Dani Ceballos: An Answer To Our Prayers?

We do love a hero in football, don’t we? So quickly crowned, venomously disavowed on their departure.

Mostly, not always. Liam Brady, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry. Different ages, different reasons; all understood and still adored. For others, the venom is undimmed down the years. Treachery is not easily forgiven; ask Frank Stapleton and Robin van Persie.

The pair left for Manchester United amid different circumstances. Stapleton ran his contract down, van Persie didn’t want to wait for his move to Old Trafford.

This weekend saw him disingenuously claim Arsenal didn’t offer him a new deal. That’s true, according to contemporary records including his own crass letter. It leaves out one important detail; the Snake didn’t want to sign a new deal.

He, hung by his own words, made it clear to Ivan and Arsene that a new deal would be left hanging in the wind. He was going.

If he’d left to go abroad – anywhere but the evil triumvirate of Liverpool, United and Spurs – few would have objected. Most agreed that Arsenal weren’t spending wisely and that the reliance on youth was over. But he didn’t; the snake left for Old Trafford, succumbing to the dark side of the force.

The funniest part of his move is that Ferguson blatantly lied to him. Van Persie claimed he asked the Scot to confirm he was staying at the helm for at least three years; Sir Alex was gone inside twelve months.

Alexis Sanchez is on the cusp of leaving Old Trafford two years after his rash departure from Arsenal. It hasn’t worked out for him; tough. I find it hard to laugh, however. We didn’t come out of the deal well; the £60m bid we rejected from Manchester City looks foolhardy with every passing wage bill.

Super Chicken

This morning sees Sam Wallace claim the squad labelled him ‘Super Chicken’. Essentially, his ego and focus on his own performance were to the detriment of the team. The logic sustaining that is how we didn’t perform any worse in his absence.

That’s a matter of opinion. Certainly, there were numerous occasions when we needed someone as dynamic as Alexis at his best. This is all supposition; we don’t know he would have rescued us but it can’t be proven he wouldn’t either.

Desperation breeds strange dreams.

Anyway, this is all a long way round to Dani Ceballos; the latest hero. Our reality is that he leaves at the end of this season, determined to prove his worth at Real Madrid. The hope is that the Spaniards become so desperate they spend hundreds of millions of euros this summer and winter.

A permanent deal might be possible if FFP has teeth. Manchester City flipped the finger at FIFA and probably think they can do the same with UEFA. PSG are less convinced; they are selling Neymar to cover themselves.

Of course, we’ll end up buying Ceballos and get a string of anonymous performances; that’s the Arsenal way.

There’s more to the deal than that; does he like England, can he perform in the big matches, etc.

That’s the beauty of football. We get carried away for 90 minutes and the immediate days after. Sensible stuff goes out the window. You know, the practicalities of signing a player.

And whether he can maintain the level of performance. We’ll get some indication of that on Saturday at Anfield. Ceballos has the talent to grab the game by the scruff of the neck; can he mentally in the cauldron of noise which rises in the opening minutes.

Superman, SuperDan, Super Womble

The sloth or genius of others impact on his performance, of course. I wouldn’t expect him to carry the team and given the talent we have, he shouldn’t have to. Then again…

Ceballos was outstanding against Burnley. Not perfect but as I said yesterday, I cannot think of a better home debut. The only thing missing was a goal. It wasn’t, however, through lack of effort and some good goalkeeping.

It is the big matches that we need his talents in, where he needs to flourish. Let’s be honest, it’s in his selfish best interests to perform. Real Madrid exists – in its own mind – for the big matches; recent league form exposes the flaw in their thinking. Supported by three Champions Leagues in a row, mind you.

Ceballos could be a big player. He could be a good thing for Arsenal. I wonder, however, when we look back next season, with another shiny new toy, whether we’ll remember him as fondly as we do right now?

VAR was the next big thing and its detractors have plenty of material to work with. Manchester City had a perfectly good goal disallowed because it struck an arm as it traversed the penalty area. An attacking arm; handball!

Had it been a defender’s arm, would it have been a penalty? Of course not. The IFAB in their flatulent wisdom decided an imbalanced law was the answer to debates through the years. Mr Bumble is not amused by such a one-sided rule and no doubt, one quietly disappearing next summer.

A Quantum of Solace

If there is any solace for Pep Guardiola, Sean the Ginger Dinosaur was equally unhappy when Ben Mee was punished for a handball he knew very little about. I have no sympathy for Sean; he was a twat after the game when he brought up diving as a spurious diversion to his own team’s stupidity and use of the black arts.

