The Super Eagles As A Vestige Of Nigeria’s Unity

The last line of the Nigeria national anthem – peace and unity – seems to have become just a mere recitation in recent years. Peace and unity seems non-existent in the present day Nigeria. There is hardly a time that the discussion of the unity of Nigeria has reached the crescendo it has gotten to recently, bar during the civil war. So many statements of discord and disunity has been flying out of different things called a mouth in recent months. Even as it seems that symbols and signs of Nigeria’s Unity continue to diminish by the day, the Super Eagles – Nigeria’s men national football team stands out, or so it seems.

The Super Eagles symbolises unity

The statement – ‘football unites Nigerians’ – has become so cliche that even a day old Nigerian must have heard it. While we say it and know it, how significant is it?

The Super Eagles have gathered from their various bases to play two AFCON qualifiers against Benin Republic and Lesotho. In the midst of the various dissenting voices, it seems the Super Eagles have stood aloof.

I playfully wrote on my social media, expressing my surprise that one of the regional ‘warlords’ has not called for his ‘kinsmen’ to withdraw from the Nigerian team since he already declared the independence of his region. It is interesting to note that the various discussions and analysis that have been done on the Eagles has had nothing to do with their various regions. The players have been analysed and rated as Nigerians. When Nigerians raise eyebrows over the non-inclusion of certain players, it has had nothing to do with the regions they belonged to.

From time immemorial, the Super Eagles have been made up of players from various regions and backgrounds. When Paul Onuachu netted to give the Super Eagles victory against Benin Republic last weekend, all Nigerians celebrated not questioning the state or region the goalscorer comes from. In time past when Nigerians have won accolades in football, all Nigerians have celebrated not minding where the players come from.

The Super Eagles have always been made up of people from various regions

The Super Eagles are one of the best teams in Africa and a force to be reckoned with in the world. It is hard to see any of the regional national teams being as strong as the Super Eagles if there is a division. For instance, how much will a South-Western team be different from the Benin Republic team? Or a North-Eastern team better than Niger national team? Together, with the various constituents, the Nigeria national team is stronger.

The stories of many of the players is also the typical Nigerian story. Some of them southerners born and bred in the north. Started their footballing trades and honed their skills in other regions and that didn’t stop them from getting to the top of their careers. It is a message of how a Nigerian can become successful and reach the top of their endeavours in any region in Nigeria.

All and sundry comes together to make the Super Eagles thick

Like in the Super Eagles, if we focus more on bringing our various strengths together, we become stronger as a nation. Like the Super Eagles, if we see our challenges as our opponents and face them together, we have a better chance of winning. Even those born and bred in diaspora join forces with the home breeds to make the Super Eagles stronger, we are all seen as one and derive joy as one.

If the Super Eagles is seen as a microcosm of Nigeria and the lessons are taken and put into practice, Nigeria will be a better place for all Nigerians.

Written by: Babatomiwa Ojo, @10qmedia on Twitter

Super Eagles Squad To The 2022 AFCON: Who Is On The Bus? Who Is At The Boarding Lounge? Who Might Miss Out?

With the AFCON ticket already in the bag, it is not too early to start planning towards what is expected to be a successful outing by the Super Eagles in Cameroon in 2022. Winning Nigeria’s fourth title will be tagged a success. Finishing on the podium might be acceptable depending on how it is done but it will not excite Nigerians.

Some players are still playing for their spots

The Super Eagles play the Crocodiles of Lesotho in their last qualifying match, in what is a dead rubber but for some of the players, it should be more than that. Some of them are already playing for a spot on the 23 that will be chosen for the quest in Hayatou’s country. Barring injuries, drastic loss of forms and change in technical crew, we take a look at how the traveling party is shaping up.

On The Bus

All things being equal, the following players are already in the bus and should be ready to defend the green and white Ankara jersey in Cameroon next year.

Goalkeepers Maduka Okoye and Francis Uzoho should slug it out for the starting spot between the sticks but both of them should be in Cameroon. Okoye has become Rohr’s darling recently but he still rates Uzoho, both are young and should be in the team for long. Reminiscent of Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide being first and second choice for over a decade.

The ‘Oyinbo wall’ – William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun are still Rohr’s preferred choice, both should be in Cameroon. Chidozie Awaziem is Rohr’s Mr Utility, he should be in the team. Zaidu Sanusi seems to have tied down the left-back spot. Ola Aina’s versatility also makes him a sure choice.

