Monthly Archives: February 2022

Thoughts on Arsenal’s Carabao Cup Adventure

Liverpool beat Chelsea in Carabao Cup final as nerve-wracking penalty  shootout ends with late substitute Kepa Arrizabalaga putting spot-kick over

Kepa launching the ball into orbit

The Carabao Cup was concluded last night in what I would describe as a beautiful game of football with two of England’s finest locking horns for the right to be the champion. The Carabao Cup has been dominated by Manchester City in recent seasons, with the Citizens winning seven of the last nine editions including four straight triumphs. Arsenal, on the other hand, haven’t won the Carabao Cup since 1993, and the Gunners came quite close this season, with a semifinal berth that saw Mikel Arteta’s men lose to the eventual champions, Liverpool.

The adventure started with Arsenal playing in the Second Round for the first time in eons against West Bromwich Albion. The game marked the debut of Aaron Ramsdale in goal, and the young Englishman has gone to cement his place in the starting XI ahead of Bernd Leno. The game was a goalfest with Arsenal smashing six goals past their hosts with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netting a hattrick. His next hattrick after this turned out to be in Barcelona colors against Valencia. There were also goals on the night for Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka.

Aubameyang grabs a hat-trick as Arsenal hit West Brom for six | Reuters

The Third Round of the Carabao Cup saw the Gunners host lowly AFC Wimbledon with Lacazette opening the scoring with a penalty before late goals from Hale End Academy graduates, Emile Smith-Rowe and Eddie Nketiah settled the contest. With the gulf in class between both clubs, there was only going to be one winner and it turned out to be Arsenal. Things got a bit juicier in the Carabao Cup Round of 16 with Arsenal hosting struggling Leeds United, but the Gunners had to wait for a Calum Chambers goal off the bench, before Nketiah settled the contest. That would also turn out to be Chambers’ last goal for the club, as he left for Aston Villa in the winter transfer window.

Arsenal had a rather favorable quarterfinal fixture in the Carabao Cup, hosting Sunderland, and smashing five past them with Nketiah netting a hattrick but the game will be fondly remembered for Charlie Patino making his Arsenal debut and scoring as well.

Arsenal warned not to put too much pressure on Charlie Patino after debut  goal as Danny Mills gives advice to wonderkid

Then there was the semifinals against the juggernauts, Liverpool, at Anfield. In all honesty, many Arsenal fans, me included, expected a routine loss, especially with the fact that we were thrashed resoundingly by the same team in the Premier League, so losing Granit Xhaka to a dismissal early in the game made chills run down my spine, but the team rallied and put up a defensive masterclass to leave Merseyside with a goalless draw.

Which makes the second leg at the Emirates very painful…

Arsenal began with such zest and enthusiasm with Gabriel Martinelli giving Trent Alexander-Arnold hell on that wing, but bar a Lacazette free kick that clipped the post and went over, the home side offered nothing else in attack. Oh, there was that dinked pass from Sambi Lokonga to Lacazette, and he wasted the golden opportunity in the most Lacazette way possible. The wind was taken off Arsenal’s sails when Diogo Jota slalomed his way through the Arsenal defense and misfired a shot that somehow blindsided Ramsdale in goal. The Portuguese forward’s second finish on the night was more clinical, getting in behind the defense and lobbing it past the goalie to send Liverpool to the finals.

It was quite painful to see the Gunners work so hard at Anfield, only to put up a limp display in front of their own fans, but that’s football for you. The Carabao Cup remains one of the most exciting competitions in the land, as it always hands opportunities for new talents to be showcased, but Arsenal’s race was run at the semifinal stage, and one hopes the lads can go one better next season.

Sayonara.

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Premier League Roundup: Newcastle Resurgence, Bielsa Under Threat and Welcome Eriksen

Christian Eriksen makes Brentford debut to complete remarkable return to  football | Marca

Christian Eriksen makes Brentford debut

With no Premier League action for Arsenal, I spent the entire Saturday as a neutral watching Premier League games and hoping our fellow Top Four hopefuls would falter. Without further ado, here’s a quick review of Saturday’s Premier League action.

