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!

Why Arsenal MUST sign Emiliano Buendia this January.

(Original Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

When you look at Arsenal’s current squad, bar the emerging Emile Smith Rowe and controversially outcasted Mesut Ozil, you cannot help but see the gaping lack of creativity possessed within the club. It has been commonly accepted by the Arsenal fanbase and even hierarchy at the club that this is a problem that must be addressed immediately, after failure to do so in last summer’s window leaving us more desperate than ever for playmakers. With the January Transfer Window officially open, now is the time to address our void in creativity- and here’s why Emiliano Buendia can be an effective solution to our problems.

Club manager Mikel Arteta made it clear in the summer that his top priority for the window was to sign a creative midfielder who could preferably fill in as a #8 in the 4-3-3 system he wished to play. Houssem Aouar was identified as Arteta’s desired signing and despite lengthy negotiations between the club, the player’s agents and Lyon- we did not manage to get our man. Any possibility of achieving the signing was soon shut down by Arsenal’s Technical Director Edu Gaspar, who overruled Arteta’s preference to instead sign Thomas Partey, a player who the club had been interested for a number of years prior. Partey was, without doubt, a world class signing and most definitely a step in the right direction- but the ever-exacerbating void in creativity was left unanswered as the consequence.

Fast forward a number of months, and this problem is still unsolved. Despite a remaining interest in Aouar, it has been widely reported that the North London club are not set to make another move for the Frenchman during this particular window, in order to prioritise other targets. Who, however, may these other targets be? You guessed it; Norwich’s star man and playmaker Emiliano Buendia.

As many of you will know, Emiliano (Emi, for short) Buendia is a 24 year old playmaker for Championship side. The Argentine is widely regarded to be one of the best players in the league, and therefore easily one who could make the jump up to England’s top division- as proven from his eye-catching success in Norwich’s 2019-20 Premier League cameo. Buendia’s 8 goal involvements in 36 league games do an injustice to the player’s overall impact to a poor Norwich side; he ranked fourth of all Premier League players last season in take-ons completed (102), as well as ranking seventh in minutes per chance created from open play, making one every 45 minutes. This is drastically greater than any Arsenal player in that very season, with Hale End graduate Joe Willock being the closest of the pack (70 minutes/chance created). Quite simply, Emi Buendia was nothing short of exceptional in his debut Premier League season- a star in an otherwise dull and uninspiring Norwich side; a diamond in the rough so to speak. He averaged 1.5 shots per game, 3 key passes, 3.7 dribbles, 6 crosses and 3 tackles- all per 90 minutes. (Opta Stats via WhoScored). Truly outstanding statistics from a player with no previous Premier League experience.

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(via WhoScored)

Although Buendia normally adopts the position on the right wing for Norwich, he is also able to play on both wings, as well as behind the striker at #10- as he himself said when questioned: “At first, I played on the right wing, but with the freedom I can move around. For most of my life, my position has been the number ten behind the striker, but with this system, it doesn’t matter for me if I’m there or on the left or right wing.”

As well as his creativity and excellent underlying stats, Buendia’s versatility is yet another quality that could prove beneficial to Arsenal- who could operate a fluid front line, with Buendia starting centrally but drifting between their and the right wing with Bukayo Saka. This dynamism could prove threatening for opposition back lines, who would struggle to pick up the interchangeable creative men.

Buendia has more than three years left on his current deal at Norwich, and the Canaries are keen to keep their star player at the club as they challenge for promotion to the Premier League this season. The club are said to be willing to accept offers if they have to sell- but would alternatively offer Buendia a bonus if he chose to stay. Joining Arsenal would easily be a step up for Buendia’s career, and I have no doubt he’ll be an Arsenal player shortly if the clubs can reach a deal.

Since writing is article, news broke this morning from the Independent that Arsenal are investigating a possible play-plus-cash deal for Emi Buendia, to sweeten the deal for Norwich. The two players in question thus far as potential exits are Hale End graduates Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock. With neither of the two getting many minutes for the first team of late, if we are offering these players as a loan, then it makes complete sense; get them to a club where they will play more football, potentially increase their market value with good performances, whilst helping Arsenal sign a target. However, if the deal includes a permanent swap, it would be a much harder situation. Ideally, I would offer Eddie Nketiah to Norwich, a player who is still young and would undoubtedly score a lot in the Championship, which would allow Arsenal to keep Nelson, Willock and give upcoming striker Folarin Balogun more minutes- so he will have a greater reason to sign his new contract. However, we cannot say if Norwich would be interested in Nketiah, and for me selling the other two at this early stage would be a waste of talent- I think they both have the potential to contribute to Arsenal in years to come.

If Arsenal are to offer a swap deal for Buendia, I would hope it is a fee, plus one (or both) of Nelson and Willock heading to Norwich on loan to help them secure promotion, with Buendia coming the other way. I’d be against selling Willock and Nelson as of now, but would let Nketiah go if Norwich are interested.