Wilfred Ndidi, Joe Aribo and Oghenekaro Etebo will go as Rohr’s midfielders. The team is shot of options in this area, the aforementioned three will hardly be displaced. Alex Iwobi is one of Rohr’s trusted players, he should be in the team.

Musa should lead the team to Cameroon

Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze are Rohr’s trusted weapons in attack, they should be in the team. Ahmed Musa is captain and should be back playing by then, he should be in the team.

At the Boarding Lounge

These ones are part of the team but they are not yet in the bus and may have a boarding ticket or may not have. They are likely to be in the team but not as sure as the first group. Their inclusion also depends on the availability of some other players and or their own forms.

One of Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa might be the third choice goalkeeper due to their experience and familiarity with the team.

Jamilu Collins, Tyrone Ebuehi, Kenneth Omeruo, Kevin Akpoguma, Shehu Abdullahi and Semi Ajayi might battle for four or five slots as backup defenders. Ajayi and Shehu might miss out here but still make it as backup midfielders. Hence, only one of this six might miss out.

Moses Simon and Samuel Kalu are Rohr’s favorites and should make it, but it might depend on the availability of some outsiders, Henry Onyekuru is another option amongst the wing-forwards. One or two of the three might miss out. Kelechi Iheanacho and Paul Onuachu should make it as backup forwards but they can not be too sure yet. Michael Olise’s name was on the last list, albeit on standby, means something is brewing. The highly rated Reading youngster plays for France at youth level and is eligible for England. He will likely make the list if his switch to Nigeria is confirmed.

Kelechi Iheanacho is doing enough not to miss out on back-to-back tournaments

The Outsiders

The chances of these ones are bleak but never say never, an upsurge in forms for them and a drop in form by the more likely players will open the door for them.

Sebastian Osigwe and John Noble can make the party, especially Noble, as there is a chance there is at least one home based player in the squad, especially if Ezenwa does not return to form.

Adekunle Adeleke, Bryan Idowu and Kingsley Ehizibue must hope something happens to like three or four of the regular defenders to have a chance.

Frank Onyeka could still get a chance to impress in midfield after a disappointing debut last year.

Anayo Iwuala must keep working and hope fortune smiles on him

Anayo Iwuala, Peter Olayinka, Emmanuel Dennis, Josh Maja, Chidera Ejuke, Simy Nwankwo, Sadiq Umar, Cyril Dessers and Taiwo Awoniyi are waiting in the wings for a place among the forwards.

The Gatecrashers

Between now and January next year, some players not available now will become available while some players will emerge from seemingly nowhere.

Ademola Lookman might make it if he switches allegiance to Nigeria on time. Ovie Ejaria might get a chance to impress before January, if he seizes it, he might be one of the midfielders.

At least one player not mentioned at all might make it, it happens. A largely unknown gatecrasher might emerge.

For some of the players, the audition begins with the game against Lesotho. It is however good that the team is spoilt for choices.

Five Lessons From The Super Eagles Win Against Benin Republic

The Eagles went to Benin by sea, outplayed the Squirrels on land and soared in the sky. Unlike in 2020 when the Eagles did not win any of their matches, they kicked on 2021 on a winning note. With qualification for the 2022 AFCON already sure before kickoff due to Lesotho’s draw against Sierra Leone, the Eagles had to play for pride and they didn’t disappoint. Here are five lessons we learnt from the match.

Rohr’s Team Has A Spine

When everyone is fit and available, Gernot Rohr already has the spine of his team. Even if Rohr has been accused of upsetting the balance of the team too regularly at times, Rohr has some constant players that should always be in his starting XI and it was further demonstrated in Benin.

The team is beginning to have a spine.

While the likes of Chidozie Awaziem, Kenneth Omeruo, Semi Ajayi and some others can always come in to do a good job in central defence, the oyinbo wall – William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun are still the best pair at centre-back. The pair produced a dominant display that further buttress this against the Squirrels.

With Wilfred Ndidi shielding the defence, the team plays with more authority and assuredness. Samuel Chukwu and Victor Osimhen are a menace in attack.

Some players can come in to add to the flesh and make the team thicker but the aforementioned players are the spine of the present team.

