Tag Archives: tackle

Guendouzi Appreciation Society

Let us take a moment to appreciate Matteo Guendouzi.

The young Frenchman has taken to the Premier League like Tottenham to a semi-final exit and defied his years to put in performances that have filled us all with optimism for his near future.

Joining as a 19 year old, we had been linked with some promising players prior to Guendouzi putting pen to paper, but all had fallen by the wayside. Guendouzi was the kid chosen, and from his displays so far, it appears we have made the right choice.

What makes him so special though? At the time of writing, the kid with the untamed hair has made 28 appearances so far in the campaign, a huge number for a player touted to make his mark first in the Under-23’s.

Guendouzi crazy hair
Guendouzi – The Lion-Haired Talent

Why has Unai Emery invested so much trust in the precocious youth? From what we have seen, one of the main reasons is his fearlessness.

In tight situations, both on the ball and in scoreline, Guendouzi has shown an incredible hunger for possession. He always shows for the ball, and even better than his desire to be on the ball is his instant decision to always be on the front foot.

What makes him different to the midfielders we have is that the sideways pass is his safety net, but his first choice is always to progress up the pitch. He can make that happen with or without the ball – Guendouzi is a decent dribbler and can carry when the need arises, and his eye for a pass highlights a decent eye for someone so young.

His transitional play gives us something we don’t have in our ranks and he has stamina to burn. We must remember his age and lack of experience, however.

At times his decision-making – the last skill normally developed by kids as they grow – has been found wanting, and the negative to go with the positives of youth is that they will make errors on the pitch. That is how anybody learns, and footballers are no different.

We as fans are an impatient bunch, and mistakes on the turf are always met with groans, but when he inevitably makes a boo-boo and puts the team in danger, we must give him the time to learn.

The problem with Guendouzi is that he has made remarkably few since joining the team. He has made a rod for his own back as we expect so much now from him.

Emery obviously realises that Guendouzi is a real talent, and his box-to-box mentality and style is an arrow in our quiver that gives us the ability to adapt tactically. Guendouzi’s midfield versatility is perhaps his biggest strength and it will make him a lynchpin in the side in a year or so.

We have an opponent with a high press? Play Torreira alongside Guendouzi and have the Uruguayan and the Frenchman sitting deeper and tracking. What if we have a team that are sitting deep themselves and willing to hit on the break? A midfield 3 perhaps or Xhaka with Guendouzi, to push forward but have Guendouzi’s pace as a contingency.

Either way, whoever partners Matteo will know they have a player who puts it all in, and leaves nothing behind. They will have a partner willing to muck in when the going gets tough, and the ability to make thing happen or at the very least, get the ball quickly to the dangermen who can create.

Guendouzi is a real find, and his progress rate is quite astonishing. Let us hope he is given the room to grow into the player we all know he can be.

Xhaka Can?

June was an interesting month for player developments in and out of Arsenal.

We had the recruitment team working overdrive, a new contract for youth prodigy Ainsley Maitland-Niles, and then there was the contract extension of Granit Xhaka.

This new derived a mixed reception from Gooners. Xhaka was one of the ‘villains’ of last season’s horror show, often his mistakes put under a large magnifying glass and pored over. His defensive work was viewed as a symptom of our downfall and weakness on the pitch.

An interesting article by Tim Stillman on Arseblog highlighted the Swiss midfielder’s vast improvement in the second half of the season though, and how he could yet still be vital to our hopes of success.

An upturn in form he may have enjoyed, but for the sake of objectivity, a spike in context means that there was massive room for improvement in the first place – as highlighted in this article on 7am Kickoff

For a central midfielder, his defensive skills need work. He was outtackled by the likes of Roberto Firmino last campaign, and while he improved in the second half of the season, to increase his defensive output would not have been difficult. Given that we have now acquired a specialist in this role in Lucas Torreira, where does this leave Xhaka?

Xhaka is very much a ‘square peg, round hole’ type of player. His all-action displays for his country and previous club Moenchengladbach gave high hopes of the combative centre man we have craved since Gilberto departed.

Granit is more than that though. While his tackling and interceptions may need work, his distribution success is amongst the best in the League. His eye for a pass and ability to transition play swiftly with a ping of his boot gives us something extra.

Granit Xhaka needs to improve

Unai Emery is now in charge and Xhaka’s contract extension would not have been offered if the Spanish boss didn’t have plans that included the Switzerland star. Emery is known to favour a pressing game, and if Xhaka is part of the Emery regimen, then it means that Emery knows that Xhaka has what it takes to continue to do what he does in attack, but also rework his defensive aspects.

The heat that Xhaka gets from our fanbase is a little much – but he is a scapegoat because his mistakes have been high-profile and highlighted by the media. Many other players don’t track runners with aplomb and / or lose out when tackling for possession. Yet Xhaka is a dud because of this.

