Unai Emery

Xhaka slams ‘bulls***’ criticism of Arsenal

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Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video)

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Sheffield United secured a signature victory on Monday, upending Arsenal, one of the Premier League‘s big boys, 1-0 at Bramall Lane.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Lys Mousset scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half, and Chris Wilder‘s side put forth a defensive clinic to frustrate the Gunners and wrap up their fourth clean sheet of the still-young season.


3 things we learned

  1. Arsenal’s midfield needs a shakeupGranit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock is a thoroughly industrious midfield trio, only lacking someone with the tactical discipline to hold position in front of the backline. All three are at their best when on the ball and pushing forward, which too often leaves the (shaky in its own right) defense far too exposed.
  2. Sheffield United rock-solid defensively — For a newly promoted side to come up and hold the joint-best defensive record (7 goals conceded in 9 games, tied with Liverpool) in the PL is no small accomplishment. The Blades were just short of impenetrable on Monday, allowing just nine shots (three on target) to one of the big-six sides.
  3. No Plan B for Arsenal — Given the speed they possess on the wings and up front, Arsenal are clearly built to be a counter-attacking team that can punish you at the slightest opening. Against a team like United, though, what happens when the game never opens up and presents those chances? When the game sets up for them, they’re great, but Unai Emery could do with a Plan B. The other option would be to continue dropping points against (with all due respect) much lesser sides.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham


Nicolas Pepe whiffed on the game’s first golden scoring chance in the 21st minute. Sead Kolasinac tore down the left wing and delivered a cross to the top of the six-yard box where Pepe was three yards clear of the nearest defender.

United went ahead right on the half-hour mark, when Mousset tapped the ball home from close range after Oliver Norwood‘s corner kick was headed down by Jack O'Connell. Mousset had worked himself free in the center of the goal mouth and applied the finishing touch from three yards out.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The more desperate Arsenal got in the second half, the tighter United’s defensive hold became. The Gunners managed just two shots from inside the penalty area in the second half, as the Blades’ line of confrontation dropped deeper and deeper and refused service into the box.

The victory sees United climb six spots in the PL table, up to ninth place, now four points clear of the relegation zone. Arsenal, meanwhile, fell to fifth place after entering the weekend third, thanks to victories by Leicester City and Chelsea.

PL Preview: Sheffield United v. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal has 1 loss in its last 11 Monday matches
  • Sheffield United has 7 goals this PL season from 7 different goalscorers
  • The Blades have not lost 4 home league games in a row since 1965

Arsenal has the opportunity to jump third in the Premier League table and earn early title considerations as they visit pesky Sheffield United on Monday, with kickoff set for 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Sheffield United v. Arsenal ]

The Gunners are currently fifth with 15 points but can leap in front of both Chelsea and Leicester City with victory at Bramall Lane. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in fabulous goalscoring form with seven strikes through the first eight matches of the Premier League season, set to lead the lines again on the road.

Unai Emery has one big question ahead of the match, with Alexandre Lacazette close to a return from his ankle injury but still unsure of his fitness level. The Frenchman netted twice in three matches to start the season but has not featured since September 1. If he is only fit for the bench, 18-year-old Bukayo Saka could see another start on the wing after a bright performance against Bournemouth, or Emery could choose to move Dani Ceballos out to the wing and slide Lucas Torreira into the midfield. Mesut Ozil could also be an option but he has been a periphery player for Emery this year.

Sheffield United sits 15th in the table, just a point above the relegation zone, but the Blades have been a difficult out for Liverpool, Chelsea, and Leicester City already this season and seem poised to pull off a surprising result at some point soon. A trio of internationals returned from duty this past week with injuries, leaving Chris Wilder with some decisions to make. The most obvious seems to be leaving striker Oli McBurnie on the sidelines having been charged with a DUI over the last 24 hours as well as picking up a knee problem over the international break. That would most see either Lys Mousset or Billy Sharp to take the striker role alongside Callum Robinson.

The Blades have been better on the road than at home, having lost their last three at Bramall Lane. Wilder must figure out how to galvanize his team to play in front of the home fans instead of just playing road spoiler where they almost seem more comfortable.

Injuries/suspensions

Sheffield United: QUESTIONABLE – John Fleck (knee), Oli McBurnie (knee), David McGoldrick (groin).

Arsenal: QUESTIONABLE – Alexandre Lacazette (ankle).


Projected lineups

Sheffield United: Henderson; Stevens, O’Connell, Egan, Basham, Baldock; Fleck, Norwood, Lundstram; Robinson, Sharp.

