BLOG: FRANCIS COQUELIN: THE BOXER

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Francis Coquelin’s career in 16 words. The Frenchman has stared failure in the eyes time after time, and come out victorious. Nearly 2 years on from steadying a drowning Arsenal ship, the combative midfielder finds himself in the midst of an all too familiar mid-season witch hunt, the chosen victim for the Arsenal “faithful” to single out is the 25 year old. Are there any true justifications to the madness? You’ll often be told of the Frenchman’s supposed inferior passing capabilities, or of the disciplinary tight ropes he often walks in games. Every picture is tainted by its lens, and only with the whole image in shot will we see the true story.

Recalled from Charlton in December 2014, Arsenal desperately sought a savour to reinforce a struggling fleet, ill-equipped to face the harsh rigours of a tormenting Premier League season. Alexis Sanchez could only provide so much support, the weight was begin to show on the Chilean’s shoulders, he was being worn into the ground, he needed help in dragging this depleted army back to allied territory. Francis Coquelin embodied the Commander, barking orders at those in-front of him he marshalled the Arsenal midfield superbly, with this epitomised by the battle at the Etihad, where he and his diminutive general Santi Cazorla sent shock-waves throughout English football with a shock 2-0 win against the Champions. The two offered a style that had not blessed itself in an Arsenal shirt for years, combative beauty. Coquelin and Cazorla, The Beauty and The Beast.

Next came an assault on Old Trafford, the theatre of nightmares for the Gunners. Once again the duo ran the show, Coquelin again leaving Arsenal fans awe-inspired by his miraculous defensive prowess that we simply had forgotten could exist in an Arsenal midfield. He did his job, the team did their job, Danny Welbeck showed Manchester United the services they were missing, Coquelin showed Arsenal the services they’d been missing.

Statements were made.

For the remainder of the season the Frenchman was a mainstay in the team, not only bringing defensive assurances, but allowing Arsenal to finally utilise Ozil to his capabilities by freeing up Cazorla to find the German play-maker with his magic. A remarkable turn around in the midfielder’s career was capped off by dominating on one of the biggest stages in England, the FA Cup final, which saw Arsenal run out 4-0 winners. It’s no coincidence that Ozil had one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt with the presence of Coquelin on the pitch.

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The FA Cup Final win rounded off a remarkable season for Coquelin. 

Coquelin is not the reincarnation of Vieira as his influence upon the team made him out to be in the 2014-15 season. The Gunners were so heavily deprived of a tenacious ball winning midfielder that when we were finally blessed with one we instantly gave into the hype, we deceived ourselves into thinking the Frenchman was the perfect footballer, with all attributes of his games mastered. Of course, this wasn’t the case. Whilst excelling in his role as a ball-winner, the 25 year old has his limitations, he isn’t going to dictate the tempo of the game, he isn’t going to thread incisive passes between the lines, this isn’t Francis Coquelin. Why therefore is he lambasted?

The answer is simple, the Gunners fans fail to understand that we won’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone. Coquelin saved Arsenal from drastic failure and ensured stability, the fans should be indebted to him for that fact alone. Since his introduction into the Arsenal team better players have been bought, yet the midfielder still starts. Is this fault? Certainly not. He trains at such an intensity that Wenger feels he is justified in the selection of the Frenchman. Therefore, why is Coquelin the target of this scapegoating? Is Granit Xhaka the better player? Yes, but Coquelin isn’t choosing the team every week, it is Arsene Wenger.

The 25 year old can only do what is within his limitations, and he is one of the Premier League’s finest in doing so. What is beyond is realms of possibility he should not be slaughtered for, it’s down to Wenger to decide where his faith lay, Xhaka or Coquelin, and whilst the 24 year old has performed whenever called upon, to dislodge Wenger’s faith in someone is a monumental task. It’s not so much as the £35 million man gaining the trust of the Gunners manager, it’s about ensuring the faith he has in him has foundations dug deep, a skill Coquelin has mastered.

