Why keeping Alexandre Lacazette at Arsenal next season may not be such a bad idea

(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

In his time at Arsenal, Alexandre Lacazette has faced copious amounts of (somewhat unwarranted and overly harsh) criticism regarding his lack of goals or athleticism. In the summer of 2017, the Frenchman joined the club for a fee around the £45,000,000 mark. The hype was vast amongst Arsenal fans, following a history of excellent seasons at Lyon- he had smashed 20 domestic goals in each of his last three campaigns. In fact, the Lyon fan-favourite joined Arsenal as statistically the most clinical finisher across Europe’s top five leagues; he scored a remarkable 28 goals and claimed 3 assists in Ligue 1 despite only starting 30 games. Alex Lacazette signed for Arsenal expecting to be the main man in ArseneWenger’s side, finally the clinical striker fans had been desperately calling for. 

Even as a big supporter of the player myself, I think it is fair to say the signing of Alex Lacazette has not quite worked out how we fans would have hoped or expected. The statistics speak for themselves; in his four seasons at the club so far, his highest domestic goal tally over one campaign is just 14. But what is the cause for the drop in goal output for Lacazette?

I think it would be ignorant and unjust to suggest one singular cause for the change in the Frenchman’s fortunes. The one glaringly obvious argument is simply that Lacazette has not adapted well to the Premier League. His clear demise in goal output between Ligue 1 and the Premier League supports that the physicality and play style of the league do not suit the player- he is not particularly tall or fast, which is a clear setback in the English divisions.

Alternatively, I would also suggest that part of the reason for Lacazette’s declining goal tally is due to a revolution in his personal play style. At Lyon he was the focal attacking point, and predominantly stayed in and around the area, poaching goals and finishing inside the area. Alternatively, at Arsenal he has developed to become more of an all-round playmaking number 9, who is less of a box player and more involved with the build up play. The lack of a stable and influential attacking midfielder has meant Lacazette has often lacked service, so consequently has dropped deeper to become the player combining and allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to adopt threatening areas higher up. Essentially, whilst Lacazette evidently has not scored as much as he would want, I don’t think we can pin this entirely on his own failure, and there is actually a lot of good attributes the Frenchman holds.

With just 12 months remaining on his current deal, and now he has reached the age of 30, it is decision time for Alex Lacazette’s future. The options are limited; either we sell up now and try to reclaim as much money as possible, or we extend his contract (most likely for 12 months) to ensure we have his services next season without his contract expiring. I believe, given the circumstances I’ll mention below, giving the player the year extension on his deal would not be as bad of an idea as most Arsenal fans seem to suggest it is.

Firstly, we cannot overlook that come the end of the 2020/21 season, Lacazette finished as Arsenal’s top scorer, both in the Premier League and in all competitions. Whilst this is not overly impressive due to the squad’s overall underperformance (especially that of club captain and usual goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), the statistics cannot be denied. He was Arsenal’s best finisher and number nine this previous season, so unless we replace him with a clear upgrade signing, it would not seem logical to sell. 

Another key factor to this situation is Arsenal’s budget. If we have yet another limited budget this summer, I find it unlikely that we will bring in a striker this summer, given some of the more pressing issues within the squad right now. Keeping Lacazette for another year would allow us time to revisit forward options in the summer of 2022, and properly invest in a new long-term goal scorer. Furthermore, if we are realistic, for a player of Lacazette’s age and contractual situation, it is unlikely we will get any more than £20,000,000 if we are to sell the player- and it seems very unlikely we will be able to sign a better, long-term striker for less than that. 

Running into the season without Lacazette, meaning our striking options are just Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli and the inexperienced Folarin Balogun, is another option that has been widely discussed by fans. This would, in the opinion of yours truly, be a rookie error. Especially given the poor performances of Aubameyang last season and Mikel Arteta’s apparent reluctance to play youngsters Martinelli and Balogun, it seems a steep risk to enter the new season with this lack of depth. Having Lacazette as a starter or rotation player for a further year would increase depth and add competition to the squad- which can only be a good thing.

Lacazette has also been reported to have been key in the development and progression of several young Arsenal players, such as Smith Rowe who suggest that the Frenchman was the main player who helped him settle with the first team:

I think Lacazette. Obviously playing together with him up top, I feel like he’s helped me so much on and off the pitch. He gives me so much confidence. As we link-up and play together, he talks to me a lot. I’d probably say he’s spoken to me the most off the pitch.

His ability to influence and aid the younger players on and off the pitch make him one of the most valuable figures in the Arsenal dressing room, and therefore keeping Lacazette at the club for a further 12 months would allow him to continue supporting the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka- but also tutor the upcoming strikers Gabriel Martinelli and Folarin Balogun. This kind of nurture that Lacazette provides younger players is an invaluable asset, and one that is often overlooked by fans as it is not there to see in plain sight.

