MATCH REPORT: SOUTHAMPTON 0-5 ARSENAL

Arsenal cruised into the fifth round of the Emirates FA Cup with a 5-0 victory away to Southampton at the St. Mary’s Stadium this evening, as Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck took centre-stage in the side led by Steve Bould in Arsène Wenger’s absence.

An early brace from Welbeck in his first start of the season saw the Gunners run riot in the first half, meanwhile Walcott’s hat-trick added the finishing touches to the visitors’ first win away to Southampton for over 13 years.

Spirits were high as the North Londoners took to the field, having jumped up to second place in the Premier League table last weekend under dramatic circumstances, and the Gunners looked to extend the feel good factor in a dominant start, despite a heavily-rotated XI.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide showcased his playmaking capabilities when slipping Lucas Perez through inside the box as early as the 4th minute, but the Spaniard’s swipe at the ball from the left failed to hit the target, as well as find a teammate inside the box.

The former Deportivo man wasn’t as forgiving with his decision-making the second time around, however, hooking a pass around the corner for Welbeck in behind the defence, who kept his composure to dink the goalkeeper and open the scoring for Arsenal in the 15th minute.

Welbeck was evading the Southampton defence again six minutes later, this time meeting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s long ball before landing a finish through the legs of the on-rushing Harry Lewis.

At the other end, Shane Long set his sights on clawing back a goal for the hosts, but David Ospina was equal to the Irishman’s strike when parrying the shot away from danger.

Come the 35th minute, Welbeck and Lucas were found combining again inside the box, as the ex-Manchester United forward set Walcott for his first goal of the night with a tap-in, making it 3-0.

Welbeck was then replaced by Alexis Sanchez midway through the second half, as the Chilean sunk his teeth into the action immediately to assist Walcott for his brace in the 68th minute.

With the unexperienced Saints stretched, Arsenal smelt blood when Sanchez was set through on goal before biding his time for support, laying off a pass for Walcott to secure the match ball and a 5-0 victory with a shot across goal.

Lucas came close scoring himself as late as the 88th minute, but couldn’t surpass Lewis between the sticks after going one-on-one, as Wenger’s side settled for five goals ahead of Monday’s draw for the fifth round.

Arsenal XI: David Ospina (6); Hector Bellerin (6), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Rob Holding (7), Kieran Gibbs (6); Ainsley Maitland-Niles (8), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (9), Jeff Reine-Adelaide (7); Theo Walcott (8), Lucas Perez (7), Danny Welbeck (8)

Subs: Alexis Sanchez (7), Alex Iwobi (6)

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

BLOG: ALEXIS – A GOOD BOY?

Will he? Won’t he? The question on all Arsenal fans’ lips at the moment. Well maybe not quite ‘at the moment’ purely because we’re furiously retweeting his Panenka vs Burnley. What a man.

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The future of both Alexis Sanchez as a player alongside Arsenal Football Club are intertwined and aren’t as separate as we would normally imagine them to be. Usually you would say that no one player is bigger than the club and if he needs to be moved on then let’s move him on. However this is a quite unique situation for a multitude of reasons; Will Wenger stay? Will Ozil stay? Will we win a major trophy? Will we add more World Class players to the squad? These are the questions that will be whirring around Alexis’ mind as he comes to a decision as to whether he will extend his contract or not and I completely understand the reasoning behind the slight delay with it all. It’s not just one thing and it feels like there are a set of dominoes that need to fall in order to get this one over the line.

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There are plenty of people in the media  as well as some of the fan base are suggesting that his ‘attitude’ on the pitch is indicative of a man who has his mind elsewhere. Being upset at not winning football matches is now something that means you want to leave a football club nowadays. The media are becoming more and more inclined to the clickbait life and in turn are producing nothing more than a headline rather than real content, real analysis and real meaning. Connecting things in the loosest way possible is not helpful to the more innocent amongst the fan base and certainly fuels the fire for the growing number of ‘super fan personalities’ who feel vindicated because people like the Daily Mail back them. I mean I saw a Tweet sent out by Ian Ladyman post the Burnley game stating that the Mustafi penalty call was outside the box. It wasn’t even a close call – and for a man who professed to watch the game and then write a match report on said game it smacks of nothing but laziness to the extreme with regards to the analysis. The balance between getting content out and producing quality content is far too heavily slanted in the direction of efficiency. I digress…

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The other side of the coin you have Arsenal fans who state the quite pathetic emotion of “Don’t stay Alexis, you can do better than this mate. I understand. Sniff”. Do me a favour. Since when do we as fans need to take the high road and look out for the players over the club? It’s quite frankly an embarrassing stance to take by so many who profess to love the club yet understand the very players whom they want there, to leave. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. On top of this we had a tremendous amount of angst from the agenda merchants around the whole Wenger/Ozil contract situation potentially being tied together. It’s as if there can be no acceptance to the fact that Arsene Wenger is a big draw to players, even though some of the fan base think he is past it. Yes you may feel he’s past it but you cannot control how Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez feel about him. The same fans who want us to grow and attract top talent don’t seem to realise that by losing the likes of Alexis and Ozil (and even Wenger to a degree) means we have to: 1) Replace them. 2) Let them settle in. 3) Wait even longer for a trophy.

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Now for Alexis’ ‘behaviour’ over the last few weeks. He has been far from happy when we’ve lost/drawn games and when he’s been substituted. Now consider the fact that he is a human being first, footballer second and think about this. If you’re playing a 5 aside or an 11 a side game of football on a Saturday or at a work lunchtime kick about or even down the park with your mates you a) probably don’t want to go in goal and b) would hate to be the sub on either side. We all like to be involved at all times. Secondly whether we win or lose is in no way comparable to a Premier League footballer however we all know that it feels terrible. The difference is that we have the distractions of work/life to get back to whereas a footballer has the feeling of defeat and only that to think about before the next game where the demons can be exercised. Of course they are going to feel it more. Especially if they are a super passionate footballer in the first instance. Alexis Sanchez, we all know, wears his heart on his sleeve and it’s something that Wenger will have known when he bought him. Wenger himself seems fairly calm about the situation, which gives me hope and confidence that the man will stay. I do really feel that the only way to assure that he does so is to win one of the Premier League or the Champions League. The FA Cup may well help, however it’s one of the big ones that he really wants, as all athletes do – they want to experience the unknown when it comes to winning things.

As much as I love the Atom and Humber banner, it might take a Premier League title to keep everyone happy. Time to deliver Arsenal.

 Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

Blog: How are the Summer departures doing?

