Hatta Aziz

5 Things We Learned: Huddersfield v Arsenal

If there ever was a game that best describes how it’s been like to watch Arsenal this season, this 2-1 win against Huddersfield might just be the poster boy for how 2018/19 has felt like. While results have mostly been improved under Unai Emery, they have been a grind and not often pleasant to watch.

Here are 5 things we noticed as Arsenal ground out a win against the relegation strugglers.

A Conservative Formation?

Did we really need to play three central defenders against a team that has scored just 13 goals all season? I get that a 3-4-3 formation could also be an offensive setup with the full backs bombing forward and the central defenders stepping in to midfield to start the play. The performance showed otherwise.

Defence has never been Arsenal’s strong point this season so I would have preferred the team lean towards their superior attack against the weakest team in the league. Despite the injuries, we could still have lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette up top with Iwobi, Mhkitaryan and Maitland-Niles behind him. Torreira and Guendouzi could anchor the midfield while we stick to a back four.

The midfield duo was also swamped by the three men in patrolling Huddersfield’s central area. The home team’s side used their numerical advantage and high tempo passing to keep possession and pile on the pressure on Arsenal. 


The Gunners only mastered an average of 45% possession the entire game and were inferior with their attempts on goal too. All this against the league’s bottom side. If we are to be “protagonists” as Emery first described his style, we need to find a style that has the team dominating the games.

Poor Individual Performance in Defence

The irony about the defensive setup was that our defenders has a poor game bar Koscielny and a moderately passable Monreal. 

One of Mustafi’s strong points (there aren’t many) is his ability to play out of the back but he only completed 75% of his passes – a poor rate for a centre back. His tackles and clearances were also half hearted and often ended with the ball returning to the opposition in a dangerous area.

And then we have the wing backs. Both of them created the goals but stuttered in other areas of their game.


I was amazed at how technically competent Maitland-Niles was, especially when he had the ball at feet. His cross for the goal was excellent too. However, his lapses in concentration caused Arsenal to lose possession deep in our half with stray passes that wouldn’t look out of place in a Sunday League game.

Kolasinac was no better, clocking in a measly 55% pass completion rate. This system was built around getting the wide players involved and a big part of the team’s poor control of the game was due to the wing backs’ poor decisions with the ball.

The Return of the Single Striker

It feels like quite a while since we played with a lone striker up top. With Aubemeyang’s illness and Mhkitaryan’s return, Emery was able to redeploy a tactic he favoured earlier in the season – getting two interior attacking midfielders to support the lead striker. 

This tactic worked a treat, especially in the first half. For Huddersfield’s defensive midfield screen, Jonathan Hogg, it was like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Whenever he looked to clamp down on Iwobi, Mhkitaryan popped up on his other side to receive the ball, and vice versa. Both attacking midfielders dominated the half spaces and created a lot of good opportunities on the counter attack. Players like Suarez and Ramsey would also do well in this dual no. 10 role and fill in as we head into the business end of the season. Besides being an effective tactic, this formation also allows Emery to rest one striker on the bench as the games pile up with matches in the Europa League.

Mhki You’re So Fine

The Armenian had a decent run out considering that this was his first competitive game since his 2 month injury lay off and it wasn’t a surprise that he tired towards the end. His performances and productivity haven’t always matched his ginormous wages but his style is crucial to how Emery wants his midfielders to play.

Emery likes all-rounders in the middle of the part and Mkhitaryan ticks a lot of boxes. He works hard, links up play and is capable of sticking to the manager’s tactical plan. It’s quite telling too that Emery pursued Denis Suarez, a player who seems to be in a similar mould. 

There are a lot of reasons for Arsenal’s indifferent form the last couple of months but I feel some of that would have been mitigated with a player like Mhki who could knit the play in the final third. 

Iwobi Didn’t Deserve The Jeers

I don’t understand fans who would jeer our own players in the stadium. Sure, we gripe about them from time to time (this column is such an example) but booing them in person won’t help them improve. 

By and large, Iwobi didn’t have that bad a game at all. He scored a slightly fortuitous goal and could have scored a couple more if not for poor finishing and an offside call. Maybe he’s being targeted because we’re comparing him to other players in his age group like Martial and Mbappe.


The truth is, he’s not them but he’s an Arsenal player who’s been with us since he was 8. He’s Arsenal through and through and deserves our support to make it good. Comparisons aren’t healthy and the only benchmark he can set is to do better than last season. For the most part, I believe Iwobi’s showed that he’s a better player this season. He’s still developing at the age of 22 and perhaps, through no fault of his own, has been overplayed by the manager.

With Suarez bedding in, Mhkitaryan coming back from injury and Ramsey being phased out, expect to see more of Iwobi whether fans like it or not. The only way he can improve if he gets our support.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: West Ham v Arsenal

Arsenal stuttered to a 1-0 loss to West Ham at the London Stadium. The Gunners went down to a Declan Rice strike but had trouble finding their groove throughout the match. 

Here are 5 things we noticed as Arsenal slipped up in their challenge for a top four place in the league.


Arsenal’s last two January games showed a team who looked to have regained their attacking mojo so it was a bit of a surprise when we were treated to some really ponderous play against West Ham. Overall, the team was lethargic with their passes and movement off the ball and Arsenal did not deserve to get any points from the match.

Ironically, Arsenal started on top with Iwobi and Lacazette producing slick exchanges in the final third but their connection petered out after the first 10 minutes. Guendouzi held on to the ball for too long and squandered possession while Ainsley Maitland-Niles flattered to deceive on the right hand side.

The 3-4-3 formation also did not help matters as Aubameyang was tasked to drop deeper into an attacking midfield role on the right where he had trouble knitting play and combining with Maitland-Niles. This role definitely did not suit Aubameyang as he spent more time as an awkward playmaker rather than being played to his strengths as a lead forward.

It was a poor tactical set up and a bad day at the office for the players. 


Arsenal gained some fluidity after Ramsey came on to play in an attacking midfield role. He is by no way the perfect no.10 but his technical ability and movement did cause West Ham some concern.

In the 3-4-3 set up, he should have been the second attacking midfielder alongside Iwobi as he would have at least pulled the West Ham players out of position with his clever positioning. 


Despite positive remarks about Ramsey’s professionalism in his final year, it is obvious that Emery is freezing out Ramsey as he plans for life without the Welsh international. However, with Ozil and Mkhitaryan’s continued absence, Emery should use Ramsey to fill in that gap in the short term.


The only player could leave the match with his head held high was Alex Iwobi who took on the responsibility of driving the team forward. He was a blur of legs – trying to make things happen with his dribbles and passes into the feet of the forwards.

He didn’t shirk his defensive duties either, as he won the ball in his half during the second period before outrunning his marker on route to the West Ham penalty box.


Iwobi might have had a blip in form in December but looks to have returned to his best with 2 goals and 2 assists in the last few games. His skill set, being able to carry the ball and take on defenders, is unique in this team of passers and runners.

Emery would be wise to add another ball carrier like Iwobi (Denis Suarez maybe?) during the transfer window if Arsenal wants to make the top four. 


I like seeing Aubameyang and Lacazette upfront as part of a classic front two. I also understand that a three-man backline helps keep the defence secure as each member of that backline does have weaknesses in their game.

However, it is quite a big risk playing most of your available players in these positions when there isn’t enough back up on the bench. Aubameyang and Lacazette are the only fit forwards with Welbeck out for the season. Nketiah is too inexperienced to start games in the league or in the latter stages of the Europa League.

Aside from the three defenders who started against West Ham, the only options in reserve are Mavropanos and Monreal. The former is an inexperienced player who is only coming back from an injury that sidelined him for months. The latter, our back up left back who has also struggled with his share of injuries.

A return to a back four and a single striker formation should be on the agenda for future matches as we are precariously on the brink of an injury crisis the moment one of the strikers or defenders goes down injured.


As previously mentioned in our mid-season ratings of the manager, we’re half way through the season and we’re not sure what the plan is by Emery. There’s been many formation changes and it seems that the only constant is the focus on cutbacks by rampaging full backs.

The chopping and changing looks to be confusing the players as the game plan changes too fluidly, not just from game to game but also, from each half. Emery spoke at his unveiling about being protagonists in attack but it’s tough to do so without any coherent plan to work towards.


It’s starting to look like Arsene’s last season all over again where the performances would swing wildly from game to game. Emery isn’t helping himself with the constant switches in formation. The faster he can settle on a plan, the better.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Arsenal Mid-Season Ratings 2018/19 – Forwards and Manager

We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far. 

