Category Archives: Europa League

Thoughts on William Saliba and his Arsenal Future

William Saliba was voted the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year last season

After another stellar campaign that saw him rightfully earn the Young Player of the Year award for his stint with Marseille in Ligue Un, William Saliba had a major decision to make concerning his future, especially after breaking in to the France squad, with a World Cup in Qatar around the corner. With two years left on his contract, he could easily had agitated to remain in France, like the Hector Bellerin’s situation at Real Betis, where he would have continued to feature regularly for Olympique Marseille (made 52 apps last season) and strengthened his chance of sealing his place in the national team. Instead, William Saliba has pledged his future to Arsenal,

‘I belong to Arsenal, I still have two years left.

‘I will be back with Arsenal. I have played zero matches and I still want to show them my true face and have the chance to play for these fans and this great club.

‘But it doesn’t just depend on me. In any case, to leave like this, would be a shame.’

At Arsenal, the center back position has been light, with only Gabriel and Ben White forming a fledgling partnership with Rob Holding providing some cover. This is a far cry from how overloaded the center back position used to be with the likes of Calum Chambers, Skhodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Pablo Mari, Rob Holding, Dinos Mavropanos and Rob Holding all in the club when Mikel Arteta arrived. It has been quite a clear out.

Saliba comes into the team next season with just three players to contend with – White, Gabriel and Holding – players that have had their own phases of inconsistency in the recently concluded campaign. Yes, Gabriel stands out with the amount of goals he scored, as well as some strong performances but he also had games were he was badly exposed and had a rush of blood to the head. Case in point – Man City (home), Crystal Palace (away). Man United (home), just to mention a few. White also forged a good partnership with Gabriel in his debut campaign, and had his fair share of errors as well. Holding, would pretty much be a squad player at best, always coming to the pitch to protect a lead, but Arsenal fans wouldn’t be quick to forget his rashness in the North London Derby (away).

Mikel Arteta is a manager that rewards players that perform up to the required standards, and a player like Saliba can see himself playing consistently if he proves he can do the job better than the current center backs in the club. Hell, he was a nominee for Young player of the Year in just half a season at Nice and eventually won the Young Player of the Year award in a full season with Marseille. I’d admit that I don’t want the Ligue Un regularly, but Saliba has done well for himself in his spells at France, even to the point he was recognized by the national team gaffer to feature for Les Bleus at just 21. 

As an Arsenal fan, I am chomping to bits at the prospect of finally seeing the lad we coughed out 30 million quid when he was just 18, with so much talk of how much potential he had, with the ability to lead the line at the back for years to come. Three loan spells at St. Etienne, OGC Nice and Marseille later, William Saliba has finally ‘come of age’ and his manager, Mikel Arteta, shares the same sentiments,

“We made the right decision. He has to come back. He has the experience necessary to be competitive with us.”

“If he had stayed with us this year, with one Premier League match a week, with Ben White and Gabriel, he wouldn’t have had half the playing time he had with Marseille, that’s for sure.

“For his growth and what he can do next season that wouldn’t have been good. William wasn’t with us because he wouldn’t have had the playing time to gain experience. That’s it, there’s nothing else.”

With the Gunners looking to strengthen the squad this summer ahead of a grueling Premier League and Europa League campaign, quality players like Saliba returning to the squad are highly welcome, and we will finally get the chance to see him strut his stuff in the famous Red and White.

Sayonara.

Bonus Reading: The Curious Case of William Saliba

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Just Another Day After a Europa League Exit

Image result for arsenal lose to olympiakos

The Europa League draws took place earlier today and the Round of 16 fixtures were released as listed below

  • Istanbul Basaksehir vs FC Copenhagen
  • Olympiakos vs Wolves
  • Rangers vs Bayer Leverkusen
  • Wolfsburg vs Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Inter Milan vs Getafe
  • Sevilla vs Roma
  • Frankfurt/Red Bull Salzburg vs Basel
  • LASK vs Manchester United

If the Gunners had done what we expected from them in Thursday’s Europa League clash with Olympiakos, it would be an all English affair, with the winner of that fixture facing off against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final in the previous campaign saw them ease past BATE Borisov, Rennes, Napoli and Valencia before that embarrassing defeat to Chelsea in the finals in Baku. They bowed out in the semifinals two seasons ago, after a run that saw them defeat Ostersund, AC Milan and CSKA Moscow before losing to eventual winners, Atletico Madrid, and also denying Arsene Wenger his last hurrah in the club.

Looking at the projections, one expected the trend to be semifinals, finals and you know, but football just has a way of serving you that L. The defeat to Olympiakos in the Europa League still leaves a sour taste in my mouth and I can only imagine how our club captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, feels at the moment,

“I don’t even know. “It can happen but I do not know how I missed this chance.

