Mikel Arteta’s career defining decisions

With 7 games to go in the league and a crucial second leg against Slavia Prague, Mikel Arteta has plenty of decisions to make.

Get them right and he could finish the season a hero. A Europa League success to go with last years FA Cup. A top 7 finish.

However if he makes the wrong decisions, we got out tonight and finish 10th or worse, he might not survive the summer.

These decisions could be career defining for Arteta. So what are they?

Who plays right back?

We discussed on Monday as to who should play right back for The Arsenal.

It feels like Hector Bellerin’s Arsenal career is coming to an end. But is he still the best right back of himself, Cedric Soares and Calum Chambers?

Cedric might be required at left back to cover Kieran Tierney’s absence (see point 2). So it could be a straight choice between Bellerin and Chambers.

Both have their obvious strengths and weakness, and in recent weeks we have seen Arteta rotate depending on the opponent.

Does he continue to his rotation policy? Does he go with Chambers who has looked good in recent games? Or does he return to Bellerin?

And who plays left back?

Kieran Tierney has been fantastic this season. But his career at both Arsenal and Celtic has been stop start with a couple of long term injuries and a few short term.

I was always a risk letting Sead Kolasinac leave, taking into account Tierney’s injury history. And it is a risk that has failed to pay off.

A move for 31-year-old Ryan Betrand in the summer would not surprise.

The Englishman is left footed, attack minded and experienced.

Some might question his age, but he has played 28 of Southampton’s 31 Premier League games this season and he would prove a good option whilst the coaches continue to develop Joel Lopez (this is a blog for another day).

In the short term, does Arteta stick with Granit Xhaka at left back?

The Swiss midfielder did the job against Sheffield United, but the Blades were blunt. They did not challenge him.

Xhaka at left back will only end one way. Him pulling back a rapid winger and getting himself sent off.

Like Xhaka, Cedric has played OK at left back and was clearly Arteta’s back up plan when letting Kolasinac go. But his error against Slavia Prague cost the team the game – although there were 2 plays after his error where we could have stopped a goal.

His lack of left foot is a concern. However it is something that can be worked on by ensuring that the guy ahead of him is left footed.

The last choice is playing Bukayo Saka. But moving our most creative player to left back is solving one problem and creating another.

So Xhaka or Cedric? That is what Arteta has to decide.

Stick with Nicolas Pepe?

Nicolas Pepe is one of the most frustrating players I have seen in an Arsenal shirt.

He is strong, quick and technically sound, but does not seem to put it all together enough.

The Ivorian plays n the fringes of games. Exploding occasionally with quality that annoys your further.

He relies on space to play into, to run into, to cut back into. And this is why he perhaps does not suit a big team.

Pepe would do well at a side that does not dominate play. That sits deep and then looks for him over the top on a counter attack. He would do well at someone likes Wolves or Leicester City.

But at Arsenal when we are looking to play in the opponents third of the pitch he struggles. He loses the ball too easily in tight situations.

What other options does Arteta have?

Saka is clearly superior and starts no matter what.

That leaves Willian, Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe and Pepe “on the other side” to Saka.

It would all depend on who Arteta goes with at left back.

If it is Cedric, it must be Pepe who can then provide the natural width. If it is Xhaka or Saka, then Willian could come in.

The game is all about partnerships, and starting Pepe could depend on who is playing behind him.

Aubameyang

Trying to get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the same team has proved troublesome.

Both Unai Emery and Arteta struggled to come up with a system that suits both.

The closest we have got is by going 343.

It free’d Aubameyang up from any defensive and creative responsibilities allowing him to find and exploit the space as a wide forward. The formation led us to FA Cup victory last year, but has since been binned.

In a 4231 he is expected to contribute more to cover his full back and be a creator as well as a goal scorer. It is a role which does not suit him.

It has to be either Lacazette or Aubameyang down the middle. Not one wide of the other or one a little deeper.

Lacazette perhaps suits us more.

The Frenchman is better with his back to goal and his touch brings others into play more. His link up play with Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard leads to chances created.

Meanwhile Aubameyang likes to play look forwards, not back.

