Suarez nicks late winner for Barcelona

Arsenal suffered late heartbreak at the Camp Nou as Luis Suárez struck at the death to complete what seemed an unlikely comeback for Barcelona.

A terrific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal had looked enough to hand the Gunners what would have been a deserved win in Spain. Barcelona had more of the ball but were left frustrated by Arsenal’s disciplined approach but a mix-up between Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bernd Leno gifted the hosts an equaliser.

A draw was the least that the Gunners deserved but with the clock ticking down, Sergi Roberto picked out Suárez and the Uruguayan found enough space to poke the ball past Leno to deal a cruel blow to the visitors.

Mesut Özil returned to action for the first time since he was involved in a car-jacking attempt while Sead Kolašinac was named on the bench. Youngsters Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson also lined up but there was no debut for record signing Nicolas Pépé. Alexandre Lacazette also missed out as he continues to try and shake off the ankle injury he picked up in the Emirates Cup.

Barcelona started the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé and with Arsenal’s much-publicised defensive issues there were fears they could have run riot. However, the Gunners backline produced an accomplished and resolute defensive performance to limit the Blaugrana to half chances.

The first 20 minutes saw the hosts pass the ball around without showing any real threat although they did offer a warning when Nélson Semedo was set free down the right wing to set up Dembélé on the edge of the box. Willock was alert to the danger and got across to block. 

After containing the Spanish champions with relative ease for half an hour, the Gunners started to edge themselves forward and had their first sight of goal when Aubameyang just failed to connect to a perfectly flighted cross from right-back Maitland-Niles.

The Gabonese was an isolated figure leading the line without much service but that changed on 37 minutes when Özil delivered a superb pass to his feet, which allowed him to turn Jordi Alba and thump an effort past Neto – the goalkeeper who conceded a hat-trick to Aubameyang in the Europa League last season.

That sparked a positive spell for the Gunners but Henrikh Mkhitaryan endured a torrid night where everything he touched went sour and they failed to add to their lead.

Griezmann thought he had claimed the leveller for his new side shortly before the break when he knocked in a pass from Ivan Rakitić, but the Frenchman had strayed offside.

The hosts made a number of changes at the break but Emery, who would have been quietly pleased with his side’s first-half performance, opted for just two bringing on Kolašinac and Mattéo Guendouzi.

Barcelona’s substutions seemed to have the desired impact as they started to swamp the Arsenal box and only a brilliant Willock goalline clearance kept the Gunners ahead. There was clear instruction from Emery to play it out from the back and at times the Arsenal defenders played themselves into trouble but with the equaliser still eluding Barca, Suárez was introduced on the hour mark.

The pressure continued to mount and Barcelona finally levelled the score but they were grateful to a gift from Maitland-Niles. Another attack had seemingly broken down when the Englishman passed the ball back to Leno but the German ‘keeper had come to collect the ball and the full back’s pass rolled past him and into the net. 

Emery’s response was quick with Dani Ceballos, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka thrown into the action. The youngsters added a bit more purpose to the Gunners attack with Saka twice setting up good chances. The first just evaded the boot of Aubameyang while the second saw Martinelli volley wide.

Eddie Nketiah, Lucas Torreira and Shkodran Mustafi came on for five-minute cameos but Suárez had the last word, slotting the ball home in the final minutes.

Arsenal edge Angers on penalties

Arsenal continued their pre-season preparations with a penalty shoot-out victory over a hard-working Angers.

Farid El Melali put the hosts ahead in the first half against an inexperienced Arsenal line-up. As the regular first-team stars took to the field, the Gunners gained more control and Reiss Nelson levelled proceedings minutes after the restart.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a number of chances to nick a winner but a combination of poor finishing and the offside flag denied him. The striker did net from the spot in the resulting penalty shoot-out with Emiliano Martínez saving the decisive spot-kick from former Gunner Jeff Reine-Adélaïde to seal the win.

