Category Archives: Arsenal

Arsenal fans should not worry about Saka’s drop in form

Bukayo Saka. Arsenal’s “Starboy”.

His rise in the last two years has been astronomical.

From a youngster given the chance in the Europa League to one of the first names on the team sheet and England regular.

He was one of the stars for England in the summer, and fans beyond Arsenal fell in love with the unicorn riding sweetheart.

Bukayo Saka: Atletico Madrid and Juventus interested as Arsenal demand at  least £43m – Paper Round - Eurosport

A popular young man within both the England and Arsenal squad, his rawness, fearlessness and that smile won the hearts and minds of both club and national fans.

Big things were expected of him this season as he progressed from youngster with potential to global superstar. But his start to the season has been a bit of a damp squid. Underwhelming.

In his 7 appearances this season, he is yet to register and assist and his sole goal came against WBA in the League Cup.

He is touching the ball less than he did in previous seasons. Less passes, less key passes, a lower pass completion ratio. He is also dribbling less, not running at opponents as much.

So why is Saka struggling?

Still a young man

It has to be remembered that Saka is still just 20-years-old. He is still a young man making his way in the game.

Players have dips in form. Even world class players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Dips in form are even more common in younger players, which is why it is important not to get on their back when they have a tough spell.

It is times like now he potentially needs an arm around him. Taken out of the limelight a little. Rested.

Whilst the tabloids would read Saka as being rotated out of the team as “Saka dropped”, it would actually be a physical and mental breather. Something he has not really had in the last 2 years.

Euro 2020 hangover

Saka was sparkling during the 2021 tournament – playing ahead of much senior players. But his competition ended in sadness as he missed the crucial penalty that led to Italy winning.

That penalty led to some horrendous racial abuse across social media from fans across the globe.

No one deserves the abuse he, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho got. And at just 19 he should have been protected.

And he did get protected. Fans came out in support of the trio. England did. The FA did. Arsenal did.

Whilst the smile is still on his face, we do not know if the abuse has affected him deeper. Has hit his self-confidence. He is a smart young man and will come out the other end a mentally stronger player. But for now his mind seems a little off.

No real pre-season

Saka came on in the 63rd minute of the Tottenham pre-season game. It was almost a month after Arsenal had started their pre-season games.

Due to the Euro’s, he did not get the pre-season that many of his team mates did. Nor did he get the break following 2 almost back to back seasons.

Saka is not the only England player struggling for form.

Harry Kane is yet to register a goal. Raheem Sterling scored just once. Phil Foden yet to start and Jadon Sancho yet to contribute much to Manchester United.

Despite his lack of break and pre-season, Saka has played a part in every Arsenal game this season.

Last season only Bernd Leno played more game – Saka appeared in 46 of the clubs 58 games. He also played 7 games for England.

Add in the season before where he became rarely missed a game after breaking through in September. He has gone from not even being in the match day squad to playing 95% of games.

Did Arsenal bring him back from pre-season too early? Knowing that we had two tough games against Manchester City and Chelsea in the first 3 games, should we have given him more of a break and only bought him back into the first team after the first international break?

Arsenal have not started great

We are now 3 wins from the last 3 games in all competitions. But we started the season with 3 Premier League defeats.

It would be completely unfair to blame Saka for those 3 defeats. No Arsenal player covered themselves with glory in the opening 3 games.

Senior players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe started poorly; and both had a proper pre-season. Not one Arsenal player can put his hand up and say he played well against Brentford, Man City or Chelsea.

The victories over Norwich City and Burnley were also not particularly great performances.

Hard fought 1-nil wins where non of the attacking players covered themselves in glory.

Saka’s poor form is simply mirroring Arsenal’s current struggles.

The future

There is no doubting Saka’s talent.

Perhaps unfairly some have compared him to Adnan Januzaj who looked OK in a poor Manchester United team but then failed to kick on. Their fans overhyped his average performances.

Saka has certainly proved for Arsenal and England that he is more than just a hyped up youngster. But he now does have to kick on.

Nicolas Pepe is often singled out by Arsenal fans for criticism. Mainly due to his price tag.

Last year the Ivorian scored 16 goals, and assisted 5. Saka scored just 7 with 9 assists.

Saka does need to improve his output and start producing similar figures to Pepe.

The problem is Arsenal are perhaps relying too much on the performances of a just-turned-20 year-old.

It is the likes of Aubameyang, Pepe and Alex Lacazette that need to step up and produce the goods. That will then allow less pressure and expectation to be on the shoulders of Saka.