He is great playing off the shoulder of the last man. Not getting involved in the link up play.

In a side that contained the creativity of Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, Aubameyang would be devastating. But with Arsenal short on quality creativity, Aubameyang quickly becomes starved of the ball.

In the short term, Lacazette is the better option. However he has just one year left on his contract.

Unless Arsenal can shift Aubameyang this summer – which is unlikely – then Lacazette will be sold. That will leave Aubameyang as our first choice striker backed up by Gabriel Martinelli and Folrian Balogun.

So does Arteta go with Lacazette in the short term and risk alienating Aubameyang for the long term? Or does he stick Aubameyang in whilst he continues to tweak the team to get the best out of him?

Summary

Arteta has 4 key decisions to make.

If I were manager (and I know I am not), I would go:

Chambers at right back

Cedric left back

Pepe left wing

Aubameyang upfront

Keenos

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Why would players want to join The Arsenal?

I recently watched a clip of Jamie O’Hara claiming that Jesse Lingard should not join Arsenal.

His reasoning was that “Arsenal would not be pulling up any trees in the next season” and would “not be spending big money”. He then went on to say “he should join Tottenham” as they were miles above Arsenal.

It was click bait at is finest, designed to get Arsenal fans calling in to abuse the journeyman former footballer.

Laura Woods held him to account pointing out that Spurs were only a handful of points above Arsenal. That they could be losing their best player and have a manager who players do not want to play for.

Click bait aside. There is a serious conversation to be had

When Arsenal are linked with players from those clubs above us, you often see fans of those clubs and rival clubs saying “why would he want to take a step down”.

Why would Wilfred Ndidi leave 3rd place Leicester City for 9th placed Arsenal? Or Lingard pick Arsenal over 4th placed West Ham? And so on.

The reality is Arsenal could sign any player they wanted from these clubs. And are still more attractive then any side in the Premier League outside of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea.

The saying goes “form is temporary, class is permanent” and that is exactly why Arsenal will still be the destination of choice for many players.

Form is Temporary

Last season West Ham finished 16th, They have finished top 10 3 times in 20 years and not finished higher than 7th since 1999.

No player in their right mind would pick West Ham over an Arsenal based on the Hammers having one decent season.

There form this season is likely a temporary peak before their return to the lower-mid table positions they have spent the last decade in.

Next season they are just as likely to get relegated as finish top 4.

Whereas the opposite is different for Arsenal. We are more likely to finish top 4 than get relegated.

Leicester City are a different proposition.

They finished 5th last season and are looking to back that up with a top 4 finish this. 6 seasons ago they finished champions.

But in 3 of the last 4 seasons they finished no higher than 9th – their lowest is 12th.

Arsenal finished above Leicester 3 out of 4 times, with a lowest position of 8th.

No player is going to pick (or not leave) Leicester based on them finishing above Arsenal a couple of times.

Players are driven by 4 things:

1) Playing for the club they love

2) Winning trophies

3) Earning big money

4) Playing for a “big club”

The more of those factors you can offer, the higher up a food chain you are.

Trophies

Regardless of current league position, a player is more likely to win a trophy at Arsenal than Leicester, Everton, West Ham or Tottenham.

It might be “only the FA Cup” but a player joining Arsenal in 2013 would have 4 FA Cup winners medals hanging on their wall.

Only Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have won more in that time than Arsenal.

2013 was the year Harry Kane made his breakthrough into the Tottenham team. Over 200 goals and 300 appearances later, he is still waiting to win his first trophy.

If you are driven to win trophies, you join Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal.

They are the 5 teams that are constantly their at the business end of competitions. Making semi-finals, finals, winning trophies.

In the 4 years Arsenal have finished outside the top 4, we have won 2 FA Cups. I the 2 seasons we finished trophyless we made the League Cup and Europa League finals.

In the last 8 seasons we have won 4 trophies and finished runners up 4 times. That is top 2 in a competition every single season.

We might be 9th in the league, but we still have more of a chance to win a trophy than most of those teams above us.

Big Money

Like it or not, how much a team can pay a player still has a huge impact when they decide who ti sign for.

Take Manchester City.