In this piece, we’ll be assessing the forwards and the new manager, Unai Emery. 

Danny Welbeck – 6.5/10

Poor Danny. Just when he was getting into the groove of things, he suffered a major injury in the Europa League that ended his season early.

Emery integrated Welbeck into the team slowly due to his commitments in the World Cup, bringing him on as a substitute in league games and starting him in the cups. His versatility, physical power and diligence in following instructions were a plus as the manager has shuffled his team through a series of formations and tactics. 

Welbeck clocked in a respectable 5 goals and 1 assist in all competitions despite being moved between a supporting and lead striking position. He’s a major team player and always puts in the hard yards for his teammates. If he’s leaving at the end of the season, which looks quite likely, Arsenal would be hard pressed to find a back up forward with his experience, ability and professionalism.

Alexandre Lacazette – 7.5/10

Lacazette’s value to the team was evident in the first couple of games when Arsenal’s forward line struggled to find any rhythm without the Frenchman. Lacazette has since become indispensable to the team as his hold up play, clinical finishing and a willingness to put in a defensive shift high up the pitch has endeared him to Emery and the fans.

9 goals and 6 assists in all competitions shows that he’s not just a good goalscorer but a selfless provider for his teammates. He’s on course to better his goals scored in 2017/18 and has already surpassed the number of assists from the entirety of last season.

Much has been made of his moody demeanour when being substituted but he’s managed to show a more positive disposition in the recent Fulham game – providing another assist for his team from the sidelines.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – 8/10

A player that I feel doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Aubameyang’s 14 goals in the league puts him at the head of the goalscoring charts but not much has been made of his supremacy in front of goal. This is probably because, for the casual viewer, he’s not an all action player like Lacazette. 

Aubameyang operates in the periphery of the game and his skills are more cerebral. His game is based on finding pockets of space to exploit and his speed helps him gain an extra yard of space to pounce on the tiniest opportunity in the box.

He does miss his fair share of chances but he averages close to 3 shots per game and that is enough to get him a goal in most of the games he plays. 

Aubemeyang also deserves credit for playing a big chunk of the season out of position on the left of midfield but has played on diligently. Scintillating shots from outside the box, something he rarely did at Dortmund, and improved pressing from the front since the North London Derby shows that Aubameyang is expanding his repertoire as a forward.

Aubameyang looks the elite striker we have been crying out for since the departure of Robin Van Persie and Thierry Henry and we should appreciate his talents while we can.

Manager: Unai Emery – 7/10

Emery had a tough task of replacing a legacy manager but said all the right things at the start about working harder. Under his guidance, the team does look fitter and stronger which may explain Arsenal’s second half dominance as the Gunner tend to overrun tired opposition legs. Despite losing the first 2 games of the season, there is a resilience in the team now that has been missing in the last few seasons under Wenger.

Emery has improved individual players like Iwobi, Holding and Bellerin who stagnated under the previous regime. A focus on the collective is also to be applauded but that has come with its set of problems.

The new manager has found it hard to integrate Ramsey and Ozil into his plans – 2 high profile players who have previously been given free creative reign under Wenger. In the case of Ozil, that means dropping the club’s biggest earner and most creative player due to poor form. That is a political minefield that has complicated matters for Emery but he seems to have that under control for the time being.

While the results have mostly been positive, fans have been right to call out Emery on a lack of “philosophy” and a coherent plan. He changes formations very often and has not been able to improve the defence. The half time substitutions were refreshing at the start but it’s hard to see what the team is building towards. Tactical flexibility is always welcomed but it has to be anchored in a clear blueprint.

Still, I believe he deserves more time and the hierarchy needs to back him with more players during the current transfer window, especially in defence and on the wings. 

Emery has been tasked to get back into the Champions League through a top 4 finish and/or via the Europa League. To attain his goals, he has to tighten up the defence, have a consistent plan for the players to adopt and bring out the best of Ozil in the second half of the season.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Arsenal Mid-Season Ratings 2018/19 – Midfield

We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far. 

In this piece, we’ll be looking into the midfield to assess who’s played well and who could look to improve as the season progresses. 

Lucas Torreira – 8/10

The defensive midfielder that fans have been crying out for since Gilberto’s departure. Torreira’s drive, aggression and pace belied his small stature as he regularly shielded the defence with his combative tackling

Some have compared him to Flamini in his prime but Torreira is nowhere near as reckless and is a much more accomplished technician of the ball. He’s comfortable on the ball, passes quickly and is capable of delivering a pass through the lines – something that he honed as an attacking midfielder earlier in his career.

Torreira’s form dipped a little from playing so many minutes through a heavy festive period but you can expect him to bounce back sooner rather than later. One of the bright spots in a mixed first half of the season.

Granit Xhaka – 7/10

Finally, fans are starting to appreciate the qualities that Xhaka’s the Arsenal midfield. Xhaka has been able to play his natural game by dictating the tempo from deep. Gone are the days that he would have had to shield the defence alone with midfield partner Torreira picking up the defensive slack in the centre of the park.

His absence was keenly felt when he was moved to the centre and left side of defence due to an injury crisis at the back. Arsenal struggled to progress the ball up the field and could not find a rhythm in those games.

With Emery marginalizing Ozil and Ramsey, Xhaka’s excellent range of passing and set piece expertise looks even more crucial to making the team tick. He looks more and more like a leader on the pitch and could well be the successor to the armband when Koscielny ends his Arsenal stint.

Matteo Guendouzi – 6.5/10 

Guendouzi’s name was on everyone’s lips after a productive pre-season in Singapore. Guendouzi plays with courage and confidence that is rarely found in someone so young. He’s eager to receive the ball in tight spaces and is always committed to play out under pressure. You can see why he’s a favourite of the manager.

However, he is still a teenager learning his trade and his rawness is apparent when he switches off defensively and makes silly tackles in dangerous areas. Sometimes, that courage on the ball also means that he holds on to the ball for a bit longer than he should and ends up losing it in midfield.

Guendouzi is a player with great potential and Emery needs to ensure his minutes in the league are managed accordingly to aid in his growth as a player.

Mohamed Elneny – 5/10

The ultimate “safe” player. Possessing a good engine and an ability to make safe, albeit conservative, passes of the ball, I always felt that Elneny looked a good option to bring off the bench to protect a lead. 

However, Emery doesn’t seem to rate him and he’s been relegated to starting in the cups. Elneny has only one league game to his name – the 3-1 win over Burnley on 22 December which saw him substituted on 59 minutes.

The Egyptian international hasn’t been bad, though he hasn’t been spectacular neither, and would look to be a handy squad player for the cup games where you can be guaranteed of a steady 6/10 performance from him.

Aaron Ramsey – 6.5/10

1 goal and 6 assists in 9 Premier League appearances is stuff many midfielders can only dream of. Despite the good record on paper, Aaron Ramsey hasn’t always looked comfortable in the number 10 role – a position he’s played for most of the season.

Arsenal’s announcement regarding the non-renewal of Ramsey’s contract has also thrown a spanner into the works as his appearances have been marginalized since.

There are rumours of a January departure to PSG or Juventus. A move for him might be a blessing in disguise as managers past and present have struggled to find Ramsey a role to best express his talents. 

If he stays, I would love to see him on the right side of midfield in a “Ljungberg” role where he can tuck in and protect the midfield and make late diagonal runs into the box to add a goal threat in attack.

Mesut Ozil – 4/10

There is no one in the team right now who can divide opinion like Mesut Ozil. The biggest star in the team has struggled to play within Emery’s setup. He’s been peripheral in the earlier games having started on the right side of midfield and hasn’t been on board with the high pressing tactics. Blockbuster performances such as the one against Leicester have been far and few in between. 

For someone of his ability, I believe he should be performing better in the games he starts in though at times, he has unfairly been the lightning rod for wider issues in the team. But as the biggest star and the highest earner in the club, the spotlight is inevitable.

Constant rumours of a backroom rift with the manager has also dogged Ozil – missing games due to a series of “back spasms” and “tactical reasons”. Whether you see him as victim or villain, it is imperative that Arsenal find a way to get Ozil performing in 2019 to lead the team back into a Champions League spot. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 5/10

Much was demanded from Mkhitaryan at the start of this season. He’s an experienced attacker who can play in wide and central areas, has a telepathic relationship with Aubameyang (judging from their Dortmund days) and is one of the highest earners at the club. The Armenian playmaker has not delivered and his performances have so far been mediocre. 

