BLOG: JACK WILSHERE: NOW OR NEVER

September 13th 2008, a young Jack Wilshere enters the fray as Arsenal complete a 4-0 rout of Blackburn at Ewood Park. A mere 10 days later, the English revelation scores in a league cup victory against Sheffield Wednesday. 6 weeks later, the 16 year old takes his talents into Europe’s finest competition, making an appearance against Dynamo Kyiv. The tenacious midfielder is the name on every fans lips, and he continues to remain that way.

2 years onward he dominates midfield’s across the land, and into Europe, controlling and oozing class against Europe’s finest in a prime Barcelona. The youngsters feet are firmly on the ground. Afraid to ask Lionel Messi to swap shirts, he asks then captain Cesc Fabregas to do the task on his behalf, the only time he was reliant on the midfield maestro throughout the season. He stood out, he made his mark, he was unstoppable, he was undroppable, he was one of Europe’s top  young talents. A PFA Young Player of the Year award followed, the Englishman had the world at his feet.

Fast forward six years and the 24 year old has had his career ravaged by injury after injury after injury and has found himself playing his football in the south coast, quite the contrast to the Tuesday nights across Europe. Bournemouth represents last chance saloon. Eddie Howe embodies the philosophy Wilshere has had engrained in him, possession with progression. If any manager can bring Wilshere back to the levels he’s capable of it’s Howe.

After the guidance of Arsene Wenger for 6 years, Wilshere’s been pushed out to learn how to stand on his own two feet.

The apparent perfection in the move south for Wilshere isn’t as fruitful as it seems. Despite the progressive football the Cherries play, Jack is often bypassed in the system Eddie Howe has implemented. All defenders are comfortable on the ball, as are the midfielders, however, the middle third is disregarded as Bournemouth seek to enter the final third immediately. As a result of this, the opposing defence is turned, however, Wilshere is now completely out of the game as he tirelessly seeks to catch up with play.

When the Arsenal man was found, he influenced games, as was evident in Bournemouth’s most recent fixture, a draw against Wilshere’s biggest haters, Tottenham. Moments of brilliance were evident, interlinking play when given the ball, killer passes when needed, and of course his trademark dribbling and low centre of gravity. 9 games into the season, Wilshere has thrived in moments, but is yet to consistently feature in games throughout the 90 minutes, through no fault of his own.

Eddie Howe’s utilisation of Wilshere will be key in defining the Englishman’s season.

With a player of Wilshere’s quality at Eddie Howe’s disposal, it would be bordering on scandalous to not build the Cherries team around him. With his Arsenal future on the line, Howe determines Wilshere’s destiny, and for Arsenal fans sake, we can only pray he gets it right.

BLOG: OX-YGEN LEVELS INCREASING

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s Arsenal career has always been one that has been earmarked for greatness. He’s always had bags of potential. He’s always had a fearlessness about him. He’s always seemed to handle the pressure of being a young English talent a lot better than the likes of Theo Walcott even. And so came his big moment, in last seasons Community Shield final, he took the ball on the right hand corner of the penalty area, turned onto his left foot and ripped his shot into the top corner of the net. The watershed moment we all thought. The moment he had been building towards for the past five seasons. Then came indifferent form and injury. He couldn’t quite replicate that performance with similar during the course of the season and that’s when some fans began to turn. What we once heralded as potential and promise became the touch paper for some of the Arsenal contingent. His inconsistencies have led to a lack of confidence in himself from the man and in turn it’s showing on the pitch. He’s second guessing himself in situations where instinct would serve him better. This for a man who is 23 years old. Still so young.