Rohr’s Tactical Switch

Gernot Rohr has been regularly accused of being too rigid but he was different on Saturday. Maybe due to Alex Iwobi’s absence or as was planned, the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho played behind Victor Osimhen in attack. It looked like a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 at times, due to how Iheanacho floated between midfield and attack but it became an outright 4-4-2 when Paul Onuachu replaced Iheanacho.

Given the plethora of attacking options at Rohr’s disposal, it has often been suggested that Rohr should deploy a 4-4-2 system to have more presence in attack, especially when the Eagles are playing more on the ascendancy.

It paid off on Saturday, maybe Rohr will consider to be more pragmatic with his formations and set-up going forward.

A Case For and Against Iwuala

Anayo Iwuala has received lots of plaudits for his impressive 10 minutes cameo against the Squirrels. He showed promise but that may be as good as it gets depending on his next career moves. It is difficult to see him get more playing time when the regular players are fit and available. The Super Eagles are spoilt for options on the left hand side of attack. The likes of Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Ahmed Musa, sometimes Alex Iwobi plays there when they are available. With reports of Ademola Lookman also ready to play for Nigeria and the likes of Chidera Ejuke, Emmanuel Dennis and some others still on the fringes, Anayo has a lot of work on his hands.

Iwuala has a lot of job to do to stay in the team

As also noticed before the match and during the match, Anayo seems too star-strucked and does not feel at home in the team yet. He has to come out of his shell quick to prove he belongs in the group. As we have also seen with some home based players that have made it to the Super Eagles in the past, a move to an obscure league in search of needed greener pastures might just end his Super Eagles career before it takes off.

Onuachu Leading The Race

There has always been a battle for who will be the Super Eagles backup striker when Idion Ighalo was first choice and now that Osimhen is. There has been Simy Nwankwo, Paul Onuachu, Cyril Dessers and some others. The last time the Super Eagles played some friendly matches last year, Onuachu was on standby behind Dessers but got drafted into the team due to some withdrawals. He started and wasn’t impressive again.

Aribo has to improve greatly or an upgrade is found

He was also initially on the standby list for this match despite his impressive record in the Belgian league. Some withdrawals, he got in the team again and also got on the pitch and on the score sheet. With Sadiq Umar, Cyril Dessers, Josh Maja, Peter Olayinka, Taiwo Awoniyi and some others waiting on the wings, Onuachu has stolen a match on them with the winning goal against Benin.

The Super Eagles Still Need A Creative Hub

Joe Aribo has come into the team to be the ball-carrier in midfield and the owner of the number 10 jersey. He is a decent footballer and got off to a good note with two goals in his first two matches but the team can do with an improvement.

Especially in the first half when the Eagles had most of the ball, they comfortably passed it between the defenders and the deep midfielders as there was no one to make the brave incursions. The centre-backs resorted to switching it up to the flanks most of the times. While Aribo is good and a valuable addition to the team, the team needs a better ball user to play in that position, especially against better teams.

Written by Babatomiwa Ojo, @10qmedia on Twitter.

Three Things To Watch In The Super Eagles Match Against Benin

The Super Eagles of Nigeria are set to do battle against the Squirrels of Benin in their penultimate AFCON 2022 qualifying match. Even though the Eagles went to Benin by water, they are expected to soar in the sky and prey on the squirrels.

The Eagles have been positive in training

It is the Super Eagles first match of 2022 and the first since the abomination that happened against Sierra Leone. The team has a lot of points to prove as qualifying is seen as assured. One point needed in two fixtures against Benin and Lesotho should not require carrying a bowl of sacrifice to the Eagles Square.

As we saw at the last AFCON and even in the first leg, where the Eagles had to dig deep to win, the Squirrels are no easy prey. But they should still be prey to the Eagles, no matter how hard. We look at three things to look out for in the match.

The battle for the right-back slot

Since Ambrose Efe lost his spot in the team, there has hardly been any consistent right-back, despite the plethora of options Gernot Rohr has at his disposal.

Ola Aina has been in good form for Fulham, though sometimes he has played at left-back and other times part of a back three in a 3-at-the-back system. His best performances for the Super Eagles have also come at left-back. Tyrone Ebuehi is in good form at Twente Enschede but has never enjoyed a consistent run in the Super Eagles. Abdullahi Shehu used to be Rohr’s man in this position but seems to have lost his place to more natural right-backs. Chidozie Awaziem excelled in the role at the last AFCON but he his naturally not a right-back. Luckily Kevin Akpoguma is unavailable to add to Rohr’s headache. He was Rohr’s choice in the position in the last two matches but he struggled and it was clear to see, it isn’t his preferred position.

