My top 15 top talent / players to watch in Ligue 1 this season by Emmanuel Lainé

Fair to say that as usual the French league is “pétri de talents” and I felt the urge to share some of these names with you all. As per usual, this list is subjective, I might leave some of the talents out of the list and by no means this list is an absolute gauge of quality. I mean, I am known for saying once on twitter:”I am not convinced by N’kunku”. That in itself should bring some balance to the argumentation below. To be part of the list, I have focused only on the players born 2001 and below, therefore a player like Saliba is considered as the upper limit of what I am looking for here. Caqueret who is one of my favourite player in Ligue 1 right now will not make the list, not because of his talent, but his age…

Anyway, let’s start with the list… hope you’ll enjoy it!

15 – Evann Guessand (Nice)

At first, I went for Badiashile but the lack of improvement from last year to this year pushed me away from this choice. He is also a bit of a wild card because of his lack of playing time, but I like the profile. Product of the Nice Academy, he was loaned last year to the Swiss SuperLeague where he was fairly successful for his club Lausanne. This season he has played a few games and the sample is still fairly limited. Fairly tall (1.85m), his physical abilities are supplemented by excellent technical abilities. His volume of shots per 90 dropped significantly this year however I think he is getting into better position allowing him to be more efficient in the final third. Definitely one to watch in the future and at 20yo there is still room to grow. Next season has to be a breakout season for me, I think there is space upfront for him to make his mark.

14- David Pereira Da Costa (Lens)

Not the most talented player on this list but much more of what we call in France, “Un coup de Coeur”. I actually feel that he might be too limited physically to impose himself in other systems/league and clearly he is benefitting from the Frank Haise system at Lens. Aesthetically, he is a beautiful player to watch, very pleasing (seriously just watch Lens and you’ll see what I mean). Tactically he is the typical model of the player finding space in between the lines, smooth and sweet on the ball. However, it also feels that the system has to be just right which might be a limitation on his career prospects. Will he develop further than Lens? I am not so sure. The only caveat to his development is that he is quite a late developer (this season is his first real season) and with Kakuta getting towards the end of his career he could possibly be one of the key player for Haise and Lens in the coming seasons. 

13- Mohamed Ali-Cho (Angers)

One of the youngest players in the list and my one to watch at the beginning of this 2021/2022 season. And honestly, I could not have been more smug after seeing his performances at the start of the season. His first two months were close to unbelievable for a player of his age and I recall how much this was talked about in France. What was reassuring was the fact that the sample was sufficient to make you feel that he would develop even more. I think he will. His technical abilities are really interesting, excellent in pressing and in ball progression, Cho is the type of explosive striker being able to eliminate his opponent on his first step. Actually his first step is devastating. From the outside he looks frail but in reality, he has this capacity to resist to the physical contact when 1-on-1 vs the defenders. The most recent games are more difficult for him but then again, you do have to consider his age profile before being too concerned. In the long run, I hope he will improve on his finishing where he is currently in the 56th percentile of the non penalty expected goals. The qualities are there and the upside is extremely high. I feel that he could benefit from a move away from Angers (which has been one of the worst team in Ligue 1 these last months). 

12- Malo Gusto (Lyon)

Not far from being one of my new favourite player of the season, “mon chouchou de cette année”. So why so low? Still lacking minutes even if he started more than 10 games as a starter this season. Top 5% in pressures, top 5% in tackles, top 10% in progressive carries, he is definitely a proactive defender (he was actually trained as a wide midfielder). Weaknesses? They all tend to be defensively focused but at this age there is still a lot of time to work on these. We have seen other FB/RWB being so important offensively that some relative weakness defensively are often swept under the carpet (TAA anyone?). He has this capacity to whip the ball in the box which makes him an interesting support on the right side of the attacking lines. At this stage of his career and with Dubois failing to impress the stats and the fans at Lyon, it is pretty clear that Dubois’ minutes will drop next season and Gusto will benefit from it. The wing play at Lyon has also been a problem this season and Gusto could benefit from a player on his side. Faivre could have been the option, it would appear now that Tete might be the one. If there is only one to watch next season, just watch him, I think the sky is the limit for this kid. I have rarely seen a talent of that sort in France and that’s pretty exciting for the future.

11- Issa Kabore (Troyes)

Another RB, another progressive player. I truly loved him during the CAN with Burkina Faso and I would absolutely love seeing him in a progressive system such as Sampaoli with Marseille. Offensively his start of the season with Battles was probably better than the recent weeks, but what I like about him is his ability to dribble. Offensively I think he is slightly better than Gusto when isolated on a 1-on-1. I think he is the type of player who needs to move away from Troyes and I would not be surprised that his stats would improve significantly if he was in a stronger team. Typically the type of offensive RWB who would find difficult to adapt to a back 4 team, he is gifted with one of the best crossing quality in France at his position where he can basically whip the ball pretty much anywhere he wants to. Similarly to Gusto, he does struggle defensively and unless we see a significant progression next year I fear the top of Ligue 1 might be the ceiling for Kabore. 

10- Kephren Thuram (Nice)

On the face of it Thuram should be better than he is, but his qualities on the pitch are just phenomenal for such a young player. He is a player who has the ability to project forward, where he is top15% in the progressive carries in Europe right now. He can score, he can pass, he can carry the ball, he can dribble, if only he could be as interested by the defensive duties and we would have one of the best midfielder in France right now. Typical double pivot with an interest in progressing the ball, he brings something different to a team at this post. Putting my Arsenal head on, I would very easily seeing him playing alongside Partey in a double pivot where he could bring some of the progressive carries that we might lack since Guendouzi left the team alongside a stronger interest for defensive duties. 

9- Quentin Merlin (Nantes)

Bit of an odd one since Merlin is basically a freshman in this list. First real season at this level he is growing in stature in a Nantes team which has seduced me this season. I might sound like a broken record, but another progressive FB, but this time playing on the left side of the pitch. Top 5% in progressive passes, he is benefitting from a positive game plan at Nantes. Extremely strong on the tackle for such a small frame (1.73m), extremely active on the pressures, he is an absolute poison for the opposition. Needs to improve on his ball delivery and explosivity. Possibly better suited to a back 4. With 1 goals and 2 assists this season, I am keen to see him stay at Nantes next season and to develop in this system. 