So, you’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about Francis Coquelin, and the role he plays at Arsenal, rumours have been spread, you draw your own conclusions, i’ll leave you with this. A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth has even put on its shoes.
Twitter: @JLennard10

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 3-1 BOURNEMOUTH

A run of draws has dented Arsenal’s confidence who hoped for all three points against Bournemouth. Mathieu Debuchy was brought back in at right back, the Frenchman was one of seven changes from the midweek clash against PSG; Cech, Debuchy, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Walcott and Chamberlain all starting this matchup. The away side were without Jack Wilshere for obvious reasons but lined up with pace in attack. Stanislas, Wilson and King were to provide a solid threat to a nervous Arsenal rearguard.

Both sides started on the front foot, Arsenal forcing Bournemouth bookings whilst the Cherries gave as good as they got in terms of chance creation. In fact it was Bournemouth who unceremoniously created the home sides first, Steve Cook scuffing his pass into the path of Sanchez who accepted the early Christmas present  with an assured finish.

Bournemouth responded extremely well to the setback and it wasn’t long before they found more reason to exploit the Arsenal back four. Mathieu Debuchy, making his comeback from injury, lasted just sixteen minutes before coming off via another one. Debuchy’s replacement was Gabriel, the introduction of the Brazilian defender seemed to spur the visitors on and unsettle the Arsenal backline.

Unsettled it was because less than ten minutes later Monreal, struggling for top form, made contact with Callum Wilson whose fall led Mike Jones to point to the spot. Wilson himself stepped up and sent Cech the wrong way, scoring Bournemouths first ever goal against Arsenal in the process. It was deserved. The game ebbed and flowed, Arsenal beginning to build up pressure but the tenacity of Arter in midfield and the pace of the attacking three meant Bournemouth were a constant threat on the break.

Arsenal, pushing for the equaliser, saw Sanchez hit the bar before halftime but didn’t have to wait long in the second half to see a breakthrough. Sanchez and Ozil interchanged passes before the German’s cross found its way to Monreal. The Spaniard cushioned the ball to the back post where Walcott was waiting patiently to head into a gaping goal. 

Theo Walcott dedicating his goal to his newly born child.

Substitutions and increased Arsenal possession saw the whirlwind tempo of the first half disappear, the Arsenal performance more controlled and composed. Bournemouth however had not given up hope. Benik Afobe, on for Wilson, almost drew his side level but Petr Cech was on hand to thwart the former Arsenal man with a fantastic save from close range.

Giroud and Ramsey also entered the fray with impressive cameos but it was Alexis Sanchez who continued to shine brightest. The Chilean excelling in all aspects in front of the excited Emirates crowd. The well needed victory was completed by the MOTM; Ozil finding Giroud who pulled the ball back for Sanchez who ghosted into space before scoring his second of the day.

Remaining unbeaten and with a number of excellent performers Arsenal remain three points off top spot and will hope to keep up their consistent form.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

BLOG: RAMSEY: PLACE YOUR BRICK

In the eleven days between Wales’ dogged draw against Serbia and Arsenal’s monotonous PSG stalemate Aaron Ramsey featured in no less than three roles. The Welshman has seen himself occupy an almost ever-changing position in the last few seasons; a persistent positional problem. The multifaceted, enthusiastic 25-year-old throws out more questions than answers. Much like snowflakes, no two players are the same but finalising a fixed position would benefit the progression of both club and individual. Delving deeper into the eleven days spoken about above shows just how and perhaps why Ramsey’s problem needs solving.

Ramsey vs Serbia

With Allen and Ledley sitting behind, Ramsey had free role roaming from the left wing. Frequent interchanges with Gareth Bale meant vacant space could be taken up by Robson-Kanu in a bid to exploit Serbia’s right hand side of Rukavina and Ivanovic. When Ramsey dropped back into central midfield Joe Allen would push behind Sam Vokes, the versatile team shape almost mirroring Ramsey’s movements. Chris Coleman building the Nations hopes on teamwork and the effectiveness of Bale and Ramsey, something the Arsenal man sometimes struggles with.

