boardroom don’t. As Ian Wright put it, remember who you are.
30 Jul 2020
column / Arsenal's Premier League 2019/20 Review: Part I The Bad
Arsenal's Premier League season is (finally) done and dusted. The 2019/2020 season was the most turbulent and chaotic yet for the Gunners before you even factor in the COVID-19 pandemic which yet again, the club was some how at the forefront of. But across three head coaches, late-night negotiations and finishing the lowest league position in 25 years, what did the numbers say about Arsenal's 2019/2020 season?Part I: The BadWhere better to start on why they finished in their worst place in a quarter of a century with all the terrifyingly bad numbers that they posted throughout the year.Arsenal yet again posted a lower goals scored total and xG for a second consecutive year since Arsene Wenger's departure from the club: 2017/18 Season: 74 (1.95 per game) / xG: 63.3 / xG90 1.66 (Wenger's last season)2018/19 Season: 73 (1.92 per game) / xG: 56.5 / xG90 1.49 (Emery's first season)2019/20 Season: 56 (1.47 per game) / xG 49.6 / xG90 1.31 (Emery's departure/Ljungberg/Arteta's first season)It's unfair to take the 2019/2020 numbers at face value because of the change of manager in November. It's well-documented that Unai Emery's footballing standard's and processes weren't matched with the quality that the club should adhere to. His defensive ways of setting up his team also dogged the team's fitness. This was pretty much confirmed during Mikel Arteta's 2-0 win over Manchester United on New Year's Day." style="height: 582px;">To look into this further- let's separate Emery's numbers from Mikel Arteta'sEmery 19/20 (13 matches)Expected Goals: 17.8Expected Goals per 90: 1.36Goals scored: 18Expected Goals Allowed: 21.64Expected Goals Allowed per 90: 1.61Goals Allowed: 19Place: 8th 19pts out of a possible 39Place based on xG: 11th This is not far away from the full stats that Emery registered with this Arsenal side the season before, his first full year. The fact that the average did not go up by the conclusion of the Premier League is also worrying stat and points to the drum I won't stop banging, concerning Arsenal's lack of creativity from midfield which has been left destitute wit the departure of Aaron Ramsey and the lack of involvement from Mesut Ozil for whatever reason. Even the more frustrating players who could still play under a flowing and attacking system in e.g. Alexander Iwobi has been missed. To put how poorly the creative system is working at Arsenal at the moment these are some stats that you should know:The first Arsenal player that registers on the "Big Chances Created" table is at number 25; Nicolas Pepe created 8 of them. Two Burnley players (Dwight McNeil and Andy Westwood) appear before any Arsenal player, as well as Pascal Groß from Brighton.With only 56 goals this season (their lowest amount since the 1995/96 season), the Gunners were ten goals behind the lowest Goals Scored amount that qualified for the Champions League. They also found the net 46 fewer times than Man City (102).14 teams fired in more shots than Arsenal in the Premier League including Norwich, West Ham, Watford and Brighton. (via @Orbinho)Join me for my next instalment of the review next week when we see if there's any way out of this bad spell for Arsenal on what they've done this season...
