Strategy underpinned by reality

by .

Here he is, Jonathan Blaustein, filing his monthly thoughts on what has gone on at The Arsenal through October ( follow @jblauphoto). Enjoy!

It’s Wednesday afternoon.

November 4th.

And we still don’t know who’ll be the next President of the United States.

Sure, it looks like it will be Joe Biden, (thank god,) but no one knows anything for sure yet.

Biden had a decent playbook, IMO, and he stuck with it.

Basically, when your opponent is a total nutter who constantly says crazy nonsense, leave him alone to self-destruct.

I know people have been waiting for Trump to shit the bed for 4 years now, and unless he left fecal stains on the hospital sheets at Walter Reed, he has thus far managed to avoid any accountability for his actions these last 4 years. (Which felt like 40.)

But regardless of whether Biden wins or not, I respect his strategy, because it was based on reality. He did not kid himself into trying to out-comedy Trump, or out insult him. (Though calling him a clown must have felt really good.)

He understood that you can’t necessarily beat someone at their own game, so you have to be honest about what you’re good at, get the win, and then build things out from there.

Given this is an Arsenal column, please allow me to make the ungraceful transition you’ve been waiting for, and get my thoughts focused on English Football, rather than American politics.

I’m back this season with a monthly column, and while my take on AFC is very in-line with Pedro’s, (which is why he lets me do this,) writing once a month provides a very different perspective than every day.

It allows me to look at the bigger picture, rather than the day-to-day grind.

So why did I open with Biden’s strategy?

Because I think there is a huge crossover with what Mikel Arteta has done with Arsenal in just under a year.

Think back to how bad you felt, this time in 2019, with Unai Emery shitting the bed every week, (that visual never gets old,) and then Freddie L coming in to clean up the mess, but not having the goods to keep the big job.

Arsenal were in an epic crisis, with respect to the club’s history.

It was that bad.

We all know how well Arteta has patched up the holes in the wall, and the FA Cup and Community Shield trophies bought him a ton of street cred with (most of) the fans.

Yes, we love ourselves some Arteta here at LeGrove, but with good reason.

The dude is a baller.

This month, I want to focus on the main thing he did to re-focus the team’s strategy, which has rubbed some people the wrong way.

Lately, Pedro has been referring to Arsenal as “Atletico-lite” and I think that’s exactly the right call, but of course Arsenal fans want the beautiful football that Arsene promised.

I think much of the fan-base believes that playing like Simeone’s squad, rather than going for the City/Liverpool/Bayern/Real Madrid approach is beneath us.

It’s not the right kind of winning. (Or, sometimes, not losing.)

I admit, I fell in love with this club during the 2011-12 season, and there was so much free-flowing football, with RVP smashing them in from every angle, and Alex Song lifting perfect passes over the locked defences we always faced.

All attack, all the time.

Like the Mike D’Antoni Suns.

Over here in America, though, there is an old saying: Defence wins championships.

It’s taken as gospel, and the very best teams, like this year’s LeBron James Lakers, or many of Tom Brady’s best Patriot teams, were good enough to have a killer D and plenty of O.

But what about Arsenal?

Just because we owned some of the aughts, and used to slug it out with Man United in a Big 2, people think the Invincibles will always be coming back, if we try hard enough.

The landscape has changed, though, and it might be permanent.

Arsenal will never be able to spend with Man City, Chelsea or Man United, and it’s unlikely we’ll be as well-run, top to bottom, as Liverpool.

We all saw how year after year, Arsenal got shredded by the Top 4 clubs when we tried to play open football against them.

They have the money, they have the infrastructure, (except for United, who may be hiring Pochettino,) and they have a big lead in confidence as well, having all won titles far more recently than we have. (As did Leicester, remember.)

So why not create a team that can lock down the defence, and play on the counter against the “bigger” teams?

It’s the smart play, and I’m glad Arteta went that way.

Thomas Partey and Gabriel have been huge, obviously, but as I wrote in my last column, it’s been a sea change of getting buy-in from the whole team, which now defends front to back.

Alex Lacazette won player of the year in 2018-19 because he was a hard-working, harrying bastard, not because he scored 30 goals.

Aubameyang is a super-star with a work-rate, so it makes sense to build around that.

Mesut Ozil likes tracking back about as much as he likes carjackers, so off he went.

It all makes sense.

I know you want to see more creativity right now, but I don’t think there is one saviour-type who’s coming in this season. (Maybe next summer, but only maybe.)

Rather than creativity, I think we need precision.

So Arteta’s next move will be to work more and more on the training ground, with respect to final third passing.

In my opinion, it’s our Achilles heel. (Though things were better against United and Leicester, despite the poor finishing.)

In this first year of MA’s reign, we’ve seen nice, clinical finishing, but the passing accuracy on the final ball is so often off by 2-5 feet.

I’m not sure if that’s choking, as I think endless repetition of triangles and one-twos will allow improvement. Which will allow us to consistently score on the teams that do park the bus.

And if Arteta is fabulously successful, and the wins and money flow, then, (and only then,) might he try to emulate Pep’s Man City style more.

Because while some people have been surprised that we don’t play more like Man City, I haven’t.

They buy who they want, when they want, and we’re frankly not in the same financial bracket.

