BLOG: THE 12th MAN

Inspiration and succour. Simplistic terms, crucial to success. When an artist is presented with a blank canvas, what do they look for? Inspiration. The same artist doubts the beauty of the creation they’ve made, what do they look for? Succour. True resilience is shown in times of hardship, when your back’s against the wall and failure seems inevitable. This not only applies to the eleven warriors who step onto the battlefield every gameweek, but to the millions around the world providing reinforcements. 

The concept of support has an aura of ambiguity surrounding it. What can you truly define as true support? Is it turning up to the Emirates every game to help fill the 60,000 seats or is it tuning in at ridiculous times around the globe to show your deep-rooted affection for the Arsenal? Whatever fan you may be, all are equally responsible for the reinforcements the Arsenal so deeply require. The concept of a fan has always been associated with backing your team when they appear to be down at out, they’re up against the tide, and you battle with them to return to safer shores. 

However, in recent years something’s change amongst the Gunners faithful. It’s not the team that is being supported, it’s an ideology. Nothing is a powerful as an idea. One cannot simply remove an idea. As John Maynard Keynes says, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”. The concept of failure is engrained into Arsenal Football Club, the years of recent pasts have scarred the Gunners faithful, an idea they’re unable to let go of. No levels of promise can remove this deeply engrained link between Arsenal and disappointment, even if all signs point to the contrary. This toxicity from the fans infects the club. As opposed to addressing issues from a logical perspective, divisions are created, discourse arises, and the club is infiltrated by its annual poisonous atmosphere. Logic shows both defeats to Everton and Manchester City, whilst poor performances, were down to refereeing decisions, with Williams’ goal coming from a corner that should not have occurred, and both Sane’s and Sterling’s goals having the offside rule not being initiated by the linesmen. But of course, this is football fans we’re on about, logic doesn’t apply right? 

The inability to support the team has been a contributing factor to recent failures.

It was a mere 10 days ago that the Gunners sat top of the pile, and bliss was apparent in all fields of the Arsenal community. Talk of the title was on the lips of not only the fans, but pundits and football “experts” alike. Fast forward to the present and a quick search on google will find you a Arsenal team in crisis, with the departures of star players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil inevitable, and the typical social media avalanches of “Oh I guess it’s Wenger Out Today for the Arsenal fans!”

Social media is extremely influential on the current atmosphere surrounding the Emirates.

It was as recent as November, when Arsenal had lost their first game since the opening day of the season, in the Capital One Cup (yes, that competition that Arsene Wenger has continually deemed an opportunity to give fringe players gametime), that Carl Jenkinson had to be removed from the Arsenal squad due to his mental state, deriving from endless abuse from the Gunners “fans”. Verbal abuse and harassment isn’t tolerated as a concept in regular society, so why do the conventions change when Arsenal players are thrown into the mix?

It would be ignorant to suggest the Arsenal players should be immune from criticism, they are multi-millionaires, being paid to produce performances capable of delivering the title back to the Emirates after 12 barren years. However, there is a line between criticism and abuse, and too often in recent years has criticism turnt into inexorable witch-hunts against the manager and certain players. You can believe from the media what you’d like to believe, you can critique the players how you like. Don’t take this as a lecture on behaviour and conduct, simply take it as a idea of my own. 22 individuals don’t win you a title, it’s millions, and if the millions continue to remain unaccounted for, 12 barren years will become 13.

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: I JUST DON’T THINK THEY UNDERSTAND…

What a horrible, horrible week of football. Two massive tests away from home and two massive tests failed. It’s not all doom and gloom as Twitter would have you suggest, however the early season optimism has been completely sapped from the team and the fans. It feels like we as fans have been asking the question of ‘why it’s so’ in various forms so I guess the only thing we can do this week is once again explore why we think that is. I’m despising writing this already. Eughhh.

Both performances started rather well, we were on the front foot against Everton and looked brilliant for the first 45 against City. Everton barely created anything and City only really had one opportunity with a Sterling header (that he should have scored) where we had some great situations where better decision making could have proved vital. Actually it did prove to be vital, it cost us the game. Rather than dissect the game at length I’ll simply say a few words that should surmise each game.

Everton: sloppy performance. Stopped playing when we scored. Looked tired. Their winner was not a corner. Alexis Sanchez denied a stonewall penalty. Everton are shite and we should have beaten them by 3 or 4.

Man City: Much better first 45. Should have taken advantage of a poor City side missing key players. Created good situations and decision making was poor. The second half was one of the worst performance I’ve seen. Both their goals were offside.

