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The Table of Doom Update Arsenal Current 72 Max 99 Liverpool(a) Man City(a) Newcastle (a) Brighton(h) Man City Max 94 Brighton (a) Arsenal (h) Man Utd Max 83 Brighton(a) Tottenham(a) Newcastle Max 83 Tottenham(h) Arsenal(h) Tottenham Max 79 Brighton(h) Newcastle(a) Man Utd(h) Liverpool (a) Brighton Max 79 Man Utd(h) Tottenham(a) Man City(h) Arsenal(a) Liverpool Max 73 Arsenal(h) Tottenham(h) As I have said I will update the table of doom every week with the max points available for each team. Man Utd, Spurs, Brighton and Liverpool have all dropped points so move further away from us. It seems close to impossible for Liverpool to catch us now so I feel they will be the first to drop out of this table. A draw at the weekend and they are out leaving only six able to catch us. Man Utd play Brentford at home tonight and they are proving very difficult to beat. Newcastle play West Ham away and with the Hammers desperate to get points and David Moyes even more so they might drop further away. It seems, realistically that Man City are the only real danger as with 9 matches to go even 9 draws would give us 81 which is very close to Man U’s and Newcastle’s maximum. Champions League is all but certain as the chasing pack have games against each other meaning they drop points. C’mon the Arse! And so on to my main piece: The art of prediction – it gives you the blues Predicting football matches is extraordinarily difficult. Injuries, loss of form, transfers, a player acting up in the dressing room bringing down the winning atmosphere (yes, we are looking at you, Aubameyang), bad luck, referees, VAR and a myriad other possibilities bring factors to bear on your predictions. I decided to take a look at how I have done so far since I started this blog a few years ago. Yes, you made the right Blue choice, Pierre My first was on Jan 20th and I just made a general prediction for the end of the season 2020/21. I went 64 points and we got 61. Not too bad, really as the transfer window hadn’t ended so I didn’t know who we would have and what our rivals would do. We got in Martin Odegaard and Mat Ryan on loan after I wrote so not a huge difference. I did well, I feel. No need to be Blue, Martin I did an update on April 6th with 8 matches to go and predicted 61 points and we got 61 points. This time I predicted all the scores and even that I did well, getting some exactly right. So, despite all I have said above, it is possible to get things right. Not so Blue Mat Ryan Next season was last season 2021/22 and I started on Nov 9th predicting our points total to halfway 19 matches and I said 38 but we got 35. Again I predicted all matches and got some right including Norwich 5-0. Not too bad at all. The next was December 29th and I predicted the next 9 matches. I said 52 points and we got 51. Did I say prediction was hard? Looks like it’s easy. Particularly as the January transfer window hadn’t opened yet. The only one we got in was Auston Trusty from Colorado Rapids and he became a superstar center-back for us. Ok, maybe not but he is doing really well at Birmingham on loan, playing every game this season and scoring 4 goals from the back. He is under the radar but he could become good. A Blue move may have done you good, Auston March 22 was my final try. I predicted 74 and we got 69. In fairness to myself, I didn’t foresee the collapse we had in the last few matches with Spurs, Newcastle and Everton giving us tonkings. A feature of Arsenal for this season and last is that we don’t draw matches. We had 13 defeats and almost got Champions League. My weakness has been that I put us down for draws and we never seem to get them. We had only 3 draws last season and 3 so far this season. I have to factor that in for the future if it continues. Only Jesus can take away the Blues So now this season. I started on August 2nd. I am not sure how many thought we would win the league or get Champions League but I was hopeful of the latter. I am generally regarded as an optimist so I said 17 points for the first 8 matches but we got 21 and were top of the league. I said we are top of the league! Blue? No that is Red and White you see, Leo I did another 8 on October 4th and said 39 points but we got 43 and still top of the league. I am always happy if we get more than I predict, of course. So then to January 2nd and my next set of predictions. The World Cup was over but we had lost Jesus. It seemed that Nketiah wasn’t of his class and we didn’t really have anyone else. But I predicted anyway. 11 matches and I said 67 points. We got 66. Very close. In fairness we got in Trossard, Jorginho and Kiwior, which I didn’t know about at the time and 2 of those look like they will be very useful to us this season. Jorginho - the final Blue part of the jigsaw My last try this season and we started with Leeds. I said 3-0 and we got 4-1. Not too bad, Gus, at all. I have predicted 90 points and winning the league or 93 if City hand it to us by dropping points and the final matches nervousness goes out of the team. My history as a predictor indicates that it could well be our year. I manage to get a lot of results right and sometimes even scores. By that reckoning you should put your house, your Maserati, and your wife or husband on Arsenal to win. I no longer bet so I can’t take my own advice.
