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Are we moving in the right direction? Today I am going to take a look at Mikel Arteta from a couple of different perspectives, one is his first 13 matches of his seasons with the addition of the first 13 matches of his Arsenal start in December 2019. Why 13 matches? Because it is almost exactly 1/3 of a season and we are at 13 matches now. The other perspective is his players. I will look at this first. Raya Tierney Saliba Gabriel Cedric Smith Rowe Elneny Nelson Saka Nketiah Martinelli Was Raya the right option? Hands up those who can say what is unique about the above line-up? It is not so easy to guess but 9 of those are there since Mikel Arteta took over in December 2019. I added Raya and Gabriel as first choice from the current line-up to make an 11. Some are bit players, some are first choice, some get on in many matches, and Tierney is out on loan. Despite the belief that Arteta has changed everything around you can see that there are many players still available for him to select. We can assume that these are all players he gets on with as he seems to have difficulties with certain players, particularly big stars who were there before him. There are now no such. Can he cope with a big star with a big ego? That does indicate a weakness in Mikel, as what will happen if any player starts to act the big star and tries on an Aubameyang by not adhering to the rules? One presumes they would be out the door but we can’t easily do without Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard, Saliba, Gabriel, and Rice to name players that must be worth huge money. Or a big name player comes in (Mbappe has been mentioned)and does an Aubameyang after becoming a fan favourite? Can he now deal with them without them having to leave? Can he now get them to accept that it is his way or the highway? That is one tester he must answer. Of course if he wins big trophies it makes all that easier. Declan Rice looks like a great buy That is definitely not a given. There are now many big teams eager for the same, all with established managers. Arsenal fans are notoriously fickle and entitled. I reckon that the bare minimum for Arteta is qualification for Champions League, pushing for the Premier league and getting close to a final. If, after two seasons of not achieving those targets, he may well find the fans turning on him, the big players wanting to leave, and a great difficulty in keeping control. Are his targets too difficult? I feel we have now created an expectation that he must achieve those targets but if he does, then the next prospect is to win the league or Champions League. What if he doesn’t? Do we allow him to forever do a Pochettino with the Spuds and get top four but nothing else? A bad run, such as Pochettino got could see him out the door and that was at the Spuds who have never had such a sustained time near the top in my football lifetime. We see ourselves in a different category to the Spuds and, of course, they have a worse attitude to ditching managers than we have. But I still reckon that top four will not be enough to save Arteta forever. Am I right? Edu, Arteta and Timber - I feel this one is right too Can the team be consistent? And so to the next connected part, the 13 matches test. 12 points first season from Bournemouth to Chelsea from December 2019 when he started. 14 points 20/21 23 points 21/22 34 points 22/23 30 points 23/24 There is progress, yes, although a drop from last season which I believe is due to the higher standard this year at the top of the league. The bottom seems to be much worse this year and that will mean, if it continues, that the big teams will hoover up many points from them, meaning Arsenal must do the same. We are top of the league but it will be a real challenge to stay there. A loss next week against Wolves could see us slip to 4th. And I have to say that I am worried about our weak finishes under Arteta as shown here. We only had 12 points from our last 10 matches last season and it cost us the league. Arteta has, so far, never managed a strong finish to a season. That must change. Partey has not really been missed This will be his fifth season in charge and that is an achievement considering the difficult start he had. It was ameliorated by winning the FA Cup and Charity Shield but the above figures show he did struggle. Unai Emery got fired in Arteta’s first season despite getting 18 points out of the first 13, much better than Arteta achieved with the same players. A new hope? What gives us hope? Many things. There is a real togetherness in the team although the goalkeeper situation has not worked out for either player. The rest seem very happy together and partnerships are developing all the time. Declan Rice looks like an inspired buy and even Havertz must be doing lots of good stuff that fans can’t easily see as he gets on every time. The defence looks as solid as any in the league and that always gives you hope. Great teams have great defences. The backroom team seems to work very well. We are very good at scoring from set-pieces. We are good at keeping our shape and we have got much better at buying than before. Raya (if we buy him), Rice and Havertz have all impressed Arteta, and Timber looked amazing until he got injured. It would be great if we got back to the old Wenger days when most