Sheffield United’s ‘Route-one football’: Danny Mills and Garth Crookes

Last weekend Sheffield United came back from two goals down to gain a heroic 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It left the club with a respectable five points from their opening four games, following a win against Crystal Palace and another draw away to Bournemouth. Sheffield United’s progressive tactics have played a big part in their results so far this season.

Chris Wilder has lined ‘The Blades’ up in a 3-5-2 formation this season, when going forward this formation fuses into a 3-3-2-2. Wilder has adopted this set up so the team can maintain triangular patterns across the right and left sides of the pitch, enabling the man on the ball to always have a passing option available. A crucial aspect of this system is the use of overlapping centre-backs, who can often be found in the right and left wing-back roles.

Chris Wilder

Of course, if Sheffield United lose the ball in the attacking third, then they are vulnerable to the counter-attack as their centre-backs push on. As a result, they aim to win the ball back or, at least stop the opposition from attacking as soon as they lose the ball. Sheffield United have committed 57 fouls, only Crystal Palace (60) have committed more fouls this season. If they do win the ball back though, Sheffield United are able to reignite their attack, and this has been something that they have been successful at so far. At the end of gameweek four, no team starts their attacks higher up the pitch than Sheffield United, with a higher press than the likes of Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool.

The fluidity and ingenuity of Wilder’s system have led Sheffield United to two promotions in the last three years. Not only has the club improved significantly under Wilder’s tenure, but it is also clear to see that they play an attractive brand of football. Since the 2016/17, only Pep Guardiola has accumulated more points in the English Football League than Chris Wilder.

However, Sheffield United’s success and style of play has been not only downplayed, but actually attacked by the British media. Before the season even began, ex-Man City full-back Danny Mills, most famously remembered for being left red-faced by Thierry Henry at Anfield, suggested that Sheffield United would struggle this season. “They’ll be similar to Cardiff,” stated Mills, “it’s not the most glamourous way of playing. They might play a little direct at times.”

Retired player Danny Mills

The comparison to Cardiff is baffling and insulting to Wilder’s way of playing. Whilst, the two clubs spent similar amounts of money in the Premier League, Sheffield United aim to keep the ball on the ground, and, as we have seen press incredibly high up the pitch, an antithetical way of playing, when compared to Neil Warnock’s tow flat banks of four tactics at Cardiff. Obviously, Mills had not done his research, it is questionable whether he had ever watched Sheffield United in either League 1 or the Championship before offering his ‘hot-take’.

Likewise, Garth Crookes belittled Sheffield United last Saturday, during their match against Chelsea. Crookes predicted that Sheffield United would struggle this season. A fair assessment potentially considering the club’s perceived lack of renowned Premier League goalscorers. However, his insight on United’s play was less fair. “Their style of football is quite basic for the Premier League”. Despite, claiming to watch Sheffield United three times this season, the ex-Tottenham man dismissed Wilder and his progressive tactics. Crookes failed to take note of the club’s high-press, novel use of centre-backs in the wing-back role, or the fluidity of their players in the attacking areas.

We have seen already, two criticisms not only of Sheffield United’s quality, but also their style of play. So why do British pundits fail to recognise they obvious heroic achievement by Wilder, an English manager. And the manner in which Sheffield United have achieved success, with a brand of progressive and attack-minded football?

Perhaps the answer opens up more on the consequences that are attached to the way that football, and 21st century life are progressing. It is fanciful to suggest that Mills and Crookes have watched much of Sheffield United, even if they claim to do so. Their opinion is based of what they ‘think’ is true. In the case of Mills, this may be a lingering attachment in his head between Sheffield United now, and Sheffield United when they were last in the Premier League. After all, their manager then, Neil Warnock is the Cardiff manager now, thus explaining the ‘similarities’ between Sheffield United and Cardiff. However, that was in the 2006/07 season, nearing on 15 years ago. The club have been transformed since, and any opinion that links Sheffield United now, to the team when they were last in the Premier League is both false and bemusing.

Maybe Crookes pins Sheffield United down to the same canvas of Neil Warnock’s football, just like Mills?

