Why Saliba quickly became Arsenal’s MVP (065)

William Saliba quickly established himself as one of the key cogs in the refined Arsenal machine this season, winning plaudits all round for his ice cool performances at the heart of our back four. 

With him in the team, Arsenal were suddenly able to play like Mac City, with both centre backs living high up the pitch, forcing the opposition into their defensive third, and sucking the life out of teams.

Without him, the drop off has been huge. When Rob Holding came into the team, Arsenal’s line dropped by over 10m, which had a serious impact on the team’s ability to retain possession as the distances between players becomes much greater.

Those distances are key. Zinchenko helps in this sense as he is essentially a midfielder who drops into left back, rather than a left back who comes into midfield, which gives the Arsenal six an always on receiver and the defenders an option who can receive even in the tights of areas.

But with Holding in the team, the ball was traveling slower to Zinchenko, Partey, White and Gabriel. Unlike Saliba, he would take five or six touches compared to Saliba’s one, which invited pressure from attackers, and put the whole backline under pressure.

Saliba’s ability to give it first day allowed Arsenal to play quickly, and through the press as players couldn’t get close to him, and that was due to a mix of his technical ability and composure on the ball. He simply never panics, even when he is pressed.

He is a player who is at ease in possession, and is more than comfortable looking up and playing a quick, short pass, or bypassing the sixes to go straight to Saka or Odegaard, enabling Arsenal to play more direct, without having to ping it long.

Alongside his abilities on the ball, his physical attributes are equally impressive, with his commanding 6’4 frame and lightening pace allowing him to get out of the majority of situations, and make the sweeper role his own.

This has allowed Gabriel to focus on his job as a front footed defender, attacking the ball and carrying the ball into midfield, and that balance and understanding has been key to Arsenal’s success.

Both of them complement each other. They each have contrasting strengths, however neither of them have major weaknesses in their game, which is why they have been on of the Premier League’s best partnerships this season.

Saliba’s injury may have done in a favour in some ways. It just highlighted even further how important he is to the club at this point, and every Arsenal fan is begging the club to pay him whatever he wants. There isn’t another defender his age on the planet as good, and that is why he has become Arsenal’s MVP.

Define bottling and why it does NOT apply to Arsenal this season (064)

This season, Arsenal fans have soared with optimism, full of belief that the impossible could have been possible, only for those dreams to come shattering to a bitter end last month.

Brighton’s 3-0 victory on Sunday was merely the final straw, but the league was lost when Arsenal dropped points against West Ham and Southampton.

But, this season, Arsenal have beaten 17 of the 19 Premier League clubs, failing to beat Man City, who beat us home and away, and Southampton, who we drew with home and away, and are on track to pick up 87 points.

Last season, Arsenal finished the season with 69 points, and missed out on top 4 by a single point, leading to many ‘football experts’ predicting that we would finish fifth or sixth at best this season.

What many failed to recognise was the growth of the youngest squad in the league. Experts like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher genuinely believed that players like Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard would stop developing and Arsenal would fizzle out.

Carragher quickly changed his mind, admitted he got it wrong and moved on. Neville, by contrast has clung to everything, and with Arsenal ultimately missing out, has declared himself a prophet.

Whilst Arsenal’s season has fizzled out, it has not been as a result of a lack of leaders as Rio Ferdinand is saying, or because we’ve bottled it. Bottling it suggests a team were clear favourites and spectacularly threw it away, and completely fails to take into account injuries, burnout or the opposition.

Arsenal have never been in this position before. These players are in this position for the first time and are competing with a team that has won four titles in five years, and are about to make it five in six, along with reaching the Champions League final and the FA Cup final.

The reality is, they will probably win the treble. They tore apart an incredible Real Madrid squad, toying with them, and sucking every bit of life out of the second leg, before finishing it with a 5-1 aggregate win.

That’s who Arsenal, the second youngest team in the Premier League, are competing with. They are a winning machine, who have won every league game since their draw at Forest on 18th February, which was one of only four games they have failed to win since the World Cup.

A big part of this is down to Pep Guardiola’s ability to rotate. He currently has 20 players who can come in without reducing the quality on the pitch, with the likes of Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez, Kalvin Phillips, Julian Alvarez and Emeric Laporte sitting on the bench.

