BLOG: ARSENAL FC – A SEASON REVIEW

Now that the dust of the season has settled, it feels like the right time to take stock and review what happened. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Unprepared

As the dawn of the season approached we seemed to be perpetually stuck in the unprepared way of life that we’ve become so accustomed to over the recent past. Post the European Championships we were without Koscielny, Ozil and Giroud due to their exertions. We were without an injured Gabriel. We were short a centre back with the Mustafi deal yet to be completed. Cazorla was not deemed fit enough to start. Our new signing Granit Xhaka could only make the bench for our first game. Now injuries and tournament football is something that will cost you in early games, yet when you look at our centre backs in Chambers and new boy Holding it doesn’t take too much to see that the inexperience may well cost us against a good Liverpool side. You can’t blame the players selected here, who you can blame are the board and to a certain degree Wenger for lacking that killer instinct in the transfer market. Who knows whether this is solely on him or whether he is restrained by the board but either way you look at it, we were unprepared. Especially when you see that we additionally signed Mustafi and Lucas Perez.

The loss against Liverpool was a watershed moment in that following it, we went on a 19 game unbeaten run in all competitions and it looked to be a team that was showing some fight. Showing some resolve. Winning ugly. Winning late on. Wengerball also looked to be back with a couple of blistering performances, namely the dismantling of Chelsea at the Emirates. A new Arsenal or a false dawn?

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Same old, same old…

Then it happened. The stuttering began and it was in two big away games in which we saw the same cracks appear. In both fixtures, Man City & Everton, we took the lead and the initiative. We deservedly led in both games and took the foot off the gas as the comprehension of winning the big games themselves hit us. Caution took over and our luck ran out. Yes we should have had a penalty vs Everton and yes Man City’s second goal was offside, but that’s not the point. When the game was there for the taking we fell short. Another interesting development during this period of the season was the adoption of the 3-4-3 formation from the leaders of the pack. Chelsea adopted this change off the back of their humbling at the Emirates, which was very much the Conte way as we’d seen with the Italian team at the Euros. Sp*rs had also changed their way to match Chelsea in order to ensure they kept pace. City continued with their version of tiki-taka. United continued with their version of 6 at the back (or Mourinho-ball as we know it). We continued with our tried and tested 4-2-3-1, even when it became apparent that it wasn’t quite working as efficiently as the season before.

This pattern continued for far too long into the season for my liking and we just couldn’t seem to put a run of games together nor any real form to carry us forward and maintain a title challenge. What we did see was a Champions League capitulation like we’ve never seen before. Losing is one thing, but a 10-2 aggregate scoreline against a club Ivan Gazidis said that we would be competing with back in 2013, is quite frankly farcical.

This coupled with uncertainty around our manager and any sort of clarity from the board was only ever going to lead to one thing. Adverse effects on the players. I’ve said it before, but think about it, if as a player you don’t know who is going to be in charge next season why would you want to play for him at a level of 100%, even subconsciously? If you knew a manger was coming in, your agent would want to know if you as his player were in the new managers plans, else you may need to find a new club. If the current manager was known to be staying on then you’d know where you stand. But not knowing what is going to happen leaves you uncertain, even if only slightly, and we all know that if there is even a modicum of giving anything less than 100% in any form of football you will quickly be found wanting.

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Stubborn change

We finally saw Wenger succumb to the 3-4-3 formation in an attempt to galvanise the squad and give us something to hope for. It began with a fairly unconvincing display vs Boro followed by a quite stunning display vs Man City in an FA Cup semi-final. That was the moment that we found our usual end of season get-out-of-jail-free card that would normally propel us into the top 4 and displace Sp*rs form their mind the gap perch. This wasn’t to be the case this season, but it did galvanise the squad, giving us 18/21 points as well as a place in the Cup Final. The points came against some tough opposition as well, with us having faced Man United & Everton at home alongside Stoke and Southampton away. Imagine we had adapted sooner? Although it’s equally annoying to imagine what would have happened if our board had given a semblance of forward planning and guidance to steer a ship that was quite visibly shaking. This approach was also adopted in the FA Cup Final vs the best team in England this season. This with Per Mertesacker playing with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal as a part of a makeshift back three. Not only that but we played The Ox at left wing back. We were given a quite unbelievable performance given the circumstances and we brought home some silverware, which I’ve always maintained is the whole point of it all. I’m in no way saying that winning the FA Cup is more succesful than winning the Premier League, in fact I would rather we could swap to what Chelsea had. However I would argue that the single expressive emotion of celebrating a cup winning goal and at the full time whistle is more rapturous as an experience than actually winning a league unless of course it’s a Michael Thomas or an Aguero like moment. That one portion of joy is probably collectively less joyful than that of perpetually winning throughout the season, however taken in isolation is more than likely of a higher peak than any of the collective celebrations, again taken in isolation. Winning things is what it’s about as a fan, and no matter what the celebration police say I hope you all enjoyed it.