A healthy crowd saw Angers mark their 100th year with a high-profile friendly against the North Londoners. Unai Emery named a youthful line-up with Calum Chambers deployed at right back and Mattéo Guendouzi the experienced man in midfield. 

Reine-Adélaïde was named in the starting line-up for the hosts and looked motivated against his former employers. The winger was constantly on the move as Angers dominated the opening exchanges and should have gone ahead when El Melali sunk a ball right into the danger area in the Arsenal box but Chambers was in the right place to get it clear.

Arsenal struggled to deal with the intensity of Angers and their effective press and after a couple of warning signs Baptiste Santamaria produced a defence-splitting pass to send El Melali through and the Algerian rounded Martínez for the opening goal.

The visitors struggled to keep hold of the ball with Angers continuing to press high and that left Arsenal’s attackers as spectators. The frustration started to show around the half-hour mark with a couple of fouls that saw Zech Medley receive a yellow card.

Thomas Mangani’s set-piece delivery threatened to double Angers’ lead but both Mateo Pavlović, who fired past Martínez, and Baptiste Santamaria were both flagged offside to spare Arsenal’s blushes.

The young Gunners ended the first strong strongly but failed to test Ludovic Butelle with Gabriel Martinelli heading wide and Nelson firing off-target.

The half-time break saw Emery ring the changes with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Dominic Thompson, Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock all introduced.

And within five minutes the Gunners drew level. Eddie Nketiah’s shot, from a fabulous Guendouzi cross, was blocked but Nelson was there to knock in the rebound.

A strong run in the Arsenal box from Reine-Adélaïde gave him the moment he had been waiting for but he lost his composure and blazed his shot horribly wide.

Emery went for it on the hour mark replacing Nketiah and Guendouzi with Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Gabon forward led the line well and went close to edging Arsenal ahead when meeting a Xhaka free kick but the bobbled wide.

The final 10 minutes became an open contest with both sides going for the win. An excellent, albeit robust, challenge from Shkodran Mustafi sent Arsenal on the counter with Nelson touching Martinelli’s cross into the path of Aubameyang, who tapped home from an offside position. Nelson picked up a knock in the process and had to be replaced by James Olayinka.

Aubameyang could have had a hat-trick as the chances continued to fall for him, this time he missed an open goal after Butelle parried Mkhitaryan’s effort right into his path.

With the score locked at 1-1 at the final whistle, the game entered a penalty shoot-out and after both sides converted their opening three. Aubameyang put Arsenal ahead before Wilfried Kanga blazed his penalty over.

Episode 64: Leicester City 3-0 Arsenal | Unai must shoulder some responsibility

Harry Symeou reflects on our third defeat this week, it was another disappointing performance in the Midlands and we discuss Unai Emery’s part in our capitulation of late.

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

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Bonus Podcast: Can the Young Guns step up?

Harry Symeou shares his thoughts on whether the clubs current crop of youngsters are up to the task of playing first team football next season on a regular basis.

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

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Episode 63: A Mauling at Molineux | Wolves 3-1 Arsenal

Harry Symeou and Chris Davison reflect on the ‘Mauling at Molineux’, talk Emery, Tactics and assess our chances of finishing in the top four.

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

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Is Shkodran Mustafi really that bad? A defence of a much maligned player

I watched the Crystal Palace game with a friend, and before we saw Zaha’s goal, he received a message. It just said: “Mustafi”… We proceeded to watch in horror as the German centre-back attempted to shield the ball back to the goalkeeper – failing badly and allowing the Palace player to put them back into the lead. Since then, he has received death threats and a cursory search of his name on Google will bring up page after page of articles lamenting how poor the £35 million signing is, or how often he makes mistakes. In truth, I have to disagree.

Let’s set the record straight, Shkodran Mustafi is not a good enough player for Arsenal Football Club. I do not believe he has the qualities to play elite Premier League football. But he was good enough for Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning squad, and Arsene Wenger was convinced to spend that much money bringing him over from Spain.