Finally, though, we have a coach who doesn’t set his team up for glorious failure.

I’ll take it.


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597 Responses to “Strategy underpinned by reality”

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  1. Montana Gooner

    That was lovely. Two wonderful passes from Mo there in that few minutes. Xhaka would have sent that back to Leno.

  2. Captain Tierney


    Tbh Ceballos has been very good this season apart except for 1 game (Leicester) maybe 2.
    Same can be said about Elneny but he had a monstrous performance against Elneny and now everyone’s thinks Ceballos is not good enough. Its the recency bias and Arsenal fand dont need much to swing from A to B.

  3. Ishola70


    There is no argument from me about Elneny playing with Partey.

    I am relaxed about it.

    I am relaxed about it because the biggest hindrance to the midfield Xhaka seems to be on his way out.

    See Marc’s post.

    Where you keep being silly is putting Ceballos and Xhaka in the same exact shit barrel.

    You try playing with Xhaka for a season as a midfielder and get back to us after.

  4. MD-Gunner

    WTF this is Moldau in the blue shirts not Chelsea or Leicester and why does this sound so familiar best player is Harry Owngoal. Needed to bring on first team players to get the job done Europa League squad is truly a B team.

  5. Kaz

    Please no Ish, its bad enough seeing him as a fan, please not as a teammate 😭

    I just don’t rate Cebellos highly at all. Both should be chucked out. I see the nice things he does but he doesn’t offer much.

    A less good Ozil who runs more.

  6. Northbanker

    Good score on the end so we’re pretty well through which is great

    Joe Willock best thing about the night and hope he can kick on from here

    Saka had a tough game v Man U so this was partly a confidence thing for him

  7. Ishola70

    “Tbh Ceballos has been very good this season apart except for 1 game (Leicester) maybe 2.”

    And that was because he was instructed to keep drifting right in that match.

    But as said to Kaz very relaxed about who plays with Partey.

    The main problem Xhaka looking to be faded out as first team starter.

    That’s by far the most important aspect.

  8. Montana Gooner

    Hah! Yeah that went right over my head. I’ve never had a mountain of blow but I am missing some brain cells.

  9. Ishola70


    I couldn’t care less if Ceballos is not extended and bought. In fact it would not be the right thing to do.

    Don’t confuse me pointing out to you that Ceballos being less of a hindrance to this side than Xhaka means I rate Ceballos highly.

  10. Captain Tierney

    Joe Mom.
    Ceballos looked great.
    Pepe tho not very consistent gets the job done.
    Xhaka didn’t do anything so hopefully that keeps him out of the PL squad.
    Kola a dud. But wr already know that.

  11. Montana Gooner

    Mitch Headberg quote. do have a fever. Tested negative earlier today thankfully but I’m definitely not 100%. Weird getting a non COVID-19 illness right now.

  12. Pierre

    Willock’s time will come in the league , of that I have no doubt.
    He is starting to believe in himself , he has a crispness to his passing which I like, his composure on the ball is growing as is his awareness on the pitch, of course his detractors will point to the fact that it was only against inferior opposition , but the way i look at it is over the last 2 European matches there have been 50 other outfield players on the pitch and in both games he was head and shoulders above the other 50 players.

    he made the difference.

  13. Aussie+Gooner

    Good win in the end but still not sure why the ‘axis of evil’ has to start. Where are Balogun, ESR, Osie-Tutu, Azeez, Cottril, Greenwood, Smith etc to get some bench/game time? Why 2 goal keepers on the bench?

  14. Emiratesstroller

    The standout performance for me was Willock who is a good physical specimen and in
    my view was by far and away the best midfielder on pitch.

    He needs more gametime but is most definitely someone who needs now to be included in our 18 man squad for EPL games.

    In contrast to him I thought that both Nketiah and Maitland-Niles were fairly poor and I don’t see them as future Arsenal players.

    I discussed earlier today Ceballos and suggested that both Elneny and Xhaka were now ahead of him in the pecking order. From my perspective I would add Willock to the list if
    we are discussing central midfield.

    Okay he he is a neat player but what else does he really offer to the team. Defensively he is
    behind Partey, Elneny and Xhaka and offensively I would rank him behind Partey and Willock.

    So from my point of view if Arsenal are still looking for a top class creative midfielder there
    is little future for him at the club.

  15. Ishola70


    “I discussed earlier today Ceballos and suggested that both Elneny and Xhaka were now ahead of him in the pecking order. From my perspective I would add Willock to the list if
    we are discussing central midfield.”

    Loony Tunes

  16. Rich

    Ceballos was very good tonight.
    2 tackles
    6 interceptions
    71 passes
    91.5% completion rate
    6 long balls
    2 key passes
    1 successful dribble

    We should definitely try and sign him, he’s a player on the way up, and has a high ceiling.

    Would be awful to end up educating him, just to see another club benefit from that education.

    Willock has definitely got something, he’s only just turned 21, and far too many people have knee jerked again.

    Really promising young player.

  17. Freddie Ljungberg

    Hard watching all our problem players on the pitch at the same time, at least it’s only in the EL now.

    How did we persist with Xhaka, Mustafi and Kola for this long? Should have all been binned off ages ago.

