Arsenal 3-2 Benfica – Player Ratings

(Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

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

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

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.

Mesut Ozil- A Legacy at Arsenal

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

It’s official. Mesut Ozil has left Arsenal Football Club. After eight years in North London, the German has taken the next step in his career by joining Fenerbahce on a permanent deal, after agreeing to terminate his Arsenal contract with six months remaining. The playmaker grew up with a Turkish family who have been devoted fans of his new club for many years. Ozil has finally been able to fulfil his mother’s wish to wear the blue and yellow stripes. Here’s a brief overview of Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career, and the legacy he built at our club…

The incredible scenes which occurred when Arsenal first announced the signing of Mesut Ozil are known not only by our own fans, but supporters of the sport all round the globe. Pure pandemonium. The joy and reception from Arsenal fans for this acquisition were far greater than any other. The Deadline Day announcement that the greatest attacking midfielder on the planet was becoming a Gooner.

Ozil joined Arsenal on the second of September 2013, and his impact was instant. The playmaker, who became the most expensive German player of all time with his move to Arsenal, was assigned the number 11 shirt- and was simply slotted in behind the front three, in Wenger’s notorious 4-2-3-1 formation. Against Sunderland on his debut, it took Ozil just 11 minutes to claim his first assist for Arsenal, and he ended his first season in red and white with 7 goals and 14 assists in just 39 appearances… whilst being a key component to ending Arsenal’s trophy drought. Ozil won the FA Cup within his first year at Arsenal- a competition he would go on to win on three more occasions at the club. He ended his first season at Arsenal successfully- and was widely viewed as one of the world’s elite players at this time.

The 2014/15 season couldn’t have got off to a better start for Mesut Ozil. He returned to Arsenal in mid-August, after playing an influential part in Germany’s World Cup triumph. The arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona saw the start of an iconic duo between the pair, that developed over the coming seasons. Ozil ended the season with 9 assists, 5 goals and back-to-back FA Cup victories, become a fan favourite due to his tricky skill, excellent passing range and top-notch creativity.

Mesut Ozil’s greatest season in an Arsenal shirt came in 2015/16. The German set a Premier League record for being the only player to claim an assist in seven consecutive league matches. He ended the season just one assist short of Thierry Henry’s ‘most assists in one Premier League season’ record- making 19, whilst also scoring 6 goals in 35 appearances domestically. With the help of Mesut, Arsenal finished the league in second place, behind Leicester City, thanks to some classic Sp*rs bottling on the final day. Many Arsenal fans feel angry that, in a season where both Alexis and Ozil showed how good they were, we did not win the league. The Arsenal frontline seemingly lost all finishing ability towards the latter stages of the season, robbing the German of the assist record… and maybe even a Premier League trophy. He won Arsenal Player of the Season, and Premier League top assistor in the 2015/16 season.

2016/17 was yet another successful season for Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. Despite not quite reaching the insane numbers he set the season before, he still managed to rack up an impressive 12 goals and 14 assists in 44 appearances. On October 19th 2016, Arsenal played Ludogorets in the Champions League. Despite going 2-0 down within 15 minutes, we came back to win the game 3-2, with Mesut Ozil scoring arguably his most iconic goal in an Arsenal shirt. The German elegantly took the ball over the goalkeeper and round two defenders before slotting it in the bottom corner of the goal. Simply sensational. He won the Arsenal Goal of the Season with this effort.

In the 2017/18 season, Mesut Ozil signed his famous three-year contract extension, to tie him to the club until 2021. The player’s wage increased to an eye-watering £350,000 per week- which has been the spearpoint of much of his criticism ever since. In term of statistical output, Ozil ended the season with 5 goals and 14 assists in 35 appearances- a respectable tally. Mesut Ozil scored another of his most respected Arsenal goals this year. On the 22nd of December 2017, the playmaker employed his unique technique of chipping the ball over the goalkeeper by hitting it against the ground to put Arsenal 3-2 up against Liverpool. The season ended with the departure of Arsene Wenger, the man who not only brought Mesut Ozil to London, but gave him the freedom, minutes and system in which he could thrive as a player. Both the player and manager have only spoken highly of each other since. He really was “Arsene Wenger’s man”.

