Do key pair get unfair criticism from Arsenal fans?

Raul Sanllehi has got into some criticism with the way he has run the club since he was promoted to Head of Football following the departure of Ivan Gazidis back in September 2018.

It is his movements within the transfer market that hassled to the most criticism, as well as the departure of recruitment guru Sven Mislintat in January 2019. Mislintat reportedly left over a disagreement over the recruitment of Denis Suarez – a player backed by then coach Unai Emery and Sanllehi. Suarez flopped.

Many have pointed out that Sanllehi uses his “little black book of agents contacts” to find out who is available, rather than Mislintat’s search and selection method.

Mislintat and his scouting network would attempt to uncover players that no one has heard of, or was watching. Hidden gems. Whilst Sanllehi reportedly relies on agents contacting him to make him aware of their clients availability.

It is probably unfair on Sanllehi to say all he does is wait for agents to call him. He is Head of Football so deals with a lot more other than just recruitment, which is why he bought Edu in.

The Edu / Sanllehi axis has been massively criticised, and no more so than for their relationship with “super agent” Kia Joorabchian.

But is the criticism of the pair really fair?

The aforementioned Denis Suarez was bought in on loan in January. A deal that went bad. But was this down to him being not good enough? Or due to injury?

“Obviously it was a bad loan because I did not play,” Suarez told The Athletic in. “But there were circumstances which I would like the fans to understand. I played in my first game against Manchester City and then 10 days later I got injured against BATE in the Europa League.”

Asked if he felt 100 per cent at any point, Suárez replied: “The first week., that’s all. I felt it getting worse. After the match against BATE, I had incredible pain.  Every movement, every change of direction, every shot. Unai [Emery] could not play me as he knew I was not even near 50 per cent.”

In 2019, Arsenal shocked the world by spending big when no one thought they had any money.

1st through the door was Gabriel Martinelli.

The 18-year-old Brazilian was originally signed to join up with the U23 squad, but soon pushed his way into the first team.

Martinelli scored 10 senior goals in 26 games, becoming the first teenager to reach double figures in a single season for Arsenal since Nicolas Anelka.

His season came to an end prior to the suspension of football for COVID19, and he has since been ruled out for most of 2020.

Jurgen Klopp labelled him the ‘talent of the century’.

Following Martinelli into the club was teenage defender William Saliba.

Signed from Saint-Étienne, the club decided to leave the French central defender at his home club to continue his development. Big things are expected of him next year.

Then came the moment Arsenal shocked the footballing world. Nicolas Pepe joined for a club record £72million.

Pepe joined following a fruitful previous season for Lille, where he scored 23 goals in 42 games.

He has not lived up to a big price tag yet, although no Arsenal player created more goals and only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has more goals and assists combined.

His best game for Arsenal came in the FA Cup final.

Throughout the season he has showed glimpses of his talent. Next year he will be stronger, fitter and more prepared for the English game.

Kieran Tierney arrived injured having undergone a double hernia operation in May 2019.

The Scotsman’s slow return to full fitness was hampered by a dislocated shoulder against West Ham in early December. He was not seen again until the suspension of football was lifted in June.

Tierney has since played in every game since football returned, showing his versatility by playing left back, and the left side of a back 3.

Still just 23, the left back has done enough in his disrupted first season to show why Arsenal took the risk on him. He has the type of personality to become a terrace legend, and the ability to become one of Arsenal’s greatest left backs of all time.

Alongside the deadline day announcement of Tierney, Arsenal pulled a surprise by signing David Luiz from Chelsea for £8million.

Initially it was though Luiz had signed on a 2-year deal, but it alter transpired that it was a one-year deal with an option for a second.

We all know what David Luiz does.

He can put in a match winning performance one week, then make errors that led to penalties, sending offs and goals the next. His Arsenal career has been mixed, with him giving away 5 penalties and receiving 2 red cards.