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The win resulted in a new 2 year deal being offered to Arsene Wenger and added information to suggest that this may well not be his last contract, and that’s the bit that irks me about the situation. I am in no way displeased that he has been kept on, so let me say that off the bat. I am very pleased that he is still our manager, however the annoyance lies with the fact that we may well find ourselves in this very same situation in 2 years time. The uncertainty. The fan unrest. The player unrest. That’s what annoys me. How does the club plan for a replacement if they’re not sure he is going to be replaced? I feel as though this should be his last contract as they can then begin to plan for the future, and the problem is Arsene just loves the club as well as the game too much (as we all do). And it’s due to that fact that we as fans will be left in limbo in 2 years time. As much as I adore the man, he shouldn’t be the priority of our club, not ahead of the club itself in any case. 1. Arsenal, 2. Arsene, 3. Players. Number 1 includes the fans by the way, as we are the lifeblood of the game. I just truly hope that Wenger has the foresight to know when the time is right to hang up his zip and ensure that the baton is passed onto a worthy successor. Time will tell.

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Goal of the season

My top 5 goals for us this season are as follows:

5. Alexis v Ludogorets. Purely just for its fantastic technique. Watch it.

4. Walcott v Chelsea. Because #Wengerball. Watch it.

3. Ramsey v Chelsea. Because Cup winning goals bring about joy. Watch it.

2. Ozil v Ludogorets. Last minute, winning goal, unreal technique, bodies flying. Exquisite. Watch it.

1. Giroud v Crystal Palace. This is THE goal of the season and will be hard pushed to be beat by anything we see from here on in. MOTD voted Emre Can’s goal as the goal of the season, but we’ve all seen bicycle kicks before. Adebayor did it vs Villareal etc etc. But the Giroud scorpion kick with it being behind him, further away from goal than Mkhitaryans effort (as well as onside!) and clipping the crossbar before it went in makes it a very special goal indeed. It even had a #Wengerball build up included. One of the best we’ll ever see and the only Arsenal goal I really rate above this is King Denis’ goal v Newcastle as he beat a man with skill and followed it with a finish. It had an aesthetic appeal to beating a man that we’ve never seen before it, nor after. Drink it in: Watch it.

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Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 3-1 EVERTON

Ten-man Arsenal have failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the last 20 seasons, despite defeating Everton 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on the final day of the season.

An early Héctor Bellerín goal set the North Londoners on their way to achieving their goals for the afternoon, but an early red card for Laurent Koscielny threatened to scupper their early momentum.

Goals from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey either side of Romelu Lukaku’s second-half penalty gave Arsenal a 3-1 victory, but a win for Liverpool at Anfield against Middlesbrough meant the Gunners would finish 5th.

Mesut Özil was on hand to create the first goal, latching on to a loose ball inside the box and squaring a pass from the byline that was initially missed by Danny Welbeck but tapped in by Héctor Bellerín in the 7th minute.

Arsenal’s hopes of claiming a result would complicate itself soon after, however, as Laurent Koscielny’s reckless lunge on Enner Valencia reduced Arsenal down to 10 men as early as the 15th minute.

Everton looked to make immediate use of their numerical advantage, as Romelu Lukaku was set up for a right-footed shot inside the box that was fizzed wide and out of danger.

Koscielny’s red did little to kill off Arsenal’s early enthusiasm, as Welbeck reacted quickest to a deflected Alexis Sanchez shot to set the latter up for a simple close-range-finish in the 27th minute.

Petr Čech starred at the other end, as a looped header from Lukaku was tipped over the bar in the 42nd minute.

Lukaku had another chance to inflict damage on the brink of half-time, but, via a Gabriel Paulista deflection, the Belgian’s shot was dragged wide to keep Arsenal’s sheet clean for the time being.

Joel Robles claimed two saves from Arsenal’s attack and, as Liverpool doubled their lead versus Middlesbrough to block the Gunners’ top four entry, the problems continued to mount for Arsène Wenger with Gabriel’s injury.