Overall, I think Lacazette’s skills and personality both on and off the pitch make him a valuable player for this Arsenal squad, and one that I would personally love to see stay with the club in the 2021/22 season. He is by no means perfect but, given our financial constraints, renewing Alexandre Lacazette’s contract at Arsenal for a further year seems to me to be smart and worthwhile business.

Why selling Joe Willock would be a HUGE mistake from Arsenal

Base photo via: (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Hale End is known by most fans of the Premier League as one of the best youth academies in the country, along with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea. When we think of Hale End, ideas of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and even Ainsley Maitland Niles come to mind. But one man who has been consistently overlooked in recent years as he has grown from an academy talent to first team squad player is Joseph George Willock.

On April 15th 2018, an 18-year-old Joe Willock made his Premier League debut in a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United. Despite the loss, we learnt a lot from the 68 minutes the youngster was on the pitch; he was raw, yet hungry… relentless. Full of energy. It was just a start, but the Arsenal fans got to see a glimmer of the player to come. At the beginning of the 2018/19 season, following the appointment of new manager Unai Emery, fans were excited to see Willock integrated with the first team- after playing just 417 minutes the season prior. Come the end of the campaign, his minutes stood at 526- with 6 goals scored in that time- a rather impressive goal to minute ratio for such a young player.

The 2019/20 season allowed Willock to more than triple his minutes in the first team. He made 44 appearances in all competitions, including 29 in the Premier League. Scoring five times and assisting once, the Hale Ender continued to show signs of a player with potential- but one who was raw and in desperate need of more minutes to build up his decision making and general play. After several potential loans fell through before the start of the 2020/21 season, it looked as if he was going to spend another campaign as a rotation player- getting minutes in cup games, and maybe a few displays off the bench in the Premier League.

This is largely how it played out up until Christmas on 2020- the Englishman was arguably Arsenal’s star player in the early stages of the Europa League, after he scored and assisted three times each over the course of just 344 minutes to ensure qualification into the knockout rounds. However, come January, having made just one start in the league, Arsenal agreed a deal with Newcastle United to acquire the services of Willock for the second segment of the season.

Life at Newcastle got off to a flying start for the 21-year-old, who scored just 16 minutes into his debut- helping to secure a 3-2 victory over Southampton. Willock then went on a 6-game streak of consecutive starts but failed to register a goal involvement. His next goal, in fact, came from his first game on the bench; in true Arsenal fashion, he came on with 11 minutes remaining to score a late equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur. This goal signalled the start of an excellent run-in to the end of the season for Joe Willock; he became the youngest ever player to score in seven consecutive Premier League appearances. He also showed a capability to score against top teams, with Liverpool, Leicester and Manchester City joining Tottenham as the top clubs unable to keep the youngster out. Willock’s final appearance for the Toon came on the closing day against Fulham, where he scored the seventh goal of his consecutive streak as a send-off to the Newcastle fans who welcomed him so openly.

Following such a successful loan, it seems obvious that Newcastle, as well as a plethora of other clubs, will be interested in acquiring Joe Willock on a permanent basis- and thus rumours of a potential switch back to the Magpies have been rife in the media over the past month or so. It became clear that Newcastle want the player permanently, after Steve Bruce suggested the club would “see over the summer if we [Newcastle] can test their [Arsenal’s] resolve.” However, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta have remained resolute in their belief that he will not be leaving Arsenal, the manager stated, “I am really happy things have gone so well for him because of the potential Joe has. It was great for him to go away and have a different experience. He has grabbed that opportunity in a really positive and remarkable way, and he will be back with us. We will have those conversations with him and plan the next few years with him.”

So, where does the future lie for Joe Willock? As far as I see it, Willock should be kept at Arsenal. There is no doubt in my mind. Whilst there is a valid argument that if we ‘cash in’ now, we could add a large chunk of money to our budget, I think the characteristics he has will make him more valuable for the team’s success in years to come than the reported £20,000,000 we could sell him for.

Joe Willock offers what most midfielders do not, and something unique to all the current midfielders at Arsenal. His movement from box to box, neat combination play and relentless third-man-runs are exactly what Arsenal have been missing since the departure of Aaron Ramsey. His ability to run beyond the striker and wingers and either collect the ball or draw out space for his teammates shows an excellent understanding and quality for a still relatively young player. If Mikel Arteta converts to the 4-3-3 formation, which has been heavily spoken about in his reign at the club, then Willock is an ideal player to play the advanced #8 mezzala role. When given chances at Arsenal, he always seemed to be played as a more advanced central creator which simply does not suit his play style, so to get the best out of him it would have to be in a midfield three where he has the freedom to express himself.