Akpoguma’s unavailability might be a blessing

It will be interesting to see who starts in the position against the Squirrels. Defending well and supporting the attack from the fullback positions will be key to how the Eagles play. Rohr seems to have settled for the in-form Zaidu Sanusi as his first choice left-back, it will be nice to start having some clarity on the opposite flank as well.

Ndidi, Etebo and Aribo in midfield

Rohr’s formation is most times a 4-2-3-1, with two holding midfielders. Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo are Rohr’s men in this position. The two are always constant when they are fit and available. However, since Joe Aribo burst into the scene with a different style of approach to the aforementioned two, Rohr has never had the three together in the team before.

Aribo may drop out of the Starting XI

With all three available, it will be interesting to see who drops out or if they all start together. Without Ndidi in the last home match against Sierra Leone, the midfield was badly exposed in the second half, leading to the team’s collapse. It seems certain Ndidi will start, to shield the defence. However, Rohr may have to choose between Etebo and Aribo. Etebo will give the team a better defensive balance but Aribo carries more goals threat and contributes more to the attacking forays. It will be interesting to see what Rohr goes for.

Iwobi and Iheanacho combination

Kelechi ‘Senior man’ Iheanacho is in very good form and should be allowed to carry the momentum into this match as it should be beneficial. With Victor Osimhen expected as the lone center-forward, it is likely Rohr decides between Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi to play in the hole behind the striker. Iwobi has been Rohr’s man in this position but hasn’t been consistent at club level.

Iheanacho scored for the Eagles in his last start

However, Rohr can and should consider playing the two of them together. One of the Super Eagles best away matches under Rohr was away at Zambia during the qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. The Eagles won 2-1 to get that qualifying campaign to a good start. Iheanacho and Iwobi scored on the day. Their combination that day was the bedrock of the Eagles victory. Their movement and passing accuracy was too much for the Zambians to handle. It was Iheanacho in the hole and Iwobi on one of the flanks. With Samuel Kalu out, Rohr can shift Iwobi to the left to accommodate Iheanacho in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their movements and passing will be key to unlocking a Benin defence that is expected to sit deep. As we have also seen in recent weeks at Leicester, Iheanacho thrives when he has a striker ahead of him.

Nigerians expect the Super Eagles to secure the AFCON ticket in Benin, anything short of that will raise further questions.

Our projected Starting XI: Okoye: Aina, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Sanusi – Ndidi, Etebo – Chukwueze, Iheanacho, Iwobi – Osimhen

Thoughts of a Lunatic: Musa Still At The Gate, Anfield Poultry and Other Talking Points

The various top European Leagues are gradually reaching the business end. Some titles already won and some relegation cards already signed, ready to be delivered. Some European places dreams are also becoming mirages. In England, Harry and Meghan can not take the shine from VAR.

There is also the matter of national teams gathering at the end of the month for various qualifiers. In Nigeria, Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles list has come with its usual controversies and talking points.

Anfield Poultry

How Liverpool’s home ground – Anfield went from being a fortress to a forest has to be studied in the university. After going for three years without a defeat at home, a record 64 matches. They have started another record with six straight defeats and still counting at home afterwards. In that time, they have scored just one goal at Anfield, albeit from the penalty spot. Anfield has gone from a Lion’s den to becoming a poultry where teams just go to slaughter chickens for dinner. Rather than opponents failing to come out alive, they come out alive with goodies. Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah have gone from destroyers to destroyed. Thiago Alcantara was supposed to improve the team in midfield but the only positive stats he has are his number of thumbs up. In his short time in England, he has given more thumbs up than any player in the Premier League history, something in the region of hundred thousand or thereabout. Liverpool are blessed with the presence of ‘thumbs-up Xavi’. More bookings than goals and assists.

Thumbs up Xavi

Jurgen Klopp should find a solution as Liverpool have gone from title contenders to European places contenders, before they slip into relegation contenders.

After all said, Klopp and his Liverpool team have delivered the once elusive Premier League title, the first in 30 years. Maybe Liverpudians will have to wait another thirty years for another triumph.

Musa still at gate

Wetin Musa no dey see for gate? Ahmed Musa has been in the Super Eagles for so long that he has seen it all. But even Musa has hardly seen a clubless player invited to the Super Eagles. The last time Musa kicked a ball in anger was in October 2020 but he still gets an invitation to the Super Eagles, ahead of active players.

