Scouting for rough diamonds

by & filed under News Review.

Today’s post is brought to you in association with Mike McDonald. He writes over at Gunnerstown, today he’s bringing you a scouting report from the Championship. Follow him on Twitter here.

“There are no easy games in the Premier League”

That’s always been a thing. In the past, the challenge for teams like Arsenal was overcoming the ‘smaller clubs’ work ethic, physicality, and direct style.

The challenge has changed. The team most likely to come last play some of the best football when they click, are often the lower placed teams.

What does this mean for Arsenal? Well, I’ve found 24 players from the teams below Arsenal that we could look at for the next transfer window. I’m particularly thinking of those that could get relegated.

As you’ll see, they would either improve our squad and most of them would improve our starting 11. Three will be relegated as we know, so those players price should drop too.

Let’s do this based on Arsenal’s needs rather than by team.

Back-up/3rd choice goalkeepers

I was convinced that Martinez would leave before Leno got hurt as he’s perfectly capable of being first choice at a good club. He may be encouraged to stay now if he keeps up his good form. Not sure how this will go so let’s assume we may need one.

I’d love to pick Fabianski as he’s greatly improved but he’s not coming to be back up again.

Matthew Ryan (BHA), Ben Foster(Watford), Freddie Woodman (Newcastle-currently on loan at Swansea).

Ryan is a good keeper but gets no press. Foster has improved with age and has great distribution. Arsenal have an interest in Woodman already. He may come as a package with his father who is a talented Academy coach. As you’ll see in the video, Woodman is a specialist PK saver and seems to have a strength in reaction saves.

Random fact…. Woodman is the Godson of Gareth Southgate

Right-back/right wing-backs

Hector Bellerin may stay at Arsenal. My thought is that if he does it will be based on patience for a guy who has been through a big injury and/or because we need his leadership.

It’s becoming hard to justify his demise. I’ve never been a big fan as I think he limits himself. It’s driven me crazy for years watching a laser fast player run down the wing, stop and pass it backwards. He could’ve pushed himself to use his pace to learn a trick and change of pace and added the embarrassing deficiency of not using the outside of his foot. Breathe, Mike. I’m just bothered by those who underachieve and because he’s such a good guy, it’s overlooked.

I’m thinking that there is a reason that Cedric got four years. He would’ve accepted two. He’s probably better than we realize.

Jeremy N’gakia (WHU) and Max Aarons (Norwich)

N’gakia is a new name to most. It will come as little surprise that he fits the profile of many young defenders… fast, quick, athletic and strong. He’s refused to sign a contract and he’s free this summer.

Like many under 20’s he will need space to improve his decision making.

Max Aarons will end up somewhere other than Norwich. He’s likely the hottest young PL right back. I’ve got a feeling City will see the Walker/Cancelo duo as ageing/unsettled. Could transform our right side, but do we have the funds to rebuild our midfield, get a CB and afford a RB too?

Left-back/left wing-backs

Everyone talks of Max Aarons. Rightly so.

Jamal Lewis (Norwich)

Do Arsenal need a LB/LWB more than a RB? I’ve come to that conclusion (see end of blog).

Jamal Lewis, like Aarons, is a modern full-back with a similar toolbox. Would probably cost the same as we’d get for Kolasinac and cost 50% of wages.

Centre Backs

So far, you’ve probably looked at the options above and been somewhat underwhelmed.

This list will change that. Most of these players start for Arsenal.

Tyrone Mings (Villa), Nathan Ake (Bournemouth), Ben Godfrey (Norwich), Issa Diop (West Ham), Jamal Lascelles (NU), Lewis Dunk and Ben White (BHA)

Mings and Ake would start for Arsenal and no doubt be our best CB’s. Mings is underrated for me. We are told these days to watch and judge our CB’s firstly on their ability to play out from the back. When I watch football I see CB’s passing to each other 50 times a game and forward’s three times. I see blocking, heading, organizing, tackling etc..

Tyrone Mings loves to defend. He loves that list.

Nathan Ake can do everything. If we matched him with Saliba you can defend 20 yards higher.

Dunk and Lascelles might be more industrial but as I said above, aren’t those qualities used more often anyway?

Diop is not a favourite of mine but I think I look at West Ham defenders the way the market looks at Arsenal defenders!

Godfrey and White (did you know that the highly-rated Leeds CB is on loan from BHA?) are younger and like Saliba, potentially top class. Do we look to partner Saliba with another youngster though?

Defensive Midfielders

One of these is an interesting thought. The other probably too expensive and the third, off to Spurs.