Another feature of Joe Willock’s play that I have been largely impressed with, especially during his time at Newcastle, is his dribbling. His ability to collect the ball and drive up the pitch with close control and tidy footwork is yet another attribute he could bring to Arsenal’s midfield- someone who instead of passing around low blocks looks to take a more direct and threatening route forward. This directness is exactly what we need at Arsenal- at times this season we have seemed to be toothless in attack and slow in build-up, so the addition of someone with the intentions of progressing the ball could be all too valuable.

For next season, I want to see Joe Willock heavily integrated with the first team. Keep him at the club as a rotation player, who will lead the team in cup games and provide a difference off the bench in the league- whilst also starting a handful of games. It is time that Mikel Arteta and Arsenal, with their limited budget, look within the club to answer their issues- and keeping Joe Willock could prove very helpful in developing this underperforming side.

LONDON IS RED! Arsenal 2-1 Spurs- Player Ratings

(Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

After going 1-0 down due to an incredible Erik Lamela goal, it was looking as if Arsenal could lose yet another North London Derby. That wasn’t to be. An inspired comeback gave the Gunners the three points, defeating Tottenham 2-1 at the Emirates. Here’s my player ratings…

Starting XI:

Leno – 6 : Had a few shaky moments later on, but didn’t have too much to do. Couldn’t do any better for the Tottenham goal.

Cedric– 6 : Worked relentlessly up the right hand side and gave a very respectable performance. Does the basics well.

Luiz – 7: Didn’t have vast amounts to do, but what he did do, he did well. Kept one of the world’s best strikers quiet for 90 minutes.

Gabriel – 9 : Very close to winning Man of the Match for me. The way he was spraying some of his longer passes was just incredible. He locked down Harry Kane, and he gave that crucial header to stop a clear goal. Brick wall.

Tierney – 8 : Good as ever. Our main source of threat for large parts of the game. Absolutely destroyed Matt Doherty on the left hand side. Combined with Emile Smith Rowe incredibly.

Xhaka – 7 : Dominated the midfield. It is that simple. Controlled on the ball, and balanced well with Thomas Partey. Bar that one mistake against Burnley, he’s been very solid in recent months.

Partey – 7 : Incredible for the first 75 minutes, but clearly tired from then on and the level dropped. Very good on the ball and excellent against press. Showed Hojberg and Ndombele some serious levels.

Saka – 5 : Came off early, apparently due to injury. Hope he is okay.

Ødegaard – 8 : Easily his best performance since coming to the club. Set a standard that he’ll do well to maintain for the rest of the season. Really took control of the tempo today. Very promising. Got his goal, too.

Smith Rowe – 9 (MOTM) : Just incredible. 20 years of age and absolutely running the North London Derby. Created more chances (4) in his 77 minutes on the pitch than all the Tottenham players combined (2). Would have scored the perfect 10 had that shot found the back of the net.

Lacazette – 6: Missed a few chances, but scored the winner. Captained the team to victory in the North London Derby and securely converted his penalty.

Substitutes:

Pepe – 7 : Looked full of energy off the bench. Made the absolutely incredible pass into Lacazette leading up to the penalty. Very good impact.

Willian – 5 : Didn’t impact the game. Didn’t have much time to play and therefore cannot be judged to a great extent.

Elneny – N/A : Didn’t have enough time to gain a rating.

An excellent win. A huge humbling to Jose Mourinho. A reminder that North London will always be RED.

Arsenal 3-1 Olympiacos – Player Ratings

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Arsenal have taken the advantage in their Europa League round of 16 tie, defeating the Greek side 3-1 at the Karaiskakis Stadium. A result that, whilst on the outside looks impressive, was not particularly reflective of the game. As far as I see it, we played poorly. But, three away goals and a two goal advantage to take back for the second leg is very palatable. Here’s a look at my player ratings for the game.

Starting XI:

Leno – 5 : Shouldn’t have played the ball to Ceballos for the Olympiacos goal. Needs to learn to not just follow his instructions, but use his own decision making at times. Should have just kicked long.

Bellerin – 6 : Thought his work rate and engine throughout the game was impressive. Worked himself into good attacking positions but let down on the final ball at times. Not a bad display.

Luiz – 5 : Pretty standard performance. Wasn’t particularly tested but had a few worrying moments. Nothing more to say, really.

Gabriel – 8 (MOTM) : From a defensive perspective he was physically strong. Very secure. But when you score a goal like that at a time like that, you cannot give the player less than an 8. A glorious leap, and an amazing header. Clutch.

Tierney – 7 : Mr. Consistent was once again one of our best players. Worked relentlessly up his flank (much like Bellerin), but created several chances also. Has been robbed of something like 10 assists this season due to poor finishing. Good performance.

Xhaka – 7 : Not a bad display, and was one of the better players. Made a few mistakes on the ball but didn’t lead to any significant change in the game. Reacted well to last game’s mistake.