Rohr could as well invite the likes of Daniel Amokachi, Kanu Nwankwo and the others since it is for experience, as some have posited. What if Musa is injured? He will still be in the team on crutches, since Musa must be at the gate to see it all.

Musa is at the gate.

Musa must be at the gate to also make sure COVID-19 protocols will be observed when the Super Eagles play in Lagos. There is a lot Musa does in the team than can be explained.

In a team, just as you have playing footballers, you also have non-playing footballers. People should understand these things.

Ole Stealing The Show and The Points

Manchester United dilemma continues. They don’t look like they will really challenge for the title anytime soon but there is a new knack for stealing the show.

With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge, the Red Devils have produced some very impressive results that ends up leading nowhere. Solskjaer has a good record against Pep Guardiola and he continued that at the weekend. Manchester City were on a winning run of 20 matches but Ole struck again. Dem no reach 21. That is an achievement.

Well, it is part of keeping the tradition of the Red Devils as ‘kill-joys’. Arsenal were on a 49-match unbeaten run back in 2005, Manchester United stopped them from reaching 50 by returning them to factory settings. Even if Ole has not delivered titles, he is bringing back the tradition.

It seems Manchester United fans must get used to celebrating these wins as they seems like the one thing Ole will always deliver.

Ronaldo in Black and White

Cristiano Ronaldo’s time in Juventus so far has been black and white. Of what use is Ronaldo at Juventus if they won’t win the Champions League?

Ronaldo is still delivering the goals and has an impressive goals record in Turin but Juventus have failed to make it beyond the Quarter-finals of the Champions League since he joined. Of what use are the goals? They are on the verge of losing the league title, which was like their birth right.

Ronaldo in black and white

It is looking like, when he is done in Juventus, he will have an impressive goals record to show but little in terms of silverware, meaning Juventus will have nothing to show for signing Ronaldo. While you can not blame Ronaldo, the recent defeat against Porto was the type he used to ‘single-handedly’ decide. Anyways, he is in good company with the likes of Gianluggi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini in a group of pensioners enjoying their benefits.

Moffi in, Musa and Akpoguma Out: What Rohr’s Super Eagles List Should Look Like.

In 3, 2, 1… Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr should release his first Super Eagles list for 2021. The Super Eagles round up their AFCON 2022 Qualifiers on the 27th and 30th of this month, with clashes against Benin Republic and Lesotho respectively.

There should be few changes to the Super Eagles

The Super Eagles should qualify. They are top of the table with 8 points from 4 matches. Beyond qualifying, the Super Eagles have points to prove. They won none of their matches last year and particularly made a mess of their last set of qualifiers – a double-header against Sierra Leone.

Rohr has said there won’t be many changes from the last squad, expectedly so. However, there should be some changes. This is the list we expect.

Rohr has said Maduka Okoye of Sparta Rotterdam is the first choice goalkeeper, he should be joined on the list by Sebastien Osigwe of FC Lugano and one of Okechukwu Ezenwa of Heartland or Daniel Akpeyi of Kaizer Chiefs. Francis Uzoho has hardly played this season and should most likely miss out.

Okoye is expected to be first choice goalkeeper

In defence, we should have little changes. Kevin Akpoguma should likely miss out, he has not been playing for Hoffenheim, due to injury. The defenders should be Ola Aina, Tyronne Ebuehi, Jamilu Collins, Zaidu Sanusi, Chidozie Awaziem, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Semi Ajayi and Kenneth Omeruo.

Rohr’s midfield is always light and that should remain the case, the midfield should have the usual suspects. Ovie Ejaria of Reading might get a first call up. Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, Shehu Abdulahi, Frank Onyeka, Joe Aribo and Alex Iwobi should be the midfielders.

There should be only few changes in attack as well. The usual supects should be invited. Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, Kelechi Iheanacho and Paul Onuachu. There could be a first call up for Lorient’s Terem Moffi, who Rohr has spoken glowingly about him, he has also been in good form for his Ligue 1 side – Lorient. There could also be a return for Henry Onyekuru, who has gotten better playing time since joining Galatasaray on loan from Monaco. Captain, Ahmed Musa is without a club and has not played in a long time, he should not be on the list. Ejuke Chidera may also miss out because the Russian League just returned from break but considering that he should have had some games under his belt before the end of the month, he could still be on the list.