There is very little I would like to address from the 2018/19 season onward, as it is widely understood by football fans that this is the time period where it began to go wrong for Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. Due to a culmination of reasons (reoccurring back injuries, publicly being dropped on several occasions and overall a bad relationship with the manager), Mesut Ozil was not able to replicate his production that had been show in previous seasons. Despite being named as one of the Arsenal vice captains and claiming the number 10 shirt following Jack Wilshere’s departure, Ozil recorded his worst season in an Arsenal shirt at the time, with just 6 goals and 3 assists all season.

Things did not get a great deal better for Mesut Ozil in the 2019/20 season. After displaying his distaste for Unai Emery following the horrible 4-1 Europa League final defeat against Chelsea, the poor relationship between Emery and Ozil continued to exacerbate. Mikel Arteta’s arrival in December replenished hope for a revival of the German, and this was seen in the months leading up to lockdown, where he started a run of ten games following his former teammate’s appointment. However, after the restart of the Premier League following its temporary stand-still in the Covid-19 pandemic, Mesut Ozil did not make a single appearance for the rest of the season.

Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career has fallen off so sharply that, for this 2021/21 season, he was not even registered for the competition squads. He has made a total of zero minutes this season and with that number set to stay the same, the player’s agents and Arsenal’s representatives have reached a deal to terminate his contract, which was set to expire this summer.

And that, it seems, is that. After eight years, the majority of which were successful for him as an individual and the team as a whole, Mesut Ozil will now open the next chapter of his career in Turkey. A servant to the club. One who’s prime will never be forgotten by Arsenal fans. The greatest creative midfielder of the Premier League era. An Arsenal legend? That’s a debate for another day. One of the best Arsenal players in the last decade? Undisputedly.

Mesut Ozil was, and is, not only an incredible footballer- but an incredible human being. Eight years he gave to this club and, regardless what you think of him now, it is undeniable that he is one, if not the, greatest players to put on the Arsenal shirt in the Emirates Era. It seems only fitting to end this off by saying…

Thank you, Mesut Ozil. Best of wishes for your future ahead, both in Turkey and beyond that. #YaGunnersYa.

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Mat Ryan to Arsenal – A good signing?

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

This morning, Arsenal announced the signing of Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan on a 6-month loan until the end of this season. A surprise to all Arsenal fans, the 28-year-old had not been linked to the club prior to his announcement- a rare change from the regular weeks of transfer saga before we sign our targets!

As far as I see it, this deal makes complete sense. Our summer signing Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson has proven, in the little minutes he has played, that he’s out of his depth at Arsenal, so the signing of a new backup goalkeeper was absolutely essential this January, to provide cover in case of another injury to Bernd Leno. Mat Ryan fulfils most of the attributes that we need within our backup goalkeeper. He is experienced (has over 100 Premier League appearances at Brighton), as well as being a low-risk signing because it is only a 6-month loan. If he performs well for us, we will have the option to sign him for free in the summer, as he will be a free agent. If he doesn’t warrant a permanent move, we can part ways with him, and target a different goalkeeper for the long term. Low risk, decent reward. I am not against this deal for that particular reason.

The club seem pleased to have addressed our goalkeeping problem. When questioned about the signing, Mikel Arteta released the following statement: “We know Mat very well through his performances with Brighton in recent seasons and he brings additional quality to our squad. Mat has very good Premier League experience and has played over 100 times in the league, which is something that will benefit us greatly on and off the pitch. We welcome Mat to Arsenal and look forward to working with him this season.”

Also showing his support for the signing was Technical Director Edu Gaspar, who added that: “Mat is an experienced goalkeeper, a proven talent in the Premier League and has also played many internationals for Australia. Mat will further strengthen our squad with his experience and knowledge of playing at the highest level. Following Matt Macey’s recent move to Hibernian, Mat will provide very good competition and positive support to all our goalkeepers and we are looking forward to him integrating quickly into the set-up here at Arsenal.”

The player, who claims he was a passionate Arsenal fan as a child, seems elated to make the move to Arsenal: “All those mornings as a young kid in Australia, getting up to watch the [Arsenal] Champions League games at 4 o’clock in the morning when I had school. To now be here fills me with a great sense of pride and achievement.” He went on to say that joining Arsenal is “simply a dream come true”, and he “never thought [it] would become a reality, but [he is] very thankful that it has”. Clearly a man with a passion for the club, who is honoured to wear the Arsenal shirt. Hopefully, his motivation will to be as good as possible for the club he supports, so to earn a longer contract in North London.