By contrast, Arsenal have made the fewest changes to their starting 11 this season, with Arteta having around 14 players he trusts, and many of them are nowhere near the quality or experience of the Man City 20.

Give it time. Arsenal will add again this summer. Recruitment has been fantastic to date, and Edu and Arteta will go again this summer. Everyone else will grow as well, but what Arsenal are adding to is balance and stability. Only Man City, and possibly Liverpool, can truly offer that right now, and we will very much be in the mix next season.

Arsenal crumble to an incredible Brighton display (062)

Arsenal’s title hopes came to a crushing end yesterday as Brighton played them off the park and scored three at Emirates Stadium.

The game started in cagey, pinball like fashion, with the big moments of the opening 10 minutes involving Martinelli. The first was his foul on Mitoma, when he took out the Japan international in the air, however his eyes were on the ball, and he had every right to challenge.

The Brighton players thought differently, and Moises Caicedo launched into him from behind moments later, catching his ankle, and forcing him off to be replaced by Leandro Trossard.

Despite a few positive moments, Brighton largely controlled the first 15 minutes, with 72% of possession and they forced Ramsdale into a good save from the lively Enciso.

However, Arsenal did have chances, with Odegaard failing to shoot when an opportunity presented itself, and Xhaka came inches from a super interception in the lead up to Enciso’s chance, giving the home fans a glimmer of hope.

Throughout the half, Brighton continued to control the ball, with Steel in goal being given far too much time to ping the ball around at the back, however Arsenal had chances with Jesus forcing Steel into a save at the near post, Odegaard flashing a shot wide from a similar distance to his goal against Newcastle, Saka putting a venomous shot just wide, and Trossard hitting the bar.

Chances were falling for Arsenal, however they were failing to take them, and were struggling to complete passing, finishing the half with a 69% completion rate, which is far from what we’ve become accustomed to with this team.

After finishing the half the stronger of the two teams, Arsenal came out strong in the second half, forcing an early corner. However, moments later, Brighton exposed the Arsenal right, with Mitoma toying with White to play in Estupiñán, whose cross was cut out by Kieran Tienery, and his second was tapped in by Enciso, whilst Kiwior was on the ground.

Kiwior clearly thought he was fouled, however going down in that area presented a huge risk, and one that proved costly for Arsenal. It was a hard lesson to learn, but you need to stay on your feet in that area.

After that, things didn’t get much better despite a few chances, with Nelson flashing a powerful shot wide and Trossard putting a good chance straight at Steel.

Then on 71 minutes, Leandro Trossard played a shocking pass straight to Alexis Mac Allister, who played in Deniz Undaz, who chipped Ramsdale to put the Seagulls 2-0 up. Whilst it was a terrible mistake from the Belgian, questions have to be asked of Ramsdale, who failed to commit and was positionally poor when attacking the ball.

At that point it was game over. Arsenal looked completely dejected as the Emirates quickly emptied, and on 96 minutes it got worse, as Ramsdale palmed Undaz’s shot straight to Estupiñán who clinically slotted home to make it 3-0.

The three goal lead flattered Brighton, because on another day Arsenal would have taken their first half chances and killed the game, despite the incredible football Brighton played, and what was even more frustrating was the fact all three goals were a result of our own mistakes.

But, there’s always next season…

Arsenal Brighton: what to expect (061)

Arsenal and Brighton are set to face off in an exhilarating Premier League encounter this weekend, with both teams entering the fixture with contrasting results from their previous matches. 

Arsenal’s impressive 2-0 victory over Newcastle has injected a renewed sense of confidence into the squad, while Brighton will be seeking redemption after their disappointing 5-1 defeat to relegation battling Everton. Everton.

Against Newcastle, Arsenal gave one of their most mature performances of the season, creating numerous chances and playing their own game against a very physical Newcastle side, but also relied on Aaron Ramsdale to save them at times.

Despite that, the result was a deserved one, and Arsenal will take the confidence from the win into tomorrow’s home tie with Brighton, whose hopes of top four look all but over, as a result of the 5-1 battering at home.

