2-2 at Watford, Match report…

Watford (0) 2 Arsenal (2) 2
Premier League
Vicarage Road, Watford, Herts WD18 0ER
Sunday, 15th September 2019. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Sead Kolašinac; Granit Xhaka, Mattéo Guendouzi; Dani Ceballos, Mesut Özil, Nicolas Pépé; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Lucas Torreira, Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson, Emiliano Martínez, Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (21, 32 mins)
Yellow Cards: Sead Kolašinac, Mattéo Guendouzi, Bernd Leno
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 47%
Referee:  Anthony Taylor
Attendance: 21,360
Ain’t nothin’ changed, then. Despite all the good things that we created at times in the first half of this troublesome match, we still had the ability to make a complete pigs’ ear of everything by the time the final whistle blew. For the first quarter of an hour, we struggled with containing the home side, and it looked as if we were chasing the game so early in the match; that was until Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang worked his particular kind of magic after 21 minutes. Sead Kolašinac moved forward, slotted the ball to Aubameyang, who wasted no time in turning and blasting it into the back of the net. Nine minutes later, the Gabon international did it again; the pass from Mesut Özil split the Watford defence asunder for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to run onto. He quickly advanced into the Watford penalty area, passed the ball into the middle for Aubameyang to score both Arsenal’s second (and his) to give us a (seemingly) unassailable lead. And that was it, for both the rest of the half, and although we were not to know it, the rest of the match as well.
Come the second half, say hello to the nightmare. Just eight minutes after the break, the first of many car crashes happened. Somehow, the defence lost their heads, and their common sense to boot. Bernd Leno passed the ball to Sokratis, who tried to find Mattéo Guendouzi; a quick thinking Gerard Deulofeu stuck his leg out and the loose ball found Tom Cleverley, who simply crashed it into the back of the Arsenal net. From now on, we capitulated like a Sunday morning pub side that was suffering from a Saturday night hangover.
The home side smelled blood, Time and time again they tore through us, and now our defensive frailties came to light. They were physical, their desire was greater, and despite Unai Emery making substitutions, it made no difference whatsoever, in fact it was worse. Ten minutes from time, Roberto Pereyra ran at David Luiz, who simply stuck a leg out to stop him, and in doing so conceded a penalty, in which the man he fouled also equalised the score. How on earth we managed to hang on for the rest of the game without conceding any more goals was nothing short of a miracle. Wave after wave of Watford attacks penetrated both our midfield and defence, and spurred on by the crowd they pressurised our goal. When the final whistle blew, a sense of relief overcame the Arsenal players, who can think themselves very lucky indeed that we didn’t lose this match, which by rights, we should have.
After the match, Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness said that our second half performance was akin to a “semi-professional team”, which to be fair, was about right, really. More worringly, Granit Xhaka said that we were “scared” in his post-match interview. Scared? Are you sure? What on earth is going on at this club these days? There are no leaders on the pitch, no-one with any idea what to do or how to organise a defence. The facts are that we have eight points from five games, and today we drew against the team that is currently bottom of the league. We were battered by Liverpool, rattled by Spurs, and today were fortunate not to come away from Vicarage Road with no points whatsoever. We allowed them to take 31 shots on our goal, with ten on target; with statistics such as these, it is fairly obvious that our defensive issues are going to cause us massive problems over the course of the season, unless something radical happens. And it has to be said: if lowly Watford do this to us, how much damage can Eintracht Frankfurt inflict on us come Thursday evening? Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Eintracht Frankfurt at Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, on Thursday, 19th September at 5.55pm (Europa Cup). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.


Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.



Matteo Guendouzi is Arsenal’s most complete midfielder

Recently I had a discussion with our friends over on YouAreMyArsenal about who Raul Sanllehi should be targeting to replace Granit Xhaka in the long term.

The produced this fantastic scouting report on Ibrahim Sangare; putting the 21-year-old Ivorian central midfielder as a long term replacement for Xhaka.

Whilst Sangare is a fantastic physical specimen, and would certainly add some power into the middle of the park, his passing is an issue.

Xhaka sees more of the ball than any other player at Arsenal. He is the main receiver in midfield when the ball is with the defence, and he starts most of our attacks.

On average last season in the Premier League, Xhaka averaged 77.4 passes a game. No player averaged more. He completed 85.3% of those passes.

Compare that to Sangare who averages just 49 passes a game, completing just 80.3% of them. Xhaka is completing 27 more passes a game on average than Sangare.

Xhaka’s pass completion has to be considered when we are discussing players to replace him.

Whilst it is easy to think that we need a hulking 6ft 3in monster of a midfielder who can break up play, we need that player to be able to pass the ball as he sees so much of it.

We are The Arsenal, not Stoke. A player’s ability on the ball is more important than his destructive impact. If he can not pass, he is useless for 60% of the time in the majority of our games.

At Arsenal you need to be able to pass the ball. That is highlighted in the pass competition of Arsenal’s other 2 central midfield options last season: Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.