    Probably Pepe’s worst game so far, very sloppy and looks low on confidence. Still got a goal, and assist and was robbed of another assist by the ref. Really hope he can get it together and kick on, the skill is there and so is the end product, just so inconsistent.

    Job well done overall, most of the first XI players rested and top of the group, that was all that mattered.

  18. Habesha Gooner

    Elneny isnt done surprising me this season. What a first time pass to pepe for the willock goal. Willock was beastly tonight. He is doing really well. Pepe scored and assisted but the performance wasn’t there. But put him in shooting positions and he is a threat more than anyone in this team apart from Auba. Good performance. Molde were good too.

  19. Freddie Ljungberg


    Since lockdown Ceballos has been our best midfielder, far better than Xhaka in every aspect of the game, both in defence and attacking stats, not sure how you reach the conclusion that Xhaka is ahead of him in the pecking order?

    Been evident since the start of the season that Xhaka is getting phased out, long may it continue.

    Willock has been good in the last 2 games, but he was also very good last season in the cups and disappeared as soon as he was played in the PL, maybe he’s ready now but Arteta doesn’t seem to think so.

  20. salparadisenyc

    Pepe’s a bit of an anomaly reminds me of Walcott in regard to having that keen ability to be shit over the course of 90 but come out with a very nice goal, assist or match effecting moment.

    But never the total package…. at least not yet.

  21. Ishola70

    Willock would still be lacking in a midfield two in a high intensity match.

    But as an AM in a midfield three he could be given another chance.

    No idea whether he takes that chance this time. He didn’t take his chances in the higher end games last time.

  22. Jay

    Tonight’s performance was a result of Sundays game. Players on the periphery watched that and upped their game.. Winning breeds winning.

  23. Montana Gooner

    Agreed Sal. I remember being super frustrated that just when it seemed like he was finally getting phased out he’d grab a goal and save himself.

  24. Emiratesstroller

    Freddy Ljungberg

    What exactly does Ceballos offer to a team aspiring for a top 4 finish in EPL?

    Okay he is neat and technically competent, but he is not remotely in the same league as Partey and I am fairly sure Arsenal will be looking for a top class creative midfielder, which Ceballos is not.

    As I pointed out this morning Ceballos is no better than a bench player if Arsenal aspire to
    finish in top 4 in EPL and play next season in Champions League.

    Ceballos is not a player who will want to sit on bench and I would most certainly choose to
    save my £25-30 million that Real Madrid will demand and spend it on a higher calibre player.

  25. Nelson

    “Willock would still be lacking in a midfield two”

    Willock shouldn’t play in a midfield two. His strength is running around in the opponent’s half and scores goal. He can’t play DM.

  26. Jay

    Be interesting to see how arteta is going to juggle the latter stages of the europa league and premiership if he is in a shout for 4th. Which will he prioritise?

  27. Freddie Ljungberg


    I’m not advocating we should buy him, he’s still clearly a much better player than Xhaka though.

    He’s a bit more than neat and tidy too, been great defensively and is one if the few players we have that can play penetrating passes through the middle.

    If we sell Xhaka, which we absolutely should, we only have Partey and Elneny for 2 CM spots so we’ll have to buy 2 players there, I won’t complain too much if Ceballos is one of them but not my first choice.

  28. Ishola70


    People may not disagree with you that Ceballos overall may not be worth buying in the long run. Many though see him as a handy player.

    Where people will definitely disagree with you though is rating Xhaka and Willock ahead of him for central midfield.

    Willock is not capable atm to play in a midfield two in a high end intensity match. Possibly midfield three as AM but not in a midfield two in the higher end games.

    Many of your posts are too determined on what recent result Arsenal have got.

    You recently slagged Xhaka off after a defeat with him in the side against Leicester.

    Now you rate him as second choice to partner Partey.

  29. Emiratesstroller


    I see Arsenal playing in future with 4-3-3 formation assuming that we recruit an attacking
    midfielder such as Aouar.

    Frankly I don’t see a role in starting X1 for Ceballos, which is why I don’t see him staying at Arsenal beyond this season.

    Others may of course have a different perspective.

  30. Emiratesstroller

    Ishola 70

    I did not suggest that I rated Xhaka and Willock were better than Ceballos.

    What I said is that in the current 3-4-3 format I think that Elneny and Xhaka will be selected
    ahead of him to play alongside Partey.

    Also I don’t see him staying longterm at club as a bench player. Both Willock and Xhaka are
    more likely to accept that role.

  31. Uwot?

    If I’m hearing correctly & The Boz has a release clause of only €25 million eur0 we’d better be nipping over to Red bull sharpish to get him tied up before anyone else gets a sniff.He’s a steal at that price & well worth a punt.Make it happen special sauce!

  32. Pierre

    Arteta made a slight tweak to the midfield in the 2nd half moving Xhaka into a more central holding position
    which gave Ceballos more license to drive forward and for wiĺlock to play more as a CAM..

    In the first half xhaka was doing his left back thing and it meant Ceballos was restricted in centre mid and willock was also restricted playing in the right channel.

    By giving Willock the freedom to roam , we saw what a dangerous player he can be , popping up all along the front line, he had a hand in all 4 goals .

    A good tactical move from Artea.