But it is his influence off the pitch that led Arteta to push for Sanllehi and Edu to trigger the 2nd year of his contract.

His leadership is shown during the drinks breaks since the return of football.

Arteta is holding court with players in one circle, whilst Luiz is doing the same in another.

Luiz could be the leader that Saliba needs alongside him.

And then we have the loan deals.

Dani Ceballos joined on a season long loan.

A tough start to his career saw him in and out the team, and he would have been rocked by Unai Emery leaving.

On top of this he also picked up a hamstring injury that ruled him out for 2 months.

He has returned from suspension like a new player under Arteta – topping pretty much every statistic going for Arsenal.

Back 3 months ago, no one would have wanted Ceballos’s loan move to be made permanent. Now everyone will be frustrated if he is not with us next year.

An excellent signing.

Pablo Mari joined in January as injuries in defence mounted up, and then proceeded to get injured himself.

The ex-Manchester City man did enough on the training ground for Arsenal to secure his services permanently.

When he returns from injury, he will be in contention for first team football.

The signing of Cedric Soares was strange.

A loan player who turned up injured, unlikely to play for 2 months. It just seemed a waste.

But with his contract expiring in the summer, what Arsenal were basically doing was bringing his signing forward by 6 months. Allowing the club to rehabilitate his injury, and him to settle into new surroundings in North London.

He might not have played much, but Arsenal now have a Premier League experienced internationally capped right back to push Hector Bellerin.

When you break it down player by player, it becomes clear that Edu & Sanllehi have come in for a lot of unfair criticism.

Pepe has struggled, but the talent is there, whilst Ceballos, Martinelli and Tierney have all had disrupted debut seasons.

It is unfair to judge Mari and Cedric, but in what we have seen they look good additions.

David Luiz is the only one people could label “poor signing” on. But he was so poor that Arteta pushed the board to renew his contract. Sanllehi and Edu were reluctant to do so.

Maybe we as fans just need to step back a little, give those managing the club some time and space to breath. To recruit well. And to stamp their footprint on this great club.


Willian a “sensible signing for Arsenal”

The potentially signing of Willian from Chelsea has predictably been mate by plenty of grumbles from Arsenal fans.

Signing a soon-to-be 32-year-old that a rival was “happy” to let the contract run down for will raise some questions. Especially when his agent is a certain Kia Joorabchian. Especially after the experience of Mikel Silvestre and David Luiz.

Signing Willian would be seen by many as Arsenal once again putting money into Joorabchian’s pocket.

It would be seen as Arsenal going for a cheap option that is actually expensive due to salary and signing on fees.

It would be seen as Arsenal signing an ageing player, past his peak, rather than focusing on younger, hungrier talents.

And all those opinions are valid.

But Willian would actually be a sensible signing for Arsenal, if it is taken as part of the bigger picture.

Whilst Arsenal won the FA Cup played 343, the feeling by many is that his preferred formation is 433, with 3 central midfielders providing the defensive cover for the defence.

Lining up 433 would leave no place for a Mesut Ozil-esque Number 10. It would see a midfield 3 like Liverpool’s.

Hard working, more defensive minded, but can create.

It would require Arsenal securing Dani Ceballos for another year, and buying one more to add to Granit Xhaka.

We have been heavily linked with Thomas Partey and Donny van de Beek.

Playing 433 would mean we would only need a part-time Number 10. Someone who is happy sitting on the bench. Potentially also covering left or right wing. Someone who we can turn to allowing us to transition from 433 into 4231 or 4213 when chasing the game.

Willian can be this option.

With Willian on the bench, you have 3 substitution options with just one player.

He can come in and play 10, as the team shifts from 433 to 4231. He can also cover both wings.

So if Arsenal shift to 433 next season and buy a top class central midfielder, Willian becomes a sensible signing as the more attacking option.

If Arteta chooses to go for 4231, signing Willian makes a lot of sense if we also bring in a younger creative midfielder.

