Arsenal ‘Second String’ Better Than First Choicers?

Online Editorial: Liege dispatched comfortably in Europa League

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Supply and Convert - Tierney and Martinelli celebrate the opening goal

As with most of Arsenal’s Thursday night European home games, there were many season ticket holders that decided to pass on the 4-0 victory over Standard Liege. I’m not certain they could even offer their seats for re-sale through the club, given the large number of unsold tickets in the Clock End Upper reserved for silver and red members. Only one section of the stadium was packed, the blocks reserved for visiting fans. And fair play to the Liege support, who in spite of their team’s demolition, kept the noise going for the majority of the game, some of them without the benefit of wearing a shirt on a chilly autumn evening. Football fans, eh? Apparently their japes managed to get Kings Cross station closed earlier in the day – not so amusing that, and there was a significant police presence around the perimeter of the stadium last night, which is unusual.

On the pitch, many of the starters were as predicted, basically the players that didn’t start on Monday at Old Trafford, with the exception of Lucas Torreira. In front of Damien Martinez it was good to see a backline including Bellerin, Holding and Tierney, and you know what? Aside from one errant pass, Shkodran Mustafi had a good enough game. He and Holding have now played three matches together and not conceded once. Food for thought. Of course, you take into account the quality of the opposition attacks (Eintracht Frankfurt were an exception – they did enjoy more chances, but were profligate), but still, it suggests potential. The acid test would be a weekend game.

In midfield, Torriera played as the deeper man, with Ceballos and Joe Willock ahead of him. A front three of Nelson, Martinelli and the returning Ainsley Maitland-Niles made up the eleven. Maitland-Niles not playing at full-back in the first team feels like a bit of a collector’s item these days, although I was under the impression that central midfield was his favoured position. It was pointed out to me after the game that his playing at right-back may have improved his game all round, and that he looked far tidier in a more natural position. He certainly made a good enough contribution to be an option in this position for Emery. He did occasionally swap positions with Joe Willock, although it was noticeable once or twice that when Bellerin drove forward, it seemed to be Torriera that was having to patrol the empty flank behind him. A little more teamwork required there, although the game last night became so comfortable so quickly that the players probably felt they could afford to be a little gung ho.

Mesut Ozil was not even on the bench. Emery could have started AMN in midfield with Willock and Ceballos to make room for Ozil as one of the wide attackers, or simply play a different formation to accommodate the German in the number 10 role with Willock and Ceballos a little deeper. Maybe he has concluded there is no room for Ceballos and Ozil in the same eleven, although in that case, not to see the German even named amongst the subs was a surprise. The bench was actually very strong (and at 4-0 up, I was scratching my head as to why Guendouzi and Aubameyang needed to be risked). Anyway, back to Mesut, one of the five man captaincy group remember. My suspicion is that Emery has given the player chances this season with the instruction that he has to play the pressing game that the other players are under instruction to do. And he doesn’t do it convincingly. On the ball, he is tidy, and perhaps might have been more influential aside from a couple of key passes per game, but off it, Emery simply gets frustrated when he doesn’t have the impact others do in denying the opposition time and space. So he’s effectively given up. The press managed to make a story out of the head coach’s words on the reason Ozil was not in the 18 man squad for the game. He said, “I am thinking every time to decide the best players for each match and the best player for the squad to play and [who will] help us. When I decide he’s not in the squad it’s because another player deserves it more.” Conclusion – Ozil is not giving Emery what he wants.

There are future stars in the ranks though, and Gabriel Martinelli certainly looks to be one. Add him to the very promising (and current first team pick) Buyako Saka and there are reasons for hope. Martinelli scored two cracking goals early in the game, one from a header, the other a well placed shot into the corner of the net. It settled the nerves and made for an enjoyable 90 minutes. Joe Willock added a third before the interval – it’s a plus to have a goalscoring midfielder in the ranks – and the only dampener on the proceedings was heavy rain that came and went more than once over the course of the match. Martinelli tried to get his hat-trick and came close. His ball into the goal for Arsenal’s fourth was knocked across the line by Dani Ceballos, although it would probably have gone in without his touch. The Brazilian forward had a fantastic game. I was cautioned afterwards that Carlos Vela had an impressive start to his Arsenal career, but hey, football’s about hope, right? Martinelli looks stronger than Vela in terms of his ability to cope with the English game, and scores goals with his head as well as his feet. One to watch, and I’d like to see him come off the bench in the occasional Premier League game to get more experience against English opposition, at least in games which Arsenal look comfortable in.