  33. Ishola70


    I hope you are way off in thinking that Arteta sees Xhaka and Willock ahead of Ceballos in the pecking order.

    We must have midfielders that engage the middle of the park.

    Xhaka can’t. Willock not good enough yet bang in the middle of the pitch.

  34. Kaz

    Anyway, I think we should sell Pepe.

    I don’t think he will crack on at this club, I still think he has great talent but I don’t think he is acclimatising well to England. His confidence is absolutely shot too.

    When we sell him he’ll probably have a boost to his own performances but I don’t think we’re going to see it consistently with us.

    We absolutely need a right winger who can stretch play, beat his man, play inside and outside and win games.

    Any suggestions?

  35. Ishola70

    As said before there can be a scenario in the midfield where Willock could be seen as being picked ahead of Ceballos and that would be in a midfield three and Willock playing as advanced AM.

    Actual central midfield though it’s Ceballos over Willock all day.

  36. Jay

    As much as I like ceballos and hate xhaka, there is no future in the midfield for either of them. I can see the way forward of having two athletic midfielders who can do a bit of everything and a creative force in front of them.

  37. Rich


    Last season when our other options were

    Guendouzi 20
    Willock 20
    Torreira 23
    Ceballos 23 (first season)
    Xhaka 27

    Xhaka was our best available central midfield option, and at the start of last season, he had more experience than the other 4 combined.

    Statistically in 2018/19 and 2019/20, our win rate with Xhaka, was significantly higher with him, than without him, but that likely said more about our other options, than it did about Xhaka’s overall quality.

    This season we have
    Partey 27
    Elneny 28
    Xhaka 28
    Ceballos 24 (second season, beginning to really kick on)

    We now have more dynamism and more experience.

    Experience in the engine room is important, I don’t hate Xhaka like a few on here, he’s a solid professional, he just lacks athleticism and is a bit one paced, which can be a problem in this league.

    I’m delighted we’ve signed what looks to be a significant upgrade in Partey.

    Believing someone is the best available option, doesn’t equate to not wanting the club to buy a more dynamic upgrade.

    I like Lacazette, he’s a solid player who’ll bag us his fair share of goals, and is currently our best option to play No9, buts he lacks the necessary dynamism, stamina, and presence in the box to be elite, so I’d love us to upgrade, or for Martinelli to apply some pressure when he comes back.

    You don’t have to hate a player, just because they’re not at the level you’d like them to be.

  38. Ishola70


    “A good tactical move from Artea.”

    That would not have been necessary if not for having a midfielder doing his “left back thing” in the first place.

  39. Kaz

    Rich, that’s simply not true.

    He wasn’t our best midfielder, Ozil was. But you aren’t talking about ability are you?

    Guendozi was playing better than Xhaka. On a game by game basis, but you aren’t talking about performances are you?

    A large number of the fanbase was on Xhaka’s case last year too for being awful.
    Hence all the booing at his shite performances and constant mistakes leading to pressure leading to goals.

  40. Montana Gooner

    I don’t hate Xhaka with all my being, but a good bit of it. He’s a squad player and has a decent long ball and as you say, a solid professional. He’s obviously well-liked by his teammates. He takes two touches too frequently and does not make good quick decisions. He requires too much space and time for the league. Think he’d stroke them around in Italy.

    Mo made two defense-splitting passes in the first 2 minutes he was on the pitch. It’s almost like he’s already absorbing Partey’s protagonism. (Sorry to use a Unai curse word.)

  41. Pierre

    “Anyway, I think we should sell Pepe.I don’t think he will crack on at this club, I still think he has great talent but I don’t think he is acclimatising well to England. His confidence is absolutely shot too.”

    He’s become a shadow of the player he was when he first arrived.
    His very first game , away to liverpool , he caused the liverpool back line all sorts of problems.
    He used to be able to skin a player and leave them for dead…not now..

    It is the manager’s job to get th best out of his players and by and large Arteta has improved the players at his disposal.
    However , he is failing with Pepe , the Pepe we are watching is not the same player who arrived at the club, though it is not necessarily Arteta’s fault, he is not blameless though.

    Despite scoring a couple and assisting , Pepe’s allround game is poor and if anything it is getting worse.

    As you say, he is a great talent but his talents are wasted in this Arsenal side , he needs to go to another club and to start enjoying his football again..

    Send him on loan of need be and see if he can rebuild his confidence…

  42. Rich


    Ozil isn’t a centre mid, and it’s clear he’s been on the slide since the first half of the 2015/16 season.

    I like Guendouzi and Torreira, and they’re both at ages where they could develop into better players than Xhaka, but Xhaka’s experience over the past two seasons has been vital.

    All the statistics back that up, you don’t get away with playing a 19/20 + 22/23 central midfield partnership in the PL, and we’ve struggled badly every time we’ve tried.

    Coming up against Grealish and Barkley on Sunday, you’d have to think we’re going to go with the athleticism of Partey + Elneny again.

  43. Rich

    You could tell within the first few games Pepe was raw, but he still pumped out 10 goals and 8 assists last season.

    He’s got 3 goals and 2 assists already this season.

    In possession he reminds me a bit of Alexis:

    One footed
    Gives away the ball a lot
    Match winner

    Unfortunately off the ball he provides nowhere near the aggression or intensity of Alexis.