Phillip Billing (Bournemouth), Declan Rice (WHU) and Pierre Emil Hojbjerg (Saints)

Rice is an ever-improving ball-winning DM. His improvement is seen in his ability on the ball as his move from centre back has needed time.

Don’t stick your nose up at Billing. He’s better than you may realize. Oh how we could’ve utilized a tall, quick, athletic ball-winner this season.

Hojbjerg, like Billing, is a consideration as a very good squad player for Arsenal. A natural and highly impressive leader in an era when there are few. Simplistic yet effective modern midfielder.

Centre midfielders

Arguably the biggest need of improvement at AFC.

We currently look like a midfield put together by an executive who spends too much time on YouTube and has the life issue of falling in love too easily.

Arsenal didn’t need Ceballos when they had Guendouzi. They didn’t need Torreira because they needed a taller, more athletic DM.

Abdoulaye Doucoure

If the Thomas Partey rumours are true, I doubt we get Doucoure too.

Probably could’ve/should’ve signed Doucoure two years ago.

Attacking Midfielders

Another area of desperate need at Arsenal. Doesn’t have to be a number 10, but as we know there are wingers who stay wide and others who drift from wide into central areas. This is the ‘drifters.’

Jack Grealish (Villa), Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia (Norwich) and Miguel Almiron (NUFC)

Here are four different options for the same role.

Grealish would be a huge upgrade for Arsenal. I think most of us realize that he will go to City or Utd and that we can’t financially compete or in current stature. Shame.

Cantwell is a Gooner. Like that. Personally, I don’t think he’s our level. That’s a pivotal role with much expected. Buendia is a different beast though. A diamond in the rough. Two footed, highly creative and great stats for a team bottom of the league.

I’m also a big fan of Miguel Almiron. As a Brit abroad, I’ve got to see him often when he was at Atlanta.

His acceleration is elite as is his directness. Much like Theo, he will get better results if he learns to slow his wheels before he passes or shoots.

Wingers

Do Arsenal need a winger?

If Aubameyang leaves looking at rumours (Kluivert, Veron etc..), it looks like perhaps we are going to sign one.

My thought is that Arteta wants one wide player inside (Auba) and the other on the paint (Pepe) and that this doesn’t suit Pepe. If Auba leaves, Pepe plays inside forward (phew!) and the wider player is on the left.

Allan Saint-Maximin (NUFC), Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) and Jarrod Bowen (WHU)

Bowen has electric speed and potential but like Cantwell, not sure he’s Arsenal level.

You may not like Deulofeu. I don’t know many that rate him. I think he’s got fantastic feet. Some players are average at average clubs. Some stay average at bigger clubs. Some just needed to be around better players. I think Delefeou falls into the latter category.

I have a theory on Sarr. Do you remember when the equally fast Adama Traore showed up in England? Lacked end product but huge potential. Just wondering if Sarr will figure it out like Traore, as he is a wonderful last twenty-minute option.

I was amazed when Saint-Maximin went to Newcastle. His take on numbers at Nice were second only to Messi. Unless NUFC improve quickly, he will end up at a far bigger club.

Strikers

I can’t see Lacazette staying. No way. His ego has been damaged by Eddie, he has some value in the market and honestly, it’s just not working.

Danny Ings (Saints)

The questions are being asked now. Is Ings capable of repeating this seasons stats at a bigger club? His Liverpool career was hampered by injury and lack of opportunity.

I’m a believer that players are unfairly judged by their look and name. Maybe he should get a hair transplant before people start noticing and believing he’s older than he is. Change his name to Danielo Inglo?

I really don’t know if he’d work at Arsenal. Undecided.

The decision

I’ve picked my Arsenal 20/21 squad already. It’s changed three times then again after I scouted Teun Koopmeiners at Alkmaar. I’ll let you check out his elite passing ability!

My 20/21 Arsenal squad includes one of the 24 listed above…. Nathan Ake.

I considered 12 of the list.

I kept all of current GK’s. After seeing our right back inverted as an extra CM, I kept AMN as first choice. Perfect role for him. I wonder if Osei-Tutu will be a factor?

I spent the money I think we will raise from sales on our midfield in particular and preferred Partey, N’didi and Koopmeiners, but thought hard about Billing as a back up DM.

I would’ve loved Grealish or Buendia but money sent me to West London to get Willian on a free, as it did when I chose free signings, Edinson Cavani, Malang Sarr and Santi Cazorla.

Would you buy from the clubs below us?

Hard to argue that the list of 24 isn’t very interesting!