Matt Turner Kieran Tierney Tomiyasu Jakub Kiwior Rob Holding Jorginho Fabio Vieira Emile Smith Rowe Reiss Nelson Eddie Nketiah Leandro Trossard Could our second team be as good as our first? Supposing something very strange happened and a premier league team bought all our (probably) second choice players and decided they would have them as their first choice? How would they do? And suppose they paired them with a top young manager like Marco Silva? Let’s call this team Learns AFC. I feel they would do surprisingly well. I have put the names up above as my choice of our second choice. I am sure some would disagree with me and feel free to do so. I am doing this exercise to challenge the perception that we don’t have strength in depth. Let’s take a look at their attributes. Turner jumps up to the highest level Matt Turner in goal is a permanent member who has won keeper of the tournament and keeper of the year plus the Concacaf Gold trophy with an improving American side. The Yanks might grab Balogun to make them even better. A regular start for a premiership team should see him iron out his nervousness and giving the ball away. I am fairly certain plenty of games would see him being praised as a top goalkeeper. Learns AFC would do well to have a top international keeper in their side. The fullbacks are fantastic Kieran Tierney is playing wonders for the Scottish team on this break, being twice rated as second highest ranked Scot. Has already played 36 times for them and is bound to have many more. Always a threat going forward and he has that burst of pace to go past people and get in dangerous crosses and pullbacks. Surely if he keeps injury free a huge asset for any team? Tomiyasu, is, I feel, a superb player who is a tenacious defender who rarely has a bad game. He is an integral member of a Japanese side who beat Spain and Germany at the last World Cup. Played 32 times already at 24 and seems guaranteed to keep getting picked. He is still young enough to have plenty of improvement and should easily be recognized as one of the Premier leagues top fullbacks. A young and old centreback pairing could be magic Rob Holding is another who would, I am sure, improve enormously with a regular place. The last time he had an extended run he was one of our best players. He has 5 England under 21 caps and is still only 27. He could have ten years as a centre-back left in him. I believe he has the ability as he has sometimes put top players in his pocket such as Erling Haaland recently. He isn’t the quickest but an awful lot of superstar centrebacks weren’t and aren’t. It is that nous to sniff out danger that really matters. The fullbacks can provide the speed. Holding - can he finally be a top player? Jakub Kiwior has played 11 times for the full Polish team so has got experience at the top level. He was nervous on his debut but that is understandable. He could well turn out to be a real gem once he finds his feet. Can Kiwior combine to produce centreback magic? Jorginho leads the midfield Jorginho has an extraordinary amount of trophies and awards during his career including UEFA men’s player of the season 2020/21. 46 caps for Italy and more to come. Could be one of the wise old heads to push Learns AFC forward to being winners. If he gets back to his best could be a significant player for a few more years. Vieira - a new Portuguese superstar? Fabio Vieira is surely one for the future. Lots of caps at under-age level for Portugal and it seems like it won’t be long before they become full caps. He has impressed at times when he has come on but those of us with long memories will tell you that even Saka and Odegaard looked poor at times at the start so I wouldn’t take too much notice of his mistakes. I feel certain he will come good simply because of the good passages of play he has had. He has definite ability. Will injuries derail Smith Rowe? Emile Smith Rowe is, to me, an incredible player. He badly needs to stay fit but surely he is one that will claim a first choice spot for Arsenal. Lots of caps at underage level for England and one full cap but if he recaptures his form I believe he will be an undroppable player for both but for the purposes of this exercise I am placing him in Learns AFC. Trossard, Nketiah and Nelson to match Martinelli, Jesus and Saka Reiss Nelson just seems to do amazing things when he comes on. I feel he would walk into most teams in the Premiership. Again lots of underage caps for England and massive belief in him by Arteta. Surely, with his talent, he will make it? Reiss races to the top Eddie Nketiah is next. He was unbelievable for England underage being top scorer with 16 goals for 17 appearances. He has done well for us this season when given a start. 9 goals in 32 appearances this season doesn’t sound too good but so many of them were just a few minutes at the end. He hasn’t let us down and could well be needed towards the end of the season. Nketiah-The team will need this guy to score goals Leandro Trossard has come here and been terrific. With 25 games for Belgium since his first in 2020, he has shined at one of the top countries, and truly is great to watch. He has brought pure skill, and great intelligence plus drive to Arsenal and Learns AFC would be phenomenal with him. Only 28 so lots of time left. A nightmare for the other teams There you have it. Let’s say that team somehow appeared in the Premier League next year, and like I say, with a top manager such as De Zerbi or Silva who could work with young players. Where could they finish? I would say Champions league is an excellent possibility. What do you think? The only negative I can see is that some of these players have had injury problems and we have all seen with Walcott, Oxlade Chamberlain and Wiltshire that they may not make the heights when they come back. Also a few are unproven at Premier league level such as Vieira, Nelson, Kiwiora and Turner and throw in Holding and Nketiah who need to step up to their best, but this team could be a match for almost anyone out there. Only Jorginho is over 30 and plenty are still young enough for lots of improvement. If this Learns AFC team existed, were coached well, developed partnerships and understanding, and, of course improved as they got older, they could even be a match for the first team Arsenal. This shows we have good players ready to come in. But I fear some could go in the summer and we will miss them as they could well prove Arteta wrong. I just hope I haven’t given a great idea to some billionaire to furnish, say a Leeds or an Everton with a readymade team who all know each other and could challenge for the highest trophies.
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.