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Because of his yoyo-ing Arsenal career he has been the subject of great debate since the beginning of pre-season, if slightly premature in my opinion. All that being considered, he has had some game winning moments for us and in turn this has been his highest scoring season with us, having hit the net on five occasions. Strange to think that this is the most that he has contributed goals wise to a season with us, but it’s great news. On top of it all, there’s still plenty more that we can hope for from him. Even in the EFL cup game vs Reading he got on the scoresheet twice and there were still many watching on with the opinion that he frustrated at times and that there is more that he could be doing. Now this is in no way a like for like comparison, however I remember Lionel Messi scoring a hat-trick, getting an assist and also winning a penalty against Man City this season with people saying he didn’t do too much. LOL. Now I get that he could be doing more in a game, but when a player scores two goals from midfield you have to be happy with that in a game where you’re leading 2-0 and it’s the difference. There were moments where we were 1-0 up and he had good opportunities to play in other team mates for a chance and he was a little Sturridge-esque for my liking.

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The main point with Oxlade Chamberlain is that he has been given one last chance, even though it seems silly to suggest as such, to prove he has what it takes to cut it at Arsenal football club. With Riyad Mahrez confirming that Arsenal were interested in him this month and made an offer, it’s clear that the likes of Theo Walcott and The Ox were potential suitors for the exit door this summer. In my opinion it was more Theo Walcott that was closer to that than The Ox, but it was a clear message to the wide men that they weren’t quite pulling their weight. The fact that we didn’t have any buyers willing to meet the wage demands of Walcott saved him in my opinion and this left Wenger basically saying “it’s your last chance”. The reason that it’s just as much for The Ox as it is for Walcott is simply due to the fact that Alex Iwobi has come into the side and performed magnificently. It means that we now have four concrete options in wide areas with Iwobi, Walcott, The Ox and Lucas Perez our primary options, with the likes of Ramsey who can play there as well and Welbeck to come back. This means that Wenger will be looking to the three who have been there the longest to make the difference and that includes The Ox. It gives him the season to go ahead and be the game changer for us and add to his already healthy looking goal tally. If he can get into double figures this season that would really help lighten the load on the likes of Alexis, Walcott & Giroud who will undoubtedly be important to us this season.

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Decision making is what will be the maker of a player like The Ox and it’s critical when playing in an attacking role. It’s been mentioned that he would be best suited to the centre of midfield and while I can see him being a driving force in that position, I’m not sure it is at all where he belongs. His first touch isn’t the best and a little brash in its approach as opposed to the caress required for a central midfielder. He can definitely be a box to box man as he has the ability to beat a man, however I could only see that working if we were to play him in Ozil’s position, which lets face it, isn’t practical, especially with Aaron Ramsey waiting in the wings (no pun intended) to come into the number 10 role.. This leaves a wide position as his best bet to make regular appearances this term and where decision making is just as important, however not quite as pressured in terms of responsibility. Out wide he will be able to drive at defenders and deliver end product, both of which we know he can do well. A big season ahead for him but one that has started with more promise than any season preceding it. With Lucas Perez picking up an injury in the EFL cup this week, the focus will well and truly be on the men that can plug that gap and plug it well. There seems to be a breath of fresh air surrounding him at the moment and it’s up to him to now breathe new life into his Arsenal career. Over to you Ox…

 

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-0 READING

 

A typically cold English Tuesday night saw Arsene Wenger’s men comfortably defeat the luminous yellow of The Royals 2-0 at the Emirates stadium, courtesy of two Oxlade-Chamberlain strikes.

The Gunners set out with Egyptian International Mohamed ElNeny being deployed as the deeper lying midfielder in a pivot with England u20 midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Arsenal began the game as we’ve become accustom to this season, fluid football instigate by Alex Iwobi saw the first chance of the game fall to Carl Jenkinson, who was making his first appearance in a red and white shirt since scoring against Norwich in may 2014. The die-hard Arsenal fan within the right back will have felt aggrieved with the finish he produced, driving his shot straight at Reading shot-stopper El-Habsi. The fullback wasn’t the only guilty culprit of poor decision making, with Lucas Perez opting to square the ball across goal towards Reine-Adelaide when shooting appeared to be the more viable option. Despite dominance in possession, Reading found frequent success getting in behind the Gunners rearguard, with a clearly rusty Gabriel appearing to be rash and indecisive on numerous occasions. Whenever the home side were countered, Maitland-Niles ensured any second balls that dropped down would be his, in a first half display Santi Cazorla would have been proud of. Skipper for the day Kieran Gibbs further enhanced his case to be starting in the league with a vital tackle as Reading looked to capitalise on a 3 on 3 situation they found themselves in midway through the first half.