Loan spells were renewed, big names sent out, youngsters given game time and contracts came to an end. I took how a look at how some of these players are doing at the midway point of the season:

Permanent deals

Isaac Hayden’s stint at Newcastle has got off to a steady start. Having made 29 appearances so far this season he has asserted himself as a solid defensive midfielder, willing to help the collective whilst showing off just how authoritative he can be in the middle of the park. His consistency and maturity are just two of the reasons why Newcastle fans are pleased to have him tied down for five years.

When Serge Gnabry signed on the dotted line for Werder Bremen a lot of heads were turned. Question marks about minimal game time and assurances about his talent all came to a head when the German took the Bundesliga by storm. The 21-year-old has featured in a variety of attacking positions and has managed to become his clubs top scorer up to now contributing to seven goals in sixteen appearances. His performances have been of such a standard that another potential move could be on the cards already.

Expired contracts

Fan favourite Tomas Rosicky has only featured for eighteen minutes this season with boyhood club Sparta Prague  due to continued injuries. Only one departure featured for less time on the pitch, the now retired Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard and ex Club captain joined the coaching staff of Manchester City in a bid to learn from Pep Guardiola himself and gain experience with a top level squad. Arteta was the first member of Guardiola’s coaching staff to be officially confirmed and will hope to use the experience to springboard his coaching career.

Mathieu Flamini remains in London having signed as a free agent for Crystal Palace. Flamini was brought in as an experienced head but, in a struggling season for the Eagles, has not brought anything of note to the squad.

Loan moves

Arsenal loaned out many faces in the Summer transfer window be it through want of game time, a need for experience or simply to prove their worth. Jack Wilshere needed game time and ultimately needed to prove his fitness was sufficient for those at the top level. Having now featured in nineteen consecutive Premier League games for AFC Bournemouth the Englishman has successfully overcome his injury woes under the guidance of Eddie Howe. Wilshere has played for more minutes this campaign than he managed in the previous two campaigns with Arsenal combined. Proving his talent every match-day has been tough viewing for many Arsenal fans who want the academy product back in the squad.

“Yes, I could use him now, but if he had not played until now, he would not be ready to play now.” – Arsene Wenger defending his decision to send Wilshere out on loan

Another Englishman looking to stake his claim in the Arsenal squad for next season is Calum Chambers. The defender is on loan at Middlesbrough and has started the majority of games in his preferred central position. Earlier in the season Arsene Wenger expressed his delight on how Chambers loan move was doing and stated “he needed experience and Premier League games.” That aim has certainly been achieved and, although the 22-year-old has recently suffered a stress fracture of his foot, it is only a bump on what was, up to then, a smooth road.

Many thought Joel Campbell was unlucky to be loaned out but his spell at Sporting Lisbon thus far has blown hot and cold. The Costa Rican has predominantly played on the left wing and used mainly as an impact substitution but his team currently resides in fourth place and his game time has been limited by those more talented and useful to the squad.

Jack Wilshere is wanted back by many but perhaps the most wanted man, forgotten by some, is Wojciech Szczesny. The Polish international is currently in his second spell with AS Roma with the Italian club pursuing his purchase; and why not, having kept nine cleansheets in 21 Serie A appearances this season and becoming one of Spaletti’s most important players.

Follow me on Twitter: @ElliottM95

 

 

 

BLOG: MESUT OZIL: HABITUATION

Perception. A word that has come to define Mesut Ozil. The epitome of grace, the German glides across canvas’ worldwide, blending intelligence and incisiveness into a thing of beauty, leaving opposition defences mesmerised by the hallucination of bliss. As what tends to come with class, you have critics, individuals unable to comprehend the magic being woven before their very eyes, thus opting to slaughter you for the unique gift you have, a fantasy unattainable to them. 2016/17 has seen these critics at the forefront of newspapers and social media sites globally. Have the critics once again been unable to comprehend mastery in action, or has the once genius lost his magic touch?

9 goals and 7 assists in 24 appearances. The German maestro certainly has the stats to dismiss the lunacy of implying inadequacies in his performances this season. Football is much more than the simple stats however, acknowledging the nature of the 28 year old’s game over the last 7 months paints a much more accurate picture. 2016/17 season has seen the Gunner’s number 7 Alexis Sanchez deployed as a central striker, a key aspect of the perhaps unusual stats the man labelled the “king of the assist” has produce. Alexis is not the conventional number 9, the Chilean wants the ball, always, no exceptions, ever. Arsenal’s player of the season has said himself when the ball is taken away from him it’s as though he has been “stripped of his toy”. Dropping deep to receive the ball is the 28 year old’s innate nature, and when you’re creating the most chances in Europe from open play (55), you have the license to do so. However, this presents a dilemma, the centre forward area as been left completely vacated, and with it acres of space in behind the opposition defence. Few players recognise in the heat of battle such spaces, but masters do. Ozil’s unselfish nature sees him go where the game demands him to go, as though in unison with time around him, executing decisive movements to perfection. A part of his game Arsene Wenger knew the German always had, but was afraid to unleash. A ruthless killer. A telepathic connection continued to thrive between the two, a scarily perfect one. It’s as though the two games are apparent; The game of football the other 20 players on the pitch are playing, and then the performance the two artists craft.

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The new role of Alexis Sanchez has seen a ruthless Mesut Ozil born. 

Whilst the allure of the connection was a blessing for the Arsenal faithful, it came at cost. By allowing Ozil and Alexis to play in their own bubble, a huge gap was created in midfield, leaving the Gunner’s midfield isolated against the inevitable counter attacks that arise in games. Granit Xhaka found himself fall victim to this, sent off against Swansea for preventing such an occurrence. By having such a cohesive attacking system, the Arsenal in actuality play a 442 with Alexis and Ozil the forwards. Yet, the balance of the midfield and discipline of the wingers simply isn’t set up to accommodate such a system. The style of Xhaka means he’s best acclimatised to a three-man midfield, and the offensive talents of Aaron Ramsey are wasted by restraining his role even further than it is in the 4231.

However, the adaptability of the German is a marvel to watch, epitomised by the role he adopted once Giroud began to lead the Gunners line. Acknowledging the Frenchman’s strengths, Ozil sees that space in behind is limited due to the occupation of the opposition defenders by the Arsenal number 12. Thus, the creative genius finds himself pulling out to either flank, where the space is now apparent, and continually threading the ball inside the fullback’s for crosses in by his teammates, or by taking charge himself and floating in deliver’s for the target man to power home. The tactic has precedence, with numerous assists of the German’s last season coming from such situations, and even this season, with the salvation mission against West Brom arising from such a delivery (albeit a world-class header from Giroud).

The facilitator, that’s what Ozil is. You’ll see different styles of the German within a 90 minute performance, genius the English media are unable to comprehend. Don’t let the cloak of relaxation con you into thinking otherwise. Mesut Ozil is integral to Arsenal, and maybe one day the world will understand why.