For a player of his talents, he hasn’t shown enough consistency for Arsenal with only 4 goals and 3 assists in the league and Europa League to show for. Very often he struggles to get the basics right with his link up play and finishing but is equally capable of a brilliant moment of skill (see goal against Chelsea). 

His form did seem to be on a slightly upward curve towards the end of December before suffering a metatarsal injury that would see him return in February 2019. 

Alex Iwobi – 6/10

Iwobi started the season on fire. Like Bellerin, the ex-Arsenal academy player found a new lease of life under the new coaching team. Opponents were struggling to cope with his dribbles, powerful runs and his nutmegs. 

However, December saw the team’s spiralling form affect Iwobi’s performances. A greater responsibility to be the team’s playmaker due to Mkhitaryan’s inconsistencies and the absence of Ozil has seen Iwobi revert to the ponderous play that plagued him game last season.

He could do with a bit of a rest but with scant options within the team for a wide player, Emery may be forced to play Iwobi into the ground. If there was a consolation to the Liverpool game, Iwobi looked like the one guy who could have created something for the team but more reinforcements are required to shoulder the responsibility in attack.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Arsenal Mid-Season Ratings 2018/19 – Goalkeepers and Defenders

We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far. 

In the first of three articles, we’ll be looking into (theoretically) the bedrock of the team – the goalkeepers and defenders.  

Petr Cech – 6.5/10

The veteran goalkeeper was the surprise first choice shot stopper for the Gunners at the start of the season considering the big money acquisition of Bernd Leno, a “modern goalkeeper” who was adept with his feet. This is an important trait in Emery’s plans to play out of the back and there were worries that Cech, an ageing ‘keeper whose strengths don’t include these traits would struggle.

And struggle he did. Cech lacked the composure with the ball at his feet and was almost culpable for a few major blunders. That was in stark contrast to his shot stopping and command of the box as he often bailed the defence out on many occasions as they struggled for cohesion in front of him. 

His performances did improve with each game, averaging 4 shots saved per game (1.9 saves in the penalty box alone) but succumbed to injury and has lost his spot to Leno. Something tells me he won’t be first choice any longer.

Bernd Leno – 7/10

The German international never looked back after displacing Cech after the latter’s injury. Leno hasn’t been spectacular but has had pretty steady performances.

He definitely looks more comfortable on the ball. Despite the myth that all ball playing goalkeepers are adept at a dribbling past pressing forwards (blame them on those Neuer Youtube highlights), he’s not afraid to boot the ball long if the situation calls for it.

Leno still looks like he is acclimatizing to the robust English game. He’s had some shaky moments, the Southampton game comes to mind, but he’ll be a reliable performer if he continues to improve as the season goes on.

Hector Bellerin – 7.5/10

Bellerin’s performances, like many Arsenal youth products, hit a glass ceiling towards the end of Wenger’s regime. He was extremely enthusiastic about learning from the new management team during pre-season and has flourished under the tutelage of Emery and his team.

Tactically more astute with his positioning, Bellerin also has gotten 4 assists to his name this season. His role in the team is crucial due to the lack of wide players in midfield and it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s results have tailed off since his injury in the game against Southampton. 

Could move up a gear if he just has a settled partner ahead of him on the right side of midfield.

Stephan Lichtsteiner – 4/10

I was unsure if Lichtsteiner was a good acquisition from Juventus. Massively experienced and a master of the dark arts, he looked a good fit as a back up to Bellerin and could also play a big part in the locker room. 

While we aren’t privy to his impact in the locker room, Lichtsteiner has been below par on the pitch and occasionally, a liability (as seen in the build up to the goal conceded to Brighton). I do have sympathy for him as he’s got the unenviable position of having to adjust to a new, faster paced league at the age of 34 in a physically demanding position. On top of that, the collective defensive issues and the constant rotation due to the growing injury list makes it doubly hard for Lichtsteiner.

At this rate, I’d even take Jenkinson over him to play right back. A longer term replacement for Lichtsteiner will be on the agenda this summer.

Sead Kolasinac – 6/10

One of many polarising players in the team. Kolasinac’s got the physique of a burly centre back with the balance and agility of a twinkle toed winger. He is a player who needs a run of games to get into his best form. Kolasinac struggled earlier in the season, especially with the defensive side of the game.

However, his ability to provide width and deliver the final ball means he’s considered one of the most important players in attack for Emery – he registers an average of 1.8 key passes per game.

Emery needs to find a way for the team to cover for Kolasinac’s defensive gaps and allow him to channel his inner Marcelo as Arsenal’s creator from the left.

Nacho Monreal – 6/10

I’ve got a soft spot for Nacho. He’s been a reliable and underrated player for Arsenal but this looks like a season too far for him as a regular starter. He’s struggled with injuries but he’s still scored a goal and notched 3 assists in 14 games across all competitions.

Nacho could still do a decent as back up to Kolasinac and needs to have his minutes managed as he approaches 33 years of age in 2019. A left back should be on the list for the likes of Sven and Raul.

Shkodran Mustafi – 4/10

Mustafi has been a calamity. He makes rash tackles, switches off at important moments and often dangles his leg out to “tackle”. These are Sunday League-level errors that has no place in this team. His defending in the second goal scored by Liverpool at Anfield says it all.

You see the talent in him when he nicks the ball off opponents and plays calmly out from the back. On paper, he’s a World Cup winner, a player in his prime years and has had two and a half seasons with the team. Mustafi should be an undisputed player at the back but he’s been a massive failure.

Arsenal will not be able to push for a top 4 position with Mustafi as the first-choice centre back. They need a January signing to relegate Mustafi to the bench for the second half of the season before selling him in the summer.

Rob Holding – 7/10

Probably due to inexperience, Holding had to sit out the first few games of the season as Emery went with the more experienced duo of Sokratis and Mustafi.

Holding made his first competitive appearance against Vorskla at the end of September and was a regular fixture since. Predominantly a left sided centre back, he caught the eye with steady performances at the back and assured technique when passing and dribbling out from defence.

Holding’s season was curtailed prematurely with an ACL injury and is a big loss for the team lacking in defensive numbers.

Sokratis – 6.5/10

Sokratis has the makings of a cult hero at Arsenal. Deceptively quick, strong in the tackle and a student of the dark arts, he has had good performances in the Arsenal shirt. However, his game is also marred with the occasional needless tackles that put the team under pressure. The kick on Salah’s calves at Anfield displayed the need for better discipline as he gave away a silly penalty to seal the game for Liverpool.

I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt as he’s still new to the team and has been thrusted into a dysfunctional backline but Sokratis has room for improvement in the second half of the season. 

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Southampton v Arsenal

Arsenal’s unbeaten run came to an end at the St. Mary’s Stadium as their defensive frailties finally caught up with them. To make matters worse, more defenders went off injured and Arsenal’s rival for the Top 4 have all gained maximum points. Arsenal trail Chelsea by three points in fifth place.

Here are 5 things we observed in the game against Southampton.

Threadbare Defence

The paucity of options at the back meant that Emery set up a three man central defensive line with a rusty Koscielny being flanked by makeshift centre backs – Lichtsteiner and Xhaka. Koscielny looked off the pace on a few occasions and he was culpable for the first and third goal. He could have been better positioned to meet the crosses before they reached Ings and Austin respectively.

However, it is harsh to put all the blame on him as he’s been rushed back to play after 6 months out with a major Achilles injury. With injuries and suspensions decimating the defence, the captain will be required to get to grips with his form double quick time with a whole slew of matches coming up.

Such demands and a packed fixture list are worrying as it might push Koscielny into the injury “red zone” faster than the club would like.

Hector Bellerin.jpg

Things got from bad to worse when Bellerin hobbled off at half time and Lichtsteiner went off injured towards the end of the game. Oh, and Kolasinac sat out the game due to a thigh problem. It’s going to be a rough December.

Missing Fluency and Thrust in Midfield

Just like in the game against Huddersfield, Arsenal struggled for fluency and penetration in the first half. The reason for this, however, is slightly different from the previous league match.

With the 3-4-3, Emery’s gameplan was to focus play through the flanks to create overloads via the wing backs and the interior attacking midfielders (Iwobi and Mkhitaryan) but the players seemed to be on a different wavelength when it came to their movement and combination play. There were good moments that were borne out of those overloads (the first goal and Bellerin’s cross for Aubameyang that was snuffed out just before his tap in) but the team struggled to move the ball fast enough.


Perhaps it was fatigue or the team missing Xhaka’s distribution from midfield. Emery needs to come up with new solutions to provide a spark through December. My eyes are on the well-rested legs of Ozil and Ramsey push the team across the line when the going gets tough.