    But he’s still only 25, and was a late developer, this season he just needs to improve his all around game, get a better understanding of what Arteta wants from him, improve his on field relationships with his teammates, and get a 30-50% increase in his end product numbers

    If he does that, he can still make it, next season he’ll be 26, 2 season of PL football behind him, and coming into his peak.

    Players develop at different rates, you get plenty of late developers, particularly ones that weren’t on anyone’s radar early on, my only concern is he’s a bit of a lightweight

  44. Emiratesstroller

    In my assessment as I expressed on several occasions recently Arsenal have SEVEN players
    who if fit are now guaranteed a place in our starting X1. These are

    That does not mean that I think that all these players are “world class”. Leno secures a place
    in the list because there is currently no competition in goalkeeper position.

    Currently there are 4 positions in the team where we have players who are either not good
    enough or where there is competition.

    We need at moment:
    RCB Those competing are Holding, Luiz and Mustafi. Unfortunately Saliba has not come
    up to expectation.
    CMF Those competing for one slot alongside Partey are Elneny, Xhaka and Ceballos.
    RW Those competing are Willian and Pepe.
    CF Those competing are Lacazette and Nketiah

    My hope is that by the start of next season at least two or three of these positions will be
    resolved and we will be able to turn out a more settled team than is the case at moment.

  45. Kaz


    Man Utd used to have a midfielder who made quite a lot of appearances and was part of many title winning sides but was absolutely wank too. His name was Anderson.

    You would be arguing how he was a good player because he’s experienced and stats are backing that he’s been in winning sides.

    Xhaka was NOT our best midfield option last season, regardless of what you say.

  46. Kaz


    I wish a loan spell would fix him but I don’t see the club doing it and I don’t think it would sort him out to be honest. I too have noticed the decline in him and it’s a shame really.

    Who do you think we should look at in the summer then?

  47. Ovia

    I wish all fans could read and think like this. Really Nice collum, I like the positivity Arteta has brought to Arsenal, and I like the fact that you guys are spreading it. Am convinced Arsenal is on the right track, even though there will be bumps on the way, we’re surely heading to the top.

  48. Calypso

    LENO – The worrying thing is him starting every game.

    GABRIEL – Should of been sent off against Man Utd.

    BELLERIN – His best days are behind him.

    TIERNEY – Future Captain.

    PARTEY – Average player made to look better because of shortage of talent.

    SAKA – Too early to say on whether he becomes a club legend.

    AUBAMEYANG – He’s milking Arsenal dry.

  49. Dan T

    Pretty negative assessment Calypso. My take:

    LENO – Agreed

    GABRIEL – I’ve been impressed by how quickly he has adjusted to pace of EPL. There will be hiccups, but is showing real promise

    BELLERIN – I thought the same but I have thought in recent performances he is starting to look more like his old self again

    TIERNEY – Agreed

    PARTEY – Clearly not average. I’m not buying into him being the second coming just yet, but he is well above average.

    SAKA – Agreed. Young, so you have to expect bad performances now and then but when he’s good he looks a special talent.

    AUBA – Played out of his best position a lot. He’s still a goal scorer and will still get 20 EPL goals in a team that currently doesn’t offer much attacking threat.

  50. Marvin Gray

    We can do without the comments about the senile old man who might be President because our real enemy China loosed a plague on the world to get back at Trump for standing up to them.

  51. Dan T

    Montana – That’s why I read this blog and comments. I love all the different opinions. I can’t say I agree with a lot of them, but it’s still fun to read!

  52. Dan T

    I’m cautiously optimistic about what is happening at the moment though. The majority of players seem to be improving under Arteta. We have a clear game plan at the moment and a defensive stability that we have been crying out for for the last 12+ years.

    I’m hoping the extreme negativity of our performances is short-term though. We have been spoilt over the years with attacking football and I’m hoping that once we have a stable foundation to build on then we will start to get more aggressive in our forward play again.

  53. CaliGooner

    Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson have a good friendship, you think he’s worth a punt?

    That would be amazing but we would have to pay half of it with a Pepe sale and I don’t think we would get that much for him.

    If we make the champs league then we would need another big player like that especially to replace Pepe who has not looked good since he’s been here.

  54. Tony

    Happy for the win, but why were 1st 11 players, such as Saka, Elneny and Tierney risked?

    Some observations:

    Nkethia either needs to be loaned out once again or sold in January to help fund an AM.

    Pepe looks better in a free role from left to right.

    Willian was a very poor Arteta signing.

    Where was Bolagun? He should be given minutes now NKethia has had more than his skills/ability deserved.

    Willock looked better today and far better than Nkethia.

    Why no minutes for Nelson?

  55. MidwestGun


    How’s it goin?

    Nelson was injured. Minor knee injury. Otherwise I agree with all your other observations.
    The rumor is Balogun doesn’t want to sign a new contract with Arsenal.. and therefore they don’t want to put any effort into developing him when he is leaving on a free this summer most likely.. but I don’t know the inside truth about it, doubt anyone does.

  56. Gonsterous

    Don’t get the pepe hate on le grove, willian is performing worse than pepe and with lesser end product, where is the player we saw against fulham on opening day?