Partey – 6 : I don’t think this was the best version of Thomas Partey on display tonight, but he was solid. Can play a lot better, but overall did not have a day display. Was the first substitute off, and we could notice the difference without his security on the pitch.

Saka – 6 : Not too impactful today but a steady performance from the teenager. Did what he had to do, dribbled with the ball well and linked up nicely. Was once again the target of rotational fouling from the opposition.

Ødegaard – 6 : Here me out on this one… Yes he scored an excellent goal, but other than that one moment I thought he was very average today. Pleased to see him on the score sheet, but hope he can have a greater impact in overall play moving forward.

Willian – 7 : Was one of the few players who looked secure throughout. Worked hard on and off the ball, and got his reward with another assist- for Gabriel’s towering header. Another one to add to the string of good performances Willian has put together recently.

Aubameyang – 5 : Wasn’t involved at all today, unfortunately. Didn’t get much service in fairness, but he didn’t try to impose himself either. Should we have not won today, I imagine he’d have been subject to a fair bit of criticism.

Substitutes:

Ceballos – 3: He wasn’t helped by Leno’s pass, but he was too at fault for the Olympiacos goal just after he came on. I always feel slightly nervous when Dani is on the ball.

Elneny– 10 : Need I say anything? Came on, scored a stunner and made the result a whole lot better. The Europa League Pirlo had his shooting boots on tonight!

Pepe, Smith Rowe and Lacazette – N/A : Can be bunched together as they didn’t have enough time to gain a rating. The former two played the last eight minutes, whilst the latter came on for the last two.

Not our best performance, but a very solid result. A good lead to take into the home leg. We move on to the North London Derby!

Burnley 1-1 Arsenal: Player Ratings

(Photo by Peter Powell – Pool/Getty Images)

What a frustrating game. After an early Aubameyang goal and a bright start, it looked like Arsenal were in for a good afternoon at Turf Moor. However, a foolish mistake from Xhaka handed Burnley a route back into the game, and we were sloppy from then on. We should have won this game.

Starting XI:

Leno – 6 : I don’t really see how you can blame him for the goal. He’s clearly under clear managerial instruction to play short. Xhaka had enough time to deal with that. After the goal, I thought he was arguably our best player. Commanding in the box and made a great save to deny a speculative effort.

Chambers – 6: The biggest surprise on the line-up. I thought Calum was decent today. Did little wrong and all round was one of the best players in the Arsenal side.

Luiz – 5 : Made more than one key defensive action and most certainly wasn’t at fault for the goal. Nothing else to say on him really.

Mari – 5 : Similar to Luiz, he didn’t do anything drastically wrong. Wasn’t amazing, but wasn’t part of the reason we dropped points.

Tierney – 6 : An uninspiring performance from Kieran today. Don’t get me wrong, he was not bad… he just had a much lesser impact on the game to what we usually see from the Scotsman. Average today.

Xhaka – 3 : Whilst he wasn’t bad prior to the Burnley goal, I simply cannot overlook that mistake from Granit. It’s absolutely braindead. Just keep it simple and get the ball out of the danger area. Ultimately, his mistake cost us the three points.

Partey – 5 : Very much a game of two halves for Thomas Partey. Prior to the goal from Wood, he was running the game. The second half, he was sloppy at times. Not his finest performance.

Saka – 4 : Though he’s been our best player this season, the winger wasn’t on it today. Missed a clear chance and overall was well off the pace. I have no doubts he’ll be firing next game, though.

Ødegaard – 4 : Did very little. Was not in the game at all. If we’re honest, this was a very disappointing display from the loanee. A very unmemorable performance from Ødegaard today, unfortunately.

Willian – 5 : Did well in his involvement with the Arsenal goal, getting an assist for the third game in a row. Had little to no impact on the game other than that moment though.

Aubameyang – 5 : Took his goal very well, but on the large part didn’t get too involved in the game today. Had another chance and, without having a proper chance to rewatch it yet, I feel he could have done better. Had little service today and took his biggest chance.

Substitutes:

Lacazette – 5: Did little after coming on. Couldn’t impact the game, and became a clear target of fouls from the opposition.

Pepe – 6 : The hardest player to rate today. He was very influential and bright when he came on, but didn’t take his chances. Had a simple cut back from 6 yards and completely missed the ball. His other shot was well blocked by the defender. Felt he should have scored today.

Ceballos – 5 : Not much to say about Dani today. Had very little impact on the game until the very last minute, where he was unlucky his shot hit the bar.

A frustrating game for Arsenal fans to watch. Four big chances missed. We dropped points today due to our own errors. It’s infuriating.

