BLOG: INJURIES, CAN ARSENAL COPE?

Injuries and Arsenal, the words that flow like poetry in motion. Like a tragic novel, Arsenal are built up with hope of a romantic season with a fully fit squad for us to wax lyrical about, only for a drastic turn to strip us to our bare bones. Coquelin being the most recent tragedy to add to an ever growing list, will this novel end differently, or is it writing on the wall for injuries to plague another Arsenal title charge?

14th August 2016, 5.15pm, the besiegement begins. Aaron Ramsey the first victim to fall, a hamstring injury, something with unfortunately become accustomed to. The fallout was calametous. Bad turned to worse for Arsenal, conceding a fourth, before mounting a mini-revival. An already ill-prepared Gunners side was facing the inevitable of tragedy at the first hurdle. However, things changed. As if on a 10 year holiday, squad depth returned to Emirates, embraced as though it were the prodigal son returning home. Shkordan Mustafi and Lucas Perez, combined with the returning international players gave depth to Wenger he has been clamouring for. To put this depth into perspective, in the Gunners 3-0 rout of Chelsea, Egyptian international Mohamed ElNeny didn’t even make it onto the bench. The same Mohamed ElNeny who in the 2015/16 season completed the most passes of any player since he debuted.

Mohamed ElNeny’s absence from the squad v Chelsea speaks wonders of our new found depth.

Francis Coquelin was next to fall to the injury curse, with his knee being forced to withstand the full force of an N’Golo Kante shot. Previous seasons would have seen would have seen fear and anxiety cloud the Emirates as the French destroyer trudged off the battlefield. Not this year. Swiss maestro Granit Xhaka, who arguably should be starting for the Arsenal, was a more than able deputiser for the combative Frenchman, instigating fluid attacks whilst simultaneously protecting the wall of Mustafi and Koscielny behind him from any harm. Initial prognosis on Francis suggested months out of action, yet this dwindled down from months, to weeks, to days. The 25 year old now finds himself facing a late fitness test to be in the squad against Burnley. A near miracle based on the media hysteria around the injury.

You’d have been called insane if you suggested recovery times similar to that of Coquelin’s 12 months ago.

Not only are the injuries lengths declining, the fitness levels are increasing. With a fluid forward line, the Gunners can press in unison, catching defenders isolated and suffocating them with pressure. Both on and off the ball, fitness levels are through the roof at Arsenal this season. Theo Walcott being the epitome of this. The Englishman has won 14 tackles so far this season, the most of any Arsenal player. To put this into perspective, this is more tackles than he has won in the two previous season combined. Whether this is down to a alternative fitness regime, or an improvement in work ethic that Arsenal fans have been desperate to see for years, something is different, and it’s infectious.

That said, there’s trouble in paradise. Aaron Ramsey was predicted to be back after the international break, yet 3 weeks later, he is facing another international break stuck in the Arsenal treatment room. A lot is made about how Wilshere, Walcott, and Chamberlain’s injuries have stagnated their development, but Arsenal need to be cautious that Ramsey doesn’t become the latest casualty. With a marvellous Euro 2016 under his belt, and a beta tactic in the making to cater for his needs, the Gunner’s need to fix a vital cog in their fitness machine or face tragedy at the end of the book of Arsene.

BLOG: ALEX IWOBI #BIG17

Writing a piece on Arsenal’s new prodigal son was my task and after some thorough research (Googling) it’s refreshing to see that Alex Iwobi’s rise to the big time has been one of humility and calm, as well as the traditional bout of hard work. The young man broke into the team last season, when we were crying out for something to just get us over the line, when as a team we were bereft of ideas, when the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez had grown tired of ours as well as their own deficiencies. To be 20 years old and be looked to for inspiration by a club with a stature and history such as Arsenal. Astounding that it’s required, but equally astounding that Alex Iwobi was able to step up to the plate.