The reality is that Mat Ryan has been poor for Brighton this season and the end of last, and lost his starting place at the club. However, I do think there is a solid goalkeeper within him. To play consistently over a course of several seasons in the Premier League, you have to have some sort of credentials. In his time at the top flight of English football, he has averaged 3 saves per game and a 66% save success in a shaky Brighton side. Far from awful stats.

While he will almost certainly never play in the Premier League bar an injury to the nailed-on Bernd Leno, but Ryan will offer good cover in cup competitions- and will be an experienced player within the dressing room. This transfer is smart from Arsenal in my eyes, as I mentioned before; there is a low risk, it is a cheap move, it is only short-term and therefore can be reassessed in the summer. I am perfectly happy with this move from Arsenal, as the backup goalkeeper position was essential to fill this window, and we have done so successfully.

I wish nothing but the best of luck for Maty Ryan over the next six months, and hopefully he will be a successful signing that can become longer term in the summer. We could see the Australian commence his Arsenal career as early as tomorrow, because he has been registered in time to be available for Arsenal’s FA Cup tie against Southampton. Let’s hope for a good beginning, if he starts, to his time at the club- and that he can come in handy when called upon by Mikel Arteta!

Why Arsenal should sign Martin Ødegaard this month.

(Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images)

In the last few hours, Arsenal have been linked with a potential 6-month loan move for Norwegian creative midfielder Martin Ødegaard, as per Sky Sports- which has subsequently been confirmed by the ever-reliable David Ornstein. Here’s a look at the player, and why Arsenal should sign him in this January Transfer Window…

The 22-year-old has been virtually exiled from the Real Madrid team by manager Zinedine Zidane with no clear explanation, and therefore it is within the player’s interests to leave the Spanish capital in pursuit of a loan deal, so he can be playing regular football again. Real Madrid are said to be open to accepting a loan move, but are not yet willing to sell- which could work well for Arsenal, who do not have the finances to sign a player of his calibre permanently at this point. While Real Sociedad, who took the Norwegian on loan for 2019/20, are interested in another loan for the player (and with the player said to not be against a move there), they sit in poll position to resign Martin Ødegaard- but the deal is said to be far from completion. Arsenal should take this opportunity to formally register their interest in the player, and do their best to bring him to North London for the remainder of the season.

From an Arsenal perspective, Ødegaard completely fits the bill. While Emile Smith Rowe’s addition to the squad in recent weeks has been one of success, I think it’s pretty clear so see that Arsenal still require more creative threat in their side. Smith Rowe is young; at just 20 he cannot be expected to carry all the weight of being Arsenal’s creative aspirations alone. With concerns over his injury-prone past, it feels too dangerous a risk to place all our eggs in one basket with the Hale End graduate, so to speak. I fear, if we do not sign another creative player this window, our season will rest of a tightrope… we could be just one Smith Rowe injury away from returning to the diabolical form we showed pre his introduction to the Arsenal starting XI in the 3-1 triumph over Chelsea.

Martin Ødegaard can be that additional creative source within our squad. With his services available to acquire on loan, he can be the short-term solution to our problem- whilst we search for a permanent answer in the summer (be that him or someone else). Although predominantly playing centrally as a #10, Ødegaard has also played slightly deeper as the left-hand #8 within a midfield three, as well as left wing on occasions. His versatility could prove handy for Arsenal, were Mikel Arteta to transition to the 4-3-3 we originally expected him to employ- with Ødegaard alongside Partey and Xhaka behind them. Alternatively, the Norwegian could find himself providing cover, or challenging to start, over Smith Rowe. The two could even start together, with one originally starting out on the left flank- but the pair rotating during the game to offer more dynamism and unpredictability to the Arsenal attack. There are several ways he could be incorporated into the side- and would also be available to play in the latter stages of the Europa League.

Due to his inconsistent shortage of minutes so far this season, Ødegaard has not had a chance to prove himself. However, on his loan at Real Sociedad last season, he showed his class to the Spanish league. In 36 appearances, the 22-year-old scored 7 goals and assisted 9 times- averaging a goal involvement every other 90 minutes. He was key to the side’s attacks, the figurehead of the creativity, a role he completed successfully. His excellent statistics run deeper than just his goal contributions. Ødegaard also recorded 0.18 xA/90, 2.14 key passes/90 and 4.13 shot-creating actions/90 (via @AFC_Blogger49 Twitter). All round, it is clear to see from both watching him play and his metrics that he is, essentially, an excellent creative player.