Brighton have lit up the league this season, with De Zerbi’s side playing some of the most fascinating, free flowing football thanks to the likes of Mitoma, MacAllister, Ferguson, March and Caicedo, hower they have also flickered between clinical and wasteful throughout, and March went off with a suspected hamstring injury on Sunday so could miss this one.

Against Everton, they were victims to an extremely clinical performance from a side that has struggled for goals, however much of their downfall was self imposed by not tracking runs and switching off at the back.

With the number of games Brighton have played this season, a poor performance was always going to come, however no one saw it coming in the style it did, which could make them more fired up for Sunday.

After the game, De Zerbi said we’d see the real Brighton on Sunday, and there is no doubt that they won’t be as bad as they were. Afterall, they still have European football to secure in one form or another, and will fight to the end.

But, Arsenal made light work of them at the Amex on New Year’s Eve, and exposed all of their weaknesses on the left hand side during our 4-2 win, with Martinelli roasting Lamptey throughout the entire game, before finally getting his deserved goal in the 71st minute couresty of a sublime pass from Martin Odegaard.

With Martin Odegaard in the form of his life, and Martinelli and Jesus looking rejuvenated, Arsenal have three players who can really hurt Brighton, and will be hoping that Saka can once again find his best form after a mixed few weeks.

With that in mind, this is going to be a tough game for Brighton, whose defence will experience doubt for the first time this season as a result of their massive defeat, and if Arsenal score early, it will only get worse.

That doubt and uncertainty could be caused by being in a position that is new to them, as they have never played with such pressure or media attention, and just like Arsenal did, they could be having a wobble at a crucial time. 

Arsenal vs Brighton: Arteta’s press conference (060)

Ahead of Arsenal’s meeting with Brighton on Sunday, we took a look at what Mikel Arteta had to say in his pre match press confernece.

It was no surprise that the first question was around William Saliba and Alex Zinchenko following David Ornstein’s hammer blow yesterday, however the manager wasn’t completely downbeat, saying: “We have another session tomorrow before the Brighton game, and we are trying to get players back for that. Today we haven’t trained on the pitch, so we’ll know more tomorrow.

“With William, it’s for sure that he’s not going to be fit for this game and we are doubting whether he will be fit for the next game as well. But we want to keep the hope going and make sure that we give ourselves the best chance of having them back.”

He did, however refuse to be drawn into confirming whether Kieran Tierney would start, giving a typically cryptic answer: “There are opportunities for everybody. In every game they have to show that they are up to it and then that we make the right or the wrong decision with the line-up, giving the players the minutes that they deserve.

“It’s very difficult with players in this sport because you pick 11 to play and some to be sub and it’s not always right. You do it all the time with your best intention.”

The suspected blow to Zinchenko is a blow for Arsenal, however they do have the options in reserve who can step up, and Arteta’s reaction when question on Jakob Kiwior showed he has trust in his squad players: “He’s been really impressive, really composed, really calm. He’s been brilliant against two very difficult opponents, with a lot of individual talents. He’s defended many situations and dealt with them in a great way.”

Away from injuries, and Arteta was razor focused on the task at hand and was very complimentary of Brighton and their style of play under De Zerbi this season: “For sure, and because they are a really [complete] side. The way they are playing under Roberto and the coaching staff is remarkable, it’s just a joy to watch them play.

“He’s brought a different idea to the league and that’s a different challenge for managers as well. This is what you want. We want to be the best league in the world and we need the best managers and the best players. What he’s done with the team, after all the foundations that Graham Potter left at the club, is incredible. It’s [going to be] a very tough match.”

Whilst being fully aware of the threat Brighton pose, Arteta did talk about the optimism that Sunday’s win at Newcastle has created, which you hope will be passed onto the team for this crucial tie: “Every time you win, every time you play well, every time you feel like you’re competing at a level that is required to win this league, it gives you hope. It’s not in our hands and on Sunday we’re certainly going to need to be at our best again and try to win the game. If we win the game, we will be a little bit closer.”

Arteta also confirmed that Aaron Ramsdale has been offered a new deal, but said they had nothing to announce yet, and shrugged off runours that Granit Xhaka could be on the move by saying: “I am not going to be replying to certain stories but I am extremely happy with Granit. I think he is having an incredible season, probably the best he is having at the club and we are really happy to have him.”