8- Jeremy Doku (Rennes)

I know, I am probably falling for the hype, but hey, he might be leaving at the end of the season so it is worth mentioning his name in this list. He is a player who has seduced me. Extremely active on the wing at Rennes I feel he is a player destined for a move to a top club in Germany (Like Dortmund). Top 1% in progressive carries, Top 1% in completed dribbles, Top 5% in touches in the penalty box. I mean if you want an exciting wide player, do not look any further. My main concern with him? his fitness. Played less than 500 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, he is not far from becoming the Zion Williamson of Ligue 1. We know the talent is there but we might never be able to appreciate it due to him being injured all the time. I really like what he offers… when he plays. He is one dimensional but a bit like St-Maximin, the one dimension is like another dimension altogether.

7- Ryan Cherki (Lyon)

Again another player that I start to have more and more doubt about. I love the talent and I sincerely hope he comes good. All the stats are pointing towards a very special player here. My worry is that he has been for many years one of the biggest hype in France since Ben Arfa and I am worried he might end up following the same path. The talent is there, there is no doubt about it, but I do not see much progression on his game time from last year to this year. I mean, if you have a talent of that sort on your team and your team struggles on the wide open play, why not giving him more minutes? This is all baffling to me. For me next season has to be his season otherwise we will start to seriously question his ability to translate his talent to the first XI of a Ligue 1 team. Again, the talent is there. Offensively we know what he brings by being in the top 10% in a wide range of categories (I mean look at the Fbref list of similar players to him for Christ sake). The real caveat to his talent is that defensively his stats are just awful, the pressures being possibly one of the main issue I have with the player. It is one thing to agree for Neymar not to be involved defensively, it is another for Cherki to feel that he can basically do the same thing. I once remembered a kid who was told that he is too talented to waste in talent defending… this kid was Ben Arfa and I do worry if this might be the road Cherki takes rather than say a Neymar or Di Maria. 

6- Kamaldeen Sulemana (Rennes)

Another Rennes player who is pretty much injured all the time (what the hell do they do at Rennes? Good team, great system but my god get yourself a new physio!). Anyway, when Rennes signed him (and Doku) I could not be more excited to see what these two players could achieve on the pitch together. Well I could not have predicted that both of them would basically be out of action for so long that we barely seen them together on the pitch. On the face value, Doku would be a more interesting proposition for a top team, but I think that if you dig a little further, Sulemana would probably appear to be the best proposition. I find him as being a more complete and creative player to Doku, someone who has more intrinseque qualities to be able to adapt to a wide variety of systems and Leagues.  He is also far more interested by the defensive duties than Doku, even though I would not describe him as anything else than competent. Less of a dribbling machine than Doku in a way that I think he playing style is more vertical and direct than Doku Sulemana is natural ball in feet. I do not see him moving away from Rennes this summer, but he might benefit from Doku moving away (which I think is most likely).

5- Arnaud Kalimuendo (Lens)

The subject of one of the craziest transfer story from last summer where PSG paid Lens to get him back at the club (after agreeing the loan) to then loan him back to Lens. All very bizarre. So why Kalimuendo? I think this is one of these players where the stats look worse than the contribution of the player on the pitch. Nothing in him is calling for world class but yet his impact on the pitch by the way he links the play, retains the ball is excellent. Quite small in stature, he reminds me of Lacazette in the way that he can play off the other players and how multifaceted he is. Similar to our own AL#9, Arnaud is struggling in front of the goal with an offensive return to be quite disappointing even though he managed to score 7 goals this season. If he can improve on his finishing by means of improving on his shot creation + selfishness in front of the goal, I think we may have a player on our hand here. In terms of comparison, I think David / Lacazette might be the closest to his style, left to see if he will reach the same number of goals in open play than David (who is two years older than him).

4- Amadou Onana (Lille)

Remember when Vieira used to travel across the pitch thinking that he was not moving but no one could get any close to him? Well, this is Onana for you. The kid is massive, 1.95m and for someone with such a big frame he has this unique ability to move elegantly across the pitch. I am not sure what he cannot do but what he can do is excellent and nothing short of exciting for the future. At that age and to be so comfortable in pretty much any position of the midfield is so rare that I have no superlative to describe how much I love this player. We signed Sambi, but I just would love we had some interest in this player. For me the reasons why he is not playing more at Lille is a bit of a mystery because I think he is so uniquely talented and better that Soumare for example who left last summer for Leicester. Strong in the tackle, strong in the air, his technical aptitude on the ball is also interesting for someone with such a big frame. A player that can play in pretty much any system and clearly destined to a major transfer in the next few years. Some of the stats might appear to question his ability, but the system at Lille is not really geared towards making the most of his talent. He needs to be unleashed and I cannot wait for that. His ceiling is high. 

3- William Saliba (Marseille)

I know, I know, being an Arsenal fan, it would have been easy for me to put Saliba as my number one. And to be fair I thought about it and questioned my choices for ages. But in every player, there is a caveat and Saliba is no different than anyone else. So why third on the list? 85% of the time, you watch him and you would say that this player is world class, he oozes quality, remember the tackle on M’Bappe? His ability on the ball is by far one of the best in France. Top 5% in pass completion, Top 10% in progressive passes, Top 5% in progressive carries, Top 5% in dribble completed. Everything is pointing the finger towards a player who is capable to organise the play from the back, and be progressive. For someone of his size, he is a lot quicker across the pitch that you would think. So what is the issue? I would say, his only real weakness is his concentration (I recall for example the Galatasaray Europa League where he cost the game to Marseille, one lapse of concentration and it is a goal for the opposition). So yes, 85% of the time he is excellent and a world beater but the other 15% (I might be exaggerating here), his concentration fails him and he will wander out of position, costing his team goals and/or points. Normally this is something that will sort itself out with age, but we have seen with Upamecano that no matter your experience, these traits of character can linger for years. I am confident that this is something can be sorted out and if it was the case, we would have one of the most dominant CB in Europe. Selected for France, I would not be surprised if he was selected for the world cup in Qatar. So am I still raving about our own WS? For sure I am but I am also slightly worried that the patience he might have experienced around his lapses of concentration at Marseille may not be present at Arsenal where he is expected to be finished article. There is work to be done, that’s for sure. Final point: he could also improve in the air, lowest 10% in Europe right now which is dreadful for someone of his size.