Another new signing from the summer we haven’t seen too much of is Kieran Tierney, and he was so impressive last night. He outshone captain for the night Hector Bellerin, although in mitigation, Bellerin has been out far longer and needs more games to get up to speed. But you can see Tierney’s intelligence as a footballer, and it’s interesting to see how he is comfortable coming off the flank to get involved in the play. Celtic were reluctant to let him go for less than £25 million and you can see why. He’s 22 years old and has obvious quality.

It’s nailed on that Unai Emery will play most of the players against Bournemouth that started against Manchester United, but then an international break follows. Arsenal do not play again until Monday 21st October at Sheffield. So in terms of match fitness, it should be a clean slate. Tierney, Bellerin and Holding should be played if they are better than the current choices.

It was noticeable that Nicholas Pepe came on as the first sub – presumably because Emery wants him to get as much game time as possible to accelerate his adaptation to his colleagues and see improvement in his impact on matches. It feels like this is going to take time. His lack of progress is more marked because Alex Lacazette is not in the team to assist with the scoring. It’s early days. I’ve pointed out previously that his shooting seems to be a concern, but the other thing that the game at United made clear is that, rather like Ozil, when his team do not have the ball, he isn’t as hungry to get involved as he probably needs to be to keep his place. Last night, a bit of me wondered if Emery was giving him pep talks in French and the player simply nodded acknowledgement without understanding a word he was saying. One to keep an eye on anyway. At the moment, the much cheaper Martinelli looks like a smarter attacking purchase.

There are two ways of looking at last night’s performance. Does it indicate real strength in depth in the Arsenal squad… or does it tell us that the Emery’s first choice eleven does not consist of his best players? Damien Martinez pulled off a cracking save in the second half after Ainsley Maitland-Niles had failed to clear a ball across the area. Three of the back four are definitely contenders. And ahead of them, Ceballos, Willock and Martinelli all have a case for inclusion. Of course, Bellerin and Tierney would have started the season in the first eleven under normal circumstances and it won’t be long before they are doing just that. But Emery has food for thought in other positions, and a bit of competition for places can only be a plus.

Great victory, enjoyable display, just a shame Martinelli could not get the hat-trick, but he had an outstanding game, as did several of his colleagues, Tierney the most notable. Safe to say Arsenal will qualify comfortably from this group, it’s now simply a matter of whether they or Eintracht top it. Bournemouth up next.

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21
comments

  1. John F

    Oct 5, 2019, 13:54 #115078

    It says a lot about Ozil that he is not kicking up a stink about not playing.I get the feeling that he no longer enjoys football and is quite content to take the money ,live in London and concentrate on his skin care business he shares with Flamini.He is on easy street and is not going to move and in his mind why would he .Dick may be restricting his playing time to restrict any other bonuses he may have to pay him.