25 Jul 2020
column / The Arsenal Kit Dopeness Index -- 2020-21 Home Kit
The new Arsenal home jersey for the 2020-21 season dropped on Thursday. As always, Arsenal did it with the usual fanfare, reigniting our excitement despite the jersey leaking online weeks ago. Through some high-level coolness like casually confirming that Saka will get the #7 jersey and some great photos of Laca and Auba living it up at the top of the Emirates, the Arsenal and Adidas partnership has continued to produce endearing results. But while grimacing at the awkwardness of Mateo Guendouzi showing up in the photo shoot for the new kit, most fans have by now found themselves comparing it to previous ones and wondering just how well it stacks up. They have probably thought to themselves, "Does this shirt properly honor the club that I love?" or "Does it look objectively fresh to death?" or "What place would we have finished in if the board had hired Arteta during the international break in November like competent adults?" And that is where the Arsenal Kit Dopeness Index comes in. Well, not for the last question. Sorry about that.The Arsenal Kit Dopeness Index (AKDI) is a cutting-edge evaluation system that empirically determines on a scale of 0-30 just how objectively dope an Arsenal kit is. No longer do Arsenal fans have to vaguely weigh multiple kits in their minds while ordering them from most worthy of purchase to least. Gone are the days of just not being sure whether the 2016-17 third kit is worse than the 2016-17 away kit (for the record, it's not, I would take black with neon green trim over a knock-off Wolves jersey any day and I have the documentation to prove my opinion on the matter is correct). Spending hours making any of these determinations is a thing of the past. The AKDI eliminates all of these incoveniences, efficiently converting a kit's dopeness into a numerical value to then be easily compared against other kits' values.Here's how it works: an Arsenal kit is evaluated with regard to three equally weighted factors. Each factor has a maximum value of 10. The kit's scores for each factor are then added up, giving us the total, or the Dopeness Value (DV). The factors used by the AKDI to produce a Dopeness Value are:Traditionalism. First and foremost, Arsenal is a club that values tradition. We have a way of doing things, we have a standard of class we hold ourselves and our club to, and we have a general philosophy about how the game should be played. We also have a general pattern our home kits conform to. You know the one: red body and white sleeves. It's a classic, it's iconic. That's what we look for from typical home kits. For away kits it's a little more loosey-goosey, although generally we expect those to be yellow or blue. But additionally, we're looking for how much tribute the shirt pays to the club here. Is the kit just designed to look cool, or does it aim to honor the Mighty Arsenal as well?Innovation. Tradition is very important. But year after year of strict adherence to tradition gets boring. With this category, we look at how bold a kit's design is within the confines of what we expect an Arsenal kit to look like. Where do the stripes go? Has anything interesting been done with the badge? What did they put on the back of the jersey? Did they fade the image of Theo Walcott taunting Spurs fans from a stretcher about Arsenal beating them 2-0 onto the body of the shirt (which would be an automatic 10)? Essentially, this category judges whether a kit simply sticks to the script or attempts to reinvent a classic.Style. Lastly, perhaps the most important thing you're thinking about when trying to decide whether to buy a kit. It's also the most straightforward factor in the AKDI. How fresh is the kit? A dope kit looks good on and off the field. It should look just as amazing on someone at the club (the music and drinks and dancing kind, not the football kind) as it does on Aubameyang when he's slotting home his 20th of the season. All the traditionalism and innovation in the world cannot save a kit that looks bad.Before applying the AKDI to a brand new kit, it's probably prudent to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Index by applying it to one that has come and gone. So let's go with the 2008-09 home kit, shown below.Traditionalism: The body is red, and that's about it in terms of traditionalism. Instead of white sleeves, Nike went with just a white stripe at the top of the kit, extending down the shoulders to the sleeves and along the sides of the body as well. It was a controversial deviation from the typical look. It's a kit that doesn't properly honor Arsenal Football Club. Score: 4/10Innovation: There's honestly not much innovation going on here, even with Nike venturing away from the regular design for an Arsenal home kit. Cool, the sleeves are red with a white stripe. Nike pretty much gave us just a red shirt and didn't go much further than that. They obviously get points for boldness for scrapping the white sleeves, but that's about it. This kit is slightly more exciting than an audiobook on plant biology narrated by Ben Stein. Score: 5/10Style: If we're being honest, it's a decent-looking kit. There's nothing highly offensive about the overall design. It's a shirt that would look great under a navy blue cardigan while you're puttering around the house. But on the pitch, it honestly looks more like a training kit. Whenever I watch highlights from the 2008-09 season, part of me always thinks, "Wow, what an intense warm-up! Hope the game went well!" And unfortunately, the fact that it looks like a training shirt makes it difficult to take it seriously as a kit. Score: 5/10Dopeness Value: 