Twitter: @JLennard10

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-1 BURNLEY

An 11th hour penalty from Alexis Sánchez was enough to guide 10-man Arsenal to a 2-1 victory over Burnley at the Emirates Stadium, having seen the visitors equalise midway through stoppage time.

The Gunners, who were reduced to 10 after Granit Xhaka’s red card, looked braced to share the spoils after Shkodran Mustafi’s header and Andre Gray’s 93rd minute penalty, but Sanchez’s spot-kick just seconds away from the final whistle sees the north Londoners take full advantage of the results around them to move up to second place in the Premier League.

Following a tense introduction into the match, it was the hosts who registered the first chance of the game, as Mesut Özil’s low drive required Tom Heaton to push the strike away from goal in the 14th minute.

After a flurry of half chances from the subsequent corner, Burnley responded through Ashley Barnes at the other end, but Petr Čech remained equal to the forward’s effort.

Özil was on hand to try his luck again from the edge of the box, as a half-volley in the 21st minute dragged itself slightly wide of the target.

Sánchez emerged to a greater extent into the game as the game approached half time, finding himself enough space in the 42nd minute after some intricate trickery on George Boyd to fire wide of the target.

The Chilean commenced the second period in much the same vein, cutting in early into proceedings before launching a venomous strike just over the bar.

Arsène Wenger’s men were left claiming a penalty in the 55th minute, as Gray came crashing into Mustafi inside the box before the referee, John Moss, overlooked the calls.

The German centre back took centre stage once more just four minutes later, as he rose highest to flick on Özil’s corner and score his first goal in an Arsenal shirt, subsequently giving the home side a 1-0 lead.

Arsenal were dealt a big blow soon after as Xhaka was called up for a foul committed on Steven Defour, with the Swiss being left perplexed by the official’s decision to send him off in the 64th minute.

Burnley’s Defour warmed up the hands of Čech in the 71st minute with a well-struck free kick, whereas it was Laurent Koscielny who took all the plaudits 10 minutes later with a crucially-timed block on Barnes volley inside the box, with the latter reduced to poking the rebound harmlessly into Čech’s hands.

Arsenal were rocked in the 93rd minute, however, as the Clarets earned themselves a penalty for Francis Coquelin’s trip on Barnes inside the box. Gray stepped up to the plate and claimed what had appeared to have been a late equaliser for Sean Dyche’s side.

The drama ensued at the other end, as Koscielny took a boot to the face and saw the Gunners earn the chance to rob all three points, despite attacking the ball from an offside position.

Sánchez took full advantage of the spot-kick with a cool chip down the middle to give Arsenal a 2-1 victory, which takes them a point above third placed Tottenham Hotspur.

Player Ratings

Petr Čech (7); Gabriel (8), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Laurent Koscielny (9), Nacho Monreal (6); Granit Xhaka (7), Aaron Ramsey (7), Alex Iwobi (7), Mesut Özil (8), Alexis Sánchez (8); Olivier Giroud (6)

Subs: Francis Coquelin (5), Danny Welbeck (5), Hector Bellerin (5)

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

BLOG: THE ARSENE WENGER ERA

It’s difficult to put into a short amount of words just how much of an impact Arsène Wenger has had not only on Arsenal Football Club, but also on the overall modern game of football. To talk of a man who sacrificed his entire reputation, reorganized the club’s philosophies and put a significant amount of attention in regards to an influx of new talent. A man who will one day be cast in bronze and placed outside his own project, the Emirates Stadium, the ‘biggest decision in Arsenal’s history’, to further cement the legacy he has had on the sport of football.

To speak of a man who completely revolutionised the game alongside his long-time nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson. The little-known, “inexperienced”, manager dubbed ‘Arsène Who?’, changed the entire landscape of English football as we know of it today. Entering one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues whilst developing modern coaching along with an introduction to fluid, attacking football to his “boring, boring Arsenal” team.

This is the story of Arsène Wenger’s era at Arsenal Football Club. The man who completely transformed English football as we know of it whilst becoming arguably Arsenal’s greatest ever manager. The man who came from absolutely nowhere to produce one of the greatest ever footballing rivalries alongside his nemesis, underachieved in his later years to bring the best trophies to North London but was still able to prove it’s not only success that can prove your worth as a top manager.

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The early days in football

Before going on to talk about the role that Wenger has played across his in England, it’s important to look back and explore the decisions he made that were fortunate enough to bring him to this moment in his career. Wenger was recruited to third division side Mutzig by manager Max Hild – who would go on to becoming not only Wenger’s mentor, but, had a marvellous impact on his career. As a result of his older age of 20, the Frenchman was told that it was too late to build up a respectable playing career.

This never entirely stopped him from pursuing a career in football, but it certainly limited him overall. Spending a majority of his career playing in the lower divisions of French football, Arsène Wenger remained dedicated on his studies as well as maintaining focus on a potential future career in management. He would frequently read football related magazines as well as sporadically watch Bundesliga matches alongside his mentor Hild. To extend on his knowledge, Wenger would typically observe different managerial tactics whilst paying attention to the regimes on display at German clubs, with Borussia Monchengladbach being one in particular.

The German side enjoyed their greatest run as a football club in the 1970s, matching Bayern Munich’s record of consecutive league titles between 1975 and 1977. Die Fohlen also found success in Europe, winning the UEFA Cup on two occasions in 1975 and 1979. The training and nutrition on display in Germany inspired Wenger to use a similar mentality once he arrived in England, as well as at other destinations across his managerial career. The importance of training and dieting played a major part in the philosophy Wenger wanted to utilise in his managerial career.

This earned an outstanding sum of praise from his future players such as Glenn Hoddle. During an interview with Sky Sports, Hoddle revealed that: ‘Everything was structured and organised to the second so I could tell straight away what he wanted from his individuals and from his team. There was instant clarity. I had never worked so hard; three sessions per day in the first week was [like] nothing we’d done in England. It was very, very tough training, but you got fit.’

Away from football, the Frenchman remained as dedicated to his studies as he was with the sport he had grown to love. Enrolling at the Faculty of Economic and Management Studies at the University of Strasbourg in 1971 after a brief stint with medicine, Wenger remained focused on not only his passion for sport, but also his academia. Despite any potential clashes, he kept both balanced to prevent any conflict and signed for Mulhouse in 1973.

At Mulhouse, Wenger was managed by Paul Frantz – another manager to have a significant impact on his future career. Although realising the importance of dieting and isometrics a little earlier in his life, it was Frantz who perfectly emphasized this to the aspiring manager. Departing the club two years later along with his former manager, Wenger rekindled his relationship with his mentor Max Hild at ASPV Strasbourg, and later at RC Strasbourg.