Maybe that won’t give Pep any solace after all. Still, at least the rule is being applied consistently across Europe. Leipzig had a perfectly good goal disallowed for similar reasons in their rout of Union Berlin. Romance, it seems, is as dead in the Bundesliga as it is in the Premier League.

’til Tomorrow.

Patchy Arsenal Take Deserved Three Points

Arsenal 2 – 1 Burnley

Sean Dyche chatted sh*t after the game about simulation. Of course he did; his team lost.

The real target of his ire was his own player’s stupidity. Instead of criticising Ashley Barnes stupidity, he thought Sead Kolasinac an easy target. Not that he mentioned him by name; he’s seen the video.

Barnes pulled Kola, no doubt about the contact. In those circumstances, with Whistle-Happy Dean in control, it was always going to be a free-kick. I’d have been cross if Kola hadn’t tumbled, knowing the final whistle was imminent.

We haven’t indulged in that kind of sh*housery since Peter Storey had his ‘666’ birthmark removed.

The Gruffalo is a plank, pure and simple. No player sat there thinking, “Oooh, I’ve got one warning about sh*thousery; I’ll just collect a booking and subsequent club fine” simply because that yellow card puts them one mistimed tackle from a red.

Still, you have to admire Dyche’s willingness to charge into Pulis’ throne as Goonerverse’s pantomime villain. It’s been kinda boring without one. Mustafi doesn’t count before you ask; his is unintentional villainy.

Football wisdom has it that winning whilst playing badly is the sign of champions. We won’t be champions; we didn’t play badly for a start, just in patches. We’re still finding our way into the season, with spells of numbing football – preseason football – surfacing.

Next weekend, we need a leap in our intensity, in concentration. Liverpool’s prayers that Alisson will recover seem set to be unanswered so their defence is as vulnerable as ours. Anyone for a 5 – 4 cracker? I’m just not certain who will win.

Leno’s distribution yesterday was inconsistent; poor under the pressure exerted from goal-kicks, better with time on his hands. It will improve with confidence as he gets used to the new era of football.

Let’s Talk About The Match

There are lies, damn lies and football statistics. Burnley had twice as many shots on goal but half the number of ours on target. Which of the two stats are you happier with?

Of course, it’s the latter; the only one which matters is, as ever, the final score. 2 – 1 might have been 3 – 1 were it not for those pesky officials who spotted Nacho Monreal’s toenail being offside. VAR and the lino conspired against leaving Reiss Nelson, quiet otherwise, still waiting for his first Arsenal goal.

He nearly got us out of gaol; we’d thrown away the deserved lead given to us by Alexandre Lacazette. That was a penalty, by the way; maybe the Gruffalo needs to worry about the stupid fouls his team are giving away.

The concern with the Burnley’s goal is how easily we were susceptible to the counter-attack. Last season hasn’t ended yet, has it? The issue is clouded with Emery playing without a defensive midfielder. No, that’s not a cheap jibe at Granit Xhaka; he wasn’t fit.

That was a cheap jibe at Granit Xhaka, however.

Which brings us to the enjoyable points of yesterday and that was most of the game. Certainly, the bits when Dani Ceballos is in possession. I’m far from being the only one who wants Real Madrid to go on a spending spree to the point where he has no future at the Bernabeu.

He has a very bright one at the Emirates. So bright, match tickets ought to come with shades.

Victory came thanks to a goal apiece for Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Naturally, two assists for Ceballos. The first from a corner which found an Arsenal player, which is something worth celebrating in itself.

I Cannot Think Of A Better Home Debut

The closest any Burnley defender got to Dani Ceballos all afternoon

Lacazette ignored the distraction of a marauding Monreal to control the ball and as he was hauled to the ground, turned and shot powerfully through the Pope’s legs. There’s a catholic joke in there somewhere, screaming to stay in. I’ll oblige this morning.

The second is the dogged determination that inspires others. Ceballos, unusually, ceded possession cheaply. Before Gudmonsson settled on the ball and thought about a counterattack, Ceballos was on him and winning the ball back.

Aubameyang said “thank you very much” and flew at the Clarets defence before scoring with some aplomb from the edge of the area. Game over.

Everything Ceballos touched turned goldish in colour. He rarely wasted possession with quick feet and an even quicker mind evident. Dribbling, passing; you name it, he was a wide range of everything.

The only genuine improvement is in his finishing and even then, the willingness to shoot from anywhere is at once refreshing and a blessed relief.

