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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.
Is the Wenger era finally over? Granit Xhaka Eddie Nketiah Rob Holding Mohammed El Neny Reiss Nelson This great man's story is all over Arsenal Why am I going to write about these 5 players? Because they are the only 5 full squad members left from Arsene Wenger’s time in 2018. That leaves Granit Xhaka as the only certain starter from that era. Nketiah might finally make it and even Reiss Nelson is possible, but neither are sure of anything at this stage. One player for Wenger then. Is that a testament to how Wenger had fallen behind in his ability to run the team? In less than 5 years his team is gone. Hardly any considered good enough to get a start. That is sad but maybe it is the reality. And probably up to a year or so ago, a lot of fans didn’t rate Xhaka. He was out the door, bags packed, when Arteta came. Arteta said, “hey Jack, where are you going? Come back here and play for the Arsenal!” One of Arteta’s best moves, he may even get our player of the season this year with a strong finish. Are the current squad Arsene style players? Probably not. He liked to have a sprinkling of pure skill players like Pires and Ozil who couldn’t tackle or defend. In the Champions league final against Barcelona when Lehmann got sent off, he chose to take off Pires rather than Ljungberg on the basis that with ten men he needed someone who could defend. Pires never really forgave him. Wenger also liked players to play without too many instructions, trusting them to know what to do. This led to accusations that he wasn’t great tactically. Arteta is, by contrast, mad about tactics. Players have specific roles and guidelines under Arteta, they must work extremely hard, fill any holes, and do what they are told. Setpieces are seen as a way to win and are given high priority. 1. Granit Xhaka: The comeback kid After the impossible comeback, can he achieve the possible? So where now for these players? Let’s start with the only sure starter, Mr Xhaka. He is 30 and could be there until he catches up with his number and maybe beyond. He could maybe have 500+ appearances for Arsenal before he finishes. He can play fullback, defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder. He plays for the team at all times, you never see him playing only for himself. Now that he has abandoned his penchant for cards and has limited his mistakes, it seems impossible to drop him. He will be hoping that he can add to the 3 trophies picked up so far. A Wenger yes, so. 2. Eddie Nketiah: Will goals be enough? Eddie - young enough to break Henry's record Eddie Nketiah? I feel that it is going to be hard to displace Jesus no matter what he does. He has bulked up, he has improved all the time and he could surely have a great career, but will it be at Arsenal? It is hard to say. He is giving Arteta the best possible headache, though, as he has made Jesus’s injury almost irrelevant, not something Arsenal’s fans thought when Jesus left the World Cup. Jesus will have to fight for his place back, for sure, but I feel he may well get it. And I suppose Eddie will then have to leave for the sake of his career. A Wenger maybe, I think. 3. Rob Holding: Holding on for dear life A move down the table seems likely Rob Holding? He seems to have settled for his role as bit player. At 27 he is still young but he has only 153 total appearances for Arsenal, around 21 a year over 7 seasons. Few fans see him as getting a first choice position so will he stay? You never know, particularly if Arsenal become a winning machine. 20 games a season with trophies might seem better than 45 at the likes of Leeds or Southampton. But if we get one more great defender he may not even get those 20 appearances even with 5 subs allowed. I suspect he will move on or be moved on in the summer as I expect us to be in the market for a top defender. A Wenger no, I reckon. 4. Reiss Nelson: He could be anything Close to make or break for Reiss Reiss Nelson? An enigma. Over 6 seasons at Arsenal he has only played 25 league games and 55 in total. Now, Arteta has made many statements about him, always positive, and he has done well in some matches when given a chance but 6 goals does not seem to indicate that he will make the step up. Amazingly still only 23, so it is hard to truly speak with confidence but, honestly he needs an injury to a top player and to come in and do an Nketiah, give Arteta a major headache. I like him and his attitude. I feel he will have a successful career but I doubt it will be at Arsenal. A Wenger no? Probably. 5. Mohamed Elneny: I am there to do a job for Arsenal Our most faithful and reliable servant And now the last. The wonderful Mo Elneny. He has made it clear he wants to stay and be a bit player. I feel Arteta will accept that. He is Mr Arsenal, always reliable, occasionally scores a great goal and sometimes bosses midfield. 90 plus caps for Egypt and major trophies for them. 3 trophies for us so far and I hope many more to come. I feel Arteta would have to be soft in the head to let him go as he can play a few positions, runs hard, has a lot of experience and always plays for the team. Only 5 league appearances this year but surely more to come if he recovers and only 5 needed anyway for a league medal if we manage it. Seemingly a great character to have in the dressing room. I don’t see Arteta letting him go. A Wenger yes, then. Is the Arteta era truly about to start? King of tactics, fan involvement, and players 5 players left from the great man’s time, but only 2 might be left over the next year or two. The feeling is that Arteta will continue with his vision, make Arsenal one of Europe’s feared sides again. It will be his side, with an unmistakable Arteta stamp on it just as Arsene Wenger’s sides always had his imprimatur. He doesn’t seem to have quite inherited Arsene’s way with players as virtually all seemed to love him, but once all players are his, then I feel they will run through brick walls for him. And his ability to work with tactics is surely a big plus? The one argument against Wenger, a lack of tactical nous, cannot be levelled at Arteta. The only question now is, is Arteta good enough? I truly feel he is. To me, all our great managers were Arsenal through and through. Arteta is that. I believe in him.