Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Monday waffle: Willian, Maitland-Niles, Bertrand

Morning all. Welcome to a brand new week. It’s the final week of the Premier League season, and after an interesting weekend each team has two games to go. Here’s the league table, cut down to some kind of relevant size:

We play Crystal Palace on Wednesday, then Brighton on Sunday. Everton, the team we’re most likely to overtake of any, host Wolves then go to Man City; West Ham visit West Brom then play Southampton at home; while Sp*rs take on Aston Villa before travelling to Leicester on the final day.

So, we might finish 8th, I can’t see us much higher than that. That will mean no European football next season, and as I wrote the other day, I’d think I’d rather that than having to plod around in the Europa Conference Zenith Data Systems Admiral International One Pound Fish League.

Suffice to say though, 8th is not good enough, and while no midweek action next year is an advantage, it puts the pressure on Mikel Arteta in a big way. There are no distractions, no travel, no tired legs, no fatigue, and plenty of time to work on the training ground. If we’re struggling to get results, then there’s absolutely no hiding place for him.

More on the Palace game during the week.


His desire to leave was first reported in The Athletic last week, but some confirmation that Willian wants out is good news. As for waiting for ‘official bids’, as much as we have to try and raise funds this summer through players sales, simply moving him on would represent a good deal in my opinion.

I don’t know how much a 32 year old who has scored the same amount of goals this season as Liverpool’s keeper actually fetches in the open market. Not much, and a 32 year old with the same amount of goals this season as Liverpool’s keeper who is on massive wages is an even less attractive proposition. So for me, he’s like a half-decent piece of old furniture you leave on top of a skip so anyone passing by can just come along and take it if they want. Free to a good home and all that.

I should make it clear: I’m not at all concerned about the quality of the home. It could be a velociraptor’s sex dungeon for all I care.

Elsewhere, we are living in the strangest timeline at the moment, which is why, I guess,  some comments from Sam Allardyce have made sense. It’s quite disconcerting to even type that, but he was talking about Ainsley Maitland-Niles who has been on loan at West Brom, and said:

“If I were him, I’d play wherever the manager picked me, and I’d never turn it down because if you are able to play in a number of positions, then you are going to get more games than if you had one position and one position only.

“Perhaps you don’t want to be tagged as a utility player but sometimes those people are played more often than those who are stubborn and say, ‘I want to play in that position and nowhere else.'”

I do understand a player wanting to play in a specific position, and you can think of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as an example of someone whose versatility almost worked against him. I really do feel like Maitland-Niles missed an opportunity to nail down the right-back position at Arsenal over the last couple of seasons. He has all the attributes you need to play in that position, and right now that door still remains a little ajar.

Hector Bellerin’s Arsenal race appears to done and he’s tipped to depart this summer; Calum Chambers has had a brief renaissance there but for me isn’t really a long-term solution; Cedric has fallen so far out of favour he has those two plus Bukayo Saka ahead of him; and we’re clearly in need of something new. I wonder if, after a loan spell, Maitland-Niles might come back and think he has a chance there. Stranger things have happened, but from what I understand at the moment, the plan is to fill gap with a signing.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of talk about a deal for Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand, who is out of contract this summer and available on a free. On the one hand, it’s a low-cost free transfer to provide back-up to Kieran Tierney over the course of a 38 game league season and some cup fixtures. He’s also homegrown, which is a genuine consideration for us when we reshape the squad this summer because we have to fill that quota.

On the other, he’ll be 32 by the time next season starts, he’s not exactly great, he has a Chelsea background – and to be quite honest I’ve had more than enough of those kind of signings. The only way this would make any sense to me is if we gave him a one year deal and also managed to shift Cedric this summer, because two average ex-Southampton full-backs getting splinters on the bench for a year is not a good use of resources. It looks, from the outside at least, that the Portuguese international is well down Mikel Arteta’s pecking order, and I don’t think he’s a player too many people would miss if he went. The problem, of course, is the four year deal we gave him just a year ago. Not smart, another ‘hangover’ from Raul Sanllehi’s time in charge of football matters.

Ideally, I’d like to see us bring in a younger left-back – because it doesn’t seem as if there’s anybody knocking on the door from the academy – but we also have to acknowledge that if you’re coming to a club which has Kieran Tierney, you know you’re not going to play much if he stays fit. The flip side is he has an injury record which suggests you’ll get chances, but the reality is we’re looking at Tierney as one of the fundamental building blocks for the future, and that does have an impact on who you can bring in to provide cover, and how.

The final thing I’ll say is that this season has illustrated very clearly that we definitely need a proper left-back as back-up for Tierney. We tried Cedric, it was so-so. We tried Xhaka who did fine, but the ripple effects of that decision were too big and it cost us in the end. It’s impossible to have two players of the quality of Tierney, but someone similar in terms of playing profile is part of what we need to do, and you’d like to think we could find someone a bit better than Bertrand who feels like the most unimaginative solution to the issue.

Ok, that’s it for now. James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. If you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast will be out around lunchtime, until then, take it easy.

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