Emiliano Buendia: young, exciting, Premier League proven, relatively cheap, versatile and seemingly a good solution to our creative drought. This seems like a perfect signing for Arsenal, given the circumstances we find ourselves in. Were we to acquire Buendia before February 1st’s deadline, I strongly believe it would be the first piece in the puzzle to resolving our issues and revitalising what is left of this season.

Arsenal should move quickly to secure the affordable signing of Emiliano Buendia, before another club comes along and picks him up. He should be the first signing of a (hopefully!) productive transfer window this month. It’s that simple.

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West Brom 0-4 Arsenal: Four Things We Learnt.

(Photo Credit: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal)

Back in winning ways! After yesterday’s triumphant victory at the Hawthorns, Arsenal have now extended our streak to three Premier League wins in a row- the first time we have won three on the bounce domestically all season. A cruising 4-0 victory over our opposition saw the Gunners score some incredible goals, accompanied with some admirable individual performances. Here’s a look at four things we learnt from yesterday’s match…

1. Creativity is KEY!

For the third consecutive match, Mikel Arteta opted to start 20-year-old attacking midfielder Emile Smith Rowe as the #10 behind the front three. The ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ did not disappoint; providing the assist for our second goal of the night, which came after a string of intricate passes between himself, Alex Lacazette and goalscorer Bukayo Saka; a goal that Arsene Wenger would have smiled at from his home in France- a Prime Wengerball-esque move. He was also involved in the third goal, where Lacazette clinically converted from the rebound of Smith Rowe’s shot. With the addition of his creativity, we managed to score four goals in one match for the first time in the league this season- making it eight goals in three games with Smith Rowe in the side, a vast improvement on the twelve goals in fourteen games without him. If we can add another creative spark to this Arsenal side in the January Transfer Window, there is no reason to say why we cannot even further improve our chances created and therefore goals scored.

2. Lacazette’s on form.

Lacazette has, for a large amount of time since the start of last season, underwhelmed many fans at the club- leading to large amounts of slander towards his missed chances and all-round underperformance. However, as of now it is clear to see; Lacazette is a player in excellent form. His brace last night saw him score for the third Premier League game in succession (four in a row in all comps), adding to his total of nine goals in 1,173 minutes this season. He is the top goal contributor at the club right now- and looks a revolutionised player when his confidence is high. Not only has Lacazette been in the goals of late, but his all-round performance has been far greater than we are used to. His linkup play has been tidy, his press more energetic but it is his movement especially that has caught my eye. His willingness to run the line or come out wide to receive the ball and clear space has been a welcome addition to his game. For the club’s sake, let’s hope he can keep his confidence high, and the goals coming!

3. Mr. Reliable came through again!

Kieran Tierney. Mr. Reliable. The captain without the armband. The man who seems immune to the cold… whatever you call him, we all know just how good he is. Tierney has been arguably our most consistent player this season, alongside Bukayo Saka, and yet the past few weeks has seen him go from strength to strength. Since Arsenal’s return to a back four, Tierney has looked full of freedom, his shackles released. He has now been able to show us the attacking side of his game that had been supressed for so long when playing as a third centre back. Yesterday the Scotsman was immense, winning Man of the Match in a defensively assured performance as well as offering a huge threat going forward. He elegantly took the ball round the outside of his man, cut inside, drove into the box and curled it top corner with his weaker foot, an inspired goal to put us 0-1 up and set the whole dynamic for the game. As if his goal wasn’t enough, Tierney continued to probe for the duration of the match, creating four chances, making twenty-three passes in the final third, completing three take-ons and of course his perfectly placed cross to assist Lacazette for the fourth of the game. An exemplar performance from a fan favourite.

4. Bukayo Saka at right wing.

In his time with the Arsenal first team so far, Bukayo Saka has impressed vastly with his ability to play at such a high standard across a variety of positions. It seems now, however, his best position has become apparent. Bukayo Saka has started six games at right wing for Arsenal, and has contributed either a goal or assist in each of these appearances. He has far outshone both Pepe and Willian this season, thus proving why he has to be the starting right winger for the long-term future. His directness is refreshing- he has both the ability to go one-on-one and beat his man on the outside, or cut inside to his favoured left foot and whip in a mean cross (or even a shot vs Chelsea). Yesterday, his movement into the box from a wide starting position allowed him to score with a simple tap in, after some lovely linkup play. Every time Saka has the ball on the right, you feel he will cause some form of genuine threat, which will only get better as he continues to work on his finishing. Another aspect of his game which is flawless is his positioning; his movement to receive the ball or create space for a teammate is what you would expect from a player with far more experience. He looks so comfortable on the flank. Right now, Bukayo Saka is giving us everything we would expect to see from Nicolas Pepe on the right wing. Just 19 years old and already instrumental to everything Arsenal do.

Yesterday was an all-round refreshing win for Arsenal, with some great goals, top performances and even a clean sheet for the defence. An excellent start to 2021; and long may it continue!