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Why is it that this happens? That we don’t perform on the big occasions? I mean I know we were subject to some horrific officiating, but that is something that you can only hope evens itself out over the course of the season. We’ve been on the end of some quite ludicrous refereeing decisions for example the Xhaka red v Swansea. John Moss deemed an identical challenge by Kante as worthy of simply a foul, not even a booking. The penalties against us have been terrible. The decisions we should be getting haven’t been given, so I’m hoping there is some karmic balance restored on that front over the course of this season. But that’s not the big issue, as it’s not within our control. What is in our control is the way that we approach these games. You can talk about systems and tactics all day long but if the hunger and desire is not there to want to perform  then no amount of the genius that is gegenpress, 3-4-3 or tiki-taka will save you. After one interview with Pep Guardiola in the post hue of victory for his side it was revealed that they worked on winning second balls for two and a half hours at every training session this week. His team were out fought by Leicester a week back and this was addressed in the following games. What can one do about working on intensity? This rests with the manager and when your players do not come out with what looks like a fire cracker up their backside then it has to be laid at the managers feet to address. Don’t get me wrong I’m very much of the opinion that Arsene Wenger should be our manager, quite simply because there is no one better to do the job for us, but what I’ve seen in the last week is a combination of a few things: Squad management/rotation, lack of responsibility from our senior men, tiredness (relates to squad management) and a real mental block.

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The mental issue stems from bad performances and when the performances are few and far between this can be shaken, but when the bad performances against the big boys become a regular occurrence the mental issue becomes harder to shake. The responsibility to change this rests with the manager, and that’s not through inspiring the men through an impassioned speech before each game and shouting in the faces of the timid to get their blood pumping. Where this needs to come from is with an adaptation of tactics and a real belief in those tactics. We’ve seen the adaptation of tactics done if a little half halfheartedly, but there doesn’t seem to be a real belief in the changes. For example with the Everton game, we just reverted to type, we went with slow possession based football and after fortuitously taking the lead we carried on in a pedestrian manner. Wenger at that point should have delivered the message for our entire team to step up 10 yards and pin Everton back into submission through high press tactics. They were ready to cave and the fans were on their back, yet the cautious approach prevailed and ended up slowly letting them back into the game. Against City we started really fast an positive. We pressed, won balls back and hit them on the counter. Our tactics were to go long, which really threw them and after going 1-0 up, aside from one good chance for City we had enough momentum to press for more goals. We looked to try and do that with a 7/10 approach I’d say (in terms of actually believing that we would get more goals) but our decision making let us down. There is something that needs to be said about Alexis Sanchez at this point. He had two opportunities in the first half to play in Monreal early down the left side where we could have been in a 3 v 2 situation however he chose to delay and finally go down the right side when that was the only option available. This is a really infuriating but interesting pattern I’ve noticed this season. He seems unwilling to pass to certain team members purely because he lacks trust in them. He seems to link better with the likes of Ozil (obviously) and Iwobi more than most. He likes Bellerin every now and again but doesn’t seem to trust too many others with forward passes at least anyway. I can understand that to a degree as he knows the ability of other players as the others know his ability, however over time that can only create disharmony amongst the team and when a couple of players aren’t singing off the same hymn sheet you get an imbalanced performance. It’s happened far too many times at our club over the recent years and it’s something that needs to be looked at.

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I don’t think it’s a question of change in management, I feel it’s a change in attitude of the management. Far too often we become passive in games and are slow to change our ‘state of play’ within a game situation, which has become hugely frustrating. It takes us going into a losing position to inject any urgency into our game and I just wish that Wenger were able to instil that into our players with in game situations. We have one of the strongest squads in the Premier League this season without question and in terms of external additions to our own squad from others in the league I can only think of a handful of players I’d add; Aguero, Hazard, Martial/Mahrez & Kante are the players I feel would add hugely to our squad. What I mean to say is that there’s not one club that has a clutch of 4/5 players that you’d want us to steal. I can imagine most top clubs would want the likes of Ozil, Alexis, Bellerin, Xhaka, Koscielny, probably Mustafi and a case could even be made for Ramsey and Cazorla. Chelsea flying as they are would probably leave out Xhaka, Ramsey and Cazorla but take the rest and they could well slot into their 3-4-3 system. We all know Mourinho loves Ozil and would take Alexis & the rest without question. Again what I’m trying to say is that we have a really good squad that everyone seems to know and take seriously now so the worry for me is why Wenger can’t get them firing. Are the players receiving his message? Do they believe in him and each other?

There’s a lot to address in the coming weeks and our next 6 games are all must wins before we play Chelsea away. We play 6 winnable fixtures while Chelsea play Sp*rs, Leicester and Liverpool all away in the time that we play West Brom, Palace, Burnley, Watford (all home games), Swansea and Bournemouth (both away games). Chelsea and Liverpool look to be flying and City will undoubtedly go on a run now but we aren’t out of it as many are knee-jerking their way through Twitter might suggest.

This time last year we were 2 points off Leicester who were top, this time we’re 9 points adrift but it’s not curtains yet. Thankfully Christmas is around the corner to cheers us all up.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

MATCH PREVIEW: MANCHESTER CITY VS ARSENAL

It may only be December, but Arsenal’s matchup with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday feels like the Gunners’ biggest game of the season thus far.