Mkhitaryan’s Graft A Positive

As one of the top earners at the club, Mkhitaryan’s performances has been relatively poor for Arsenal. I’ve spoken often about the need for him to step up as one of the team’s chief playmakers further up the field to compensate for Ozil’s and Ramsey’s lack of contribution in Emery’s system this season.


Against Southampton, he was one of the bright sparks for the team. His header and impeccable timing to receive the cross from Monreal was a much needed boost when Arsenal went a goal down. While he was lucky with the deflection on the second goal, it was a deserved goal for a player who put in a great shift to press the opponents relentlessly and get involved in the build up for some of Arsenal’s better moves.

Aubameyang’s All Round Play Getting Better

Another rare positive in this game was Aubameyang’s improvement in his all-round play. The match against Spurs proved that Aubameyang was more than just a penalty box poacher. He showed fantastic ability to press intelligently and hold up the ball.

Against Southampton, he used the ball efficiently by opening up the game through dribbling into half spaces and layoffs for teammates to bring them into play. His back heel to set up Iwobi in a crowded penalty box also showed good vision and composure under pressure.


His predatory prowess was still evident on two occasions when he was close to scoring a tap in if not for last ditch tackles from the Southampton defenders. If he keeps playing like this, we should expect him to be at the top of the goalscoring charts by the end of the season.

Does Arsenal Need Cech?

Leno has shown that his judgement isn’t the best when it comes to crosses. All three goals conceded were headers created from wide which perhaps showed that Southampton were looking to test him in those situations.

The third goal was a combination of defensive mistakes throughout the team but it could have been averted if he was better positioned to palm the ball away from Austin. This was not the first time in the game (or the season) where he hasn’t been able to reach the ball when defending the cross.

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David de Gea faced similar issues in his first season at United but was given leeway to make mistakes while acclimatizing to the Premier League. Would Emery take a similar risk if he sees Leno as his long-term solution? Arsenal need to finish the season in the top four and Emery may not be able to afford such mistakes with crucial short-term targets. Could he revert to Cech in goal who has a superior command of the box?

My guess would be that Leno keeps his place but with a thinning backline, having a leader like Cech in goal might be a big help to that makeshift defence.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Huddersfield

It was 1-0 to the Arsenal but the game was far from a classic. Poor refereeing, sluggish play and a defensive crisis dominated a game where Arsenal showed some mettle to get the result right at the end.

Here are 5 things we observed in the match against Huddersfield.


Unai Emery is the new Tinkerman. It was Arsenal’s third game in seven days with a heavy schedule looming over the next four weeks but that didn’t dissuade the coach from playing both his strikers, all his three trusted central midfielders and a three-man backline despite having only two fit centre backs.

The formation did not work out as the flat midfield could not provide enough passing angles and lanes for the team to pass the ball out progressively from the back to front. Very often, players were made to pass sideways and backwards as Huddersfield cleverly pressed Arsenal to limit their play.

It is in these games where a natural number 10 like Ozil would have been perfect to find pockets of space in midfield to break the press and create more passing options for the team to move out of the back.

To his credit, Emery noticed this and switched the personnel and formation to a 4-3-3 shape – spreading out the play to the flanks. The change posed Huddersfield new problems, culminating in a goals for Arsenal in the 83rd minute.

Opposition Tactics

To the neutral eye, there was a lot to admire with Huddersfield’s approach. Their selective but well drilled pressing was effective in suffocating the game. Though they don’t have many household names, I thought their players were had decent technical ability to move the ball forward and generally kept their shape well to defend against the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette, especially in the first half.


Their rotational fouling of the Arsenal players also stifled the Gunners and impeded any chance of good passing moves progressing from the Arsenal backline. Emery has to start thinking of ways to tackle such a tactic in the future as teams may take a leaf out of Huddersfield’s book to nullify the Gunners.

Though, this wouldn’t be such a problem if the referee controlled the game better. Which brings me to…..

Poor Refereeing Decisions

By the 20 minute mark, Huddersfield were guilty of 9 fouls versus 1 by Arsenal. The referee should have stepped in and cautioned players to deter Huddersfield against such cynical tactics. Instead, he let it go and it became a free for all in the latter stages of the first half. He then started to overcompensate by booking every Tom, Dick and Harry, with the worst of the lot the three yellow cards issued to Arsenal players for simulation.


Xhaka was tripped on the half way line and the cards for Guendouzi and Mustafi were borderline at best. Most referees would have waved play on and demanded the player get up if such an incident occurred.

While VAR can’t come soon enough, technology is not a solution for such levels of ineptitude.

Defensive Crisis

Mustafi, who’s had a decent run in a three man backline, picked up his fifth yellow for diving though his suspension is inconsequential considering the hamstring injury he picked up that should rule him out for the rest of December.

Sokratis, who only recently came back from injury, will be suspended for the Southampton game and will then have to play back to back matches every 3-4 days in December as the only fit senior centre back. Arsenal’s other options are Laurent Koscielny, who needs to be reintegrated very slowly considering his age and the awful Achilles injury he picked up. It was quite telling that Emery chose against putting him on for the last 20 minutes as Mustafi’s replacement.


Monreal and Lichtsteiner look like they can do a temporary job in the centre of defence due to their defensive nous and experience but their best position would still be at full back. Their availability would also be dependent on rotating minutes with incumbent fullbacks, Kolasinac and Bellerin, who would need a rest at some point.

Elneny has played there in the past as part of a three man backline.

More natural solutions would be Mavropanos who looked decent last season in the few games he started but hasn’t convinced Emery this season as he hasn’t played at all this campaign. The youngster also is recovering from injury.

Youngsters from the academy may be needed to fill the gap for the Europa League and Carabao Cup games alongside cult hero, Carl Jenkinson. There are no easy solutions and the Gunners would need to dig deep to come out of December with results.

Terrific Torreira

Easily the signing of the season and one of the most important ones we’ve made in recent years. Not only has he been excellent defensively, he’s shown to have a good instinct for attack. His passing is much more progressive than traditional defensive midfielders (see: Kante and Casemiro), he isn’t afraid to shoot and he seems to have gotten a knack for goal scoring too. A defensive midfielder who can attack? Arsene would be proud of such a signing.


Torreira will be susceptible to burnout and injuries considering his intense playing style and the hectic festive schedule. Emery needs to hold a little more faith in Elneny and Maitland-Niles who could step in to do a job for the team in the cup games and the occasional substitute appearances in the league.

A fit and firing Torreira is key to Arsenal’s chase for a top 4 finish.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Spurs

The first North London Derby of the Emery era was a pulsating affair as Arsenal came from behind to score three goals in the second half to clinch the win. The Gunners trade places on the table with Spurs to move to fourth place, level on points but ahead on goal difference.

The game had everything – beautiful goals, a cheating opposition who got what they deserved and even a touchline spat involving the players. Here are 5 things we observed in the 4-2 win against Spurs.


When the team sheet was announced, many raised an eyebrow to the return of the back three and the omission of Mesut Ozil. All that was forgotten once the match started. Arsenal came out all guns blazing, swarming Spurs players high up the field and never giving them a moment to breathe.

Concerns about poor defenders were gone as everyone took up that responsibility from front to back. The front 3 set the tone well for the rest of the team as they never stopped running and created many turn overs to trouble the Spurs backline. Torreira’s hard running was inspiring and even Kolasinac was putting in a solid defensive shift. Spurs struggled to match Arsenal’s pace and Arsenal went ahead deservedly through a coolly taken penalty.


Arsenal did drop their intensity midway through the first half which culminated with Spurs gaining a foothold in the game and scoring two (questionable) goals. I hope Emery shows this game during his post-match video analysis to remind the players of the importance of sustaining their focus and intensity. If they play at full potential, they might finally just be able to enter half time with the lead for the first time this season. No better time to start than against United on Wednesday night.


Arsenal let Spurs back into the game in the first half when they slowed down the game. This led to a few nervy moments when the Gunners’ backline reverted to the porous defence we’ve come to know this season.

However, there were elements of luck in each goal. Replays showed that Dier was marginally offside for the first goal though Leno could have done better to protect his near post. Son looked threatening on the counter but the supposed foul that gave away the penalty was actually a dive. Any contact by Holding on Son was minimal at best but the Korean winger made the most of it to deceive the ref.


In his first interview, Emery spoke about being a “protagonist” and taking the initiative to win every game. Even by his standards, his two half time substitutions to bring on Ramsey and Lacazette seemed radical.