Michael Oliver snubbed calls for a second yellow card for Ashley Williams, with the referee doing little to endear himself to the Emirates faithful when signalling for an Everton penalty from Rob Holding’s handball soon after.

Lukaku would be the man trusted to convert the spot-kick in the 58th minute and did so without mistake to claim his 25th league goal of the season.

Morgan Schneiderlin was next to he let off the hook with what appeared to be a clear second bookable offence for the Toffees midfielder in the 64th minute, as the tensions grew between the two sides.

Özil had the chance to restore Arsenal’s two-goal-advantage courtesy of a threaded Ramsey pass, but it was Robles again in the 74th minute who made himself big enough to keep the German’s effort out.

Alex Iwobi had his sights firmly set on the third goal for the North Londoners when waltzing into the box before Robles took advantage of a poor finish from the young midfielder.

Come the 91st minute, Ramsey would kill the game off as he received Özil’s pass on the edge of the box to curl an effort up and over Robles to find the top corner.

3-1 would be how it’d end, as Arsenal gear up for one final encounter against Chelsea in the FA Cup final next Saturday.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (8); Gabriel Paulista (6), Laurent Koscielny (5), Rob Holding (6); Héctor Bellerín (8), Granit Xhaka (6), Aaron Ramsey (7), Nacho Monreal (7); Mesut Özil (8), Danny Welbeck (5), Alexis Sanchez (6)

Subs: Francis Coquelin (6), Per Mertesacker (6), Alex Iwobi (6)

BLOG: THE OX: THE SHIFT

There is only one thing more powerful than the human mind, a changed mind. The battle for advancement locks horns with adversity, creating a catalyst for change. The mind of the Ox, the mind of an individual cascading head first into the front-line of this battle with no reinforcements, the mind of a 23-year-old who took on the demons plaguing him with mediocrity and obliterated them with no remorse. The result? Not only an Ox by name, but an Ox by nature.

Let’s rewind back to 2016, a painful year it must be said, apologies for bringing such a year up, how about lets forget the events that unravelled at home and abroad, that’s not the focus of attention anyhow. What was brewing in the midst of global hostility was a Englishman, 23 years of age, working in the shadows of London Colney, fighting off the inadequacy threatening to continually infiltrate his playing career. Bursts of excellency gave slimmers of hope in preceding seasons, inside the explosive Gunners 15 was a fuse attempting to ignite itself, and the Ox finally provided it with the spark it needed. November 19th 2016, the aura of inevitably circulating around the cauldron of Old Trafford, Arsene Wenger throws Chamberlain into the front-line, well, to be precise, the back-line, replacing Carl Jenkinson with 6 minutes remaining. The ball graces its presence at the feet of the Ox, a minute is left on the clock, electricity pulsates through the veins of the enigmatic fullback, steaming past Manchester Utd youngster Marcus Rashford, his right foot crisply wraps around the ball, penetrating the air as it lasers towards the head of Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who meets cross with decisiveness, powering home past a helpless David De Gea.

There was an anger in the Ox, a frustration. Signals of resentment, he deserved to be on that pitch, he deserved to mesmerise the 75000 onlooking fans, that was his right, and he was hell-bent on exercising it. 6 weeks dragged on, the Ox was thrown back into the shadows again, where he’d worked in hope of opportunity, a place that was beginning to torment him.

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After battling the shadows, the Ox was robbed of the continuation of opportunity he warranted.

Corner an Ox, and the Ox will come out fighting. January 28, 2017, the day corners of the Gunners faithful stood up and began to question, began to contemplate, is this the Oxlade-Chamberlain we’ve been waiting for? A masterclass, pure and simple, Leonardo Da Vinci with a football, resentment and the canvas of St Mary’s, he created a masterpiece. 88 touches, 62 passes, 91% passing accuracy, 3 chances created, 2 tackles, 2 interceptions fail to do justice to the perfection of the performance. It was this day, 28th January 2017, that a resurgence was ignited.