After a week that saw 12 goals scored, three wins, two hattricks and a first place finsh in the Champions League group, Arsenal’s brilliant December took a turn for the worst when they slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Everton on Tuesday night. To rub salt in the wounds, every other team in the top eight won in Gameweek 16.

This all puts Arsenal in a precarious position in the table ahead of Sunday’s crucial clash with Manchester City. They’re sandwiched between Liverpool and City, below the Reds on goals scored (interestingly, Arsenal and Liverpool have identical records and goal differences) and ahead of the Sky Blues by a point. With the halfway point of the season nearing, the table is beginning to take shape and a win in this match would be a massive statement of intent from either side.

For the Gunners, Sunday is all about response. Premier League champions are often defined by the way they respond to defeats, and Sunday is a chance for Arsenal to prove that they’re made of sterner stuff than past seasons. The defeat at Goodison Park was only their second in the league this season, the last coming at the hands of Liverpool on the opening day. Arsene Wenger’s side responded phenomenally to that 4-3 loss, going on a 14-game unbeaten run, and a similar response is needed this time around if they’re to keep in touch with high-flying Chelsea at the top of the table.

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Arsenal’s performance against Everton wasn’t terrible. It was far from the free-flowing football we’ve gotten used to watching in the past few weeks, but it was also far from the worst we’ve seen from the Gunners this season. Not to make excuses, but the lack of spark and invention going forward seemed to reflect tiredness after playing three days earlier rather than a deeper underlying issue.

With a full four days to prepare for the game against City, I’m expecting Arsene Wenger to field an unchanged eleven at the Etihad Stadium. In the heart of the defense, Gabriel will continue to fill in for the sidelined Shkodran Mustafi alongside Laurent Koscielny, the captain of the side. Despite showing signs of rust against Everton, Hector Bellerin will make his second start since returning from injury. Expect Nacho Monreal to get the nod ahead of Kieran Gibbs—although the Spaniard’s place in the first team isn’t nearly as secure as it once was—and Petr Cech to start between the sticks.

The midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin contain the right balance of steel and craft to get a result at the Etihad, with Aaron Ramsey still carrying a hamstring injury and Santi Cazorla out until February of next year. In attacking midfield, Mesut Özil will look to continue his surprisingly prolific season with a big-game performance to prove his critics wrong.

Arsene Wenger’s biggest selection headache will likely come in his decision of who to start on the wings. Neither Theo Walcott nor Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were particularly impressive against Everton, with Walcott attempting just 14 passes—the same amount as Alex Iwobi, who was subbed on in the 70th minute. That said, I see Walcott getting the start due to his tendency to score in big games. The battle between the Ox and Iwobi for the starting position on the left wing is neck-and-neck, but I think the Ox will just edge this one out as his direct running will give the leggy Pablo Zabaleta a handful.

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Up top, Alexis Sanchez gives Wenger his easiest decision in the starting eleven. The Chilean has thrived in his new role as Arsenal’s center forward this season, notching up 14 goals and eight assists in all competitions. If the Gunners are to grab all three points at the Etihad, you can bet Alexis will have something to do with it.

As for Manchester City’s team news, there’s hardly a better time to be playing the Citizens. Pep Guardiola’s side will be without Sergio Agüero and Fernandinho, who are still serving four-match bans for misconduct at the end of City’s 3-1 defeat to Chelsea earlier this month. Vincent Kompany remains injured until 2017, while Ilkay Gündogan is sidelined with a devastating knee injury suffered against Watford in midweek.

With so much at stake for two teams hoping to be top of the table in May, expect a feisty encounter on Sunday.

Predicted XI: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs; Xhaka, Coquelin; Walcott, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sanchez.

All statistics via WhoScored.com.

Follow me on Twitter @Gunner_NYC

BLOG: MESUT ÖZIL: PUSHING FORWARD

Mesut Özil has not swapped assists for goals. Mesut Özil is a player that utilises his talents to help the team in the most efficient way possible. Arsene Wenger called out for his team to score more goals and Özil is just one of the players who answered. With 8 goals in 45 appearances last season, the German has already matched this tally within 18 appearances and looks set to continue pushing forward.

“He’s got more of a taste to score goals because he’s running in behind more. Before, he only liked coming to the ball and providing, but we want him to be a provider and a scorer. It looks like he’s slowly moving towards that better balance. He’s playing with confidence.” – Arsene Wenger on Mesut Özil

The fluidity of Arsenal’s front players has allowed Özil to take advantage of his greatest asset. Reading space like no other Arsenal player can the 28-year-old is able to tear down defences with sharp runs and incisive passes. Positional diagrams and passing network maps for Arsenal show Ozil is one of, if not the, most forward player in the side. Bursting through and receiving high up the pitch. Vacating and occupying space at will with the best outcome for the collective always the aim.