The thesis of what I’m trying to say is quite simple, really. If Arsenal were to sign Martin Ødegaard this summer, I literally cannot find one down side to the deal. He provides another creative threat, cover to Emile Smith Rowe, can play on the wing, as a #10 or #8 and, despite all this, would be possible to sign on loan. Ødegaard could come in to the side this month, play regular minutes in the league and in Europe and then both parties could decide whether he is a signing we’d like to make permanent. Whilst it is true that other clubs are said to be interested in acquiring the Norwegian’s service this month and that he could choose another team over Arsenal, I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t at least formalise our interest with a bid to sign him.

Making a move for Martin Ødegaard on a 6-month loan deal seems like an absolute no brainer for me. We should act quickly to get an offer on the table for Real Madrid and the player’s agents to consider- and hope he choses to make the temporary switch to North London.

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Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle: Four Things We Learnt.

(Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Well, that was certainly a refreshing win. A confident victory, a game we dominated from the first whistle and we got our rewards in the ends. Here’s four things I noticed from the win against Newcastle..

1. Aubameyang gets his goals!

After missing a tap-in during the first half, Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made up for his error in the second 45′, scoring not once but twice to secure the win for Arsenal. The Gabonese goalscorer has come under vast criticism from Arsenal fans, myself included, recently due to a combination of poor finishing and overall disappointing performances- but today showed that he still has what it takes to get back to his best. His first goal what exactly what we were accustomed to with the Aubameyang we know and love; driving with the ball from the left, cutting inside and getting the shot away. It was nothing less than a magnificent goal. His second, while simpler, was another stereotypical goal from Aubameyang. He found space in the box to convert from close range into a half open net. Much better from our captain in that second half. He needs to use this brace as the confidence to get back to his best!

2. Emile Smith Rowe saves us again.

I came across the most amazing stat today after the game, thanks to @Orbinho on Twitter. Since he made his first start against Chelsea, only Bruno Fernandes (12) has created more chances from open play than Emile Smith Rowe (10) in the Premier League. These incredible numbers only begin to show how good he has been in recent weeks, and this game too. For me, Smith Rowe was Man of the Match. He was bright in the first half, provided a constant threat throughout the game and coined off a great performances with a lovely combination play to assist Bukayo Saka. Emile Smith Rowe created more chances (4) than any other player during his time on the pitch, as many as the entire Newcastle team combined. No Arsenal player has created more in a Premier League game this season. (Squawka). He has a goal or assist every 80 minutes in an Arsenal shirt this season. Not only does he get involved with the goals, he also offers so much to the team in terms of build up play. Absolutely unstoppable right now.

3. Our defensive record gets better!

With yet another defensive shutdown, we have extended our run of clean sheets to five games in a row, the first time Arsenal have done so in almost 12 years. That is a statistic that accurately reflects just how defensively good we have been recently. Our backline was so defensively secure that Bernd Leno practically had the evening off. Newcastle had just one shot on target, and a relatively comfortable save for Leno it was. In our last six games in all competitions, we have faced just 13 shots on target- an average of just over 2 per game. That’s 1 shot on target against us per half of football played. We’re really starting to see our defence go from strength to strength under Arteta. Cedric, while it seemed an odd pick, proved why he had been given the opportunity to start. He was secure and steady at the back, whilst having a greater end product than what we have seen from Bellerin of late. Kieran Tierney was as consistent as ever- and had a quietly strong performance. That’s what you are guaranteed with Tierney. He won’t always grab the headlines, but he’ll never drop less than a 7/10. Good from him, especially coming straight back from his muscle tightness. While I don’t view Luiz-Holding to be our long-term centre back partnership, they played well again today- and coped well with the challenge of two imposing strikers playing up top against them.

4. It’s Partey time!

After sustaining a reoccurring injury against Sp*rs in early December, Thomas Partey made his first league start since returning. And, to put it quite simply, he did not disappoint. In 66 minutes against Newcastle, he had a 95% pass accuracy, 9 ball recoveries, 3 interceptions and 67 touches. But not only was Partey defensively solid, he offered us lots going forward- his two chances created were topped off with an excellent assist to put Aubameyang in for the first goal. What strikes me about Partey is just how well-rounded he is. Not only can he do everything you require of a modern day midfielder, but the standard to which he does it is phenomenal. I am struggling to think of five midfielders with a greater breadth of ability in all of Europe. He is, for me, undeniably a world class footballer. Between Partey and his midfield accomplice Granit Xhaka, I saw a very respectable midfield pivot- greater than any we have seen in recent times. This will only get better as they improve their understanding of one another in coming months, and it excites me to see where this duo will be in the short, and long-term. Some very positive signs.