In the midst of a faltering Arsenal side in the following months, Chamberlain would be forgiven for not being able to emulate such magnificence, in-spite of his best efforts, his attempts were futile in preventing a catastrophic 2 month period that all but condemned the Gunners to another season of incompetence. Then, as though a blessing from the heavens, an angel blessed the legendary Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger with an idea. The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. 3 at the back, who’d have thought? The Ox looked on in confusion, fear perhaps, where was he to fit into such a diverse system? The answer, he was to ruthlessly rob the spot of RWB from young Spaniard Hector Bellerin and make the position his own. The robust physique, explosive speed, and continually improving technique and dynamism of the 23-year-old has provided the Gunner’s fans a solace in a season of great sorrow. A great artist can create a picture in his mind, and put it on the canvas. The gifted artist can have isolation between continuation of their project, and resume the status quo. 155 days after his luxurious delivery to Olivier Giroud at Old Trafford, Arsenal are faltering, after taking a deeply cut wound from the boot of Sergio Aguero, the Gunner’s need a savour, a magician, capable of replicating his tricks. The Ox. 155 days after producing his excellence, does so again, Arsenal level, Arsenal win. Oxlade-Chamberlain, the catalyst.

Whatever may come of the resurgence of the Ox, whatever may come of the resulting offers he is given with a year left on his contract, it is hope that will guide us to the possibility of having the 23-year-old in a Gunner’s shirt next season. In the mean time, allow the Englishman to serve as a reminder. A reminder that, as Sun Tzu said, ”Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”, and by winning in the shadows, come Saturday 27th May, the Ox will be ready to go to war.

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-0 SUNDERLAND

Arsenal have ensured the race for a top four finish will run until the final day of the season after claiming a 2-0 victory over relegated Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners are back to being within a point of 4th placed Liverpool, courtesy of a brace from Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile also being three points behind 3rd placed Manchester City before this weekend’s fixture.

Nothing but a win would suffice beforehand for the North Londoners, who started right on cue through an Alexis shot that had found its way past Jordan Pickford in the 8th minute, but the early goal would soon be chalked off following a deflection from Olivier Giroud’s arm.

Giroud then found himself in half a yard of space inside the box moments later before the on-rushing Pickford did just enough to deter the Frenchman’s shot from finding the back of the net.

The ex-Montpellier striker was left claiming a penalty in the 22nd minute when a firm grapple from Lamine Koné inside the box impeded him from reaching Mesut Özil’s cross, with the referee ignoring such calls for an Arsenal spot-kick.

A measured pass from Didier N’Dong led Jermain Defoe into the channels, with the Englishman afforded enough time to fire a low shot at goal on his weaker foot before being denied by Petr Cech in the 38th minute.

Héctor Bellerín then teared away through the right flank with danger in the 43rd minute following a threaded pass by Özil, but the Spaniard could only find the side-netting when opting to surprise the keeper with a shot from a tight angle.

Özil was at the heart of it all again with a lofted cut-back for Aaron Ramsey to volley at goal, forcing a save out of Pickford.

The Gunners would go close once more from the subsequent corner, but Rob Holding could get little behind his free header that fell directly into the goalkeeper’s grasp.

Arsenal returned to the second half with a fright, as Nacho Monreal’s loose pass to back to Cech caused the goalkeeper to guide the ball out with an outstretched hand and concede an indirect free-kick inside the box, later dealt with by Granit Xhaka’s headed clearance.

Giroud neared Arsenal’s anticipated opener with a glancing header from Rob Holding’s cross, but the striker’s effort would go on to skip past the far post in the 65th minute.

Alexis was next in line to find himself in a heading position, getting his execution all wrong, but Danny Welbeck would offer Pickford a sterner test with a low drive from the edge of the box, forcing the keeper to parry the effort wide.

Through a searching pass from Granit Xhaka, Arsenal would finally manage to pick-lock Sunderland’s deep-block defence, as a deft touch from Özil from the left set Alexis for an easy tap in.

A couple of efforts from Xhaka and Alex Iwobi set the Gunners closer to a second, but it was Alexis who delivered again when required in the 81st minute. A deep cross from Shkodran Mustafi was hooked out of the air brilliantly by Giroud and into Alexis’ path, leaving the Chilean to finish from close range and double Arsenal’s lead.

Mustafi was unlucky not to have claimed Arsenal’s third of the night, seeing his headed effort tipped onto the bar by the ever-impressive Pickford in the 85th minute before the referee’s final whistle concluded a 2-0 victory for Arsène Wenger’s men.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (7), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Nacho Monreal (5); Héctor Bellerín (6), Aaron Ramsey (6), Granit Xhaka (7), Kieran Gibbs (4); Mesut Özil (8), Olivier Giroud (6), Alexis Sanchez (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Alex Iwobi (6), Theo Walcott (5)

MATCH REPORT: STOKE CITY 1-4 ARSENAL

Arsenal have moved to within a point of 4th-placed Liverpool in the race for top four with a 4-1 against Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium.