14/30. The 2008-09 Arsenal home kit is a very, very average shirt according to the AKDI. Which means it's not dope. If you find one floating around online, don't buy it unless it's a pretty sizeable discount and you're looking for something to wear to bed.Pretty accurate, right? The 2008-09 home kit is rather meh, far from anything to write home about. But you don't seem convinced, so we'll do one more.Traditionalism: Changing up the white sleeves is one thing, but getting rid of the red body?? There's no red to be found anywhere on this kit, aside from one random dot in the kit sponsor's logo. And where is the crest?? In its place is just some sad-looking rooster balancing on a football! Nothing on this shirt is even remotely reminiscent of Arsenal. Score: 0/10Innovation: It's just a white shirt with a couple dark blue lines on it. If we're talking undershirts then this may be a bit bold, but in terms of kits this is about as innovative as cutting a hole in a trampoline. Score: 0/10Style: Pfftttt, Under Armour? Who are we, that one divorced uncle who keeps trying to flirt with women half his age at the gym? And that collar is just begging to be popped to complete this kit's douchey look. No thanks. Score: 0/10Dopeness Value: 0/30. This is horrendously not dope. Even thinking of spending money on such a ghastly garment is utterly diabolical. Bring it to life and then kill it with fire, please.See? The AKDI works like a charm! And with that fact being proven, it is time to use it on the new home kit and see once and for all how dope it truly is.Traditionalism: Right off the bat, we can see that the new Arsenal home kit follows the traditional layout of red body and white sleeves. Points for that. But then there's the club's press release on the matter:“Paying homage to Arsenal’s geometric crest which the club used from 1936–1949, the chevron graphic on the home jersey is inspired by the ‘A’ within. It is also a nod to the layout of the tiling on the floors of the East Stand’s famous marble halls – the historical home of Arsenal before its 2006 move to the Emirates Stadium.“The back-neck sign off also references the original crest, with the chevrons facing both East and West, representing the past and present of the club’s iconic Cannon emblem. A dark shade of red is used throughout the kit to celebrate the club’s heritage, something which is synonymous with Arsenal and rooted in its DNA.”Basically, the design within the body of the kit is a triple entendre of references to Arsenal's history, which is absolutely spectacular. Throwing in a tribute to Highbury's marble halls on an Arsenal kit is like squeezing vague sexism into an episode of Longmire. The people who care will love it. It's an upper-echelon business decision. Even the shade of red used is meant to celebrate the club's heritage. The whole setup is already brilliant, but there's even more to love about the back of the jersey.As mentioned in the press release, the club's original crest is used as the kit's back-neck sign off. But just when you think Adidas has packed all the tradition and history and heritage they could into this kit, they have one more trick up their sleeve: the lettering to be used in cup competitions purposefully resembles the lettering from the club's previous badge. It is an absolutely masterful cherry on top of what was already a phenomenal sundae of homage to the club. Score: 10/10Innovation: Not only do some of these designs paying homage to the club earn the 2020-21 home kit traditionalism points, but they also snag some innovation points. The chevron design is a clever way to add a bit of personality to an otherwise ordinary kit. Additionally, the use of the chevrons to reference the club's crest from 1936 to 1949, the marble halls of the East Stand, and the change in direction of the Cannon in the club's crests is rather avant-garde, but comes off absolutely luxuriously. It reminds me of the Puma kits for some of the African nations, particularly Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, and Cameroon. Puma always makes awesome use of the space in the jerseys they design for those countries, fading in iconic images or adding some patterns to give personality to what would otherwise just be a bland, solid color. It's a shame they couldn't do that for Arsenal. Adidas continues to prove why they're our current kit designers by using the old Arsenal crest font for the kit's non-Premier League lettering. It looks a little pretentious to the casual eye, but that's what makes it the boldest choice on the kit. Overall, the design of the new home kit radiates passion and courage, but the choices are careful enough as to not scare away more orthodox tastes. Score: 8/10Style: Well, just look at it. It's utterly gorgeous. Never has a jersey looked so meant to be paired with gold links. The chevrons are the most objectively fresh thing to grace an Arsenal jersey since Thierry Henry's name. The thin red stripe running along the edge of each sleeve is a classy touch. And the inward cut of the jersey at the waist is indicative of a jersey that is modern in style. These shirts are long, not meant to be tucked into dad jeans while grilling some Ball Park franks but designed to be rocked while going bowling with Young Thug. The kit is meticulously crafted without being too intricate, making it the right blend of simple and elegant. So yes, it looks good. Score: 9/10Dopeness Value: 26/30. The 2020-21 Arsenal home kit is an elite kit. It is an automatic cop. It is such a dope kit that it gives me mountains of hope for next season all on its own. I cannot wait to be furious at it next year for making me so optimistic about the future.
