Lacazette contract, Joe Willock loan and Fulham team news

Alexander Lacazette

Should the Frenchman get a new contract or not? That is probably a debate for another blog to delve deeper into.

Last summer I always felt that only one of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Lacazette would get a deal.

Financially it made sense for Aubameyang to get the deal and Lacazette to be sold.

With 2 years left on his deal and 2 years junior; Lacazette would raise more important transfer funds.

Injury to Gabriel Martinelli – who would have acted as Aubameyang’s deputy – led to Lacazette staying last summer.

Roll forward 12 months and Aubameyang has had a horrendous season whilst Lacazette has stood up as a leader.

So do the club give Lacazette a new contract? Does it make sense to keep both him and Aubameyang? Could Aubameyang leave this summer? And what promises has Florian Balogun been given?

Eddie Nketiah will likely leave. I would expect Arsenal to get £15m+ for him. Some important transfer funds.

That would leave Arsenal with 4 first team strikers in Lacazette, Aubameyang, Martinelli and Balogun.

One of the two senior boys will surely be gone this summer?

Joe Willock

Another goal yesterday for Joe Willock on loan at Newcastle. I am pleased for the lad.

Few people have been saying we should “bring him back” and “should never have let him go”, but the loan move was exactly the right thing for his career and what he needed.

Joe has been in and out of the Arsenal team now for a couple of years. Never really doing enough to deserve a run of consistent starts.

And then Emile Smith Rowe broke through this season and began putting in performances levels ahead of Joe.

Willock will have a good Premier League career.

His work rate and ability to ghost in the box will prove an asset for lower-mid table teams. But ultimately he does not have that little bit extra to make it at Arsenal if we want to chase a Champions League spot.

Joe’s good form proves that he is a Premier League quality player, and I am sure someone like Newcastle, or other similar level teams such as West Ham or Leeds would look at bidding £15m+ for him.

Important funds raised that can be invested elsewhere.

Fulham Team News

Arsenal will still be without Martin Odegaard an Aubameyang for today’s game against Fulham.

Aubameyang is still suffering the affects of malaria, whilst Odergaard is still recovering from an ankle injury.

David Luiz and Kieran Tierney are both still out as they recover from knee injuries.

Everyone else is fit.

Keenos

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Match Report: Slavia Prague 0 – 4 Arsenal

Slavia Prague (0) 0 Arsenal (3) 4

(Arsenal win 5-1 on aggregate)

UEFA Europa League, Quarter Final, Second Leg

Sinobo Stadium, U Slavie 1540, 100 00 Praha 10-Vršovice, Czech Republic

Thursday, 15th April 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm

(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Granit Xhaka; Dani Ceballos, Thomas Partey; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka; Alexandre Lacazette.

Substitutes: Mat Ryan, James Hillson, Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Magalhães, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli, Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez.

Scorers: Nicolas Pépé (18 mins), Alexandre Lacazette (21 min, 77 mins), Bukayo Saka (24 mins)

Yellow Cards: Gabriel Martinelli

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 39%

Referee: Cüneyt Çakir (Turkey)

Assistant Referees: Bahattin Duran (Turkey), Tarik Ongun (Turkey)

Fourth Official: Arda Kardesler (Turkey)

Referee Observer: Laurent Duhamel (France)

VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Abdulkadir Bitigen (Turkey); AVAR Mete Kalkavan (Turkey)

Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 300) due to coronavirus restrictions

For tonight’s crucial match, both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Ødegaard failed to travel to Prague as neither passed a crucial fitness test; sadly in the case of the former, he has been diagnosed with malaria and has spent some time in hospital this week being treated for the disease, which he contrated whilst on international duty with Gabon. We wish him a speedy recovery. However, Emile Smith-Rowe is fit and resumes his place in this evening’s starting line-up. Let’s go!