Overall, this was a great win for the team. The three points, three goals and yet another clean sheet. A successful day in the office! We look now to the next round of the FA Cup this weekend!

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Arsenal 0-0 Crystal Palace: Four Things We Learnt.

(Photo by Neil Hall – Pool/Getty Images)

Well… that was a snoozefest. Arsenal vs Crystal Palace in one word? Boring. Neither team offered much, there were very few chances and overall very little happened across the 90 minutes. Here’s a look at some of the things I picked out from this lame London encounter…

Still a lack of creativity.

If yesterday’s Arsenal result proves anything it’s that despite Emile Smith Rowe’s excellent contributions of late, we still need to have more creative outlets in the side. We simply cannot rely on an inexperienced 20-year-old to effectively control everything that happens creatively for the team. He needs the support of both Tierney’s wide presence, and at least one more pure creative player in the side. Having just one outlet to create all our chances makes us, as we saw today, incredibly one dimensional and easy to shut down. We failed to get the ball to the likes of Saka and Lacazette in areas where they could have an impact on the game, with the former looking isolated for large parts of the game due to a Laca-service (I apologise). Our attack was so tame that no Arsenal player had more shots (2) or created more chances (2) than Rob Holding against Crystal Palace. Signings are a must. We have to get in a creative supply this month.

We miss Tierney.

Due to muscle tightness, Kieran Tierney was left out of the Arsenal squad as a precaution for the game. Though we all knew pre-match that it was a setback, no one could see just how much of a hindrance his absence was to the performance of the team. His replacement, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, was nothing short of poor against the Eagles. Granted he is not a natural defender, nor a left-sided player, but the drastic difference in standard between the Englishman and Kieran Tierney seemed vast. We missed his creativity, consistency from wide crossing positions and security on the ball- which Niles could not bring on this occasion. Mikel Arteta has confirmed that Tierney will be going for a scan tomorrow to assess his wellbeing, and it is absolutely critical to the success of the team that he is good and ready to play come our next fixture on Monday.

Nothing off the bench.

Arsenal’s bench heading in to the game was a sorry sight, with practically no one who excited me into thinking they could come on and change the game. Unlike in our previous fixture (2-0 vs Newcastle), the players who came on had virtually no effect on the game. Mikel Arteta turned first to £72,000,000 Nicolas Pepe to come on and prove himself to the coach, fans and teammates. Who better than our record signing to help us out? The reality was, Pepe did nothing. In 35 minutes on the pitch, he created little, provided virtually no threat to the Palace back line and ultimately had no effect on the game whatsoever. Pepe, in fact, is yet to create a single open play chance for a teammate in the league this season. Not good at all. One positive off the bench, however, was the return of Thomas Partey. Much to the delight of the Arsenal fanbase, the Ghanaian took to the field in the 69th minute- his first appearance since coming off injured in the North London Derby at the start of last month. Let’s hope he can start for the side from now on. Eddie Nketiah came on with just ten minutes to play and, much like the player he replaced, had very little service. Arteta, as far as I see it, made the three correct substitutions… but the players offered him nothing.

Some decent showings.

In a poor performance from the whole team, two players impressed me yesterday…

Bernd Leno: Much like in the previous game against Newcastle, Bernd Leno had little to do across the course of the game against Crystal Palace. He faced just two shots on target, and remained fairly untroubled all night. But, when it came to it, he didn’t let us down. Christian Benteke’s towering header seemed destined to reach the top corner, but an excellent dive from the German shot stopper palmed it wide. A big save in a crucial moment to protect our clean sheet.

Granit Xhaka: Though he did make some questionable stray passes, the Swiss midfielder shone in an other wise dull side tonight. He completed 97 accurate passes, made 8 long balls and had 129 touches, but more impressive than that was the defensive side of his performance. Xhaka made several key tackles, one in particular to deny Zaha access just metres from the goal. His 6 tackles won, 13 ball recoveries and 3 clearances ranked top of all Arsenal players on the night. A pleasing display from our number 34.