Ramsey vs Manchester United

Operating in a wide left role again but this time less high up and less flexible, Ramsey and Arsenal struggled at Old Trafford once again. In a bid to provide defensive cover Ramsey committed the most fouls by an Arsenal player, slowing down the game and playing into the hands of Mourinho. Ramsey was dispossessed five times, the most of any player on the pitch, as he struggled to exert his influence in a notoriously difficult ground for the Gunners.

Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League

Aaron Ramsey battling against Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera.

Often the highest player up the pitch for Arsenal Ramsey would find himself at the back post for crosses and provide support for Alexis Sanchez, defensive cover for the out of form Monreal was an after thought. Ramsey carelessly conceded the ball in tight areas when pressed by United and provided them with clear chances to score. When the goal eventually came for the home side it was down the left from which the chance arose; Herrera and Pogba outnumbering Monreal who was left to fend for himself.

Ramsey vs PSG

Partnering Francis Coquelin in a central role Ramsey was back in his favoured position. His defensive duties saw him win the most tackles on the pitch and the most interceptions by an Arsenal player as PSG moved the ball with intelligence in midfield. A scapegoat in the stands Ramsey was safe and simple with his passing selections, not risking to lose the ball to such a lethal counter attacking team. His contributions high up the pitch in terms of pressing and supporting attacks were effective and it was his shot that led to Arsenals second goal.

Coquelin was far from helpful but Ramsey held his own against the stout, skilled midfield of the visitors.

Moving forward

It is clear that for Ramsey to be efficient he has to play centrally or with the team flexible around his movements. A rather polite stalemate with Arsene Wenger has seen Ramsey publicly voice his wishes to play centrally whilst Wenger continues to recognise the Welshmans talents, shoehorning him into the side if possible. It says a lot about his importance when Arsene Wenger, according to Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph, played Ramsey against both United and PSG despite a broken toe. Regardless of the vast plethora of baying midfielders Ramsey remains key. Kenneth Librecht, a professor of physics, one said “There are a limited number of ways to arrange a handful of bricks. But if you have a lot of bricks, the number of combinations grows very quickly. With enough of them, you can make a driveway, a sidewalk or a house.” Aaron Ramsey must place his brick and find a permanent place in the house that is Arsenal.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

BLOG: CRACKS IN THE ARMOURY?

Every good army has the second battalion at the ready to provide suppressive fire. The initial assault fails? You have a group of soldiers equipped with the skill set to drive those around them to victory with ruthless aggression. Whether it be Mesut Özil or Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s first battalion is one of the best in the world, but even the best face failure, and when failure arises, are the second battalion of the Gunners ready to endure an onslaught and ensure the Arsenal reign victorious?

Providing suppressive fire are the wide men, Theo Walcott, Alex Iwobi, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey, with the latter being a square peg in a round hole. This season has seen a reignited Theo Walcott, ruthlessly terrorising opposition full backs, whilst ensuring his own is not disadvantaged. Arsenal’s top scorer of the season with 8 goals, the Englishman is making the doubters of his ability shrivel up, with their ready made articles being rendered useless. The monumental change in the 27 year old can be put down to two factors. An astonishing change in mentality which has seen a previous reluctant individual playing within himself become an absolute animal, devouring opposition defences at will. The second factor is Alexis Sanchez. Whilst not prolific in the role himself, by interchanging with the Chilean, especially when the centre forward drops deep to instigate play, Walcott vacates the space left by the charismatic forward. Whilst this can initially be perceived as negligent to the Arsenal system as the right side is now vacated, this is not in fact the case. Hector Bellerin is a crucial piece of the Arsenal jigsaw, occupying the space Walcott has left behind, offering a permanent outlet to the midfielders. It is no coincidence that since the Spaniard’s absence the Gunners are yet to win a game, the 21 year old is pivotal to Arsenal’s title aspirations. 