2- Castello Lukeba (Lyon)

Probably surprising that I have put another CB ahead of Saliba and I really think that frankly speaking there is not a lot to distinguish one from another. His ball ability is incredible, imagine a better Umtiti, imagine a player born in 2002 who is already the best CB at Lyon. In the starting 11 at Lyon at such a young age, what impresses me the most with him is his ability to organise the play, punchy, able on the ball etc… Smaller than Saliba but better in the air, he is also incredibly focused and does not show the lack of concentration that Saliba might experience once in a while. Intelligent player, he has this ability to cover the ground, not the fastest but always ahead of the game. The sample size of games is still too low to really know how far he can go and possibly one of his main weakness may be his ability to cover the ground when the ball is played deep. A Saliba can cover the ground with speed against runner like M’Bappe, I fear that Lukeba does not have the speed. For me Lukeba and Saliba will be the ones to watch in the future in terms of young French CB. Right now, Saliba is ahead of Lukeba, but both have work to be done in order to iron out some of their weaknesses.

1 – Hugo Ekitike (Reims)

What has been said about Ekitike that is still to be said? Already in demand across Europe, and if all is well he has all the tools to become one of the best strikers in Europe. Often compared to Isak, which I think has much more to do with the frame than the actual game play. When Isak is reasonably well placed statistically for both offensive contributions and use of the ball (albeit rarely in the top 15% across Europe according to Fbref), Isak defensive contributions are close to inexistant where he is never above the low 30% in pressures, tackles, interceptions etc… Ekitike is no Isak. He is 3 years younger and his defensive contribution is possibly what strikes me the most. He has a good engine and speed which allows him to be in the top 20% in both tackles and pressures vs. forwards across the 5 big EU leagues. Top 1% in interceptions, he is an incredible athlete who would be extremely useful as the main spark to initiating the pressure on the pitch. Good dribbler, top 6% in Europe, top 8% in a Reims team which does not create that many goals opportunities, it is difficult to see a lot of issues with his game play. His shot creation is decent and could be improved but he has this ability to create a goal out of nothing. His decision making could be better at times and his final ball is often not the best but yet again the tools are there and I am looking forward to see how far he will go. My only worry is whether he will resist the call of the poor career choice and easy money.


  1. What a superb body of work this is, Tim 👏🏽

    Our Willo is a stud, and an absolute physical specimen. He will improve on his aerial ability. Ben White isnt great in the air either, but he’s got better there than he was earlier in the season.

    There was a piece on the Arsecast recently in which James McNicholas said that with the France door opening up for Saliba, the chances of him coming back to Arsenal, he’s getting the strong vibe that Saliba may not be coming back.

    Dare we dream of Ekitike? Just watched a video of him. Skilful, but needs to bulk up. If he plays here, big CBs will shove him over all day long. Like the look of him though, even if he resembles Dele Alli a bit.

    1. Hi there. Thanks for your comment.

      I too think that Saliba is unlikely to come back but I also think that not a lot of teams in France would be able to pay his fee, unless we do a typical Arsenal thing and let him go on cheap.

    2. I’ve been saying that Saliba isn’t coming back for years. That relationship between player and club is completely broken.

      1. Yeah agree. I also do not see how MA would give him play time. Rotation is not his forte and White is clearly ahead of WS (for good reasons). So better for us to start thinking beyind him. Which leaves me to one big question. After Nuno, Tierney, Saliba, backup to Tomi… How much work does this defense still need and will we then have the funds to rebuild the midfield and striker?

        1. I disagree with your comparative assessment… he’s a much better defender and footballer than Ben White. Which isnt the same as saying that Arteta will pick him ahead of BW.

          I watch them both every week, and it’s clear.

          1. What I meant is that White is well ahead of Saliba in Arteta’s mind. I cannot see any reasons why suddenly Arteta would drop White (who is his player through and through) for a kid he was desperate to offload on load this season.

          2. agree with emmanuel. ben white is arteta’s “record signing” whereas saliba has been loaned several times and arteta has refused to even give him a debut. i hope he doesn’t come back. with champions league in the fall and the world cup in the winter being real possibilities, i fairly positive he’s not interested in returning to the sh*t show that arteta is running.

          3. Emmanuel, I didn’t realise that this was your work, so let me say to you what I said to Tim… great body of work 👏🏽

            I think that you, me and Josh and are saying the same thing… Mikel is going to play HIS guy.

            I hope that Tim has you back.

  2. Emmanuel thanks for the post. Great stuff

    I would be curious for your opinion since you follow Ligue 1 more closely then us. The last 6 attacking players Arsenal has brought over from Ligue 1 have seen their stats in terms of goals and/or assists decrease rather fairly dramatically compared to what they did in France. We have spent close to $200 million on Chamakh, Gervinho, Giroud, Sanogo, Lacazette and Pepe and not of them has come very close to replicating what they did in France. Giroud has been the best but he only averaged about 13.5 league goals/season while playing for us. Lacazette was a regular challenger for the golden boot in his last couple years at Lyon has been underwhelming for almost 5 years for us and Pepe was a stat sheet superstar at Lille but he has been a $75 million bust. If I was the Arsenal decision makers I would be reluctant to go to the well again and spend a lot of money on a player from Ligue 1. Is it just bad luck? I wonder if you have a theory that might explain why those players looked so good in France but did not replicate that form for us?

    1. Chamakh was never a goal scorer, he was a tidy striker but never scored more than 15 goals a season which is a worry. What I recall of him for following Bordeaux quite a bit is that his quality in the air was better than average and seems to always be at the of the quality crosses. Aside from that he was in effect a very average striker.

      Gervinho and Pepe are possibly two that I would put in the same category. One breakout season (last season for Gervinho was 15 goals 10 assists) and a big move to the Premier League. This is one of the issue that I have with the competition with money, you just never leave the time to a player to demonstrate whether this outstanding season is an outlier or not. Gervihno was a bit of a crazy talent right? I cannot really recall whether the Lille’s fan would describe him as wasteful during his time there, but worth checking. For Pepe I think we need to look back as his return for goals without penalties where he scored in his last season at Lille 13 goals on open play which would kind of compare to Gervinho right? What disappointed me is his lack of return on the assist side of thing. For me Pepe benitted from a system which was dead right for him. Galtier understood his strength and played 100% for him, the space these guys are was scary. I don’t think the AFC system is right for Pepe and actually I find him a lot more dangerous when he is in the box, but outside, you can see the deficiencies. At Arsenal he is asked to be more active defensively, he had none of that at Lille, unleash the beast and carry the team forward.

