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There have lately been heard whispers in the air that one Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has, if not entirely fallen out of love with his muse, lost that intense drive, the instinctive touch, the infectious joy – maybe even the jouissance as a Lacanian might say – of scoring goals which has been a defining passion of his footballing life. There were absences forced by personal challenges – made worse by these wretched pandemic days – which needed to be taken care of, and everyone in and around the club – including the world of Arsenal fans which let us be honest aren’t all universally the most understanding type – had offered him nothing but the most gracious support, and thankfully all that is behind him now. But even when he was starting matches this season wearing his captain’s armband he hasn’t really been quite himself: not in the way he moved lethargically in and around the penalty box, not in the way he carried himself without his usual inspiring positivity, and definitely not in the way he failed to find the back of the net in succession of matches which is most unusual for a player who has created a career out of scoring goals irrespective of how the team is playing or whatever else might be going on. 

So, it was all the more enjoyable, and reassuring, to see our talismanic captain back basking in the glow of his goalscoring passions on this Valentine’s Day, and (hopefully) announcing the end of this very unusual dry period with his first Premier League hattrick, which also took him to two hundred league goals in Europe’s top leagues. 

Even then, he was not my man of the match as Arsenal and Leeds served up an exciting afternoon of free-flowing, attacking football. Arsenal’s young number 7 – by all evidence until now a rightful heir to such luminaries of that shirt as Liam Brady, Robert Pires, Tomáš Rosický, or Alexis – Bukayo Saka produced one of those performances that can be called…unplayable, or at least nearly so. 

The starting line-up from Mikel Arteta promised a front-foot approach with both Emile Smith Rowe and the January loanee Martin Ødegaard starting together. Ødegaard nominally in the number 10 role and ESR occupying the left wing (or left inside-forward, as is preferred by Mikel)  in place of Nicolas Pépé, who might have felt a bit aggrieved by this snub given the upward trajectory of his recent performances, but one suspects that given the importance of our upcoming “away” match against Benfica in Europe this was a planned rotation from Mikel and not any judgement on the Ivorian’s contributions. Saka started on his customary right sided attacking role, and Aubameyang as the focal point of the attack which typically is the preferred role for his friend Lacazette, rested for this match. 

Thomas Partey’s injury opened the door for Dani Ceballos, himself returning from injury, to resume his midfield relationship with Xhaka. The center of the defense saw the Brazilian duo, Gabriel keeping his left sided role and his mentor Luiz to his right. Leno returned back from the one match suspension – and his deputy the lifelong Arsenal fan Matt Ryan having performed admirably in his absence now providing a sense of security on the substitute bench – with Cedric and Bellerin in the two full back roles where our options being severely limited with Tierney’s injury and Ainsley’s courageous leap into Sam Allardyce’s tactical brilliance. 


Bellerin – Luiz – Gabriel – Cedric 

Ceballos – Xhaka

Saka –  Ødegaard – ESR


The team from the very first minute showed that they are well prepared for the relentless intensity and fluidity of movements of Bielsa’s Leeds who -especially for a newly promoted team – play with fearlessness and verve that has given the PL this season some very memorable matches, and who can hurt any opposition at any stage of a match.    

Arsenal started purposefully with an aggressive press from the front, and a rare intensity in one-on-one duels that bodes well for the future. Leeds do not defend tactically with players positioned statically in spaces but always move in fluid formations allowing them to launch speedy attacks from any position at any time. Winning the majority of the duels and not allowing any Leeds player to even look up and notice the passing lanes was a noticeable tactic that Arsenal executed superbly all throughout the first half. The technical security provided by Ceballos and Ødegaard in the middle of the pitch – both adept at keeping control in tight spaces and Ødegaard particularly with a quality of touch, control and pass that was highly resistant against the manic pressing of Leeds – helped us to quickly release ESR and Saka who played mostly as inverted wingers, allowing them to assert control using their stronger feet, with Cedric and Bellerin overlapping on the outside. 

First ten minutes Arsenal were completely dominant with ESR and Bellerin shooting over the bar, Aubameyang involved in the build-up both times. Auba was moving with the sharpness and unpredictability of old that makes him such a threat especially against defenses that do not keep a low block. However, the first attempt on goal came from Leeds when following a rare foray down their left flank Bamford headed in a cross straight at Leno. 

The first goal came shortly thereafter. Following brisk passing between Gabriel, Xhaka and ESR on the left side of our midfield Xhaka found Aubameyang at the edge of the box with ESR darting inside and opening up some space for his captain. Auba cut inside, did a couple of stepovers and shot through the legs of couple of defenders. Even though Meslier had his near side well covered by narrowing the space he could just touch the ball on its way to the back of the net as he tried to make a save on his right. 