He played as a striker throughout his time with the Arsenal youth team, but as Wenger does, he was moved into a position where his development was going to be maximised. This isn’t the first time Wenger has done this either – Lauren (RW to RB), Henry (LW to CF), Ljungberg (CF to RW), Ashley Cole (CF to LB), Bellerin (RW to RB). Having broken into the team he gave us another wide option, when all others were a little lost out there. Theo Walcott was hot and cold (mostly cold), The Ox was the same and then injured, Alexis looked frustrated late in the season out wide as his link play with Giroud was almost non existent (the away goal at Man City aside) so our options were running on empty. Empty on confidence, belief and most importantly end product. Alex Iwobi changed all that. He came in and was able to hit the ground running and provided Alexis with the chance to go back to the right hand side, where he played for Barcelona, and in so doing, reinvigorated the team dynamics when going forward. A breath of fresh air in what turned out to be a frustrating season.

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This season he’s made an even bigger impact and that’s down to a certain Mr. Wenger. When Arsene sees potential in someone he immediately begins to think of a system that could exploit their talents in the best way. He did it with Thierry Henry by shifting his position and buying complimentary players (Robert Pires), he did it with Cesc Fabregas by changing the shape of he team to accommodate his strengths and he’s done it again with Alex Iwobi. Maybe not quite as directly because through incorporating Iwobi into the side not only does the flank solution look to be resolved, but he seems to be getting the best out of Alexis, Walcott and Ozil through this change. All of the front four thrive off each others’ movement and there seems to be some cross pollination with their understanding of each others’ game. Alexis combines well with wide man Walcott as they can occupy each others positions, Iwobi combines well with Ozil because they trust each other with the ball at their feet (see Walcott goal vs Chelsea) and as well as all of this Alexis and Ozil seem to have moved up a notch in terms of their understanding with each other. This has hugely benefited Iwobi and another turn up for the books that has also pushed him further is the resurgence of Theo Walcott. His work rate and application has definitely made everyone stand up and take notice. People are talking about Walcott and coupled with the way Alexis presses from the front Iwobi is under pressure to maintain that as the final part of the trio. He’s mentioned that the defensive part of his game is something that he ‘hates’ and needs to ‘work on’ over the summer and the pressure to perform on this front has intensified. Nacho Monreal hasn’t been at his imperious best and in the first couple of games this season Alex Iwobi was found wanting in the additional defensive support department. Having seen Walcott and Alexis lead by example, as they should, Iwobi has once again found the minerals to track back, work hard, want the ball and provide an offensive threat. At the young age of 20 he’s showing all the potential he has alongside his already refined technique making him a formidable asset to have.

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My absolute favourite thing about Alex Iwobi, however, is his incredibly humble approach to it all. In pre-season he was Tweeting about appreciating the chances you get in life (see here) whilst on tour with Arsenal and even on collecting the MOTM award vs. Chelsea he seemed entirely flabbergasted both in the interview and on social media after the game. He’s got the absolute right attitude to being a young footballer in a world that predominantly revolves around money. It’s refreshing to see such a young footballer speak wise beyond his years, play well and whilst doing so keep his feet firmly on the ground. Who knows how he will be when his stock rises higher and he’s entrenched in the game a little more, but for now he seems to be following the tutelage of Wenger to a letter and is fully reaping the rewards for it.

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The great start to his season has been further enhanced through his nomination for the FIFA Golden Boy award, so things are going well. This will undoubtadley be a long season with many ups and downs and young players always go through rough patches as they are far from the finished article, so it will be a case of managing him well across the 45-60 games that we could play across the campaign. There’s no better manager to do this than Arsene Wenger so the #Big17 is in good hands. Let’s hope he has a brilliant season and leads us to some silverware come May.

 

MATCH PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS FC BASEL

After waiting five years for their first win over rivals Chelsea, Arsenal will be looking to take their good league form into the UEFA Champions League clash versus F.C. Basel at the Emirates Stadium this Wednesday.

The Gunners shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes earlier this month and will be hoping to earn all three points this time around in order to ensure momentary control of Group A, with the French club standing as out and out favourites for their game against Bulgarian side Ludogorets in the same fixture.

Despite Basel failing to win in each of their last five Champions League games, winning against them will be easier said than done, as the Swiss champions leave an envious trail of defeated English clubs behind them since 2011.

The former club of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny eliminated Manchester United from the Champions League Group Stages back in 2011, whereas it was Liverpool, as well as Chelsea before them, who received the same treatment two years ago.

