What’s wrong with Arsenal? Arteta’s path forward on a red-hot seat

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Arsenal has been bad.

Yes, mostly on a relative scale, and no, not relegation bad, as much as some headlines want to get you clicking thinking but the Gunners have been far off their standards.

We’re talking as close to the bottom three as 12th, the same proximity to 20th as third.

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Arsenal will be fortunate to finish above midtable without serious adaptation.

Should those changes include removing the raven-haired manager who arrived with so much promise and delivered an FA Cup? Oddsmakers see it as quite possible following the latest loss, a 2-1 setback to Everton that left Arteta pleading for “fighters, not victims.”

Boxing Day will mark the one-year anniversary of Mikel Arteta’s first match in charge of the Gunners. What can he do to give himself hope of finishing a second year?


Luck, formation and game state

Has Arsenal been lucky or unlucky?

Which formation has been best and how has Arteta set up his teams before the coronavirus pauses, in Project Restart, and to start 2020-21?

Are the Gunners better more often than not at any stage of a game?

Expected goals (xG) fortune

Arteta will have surely raised the ire of several Gooners when he cited luck as a reason his men have struggled of late.

“We reacted really well after conceding,” Arteta said after the 2-1 loss at Everton. “We created enough chances, hit a post, and luck is just against us at the moment. We lost against Burnley without conceding a shot on target.”

Going back to xG, Arsenal has been better than its opponent in its last three losses (Spurs, Burnley, Everton). On the season, though, their in-game xG record would be 6W-1D-7L and two of the wins would’ve come with less than 1 xG (which obviously is not a goal).

In open play, xG also says Arsenal have produced 11.64 goals for and scored just eight, while conceding 16 goals when xGA is over 17.

Arsenal 2020-21 season so far (xG in parenthesis)
Result better than xG performance
Result worse than xG performance

Matchday 1 – at Fulham W 3-0 (W 2.16-0.13)
Matchday 2 – v West Ham W 2-1 (L 1.33-2.06)
Matchday 3 – at Liverpool L 1-3 (L 1.18-2.74)
Matchday 4 – v Sheffield United W 2-1 (W 0.67-0.14)
Matchday 5 – at Man City L 0-1 (L 0.84-1.43)
Matchday 6 – v Leicester City L 0-1 (D 0.74-0.74)
Matchday 7 – at Man United W 1-0 (W 1.00-0.39)
Matchday 8 – v Aston Villa L 0-3 (L 1.39-1.99)
Matchday 9 – at Leeds D 0-0 (L 0.71-1.96)
Matchday 10 – v Wolves L 1-2 (L 1.12-2.01)
Matchday 11 – at Spurs L 0-2 (W 0.60-0.39)
Matchday 12 – v Burnley L 0-1 (W 1.85-0.82)
Matchday 13 – v Southampton D 1-1 (L 0.66-1.11)
Matchday 14 – at Everton L 1-2 (W 1.25-0.66)

Twice Arsenal has drawn in a match its performance did not merit a point and once it won while being outperformed by the opponent (West Ham).

But what could encourage Arteta over the past month — which is perhaps not coincidentally when he’s been talking about luck — is that his team has deserved something from three of four losses. The derby could’ve well been 0-0 or 1-1 while the Burnley loss is especially unlucky.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal - Premier League
LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 06: (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

Formation

Versatility is key and match-ups important, but Mikel Arteta’s lineups have been all over the place. That’s pretty bonkers considering how managers have been lamenting the lack of training time to implement new ideas. It hasn’t scared Arteta.

Adjustments happen all the time inside of a game and formation shifts are common, so it’s difficult to track but let’s begin here. here is how Arteta had started the Gunners this season.

Here’s how Arteta started after taking over the club in 2019 through the end of Project Restart.

4-3-3: thrice
4-2-3-1: 15 times
3-4-3: nine times
5-4-1: once (FA Cup Final)

Notably, Arteta deployed that 4-2-3-1 in 14 of 15 matches upon his hiring, and he switched to the 3-4-3 for nine-straight games after playing the 4-3-3 for the first two of Project Restart.

That’s consistent and helpful.

Maybe Arteta believed his charges would fare a lot better in Year 2, with healthy pieces combining with new to adapt to new ideas.

Because this, this, is a lot less consistent (via Understat). And what good can come from seven minutes n a 5-4-1? Hashtag Tinkerman.

Arsenal
understat.com/team/Arsenal/2020

 

Can we learn anything definitive from given the small number of minutes? Probably not a ton given how few minutes the Gunners have been deployed in most of the formations.

Looking at the top three, though, you can that Arsenal is being out-attempted in all three.