Captain Ahmed Musa is expected to miss out

In as much as surprises are always expected, there should be little or no changes from the players listed above. Regardless of who is called or not, Nigerians expect nothing but impressive victories from the Super Eagles at the end of the month.

Three Nigerian Youngsters to Watch in 2021

It is another year. Just as lots of people expect breakthroughs in some of their endeavors, so also do the footballers. They will hope 2021 is that year they finally sign mega deals and catch the attention of national team handlers.

We take a look at three Nigerian youngsters that could have breakout years this 2020.

Paul Mukairu (Anderlecth)

Mukairu is already grabbing some headlines under the tutelage of Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany at Belgian Pro League giants Anderlecht.

The 20-year-old striker made an instant impact at Anderlecht after joining on loan from Turkish club Antalyaspor, with a goal on his debut.

Paul is highly spoken of and has been tipped to become a future Super Eagles star.

Mukairu is making waves in Belgium

“Paul is a player with a difference. He is a confident boy and brings a lot to any team he is in. He can play in various positions and formations and likes to help his team. Whatever his coaches ask him to do and wherever they ask him to play, he plays there with all his heart and delivers whatever is asked of him. He is a delight to any coach.’ said Coach Bala Misau, his coach at his Nigerian grassroot club Green Horse Football Club.

Toluwalase Arokodare (Cologne)

The 20-year-old center-forward is currently on loan at Bundesliga club Cologne from Latvian side Valmiera.

It has not really gone to plan at Cologne where he has struggled for playing time with no goal in five appearances. The 6 ft 6 inches tall striker has the ability to change all of that. He scored 22 goals for Valmiera in 32 appearances.

Arokodare was part of the Golden Eaglets class of 2017 that failed to qualify for the African U-17 Nations Cup after they crashed out 3-2 on aggregate to the Baby Menas of Niger Republic and therefore missed their chance to defend their U17 World Cup title in India. He was a student of Segun Odegbami’s International Sports Academy.

Akinwunmi Amoo (Hammarby IF)

The 18-year-old plays as a winger for Swedish club Hammarby IF – a club co-owned by Sweden legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He has already scored two goals for Hammarby in seven appearances.

The former Sidos FC of Lagos player is blessed with immense pace, dribbling skills and has a devilish left foot.

Amoo joined Ibrahimovic’s club

The diminutive winger began his international career with Nigeria in the 2019 Africa U-17 Cup of Nations, and scored in his debut in a 5–4 group stage win against Tanzania, where they finished fourth in the tournament. Later the same year, Amoo was part of the Nigerian squad that got knocked out in the round of 16 during the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup but he did enough to catch the attention of foreign scouts.

It is a matter of time before Amoo makes it into the Super Eagles.

Arsenal’s Win or Saka’s Goal, Which Was The Fluke?

Arsenal returned to winning ways in the Premier League for the first time since November. In that time they have failed to win against the likes of Burnley, Aston Villa, Southampton, Wolves, including a run of not winning home matches, which included four straight defeats at home. A run that has seen them stuck in the relegation zone, closer to the bottom than to the top. However, they broke that duck when least expected with an impressive win against Chelsea. Have the Gunners turned the tides or have the win against Chelsea was just a flash in the pan?

Kudos to Mikel Arteta for making some big calls or calls he was forced to make. Youngsters Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli started and added more spark to the attack. Would he have started them if Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang was hundred percent fit or if Willian was available? It was glaring it was the call Arteta should have made earlier but he stuck with the misfiring Aubameyang and Willian alongside the likes of Nicholas Pepe and Alex Lacazette. That it took Arteta long to make or be forced to make the bold calls should be a cause for worry.

There have been calls that the sidelined Mesut Ozil should be called back due to an inability of the team to create chances. Their goals and chances created stats are embarrassing and one that should not be associated with Arsenal of London, maybe Arsenal Tula. They scored three against Chelsea and could have scored more but they still struggled to create clear cut chances. This is easy to argue against. For their ‘dominance’ against Chelsea, two of the goals came from set pieces and the third was a speculative shot many have argued was not intentional, even if it was intentional, it won’t be successful nine out of ten times. The young players played with more energy and pressed Chelsea impressively but is it sustainable?