players bought were good and most players sold were past their best. We give everyone chances We are getting points when we haven’t really been all that great in matches this season, in fact, even Burnley, the easiest I can remember so far, had a couple of good chances. And Newcastle should never have been a loss. My only comment on that though is that players must always play to the whistle and that is something that can be drilled into them. Excuses will not win you titles. The fans are so important We do seem to be moving in the right direction. Consistency will be the key. We seem to have good players to come in. Thomas Partey has not been badly missed, long regarded as key. Our young players are getting older and more matchwise. We have a settled group. Togetherness from staff of all kinds and fans will be a great help. We need to be united and I guess that’s where the name came from in so many teams. If we stop the petty cards for arguing, slow play at corners and throw-ins and kicking the ball away which can easily be coached out of them, it will help. Losing players at wrong times is a weakness, a margin that can be corrected. I include Arteta in this. All he has to say is he didn’t agree with whatever decision he is arguing about. No other comment. Let’s work with the refs And players, managers, coaches, and fans need to realise one thing, and that is that we now need teams of referees for matches and there is a worldwide shortage. We badly need to stop harassing refs. We also badly need to set up academies to encourage refs of both sexes to join up and, crucially, train them to the highest standards from a very young age. It should be a clear career path that is seen as desirable from school age. It would be amazing if they were all like Pierluigi Collina We are not a dirty team at all. We are petulant and have become time wasters. These traits are trainable. Let’s get back to being Arsenal, the fair team and in a right refereeing world we would have an advantage. Arteta, being so young still, may even outlast Wenger. I have outlined some areas that need to improve, but the fans will play a crucial role. They must support even through bad spells. Arteta can get things right, if given a chance. I say, give him that chance even if things go wrong and our expectations go in a yoyo direction. ps. RIP Terry Venables. He has got quite a few mentions in this blog and he was supposed to become our manager when George Graham got the job. He was at all the major London clubs except us. Check out his book, They used to play on Grass, it is a great read. A gentleman, a scholar of football, and like our own Arsene Wenger, all his players loved him. And he turned Barcelona into a major team.
The Table of Doom Update Arsenal Current 78 Max 90 Man City(a) Newcastle (a) Brighton(h) Man City Max 94 Brighton (a) Arsenal (h) Man Utd Max 81 Brighton(a) Newcastle Max 80 Arsenal(h) Gone: Brighton Max 73 Man Utd(h)Man City (h) Arsenal(a) – kept because they play key matches. Liverpool Tottenham The Table of Gloom And so it is the Table of Gloom now. City destroyed us and Arteta is now useless, the players mediocre and we will be relegation candidates next year. Oh, woe is me! Jesus and Zinchenko - overrated? Nonsense! Rubbish! If I had said at the start of the season we would qualify for Champions league in April and still top of the league in May after beating Chelsea, plus fighting with City for the title close to the end, people would have said typical Gus optimism, never writes about reality. The reality is this week we have had a reality check and that we do need to strengthen, and maybe get rid of some players that are loved by Arsenal fans. Am I the only one who feels that Guardiola knew what he was doing when he dumped Jesus and Zinchenko? And that Xhaka still has a tendency to implode? And Partey seems to be playing with an injury? But despite all that, another win and we are guaranteed second, and in fact, we may already be second as the 2 Uniteds need close to maximum to catch us. We wouldn’t care that City thrashed us if we win the league In fact, before the start of the season in July, I wrote a comparison between City and us in which we came out badly. I had compared a possible top City 11 against a possible top 11 for us plus rated the managers and gave 11-0 to the Citizens. I gave only one draw which now looks ridiculous. On the basis that some players fail in the Premier league and Jesus was proven, although never a great goal scorer, I gave him a draw with Haaland. I did say I didn’t really believe that but I was trying to be optimistic. I predicted I would probably look stupid giving Jesus a draw. And so I accepted that City are better and on that basis should win the league. But I also said this: “Judging player by player doesn't win championships - confidence, form and a winning mentality does. We need our players to step up, to play without fear, and take the game to the opposition. We need a bit of luck, we need momentum, and a good consistent start. “ We did all that, except we have had some bad luck, particularly with VAR and injuries. I feel we need, at the minimum, a killer striker and centreback and midfielders not injury prone like Partey or capable of blowing up like Xhaka. And I am not happy with both Jesus and Zinchenko seemingly allowed to do what they like and ending up way out