Crookes opinion on Sheffield United’s ‘basic’ style of play is a reflection of a wider problem in football punditry today. Sheffield United don’t hold the financial capabilities of the likes of Man City and Liverpool. They do not hold the same calibre of player. The club and the results are instead built of Wilder’s tactics and the belief in the ethos that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Invariably now, discussions on popular broadcasting channels such as BT Sport’s ‘Gone in 60 seconds’ or Sky Sports ‘The Debate’ feature debates over the Top 6 and VAR, but constantly cascade the equally important tales, such as Wilder’s Sheffield United.

Sky’s ‘The Debate’

This is indicative of the obsession with topics surrounding money, or ‘quick’ debates, such as ‘was that VAR decision correct?’ No longer, are there discussions actually on football, and the way it is played, especially amongst the less popular teams in the Premier League.

Mills and Crookes may have coagulated Sheffield United now with Sheffield United from 2006. Or they have no real interest in Sheffield United, or the way the play football, as they are not a ‘Top 6’ club, they do not have limitless financial backing, and their manager isn’t a Dutchman that plays an attacking 4-3-3. Their clear disinterest with the story of a club that doesn’t have a £500 million costing starting XI displays both how some pundits fail to actually watch football that does not involve the elite clubs, and how their perceptions of teams revolve around the ‘glamour’ of finance.

Three lessons from Arsenal’s win over Newcastle

Arsenal kickstarted their 2019/20 season with a hard-fought victory over Newcastle at St. James’ Park last Sunday. Besides the win, what have we learnt from Arsenal’s performance going into matchday two against Burnley this weekend?

The most refreshing aspect of Sunday’s rather drab affair, was the performance of two of Arsenal’s most promising Hale End graduates- Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock. It was the first time that Arsenal named two English teenagers in the starting team for a Premier League game since February 1998. Eyebrows were raised when the two teenagers were included in Unai Emery’s starting XI, but both players justified their selection.

19 year-old, Joe Willock was deployed in the attacking midfield position ahead of the two holding midfielders- Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. He was most effective at carrying the ball in midfield. On one occasion who ran past three Newcastle players before being fouled. He also demonstrated his ability to win the ball back, with a fantastic recovery tackle on Jonjo Shelvey which prompted Emery to leap in joy on the touchline. Although his 74% pass completion needs improvement, there were plenty of positives to take from Willock’s display.

Nelson was positioned on the left-wing, with the recent departure of Alex Iwobi opening the door for himself, Martinelli and Saka. His dribbling and link up play in the first-half was incredibly effective, as he drifted into pockets of space and played ‘one-twos’ with his team-mates. Only Maitland-Niles (four) had completed more dribbles than Nelson (three). At times his passing was off, and he did tire as the second half progressed, but this performance will give Emery confidence that selling Iwobi was the correct decision.

We cannot that Arsenal’s stand-in right-back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is still only 21. He has softened the blow of losing Hector Bellerin for nine months with a consistent level of performance, in a position which is certainly not his best. Maitland-Niles was crucial to Arsenal’s win, as he nicked the ball of Jetro Willems, before driving down the right and finding Aubameyang with a pinpoint floated ball over Jamaal Lascelles. His four dribbles were not equalled by anyone else on the pitch, and he looked comfortable in defence.

All three players will be pushing for a starting berth once again, on Saturday against Burnley, and following on from their performances last week, plenty less eyebrows would be raised were to be included in the starting XI.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – AUGUST 11: Reiss Nelson of Arsenal applauds fans after the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal FC at St. James Park on August 11, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

The man that Maitland-Niles found with the cross, was the lethal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has already started his goalscoring form this season in a match where he was largely starved of any service. His only chance in the first-half was beaten away by Martin Dubravka. Fortunes changed midway through the second-half, as Aubameyang caressed the floated ball down, before lofting the ball over the Newcastle goalkeeper and into the net. Aubameyang has shown once more that he is a clinical poacher in the box, and he will always get goals, no matter how few chances he has.

His goal against Newcastle was his 33rd in just 50 Premier League games, matching the record of Fernando Torres- only four players have scored more in that time.

With players like Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos to soon be starting, Aubameyang will get plenty of chances to improve upon his 22 goals from last season.