Iwobi and Mkhitaryan did a decent job in the first half, especially in the first 20 minutes, and I thought that they’d be given until the 60th minute to get Arsenal back into the game. They were also more natural playmakers than the two substitutes and I thought they could have created more for Aubameyang.

However, the substitutes did not disappoint. They added energy and helped the team press even harder to wrestle back momentum. Ramsey notched 2 assists (one from pressing Foyth on the half way line) and Lacazette scored the third goal to put Arsenal back in front.


Despite their lack of playmaking nous, their hard work to create turn overs was crucial in creating those chances – reminiscent of Jurgen Klopp explaining that the true playmaker in a high pressing system was the system itself.


Arsenal are now the “highest scoring second half team” in the league having scored the most goals (24) in the latter half of matches. This could be a testament to tactical changes and improved fitness that have helped the Gunners move up gears as the game progresses.

They still need to work on the first half performances but opponents now know that Arsenal will give them a tough game right until the end.


Surely Aubameyang has done enough to be the lead striker if he carries on playing with this intensity and keeps the goals coming. Usually quite peripheral in the physical battle, he joined up with his supporting attackers to harry the Spurs backline and led the line well.

His taking of the penalty showed that he was ready to take responsibility for the team but the highlight of the game was his Henry-esque finish for the equalizer. Aubameyang never scored a lot of goals outside the box during his Dortmund stint but he’s been given free rein to shoot from distance. His technique is brilliant – guiding the ball at pace into the corner of the net. World class.

And finally, an honourable mention for Lacazette who came on and had a job to do on the right. He didn’t complain or sulk being played out of position but fought hard for the team to win the ball and was selfless to create chances for Aubameyang. His hard work paid off when attempting to score from outside the box with his left foot as he gave Arsenal the lead for the second time in the game.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Bournemouth v Arsenal

Arsenal returned to winning ways after the international break despite another unconvincing performance against a good Bournemouth team that started the game in 6th place. This game saw a fortuitous opening goal for the Arsenal, some bad defending and Emery’s tactical tweaks at play.

Here are 5 things we noticed in the 2-1 win over Bournemouth.

Emery’s respect for the opposition

Emery did his homework again and shook things up with a 3-4-3 formation. The three-man backline was meant to negate the Cherries’ swift attackers but it also affected the Gunners’ build up. For the first 20 minutes, Arsenal struggled to find the right angles to make their passes. Their main distributor, Xhaka, couldn’t find space in midfield to receive the ball and many of the defenders’ passes found the feet of opposition midfielders instead.

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The omission of Mesut Ozil was also an admission of Emery’s focus on the opposition as he spoke about a need to add more “physicality and intensity” into their game. It’s very refreshing to hear this from the Arsenal boss as he’s not afraid to bench big players in service of the overall tactical plan.

More time needs to be spent on the training ground before the team can seamlessly switch between systems to counter the opposition but at least this keeps rivals guessing on our tailored approach.

Rebuilding the defence a must

The 3 central defenders had a mixed game and what we saw on the pitched showed that we need to invest quickly in a top central defender who can lead the backline. Holding had an okay game but Sokratis looked very rusty upon his return from injury. The Greek struggled with the pace of the game during most of the first half, as seen in his wrestling of the Bournemouth players.

Bellerin looked decent despite having very little opportunity to link with the right side of midfield. Mustafi did a Mustafi – he was solid for most of the game with his distribution and interceptions before giving away a dangerous free kick just outside the box during the last minute of injury time. I really want to like this guy but he seems to always have a big mistake in him even in games where he does 90% of his tasks right.


And then we come to Kolasinac. Like Mustafi, I really want to see him succeed but his defensive work against the Cherries was horrible. A wing back’s defensive responsibilities are reduced with a three-man backline but this does not mean they are totally absolved of any defensive work. Kolasinac did not get the memo as he strolled back to defend and often left a gaping hole for the midfield to cover.

Unless his performances improve, a solid left back should be on the agenda in the upcoming summer.

Game management a work in progress

Arsenal did not deserve to take the lead but the least they could have done was play it safe and make it to the second half with the lead intact. Instead, they pushed too many players forward and Bournemouth scored on the counter in injury time.

Arsenal remain one of two teams to never have gone into the second half this season in the lead. Astonishing.

Credit to Emery, he made subtle changes in the second half to swing the game to Arsenal’s favour. He turned Kolasinac from a defensive liability and focused on his strengths. Kolasinac played mostly as a left winger and Emery channelled the flow of the game slightly to the left to compensate for this. Iwobi lurked in the inside left channel to make space for Kolasinac. Xhaka crept slightly to the left to cover and Holding occasionally played left back.


It worked. We scrapped through to score the winning goal that was created from a Kolasinac cross. The team played more conservatively to see out the game but we need this to be drilled from the first minute to ensure that the players are more conscious of the needs of the game.

Aubameyang – the league’s top goalscorer

I previously spoke about playing Aubameyang up top for this game and true enough, he got the gig (albeit by default thanks to Lacazette’s injury). If there’s one person who suffers from a lack of build up play, it’s Aubameyang. He requires his playmakers to create for him and the Arsenal team lacked fluency to provide chances for him regularly.

However, it’s a testament to his quality to constantly get into good positions to strike on goal. Aubameyang should have hit the target with a chance each in the first and second half but contrived to shoot high above the bar.


It was an easy tap-in for the Gabon striker to make it 2-1 but not before making a stealthy diagonal run to evade his markers in the build up.

Mkhitaryan needs to sort out his form

On paper, the Armenian is one of the most creative and experienced players in the team. He can play across the attacking midfield areas and is relied on to be one of the Arsenal’s key players this season. But somehow, things are not clicking for him at the moment.

He miscontrolled the ball multiple times when a little composure would have helped him keep the ball better or produced a better shot and pass. This has been evident in the last few games that Mkhitaryan has played in.


He is playing way below his potential and Arsenal need him to be performing now. A hectic festive calendar awaits and Arsenal lack options in wide positions with Welbeck injured and Reiss Nelson out on loan.

With Mesut Ozil going through a similar malaise, Arsenal can’t afford to have their top playmakers (and earners) firing blanks in the winter.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Wolves

A bad day at the office for the Arsenal.

November has traditionally been a poor period for results at Arsenal and the trend has seemed to seep into the Emery tenure. We’ve seen 3 games in November and they have all ended in draws. The first was a credible result against league contenders Liverpool. This was followed by a drab goalless match against a poor Sporting Lisbon side (with the caveat of the horrible Welbeck injury of course) and the shambles of a performance against Wolves.

We explore the 5 things from one of Arsenal’s worst performance yet under Unai Emery.

Arsenal need to re-calibrate their radar

The team was exceptionally sloppy with their passing. Save for Torreira, most of the outfield players did not find their teammates with their passes. Even Mustafi, whose one good trait is his distribution from deep, was seen pumping aimless long balls into the final third during the second half when he had 4 central midfielders ahead of him.

It is understandable when one player is off form but to see so many moves breakdown between most of the players, something was not right here. To use a popular automotive analogy, it wasn’t that the “hand break was on” but more like a performance sports car being filled with diesel that got it sputtering and gumming up the works.


Our goal conceded was a result of that same sloppiness. Xhaka gave away the ball needlessly and Arsenal were killed on the counter. And don’t even get me started on Xhaka’s tracking of Cavaliero after losing the ball.

Wolves took advantage of Arsenal giving them possession by making 13 shots on the Arsenal goal with 5 of them on target. By comparison, Arsenal only had 10 shots on goal with 3 on target. The scoreline could have been worse if not for Bernd Leno.

Leno proves his worth

There were a few question marks on Leno when he first joined Arsenal. It didn’t look good on him when Cech started the season as first choice despite Leno’s big price tag and reputation as a ‘keeper who can play Emery’s technical style of football.

He’s slowly proved his worth in the last few weeks after replacing an injured Cech and has been solid if not spectacular for the Gunners. Leno made 4 crucial saves from Wolves’ dangerous counters, preventing an embarrassing scoreline at home for the Arsenal.

Diamond formation

Emery pulled off another tactical switch at half time, changing the formation to a 4-4-2 with a diamond shaped midfield. Guendouzi came on for Iwobi and the emphasis was on dominating the central areas and pushing the full backs higher.

I liked the idea and I think the formation helped Arsenal to a small extent by creating overloads around the half spaces to release our full backs for a cut back. However, tactics can only do so much if the players can’t perform fundamentals like simple passes.


