Sterling YES, Mahrez NO

Yesterday, Arsenal were linked with both Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling.

Despite running away with the Premier League, Pep Guardiola apparently wants to refresh his frontline, with his side scoring their least amount of goals in 5 years and 19 league goals less than last season.

Sergio Aguero is already set to leave, with Harry Kane likely to come in to replace him. But it seems Pepe is also looking at who is behind the front man. In recent days Man City have been linked with a huge deal for Jack Grealish.

With Phil Foden and Bernard Silva, it would mean that one of Mahrez or Sterling would likely have to leave to create the squad space for a new attacked.

So for now, the Arsenal links to both can go in the box of “this is just Man City using Arsenal to let the world know that both men are available”. But we should also have a conversation over whether we should sign either player.

Raham Sterling has had a tough season for Manchester City.

It perhaps shows the heights of his previous seasons that 10 goals and 7 assists is considered a failure, with some going as far as claiming he should not be in the England squad for the Euro’s.

When you look at England’s other wide options, only Marcus Rashford (11 goals, 7 assists) had out performed him.

10 league goals would have made Sterling Arsenal’s 2nd top scorer, and 7 assists our most creative player.

It always has to be remembered with Sterling as well that he is not a dead ball taker. So all of his goals and assists come from open play.

Nicholas Pepe (10 goals, 1 assist) and Bukayo Saka (5 goals, 3 assists) are both a country mile behind Sterling.

Although you do then have to throw in the caveat that Arsenal have been awful this season whilst Sterling plays in a much better team.

What is certain is Arsenal need more creativity, extra options out wide.

As it stands, we only have two proper wide men – Saka and Pepe. The rest are round pegs in square holes.

If anyone thinks playing Sterling on the left would not automatically improve us, they need to give their head a wobble.

Sterling left, Saka or Pepe right. Instant improvement.

Whilst Stelring’s form has dipped, it might be a case of he just needs a new challenge.

You feel with his character, he is at his best when he feels he has something to prove. That then gives his game a little more spike. More agression.

Being “dumped” by Manchester City could re-motivate him. And at 26-years-old he has plenty of years left in the tank.

If Sterling is on the market, Arsenal should make him their primary target.

It perharps show how big perception is in football that whilst Sterling has been criticised, Riyad Mahrez has been labelled as one of Manchester City’s best players this season. This despite him getting less league goals and assists than the Englishman.

I have seen some go as far as comparing Mahrez to Neymar this season. This is surely just an attention seeking exercise, hoping to wind up the Neymar fanboys; rather than a real opinion?

Mahrez is a quality player and was close to joining Arsenal in 2016 from Leicester City.

Leicester blocked the deal and two seasons later he joined Manchester City.

Mahrez has never really been a regular starter for Man City – this seasons 23 league starts the most in his career for them.

Despite his obvious qualities, Arsenal should not pursue Mahrez.

On the right hand side, we already have Pepe and Saka as “inverted” options.

Whilst Mahrez is the level above the pair, he is also 4 years older than Pepe and 11 years older than Saka.

Taking into account Arsenal’s financial restraints this summer, it would not make sense to sign Mahrez for big money when the right hand side is covered.

I am sure if Pepe was playing in the Manchester City side, his statistics would be not too dissimilar to Mahrez; whilst Saka is clearly a star for the present and will only get better.

Mahrez also turns 31 in January, so we would be signing him knowing we might only get another 2 or 3 good seasons out of him. and any future transfer fee would be miniscule.

Instead of signing Mahrez, lets continue with Pepe and Saka.

One finished the season in great form, the other is only going to get better.

So in summary, it is an easy equation.

If it is a choice between sterling and Mahrez, the Englishman is streets ahead.

Sterling has outperformed Mahrez during their time together for City, is 4 years younger and solves our left hand side attacking issue.

Having Sterling, Pepe and Saka gives us more options than Mahrez, Pepe and Saka.

I am sure many will disagree. Enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend. Put the phones down. Go outside. Get some sunshine.

Keenos

Do not believe the table

So there is a league table going around of “results without VAR”.

Some Arsenal fans have got angry about it as “Arsenal would be 4th without VAR”. But you should all ignore the table. It is pointless.

VAR was created to get “more decisions right”, so the most basic argument is that the “results without VAR” is also what the table would look like “if referee errors were not over turned”.

It is also not clear on what constituents a VAR decision.

For example take offside.

Linesmen are now encouraged to keep their flag down.

Say a goal is scored and the lino has kept the flag down, it goes to VAR who disallow it, that league table when they add that to the “goal chalked off by VAR” column.

Yet without VAR, the linesman probably would have raised his flag.

So VAR has not changed the decision, just changed the way the decision has been made.

And let’s say a player was a meter offside and scores. VAR then rules it out. Surely it is better to get the right decision right regardless of how they come to it?

Then we have the Harry Kane incident last weekend.

The goal was not “given by VAR” but was given by the referee. VAR then asked the referee to have a look at it.

So where does that fit in on the table? Without VAR, the goal stands. With VAR, the goal still stood.

That David Luiz decision against Wolves was a similar situation – it was not a decision made by VAR but a decision made by the referee.

Without VAR, Spurs still score that goal and Luiz is still sent off.

And a football match is 90 minutes. How much did the VAR decision impact the game?

Arsenal v Leicester earlier in the season. Arsenal score a goal through Lacazette (I think?), disallowed by VAR for offside. If memory serves me correct, it was the 4th minute.