The Royals lived to rue the indecisiveness of their attacks 10 minutes later, when poor play from the back gifted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a chance to drive at the Reading back-line, a chance of which the Englishman took ruthlessly, driving passed two players before drilling the ball home, making it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Despite dominance on the ball, a completely different Gunners defence did cause themselves problems at time, with a deflected effort from Harriott fortuitously for Arsenal landing on the roof of the net. With Martinez stranded, there was no hope for the Uruguayan had the deflected shot been on target. After the following corner causing uncertainty, the Gunners steadied the ship and entered the dressing rooms at half time the deserved leaders of the EFL Cup tie.

Oxlade Chamberlain already has more goals this season than he has in any other in an Arsenal shirt.

 

Arsenal began the second half with purpose. A revitalised Chamberlain found his effort blocked by former Manchester United graduate Tyler Blackett following a perfectly weighted pass from Lucas. Chamberlain has used the EFL cup as a platform to show Arsene Wenger he’s deserving of starting in an Arsenal shirt, and based on his performances thus far, Iwobi will have to sustain such high levels of performance to keep the dynamic winger out the side. Following the Chamberlain chance on the 48th minute, the following 20 were mired in stalemate, with neither side carving open any real guilt edge chances. Looking to freshen things up, French youth prospect Reine-Adelaide was substituted for fellow Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who did himself no harm in his 25 minute cameo. Just 3 minutes after the Frenchman’s introduction, his competition in the form of Lucas Perez went down clutching his ankle, a worrying sign for a player who has impressed coming off the bench so far this season. On to replace him was Chris Willock.

Man of the match Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his fine performance, linking up well with Giroud before forcing a good save for El-Habsi. Iwobi was saved blushes with the final scoreline after missing an open goal on the rebound, with the ball getting stuck beneath his foot. El-Habsi was kept occupied in the following minutes, thunderous drives from Iwobi and a goalmouth scramble somehow keeping the scoreline at 1-0. On the 78th minute, Arsenal’s man of the match added his second, a rocket shot taking a slight deflection rifled into the net following Rob Holding channelling his inner Eden Hazard. Unfortunately for the Ox, American youngster Gedion Zelalem replaced him from the bench, denying him the chance of a hattrick. From this point onward the game petered out in truth, with the only consequent action of note being a excellent double save from Emi Martinez following a free kcik given away by Gabriel.

Arsene Wenger will be pleased with the display his fringe players and youngsters executed today, and with 10 wins in the Gunners last 12 games, the only way is up.

Player Ratings: Martinez (7), Jenkinson (6), Gabriel (5), Holding (6.5), Gibbs (6), Maitland-Niles (7), ElNeny (7), Chamberlain (9, MOTM), Iwobi (7.5), Reine-Adelaide (6), Perez (6).

Substitute ratings: Giroud (6), Willock (5.5), Zelalem (5.5)

 

BLOG: BUILDING BLOCKS

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were first used together four games into the season at home to Southampton. Brought in over the summer, Mustafi was always going to be first choice but the speed in which he has settled has been astounding.

Upon signing his Arsenal contract I profiled Mustafi, writing about his wealth of experience and confident playing style; I posed the question about a consolidated place in the starting lineup for Mustafi and the German has answered emphatically. In his nine games for Arsenal thus far he has conceded only five goals, kept five clean sheets and remained unbeaten. All nine of his games have been alongside Laurent Koscielny.

The stand-in Captain and the newly acquired German wasted no time in proving their worth as a defensive partnership, displaying their strengths from the get-go. The pair work effectively because of their similarities; anticipation, interceptions, incisive forward passing and aerial ability, an intelligent yet aggressive style of defensive play.

