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

(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

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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.

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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!