His ball control is mesmerising. The synthetic pigskin is glued to his boot the moment he brings it under his spell, ready to cast magic with an ease that makes Harry Potter puke.

He treats the ball reverentially. It isn’t a hot potato, it is caressed through his strides; never so far ahead that he loses control, never so close that he falls over it. It is just there; tantalising opponents with glimpses, in the same way, Robert Pires taunted the Premier League all those years ago.

If David Luiz is a defensive inspiration, Ceballos occupies a god-like status.

I cannot think of a more impressive home debut and the rapturous applause which hailed his departure from the action underlines that.

C’mere, There’s More

Nicolas Pepe had to be content with another cameo from the bench. He improved as he got into the game with nutmegs and flashes of pace as he ran at the Burnley defence. A full debut at Anfield? It’s got to be on the cards, especially as we will be playing on the break.

And Luiz was a calming in a back four which was a bit jittery. As per usual, that nervousness was of our own making. We’ll get better as the season progresses; we need to by next weekend, if that’s not too much to ask for.

Overall, it’s a good three points to claim; a decent performance but plenty to work on.

To answer the question about comparing six points after two games to none last season; better to look at the corresponding fixtures. We took six then, we have six now; business as usual.

’til Tomorrow.

Burnley Preview: Youth Gives Way to New Boys

The opening home game of the season is always a special occasion. The campaign is really underway when the Arsenal lay in front of their own fans.

Today sees an attempt to inject atmosphere into the stadium:

Hope it goes better for you than the parachutist who ended up in the North Bank building site.

It is a big day for Unai Emery. We get a better idea of who his core players will be. Most were on the pitch last weekend at some point but Alexandre Lacazette, for example, wasn’t.

While we set out with a 4-2-3-1 formation last week, it’s a home game; we’ll need to be more adventurous in our play. It takes a subtle change in personnel to achieve that end and Granit Xhaka’s absence helps. That’s if he hasn’t recovered from his back problem.

The upcoming matches against Liverpool and Tottenham influence team selection, surely? It’s too much to expect full debuts at Anfield or in the North London Derby. Too many of the new signings are in key positions to be left to tat level of chance.

Which is tough on this such as Chambers, Nelson and Willock who will drop to the bench. David Luiz and Nicholas Pepe are almost certain to start. Dani Ceballos faces competition from Mesut Özil who returned to training this week.

Unai’s caution with player fitness suggests the German won’t start. His absence from the club derailed the final phase of his preseason training and it seems most contrary to put him in from the start.

But needs must. The answer to that little problem comes with Ceballos’ own fitness. I was surprised he didn’t start at St James Park but a home game is in many respects an easier introduction to the English game.

Talking Balls

Alongside Ceballos (or Özil) in a midfield trio, I’d like to see Torreira and Guendouzi. The former takes the defensive duties, the latter the harrying.

It’s a complicated choice although the decision is masked by fitness. There are so many factors at play in this aspect of the team selection.

Not least of which is Granit Xhaka. He’s been burbling on about how captaining Arsenal is an honour, seemingly oblivious to it being a poisoned chalice. Captains don’t last too long; age or greed catches up with sooner or later.

Unless, of course, this is his way of handing in a transfer request but keeping all his loyalty bonuses intact.

On the playing side, I’ve been clear that I think we have better options and combinations. I don’t, however, agree that he and David Luiz cannot play in the same side. Emery will prove that wrong in coming weeks, if not today.

Xhaka is a ‘caught in between’ midfielder. Arsène and Unai want him to be a defensive midfielder which he quite clearly isn’t. Yet we don’t play a system which suits his relatively static style.

He’s caught in between a rock and a hard place. A style which doesn’t suit him in a role to which he is ill-suited.

Nonetheless, Wenger and now Emery like him so in the XI he stays. For the moment: Unai is no stranger to using players for expediencies sake.

All of which leaves us with the forward line. A potentially prolific one at that. Close to 70 goals between them last season; no wonder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang salivated at the prospect of playing with Pepe and Lacazette.

A fluid, interchangeable trio, taking spaces left by the runs of others? It’s definitely the most potent I can think of in my Arsenal lifetime.

Pace, Power, Proligacy

Hopefully not the latter. Or not the latter to the extent that we are left ruing missed chances.

Notionally, you’d expect Pepe and Aubameyang to occupy the wider roles. The latter worked OK in preseason for Auba so no reason why it shouldn’t now we’re playing proper matches.