Arsenal 3-1 Leicester – Player Ratings

(Photo by Rui Vieira – Pool/Getty Images)

After conceding another early goal due to a defensive error, it looked like Arsenal could be in for another disappointing result against Leicester today. However, much to the delight of the fans, a controlling performance led to an impressive turn around- and all three points heading back to North London. Here’s my player ratings from today’s game…

Starting XI:

Leno – 6 : Another game for Leno where he had little to do, and yet could not have done anything to deny Tielemans’ early goal for Leicester. Did what he had to do, well.

Soares – 7 : I was pleased to see the Portuguese international in the lineup, what with Bellerin’s painfully average form of late. I thought Cedric did exactly what he had to do today. He was effective in combining with Pepe as swiftly as possible, a pleasant change from Bellerin’s seeming preference to slow it down and play in to midfield. Brought the best out of Pepe today. Will be interesting to see who Arteta favours in coming weeks.

Luiz – 8 : The Brazilian scored a very impressive header to bring us level, in what was a very positive individual performance from David Luiz. He was secure defensively, physically imposing and fulfilled everything we wanted of him. Solid.

Mari – 5 : Very much at fault for the Leicester goal. It is basic defensive knowledge that the first priority has to be the man on the ball, as opposed to focusing on runners. Should have pressed Tielemans. To be fair, his performance after that was solid, and crowned off with a clever recovery run to shut out Vardy late on.

Tierney – 8 : It seemed clear to me today that the Scotsman is back to full fitness. As always, he was electric up the left flank, combining well with Willian and offering great security on the ball. As we have come to expect from Tierney at Arsenal, this was another impressive performance.

Xhaka – 8 : Another great performance from Granit today, who has been on top form since he returned from his red card against Burnley. The midfielder had the most touches, passes, duels won, ball recoveries and tackles made today. While his slow style of play can frustrate when we are losing, he controlled the game well when we went ahead.

Elneny – 4 : The overriding feeling that I get when I watch him is that he is a painfully average footballer. Whilst Elneny is normally secure on the ball, it feels like most, if not all, of his passes are sideways or backwards. Frustrating to watch. He didn’t do much wrong, but didn’t give Arteta any reason to give him more game time going forward.

Pepe – 9 (MOTM) : For me, this was one of the best performances we’ve seen from Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal so far. He absolutely ran the Leicester left back ragged in the first half, forcing them into an early change. Won the penalty for Lacazette to convert, and topped off a positive outing with a neatly worked goal and simple finish. A sign of what he can do when he’s at his best.

Smith Rowe – 6 : Prior to his injury and substitution in the dying minutes of the first half, I thought Emile played well. His neat linkup play, clever movement and all-round creative influence was present throughout the half. Sad to see him go off.

Willian – 8 : Alongside Fulham on the opening day of the season, this was clearly his best performance in an Arsenal shirt. Added on a strong substitute performance on Thursday with another two assists- and a performance that looked much more like a player trying their very best. Need more games like today from Willian.

Lacazette – 8 : For me, this was another excellent performance from the striker- who has seemingly been on top form when started recently. The way he brings others in to the game with neat passes or by clearing space is incredible. Took his penalty emphatically.

Substitutes:

Ødegaard – 7: After coming on for the injured Smith Rowe just on the stroke of half time, the loanee had a very pleasant outing. Bar one stray pass, Ødegaard was secure on the ball- and showed his class by effectively creating the third goal. Top stuff.

Partey – 7 : The overriding feeling when Thomas steps on the pitch is that he really does ooze class. Dominated the midfield and kept everything secure. Great to have him back.

Aubameyang – 5 : Came on and didn’t really have much to do. Standard five, did nothing wrong but made no meaningful impact.

A controlling performance, and great result- but most importantly, the three points. We go on to the next one.

Arsenal 3-2 Benfica – Player Ratings

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Wow. What a game. A true rollercoaster of emotions. From the despair of going behind, to the hope brought on by Tierney’s goal and the pure relief when Aubameyang headed home the winner. It’s never an easy time for Arsenal, right?

Instead of having a look at what we learnt today, in what was an emotional affair, I’ll be giving my player ratings for the game…

Starting XI:

Leno – 6 : Standard game from Leno. Didn’t pull off any miraculous saves and couldn’t do much for the goals he conceded. Nothing more to say on the goalkeeper, really.

Bellerin – 4 : I’m not Bellerin’s biggest fan and I thought he wasn’t great today, but he wasn’t awful either. Wasn’t at fault for the goals conceded, but wasn’t at all productive going forward. Really needs to improve his chance creation and end product.

Luiz – 4 : Whilst his mistakes did not cost us today, I thought it was a lacklustre performance from the experienced centre back on the night. Miscommunication and a lack of sharpness on and off the ball led to a few shaky moments- but nothing too big. Not awful today, but certainly not up to standard.