Alex Iwobi on the other flank offers a completely different proposition. The Nigerian international is a “Raumdeuter”, a space interpreter. Alex alleviates creative responsibility from Mesut Ozil, occupying space the German previously had to cover by himself, creating confusion amongst the opposition midfielders. Take Walcott’s goal against Chelsea for example. Iwobi offers an outlet to Ozil, occupying the space between the defensive midfielder and the centre half, a space the German world cup winner previously occupied. With two players able to interchange this role, the Chelsea midfield and defence are confused, and the Gunners ruthlessly capitalise, with Iwobi releasing Bellerin, who consequently served the ball up on a plate for theo to dispatch. The importance of Bellerin, Walcott and Iwobi all evident in the move, a foreshadow of what was to come in the absence of the Spaniard.

Image result for iwobi

Despite a recent drop in form, the 20 year old Nigerian has been nothing short of sensational since his Gunners debut.

Then comes Oxlade Chamberlain, who for all the abuse received thus far this season, has been critical as an alternative off the bench, and has also delivered when starting. As mentioned in “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, Chamberlain’s influence this season isn’t purely down to himself, however, the Gunners faithful. Providing a useful alternative late into games, such as playing right back against United, and delivering an awe-inspiring cross for a typical bullet header from Giroud, the Englishman will find himself pressurising both Iwobi and Walcott from a starting position, and if he is to take the chance, the Ox will be set to terrorise defences throughout England on a basis that consists of more than 15 minute cameo’s.

Despite all three players offering different alternatives, it appears Arsene finds solitude in Ramsey, with the Welshman rather reluctantly fulfilling the Frenchman’s requests. With only three possible distinctive wide options, the Gunners are an injury away from crisis. Whilst many will say Alexis can simply return to the wing, understand this. Disruption creates problems, not solutions, and if Alexis is to be Arsenal’s Suarez, he must be left undisturbed.

 

Twitter: @JLennard10

MATCH REPORT: MANCHESTER UNITED 1-1 ARSENAL

A late headed goal from Olivier Giroud was enough to salvage Arsenal a point at Old Trafford, as the Gunners played out a 1-1 draw with Manchester United in the Premier League this afternoon.

Man United took the lead deep into the second half through Juan Mata, but an 89th minute header at the back post from Giroud, introduced into the game with 20 minutes to play, leveled the score in a cagey affair.

It could have been the away end that celebrated the game’s first goal; Alexis Sánchez popped up with a free header as early as the 6th minute from a Theo Walcott flick-on, but the Chilean failed to steer his effort towards goal from close range.

Man United’s first genuine response came sometime later, as Paul Pogba spotted the run of Mata between the lines before the Spaniard’s low drive was pushed past the post by Petr Čech.

Arsenal’s number one was then on hand to deny Anthony Martial in the 41st minute, tipping over the ex-Monaco man’s curling effort from the edge of the box.

The Martial – Čech duel continued in the early exchanges of the second period, with the forward firing a tame effort into the Czech Republican’s hands.

United did, however, manage to break the deadlock in the 68th minute, as Herrera approached the byline and cut a pass back into Mata’s path, with the playmaker making no mistake when guiding a side-footed shot past Čech.

Marcos Rojo then went on to waste a good half-chance when heading wide at the back-post in the 80th minute, as Arsenal turned to the likes of Giroud, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Granit Xhaka in hope of snatching a result.

The changes delivered, as Chamberlain managed to breeze past Marcus Rashford on the right flank and find the head of Giroud inside the box, with the Frenchman making no mistake and sinking in a late equaliser in the 89th minute.

The draw means Arsenal extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to 17 games, meanwhile moving up to 3rd place momentarily ahead of Manchester City’s away clash against Crystal Palace this afternoon.

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Carl Jenkinson (4), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (6); Mohamed Elneny (5), Francis Coquelin (5), Aaron Ramsey (4); Theo Walcott (5), Mesut Özil (4), Alexis Sánchez (5)

Subs: Olivier Giroud (6), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Granit Xhaka (5)

BLOG: HAVE NO FEAR, JENKO IS HERE

International breaks suck. There’s no Arsenal, the football isn’t nearly as interesting, and the break seems to drag on for an eternity. Seriously, there’s no better way to make two weeks feel long than replacing Premier League football with international friendlies.