 

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Arsene Wenger speaking to both Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi.

 

Speaking to the official club website , Mustafi reiterated these points. “We are quite similar in the style of playing, he understands things that I do, I understand things that he does. If you play with someone who understands football in a different way, it’s even more difficult to get on with.” Both Mustafi and Koscielny form the building blocks to Arsenal’s style and success, defending astutely and passing with purpose. In recent games Mustafi has, on occasion, pushed up to help distribute the ball from midfield areas aswell as keeping the opposition at bay.

With five clean sheets in their last six games Koscielny and Mustafi are consistently displaying their worth. Theo Walcott has recently spoken out about the defensive unit acting as a base, solidifying the team and allowing the attack to flow. The building blocks of Arsenal may be newly constructed and the longevity questioned but the talent and progressiveness of the pair is evident for all to see.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 0-0 MIDDLESBROUGH

Arsenal’s streak of seven consecutive wins in all competitions has been brought to a halt after succumbing to a 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough this afternoon.

The Gunners were unable to break down the barricade set up by the visitors, meanwhile Middlesbrough also had their fair share of chances to claim the game’s first goal.

The draw sees Arsenal claim top spot in the Premier League table for the time being, with Manchester City and Liverpool both being afforded the chance to overtake the north Londoners following their respective fixtures this weekend.

Despite early pressure from the home side, it was Middlesbrough who managed to muster the first real chance of the game through Adama Traoré.

The ex-Barcelona youngster took the opportunity to burst through on goal from the right flank and dispatch a shot, but Petr Čech was on hand to block the Spaniard’s effort, as well as the follow-up from Álvaro Negredo in the 17th minute.

Aitor Karanka’s side were knocking on the door no more than two minutes later from Gaston Ramirez’s free-kick, with the Uruguayan smashing the post and leaving Negredo unable to react in front of goal.

Arsenal’s response came moments later, also from a set-piece, when Alexis Sánchez tried his luck from a free-kick; a strike that forced Victor Valdes to parry the effort wide for a corner.

Ramirez returned to cause Arsenal a spot of bother with a back-post header, but Čech was again equal to it in the 33rd minute.

Arsène Wenger’s side came out the strongest in the second period, making Middlesbrough hearts stop momentarily as early as the 48th minute.

Peeling off the back post, Sánchez was able to square the ball across an open goal, but Laurent Koscielny was unable to get a touch on the lofted pass from a few yards out.

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Sánchez continued to try to turn the screw with two separate efforts in the 51st and 54th minute, the first going just wide of the target and the second being denied once more by his former Barcelona teammate, Valdes.

The visitors’ response came on the counter in the 58th minute, again through Traoré, who had too much pace for the likes of Nacho Monreal and Koscielny to handle before failing to beat Čech for the second time in the game.

Ex-Valencia man Negredo also had the chance to dispatch a strike from inside Arsenal’s box late on, but Koscielny was on hand to impede the former City striker with a last-ditch slide tackle.

With the seconds ticking down at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal did eventually manage to have the ball in the back of the net in the 93rd minute when Mesut Özil diverted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot goalwards, but the German saw his touch chalked off for offside as the game headed towards its conclusion.

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (9); Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (3); Francis Coquelin (5), Mohamed Elneny (5); Theo Walcott (5), Mesut Özil (5), Alex Iwobi (4); Alexis Sánchez (6)

Subs: Lucas Perez (5), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5)

BLOG: NACHO MAN?

The season is going well. We are scoring goals. The fabled #Wengerball seems to be back and footballing life looks rosy. There are only two issues that I think we have to address and deal with over the next few weeks. One of which is a nice problem; figuring out our midfield plan – will it be Xhaka & Cazorla, Coquelin & Cazorla, Xhaka & Elneny, Xhaka & Ramsey etc etc. It’s a nice problem because we now have a wealth of options available to suit different conditions, so it’s not too big a worry. The second one, however, has been a growing concern for a while in my opinion; the left back conundrum.