Gabriel – 5 : Much like his centre back partner, Gabriel Maghalaes didn’t seem to be quite at his best today. Not a performance to be too disappointed with, but certainly not one to praise too highly. Had some good moments, and some more vulnerable ones. The better of the two centre backs today for me, and definitely the best at the club in that role.

Tierney – 7 : Despite his relentless efforts, I still thought Kieran Tierney looked like a player who wasn’t at 100% today. This was, of course, until he turned on attack mode, cut inside and blasted it far post to put us back level at 2-2. A moment of brilliance, from a player that consistently stands up to be accounted for.

Xhaka – 7 : Good game from Granit today. Nothing special, quietly did what he does every game. Steady and controlling in possession. Has his fair share of critics, but has been undeniably one of our best players recently.

Ceballos – 1 : Giving him one feels generous, but I feel I have to simply because he did some okay passing before his mistakes. Was sitting way too deep before the first goal, which caused him to rush up and make a stupid challenge. You simply cannot give away freekicks in those areas. He was at fault again for the second goal; zero awareness of the striker’s position… all he had to do was get distance on the header and he failed. Quite frankly a disasterclass from Dani, which is a real shame given his performances in the last few games.

Smith Rowe – 5 : Didn’t get into the game if we’re honest. Had some nice moments, but overall a very forgettable performance from Smith Rowe. I’d definitely say I prefer him in a more central role as opposed to on the left.

Ødegaard – 6 : Another player who didn’t grasp the game completely. Had good moments and played some lovely passes, but again- nothing to write home about in regards to Ødegaard output. Not bad at all, however- and he wasn’t without his good moments.

Saka – 9 (MOTM) : I’m running out of words to describe Bukayo Saka with, so I will keep it simple. Starboy. Nothing less. Once again Arsenal’s best player. His assist for Aubameyang’s first goal required incredible vision and an inch-perfect final ball, which he successfully delivered. The second assist proved just how crucial he is to us. Out of nothing, he played a divine cross for Aubameyang to nod home and win the game. Incredible player.

Aubameyang – 8 : After missing three chances of note in the first leg, all eyes were on the captain to deliver the goods when we needed it most. And, quite clearly, that is what he did. two goals, an opener and a last-minute winner. Just what the doctor ordered from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He’ll be pleased with that, for sure.

Substitutes:

Partey – 8 : After coming on for Ceballos 63 minutes in, Thomas changed the game. He just is an excellent player- even at half fitness. Simply class, can’t wait to have him fit to start. It’s that simple.

Willian – 7 : When Willian came on for Smith Rowe in the 63rd, I was understandably angry. A man who had done nothing all season coming on when we needed two goals?! Today, however, he proved me wrong. Nothing special, but made the correct pass to assist Tierney- and was secure on the ball throughout. Credit when it’s due.

Lacazette – 5 : Came on and didn’t really have much to do. Standard five, did nothing wrong but made no meaningful impact.

Chambers & Elneny – N/A : Came on at 90 minutes. Nothing to judge their games off.

A stressful, and overall poor, performance from the team today. At the end of the day, we’re through at that’s what counts. We’ll have to step it up next round though, because the performance against Benfica wasn’t good enough.

Arsenal 4-2 Leeds: Four Things We Learnt

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After a great first half, we came out successful against tonight’s opponents, beating Leeds United 4-2 at the Emirates. Here’s four things I noticed from the win…

Aubameyang back?

In his first start since returning from several weeks away from the team due to a family issue, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back with a bang! The Gabonese striker did not only get on the scoresheet, but registered his first EVER Premier League hattrick. His first goal was one we have seen so many times before- his trademark move; cutting in from the left and getting his shot off. After setting the side off to an early start, Aubameyang scored his second goal in the closing minutes before half time- converting from 12 yards after Bukayo Saka was brought down in the box. The Arsenal captain crowned off a successful night with his third- heading in a world class Emile Smith Rowe cross from close range.

In what has been a difficult season for Aubameyang, his hattrick against Leeds was a subtle reminder of just how good he can be. If we want to make anything of the remainder of the season, it’s absolutely essential that Aubameyang can keep his name of the scoresheet for as long as possible.

Bukayo Saka’s game impact.

Despite not registering a goal involvement today, Bukayo Saka once again shone out against Leeds. The talented teenager won the penalty for our second goal, could (SHOULD!) have had another penalty, hit the post, and was key to the build-up for another goal. All round, Saka proved that the difference between him and a lot of the other young players in the Premier League is the drastic overall influence he can have on a football match- and how his game is far more developed than just goals and assists. His linkup play with the likes of Ødegaard, Smith Rowe and even Aubameyang was impressive as always… Saka really is proving why he is the player we should be scaffolding our future around.

It’s getting to the point where it might be time to have a very stern conversation about Bukayo Saka being one of the best right wingers in the league. Bar the incredible Mo Salah, who has had a better season than our starboy?