I was tired, I had some cramps but it is not an excuse.”

The anguish wasn’t felt only by our captain. His teammates and the fans felt a kick in the gut as that turned out to be the last meaningful attack of the game. Yes, we expected to see out the Greek champions because we thought we were a superior side but in the end, teams get judged on their performances on the pitch and Arsenal wasn’t anywhere near good enough against Olympiakos in the Europa League Round of 32 clash, and have been eliminated from the competition.

Where do we go from here? We can start by providing a much improved performance against League One outfit, Portsmouth, at the famous Fratton Park stadium. I would expect Emiliano Martinez to get a run out in goal for the only competition he’d feature this season. I can imagine how it felt for Martinez, featuring in all the Europa League games only to lose his place to the more senior keeper in the knockout phases.

In defense, the likes of Rob Holding and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are due for a game and one wonders if we would catch a glimpse of the new signing from Flamengo, Pablo Mari. He played for the Under-23s in their loss to Chelsea last week and there were loads of good reports, while Hector Bellerin and Dani Ceballos watched from the sidelines. My main concern is the fitness of Skhodran Mustafi that turned out to be a vital cog in Mikel Arteta’s oiled up machine,

“I don’t know [how bad it is]. He said to me ‘I cannot play anymore’. I’m not sure if it was a cramp or a muscle injury. I am sure there will be a few of those [types of injuries] because players were exhausted, they played four times in 11 days and it was physically a very demanding game.”

Following this Europa League exit, the Portsmouth game is of heightened importance, as it offered the Gunners a chance of winning silverware this season, in a competition like the FA Cup, where Arsenal are the record holders with 13 points. We will get more information on the Portsmouth game in the coming days. Even though we don’t like the idea of it but it’s gonna take place on a Monday yet again.

Sayonara

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Arsenal 1-2 Olympiakos: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Image result for aubameyang goal olympiakos

Match Report Post-Match Press Conference

Final Result: Arsenal 1-2 Olympiakos

Arsenal XI (subs) (4-2-3-1): Leno; Bellerin (Willock), Mustafi (Sokratis), D. Luiz, Saka; Xhaka, Ceballos (Torreira); Aubameyang, Ozil, Pepe; Lacazette (Martinelli)

Following the slender win against Olympiakos in Athens, Arsenal expected to do enough to get to the next round at home, and with no match fixture this weekend due to Manchester City’s engagement in the Carabao Cup final, Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, fielded what we can assume as his strongest lineup available, barring injuries. However, the game went into extra time and Olympiakos’ Youssef El Arabi hit the sucker punch that eliminated Arsenal from the competition.

Like the 1966 movie classic, I will categorize yesterday’s game against Olympiakos using the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s get to it shall we?

The Good

 

You Can Always Rely on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the Goals

In the 25 Premier League games he has featured, Arsenal’s captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has found the net 17 teams, and when you add his three goals in other competitions, it has taken his tally to 20, 10 more goals than his closest goalscoring rival in the club, Gabriel Martinelli. Despite the fact that he has been shunted to the left wing to accommodate the ineffectual Alexandre Lacazette (more on that anon), Aubameyang scored what we hoped was going to be the match winner with only seven minutes to spare. However, Aubameyang had another glaring chance in the 123rd minute to be the hero of the night which he missed, and he has been very distraught. It reminds me of that miss against Burnley.

However, his contribution last night proved that he can be trusted upon to find the back of the net. 

Another Defensive Masterclass From Skhodran Mustafi

In the turn of the new year, Skhodran Mustafi has been a different beast and has continued to show massive improvement under Arteta, leaving Sokratis out of the team. Yesterday, Mustafi was at his best, making valuable clearances, blocks and interceptions, further endearing himself to the hearts of the fans. Sadly, he picked up a knock and had to be substituted for Sokratis. I’m pretty sure his absense played a role in the match winner as the defense wasn’t the same without him.  

I must really credit the German for his renaissance especially when he was shown the exit door and it seemed like we didn’t want anything to do with him following his high profile gaffes and blunders, but he has really improved and I hope this good form continues.

The Youngsters and their Hunger to Impress

Fate has smiled on Bukayo Saka this season as injuries to Kieran Tierney and more recently, Sead Kolasinac have allowed him to continue his footballing education as a left back and his creative juices have been flowing regularly as he currently tops the club’s assist charts with 10. He almost added another assist when he found Lacazette with a lovely drilled effort but he failed to time his run appropriately, thereby falling into the offside trap but in the extra time, he smashed in another sumptuous cross that went behind the predatory Gabriel Martinelli.