We all have our preferences for formation and this isn’t to suppose any formation as superior to the other, rather that perhaps Arteta has put the cart ahead of the horse.

In-game performance

Given all the changes, how is Arsenal playing over the course of 90 minutes?

Here’s a bit of good news. The Gunners have been better once Mikel Arteta can talk to them inside of a match (Stats again via Understat).

First half — 5-12
Minutes 1-15: 1-1 (xG 2.77-1.61)
Minutes 16-30: 3-6 (xG 3.01-5.87)
Minurtes 31-45: 1-5 (xG 2.36-3.50)

Second half — 7-6
Minutes 46-60: 4-0 (xG 3.63-1.98)
Minutes 61-75: 2-3 (xG 2.06-4.13)
Minutes 76+: 1-3 (xG 2.23-2.98)

Here’s more over-simplification: Arsenal has come out of the gates with decent motivation and game plan, but hasn’t produced an opener. They then fall apart until halftime, when Arteta reorganizes them only to fall apart again before producing desperate final quarter-hours.

Yuck.

Arsenal
Defenders like him just fine (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Personnel

The Gunners have struggled for any number of reasons but a slumping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang isn’t helping anyone.

Neither is the availability of Thomas Partey, one of if not the most important moves of the transfer window for any traditional contender (Ruben Dias now and Thiago Alcantara later would and will like a word, respectively).

And let’s start here: We’re mostly going to talk about attackers below, because the defense has not been the problem or at least a main one. Arsenal has allowed less goals than Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton, and Southampton, less shots than Leicester City, Tottenham, and Man United, and less expected goals than all but four teams in the entire Premier League.

Thomas Partey

Arsenal is yet to collect many results with big signing Thomas Partey in the lineup, but there’s little debate the Ghanaian’s absence has loomed large.

Partey has only gone more than 45 minutes thrice, wins against Rapid Vienna and Manchester United but a loss to Leicester City. Arsenal only conceded two goals in those three matches.

Obviously he has the glaring error of not going down while injured in the run-up to Spurs’ second goal in the 2-0 North London Derby loss, but if there’s any area that’s unfair to Arteta it’s failing to note that the manager has been without his top signing for most of this silly season.

Alexandre Lacazette

Arsenal’s best player in terms of expected goals has been a man who can’t get on the pitch.

Alexandre Lacazette is the first player to appear on the Premier League’s xG+xA/90 minutes list, coming in 28th of players to have played more than 500 minutes this season with 0.54 per game. 0.46 of that is xG, and Lacazette is 14th in the PL on that list. Bukayo Saka is the only Gunner in the Top 50 for xG.

Lacazette hasn’t scored in the Premier League since tallying in each of Arsenal’s first three outings, but was handed five starts.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang

The 31-year-old has often been shut down, whether put out wide or played centrally, and Arteta’s biggest failure has been the Gabonese man’s failure to produce goals or assists.

Aubameyang has three goals and one assist despite being used almost exclusively in the Premier League (He has two goals in 119 combined minutes between the Community Shield and Europa League).

That’s a far cry from his incredible first two-and-a-half seasons at Arsenal, where he scored 70 goals and chipped in 15 assists.

What’s wrong? Plenty but we’re not far removed from his wonderful 2019-20 season, are we? Expect better when he’s back on the pitch.

Mesut Ozil

Arteta has deemed the German playmaker surplus to requirements, as they say, but it’s probably worth noting that the headline-making Ozil wasn’t terrible last season.

Ozil averaged 2.1 key passes per game over his 18 matches last season before not making an appearance during Project Restart. Nicolas Pepe (1.3) and Dani Ceballos (1.2) were second and third in passes leading to a shot.

This season? Willian leads the team with 1.3 and Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka, Ceballos, and Aubameyang are between 1 and 1.1 per game.

During Arteta’s tenure, Ozil had a goal and an assist in 10-straight starts as the Gunners went 4W-5D-1L including a win over Manchester United plus a draw with and loss to Chelsea.

Nicolas Pepe

If Arteta isn’t going to use Ozil — and that argument is still easy to understand — then not using dynamic but inconsistent Pepe is baffling.

The red card was stupid. The dynamism isn’t.


Final thoughts

Is there enough here to believe Arteta can snap Arsenal out of its funk? There’s something here, sure, but you wouldn’t get high odds from a bookmaker.

Moreover, if Arteta wasn’t, well, Arteta, would he have been canned by now? Is he breathing off of FA Cup fumes? Would Unai Emery or most managers not named Arsene Wenger have lasted this long?

If you’re a director looking at the big picture, you probably remember the FA Cup well and recognize the import and expectations of acquiring Partey from Atletico Madrid.