They suck even more, though, when our players get injured. Especially when it’s Hector Bellerin, who is now ruled out for the rest of November with an ankle ligament injury he picked up in training for the Spain Under-21s. Does it get more frustrating than that?

Coming fresh off of a breakout season that saw him named in the PFA Team of the Year, Bellerin has been a crucial cog in the way Arsenal have played this season. Playing in every minute of the Premier League campaign so far, the 21-year-old has picked up exactly where he left off last season. Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand recently said that Bellerin is the best right-back in the league, and it’s tough to argue with—his rise from youth team sensation to key first team player has been so rapid that it’s easy to forget just how young he is.

This all means Bellerin is quite high on the list of players Arsenal fans don’t want to get injured, especially considering the gap in quality between him and his backups.

Enter Carl Jenkinson. Already notching up 180 minutes this season, Jenkinson is most likely to be called upon in Bellerin’s absence. Both of the matches the 24-year-old played in were wins—a 2-0 victory over Reading in the League Cup and the 3-2 comeback win against Ludogorets in Bulgaria, best remembered for Mesut Özil’s wizardry.

Jenko’s start against Reading was his first appearance for Arsenal in almost three years, and he didn’t look out of place—albeit it was against lower league opposition. He put in a good shift in Bulgaria, too, making more tackles (3) than any other Arsenal player and keeping things tidy with a pass success rate of 92%.

Playing at Old Trafford, however, will be a whole new test for Jenkinson. The last time he played there in an Arsenal shirt couldn’t have gone much worse—he was sent off after getting skinned by Ashley Young all game as the Gunners lost 8-2, arguably their worst result in Arsene Wenger’s time as manager.

Let’s not forget, however, that he was just 19 during that baptism of fire at the Theater of Dreams, making his second-ever Premier League start after joining from Charlton Athletic in the summer of 2011. He’s gotten a considerable amount of Premier League experience since then, playing 52 matches over two seasons on loan at West Ham before suffering a significant knee injury that saw him return to North London earlier this year.

The prospect of Jenkinson filling in for Bellerin might seem like reason to go into panic mode, but that’s only because we’ve been spoiled with one of the best right-backs in Europe for the past two seasons. Bellerin’s influence on the way Arsenal plays means that his absence will certainly be noticed, but Jenkinson shouldn’t be written off before he even steps foot on the pitch.

As a lifelong Gooner, Jenko will give his absolute maximum effort during his chance in the first team and you can’t ask for much more than that as a fan. Against Manchester United at Old Trafford, he’ll be itching to redeem himself and dispel the demons of 2011.

All statistics via WhoScored.com.

Follow me on Twitter: @Gunner_NYC

MATCH PREVIEW: MANCHESTER UNITED VS ARSENAL

Arsenal can take an important step towards mounting a sustainable title challenge when facing Manchester United at Old Trafford this Saturday, a game that marks the return of Premier League football following the international break.

The Gunners, currently 4th in the Premier League table and within touching distance of table-toppers Liverpool, head north with a ten-game unbeaten run to protect, winning seven out of their last ten league games since the 4-3 defeat at home to the Merseysiders in the first game of the season.

Contrarily, Man United trail the north Londoners by six points from 6th place, with poor form thus far seeing the Red Devils accumulate just one league win since the end of the month of September.

Arsenal, however, haven’t found themselves on the winning side of a league result at Old Trafford for little more than a decade, whereas Man United were able to get their name behind eight wins from a possible ten in this very fixture since 2006.

Arsène Wenger’s record against José Mourinho, a hot topic in the build-up to Saturday’s game, has also seen Arsenal’s rep come away as second best from direct duels, with the Frenchman’s only victory against the former Chelsea boss coming in last season’s 1-0 win in the Community Shield versus the Blues.

Should the Gunners buck the trend, they’ll have to do it without a number of familiar faces, more notably, and definitively, the Spanish duo of Héctor Bellerín and Santi Cazorla.