On top of that, Arsenal will have to be wary of Basel’s impressive domestic form, coming into the encounter with a 100% record in the Raiffeisen Super League so far this season, but the Gunners will also be able to point towards their own unbeaten feat versus Swiss opposition, with their latest triumph coming against F.C. Thun in 2006.

Fresh from his widely-celebrated 20th year anniversary in command of Arsenal, Arsène Wenger will be without the Francis Coquelin after a knee injury cut his participation in the Chelsea win short last Saturday.

Coquelin is added to the likes of Aaron Ramsey, scheduled to return shortly after the international break, Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck and Carl Jenkinson on the sidelines, which could pave way for Xhaka’s introduction into the Arsenal XI.

Should Arsenal’s summer signing start, he’ll be up against his older brother, Taulant Xhaka, for the first time since Switzerland’s Euro 2016 group game against Albania, whereas there’s also the possibility that Wenger acquiesces to David Ospina’s desires by handing him a second consecutive start in the Champions League.

Predicted Line-up: David Ospina; Héctor Bellerín, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi; Alexis Sánchez

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 3-0 CHELSEA

This is what we have been missing. This is what we have been craving for so long. This is what we have been waiting for. We blitzed the opposition and closed out the game magnificently. The complete performance. I’m still stunned as to how mature we were about it all, reeling but in a good way.

When the line-up was announced we learned that Granit Xhaka was once again on the bench. This however brought less derision than usual and more than anything the sphere or social media seemed to be more supportive than usual. The team was unchanged from the win against Hull and Wenger seemed to not want to break a winning formula. We all know that he’s loath to try and fix something that isn’t broken. That’s how he gives people chances and also how he brings about consistency within an Arsenal team, he’s done it previously and does it today in the same way. Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott are the chief beneficiaries in the current set up as they have the Ox and Lucas Perez waiting in the wings to take on the mantle, let alone the possibility of shifting Alexis Sanchez to either side once again. People will talk about Xhaka missing out but I’m more of the opinion that it’s a combination of bedding in time as well as having a formula that currently works. As it was Wenger picked the same XI and the battle lines were drawn.

The game started in typical fashion, in that we were on the front foot with the lion’s share of possession and looked really sharp rather than just going through the motions. This was half due to the fact that this is the way we attempt to begin all of our home games but also down to the fact that Chelsea’s tactics were to sit off, soak up pressure and hit us on the break. It was a case of who would blink first, which was surprising to a degree considering that Chelsea approached the Liverpool game in the same manner and were found wanting. The identical occurred this week. Chelsea looked laboured in possession and Costa was completely disconnected from the midfield. This was definitely due to the tactics rather than the personnel on the field, as on paper you would think that a front three of Hazard, Costa and Willian is one of the strongest in the league, especially with someone like Fabregas pulling the strings behind them. The problem for them, however, lies in their ageing right back Ivanovic and the comically error prone Gary Cahill. Luiz and Azpilicueta weren’t terrible but having half your defence asleep doesn’t help things. We took full advantage of this with our high press and Alexis Sanchez made Cahill look a fool when he seemed to have so much time. That’s what having a pacy, energetic front man can do and that’s why I feel Wenger is persisting with the Chilean as a forward. Eleven minutes in and we had stamped our initial authority on the game. The temptation would have been to settle for a little calm and serenity to consolidate the lead, however it wasn’t the case. Just three minutes later Theo Walcott arrived on the end of a fantastic move that quite simply had Wengerball all over it. Some great combination play from Iwobi and Ozil led to a brilliant Iwobi through ball to Bellerin who squared for Walcott. Wonderful one touch football. At 2-0 we were cruising and looked to press further, however this did cost us a few shaky moments. Willian had a great chance that was a whisker wide that would have completely changed the game. It wasn’t to be and what followed was quite simply one of the most irresistible moves I’ve seen. Ozil turned past Kante as if he wasn’t there and you could even see in Kante’s chase back to Ozil was admission to utter and total defeat. The turn was followed by a powerful run and precise pass into the path of Alexis Sanchez who returned the favour with a delightful cross back to Ozil. He then finished, albeit with a little luck, but the move deserved it. 3-0, game over (in most cases).