Arsenal 1 (Aubameyang 13’) – Leeds 0 

The match continued with Arsenal dominating play in the Leeds half and not allowing them to play out from the back. But whenever Leeds could bring the ball forward they showed that they have enough guile to cause us trouble. Around 19th minute Klich found a little space to control the ball and take a shot at the goal but it flew over.

Even though this is not the “Dirty Leeds” of infamy, and neither is Bielsa known for a tactics of overly enthusiastic physical challenges, Leeds was still prepared to use the rotational fouling that now has become the go-to strategy for opposition teams to counter the brilliance of Saka, who was being kicked around, again. Midway of the first half Alioski – a left fullback with #10 on his back – shot straight at Leno for Leeds second attempt at goal. 

Around 35th minute following a great combination play with Ødegaard, Saka drove purposefully in the box, ran past the defender, and was hauled down. There was a penalty given originally by the match referee which was overturned a few minutes later following a discussion between the VAR, the referee, and a ghost in the video screen that showed intangible visuals to the referee to make up his mind to second guess his perfectly fine original decision. 

To their credit Arsenal didn’t let this – if the words “surely not again?!” have bobbled up in the forefront of their mind they did well to not let that frustration show  – questionable decision sidetrack their purposeful play and earned an absolutely “un-VAR-overturnable” penalty when Meslier brough Saka down as Saka just stole the ball from the goalkeeper’s feet after a clever and relentless press. 

Our captain stepped up, sent Meslier the wrong way and sealed his 200th league goal in top European leagues with an emphatic finish. 

Arsenal 2 (Aubameyang 13’, 41’) – Leeds 0 

Just before the half-time whistle was blown the move of the match unfolded to get us our third goal in a manner reminiscent of the best Arsenal team goals over the years.  Saka again went on one of his unstoppable runs but this time stretching the defense from their left to right, right across the penalty box, keeping possession and weighing up his options as his fellow bandmates in red and white arrived in droves. After a brief hesitation he set Aubameyang up on the left side, who floated in a cross to the opposite side of the goal that Bellerin headed down to Ødegaard, who quickly found his fellow Madrid loanee Dani, after holding on to the ball for a second Ceballos found Bellerin by a “nutmeg-pass” and Bellerin finished sharply between the goalkeeper and the near post. 

Arsenal 3 (Aubameyang 13’, 41’, Bellerin 45’) – Leeds 0

All the three first half goals were immensely enjoyable, also equally enjoyable was a moment of beautiful total football by Arsenal that didn’t lead to a goal as Luke Ayling – another Arsenal academy graduate – produced a fantastic block to deny Aubameyang. It happened around 28th minute when David Luiz, after sweeping up a loose ball in an advanced position decided to go on a marauding run – instead of a quick long pass that he tried maybe a little too often until then – and was the most advanced Arsenal player on the right byline before providing a perfect cutback to Aubameyang who saw his goal bound effort blocked by an excellent piece of last ditch defending. All around good football! 

The second half, pleasingly, saw us started with the intensity undiminished. Aubameyang dropping deep protected the ball well and set up Saka for one of his runs right through the Leeds midfield, while himself quietly moving towards our right. Saka’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked, Cedric helped Saka out in recovering the ball and set ESR up who floated in a tantalizing cross (again, just like with Saka’s goal against Chelsea where he intended to score, I think ESR here saw Auba ghosting in on the backpost and set him up) that Aubameyang headed in for his first premier league hattrick. 

Arsenal 4 (Aubameyang 13’, 41’, 47’, Bellerin 45’) – Leeds 0

Bielsa had made two substitutes at the start of the second half and as Leeds have already shown this season, they had nothing but the most positive intent and the score-line made no difference to how they continued to approach the game. Dangerous Raphinha has been kept quiet by Xhaka-Cedric- Gabriel for the most part but when he got on the ball he produced a save from Leno. Leeds made their final substitution. Saka continued to torment the Leeds defense and earned Arsenal a free-kick, Xhaka floated in a decent delivery. 

Then Leeds scored. They have been poor at defending set-pieces but their own execution of the corner was excellent: Raphinha producing a great delivery with Struijk making a late run past Saka and jumping over David Luiz to plant an unstoppable header past Leno. 

Arsenal 4 (Aubameyang 13’, 41’, 47’, Bellerin 45’) – Leeds 1 (Struijk 58’)

On the 62nd minute ESR was replaced by Willian. The rational explanation would be that this is not any sort of reward for the misfiring Brazilian’s performances throughout the season but an attempt to play him back in form, and keep Pépé and Gabriel Martinelli rested for the Europa match. While understanding the rationale I wonder whether his position in the squad would be better served given to someone like Reiss Nelson who for all his inconsistencies is always involved and plays with purpose and intensity, and if his fellow Hale End graduates ESR and Saka are any examples to go by a consistent run of matches even if from the bench can definitely help the team more than someone who seems to be going through the motions at this stage of his career. 