The young right back has been ruled out for four weeks with an ankle injury sustained in the final exchanges of the north London derby earlier this month, whereas no timespan has been placed on Santi Cazorla’s eventual return from an Achilles injury, with the midfielder yet to return to any form of training.

Wenger is also at risk of being without his two top goal scorers. The physical well-being of Alexis Sánchez has dominated the Arsenal spectrum after the Chilean played 84 minutes of football for his country, despite fears over a small hamstring tear.

Now the in-form Theo Walcott could also find himself out of the first-team selection, whose wife looks set to give birth this weekend.

Completing Arsenal’s growing list of absentees are Lucas Pérez, Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck and Chuba Akpom.

Man United have involuntary gaps of their own, with doubts looming over the availability of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini and the injury-hit Luke Shaw.

The hosts will also be without the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic, present in every Premier League game so far for the Red Devils, meanwhile the injuries to trusted centre-back pairing Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly will again leave the likes of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones spare.

Predicted XI: Petr Čech; Carl Jenkinson, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Granit Xhaka; Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Alex Iwobi; Olivier Giroud

BLOG: RIGHT BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Hector Bellerin’s injury has been well publicised, the right back picking up a recurrence of an ankle injury amidst public fitness worries. Unable to complete full training and forced to withdraw from Spain’s under 21 squad it seems as if Arsenal’s current injury woes are to continue.

The 21-year-old is the only outfield player to have featured in every minute of Arsenal’s Premier League campaign thus far and his absence will be felt. Since his debut Bellerin quickly adapted to physical rigours whilst continuing to embrace his attacking outlook. Bellerin is likely to miss the rest of November with no replacement particularly inspiring.

The most likely to plug the gap is Carl Jenkinson. The Englishman has only recently returned from a serious ligament injury which thwarted his loan progress, returning to action in early October. Jenkinson has since featured in the EFL Cup and in the Champions League when Bellerin was unavailable. Although not possessing the same athletic attributes as Bellerin or as alert defensively, Jenkinson would provide adequate if not slightly weak cover in what is a tough month ahead for the Gunners.

 

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Carl Jenkinson making his comeback from injury in the U21 Premier League.

 

Another possibility is the emergence of Mathieu Debuchy from the shadows. The frozen out Frenchman has been used sparingly at best, playing just 512 minutes last season and none so far this.  His Arsenal career has always been far from assured and his place in the pecking order is surely humbling, a return to the squad far from realistic.

Summer signings Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi could also be capable at covering the right back position. Holding featured at right back ten times for Bolton in his breakout season and has featured in a variety of defensive positions throughout his youthful career. His decision making with the ball and ample positioning, similar to Callum Chambers in many regards, means a fullback slot wouldn’t turn heads although a lack of pace and experience could prove problematic. Experience is something Mustafi provides playing right back frequently in his early career and given the responsibility of the role in the 2014 World Cup before injury however Mustafi has not played there since. His confidence and competence in the position make him more than capable of filling a Bellerin shaped hole.

A less viable option comes in the form of Francis Coquelin. The French midfielder has previous, filling in at both left and right back for Arsenal in the past, and would provide stout cover. Positioning may yet again be a worry for Arsene Wenger who might instead look to promote from within. Much like Bellerin himself, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a product of the Club’s academy and is more than proficient in a full back role. Although Wenger sees him more as a midfielder he can still drop back if needed much like in the EFL Cup tie against Nottingham Forest earlier on in the season, albeit when Jenkinson was unavailable.

With six plausible candidates for the vacant position it seems as if Carl Jenkinson is the most probable to get the job. A plethora of options but none quite so convincing, Arsene Wenger will be straining to get the balance right amid the notorious month of November.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

 

BLOG: ALEXIS – A CLUB VS COUNTRY BATTLE

The battle lines had been drawn long before this International break, however the talk has intensified with Alexis Sanchez suffering a hamstring injury in training with Chile last week. Whose responsibility is it to manage his fitness? Who’s his priority? What’s our role in this? How do the Chilean FA work with us on this?