As we have seen in some of their wins and in some of their struggles, they tend to always move the ball out wide due to an inability to break down teams through the center. The first penalty came as a result of coming in from the flanks. While coming in from the flanks may not be bad, most times their final balls are always poor. We saw that against Chelsea, until Chelsea gave them the breakthrough with the penalty. The second goal was also Saka trying to run in from the flank before he was hacked down for the freekick that led to the second. It was a game in which Edouard Mendy in goals for Chelsea made numerous saves. Apart from scoring the penalty, Lacazette barely touched the ball in the opposition’s box as he regularly dropped deep to link up play. It worked against Chelsea but in truth, we have seen it all before and many teams have set up to nullify it. It was not a tactical ingenuity that Arsenal fans can get overly excited about.

Three goals up and seemingly comfortable, Arsenal found a way to be Arsenal still, they allowed Chelsea back into the match. It was almost three- two and an edgy finale had Bernd Leno not pull up a penalty stop. Their next two matches are against fellow relegation strugglers Brighton and Hove Albion and West Brom. If they are able able to get maximum six points in those matches, Arsenal fans can bring out the sticks of the drums, not the drums yet. But very few Arsenal fans are confident going into the matches still. Brighton have become a sort of a boogey team, they did the double against Arsenal last season. Sam Allardyce is in charge at West Brom, he has a good record against Arsenal.

Arsenal should still see this as a crisis period and do good business in January instead of waiting till the summer, since they have decided to stick with Arteta. Like they did in 2011 after an 8-2 defeat against Manchester United, when they went into the transfer market to do emergency business – that brought Arteta to Arsenal, they should do same in January. The team needs lots of quality. The quality of the players can cover up for some of Arteta’s flaws while he continues to learn the ropes. The win against Chelsea might just be a flash in the pan, there is still lots of work to be done.

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Four Lessons From The Super Eagles Collapse Against Sierra Leone

Before you close the book of oddities in 2020, include the Super Eagles. That it came to pass, on the 13th day of November 2020, just as at about when the sun was going to sleep on the rafters of the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, Benin, the unexpected happened. To the bemusement and amusement of every Amaju, Dare and Shuaibu, Sierra Leone came from four goals down to draw against the Super Eagles.

It was supposed to be an exhibition of our new Nike ‘aso ebi’ jersey and the affluence of our players, but it ended in disgrace. Enough blames to go round but then what are the lessons to be learnt before this type of abomination happens again, starting from the return leg in Freetown in four days.

4-4-2; A Blessing, A Curse

Coach Gernot Rohr sprang a surprise with a 4-4-2 formation, and to his credit, it made the Eagles play at their attacking best. Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze swammed the Leone Stars defence to devastating effect. The quintet produced the four goals and were on a roll. With what looked like a four-man attack when the Eagles were on the front foot, the Eagles were left with two men in the middle and it looked like a 4-2-4 formation.

The Eagles were on a roll in the first half

Even when the Eagles were on top of the game, it was evident that everytime the Leone Stars went on the attack, they got to the Super Eagles defence easily. The two men in the midfield did not do enough defensively, Joe Aribo was all over the place and Oghenekaro Etebo was overwhelmed. It is a formation that maybe could have worked better if there was a Wilfred Ndidi, who is an expert at screening defences. It is a formation that helps the Eagles attack well but it needs more disciplined midfielders.

Akpoguma Should Not Play At Right-back

Why should a center-back play at right-back when there were three right-backs on the bench? It seems Rohr or the NFF assured Kevin Akpoguma of a starting berth when they convinced him to switch allegiance to Nigeria. Or how else does one explain that in-form Ola Aina and Tyronne Ebuehi were kept on the bench for a player that did not convince in the position in the last two friendlies?

Akpoguma offered nothing in attack and did little in defence, were he should be more comfortable. While Zaidu Sanusi on the left gave the team an attacking outlet and contributed an assist, same can not be said of Akpoguma, who couldn’t utilize the space Chukwueze left out wide whenever he drove into the middle.

Maduka Okoye Is Not Ready

While the young goalie can’t be blamed for the capitulation, he did little to help the situation. He looked short on confidence and did not command his area very well.

Okoye did his reputation no good

He did well in the last two friendlies and duly earned a starting berth against Sierra Leone but he was probably overwhelmed by the occasion. He should have done better for at least two of the goals he conceded. Starting with the second leg in Freetown, Rohr may have to leave Maduka out while he continues to learn the ropes.