      Sanogo, too raw, too young. Massive gamble which did not pay off.

      Giroud, I think we got exactly what we signed. someone who will give you a return on his minutes played albeit not world class. I actually Giroud is possibly the only striker we signed from France who gave us exactly what we signed for. Expecting him to give us the return of say Aubameyang would be foolish.

      Now Lacazette. His is a funny one because I do remember clearly that the talk in France at the time was “what kind of return can he give to a team when he does not take the penalties?”. pretty much everyone I followed at the time was questionning whether he was world class striker or just a striker with inflated stats due to penalties.Remove his penalties and he was a 18 goals a season at Lyon, a team where his partnership with Fekir was lethal. For me Fekir at the time was the pick of the crop and I often thought that if you sign Lacazette you must sign Fekir too because he will open the space and create for Lacazette who was a finisher but would not bring you a lot in open play. I kind of feel that a bit like Giroud we kind of got what we signed for… possibly this season is what creates more of a discussion because of his complete lack of interest in scoring. looking at Fbref, that is the first season where he below is npxG…

    2. i don’t understand why you talk about players like sanogo and chamakh. young sanogo was a free transfer who was a wenger project that didn’t work. there were no real expectations from him. he was on low wages and didn’t cost the club a dime in transfer fees. chamakh was also a free transfer that wenger brought in a year too late to replace adebayor as van persie’s backup. while he was decent in the air and could lead the line competently, there was no big expectation from what was also a free transfer.

      i have nothing to add concerning the ivorians. pepe was one i warned of on this forum that people should not have big expectations as he only had 13 goals from open play. i knew little of gervinho.

      giroud had similar numbers to drogba but chelsea fans appreciated drogba more than arsenal fans appreciate giroud. in fact, unlike drogba, giroud maintained his goal rate that he had in france when coming to england. the only players i can think of that improved their rate after coming from france were two gunners wenger got on the cheap; anelka and adebayor.

      another problem with giroud is who he was replacing. he always felt like a stop-gap for van persie especially considering that wenger was always trying to replace him with the likes of luis suarez

      the biggest issue with giroud was how wenger used him. giroud thrives when he has someone close to him. like lacazette had fekir, giroud had younes belhanda at montpellier, hazard at chelsea, and griezmann for france. however, at arsenal, he had mesut ozil…a player who notoriously drifts. this led to a ton of isolation or ramsey crowding him out.

      lacazette is being poorly managed. put him with intelligent guys and let him focus on leading the line and being a goal scorer and he will get the job done. arteta has put him with a bunch of kids and, like aubameyang before him, arteta has placed that armband on him. your goal scorers can’t be worried about leading the team. like auba before him, laca’s goals were predictably down. he’s got other duties so the cutting edge of goal scoring is dulled. it’s why you don’t see a lot of strikers wearing the armband…and expected to actually provide leadership to the team.

    3. i support lacazette. however, i’ve always maintained that, between lacazette and giroud, i’d always take giroud. even when arsenal spent all of that money for lacazette and aubameyang, i said giroud was the best center forward at arsenal. the problem is wenger didn’t trust him enough.

      everyone that has put their faith in giroud has been rewarded. at montpellier, he was the man and they won the league. for chelsea, he had four different managers and tons of competition but, when the big games came along, giroud was the man, chosen time and again by antonio conte, maurizio sarri, frank lampard, and thomas tuchel. didier deschamps kept faith with giroud and won a world cup. finally, under stefano pioli, giroud is about to win milan their first serie a title in 11 years.

      1. There’s no escaping the fact that barren run in the second half of 2015/16 undermined Wenger’s trust in Giroud. It’s easily forgotten, as he’s a good guy, but he really underperformed that season.

        1. I have detailed data from that “barren run” by Giroud and I think it paints a slightly different picture as to who was responsible for Arsenal not winning the League that season.

          So, the period in question is January 17th to April 30th. We lost three games and drew 5. Here’s the details of those matches.

          1. Stoke 0-0 Draw, Giroud played 90 minutes, got 2 shots, missed 1 big chance. We only created 8 shots in that game.
          2. Chelsea 0-1 Loss, Giroud only played 21 minutes, 1 shot, no big chances. Flamini missed the only big chance of the game.
          3. Southampton 0-0 draw. Giroud gets 8 shots but critically none of them were big chances. However, Ozil missed two big chances in that game, Walcott missed one, Alexis missed one and Koscielny missed one. Giroud actually created one of those chances for Ozil which had an xG of 0.8. Those dropped points were squarely on Ozil.
          4. Manchester United 2-3 loss. Giroud only played 28 minutes and got just 1 shot. Welbeck and Monreal missed big chances in that game.
          5. Swansea 1-2 loss. Giroud played all 90 minutes and missed his only big chance.
          6. Tottenham 2-2 draw. Giroud only played 16 minutes, no shots. Arsenal didn’t have any big chances in that match.

          At this point Wenger essentially drops Giroud until matchday 30 (West Brom) giving him just backup time. By this point, we had lost the title race. On February 26th we were 2 points off Leicester with a -13 xG to goals ratio. Leicester went 8-4-0 to end the Season, Arsenal went 5-5-2.

          So, by my count I have “the team” dropping points against Stoke and Chelsea, Ozil to blame for Southampton, the team to blame for Man U, Giroud to blame for Swansea? Maybe.

          7. 3-3 draw with West Ham – unlucky match, the defense was probably at fault for this one since they scored three goals off just 1 xG and it would be churlish to blame a striker when your team scored three.
          8. Palace 1-1 draw, we scored or only big chance of the game, they scored a worldy from 35 yards.

          1. Agreed. The United and Swansea losses probably were where the campaign was lost. My point wasn’t about responsibility or blame as that’s a collective thing. Wenger simply lost confidence in Giroud probably after the 15 games without scoring. Plus he’d watched Leicester counter attack their way to the title and wanted to improve the side’s mobility and attacking flexibility. Funnily, that Summer he’d then go and buy that ultra mobile midfielder, Xhaka (lol).