Saka will regain his form soon. I am sure of that.

There is an international break coming up in 2 weeks. Personally I would like Southgate to not select Saka – and him also not be called up to the U21s. Give him 2 weeks without a game. Let him have a completed break from thinking about football for the first week. Go away somewhere to relax and recharge.

The reality is he will be picked by Southgate, and will continue to be over relied upon and over played by Arsenal.

The lad needs a break from football but might not get it until next summer.

Saka is still Arsenal’s starboy. He just needs a break.

Keenos

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3 – 0 AFC Wimbledon

Arsenal (1) 3 AFC Wimbledon (0) 0

Carabao Cup (EFL Cup) Third Round

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021. Kick-off time: 7.45pm

(4-3-1-2) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Nuno Tavares; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Thomas Partey, Alexandre Lacazette; Albert Sambi Lokonga; Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.

Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Calum Chambers, Mohamed Elneny, Folarin Balogun, Sead Kolašinac, Karl Hein.

Scorers: Alexandre Lacazette (11 mins), Emile Smith-Rowe (77 mins), Eddie Nketiah (80 mins)

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%

Referee: Jarred Gillett

Assistant Referees: Lee Betts and Constantine Hatzidakis

Fourth Official: David Coote

Attendance: Attendance: 56,276

And so the third round of the Carabao Cup comes around quicker than we believed, and with it the early expectation of proceeding towards a Wembley final next year. However, as we have found out to our cost in the past, let us not run before we can walk, put such lofty thoughts away and just concentrate on the match in hand. As we know, Granit Xhaka is not available tonight as he is serving the last of a three-match ban for his red card at the Etihad Stadium just over three weeks hence, and although Mohamed Elneny’s hamstring will be assessed ahead of the game, the rest of the squad is fully fit and ready to do battle with The Dons here at the Emirates this evening.

Another match, another new starting formation, hopefully one that will be successful tonight. Thomas Partey had a good start to the match, looking confident in midfield, putting in tackles when needed and spraying balls around to the forwards. After just eleven minutes, Gabriel Martinelli was brought down in the penalty area, and the referee had no option but to point to the spot; Alexandre Lacazette made no mistake in opening the scoring for us tonight, sending the Wimbledon goalkeeper the wrong way. In the ascendancy now, we are playing confident football. Thomas Partey and Ainsley Maitland-Niles exchange a couple of one-touch passes in midfield before the latter cleverly threaded the ball through for goalscorer Alexandre Lacazette, who tried to backheel it into the path of Gabriel Martinelli but the visitors’ defence neutralised the move. Wimbledon started to come back into the match with one or two interesting moves which led to a half-hearted attempt by Luke McCormick which was easily dealt with by Gabriel Martinelli, who slumped to the ground with an injury, but thankfully it appeared to be a minor one, and he soon resumed playing after a couple of minutes, getting into the thick of the action with a superb cross into the Wimbledon penalty area for Alexandre Lacazette, which was cleared by Will Nightingale. We started to dominate the match now, and it looked like the visitors had no answers for our quick, passing play in and around the box, with Alexandre Lacazette, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Eddie Nketiah getting mighty close to scoring with their superb efforts. Gabriel Martinelli came close to scoring after clever link-up play with Alexandre Lacazette, and as half-time approached, it would have been good to grab a second goal to firm things up a bit. Then, incredibly, a Cédric Soares corner was whipped into the Wimbledon penalty area, but a defender headed it up in the air and it dropped back onto the line, where goalkeeper Nik Tzanev pushed it onto the bar, before any of our players could force it home. Incredibly, a couple of minutes later, the half-time whistle blew and how we did not manage to grab a second goal before the break was nothing short of unbelievable.