Last season Torreira averaged 46.8 passes a game, completing 87.4% of them. Guendouzi with 48.4 passes a game at 87.7%.

Both of these players averaged less passes per game than Xhaka, but it has to be taken into account that both came off the bench 10 times in the Premier League last season. Xhaka was averaging more minutes per game.

Xhaka still comes out on top, but the primary reason for this is Unai Emery sets up for the Swiss man to be the 1st receiver off of the defence.

If we are looking at a long term replacement for Granit Xhaka, we should look no further than someone who is already at the club. Matteo Guendouzi.

At just 20-years-old, Guendouzi has quickly established himself as a 1st team regular.

Last season he might have been outpassed by Xhaka, but we have seen him take huge strides forward again this season, including a man of the match performance against Tottenham

This season Guendouzi has completed 88.2% of his passes. A slight improvement but still an improvement.

The Frenchman has still played 2nd fiddle to Xhaka when it comes to how much of the ball they see – Xhaka is averaging an incredible 92 passes per 90 minutes this season.

In terms of his passing, Guendouzi is a more accurate passer than Xhaka, but plays less passes. As his importance to the team continues to grow, expect both of these to grow.

What has been impressive about Guendouzi this season is his defensive shift.

Whilst last season he was bottom of the table defensively, and some rightly labelled him as lazy at times, this season he has stepped up massively.

He is not too far behind Ibrahim Sangare, when it comes to defensive output. And it has to be remembered Sangare plays in a team who do a lot more defending than Arsenal (Toulouse finished 16th last season) – which also explains why Sangare’s total passes is lower.

So in Guendouzi we have a central defender who is over 6ft, whose passing is already amongst the best in the team and getting better, and who has now added a defensive awareness to his game.

Guendouzi could become the complete central midfielder. Capable of being 1st receiver and dictating the play, whilst also putting in the defensive shift of someone less cultured.

The man to replace Granit Xhaka at Arsenal is Matteo Guendouzi.

He is already better defensively than the Swiss midfielder and with time could become a better passer.

Based on the passing statistics, he is not yet ready to take over from Xhaka as 1st receiver, but his pass completion rate does excite me. He gives the ball away less than Xhaka (his biggest criticism).

Xhaka is going nowhere soon. His importance can be seen in those passing statistics. But as Guendouzi’s influence grows, Xhaka’s will naturally shrink.

It will no longer be a question as to “who should replace Xhaka” but “who should partner Guendouzi”. That man could still be Xhaka. It could also be Torreira or Joe Willock.

Guendouzi is very quickly turning into an all round central midfielder, and at 20-years-old will only get better.


Fake news filling the void of the international break

This international break seems to have gone on forever. They always do. There really has not been much going on, so there has been little to write about.

Some have filled the void by spreading fake news about Arsene Wenger in talks to return to Arsenal. How a 15-year-old from India who runs one of those Twitter accounts that copy and pastes News Now headlines has inside knowledge on Arsenal I will never know.

Fact is the account in question does not have inside knowledge on Arsenal, and is merely making stuff up for RTs during the dull international break.

There has been plenty to fill the time during the break. Mainly cricket and F1. Add in Peaky Blinders and Mindhunter and there has been enough to keep myself occupied. Even used the free time to de weed my driveway.

There has been some Arsenal-related stuff going on over the last week.

We had Eddie Nketiah and Riess Nelson performing well for England U21s. Both are clearly too good for that level. But probably not quite good enough to play regular Premier League football.

Eddie has done well on loan at Leeds and, worst case scenario, Arsenal should be able to get a fee north of £20million next summer if they decide to cash in.

He is a pure finisher and needs to work on his link up play. Around the world, the top strikers are no longer just goal scorers. The likes of Sergio Aguero, Firminho, Lionel Messi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also get involved in the build up play. Eddie needs to add that to his game.

On the worlds best strikers, FIFA announced their “Best” list last week. Auabameyang failed to make the list. It was not a surprise as he failed to win anything. However when you consider only 4 of the players outscored him on the list, you start to fill these things are a waste of time.

The fact that Mauricio Pochettino was named alongside Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola as one of the best 3 managers last season sums it up. His Spurs side nearly lost as many games as they won.

Other stuff going on includes Grant Xhaka and paternity leave.

It is a story that has been blown out of proportion as people look to fill the international void.

His baby is due mid-October during the international break.

Xhaka’s Swiss team-mate Haris Seferovic has taken the same steps this week, leaving the squad early after becoming a father.

And Xhaka said: “There are more special things in life than football. For example, when you become a father.

“With Haris it was agreed that he gives everything against Ireland and then travels home.

“And with me, it would probably fall on that time when we play.”

He is not taking time away from Arsenal, but taking time away from the Swiss national team. There really is not much to complain about.

Tonight France play Andorra and it should see Matteo Guendouzi make his debut.

Fair play to the lad.

18 months ago he was playing in the French League 2, and now he is an Arsenal 1st team regular and about to play for his country. He has kicked on from last season and as long as he continues to progress, he could make it to the very top.

Real football returns at the weekend but before then we have more cricket!