There can be no doubt that the Granit from last season will not have much of a career at Arsenal under Unai Emery, should Xhaka continue with his lapses in concentration. He will need to hone his awareness, and make sure that he gets to where he needs to be. As Emery himself pointed out when commenting on Xhaka’s new deal – he is still young. that means there is room for improvement.

Xhaka has the building blocks to fill in the gaps in his game and be the player we need him to be, but there are justifiable reservations on his starting place amongst us all.

The fact is undeniable. We know he has the talent, but if he were to stay at the level he is now, then the exit door would not be far away. Emery demands more than what the vast majority of our squad put in last campaign.

Xhaka has a clean slate. It is clear he is very proud to represent The Arsenal. Now is the time to use that fierce pride and desire and leave it all out on the pitch, and adapt to Emery’s style.

It will be very interesting to see how he performs – the season can’t come soon enough.

Welcome To Arsenal – Lucas Torreira!

It’s official – Lucas Torreira is an Arsenal player.

Arsenal unveiled Torreira yesterday, with photos and videos aplenty coming from the Arsenal media team. His signing heralds a new dawn for our club, it seems to be the moment we have finally purchased a player who can cure the ills of our midfield of late.

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Torreira’s signing has cost the club in the region of 25m Euros, and with stats like his, it’s easy to see why.

Unai Emery was there to welcome the Uruguayan to London Colney, and told the Arsenal media team;
In Lucas Torreira, we have signed a young player who is a very bright talent in the game. A midfielder with great quality, I have enjoyed watching his performances for Sampdoria in the past two seasons, and we all saw him do very well for Uruguay in the World Cup. He is a young player already with good experience, but who wants to keep on growing. We welcome Lucas to Arsenal and look forward to him joining us soon for pre-season.”

Emery touched upon the diminutive midfielder’s amazing displays at Sampdoria, where he made more tackles than anyone in the last two seasons, showing he is consistent as well as combative – two qualities we have lacked at times.

He is no one-trick pony either, as he amassed 87% pass completion and averaged a chance created per game last season, showing he can mix it in the final third too.

Being only 22, he may need a period of acclimatization after he joins up with the squad in August, but when he picks up the pace of the Premier League, he has all the skills necessary to provide our team with the perfect destroyer in the centre of the park.

Torreira showed he has levels too, which may negate the need for a month or two of finding his feet. He appeared in all five of Uruguay’s games in their run to the World Cup Quarter-Final’s, and his displays were full of verve and strength, not once did he look out of place.

Torreira will wear the No11 shirt when he finally dons the jersey, and we may have to wait to see him make his debut, but we can rest assured that he is finally confirmed and he is definitely ours, after weeks of hearsay.

Welcome to Arsenal, Lucas Torreira!

Granit Xhaka – Surplus to Requirements?

The term ‘luxury player’ is one that was coined only recently, but only swims in the smallest of circles. It isn’t a phrase that is used across footballing circles, it is primarily implemented towards Arsenal.

It is used to describe a member of the squad that serves no purpose regarding the team, and their skills are outside the desired set that is utilised in the eleven. To put it simply, the team can operate without them.

Granit Xhaka is our new luxury player.

The phrase is derogatory, and unfairly brings to mind visions of Mesut Ozil, after the German fought off the tag for the better part of three seasons. Now, we’re all privy to the fact that Ozil is crucial to the hopes of our team on the pitch, and his recent decision to extend his stay at London Colney was met with joy amongst us all.

Granit Xhaka is still in the stage where he must fend off the slings and arrows delivered by experts, pundits and every rent-a-mouth the media can get their hands on.

We all have a tendency to cultivate scapegoats at Arsenal, but Xhaka is copping it fiercely from all corners. This article is being written on the back of two consecutive 3-0 defeats at the hands of champions-elect Manchester City, and Xhaka played in both.

The Swiss star was pitted against Ilkay Gundogan on both occasions. Xhaka’s partner was Aaron Ramsey, which demands a defensively-minded performance. Whatever your opinion on the Welshman, we can all agree that his strongest suit is in attack.

That meant Xhaka was mano-el-mano versus Gundogan. Both players are quite similar – excellent passers of the ball, good vision and plenty of miles in the tank. Yet Gundogan bossed the centre of the park, and Xhaka was left grasping at shadows.

Why?

Gundogan obviously benefited from being in the ascendancy as part of the dominant City team, but should he have given Xhaka the runaround? Not really, but the German midfielder has more of a defensive bent to his game, and as such, knew when he could rove forward.

Xhaka, as cultured as he may be, is anything but what we’re trying to mould him into.