Expect the Gabonese striker to score again against Burnley this weekend.

Whilst the performance of Aubameyang and Arsenal’s young English talent has offered much hope of a successful season, the same cannot be said for Armenian midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The right-winger was often taking up good pockets of space, and found himself on the ball plenty of times. However, his passing was wasteful. He lost possession 15 times in just the first half- much more than anyone else on the pitch. He also had a great chance to open the scoring inside the opening 30 minutes, but he fired wildly over the ball from inside the box.

He was outshone by Reiss Nelson on the opposite flank, and with record signing, Pepe, nearing match fitness, do not be surprised to see Mkhitaryan given far less opportunities from the start, beginning with Burnley this Saturday.

Premier League Summer Transfer Window: Star Signings

The 2019 Premier League summer transfer window has finally shut. In total close to £1.4 billion was spent in the last three months, with the most expensive transfer being that of Harry Maguire who moved from Leicester to Man United for a reported £80 million fee. In this article we will be looking at the five best signings of the window. Before we begin, it is important to note that we are not ranking these in any particular order. The players that have been chosen are those that: firstly, addressed an area of weakness at their new club, and secondly, have the ability to thrive at the club that has bought them- enabling the player to considerably improve the team’s performance.

We will start of with the cheapest and oldest of the five players. Tom Heaton. Heaton joined Aston Villa for £8 million this summer, which seems to be great value for money when you consider both his Premier League experience and goalkeeping ability. In 96 Premier League games, Heaton has kept 24 clean sheets- averaging one clean sheet every four games, an outstanding record for a goalkeeper at a ‘bottom-half’ club like Burnley. Heaton’s best asset is his reliability in goal, making just three errors leading to goals during his three years. He also has outstanding reflexes, which allow him to make saves from the unlikeliest of positions. What is of equal importance are his leadership qualities- he was Burnley’s club captain before he departed, and he will lead the team from the back. Overall, for just £8 million, this has all the marks of a great signing for the Midlands club.

Man City’s new right-back, Joao Cancelo may have cost up to £52 million more than Heaton, but that should not detract from the immense quality that he will offer his new club this season. The fee is believed to be £34.1 million, plus the departure of Danilo to Juventus (as part of a swap deal with Cancelo’s previous club, Juventus)- totalling the complete fee around £60 million. The Portuguese full-back is still only 25, and he will surely be pushing for a place in Man City’s first team. For any player to have the potential to improve the current Man City team, suggests that they have immense quality. Cancelo certainly has that. He perfectly fits into Man City’s philosophy, an attacking full-back who is comfortable giving and receiving the ball. His has rapid acceleration and refined crossing abilities from his stints as a winger at Valencia and Inter. In Serie A last season he made on average 1.4 key passes pet game and 2.4 dribbles per game, high numbers for a full-back. These stats will only increase in an attacking Man City team. Perhaps, he is not as strong defensively, he is prone to committing fouls often, but Guardiola should improve his defensive abilities, as he has done with Kyle Walker. By the end of the season, do not be surprised to see Cancelo ahead of Walker in the Man City right-back position.

Following their heartbreak in the Champions League final to Liverpool, Spurs needed a lift in the transfer window this summer. The signings of Sessegnon and, in particular, Lo Celso add quality to an already great squad. However, it is the acquisition of the 22 year-old box to box midfielder, Tanguy Ndombele that was their greatest addition. A fee of up to £60 million is great value, considering his age and the talent he showed at Lyon in France. One of the most attractive aspects of Ndombele’s game is his adaptility. He can fill in an at central defensive midfielder, as shown by his average of 2.7 tackles per 90 in Ligue 1 last season- 0.4 than Wanyama (Spurs’ highest tackler p/90). He excels most though when he is making driving runs from midfield, allowing Spurs to progress up the pitch. He also boasted a 89.1% pass accuracy last season, which was second only to Harry Winks’ 91.8% accuracy. If needed, Ndombele can adapt to play higher up the pitch too, as he created 1.6 chances per 90 last season, for comparison, Sissoko only managed 1.0 per 90. He is proven at the top level, with his impressive Champions League performances last year against the likes of Man City and Real Madrid. If his is able to match his high-level performances of the last couple of years, Spurs’ midfield will have been transformed.