Lunch Time Premier League Fixture – Leeds 0-4 Tottenham

Once upon a time, Marcelo Bielsa was lauded for his side’s attacking play, when it was quite evident that they have always been careless at the back. This season has taken a surprise turn for the Whites with wins hard to come by and defeats the order of the day. Prior to the lunchtime fixture with Antonio Conte’s Tottenham, Leeds had an unwanted record of four straight Premier League defeats while conceding three or more goals. The record holders are Sunderland with five games.

The game itself wasn’t that exciting, with Tottenham donning one of the ugliest jerseys you’d ever see, but the opener came Ryan Sessegnon drilled a cut back that crept past the entire Leeds defense before it was finished aplomb by Matt Doherty. Seems the defender is back in favor, having lost his place to Emerson Royal. The second goal was comedic to say the least as a moment arrived when Leed’s Diego Llorente should have challenged for the ball, but he just ran past it because he was more interested in tracking his marker. The intelligent Serie A signing, Dejan Kulusevski, fired a near-post drive that found its way past Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal. The third goal showcased more shambolic defending when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had all time in the world to pick his spot and loft a threaded overhead pass to Harry Kane that showed up his great technique to fire the ball to the far post.

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min break Premier League record - Futbol on  FanNation

This jersey is quite an eyesore

The icing on the cake arrived when Kane sent in a sumptuous pass to Heung-Min Son that controlled the ball  before slotting it past Meslier. Apparently, that Son goal turned out to be a Premier League record as it was the 37th time Kane and Son assisted each other for a goal in the league. The previous Premier League record was held by Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba with 36 goal contributions between them. 

The current top five are 

Harry Kane / Heung-Min Son 37 goal contributions
Didier Drogba / Frank Lampard 36 goal contributions
Thierry Henry / Robert Pires 29 goal contributions
Sergio Aguero / David Silva 29 goal contributions
Darren Anderton / Teddy Sheringham 27 goal contributions

This result has put Marcelo Bielsa’s position under huge threat with former RB Leipzig and Salzburg manager, Jesse Marsch, currently earmarked to take over from the Argentine boss. I will certainly miss his press conferences with his translator, as the wily old manager blatantly refused to learn any English.

Goal Rush Premier League Fixtures

After the lunch time fixture, it’s always fun waiting for the ‘goal rush’ fixtures with so much Premier League action happening at the same time. 

Brentford 0-2 Newcastle

It what was proving to be a relegation dog fight, Newcastle’s cause was helped early on when a VAR check saw Josh Da Silva brandished a red card for his stamp at Matt Targett at the edge of the area.

Brentford ace Josh Dasilva sent off for horror studs up challenge – but Mike  Dean originally gave foul AGAINST Newcastle

Mike Dean doing what Mike Dean does best

Newcastle opened the scoring when the diminutive Ryan Fraser swung a cross with his left foot and the ball was headed home by Joelinton. That was the Brazilian’s first goal since when Man started walking on the Moon, so you could see how much it meant to him. The match winner was scored by the former Gunner, Joe Willock, after he latched onto Fabian Schar’s through ball and dispatched the ball with all authority. One major highlight of the game was the arrival of Christian Eriksen to the pitch, after the events that surrounded him in Euro 2020. He didn’t offer much from an attacking perspective but it was really good seeing him strut his stuff on the pitch doing what he loves. The result also saw Newcastle soar high to 14th place, which aligns with their current hopes to remain safe in the Premier League.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Burnley

It is always good seeing former Gunners do well, and that can be said of Patrick Vieira at Crystal Palace, but the inconsistency of the team leaves a lot to be desired. Fresh from their pummeling of Watford, one expected the Eagles to have enough in the tank to see out the Clarets, but in the end, but teams shared the spoils of battle. The match opener arrived when the exciting Michael Olise showed off some good footwork on the right hand side before swinging in a cross that was finished confidently by Jeffery Schlupp. The visitors got their equalizer when Luva Milivojevic slid in to score an unfortunate own goal from an Aaron Lennon cut back.

Manchester United 0-0 Watford

The game was dominated by the decision of the interim manager, Ralf Rangnick, to drop Harry Maguire to the bench ahead of the visit of Watford to Old Trafford. Early on, Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post and latched on to a cross that saw him beat Ben Foster in goal, but the offside flag spared the Watford goalie’s blushes. The game was marred with miss after miss from the home side and some heroic defending from the away side as both teams ended in a stalemate. Awesome result for Arsenal by the way.