Mesut Özil is often the first press for Arsenal, constantly pushing up high alongside Alexis Sanchez in a bid to unsettle those on the ball and win possession. The Chilean has perhaps been the initiator for Özil’s slight change of role and presence in the side as Sanchez’ position as striker has boosted the forward fluidity of Arsenal and acted to spread out the responsibility of goal-scoring throughout the midfield. This season Özil is averaging more shots per game than any other as an Arsenal player, shooting on average every 48 minutes compared to last seasons 65 and his worth to the team in terms of control and directness has continued to increase.

Alexis Sanchez’ false nine role sees him drop deep, providing space that Özil among others often exploit. Sanchez coming deeper for the ball and receiving in wide areas means that opportunities are present for those that want. Arsenal’s two best players have combined to devastating effect this season, combining for a multitude of goals. The exquisite interplay between the two against Chelsea leading to an Özil goal stands out but other examples display the havoc that the German’s forward runs have caused thus far this season.

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Sanchez recieves the ball in a wide area whilst Mesut Ozil runs directly into the Watford box before scoring a free header.

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Sanchez looks to receive the ball deep but slips. Mesut Ozil points to where he wants the ball before driving past the Stoke defence and scoring another header.

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The combination of Sanchez’s vision and Ozil’s pace combines to great effect, Alex Iwobi takes advantage of the space created to score a goal.

Mesut Özil continues to improve his efficiency and use of space, his relationship with those around him is only helping matters.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

MATCH REPORT: EVERTON 2-1 ARSENAL

A late Ashley Williams goal condemned Arsenal to their first away defeat of the Premier League season, as the Gunners return from Goodison Park with a 2-1 defeat versus Everton.

Seamus Coleman’s equaliser on the brink of half-time was enough to cancel out Alexis Sánchez’s opener, with Williams’ header in the 86th minute tipping the scales in Everton’s favour in a hectic end to the game, subsequently preventing Arsenal from momentarily occupying top spot in the league.

Despite a solid start, the Gunners would have to wait until the 20th minute before conjuring up any piece of goal action, courtesy of the free-kick won by Francis Coquelin on the edge of the box that plucked out a yellow card for Phil Jagielka.

Sánchez stepped up to the ball and was on hand to put Arsenal 1-0 up thanks to Williams’ deflection that sent Maarten Stekelenburg the wrong way.

Enner Valencia registered Everton’s first half-chance of the game as late as the 29th minute, glancing a header wide of its intended target from a near-post position.

Two more opportunities fell the hosts’ way in the few minutes following the Ecuadorian’s chance, as both Aaron Lennon and Romelu Lukaku sliced efforts wide from the left flank.

The alarm bells continued to ring for Arsène Wenger’s men, with Lennon again at the heart of it all when misguiding a shot over from inside the box prior to a miss-kicked clearance by Nacho Monreal.

As the clock ticked closer to the interval, the Toffees eventually got their goal through Coleman, meeting Baines’ right-footed cross with a header towards the back-post that left Petr Čech rooted.

Arsenal proved to be the superior side once again immediately after the restart and will undoubtedly look back on the chance spurned by Mesut Özil in the 54th minute, failing to keep his effort from Sánchez’s cut-back under the bar after lingering expertly around the edge of the area.

Everton’s response came in the 60th minute through Ross Barkley, taking full advantage of Lukaku’s lay-off before driving his left-footed shot past Čech’s far post.

Second-half substitute Alex Iwobi totted up Arsenal’s chances further when picking out Sánchez’s cross from mid-air, but the young midfielder’s failure to keep his balance saw his half-volley hit the side-netting.

With 85 minutes on the clock, the Gunners were up against the hosts’ momentum once more, going close to conceding from a Jagielka volley that required Čech’s intervention.

From the following corner, however, the killer blow with Arsenal’s name on it emerged, as Williams sunk in the winner in the 86th minute that gave Everton a 2-1 lead.

Jagielka received a second yellow card for a bookable offence in the 93rd minute and the north Londoners almost made full use of the Englishman’s absence with the few seconds that remained.

Following a pinball scenario, Iwobi was left with a loose ball and a semi-vacated goal to aim at, but Baines was on hand to produce the heroics with a crucial block on the line that concluded the Gunners’ first away defeat since February 2016.

Arsenal now remain in 2nd place with 34 points, one behind table toppers Chelsea ahead of tomorrow’s fixtures, with the Blues, Liverpool and Manchester City all in action.

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (6); Héctor Bellerín (6), Gabriel Paulista (5), Laurent Koscielny (7), Nacho Monreal (6); Granit Xhaka (5), Francis Coquelin (6), Theo Walcott (5), Mesut Özil (4), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (4); Alexis Sánchez (6)

Subs: Olivier Giroud (5), Alex Iwobi (5), Lucas Pérez (N/A)

Twitter: @P_SRibeiro

BLOG: GRANIT XHAKA: INTRINSIC

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. Granit Xhaka has achieved mastery in this field. Most players let the game control them, allowing their vital decisions to be led by those around them.  Most, not all. Xhaka is one of those blessed with the skill of controlling the game. Not your typical English perception of controlling a game, no, true control of the game has all possible outcomes critically analysed and the skill to decisively execute low percentage passes to the highest degree of accuracy. In the Swiss international, Arsenal have an embodiment of Wenger on the pitch, a facilitator of beauty.