Speaking of Martinelli, I am quite bewildered how he lost his place in the team despite showing a lot of promise and scoring some vital goals but instead of retaining his place ahead of Lacazette, which will also allow Aubameyang play in the middle, he went further down the pecking order behind Eddie Nketiah. 

The performances of Saka and Martinelli have been haert warming and they will need consistent game time to continue to hone that brooding talent.

 

The Bad

Alexandre Lacazette’s Atrocious Form

Everyone associated with Arsenal football club, and at least, those that watch the games we have played are all in unison with one fundamental fact – Alexandre Lacazette is in the worst form of his Arsenal career. His decision making is poor, his shooting is erratic, he takes too many touches in the box before pulling the trigger and his off the ball movement hasn’t been impressive.

Most critically, he has found goals had to come by with just nine goals in 27 games.

It’s not like Lacazette selects himself every week despite the fact that he has been playing poorly, but this reminds me of the Granit Xhaka situation early in the season where he was in a terrible run of form but Unai Emery kept playing him every week, until things turned sour against Crystal Palace in October. I am hopeful it doesn’t get to that scenario with Lacazette but his form is a major concern for the club and it seems that there’s no signs of real improvement.

The Enigma Known as Nicolas Pepe

The jury is still out for our 72 million pound man but watching him this season, I can clearly infer that he’s a footballer that can offer you the best of both extremes from the amazing to the frustrating. In the same game, Pepe made me pull out some strands of hair from my beard and also had a moment where the Olympiakos goalie had to make a smart save to stop his goalbound shot. 

In all this we can confirm that Pepe is heavily inconsistent and Arsenal fans will have to come to terms with this fact. Yes, one should expect more from a record signing but when the player’s head is hardly in the right place most of the time, it makes you wonder. Just watch how he would probably score and assist against West Ham next week, like he did in the corresponding fixture but in a night when we needed him to step up his game, he failed woefully.

Mikel Arteta’s Lack of Tactical Ruthlessness

We can all attest to the fact that Mikel Arteta has been a very positive influence since he joined the club with most of the players coming to the media to share how life has been peachy and creamy with the new gaffer. We, the fans, have also seen how the football has massively improved from the shitefest we witnessed under Unai Emery and the club is going in the right direction with Arteta at the helm.

For starters, we have confirmed that the 4-2-3-1 tactical setup is here to stay and quite frankly, we have gotten some decent and encouraging rsults using that formation. However, there are some personnel changes that we expected Arteta to make, especially with the way the game was progressing but he failed to handle it. Even if we have been terribly disappointed seeing Aubameyang play on the left wing consistently, Lacazette had no business spending up to 105 minutes on the pitch, as his struggles in front of goal continued. I also struggled to see the value Joe Willock offered us and like Lacazette, he’s another player that has been in a poor vein of form. 

After the game, Arteta stated that the team wasn’t ruthless and was punished. If only he looked at the mirror.

 

The Ugly

The Team’s Lackadaisical Performance

I remember that first half against Leeds United at the Emirates where the team was so poor in the first half but managed to have enough in the tank to see out the SkyBet Championship outfit. Maybe the lads felt that the away win at Athens was a enough to see them through to the next round and all they needed to do was just show up at the Emirates but their visitors challenged them and had some chances to kill the game off, which they eventually did.

From the concentrations issues David Luiz showcased to Hector Bellerin clearly out of depth, the Arsenal rearguard looked out of sorts, without adequate protection from Ceballos and Xhaka. Lucas Torreira’s introduction shored things up but the Gunners were still vulnerable on the break as they sought to kill off the contest. Pepe was terribly frustrating in attack, Lacazette was woeful yet again and Aubameyang looked wasted on the left flank.

It’s shameful to see that they couldn’t hold on for seven more minutes against a side that was ready to defend as if their lives depended on it. But even after the disappointment of conceding late, Arsenal had a chance to put the game beyond doubt and the man you’d want on the end of such a chance was Aubameyang, but sadly, he fluffed his lines and that was it.

Bernd Leno’s Gaffe

If we are being honest, Bernd Leno was a spectator for most of the game and did what was required of him when the opportunities arose but he will not cover himself in glory in the role he played which ultimately led to his team’s exit from the competition. He is an excellent shot stopper on his day but he’s capable of doing something eccentric like his blunder against Chelsea last month.

He picked the wrong game to exhibit this unneccesary trait and one would wonder why Emi Martinez was not allowed to continue his stint as the Cup keeper. I guess, that’s all on the boss, Arteta.

 

There goes our chance of qualifying for Europe via the Europa League. I guess all eggs are going to be laid on the Premier League top four qualification basket.

Sayonara

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