The red cards don’t help, nor do stories of locker room cliques, but those are also part and parcel when it comes to struggling clubs.

If you’re Arteta, your best bet is to go back to a formation that your players best understand for Tuesday’s League Cup quarterfinal versus Man City and Saturday’s PL visit from Chelsea.

And it’s probably best to ride that into Brighton and West Brom before Newcastle arrives for the FA Cup. With Palace and Newcastle then visiting the Emirates in the league, this should be all about manufacturing something from City and Chelsea, both perhaps without Aubameyang, and then finding footing against five bottom-half sides across two competitions.

Good luck.

Saudi Arabia vs USMNT: How to watch, live stream link, TV, team news

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Fair or not, Tuesday’s edition of Saudi Arabia vs USMNT is going to be scrutinized as much as any friendly in recent United States men’s national team history.

[ MORE: Projected starting XI vs Saudi Arabia ]

Gregg Berhalter’s men looked like sloppy at best and rudderless at worst in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Japan in Dusseldorf and that’s incredibly alarming with the Yanks on the precipice of their World Cup return, a time when teams are usually questioning the fine-tuning rather than, well, a whooooooooole lot.

Let’s be very fair to Berhalter, who has a young team and has overseen some memorable and downright awesome triumphs in CONCACAF: There are injuries right now — Christian Pulisic was rested with a knock on Friday — and the coach does not have access to Timothy Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Chris Richards.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA | Player ratings ]

But his judgment is being questioned with Fulham captain Tim Ream, Union Berlin center forward Jordan Pefok, and Benfica back John Brooks healthy and ready to contribute but sitting at home. Berhalter has questioned their fits in the system and also said something nebulous about the team not expressing its “personality” versus Japan and that sounds pretty bad when the system looks awful.

That’s why a big performance against a solid and stubborn Saudi Arabia, a team in theory selected for its similarities to World Cup group stage foe Iran, can really provide a ubiquitous lift to spirits in the world of U.S. Soccer. And while Berhalter might claim that lift is only needed amongst the fans, he’d be kidding himself.

Remember: While the entirety of U.S. Soccer wants the side to go deep in Qatar, this is supposed to be setting the stage for a real challenge for the trophy on home soil in 4.5 years. At the moment, that sounds silly. A year-and-a-half ago, late in the night against Mexico, it did not. Fixing that would be a good first step, and Tuesday’s the next chance.


How to watch Saudi Arabia vs USMNT live, updates and start time

Date: Tuesday, September 27
Kick off time: 2pm ET
Where: Estadio Nuevo Condomina, Murcia, Spain
How to watch: FS1, UnimasTUDN


Saudi Arabia vs USMNT head-to-head record

This will be the seventh meeting between the Yanks and Green Falcons, but the first since 1999 against a national team representing political issues for the United States. Saudi Arabia won two of the first four but the Yanks claimed home soil wins in a 1995 friendly and the 1999 Confederations Cup. All of the on-field mentions above mean absolutely nothing for Tuesday but they are fun to note on a pre-match preview (Upside-down smile face emoji).


The lowdown on Saudi Arabia

This is a very Saudi Arabia experienced side, one that went 13W-4D-1L in World Cup qualifying and have experience in a lot of 1-0 contests including recent Spain-based friendly losses to Colombia and Venezuela. The team will also feel at home in Murcia, where it played those matches and where it had a scoreless tangle with Ecuador four days prior to this tilt. Ecuador outshot the Saudis 11-5 and had 60 percent of the ball but all that will get you an argument that you deserved better than a solitary point that comes from a real match. If you want to see your Yanks break down a sound team, Tuesday’s a good chance.


USMNT team news, injuries, lineup

This is easily the most interesting lineup in some time for the USMNT after Berhalter gave starting looks to some of his lynchpins and got a mixed bag of results, none of which were exceptional aside from goalkeeper Matt Turner (and even he was not at his best in possession on an admittedly poor pitch in Dusseldorf) and Brenden Aaronson if we’re being judicious in the name of optimism. But really, all of the front three were ghosts. Much of is down to the eight men behind them, though, and forgiving glances can be cast at Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna. Jesus Ferreira is not included after missing a chance that would and could be called a sitter if he didn’t have to jump to head it (We kid, but it’s dark humor).

Aaron Long was very poor and Walker Zimmerman uncharacteristically poor next to him, while youngster Sam Vines had a rough first half before Berhalter adjusted his usage from left back to left wing back with emphasis on the wing part. Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are often the heartbeat of this team but both looked a mix of cavalier and junior varsity. That won’t happen often, and very rarely will occur at the same time.