The Gunners had failed to win away to the Potters in the last five seasons, but two first-half goals from Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil set Arsène Wenger’s men on their way to a much-needed victory.

A controversial Peter Crouch goal promised a frantic end to the encounter, but Arsenal’s third through Sanchez would take the fizzle out of an end-to-end game before Giroud closed off the win late on.

It was the London outfit who had started best, as Nacho Monreal neared the opener with a header at the back-post before hitting the frame of the goal in the 17th minute.

Alexis Sanchez tried his luck past the half-hour mark, picking up a spare ball deep into Stoke’s half and driving at the Stoke defence before firing a shot into the side-netting.

Arsenal would find the back of the net minutes before the interval, as Bellerín breezed towards the byline and squared a cross for Giroud to tap in Arsenal’s first goal of the evening in the 43rd minute.

The Gunners reasserted their dominance in the second period and took full advantage of Özil’s calculated run in behind Stoke’s defence in the 55th minute, spotted by Sanchez, before the German playmaker was able to dink the ball over Butland to make it 2-0.

Arsenal’s second was almost cancelled out just three minutes later, however, as Arnautovic’s cross was headed back across goal by Mame Biram Diouf from close range, with Čech beaten in sight of the Senegalese striker’s effort.

The Potters would eventually pull a goal back, with Arnautovic again at the centre of the move, but the goal would be turned in by an unnoticed handball from Peter Crouch at the near-post.

But Alexis would later be on hand to decimate the hosts’ hopes of a comeback, firing low from the edge of the box and finding the back of the net courtesy of a minor Ryan Shawcross deflection in the 74th minute, making it 3-1.

Late substitute Aaron Ramsey would come close to adding to the Gunners’ three goals, pulling a save out of Butland upon his entrance into the game, but the Welshman would go on to assist Giroud shortly after with a low cross, subsequently bundled in on the slide by the Arsenal number 12.

Geoff Cameron threatened late on for Stoke with a volley saved by Čech, but 4-1 to the North Londoners would be how it’d end.

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (7), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Laurent Koscielny (7); Héctor Bellerín (8), Granit Xhaka (8), Francis Coquelin (7), Nacho Monreal (7); Mesut Özil (8), Olivier Giroud (7), Alexis Sanchez (8)

Subs: Aaron Ramsey (6), Theo Walcott (5), Danny Welbeck (5)

MATCH REPORT: SOUTHAMPTON 0-2 ARSENAL

Arsenal have renewed hopes of a top four finish in the Premier League with a 2-0 win against Southampton at the St. Mary’s Stadium, as the Gunners climb back up to 5th place.

Two second half goals from Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud set the North Londoners up for victory down on the south coast, bringing Arsenal to within three points of Manchester City, currently on 69, meanwhile also holding a game in hand in comparison to 3rd-placed Liverpool.

In an encounter dominated by the increased pressure orbiting around the two French managers on either side, a cagey start saw Arsenal register their first half-chance as late as the 14th minute, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain roamed inside from the right flank to set Aaron Ramsey from a sizeable distance prior to a tame shot wide.

Southampton accentuated their dominance in the following exchanges of the game with a lofted pass by Ryan Bertrand into Dusan Tadic, who saw his touch inside the box intercepted by Shkodran Mustafi before Petr Čech was called into action to deny Manolo Gabbiadini’s shot.

Nathan Redmond took the final risk of the half with a shot from range that would’ve found the top corner in the 42nd minute, had is not been for another good save by Čech.

Alexis Sanchez did soothe the frustrations in the second half, courtesy of a first-time assist from Mesut Özil and a crucial shoulder-drop by the Chilean that took two defenders out of his way, as a low drive in the 60th minute beat Forster and took Arsenal a goal up.

Granit Xhaka forced the Southampton shot-stopper into action with a strike from range in the 66th minute, whereas the Saints neared the equaliser at the other end through James Ward-Prowse, who headed his effort over when found deep in the Arsenal box with a cross.

Second-half substitute Olivier Giroud was on hand to kill the game off in the 83rd minute, however, acting as the recipient of Ramsey’s header across goal at the back-post to nod the ball in himself inside the six-yard-box.