@mike_Mmcdonald


Rugged Arsenal defensive performance. Say what?

by & filed under News Review.

vis @Arsenal Insta

My oh my did I drink some booze last night, so much apologizing to do today.
But, the show goes one, and if getting blind drunk in the name of an away win for Arsenal in the Premier League is what happened, then so be it.

Arsenal beat Wolves away from home (YES). I think it’d be fair to say that the game represented one of the best performances under Mikel Arteta thus far. Not because Wolves are some sort of iconic team that are impossible to beat, more that they are exactly the sort that causes us problems time and time again. Well disciplined, structured, and extremely powerful. They are a team that plays to your weaknesses and they are very good at it.

The show Mikel Arteta put on was perfectly boring for the most part and I absolutely loved it. We largely controlled possession in the first half, we didn’t do anything risky, almost to a fault. Dani Ceballos spent most of the half recycling the ball through his defense. Mustafi, who made a horrendous error inside the first 12 seconds of the game had zero ambition in his passing. We didn’t want to make mistakes and we didn’t want to give away possession. Wolves seemed to play along, I think their game plan was focused on letting us have the ball and capitalizing on mistakes with a vicious counter.

It didn’t really happen all half, if anything, we had the better chances. Auba nearly turned a ball in from a corner, then Eddie ripped a brilliant low shot Patricio pushed onto his post. We took the lead from a slightly deflected Tierney cross, Bukayo Saka hung on the edge of the box and turned his lopping shot over the keeper. It was a beautiful piece of skill from the newly contracted teenager.

We came out for the second like we normally do. Very nervous. Wolves realized they had to play us and they turned up the heat. We didn’t collapse, but we certainly struggled to keep possession. We made a lot of unforced errors, fluffing 6-yard passes, making sloppy tackles, just generally making poor decisions.

This time, the manager made some bold decisions that paid off. He took off Kieran Tierney, who was having a tough time against Traore, and bought on AMN. I think the move threw a lot of people, but it looked like the reasoning was the blistering acceleration he has against a player who was starting to control the game a little. It proved to be a great decision, AMN threw himself into the challenge and stood up to the test, it really softened the threat of Traore.

He also took off Saka and Soares for Bellerin and Willock. The additional fitness at right-back served its purpose and Willock’s engine kept the ball moving with a little more purpose in the from three. The final roll of the dice saw Torreira make his long-awaited return, with Lacazette making an arrival. The Urgauaguan looked very fit and ready to offer the team something. Lacazette also showed up. Within 3 minutes, he picked up a Willock cross, took a tough into space and finished across goal. It was a super way to finish the game.

So Arsenal took another 3 points away from home and scored two goals against a team that hasn’t conceded at home since January. Arsenal now sit 7th in the Premier League, 3 points from 6th, and 6 from 5th.

So what are the important takeaways?

Well, we have a good structure at Arsenal. We are no longer reliant on our individuals, we are a team, and there’s a solid base to work from with an actual vision for how we should play the game. It is not perfect by a long way, but as it stands, it’s allowing the coach to extract bruising defensive performances from a squad of players people said were uncoachable. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be winning every game for the rest of the season, but it does mean if things go our way (sendings off/injuries), we have a chance against anyone on our day. We’ve beaten Wolves and United, we gave Chelsea a great game which we were very unlucky in, hopefully, we can show our teeth against Leicester and Spurs.

Arteta’s job in the back half of the season was the make us defensively strong and difficult to beat. I think he’s achieved that. The goal difference under Arteta for his 16 games is +12 versus Emery’s -4 (17 games). We’ve gone from conceding 1.64 goals a game to 0.81 with the basically the same group of players. There’s still a lot of work to do, we need to be able to control a game for the full 90minutes, we need to be more productive in the final 3rd and I think we’re still a little shaky defending set-pieces. But what isn’t in doubt is the manager had an idea and he’s implementing it very well. Every one of those players on the pitch yesterday bought into the vision, you can see how they pay attention to his instructions. They are seeing the fruits of their labour, which is so incredibly important. Player buy-in, especially with the kids, is essential to the rebirth of Arsenal football club.

The individual performances have been great as well. Emi Martinez has been nothing short of excellent. He’s a catcher, which makes him very handy from set-pieces. He controls his box, he’s quick off his line and his giant frame makes him tough to score against. He was brilliant yesterday.

I thought David Luiz put in a massive shift yesterday, his calmness on the ball and leadership helped us through some very sticky moments. Even Mustafi had a very good game outside the brain fart in the first minutes.