Here’s what to watch from Berhalter’s lineup choices, presuming he doesn’t change his formation.

  • If Matt Turner starts — and then stays healthy and relatively blunder-free at Arsenal — forget about anyone else starting the World Cup opener in Qatar. If it’s Ethan Horvath or presumed No. 3 Sean Johnson, well, anything’s possible.
  • We’ll see Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, but will it be Luca de la Torre completing the midfield trio? Will Kellyn Acosta or Johnny Cardoso arrive to move McKennie into a different role? Will Malik Tillman get his chance to start? Or will Giovanni Reyna be played in position (please?)?
  • Ricardo Pepi: The way Josh Sargent was plugged into the front three in the second half, it seems like FC Dallas star Ferreira and alum Pepi were meant to trade starts.
  • Christian Pulisic will start on the wing. How does he look, both in form and body language?
  • Sergino Dest and Sam Vines were the fullbacks versus Japan, with Reggie Cannon coming off the bench. Will it be Joe Scally and DeAndre Yedlin to start? Will Dest swap to left back? Antonee Robinson and Dest are the favorites to start in Qatar, but is the latter’s spot on the right now in question?
  • Much of U.S. Soccer, us included, considered this break to be a bunch of center backs bidding to play next to Walker Zimmerman in Qatar. Will it be Zimmerman plus one on Tuesday or something else?

Ranking the 2022 World Cup kits

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With the 2022 World Cup fast approaching, plenty of World Cup kits are starting to be released and there are some intriguing looks.

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From Mexico’s snazzy away number to Germany going for a solid new look for their home kit and Puma rolling out a very specific and similar look for their national teams, just like they did for their club teams on their away kits, there is a lot to unpack here.

When November rolls around and the World Cup kicks off, which one of these jerseys will you be wearing with pride? And which one will you be wearing because it looks really cool?

Below is our rankings of the World Cup kits which have been released.


Ranking the 2022 World Cup kits

1. Mexico

This is a lovely away kit and will become a classic. Expect these beauties to fly off the shelves and be a jersey that neutrals love just as much as El Tri fans. The home kit is very decent too.


2. Portugal

Absolutely sensational work. The home kit is unique enough but still sticks to Portugal’s bold colors, while the away kit is a classic too.


3. Poland

Oh, wow. This is absolutely beautiful. The away shirt is majestic and the home shirt is classic but with some intriguing detail on the sleeves. Nicely done.


4. Japan

Well, this is another classic. Japan’s home kit is inspired by anime and the design is bold and recognizable. The away kit is fantastic too, especially the long-sleeved version.


5. France

The home and away kits are both lovely and the colors just work together. Well done.


6. Argentina

The home kit is classic. You can’t really mess up the blue and white stripes. Again, another lovely away kit. The purple is perfect and this just looks slick and silky. Much like Lionel Messi’s footwork.


7. Wales

These are beautiful. The right color red on the home shirt and just enough going on without overdoing it. The away shirt is also bold and the collar is lovely. Well done.


8. Brazil

Home kit looks like a classic and the away shirt is pretty decent too, but some people may not like the funky print on the shoulders.


9. England

The blue panels on the home kit are a bit meh but the away kit is a retro beauty.


10. Croatia

They kind of ruined a classic with the home kit. It’s still cool but only having the checkered design on part of the home shirt is weird. The away kit is majestic.


11. Saudi Arabia

Pretty nice designs here. They could have gone with the plain white for the home and plain green for the away, but the snazzy designs work. Especially for the away kit.


12. Netherlands

The home shirt looks kind of velvety? Not the usual bright orange, which will upset some. The blue away kit is sleek and the real winner here.


13. Senegal

This is the best of the Puma jerseys, as Senegal’s away kit is very distinctive and the green is lovely. This big panel on the middle of the kit is something we will get used to seeing a lot of during the World Cup.


14. Ghana

Again, another Puma away kit but this Ghana shirt has plenty of personality.


15. Germany

This is fine. Expect a bit better from Die Mannschaft and it feels like they should have an all white jersey for their home kit.


16. Qatar

The hosts have a simple, clean look. The away shirt has a nice golden pattern on it. Not bad.


17. USA

The home shirt has not been received well by fans, and some players, for being too boring. But the away shirt is pretty nice.


18. Morocco

A bit plain, but like the collar and sleeve trims and the circular pattern around the middle is very cool.


19. Spain

Eh, this could have been so much better. Spain’s home kit looks bland and the away kit is just too much with that pattern.


20. Australia

Not quite sure what to make of this. The same velvety style as the Netherlands home shirt on Australia’s home shirt. Just doesn’t work. The away kit is also just very bland.