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What I enjoyed about the rest of the performance was the absolute professional nature of it. We closed out the game with some more pressing, although not quite as aggressive as the first half, but we just didn’t allow them any real chances. Gibbs cleared well, Bellerin made Pedro look like Mertesacker breaking free and it took Chelsea until the 84th minute to have their first shot on target, to which our top class goalkeeper did his job in making a brilliant save. The game drew to a close with some good tactical substitutions that weren’t in the 70th minute (yay!) and the job was done. As a bonus it was lovely to see Diego Costa bounding around like a lunatic when decisions weren’t going his way but moreover at his annoyance of being royally pocketed by Koscielny, and his performance alongside Mustafi was utterly dominant. They bossed the game and snuffed out any threat that Chelsea looked to cause. The only blemish was a not quite assured performance from Monreal once again. He looks OK, however it seems that teams have now realised that he is a potential weakness and Chelsea’s brightest moments were all down that side. A point of note, slight concern and one to keep an eye on. All in all though, a brilliant day, a brilliant performance and the continuation of our good form.

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Onto the Champions League with Basel up next.

Player ratings: Cech (8), Bellerin (7), Mustafi (8), Koscielny (9), Monreal (6), Coquelin (7), Cazorla (6), Ozil (8), Iwobi (8), Walcott (8), Alexis (8).

Subs Xhaka (7.5), Gibbs (7.5), Giroud (6)

BLOG: OLIVIER GIROUD: FAULTLESS IN HIS FLAWS

Olivier Giroud’s Arsenal career has been littered with love and hate. Is that why he’s been so inconsistent? Is that why we think he’s the answer as well as the problem? We are now at a defining stage in both his career as well as the way in which we as a club play football. He’s been the go to man in times of real need. When we needed a performance away at Olympiacos last season, at home to Bayern last season, in the FA Cup final of 2014, Man City away in 2015. There are multiple occasions where he has been the reason we have got back into games or gone on to win important games in the last four years. However he still continues to divide opinion and we have now arrived at a glaring cross roads.

The truth is our style of play has been gradually changing over the last four years to incorporate Olivier Giroud into the team. His target man stature has led us to generate slower build up play and requires us to be far more incisive in the final third and in fairness it has produced one of the finest goals that Arsenal football club has ever scored, Jack Wilshere vs Norwich. However as the brand of football is so difficult due to how incisive it needs to be, we see it much less often than we would like. Gone are the days of break neck counter attacking football and eloquent as well as physical play that intimidated teams into submission before they even took to the hallowed Highbury turf. However with Giroud currently being somewhat marginalised (we speculate at best!) we could be breaking toward something different. Something new. Redefining the Arsenal we know, or the one we’ve known for the last four years anyway. The fact of the matter is we even played some quite attractive football with the likes of Denilson, Eboue, Squillaci, Sylvestre and the common theme was that we had a more mobile centre forward at the forefront of the team. Adebayor and Robin Van Persie were less target men and played with the ball at their feet which allowed for a more crisp brand of football. With Giroud as the centrepiece to Arsene’s lavish dinner table we can’t quite recapture that type of football. The summer has led to Wenger addressing this fact, something that he’s been trying to do since Thierry Henry left. We had somewhat of a solution through Adebayor and Van Persie, however the team behind them wasn’t quite up to scratch. Today is a different story. We have depth from back to front and we finally have some mobile centre forwards to pick from. With Lucas Perez, Alexis Sanchez looking to emulate the role he plays for Chile and Walcott with a new found love for the game this season we seem to have some more mobile options to work with and Wenger looks to be exercising them.

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Where does this leave Olivier Giroud? He’s a more than capable centre forward and in the 7 or 8/10 bracket of strikers around. He’s managed 20+ goals in his last three seasons for us (yes I’m including the goal vs Man City in the 2014 Community Shield!) so it’s not as though he doesn’t deliver. I think that he will still be relied upon to get us 15-20 goals this season, however the key questions are; has the purchase of Lucas Perez and the adaptation of Alexis Sanchez been in aid of Giroud? Or have the aforementioned solutions been brought in to displace Giroud? If I know Wenger (and I really don’t, I’m not sure anyone aside from David Dein does!), I think it will be a combination of the two. We’ll see different styles of play in conjunction to the opposition that we are playing, we’ll see a lot more of Giroud coming on in the last 20 minutes to see out a game or to give us a plan B, however we’ll also see the likes of Giroud play against quicker defences who aren’t so good at set piece defending. The point is that for the first time in a long time, not only do we have options up top, we actually have a variance of options. Giroud is a target man, Perez is a tireless speedster, Alexis is a dynamic talisman and Walcott is our on the shoulder front man. They are all massively different and now have the midfield options that suit each and every one of their games, so rather than a complete style change we may see a more chameleonised (yes I just coined that word) Arsenal. We are likely to see a more horses for courses approach simply because we have the personnel to do so. We’ve all seen and are now bored of his face of anguish at missing a chance so hopefully we’ll see a happier, more goal scoring Giroud.

