Author Archives: keenosafc

5 key reasons Arsenal finished 5th

No Bouncebackability

This season our defeats came in clusters.

We lost the first 3 games of the season, but then went on an 8 game unbeaten run.

From game week 12 to 15 we lost 3 out of 4 games and game week 27 to 31 lost 4 out of 5.

Finally in those closing stages of the season we suffered back to back defeats on game week 36 and 37.

The loss to Manchester City in January was the only defeat they did not occur amongst a cluster of others.

It is a concern that one defeat has quickly led to 2 or 3 more in a short space of time.

For us to progress from 5th place to top 3 challengers next season, we need to bounce back better from defeats.

No January Signings

We were right in letting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave in January. But the lack of any reinforcements did cost us 4th place.

There is an argument that 5th was our target. That when the transfer window shut we were 6th. So finishing 5th means that the risk to not sign anyone in January paid off.

Even if this narrative is true, to finish just 2 points behind 4th having made no signings is frustrating.

There is a danger in January signings.

You often overpay on a player you do not really want, which in turn leads to less money available in the summer to buy players you do want.

Or you end up loaning someone in that is not getting much game time elsewhere. But by the time they get up to full fitness the season is over.

Newcastle United and Tottenham aside, there was not much business done in January. But that does not mean the players were not out there.

In January I wrote a blog about 5 players we should be looking target.

Of those 5 players, 3 got a January move.

Tottenham New Signings

One of those 5 players mentioned in the January blog was Dejan Kulusevski.

The Swedish international came onto my radar as a player that can play across the 3 behind a striker.

Clearly talented, he was struggling in Italy and looking for a move out.

Tottenham took the plunge and signed him on loan, with options to make that move permanent both this summer and next.

He scored 5 goals and bagged himself 8 assists in 18 Premier League appearances.

Now it is too easy to say “Kulusevski made the difference”, but he clearly did.

Whilst Bukayo Saka, Smile Smith Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli ran out of steam, Kulusevski freshened up the Tottenham attack and gave them another option beyond the Kane / Son axis.

Spurs also signed Rodrigo Bentancur who quickly became a key man in the middle of the park for them.

During the closing stages of the season, Thomas Partey broke down injured. Could Bentancur have made a difference? Taking a bit of pressure off the Ghanian in certain games?

I was happy us not spending on players that we were not 100% on, but I do feel we missed a trick with Kulusevski.

Arteta Did Not Trust His Squad

Towards the end of the season, we saw Mohamed Elneny and Eddie Nketiah come in from the cold to put in game winning performances.

This raised the question as to whether Arteta trusted his squad players enough?

Partey started 17 league games out of 18 from November through to April.

The only game he missed was due to participation in the African Cup of Nations where he started all 3 games for Ghana.

In the 20 games for club and country during that period, he played 1759 out of a possible 1800 minutes.

Why did Arteta not trust in Elneny to come in sooner?

Had we started Elneny against the likes of Norwich City, Brentford and Leicester City, Partey might not have broken down with an injury caused by muscle fatigue.

Likewise, when Kieran Tierney picked up his injury, Arteta shuffled the pack putting Granit Xhaka at left back rather than trust in his back-up full back Nuno Tavares.

And when Alexandre Lacazette was clearly off the pace, Arteta stuck with him rather than put in Nketiah.

It took Lacazette to be struck down by Coronavirus in April for Eddie to get a start in the Premier League.

Arteta needs to begin trusting his squad players a lot more.

We Just Weren’t Ready

Youngest team in the league with the youngest manager.

When it came down to the pressure games, we failed to step up.

I will not go as far as to see we bottled it, as that would unfairly stigmatise a group of young players. But we did crumble under the pressure of being favourites.

Three times we crumbled.

The first was in that double header against Everton and Manchester United when the pressure was on to win two big away games.

Secondly in that run against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton. And then again in the double header against Spurs and Newcastle.

When the pressure was off and it felt like we were out of the running, we played with freedom.

After the Everton defeat in December, top 4 looked a distance away. We then won 9 out of 11 games.