Brighton 0-2 Aston Villa

Steven Gerrard’s side arrived at this game in woeful form, winning just one out of their last seven fixtures, but Brighton was in equally poor form, losing three of their last five. The opening goal came from an unlikely source when Matty Cash controlled a defensive clearance and blasted the ball through a crowd of bodies that entered the net with some assistance from the post. The game clincher was pretty much Route One stuff as Tyrone Mings received a throw from Emi Martinez before launching the ball over the top to Ollie Watkins path. The forward had the difficult part of shoving off the challenge from the defender but he executed a calm finish under pressure to give his side all three points.

The Late Kickoff – Everton 0-1 Manchester City

The Citizens now have it all to do with their fellow title rivals, Liverpool, cutting the gap to just three points. With the Reds in Carabao Cup final action today, Pep Guardiola’s side had the opportunity to extend the lead to six points, but had the threat of a former player, Frank Lampard, now handling the reins in Goodison Park. It was a tight affair with City dominating the proceedings from start to finish, but the clincher came through when Bernardo Silva’s cut back ricocheted off Ben Godfrey, and with Michael Keane unable to reach the ball, it fell nicely to Phil Foden who wasted no time in sidefooting the ball past Jordan Pickford.

Summary

After a good Saturday’s Premier League action, the changes were evident on the table with Manchester City on 66 points, six clear of Liverpool, while Manchester United are stuck on 47 points, with Arsenal two points behind and three games in hand. Tottenham’s win put them on 42 with West Ham, keeping their European hopes alive as well, while the biggest movers up the table were Newcastle on 14th place and 25 points. For the droppers, Brighton’s current slump has seen them stay at 10th place, while Leeds United is floating above relegation waters with yet another defeat with a meagre 23 points. Everton has 22 and Burnley has 21 but both teams have two games in hand, that could see them usurp Leeds. Further down the table, things are looking precarious for the Hornets and Canaries, with Championship football around the corner.

Sayonara.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on William Saliba and his Contract Situation

Arsenal's William Saliba of Olympique de Marseille challenges Seko Fofana. (Image: Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images)

Saliba challenging Seko Fofana

William Saliba joined Arsenal in 2019 along a host of other signings, as former DoF, Raul Sanllehi, went gaga that summer, bringing 11 players to the club spending £138m in the process. £27m was used to procure Saliba from AS Saint Etienne, and the prospect of having him at the club was exciting to say the least. He was shipped back to his former club for one season to gain more experience and Arsenal must have had the scouting team watching him consistently and providing valuable info to the manager and coaching staff. His return campaign with St. Etienne was marred with injuries, but he still managed to make 17 appearances for the team in his farewell stint with his boyhood club.

Upon returning to Arsenal at the end of that campaign, we managed to catch a glimpse of Saliba in one preseason friendly, but he was shipped out on loan again to OGC Nice, where he made 22 appearances and even won the Player of the Month award in January for the club.

FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-NICE-BORDEAUX

Saliba in Nice colors

Saliba was even in contention for the Player of the Season award due to his outstanding performances with Nice, and one wondered if he was ready to make the step up this season with David Luiz leaving the club, but he was loaned yet again, to Marseille this campaign. According to WhoScored, Saliba has a 93.2% pass accuracy in Ligue Un for Marseille while averaging 1.7 tackles per game, 1.3 interceptions per game, 2.1 clearances per game, 0.5 fouls per game and 0.4 blocks. The French defender has been an ever-present for Marseille this season, making 33 appearances spanning across four competitions.

Saliba joined the club on a five-year contract and will see that deal expire in 2024, which makes this summer very critical for the Gunners in regard to his future. With Calum Chambers gone, Pablo Mari currently in Udinese with hopes of making a permanent move, Arsenal has only Rob Holding as the primary backup to big summer signing, Ben White, and Gabriel, so Saliba can actually return this summer to join the ranks and make a case for himself. The player confirmed that he wants to return to the club this summer and fight for his place

Arsenal needs to give the lad an opportunity to showcase his talent, as English football offers other competitions where the likes of White and Gabriel can be rested. He can also feature in the early stages of the European competitions, and I believe Saliba is a talent that needs to hone his huge potential in the right enabling environment. 

I hope his contract gets renewed for the foreseeable future and we will get to see him don the Red and White for a very long time. 

Bonus Reading: The Curious Case of William Saliba.

Sayonara.

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