The club he supported as a young boy ended up being the final club he would play at during his professional career as a footballer. His beloved Strasbourg won the league title in the 1978/79 season, but Wenger’s short stint in the first team along with his dedication to the youth side cancelled his celebrations.

By 1979 he was set to embark on a lengthy process to achieve his goal of becoming a football manager. Realising the importance of speaking other languages, Wenger used his holidays to take part in an English speaking course at Cambridge University. Before long, Weger spent the next two years of his life studying the art and science of football whilst earning his coaching badges. By 1981, he earned his manager’s diploma in France and was ready to embark on the next step to achieve his aim of becoming a world class manager.

The beginning of the manager

Although looking to start off his profound managerial career as a head coach, his first job following the completion of his coaching badges came in the role of Jean-Marc Guillot’s assistant at Cannes. During his brief stint at the club, it was Wenger’s role to study the opposition’s team and added much needed discipline into their training sessions. His work on raising the overall standard of the squad combined with his dedication to research never went unnoticed, and accepted an offer from Aldo Platini to become the manager of AS Nancy.

For his first ever season in management, Wenger offered a significant amount of promise across his first year as a manager. Unable to spend any money as a result of financial complications, Nancy were still able to finish in a respectable 11th position – three positions higher than last season – under Arsène Wenger. Wenger’s fluid attacking style saw streaks of positivity as his team recorded more goals than 5th placed Metz and matched 4th placed Auxerre. Nevertheless, the same amount of praise can not be offered to the defense of the team as they conceded a poor 54 goals.

Unfortunately, the following season offering zero room for positivity as AS Nancy were led to relegation from the French Division 1. This was not entirely Arsène Wenger’s fault, however, taking into considering that financial complications restricted him from making any signings once again. During his tenure with the club, he offered professional debuts to a handful of youngsters and also altered the positions for some of his players. Regardless of relegation, Wenger left AS Nancy under mutual consent and signed for AS Monaco.

Following two years of financial restrictions preventing Wenger from delving into the transfer market, he was finally able to make the signings he wanted to make at his new club Monaco. Every player Wenger was interested in signing eventually joined him in France. The likes of: Glenn Hoddle, Patrick Battiston and Mark Hateley were all players who eventually joined the balanced Monaco side.

Wenger’s first proper transfer window proved to be a success as glory soon followed. The well balanced side he moulded together proved to be a huge threat as Monaco lifted the league title in his first season at the club. Brilliance in defence by the likes of: Manuel Amoros, Claude Puel and Patrick Battiston combined with the withstanding attack from the likes of: Omar Da Fonseca and Mark Hateley supported the balance that Wenger helped to produce that lead to the club’s glory.

Away from such a balanced team, Wenger’s philosophy of a maintaining a controlled healthy diet proved to be consequential to his side’s success. After improving his side from a woeful 5th placed position the year prior, the Frenchman meant business in France, also winning the Manager of the Year award for his job throughout the title winning season at Monaco. His initial success as a manager allowed for the style and philosophy that he has continued to develop for years prior to management to become his focal point for the future of his managerial career.

Regrettably, the 1987/88 season was the only year in which Arsène Wenger was able to guide his Monaco side to league glory. Flourishing with an attacking 4-4-2 formation, signing one of the greatest Africans of all time in George Weah and having an impact on the production of future World Cup winning stars: Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram, Wenger’s time at Monaco was still filled with remnants of success.

As noted, Wenger’s intellect in the transfer market allowed for him to sign prolific goalscorer George Weah going into his second season as Monaco boss. Despite scoring more goals in comparison to their title winning season, Monaco finished the season in 3rd place. Despite the poor finish, they were able to reach the final of the Coupe de France but lost to Marseille.

Le Professeur’s” later years at Les Rouges et Blanc came with mixed responses, although securing success in 1991 with the Coupe de France trophy, a majority of his final years as manager saw constant near misses. Losing the 1992 European Cup Winner’s Cup to Werder Bremen and also missing out on a Champion League final place when his side lost to eventual winners AC Milan.

Experiencing both success and failure across his tenure at AS Monaco, his time at the club would meet it’s end towards the end of 1994. Originally, Wenger pushed for a move to Bayern Munich until the club refused to let a move happen. With a terrible start to the season combined with ongoing corruption and bribery across France – most notably with Marseille being punished for match fixing – Wenger’s time at Monaco came to an end after being released from the club.

Regardless of failing to bring more success, everything that Wenger bought and transformed at Monaco was soon praised by his former players later in life. Ballon D’or winner George Weah went on to say: ‘He took care of me like a son and I couldn’t believe that because when racism was at its peak, Arsène taught me that black men and white men can live together.’ Jurgen Klinsmann is another man to praise the work ethic of Arsène Wenger as he later revealed that: ‘I learnt a lot from him, especially now … He was an inspiration’.

Taking into account the media’s reaction following his appointment at Arsenal later in the years that follow, it’s rather unfortunate that Wenger’s time at Monaco went unnoticed. Throughout a period of match-fixing and scandals dominating the French game, Wenger was able to offer a contrasting approach that the rest of France would soon follow. Following his methods of utilising the academy as well as copying some of his training and nutritional techniques, parts of French football was heading in a brighter direction – thanks to Arsène Wenger.

With the Bayern Munich manager’s position already filled by Franz Beckenbauer, there was no clear direction for Wenger to follow. After meeting with representatives with Toyota, majority owner of Nagoya Grampus Eight, at a press conference held by FIFA, Wenger was offered – and accepted after months of negotiations – a deal to become their manager on a two year deal.

At the Japanese team, Wenger identified and hired an old friend in Boro Primorac to become his assistant manager. The duo continue to work with one another today at current club Arsenal. Learning about the improvement of a player’s mind and body – evident during a training camp to Versailles – Wenger soon guided his team from the bottom of the J-League to runners-up and earned the Manager of the Year award whilst winning the Emperor’s Cup, and the J-League Super Cup the following year.

Arsene Wenger ended his time at Nagoya Grampus Eight on lighter terms with a mixed legacy. Following the uncertainty over George Graham’s successor Bruce Rioch, former vice-chairman David Dein recommended Wenger, and he was soon appointed. It’s fair to say that no one knew how much of an impact this appointment would have on English football as we know it.