Sofiane Boufal could’ve sprung life back into Southampton just three minutes later following Xhaka’s loss of possession, but the Moroccan underwhelmed with an effort against the side-netting, as Arsenal ran away with all three points.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Nacho Monreal (7); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Granit Xhaka (6), Aaron Ramsey (7), Kieran Gibbs (5); Mesut Özil (6), Danny Welbeck (6), Alexis Sanchez (7)

Subs: Héctor Bellerín (6), Olivier Giroud (6), Francis Coquelin (5)

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-0 MANCHESTER UNITED

Arsenal have kept their top four aspirations alive after defeating Europa League hopefuls Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.

Two second half goals in quick succession from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck set the victory up for Arsène Wenger’s men, taking the North Londoners above 6th-placed Man United and within three points of 4th-placed Manchester City.

Wenger placed his trust in Welbeck to reignite the club’s top four bid, but it was the opposition’s forward line who had the first taste of a goal scoring opportunity, as Wayne Rooney found Anthony Martial beyond Arsenal’s backline before the Frenchman’s toe poke was denied by Petr Čech in the 4th minute.

Alexis Sanchez replied for the hosts by playing Aaron Ramsey in on goal, who was later denied by a strong David De Gea palm from a shot across goal in the 8th minute.

On the half-hour mark, renewed pressure from Arsenal kept them in control of proceedings, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking to make their dominance count with a shot from range that was parried away by the United keeper.

Miscommunication at the other end, however, almost gifted the visitors the lead, as Rooney looked to capitalise on a loose pass from Rob Holding but, ultimately, failed to overcome Čech from close range.

Into the second period, Granit Xhaka trusted his ability to strike the ball from distance, cashing in on a wicked deflection off Ander Herrera that beat De Gea on its way in for Arsenal’s first goal in the 53rd minute.

In no time, the Gunners fired back with a second, as Danny Welbeck utilised the space afforded to him by his former teammates to head in Chamberlain’s cross and double the hosts’ lead just three minutes later.

Rooney tried his luck from a free-kick just past the hour-mark, with Čech doing a good job of safeguarding his goal upon United’s response to going two goals down.

The United captain had a couple more measured attempts from distance, each floating past the goal, as the Red Devils grew restless in the face of defeat.

A couple of goals would separate the two sides at the final whistle, with Wenger claiming his first ever league win over José Mourinho to bring Man United’s 25-game unbeaten run to an end.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (7); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Aaron Ramsey (7), Granit Xhaka (7), Kieran Gibbs (5); Mesut Özil (6), Danny Welbeck (6), Alexis Sanchez (6)

Subs: Héctor Bellerín (5), Olivier Giroud (4), Francis Coquelin (5)

MATCH REPORT: TOTTENHAM 2-0 ARSENAL

Arsenal have lost 2-0 versus Tottenham Hotspur in the final North London Derby to be played at the original White Hart Lane.

Second half goals from Dele Alli and Harry Kane sealed the Gunners’ fate against their fierce local rivals, with the Emirates Stadium outfit also dropping precious points in the hunt for a top four finish.

Kane was the first to claim a shot on goal, coming as early as the first minute, making Petr Čech work to keep ahold of an effort from a tight angle.

Spurs looked towards Kane again in the 22nd minute, beating the offside trap before his shot ricocheted over to Dele Alli at the back post, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain doing just enough to force the attacker’s header wide.

The hosts came close once more three minutes later, as Son Heung-Min tore through the left before seeing his shot deflected away by Laurent Koscielny, but the intervention then sat up for Christian Eriksen to scrape the crossbar on the volley with the goal at his mercy.

Aaron Ramsey kept Hugo Lloris on his toes with a guided effort from range in the 38th minute, with the French goalkeeper pushing the strike away for an Arsenal corner.

At the other end, Jan Vertonghen tried his luck on his right foot, as Čech got down well to safeguard Arsenal’s goal before half time.

Spurs continued on top into the second half, with Vincent Wanyama calling Čech into action with a curling effort, whereas Son caused his fair share of danger when striking the side-netting from the subsequent corner in the 48th minute.

The Gunners responded through Olivier Giroud, who fizzed a spare left-footed volley just over the crossbar moments later.

Arsène Wenger’s men continued to find the likes of Eriksen difficult to contain, however, who initiated the entrance into Arsenal’s box and saw Dele Alli bundle in his rebound to break the deadlock in the 55th minute.

The scenario complicated itself further a minute later, as Gabriel Paulista clipped Kane inside the box for a Tottenham penalty, later converted by the England international to make it 2-0.