  2. itsRonagain2

    Oct 5, 2019, 13:07 #115077

    Dick has to take credit for the way the young players are doing so far. I do think though that it’s a club policy now to create and use our own players and when it works what’s better? Us long in the tooth Gunners have seen it all before. Billy Wright brought a clutch of kids through who later matured and won the double. Neill brought a few through and we did ok in Cups mainly of course under him. We all saw how GG did it and the array of great players who emerged under him and 2 titles and cups followed. In all these era s it was club policy and the manager was backed. I think Dick has that. Now, under Wengo, the young kids he brought in was done by dint of his hubris and arrogance. He was trying to defy the notion that only cash cd bring success. He was reacting to and trying to prove Mourinho wrong. He was allowed by the club to go off on his own arrogant tangent to show he could become ‘Barca lite’ I m sure he creamed off at that barmy label the media gave his teams at the time. What we do need though is at least 2 quality players in defence and midfield I think if these kids aren’t to be wasted. Maybe a new goalkeeper too. Leno s ok but I don’t think he’s of any great quality. In any team that bases itself on young players they’re only as good as the quality of the experience that are there to support them. We saw that in late 60s and early 79s and especially under GG. The balance we have right now isn’t quite right as I see it. We need shot first and foremost of Ozil because we can’t get in a better player than him till we do. It’s an albatross around Dicks neck. I’m sure he can’t wdit to see him out the front door. In fact, Dicks career at AFC could hinge on the resolution of the Ozil conundrum.

  3. Exiled in Pt

    Oct 5, 2019, 12:06 #115076

    In my opinion bringing the youth players into the first team is down to Dick ultimately he picks the team. Freddie may become a good coach in the future but after 12 months coaching the under 23's and 7 months coaching the under15's I think there are a lot of coaches through the youth set up that need praising for this group of lads coming through now and Andreis Jonkers for overseeing the changes made to the youth set up before he left. As for away days down the road is always good fun but Ayresome Park and the old Victoria ground highly entertaining...

  4. markymark

    Oct 5, 2019, 07:50 #115075

    I think a few have already said this but perhaps Unai’s contribution to Arsenal will be in the bringing on through of the Youth. They genuinely seem a cut above (Cesc and Jack exceptions) from the Wenger babes. I suppose later on the conversation may morph to who was responsible , Unai or Freddie? Sometimes things are just a combination of parts and you find out when the important part leaves. What I do think is that Vinay and his power points still looked and sounded better than Ivan and his Arsenal vision of spreading love in the third world (Barca lite ) Raul sounds a fixer ala Dein. Edu may be responsible for one of our greatest finds and Dick has at least brought some discipline to the ranks . Freddie could therefore be that magic ingredient that has helped create the mix. Arsenal are far more like a football club. I’d still rather be Arsenal than UTD at the moment . Maybe we are starting to see that blue horizon and that maybe without Unai

  5. markymark

    Oct 5, 2019, 07:38 #115074

    It’s Ron - Aylesbury was quite a brutal place back in the 80’s all Saturday night punch ups. I’d managed to get a whacking black eye prior to the game so ended up on the shelf via a ticket from a Tout looking a right mess ( this might actually of helped ) I’m not even a punch up man , got picked on so it was mentally taxing week ( I’d never have made the Marines) lol. I just kept my mouth shut and tried not to shout As I mentioned before one in every ten around me seemed to be doing the same ! Thing about White Hart Lane I thought, was it had a 48k capacity at the time. Highbury therefore should have been 65k+. The crushing at the dump was nightmarish. Highbury always felt full of space in comparison

  6. John F

    Oct 4, 2019, 20:53 #115073

    I might be wrong I think Pepe doesn't speak any English which must make it hard to settle. I think his confidence is so low that he is over doing it with the ball in a desperate attempt of trying to impress.A spell of coming off the bench to ease his way back in may help.Not brave Ron Dutch courage and I just couldn't get in our end it must of been the one match that for some strange reason wasn't all ticket (mid week night game)Arsenal filled their end early and shut the gates.Quite a few did the same as me but it was horrible in the shelf that's why I moved and took a sightseeing tour of the stadium.

  7. itsRonagain2

    Oct 4, 2019, 20:13 #115072

    Pepe seems to be a mystery but agree he needs patience. I think there’s a player in there but he seems shy and sort of not yet believing in himself. I always think for a youngster who s not a London lad or not British, London is nt an easy place to go and settle and play for Arsenal I particular. The Clubs history and tradition is there where there’s none to little with the other London Clubs. Once he feels he belongs he ll perhaps be ok? We ll see. You 2 lads up on the Shelf. Top guts and courage there you guys!! Still the worst place to be for a Gunners fan. Such odious fans Tottenham. The crudity and the aggression they’ve displayed for so long is a total contradiction to what they are as a team as they’ve always been powder puff chokers on the field. Gunners supporters are very lucky to have a rival neighbour like them I’ve alwsys thought. Laughing stock myth ofca club. Imagine having a giant of a neighbour to contend with who always put us in the shade like Ciry fans have more often than not had or Everton fans have to swallow. Unthinkable isn’t it.