23 Jul 2020
column / The dawn of a whole new Arsenal?
3 shots to 24. 30% possession. 2 shots on target. Final score: Arsenal 2-1. No, those aren’t the numbers from my Arsenal career mode on FIFA, but instead from the Gunners’ 2-1 win over Liverpool. The victory over the Premier League champions last Wednesday, in my eyes at least, was the start of a new Arsenal. While Mikel Arteta does seem keen to implement a playing style similar to the one that Pep Guardiola has used with Manchester City. This high-pressing, possession-orientated system allowed City to sweep the league with great effect. Clearly, Arteta learned this from City, where he was Guardiola’s assistant at the Citizens until December 2019. However, recently, several Arsenal games haven't aligned with this philosophy. In particular; the games against Liverpool, City and Chelsea. All three games involved Arsenal sitting back, absorbing pressure and then hitting teams on the counter; a far cry from the take the ball, pass the ball mantra Arteta seems keen to implement. It seems fitting to start with January's 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge; given that this game started the trend. While Arsenal's first goal came directly from a Chelsea corner, Arteta's hand was forced by David Luiz's early sending off, leaving us with ten men for effectively an hour of the game. The tactics in the other two games, against Liverpool and Manchester City, definitely weren't forced, however. Arteta deliberately went in with the idea of sitting back and hitting them onto the counter due to the lesser personal at our disposal. The Liverpool game, while a very good result, was somewhat of a fluke. Liverpool had eight times as many shots as the Gunners. They were unlucky and a mix of poor finishing, good defending and brilliant goalkeeping from Emi Martinez lost them the game. On the other hand, the FA Cup semi final against City was not a fluke. It was a very good performance. Arsenal thoroughly deserved their win and expertly coupled defensive solidity with possession based football - exemplified in Arsenal's first goal - to great effect over the Citizens. The student did indeed school the master. These three games showed me two things; Arteta's tactical versatility and the defensive solidity he has installed in the side. Both are positives for the future and certainly bode well. One of my biggest gripes with Pep Guardiola is that he isn't really tactically flexible. Arteta looks like he is, and that could make him the next big thing in management. As for Arsenal, their expertise to dig in and muddy the game, trying to nick a goal in the process, shows the dawn of a new Arsenal; one with a bit of backbone.