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Nacho Monreal was brought in as initial cover for Kieran Gibbs purely because we thought it was a position that Gibbs would have made his own by now. What eventually transpired was one of the best happy accidents that Wenger has fallen upon. We had a massive problem in the early part of the 2014/15 season where we had no fit centre backs and it forced Monreal back into that position having played there in a few pre-season friendlies. The result was quite staggering, he actually performed admirably in the role and was winning headers for fun against some of the more brutish centre forwards in the league, so that was happy accident part 1. What then happened was a Kieran Gibbs injury, which allowed Monreal to slot back into the left back position. The following games really highlighted how a stint at centre back made him one of the best left backs in the league. He won every cross field ball header as no winger was willing to challenge him and in addition to this, his more conservative approach gave Bellerin more of a licence to bomb forward and the full-back balancing act was complete. In this team he had a combination of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez playing in front of him so was well stocked in terms of defensive cover, as they both worked like Trojans. It was going well and it seemed we had found our long sought left back depth.

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Fast forward two years, a Cup Final win later and question marks are being raised of one of the best left backs in that time frame. Why is that? What has changed? Let’s look at his style of play and the supporting act around him. There are many suggesting that “he’s lost his pace” and that he seems more “positionally unaware”. I myself have had concerns about his positioning and all around general play of him being caught the wrong side of his winger and it got me thinking – what the hell has happened? Two things have occurred causing me amongst many others to come to this summation. The first is that towards the end of last season Alexis Sanchez looked to have lost his mojo in terms of work rate purely because of the others around him and the results that transpired. He wasn’t tracking back as much as usual and it left Monreal a little exposed. This was somewhat rectified partially by swapping Alexis to the right hand side and playing a fresh faced Alex Iwobi on the left. As he was new and eager to please his work rate was high, but more than that his brilliance in going forward kept full-backs pinned into their own half and a little too scared to try and get at Monreal. This season however has been a little different. With Iwobi playing more his fitness is being tested and things like work rate can fall away. It’s something that happens to even the best of players, but also something that isn’t likely to change unless the player is both coached on his defensive positioning as well as managed game to game and given the appropriate level of breaks to ensure he doesn’t burn out. On top of this all we can’t expect Iwobi to be majestic everytime he takes the field as he is only 20, which leaves us asking the question – how will we provide enough cover for Monreal? And that’s where I think we are, as when Gibbs came into the side against lowly Ludogorets he looked a little rusty positionally even with the Ox providing good cover defensively. Granted he hasn’t played much but it still remains a question that needs answering.

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I believe the long term approach that Wenger has in mind is relying upon the services of Danny Welbeck, who is due back in January and I think that we will see Le Boss throwing an element of chance into the mix by “seeing how it goes” with various players adopting the left hand role to keep the opposition guessing and hope to get through unscathed. Say what you will about this approach, but considering we missed Coquelin & Cazorla for 3 months a piece last season we still managed to finish 2nd. Sp*rs missed Dembele and Alli for their last 3 games and the implosion that occurred was beyond farcical so Wenger is known to be able to get through these periods with players often coming out stronger for it in the longer term. In this instance it won’t be Monreal that has the baptism of fire (of sorts) but rather our left wing selection, be that Iwobi, Ox or even Lucas Perez. I would even go so far as suggesting the deployment of Gibbs in front of Monreal for our more sterner tests on the road or in Europe for more defensive stability. Actually scratch that. What am I saying. That screams of a double left hand side injury enforcing the recall of Flamini to fill in at left back for the remainder of the season…

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The main conclusion to draw from this is simply that I don’t think Monreal is in decline or needs replacing, it’s that he needs help on the left hand side. Yes he may well be getting on a bit but I think he can still be brilliant for us this season given the right protection.

MATCH PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS MIDDLESBROUGH

Arsenal will be hoping to make it eight wins on the spin when 17th-placed Middlesbrough visit the Emirates Stadium this Saturday for the 15:00 GMT kick-off in the Premier League.