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Arsene Who?’ – The ten memorable years

In spite of where you stand on Arsene Wenger in the current day, it’s hard to put into words just how much he has done for not only the club but English football throughout his 20 year tenure at the club. To some he will forever be known as ‘Le Professeur’, the man who completely revolutionised the North London club and brought some of the greatest success during his earlier years as manager. The man who completely sacrificed his entire legacy – rejecting PSG on numerous occasions as well as other clubs including Barcelona – for the sake of the club that he had known to love. However to others, he is simply known as the man who has stagnated the club and failed to deliver more successful years as manager whilst jeering: ‘Arsene, thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye’.

From the second he arrived at North London, it was obvious that Wenger meant business and was ready to transform an already historical football club. A virtual unknown in English football, Wenger immediately had much to prove to his critics following his transition from Japan to England.

The media were quick to apply pressure on the new Arsenal boss, writer Nick Hornby summarised it perfectly by going on to say: ‘I remember when Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names. It was Terry Venables, Johan Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsène Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan, I bet it’s fucking Arsène Wenger, because I haven’t heard of him and I’ve heard of the other two. Trust Arsenal to appoint the boring one that you haven’t heard of.’

In addition to this, the Arsenal players were quick to add extra pressure on Wenger. Club captain Tony Adams went on to say that: ‘At first, I thought, what does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher.’ Lee Dixon followed by revealing: ‘The players filed in and in front of us stood this tall, slightly built man who gave no impression whatsoever of being a football manager.’

Notwithstanding the fact that Wenger lost the support from his fellow players upon his arrival, the second he began to make crucial changes, all opinions changed.

Unlike his predecessors Bruce Rioch and George Graham, the board gave Wenger a lot more freedom at the club; control over transfers, contracts and also training sessions. The second he arrived to the historical London club, Wenger immediately began to make changes that would influence and transform English football as we know of it.

Lecturing the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, in came the nutritional experts to monitor the respective player’s diets. The days of Mars bars, red meat and alcohol were long gone as advised pasta, boiled chicken and raw vegetables came in.

Considering club captain Tony Adams was a suffering alcoholic, the dietary and lifestyle changes that Wenger brought to the club certainly had a significant impact on Adam’s life. Wenger remained loyal to his captain through his confessions and was an important factor in saving him from alcohol abuse.

Taking into consideration the changes he made to his players diet, Wenger also played an unforgettable part in reconstructing the training regimes. The long, boring training sessions that were used by George Graham were scrapped, Wenger was taking control and doing everything his own way.

New training sessions, specific personal training and brand new dietary plans were all unveiled, the media were angry at the revolutionary changes, but soon all clubs followed in a similar direction to what Wenger introduced to English football.

Although failing to qualify for the Champions League – missing out due to Newcastle United having a higher goal difference – Arsenal were still able to finish in a respectable third place, two places higher than Rioch’s only reign at the club. With flowing attacking football as well as constant brilliant performances on display, Wenger soon won the hearts of not only his players, but all Arsenal fans.

Bearing in mind that Arsene Wenger has been praised for his eye for talent in the transfer market, his first summer window at North London was filled with success. Exciting prospect Nicolas Anelka was bought earlier in the year whilst more experienced players: Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, and Gilles Grimandi all arrived in the summer – each playing an important part in future success.

Building a strong squad including a variety of top talent, Wenger fired the Gunners to the Premier League title in his first full season at the club, potentially one of the greatest first full seasons ever to happen in English football. ‘Arsene Who?’ they said, Arsene Wenger was not only the first ever non-British manager to win the title, but he was the first ever foreigner to secure the domestic double – beating Newcastle in the FA Cup final. After just two seasons in English football, Arsene Wenger was already the most successful foreign manager in all of English football.

Wenger’s different approach at Arsenal was fulfilled with positivity: the technical attacking football on display was different to the norm, the nutritional changes proved to be an essential factor in the club’s success whilst the new training regimes offered new ways for his players to learn and adapt their style. Other managers were influenced by the Arsenal manager, and soon replicated his methods on nutrition, isometrics and training regimes.

The next few years under the Frenchman were certainly not as good in comparison to his first two years at the club. After failing to secure the title for three consecutive years, finishing 2nd every time, but the support for Wenger was as strong as ever. Cup competitions during this time were also below par, losing an UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray as well as getting close to the FA Cup.

The next season saw significant changes with Wenger winning his second domestic double as a manager. Turning some of the greatest players to ever grace the club in Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp into world beaters, the future at North London was filled with potential for greater success in the near future.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season.”

The Invincibles… the greatest Premier League side to ever grace England’s top league. The team that defied all odds and went 38 games undefeated. Arsene Wenger led his side to Premier League glory in what was one of the most one sided league seasons to date. 11 points ahead of Chelsea, an astonishing 15 points ahead of Manchester United and an astronomical 30 points ahead of fourth placed Liverpool.

The “inexperienced” untrusted foreigner branded with ‘Arsene Who?’, the man who was labeled with ‘no impression whatsoever of being a football manager’, became a pioneer in a transitional period of English football. Proving the worth of dieting and isometrics on top of inspiring current and future managers whilst rewriting the tactical rulebook, the unknown man from Japan did the unthinkable and successfully led Arsenal to an undefeated Premier League season.

Away from the factors that have been consistently named, Arsene Wenger also had a noteworthy impact on the influx of foreign talent entering the Premier League. Wenger was never afraid to go against the social norm, and continued his job in his own way and influencing all other managers to look elsewhere in the world to purchase exciting talent.

The likes of Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and every other member of the squad played a crucial part in becoming the first English team to go a whole season unbeaten since Preston North End in 1889. The former “boring, boring Arsenal” played entertaining football which in return received the greatest achievement in English football history.

An FA Cup win against fierce rival Manchester United in 2005 ended what was a highly successful period for Arsene Wenger at North London. With the construction of a brand new stadium in the process, life immediately became havoc not only for Wenger, but for Arsenal Football Club as a whole.

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The biggest period of Wenger’s career

In the summer of 2006, Arsenal completed their transition from the beloved Highbury Stadium to new pastures at the newly-built Emirates Stadium in what was a crucial turning point in the club’s history. For the next 9 years, Arsenal entered an ever growing period of financial complications which had serious implications for the Gunners in both the short and long runs. This became evident as the FA Cup win in 2005 was infact the last piece of silverware the Gunners would win for the next 9 years. A large sum of money was needed to be made in order to pay off the enormous debt whilst the era of finances soon rose with the incomings of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour.

Life at Arsenal Football Club was slowly getting worse and worse. With the club having limited funds whilst financial powerhouses Manchester City and Chelsea were spending outstanding amounts every transfer window, the battle to earn silverware became increasingly unlikely. This became evident with three consecutive cup final losses across the financial period – A Champions League defeat to Barcelona combined with Carling/Capital One Cup losses to Chelsea and Birmingham City respectively.