The £35 million man found his journey to his intrinsic value a turbulent one, starting on the bench in the Premier League’s curtain raiser, Xhaka was thrown into a hostile environment in an attempt to save a sinking fleet against Liverpool, eventually succumbing to hostility, being branded a yellow card on his first Arsenal appearance, a strand of the Swiss’ characteristic pundits and commentators feel compelled to allude to when describing the 24-year-old. In the midst of this ferocity is a player blessed with incredible perception of unravelling situations around him.

Granit Xhaka is like a newly bought violin, once fine tuned, millions are blessed with the beauty he possesses. Arsene Wenger is the Luthier, cultivating the unique attributes the midfielder has, crafting an instrument integral for the surrounding machinery. After eventual ambiguity regarding where the clog is best suited in the Arsenal machinery, the Frenchman settled on the obvious, deploying the Swiss international as a deep-lying playmaker, or as Santi Cazorla advocates will argue, the diminutive Spaniard’s role. Much has been made of the absence of the Spaniard, and the consequent impact it will have upon the Gunners title charge, however, all fears can be eased when applying logic to a situation that has been engulfed by the typical English method of conclusions, stats. No doubt you’ll have heard of Arsenal’s worryingly low 38.9% in his absence. Despite this alarming percentage, there are several reasons to not be alarmed. Firstly, the 31-year-old has missed the toughest part fixture list of the season in consecutive seasons now, a key influence in the win percentage. As majestic as Cazorla is to watch, and as well as he has performed in the big games his featured in, the Spaniard has found a vast number of his absences in recent seasons have come when the big hitters are in town. A further ease to your inevitable fears is the Swiss international. Following Cazorla’s injury nightmare last November, Arsenal found themselves having to through Matheiu Flamini into the firing line, inevitable failure followed. With a similar situation arising 12 months later, Arsene Wenger finds himself with a physically superior alternative with a similar technical prowess. Despite his limited playing time, Xhaka has won 25 tackles in the league this season, more than any other Arsenal player, a role often attributed to French destroyer Francis Coquelin. Combining this combative edge with his ability to play between the lines at ease brings the best out of those around him, allowing their beauty to be facilitated.

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Xhaka transcends the simple destroyer, blending skill and graft to create a basis for art to be woven. Not only does he encapsulate the two skills, he allows tactical diversity, with all of Coquelin, Ramsey, ElNeny and Cazorla equipped with attributes to bounce of Xhaka’s. Dependant on the individual, the Swiss international can change his role. With Ramsey in the side the 24-year-old drops deeper, acknowledging the Welshman’s tendencies to drive forward. When Coquelin graces the XI, Xhaka’s position is further up, with the Swiss having the knowledge of the Frenchman’s limitations on the ball, giving him an easy forward outlet. This tactical nous the former Mochengladbach man has allows diversity in midfield the Gunners haven’t had on years.

Entering the inexorable Christmas period, only the special players sustain the performance of beauty, most succumb to the pressure. In the midfield maestro the Gunners have a ready equipped man ready to endure the harsh rigours the infamous month of December presents. Allowing those around him to bless the Emirates faithful, he is allowing spiritual happiness, with integral truth. He’s unselfish; therefore he won’t receive credit, but requires all Gunners to embrace him.

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: DANNY’S DILEMMA

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Before the ongoing season, as Arsenal fans, in the recent past, we weren’t so used to seeing the spectacular from our centre forwards, at least not since the Van Persie days. At the turn of the millennium, Arsenal were a club associated with the quality and quantity of their forwards. We had Henry of course, spearheading our attacks, but the bench also consisted of some genuine options in the form of Kanu and Wiltord, to name a few. The move to the Emirates saw a reshuffle with the likes of Adebayor, Eduardo and Van Persie getting involved. All of these were high quality options and almost all of them, subsequently left the club for “greener pastures”. By the year 2012 however, the departure of Van Persie and the arrival of Giroud gave us some real problems. In addition to the dearth of creativity that existed in the squad after Cesc’s forced move to Barca, we were now left without a top quality option upfront, something Arsenal were renowned for over the years.

This, as we know, was an issue Arsene failed to address for quite a long period of time. He insisted on “spending on the right player”. But who would’ve thought spending 12 million on Danny Welbeck falls under that category. Of course, many may still claim this was a panic buy. After all, Arsene did sign him on the deadline day of 2014 after Giroud suffered a fracture and after having gone almost another transfer window without signing a centre forward. The signing initially caused a shitstorm since Danny was a scapegoat for many rival fans including some of United’s own after their dismal 2013/14 season. But some of his subsequent performances suggested otherwise.