The Gunners held on with 10 men to defeat Swansea City 3-2 in their last league fixture, whereas their midweek clash versus Ludogorets in the UEFA Champions League saw Arsène Wenger’s men turn on the style in a 6-0 win.

Recent form sees the odds of a victory stacked firmly in favour of 2nd placed Arsenal, with Middlesbrough gaining just two points from their last possible 18 and entering a winless streak since their 2-1 triumph against Sunderland in Gameweek 2.

The north Londoners won the last league meeting between the two clubs prior to Middlesbrough’s relegation in 2009, defeating the visitors 2-0 at the Emirates in the same year, but that stands as the only victory for Arsenal in the past six league encounters against Boro, containing four draws.

Saturday’s fixture also coincides with Wenger’s 67th birthday, a day in which the Frenchman has a 100% record on after a couple of wins against Manchester City and Reading in 2005 and 2006.

The Arsenal boss will be without the likes of Santi Cazorla and Granit Xhaka in the heart of midfield, however, as Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny step up to deputise.

Xhaka’s straight red card against Swansea earns him a three-game-ban, whereas Cazorla becomes a big doubt after hobbling off midweek versus Ludogorets.

Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud both returned to training this week after their respective lay-offs, but an eventual comeback is highly likely to be scheduled for Arsenal’s EFL Cup clash against Reading at the earliest.

Saturday’s opponents, Middlesbrough, have a relatively clean bill of health, with club captain Grant Leadbitter being the only doubt after recovering from an injury himself.

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

BLOG: RAMSEY AND GIROUD: THE TIME THEY NEED, OR THAT ARSENAL NEED?

7 months, 1 defeat. Music to Arsenals fans’ ears. The feel good factor around the Emirates is at its highest in years, the bond between the players and the fans has never been stronger. Even the infamous “Wenger Out Brigade” have temporarily buried the hatchet. In the midst of this euphoric atmosphere are two forgotten men, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. Inadequate pre-seasons have left the two established internationals out in the cold, away from the lavishing praises of the Gunners faithful. Contrary to what general belief may imply, this is exactly where Arsene Wenger wants them.

All is well at the Emirates, beautiful football, cohesion, players willing to die for the badge,  what could go wrong? One word. November. The month that sends shivers down the spines of Arsenal fans far and wide. Averaging 1.6 points a game, November is statistically the worst month in an Arsene Wenger season. Injuries ravish the squad, tough fixtures conveniently arise in the month, its generally the month dreaded most by the Gunners fans (yes, even more than the annual February capitulation). This November, on paper, appears to be no different. Successive fixtures against Tottenham, Mourinho’s Manchester United and PSG would suggest’s Halloween’s horrors are to continue into November. Arsene Wenger has other ideas, not this time shall the Gunners be subdued by injuries, this time is different. This time, the Frenchman is determined to have a fully fit armoury to go into battle with.

Right, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, the reason presumably you clicked on this article. Only coming back to full training on Tuesday, the duo critical to ending the 10 year trophy drought have now played a combined 142 minutes this season. The Welshman is yet to feature since pulling up with a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s Premier League curtain raiser, whilst Giroud season has consisted of a sending off against PSG (undeserved I may add), and 3 substitute appearances in the league, totalling an uninspiring 54 minutes. After their European exertions, both players were given extended breaks before returning to the Gunners camp for the upcoming season. All was going well, until trouble struck in Paradise. Seemingly needlessly , Ramsey was rushed back for the opening day of the season. Given his injury record, clearly rushing him back would clearly have dire results. When you consider Arsenal had Coquelin, Cazorla, ElNeny and Xhaka who could have occupied the Welshman’s place, the risk seemed unnecessary. Over 8 weeks on, and the 25 year old is still awaiting his next appearance in the famous red and white shirt. Why is this?

 

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Ramsey’s performances at EURO 2016 had Arsenal fans purring at the prospect of seeing him back in a Gunners shirt.