The days of the Invincibles were long gone as well as the players and some staff that were apart of it. Club favourites David Dein and Thierry Henry departed due to the uncertainty of the future of the club whilst other fan-favourites including Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires departed in future transfer windows, the legendary Dennis Bergkamp also announced his retirement. The perfect, balanced team that Arsene Wenger produced over the years soon turned their backs on him for the benefits of their personal careers.

With a large majority of funds paying off the stadium debt, it was a difficult task to maintain consistency and build another world class squad without the financial prowess. Wenger’s eye for talent was a significant factor throughout the financial struggles. The likes of: Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey, Hector Bellerin, and other highly rated youngsters joined the club for small fees. Academy prospects: Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny all followed a similar path and had a great impact on the club later in their careers.

Regardless of the consistent 3rd or 4th placed finishes in the league, not looking a major threat in England and European cup competitions as well as failing to win a major trophy for nine years, what Wenger achieved at Arsenal is undoubtedly one of his greatest achievements. Taking into account the amount of clubs that have stagnated as a result of financial implications, Wenger’s loyalty and passion to maintain Arsenal’s consistency every season is undoubtedly a fantastic managerial performance by the proclaimed ‘Le Professeur’.

Football pundit, and former Manchester United player, Gary Neville is a key individual to identify the significance of Wenger’s reign at North London: ‘… they have maintained that level of consistency of getting into the Champions League. They’ve built a football stadium, they are paying off the debt and they’re nearly there, if they go on like that now it will be one of the most magnificent managerial performances when you look back in history … of all the madness and all the debt that’s folding Leeds United, Portsmouth, what they’ve done is absolutely the right thing.’

Immediately following the end of the financial implications on hold at the Emirates, Wenger was quick in returning silverware to North London with consecutive FA Cup and Community Shield victories in 2014 and 2015. Star players were also signed as the likes of: Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Granit Xhaka have all transitioned to English football.

As of writing, there are currently just over 8 months remaining on Wenger’s current deal – with no indication whatsoever on whether or not he will remain or depart the club. With an increasing amount of pressure from the fans to finally deliver a long awaited Premier League title win, the final seven months of this season will be crucial in determining the Frenchman’s future at the club.

Whether you favour Arsene Wenger to continue his reign at North London or if you’re ready for a brand new era to take place, it’s certain that not only every Arsenal fan, but, every football fan should respect the job that he has done for both Arsenal Football Club and English football as we know it.

Here’s to Arsene Wenger, the pioneer of a footballing era.

@ByJohnSmith

BLOG: HOW BIG IS THE GULF BETWEEN ARSENAL AND CHELSEA?

Chelsea has quickly established themselves as the team to beat this season, storming to the top of the table with a 13-game winning streak in the past few months. Revitalized by Antonio Conte and his 3-4-3 formation, as well as—cough cough—a lack of Champions League football—the Blues now sit a pretty 5 points clear in first place.

Where does it leave Arsenal? Despite whooping their London rivals 3-0 back in September—funnily enough, this result was what inspired Conte to change to the revered 3-4-3—Arsenal have been unable to keep up with Chelsea. Recent results have seen the Gunners slide down into fifth place, eight points adrift of the top.

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While the drop out of the top four might be discouraging, if we’ve learned anything over the past few weeks of Premier League action it’s that things can change very quickly in football. We’re going to take a look at how Arsenal compare with league leaders Chelsea this season and how they can catch up with them in the coming weeks.

Squad Depth

On paper, there’s not much to separate Arsenal and Chelsea. Both teams have deep squads assembled to challenge for the title and relatively equipped to deal with injuries and suspensions.

In terms of pure talent, they go toe-to-toe as two of the strongest squads in the league. For starters, each side has a pair of world-class star attackers: Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal, and Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea. While both teams have a plethora of offensive firepower, Arsenal seem to have more depth in attacking players. The likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Iwobi, Lucas Perez, Danny Welbeck, and Olivier Giroud are all options for Arsenal, while Chelsea have just Pedro, Willian, Michy Batshuayi, and Victor Moses.

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They both boast strong midfields, too, though the Gunners appear to have more depth in this area as well. In typical Arsenal fashion, however, three of their five central midfielders are currently unavailable: Santi Cazorla is out until March at the earliest, Francis Coquelin is sidelined until the end of the month with a hamstring injury, and Mohamed Elneny is off at the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt.

Chelsea, meanwhile, have the trio of Ngolo Kanté, Nemanja Matic, and Cesc Fabregas, and rotate them to good effect. Luckily for Antonio Conte, his side are bottom of the injury table with zero players out.

In defense the Blues have been far stronger this season, conceding seven fewer goals than their London counterparts. Gary Cahill has done a full 180 from his calamitous 2015-16 campaign, while David Luiz has silenced his critics by marshalling Chelsea’s back three with surprising composure. The dependable Cesar Azpilicueta, who played every Premier League minute of 2016, has been as consistently solid as ever.

Arsenal, on the other hand, have been blighted by their usual defensive troubles despite finally finding an adequate partner for Laurent Koscielny in Shkodran Mustafi. When the pair start together Arsenal do look safer at the back, though as a defensive unit the Gunners remain prone to lapses in concentration—all three goals conceded against Bournemouth last week serve as a prime example.

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Between the sticks, Arsenal and Chelsea have two of the Premier League’s finest keepers in Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, respectively. Courtois leads the league in clean sheets this season with 11 compared to Cech’s six, though the former Chelsea man boasts a slightly higher save percentage with 70.3% compared to Courtois’ 68.6%.

There really doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between Arsenal and Chelsea, yet the table says otherwise. The key difference, then, is the system that each side plays with. Antonio Conte has created a system that gets the most out of the players at his disposal—or at least it did for 13 games—while Arsene Wenger has persisted with the classic yet predictable 4-2-3-1 he’s been using for years.

One possible chink in the armor of Conte’s Chelsea is the wingbacks. The 3-4-3 requires wingbacks with a very specific skillset—without them, the formation simply doesn’t work. Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso have surprised everyone with how comfortable they look in a generally uncomfortable position to play, but Chelsea don’t have much backup for the pair. As the season continues to wear on, fatigue and/or injuries could take their toll on Conte’s well-oiled machine.

Upcoming Fixtures (Premier League only)

Arsenal: Swansea City (a), Burnley (h), Watford (h), Chelsea (a)

Chelsea: Leicester City (a), Hull City (h), Liverpool (a), Arsenal (h)

As the old cliché goes, there’s no easy game in the Premier League. Some games are certainly easier than others, though, and Chelsea’s 13-game winning streak was partly thanks to a run of favorable fixtures. Their five wins leading up to the recent defeat at Tottenham were against Stoke City, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Sunderland, and West Brom.