    Pepe has to work harder but he’s not helped by a manager who is not playing to his strengths.

    Great win last night but why was leno in goal? Balogun should replace nketiah and nelson should have been sent on as well.

  57. Tony

    Hey Middy
    All good here, thanks. Hope likewise for you.

    Feel for you guys with the elections and possible fall out after.

    Thanks for the update re Nelson. The match was 2am for me so caught it this morning having stayed away from any press on the game or Arsenal.

    I heard the Bolagun rumour but as he got some minutes in the last Europa game, I thought he’d be considered for last night’s game.

    Surely if h (Bolagun) is decent but raw, we should be giving him 1st team minutes as Nketiah seems to be not of the level we need going forward. We should have learnt from Nketiah’s loans in Germany and Leeds that he’s not ready for 1st team football and probably never will be.

    Will Bolagun be Garnaby MK II?

    If so, looks like we’ll never learn from our mistakes, which seems to be Arteta’s way thus far.

    Why does Arteta always look like ‘Man at C&A/J C Penny’ on the touchline?

  58. Emiratesstroller

    For those who rate Ceballos as a better prospect than Willock here are some interesting
    comparative stats over last 2 seasons.

    For the record both are classified as Central Midfielders.

    Ceballos [age 24]
    EPL P24 GS0 A2 Mins 1,699
    EL P6 GS1 A0 Mins 310
    FAC P5 GS1 A1 Mins 296
    EFL P2 GS0 A0 Mins 37
    Total P37 GS2 A3 Mins 2,342

    EPL P6 GS0 A1 Mins 392
    EL P2 GS0 A0 Mins 109
    EFL P2 GS0 A0 Mins 80
    Total P10 GS0 A1 Mins 581

    Willock [age 21]

    EPL P29 GS1 A1 Mins840
    EFL P8 GS2 A0 Mins560
    FAC P5 GS0 A0 Mins275
    EFL P2 GS2 A0 Mins180
    Total P44 GS5 A1 Mins 1,855

    EFL P2 GS2 A1 Mins 186
    Total P6 GS2 A1 Mins 186

    So when you look at these stats Willock has delivered more end product in last 2 seasons than his counterpart despite the latter’s age, experience and playing time.

    Another factor not discussed is Willock’s physical size. He has grown considerably over
    last two seasons. He is now 1.84 Metres tall.

  59. Emiratesstroller


    I have watched all the games played by Nketiah this season and in my view his performances have been fairly woeful. Unless the ball is directly a few feet in front of goal the likelihood of him scoring is minimal.

    Yesterday he was constantly out of position when there was a cross. He may perform for
    England U21, but frankly he has done very little for us.

    I would certainly like to see Balogun given a chance to show what he can do, because I doubt
    that he can be worse.

  60. Captain Tierney


    Ceballos is more of a ball progressor and recycler, a bit like Jorginho but can also carry the ball upfield and play good through passes once in a while. + He also puts up very good defensive numbers ( a very underappreciated aspect of his game)

    Willock is more of a Ramsey type. His biggest strength imo is his ability to pop up in dangerous positions in and around the box. He still needs a lot of work on his finishing but his late runs always cause problems and he is much more of a physical presence than Ceballos.

    You cant compare them on goal and assist numbers.
    Just like you cant compare them on interception, tackles, recovery rate numbers and so on where Ceballos edges out all of our midfielders bar Partey.

    Both play different roles in the team.

  61. Northbanker

    It is chicken and egg with Balogun. If we don’t start giving him playing time, he isn’t likely to sign a new contract. Nketiah is piss poor and we need to move on to find a new striker. We made the scandalous decision to sell Sam Greenwood this summer, so the only attacker we have of note left is Balogun.

    From the player’s POV you’d think he would see a big opportunity here with such poor competition ahead of him at the moment (Nketiah and Lacazette) and the lack of funds to go out and buy a top CF.

  62. Emiratesstroller

    Captain Tierney

    I accept the points you make to an extent, but Ceballos is now competing with Partey in the
    role he plays in team.

    What Arsenal needs at the moment is a more creative player with end product and Willock
    is more suited to that role. Willock is also a much better physical specimen.

    Sooner or later I believe that Arteta will switch to 4-3-3 from 3-4-3 and that will open up a
    role for a more offensive midfield player in team.

  63. Bojangles

    Not sure I agree about Pepe in decline. He hasn’t reached the heights at Arsenal from which he can decline. If he had come from our academy we all would be requesting his transfer out. I just think we have an expensive did on our hands.

  64. Tony

    Agree with all your points re Nketiah.

    Thought Pepe is more of a threat on the old inside left position. Problem is Auba likes to cut in from the left in that space, so Arteta needs to work something g out between the 2 to work together,.

    I don’t think Pepe is suited the the right wing, do you?

  65. Tony

    “Both play different roles in the team.”

    That would be my perception as well.

    Definitely we should progress with Willock with more game time and equally Ceballos; however, will have to see next summer if a better player/option is available other than buying Ceballos because I can’t see RM being fair about Ceballos’s price if we want to buy him.

    Maybe we can loan Ceballos again until he’s out of contract or in his last year.

  66. Tony

    “From the player’s POV you’d think he would see a big opportunity here with such poor competition ahead of him at the moment (Nketiah and Lacazette) and the lack of funds to go out and buy a top CF.”