He offered something different to what the fans were used to seeing upfront for quite some time then, a good mixture of pace, strength and stamina. Some glimpses of that, followed by a Champions League hattrick as well as the unforgettable winner he scored vs United in the FA Cup excited the fans at the prospect of having Danny as their main man. But he was soon shunted out wide when Giroud returned, indicating that Arsene wasn’t fully convinced of him as a finisher. And then the inevitable happened.

A player who barely spent any time on the sidelines during his playing career suffered a freak injury. Initially diagnosed as a bone bruising that was supposed to heal within days, he subsequently required surgery. Arsenal were well into the 2015/16 season when Danny made his comeback after nearly 9 months on the sidelines. Again, we got more glimpses of what he offers including the winner he scored in the dying moments of the Leicester game at the Emirates. Hopes were high. Everyone looked towards Danny as the man who could further propel us to the title during the 2nd half of the season. Unfortunately, the injury Gods struck again, this time in the form of knee ligament damage.

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But almost halfway into the current season and with a return to the starting line up within a month from now on the cards, there aren’t many who are particularly excited. And unsurprisingly so, considering we have three realistic options upfront in the form of Alexis, Lucas and Giroud, all of whom offer almost everything Danny does and that our attackers have been combining well consistently since the season began. So now the question arises, what kind of role Danny would play in this current squad because clearly, he doesn’t offer anything different from the current crop of centre forwards. It does look likely that Danny will play a predominant role in the F.A Cup as Arsene will look to rotate his squad and keep them fresh for what could be a pivotal 2nd half of the season. Also, after being thrust out of action for so long, Arsene wouldn’t be too inclined towards playing him upfront; at least I would be surprised if he does so. He’s more likely to play out wide where he can make use of his raw abilities of pace and power.

As much as we all would love to witness another Leicester or Man United moment from him, we are likely to see him play out wide and compete with the likes of Ox, Walcott and Iwobi which, again, only benefits the squad. To play upfront though, is altogether a different challenge. Climbing up a pecking order consisting of Alexis, Giroud and Lucas is a big ask for anyone let alone Danny, especially after having spent more than a year in the treatment room in the last two seasons combined. Let’s not forget the issues he may face fitness wise even after his return as he’s exposed to the intensity of the league.

On the plus side, a fit Danny gives Arsene more options, obviously. Though all of us are enjoying Alexis’ performances this season, you can’t guarantee that this form will continue till May. Arsene hinted at giving Alexis a breather and rightly so, seeing that he has spent almost all of his last three summers representing Chile at the international stage. Giroud has shown that he influences the game much more coming off the bench and Lucas, in spite of his recent hattrick against Basel, hasn’t really come up to speed with the pace and physicality of the league and may take more time in doing so. That’s where Danny, a player who grew up playing football in Man United’s academy and played a part in their title winning campaigns, could offer a healthy solution. All going well and speaking very optimistically, he could fit in right away in case things go south.

Maybe we’re asking too much of him. Maybe this scenario is very unrealistic. But stranger things have happened in football and something similar is required, if this season is to be a memorable one for the club and in particular, for Danny.

Follow me on Twitter: @PsychedGenius

BLOG: GABRIEL: THE GUARDIAN ANGEL

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Over the past couple of weeks, Gabriel has been put through the works in more ways than one. Seeing him break down in tears after the Southampton game, just two days after Brazillian football club Chapecoense were involved in a tragic plane crash, was absolutely devastating.

Yet he admirably soldiers on, clearly moved by the recent disaster.

Just 16 minutes had passed in the Bournemouth game on the 27th November, when the recently resurrected Mathieu Debuchy was forced off with yet anther injury that is set to keep him out until the new year. This wouldn’t be such a huge issue if first-choice right-back Héctor Bellerín was available, so a replacement was needed. With Carl Jenkinson not on the bench that particular day, in stepped Gabriel with his first game on the right side of defence for Arsenal.

I have to say I was initially slightly worried about this decision, with Mustafi being a capable right-back after playing there several times for Germany, he was my preferred option. However Gabriel was very solid in his new role. Against tricky, fast Bournemouth forwards Callum Wilson, Joshua King and Jordan Ibe, I was surprised with how well he performed. He looked confident when defending, and made frequent runs down the right wing to help on the attack against a relatively stubborn Bournemouth back-line.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s no Héctor Bellerín, but he certainly did his job, and for that you can only applaud him. My doubts about his role were crushed after Carl Jenkinson put in a performance ­Emmanuel Eboue would be proud of against Southampton in the EFL Cup. Gabriel had to be the first-choice in that position, at least until Bellerín or Debuchy return.