Alongside this, he hinted at new contracts for a number of players, and his belief that it was done in a way that allowed players to remain focused on the pitch: “Where we are with each individual is different in terms of timing, but the clarity is there. We have communicated with each of them what the intentions are and we are trying to get that done as quickly as possible, but without losing any focus.”

Written by: Adam Keys (adamkeys_)

Newcastle away showed a new side of Arsenal (059)

Sunday’s win at Newcastle put a major marker down for Arsenal in terms of big game performances on an incredibly tough ground.

Only Liverpool had won at St James’ this season, and Arsenal had horrible memories from last season, when a disjointed team were completely exposed and beaten 2-0, however Sunday was a different story.

The win not only showed that Arsenal could cope with a hostile atmosphere, but cope against an extremely physical side and manage the game without getting sucked into a physical battle that we likely would have lost.

That maturity became very clear after Newcastle’s penalty was overturned by VAR, and Arsenal settled into the game, with Granit Xhaka playing closer to Jorginho than in the advanced left eight role, creating a double pivot which really protected the team against Newcastle’s dynamic trio.

This was the first time this season that we have seen Arteta change his system and go to a 4-3-2-1, showing improvements in his game management and ability to adapt to the opposition, which is something he has been criticized for this season.

The added protection allowed Arsenal to play through the Newcastle press, and contain them at crucial periods, which led to them kicking out in frustration on numerous occasions, and making challenges that would have received cards on another day.

But, the ref let those antics go, and tried to let the game flow, which was arguably a poor call given that Gabriel Jesus took an elbow to the jaw from Fabian Schar, which wasn’t deemed worthy of a card, however karma kicked in and he scored an own goal to take the game out of Newcastle’s reach.

Thankfully Arsenal didn’t rise to this, and instead used their aggression as an opportunity to waste time, and take the sting out of the game by stay down when fouled, which is something that we haven’t seen from the team before.

It showed a sign of maturity from a side who have been naive in winning situations over the last month, and it came as no surprise that it was Jorginho, Xhaka and Jesus leading this tactic, bringing their wealth of experience into the game.

Most importantly, what this game showed is that Arsenal are not going to roll over in an intimidating ground to a team trying to kick them off the pitch. 

For too long, teams have used this tactic against Arsenal, and players have buckled under pressure, but we now have characters in the side who embrace this side of the game, and it will take more than a few kicks to keep them down.

Should Arsenal cash in on Granit Xhaka? (058)

Granit Xhaka has been one of Arsenal’s best performers this season, bagging five goals and seven assists, however The Sun has reported that he may be seeking a move to Germany.

The mooted destination is Bayer Leverkusen, who are reportedly willing to offer him a five year contract, which would tie him down until he is almost 36.

Financially speaking, there is no better time to move Xhaka on, however the £20m reported fee wouldn’t make much of an impact to Arsenal’s balance sheet, but the loss of his influence within the squad could be huge.

The time has come for Arsenal to upgrade on Xhaka on a technical level, however that does not mean he should be sold, as the number of games the club will have next season is going to increase drastically.

On a physical level, there are also very few with Xhaka’s availability. Since arriving at Arsenal he has played almost every game, generally only missing games through suspension, and this year has missed one through illness, made one appearance from the bench and started 33 in the Premier League.

His availability has led to a huge amount of experience, and he is someone who has saw Arsenal at their worst and been one of the leaders in the dressing room who has stood up and helped bring the team forward.

As the team has grown, it has outgrown Xhaka as a number six, but he grabbed the opportunity to play as an eight with both hands, and came back last summer in better shape than ever, and has thrived in a position that no one could have imagined him playing.

That desire to change and adapt is difficult to find in top level athletes, especially ones around 30 years old, who have established themselves in a certain way, and want to continue playing the same role.

Having a character like this rubs off on those around him, and when a senior player is that much behind a manager that he will completely reinvent himself for the good of the team, it will have a huge influence on young players.