A midfield masterclass…

While the further injury sustained by Thomas Partey in our last match frustrated and worried a large majority of the Arsenal fanbase, today we managed to cope well without our Ghanaian. It seems only right to say that I, like many other Arsenal fans, have not held back in critiquing Dani Ceballos this season- but tonight, I thought he was very solid. Not only did he delicately slide Bellerin in for the fourth goal, but Ceballos (alongside Xhaka) dominated the midfield. In the post-match interview, Leeds manager Marco Bielsa supported this statement, suggesting that “we [Leeds] didn’t manage to control Xhaka and Ceballos.

We must also praise Ceballos’ pivot partner for today’s display. I thought Granit Xhaka, another player who has been subject to vast criticism since joining Arsenal, put out a very respectable performance. He was controlling and direct on the ball, whilst also assisting Aubameyang for the first goal. In fact, it’s hard to fault Xhaka’s performances in the run since Boxing Day- he’s been consistently solid for a while now, and often doesn’t receive the due praise.

Persistence with Willian?!

Look. It’s become boring to sit here after every game and talk about him, but it simply has to be said. 62 minutes into the game, Smith Rowe was taken off, and replaced by Willian. Whilst the decision to take Smith Rowe off (with an eye on our midweek fixture against Benfica) made logical sense, I cannot even reason as to why it was Willian who was brought on as our first substitute. In the half season he’s been here, he has shown absolutely nothing to justify getting minutes over the likes of Martinelli. Even as an Arteta supporter, his persistence with Willian is infuriating, and becoming even harder to rationalize as the weeks progress. Today, Willian lost possession with five of his ten touches in the game [Stat via: Squawka]… embarrassing.

Not only does Willian do little to nothing on the pitch, but I genuinely believe the team look drastically worse when he comes on. I have the upmost faith that Gabriel Martinelli has an expansive and successful future ahead of him, but how can anyone expect him to fulfil his potential when he isn’t getting minutes over a ineffectual and declining 32-year-old? It simply doesn’t compute to me.

To end on a more positive note… we went in to this game needing three points and came out with just that. Thus, there are no real complaints in my eyes. Elated to see Aubameyang back in the goals, to see the excellent performances from the likes of Ødegaard, Saka, Smith Rowe and others. We have to keep this momentum going and get the win in the crucial Europa League tie against Benfica on Thursday.

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Should Arsenal give up domestic hopes, and throw everything at the Europa League?

With the 2020/21 Premier League season now beyond the half way mark, Arsenal’s domestic campaign is shaping up to be nothing less than disastrous. At the time of writing, the London club sit eleventh in the Premier League- with each of the teams around us holding games in hand. Were our opponents to take advantage of their fixtures, we could potentially be sat in 12th place.

Premier League table as of 10/02/2021

Not only are we in a bad position, but our upcoming fixtures do not seem to be cutting us any sort of slack. Our next seven league games run as followed: Leeds United (H), Manchester City (H), Leicester City (A), Burnley (A), Spurs (H), West Ham (A) and Liverpool (H). With the way the team have performed, especially in our last game, we could be on course to pick up very few of the 21 points available.

Whilst the fixtures are tough and making anything of the domestic season seems unlikely, if this campaign has proven anything, it is that football is unpredictable. If we are able to rekindle the form we had entering the new year and throughout January, get a run of wins under our belt and defeat some of our competitors, the season could be far from dormant. Chelsea, who currently sit fifth in the table, are just eight points ahead of us- with the same number of games played. Granted- top four is certainly out of the question, but the hope that we can gain a spot within the top 7 for Europa League football is far from lost. We are certainly not in a good position and if we cannot regain form then we might as well wave goodbye to European football for the following season, but whilst their is a chance to recover something from this rollercoaster that is 2020/21- we should try our very best to do so.

The other option to obtain European football at the Emirates next season would be the Europa League. After crashing out of the Carabao and FA Cup, the Europa League is the only knockout competition Arsenal remain to be in. With an approaching Round of 32 encounter against Benfica next Thursday, Mikel Arteta will have to make a clear judgement on how highly he prizes this competition, and will reflect that in the strength of his lineups in these games. This, naturally, raises the obvious question: Should Arsenal give up domestic hopes, and throw everything at the Europa League?

While I do think it is utterly unreasonable to completely focus on one competition and discard the other, it would be my preference to highly value the Europa League for the remainder of the season. In the past three years, we have reached the semi-finals, final, and then crashed out in the round of 16- but this could finally be the year we win the competition. Not only would this secure silverware for the club, but it would offer us a place in the Champions League next season- something Arsenal fans have been desperate for since we last played in Europe’s best competition some years ago. Of the sides remaining in the draw, Arsenal are one of the best- with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, AC Milan and Bayer Leverkusen among other strong teams still standing. However, the Europa League comes with its own risks. Only one team can win and therefore, with strong competitors still in the running, there is only a slim chance we come out victorious. If the draw can fall in our favour and we can avoid the really hard fixtures for as long as possible, we are most definitely one of the front runners for this competition.