Xhaka is a deep-lying playmaker. Yes, that does sound a tad pretentious, but it’s true. Think of Jack Wilshere in his last England stint. That role is perfect for Xhaka, as long as you don’t require him to track runners.

Keeping an eye on the attack of the opposing team is not Xhaka’s forte – and since he joined, it has been the same story. This weakness in his game has showed no sign of abating, and it gives our midfield an imbalance that astute managers can maximise.

Xhaka is the epitome of a luxury player. He can link play with the swipe of one boot, but a modern midfielder must perform all roles adequately, unless given license to run amok, a la Pogba.

A central midfield partnership needs one to sit back and one to attack. If the team is under the cosh a little, then both can bed into the trenches.

The problem with having the Swiss star in the side, is that whenever defending is needed, then we’re at a disadvantage. It isn’t Xhaka’s fault to a degree. His strengths lie elsewhere. We aren’t privy to what training he has had on the role, and if we’ve attempted to coach the defensive arts into his game. Xhaka hasn’t improved this side of the game since he joined though.

His passing stats are amongst the best in the league, but it has been pointed out time and again by pundits that his consistent failure to see to his defensive duties costs our team time and again. That is partly his blame and also Wenger’s.

This isn’t an attack on Xhaka, nor is it saying our woes are down to him alone. It is merely highlighting what we can all see – Xhaka doesn’t fit our midfield in the way we need him to – as a defensive midfielder.

We haven’t replaced Gilberto since he left. We’ve been chasing the elusive lynchpin in our midfield for quite some time. Xhaka is not the player we need right now.

Arsenal Engine Room Needs a Service

This season has seen the continuation of an enigma that our manager seems unable to solve.

Our midfield is an unoptimised machine that jars and shudders at crucial times in games. In figurative winters for our midfield, we turn the ignition but there is no spark – we are immobile.


We can be bypassed with a simple cutting pass and the moving parts that comprise our engine room are out of synch. Muddy waters blur the roles for our midfield pairing, and Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have so far sought the mysterious substance that gels pairs together with little success.


Since Mikel Arteta departed from The Emirates and Santi Cazorla started to battle his plagued ankle, we have used various combos to little effect. When compared to Chelsea, Man United and even tottenham, our midfield pales in comparison.


Where does the problem lie though?


At the time of writing, Premier League stats showed that Granit Xhaka was the third highest successful pass maker in the entire League. The Swiss star seems to be a real conundrum for not only Wenger – but our entire fanbase. Some have already showed him the exit, others struggle to find his strength, then there are others who lay the blame for his failings at Wenger and his midfield partner.




Xhaka perhaps is being utilised wrongly. The midfielder is being moulded or stuck in a defensive midfield position – but Xhaka is not a DM. Not yet at least. He is described by those in the know as a deep-lying playmaker, much like how Jack Wilshere’s role when he played for England last and was awarded a string of MOTM performances.


His passing as mentioned previously is one of the best in the league, but his defensive leanings – and those of his Welsh partner Ramsey – are seriously lacking. And this is why our midfield is absent at times.


The Premier League stats do not lie, and Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka have put in 34 successful tackles – combined – so far this season after eleven games. That is little more than three tackles per game total from both players.


No matter of high pressing can mask the fact that if we don’t win the ball back, if we don’t disrupt our opponents possession, it doesn’t matter how well we distribute the ball if we don’t have it.


To put this alarming stat into perspective – Roberto Firmino has made the same amount of tackles that Granit Xhaka has made. Mario Lemina has made more than both Xhaka and Ramsey.


A central midfielder is probably the most demanding of roles on the pitch. You need to be a master of both defence and attack, dictate play, keep a constant eye on your opponent and ensure you are in the right place at all times. Our midfield right now is not performing one side of their role – if they were in a real-world job, they would be in a meeting with their manager having a discussion about their failure to meet KPI’s.


The frustrating thing is that they are both capable of running the show – as displayed by our comprehensive victory over that lot down the road. They were everywhere and gave everything. 


Santi Cazorla is sorely missed not just for his infectious smile and insane two-footed skills. Despite his diminutive size, he gives his all in defence and can win the ball back. He tracks runners. We need an all-action midfielder.


If we are to continue with Granit Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield, then they both need to communicate and pivot. If one attacks, then the other sits back. It is such a basic requirement but it does appear that both players bunked this lesson. We all know that Ramsey has a penchant for attacking – he is rather good at those late runs that either distract defences or result in a goal. If the Welshman goes forward though, it is vital that Xhaka stays back and stands sentry.


The window is now open and we’ve tried valiantly to make this partnership work. 


If this basic part of midfield is not achieved, our gaping aperture in the centre of the park will continue to hinder any progress that we should be making. Our engine needs a service or a replacement.