Arsenal might be looking across Europe at the likes of Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Salzburg or Saïd Benrahma at Brentford.

The issue with signing these two players is they would be coming from Austria or the Championship. The step up to the Premier League is huge.

So it would make sense if Arsenal signed, for example, 19-year-old Szoboszlai as a long term option whilst also adding a senior option to take the pressure off.

Willian could be that senior option.

Willian’s high wage would be offset by the youngsters much lower wage and the club could do the maths and end up paying less for Willian and the new creator than what Ozil & Mkhitaryan were costing. Even if we have to continue paying some of Ozil’s wages to move him on.

In this scenario, Willian also provides a duel role.

Alongside providing experienced cover and guidance to a less experienced “10” he also provides experienced cover to Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.

So we have young, hungry, talented teenage attackers and Willian as an experienced, reliable head.

Willian turns 32-years-old in a few days, but has just had his most prolific season in the Premier League – scoring 9 and assisting 7. He started 29 games.

He is certainly not yet a player on the slide.

As always, it comes down to money.

Should we pay Willian a £200k a week for 4-years? No.

Would he accept just a 2 year deal? No. He has already turned that down for Chelsea.

So something in between needs to be found. Maybe a 2+1 or 3+1 deal

Willian becomes a sensible signing if him joining allows the club to rebuild the rest of the squad in the eye of Mikel Arteta.

If he is the only “big name signing” Arsenal make this summer, fans will be on his back from day one.


FA Cup victory a first taste of success for Hale End golden generation

Prior to Saturday’s FA Cup final victory, the only real positive that had come out of this season was the development of youth at The Arsenal.

Bukayo Saka was the cream of the crop.

2019/20 was his breakthrough season, with only Nicolas Pepe creating for goals in the Premier League for Arsenal. His attitude and willingness to play whether required was impressive.

Behind Saka, the likes of Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson also had their part to play.

2 years separate the Nketiah (eldest) and Saka (the baby of the group). The 4 Hale End boys had grown up together in the youth teams.

It is easy to forget that Reiss Nelson is just 20. He seems to have been around forever!

Alongside the 4 was youngster Matt Smith.

Smith had only recently begun joining in training sessions with the first team following a return to football following the suspension. He had previously captain Arsenal at U18 level.

The 19 year old was a surprise inclusion in the first team squad in recent weeks and he made it 5 Hale End boys on the bench (6 if you include Matt Macey who joined us from Bristol Rovers at 19).

There were also 3 Hale End graduates that started the game.

The story of Emiliano Martínez is an incredible one.

Some of us will always know him as Damian Martínez, joining Arsenal at 18-years-old from Argentina.

10 years on and, following injury to Bernd Leno, he has become a key player and is now arguably Arsenal’s number 1.

From Oxford to Sheffield, Rotherham to Wolverhampton and Getafe. It was at Reading for the 2nd half of last season he took a huge step forward.

Well done lad.

Another to sign into the academy was Hector Bellerin.

Joining Arsenal at 16-years-old from Barcelona, he ahs now played over 200 games and captained Arsenal.

The last 2 seasons have been tough for the Spanish-Cockney. Bad injury and a loss of form when returning seemed to shatter his confidence. But he is back.

Last but not least is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A man who has really turned round his Arsenal career recently.

A few months ago Maitland-Niles seemed on his way out of Arsenal.

Questions about his attitude, about him demanding to play midfield. He had seemingly played his last game for Arsenal.

He kept his counsel, worked hard at training and was fantastic on Saturday. Likewise he was key against Manchester City in the semi-final.

The FA Cup final made it a century of games for The Arsenal. Hopefully he continues to focus and kicks on.

Back in 1987, Tony Adams (20), David Rocastle (19), Michael Thomas (19), Niall Quin (20), Martin Hayes (20) beat Liverpool to win the League Cup. This group of talented youth team graduates would then go on to win the league together at Anfield in 1989.

Who knows what the current crop of graduates could go on to achieve?