Arsenal: Leno; Tierney, Luiz, Sokratis, Bellerin; Guendouzi, Xhaka, Ceballos; Saka, Aubameyang, Pepe.


What they’re saying

Sheffield United manager Wilder on team form: “I thought we played well against Liverpool but we need to pick up something from the game this time and we believe we can do that. We went after Liverpool when we could and picked our times, and we will do that against Arsenal.”

Arsenal boss Emery on Mesut Ozil: “I am really happy with the players. The last two, three, four weeks, every player – and Mesut Ozil – is working very well. This is why we can be positive and we can think we are going to do something important this year.”


Prediction

This game has the potential to be a lot of fun as both sides play a fluid style of possession and pace. Arsenal will have to keep an eye on Robinson as the 24-year-old has the ability to find spaces between defenders, and David Luiz in particular hasn’t been in great form. Still, Sheffield United has a few key injuries that threaten the midfield, and that will ultimately doom them to a 3-1 loss as Aubameyang picks up two more goals.

5 Premier League players who look broken

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Through the first nine games of the Premier League season, the table is starting to take shape and some players are separating themselves from the pack while others have shown signs of a struggle.

[ MORE: 3 Things from Man United v. Liverpool ]

Liverpool is flying atop the Premier League table with Manchester City giving chase, but teams like Everton, Manchester United, and Tottenham are floundering below their expectations. There are players on those squads who expected to be performing at a higher level that have instead struggled to make an impact.

Here is a quick overview of five players who look shells of their former selves and could do with a hard reset. All numbers from UnderStat.com.


5) Gylfi Sigurdsson – Everton

The Iceland international, along with the rest of the Everton attack, has been completely invisible so far this season. With just one assist through the first eight matches, the Toffees have had trouble converting chances, and Sigurdsson was benched for the win over West Ham on Saturday.

Thankfully, for Gylfi, there’s plenty of hope that both he and Everton will figure it out moving forward. According to infoGol’s xG model, Everton has by far the biggest differential between expected table position and actual table position based on chances created. Their expected table placed them fourth in the league before the West Ham game, with their actual position in the relegation zone. The same can be said for Sigurdsson, whose expected assist total is actually up – significantly – from his career total, with a 0.33 mark this season compared to his career clip of 0.21. It will come. In fact, it already has…he scored a brilliant hit from distance after coming on for the final few minutes of the win over West Ham, a goal that could mark the beginning of a return to form for Sigurdsson.

4) Nicolas Pepe – Arsenal

Now, to the players we’re a little more worried about. Nicolas Pepe cost Arsenal a whopping $118 million, but he hasn’t lived up to that price tag to this point. Through eight matches, Pepe has been a periphery player in the Arsenal attack with just one goal and two assists. The xA off his passes so far this season, on a better team, is on pace for about half what he put up last season at Lille. Obviously he’s facing better competition in the Premier League, but the drop in creativity is stark.

Pepe is also taking worse shots than he did last season in Ligue 1, with just a 0.11 xG mark per shot compared to 0.14 last campaign. That doesn’t seem like much, but most breaking that down further, most concerning is his shots inside the box are much poorer than usual. In his 11 shots from inside the area are averaging just 0.13 xG compared to last season where he found a 0.26 xG mark, a massive contrast that expanded to a full season amounts to just a 6.79 xG total for the season compared to his whopping 17.71 xG total last season for Lille. He is on pace to take slightly fewer shots, which makes perfect sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are the two main goalscorers in the Arsenal offense, but Pepe needs to make his own efforts count much more.

There is hope for Pepe. It seems he still is learning the Arsenal offense, and should he improve his play even slightly, it tracks that Unai Emery would entrust him with a more prominent role in the attack. Sadly, at the moment, he appears just a bit-part player with Dani Ceballos instead looking the most impressive creatively.

3) Richarlison – Everton

While Gylfi Sigurdsson appears poised to turn his own fortunes around with Everton likely to pick up the pace this season, his Brazilian teammate’s poor form is far more worrisome. Richarlison has been invisible through the first nine games of the year, and put in yet another anemic performance against a West Ham squad at Goodison Park that defended very poorly and did not play well.

Marco Silva stuck Richarlison up front in a striker role against the Hammers, benching Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Moise Kean, and it didn’t get him more involved. Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi were excellent and Bernard also played well, with the trio behind Richarlison all excelling to produce Everton’s best attacking display yet, but Richarlison wasn’t invited to the party. He took just two shots and missed the target with both, while completing just 58% of his passes (14/24) including 2/9 in the penalty area. So far this season, Richarlison has not taken a single shot inside the six-yard box, having taken eight last season, with six finding the back of the net.