Then Leeds scored their second goal with a brilliant piece of attacking football. Raphinha providing a through pass inside of Bellerin, Roberts flew past Hector to get to the ball and provided a neat cut-back for Hélder Costa to finish strongly. 

Arsenal 4 (Aubameyang 13’, 41’, 47’, Bellerin 45’) – Leeds 2 (Struijk 58’, Hélder Costa 69’ )

The commentators didn’t tire of reminding us that Arsenal remains the only team in PL history to not win from a 4-0 lead – and I remember that match at Newcastle rather well, including the nicest of footballers Abou Diaby returning from one more frustrating injury being fouled all through the match and losing his temper to earn a rare red card – and after the second Leeds goal I am sure most Arsenal fans relived that memory. We failed to control the match with 4-0 up and instead of keeping the ball and making Leeds chase the game we allowed them to attack easily. It was understandable that the first half intensity cannot be maintained for the whole ninety minutes and a bit more guile and ability to slow the tempo down – especially from the seniors like Xhaka and Luiz – would have served us well. The match remined open and Arsenal continued to attack as well: Aubameyang hit the bar, Ødegaard’s goalbound shot was deflected, Saka hit the post albeit from an offside position. 

In between Mikel had brought in Elneny for Ødegaard around 78th minute to provide more defensive security, which Mo did with his characteristic tenacity chasing and hurrying Leeds midfield. 

On 87th minute Cedric produced a superb right footed effort on goal from outside the box; the swerving dipping shot produced a good stop from Meslier. Holding was brought in for Ceballos to further shore up the defense in the final moments of the ninety minutes.  The additional minutes went by without too much scare on either end, in between Auba receiving a couple of kicks on his legs. Just before the final whistle was blown Aubameyang raced through with the ball from a counterattack following a Leeds corner but he was brought down. 

The first 45 minutes of this match Arsenal probably played some of their best attacking football in the last few years, Aubameyang thriving in a free-flowing role as he expertly exploited the positional uncertainty created by the continuous movements of Ødegaard, Saka and ESR. Not all teams will play like Leeds and have this open a match and in those cases there will of course have to be different tactical tweaks — but the fluidity, passing accuracy, technical security provided by those three, and ably supported by Dani, shows the progress we are steadily making as a team. 

In Saka and ESR Arsenal Academy has produced two most promising young talents to have come through the ranks in a very long time. Per Mertesacker, Freddie Ljungberg, Steve Bould and everyone else involved – past or present — in our youth academies should be proud of those two boys.  

68 Drinks to “Captain Auba and The Art of Scoring Goals – A Valentine’s Day Romance”

  1. 1
    TTG says:

    How nice to read a report that is both insightful and positive as well as correct factually . So much of the Goonerverse spends its time chipping away at the coach despite winning results like last night.
    Bielsa might not be listened to closely but he said two things yesterday – he wa outcoached by Arteta and we won because of Xhaka and Ceballos . There was much more to it than that but if you press a side that is as mobile as Leeds you need a strong central core . We also had fluidity and a very dangerous striker . Lovely to see him back
    Great work Dr.F!

  2. 2
    Silly Second Yella says:



  3. 3
    Countryman100 says:

    Dr F, I enjoyed the football analysis but is it necessary to bring in obscure French psycho analysts ( and I only know that by googling)? Get thee to Pseuds Corner.

  4. 4
    Potsticker says:

    A tour de force of a report, Dr. F! Although now C100 has me confused – was the reference to an obscure French psychoanalyst, or to our other French striker (as I had assumed)???

  5. 5
    Countryman100 says:

    I believe Dr F was referring to this chap

  6. 6
    Goonersince54 says:

    Fine summary Dr F
    Good to see such a positive reaction to the 2 very very disappointing results last week, which it may take me till next season to get over. !!
    if anyone was in any doubt about what ESR brings to our game, you only had to look at how the balance and shape of the team changed once he was subbed.
    All the little things he does that go unnoticed, constantly chasing back to help the defence, next minute popping up in the front third linking an attack, covering every blade of grass in support of his team mates, something the person who replaced him, who from this moment on I will only be referring to as ” the passenger ” either cannot or won’t do.
    Given how long both Ceballos and Ode have been out of action, I thought they both did well, and more importantly got some good solid minutes into their legs, which given the hectic schedule coming up, will help the squad no end.
    Auba returning to something like his old self is also a bonus, and it will be very interesting to to see whether we see the same line up next Sunday against City, but whoever starts, we have to have the same courage and self belief to play on the front foot, as we did in this game.
    A final word on the Saka penalty incident, I have to say having seen it several times, I would have been very unhappy if that had been given against us.
    Players go down now at the slightest touch, and whilst the Leeds defender does contact Saka with his arm, I cannot in all honesty see how that can constitute a spot kick.