Chelsea’s fixture list gets a bit trickier now, starting with a trip to reigning champions Leicester City. Claudio Ranieri’s men have been a shadow of their 2015-16 selves this season, but still have the ability to wow on their day—see the 4-2 win against Manchester City last month.

The following game against Hull City at Stamford Bridge should be relatively straightforward. The Tigers are currently rooted to the bottom of the table and winless in nine games, so anything but a comfortable win for Conte’s side would be a surprise.

Chelsea’s match against Liverpool—their final game before facing Arsenal at the Bridge—could be the Blues’ biggest test of the season thus far. From an Arsenal perspective, it’s the perfect match to come before the London derby. Ninety minutes at Anfield against Jürgen Klopp’s notoriously tiring “gegenpress” is as taxing as it gets. The fact that they play on the Tuesday before the Saturday match against Arsenal is only good news for the Gunners.

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Arsenal, on the other hand, have three very winnable fixtures against bottom-half sides before their clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next month. A trip to Swansea City is probably the toughest of the three games as Arsenal have had difficulties at the Liberty Stadium in recent years, but anything less than three points against the out-of-sorts Welsh side will be a huge disappointment. Home games against Burnley and Watford should be comfortable wins on paper, giving Arsenal some momentum before they face the league leaders in February.

Predicted points for Arsenal from next three games: 9

Predicted points for Chelsea from next three games: 5

Head to Head

Arsenal and Chelsea face off at Stamford Bridge on February 4th in a match that could make or break the Gunners’ title challenge.

Arsenal haven’t won at the Bridge since October 2011 (!), when a certain traitorous Dutchman scored a hattrick in a stunning 5-3 victory. Since then, there’s been some results to forget—the 6-0 demolition back in March 2014 was easily one of the worst days of the Arsene Wenger era.

This time around, the North Londoners will be playing for their title hopes—a win at the Bridge could change the dynamic of their season, while a loss could leave them too far behind Chelsea to catch up.

The inability to win at Chelsea has become somewhat of a mental block, but the 3-0 victory back in September will give the Gunners encouragement that they can indeed beat the Blues. That said, I predict a draw in what will likely be a cagey affair.

Follow me on Twitter @Gunner_NYC

BLOG: THE BATTLE

Two players, one position, one title charge. Arsenal’s hopes are on the brink of collapse, with the foundations of a challenge remaining due to the tireless work of duo Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez. In the midst of this inexorable carrying the duo are having to bear is a battle, a battle that will determine the destiny of the Premier League trophy come May. What battle is this? The battle to lead the Arsenal forward line.

Olivier Giroud. 91 goals and 31 assists in 209 games. A return most strikers would be proud of. A return those who cost £12 million would die for. The Frenchman has revived a dying Gunner’s side on numerous occasions this season, all from the bench. In fact, the 30 year old has won more points this season than any other Arsenal player (10). It isn’t going to extremities to suggest he has been Arsenal’s saviour, scoring 4 of his 9 goals after the 84th minute in games. It’s well documented that the Gunner’s number 12 has flaws, but what player doesn’t? No, Giroud is not going to penetrate the opposition rearguard with blistering pace, and no, he isn’t going to dribble past 4 players and rifle the ball home. Anyone expecting such things from the Frenchman are ignorant, and misunderstanding the concept of a squad. Why would you want two of the same style player as your forward options?

It would be equally ignorant of myself to pretend the Frenchman is the best option for the Gunner’s, without acknowledging any alternative perspectives. Whilst continually delivering clutch moments in the famous Arsenal shirt over the past few months, it’s no coincidence that Giroud has only become influential in the second half of games, more particularly, the last 30 minutes. From here derives the key argument for his absence. If the 30 year old is only influencing games in the final third of matches, then why does he need to start? Surely he can be used as a substitute as opposed to starting?

 

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Giroud’s superb scorpion kick is just one example of the superb moments he’s delivered this season.

Alexis Alejandro Sánchez Sánchez. World class, simple. The Chilean was the first player in Europe to reach 20 goal contributions in the league, even whilst carrying a struggling Gunner’s fleet. Combining tireless running with guile and ruthless finishing, the 27 year old has become a feared man. Not only has Alexis brought a new dimension to the Arsenal forward line in respect to its fluidity, he has brought out the best in others around him. Dropping deep to receive the ball, he vacates space in behind the opposition back-line, and conveniently for the Chilean, he has one of the most intelligent players in world football making runs beyond him, Mesut Ozil.

Unlike Giroud, Alexis can pick the ball up 40 yards from goal and create something out of nothing, epitomised by his first goal against West Ham, driving past four players before drilling home from the most acute of angles. The 27 year old’s faculty as a centre forward begs the question as to why Arsene Wenger took two seasons and a transfer window of failure to sign a world class striker to play the Chilean as the spearhead of the Arsenal forward line. Leaving the past in the past, we’re blessed to have the number 7 as our striker. There is no magic wand that can solve the currently faltering Gunners, but there is Alexis Sanchez, who’s the closest thing to magic in the Premier League.

In recent weeks the 27 year old has been shoved back to the left, isolated at times in a faltering Gunner’s system. A systematic problem is apparent, isolating Xhaka and consequently disrupting supply lines to the Chilean. It can be said with the rested Mesut Ozil pending return following illness, supply lines to the Chilean will improve drastically, and for Arsenal’s sake they need to. But as for the battle of the forward line Giroud finds himself intrinsic to the Gunner’s system, undroppable. Three goals and two assists in 2017, the Frenchman is the form player in England.

Make no mistake, both players will be critical to the successes of Arsenal in 2017, and the winner of the battle will determine the degree of the successes.

Twitter.com/JLennard10

BLOG: PETR CECH: LEGEND OR LIABILITY?

On the 29th June, 2015, Arsenal confirmed the signing of Petr Čech from Chelsea for around £10 Million. The satisfaction that this transfer provided was immense. The guy is a Chelsea legend, helping them to win the League multiple times, as well as success in the Champions League over his 11 year stint in southwest London – and now he would be playing at the Emirates.

When he joined Arsenal. I remember feeling incredibly excited. We could finally have a reliable, world-class goalkeeper. No more panicky antics from the likes of Manuel Almunia or Wojciech Szczęsny. Happy days.

A year and a half has passed since Čech joined, so what is to be made of him now? He’s receiving a lot of criticism lately, particularly from Arsenal fans who think that a replacement needs to be lined up sooner rather than later. Some of the stats, on the surface, are fairly worrying. This season, for the first time in his career, Čech has failed to keep a clean sheet in eight consecutive Premier League games. Seems quite bad, doesn’t it?