There are so many potentially potent combinations for the three to play, it is almost dizzying. Unai may have a cunning plan to bring out the best in them. I’m hoping it isn’t the Baldrick moment most of us would have when it comes to fitting them into the side!

But fit them in he must. We’re facing Burnley; in the real and electronic stands we’ve banked the three points and are preparing for the sterner tests ahead. If you’re going to give out a sprinkling of debuts, this is the game to do it in.

Which leaves the team:

Leno; Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis, Monreal; Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos; Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang

Özil, Willock and Nelson are the subs between the 60th and 85th minutes, injuries excepted.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

‘til Tomorrow

On Ozil and Home Debuts in Early Burnley Thoughts

Unai met the press yesterday with Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac dominating the reporting.

As you’d expect, he welcomed them back. Not just as a boss or Arsenal employee but as human beings as well. First and foremost, he observed. He didn’t welcome them back into the starting line-up, however.

They might there but it seems unlikely. Ozil was ill during the week but irrespective of that, both players cannot be as fit as others. In any case, do you change a winning line-up beyond reasons of necessity?

Granit Xhaka’s back-knack, for example, necessitates change. It isn’t a bad injury, he could probably play but for a midfielder, anything which restricts mobility isn’t a good thing. You can insert your own joke about that here.

Nonetheless, the win at Newcastle should see Emery keep faith with the majority of that XI. Does the majority mean the youth of Nelson and Willock continues in the side? The fitness of Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos answers that question, answers Unai expects to get after today’s final training session.

Ozil might think he’s ready for the visit of Burnley but that’s a minority view. A place on the bench? It might be an idea with Liverpool and Tottenham awaiting in the next fortnight.

This is the weekend where Emery’s preferred XI begins to take shape. Unfortunately, there will be some players who lose out for no reason other than there are better players in the squad. I’d venture that for Willock and Chambers, that’s unfortunate.

The former played well preseason and at St James’ Park. The latter is much better at centre-back than we thought. Doubling up as a midfielder gives him the versatility we may appreciate as the season takes its toll.

Mum’s The Word

Yet David Luiz is more experienced and in Xhaka’s potential absence, a better range of passing. One which gives us more variety. It’s a chance for Chambers to learn; he and Rob Holding are the future so this might be a season where they don’t feature as often as they might expect.

Whether Ozil will is another question. Debates over his future were almost moot. But not quite. Unai, you see, doesn’t sit around all day thinking about selling the German. Shocking, huh?

Even more shocking is someone asking the Spaniard if he is considering selling Ozil. Or expecting an answer; not everyone is as open as Neil Lennon although the Celtic boss doesn’t have a Cluj about much these days.

It was highly unlikely that Emery would admit the player can leave if he wants under normal circumstances. Now, it’s even less so. He knows how that plays out in the media so will be careful what he says.

The smoke for the story comes from his agent meeting DC United. It would be remiss of him not to hear what they have to say; he’s only got his client’s best interests to be concerned about, not those of Arsenal.

That doesn’t affect tomorrow’s team selection; it shouldn’t affect it any time unless there is a sale on the horizon. Ozil, a week or so out of training, won’t be as fit as others. Ceballos is more likely to start unless Joe Willock gets another chance.

Emery’s dilemma is Ceballos. If he doesn’t start tomorrow, playing him at Anfield is a huge risk. Training cannot replicate the pressures and intensity of ninety minutes; it prepares them for some semblance of it but nothing, we’re told by former pros, gets close to the real thing.

Early Burnley Thoughts

Burnley will be a tough introduction for those not used to English football, Pepe included. Good, honest professionals, he says patronising them.

At home, they are good opponents for Ceballos and Pepe to meet English football. Newcastle were supine, nowhere near as intense as a home side should be on the opening day of the season. Burnley, fresh from a win over Southampton, will pose a sterner test.

Last season’s European misadventures cannot hinder them this season and they are primed for a top ten finish, maybe seventh if the wind blows in the right direction.

Sean Dyche’s side plays a bit more football than Stoke or Bolton ever did and will certainly ask more questions of the defensive side of our game. But we’re at home and given the history between the two sides, we ought to win.

And we expect to. The season is picking up pace, as much as one game per week for the first month permits.

Not quite quick enough; two games every week can’t come soon enough!

’til Tomorrow.

Kolasinac and Ozil: Are You Outraged?

The weekend is nearly upon us; Burnley are already dismissed as cannon fodder. Apparently, there is a stat which tells us Arsenal will end the weekend top of the Premier League. Only one stat tells us that: the final score.

Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac returned to training and navel-gazing, angst if you like, about supporter reaction or lack of it.

It’s certainly muted. In part, that’s due to the reporting. When The Stun and Heil lead the way in covering the story, you know the truth is in short supply. Or even shorter than is normal where the media is concerned.

There’s also the circumstances surrounding the problem. Kolasinac’s actions in the original incident saw him elevated to cult status. Maybe that reaction contributed to the bruised egos which dominate the reportage.

James Benge in the Evening Standard asks:

Where is the outrage this time? Where is the condemnation from fans’ groups or the sport’s authorities? After all, two players are fearful not to turn up for work. Clearly, sympathy in short supply.

James Benge leaves out the Fourth Estate in his question

I’ll add to that. Where is the media coverage? The media salaciously intrudes on a family’s grief, hacks a dead girl’s mobile phone but when footballers lives are threatened, it isn’t newsworthy? Benge called it “societal ills” but that doesn’t shift copy. Clearly, advertising sales in short supply.

He is right, however, to question why there isn’t more outrage. I observed a while back that I didn’t know enough about the circumstances to comment. I still don’t; all the reporting stems from The Stun; let’s be honest, it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a reliable source.

A Very Millennial Reaction

Why am I not more outraged? I am concerned; I’ve said before that no family in any walk of life should be subjected to this intimidation.

It’s a very 21st Century word, outrage. If you’re not outraged, you don’t care. If those in authority don’t have a soundbite, where’s the outrage. Maybe the genuine seriousness of the situation elevates it beyond the faux outrage James feels about the lack of outrage?

He’s right; this is nothing like Mkhitaryan’s absence from the Europa League final. That was political and footballing incompetence colliding in wholly avoidable circumstances.

To conflate the two issues is disingenuous. It’s done in the name of sensationalism and for the sake of the two families involved now, is wholly unacceptable.

It is entirely possible that the nationality of the two players is partly responsible for the lack of press coverage. When Steven Gerrard was threatened after stating he wanted to leave Anfield for Chelsea, it garnered plenty of attention.

If this, god forbid, happened to the Rooneys, all hell would be breaking loose.

So, yes, nationality is part of it.

Were this the Ozil who first signed for Arsenal, I’d wager the coverage would be greater. That Ozil sold papers; this one doesn’t. When all’s said and done, the media exists for one reason: to make money.

And you thought it was for the news!

He doesn’t, however, make enough of the point about the players fear. If this humble blogger thinks there is an opportunity for football to be nobbled by ‘deselecting’ a star player, you can guarantee those with the means are way ahead.

Rock Steady Eddie

Ultimately, I welcome their return to training, that they are ready to return to football. Is it a signal that their lives are gaining some semblance of normality?

Has it already happened and been covered up by a convenient injury? A ransom paid to stop it happening, with the event covered up to prevent widespread recurrences? Is my mind awash with diabolical plans? I think so.

It doesn’t change my view of yesterday, however.

Meanwhile, Eddie Nketiah scored on his Leeds!Leeds!Leeds! debut. A simple tap-in albeit fortuitously as he looked offside when the cross came in. He didn’t care then, he won’t care now. The ref didn’t spot it and the camera angles were inconclusive.

Amid the hurly-burly of the Carabao Cup clash at Salford, the commentary team let slip that Leeds!Leeds!Leeds! watched Nketiah 22 times. Twenty-two times; Marcelo Bielsa loves watching a DVD, doesn’t he? Goodness knows what he’d make of Spurs online store; they also love a DVD.

Lambasted for Spygate, the Leeds!Leeds!Leeds! boss is a breath of fresh air. He had the balls to not only do what others only thought of but acted on it. His Powerpoint presentation explaining it all was a memorable moment of last season.

And Leeds!Leeds!Leeds! are strong at that, as Phil Hay reports in The Athletic. Arsenal demanded the suitors put together a profile of how Nketiah fitted into their plans before making a decision. This time, there was no indecision from Unai Emery such as that which nixed his move to Augsburg in January.

The article is a fascinating insight into the loans process and typical of those which make the site worth subscribing to.

Perhaps the most telling quote comes from Angus Kinnear, Leeds United’s chief executive. Arsenal did not countenance a permanent move; they were “categorical” that “they want him to be an Arsenal player.”

Will Nketiah make the grade at Arsenal? A season in a promotion-challenging team will serve him well in terms of experience. Is he the heir-apparent to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? This season will give a lot of those answers.

’til Tomorrow.