          2. I have a theory that Wenger wanted to make “big name” signings from 2014 on, in order to placate the “spend some fucking money” clowns. So we were connected to a number of completely different players each summer. For example, I can’t think of many players more different than Ozil, Luis Suarez, and Higuain. All of those guys were linked the summer we got Ozil. The summer you’re talking about we bid for Vardy and ended up buying the Swiss Denilson. Then there was the year we bought Lacazette and also Auba. So, yeah, he was kind of all over the map trying to buy players.

          3. Ha!!! I think I’d compartmentalised some of those ‘pursuits’. Fancy being turned down by Vardy, fucking Vardy….

            Oh and big congrats to Unai. One Europa cup and now a CL semi. He might not be the best manager but what a tactician

          4. Tim, you’re placing responsibility for Wenger’s bad decisions on the fans ?


          5. Wow is right, how on earth did you reach that conclusion? Wenger wanted to placate the fans, it is still Wenger’s decision and responsibility.

            Don’t come on here looking for nonsense to make up. I put plenty of real nonsense out there for you to be angry about.

          6. Tim, I know this is you blog and and you make the rules.

            But your Wenger bias is transparent here.

            ‘I have a theory that Wenger wanted to make “big name” signings from 2014 on, in order to placate the “spend some fucking money” clowns’

            That is far more charitable to Wenger and uncharitable to the fans (whom you call ‘clowns’) than the explanation you gave. Why even make up the ‘theory’ if you didn’t want to shift the blame for Wenger’s bad decisions ?

            I liked your blog when it was more analytical .

            I’m going to leave here, since you don’t seem to like people questioning you.

          7. It’s charitable to Wenger to say that he gave up his own values and kowtowed to clowns and went out and just spent money in a wild way with little to no discernable pattern other than just spending big?

            I have never hidden my bias for Wenger, I have written extensively that I started writing this blog as a form of support for Wenger, that said, I’m not so blinded that I didn’t see his final 5-6 years wasn’t up to his own standard. And even though he left the club in a very healthy financial position, I found his spending to be very poor and detrimental to the club in many ways.

            As for the fans who were chanting “spend some fucking money” – they were and are clowns.

            “I liked your blog when it was more analytical .

            I’m going to leave here, since you don’t seem to like people questioning you.”

            You want some analysis? The blog hasn’t changed. I write about all kinds of crazy things here, always have. My analysis is that I had some kind of message in the past that you liked a lot (probably that I thought Wenger should retire) and which probably used data to support some kind of position you held and that I’m no longer filling that need.

            And finally, the “you don’t like people questioning you” thing is hilarious because I’m actually the opposite. I’ve changed my mind hundreds of times after having intelligent conversation with folks on here. That’s probably the only reason I still write the blog and interact with the readers here. What I don’t like are people who completely misinterpret my words in order to have a go at me personally. Which is what you’re doing in both of these comments. You don’t get to have a go at me personally, pretty much ever. You don’t know me well enough to do that, we aren’t friends.

            You’re going to leave because I didn’t placate you, stroke your ego, or just blindly agree with your point? Ok. Thanks for letting me know. Take care.

          8. Re. Giroud. Tim
            I think you are missing the point a little. The major problem we had with Giroud, and we have now with Lacazette, is that he very rarely made his own chances. This analysis of his ‘big chances’ is a misnomer, as he was only as good as the service he got. How many of those big chances were made directly from his work, I’d wager very few.
            That season we needed something extra, some stardust to turn draws into wins. Like Henry used to do; run, dribble, crack one in from 30 yards. Not for him to wait around until he got a chance just big enough to score.
            He had some great goals, but I can think of the number he scored out of nothing on one hand. He didn’t have a turn of pace or dribble to beat a man and finish. That is what separates the best from the rest.

          9. Ok, there’s some fair criticism in there. Though I think you give short shrift to Giroud by saying he didn’t create his own chances: his hold up play and then making a run to score in a deadly place was a form of creating chances for himself. I do agree, however, that he was more reliant on direct service than Thierry Henry. But we didn’t have Henry, instead we had Ozil and Alexis and the reality of that season is that Ozil’s assists and big chances created also dried up at that time. Ozil was supposed to be our man, along with Alexis. Giroud was a secondary (tertiary) player to those two.

            My point is that blaming Giroud for the fact that Arsenal dropped out of the title race that season misses the point of Giroud. He’s not supposed to be Henry, Alexis and Ozil are. It was supposed to be up to them to be that bit of stardust and as happened very often with Ozil – he just blew away in a little wind.

      2. Arsenal spent on Aubamayeng when it became apparent that Laca was quite a bit less than what we needed. Should have gone only for Auba. Later we spent time trying to figure how both could be played most efficiently. That debate is still on.

  3. MattB

    Giroud had several barren runs. He would score 8 goals in 7 games and then not score for the next 10 -12 games His barren run in the second half of 15/16 season when we had a real chance to win the title is just most memorable. Over his Arsenal career I think giroud only average 13.5 league goals per season which is just not enough for a team whose objective was to win league titles. I know a lot of people on the blog were excited about what lacazette was doing earlier this season during our good run but over the course of a 38 game season you need scoring from your CF if you want to be successful and finish top 4

    1. The late winner by Wellbeck against Leicester was/is one of my highlights the last decade. After that match we were 2 points off Leicester and you could feel the momentum swing. Shortly after we lost to United and Swansea

    2. according to wikipedia, didier drogba scored 100 goals in 8 seasons. that’s an average of 12.5 goals a season which is less than what you have giroud scoring but drogba won the premier league 4 times.

      1. Drogba has a very strange record. He had just two seasons where he scored 20+ goals for Chelsea. He was often injured and so he had 5 seasons where he had less than 20 90s. Overall, his record for them is OK, he scored 104 goals in 195 90s and laid on 55 assists and only took 4 pens for them. But 49 of his goals were in 2 of his 8 seasons. The other 55 were split over 6 seasons. That’s an atrocious return. But he was a complete luxury player, only a team like Chelsea – who literally dumped billions – could afford to pay Drogba full salary for 8 years and have him average less than 10 goals a season for 6/8 years.

  4. Villareal have just bounced Bayern out of the Champions League. The Europa League winners are into the semis. Last round they eliminated Juventus.

    Big man tings, as we say in the Caribbean. We went with the work experience kid, and it’s showing.

    There’s been some discussion here by Tim, Bill and Josh about whether Emery is a good coach or a bad one, so let’s look at the tale of the tape. Villareal are not big enough or strong enough to fire hard on two cylinders, so I wont read too much into their league form.