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This new approach is likely to actually eke the best out of Giroud rather than ask him to do jobs that he simply cannot do. He’s not going to be great in a high press and so is not going to be completely run into the ground when chances present themselves in games that are conducive to his style. We may yet see a more efficient Giroud (stop laughing) because the burden isn’t solely on him throughout the season. This could finally be the season where he’s a beacon of hope rather than the lightening rod for criticism.

MATCH PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS CHELSEA

In the week that marks the 20th anniversary of Arsène Wenger as Arsenal manager, Gameweek Six of the Premier League sees the Gunners host Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium this Saturday in one of the most highly-anticipated match-ups of the weekend.

Both sides come into the clash locked on 10 points, occupying 4th and 5th spot, and a defeat from either of the two sides could see an eight-point-gap form between the eventual loser and league leaders Manchester City, providing the latter defeats Swansea City prior to the 5:30pm kick-off.

For Wenger, the London derby offers him a shot at redemption, with the north Londoners having lost their last two encounters against Chelsea in somewhat ill-tempered fashion both home and away.

The Frenchman’s stronghold over the west Londoners ebbed away throughout his second decade of management at Arsenal, meanwhile Chelsea are now just one win away from leveling the 14 victories amassed by Wenger against Roman Abramovich’s club.

The Gunners will have to go back to October 2011 for their last league triumph against the Blues, a 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge that has since seen their rivals come out on top in six out of the last nine games between the two in the Premier League.

So often the bane to Arsenal’s hopes of success has been Chelsea striker Diego Costa, who was central to Gabriel Paulista’s sending off approximately a year ago and has found the back of the net twice in three league games versus Wenger’s men.

The Spain international is sure to pose a threat to Arsenal’s backline off the back of five goals in five league games so far this season, but at the other end, Antonio Conte could be without John Terry once more, as the Chelsea captain nurses an ankle injury.

Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey continues to struggle with a hamstring injury picked up against Liverpool last month, which would leave him out of Wenger’s plans for a fifth consecutive league game, whereas Olivier Giroud, yet to start for the Gunners this season, is also a doubt.

Predicted XI: Petr Čech; Héctor Bellerín, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla; Theo Walcott, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi; Alexis Sánchez

If the EFL Cup selection versus Nottingham Forest is anything to go by, it’s plausible to believe Wenger will opt for a totally different and familiar line-up, as far as Arsenal’s last Premier League outing goes.

Big performances from both Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the Gunners’ 4-1 win against Hull City last weekend might see the two midfielders extend their presence at the heart of midfield for another game, although Granit Xhaka’s recent form could interfere with the eventual decision made by the Arsenal boss.

Lucas Pérez’s chances of featuring also won’t have been done any harm after his midweek brace versus Forest, but, in Giroud’s absence, Arsenal’s three-pronged attack of Iwobi, Walcott and Sánchez is likely to remain untouched.

BLOG: GRANIT XHAKA: THE CONUNDRUM

Blessed with a mercurial left foot, awe-inspiring tenacity and leadership qualities Arsenal have been crying out for, Granit Xhaka would have expected to be dominating premier league midfield’s from the off this season, yet this hasn’t been the case. The 24 year old’s only starts for the Gunners thus far only come as a result of a late injury to Francis Coquelin, and Özil’s late return from European exertions. So why isn’t the Swiss international starting? Is it due to a cautious easing approach for Arsene Wenger, or is there an issue that lies beneath the surface?

