Risktakers are Rewarded – Saka’s Small risks pay Big rewards!


Big win

Small risks, Big rewards


When confidence is spoken of we think of the ball and how confident we look when we have it. When I was young we didn’t care about clean sheets and defending was certainly not the whole team. Two thoughts that have much truth attached.

Times have changed but not everything has changed.

Arsenal have been struggling against two thirds of the league. The teams that we are supposed to be doing better than. I’ve been thinking about what’s been lacking. I don’t know that I’m right but i do have a possible solution.

I think that one of the biggest differences in the good and the not so, is defensive confidence.

Confidence is a tricky commodity to handle because too much of it and you show up against a team like Brighton and have an ‘ it’ll all end up well ‘ attitude. The kind of mentality that killed Wenger’s team from 2008 onwards. So, you don’t want confidence to be complacency but you do want it to control your nerves. You want to be serious, but not complacent.

I don’t actually want to focus so much on how Arsenal played with an impressive defensive confidence, a seriousness, which they did. More so how we finally took advantage of a team that didn’t offer the same level of defensive confidence.

My discovery is intrinsically linked to offensive risk. The kind of risk that Arsenal have been avoiding for much of the season. The goal itself was an impressive finish especially for a player who’d been on the pitch for 30 seconds but would never have happened if three things wouldn’t have occurred. These things ordinarily happen when a centre back hits a straight ball to a checking forward. Either he gets smashed from behind, free kick. He gets there second and the defender strides away with it or at best he passes it backwards. What actually happened was that Saka took a risk. He spun Burn and then ran directly at goal. His direct run caused Brighton to lose their defensive confidence and they panicked and backed off too far. They then left the biggest goal threat in 10 yards of space. More panic.


Saka risk paid off

Arsenal haven’t been doing this.

They haven’t been taking risks and they haven’t been capitalizing on the lack of defensive confidence that lesser teams have a tendency to show.

Arsenal are making small strides back to attacking confidence and away from a lack of defensive confidence. The change in personnel is the biggest factor alongside the comfort of wins. The more we start to believe in players who are willing to take risk and don’t over focus on their pass completion the more we will see progress.

Saka took what was in essence a small risk and Arsenal got a big reward.



  • If Arsenal have a group that are divisive then those players weren’t the ones who started the game. There was such a consistent intensity in the effort and focus. Good things will happen simply off the back of this alone. A solid foundation that will remain as long as we don’t reintroduce those that aren’t interested.
  • Mari and Holding may not end up being first choice ultimately but they both exude the seriousness that I spoke of above. Both only seem interested in playing to the best of their ability. Both have assets that aren’t celebrated as quickly as we celebrate speed and passing ability, but their qualities are equally as important.
  • I’m noticing some other individual improvements. Saka isn’t so easy to dispossess. Martinelli will add goals shortly as he has greatly improved the timing of his runs to central areas. Bellerin seems to have rediscovered some of his pace and has improved his desire. I’d say that this is directly linked to the carrot of a Spain squad place that was dangled in front of him a few months ago. Leno is looking more aggressive on crosses. Elneny has improved in the air. The manager has been struggling to impact at half time but did so yesterday.


  • Those that have been reading my posts for a while will know that I often talk about the glorious habit of ‘scanning.’ The habit of checking over your shoulder and snapshotting colour, before the ball arrives. You don’t have to look for certain players, just your colour. Smith-Rowe does it and so he makes quicker decisions than others and the right decision. Guendouzi doesn’t yet he may catch the eye more because he has to go on heroic dribbles simply to retain possession. Because he’s good at it, we applaud. It’s like the basketball player who gets us up on our feet with his great dribbling skills but then we notice that as pretty as it was, it was completely unnecessary and the opponent has been given time to set up. Even though they play different positions I’d bet that Smith-Rowe will become a top professional and Guendouzi will fade away all because of how they see the game before the ball arrives. Add a dose of humility vs arrogance too. So what’s the biggest benefit of Smith Rowe? It’s risk for sure but it’s more than that. It is the acceleration of play. Not just his personal ability to accelerate on and off the ball but his quick thinking is making our counter attacks noticeably faster. A big and very necessary improvement.