Another young midfielder joined a London club this window. They starred at the u-21 European Championships for Spain. It is not Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos though, but instead Pablo Fornals of West Ham. The Spaniard signed for around £25 million from Villarreal, and at just 23 he is someone that will only improve. Fornals can play across the midfield- right, left, central, or attacking. He will help West Ham maintain control of the ball and he should link up nicely with their other technical players like Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere and Felipe Anderson. He can also make late runs into the box, either supplying the ball to their new striker, Sebastien Haller or shooting himself. Sceptics may point to the fact that in 50 appearances last season he only recorded five goals and six assists. Despite this, it is important not to become overly wrapped up in goal and assist statistics. Fornals offers West Ham creativity in their build-up play, this is seen through his 1.3 key passes per game in La Liga. This was something that the club have been missing with their previous central midfielders like Obiang and Noble. If he does not score or assists bundles of goals this season, he is sure to have played a key part in creating flowing attacking moves.

The sole striker on this list, is Everton’s new Italian forward, Moise Kean. What is most appealing at this transfer is the potential of Kean. A reported £25 million fee may have some fans scratching their head, as the 19 year-old only made 13 appearances last season for Italian giants, Juventus. However, his young age and recent performances on the pitch should disperse any worries over his price. Despite his 533 minutes of game time last season, Kean scored six goals and made one assists, which resulted in a rate of a goal every 89 minutes. His clinical finishing abilities in the box are something that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Man United. Although Kean is unlikely to score a goal every 89 minutes in the Premier League, he should heavily improve their attacking options. Furthermore, at such a young age his future re-sell value should give the Merseyside club a healthy profit.  

Fantasy Premier League: Who to buy?

One of the highlights to the Premier League season is carefully selecting your Fantasy Premier League team. With a budget of just £100m to select 15 players, one cannot get overly-excited though. In this article, I will be displaying some very shrewd business you can complete in the Fantasy Premier League, as well as some players you should steer clear of. By following these tips you should be able to amass plenty of points and save your millions for other star players.

Max Aarons

First up, in defence is Marcos Alonso of Chelsea. The left-back will set you back a hefty £6.5m- only Liverpool full-backs, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold are more expensive. Last season in the league, Alonso kept 13 clean sheets in the 31 games he played, a respectable total. Although, under new manager Frank Lampard, Chelsea may not maintain such a solid back-line. Furthermore, it is not certain that the manager will pick him. His final tally of four assists is mediocre, especially when you consider the price of the player. It may be more wise to spend £0.5m and get either Alexander-Arnold or Robertson, who got 12 and 11 assists respectively. Whilst, Liverpool will be expected to keep more clean sheets than Alonso’s Chelsea, making the signing of Alonso non-sensical.

If you do not have the funds to fork out on the industrious Liverpool full-backs, then look no further then Max Aarons of Norwich City. Although, this player is something of a ‘wildcard’ considering he has never played in the Premier League, he has been tipped to shine this season. No doubt, Aarons will be a lynchpin of the Norwich defence. He accumulated six assists and two goals in the Championship last season- a useful total. A concern may be that Aarons’ Norwich only managed 13 clean sheets in the Championship last year, so you can expect that number to be halved in this campaign. The greatest pulling factor over Aarons though is his cheap price. At just £4.5m he offers an affordable defensive option, that is guaranteed minutes. Definitely worth a try.

De Bruyne

 By claiming that Kevin de Bruyne is over-priced is meant to take nothing away from the Belgian’s super qualities on the ball. However, at an eye-watering £9.5m, there are definitely better options available. Of course, De Bruyne had injury problems last season. However, the main concern is over his actual involvement in goals. In 2018/19 he managed just two goals and two assists. De Bruyne will often play in a midfield three and dictate the tempo of the match. However, this means that he is often not in the opposition’s box, but in a deeper position. This means that De Bruyne is far less likely to get goals and assists, harming his points total. Whilst, the playmaker is still likely to pick up a handful of man-of-the-match awards, you cannot be certain that his points total warrants the £9.5m you will have to spend on him.