As previously mentioned, Xhaka’s only starts for the Gunners this season came as a result of a late injury to French destroyer Coquelin and a lack of fitness from Mesut Özil, v Leicester and Watford. Despite this, Arsenal arguably played their best football of the season with the Swiss in the side, especially against Watford. Dictating play from deep, Xhaka completely controlled the game, combining excellently with Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla, with his trademark long pass also coming to frution, finding both Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez on numerous occasions, leaving the Arsenal fans purring at the quality of the acquisition the Gunners board had found themselves.

Yet, inspite of the progressive football Arsenal played with Xhaka in the side, his runout v Watford was his only one of two starts this season. So why is this? Arsene Wenger offers an explaination to this issue, stating that “Coquelin and Cazorla have worked well together” and that “football is about partnerships”, however, the Frenchman does go onto say “Xhaka will play games and every week he is stronger and better. I think he will have a huge impact as a player.”

Xhaka will be expecting to join Mustafi and Ozil in the starting XI soon.

What does Wenger exactly mean by “partnership”? To many it is the combination of Coquelin’s aggression and Cazorla’s skill that make them awell  suited pair. However, this season they have been deployed in a way contrary to this belief. Coquelin, in every game this season, has had an average position higher up the pitch than Santi Cazorla, you may argue this is to be expected. What is perculiar though is how Coquelin acts as a box to box midfielder. Coquelin’s skill set is clearly limited to being a destroyer, of which he is very good at, but his skill set beyond these realms is not to the quality of say Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal’s best box to box midfielder, or even Mohamed ElNeny. There is thought behind the madness however. By pushing Coquelin further up, the Frenchman disrupts the opposing midfielder two, meaning a third midfielder has to drop back to create a defensive advantage, especially with Özil occupying the central area. Therefore, with the third central midfielder dropping deeper, Cazorla is free to dictate from deep without pressure, and with freedom 15 yards in any direction due to the position Coquelin has taken up.

This tactical approach has led to mixed results so far this season, with a scrappy win against Southampton and a lucky draw v PSG the consequence, yet the A 4-1 thrashing of Hull also being another outcome. You’re probably thinking how does this relate to Xhaka? Well, let me explain. Ramsey is by far Arsenal’s best box to box midfielder, and after his stellar performances at the European Championships, it seems a no brainer to play the Welshman in his best position. However, Ramsey’s defensive discipline has always been seen as an issue. With a player of Ramsey’s talent, you can’t bench him, you have to find a way around the problem. This is where the Cazorla-Coquelin test comes in to play. Whilst Ramsey has been out injured Arsene has had a big decision to make, does he persist with “Coqzorla” or not. As it turned out he did, but whilst persisting he has also put Arsenal’s tactical presence through its Beta stages. Coquelin has resembled the role Ramsey would take up, with playing high to free space for the deep-lying player maker, Cazorla in this instance. Xhaka is ready made to displace Cazorla in this role and bring more to the table.

Coquelin and Cazorla has been Wenger’s go to partnership in recent seasons.

There is one thing Arsenal fans cried out for last season, A player who combined Coquelin and Cazorla’s best attributes. As if by chance, a player ready made, with a bit more on top found their way to Arsenal courtesy of an eagle eyed Arsenal Board. Granit Xhaka. The only question mark regarding the Swiss is his fitness, which may explain the slow introduction he has experienced. However, if he continues to make statements such as his thunderbolt against Hull, combined with his magical left foot, it’ll only be a matter of time before he starts regularly in a Gunners shirt.

100 UP: THE SANCHEZ CENTURY

From the Copacabana beach and the 2014 World Cup to London Colney and an exciting new journey. Alexis Sanchez had arrived in England after a successful personal season with Barcelona and a World Cup campaign which was to light the way for future international triumphs yet the Chilean was as determined as ever to display his energetic and dynamic style of play.

“Alexis will add power, creativity and much quality to our squad and we are all looking forward to him joining up with us in a few weeks.” – Wenger upon Alexis’ arrival

His competitive debut against Manchester City and early games against Crystal Palace and Besiktas showed just how important he can be for Arsenal, combining a superb dribbling technique with determination and directness. His willingness to track back and his goal threat meant he almost immediately endeared himself to the fans and this was to continue as his output increased.