The switch to the diamond formation to bring out more from the wing also looked like an indictment of a lack of wing play. I have been behind the idea of bringing in a more traditional winger to the team. A Douglas Costa/Willian type who takes on his man to break down defences who can mix it up when our quick pass and move style doesn’t work. Iwobi seems to be the only one closest to that type and Reiss Nelson can’t return fast enough.

Perhaps a January signing could be key with the next closest winger (and I say this quite loosely), Danny Welbeck, could be out for most of the season. If that signing doesn’t come, the diamond formation would be a decent alternative to get the best out of the team’s full backs.

Aubameyang as lead striker?

The switch to a diamond formation meant that we got to see a rare outing with both strikers up top. I would bet big that this won’t happen often unless we’re chasing a game.

As previously documented, attempts to shoehorn both strikers into the team haven’t been very successful. Aubameyang has looked like Thierry Henry in a Benjamin Button movie. An elite striker moved to the left wing who is slowly losing his confidence, sharpness and belief in himself.

Lacazette has also looked like he’s lost some of that sharpness which made him indispensable to the team. Passes and flicks ons were not coming off against Wolves but these were evident in the previous matches as well.

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Both players need to be played in their best position and it looks like Aubameyang could use some games up top. The next game is against Bournemouth away and a speedy goal poacher could do well to run in behind an expansive Eddie Howe team.

It’s not an easy decision to make for Emery. I totally understand why Lacazette is so important to his style of play. Does he refine Plan A and ensures that he can charge Lacazette’s batteries over the international break? Or does bank on Aubameyang who doesn’t contribute much to the build up play but can make his mark in the box.

Both strikers will affect how we play and move the ball. I reckon Emery might not want to change the style of play too much as the team is still learning his methods. He wants a rendition of “total football” which means the striker needs to be involved in the build up – suiting Lacazette’s skillset much more.

Silver linings

The international break comes at a good time for the team. Arsenal’s poor passing could be the result of mental fatigue rather than a physical one. I saw the team work hard but moves were just not coming off.

Paul has mentioned on the podcast that improvements in our play this season will not be linear and I believe this to be true. There will be times that the team will falter and the last game was an example of that. The players are learning new methods and there will be growing pains in any workplace when a team is getting used to a new management.

The good news is that Arsenal are still unbeaten in 16 games across all competitions. We have Koscielny and Mavrapanos coming back after the break who could make an appearance in the Europa League to shake off the cobwebs with the safety net of qualification.

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Monreal should make a return too while we should hope that other key players like Aubameyang, Lacazette and Mkhitaryan can regain their form for a challenging end to 2018.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Arsenal v Leicester

A captain’s redemption, nutmegs and one touch football.

Project 24 is well and truly in motion as Arsenal gained their 21st points in the league, keeping pace with the league leaders while playing some scintillating football along the way. Not many would have predicted the levels of improvement made by the Gunners at this stage of Emery’s tenure but the signs do look good so far.

Monday night’s match against Leicester showed that while the team still has deficiencies, they have it in them to blow away any opponents by sheer firepower. Below are 5 observations from one of the best games of the season yet.

Ozil The Captain

My man of the match. I was surprised to hear that Ozil got the armband. I can’t say that he’s at the top of my list when it comes to being a “leader”. All too often, he does fade into the background when the going gets tough.

Monday night against Leicester, I was glad to be proven wrong. Once Arsenal chased the game after going a goal down, there was no turning back. Ozil led the way from this moment– starting moves from deep, pulling off body feints to go past defenders and dictating Arsenal’s best offensive moves.

He played in his preferred role behind the striker, the first time in a long time this season, and proved why he’s one of the best in the world in that position.


Ozil scored the equalizer, but not before driving through the centre of the park with the ball and playing a one-two with Bellerin to receive the ball in the box. That nonchalant one touch finish to the bottom corner looked easy but don’t let that fool you. Not many have the composure and technical ability to stroke it so calmly into the bottom corner while running at pace.

The “pre-assist” for the second goal required military level radar capabilities to spot an overlapping Bellerin. And for the final goal, Ozil’s orchestration of the entire move was sublime. He started it by casually backheeling a layoff to Guendouzi before sprinting forward to demand for the ball from the flank. Somehow, he knew that Lacazette was behind him as he let the ball through his legs for the French striker to tee him off as he burst again into the box to receive the pass. The pièce de résistance was the composure to dink the ball past an onrushing Schmeichel with the outside of his left foot for Aubameyang to tap in.

Ozil’s vision, drive and technical ability was evident today for all to see. On the evidence of this match, it would be tough now for Emery to shunt him to the right wing.

Arsene Wenger spoke during the international break about how he was worried that with Ozil’s international retirement, he might lack new goals to work towards and it might stunt his drive to maintain a high standard of performance.

Perhaps, being one of the leaders of this Arsenal team could bring renewed focus and responsibility that would finally see him put in more performances like this.

A Case for Pierre

That’s 4 goals in 2 games as a substitute for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He may not have Lacazette’s aggression or hold up play but I’ve not seen such an elite penalty box poacher since Pippo Inzaghi and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

If Aubameyang was an X-Man, he would definitely be Nightcrawler. He seemingly teleports into space and evades the eye of opposition defenders to pounce on simple tap ins.

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Lacazette has been crucial in keeping the game ticking, pressing defenders and also scoring decent goals for the team. But you can’t deny that Aubameyang is a pure striker who, with an in-form Ozil and co providing ammunition, can challenge for the golden boot.

It’s a tough call for Emery but also a good problem for the Arsenal coach. With the team now improving with their “automatisms” going forward, I’d like to see Aubameyang given a run of games to see what kind of impact he can make for Arsenal.

Iwobi, the Prince of Nutmegs

How things have changed for Iwobi. He seems to be one of the first names on the team sheet in recent games. He looks fitter, sharper and is one of the rare players in the team who can dribble and carry the ball forward. Against Leicester, he was voted to be the man of the match as he showed great drive and invention to push for a win.

he Nigerian international seems to also have developed a penchant for nutmegs and other freestyle skills on the pitch. Who is this guy and what have you done to the real Alex Iwobi?

In all seriousness, Iwobi fully deserves the plaudits coming to him. He’s been excellent and I hope he can keep up his standard of performance as he looks to secure that left wing position in the team.

Is Mustafi… Playing Well?

Mustafi is a mystery to me. He can be excellent in some games when his sliding tackles come off but miserable in another when he loses concentration and/or takes unnecessary risks that jeopardizes the defence.

In Sokratis’ absence, I have to say Mustafi has been relatively decent and he continued his solid performance against Leicester. He hasn’t been as rash in his decision making and has done the basics fairly well. Part of it, I’m sure, is down to the improved protection in front of him in the shape of Torreira. But Mustafi has been a 7/10 with his defending and has also been good playing the ball out of the back. I don’t recall the pacey Vardy getting a big chance on his side of the penalty box.


This may be his last season to prove to the fans and the management that he’s not a ticking time bomb at the back. Fortunately for him, he’s taking his opportunities to prove his worth in the absence of senior players such as Koscielny and Sokratis. More strong performances may give Emery a good headache when all the defenders return from injury (if we are so lucky).

Weak first halves vs strong game management

What is it with poor first halves and strong second half comebacks when it comes to Arsenal this season? The team has ridden their luck through this winning run, giving numerous chances and ceding the initiative to the opposition during most of the first half. Could it be due to Emery’s tinkering from game to game? Or perhaps his unfamiliarity with the opposition that has made it tough to prepare a tactical plan?

Whatever it is, Arsenal almost always come out all guns blazing in the second half and this game was no different. After going ahead, Arsenal’s game management was excellent – slowing down the game at will before switching gears to hit on the counter when an opening arises. Even the redeployment of Xhaka at left back didn’t seem to affect him, with enough cover to protect him on the rare occasion Arsenal lost possession.


I’m liking how Arsenal has been more pro-active in managing the game instead of being stuck on “gung ho” setting no matter the situation. Arsenal hardly gave Leicester a sniff in the second half by controlling the game maturely.

This shows that Emery is very adept tactically and is capable of reacting to the opponent’s shape and plan. If only Emery could come up with a way for Arsenal to start strong too. Let’s hope that’s not too far in the horizon.