21. Belgium

These home kits are just a little too plain and the flame pattern on the shoulder isn’t great and looks like a shirt I’d wear to my midweek bowling league. A missed opportunity. The same applies for the away kit. Belgium’s golden generation won’t look golden this World Cup.


22. Uruguay

Again, another Puma away kit which looks very similar. Uruguay’s iconic sky blue could have been used a lot better on this away shirt.


23. Serbia

Lovely gold in the design and makes the white away kit pop a little.


24. Switzerland

Just very bland. Not a lot going on and the panel in the middle is just a bit of an eyesore.

World Cup 2022 rankings: Who are the favorites?

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With less than two months to go until it all kicks off, it is time to update and release the latest 2022 World Cup rankings.

[ MORE: USMNT react to Japan defeat ]

There are a few clear favorites to win the trophy in Qatar but some of the giants have been handed tougher group stage draws than others which will obviously impact their chances of lifting the famous trophy.

Given that some of the favorites have also been struggling in recent Nations League games and friendlies with plenty of heavy defeats and strange results, there remains no real frontrunner to win the tournament. That is great news for neutrals.

[ MORE: Full schedule for World Cup ]

Keep an eye out on a few underdogs too, as there are some real opportunities which have opened up depending on what side of the bracket you’re on.

We will updates these rankings before and during the tournament in Qatar, which takes place from November 21 to December 18, 2022.

[ MORE: Betting odds for 2022 World Cup ]

Let us know what you think of the rankings below.


Schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
Group stage game kick off times: 5am, 8am, 11am, 2pm (all ET)
Location: Qatar
TV channel in EnglishFox
TV channel in Spanish: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock


World Cup Rankings – September 26, 2022

32. Tunisia – Down 1
31. Qatar – Down 4
30. Australia – Up 2
29. Ghana – Even
28. Cameroon – Down 3


27. Saudi Arabia – Up 1
26. Costa Rica – Up 4
25. Wales – Down 5
24. Iran – Even
23. Ecuador – Down 5


22. Morocco – Even
21. Canada – Up 2
20. USA – Down 4
19. Japan – Up 7
18. Poland – Up 3


17. Mexico – Up 2
16. South Korea – Down 1
15. Uruguay – Down 5
14. Serbia – Up 3
13. Senegal – Down 1


12. Switzerland – Up 1
11. Croatia – Up 3
10. Denmark – Up 1
9. England – Down 3
8. Germany – Down 3
7. Spain – Even


6. Netherlands – Up 3
5. Portugal – Up 3
4. France – Even
3. Belgium – Down 1
2. Argentina – Up 1
1. Brazil – Even


Report: Christian Pulisic ‘in talks’ over move to Juventus

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A report from Italian outlet Calcio Mercato claims that USMNT star Christian Pulisic is ‘in talks’ over a move to Juventus.

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Pulisic, 24, was linked with a move away from Chelsea all summer long and has recently revealed how he felt disappointed when Thomas Tuchel (now the former Chelsea boss) left him out of the starting lineup for the UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg against Real Madrid in May 2021.

With Tuchel gone, Christian Pulisic could break back into the Chelsea starting lineup under new boss Graham Potter but it is widely expected that the American winger will leave the Premier League giants in the coming months with less than two years remaining on his current contract.


What is the latest?

Per the report, Juventus like Pulisic because he can play in several different positions in the attacking third of the pitch.

The report also claims that Juve have held initial talks with Pulisic’s agent about a contract and were told that Pulisic plans to leave Chelsea at the end of the 2022-23 season when he has just one year left on his contract as he wants a ‘new challenge’ in his career.

There is also a claim that Chelsea want $33.7 million for Pulisic and won’t budge on that transfer fee even if he has just one year left on his contract.

Pulisic looks like he needs a fresh start in his club career as Graham Potter will play a fluid 3-4-2-1 system and relies heavily on his wing backs to provide attacking impetus from out wide. That doesn’t suit Pulisic at all


Is Juventus a good fit?

Probably. His pace and dribbling skills would cause problem in any team and the way Juventus play under Max Allegri (if he’s still there when/if Pulisic arrives) relies heavily on getting the ball wide early and encouraging wingers to attack.

Along with that tactical approach, Pulisic would also get the chance to play alongside his close friend and USMNT teammate Weston McKennie. That could bring out the best in both of them.

It now seems a case of when, not if, Pulisic leaves Chelsea. And when he does, he will have plenty of offers to move to a team playing in the Champions League and considered a giant in their country. Given his ability on the ball, what he’s shown in flashes throughout his career and his presence as a superstar in the United States of America, teams across will line up to sign him.