  7. 7
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Excellent report and analysis Doc. You’ve got the tactical battle spot on. Nice one.

    Lots of good things to take from the game. Benfica next, which is an important game. And then we face City who are in awesome form.

    Err, I think I’ll just enjoy these three points for a couple more days…

  8. 8
    bt8 says:

    Cheers Dr. F., I will read and comment soon.

    Just wishing at the moment I had put in a cheeky punt on the Hammers to be above Liverpool in the table after 24 games. Not just for the monetary return either. The bragging rights would be phenomenal.

  9. 9
    Osakamatt says:

    Excellent report Dr F, thanks.
    Good win and the first half was
    reminiscent of the Wolves game,
    except of course the game changing
    penalty went our way eventually.
    I see the Shitty game as a free hit
    at popping their balloon, time for
    them to be reminded it’s an
    unpredictable season 😁

  10. 10
    Osakamatt says:

    The Gary Neville of shrinks😉

  11. 11
    bt8 says:

    Thanks Dr. F for your fine review. Must say Saka was spectacular, Auba was amazing and David Luiz was dynamic. Smith Rowe’s center was scintillating. CebXhaka was more than adequate as the large man on the stool has pointed out. COYG

  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    Good going, yet again, Dr F. My only tiny disagreement is that I though Meslier left far too much space at the near post for Auba’s opener. I don’t know whether the keeper got his angles wrong or shifted left in anticipation of Auba’s trademark curler towards the far post. In either event, a striker of Auba’s quality is not going to let an opportunity like that go begging.

    C100@3: Pseuds Corner? The theory of the three registers of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real forms the skeletal framework for the various concepts and phases of most of Lacan’s intellectual itinerary.. And that is from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@9: If Arteta can get the team playing Arteta ball, I think we can give City a game by going toe-to-toe with them. Leicester might be the more challenging of the two games because Brendan sets them up to counterattack.

  14. 14
    bt8 says:

    Wikipedia also cites Lacan’s influence on the psychobabblers of Ljubjiana. Just saying.

  15. 15
    Osakamatt says:

    Ned, yes I agree, that game may
    be a great one to watch.
    On the other hand I would dearly
    love to stick a spoke into Leicester
    as the home loss this season rankled.

    On Meslier, I read some comments
    that he gifted us the first three.
    The second certainly, but I thought
    the first and third to be a bit harsh
    – just wondered what you or others

  16. 16
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@15: I said in the previous drinks that I was ‘glad their keeper gifted us a three-goal cushion’ which may have been a bit glib. That said, however glibly, no keeper is ever happy about being beaten at their near post, as Meslier was twice. For our first goal, Meslier left too much space uncovered on his near post for Auba to take advantage of. Bellerin’s strike just beat him for pace. But should he at least have got a body part in the way? Where an error becomes a gift, I will leave to you and others. No doubt about the beneficence of the penalty, however.

  17. 17
    Osakamatt says:

    oh, I hadn’t realised you were one
    of the commenters and only meant
    it generally Ned.
    I thought Auba has earned the extra
    foot by sticking so many in at the far
    post and it’s just a benefit of being a
    great striker – the keeper is more or
    less forced to take the risk.
    On the third Hector whacked it and
    the luck went his way, but the move
    deserved a goal for the great passing
    that set up the chance.
    Just my opinion of course. Next I think
    I’ll ponder who would be an upgrade
    on Hector at RB – Soares is ok but only
    a short-term solution at best and no one
    jumps out at me in the PL just now.

  18. 18
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@17: No problem. And you are right that if you give great strikers like Auba a foot of space they will punish you.

    We have, somewhat unexpectedly a full-back problem. Hector is not back to what he was. Tierney is a constant injury worry. Cedric is a useful back-up for both and maybe should be starting on the right instead of Hector. No one is coming up through the ranks. We need a back-up left-back urgently and a first choice right-back in the middle term.

  19. 19
    BtM says:

    A grand summary. Some excellent play by Arsenal.

    Play better. Keep winning.

  20. 20
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:


    I reckon Meslier leaves Auba too much space for the first goal. If the shot had been right in the corner then fair enough but it is feet inside the near post and not the cleanest strike. The keeper is positioned too far over. I’d be annoyed if Leno let that in.