Our performance versus Palace was, obviously, sub standard. It’s essential we pick ourselves up to go again on Monday against Newcastle (again!). If we intend on making any success from this season, these are the sorts of the games we have to grind out results from.

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle: Four Things We Learnt.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

We’re through to round four of the FA Cup! After an ultimately underwhelming 90 minutes, Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 in extra time, thanks to late goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Not the most confident of victories, but we got the result we desired. Here’s a look at four things we learnt from yesterday’s match…

1. The youth taking charge.

For yesterday’s game, Mikel Arteta made the wise decision to bench Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka despite their recent successes, so they could rest for Arsenal’s next Premier League fixture against Crystal Palace on Thursday. The front four, instead, contained record signing Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian Borges (alongside Reiss Nelson). From this trio, you would expect a top class performance; a mixture of experience, flair and high expectations from fans would have put the triplet in place to show why they deserve to be starting in the league. However, this was far from the outcome. I think it is fairly safe to say that Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are nailed on starters for Arsenal right now. The experienced front line offered very little throughout the game and were ultimately very poor, to the point where Pepe and Willian both got substituted off. Arteta had to rely on his younger players, who he would have wanted to stay rested for our upcoming games, to come on and change the game… which they did successfully. Bukayo Saka looked bright throughout, and was involved in Arsenal’s second goal with a lovely switch of play from the right flank into Aubameyang at the far post. But it was Smith Rowe who turned the game on its head, scoring with a tidy finish past Martin Dúbravka to put Arsenal through to the next round.

The likes of Nicolas Pepe and Willian need to take a long, hard look at what their younger teammates are doing and reflect that in their own game.

2. Emile Smith Rowe is essential.

Without the creativity of Emile Smith Rowe in the side, Arsenal looked like the team that we played before the start of our winning streak. There was no-one who could break the lines, take a risk or try to create something. We looked at most parts to be flat and uninspiring, bar the relentless Kieran Tierney (who created six chances from left back last night). Emile Smith Rowe came on and did exactly what he has done every time he has played. He worked hard defensively, was a constant threat on the ball and crowned a bright performance off with an incredible finish from a tight angle to win Arsenal the game.

One month ago, you would have thought Emile Smith Rowe would either be wasted on the bench, or sent on loan in the transfer window. Fast forward a month, he’s been given his opportunity, taken it with a firm grasp and is now surely one of the first names on the teamsheet.

3. Bernd Leno is a brick wall.

In his first ever FA Cup appearance, Bernd Leno, for much of the night, had little to do. Newcastle registered just two shots on target across the 120 minutes, due to a combination of poor finishing (10 shots off target) and steady defending from the Arsenal backline. But, when Andy Carrol was one-on-one with him in the dying seconds of the original 90′, Bernd Leno saved us from dropping out of the cup early. An incredible save, followed by a brave dive to reclaim the ball off the rebound. In the past few weeks, Bernd Leno has reminded everyone how good he is… and begun to show people why Mikel Arteta chose him to be our number one this season.

In his last four games, Bernd Leno has conceded just once, kept three clean sheets and saved a penalty. He currently ranks seventh of all players in the Premier League based off Sky Sports’ form chart. A man with a point to prove.

4. Defensively solid (again!)

After another clean sheet today, Arsenal have now gone over three hundred minutes without conceding a goal in all competitions. Yesterday’s centre back pairing of David Luiz and Pablo Mari were rock solid, allowing very little for the Newcastle front line. Pablo Mari in particular was exceptional: the Brazilian made 5 clearances, blocked 1 shot, made three interceptions, 4 tackles, won 8 duels and was steady on the ball, completing 73 passes. An all-round excellent performance from him, and another clean sheet to add to his record of four games, four wins and three clean sheets. He may, against fast-paced teams, not be the most suitable defender, but at just three and a half million he was an shrewd signing. His partner was also solid at the back; David Luiz rose to the challenge of holding off the physical Andy Carroll. Just two shots on target across 120 minutes is a fair reflection of just how secure our backline was for the most part.

Yesterday wasn’t a pretty win for Arsenal, but in the end we prevailed with qualification for the next round. Huge shout out to Emile Smith Rowe, Kieran Tierney and Pablo Mari, who I thought were our best three players on the night. A far from perfect performance, but a solid result in the end. We move onto a tough fixture against Crystal Palace next week!