Newcastle’s new £20m signing, Allan Saint-Maximin is nearly half the price of De Bruyne at just £5.5m. As one of the major summer signings, Saint-Maximin is guaranteed a starting spot on Newcastle’s right-wing. Furthermore, his six goals and five assists in 34 games last season for OGC Nice represent healthy numbers. It may be that Saint-Maximin takes a while to get used to the Premier League, but he certainly looks to be worth a gamble, especially considering his more forward position compared to a lot of the other midfielders valued around £5.5m, such as Jordan Henderson, who play in a much more defensive position.

Olivier Giroud

Saint-Maximin’s countryman, Olivier Giroud is guaranteed goals in the Premier League, he has now scored 78 goals in the competition. Despite this, his last season tally was just two goals, which provides much of the reasoning behind his low price of £7m. However, it is likely his fortunes will change for the 2019/20 season. Firstly, Chelsea have a new boss, Frank Lampard, who will probably be looking to the experience of Giroud to lead the front-line amongst a relatively youthful squad. Secondly, both Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain have left the club- two of the main reasons that Giroud’s game time and goal numbers were low last season. Finally, and most importantly, the transfer embargo that Chelsea find themselves in has presented the Chelsea striker with no incoming transfers to push him down the pecking order. However, the return of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi from their loans do offer competition. Still, Giroud’s experience and proven track-record in the Premier League should persuade both you and Frank Lampard to include Giroud in your starting XI’s.

Gabriel Jesus scored five more Premier League goals than Giroud, so it may seem a surprise that I have included the Man City star as over-priced, whilst deeming Giroud as under-priced. The Brazilian will cost you £9.5m, but this seems like an awful lot of money considering that Jesus only started eight games for Man City last season. It is probable that Sergio Aguero will lead the Man City line once more this season, depriving Jesus of much time on the pitch to bag some goals. He may well surpass last season’s total of seven goals, but for such a high price, you need to be sure that you are getting a starting striker that will score on a regular basis. Jesus does not guarantee that.

Moise Kean: Everton’s latest striking sensation?

Earlier this month, Everton signed Moise Kean from Juventus for a reported £25 million fee. At just 19, fans may wonder whether this is money well spent, considering the little experience the Italian international has on the big stage. However, Kean has both the talent, as seen by his consistent performances last season, as well as the experience- he has been playing in Serie A for two years

Exciting signing- Moise Kean

The earliest memory I have of Moise Kean, came in November 2016. A fresh faced 16 year old, coming on to make his debut against Pescara. He taps the hand of the departing Mandzukic, gives him an unwavering smirk and jolts onto the pitch. The Juventus fans go wild. Kean was not an unknown 16 year-old to most of the Turin faithful. The previous season he had blazed Italian youth teams, scoring 24 goals in 25 games, big things were expected of this sprightly, fresh teenager. Even on his debut, a cameo of no more than ten minutes- he impressed. Thanks to that appearance, Kean became the club’s youngest-ever debutant and the first player born in the 2000’s to compete in one of Europe’s major five leagues. Just three days later, he broke another record, becoming the first player born in the 2000’s to feature in a Champions League match- a 3-1 away win over Sevilla. Kean went on to break a hat-trick of records on the final day of the 2016/17 season, as he became the first player to be born in the 2000’s to score a goal in Europe’s major five leagues.

Moise Kean has been seen as the real deal, for at least three years.

And, despite his departure from Juventus, he has continued to live up to the hype. The following season he was loaned out to Italian club, Hellas Verona, where he scored a respectable four goals in 20 appearances, considering he was mostly used off the bench.

However, it was last season where Kean really came to the fore. In Serie A he made 13 appearances and scored six goals and made one assist. That does not tell the full story though. In most games, he was substituted on- an impact sub. The six goals that he scored came in just 533 minutes, a phenomenal record of one goal every 89 minutes. Statistically speaking, Kean looks to be the clinical marksman that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Lukaku.

Like Lukaku, it is probable that Kean will be deployed as the lone striker. This will be at the tip of Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Bernard all playing behind the front man. Although he is only 19 still, Kean is 6’0 and possesses a broad frame, allowing him to shrug off defenders and hold the ball up for onrushing teammates, something that Calvert-Lewin has excelled at for Everton recently.

One area where Kean outshines Calvert Lewin is finishing ability. Despite both players scoring six goals in their respective leagues last season, Calvert Lewin played 22 more games, and accumulated significantly more minutes. Kean offers Everton a genuine goal threat- last season he had a high volume of shots per 90 (3.1), with most of these coming inside the box, he possesses the typical traits of a proficient poacher.

Kean’s trademark celebration

What is more, is Kean’s handy dribbling ability. He completed 1.39 dribbles per 90 last season, which allows him to get in behind defences by his own accord. If Kean is able to maximise this dribbling ability and consistently finish, then he will become an extremely valuable asset to Everton’s attacking set-up.

Despite these qualities, questions still remain over some aspects of Kean’s game. What is most striking when compared to Calvert Lewin is Kean’s inferior aerial ability. He is a striker that prefer the ball rolled into fit, rather than in the air, where he is less comfortable and less proficient and retaining possession, or even scoring a goal. This may be a problem for Everton, as they had more crosses (814) than any team in the Premier League last season, and they scored the joint third most headed goals (13)- nearly one quarter of their total goals. Perhaps, with Marco Silva, Everton are adjusting their attacking approach to play a shorter passing style of football, and one that gets the centre-forward involved in the build-up, after all that would play to Kean’s strengths.

The argument has also been made that Kean was playing with a higher calibre of player at Juventus. Granted, Juventus’ team boasts some of the best players in the world: Ronaldo, Mandzukic, Pjanic and Bentancur to name a few, but this should not take away from Kean’s ability to finish the chances presented to him. In fact, Kean’s very inclusion in such a talented squad should lay credence to the ability of the young Italian striker, not every 19 year-old can make an impact at one of Europe’s giants. Furthermore, Everton also possess the players that can unlock Kean’s attacking potential. In Sigurdsson they have one of the best attacking midfielders in the league, who has the intelligence to immediately understand the typical traits of his strikers. Whilst Richarlison and Bernard pace and trickery should both create direct chances for Kean, and  draw defenders away from the striker.

Ultimately, Kean should be able to flourish in the Premier League. At just 19 he has plenty of time and room to develop as a striker. He will be tasked with leading the Everton attack this season, a new responsibility which I believe he will relish. If he can replicate last season’s achievements then he is likely to propel Everton into the top six, if not higher. As someone who has watched him develop as a player over the past few years, and also develop as a man (following some of the shocking abuse he received whilst playing in Italy), I hope, and trust that Kean will set the Premier League alight.

Beneath the Badge (1): Watford FC

Watford FC are a Premier League football club founded in Watford, Hertfordshire. The club secured promotion to the Premier League in 2014-15 and have been competing in England’s top division since, they even reached the FA Cup final last season, eventually losing out to Manchester City. The club was founded in 1881 and fused with Watford Rovers to eventually establish Watford Football club as we know it, in 1898. Before then though there were internal disputes over whether to change them name to Watford Herts (for Hertfordshire). In the years following its formation, Watford FC often played in a blue kit. This changed in the late 1950s when they chose to sport gold kit and black shorts- the colours that are found on Watford’s badge today. Following the switch to gold and black the nickname of ‘The Hornets’ quickly stuck, following a popular vote by the supporters’ club. This remains in place today, epitomised by Watford’s mascot- ‘Harry the Hornet’.

Watford’s last blue kit (1959)

It may seem puzzling then, that whilst Watford are nicknamed ‘The Hornets’, that their current badge displays no hornets. The most recent Watford badge depicts a red stag’s head at the centre of a pentagon, which is split into black on the left side and yellow on the right side. This badge has not always been present, however. From 1968 through to 1974 Watford adopted three different badges and whilst they all contained the yellow and black colours seen today, the stag was discarded for a hornet. However, since 1978 the club has chosen to stick with what looks like a moose, but what is actually a stag. The reason for this is based upon Watford’s location in Hertfordshire, a county in England that is known for its vast stag population. This harks back to Watford’s earlier days where the stag was placed on the 1950 and 1958 badge. Even Hertfordshire County Cricket Club shares an image of a stag, or a fallow deer- it is an image that has become synonymous with Hertfordshire.

History of Watford’s badge
Current badge

Last year the club raised the question to the fans to design their own badge, calling it: ‘Designs on the Future’, the new badge will be introduced for the 2020/21 season. It may not be too long before we see the hornet once again taking its place on Watford’s crest. It seems once more than Watford’s image will continue to change and evolve.

Arsenal’s Transfer Conundrum: A Potential Solution?

The 2018/19 season was to say the least, a struggle for Arsenal. Although they improved on the 2017/18 season points total of 63, amassing 70 points, questions remain to be answered. They conceded the same amount of goals (51) as the season before- 1.34 goals per match, which was the 9th worst record in the league, whilst their xGA was 54.1, the 11th worse in the league, clearly their defensive frailties cannot be put down to bad luck. Despite this, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang finished as the top-joint Premier League goal scorer with 22 goals, and fellow forward Alexandre Lacazette was both a productive goalscoring and creative force. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries to both Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding no doubt hampered the defence, which was ruthlessly exposed, especially towards the tail end of the season, with consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester, where the team conceded 9 goals.

Arsenal players react to conceding at Stamford Bridge

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has always favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in his time in Spain, France and Russia, using a system that relies on heavy pressing, overlapping full-backs, and a defensive pivot at the base of the midfield. It is this system predominantly considered when looking at potential players to join Arsenal. He typically signs players who still have a high potential, usually acquiring players in the early to mid-20’s. These factors, along with Arsenal’s relatively restricted budget will be considered when evaluating potential incomings.

Upon analysing Emery’s squad for the 2018/19 season their seem to be multiple areas in the team that need upgrading or greater cover, the most pressing positions that Arsenal should strengthen in the next month are right-back, centre-back, left-back, central midfield/box-to-box, and a wide midfielder.

At right-back, Bellerin’s long-term injury will keep him out until mid-October, and Carl Jenkinson should be deemed surplus to requirements. Although Ainsley Maintland-Niles filled in adequately following Bellerin’s injury, right full-back is not his natural position. He was exposed vs West Ham in January and most notably the Europa League final, where he needlessly conceded a penalty. Although both athleticism and determination allowed Maintland-Niles to recover at times, it would be best to find a competent natural right-back cover for Bellerin, who is comfortable playing in defence.

What may be a greater worry though for Arsenal are the problems at centre-back. Shkodran Mustafi was arguably Arsenal’s worst performer last season, especially when facing Crystal Palace at home. Sokratis offered some defensive solidity, although he could often be caught out of position and had a poor disciplinary record, on top of this he is now 31, and questions lie over how long he can last at the top level. Moreover, club captain, Laurent Koscielny recently refused to travel to the U.S with the team, as he attempts to force a move to France. Still, Arsenal have promising options at the centre of defence. Rob Holding was in fine form before his season-ending injury and should play at the heart of the defence when fit again. Kristian Bielik who spent last season on loan at Charlton also offers much promise, a ball-playing central defender that can also fit in central midfield, Bielik was Man of the Match in Charlton’s League 1 promotion play-off and starred at the Euro-u21 championships for Poland. Despite these options, it would be advisable that Arsenal brought in a ready-made centre-back who has played at the top European level to partner Holding this season.

RB Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele would be able to solve issues for Arsenal both at centre-back and right back, as he can play well in both positions. His main strengths are through balls from defence and passing out from the back, a player that likes to also dribble out of defence. Mukiele is also aerially strong, something that Arsenal can lack and at only 21, he still has a high ceiling, enabling the club to potentially make profit on the player in the next 5-10 years. Although it is his adaptability that may be what is most appealing to Arsenal, due to their supposed lack of funds. Mukiele is able to solve two of their greatest defensive issues, as both a competent right-back and centre-back. Out of the 14 starts he made in the Bundesliga last season, 5 games were at centre-back and 9 were at right-back. Transfermarkt valued the player at 15 million euros (at the point of 5/6/2019), so he should not consume an enormous amount of Arsenal’s reportedly small transfer budget. His malleability, age, and reasonable price should make Mukiele an enticing prospect for Arsenal.