Should The Gunners be lucky enough to have Bellerín, Debuchy and Gabriel fit and healthy at the same time, Gabriel would be third choice, for me. Debuchy still offers a lot, and although his game time against bournemouth was very limited, he showed glimpses of quality in the opening stages of the game, which makes me believe that he still wants to play for this club.

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Is Gabriel the answer though, or does his long term role at the club remain in the centre of defence? I’m in favour of the latter, for several reasons. Firstly, I’m trying really hard not to jinx this but should anything happen to either Koscielny or Mustafi, playing Gabriel at right-back would mean that the inexperienced but talented Rob Holding would have to step in. I’m assuming this because of Carl Jenkinson’s below par performances recently. He’s had his chance and he has not improved at all, and Gabriel should be ahead of him in the right-back pecking order.

It’s certainly not a bad position to be in. Most premier league teams don’t have three or even four options at right back,so the strength in depth is remarkable, and it’s one of the reasons why I think that Arsenal could do so well this season.

Although Arsenal fans should be happy with his recent performances under difficult circumstances, the quality of opposition that Gabriel has faced over the last few games hasn’t been particularly strong. This has me worried if he comes up against some quality opposition, with more dangerous wingers, which will now most likely not happen as Héctor Bellerín is back in training, just in time for big away games against Everton and Manchester City.

Overall, Arsenal have a plethora of players who could competently play right-back, even players not mentioned in this post such as Francis Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Maitland-Niles, but I’m happy that Gabriel is able to play there. He has looked comfortable on the ball, and he deserves a chance to establish himself as an important member of the squad.

Follow me on Twitter: @OliverSeenior

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 3-1 STOKE

Football was the winner at the Emirates today as a ruthless Arsenal forward line dispatched Stoke with a comfortable 3-1 victory. 

Last season saw a Gunners side prone to sloppiness and indecisiveness, and the horrors of this 9 month period seemed set to infiltrate the Emirates again with a poor start to the game. Spanish central defender Muniesa found his thumping volley saved by the fingertips of Petr Cech, a warning sign to the Arsenal rearguard of the wholesome threat the Potters have. Alexis appeared to be the only one at the races in the opening exchanges, with his inexorable pressing forcing a mistake from Stoke goalkeeper Grant, unfortunately for the Chilean the ball ricocheted off his leg and out for a goal-kick.

Xhaka’s Swiss teammate Xherdan Shaqiri may have felt he should have given the away side the lead when, following a poor through-ball from Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Potters swiftly countered, and had the powerhouse winger been more decisive, he may have rifled home past the Gunners goalkeeper. It was Stoke who continued to have the better of the chances with Wales international Joe Allen firing wide from 12 yards following a superb run from Marco Arnoutovic.

An all too familiar site followed the spurned chance, an injury. Shkodran Mustafi was forced to depart the Emirates turf following a hamstring injury, with Hector Bellerin taking his place and Gabriel moving to a more familiar centre back role. As seems to have been a trend in recent seasons, running into an Arsenal player wins you a penalty, Xhaka being the latest victim of this trend. Petr Cech’s attempts to save Charlie Adam’s penalty were futile, a worryingly common occurrence, with the veteran goalkeeper yet to save a penalty in a Gunner’s shirt.

A period of mediocrity proceeded the goal, with Stoke goalkeeper Grant doing his best to anger the Arsenal faithful with persistent time-wasting. The Englishman clearly hadn’t learnt from Fraser Forster’s Emirates antics earlier on in the season, the Gunners will break you down, and courtesy of a beautiful team goal Arsenal levelled on the 41st minute. Alexis found first half substitute Hector Bellerin with a luxurious through ball, and the Spaniard consequently found Theo Walcott with a driven cross, with the Englishman applying the finish. Half time saw the Gunners leave the turf level pegging with the Potters.

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Walcott’s fine finish on the 41st minute was no less than the Gunners deserved.

As the second half began, the front four decided they’d seen enough of Stoke’s defensive resilience and turned on the class, and did so in style. On the 50th minute Oxlade-Chamberlain floated a delightful ball over the top of the away teams rearguard, and Ozil produced the rest, seamless running onto the delivery, the German international headed deftly over the stranded Lee Grant and into the back of the net. In his new role this season, the 28 year old is flourishing. A mention must be reserved for the Ox who is certainly grabbing the chances he is being given by the scruff of the neck, producing a majestic performance in the 68 minutes he spent on the field.

The dynamic winger’s replacement was Alex Iwobi, who himself has found a new lease of life following his first goal of the season in Switzerland on Tuesday. Acting as a outlet, the Nigerian international oozed class in his cameo. In the midst of the class was a Peter Crouch header that should have been converted. A mere 10 seconds between his introduction and the chance, the Arsenal rearguard surely must have felt relieved that their sloppiness was not punished thanks to a smart Petr Cech save.