    They were 9 points better than Arsenal after 30 games. Significant difference. We are in 5th, they are 7th. Not much of a difference. They had a full season of top-level European exertion. Huge difference, in their favour.

    Daniel Parejo’s composure for the breakaway equaliser was a thing of footballing beauty. Parejo’s composure under a press, Lo Celso’s drive up the middle, and Chukwueze’s fresh legs on the wing (great sub by Unai). Our last punt on a 32 year old (Willian) didnt go well, but man, I’d have Parejo in our midfield. Emery makes him, Capoue, Coquelin and Moreno look like world class players, and none is elite. When you look at Champions League ball compared to what we play, we have a long way to go. Trust the process? I wish I could.

    Arsenal should have shown more patience with a guy whose team finished ONE POINT off 4th in his only full season. That there is a man’s job. Big man tings. Anyway, on to the weekend and Southampton. We can still make top 4, but it’s more of a slog than it was 10 days ago.

      1. Sorry, that is quite ludicrous. You can´t possibly compare two completely different contexts in such a superficial way. Or you can, but it has close to no validity.

        Emery is a decent coach, cup specialist (and that is, probably, why we hired him in the first place). But concerning Arsenal, he was a total misfit (the management is mostly to blame – not Emery!).

        1. His league record, especially in away games, was rarely exceptional. He is a great tactician, but couldn´t maintain the high tempo of PL matches (also, finished second in Ligue 1 with PSG in his second term!).

        2. His English was a joke and never really improved. There were many reports that players do not really understand him (and even mocked him. Even good-boy Saka publicly admitted he doesn´t understand Emery much, so he rather communicates with Freddie). Not surprised he couldn´t use his full tactical mojo in the end. And it is not only about tactics, many people are half the personality when unable to sufficiently express themselves through language.
        Just for the record: Emery also had a disastrous spell in Spartak Moscow and was fired mid-season)

        3. The way we played was disgusting. Soon enough, we started to lack identity of play and matches were boring and painful to watch. Also, the data (some even presented on this website) showed the team over-performed in his first season and the results were partly “undeserved”. No wonder the second season went bad.

        4. We just lost time – the big squad overhaul could have started earlier (though not sure with Raúl behind his backs…) Anyway, Emery reportedly got his job because he came super-prepared. Analysed each of the players and convinced Gazidis, Raúl et al, that he can improve both the players and the team almost “instatly”, that the team had the quality and needed just the right attitude (not squad overhaul) – and that is probably why he was so sexy for the management (together with his cup record and PSG stint!).

        (Also, Lacazette and Auba – in 2019, in top form and crucial for Emery – refused to sign contract while Emery was still in charge. Xhaka – Captain meltdown and Emery let the team to vote Auba captain. And the list goes on, there were so many problems… Definitely, for many of them Raul and Edu should be blamed.)

        1. The Club was at fault for Emery failure. Emery could not communicate so clear solution was to hire a translator. But Emery and the Club’s Achilles was Don Raul wheeler dealer par esselance

    1. He’d have had more time if Arsenal fans weren’t generally of the opinion anyone but Wenger would be an improvement. He didn’t really stack up well against the worst of Wenger. The whole point was to be better than that.

      You’re right, sticking with Emery would’ve been better than where we’re at now. But that wasn’t, and shouldn’t be, the aim. Besides, I think Emery is best when he’s an underdog. Ill suited to a club like Arsenal.

      Chukwueze’s goal with the Ozil bounce was fun.

    2. cup competitions are not a rational assessment of a coach’s quality. seriously, villareal qualified for the champions league by winning the europa league. they weren’t even one of the top 4 teams in spain and here they are in the semifinals of the champions league. it’s why i don’t place too much value on cup competitions. there’s so much luck involved. one bad play could mean the difference in your cup. seriously, arsenal won two consecutive fa cup finals against teams that got relegated from the premier league in the same season. what is it a testament to that a bottom 3 team can make it to the fa cup final?

      the real quality of a manager manifests in how you do in the league. the best team doesn’t always win a cup (or get to a final) but the best team always wins the league. likewise, their place in the table accurately shows how good they were compared to their contemporaries.

      i’m not taking anything from emery. i’ve always said he is a brilliant strategist. however he lost the dressing room. that made his position untenable. if you recall, my biggest gripe against emery was that his changes in strategy from game to game were too dramatic. last week, i talked about how instead of varying the strategy, he would deviate and come up with a completely different strategy. that’s too much for even the most professional player to digest, let alone 18 of them. it takes months for a manager to explain and a player to fully understand strategically what a manager wants from them in a team. emery expects players to know it all in days. it’s too stressful and the players are too uncomfortable with all the changes. it’s unsustainable for even the most disciplined player. it’s why emery will never win a championship in a top league.

      lastly, emeryball is boring. you can’t have a bunch of attacking players and expect them to successfully play the way villareal did today. likewise, gooners have been spoiled for a generation. that emeryball won’t fly at the emirates.

      1. The visual evidence available to me tells me that your last assessment is off, Josh. The memo needs updating.

        I watched 6 or 7 Villareal games this season, league and Europe. What Emery does is extract quality out of unheralded players. They are not “boring” at all. Go and look at their goals (and their misses) against Bayern over the 2 legs.

        They beat Bayern without having to resort to low block negativity. In fact, the only goal they conceded over two ties was through trying to play it out from the back, on the carpet, instead of hacking it clear. And their tie-winning goal yesterday was a beauty. Matter of fact, they should have beaten Bayern by 3 or 4 goals over the two ties. That’s how tactically superior they were. And positively so.

        Results matter more anyway. And as a European cup winner who beat 2 CL mainstays tactically and without playing with a flat back six, you and Jabberwocky should give the man his due. I prefer a coach who is getting results that are greater than the value at his disposal, rather than one who spent the most money in the summer and doesnt have trustworthy cover at left back and in the middle of the park. Or who doesnt know how to use an in-form Pepe. Or Auba. Or Laca. He’s spending 25c like $1. Our guy is spending $3 like $1. They are 7th in La Liga because the have a squad deviod of mega value players.

        Sometimes the most stubborn thing to kill is an entrenched piece of conventional wisdom. Im not saying bring him back… to my shame, I was part of the drumbeat that was impatient to kick him out and bring Mikel in to take what we saw as his rightful place, a place Emery had the temerity to be occupying.

