“The FA Cup Final. Wembley. What a magical stadium. Such great memories. What a wonderful cup. Arsenal. The Arsenal versus the Chelsea. What a game it’s going to be. WHAT A GAME – I wish I was out there playing myself. GOD. Those were the days. Well, it’s all down to you now, guys. What a game. Make it a spectacular game. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the occasion, BUT (softly whispered) WIN THE GAME…keep on going ‘til the last second. That’s what it’s all about.”
Mikel of a Week.
Call it a bit of luck. Call it a renaissance . Call it whatever you want. Mikel Arteta looks to be making good progress at Arsenal by doing exactly what they need – getting results.
After being well and truly Mourinhoed in the North London Derby, the Arsenal doubt had crept right back in at the start of this week. A week that saw them face the champions, then second place and perennial domestic cup winners in the FA Cup semi final. Few backed them to win both of those games, but they did.
Since Luiz returned from his suspension, Arsenal have gone with a 3-4-3 formation, starting with a 4-0 win over poor Norwich and culminating in the double scalp of Liverpool and Manchester City. I’m not saying Luiz is suddenly brilliant. But, Arteta is certainly getting the best out of him in this setup.
A big factor in these two results has been the support Luiz has had with dressing room photo ‘bad boy’ Kieran Tierney. The Scotsman has looked solid and accomplished in the left sided centre back role and was one of the standouts against a City side that only managed one shot on target – the first time this has happened domestically since 2014 against Stoke! He had an 88% pass completion rate, seven clearances and one assist, whilst allowing Ainsley Maitland-Niles to carry out his role of supporting the attack on the counter.
Speaking of the counter, we all know that Aubameyang is a gunslinger. His two finishes against City were of the highest quality and proof that his clinicality can win you big games. His three amigos of Lacazette, Pepe and Saka now also all look very capable within this system and of playing for a side fighting for top four.
Top four next season might sound hyperbolic, but a look at Arteta’s points per game would prove otherwise. Arteta is currently averaging 1.92ppg (in all competitions). When compared against the current Champions League chasers: Solskjaer (1.74), Lampard (1.80) and Rodgers (1.77) it’s easy to think the Spaniard, with his stare like a white walker, could easily be the Wednesday Night-King.
A couple of losses this week and in the final and this all looks very different. This is still a team in tenth place after all. But, Arteta has given the Arsenal fans (and possibly board) faith that he is the right man to get behind.
The Life of Pablo
‘You’ve given Pablo eternal youth’ Leeds fan Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (better known as Jamie Lannister) beautifully utters in the excellent video tribute to Leeds United’s stellar Championship title campaign. A season that sees Leeds promoted after sixteen years of trying.
Hernandez was first introduced to English football in 2012 after transferring from Valencia to Swansea. He featured heavily in Michael Laudrup’s team that won the League Cup in 2013, but has truly found stardom under Bielsa, at the ripe old age of 35.
Watching Leeds, it is abundantly obvious that Hernandez’s age is a key asset rather than a disadvantage. He is Bielsa’s brain on the pitch. To borrow an NBA position, he is the point guard. The man who demands the ball and orchestrates the attack. It is a joy to watch.
Bielsa himself has gone even further is his praise: “He’s a complete player from every point of view. There is a difference between experience and decisions.
“You have players with a lot of experience, but with a lack of lucidity when it’s about taking decisions. Pablo reads the needs of the team and he gives solutions to all the problems of the team and in each sector of the field.”
El Loco goes even further “I think he can make me a better head coach because I see solutions he is finding and decisions he is taking, that I only saw a very few times during my career.”
How fitting it has been that in Leeds’ relentless finish, Hernandez has scored vital goals against Swansea, Derby and that goal against Stoke.
With Pablo as the brains of the operation, Leeds aren’t falling apart this time.
Making Plans For Nigel
The revolving door was put back on its hinges at Watford this weekend with their third managerial sacking of the season. Reports of bustups with serial sacker Giampaolo Pozzo will not do you any favours but, based on football matter, the finest forearms in the business deserved a longer time in the sun.
In his first five games, Pearson’s coach impact saw a swing from 0.80 points per game to 2.00 – Klopp’s time as Liverpool manager has him at 2.05. Only Mourinho has had a more positive immediate impact this season.
Extended to over twenty matches, the three that came before him were at a dismal 0.50ppg whereas Pearson stood at 1.25ppg. Not to mention that, barring a miracle, the Hornets are safe for another year.
It is also important to remember that Watford were bottom of the league with nine points when Pearson took over. Survival alone is a big achievement.
At the time of writing, the charisma vacuum Claude Puel is 6/4 favourites to take the hot-seat, with Sam Allardyce second at 8/1. If I had a wish, it would be for football’s answer to Lord Sugar to go for the latter. They deserve each other.