Looking deeper into this, three of the ten goals conceded over this period of time were penalties in games that Arsenal went on to win comfortably, as well as two tricky draws against Manchester United and Spurs. Stats can be misleading, and a lot of the goals that Arsenal concede are down to the defence, not the keeper.

However there are some areas of Čech’s game that do not fill me with confidence. For example, his distribution. With Olivier Giroud starting from the bench for a vast majority of games this season, there has been a lack of height in the Arsenal frontline. So now, whenever Čech looks to play the ball long, he often opts for one of the wide players who can find space easier. This has resulted in so many misplaced long passes that simply bounce out of play for a throw in to the opposition. In addition to this, the “near post” discussion seems to have popped up again, especially after the defeat at Manchester City, where Raheem Sterling powered one past Čech at his near post. This weakness was first seen in Čech’s first ever Premier League game for Arsenal, in a 2-0 home defeat to West Ham, where he let a seemingly tame long-range shot sneak in at his near post.

To add to this, his performance recently against Bournemouth was incredibly poor. Conceding the first goal at the near post, and allowing the third goal to trickle underneath him was disappointing to see. Not to mention his penalty saving record. I never used to blame a goalkeeper for not being able to save penalties, as a lot of the blame has to go on the defence for giving away fouls. For example, against Bournemouth, Granit Xhaka gave away a brainless foul just inside the box, but the stats are damning. From 13 attempted penalties against him in an Arsenal shirt, he has saved none of them – that’s not bad luck.

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Petr Cech won the Golden Glove award last season

So, if Arsenal were to look for replacements, who would be the ideal candidate to take over? There aren’t too many world-class keepers around who would openly move clubs. The Čech transfer was so easy because of Thibaut Courtois’ position at Chelsea, but not many teams in the world would give up their number one so easily. Rumours this month suggest that Jordan Pickford of Sunderland would be an option, but he wouldn’t be an immediate first team player. Donnarumma of Milan seems exceptional for a 17-year-old, but he is surely destined for Juventus. Other realistic options could include Joe Hart or Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno.

Among all this, David Ospina continues to sit in the background, working hard when he gets the opportunity in the Champions League. I just don’t think he should be number one. He’s a solid keeper, and his performances have been great when he has played. I almost felt sorry for him when he was automatically benched after the arrival of Čech in 2015. But at a club like Arsenal, Ospina should be a rotating goalkeeper, and nothing more. He’s a great squad player to have, and I’m glad he is an option if Čech got injured.

Ultimately, whatever your opinion of him this season, Petr Čech is still a stable goalkeeper, and some of the criticism against him has been unfair. Is he De Gea/Lloris/Courtois quality? I’m not so sure anymore. But for the moment I’m really glad that he is an Arsenal player. He is the best goalkeeper to play for Arsenal since Jens Lehmann, you can’t deny that, and although I am hopeful that a younger, long-term replacement will be scouted fairly soon, I think we should all enjoy him while he still plays for us, and focus on a replacement in the summer.

BLOG: LUCAS PEREZ AND HIS ROLE AT ARSENAL

Sometimes, well a lot of the time, fans like myself wonder what goes through Arsene Wenger’s mind as he arranges our weekly matchday squad. Does he look at player chemistry? Consistency? Or does he just simply favor certain players over others? Surely none of us will ever find out, however, one player comes to my mind before the official release of every starting XI this season: Lucas Pérez. Often impressive for the Gunners, why have his opportunities been so limited this season?

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The 28 year-old Spaniard dons the #9 jersey at Arsenal, a number that has gone unrecognized and certainly scrutinized at this club for decades past. As a matter of fact, you’d have to go back all the way to the year 1999 to find the last solid number nine to grace the pitch wearing an Arsenal kit. Can you guess who? The great Nicolas Anelka, who in three seasons for Arsenal scored 28 goals for the club, all while still just a teenager. Since then, we have had SEVEN different number nines, all of which were pretty remarkable failures, from Julio Baptista to Park Chu-Young. I hate to break it to you guys, but I think we may be dealing with another curse alongside our famous November curse: the curse of the #9. I know I am just speculating, but as a fan part of our job is to speculate, right?

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Since joining the club in late August, Lucas Pérez has racked up 10 appearances this season across the Premier League, EFL Cup, and Champions League, scoring 5 goals and assisting another 3, and for someone who has started in just 5 of those matches, that is a pretty impressive goal-contributing record I must say. His most prolific efforts came in early December against Basel, where he recorded a very impressive hat trick, and in September against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup, where he scored a brace and provided an assist. In games of lesser importance, such as the CL clash in Basel and the EFL Cup game against Forest, his presence is certainly felt by the opposition, however, he has yet to really make an impact on the big stage in a Premier League match, having not recorded a single goal nor assist. Of course, you have to remember that Lucas is being used as a substitute in most of the PL matches he has featured in, so surely we can understand why his goal-scoring efforts are not as evident, nonetheless, he has still had his chances to impress.

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So why can’t Lucas break into the starting XI? To answer this we first need to figure out what position he actually plays his best football in. While at Deportivo La Coruña last season Pérez was deployed as both an AM and a ST, clearly producing in the latter role having notched 18 goals in all competitions. With that being said, when it comes down to our style of play, Wengerball if you must, I just don’t think that Lucas fits that style of play, in the position he wishes to play, that being the lone striker role. Giroud does such an excellent job, and may even be the best in the Premier League, at holding up play, whether it be from long balls or just short passes. Part of the reason he is so good at doing so is simply because of his size. Standing at 6 foot 4 inches, Giroud easily towers over most defenders when it comes to bringing down the ball, something that Lucas is severely lacking in. That facet right there completely changes the dynamic of our game plan, as our midfielders must play balls at the feet of Lucas rather than in the air. When Giroud plays, it gives the squad a target man, and our wingers become more interested in playing crosses into the box as well, something that we simply cannot do with Lucas up front. As a matter of fact, we have become so accustomed to having Alexis play up front, that we almost forgot to play crosses into Giroud when he featured for us in both the City and West Brom matches, and in the end, it was Giroud’s late header that gave us the three points at the Emirates.

There is definitely no denying the potential of Lucas Pérez and all that he can bring to this club, but given his physical stature and style of play, I do not think he can successfully play the number nine role for Arsenal in the long run, and he will continue to see his opportunities limited. Throughout certain times in the season I am sure Wenger will see how Lucas can benefit the squad on the day, but I just can’t imagine him in the long run going up against the likes of a David Luiz or a Virgil Van Dijk, as someone like Giroud fits into that role much better.

All statistics via Whoscored.com and Squawka.com

Follow me on Twitter!: @j_kulla