With Arsenal performing so well this season, disrupting the equilibrium of the midfield seemed futile. Arsene Wenger seized upon this. Ramsey’s injury record leaves a lot to be desired,  and with there being no need to force him back into the side, giving the Welshman a full pre-season mid-season was the logical thing to do, as a fit Aaron Ramsey fires the Gunners to the title.

Whilst not as integral to the team, similar circumstances apply to Giroud. The formidable forward line of Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi and Alexis have a fluidity the best of teams would crave. The flexibility amongst the four gives tactical diversity simply not available when the Frenchman is in the side. Arsenal’s tactical variety against Swansea is an example of this. With Alexis dropping deep to receive the ball, the CF area was left vacated. Walcott naturally would vacate this region with Bellerin acting as the outlet on the right hand side. Ozil’s tactical awareness is superb, acknowledging another outlet is required, the German international actually positions himself further forward than the Chilean, acting as the CF outlet the Gunners need. Iwobi’s consequent awareness to enter the room Ozil’s vacated means a fluid front four is truly reality, and a marvel to witness.

Ozil’s average position clearly conveys the tactical fluidity amongst the front four, picture via twitter.com/11tegen11.

This said, Giroud will still be vital to the team, as the win against Burnley shows. Arsenal needed a rather fortuitous 93rd minute goal to defeat the Clarets, and the lack of an alternative off the bench could be to blame for this. Alexis’ trickery and speed was clearly not enough to break a resilient Burnley rearguard. The Frenchman’s aerial prowess and hold up play was exactly what the Arsene Wenger’s men needed. By no means is Giroud surplus to requirements at Arsenal, at times he’s exactly was is needed.

So, as November approaches, and the inevitable ambush from injuries amounts its assault, have Arsenal set up the defences needed to cope? Based on the time given to the Wenger’s Welshman and Frenchman, you’d have to say all evidence points towards the barrage being successfully endured.

 

BLOG: CENTRE-FORWARD ALEXIS HAS TRANSFORMED ARSENAL’S ATTACK

On the eve of the Premier League season I wrote that on paper, Alexis Sanchez has all of the technical attributes to flourish as the focal point of Arsenal’s attack—the only thing holding him back is his positional discipline.

Two months later, Wenger’s decision to persist with Alexis at center-forward appears to be a masterstroke. At first a makeshift solution due to Danny Welbeck’s long term injury and Olivier Giroud’s late return to the squad from Euro 2016, Alexis’ deployment at striker has transformed the Gunners’ attack.

Although it’s still early days, the Chilean already has five goals and five assists from nine starts up front—an incredibly productive return. He’s constantly looking to get involved and ask questions of opposition defenses, too, with three shots, 2.6 key passes, and 2.4 dribbles per game.

With Giroud being Arsenal’s starting striker for the past four seasons, it’s a breath of fresh air to watch another player lead the line. While the Frenchman’s average of over 20 goals per season during his time in North London proves he’s a much better player than fans give him credit for, his lack of pace and ability to beat a man often stunts Arsenal’s attacking play. Giroud’s constant inclusion in the side last season (he played 54 games in all competitions) left the Gunners looking exhaustingly predictable, leading to results like 0-0 draws with Sunderland, Stoke, and Southampton.

Alexis’ deployment at striker, on the other hand, gives Arsene Wenger’s side a real verve and unpredictability going forward. The front three of Alex Iwobi, Alexis, and Theo Walcott looks better and better with every game they play together, already providing 22 goal contributions so far this season. Whereas Giroud in the side often requires intricate passing and elaborate flick-ons to come off perfectly in order to get the ball in the back of the net, the current pacy front three means Arsenal are much more direct and imposing in attack.

In Alexis, the manager has found an internal solution to a problem that desperately needed addressing. After a summer in which Arsenal were expected to sign *the* striker and eventually failed to do so due to a combination of insanely inflated transfer fees and a dearth of truly world class striking talent, trying out Alexis up top was a sensible gamble to take. The season may be young, but it’s looking like a gamble that may very well pay off.