The match started brightly with both sides testing each other’s goalkeepers quite early on, and as the players of either team were acutely aware, nothing less than a victory here will suffice. On our first foray into the Slavia Prague penalty area after fourteen minutes, Emile Smith-Rowe scored what appeared to be a perfectly decent goal, but after a VAR check, the goal was denied; however, just three minutes later, justice was served when Nicolas Pépé deftly crept sight unseen into the penalty area, moved into a superb position in order to receive an intelligent pass from Emile Smith-Rowe before rounding the goalkeeper and cracking the ball into the roof of the net. Just two minutes later, we were two goals ahead when Bukayo Saka was brought down in the Slavia Prague penalty area, and Alexandre Lacazette converted the subsequent penalty with great aplomb. Incredibly, on our next sortie on the Slavia Prague goal, Bukayo Saka jinked and juggled in the penalty area from the right wing, literally ghosted past a couple of Slavia Prague defenders, and as a large space opened up on the edge of the penalty area, he just simply picked his spot, wrong-footed the keeper and slotted the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net. A superb goal, from a wonderful young player with a big future in front of him. Now, with the luxury of a three-goal cushion, we were playing the football we would like to play, being in complete control of the proceedings. However, the home side were not exactly feeling the love out there anymore, and were caught by the referee putting a few cynical and unnecessary tackles in on our chaps, and one suddenly got the impression that as the match advances, there may well be a couple or three players that will end up in Cüneyt Çakir’s book, or even worse. We’ll see. Towards the end of the first half, Slavia Prague appeared to wake up a bit and started to string a few good passes together, but really nothing to threaten Bernd Leno, and as the whistle blew for the end of the half, there was only one team out there tonight, and it was not Slavia Prague.

With no changes from Mikel Arteta to the team line-up for the second half, the match started farily sparkily enough, with Arsenal consolidating their lead by good game management, and sensible play. The home side were doing whatever they could to try to score, but every time they advanced into within twenty yards of our goal, the Arsenal defence sprung into action and neutralised the threat adequately. As predicted, Slavia Prague started to get frustrated, and the match got a wee bit scrappy in places with silly tackles and off-the-ball incidents on our players, but thankfully nobody appeared to react too badly. Alexandre Lacazette should have scored, but his legs were taken out from under him by way of a sliding tackle, but incredibly a penalty appeal was denied by the referee. Emile Smith-Rowe made way for Mohamed Elneny after sixty-six minutes, and the match returned to as it was earlier, with Arsenal controlling the game extremely well. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Granit Xhaka and Nicolas Pépé combined down the left-hand side before Nicolas Pépé slotted the ball to Alexandre Lacazette in the middle of the penalty area. He took his time, controlled the ball, rolled it under his foot, side-stepped a defender, and whacked the ball past the hapless goalkeeper and into the net, to score our fourth goal of the night. Just after the goal, Mikel Arteta made a triple substitution; Alexandre Lacazette, Bukayo Saka and Thomas Partey were replaced by Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Cédric Soares with just twelve minutes of the match remaining. And still we kept coming, hungry for more goals. Gabriel Martinelli was desperately unlucky not to score after some great build-up play; Nicolas Pépé was replaced by Folarin Balogun with just two minutes of normal time remaining in order to rest tired legs and to give a much-talked about young man a run-out in the final minute of the match, which ended up with us victorious by four goals to nil on the night, five goals to one on aggregate. Perfect.

What a night, what a performance! And a semi-final appearance against Villareal, who happen to be managed by Unai Emery as well. Three goals in six minutes utterly broke the spirit of Slavia Prague, and as a team, it was totally different to the one we saw in London a week ago, with a good team performance, superb game management and an unstoppable desire to win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith-Rowe were outstanding tonight, with Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka more than holding their own in midfield too. Makes you wonder why we don’t play like that more often! A superb evening for everyone concerned.

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: Fulham at the Emirates on Sunday, 18th April at 1.30pm (Premier League). 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.

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