And so the second half started, with Arsenal not moving the ball around as quick as they did in the first half, but still dominating possession nonetheless. Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli were linking together well tonight, and both were doing their best to unlock the Wimbledon defence. On the hour, Thomas Partey was replaced by Emile Smith-Rowe to give the lads a bit of bite for the last half hour of the match, and almost immediately he got into the game and made himself a nuisance by passing a great ball to Cédric Soares, whose right-footed shot was miraculously saved by the goalkeeper. The match started to stagnate, then Mikel Arteta sent on Bukayo Saka, who replaced a fatigued Gabriel Martinelli.and within minutes, thanks to the zest and fire of the substitutes, we grabbed our second goal of the night. Alexandre Lacazette noticed that Emile Smith-Rowe was in a predatory position, so he slotted the ball to him, and he wasted no time in scoring a superb goal from just inside the penalty area with his trusty left foot. Our confidence was on the up now, and just after Albert Sambi Lokonga’s shot was blocked by a Wimbledon defender, Cédric Soares delivered the ball to Eddie Nketiah, who made no mistake in scoring our third goal of the night from close range with a clever backheeled shot. That goal was the last act of the night for Eddie Nketiah, who was replaced by Folarin Balogun with just ten minutes of the match remaining. By now, we were doing exactly what we wanted to with clever off-the-ball movements and superb passing between the players. Literally, on the ninetieth minute, Bukayo Saka picked the ball up just inside the Wimbledon half, turned the defender, then cut inside onto his left foot and curled the ball inches wide of the far post; there was one or two efforts in injury time, but in essence, the match was over, and when referee Jarred Gillett blew the whistle for full-time, the sense of relief from the Wimbledon team was obvious. We now go on to meet Leeds United in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup at the Emirates on Wednesday, 27th October.

To be fair, the statistics of the match tell their own story. Despite one or two iffy moments, Wimbledon didn’t manage a shot on our goal, and with sixty-two percent possession, our dominance was thre for all to see. The nost important thing was that we finished the game with no injuries, and with the North London derby coming up on Sunday afternoon, we need all out players fit for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates.

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: Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates on Sunday, 26th September at 4.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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.

Thomas Partey – Arsenal’s One Man Midfield

I watched a lot of Thomas Partey when he was at Atletico Madrid.

He always came across as a Patrick Vieira type midfielder.

Whilst he could be classed as a defensive midfielder, he was much more than that. He was at his best when he was free to let his presence be known across the pitch, using his power and fitness to press and win the ball.

To do so he needed a static midfielder in behind him. Someone who was defensively disciplined and would remain in place when Partey went hunting for the ball.

It is for that reason I did not see Partey as a replacement for Granit Xhaka but a partner.

In my mind it was simple.

Partey would press high up the pitch whilst Xhaka sat. He would drive forward with the ball at his feet whilst Xhaka dictated play from deeper with his passing.

It would be reminiscent to the Petit / Vieira days.

Jorginho and N’Golo Kante is perhaps a more modern example at Chelsea.

Against Burnley, Partey played as the deepest midfielder – with Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard further forward. And it was a tactic that worked very well.

Many often question why Arsenal (and others) play 2 defensive minded players against lesser sides.

Chelsea almost always play with Jorginho and Kante. As do Manchester United (usually 2 of Fred, Matic and McTominay). Liverpool often played with 3 in their title winning season (Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum).

Likewise Man City look their most balanced when both Ilkay Gundogan and Ferdandinho play together.

Mikel Arteta took the risk and played with just Partey which allowed him to get more creativity on the pitch.

When Burnley were on the ball, Partey would drop into the back 4 creating 3 centre backs.

This a tactic allowed Ben White and Gabriel to man mark Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes. Partey then became the arial attacker when the ball went high.

Capable of dropping into the defence and attacking the high ball. It worked brilliant.

Partey showed in the game that he can perform as the deepest of the midfielders. That he had the positional discipline not to leave the defence exposed.

The only thing to raise is it was Burnley.

Arteta was able to do this due to Burnley playing a traditional 442.

They had no attacking midfielder occupying the space between Arsenal’s defence and midfield; and their own two midfielders were pre occupied with Odegaard and Smith Rowe.

This almost always left Partey as a free man.

Against sides that play with an attacking midfielder, or a striker that drops deeper, Arsenal might find themselves quickly over run in midfield.

Against someone like Chelsea, Partey wild be occupied with Kai Havertz. That would then always leave Mason Mount free.

Liverpool would drop Firmino deeper which would then free up Thiago to dictate the midfield.

Even lesser teams like Leicester City would stick James Maddison on Partey freeing up Youri Tielemans.

It is a tactic that worked against Burnley because of the way Burnley set up.

But what Partey showed is that he can play as the deeper of the midfielders. And what that means moving forward is that Arteta can play one of Albert-Sambi Lokonga or Ainsley Maitland-Niles alongside him; rather than Granit Xhaka.

I am not naive enough to say things like “Partey has just ended Xhaka’s career” but it is now quiet clearly “Partey + 1 depending on the opponent” rather than “Partey & Xhaka”.

Now we just need to hope Partey stays fit.

Keenos