Alongside his influence, Xhaka has a positional intelligence that few others possess, and when he is out of the team, there is a hole left in his place, which is particularly noticeable in transitions.

In the eight position, all of his defensive strengths are brought to life, and his weaknesses are protected, meaning he can offer a lot of protection to both Zinchenko and Partey when teams break, but also offer great support in attack, which his goals and assists have proved.

With Jorginho, Partey, Elneny and Xhaka all over 30, the midfield needs upgrades and reinforcements, but that doesn’t mean someone with an engine like Xhaka’s should go.

Arsenal shouldn’t have to sell a senior player to upgrade; they should be building strength in numbers in midfield, because with Champions League football and greater focus on the cups, it will be needed.

Written by: Adam Keys (adamkeys_)

Three things we learnt after Arsenal Newcastle (057)

Newcastle away is one of the toughest grounds for any team to go to, however Arsenal delivered a mature decisive performance to beat a team in the form of their lives.

Newcastle had won eight of their previous nine going into the game, and only Liverpool had won there all season, however Nick Pope was sent off 22 minutes into that game.

Arsenal are now the only team to win at St James’ whilst they had 11 players on the pitch, and the 2-0 was our 10th clean sheet away from home this season, a truly remarkable feat given the attacking talent in the Premier Leage.

So, what did we learn?

1. We’ve massively underrated Jorginho

    Many expected Thomas Partey to come back given his physical presence, however Mikel Arteta kept faith in Jorginho after his stellar showing against Chelsea.

    He was absolutely right to do so, with the Italian showing exactly why he has dominated some of the best teams in world football with his ball playing ability, reading of the game and on pitch coaching.

    It proved to be his best performance in an Arsenal shirt to date, and he showed why he was held in such high regard as a leader at Chelsea, as he helped Arsenal win the midfield battle against an incredibly athletic side.

    In short, it’s time we started trusting Jorginho more. He has has an incredible career for a reason, and at 31, still has more in the tank.

    2. Gabriel Jesus is a master of chaos

    Newcastle have had the best defence in the Premier League this season, and with three big, tall defenders in front of Nick Pope, they are not a nice unit to play against.

    Enter Gabriel Jesus. Size is no object to him, and he terrorized them with his movement throughout, dragging them out of position, winning four aerial duels, five ground duels, fighting for every ball and playing the pass that led to Arsenal’s second goal.

    Alongside that, he showed all the gamesmanship that we have wanted to see from Arsenal for years. He wasted time when he could, he cleverly obstructed Pope’s kicking and he was in the middle of everything, despite only having one shot the whole game.

    3. Odegaard is up the with the very best

    Arsenal’s captain now has five goals in his last five games, and his very much leading his team in the charge to stay in the title race.

    On Sunday, he faced not only a big, physical defensive unit, but a midfield of Joelinton, Joe Willock and Bruno Guimarães, who are not only tall, dynamic runners, but can all play, as they showed when they obliterated Tottenham two weeks ago.

    The physical challenge didn’t phase him at all, and he carried his recent form into the tie, chasing every ball, engaging in every duel and scoring the goal that silenced the Geordie crowd.

    His ability is undeniable, but he’s added a steel to his game that he didn’t have a year ago, and he is only going to get better with experience. Incredible performance to silence the big game doubts.

    Written by: Adam Keys (adamkeys_)

    Arteta’s press conference: what was said? (055)

    Arsenal travel to St James’ Park on Sunday to face a Newcastle side with eight wins and 26 goals scored in their last nine games, however after a horrible April, the Gunners got back to winning ways against Chelsea on Wednesday.

    Ahead of the game, we looked at the key quotes from Mikel Arteta’s pre match press conference. 

    One of the biggest questions for Arteta was that of Gabriel’s availability, after he limped off against Chelsea on the 85 minute mark, however reports from Kaya Kaynak suggested he would play, and he is the only fresh potential doubt for the game.

    Arteta however was typically vague: “We will have to see tomorrow how he is, but yeah he could not finish the game so that was a big sign for us. We’ll have to see how he is tomorrow.”

    He was more firm on Saliba, delivering the news we expected: “Not a lot of progress. He’s feeling better every day but he’s not been able to have any activity around the first team so we don’t expect him to be with us.”