Back in the late 00s and early 10s, they could only offer players one of those things. Big money. So the money they had to pay players to join them was astronomical.

They can now offer almost guaranteed success which has led to them no longer having to “overpay” to attract players.

O’Hara has said “Arsenal will not spend big money”. Yet we will spend big money and will continue to do so on players wages.

In 2019/20, Arsenal had the 5th highest wage bill in the Premier League.

We pay nearly 100% more on salaries than West Ham and close to 50% more than Leicester City.

Despite Covid19 and finishing mid-table again, those figures will not change soon.

Arsenal’s wage bill is unlikely to dramatically drop, and West Ham’s will unlikely shoot up.

Whatever Leicester, West Ham, Everton or Tottenham can offer, Arsenal can offer more.

You throw in that we are more likely to win trophies and you start to see why we are still a ore attractive proposition than those clubs that will finish above us.

History

“You’re living in the past” is what many say when talking about a clubs history. But it has a huge factor and pull for clubs.

The fact is, players want to play for the biggest clubs.

No matter where they are in the league, the big clubs will always be able to attract the best players.

Whether that be Arsenal or Liverpool. Juventus or Inter Milan. Manchester United or AC Milan.

Look at Liverpool in the late 00s / mid 10s.

They finished top 5 once in 7 seasons, finishing 6th-8th in the other 6 seasons.

Yet they were still able to attract the likes of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Raul Meireles, Mamadou Sakho, Mario Balotelli, Emre Can and Roberto Firmino from abroad.

And despite their poor finishes, they were able to poach the likes of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, José Enrique, Joe Allen, Simon Mignolet, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Danny Ings and Nathaniel Clyne from domestic rivals.

They could still knock on the door of those smaller clubs and sign their best players regardless of where they finished in the league.

It is the same for Manchester United, and Arsenal.

The historic big 3 clubs in England will always be a bigger draw for players at home and abroad then those lesser clubs.

Unless a Manchester City or Chelsea turns up firing millions of pounds at players from the tank parked on a rivals lawn; Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal will always have the biggest draw for players.


So when someone says “why would a player join Arsenal”, the answer is simple.

Arsenal are one of Europe’s biggest clubs

Arsenal are one of England most successful clubs

And Arsenal can still pay more than 75% of the Premier League

PS: I would not want us to sign Jesse Lingard. Is he West Hams level.

Keenos

Book Review: Gunners and Gooners

Gunners and Gooners by Eddie Symes

Book Review by John Williamson

During the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, keep himself occupied, old time Arsenal supporter Eddie Symes decided to write a series of blogs named ‘Old Gunners and Gooners’.

The blog captured the essence of supporting the Club for over 60 years. They proved such a success that Eddie decided to write a book in the same vein.

The book captures the highs and lows of following one of the world’s greatest footballs clubs, not only on the pitch, but also off it. 

Gunners and Gooners’ is a book of the personal experiences of Eddie and his friends following The Arsenal.

Starting out as an 8-year-old schoolboy in 1957 through to 2018, when Eddie last went to the Emirates Stadium.

It is written with humour and honesty by a fanatic who not only went to home matches but, also away matches in England as well as Europe. The Book is the storybehind the stories which not only Arsenal fans will relate to, but all football fans, including those who support “the Team from the Lane”.

‘Gunners and Gooners’ is written in chronological order, starting with the early days going to matches with the family, away matches by Supporters Club coach and then going by the infamous Football Specials; a tried and tested route that most football fans would have taken in a by-gone age when transportation of football fans was limited.

Included are some great stories, for example, how the ‘Laundry End’ became the ‘Northbank’ as well as the story of how Eddie’s ‘Northbank’ banner was made famous in picture form outside Bristol’s Temple Meads station with a certain Charlie George who missed a Reserve match to go to the FA Cup tie against Bristol Rovers!

The book is over 300 pages long and my testament is that I could not put the book down, taking just over 7 hours to read from cover to cover. 

The only criticism I would have is that the match facts within the book have not been researched and has several mistakes. If you look beyond the match detail and read the stories and experiences behind the matches, I would recommend this to anyone who loves their football and would like to understand what it means to those that go.

JW