So how does this become interpreted on the table?

Do Arsenal get “given” the 3 points as it was 0-0 at the time? Is it 1 point each as the late Leicester goal would have been the equaliser? With 86-ish minutes to play, we can not say that that VAR decision is why Arsenal lost rather than won.

VAR has its issues. But a “league table without VAR decisions” is even more flawed than VAR itself.

Ignore it. Do not allow yourself to get wound up by it. Move on.

Keenos

Match Report: Arsenal 2 – 0 Brighton

Arsenal (0) 2 Brighton and Hove Albion (0) 0

Premier League

Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU

Sunday, 23rd May 2021. Kick-off time: 4.00pm

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Alex Rúnarsson, Cédric Soares, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.

Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (48 mins, 60 mins)

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 55%

Referee: Jonathan Moss

Assistant Referees: Marc Perry, Timothy Wood

Fourth Official: Dean Whitestone

VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Simon Hooper; AVAR Derek Eaton

Attendance: A maximum of 10,000 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions

And so, we finally come to the last day of the 2020-21 season, which by my calculations, is Matchday 57 for the boys. As we know, the maximum points that we can accrue for the season is sixty-one, which should take us into seventh place in the Premiership, and a UEFA Europa Conference League place to boot; but obviously other results are dependent on this, and at the time of writing, the only thing that Arsenal can do is emerge victorious from today’s match with Brighton and Hove Albion. Let’s go!

Great to see ten thousand supporters back into the Emirates today, and as the match kicked off, it was superb to hear live vocal suppprt for the team after all this time. We started the stronger of the two teams, applying pressure on the visitors almost immediately; after five minutes, Thomas Partey came agonisingly close to scoring when his twenty-yard shot flew inches wide of Robert Sánchez’ post. Over the next few minutes, both Martin Ødegaard and Nicolas Pépé went close with scoring attempts, and although we played the better football today, the visitors appear adept at soaking up pressure, mainly in an order to try to catch us on the rebound. In essence, the harder we tried to score, the further it seemd to elude us. The match was mainly played in the Brighton half, with Arsenal players literally lining up to shoot from distance, close-up and free-kicks, and somehow Robert Sánchez managed to keep out all of our sterling efforts. Ten minutes before the break, the visitors counter-attacked, and a good attempt to score by Jakub Moder was blocked succesfully by Rob Holding, but thankfully, the corresponding shot by Lewis Dunk went high and wide to the right of Bernd Leno’s goal. A couple of minutes before the break, Granit Xhaka put the ball into the visitors’ penalty area; the result of this was that Gabriel was unlucky not to score, when his header bounced off the crossbar, with the Brighton goalkeeper pushing the ball away for a corner. And so the first half finished goalless, when really, we should have been comfortably in front in this match.

The final forty-five minutes of this troublesome season started fairly much as the first one ended, with Arsenal playing the more urgent football of the two teams. And sure enough, three minutes after the restart, Calum Chambers received the ball from Granit Xhaka out on the right; he slotted the ball to Nicolas Pépé in the penalty area, who controlled it, and scored a fantastic goal with a strong right-footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left-hand corner of the net. Five minutes later, a penalty call was denied by referee Jonathan Moss when Martin Ødegaard was bundled over in the visitors’ penalty area after trying to get to a low cross from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and a little while later in a counter-attacking move from Brighton, although Yves Bissouma’s right-footed shot from outside the box narrowly went past the left-hand post, Bernd Leno had it covered. It mattered not; on the hour, Nicolas Pépé scored his second goal (and ours, too!) of the day when he received a clever ball from Martin Ødegaard in the Brighton penalty area, and coolly slotted it past the outstretched arm of Robert Sánchez and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. In reply, Jakub Moder’s right-footed shot from outside the Arsenal penalty area was superbly saved by Bernd Leno, and a little while later, Thomas Partey was unlucky not to score our third of the day when his strong shot bounced off the crossbar and back into play. Emile Smith-Rowe was replaced by Bukayo Saka, and this change intensified the pressure on the visitors’ goal. With twelve minutes to go, Alexandre Lacazette replaced Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the pressure on the Brighton goal continued. Martin Ødegaard was substituted for Gabriel Martinelli with five minutes of the match remaining, and with a comfortable two-goal cushion, game management became the order of the day, right until the final whistle, which saw us worthy winners.

A good result, and a positive way to finish a truly awful season for us. Too little, too late. The truth of it, however much it hurts, is that we cannot turn up five matches from the end of the season and expect to just saunter into European competition next year. The final positions do not lie; you always get the placing that you deserve. Our finishing position in the Premiership was eighth this year (the same as last year), which is nowhere near good enough for Arsenal Football Club, I’m afraid. What hurts even more, is that our three major contemporaries in the capital have all qualified for European competition next year, and we appear to have become the “Aunt Sally” of London football now; after all, we only managed to get into the Europa League this season because we won the FA Cup the previous campaign, it was not because of Premiership position earned. And the owners of this club had the brass neck to try to be one of the inaugural members of the now cancelled European Super League! In the close season we need to regroup, take a look at ourselves and decide just who we are, and where we are going. Are we a big club, but not a top club? How are we going to be able to attract top players to the club if we are not in European football next year? Who knows where we are heading? One thing is for certain, it is going to be a strange season without European football next year for the first time since 1995.

Have a great summer everyone, see you all again in August. 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.