    On a positive note, Arteta said he is still hopeful that he will play again this season, and right now it is about respecting the healing process, saying that “pain-wise and the things he can do now off the pitch he’s in a good place. But we have to build that capacity to have the right impact, the right load and to be in good condition to play for the team.”

    After the disappointment against City, Arsenal bounced back against Chelsea, however Arteta said that response started long before the game: “We showed a great response in the week, but the most important thing was to put it on the pitch. We showed good determination and desire to win the game. It was a big game for us, a London derby and we did that and we earned the right to win the game.”

    Taking that confidence and preparation into Newcastle will be crucial for Arsenal, with many pointing to last year’s performance, but Arteta rubbished that idea: “It’s a very different game. Different players, different game. We’re gonna have to play better than last year, that’s for sure because we know at home they’ve been really good.”

    While rubbishing comparisons from last season, Arteta clearly still has frustrations from when the sides met at The Emirates in January saying: “Certainly that was a game I think we deserved to win. We didn’t at the end. They are a really good side, they are well coached, they have good players, they have a good environment around the place so they are in a good place.

    “We tried to play the game that we wanted and they wanted a very different game for sure. When we played at the Emirates I think we deserved to win that game. There are things that will be different playing back [at St. James Park] and we’ll have to be better to win it.”

    As as expected with those comments, he wrote off any suggestion that the defeat at St James’ last year would be a motivator for the players, saying: “I don’t think there’s too much to motivate from there. There’s a lot of things that we have to do better than that day. The group of players and the way they’re playing there is different.”

    Five things we learnt about Arsenal’s win against Chelsea (054)

    Tuesday night’s 3-1 win against Chelsea was a much needed return to winning ways for Arsenal, and there were plenty of positive signs on show.

    Here are the five things we learnt from the performance:

    1. Kiwior could have been introduced earlier

    Much of the doubt came from Kiwior being a left footed defender, however on Tuesday night, he looked at ease on the ball, and enabled Arsenal to play an extremely high line once again.

    It was a stark contrast to his appearances at Sporting and Anfield, as he did everything that was asked of him and give Arsenal the control that they have lacked with Rob Holding on the pitch.

    Arteta’s decision not to play him against City was valid, as Haaland could have destroyed him, but there is a strong argument that he should have come in for the Southampton game after Holding had such a big impact on our build up.

    1. Jorginho’s experience should be used more

    Jorginho was bought for his control and experience. He’s not a project signing, but a player than was bought for short term impact, and Arteta needs to use that more.

    That’s not saying he needs to keep Thomas Partey out of the team, but he needs to be used either off the bench or in a double pivot from the start in games where we need to control the game. 

    Whilst his lack of physical presence can be exposed, his ability to continuously move the ball and add composure to the build up is something that we’ve lacked in recent weeks.

    1. People overreacted to Jesus’ two game drop off

    At the beginning of the season, Gabriel Jesus was Arsenal’s best player, and fans went into meltdown when he got injured. Upon his return, he was electric, and was once again a hero amongst fans.

    After a two game dip, fans were writing him off, with many saying that they could see why City sold him, however those overreactions were typically premature.

    After such a long time out, a dip was to be expected, and he bounced back quickly against Chelsea, and added his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 

    1. Odegaard is sensational

    After the City game, Odegaard received a lot of criticism, with many saying he disappears in big games, but the reality was that everyone was bad.

    Against Chelsea, Odegaard was very much the leader, and made it four goals in four games to take his total to 14 goals in the Premier League this season.

    Like with Jesus, it’s time to stop writing off players and start backing them, especially when you think about their achievements this season.

    1. Trossard has to play

    Since joining in January, Trossard has provided eight assists and a goal, and become a firm fan favourite, and he delivered again against Chelsea.

    His technical ability, intelligence and creativity gives Arsenal a different option to anything else they have in the squad, and when he has played, we have won games.

    It doesn’t matter who he comes in for, he simply has to play. 

    Newcastle will be a very different prospect on Sunday, but you can only beat the team in front of you, and thankfully for Arsenal, it was a Chelsea side completely devoid of organization.

    Written by: Adam Keys (adamkeys_)