Overall, whilst it is key that we take each game at a time and do not lose focus on either competition, I think we should at least have a very firm clasp on the Europa League. I genuinely think we can win this competition if we play our best lineups, and see off some of the other front runners. For that reason, I want to see Mikel Arteta field some of the strongest lineups we possibly can in the Europa League- whilst being realistic that we have to try to make something of our Premier League campaign. Starting against Benfica, I hope we set up with the likes of Saka, Aubameyang, Xhaka and Martinelli in the team. We should do everything we can to keep our European chances as open as possible.

To be clear, the true answer to the question I posed as the title of this piece is no. It is not even slightly reasonable to completely neglect one competition in spite of the other. We should do our best to maintain good performances in both and take each game as it approaches, but when it comes boils down to the business end of the season- where fixture lists are even more packed and breaks between games become less and less… it is the Europa League that I think presents the best chance to make a success of the 2020/21 Arsenal season.

What Bukayo Saka has that the Premier League’s other youngsters do not.

(Photo by Frank Augstein – Pool/Getty Images)

Since announcing himself to the Premier League over the course of last season, Bukayo Saka has developed to be widely understood as one of the best young players in the Premier League. His consistently bright performances in what has been largely a dull Arsenal side have highlighted the talented teenager, who has now gained the respect of fans across the footballing world. Here’s a look at what Bukayo Saka has that some of the Premier League’s other youngsters do not…

Versatility

Bukayo Saka has not only showed his ability to play in a host of different positions, he has also displayed high quality in each and every one of these roles. Remarkably, in just one and a half seasons, he has played FIVE different positions for Arsenal (left back, left wing-back, left winger, right winger and central midfielder). While it is evident he excels most from the right wing, Saka has proved himself at each of these positions- showing he will perform wherever he is needed for the club, without any complaints. At just 19 years of age, his versatility is one of the key attributes that sets him apart from his competitors. Other young sparks of a similar age are yet to refine themselves in a single position, let alone in a plethora of different roles.

Consistency

What we football fans often forget with young players is how little time they have been playing at the top level. It is not uncommon for players, especially younger ones, to experience dips in form- however, we have simply not seen this with Bukayo Saka. Sometimes, I think we take Saka’s consistency for granted. Not only has he performed well in virtually every game he’s played in an Arsenal shirt, he’s arguably been our best and most reliable player all season. Even in a struggling side, and throughout the dark run earlier in our season, he was one of a very few players to step up and hold themselves accounted for. To sustain such high levels of output at his age is nothing short of exceptional- and long may it continue!

Decision-Making

In many cases, the difference between a good and a world class player is their footballing mind. An individual could have all the physical attributes to make it to the very top, and yet without the ability to make the right decisions in almost every situation they hold their potential back a great deal. Often, a player’s decision-making develops over the years as they gain more experience, however at just 19 years old it seems Bukayo Saka already has an impeccable judgement on what is the right choice, dependant on the situation. The England international displays wisdom beyond his years- a wise head on young shoulders. He completes the correct run, pass or shot almost all the time, and this has helped him increase his goal tally significantly this season. His ability to stay composed, get his head up and play the right ball immediately is incredible, and has massively boosted Arsenal’s attacking force this season.

Game Impact

For such a young player, Bukayo Saka’s overall contribution to the game is vast. He is, alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Alex Lacazette, involved in the majority of attacking moves for the Gunners across a regular 90′. Not only does he contribute goals and register assists, but he is also key to our build up play. His ability to play short balls and link up with his teammates, or even longer passes to shift the play show just well-rounded the youngster is. Off the ball, Saka can often be seen to be making runs and playing fluidly across the front line, causing havoc for opposition defences. Having both the capability to cut inside or go out wide add an element of unpredictability to the 19-year-old’s play. While goal contributions are key for a player in the front three, Bukayo Saka has so much more than that in his locker- and as such is not only a player that can contribute to a team’s success, but a player that an entire team can be built around.

Why, you may ask, does this make him the best young player in the Premier League right now? My thesis is pretty simple. While the English top flight is stacked full of bright talents (the likes of Foden, Odoi, our very own Martinelli, Greenwood, Neto and more) I don’t think there is a single young player that has all the capabilities that are possessed by Bukayo Saka. He is, for me, the most well-rounded, and therefore the best, youngster in England right now. Whilst his counterparts will continue to develop their weaker attributes and go on to become world class players, Bukayo Saka currently has the best foundation upon which to build his game and refine his attributes in the coming months and years. That is why I believe Bukayo Saka is the best young player in the Premier League, as of now.