Saka, Ainsley, Eddie, Soares, Auba… they all showed up when it mattered. We actually put in a battling performance. Something I wasn’t sure we were capable of under this iteration of players.

There are still some problems. Our midfield just isn’t where it needs to be. We struggle to dominate physically, we still lack a good connection to attack, and the passing often crumbles under pressure. But considering what we achieved yesterday, it’s hard to be too brutal. There are also individuals that are always going to be problematic. I don’t want to pick on people, but Kola really was poor yesterday. He looked scared, there was a moment with KT complained he was left with two players to deal with. I also thought there were a few occasions when it looked like he wasn’t putting his all into sprinting back. Still, what can you do? The squad is the squad.

The real shame of the restart is that we didn’t get to see what the plan against City could have looked like, it was a similarly boring game until the bad things happened. Also, if we’d been had a better start, maybe we hold onto the leader at Brighton. Those three points, 6 if you look at the whole season, are the difference between 7th and a Champions League place.

Anyway, a huge win for Arsenal. The decision to hire Arteta was a good one, I’ve banged that drum for 6 months. We don’t matter though, the players do, they are the one’s making statements about their belief in their new head coach. That’s what is most important. They are going to war for him. They are now a team. They are all getting smarter and better as players.

Mikel outshithoused a pro that many wanted at Arsenal. Under Emery, we played Wolves at home and they had 24 attempts at our goal, and we squeaked out a 1-1 draw. Arteta fixed Arsenal’s defensive structure in 16 games, something the experience of Emery couldn’t manage in 18 months. He is starting to cast doubt on the idea that this squad could not have made top 4 if he’d been in at the start of the season.

Still plenty of work to do, there are still shock losses on the horizon, but what you saw yesterday is the start of things to come. Put a new set of players in there and there’s no reason we can’t start aiming higher next season. Also, does anyone still wish we’d hired Jose Mourinho?

Right, see you in the comments. x


Four brutal games to decide our top 8 fate

by & filed under News Review.

So after a rough start to the season, we’re now 3 wins on the bounce and we have an FA Cup semi-final against City to dread. The big smiles are out in force; now we get down to the real business end of the race for the top 8.

Wolves, Leicester, Spurs, then Liverpool.

That’s a beastly run, but for me, it’s perfect. Being able to smash Norwich 4-0 doesn’t tell you much about the coaching or the progression of the team, extracting any sort of points out of the next 4 games will.

Nuno has done a terrific job at Wolves. He’s made them a feared outfit, he’s built a squad using the dark arts of super-agent love, and it looks like it’s working out very nicely at a club that is just happy to be back at the top.

Arteta was very complimentary of the squad they’ve built and how they play.

I think they have shown in the past few years how consistent they have been with their performances. They are a group of players, and a club with a manager that have been doing exactly the same thing for many years and you can see their style of play, and a very clear identity of what they want to do,. They have been recruiting exactly the players they need in the positions to do what they want to do. They are a really difficult side to beat.

He’s obsessed with identity, probably because he inherited a club that was severely lacking one. I think in this case, it’s absolutely clear what Nuno is doing with his team. They defend very well, they have a lot of intensity, they are extremely disciplined and they are outrageous on the counter.

They also have a lot of good players, Jorge Mendes is clearly a better super-agent than the two clowns we have making reccos at Arsenal. Jota, Mendes, Jimenez, and Traore would all walk into our squad. They will all be problematic for us tomorrow.

We have some very good players ourselves, but arguably, none better than Auba. Arteta talks about him like he has the deepest football crush of his life on the players.

I don’t know, it is the way that I feel, the way that I communicate with him, the conversations that I have with him and the people around him. It is the energy I sense. It is just my opinion, things change in football very quickly but when you ask me in that moment how I feel about Auba’s future, in this moment I feel that he wants to continue with us and keep developing and help us to become a better team.

He’s also doubling down on him staying.

I think so, he needs to feel he belongs somewhere that he believes we can achieve the goals that he has individually and collectively for a long time. He is very settled in the city, his family are really happy here as well I think, and he is loved, respected and admired nay his team-mates, which is a huge thing to have at any football club. So that’s what gives me positivity, as well because I see the enjoyment he is having, the work-rate that he puts in all the time, and the decisions that he makes every time. So that is where my feelings are coming from.

James Olley at ESPN reckons the player wants £250k a week for 3 years. It’s expensive, but as a few pals in the Whatsapp Groups have said, players go on for longer now, Auba wasn’t brutalised as a young player, making his mark later in his career, he’s also very, very fit.