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

Farewell Puma: An Arsenal Kit Retrospective

Hatta Aziz from BOOTHYPE.com Explores the Best and Worst Arsenal Kits From Puma

It’s official. The 2018/19 season will be Puma’s last as Arsenal’s kit manufacturer. The baton will be passed on to Adidas as announced by the Arsenal Twitter account. Puma have been producing Arsenal kits from the 2014/15 season and feedback from fans and ex-players have been mixed to say the least. That said, preferences can vary from fan to fan and views on the quality of recent kits have been as divisive as the “Wenger Out” debates.

Are you Puma In or Puma Out? Let’s look back at some of the good, bad and downright ugly offerings from the big cat.

The Good

Home – 2014/15

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Puma rode on the wave of euphoria as the launch of their first kit came just after Arsenal won their first title in 9 years with the FA Cup. They launched a slick marketing campaign about the club’s history and a bright future with the club. The video ticked a lot of boxes and the home kit was pretty decent though it has to be said, Puma played it safe with the design. The skin tight “player’s version” also incorporated tech such as heat transfer tapes to reduce body heat. Pretty cool stuff overall. 

Away – 2014/15

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Another decent jersey from Puma’s first season, the away top featured colours from the popular yellow/blue combination that have played a part of Arsenal’s rich history –the last gasp win over Liverpool in ’89 and the Invincibles season of 03/04 to name a few.

We won a second FA Cup in style in this jersey which seals its place as one of my favourites in recent years.

Home – 2015/16 


Puma’s sophomore year brought us this home jersey which saw them attempting to add in a little sartorial flair into their designs. The granddad collar was making its way back into fashion and Puma used that as an opportunity to add a little something to the home kit. The gold trims were a nice touch but Puma still kept it safe with the look.

Training Kit – 2015/16 


One of my personal favourites was this training kit from the 2015/16 season. It looks modern and I was a fan of the stripes and dark blue area on the top left-hand corner of the shirt. That said, I wouldn’t recommend putting it on after a heavy meal as the top cuts a very slim fit especially around the mid-section. 

Training Kit – 2018/19


Fast forward to the Emery era and I’ve really taken to the training kits worn by the team this season. Perhaps it’s the excitement of a new regime, or maybe because I saw them wear it up close for a week while I covered them on tour in Singapore.

My personal favourite is the grey version which is predominantly worn by the players. Look closely and you’ll notice that the logos and trims across the sleeve has a slightly purplish, holographic shimmer to it.

Third Kit – 2018/19


A polarising one but I really like the mint/dark blue combination on the third kit. This was another attempt by Puma to sprinkle a bit of lifestyle in their sportswear and I really dig it. And if we’re going with adidas, expect more flamboyant colours and designs as they’re trying very hard to mix lifestyle into their football apparel too. 

The selection of this very jersey could be biased though, as they launched it in my hometown on the recent tour and also sold a limited edition print featuring popular icons in Singapore. Safe to say, I got myself a set.


Stadium – 2018/19 

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The “Stadium kit” is usually only worn by the players on the sidelines but they’re easily the nicest of the bunch. It’s predominantly white in front but the back features a deep red colour with a metallic sheen to it. It’s plain, simple but very classy. Shame we won’t see too much of it over the course of the season.

Honourable mention: Home – 2018/19 


I hated this when I first saw it but I have warmed up to Puma’s last home jersey for the Arsenal. It’s got a nice modern cut and a deep shade of red on the torso built with a rather breathable material. 

I’m still on the fence regarding the stripes on the sleeves but overall, it’s not bad at all. 


Third Kit – 2014/15

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While the aforementioned marketing campaign for Puma’s debut season had the home and away jerseys representing the glorious past, Puma ominously had this horrendous third kit represent the future. I blame Puma for cursing the club with this awful number. 

Predominantly clad in light and dark blue, they formed a sash formation on the shirt with lime green trims. The only good memory I had of this jersey was Danny Welbeck scoring the winner against United in the FA Cup and that’s as good as it gets.

Training Jersey – 2014/15

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Did someone design this using Paint on Windows 95? The less said about this, the better.

Third Kit – 2015/16


I liked the extremely dark shade of blue forming the base of the design (or was it a lighter shade of black?) and the gold trims. But Puma decided to play mad scientist and throw in a little turquoise and white and mix it up in a strange sash design that just didn’t work.

Why couldn’t it just be plain black and gold, Puma? Why did you treat us to this abomination?

Goalkeeper’s Jersey – 2016/17 


Did the printer run out of ink when they decided to sketch this design? The colour panel on the sleeve reminds me of a colour printer’s CMYK cartridge – a really odd design choice to make.

Away – 2017/18


My eyes! The light blue top did not look right to me and not even the gradient effect could save this jersey from being one of the most underwhelming tops I have seen released for the Arsenal. There was also something about it which made it look cheap but I just can’t put my finger on it.

Just like our horrible away form during the course of the season, this jersey is one to forget.

Goodbye Puma, Hello Adidas

It’s been a mixed bag by Puma and I’m certainly looking forward to see what the 3 stripes can bring to the table (besides more money of course). Adidas has certainly upped the ante in the last few years with designs that blend elements of street culture, lifestyle and sportswear. 

This season alone, they’ve launched a light pink away jersey for United (their best seller), a mint top for Bayern not too dissimilar to our third kit and also some stellar kits from the recent World Cup.

Will we be getting back the “bruised banana”? I’m not too sure about it but I have a feeling I’ll be enjoying the ride a little more than I did with Puma. 

Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.

5 Things We Learned: Fulham v Arsenal


The best team performance this season saw tactical tweaks and the B team staking a claim for a starting position.

That’s 9 wins on the bounce with 6 coming in the league. Arsenal also head into the international break just 2 points off leaders Manchester City. Not many Arsenal fans would have envisioned this scenario especially with the rocky performances that have come during this run.

The match against Fulham was one of Arsenal’s best so far under Emery and it had the hallmarks of a typical Emery team – tactical flexibility, energy and swift attacking play. Below are 5 things we learnt from the game that won Arsenal the game in style. 

1: Flexibility in formations

Many Arsenal fans have heard of Emery’s meticulous attention to detail with tactics and that was on show today. Midweek saw the team play a 3-4-3 formation to mixed effect but the team operated very astutely against the Cottagers. In attack, the shape resembled Emery’s preferred 4-2-3-1 with Lacazette up top in front of Welbeck, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan who took the supporting attack positions from left to right.

However, the team adopted a 4-4-2 shape when defending to counter Fulham’s 3 man backline. Lacazette patrolled the central areas with Welbeck lurking in a support striker role, covering the lateral space where Fulham looked to play the ball out and closed down passing channels. 

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The team’s seamless transition between the offensive and defensive shape was a positive, making Arsenal unpredictable and harder to play against. A big part of this is due to the 3 players in the attacking midfield positions. Which leads us to….

2: Welbeck, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan 

Arsenal’s performances have been a mixed bag this season. They have been able to blow opponents away due to raw firepower but they have struggled for fluency and cohesion. That is in part to the 3 players who usually support Lacazette. Aubameyang lends very little to the build up play on the left. Ramsey, in my opinion, is much better bursting from central midfield rather than dictating play as the no. 10. And Ozil on the right negates his impact on the ball and sees him drifting infield, leaving our right back with no defensive cover nor passing combination options.

The 3 who played in these positions against Fulham, though not poor players by any measure, may not be blessed with the same individual quality as the incumbent but are more flexible tactically and positionally. This has led to a better flow in attack – something we’ve seen in the cup games where they have played in.

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I was hoping to see Aubameyang start up front to run in behind Fulham’s backline as I expected the home team to push up to attack. Unfortunately, the Gabon forward was just coming back from a bug and it was Lacazette who started. Welbeck took his chance to cause problems for the backline as he regularly ran in behind the Fulham defence down the left. He further used his athleticism to great effect as an unorthodox target man on the left wing, laying down any long balls for the midfield to pounce on. It was this exact tactic that saw Welbeck assisting Lacazette with his second goal – cushioning Torreira’s clearance for the Frenchman to receive, spin around and strike from outside the box.

Iwobi’s resurgence has also been a major highlight of this season. Inventive, powerful and sharp in his play, he looks a different player from last year. His ability to carry the ball and dribble in tight spaces is a unique one in this Arsenal team who lack wingers and dribblers. He has added some trickery to his bow too with a nutmeg on a Fulham defender on the left channel. His vision and touch are rapidly improving, threading in a pass for an overlapping Monreal who cut back for Lacazette’s first goal. On the evidence of his performances, Iwobi has never been more confident and productive and he deserves to start more games for the Arsenal.

Mkhitaryan had a relatively quiet game but his place on the right did help Bellerin cover the right flank a little bit more than Ozil (though that’s not too hard to do) and provided some simple combination play to allow the right back to advance and attack.