    For the third one he is a bit unlucky in that he is always gonna get stick for not saving it but sometimes those low driven shots just squirm in.

    The second one is all on him. My only issue there is that I have no idea how he escaped a mandatory yellow card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity two games after we were all told that Pawson had no choice but to send off David Luiz for not trying to tackle the ball or man, but that if he had tried to make a tackle it would have been a yellow.
    That should be a yellow for the keeper all day and I cannot see how the ref has not given it unless he doesn’t know the rule.
    Any clues anyone?

  21. 21
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    As ever, the inconsistency of refereeing is as frustrating as the quality.

    Still, if we attack consistently like we did against Leeds it shouldn’t affect us so much.

  22. 22
    bathgooner says:

    Good stuff, Dr F.

    The green shoots we saw in the first half at Wolves and the persistence, albeit unfulfilled, displayed at Villa have culminated in this fine performance and victory. Real progress.

    Now we can imagine better things for the rest of the season (if the improvement is sustained). Revival of St Totteringham’s Day would be a symbolic achievement but we aren’t the real deal yet. Happy days in Pseuds’ Corner.

    Although the points gap to top four appears ridiculously small given our travails this season, I fear there are too many teams between us and fourth place for a ECL league position to be a real prospect for the end of this season. But that has to be the target for this team.

    As Clive says, it will be essential to take the same front foot approach against Shitteh.

    Sursum semper, muchachos.

  23. 23
    North Bank Ned says:

    GSD@20: Saka had his back to the goal and was moving away from it when Meslier fouled him. I guess the ref would say that was not a clear goal-scoring opportunity denied.

  24. 24
    Countryman100 says:

    What’s the view in the bar on priorities? My own is that the Europa takes priority because it’s a competition we can win, and if we do, not only is it the first European trophy for many years but it has the added benefit of CL qualification. So I would play the best team available on Thursday (no buggering around with the goalie for example) and then reassess for Sunday and City. Keep rolling that forward as/if we progress. No resting players for league matches (or playing Willian).

  25. 25
    Countryman100 says:

    I mean no resting players from Europa to save them for league games.

  26. 26
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Ned. You’re probably right. That’s enough for him to get away with not giving the card.

    Of course, compared to some of the other situations that have been deemed goalscoring opportunities I’d say it is at least as clear, so we are back to the issue of consistency.

  27. 27
    Osakamatt says:

    I just watched the West Ham
    vs Sheff Utd highlights.
    For Wham’s penalty, their guy
    is basically scythed down just
    before he shoots. The Sheff Utd
    player only gets a yellow.
    Is that actually correct under
    the current rules?
    It is baffling to me as it was far
    worse than anything Luiz did.

  28. 28
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:


    I think there is real danger in putting all our eggs in a cup competition. One bad day, or bad decision, or just plain old bad luck can screw you. There are good sides left in the draw so we could easily get beaten fair and square anyway. And if you lose then the rest of the league season is hard to get up for when everyone knows it was second priority.

    I think a good run in the league would get us Europe. It is still close on points and there are a lot of unexpected results. I also think the measure of an improving team is the league. That should always be priority and will stand the emerging talents in this team in good stead for next year. I think we still have a good opportunity to do well in the league.

    My approach would be not to play a clear first/second team in different competitions. I’d mix it up and play teams that I thought had a good chance to win in both competitions, whilst allowing some rest for those that need it. (Like leaving Pepe out against Leeds) I’d play Leno in both.
    The further we go in Europa I’d then start to play full strength there.

    Our current second string team could be:

    Chambers, Luiz, Mari, Cedric
    Elneny, Ceballos,
    Nelson (Willian urgh), Gabi, Pepe,

    First team:

    Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney
    Partey, Xhaka,
    Saka, Ødegaard, ESR,

    There is enough quality in the second string that I’d be happy to swap around some of the attacking players and the central defenders. Full backs and central midfield are where our second string players are notably inferior, so I think the rough calls will be around those places. Getting Tierney back after some rest would be so useful. As would Ceballos continuing to play well.

  29. 29
    bathgooner says:

    Agreed C100 @24. It’s worth prioritising the EL.

  30. 30
    Osakamatt says:

    We have Benfica, City (H), Benfica,
    Leicester (A) between Thursday and
    the end of the month.
    Benfica has basically become two
    overseas trips and the turnaround
    is especially short after the second
    Benfica game.
    It’s a difficult call to be honest but
    if we have players needing a rest in
    that run then I would rest them for
    the first Benfica game. We are still
    close enough in the PL with 14 games
    left to have a shot at a CL place.
    I would play Leno in all the games
    though as I trust Ryan as cover if
    something happens to Leno.
    Given our inconsistency, winning the
    EL or getting a CL spot from the
    PL are both long shots but at this
    moment I would prioritise the PL
    if only because not doing so sends
    a bad message to the players.