12 Jul 2020
column / On ritual, superstition, and perceived ownership
About a month ago, I made a deal with the football gods: if VfB Stuttgart (then in the 2.Bundesliga) won promotion back to the German top flight, I’d stop watching Arsenal and the Premier League for the rest of the season. It’s a nonsensical bet. But then, so are ritual and superstition and all the myriad things we do to appease the chaotic forces at play in any game of football—whether we admit to actually believing in such things or not. We have lucky socks and lucky kits, pre-match rituals and post-match traditions, and god forbid someone tempt fate by saying such a thing like, “Surely, Arsenal’s got this in the bag now!” before the full time whistle has gone. The saying goes that there’s no such thing as an atheist in the 80th minute. I submit there’s also no such thing as a truly non-superstitious football fan.This is a long way of saying I’m not watching the North London Derby today. Because VfB Stuttgart did, indeed, win promotion back to the Bundesliga last month. And since I’ve kept up my end of the bargain with the football gods and stopped watching Arsenal, the team has been doing pretty well. Emi Martinez has stepped up big time. In four starts, he’s kept three clean sheets, faced 17 shots on target and denied 14 of those chances for a colossal 0.824 save percentage. The small sample size of games makes any actual statistical analysis a fool’s errand, sure. But Martinez’s performance isn’t a singularity; the rest of the team are also clicking in a way that all of us would have hoped for but most wouldn’t have believed possible just a few short weeks ago. Arsenal are—somehow, finally—looking like a decent team.As many a scientist in my life would say, correlation is not causation. Just because Arsenal happened to start playing well at the exact moment I happened to stop watching the Premier League does not mean my watching has any effect on the team’s performance. But if you poll ten Gooners now and ask them, “Should June be allowed to watch Arsenal again this season?” it’s a pretty sure bet that all ten of them will say “Please, god, no.”Superstition and ritual in sporting culture is something that we’re all familiar with. It’s not just the fans who do it: athletes and coaches also have rituals. Maybe it’s a list of things they always do before competition. For some players, they have to always step onto the pitch with the same foot. Others pray or give thanks to higher powers before, during, after games. My favorite example is Borussia Dortmund’s goalkeeper Roman Bürki, who always touches the match ball before kickoff, and sometimes going to great lengths to get to the ball. This pre-match ritual is now immortalized in a compilation video, which is currently the most viewed thing on Dortmund’s YouTube channel.The specifics differ, person to person, but the underlying sentiment is the same: in football, and in life, there are too many things outside what control we can exert through our bodies, words, and effort. Prayer and ritual and superstition may be feeble attempts to bring control upon the uncontrollable, but the very act of such an attempt first requires an admission: there are things beyond my control.For fans and spectators, that admission is a painful thing and one that we often go to great lengths to deny. Of course, there are nuances here as well. Match-going fans who can cheer on their team as the famous “12th man” and can exert, if not control, then at least influence upon a game. The power of match-going fans has been demonstrated by their absence during the COVID-19 pandemic as leagues resumed behind closed doors. But even when stadiums were full, and fans could cheer on their teams from the sidelines and stands, there is only so much that support can achieve. A step removed from this, fans who watch in pubs or at home through television broadcasts have even less influence on a game, if any. And yet it doesn’t stop fans at pubs and watch parties or even alone at home from cheering on plays, arguing bad calls, or wearing lucky kits and socks and carefully avoiding any jinx-like behavior. Why? Part of it’s just because that’s what you do, as a sports fan: it’s behavior learned from others, whether it’s your parent who brought you to your first Arsenal game, or your Gooner friends who shouted at you to leave the pub for daring to say, “We’re going to Wembley,” before the semifinal was over. But it’s also something internal, a bit of us that truly believes—however nonsensical it sounds—that if I don’t drink my usual drink and wear my usual kit, the one I wore the last time Arsenal won a big derby victory, then something might go wrong. I live an ocean away from North London. I can’t replicate the match conditions or the stadium atmosphere that, in the past, provided the context for my team’s victory. But I can replicate the exact conditions in which I experienced that victory. And when that’s the only thing I can control, I will attempt to do it—because that’s what you do, as a fan. There’s a sense of ownership that comes with being a football fan. It manifests in the pride with which we talk about our team’s achievements, and the genuine sorrow when we remember the defeats. It’s in the way fans say “we” to refer to the team, the club, the players, of which the fans are a part. As we expect players and coaches to own their actions, as it influences the fortune of the team, fans also own their small part in that narrative. So whatever you’re doing today to support Arsenal, wherever in the world you are, I raise a virtual toast to you. As for me, I’m doing my part by not watching at all.