Vertonghen renewed his duel with Čech, this time on his favoured left foot, as the Arsenal man kept out Spurs’ third of the afternoon in the 67th minute.

Čech offered more respite into the final 15 minutes, denying both Kane and Toby Alderweireld on separate occasions.

Second half substitute Theo Walcott had his rare sighting of goal in the 86th minute, but a tame shot set Arsenal on their way to a disappointing 2-0 defeat.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (7); Gabriel Paulista (3), Laurent Koscielny (5), Nacho Monreal (5); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Granit Xhaka (5), Aaron Ramsey (5), Kieran Gibbs (4); Mesut Özil (5), Olivier Giroud (4), Alexis Sanchez (5)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (4), Héctor Bellerín (4), Theo Walcott (4)

BLOG: THE CAPTAIN CRISIS

The selection of a Captain is a delicate process, one of immense attentiveness and thought. Leadership, effective communication, discipline, and experience are all traits a manager should look for in a captain and then some, and while current captain Per Mertesacker was once someone who successfully personified all of these traits for several seasons with Arsenal, I believe that the search for a new captain must now begin. So moving forward, who are the best candidates to take on this prestigious role? Let’s take a look at some options.

Laurent Koscielny

The talented Frenchman is currently an assistant captain for the Gunners, and for the majority of the season he has been wearing the captain’s armband. He has proven on a consistent basis that he has what it takes to captain the side, with a plethora of both domestic and international experience. One of, if not the most, important roles a captain must fulfill is being an effective communicator with the team throughout matches. If there were room for improvement for Laurent, it would be here. I believe that he is an outstanding player, extremely disciplined and skilled as well, however I feel as if he does not communicate enough with the midfield and back line as effectively as we need him to. When I watch Arsenal week in, week out, I blast the volume on my TV to purposely try and hear him yelling commands, and unfortunately, I happen to not hear him more than I do hear him. Nonetheless, Koscielny has boatloads of experience ranging from the World Cup and Euros, to Champions League clashes with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. For some reason, the captain role feels like it comes natural to Laurent, and for that reason, I believe he might be our best option to captain the side at the moment.

 

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Laurent Koscielny captaining the squad during an FA Cup match during the 2015/16 season.

Petr Cech

At certain points throughout last year’s campaign and at times this season I played with the idea of Petr Cech taking over the captains role, I mean, he’s overly experienced having won over 300 caps and several trophies for Chelsea, plus his age enables him to quickly demand respect from any and everyone in the locker room. However, whatever thoughts I had about Cech obtaining the role of captain, have dramatically diminished as the season has dragged on. Not only did he miss nearly a month of football through a calf strain, but his form has also gone out the window. Last season, Cech had 16 clean sheets and had conceded 31 goals through 34 appearances, compare that to this season where in 5 less appearances, he has only 9 clean sheets and has conceded 33 goals. Now, I know that I, nor you, should judge a Captain based solely off of his performances, however these sorts of things come to mind when choosing the next leader of this club. Do we really want someone who is lacking in confidence and form as well, to be leading our club? His controlling cadence, experience, and discipline however, allow for me to easily place him as second in line to take over the captain’s role if something were to happen to Bosscielny.

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Theo Walcott

I wanted to throw Theo in as an option simply because he has captained the Gunners a few times this season and in the past, but it’s a stretch. Theo has been with the club for over a decade, so the experience is there, but he just doesn’t strike me as a leader within the squad like the way I view Koscielny or Petr. I just think Theo has a little more he needs to learn about the game before we can fully hand over the captain’s band to him, but he serves as a nice replacement down the road.

 

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These three players are certainly some good choices in regards to selecting a new captain, but honestly I don’t think either of the three are superb options. Ideally, if I were to sculpt the perfect captain, he would be as follows: experienced, both at the club and country level, have a gritty and demanding tenor, speak English well enough to effectively communicate to the starting XI, smart, and of course loved both inside and outside the locker room. When I think of a captain, I think John Terry, Philip Lahm, Steven Gerrard, somebody who isn’t afraid to get under their teammates skin to bring out the best in them, and for the past few years, I just haven’t seen that with this Arsenal. But as of right now Arsenal fans around the world should be worrying about other issues, not about who will be Arsenal’s next Patrick Vieira.

 

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BLOG: CONTRACT REBELS?