  31. 31
    North Bank Ned says:

    OM@27: Apparently, it is correct. Yellow for clattering the opponent going for the ball but red for not doing anything. The ass is a law. Rearrange into a well-known phrase or saying.

  32. 32
    bathgooner says:

    Having said that @29, I think GSD’s analysis @28, is a good strategy.

  33. 33
    bt8 says:

    Interesting comments above about relative priorities for EL and PL. I must agree, and suspect that Mikel agrees, with both GSD and C100 even though they disagreed with each other. Many angles to consider but my team selection will be announced in the preview. With only two competitions left, some eggs should go into both baskets, just how many is the question.

  34. 34
    North Bank Ned says:

    Another way to look at the EL v PL prioritisation is to ask in which competition is team strength the more reliable predictor of a win. The unpredictability of the PL this season might mean that team selection correlates less to outcomes than in the EL, in which case it would make sense to play the first XI in the EL to maximise the chance of success if success is defined as playing CL football next season.

  35. 35
    ecg says:

    I hope that Arteta focuses on both but with a measured approach and an eye on fitness. I would like to see a full strength squad on Thursday to put in a few goals for a win, and allow us to rotate for the second match. As for Sunday against City, I would not take chance with players fitness (especially the likes of Tierney and Partey but also Saka and ESR) as we are unlikely to win the match anyway.

  36. 36
    'desi'gner gooner says:

    In terms of prioritising either of the two competitions we are involved in, it doesn’t have to be one or the other as pointed out by GSD. We could take a further nuanced call on this based on the away leg and the home leg. The team has come off an 8 day gap between two games before the Leeds game. The first leg against Benfica is the away leg and I personally think that we should play the same eleven (or maybe maximum one change with Pepe coming in for ESR or Odegaard) and throw the kitchen sink at it for the first 60-65 mins and score 2-3 away goals and shut up shop after that. The players who have run more (especially full backs because we already have one injured and Maitland Niles leaving leaves us short for cover) can then be substituted so that they can play again on Sunday against City. Also scoring away goals and taking that lead into the home leg would also enable us to rest players for the home game later. A similar approach can be taken in further rounds of the Europa league.

  37. 37
    Esso says:

    Cheers Dr F!

  38. 38
    Countryman100 says:

    Good points desi @36

  39. 39
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Good points Desi.

    Personally I’d definitely start Pepe against Benfica. I’d bring Holding back. Maybe Mari. I’d rest Saka and ESR or Auba or both and play Laca and Gabi. I’d keep Ødegaard in.

    Again, it is just me, but I’d put out a full strength team against City. That is the game all of them wanna play, it is the true test of where we are at. I don’t think a loss would unduly affect anyone but a result could be a huge boost before a lot of big games to see out the season.

    City would not fancy Saka, Ødegaard and ESR behind Auba. Not one little bit…

  40. 40
    Goonersince54 says:

    No Debate
    EPL the priority always.
    You only have to go back to Unai Emery clearly favoring the EL over EPL, when we threw away 4th place.
    Chelsea in contrast did the opposite, got the CL place ahead of us, and then worried about the EL, and of course won it. !!

  41. 41
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Potsticker, I meant Jacques Lacan as Countryman clarified. But now that you mentioned I can see that there could have been an opportunity to try out and expand that further… 😂

    Countryman: Lacan is anything but obscure as Ned clarified. 🙂 The jouissance reference was apt in the context of Auba’s passion for the art of scoring goals. Was it necessary? Is beautiful football necessary? 😉

    OM/bt8: I enjoy Lacan’s intellectual callisthenics though I will never trust any Lacanian to be my therapist. 😉 Same with the most devoted Lacanian of our times, the “philosopher” Slavoj Žižek. Immensely enjoy reading his clever and often amusing writing but will never look for any true wisdom in that.

    About the rotation question I am more aligned with Desi’s suggestion. I also believe — as Countryman mentioned — that Europa is very winnable. Of course a few things will need to go our way as is airways the case with a cup run but none of the teams in it are much further ahead than us in terms of quality.

  42. 42
    TTG says:

    The nuanced position is it as Desi says. I think the EL is winnable and offers an easier chance to get into the Champions League and that is essential financially . If we are in say ninth in late March and in the last 8 of the EL our priorities change

  43. 43
    Uplympian says:

    A belated thanks for a very fine & detailed match report Dr F.
    In my view we should play the strongest team at our disposal for both competitions. A positive approach at all times. Fate will conspire with injuries, fatigue & red cards – just one game at a time & see where it takes us. Keep playing the good stuff and good wins will follow.