Back in pole position for top 4, we proceeded to lose 3 of our next 4 games.

With the pressure off again, we beat Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as West Ham away.

That 4 game winning run put it in our hands with 3 games to go. And we finished 5th.

In the Newcastle game we looked like a deer in headlights. Granit Xhaka was right in his post-match comments.

Physically we were also not ready as the likes of Saka and Martinelli ran out of steam.

People will point to “no European football” and question why they looked knackered I the closing stages of the season.

Both are still just 20-years-old and played more minutes than Phil Foden across all competitions. They also played the same minutes as Son Heung-Min.

These players have not yet obtained “old man fitness” that you get from playing 50+ games a season over an extended period of time. They still have young, raw bodies.

By the end of the season, our talented youngsters looked physically and mentally drained.

Some might say “but Chelsea made top 4 with a young squad” but that is re-writing history.

In 2019/20, Frank Lampard’s team had the 4th youngest squad in the league, at an average age of 25.3 years. This season Arsenal’s was 24.4 years.

Now one year might seem insignificant. But that one year is an extra season of football. An extra year of physical and mental strength.

In 12 months time, the likes of Bukayo Saka, Martinelli, Martin Odergaard, Aaron Ramsdale, Ben white and Gabriel will be a year older. A year stronger. A year wiser. I would not expect them to fall away physically and mentality like they did this.

A year is a long time in football. We were just not ready this year.


The good news is that if I can establish what went wrong this season, the senior leadership team at Arsenal can.

We have reduced ourselves to a paper thin squad. This summer we now need to get in similar quality to last and rebuild.

By doing that, it will give Arteta more options and enable him to rest and rotate. Keeping everyone that little bit more fresh.

I am looking forward to the 2022/23 season already.

Keenos

2021/22 – “A season of highs and lows”

And that is the end of the 2021/22 season.

There are two sensible schools of thought on how the season went.

The first is from those who recognise that 5th was our main target of the season; and we finished 5th.

The second is those that saw us move into pole position for top 4 and then bottled it towards the end of the season.

There is a 3rd school of thought but that is held be Arsenal incels and so insignificant that we will not bother discussing it.

The reality is one and two are correct.

5th was our target, we did finish 5th, but we should have finished 4th.

We started off the season in horrendous form – losing out first 3 games of the season.

A Covid hit squad and two tough games against the two favourites of the season saw us sitting bottom of the table 3 games in.

But we rebuilt, going on an 8 game unbeaten run which dragged us up to 5th.

This was a season of peaks and troughs. We seemed to go on long winning (or unbeaten) runs and then would lose games in clusters.

That first cluster was the first 3 games of the season. The second came after our 8 game unbeaten run. We would then lose 3 of the next 4.

It was the manner of the defeats to Everton and Manchester United that hurt so much.

Neither team were the sides of yesteryear and in both games we took the lead and dominated. Only to come away with nothing.

Missed chances and sloppy goals. If anything cost us top 4, it was those back to back defeats.

The defeat to Everton in early December left us 7th. Champions League dreams extinguished.

9 victories in the next 11 games followed – the only defeat at home to Manchester City. A victory for the referee that game.

That form saw us break into the top 4 for the first time this season and, with 12 games to go, it was in our hands!

Then the 3rd cluster of defeats – triggered for the 2nd time of the season by a defeat to Liverpool.

4 defeats in 5 games saw us tumble from 4th to 6th.

Losses to Crystal Palace, Southampton and Brighton alongside injuries to Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey had us questioning whether we would even make Europa League.

Then an away win against Chelsea – easily our best away day in years – was followed up by another 3 solid wins.

3 games to go, 4 points ahead of Spurs in 5th. On paper we should have finished top 4. But that trip to Newcastle was always going to be a potential banana skin.

And so it proved to be just that.

Had we beaten Spurs, we would have guaranteed ourselves top 4 with 2 games to go.

Instead they took advantage of some poor refereeing and closed the gap to 1 point. We then went and lost to Newcastle, a defeat which all but handed 4th place to Tottenham.