    From the fans POV also – certainly the way I think.

    Situations like this you have to wonder about Arteta, Edu and Vinai and ask the question why Nketiah keeps getting minutes ahead of others including trying Pepe in that position.

    I accept that Arteta is going to make mistakes but His repeating them is what frustrates me.

  67. Rich


    Xhaka was our most important central midfielder last season.

    Our win rate with Xhaka was over 50% higher when he played 90mins, than when he didn’t play 90 mins.

    Emirates stroller

    I like both Willock + Ceballos,, but they’re two entirely different players.
    Willock’s more of a Ramsey, Deli Ali type, who provides direct running and penetration.

    Ceballos is more of an orchestrator, wants the game played in front of him.

    Champagne Charlie

    80 passes
    93.8% pass completion
    7 long balls
    2 tackles
    2 interceptions
    1 clearance
    1 arial duel won
    No dribbles

  68. Captain Tierney


    If we switch to a three man midfield then that definitely calls for Willock to get more chances.
    But I dont think Willock is ready to play in a double pivot in the PL. We play with two disciplined midfielders in our current formation of 3-4-3 i.e Partey + Elneny/Xhaka/Ceballos. The attacking impetus is usually added by striker dropping deep, Saka who drifts inside to become the third midfielder when we have the ball, Bellerin under/overlapping and Luiz playing over the top balls when to Auba. Arteta currently favors defensive solidity over creative fluidity and thats why Willock wont be starting in a double pivot in the PL soon. Like Ramsey he pops in good attacking positions which in turn helps us create chances. Drawback being that he leaves his position all too often (something Ramsey was constantly criticized for)
    In the Europa games he gets by because of the quality of opposition. but in the PL he wont.

    Willock is best suited to play as a Free #8 in a 4-3-3.
    A midfield of Elneny/Xhaka/Ceballos-Partey-Willock
    will provided him the best platform to showcase his quality while having enough defensive cover.

    Even tho Willock takes up very good positions and is definitely a goal threat he doesn’t warrant a change in formation as his finishing is still below par even for a midfielder. If he can improve that aspect of his game he can really start knocking on Arteta’s door.

  69. Kaz

    Rich that stat is nonsense we didn’t win those games with Xhaka playing because of him, we won them despite him playing.

    Find me the stats for our wins without an Auba goal or assist that would be a more accurate representation of our team last season.

  70. Emiratesstroller


    Yes I think that Pepe is not a natural winger and better suited to playing more centrally. As
    I posted previously there are similarities between him and Walcott who struggled also to beat the opponent when playing on wing.

    Captain Tierney

    Sooner or later I think that Arsenal will play a 4-3-3 combination particularly if they are
    recruiting someone like Aouar.

    The point I am making is that Willock is far more offensive and creative than Ceballos. One
    of the criticisms directed at the midfield under both Emery and Arteta is that our midfield
    has been exceedingly unproductive in last 2 seasons.

    Willock is not the finished article and may not be ready to start in games against top opposition, but would benefit from at least sitting on the bench.

    Ceballos is not a defensive nor attacking midfielder so the only role he could fulfil at club is
    understudy for Partey.

    Frankly I don’t see many opportunities for him there apart from early Cup Games against weak opposition. As I suggested I don’t see him having a career at Arsenal beyond this season.

  71. SWG

    Nice to Joe Willy doing his thing last night.. very promising! I have to be honest I didn’t know what his strengths were until his performances in EL this year.. anybody else given up on Pepe yet? Agreed he had another well taken goal and assist last night but the rest of his game is well below par. Sad to slate a player after a goal and an assist but I don’t think it outweighs the rest of the shoddiness

  72. Ishola70


    We need midfielders that can play in tandem with Partey as this will bring the best out of him.

    Elneny has already shown that he can do this and Ceballos looking at his style of play is another candidate that can do this.

    Willock would not be able to do this at this time and Xhaka is not capable to mix it with opposition players in the middle of the park.

    In this aspect both Elneny and Ceballos become midfielders that would be seen as valuable at this time in bringing the best out of our most highly rated midfielder that being Partey.

  73. Captain Tierney


    Ceballos is a central midfielder. Same type of player as Xhaka but better imo. And he sure isn’t as bad as you think he is.

    Willock is not a creative force himself. You rarely see him playing a line breaking through pass or doing one touch interplays in tight areas. He is a penetrator and a goal threat.
    His late runs in the box provides more options to our attackers which in turn helps create chances. But he wont be solving our creativity issue. We need someone like Aoaur.

    A 4-3-3 with Partey at the base Aoaur and a mature Willock could be very good imo.

  74. Emiratesstroller

    Captain Tierney

    Sorry but Xhaka is listed as a Defensive Midfielder and has a similar role in team as Elneny
    when he plays. Yes of course he can also play Central Midfield as well.

    As matters stand we have currently got 3 midfielders on the books who can play in second
    slot alongside Partey. I rank Ceballos third choice behind Elneny and Xhaka who are better

  75. Ishola70


    We need a midfielder that can play in tandem with Partey in central midfield. That can occupy central midfield with him.

    Xhaka is not capable of this. This is why we see him dropping deep and wide so many times in matches.