Stoke lived to rue such a miss, with Iwobi receiving the ball on the left, playing in Alexis, courtesy of a foul on the Chilean having the ball arrive back in his path, and dispatching clinically into the right corner of the goal. An area of his game the 20 year old openly admits he needs to improve, a finish reminiscent of one Thierry Henry will certainly give him a platform to improve upon.

The remaining period of the game dragged along, with the Gunners in no desperate need to add to their goal tally, sitting top of the table with their current goal difference. The only spark in the last 15 being provided by a mesmerising Walcott run which resulted in a smart save being made by Grant, the busier of the two keepers on the day. The full time whistle signalled the Gunners being top of the pile following the 3 o’ clock kick offs, and a signal of intent was also delivered.

The Gunners can take hits and keep moving forward.

Player Ratings: Cech (6), Gabriel (7), Mustafi (N/A), Koscielny (7), Monreal (6.5), Coquelin (7), Xhaka (7.5), Walcott (7.5), Ozil (8), Oxlade-Chamberlain (8), Alexis (8). Substitutes: Bellerin (7.5), Iwobi (8), Giroud (6.5)

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: ASSESSING WILSHERE’S LOAN MOVE

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack loaned to Bournemouth, Jack rediscovers form???

Surely that isn’t how the old nursery rhyme goes, but when you’re bossing around the midfield versus Liverpool at the weekend, you can change any lyric to your liking. After what appeared to be a questionable loan move by Arsene Wenger back in September, the English international seems to be quickly rediscovering his form with middle-of-the-table side Bournemouth, a move that was viewed by many as a step back in the 24 year old’s career. So, with Arsenal’s season in mind, should we regret letting Jacky Boy go?

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 Stats

Let’s go into the sheer numbers first and foremost, both revolving around the club as well as the midfielder. Since Wilshere’s arrival in early September, the Cherries are 5-2-3, positioning themselves smack in the middle of the table. Wilshere has made an appearance 10 times this season, starting in 9 of those matches, however he has yet to record an assist or a goal. Looking at these numbers, I’m honestly not too worried, considering his role both with Bournemouth and Arsenal is of a deeper-lying position in the midfield. What does excite me however, is the fact that he leads the entire team with chances created with 18 through 10, averaging almost 2 a game, and given the quality of players a club like Bournemouth has, you would almost expect this. This has thrilling implications for when he returns to Arsenal, as we know Wenger loves to play one attacking and one defending/holding midfielder in that 2-man midfield pivot. The high number of chances created thus far for Jack, gives me reason to believe he has took what he learned under Wenger and has put it into use with Bournemouth, hopefully to bring it back to Arsenal and again recapture his form with his true team.

Depth

The depth of our squad at the moment is remarkably deep to say the least, especially looking at the midfield. I can’t remember the last time we have had this many options to deploy in the midfield, honestly guys. Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, Coquelin. Those are the four deeper-lying midfielders Wenger has played with this season, for a total of 20 different combinations (you could even throw in the injured Cazorla if you’d like). That is quite literally the definition of depth. If Wilshere were to have bypassed his loan move and stayed with the Gunners this season, he would have had a very, very tough time breaking into that starting XI, although a Xhaka-Wilshere midfield pivot sounds oh so enticing. Quite frankly, Jack has been in and out of football regularly for the past 5 years, a coincidence too consistent for that of a club like Arsenal.

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Playing Time

Arguably the most important incentive for Wilshere to join Bournemouth on loan: playing time. While at Bournemouth, Wilshere has already played 774 minutes of football. That is almost more game time the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined, and we aren’t even through half the season. This seems to be the most important statistic of them all, as Jack desperately needs minutes to rediscover his form and to just simply brush the cobwebs out from under his feet. At this rate, it seems as if Jack will get a healthy dose of 30+ games under his belt this season (fingers crossed), the most since the 2010 campaign. And yes, we all know what Jack did during that year, during THAT game against Barcelona, so the potential is nonetheless still there. Not to mention, Jack is getting valuable minutes and playing time under who may very well be Arsenal’s next manager, Eddie Howe. Howe has been noted by several critics to have learned and shared with his side several of Wenger’s tactics and strategies, almost at times trying to play an identical game as Arsenal. So if Wenger does decide to hang up his infamous zip coat at the end of the season, rest assured Eddie Howe would be molded as a direct replacement, and Wilshere would have no issues adapting to a new style of play, because chances are there won’t be a new style of play.

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So Gunners, should we regret letting Jack go out on loan? My answer would have to be absolutely not. All fans, neutral and die-hard alike, should see this out as a win-win situation. Not only is Jack getting the minutes he so desperately needs in order to make a solid comeback into the starting XI, but he is staying injury-free and doing so all while seeming to have a great time (just look at his Instagram). So for those of you who felt a little hard-done by this decision and felt that it was unjustified, relax, take a deep breathe, and realize the benefits of this logical move. After all, we did make it through November without a loss in the league!

All statistics via Whoscored.com and Squawka.com

Follow me on Twitter: @j_kulla