29 Jun 2020
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.
women / Lisa Evans - Scottish Star but German Grown
Adaptability is an asset in a modern footballer. It shows that not only can they pick up the tactical skills necessary to be an asset in a number of positions – it also shows that the fundamental talent that is needed to make it at the very top is very much in abundance.Lisa Evans fits perfectly in this category. The Scottish star began her professional career for Glasgow City back in 2009. She bagged more than a goal a game for the Scottish side and played as a striker. Her performances drew the attention of German giants Turbine Potsdam, who signed Evans in 2012.For three years, Evans applied herself to the club and the culture, making every effort to force her way into the side and when she had done that, then began to excel once again. In three years, Evans had gone from hot prospect to genuine star in Germany. It led to a move to another Frauen-Bundesliga side – giants Bayern Munich.Evans won the title in her time with Bayern, and had established herself as a force out wide, cutting in to unleash a shot or supplying forwards with deadly deliveries from the flank.Five years playing in Germany had given Evans the tools to build on the raw talent she possessed and in 2017, Lisa signed for WSL side Arsenal Women.Since then, Evans has gone on to add another side to her already impressive game. Gunners boss Joe Montemurro is a big advocate of a fluid playing style, seeing players fill in for others who rove forward, switching play and positions where necessary. It requires not only a certain level of stamina – but a footballing brain that can process the needs of a game while a match is in full swing.Montemurro recognized all of this and more in Evans – and the Scotswoman has been employed in various spots in the side since joining. It is at wing-back though, that Evans seems to have found her true calling.Football goes through phases and currently, using wing-backs seems to be the way forward. It stretches teams who are already concerned with marking wide forwards and conventional number 9’s. It does require the player to have a wide skillset however.Perhaps this is why Evans has been a success there.Since joining, Evans has been one of the regular suppliers of our attack. So many times, her pace has allowed her a yard of space to whip over a cross destined for goal machine Vivianne Miedema, or a late run from Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, Danielle Van De Donk or Jill Roord.Evans has the ability to not only pick out a player, but also deliver a ball between banks of four, piercing lines and creating opportunity. Vision, passing – Evans could easily be a playmaker.She was a mainstay in our WSL-winning season, and last season she again never dropped her consistency. More than 80 caps for her country too, a mark of a top player.This season we expect much from our side – no less another title tilt. We can also expect Lisa Evans to be a regular sight on our wing, providing chances aplenty for our hungry team.
women / Katie McCabe - One Of The First Names On The Arsenal Women Teamsheet
At 24 years old, Katie McCabe hasn’t reached her peak. But the Irishwoman has scaled new heights in her Arsenal career and there is no ceiling to how far she can go.McCabe in the last two WSL seasons has been one of the players that has underpinned Arsenal boss Joe Montemurro’s philosophy. Movement, adaptation and unity. When one moves, another covers. When we attack, options are the priority. When we defend, we do so as one.Katie McCabe has plied her trade predominantly as a wing-back under the Aussie, but she is not limited to width. McCabe has a pinpoint delivery, true, but her speed and her ability to find space means she is elusive – and that means she is a nightmare for the opposition to stop.McCabe drew the attention of the Arsenal Women’s team while in her native Ireland. With Raheny United, now known as Shelbourne, she represented the club in the Champions League and won a hatful of Cups and titles. In one season, she also almost earned the Golden Boot for the competition. McCabe was an attacker for the team, and 23 goals in a season is a fantastic haul – and speaks volumes of McCabe’s finishing ability.She started as a forward, but upon signing for Arsenal Women – and snubbing Chelsea, City and a host of other clubs in the process – McCabe was used predominantly as a winger. She made an impact, but under then Gunners boss Pedro Losa, McCabe was not quite making her presence felt as she is now.McCabe was sent on loan in the latter half of 2017 to Glasgow City, but the arrival of Joe Montemurro was soon to reap dividends. The Aussie boss recognized the gifts that McCabe has and the effect she can have from out wide – but there was another element.McCabe’s tenacity and ability to snaffle possession whilst tirelessly tracking back saw her given a prime spot as one of Montemurro’s wing-backs in his new system. And she has never looked back.McCabe in her last two seasons has been a revelation. All of the tools at her disposal have allowed her to be pretty indispensable and next season – even with our raft of new arrivals, McCabe’s name will be one of the first on the teamsheet. Especially for the big games.McCabe has years ahead of her at the very top and hopefully with Arsenal.