His defensive abilities are best noted in aerial duels. People are quick to point out that he conceded the penalty away at Tottenham, but forget that we all agreed it should never have been given. People remember Arsenal collapsing at Southampton to lose 3-2, conceding three sloppy goals and eventually conceding to a header after Leno came for a ball and missed it. They forget Mustafi didn’t play that day and his absence was felt.

Much like the maligned Granit Xhaka, people seem quick to ascribe full blame to the German centre-back. I have read several reviews of the game which excoriate Mustafi and blame him for all three of Palace’s goals. What nonsense! Jenkinson plays Benteke onside for the opener – Mustafi’s line is good and would have caught the Belgian offside. For the third, it is shambolic defending from a corner – from all defenders. Mustafi is as much to blame as everyone else in that penalty area for letting the play develop as it did.

To prove the futility of the exercise, it can be proven quite easily with stats that Mustafi has had a better season than Virgil Van Dijk. No one seriously believes this to be the case, and yet in seven fewer games the German has a better tackle completion rate, number of tackles and number of interceptions. They’ve scored two headers apiece. Yet their value is miles apart and rightly so.

So, if his statistics are impressive, what is his problem? It doesn’t take an experienced manager to see that Mustafi seems to have a lapse of concentration every single game. When Arsenal’s midfield and other defenders apply too much pressure too often, Mustafi will make a mistake more frequently than any other defender Arsenal have. With cover in front of him and some coaching he can become the competent centre-back his statistics indicate he could be. Yet, as we saw with the goal in question, two players attempt to head the ball with Benteke, leaving Mustafi one on one with Zaha. If Koscielny is across from him, Mustafi likely doesn’t make that mistake. Could Leno have come for the ball? Very much so but it’s not Leno’s fault.

So is Mustafi a bad player? Not at all.

Is he good enough for Arsenal? No – and he isn’t the only one.

Should Arsenal sell him? Not unless they can replace him. He’s not the best we could have, but if we can’t find a replacement he isn’t the worst we have. Maybe playing alongside Koscielny until the Frenchman retires and alongside Sokratis and Holding could help Mustafi become a better player. I don’t think anyone’s condoning the death threats but the serious reality is that Mustafi is what we have. He wasn’t even the worst defender on the pitch against Palace, nor even the worst centre-back! Mavropanos was far worse, yet rightly we can chalk that up to inexperience. Jenkinson was comfortably worse than Mustafi. So keeping him whilst we have no better is logical. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater and selling him, however, is not.

 

Episode 62: Arsenal 2-3 Crystal Palace | An opportunity missed

Harry Symeou reflects on the disappointing defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace on Easter Sunday. We talk team selections, Guendouzi, Mustafi and much more. We also tackle some of your listener questions.

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

Also available on iTunes, SoundCloud, Acast and Tune In Radio.

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Episode 61: Napoli 0-1 Arsenal | The Italian Job

Harry Symeou was joined by tactical expert Alan O’Brien and Mike Stavrou to review the win in Naples. With the Gunners having qualified for the Europa League semi finals and still in the hunt for a top four finish Alan also shares his thoughts on the boss’ tenure so far – from a neutral perspective.

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

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Racism in Football – with Marcus Gayle

Harry Symeou was joined earlier on in the week by former Premier League striker Marcus Gayle to discuss the issue of racism in football. Marcus works with ‘Kick it Out’ and shares his views on the problem, some of the latest incidents and discusses some of the potential solutions.

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

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Episode 60: Watford 0-1 Arsenal | Review | with Chris Davison

Host Harry Symeou was joined immediately after the game by football journalist Chris Davison to reflect on the narrow victory over Watford. The Gunners kept their first clean sheet on the road all season but the performance was far from spectacular. Oh well, it’s a results game!

Join us for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by www.loserpool.com and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

Also available on iTunes, SoundCloud, Acast and Tune In Radio.

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