of position. They are not good enough players to do that. They should do their primary jobs, respectively score goals and defend, first. I, for one, would be happy to see them in their City role, warming the bench. But replaced with better players, whether bought or from the Academy. We have hope in our hearts Cancelo would be a great addition Despite all that, we could still win the league, we have had a great season and tremendous support from the fans. We have excellent reasons to be cheerful, our players are the youngest in the league and should get better. We have several times come back from setbacks and shown character in scoring late. I feel Arteta knows all this, he knows he has moulded a team capable of challenging even the mighty City. It is his job to make any improvements necessary, and plan for the seasons ahead. I am confident he will. As would Declan Rice There is talk of Cancelo and Rice. I would be very happy to see those two. Also Mane if he will come. He is only 31 and could have a few more years. Those 3 and improvements from the young players as they get more football wise plus one or two Academy players pushing for places means we have tremendous grounds for optimism. A cohesive winning collective can be accomplished by cleverness City are a giant who have owners who are far more concerned about whitewashing their public image than making a profit. They have unlimited money and the recent spike in oil prices has made them richer. The Kroenkes, by contrast, are in it for the money, their public image seems secondary, and they are running it as a business. It means that Arteta and Edu must be clever, they must nourish what they have, and be ruthless in discarding those who are not of the class to create a long-term winning team. Sheik Mansour - City's owner wants to make the UAE look good Wenger did it against Manchester United, putting a priority on developing the players rather than buying big. United were the City of that time, big moneybags with top players in every position. And yet, despite all that Wenger went toe to toe with them, picking up trophies which Man Utd had easily won before then. United were hated by most opposition fans, just as City are now. Anyone remember ABU? Anyone but United. That would be ABC now. That seems to gel with what City are doing, they do make things look as simple as ABC, at their best. Stan Kroenke runs Arsenal as a business I believe we will, as long as we stay hungry, be capable of getting in the faces of City and anyone else who emerges. We could be Arsenal, the team who sends others home crying. The team with class, with tradition, and a fighting spirit which makes us greater than the sum of our parts. Forget the Table of Gloom or the Table of Doom, we have had a great season. C’mon the Arse!. The true Table of Doom and Gloom Everton were champions nine times On a different note, at the bottom, it will probably be 2 former champions who go down. Leicester, Leeds, Everton and Notts Forest have all had their glory days. Southampton, who look doomed, have never won the league. But if they somehow manage a miracle, it will be 3 former champions heading for the door. I will feel most sad for Everton as I grew up among many Everton fans. They are by far the longest team in the top flight after us and I have always been happy they survived the several scares they have had. This year is harder, though. I suspect something like 36 points will be necessary. That is 7 points from 4 games and they haven’t come close to that this season. We play Forest and we could help them a little but they badly need to win and they are running out of time. I suppose they will bounce straight back up but their proud record will be gone.
Where now for Granit Xhaka? Granit Xhaka was substituted in the 79 minute against Aston Villa on Saturday. He had a yellow card and probably that was part of the reason. He has accumulated 56 yellows and 4 reds in his time at Arsenal which means at least 56 times he was in the manager’s mind to be subbed out of 211 total appearances in the Premier League, more than a quarter of all matches. That is not good, obviously. Now I had it in mind that he has improved his disciplinary record but it is a bit difficult to truly say that. Last season, despite 3 months out through injury and only 27 games, he managed to get 1 red and 10 yellows, almost half the matches. This season, so far, he has been better with 4 yellows from 23 games, but still close to a quarter and if he has a bad disciplinary record to the end of the season could reach his previous average. Too many yellows for Xhaka Now, I am aware he seems to get worse treatment than some other players but, still, I think we have to accept that he has a discipline problem. So, we now have Jorginho, highly experienced and is a proven winner. And guess what? In 146 Premier League games he has never been sent off and has 29 yellows, a far better return. He will surely push Xhaka for his place and I am going to compare their respective records on the pitch. I am going to throw into the mix Declan Rice, who is a constant mention as a summer signing. That will be three players for one position, assuming Partey is available. Rice, if he comes, will be a big money signing and there is always pressure to play such players. Can statistics provide the answer? Let’s imagine, for now, that Jorginho