women / Beth Mead - A Star That Cannot Be Stopped
Some players are slow burners.They progress upwards on a clear upwards trajectory, on an incline propelled by consistency and great performances. They stay on the scene, dedicate themselves and through sheer hard work – they make it.Others catapult themselves into the reckoning. From nowhere, their talent is thrust into the spotlight and they oust those ahead of them.Beth Mead exploded onto the scene and since then, she has constantly reminded everyone of what she is capable of.What were the incendiaries that helped her break into the big time?Mead started out as a youth with Middlesbrough but moved to Sunderland to progress her pro career. In 2017, she had earned a move to the big time with Arsenal. In three years, she has amassed 55 appearances and scored 19 goals. In fact, she has averaged a goal or assist every three games. Not bad from a wide position.That’s the kicker though. She arrived as a striker and that is clear to see in her current skillset. Her shot is a missile and she invariably makes the keeper work from any position she chooses to let loose.But the form of goal machine Vivianne Miedema led to a positional change. Mead was moulded into a winger, and her pace and close control are perfect partners to run at full-backs.Mead has been a revelation in the position, and she has forged an even better career out wide. Her combination with Miedema was the most potent in 2018/19, making 9 goals.Mead is capable of the spectacular, her goal in the 4-0 win over Brighton which cemented our WSL title in 2019 was voted the Goal of the Season, a wonderful effort that ‘top corner’ doesn’t even begin to cover.She even created her very own type of shot – the ‘Crot.’ This innovative method sprouted from two fabulous goals on very different stages. The first was a goal that looped over the Brazilian goalkeeper as Mead fizzed in a shot from an acute angle. The second was just days later, a shot taken from a position that would have been easier to cross from. This was done for Arsenal against Liverpool.Thus, the Crot was born.Anyone who watches Mead regularly will have no doubt that Beth meant these efforts. Mead is much more than breathtaking goals though. Mead works tirelessly out wide, she is fantastic with her link up play and she can skin her marker with either pace or footwork.Mead is one of the reasons why Arsenal are contenders season after season. For England and for Arsenal – Mead is a winger you simply can’t ignore.
women / Leah Williamson - An Arsenal Product and A Baller Of A Defender
When a player comes through the network of youth teams that represent the club and the various passages that a starlet must go through – and ends up as a first team player?That player is automatically thrust forward as a fan favourite.They represent the values of the club, they represent the culmination of the dream we all have – of pulling on that famous red and white and representing the club. They shared that dream but they made it happen.Leah Williamson is one of those fan favourites.Williamson made her debut in a high-pressure Champions League Quarter-Final. We lost 2-0 to Birmingham City that night. It shares an eerie similarity to Hector Bellerin’s debut for Arsenal. The Spaniard also made his debut in the Champions League. It too was a loss – 2-0 to Borussia Dortmund – but both Williamson and Bellerin have gone on to make huge strides in the first team.Williamson though, has gone further than her fellow fan favourite.Our number six joined Arsenal as a nine year old. That’s fourteen years as a Gunner, fourteen years steeped in our ways, traditions and methods. Williamson has gone through the ranks and not only established herself at the club, she is now one of the main reasons for our current success.Williamson actually started as a midfielder. Making use of her composure on the ball and the ability to pick out her teammates with a swish of her boot, Williamson could have made her name in this position.But it is as a defensive titan that Williamson has gone on to forge her reputation.For both Arsenal and England, Leah has used the skills she has cultivated at the club and also developed her other talents. Now? She marshals our backline with leadership and gives opponents no inch.But her style of defence is more than simply stopping the opponents from scoring.Williamson is well known for her long-distance assists, piercing teams from deep and landing the ball on a teammate’s boot. Making it look easy. One particular goal that springs to mind was last season, a 50 yard pass through to an onrushing Jordan Nobbs, who volleyed past a stranded goalkeeper. In 2018/19, our title winning season, Williamson had completed more passes in the opposition half than any other Gunner – and had touched the ball more than any of her teammates.She is still a defender, but her play is much more than that.Williamson has been named England’s Youth Player of the Year, she is also a vital member of the national team squad.But as a Gunner who has made it through the system, she is one of us and she holds the club close to her heart like we do.Williamson is a fan favourite not just because she came through the Arsenal system – it’s also because of all she does on the pitch and how her future is as bright as her talent.