  44. 44
    Osakamatt says:

    Lots of good points above.
    As a couple people mentioned the
    situation is fluid.
    Full back and CM are both an issue
    but I will wait for bt8’s preview to
    sort it all out 😄
    It’s a boost that Cedric is playing ok
    and Martin has started well

  45. 45
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Matured from Leno.

    Leno wary of social media as report highlights Xhaka & Bellerin abuse

    And whichever “Arsenal fans” , even if they are “season ticket holders” should be banned by the club for the kind of abuse reported above to Xhaka and Bellerin.

  46. 46
    Goonersince54 says:

    Some good news.
    KT took part in training this week.
    Can’t see him playing against Benfica, but a possible for City game at the weekend.
    No sign of TP, so a while yet before he resurfaces.

  47. 47
    Kylian Mbappe says:


  48. 48
    TTG says:

    We have agreed to sign Ceballos in the summer for £25 m according to reports circulating this morning

  49. 49
    Countryman100 says:

    KM – I’ve been told that stands for Barcelona Must Be Destroyed. Correct?


  50. 50
    North Bank Ned says:

    That would be a bottom-of-the-range price for Ceballos and on the face of it a sensible buy as back-up/cover for Thomas Partey in the dual pivot with Xhaka. It also suggests that neither Torriera nor Guendouzi will return to the club and that at least two of AMN, Elneny and Willock will be sold in the summer.

    Will Real sell us Ødegaard, too?

  51. 51
    North Bank Ned says:

    Barca seems to be doing a good job of self-demolition, C100.

  52. 52
    Countryman100 says:

    That they do Ned. Why Pique is still playing at this level defeats me.

  53. 53
    TTG says:

    The Ceballos news came via Charles Watts who is usually very reliable and gets to hear a lot of stuff at an early stage . I’ve heard from another pretty good source that Arsenal are looking to extend the loan deal for Ødegaard across the whole of next season ( they are also going to buy Mat Ryan ) . I have to say these look sensible moves to me. Ceballos at his best is a very decent midfielder as we saw on Sunday . But he does have dips in form .

  54. 54
    Countryman100 says:

    But Arteta is a top coach, especially for midfielders. Dani will (already has) improve.

  55. 55
    Spartacus says:

    Hello playmates. I’m hungry. Can anyone hold up a bacon sarnie?

  56. 56
    TTG says:

    I’m Spartacus !

  57. 57
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@53: Good to hear that Ryan is to be bought, and there are plans to have Ødegaard with us next season. The squad is starting to come together in Arteta’s likeness. Left-back cover is the other immediate problem to be fixed.

  58. 58
    North Bank Ned says:

    Spartacus@55:Are you Arthur Askey in disguise?

  59. 59
    TTG says:

    I’ve started to understand how the media relations at Arsenal work . It’s a bit like Government. A few years ago the press was full of stories placed by agents which had no substance but recently the ‘ leaks ‘ occur through a few ITK journalists mainly Chris Wheatley, Charles Watts and Layth Yousif and they are given precise pieces of information by the media team rather than hanging around at service stations to see who was meeting who. If you look at tye last window we weren’t linked with many people but the stories coming out were pretty accurate . Ryan was a surprise but the purchase of a no 2 keeper was not . Ryan has actually burnt his boats a bit with Brighton and has had to apologise to their fans after commenting about ‘ moving up a level ‘ with Arsenal. Not very diplomatic!
    A story has come out today that we are parting company with 9 players. I’ve not read it but I suspect these are Chambers , Bellerin , Guendouzi, Torreira , Nketiah , Lacazette , Willock, Kolasinac and AMN . These would be sales and even in a depressed market might raise £ 120 m in cash and save about £ 30 m in salaries . I’d expect Nelson to leave but possibly on loan,
    Luiz is being offered a player/ coach contract apparently and Mavropanos is pulling up trees in Germany whilst hopes are rising that we will keep Balogun . Certainly if two strikers leave there is a vacancy! The mystery is Saliba – I think we’d all like to see him make it at Arsenal but I don’t see them keeping the top four CBs we currently have as well as Mavropanos and him . But a plan looks to be taking shape

  60. 60
    North Bank Ned says:

    TTG@59: I suspect that what you describe has been the Arsenal way to prime the media for some time, with Ornstein being the main conduit when he was still at the BBC. The club has no control over agents, who will talk to the press for their own purposes regardless.

    Your departing nine look a reasonable for-sale list.