  • I predict that when Partey comes back we will see the introduction of the much needed through balls. Auba is still not even close to being fully utilized at Arsenal.  Whether he is on the left of central he makes darting runs behind the back four which Ceballos, ElNeny and Xhaka repeatedly ignore. Xhaka can only do it with one foot, ElNeny isn’t adventurous enough and I’m finding that Ceballos plays football for himself and does whatever he wants rather than what the team needs. When Partey starts feeding Auba and Martinelli over the top I bet you others will start trying to show that they can do it too.
  • Tierney frequently gets into very dangerous crossing positions. In my experience the easiest way to score a goal against an organized team is to go outside the full back, cut in the box, cut off the defenders space and then slow down when you hear him on your back. You don’t ever have to dive. He will fall into you. Tierney does all of this well but not the last part yet. If the defender doesn’t bundle you over, you’ve also slowed your wheels down in order to get clarity of options.
  • If the WBA game goes ahead we will need to rotate as we haven’t done as much as other teams and we will have fatigued players. Cedric at RB, AMN at left back and two of Willock, Ceballos and Partey (if available) at CM. If Covid does give us a 10 day/two week break then we may see a similar team as they will be able to rest.
  • It’s nice to have the debate over whether Lacazette should replace Auba and whether PEA even gets to start at all. Never would’ve thought we’d be having this debate.



  • As the transfer window is about to become the topic, let’s dive in….

Beyond the obvious need for additional creativity, I think Arsenal need to focus on a rebuild that allows us to not have to adapt our formation and preferred style to accommodate limited players.

Before we decide what we need we have to first decide on where 3 players in particular fit in. Firstly, what is the long term plan for Saka? If he is to continue to be the leagues most impressive hybrid player then we need to know. Is he going to be a RW, a LB, a AM, a LCM or a LW?

I don’t know about you but Smith Rowe looks like he’s here to stay. Not necessarily first choice but we have to make a pathway for him. Is he a number 10 in a 4-2-3-1 or can he be a wandering wide forward?

The third decision is regarding Florian Balogun. I’d loan Nketiah and give his opportunities to Balogun. That way you keep both and have time to decide.

As we now have a competent creator I’d argue that the priority shifts back to midfield. I will continue to beat the drum that i’ve been pounding and say that the guy in the Santa Claus red boots playing DM against us yesterday is the one. I’ve been wondering why Yves Bissouma looks so confident on the ball as well as being the ideal destroyer. I found out that he used to be an attacking midfielder then a box to box midfielder before he became a defensive midfielder. So, bringing three goal kicks down on his chest made sense. Did he lose the ball all day?? If we get Bissouma, we could keep a 4-2-3-1 even against the form teams as Bissouma and Partey is a totally different defensive shield than Xhaka and ElNeny.


New partner for Partey?

If the money becomes available I’d without any doubt sign Yves Bissouma and Emi Buendia both.

Buendia is the perfect age. He combines consistency in chance creation with assists and goals. He has two feet like Santi had. He has fast feet and is as tenacious off the ball to retrieve it as he is on it. I’d imagine that he would be highly motivated to try and get into the Argentinian squad and to prove that he can step up a level too. If Buendia isn’t available/too expensive, I’d be very interested in Martin Odegaard at Real Madrid who has only had 3 league starts. The guy can thread the needle like many others wish they could.

Long term I’m very keen on Lamptey and Wamangituka forming a dynamic right side and Olise rotating with Saka. Arsenal need better experienced players and so I have my eye on David Alaba who is free in the summer.

To address the current rumours, Brandt would be a wonderful addition as he would be the goals and assists from midfield that we lack and can do that role in Arteta’s ultimate 4-3-3. I doubt we have the money for him yet, though.