women / Welcome to Arsenal - Malin Gut!
Fresh off the heels of a new signing announcement, Arsenal Women have captured yet another target to strengthen our side.Gunners boss Joe Montemurro has netted one of his long time targets, Swiss international midfielder Malin Gut.Gut operates normally at the base of a midfield, but is known to play as both a centre back and further forward. Such is her ability to carry the ball, she will suit our Aussie boss’s style perfectly.Gut played for Grasshoppers Zurich before joining our team and at just 20, she has plenty in her tank. She made her pro debut at just 15, and is tailor-made for back up to her Swiss compatriot Lia Walti – who plays in the same position.When Walti suffered a serious knee injury 18 months ago, we had no conventional back up. It meant that our centre-back, Leah Williamson, and even attacking midfielder Jill Roord was utilized there. While we know that both are more than able to carry the ball and track runners, having a specialist in the role is imperative if we are to push the likes of Chelsea and City again.Malin Gut is just the player we need. She is that specialist in the DM role, but she is just as adaptable as the players she will be joining up with. She already has been capped at full international level and is overjoyed with joining the Gunners.Malin said “It’s a very big honour for me to play and represent this club. From the beginning, it felt like everything fitted perfectly. I talked to Joe a lot which helped because he was able to convince me from the first second and I felt that he’s the kind of coach I want to play with. I’m very excited to play in the Arsenal shirt for the first time.”It seems that Lia Walti also had a hand in convincing Gut to join – and we are going to be much stronger with her in our ranks.Welcome to Arsenal Malin – we can’t wait to see you in action!
women / Miedema Crowned FWA Player of the Year
Despite us missing out on reclaiming our WSL title, we still won some silverware this past season.That is largely, in part, down to our striking sensation, Vivianne Miedema.The Dutch hotshot has not only won the Golden Boot for the second consecutive year, but she was also crowned as the Football Writers’ Association Women’s Footballer of the Year.This sees redemption for Miedema for last season’s decision, where she missed out on the award by a single vote.Her goals in both the WSL and for her country were the prime reasons why Miedema triumphed. Jen O’Neill, chair of the FWA’s women’s sub-committee, said “This was a close-run decision because of the brilliant breakout season that Beth England had with the Lionesses and WSL champions Chelsea.”O’Neill also said “"However, Vivianne's clinical efficiency in front of goal and her seemingly effortless poise, can mean her all-round ability and footballing intelligence are sometimes overlooked. She is a worthy winner and a world-class performer."With more assists than any other WSL player this season, she is also a valuable creator of openings for team-mates, dropping to collect the ball and playing in others, or making space with her movement."The fact that Miedema not only grabs goals but is also top in assists evidences her all-round attacking play and how she is currently without a rival in that regard.We may have missed out on the title in this prematurely-ended season, but Miedema continues to thrive and excel, firing us forward with her boots.The next WSL campaign, currently slated to begin in September, should be even closer than last season. Chelsea have strengthened as have we, and you can be sure that City will bankroll some stellar signings to ensure they are once again in the running for honours.The season can’t start soon enough. We are itching to see Miedema bang in the goals.Congratulations Viv!