    I thought you would have realised this by now as you have had more than enough years of watching him.

  76. Freddie Ljungberg


    “Xhaka who are better

    Absolutely nothing backs that up, all the stats say the opposite, and it’s overwhelmingly in Ceballos favour, not even close. Ceballos is also much better at progressing play.

    Think Elneny gets the nod next to Partey against opposition that we expect to dominate us and Ceballos when we need more inventiveness from CM. Xhaka is relegated to the cups now and he’s barely good enough for that.

  77. Rich


    So we win significantly more when Xhaka has played, than when he hasn’t, but that’s in spite of him?…..

    If you think Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos were experienced enough to run our midfield last season?

    Then you know little about football, and paid no attention to our performances when Xhaka hasn’t played

    You can’t correctly claim that we’ve lacked dynamism and athleticism in the middle of the park, but then claim Torreira, Guendouzi and Ceballos provide more athleticism and dynamism in the middle of the park than Xhaka.

    Ceballos does release the ball much quicker than Xhaka, is more mobile, and has a much higher ceiling, but he’s still 1-2 seasons away from entering what should be his best years, he’s a player on the rise, last season he was going through a teething stage, and picked up an injury.

    Guendouzi is 4-5 years away from entering his peak, he’s been 19/20 over the past two seasons, a talented young player no doubt, and if he gets his head together, can have a massive career, but the idea he’s been mature enough to carry a midfield is laughable

    ‘Torreira’s a decent hardworking player, not convinced as yet he’s much more than that though

    Xhaka is an experienced international, with 480+ appearances at the top level.

    Elneny wasn’t here last season, he 100% provides more mobility and athleticism than Xhaka, but up until now he’s never shown himself to be more than a likeable player, who’s safe in possession, but provides little penetration with the ball, Xhaka’s been in front up until now, because statistically he makes significantly more passes into the final third, and controls the game better than Elneny, if Xhaka had Elneny’s physical characteristics we’d be smoking a pipe…

    Rambo wasn’t a deep lying midfield who progresses the ball from deep, he was a box to box midfielder, with a horrendous injury record.

    Xhaka has been our best available, and by far our most experienced option over the last 2 years, he’s also got a great injury record, and when your other available options have been inferior, it’s been a big benefit to us,

    It also shows how poor our squad has been, where we put ourselves in a position where Xhaka was our best option.

    We’ve been in the Europa for 4 seasons straight, which isn’t an accident, it’s indicative of how poor our scouting and recruitment has been over a significant period of time

  78. Freddie Ljungberg

    I mean Xhaka is better as a 4th CB than Ceballos because of his height but that’s pretty much it, hopefully we’ve gone away from playing like that with the additions of Partey and Gabriel though so it’s not needed, he’s still vulnerable there to any sort of quick or nimble players, and that’s with him getting the maximum protection we can afford him.

  79. Ishola70

    I said before I don’t want to see NFL plays any more from this side so much.

    All this talk of laterals and breaking the lines with longer passes from deep.

    We saw the benefits of actually playing some football in central midfield and with a partnership in that area against Manchester United. Central midfielders actually playing in tandem in the centre of the pitch.

    All NFL plays will do is negate Partey.

  80. Captain Tierney


    Ceballos is twice as good as Xhaka defensively. All the stats back that up. He is also much better at carrying the ball upfield.

    What Xhaka has over Ceballos is his passing. And those numbers too have considerably decreased since Arteta’s arrival.

    Xhaka for me is the 4th choice for the double pivot position now.
    Partey 1st, Elneny 2nd (for now), Ceballos 3rd and Xhaka 4th.
    In cup competitions tok Arteta has favoured Willock over Xhaka for the pivot position to allow him to develop more.

  81. SuperRob

    ‘Not watching it but by all accounts it’s quite a poor performance.’

    How exactly do you come to this opinion if you’re not watching it Ishola?

    By reading the in game hyperbole of some emotional fanny rags?

  82. Valentin

    Willock may not be ready to play as part of a double pivot against top teams but he can play that part against lesser teams because he has already done it for Arsenal with Guendouzi.
    Despite his skinny frame he has a lot more athleticism than Xhaka. He can receive on the half turn and drive forward, which is something than our Swiss captain can’t do. There is more to his game than making late run in the penalty box.

    Anyway I think that Arteta will switch to a 4-3-3 system. A more rigid 4-3-3 system than Liverpool, but that in such system you need player willing to do the grunt work but who can still drive forward on occasion. Willock is perfect for such role.

  83. Daniel Altos

    I don’t get the pepe hate,yes he lost the ball alot but at least he was trying to make things happen…Willian lost the ball like 10 times in the first half and he was useless. Infact Arteta’s pet child has been pretty useless since he came. On the set pieces is it really a pepe problem?I saw Willian taking some at OT and it was the same kind that pepe is roasted for,kicked straight at the nearpost. Maybe its tactical instructions from the new set piece guy?

  84. Ishola70


    “Maybe not comment on something you’re not even watching you wet wipe.”

    What’s all this bullshit?

    Another super fan protector of the club?

    It was generally said on other sites that the first half performance was not very good.

    And you do realise that the game last night in terms of importance was low.

    Now you can debate with other posters things of far greater importance and relevance.