Richarlison admitted over the international break that his increased defensive responsibilities were sapping his attacking energy, which makes sense, and he approached Marco Silva about changing the tactics a bit. This tracks with his switch to a spot up top in the formation, and while it produced a win for the team, it did little to enhance Richarlison’s form.

2) Marcus RashfordManchester United

Looking at Marcus Rashford’s season-long numbers, it’s a shock that he’s receiving the criticism he’s garnered. He collected three goals and two assists in the first eight games, plus a 4.39 xG total in that span, which puts him on double the pace of last season. Then you look a little closer…two of his three goals and 1.40 xG came from the opening match against Chelsea, and two of his three goals are from the penalty spot. In his last three games, Rashford has three total shots (including a pair of goose eggs) for a total of 0.27 xG, plus a measly xA total of 0.13. In the 1-0 loss to Newcastle last time out, Rashford – in a 90 minute performance – had 0 shots while center-back Harry Maguire had two. The 21-year-old was invisible, attempting just 16 passes (nine of which were backward), failing to complete a take-on, 0/4 in the air, and failing to draw a foul.

In addition, Rashford’s contribution to others in the Manchester United attack has plummeted. Last season, Rashford put together a 0.2 xA mark per game, but the bottom has dropped out of that, falling to 0.06 thus far. Much of that can be attributed to overall team performance in a toothless Manchester United attack, but Rashford has certainly contributed to that as well.

However…

There were plenty of positives to take from today’s performance against Liverpool. While he will still hope his time on the ball increases as the season progresses – Solskjaer’s somewhat negative tactics playing with a lead contributed – Rashford’s movement at times was stellar. On the goal, he utilized a common but effective striker move, drifting towards the near post forcing Joel Matip commit before fading away to the far post where he met the cross. Rashford also completed four take-ons in dangerous areas, adding to the collective showing. Still, he remains miserable in the air (0/5), only received 19 passes all match and delivered just 11 himself, and the goal represented one of just two shots taken (the other was a poor finish when given space outside the top of the area). He was withdrawn after a 83rd minute run that did not produce separation from his defender. The signs of improvement are there, but he must become more consistently dangerous to reach his true potential.

1) Dele Alli – Tottenham Hotspur

Of all the players on this list, Dele Alli’s season-long performance is by far the most worrisome. He’s completely lost his place in the Tottenham squad, and the few chances Mauricio Pochettino has given him to prove his worth have gone quite poorly. Alli was given his first start of the Premier League season against Watford, and Pochettino clearly hoped to reign in his wandering, giving him a smaller area to cover. His passing in the middle of the field was tidy, but he struggled to unlock a Watford defense that has been porous this season. Alli earned two chances created, but both the ensuing shots were extremely poor efforts from bad positions outside the box. Alli did make his trademark runs through the defensive line and was rewarded with the late equalizing goal, but if he is to earn more playing time over or alongside Christian Eriksen, he has to put in a better overall performance to help Spurs get better results than a home draw against Watford.

In their two Champions League games where Alli has seen the field more, he was even worse. Against Bayern Munich, Alli had little influence, especially in the first half where the game was still in the balance.In Greece he was even less influential, sending 11 of his 27 completed passes backward while failing to record a single shot assist, completing just one take-on, and committing three fouls while earning none. Overall, his body language is extremely poor and he looks like he expects bad execution before mistakes even happen.

Honorable mention: Harry Kane – Tottenham Hotspur

This is a tough one because on paper, Harry Kane is in great goalscoring form. He’s bagged five goals this Premier League season, plus a whopping nine goals in his last nine international matches. And yet, the eye test tells a completely different story.

Watching Kane, he has devolved from a quick, crafty striker with excellent off-ball movement to a static target man unable to keep up with counter-attacking chances. Kane has been sapped of his explosiveness, most likely thanks to a host of ankle injuries suffered over the past few seasons. Have a look at Kane’s radar for this season compared to the previous two, and you can see the worrying regression.

Harry Kane 2019/20 season so far.

 

Harry Kane 2018/19 season.

 

Harry Kane 2017/18 season.

As you can see, the xG totals have declined sharply, while so have his shooting totals. Numbers can be rectified with improved play, but watching Kane play tells a whole different story, one of a striker who appears unable to produce the same skill set he once could, and at 26 years old its far too early in his career for that to be a natural transition.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.