gets in this season and keeps Xhaka out as first choice or at least plays so well when on, that a lot of fans would choose him over Xhaka. Where would that leave Declan Rice? Remember also that we have some superb midfielders coming through plus Lokonga, Maitland Niles and Tavares out on loan. Not to mention Fabio Vieira and Mohammed Elneny as backup. Can Jorginho displace Xhaka? I will take a look at all three main contenders and see if the stats give any clarity. Their amount of games make them fairly comparable. For discipline it is easy, Xhaka is far worse then Jorginho. And Declan Rice? Only 24 yellows, no reds in 190 appearances. A clear winner, then. Discipline matters, by the way, it increase the pressure on the managers because a yellow card means they have to think of subbing the player. We lost a Champions League final due to a red card, in my opinion, and a red can mean losing a game you could win. Both Jorginho and Rice would ease the pressure on the manager, based on their past records. Xhaka has 281 fouls to 211 games, Jorginho 137 to 146, and Rice is best on 130 to 190 games. I have always believed that English players get preference in such areas and that could be a reason to play Rice. Discipline: Declan Rice. Are goals the clue? Of course, there is more to football than discipline. So I will take a look at other metrics. The most important thing in football is goals so Xhaka has 13 in 211, Jorginho 21 in 146 but 19 penalties, and Rice 7 in 190. So it is easy. Assists Xhaka 22 in 211, Jorginho 5 in 146 and Rice 10 in 190. Xhaka 33 in total, Jorginho 26 in total and Rice 17. I was thinking I have to give it to Jorginho as he played less games making his record better although we do have Saka to take our penalties. Tight enough on this metric. Goals: Maybe Xhaka or maybe Jorginho. I can’t really make up my mind. What if this guy comes? Tackles are next. Xhaka has 353 and 63% success. Jorginho 310 and 54% success, and Rice 440 and 55% success. Blocked shots and interceptions, Xhaka 68 and 187, Jorginho 16 and 227, Rice 34 and 315. Rice has played in a team that has to defend more than the other 2 so that is probably why his stats are bigger but still I feel he just about has the edge here. Tackles, blocks and interceptions: Declan Rice. Maybe winning duels is the key Passes are critical in this position as a stray pass can lead to a goal. Xhaka 14,334, Jorginho 10,095, Rice 8,880. Success rate Xhaka 87.3%, Jorginho 88.7%, Rice 87.8%. Passes per match Xhaka 67.93, Jorginho, 69.14, Rice 46.74. Jorginho then is the winner. Passes, success rate and passes per match: Jorginho. Recoveries, duels won and lost next. Xhaka 1324, 948, 903, Jorginho 1030, 587, 612, Rice 1405, 904, 657. Rice comes out a clear winner here and that could be crucial to us continuing our assault on the big prizes. Recoveries, duels won and lost: Declan Rice. Aerial battles won and lost + successful 50/50’s. Xhaka 105, 269, 255, Jorginho 67, 67, 111 and Rice 173, 248, 184. Only Rice has a clear division between duels won and lost and I feel a clear winner again. Aerial battles won and lost + successful 50/50’s: Declan Rice. Goals truly matter I am going to finish the assessment on goals as they are the most crucial element in football, you can play badly but if you score you can win. This time I will focus on areas connected to goals - Shots, shots on target and free kicks scored, Xhaka 214, 58, 3, Jorginho 68, 32, 0, Rice 137, 35, 0 although 1 penalty. This time Xhaka is a winner on shots, shots on target and free kicks scored. One sure metric for Xkaka I will mention one more statistic about goals and that is errors leading to goals with Xhaka way out in front at nine compared with 2 for Jorginho and Rice. That's too many. Red card for Xhaka? Of course all 3 have played a different amount of games and mostly for 3 different clubs so this assessment has flaws but a statistical analysis throws up Rice as a better player than either of Jorginho or Xhaka and even Jorginho is coming out better than Xhaka. Will we give him the red card? So what would this mean for Arsenal if we do buy Declan Rice or similar? He seems willing to go from what I hear. I suspect one of Jorginho or Xhaka has to go. I don’t feel we will keep all 3. Xhaka, being almost a year younger, would probably fetch more in the market although if Jorginho displaces him this season that may not be the case. I would imagine, of the two, Xhaka is less likely to opt for a minor role whereas Jorginho, by coming to Arsenal in the circumstances he has, probably would. 20/30 appearances including subs and a trophy or two may well seem a better prospect than going down a level. He may come back. If my assessment is right, and we buy a truly top class midfielder such as Declan Rice, this could be Xhaka’s last season. I have a feeling, even if that is the case, he will be back. He is taking his coaching badges. I think he would make a tremendous coach with his never say die attitude, his willingness to die for the team, and yes, his effectiveness as a player in one of the most challenging positions would render him able to impart immense knowledge to young players coming through. He now has Arsenal in his DNA and that will always be a part of him. And he can go with his head held truly high as a League winner if all goes well. We will never forget Granit Xhaka.