Scoring the only goal of the tie to ensure qualification to the Champions League, a sumptuous controlled volley against Manchester City and a pinpoint freekick in a defeat to Southampton showed the extent of his talent and quickly displayed his importance to the club. Performances in all competitions had output and influence on the scoreline. His FA Cup performances helped the club through the first round against Hull, scoring and assisting, before his Wembley endeavours stole the spotlight. Sanchez scored both goals in a nervous 2-1 win over Reading after extra time and managed to hit the 25 goal mark in the Final with a long range strike against Aston Villa which will last long in the memories of all Arsenal fans. His maiden season in English football had brought with it a vast amount of admiration and accolades; the Chilean picking up the PFA Fan’s Player of the Year award, included in the PFA Team of the Year and deservedly winning Arsenal’s Player of the Year award.

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Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud celebrating after Arsenal’s 2015 FA Cup Triumph

Contributing to 37 goals and assists in just 52 games, it is not hard to see why he was the recipient of such accolades, Thierry Henry even calling him “Arsenal’s best signing of the last six years”. Frustrations had also become evident in his debut season however the vast output had stopped criticisms. His second season, hampered by a mid-season injury and inconsistencies in form still saw him contribute 28 goals and assists in just 41 games.

A hat-trick away at Leicester, a rifling drive against Manchester United and an equaliser at White Hart Lane saw his catalogue of important goals gain another chapter in a season in which his flaws were seen by many but his goal return remained steady. The current season has brought with it a change in number but his drive and creativity has remained at the same high level he set upon joining the London club. Involved in six goals in as many games, Alexis Sanchez has started this season as potent as ever.

A century of appearances has brought with it 46 goals, 25 assists and a huge impression. Alexis Sanchez’s determination is unwavering and his talent mastered, his influence continues to grow.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

 

 

 

 

BLOG: GUNNING FOR THE CUP?

In recent years, the League Cup has served as a platform for Arsenal to blood youth players into the starting XI and give them a chance to experience first team football. This policy backfired last season when Arsenal suffered an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, despite knocking out Sp**s in the 3rd round.

Wenger started an inexperienced pair in Iwobi and Kamara and also gave game time to Bielik and Bennacer later in the match. It was a night to forget for the Gunners with injuries to Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain topping the night off.

However, this season could be different. Arsenal have a much deeper and experienced squad and this could serve as a huge advantage for the team in a competition where chopping and changing is the norm. Arsenal will start with Ospina in goal who is a very good 2nd choice goalkeeper as proven in the draw away against PSG. A potential back four of Holding, Mustafi, Gabriel and Gibbs is experienced and capable enough of dealing with the Forest attack. The midfield should consist of Xhaka and Elneny if Wenger goes with an experienced XI but should he want to give a young central midfielder a chance, we might see Zelalem or Maitland-Niles.

The front attacking trio should see Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi start depending on how well Iwobi recovered after his emphatic performance away at Hull. With Giroud out injured, Perez should get the nod up front and this leaves a free space in the starting XI potentially on the left.

Maitland-Niles may start if Wenger chooses to go with two experienced heads in central midfield or there is a chance that he will incorporate Akpom and Perez into the same side. The likelihood would be that Perez moves onto the right side of midfield and Chuba up top should the boss choose the pair of them.

There may be a place for Chris Willock in the starting XI if Wenger does choose a more youthful team Bielik might get another chance.

Tomorrow night will give us a good idea of how seriously Wenger is going to take the League Cup and it would be great to see some young players, however a trophy is a trophy and with the depth of the squad you would think that Arsenal will play a strong XI in Nottingham.

Forest have had a mixed start with a few wins and a few loses however, they have the Championship experience and are overall a very decent side. It may be written in the stars and would be typical that Lord Bendtner will score, but we just hope that our defence is capable of keeping him quiet.

Callum RuaneBLOG:

MATCH REPORT: HULL CITY 1-4 ARSENAL

Class personified. Arsenal were back at their best against a resilient Hull side in a resounding 4-1 away victory. Arsenal started the game as we’ve come accustom to, controlling possession, creating opportunities, yet wasting them. Alexis Sanchez’ skied effort from a Theo Walcott cross brought back all to familiar memories of last season. Arsenal, determined to make their mark on this Premier League season and show the world they are a completely new proposition took the lead after a first time shot from Alex Iwobi found its course altered by Arsenal’s Chilean Alexis, leaving Arsenal with 1 goal to the good with 17 minutes on the clock. From this point onward Arsenal oozed class, dictating play with ease, with Mustafi and Koscielny being rarely troubled by any attempt of a ball over the top. The one occasion that Hull appeared to threaten following a poorly judged leap from Mustafi, the Gunners had captain Laurent Koscielny to thank for guiding Abel Hernandez wide, leaving the Hull City striker to shoot wide.