        If we are honest, we are bending over backwards to extend to a guy who isnt up to Emery’s level as a coach, the kind of patience that we didnt extend to him. That is all Im saying. I accept that we have Arteta for the long haul, warts and all. But Im happy for the bloke. Long shot, but I hope he wins the competition. Think it’s Pep’s time, though, and their journey ends here.

        And I done now.

  5. Josh Tim

    I always thought Drogba had a much better record but I never did look at the numbers closely


    Lacazette has been the same player for 3 different Arsenal managers. For a good part of this season many of us have said the we have played our best football for several years and Lacazette’s scoring has cratered despite the good football. The reality is his ceiling is an underwhelming player and blaming that on Arteta is wrong. It feels like a lot of people on this blog are unwilling to accept that players have a ceiling which very few ever climb above no matter how good the manager. No manager could turn Giroud into a golden boot striker in the PL and none can turn Lacazette into something he is not or turn Welbeck, Sanogo, Ox or Iwobe into high volume goal scorers. That’s the problem we have as a squad. We have some good players but they are not goal scorers and Arteta can’t turn this current group of players into a team that will score enough goals to reach the objectives we are hoping for. Brighton and Vierra at Palace have the same problem. They can play well on any given day but neither team have the firepower to do more then finish around 10th in a 38 game season

    We don’t have the firepower to compete with Spurs and to me the fact that we are still have a chance for 4th place this season suggests this team has done as well or better then anyone could reasonably expect.

    1. you’re wrong bill. lacazette has never been this bad with any of the other arsenal managers. in fact, he’s never been this bad in his entire career for any manager. neither was aubameyang as bad as he was in the first half of this season…..under arteta.

      the problem is the players know what needs to happen but if they say something to this asshole manager, they get “oziled” or “guendouzied”. but you go ahead and keep blaming the players, slick.

      my point about giroud was not that he should be a golden boot winner, even though he did win the golden boot for montpellier and is only 3 goals behind thierry henry…but i digress. my point is that giroud scored at an average rate higher than drogba but drogba still won four premier league titles. your sensational “golden boot” point to win the league is not relevant. i know that’s not what you were saying but your exaggeration couldn’t be ignored.

      lastly, you can’t compare what vieira’s doing at crystal palace to what arteta’s done at arsenal. the difference is vieira is new and only had this winter transfer window. arteta has had 5 transfer windows, including last summer where he spent more than any club in the world. this is, top to bottom, arteta’s team. vieira, on the other hand, is working with what he was left with from roy hodgson. palace doesn’t have anywhere near the resources arsenal have, yet vieira still slapped arteta, home and away. vieira, in his first season, will likely give palace their highest finish in their premier league history while arteta gave arsenal their two worst.

      1. I will also add that Ian Wright has tipped Vieira to take over from Pep when he leaves Man City. I respect Wrighty’s opinions highly.

  6. JABBERWACKY, sorry friend, but anyone who uses Monaco’s 2016/17 title winning season to beat up on Emery with is either ignorant of the French league or agenda driven.
    Their 107 goals scored and 95 points tally hasn’t been topped yet by PSG no matter who’s their manager.
    This was a stud studded side that sold off close to half a billion $ worth of talent to best leagues in Europe and their top clubs.
    Mbappe, Fabinho, Lamar, Silva, Mendy, just to name a few.
    A once in generation collection of players who blossomed together at the same time complemented by the likes of Falcao and Moutinho who at 35 is still pulling string for Wolves.

    1. Me culpa. Spot on with the comment (did know it, didn´t realize though. Your comment that I am very ignorant of Ligue 1 is also true). However, it was a “by the way” comment, not even the main of many arguments (or an important peace in the chain of reasoning). The bottom line is – Emery is a good coach, great tactician and a Cup specialist, but he was a misfit for Arsenal.

      1. *piece, not peace (Jon Bon Jesus… English is my third language, embarrassing nonetheless…)

  7. Josh.

    I agree lacazette has never been as bad as this year but he has been underwhelming for the previous 4 years which is why none of the 3 Arsenal managers he has played for have used him the way you think he should have been. This year he has gone backwards despite the team playing really good football for much of the season. Arteta has had the team as a whole playing well and everyone should benefit when the team is playing well. Suggesting the manager is somehow hurting Laca is illogical. The manager has to prioritize the whole team over individual players and individual players have to be responsible for their own form.

    1. “This year he has gone backwards despite the team playing really good football for much of the season. Arteta has had the team as a whole playing well and everyone should benefit when the team is playing well.”

      What’s your metric for saying that we are playing well enough that Laca should be scoring more goals? We are on pace to hit 58 goals this season which is three more than last season’s 55 and two more than the 56 of 2019/2020. In 2018/19 we had 73 goals (59 xG) and in Wenger’s last season we scored 74 on 68 xG. Arteta just simply doesn’t play attacking football. He never has. He had Auba busting his ass running around doing things that no 30+ year old striker should have to do. It is not a coincidence that freed from those obligations he’s scoring tons of goals.

      As for this statement “Suggesting the manager is somehow hurting Laca is illogical. The manager has to prioritize the whole team over individual players and individual players have to be responsible for their own form.” I despair. I think you and I watch two completely different football matches and teams. If you can’t see that Arteta has Lacazette dropping deep to link play and that this action puts him in positions where he can’t make runs in behind and get into good scoring positions (which is what strikers need to score goals) then there’s really no point having a conversation.

      But just some data to help illustrate the level of problem here. Lacazette has 5 big chances this season from open play. In 2018/19 when he was used as a forward by Arsene Wenger, he had 20. Even under Emery and splitting time with Auba he had 13. And last season, when Arteta used him more as a forward, not as a false nine like he’s doing this season, he had 19 big chances. In fact, he was the one getting most of Arsenal’s service last season. It’s excruciatingly clear that the system Arteta is playing is not conducive to Lacazette getting chances.

  8. Tim

    Less then 1 month ago the overall sentiment on the blog was highly positive and optimistic. Everyone was praising the football and saying this was the best we had played in several years and the results were consistently positive. On March 14 the main post was titled “sparkling football” and on March 8 the post was titled “mea culpa” were you talked about how well we have been playing the last few months and there was basically 100% agreement in the comment section with your sentiment. There can’t be any doubt that we have improved and seems strange to me after 2 bad games all the great football seems to have been forgotten.