Will they? Won’t they? What does it all mean for Arsenal FC? Are we still a ‘big club’? So many questions, so few games remaining, so much uncertainty.

Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil remain our two most important and valuable players, which is why it is integral for them to be kept on to build the team around. But I’m here to talk about what it would mean if they didn’t sign. I can see the motivation for wanting a move; Trophies, Money, Career progression in short. However what both players clearly thrive on are to be the main men at their clubs. Ozil seems ok playing second fiddle to Alexis, however is revered by our fan base and therefore loves playing for Arsenal Football Club. Alexis knows that he’s our most important player and thrives on the responsibility that we heap on his shoulders. He loves that. Pep Guardiola had recently said of Alexis that he really wanted to be the difference maker at Barcelona and while he did contribute in a big way whilst there, he was always going to be second fiddle to Lionel Messi. That’s what any player has to understand when moving to Barcelona. And so he moved to pastures new, finding the perfect blend at Arsenal. Or so he thought.

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In the last two months we’ve seen that the team and quite possibly the manager is going through a transitional phase. It’s almost as if the club has been left to float in an uncomfortable space whilst minds are made up at the very top as to the direction of Arsenal from the summer onward. This is what has led to a delay in the contracts being signed. This as well as both players trying to get as much money as possible for their last ‘big’ contract at a truly competitive club anyway. There will likely be big money offers as their careers disappear into the sunset from China and the MLS in a few years from now, however the next contract is the one that is the most significant of their careers. They will want to know who their new manager is, they will also want to know if they fit the managers plans (I can’t imagine this being an issue in all honesty unless we have a manager who writes for a tabloid) and they’ll also want to know what the transfer plans are for the summer to ensure that Arsenal remain competitive. All of that as well as a bumper new contract. It’s not just a question of one or two elements, there are a lot of moving parts and therefore a lot of room for deliberation exists, not to mention the uncertainty that surrounds the manager.

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But let’s just say that they don’t sign and they do look for moves away. Alexis Sanchez has 18 months left on his contract and therefore we can look to get around £60-70m for a player of his calibre in today’s market. The Clubs that he could join in my view are PSG, Bayern Munich, Man City & Chelsea. He’s done Italy and Spain, seems to like the Premier League intensity but also wants to win the biggest prizes. Whilst the lure of Pep at City would probably be his favoured destination were he to leave I just don’t think we will be held to ransom by another English club. He fits at Chelsea where he would probably take Pedro’s role, however again I just don’t think that we will be held to ransom as we’ve seen in the past. The most likely destinations are Bayern or PSG and Bayern tend to be more sensible in their transfer offers therefore I think that PSG would be the only  realistic option both for him and Arsenal. They would pay the required money and have the lure of potential success.

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As far as Mesut Ozil is concerned, I genuinely think that he is truly happy here and more importantly truly happy playing for Arsene Wenger. However if he were also to leave we would look to command at least £50m for the worlds most creative number 10. His list of suitors would be similar to that of Alexis Sanchez. Madrid may want him back, Bayern would indeed love him there, PSG also another option but I can’t see that any English clubs would be after him. The only other team whose style he suits could be Man Utd as he’s played under Mourinho previously, but they already have Pogba and Mkhitaryan who are number 10s that aren’t being played in their position. As well as this there’s just no way that we would sell to an English club.

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The combined transfer fees would look like £110m in addition to the £100m warchest being banded about, which would mean a lot of new faces and a massive squad rebuild. I almost think that if this were the case it would be the perfect way to bring in a new manager as well. He could truly put his stamp on the squad and shape it in exactly the way he wants. The squad, in my opinion, is good enough to be competing and the players are only just now showing signs of fight. We all know that Wenger cares profusely for the club, however just how much can he get out of this squad going beyond this season? If Wenger is to stay he must ensure that he keeps a hold of both Ozil and Alexis, as if they both do leave, it will be Wenger that puts his own £200m stamp on a squad that won’t be his for more than 2 years afterwards. That would be grossly unfair and unjust on the incoming new manager, whenever that may be and would cause a longer term imbalance to the squad. That in itself is not The Arsenal way.

In my opinion both players will indeed stay as well as Arsene Wenger and the rebuild will be set for another time. Of the above scenarios, if keeping both players means keeping Wenger for a little bit more then I say it’s the right thing to do. Whatever happens we are in for an intense summer. A lot of plates remain spinning and we need to ensure that the right people are in place both on and off the pitch to ensure none of them come crashing down.