From a player perspective, he seems bought in. He looked very happy in the stands the other day. Arteta says he thinks the player can match Thierry for goals and trophies, I think he’s being serious-ish. He’s not here to be a top 8 manager, he wants to challenge. Whether you think that is jokes or not doesn’t matter, that’s the way he’s thinking about the project. He’s looking at Liverpool, not Wolves, as the benchmark for success.

Why the fuck not? Give me that over someone who has a Europa League comfort blanket. Ambition has strange ways of infecting people and convincing them they can do more than they can.

That sort of chat isn’t for now though, in this moment, we’ve just got to work out a way of moving through this section of the season unscathed with more than zero points.

The two things we have to deal with tomorrow are fairly obvious. How do you create a team that gives you zero space? How do you stop powerhouse players like Traore eating you up on the break?

It’ll be interesting to see whether he’s tempted to bring Torreira back into the mixer. Full back decisions will also be important. If you are going to be low on chances, you have to make sure the people in those positions can make the most of any space they create. You also have to be sure they have the right mobility against the power and pace. Could we see a start for Soares? Will he bring AMN into midfield? Would he risk starting Dani against a team that won’t afford him the luxury of space and time like Norwich?

I’m sure whatever we offer up tactically will be close enough, the big question is whether this squad is ready to deliver a 90-minute performance. There’s always a dip. There’s always a moment where the gameplan drops off the radar. If that happens tomorrow, we’ll be lucky to survive it.

So fingers crossed we see big response.

I was sent a press release from RunRepeat about the bias in football commentary. Alfred, my woke Swedish pal from The Arsenal Opinion podcast has been pulling me on the subject for 2 years, it’s now in a study format so you can read. The numbers are miserable.

  • When commentators talk about intelligence:
    • 62.60% of praise was aimed at players with lighter skin tone
    • 63.33% of criticism was aimed at players with darker skin tone
  • When commentators are talking about power they are 6.59 times more likely to be talking about a player with darker skin tone
  • When commentators are talking about speed they are 3.38 times more likely to be talking about a player with darker skin tone
  • When commentators talk about work ethic, 60.40% of praise is aimed at players with lighter skin tone

When you first hear about this, you think it’s just another woke agenda item, but then you start paying attention, and you hear it all the time.

This sort of study is important on two levels. Firstly, it shows that football commentary is too simplistic in its categorisations of players. I’ve said this many times before, the level of commentary and punditry is often not where the game is. It’s actually embarrassing if I’m honest. Compare Roy Keane analysing a game to someone that is actually working in the Premier League for a club. It’s chalk and cheese.

‘Bang his head against the wall if you can’t get a response’

‘They need a big man in the middle to make more tackles’

‘Not enough heart’

That’s before you get into the bias. So the learning for the TV stations for me is to first upgrade the level of the talent describing the game so it can better reflect what is actually going in the game or around the club.

It can be a bit of a grey area on describing physicality. This is a game that is built on power and pace, you have to be able to call it out, but you have to be equal. The fastest player in Germany a few weeks ago was a white guy call Lewandowski, but your rarely hear him described as a beast or a brute. Sterling, one of the higher-profile cases of bias, was vilified in the press for pushing his way out of Liverpool, or having a tattoo, or driving a nice car. Matteo G, lighter skinned, is genuinely a bit of a shit and fans are running to sympathise because he’s misunderstood and he just cares too much. I’m not sure Moise Kean was given that same benefit of the doubt.

The most important part about the bias in the commentary is the intelligence piece. Why? Because it filters down into coaching. How, in 2020, can there only be 5 bame managers in English football? There have been so many incredible black players, how are none of them coach material? It is a travesty. Work rate? Please. Intelligence? My word, look at the collective of dim white coaches that do the rounds over and over again. It is a collective blindness that needs addressing. There is no excuse, there is a huge talent pool, there are plenty of capable black players, and there is clearly a massive desire for them the breakthrough. Clubs need to be better about it.

Also, before I go, make sure you read these two articles if you’re bored. I write these with a lot of inputs, so the narratives are pretty sound. Share with your pals as well. Force your dog to read it, he’ll thank you later.

Raul: Bagman to Arsenal CEO. A story that gets to the heart of why Arsenal is in such a mess.

How LFC eclipsed Arsenal with less money + what we can learn 

P.S. Jose Mourinho claiming he knew his fully fit Champions League Finalist squad wasn’t good enough to beat Sheffield United away from him. You hate to see it.

Also, I’ll just leave this here.