Isco is a gamble even at a 5 month loan. He is undoubtedly a brilliant footballer not yet over the hill but his inconsistency has found him to not be trusted by Zidane.

Riqui Puig is everything you’d expect from a diminutive central midfielder from La Masia. Technically brilliant and adventurous. A 3 man midfield of Partey, Bissouma and Puig would only lack goals as it would have everything else.

If a bigger club snap up Bissouma, I’d go for Anguissa at Fulham. I wrote a post when Thomas Partey arrived that the first thing we’d notice is that we’d love to have 3 of him. Anguissa is his long lost brother.



I hope that Mikel Arteta shows the players the video of the goal and puts emphasis on the risk taken. The games are still close, all of them. Until we get more confidence and/or a better team they will continue to be close.

Perhaps the teams that prevail will be the ones that are willing to promote risk.


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3 Responses to Risktakers are Rewarded – Saka’s Small risks pay Big rewards!

  1. allezkev December 30, 2020 at 4:01 pm #

    Great read again Mike and some very interesting points regarding the game, the future and transfers, I had to read it twice to take it all in.

    Half time team talks, Mikel is obviously still learning the psychological part of management and dealing with different personalities with differing agendas and maybe how much players can actually take in at half time and who is bothering to listen anyway. It’s also possible that he’s tailoring his half times much more now and it’s also likely that the team he has at present is more prepared to listen to his instructions and to actually do what he’s asking?

    I like Saka down the right and I think it’s his best position, being two footed means he can cut in or go on the outside which not only gives the opposition defenders a major problem it also provides Bellerin with more scope to be an effective wing man and maybe that’s shown itself in his last two performances?

    Hector has recently gone through a period of quite up and down form and that may or may not be a attributed to having to play the supporting role to two players in Willian and Pepe who are seriously unreliable. Saka will never be that…

    When Smith Rowe first got his initial breakthrough games under Emery I thought the game passed him by and he looked lightweight, but loans to Leipzig and in particular under the Cowley brothers at Huddersfield have seen him grow and physically fill out and now he looks more able to deal with the robust nature of the Premier League. Despite reservations about his fitness and ability to stay fit I think he might be close to approaching the durability he needs to hold down a regular place so yeah Mike, given all his natural qualities and technique I think he’s close to solving the staying healthy issue and I agree, ESR is here to stay…

  2. earlset December 30, 2020 at 4:36 pm #

    A muted performance after the Chelsea game…not surprising.
    Two things stood out for me.
    Midfield ,Xhaka and Elneny,needs to be changed otherwise the indifferent performances will continue for the season.
    Martinelli and Auba do not gel.It works better with Laca and Martinelli operating across from the left.

  3. allezkev December 30, 2020 at 8:19 pm #

    Following on from my earlier comment Mike, we’ll have had 4 days to recover from Brighton, the same as West Brom, surely our boys can go again especially with 7 clear days before our next game afterwards?
    For me I’d be inclined to pick the same starting XI if everyone is fit (Saka?) and keep the ball rolling.

    Interesting to see Sam Allardyce talking up a ‘circuit breaker’ or pause in the fixtures during the current rise in positive tests in football. I’m sure that that has nothing at all to do with Allardyce getting a chance to work on his new team without the added pressure of games and improving on their bus parking qualities?

    Yeah, I agree regarding Eddie, as long as he goes to another Premier League team and that they’ll play him.
    Giving Balogun the opportunities to sit on the subs bench with the chance to come on might just smooth those troubled waters?

    Brandt looks a really good player and in a depressed market we might get him for a more realistic price, but players may need to be sold to balance the books and would Norwich, on the brink of a return to the Premier League sanction the sale of Buendia or Brighton release Bissouma before they know they’re safe? Both players are more likely to be summer transfers I’d imagine.

    Finding space for another foreign player might also be an issue with Ozil and Sokratis already on gardening leave.

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