The performances of these 3 is a conundrum for Emery. They do help the team play better but politically, it’s hard to justify dropping Aubameyang, Ramsey or Ozil due to their elevated profiles in the team. The manager head coach needs to channel his best man management abilities to balance the needs of the team and the players’ egos over the course of the season.

3: A luxury of forwards

I can’t recall the last time Arsenal had such a world class array of forwards. On this form, Lacazette is crucial to Arsenal’s build up play and he must be commended for regaining the forward role after being relegated to back-up for January record signing, Aubameyang. His 2 goals were clinical strikes of top technical quality. However, his all-round player was just as important and sometimes goes unnoticed. He pressed (and eventually fouled) Seri in the centre circle to stop a counter and played a key role in keeping the ball alive in the lead up to the Harlem Globetrotter-esque team goal for Ramsey. Lacazette is more than a great striker, he’s a fantastic team player.

I’ve waxed lyrical on Lacazette’s strengths in our post on the top 3 players in September and at this rate, he could prove to be one of the league’s top forwards and may even oust Giroud in the French national team. Elliot would be extremely pleased with that, I’m sure. #giroudhater

Personally, I would play Aubameyang against teams which hold a high line as his runs behind and movement in box are almost always timed to perfection. Combined with his electric pace and lethal finishing, there is almost no one better in world football who plays like this. He was instrumental in going behind the defence (albeit on the wide left) to cut back for Ramsey’s exquisite back heel goal. Aubameyang’s first goal showed predatory instincts to receive the ball from Bellerin and strike on the spin. The second goal was all about the aforementioned movement, pace and finishing we’ve come to know about him.

These 2 are excellent options for Emery who could (or perhaps, should?) take a horses for courses option when it comes to planning for the opposition. Either way, opposition defences should be terrified when facing Arsenal.

4: Defending wasn’t so bad, was it?

Arsenal has struggled all season to keep out goal scoring chances from the opposition but they seemed to have had a relatively comfortable performance against Fulham. Mitrovic was well marshalled by Mustafi (in other news, icicles are forming in hell), Holding looked confident and Leno had a relatively quiet day in goal. The full backs both contributed assists and were mainly solid.


A big part of this improvement has been the protection in midfield provided by the Torreira and Xhaka axis. Torrerira’s impersonation of the Tasmanian Devil allows Xhaka time to control the game with passes from deep and get into space when defending. It wasn’t just his robust tackling that caught the eye but the Uruguayan also displayed fantastic ability to win aerial challenges despite his diminutive size. When Guendouzi came on, Torreira was seen moving upfield in a box-to-box role and didn’t look out of place as he held the ball up well, passed efficiently and made some darting runs into the box. 

Could Torreira be the next Kante? 

5: Positivity, energy, good performance

It’s nice to see Arsenal play the type of football we’ve come to know of them with a touch of modern tactical flexibility. The players look genuinely happy to work for each other and even Lacazette and Aubameyang, rivals for the sole striker position, have a bromance that even rivals that of Ozil-Flamini. 

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Emery needs to keep this positivity up which is key to Arsenal’s continued improvement. He’s made the subs feel like a big part of the process and Arsenal need the whole squad to be performing optimally to ensure the team ends the season with some silverware. Here’s to hoping for 10 straight wins after the international break.

Follow Hatta on twitter @chatwithhat

Top 3 Players of the Month: September

In this monthly series, Hatta explores the best 3 Arsenal players and their impact on the team. 

Unlike that popular song by Green Day, I don’t want to be woken up at the end of September as it’s been a productive month for Arsenal. 6 wins on the trot (4 in the league) has put some optimism back into the Gunners fanbase. The performances haven’t always backed up the results as it’s still a work in progress by Unai Emery and the team. 

Adding some order to that chaos were 3 players who have played the biggest roles in Arsenal’s success in September. 

Petr Cech


Cech had an extremely rocky start to the season. The new manager’s reputation and highlights from pre-season suggested that he will implement a high pressing strategy which requires the keep to be good at his feet as a distributor and unorthodox playmaker. 

Many doubted that Cech would start the season as our No. 1 with big money signing, Bernd Leno, coming in with a reputation as a new-age sweeper keeper who was great with his feet. Cech is old school. His strengths are based around commanding the box and stopping shots and crosses – not playing the ball out with his feet. It comes as no surprise as his best days were at Chelsea, a team which, despite the carousel of managers through the years, have shown a decent defensive solidity and a penchant for a low block. Mourinho’s first stint there laid the foundations for their defensive strength.

Which is why it came as a major shock to many that he started the games against Manchester City and Chelsea. He struggled to be the first point of build-up, albeit against some of the best teams in the league. It could have been so easy to have been deflated by the whole experience but Cech kept his head up and continued pushing on. 

The opposition were not as good in September and that allowed Cech to be under less pressure on the ball. He still had some nervy moments with the ball at his feet but for the most part, he kept us in the game with crucial saves. The Arsenal defence and midfield are still struggling for shape and organization and it was only through the gloves of Cech that we got those wins in the league. Cech’s best performance was against Everton has he made countless saves to ensure Arsenal got their first clean sheet of the season.

Cech has proven through his career that he’s a consummate professional and this season may just be one of the best examples yet. He’s in the twilight of his playing career, tasked with something out of his comfort zone but he turns up at work every day looking to apply himself fully. It may not be perfect but that’s not on him.

At the end of last season, I thought he had at least 1 good year left in him at the top level. I’m glad he’s spending that year at Arsenal, contributing to keeping goals out and showing a fantastic attitude in adapting to new situations. A world class role model for any professional in any field.

Alexandre Lacazette


Lacazette has had an indifferent start to his Arsenal career last season but seemed to have found his groove towards the end. This year, in Aubameyang, he’s had to contend with another elite striker, vying for his spot in the team. It seemed that his place was under threat when Aubameyang started the first couple of games in August but he showed his value by coming on to great effect in both the Manchester City and Chelsea games.

He provides a focal point for the team by holding the ball up diligently, aggressively harrying opposition defenders, linking up play with the attacking players and scoring goals. Everything you want in a modern centre forward. Emery saw this too and in September, he moved Aubameyang wide to allow Lacazette’s all round play to flourish.

Lacazette has scored 2 goals and registered 2 assists in September alone. One of his best performances came in the game against Cardiff where he laid off the ball for Aubameyang with an instinctive back heel for the assist and won the game with a powerful strike into the top corner from an acute angle.

It is testament to Lacazette’s quality that he’s usurped the club’s record signing to lead the attack and that he’s thrived despite his supporting cast of Ozil, Ramsey and Aubameyang struggling to find any form of fluency. He’s been carrying the attack and one can only imagine how devastating he will be with a more fluent midfield behind him.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos


Eyebrows were raised when Sokratis was purchased from Borussia Dortmund for a transfer fee of just below £18m.  It’s not a small fee for a defender who just turned 30. The move also seemed like a lazy decision by Sven Mislintat, the Head of Recruitment who previously led Dortmund’s scouting department. Fans were expecting the next hidden gem, the next Kagawa. Instead, Sven called on his old club for a favour and Arsenal got a player who was marginalized in his last season at club that was struggling for consistency.

Upon his arrival, Sokratis spoke about his contribution as a senior player and leader but we saw very little of that in his first couple of games. The team looked disorganized and it would be fair to say that he was still learning about his teammates and was acclimatizing to the manager’s instructions. 

 Sokratis started the season looking average but his performances started improving from the game against Newcastle. He showed a good reading of the game and covered well for a Mustafi’s lapses in concentration. Sokratis also has had to curb his instinct to charge in for a tackle as he’s assumed a bit more of a role as an organizer alongside his defensive partner.

Some of that leadership was evident too when he berated Mustafi for his mistake in the game against Everton.

It’s been a shame that he got injured and missed the Watford game. Possibly, that was Emery playing it safe as we’ve got a long season ahead with only so many centre backs. I would like to see him paired with Holding, who seems a more competent defender than Mustafi, and is comfortable on the ball too. Arsenal need a leader in defence and Sokratis looks to be growing into that role.

Honorable mention: Lucas Torreira


The Uruguayan terrier would have made the list if he played more. The new signing has been slowly embedded into the team with substitute appearances but has shone in most of the matches he played in. He has since dislodged Guendouzi to form a solid partnership with Xhaka. Watch this space as I have a feeling he’ll be appearing on this list for many months to come.

Hatta is a Singapore based Gooner. A purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.