  8. CORNISH GOONER

    Oct 4, 2019, 18:35 #115071

    I really felt sorry for Dick last night as you can only beat what is in front of you & it was a very cheering performance. But he still got flack from everyone on the internet ranging from "AFC just flat track bullies" to comments about his man love for Xhaka. He just can't win & is therefore a dead man walking but, if so, Raul needs to be talking to TOP replacements now. Allegri wants a full year's sabbatical apparently &, if AFC showed REAL ambition together with the attraction of London over Manchester then surely a deal could be done? The other candidate might be Enrique but he seems to terminate contracts very quickly, is a bit like marmite & is probably still grieving over the loss of his young daughter. But, as Ron says, the probability is that nothing will change, AFC will remain in the second tier of European Clubs through sheer lack of ambition. So we will lose Martinelli or he will just get fed up ( his spitting is coming on nicely & well up to PL standard already)? Other thoughts - Ceballos' running style reminds me very much of Pires & I am positive Pepe will come good - tall, athletic, strong, great skills - & just needs time, Vela & Gervinho he ain't!

  9. John F

    Oct 4, 2019, 18:28 #115070

    Mark you should of done what I did when I found myself on the shelf during Charlie Nicholas inspired league win .I managed to work my way down to the Paxton where a few other Arsenal fans were getting escorted out and told the policeman I was an Arsenal fan and was allowed to walk around the pitch into our end.Had to walk past the caged shelf though which wasn't pleasant but worth it.

  10. markymark

    Oct 4, 2019, 17:48 #115069

    Ron and SKG - I was on the Shelf when we kicked Spurs out of the Littlewoods Cup. Fury amongst the Spuds but 1 in 10 I’d say probably pulling the same pained , difficult to hold in emotion maybe a smile beginning to form face as me. To celebrate would have been suicide. The cup team is really coming on isn’t it. Is the difference Freddie ? We’ll never know if our previous Wenger hopefuls might have come on under really good guidance. For those worried about the M man , just have a look at Unai’s comments “he’s not a centre forward” yeah right that’s odd stuff from Unai and not overly helpful I’d say.

  11. itsRonagain2

    Oct 4, 2019, 16:38 #115068

    SKG - Ha Ha. Thats funny , pretending to be upset. We were a pair of cowards werent we really!! I confess though that ive been on the South bank at Highbury in a home game v Man City and actually managed a clap and a look of approval to visitors when Colin Bell once scored past us in a home defeat. We were shite and lost 1-2 that day. I felt like vomiting but i was smack in the middle of the mancs that day so self preservation ruled. Lord knows why i ended up down there that day. About 1972 must have been. Only ever went on the SB about 5 times in all the years.

  12. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Oct 4, 2019, 12:27 #115067

    Ron, I was also at that Albion game - sat on a wooden bench in line with WBA penalty area when Charlie let a throw in run across him and hammered it along the deck and I think in off the post - yes Jim Cumbes was the goalkeeper. We had to sit on this bench and make out we were upset at going a goal down. My Cortina overheated on the way home and we were stuck at Scratchwood services - away days you cannot beat them!

  13. itsRonagain2

    Oct 4, 2019, 10:55 #115066

    SKG - Charlie always brings to mind the years in my late teens going to away games. Torrid times on the terraces and outsdide of grounds after matches as a result of CG winding the homers up. He had merciless stick didnt he because of his hair and his general gait. Then Charlie would score and go and give the finger gestures to the crowds and drive them berserk. He d be sent off every week now!! Saw him make his debut v West Brom (im sure it was his debut anyway). We won 1-0 and Charlie scored. Slotted it into the corner past Jim Cumbes in goal. Me and my mate had got in at the Albion and and had to keep silent. They had a good side then. Astle and Brown and Co. Very difficult. Great days though. Always recall that match as my mate died 3 weeks later in a motorbike accident. Ray Kennedy - yes, he was another who it was obvious he had what it took to be a great player and he was wasn't he. Sadly, even better at Liverpool with better players.