When we dissect how we lost 4th, the 4 clusters of defeats is something that needs to be looked at.

We can not expect to be challengers if 1 defeat brings another 2 or 3. We need better bouncebackability.

A key factor in us finishing 4th was Tottenham’s results against 1st and 2nd in the league.

Spurs were unbeaten against Manchester City and Liverpool – beaten the former twice and drawing both games against the latter.

That is 8 points taken from games against the league title challengers. We took 0.

Both Liverpool and Manchester City play into Tottenham’s long ball tactics.

High lines exposed them to those high balls, a Harry Kane flick on and Son running in behind.

Yes, we were probably masters of our own downfall, but a side taking 8 points from the champions and runners up has probably never happened before. And will probably never happen again.

Tottenham also signed two players in January that made in impact. Meanwhile we took the risk and let a lot of players leave without getting in replacements.

Some would argue that the risk did not pay off as we missed out on top 4. But if the target was 5th, and that target was still the same in January, then surely the risk paid off?

Would we have finished 4th if we had kept Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? I actually think probably not.

We were 7th following his last ever game. Following his exclusion (and eventual sale) we went on our best run of the season gaining 28 out of 33 points.

The honeymoon period is also clearly over for the Gabonese striker at Barcelona – he has just 4 goals in his last 12 games.

Had we signed Dusan Vlahovic in January, I think we would have finished 3rd. But once that deal did not materialise, we were correct in not signing someone else.

Big money spent on a striker that we did not really want would be big money we would be unable to spend this summer. And signing a Dominc Calvert-Lewis or Alexander Isak in January might not have got us that 4th placed finished.

So in summary, I am happy with our 2021/22 season.

We now need a repeat of last summers transfer window – buy 3 players that come into our first team and a further 2 or 3 that improve the squad.

Let us know your thoughts on the season in the comments.

Thanks for reading this year.

Keenos

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 5 – 1 Everton

Arsenal (2) 5 Everton (1) 1

Premier League

Sunday, 22nd May 2022. Kick-off time: 4.00pm

(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli; Eddie Nketiah.

Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Ben White, Alexandre Lacazette, Emile Smith-Rowe, Nicolas Pépé, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Salah-Eddine Oulad M’Hand, Zak Swanson, Charlie Patino.

Scorers: Gabriel Martinelli (27 mins), Edddie Nketiah (31 mins), Cédric Soares (55 mins), Gabriel (59 mins), Martin Ødegaard (83 mins)

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 74%

Referee: Andre Marriner

Assistant Referees: Simon Long, Scott Ledger

Fourth Official: James Linington

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Lee Mason; AVAR Mark Scholes

Attendance: 60,201

A very important last day of the season, let us not be in any doubt about it. We were outplayed by Newcastle United at St James’ Park last Monday, but really, as we know, it is not a question of us lacking quality on the pitch; unfortunately we just do not have enough players showing the necessary leadership quality and grit to step up and be counted when it truly matters. The proof of the pudding is very firmly in the eating against the Toffees (no pun intended) this afternoon, realistically. However, Takehiro Tomiyasu is injured unfortunately, and has ben replaced by Cédric Soares. Rob Holding comes in for Ben White and Gabriel Martinelli starts instead of Emile Smith-Rowe, who is on the substitute’s bench today