Lot’s of questions that we would love to know the real answers to, but we can surmise the answers to some of them. In normal circumstances with a normal footballer the responsibility and decisions largely sit with the club because the club pay their wages, the club manage their fitness and the club is the over arching all powerful force that has to be succumbed to by the National team. In Alexis Sanchez’s case, it’s an entirely different story. He is one of a rare breed of footballers that seems to exist in today’s age in that he just wants to play in every single game going. It doesn’t matter who for, he just wants to play the sport that he truly loves and is lucky enough to be getting paid to play. With Alexis, as well as deeply loving and caring for his country he also sees it as a moral duty to play for Chile. It’s said that he’s the ultimate street footballer, yet he’s not the only one. The whole of the Chilean national side is programmed to think this way. It’s something that Arsene Wenger alluded to when signing Alexis in saying that players from South American backgrounds had to fight harder to compete:

Image result for alexis sanchez fighting

“Maybe in our history street football has gone. In street football when you are 10 years old, you play with 15-year-olds so you have to be shrewd, you have to show that you are good, you have to fight, win impossible balls”.

In a polite way he is trying to say that it’s a much harder fight to become noticed, to become great from an impoverished background in comparison to the monster sized football academies being born all over Europe. The footballing culture is different and it’s clear when you think of national sides. Think of Germany, France & Spain for example, all well oiled machines designed to play football the right way and not a mass of the old school “fighter mentality” around very much. Compare that to the mavericks that are Chile, Argentina & Brazil and you have a real determination in the way they play alongside the sublime style. Brazil less so historically, however it’s on the increase within their recent squads. In any case it’s a culture that embodies fighting spirit and a never say die attitude, which is why we are seeing Alexis desperate to play and help his country win at all costs.

Image result for alexis sanchez arsenal/chile half half

In terms of his injury management it’s very much down to himself. He clearly doesn’t take on board how his club feels, or his country for that matter. He just wants to play. As much as Wenger tries to publicly state that the player needs extra care in order to control him, it’s just not enough. You can see that Alexis is like a child that a frustrated parent can’t quite control and has to put that face on for the public “he’s never like this at home” (NB This may not be a real quote). In short it is clear cut in as much as it isn’t clear cut for Alexis. He’s going to try and pitch to play every game and if he doesn’t he’ll be a rage monster. If he is allowed to play every game and is then injured for a long period he and the manager will be lambasted for mismanagement. From my point of view it looks as though the player himself is out all guns blazing whether he is 100% fit or not and it’s a case of Arsene Wenger being very calculated in the way he uses him. Wenger has to guide the manner in which he is played and even taking him off for a few minutes here and there to try and save his legs just that little bit, creates an annoyance for Alexis. We all wondered in the game vs Basel at home as to why he wasn’t taken off when the game was all but won, it was a question of keeping his player happy. Letting him play in a not so intense game situation for 20 minutes is probably less brutal on a finely tuned machine than playing 5 minutes more in an intense close to a game. He was taken off in the 3-2 victory over Swansea with 8 minutes plus added time to play vs having played on when we were 4-1 up against Sunderland. Wenger is being smarter with his energy distribution, or is trying to be as Alexis looks to be firmly in charge of the situation. Playing with a minor problem here and there isn’t in Alexis’ game. He’s always 100% and if he plays with a little niggle (not very often) you can see it. The weaker parts of his game are exposed (ball retention), which makes it all the more important for his fitness to be appropriately managed.

Image result for alexis sanchez multiple footballs

I think that the English have built up more of a stigma for international football simply because of the England national team. The players look more and more like they don’t give a monkeys and this plays back to the Arsene Wenger quote from earlier. European football is a little more spoilt, a little less hard working and a little more brittle when it comes to the pressure. It’s because of this that so many English fans have become disenchanted with international football and it’s because of this that their affiliation with their clubs has never been as high. When it comes down to the real question of “who’s to blame for his fitness struggles/issues?”, it’s really the player himself but not for a bad reason. He just wants to play and he doesn’t know any other way of playing other than giving 100% for every second of every game. Unfortunately it’s not a conundrum that anyone will be able to resolve or fix and I think that Arsene Wenger knew that when he bought the man.