All statistics via WhoScored.com

Follow me on Twitter @Gunner_NYC

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 3-2 SWANSEA CITY

Ten-man Arsenal were able to edge past Swansea City in a 3-2 victory at the Emirates Stadium this Saturday, as the Gunners’ sixth consecutive victory in the Premier League sees them rise up to second in the table.

A first-half brace from Theo Walcott and a volley from Mesut Özil sent Arsenal on their way to gaining three more points, but a goal from Borja Bastón in the 66th minute, followed by Granit Xhaka’s dismissal four minutes later, set up a nervy end to proceedings in north London.

Arsène Wenger named an unchanged first-team for Swansea’s visit, following the late show at Turf Moor versus Burnley before the international break, and it didn’t take long for Arsenal to dominate proceedings early on.

The Gunners came close through Shkodran Mustafi’s near-post header against the bar in the 12th minute, but the visitors were also on hand to cause the odd spot of bother thanks to Leroy Fer, as his shot sailed over Petr Čech’s goal from the edge of the box.

Arsenal’s dominance continued and it wasn’t long before they made their large share of possession count, as Walcott put Wenger’s men ahead. A hopeful ball into the box from Alexis Sánchez found its way to Héctor Bellerín, but the Spaniard’s tame knock-down wasn’t dealt with by the Swans’ defence and left for Walcott to poke home the opener from three yards out.

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The Englishman then continued to hand Bob Bradley a rude welcoming to the Premier League in the 27th minute, doubling his account and that of his team. With the visitors struggling to cope with Arsenal’s set-pieces, Walcott was on hand once more to take full advantage and fire home the Gunners’ second inside the area on the half-turn.

The Welsh outfit were handed an avenue back into the game, however, with half-time over the horizon, as Xhaka’s loss of possession on the edge of Arsenal’s box invited Gylfi Sigurðsson to fire in a curling effort on his left foot in the 38th minute.

Swansea might even feel as though they should have gone into the break level, as Jordi Amat’s header on the brink of half-time fell straight into Čech’s grasp.

The visitors’ threat persisted in the early exchanges of the second half, but it was the Gunners who landed the first significant strike at goal through Walcott in the 56th minute.

After a dazzling run from Alex Iwobi, his cross eventually found its way to Walcott dead-centre inside the box, but the winger’s first-time effort lacked the direction required to take it away from Arsenal’s old boy Łukasz Fabiański between the sticks.

The north Londoners were back little more than a minute later for some more action in the final third, only this time they’d come away with the desired result, as Özil amplified the scoring. With space on the edge of the box, a looped pass from Sanchez into the German’s path was thrashed in with a back-post volley.

Bradley made his first change soon after when bringing on Borja Baston for Leon Britton and the substitution proved to be an inspired one, as he finished off a move orchestrated by Modou Barrow in the 64th minute.

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Arsenal’s route to victory was complicated further with 20 minutes to go, with Barrow again the centre of attention as he was brought down by a cynical tackle from Xhaka. The Emirates was left left stunned, as referee John Moss brandished a red card for the Switzerland international’s actions.

With the game opening up, Walcott came close to finishing off a counter-attacking move when his placed effort kissed the post in the 83rd minute, meanwhile at the other end, a header inside the box from Leroy Fer lacked the power to trouble Čech.

Swansea’s Federico Fernández fell to the same fate under similar circumstances shortly after, whereas Walcott was presented with one more chance for a hat-trick via Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the 27-year-old failed to keep his effort on target from close range in the last attack of a thrilling encounter.

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (6), Hector Bellerín (7), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Laurent Koscielny (7), Nacho Monreal (5), Granit Xhaka (5), Santi Cazorla (7), Theo Walcott (8), Mesut Özil (7), Alex Iwobi (7), Alexis Sánchez (6).

Subs: Coquelin (6), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Gibbs (6)