    Guendouzi, Torrieria and Kolasinac’s time with the club is clearly over.

    Chambers does not appear to have clambered back into contention; he is at the wrong end of the CB pecking order, and his only opportunity might be as a backup DM for Xhaka, but it is a long shot especially if Elneny stays.

    Laca should be cashed in on this summer; we shouldn’t renew his contract when it expires in 2022 by when he will have turned 30.

    Nketiah is a difficult call. His contract also expires in 2022, so it is extend-or-sell this summer. He seems to have stalled this season but then hasn’t been given a run in the team. Chicken or egg? I don’t know. He will have suitors and score a lot of Premier League goals for some team over the course of his career. Letting him and Balogun go this summer seems unlikely, however. What the latter decides may settle the former’s fate.

    Willock is another one who should end up with a decent Premier League career, but probably not with us. His skill set doesn’t quite fit Arteta ball. Youngsters are coming through who do (Azeez, Cirjan, Patino, Cottrell, Smith).

    I prefer to keep AMN. He is one of those utility players that all squads need. Whether he will stay to fill that role after getting to play regularly is another matter.

    Part of the David Luiz as player/coach idea, I assume, is to provide some insurance against Saliba not working out on his return. Mavropanos has only managed two full 90s for Stuttgart since returning from injury so it might be a bit early to judge his tree uprooting.

    Which leaves Bellerin. Long-term, we need to strengthen at right-back, and Bellerin has suitors. I can’t see him leaving before bringing in more full-backs as there don’t seem to be any outstanding prospects coming up through the ranks leaving just Cedric and the intermittently fit Tierney.

  61. 61
    bathgooner says:

    Nice summary Ned @60. That all seems very sensible.

    Yet when have you seen The Arsenal do ‘sensible’!

  62. 62
    TTG says:

    A very sensible analysis as usual. The other complication is the homegrown rule which may mean we have to retain AMN or Chambers or Willock . Promoting Azeez or Patino would be an ambitious and exciting move and it might make sense to replace Runarsson with Okonkwo because the Icelandic lad isn’t good enough to take a first team place as a non homegrown player . Cottrell is another who might break through as well . I hadn’t realised Mavropanos had played so little because although he is very injury prone I was told he had been doing very well in Germany . Bellerin is homegrown but if we can find good English full backs we would be well placed. Justin is one possibility but he has sustained a horrific injury and Mitchell at Crystal Palace is another . But English players carry a huge premium

  63. 63
    Goonersince54 says:

    An excellent article by Tim Stillman over on Arseblog about ESR.
    Well worth are a read, and reinforces my and others comments in the bar after Leeds game, about how the balance of the team was disrupted when ESR was subbed off on the hour.

  64. 64
    Goonersince54 says:

    City cruising to victory at Everton this evening in their catchup game.
    And just to cheer Arse fans up, I notice that both De Bruyne and Aguero are on the bench, just in time for our game on Sunday.
    I also noticed that Saliba not in the Nice side or on the bench, in the 3 -2 defeat away at Marseille this evening.

  65. 65
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Clive @64 : Saliba didn’t play not because of injury or anything like that but simply because he was not eligible. Why you ask? Explanation here … https://dailycannon.com/2021/02/the-bizarre-reason-saliba-cant-play-for-nice-on-wednesday-night/

    He has been playing very well since his return to Ligue 1. Hope it continues for the rest of the season.

  66. 66
    TTG says:

    Greetings Clive
    You are right to highlight Tim’s article . I honestly believe that ESR has transformed the whole team but I reject the idea that Arteta got lucky by blooding him as some Arsenal supporters are saying . Every manager has to identify the resources he has and Arsenal clearly had some stellar talent rising through the ranks. Dave asked me to write about the Youth Cup Semi in 2018 and I mentioned then how impressed I was with Saka , ESR , Ballard and John-Jules among others but you didn’t need to be very perceptive to see how good some of those lads were .
    I think not only has ESR improved the team extraordinarily but he has made players like Saka , Xhaka and Pepe even better . Xhaka is a different player because he can link with a mobile, imaginative no.10 and the fluidity of Sunday’s first hour was Arsenal’s best performance this season . That fluidity has shown up the unsuitability of Willian to play in this team because he doesn’t have the mobility, the touch or the perception the other front players do. I’m interested in what Ødegaard can bring and if he can link effectively with ESR . Certainly Sunday strongly suggested he can

  67. 67
    Trev says:

    Some good interesting conjecture on the squad and summer activity.

    Lacan and French psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in a match report ?
    Each to his own but I hadn’t a clue. Google was also my friend in need and I’m afraid I’m with Countryman.

  68. 68
    scruzgooner says: