Four Arsenal players in Premier League team of the season so far; Haal or nothing for Man City?

Arsenal midfielders Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey Credit: Alamy
Arsenal midfielders Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey Credit: Alamy

Talk of Arsenal continues to dominate the Mailbox, but a Premier League team of the season is always fun.

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PL team of the season so far
As Phase 1 of this ridiculously structured Premier League season comes to an end, I thought I’d name my current team of year:

GK: Kepa – no real standouts this season so far, but Kepa should be commended for regaining his starting place at Chelsea after years of grief.

RB: Trippier – just squeezes in ahead of Ben White. Likely to be same for England at the World Cup.

CB: Saliba – he was worth the wait. Current front runner for young player of the year.

CB: Martinez – disregarding his difficult start at Brentford, he has turned in some brilliant performances. Size maybe doesn’t matter.

LB: Cancelo – again no standouts so far, but Cancelo has kept up his form from last season.

DM: Partey – Arsenal’s most important player. Needs to stay fit for rest of season if Arsenal are to secure top 4.

CM: Xhaka – The Xhaka Redemption tour is picking up pace. Been outstanding.

CM: De Bruyne – simply a Magician. Deserves Champions League success this year.

LW: Martinelli – quite possibly the most terrifying player to play against when in full flow at the moment. Just ask Trent.

RW: Almiron – the Almiron Redemption tour is picking up pace. Who could have predicted this. Saka could feel a bit hard done by.

ST- Haaland – who else? A cheat code. Current player of the season.

Ash, London


Sharing the goalscoring responsibility is good…
It is great to have an Erling Haaland or Harry Kane on your team, but one could argue that it is risky to depend too much on one goal scorer. I have developed a statistical measure of the degree to which teams are sharing the goal-scoring responsibility.

First, compute the fraction of a team’s goals scored by each player on the team. (For example, Haaland has a fraction of .47, or about half of City’s goals.) Then square these numbers, add them together, and subtract the total from 1.0. If all of a team’s goals are scored by just one player, the end result is 1.0 – 1.0 or zero. If the goal-scoring responsibility is spread equally among a large number of players, the number approaches 1.0. Here are the current figures for the EPL teams:

Chelsea 0.89
Arsenal 0.88
West Ham 0.86
Southampton 0.85
Villa 0.85
Man United 0.84
Newcastle 0.83
Everton 0.82
Bournemouth 0.82
Liverpool 0.82
Leicester 0.81
Leeds 0.79
Forest 0.79
Brentford 0.79
Fulham 0.76
Tottenham 0.76
Brighton 0.74
Palace 0.73
Man City 0.73
Wolverhampton 0.66

As I suspected, Arsenal is near the top and Man City is near the bottom.
Ron Jeremias, Virginia, USA (Arsenal)


When does form become class?
A thought came to mind for me reading the mailbox and it’s that old cliche that ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. Now this is usually used for a good team off form expected to come back.

Let’s look at Arsenal. Forget decisions, VAR, luck. They are scoring more than their opponents and winning games. Fair play. Title contenders they are.

But, does anyone else think they look like a team playing at their absolute peak with no extra level e.g. in form. I’m thinking Liverpool ’09/’14 here. Do they have that little bit extra that we know City can find to keep their heads above water in the run in?

The question is how long can this form last? The season after those title pushes, Liverpool reverted to norm – for example after those runner-up slots we didn’t finish in the top 3 for 5 seasons (not exactly consistent contenders eh?). We lost key players and lacked the quality in the rest of the squad to keep performing at a high level/encourage other top quality players to join.

Arsenal this season really remind me of those teams – could they lose Martinelli/Saka/Odegaard to Real or City? Will Xhaka and Ben White play this well again as consistently?

It will be interesting to see how Arsenal progress and if they continue to invest with Arteta. The reason I say this is because let’s face it, Arsenal under Arteta in the last few seasons were bang average – finishing outside the top 4 for the last 3 then looking like winning the thing looks like a hell of a leap. Is it sustainable? If you win the league does it even matter? Are they on form? Or are they class? What is the norm for this Arsenal team?

Are we talking Brendan Rodgers or Pep Guardiola?

It works for Liverpool too, of course, when does this bad run of form become who we are? I would say the Champions League form is keeping us afloat this season. We need this ‘winter break’ ASAP.


A proper domestic double
What would be the bigger underdog story –
Arsenal to win the league or Tony Adams to win Strictly?
Hats (Colombo)


Lack of World Cup interest is about timing, not Qatar
There is a lack of excitement about the World Cup but it has less to do with Qatar the location and everything to do with playing a World Cup in the middle of the season.

The preamble to a World Cup is usually straight after the domestic trophies have been dished out to teams other than my own. Our bi-annual slumber of not having footy for a couple of months is replaced by the excitement of going straight into debating who should make the squad, international friendlies and the debating who should make the final cut. Then the cut is made and we then debate it some more. Then we go into the tournament knowing who is playing, how we’re playing and who we’re playing against as the media will have choked us on this for weeks – the friendlies will have told us the likely starting XI but we’ll still debate that to death.

This time however, whether Ronaldo turned up for work or not still gets more column inches than anything World Cup related. And more seriously, we’re all more interested in how our teams are doing right now to care too much about the World Cup. I imagine we’ll be cheering on England if we have a half decent performance in the first game and crying in our beers when we go out on penalties.

And back to the location. I’m one who just wants to watch the football. However, I’m hoping for lots of controversy that highlights the underlying issues in the middle East. Remember the Euros was it when Ronaldo caused a stir by removing coke bottles from in front of him – coke shares plummeted. I’m hoping players, fans and equal rights activists will have some effective ways of causing a big stir. FIFA historically have been non political but they are going to have to get involved here. Meanwhile, I will likely still be watching on the telly until England are out.

I am grateful to others for highlighting the atrocities to educate people like myself. However, the first atrocity was the bribery and corruption to award the tournament to Qatar in the first place and only after the awarding casually mention oh wait we won’t be able to have it in the summer, all other football will have to move.
Jon, Cape Town


Who should be World Cup hosts?
There is, will be, and should be deep concern around Qatar hosting the World Cup. But – and I ask this in all sincerity – who would make a good/appropriate World Cup host nation? You’d want to hit the sweet spot of Football Heritage (Germany 2006), New Market (USA 1994), and TV-Friendly Time Zone (South Africa 2010), without the problems of Awkward Broadcast Times (as in Korea/Japan 2002) and Security (England’s Euro 2021 Final and France’s 2022 Champions League Final did nobody any favours). Then there’s also the fairly important criteria of Not Being Evil (failed, sadly, by Qatar 2022, Russia 2018, Argentina 1978 and Italy 1934).

The following countries/combinations have expressed serious interest in hosting the 2030 World Cup:
– Morocco
– Uruguay/Argentina/Paraguay/Chile
– Spain/Portugal/Ukraine
– Egypt/Greece/Saudi Arabia
– Australia/Indonesia
– China
– Colombia/Ecuador/Peru
– Kazakhstan
– Israel/UAE/Bahrain

Personally, I’m liking the looks of Morocco or one of the South American bids… But Saudi Arabia, China and Borat’s homeland do cast long and depressing shadows over the World Cup’s future.

Which of those candidates would be the Mailbox’s preferred choice, and why?
Mark, Cape Town


Of course Newcastle needed the money…
Sorry James, NUFC, totally disagree.

Let me begin by saying my brother is a Newcaslte fan from Dublin who has held a season ticket for Newcastle on occasions, so I’m not pulling this out of my ass.

So for James and everyone else who thinks Newcastle are improving despite the questionable investment, this is for you.

Firstly, no Dan Ashworth, you know the guy who really makes all the signings happen? The brains behind a number of recent club successes. He’s never joining Newcastle without the Saudi’s.

Eddie Howe is on a stupid wage per annum. Would Mike Ashley have paid that?

And as for all the pre investment players now playing out of their skin? C’mon really? If you work somewhere and over night you become easily replaceable by much better employees and also have the chance to jump on a wage gravy train, would you not try harder?

I have no issue with Newcastle, it’s no worse than City or Chelsea before that. The EPL sold its soul decades ago. And it’s becoming harder to watch millionaires lie, cheat and play dead.

But I do have an issue with all this bullshit surrounding Newcastle currently. The only, and I mean ONLY reason Newcastle are currently where they are is the investment. And no matter what Richard Keyes or equally knuckle dragging neanderthals say that’s the truth. And the money is Dirty. Like so many other clubs.

It’s like doping in athletics. At some point we’ll just have to say, f**k it. Dope away, can’t stop you anyway.
Al, Dublin (are brackets still important)


Should Man Utd have had a penalty?
Bit late to the party but regarding penalties why has no-one mentioned the stonewall penalty denied United when the Villa keeper absolutely wiped out Elanga, getting nowhere near the ball and clotheslining him in the process. It seems keepers have carte blanche to take out attackers without consequence, many times they come out to punch missing the ball and taking out the player yet the referee does nothing, conversely fart near them at a corner and free kick incoming, its baffling. Lastly before anyone says, I know it wouldn’t have changed the result.
Paul Murphy, Manchester


Simple VAR improvements
Boring I know but two simple things:

1) If the referee get told they should take a pitch side review, only give the real time speed reviews. Football doesn’t happen in slow motion.

2) Do not, ever, under any circumstances, play what the VAR see, or what the referee sees on the big screen in the stadium. I was watching MOTD and I this happened at Nottingham Forest versus Brentford (I believe, but maybe incorrect) and this could easily turn what is just a piss poor decision into something more serious. I’m not singling out one particular club or group of supporters, but surely this is not a good idea.

Maybe it’s just me.
Adam, LFC, Lancaster


Some Chelsea conclusions
My beloved team got their ass whopped comprehensively against Arsenal over the weekend. It hurt badly. It was as close to listless I have ever seen us play. Barring a few quick passes that got Havertz free to make the wrong decisions, we never threatened to score. The goal we then conceded was infuriating – how can none of our defenders get to that before Gabriel?!?!?! The ball passed like 5-6 players. Conceding a goal like that doesn’t look good on our defense.

Anyways, conclusions:

1. Regardless of what Potter does tactically, there really is no bite in this midfield (unless Kante comes back, or Zakaria earns some games). No one that could make a tackle. No one that can actually dispossess someone. Arsenal breezed through our midfield so easily. Jorginho has never been the most athletic but tries to make up for it positionally, & he did put in a bit of a shift. RLC has no excuse. He’s younger, more mobile and reliable on the ball, but his defensive effort leaves so much to be desired. I first noticed it in the Utd game and it showed up again here. He (& our midfield) has to do better defensively.

2. I’m so surprised at how we keep on playing from the back, pass it round until someone inevitably makes a mistake, loses the ball and pins us back in our territory, unable to progress with the ball until we get a goal kick, cos clearances tend to just allow the opposition to recycle possession. We did hoof it long a bit and it opened up the chance for Havertz to feed Auba, & hopefully that is something we can do with more precision, but those breakdowns in our defense on the ball has to stop.

3. Havertz has to be much much better. If he raised his head up once, it’s a goal for Auba.

4. My boy Mason. I love him when he’s positively influencing the game – full of energy and movement, snappy crosses & shots, and nice link-up play. When he doesn’t, he looks hella pointless on a pitch, as he was against Arsenal today. He does need to develop that killer ball and up his chance creation to truly be effective consistently.

5. A lot of stick on Auba considering all the shenanigans before the game & his lack of touches. However, his main duty on this team is to score goals, not link up play, not dropping deep… holding up the ball, yes, but score goals really. Stay in the box & take chances. So he can never really be effective for us if we’re not making chances for him, considering he’s older now and can’t always use his pace.

6. Potter needs to find his base formation FAST. I know he doesn’t see it that way, but there is a lot of inconsistency game-to-game with either how we attack or defend. In all my time watching the game, consistency of tactics is always a hallmark of winning teams, not switching up game-to-game. Philosophically, that’s my main issue with him currently. I appreciate he is trying to evolve the team to his image and I do feel our attack has gotten slightly better under him, but he needs to find some tactical consistency in his shapeshifting ways.

Just hoping and praying we don’t get our asses kicked in the City game.

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