Rohr Remains Poor At In-game Reactions

Even without a coach, the Super Eagles should not squander a four-goal lead against Sierra Leone. However, the job of a coach is to make amends when it seems it is going bad.

For all the good job Rohr does with the team, his game management has always been in question and it came into play again. At the point when the Eagles started capitulating, Rohr did little or nothing tangible to stem the tide. None of his substitutions were tactically made to shore things up. He still made like-for-like changes and did not make a change to shore up the midfield that had collapsed. It also brings to the fore, his rationale for not inviting enough midfielders to camp in the first place. He was short of midfield options and could not improvise anything to block the loopholes. While he is not a bad coach and should be applauded for the good job he has done, the NFF must demand he improves or else he gets booted out.

It is not all gloom, the Super Eagles should still qualify for the AFCON but there are bigger picture. The AFCON proper and the World Cup qualifiers are the bigger stage and the Super Eagles can not afford to replicate this sort of performance on those stages.

Three Things To Look Out For In The Super Eagles Clash Against Sierra Leone

The Super Eagles will be taking on the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone in their first competitive match this year. The match scheduled for the newly refurbished Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin is one Nigerians expect the Super Eagles to win without much stress. The qualifying series that started for the Super Eagles on a comfortable note is expected to resume on the same note. Six points out of six already, the ticket could be secured if the Eagles win their double header against Sierra Leone. Since Gernot Rohr took over, the Eagles have made mince meat of qualifying for tournaments.

The Super Eagles are raring to go.

The mood is so relaxed that Edo deputy governor could find time to run around on the pitch all in the name of training with the team. However, there are some things we will be looking out for in the tie, beyond the results.

Maduka Okoye In Goal

It will be interesting to see who Rohr picks as his first choice goalkeeper. There are four goalies in camp – Maduka Okoye, Daniel Akpeyi, Sebastien Osigwe and Ikechukwu Ezenwa.

Akpeyi seemed to have lost his place after last year’s AFCON as he was not even invited for the two friendlies against Ukraine and Brazil last year. Francis Uzoho, who seemed to have won back his place after the AFCON got injured against Brazil and Rohr went back for Akpeyi.

Akpeyi was in goal in the first two qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho but those seems a long time ago now. Okoye was one of the positives of the last two friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia after some impressive and assured displays. Fillers from camp says Rohr is set to stick with Okoye, that might be the road to becoming the first choice goalie of the Super Eagles.

Maduka Okoye poised to keep his starting berth

For Osigwe, this might not be a match for experiments and he may have to wait for another window to make his bow. However, it is beginning to look like the Eagles are starting to have options in a once problematic department.

The midfield combination

In the hierarchy of things as it stands right now, Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo seems to be battling for two starting places in the team. Strangely, Rohr has never had the trio together in the team at a time and it is not different now.

Aribo has impressed in his few outings

Non of the trio were available for the last friendlies but Etebo and Aribo returns and are expected to be the double pivot in the middle. It is the first time both will be playing together. Aribo enjoyed his introduction into the Super Eagles with Ndidi by his side, he appeared a better foil for the defensive Ndidi than Etebo. His ability to get into the box looks like a perfect fit for the team. It will be interesting to see how Aribo and Etebo performs in Ndidi’s absence.

A Starting Role For Chidera Ejuke

Rohr’s attacking options picks itself. Victor Osimhen as the center-forward and Samuel Chukwueze on the right. However, the left looks undecided. Samuel Kalu has been Rohr’s first choice there but he is out injured. Another of Rohr’s trusted options there Moses Simon is also out injured. Ahmed Musa has played there before but he is presently without a club and is in the team more on sentiments. There is also Emmanuel Dennis who has barely featured regularly. The other option there is Chidera Ejuke.

Nigerians have longed salivated for the CSKA Moscow winger but were left disappointed when he barely featured in the last friendlies. However, his cameo appearance has left Nigerians clamouring for more. His dribbling skills and trickery was already clear for every Musa, Obi and Ade to see. It will be interesting to see him play more, preferably from the start.

Ejuke looks like an exciting option.

He looks like one that will entertain fans with his skills. Even if the stands will be empty, it will be good to see a player really entertain Nigerians watching from home. Nigerians will do a lot with some entertainment at this time.

After all said, nothing short of three points will be acceptable. The Super Eagles will know better not to add to the frustrations already in the land.