Nordi Mukiele could offer stability at centre-back and right-back. (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Although the Arsenal centre-backs were heavily criticised for the porous defence last season, the overlapping full-backs provided little cover. Particularly on the left side where Sead Kolasinac typically plays, the Arsenal defence was continuously exposed. Although he provided an admirable 5 assists, his crossing was inconsistent at best, this was seen in the Europa League final where he missed opportunities to pick out Lacazette and Aubameyang with a simple pass. Meanwhile, long servant to the club Nacho Monreal is now 33 and may soon be on his way out, posing a problem for Arsenal at left-back.

Kieran Tierney seems to be the name most mentioned with filling the left-back role this summer. The Scottish international has been a stalwart in the Celtic backline. Tierney is still only 22 and has already been playing professionally for 5 years. He carries a similar dynamism to Kolasinac going forward, and although he may not possess the same physical strength, his low-crossing abilities seem superior. More importantly for Arsenal, Tierney is seen as a more consistent defender, and someone who will not be caught as high up the pitch on such a regular basis, as Kolasinac was. It is rumoured that Tierney would cost around £25 million, which may seem a steep figure- it would make Tierney the most expensive outgoing from the Scottish Premiership. Despite this, his age and ability can provide up to 10 of a quality left-back option, something that has not been properly resolved since the departure of Gael Clichy.

Kieran Tierney, Celtic

The end of this season brought the curtain down on Aaron Ramsey’s long and successful Arsenal career, as he regrettably joined Juventus on a free transfer, following his contract expiration. This has left a hole in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield that needs to be filled. No matter whether Emery favours the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 or the 5-2-1-2 there is always a spot vacant for either a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking playmaker. Mesut Ozil has struggled under Unai Emery’s pressing tactics, and the manager’s preference for the ball to be pushed out wide, rather than through the middle. Joe Willock offers much promise, and his performances in the first team last year have led to him deservedly being included in the Arsenal squad on their tour of the U.S. However, it would be a tall order for Willock to fill Ramsey’s boots. A potential signing that could solve both the Ramsey and Ozil conundrum at Arsenal is Rodrigo De Paul. Last season at Udinese De Paul amassed 9 goals and 8 assists in 36 games, having 2.4 shots per games and 2.7 key passers per game, as well as 2.3 dribbles per game. In comparison, Aaron Ramsey only manage 1.2 shots per game, 0.9 key passes per game and 0.4 dribbles per game. Similarly, Mesut Ozil averaged 0.5 shots per game, 1.9 key passes per game and 0.9 dribbles per game. De Paul offers an aggressive attacking midfielder who possesses both the quality to run the ball out of midfield and hold the eye for a pass. His ability to play in central midfield, like Ramsey, also offers an adaptability that Ozil does not possess. However, what is of even greater appeal is his ability to play out wide, like he did at Valencia. Like Mukiele he may be able to cover two positions for the price of one. De Paul, when not playing in central midfield will be able to compete on the wings with some of Arsenal’s younger talent, such as Alex Iwobi, Reiss Nelson, and recent signing Gabriel Martinelli. The price may still be an issue though. Despite De Paul not being at a European giant, but rather a relatively cash-strapped Udinese, the club will likely demand a large fee in excess of 30 million euros, as De Paul performed effectively for Argentina in the Copa America this summer. Therefore, if Arsenal are to make a deal happen, they must be willing to spend a great part of their reported budget.   

Rodrigo De Paul, Udinese

Considering the time left to make deals happen, and the supposed lack of finances that Arsenal possess, these three deals offer both good value for money, youthful players with a greater potential, as well as their ability to support other positions that the club may not invest in. The total of all three transfers, were they to happen would accumulate to around £65-80 million, which is equivalent to the reported fee that Crystal Palace are demanding for Wilfried Zaha. However, it seems that Arsenal are to look outside of the Premier League if they want value for money, and their desperation to sign Zaha should by no means take priority over Arsenal’s vulnerable defence, which is the main area of the team that needs reinforcement.