  14. itsRonagain2

    Oct 4, 2019, 10:45 #115065

    Sadly, such is the modern game, if we do see M' elli mature brace yourselves for his mega buck move to Real Madrid in about 18 months/ 2 years time.

  15. Deighty

    Oct 4, 2019, 10:30 #115064

    Great display last night, maybe the first time I’ve seen all the team playing to the managers requirements. They did fade a little at 60 minutes but expected given the lesser game time most have had. Tierney looks good with a football brain and will very soon be first choice. Just don’t see AMN commanding his favoured central midfield position, for me he has never shown he has the footy brain to play there, nor the work rate either (one or the other is a must). Every other player last night justified giving the manager a 1st team choice dilemma

  16. ArsenalMagna

    Oct 4, 2019, 10:00 #115063

    When I saw Martinelli come on against Newcastle, even for just a few minutes, I was astonished at the maturity in his game already, and he always seems to have the aura of a really special player. I read yesterday on the BBC that he had several trials with United, and that Barca and other top clubs were monitoring him. Also that he is so highly rated in Brazil with many there thinking he'll be the next Neymar. Martinelli looks way better than Vela, and is far more driven. We really could be looking at someone at Neymar's level or beyond if he achieves his full potential. Also thought Tierney looked great, though made a few mistakes defensively. He can iron those out though, probably not with Emery's help mind!

  17. RobG

    Oct 4, 2019, 09:34 #115062

    "The press managed to make a story out of the head coach’s words on the reason Ozil was not in the 18 man squad for the game. He said, “I am thinking every time to decide the best players for each match and the best player for the squad to play and [who will] help us. When I decide he’s not in the squad it’s because another player deserves it more.” Conclusion – Ozil is not giving Emery what he wants." It really is obvious that the Club should move might and mane to get Ozil a loan deal in January. The situation is embarrassing. Even if we wind up paying half his wages, that is better than paying him in full, to do nothing here.

  18. GoonerRon

    Oct 4, 2019, 09:09 #115061

    Finally the EL group stages are worth watching. Very early days but Martinelli looks like the real deal - pace, quick feet, ice cold finisher, a bit of strength about him and a good work rate. You look at Tierney and can just tell he’s a really good player and could become exceptional - he will undoubtedly strengthen our first XI. And Willock is just getting better and better - it’s only a matter of time before he is a shoo-in for our first XI. This crop of youngsters have ‘something’ about them that previous incarnations of project youth didn’t.

  19. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Oct 4, 2019, 09:01 #115060

    Good point Ron about Charlie George coming into the team in the Fairs Cup winning season, he and Eddie Kelly and later Ray Kennedy gave us a glimpse of the future. Peter Marinello had some good Fairs Cup games but alas he never made it. It is just good to see a young Arsenal players proud to wear the shirt - unlike a few we could all mention.

  20. John F

    Oct 4, 2019, 08:48 #115059

    I am enjoying the Europa cup team this year as it makes a refreshing change from the slow disjointed displays for the premiership games.Of course you have to take into account the quality of the opposition but from what I remember in last season's Europa cup we lost to some tractor drivers.Tierney running down the wing and putting in good crosses is a reminder o f just what we have been missing and Martinelli for an 18 year old he already looks strong and something special .City and Barca will be keeping an eye on him.

  21. itsRonagain2

    Oct 4, 2019, 08:42 #115058

    It was refreshing to see. These players seem to offer more definite hope of progress than ever did those during Wengers project youth days. Fabregas apart and in truth he preceded the actual project youth period by a few years, the pthers never really made us think they would mature. Many never have. Martinelli really does excite though out of them all as you say. Its a bit like seeing the young Charlie George make his start in the game back in 1969 time! He was an obviously very good player at 19.