    The problem is despite all of the great football we are currently on pace to score only 57 goals. Great football helps but you still need players who are good at scoring and without that firepower even with great football you can’t score enough goals.

    1. I think you’re seeing this all in black and white but maybe I’m wrong. It was the best we had played under Arteta for two years (which is its own frustration) and yes there were a few games that were really good, free-flowing, football. Maybe I got a bit carried away with some of my emotions about the few good games we had, maybe we all did but it’s understandable because I think we all WANT this to be good football. But I think the ups and downs are indicative of problems in his system, that the low xG are indicative of problems as well.

      These blogs are a journey – none of them are meant to be definitive. We can and do change our minds from time to time and especially when it comes to this club and how we are playing. I think two pretty highly problematic losses to teams we should beat would put any normal person back down to earth and cause us to look back at the good times and wonder if perhaps they were as good as we thought. That doesn’t mean that the good games are forgotten, just that they have been contextualized.

      I think this club are just about where they belong. I think the results of the last two weeks are results which are probably deserved. I think that the good football and bad football are all part of the same package. And I think that package includes problems with the way the manager uses his forwards. And those problems are severely limiting Lacazette’s chances which is why he’s at a historical low in terms of goals scored.

      It feels like in essence we are arguing “chicken or egg” and I hate to break it to you but the egg came first.

    2. Additional to Tim’s comment and this is a very simple indicator of how successful Arsenal’s attack will be…

      Big chances created:

      21/22 – 34 (projected total 43)
      20/21 – 45
      19/20 – 48
      18/19 – 72
      17/18 – 81
      16/17 – 55
      15/16 – 88

      Under Arteta the team is creating roughly less than 2/3rds big chances. When chances are slim you’re left relying on good finishing (high conversion rates). The only forward with a leading conversion rate left the club in January.

  9. Tim

    Fair enough. We all want good football but good football is not enough to score the number of goals we need. We often saw that during the wenger era. We also saw ups and downs are part of every season and blaming Arteta for that is ignoring everything we saw for last 12-13 years with Arsene.

    We as fans always tend to over rate our own players. Saka has the chance to be really good but he is not Sanchez, Pires, Salah or Son yet and time will tell where his ceiling is. After him I don’t think the talent cupboard is full enough for a top 4 finish. The quality of the football has clearly improved and denying that is unreasonable but we are not going to score a lot more goals with this squad. Expecting the manager to take this team to the top 4 was not realistic without a lot of luck and a Spurs and Man U implosion.

    I agree 100% with what you have said all year. 6th place are about where we should be. The rebuild still needs a lot more work.

  10. Emmanuel, which player or players on your list is/are the best fit for our current needs, and why. You’re Edu… who are you breaking the bank for?

    And I have a question about Aouar. He was the most mentioned target for 2 summer transfer windows, and I hardly hear about him now. I know he’s outside your demographic, but I’d love to hear of you think that he’s still someone we should be looking at.


      Let me try to answer on the Aouar question. For me Molina has explained it really well. Aouar entourage (his brother in particular) has pretty much run the entire set of European League around, promising each of the club his brother was linked to with crazy request. In other words, he tried to play the entire market for his own benefit. Molina said that Aouar value in non existant, and no one in europe wants to get close to him anymore… For me it is a bit of a shame, but I think that the big transfer might be something of the past. He is a clear pass eventhough at the time he was one of my dream signing. He is a representation of the market in general, it is polluted by crazy request from agents/family who have very little overall impact in the transfer. Aouar brother promised many clubs that he will organise the transfer against a large fee to him and tried to push the fees by playing clubs against each other.

      So who would I sign?

      Clearly I would go Ekitike. He is by far one of the most exciting player on the list. I just love everything about him and for someone of his age he has all the tools to become a very special player. He reminds me a bit of Henry, having this ability to play from the left and use his speed to create a shot. I am NOT saying he is the most like Henry though, but for me he is a lot closer to that style than say a M’Bappe or Isak. He is also highly active in the press so quite interesting from that point of view.

      Malo Gusto is another player that I love. His offensive activity can become world class. defensively he has a lot to work on and I would probably deploy him in a back 5 rather than straight in a back 4. Honestly he has all the tools to become someone VERY special and I am convinced he will.

      Onana can become an absolute killer in midfield. He can do it all and I would love to see him associated with Partey. For me he is clearly not played at his best in the current setup at Lille. Gourvennec is not the most adventurous coach and in all honesty I hope they unleash him him. Arsenal could be perfect for him, but with Sambi, can we afford another youngster in midfield? Not so sure.

  11. no one has really mentioned it but everyone has heard about it. arsenal have been heavily linked with the benfica striker, darwin nunez. i watched him against liverpool the other day and man listen; that boy can finish. when i watched him, both on youtube and the other night, he looked more like a striker than center forward. could he be the arsenal #9? i don’t know. what i do know is this kid knows where the back of the net is. he balled out against pool the other day with a lovely goal and two that were called off for marginal offsides. he also drew a great save from alison. we’ll see.

    1. Saw that game. Big, strong, finishes well. That chip over the keeper from an angle, ruled offside…

      But as Tim said, hotly in-demand players are not coming to Arsenal to play in Europa. Would love to have him at Arsenal, though.

  12. I finally read through this article in detail. and watched youtube videos in parallel. Thanks for the work putting this together Emmanuel. Much appreciated.

    From an Arsenal point of view, I was most excited by Onana and by Mohamed Ali-Cho. Along with Saliba of course.

    I see what you mean about the Vieira like gliding along the pitch with Onana. An unfair comparison on anybody but he seemed the sort of player who we could do with in midfield, as you said.

    Cho is the sort of wildcard we should look at if we’re really committed to a focus on youth. Maybe a Pepe replacement, although we already have someone like Omari Hutchinson to play a similar role.

    But these are players someone like Wenger would have bought. I’d want Arsenal to still do it, but I have almost zero idea about how Arteta plans his squad. He just seems erratic and confused to me.

    Another player from Ligue 1 that I’ve been interested in, although way outside the age range, is Ludovic Ajorque as a Giroud replacement. I wonder what your take on that is.

    Thanks again, and keep the articles coming.

    1. what I like about Cho is that he is still young with loads of upside. He is also struggling a bit this second part of the season so how about a buy to loan and let the kid to develop in Ligue 1?

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