We started the fastest side of the two at the Emirates today, and our fans are in good voice, singing Patrick Vieira’s name loudly, whilst former Spurs midfielder Dele Alli’s first touch was met with boos and catcalls, which is only to be expected under the circumstances. After just seven minutes, Bukayo Saka grabbed the ball, turned and shot over the bar, which was a very good chance early on that was wasted. However a minute or so later, Mohamed Elneny’s shot from outside the penalty area was blocked by Jarrad Branthwaite, and our dominance in the early stages of the game was there for all to see with excellent chances by Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Ødegaard being all blocked or kicked away by a panicky Everton defence. Abdoulaye Doucouré fouled Gabriel Martinelli deep in the Everton half, but the resulting free-kick went wide for an Arsenal corner, which went nowhere, sadly. Eddie Nketiah got very close to scoring with a curling left-footed shot that flew over the bar, which he superbly controlled after receiving the ball from Granit Xhaka’s pinpoint cross into the Everton penalty area. Just before the half hour, former Gunner Alex Iwobi handled the ball, and after referee Andre Marriner consulted the VAR team at Stockley Park (as well as looking at the pitchside monitor), a penalty was awarded. Gabriel Martinelli made no mistake from the spot, despite some desperate tricks by Asmir Begovic trying to delay the penalty, but he was sent the wrong way by a first-class strike drom our man. Four minutes later, we grabbed a well-deserved second goal when Gabriel Martinelli flicked on a beautiful headed pass from a corner into the path of Eddie Nketiah, who headed the ball into the back of the net from very close range into the centre of the goal. We were in complete control here at the Emirates this afternoon. Mohamed Elneny’s strong right-footed shot from outside the box went far too high, following a corner, and after a superb Bukayo Saka shot that went unbelievably wide, Andre Marriner blew the whistle for the half-time break following three minutes’ injury time, in which the visitors got a goal back through Donny van de Beek which was totally against the run of play.

Everton had the best of the early exchanges, winning a corner and a couple of free-kicks, and it has to be said, that it rather looks like a second half revival here. Nine minutes after the restart, Nuno Tavares nearly grabbed our third, but his well-struck shot went over Asmir Begovic’s goal, incredibly, and a couple of minutes later, following a corner and a classy assist from Bukayo Saka, we scored our third goal of the afternoon when Cédric Soares’ right footed shot went from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal for our third of the afternoon; Gabriel grabbed our fourth goal just before the hour mark, with a strong left-footed shot that hit the back of the Everton net following a corner. Things are looking good, the crowd are jubilant, and with half an hour of the match remaining, the game is in the bag. Albert Sambi Lokonga replaced Granit Xhaka after sixty-three minutes and although there is still someway to go, game management appears to be the order of the day as far as Arsenal are concerned. Alexandre Lacazette took the captain’s armband as he replaced Eddie Nketiah on sixty-six minutes, and both sides appear to be plodding towards the end of the season, casually giving free-kicks and corners away liberally. However, with fifteen minutes of the match remaining, Gabriel Martinelli slotted the ball to Albert Sambi Lokonga, whose right-footed shot from the left side of the penalty area was unbelievably saved by Asmir Begovic as the ball looked destined for the bottom left corner of the net. With twelve minutes of the game remaining, Nicolas Pépé replaced Bukayo Saka in order to get another goal here at the Emirates, which, funnily enough, actually happened with seven minutes to go when Martin Ødegaard simply and clinically sidefooted the ball into the Everton net from twenty yards. The last act of this troubled season came from Nicolas Pépé, whose left-footed shot from outside the box was saved spectacularly by Asmir Begovic in the Everton goal in the fourth minute of injury time. Seconds later, referee Andre Marriner blew his whistle to bring both the match and the season to a conclusion. Too little, too late.

And so we finished the 2021-22 season in fifth place in the Premiership table, two points behind Tottenham Hotpsur, agonisingly. Arsenal played 38, won 22, drew 3, lost 13, goals 61 for, 48 against, a goal difference of 13 and a final points tally of 69. Although we finished higher than we did last year, it is still not good enough for a club such as ours, quite frankly, especially when you look at how much money was spent on players in the close season, and a “dry” January with no players coming through the doors, which ultimately was a major factor in costing us a higher Premiership place. We don’t need reminding that we haven’t finished in the top four since we finished as runners-up to Leicester City in 2016. Some questions need to be addressed in the close season, such as which players will be leaving the club? Who will be coming in to replace those who are leaving? And what about the William Saliba situation? Rumour has it that he wants to stay at Marseille to play in the Champions League. Is this a waste of £27,000,000? No doubt all these questions will be answered in due course. In the meantime, have a great summer everyone! Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Steve

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