It’s Club over Country for the fans, for the players it seems to be Country over Club, but for Alexis Sanchez it’s football over everything else.

Image result for alexis sanchez multiple footballs

BLOG: ARSENE AND JOSE: TENSION

The target of anything in life should be to do it so well that it becomes an art. This is not Socrates, Sun Tzu or Plato. This is Arsene Wenger. A true pioneer of football, with philosophical incisiveness to match the greats, watching a side managed by the Frenchman is truly poetry in motion. As the legacy-maker said himself, “Football is an art, like dancing is an art – but only when it’s well done does it become an art”. Watching an Arsene Wenger side isn’t simply an Arsenal’s fans ritual every weekend afternoon, rather it is a joy, watching the greats of the game weave their magic on pitches across the country. From Henry to Ozil, Arsene Wenger is the facilitator of beauty, allowing 11 players to display their art to a mesmerised global audience on a weekly basis.  A true blessing to the game.

If Arsene Wenger is Picasso, Jose Mourinho is Jeremy Nichol. The Portuguese man has won it all, all over the world, on the biggest stages. Yet something bothers the 53 year old.’ The envious die not once, but as often as the envied win applause’. From here derives the source of tension. The source of a feud that has captivated world football for the last 14 years. A clash of cultures, a clash of personalities, a clash of mass proportions. Despite all the “clash” titles you are likely to see in the lead up to battle of the titans, there only lay one instigator.

Jose Mourinho.

Whether it be the infamous “specialist in failure” dig, or the rash verbal assault on the Frenchman, referring to him as a “voyeur, the supposed ‘Special One’ certainly feels inferior to a man he has won more trophies than. Going as far as to say he’d love to “break” Wenger’s face, the Portuguese born manager cannot handle it, he refuses to accept it. What is ‘it’ you may ask? A legacy. Something that transcends personal accolades, a legacy is an unattainable fantasy to most, only the greats can truly change the course of history forever, whatever field this may be in. Johan Cruyff, Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson. They weren’t just winners, they were revolutionists, streaks ahead of those around them. Arsene Wenger is in this bracket. Not only can his name be mentioned amongst the greats, the journey his has endured throughout his Arsenal tenure to arrive in this egalitarian place is a tormenting one. Years of success, including the famous “Invincibles” and two double winning seasons, followed what is truly Arsene Wenger’s best years on the Arsenal touchline. Spending £9 million net in 10 years, the Frenchman sustained Champions League football at a club continually losing its best players year on year, before then developing a crop of young players into elite superstars. Betrayal then followed on a scale of mass proportions, whether this be Fabregas, Van Persie or Nasri, they all failed to see the vision of the revolutionary.

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Arsene Wenger, a man truly ahead of his time.

After enduring 10 years of media hatred, and Jose related ambushes, he saw the light, which he knew he’d always find, but those around him continually doubted. Mesut Ozil, the light. The genius had savaged around, tirelessly exhausting his resources, season after season of torment ravaging him, and now he could craft his art. Alexis, Cech, Mustafi and Xhaka followed, a new 11 players were being given a canvas to display their art.

Now, Jose Mourinho. Two time champions league winner and 8 time title winner. Admirable accolades? Yes. Legacy? Nonexistent. £619 million has been spent, several clubs left on the brink of collapse, just ask Chelsea fans. Mourinho is a tactician, yes that is true. An innovator? Certainly not. Failing to spend more than 3 years at any single club was surely emphasise this point. If you want a big point away from home, sure give Jose a call. Want a footballing identity and a manager with a legacy ingrained in football history? I think you already know who I’m going to advise you to call.

So, Saturday afternoon we see the two giants of the football spectrum go head to head. Not only are there 3 points on the line, there is pride. The beginner of Jose’s downfall back in August 2015, the Portuguese man will be out seeking for revenge. Regardless of result, remember one thing. A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him, and by now, Arsene Wenger has built a fortress.

Twitter: @JLennard10