Arsenal’s domination throughout the first half seemed destined to not pay dividends, with Mesut Ozil unable to convert from 5 yards into an open Tigers goal. The direction of the game took another turn when Francis Coquelin had his shot saved via the hand of Jake Livermore, who was consequently given his marching orders. Having gone over 100 games without a goal for the Gunners, goals is certainly an aspect of his game the Frenchman needs to improve. especially since Arsene Wenger seems to be deploying him further up the pitch. Whilst Gunners fans fume at the Coquelin-Cazorla partnership being used, there is tactical nous behind it. By pushing Coquelin further up the field, Cazorla is freed up in deeper areas, allowing him to dictate play. This said, the Arsenal fans will hope this partnership is in its beta stages, and that the fully accomplished version will be Xhaka partnered by Ramsey. So, back to the penalty! Arsenal’s usual penalty taker Santi Cazorla was brushed aside by Arsenal’s man in form, Alexis Sanchez. Having missed his only other spot-kick for the club, the Chilean was helping to amend his 0% success rate, however, his efforts were futile, with a poor penalty to Jakupovic’s right, the Hull keeper easily saved. As a result, the Gunners somehow managed to leave the field at half time only one goal to the good.

Alex Iwobi was in scintillating form against the Tigers. (Picture via @TheArsenalLens)

Arsenal picked up where they left off in the second half, the combination play between Iwobi, Alexis, Walcott and Ozil particularly would have been a source of great satisfaction for the Gunners. Despite all the attacking fluidity Arsenal had, Arsenal’s diminutive Spaniard may count himself lucky to be on the pitch, after a accumulation of fouls whilst on a yellow left him walking on a disciplinary tight rope. Arsenal’s persistence in attack paid off as Theo Walcott doubled Arsenal’s lead on the 55th minute. A sumptuous back-hell from Iwobi was deftly finished off by the Arsenal winger,  who celebrated his 100th goal for club and country. After the second goal, Arsenal appeared to play within themselves, with Cazorla at the heart of this. Perhaps the thought of a potential sending off followed him around the pitch. It was no surprise to see the Spaniard substituted on the 67th minute for Swiss international Granit Xhaka. As you’d expect, Xhaka dictated play immediately, dropping deep to receive before effortlessly distributing. Wenger seemed content with what the Gunners and as he sent on Mohamed ElNeny to replace Alex Iwobi. So when Arsenal conceded a penalty just a minute after his introduction after Petr Cech brought Hull substitute Mbokani down, things seemed set for a tense last 15 minutes, after Snodgrass showed Alexis how it’s done.

The men in red and white had other ideas however. On the 83rd minute Alexis played through Walcott who shot straight at Jakupovic, but Alexis was on hand to calmly steady himself with a body feint, before rifling home into the top right corner. Alexis wheeled off in jubilation tapping the Arsenal badge as he celebrated, which will have filled Gunners fans with joy I’m certain.

Granit Xhaka then decided he felt like getting in on the act, scoring what can only be described as an absolute thunderbolt. Picking to ball up 40 yards from goal, the £35 million man drove forward 10 yards before realising a pile-driver of  a shot of his mercurial left foot into the top left corner. The Swiss looked a man on a mission, determined to prove the Wenger he should be starting, with his Celebration epitomising that. With healthy competition in the squad, every player on the pitch performed today, as Arsenal saw out the remaining few minutes as they cruised o a comfortable 4-1 victory.

It surely won’t be long until we see this man in the starting XI. (Picture via @Stuart_PhotoAFC)

Player Ratings: Cech (6), Bellerin (7), Mustafi (7), Koscielny (7), Monreal (6), Coquelin (7.5), Cazorla (6.5), Walcott (7.5) Ozil (6.5), Iwobi (8), Alexis (8.5 MOTM).

Substitute Ratings: Xhaka (7.5), ElNeny (6), Lucas (N/A)