BLOG: ALEXIS SANCHEZ: WINNER OR PETULANT?

Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Alexis Sanchez’s mind is one of a visionary, who is stuck in the midst of sheep, at least, that’s the image you’ll have been relentlessly given as the season has progressed. Averaging a goal contribution a game in the Premier League this season (27 in 27 games), the Chilean has mesmerised players, fans and pundits alike. Yet, in-spite of such excellence, it is the mannerisms of the 28-year-old that are holding the Arsenal board hostage, and giving media outlets an infinitude of ammunition to belittle the Gunners with. Is Arsenal’s main man simply an inexorable winner, or is there an underlying petulance to the man, that has been bubbling beneath the surface since his arrival in 2014, which has began to manifest itself this season?

Let’s rewind to the Chilean’s first few months in a Gunners shirt back in 2014. The saddening thought of what was a stuttering Arsenal side was apparent back then as it is now, with a seemingly defeated Mesut Ozil out of action injured (he was to prove his detractors wrong), the 28-year-old winger dragged Arsene Wenger’s depleted team through a troublesome start to the season. His passion for the game, and desire to be on the field every possible minute gained him applause from all cordons of British footballing society. In the midst of the frantic closing, lightning fast trickery, and ruthless finishing was a small manifestation, fighting its way to show itself to the light, wanting to be scene by the same audience Alexis found himself crafting his art for on a weekly basis. The Chilean was seemingly controlling the dangerous beast, but he escaped, at least, temporarily. Towards the latter stages of the season it frustration began to brew in the 28 year old, as he began to make uncharacteristic mistakes in front of goal, epitomised by the decline in goals scored in the second half of the season. With the beast beginning to escape his cage, the Copa America win, along with the FA Cup win did enough to tame it from being unleashed, for the time being.

The Chilean’s second season is hampered by injury, and with such absence of game-time came the gradual emergence of the attitude that had thus far been subdued. Insistence to play in the face of impending injury cost the then 27-year-old, limping off against Norwich with a hamstring injury, falling victim to his own self perception. Despite his superhuman recovery capabilities, this failed to prevent his absence from the Gunner’s side for 6 weeks, missing the crucial Christmas period. A different player returned from injury, one filled with anger, resentment almost, enjoyment took the back seat as he sought to make sense of the humiliating title capitulation Arsenal endured. Storming off against Norwich and straight out the ground epitomising such a change in attitude. Was what the Chilean was previously praised for, such as desire and commitment beginning to change, or had he set sail on his quest for the title, leaving the rest of the Gunner’s squad behind.

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Was this Alexis’ first showing of his frustrations manifesting?

Alexis Sanchez 2016/17, a season you could make at least two seasons on Netflix out of. Each Gunner’s game has become spot the tantrum with the 28-year-old, whether this be his strop against Swansea, his glove throwing against Bournemouth, or his routine drop to the knees and look of dismay whenever a goal is conceded, the Chilean’s performances are certainly capable of winning an Oscar for best actor. Is this simple petulance, or does the man carrying a faltering team through a league season have divine right to act in such a way? Put simply, Arsenal have been horrendous this season, no two-way about it, at times, as Thierry Henry said himself, the shirt has looked too heavy for them. Alexis has stuck out like a sore thumb, miles higher than any player wearing the famous red and white shirt this season, but the superiority has corrupted the Chilean’s mind, with the 28-year-old failing to cover over 10km in any Premier League game this season. For comparison, the lambasted, ‘lazy’ Mesut Ozil has covered over 10km 14 times, and even Olivier Giroud has covered the distance 3 times. From the outside looking in, it appears that the Chilean feels bigger than the shirt, bigger than the team, bigger than the club. Each display of dissatisfaction merely serves to fuel speculation, yet he persists in doing so. As soon as the Gunner’s concede, the camera pans straight to Arsenal’s number 7, who on cue is knelt down, chin on hand, contemplating the meaning of life.

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It’s not only for Arsenal that the Chilean has created drama.

Am I saying that Sanchez doesn’t have the right to be furious with his teammates? No, I’m not, in fact, expression of such anger is a sign of leadership, with the Gunner’s crucially need in the midst of Arsene Wenger’s worst period as an Arsenal manager. What isn’t needed is a drama, a concoction of angered facial expressions and exaggerated arm gestures to public display his discontent. It not only creates speculation, it divides the team, and in a time when a bond is needed to be as strong as possible, the Alexis Sanchez show needs to take a back seat for the sake of Arsenal’s season.

BLOG: HOW WOULD ARSENAL LOOK IN A 3-4-3 FORMATION?

It’s that time of year again. Arsenal are in full-on crisis mode as their season, once full of promise and optimism, has well and truly unraveled into an utter disaster.

This time it’s even worse than usual, with the Gunners sliding all the way down to sixth place after losing four of their last five Premier League matches. At the moment, Arsenal look devoid of direction and ideas—in the 3-1 loss to West Brom, they managed just two shots on target despite having an incredible 77% possession.

As Wenger’s system clearly isn’t getting the best out of his players right now, it would be refreshing to see him attempt to reverse Arsenal’s misfortunes by shaking things up tactically. While it would be unlike the Frenchman to revert from his 4-2-3-1, a change to a completely new formation could be just the revamp that the squad needs. Playing a three-man defense is one of the hottest tactical trends in world football, with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea playing a 3-4-3 since their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal back in September (the irony!), and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona recently pulling off the greatest comeback in Champions League history using
a 3-4-3.

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Lionel Messi celebrates Barcelona’s 6-1 win over PSG, in which the Catalans used a 3-4-3

Here’s how Arsene Wenger’s side might look if they switched to a 3-4-3.

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech

Since signing for Arsenal last summer, Petr Cech has been the Gunners’ first-choice keeper and would remain so if they switched to a 3-4-3.

The 34-year-old has shown some signs of aging this season: he lets in shots he wouldn’t have let in five years ago and doesn’t get to ground quite as quickly as he used to. Still, he’s capable of making crucial saves and, as a Premier League veteran, brings valuable experience and leadership to the team.

Alternate: David Ospina

Right Center-Back: Shkodran Mustafi

Mustafi’s Arsenal career began in tremendous form, setting a club record by going unbeaten in his first 20 games in red and white. He’s gone off the boil since the turn of the year though, playing all 180 minutes of Arsenal’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and failing to cope with the departure of Laurent Koscielny in both legs.

Still 24-years-old, Mustafi is young for a center-back and has shown as much promise as he has weaknesses during his first season in North London. Frequently deployed as the right center-back alongside Koscielny in Arsenal’s back four, it would make sense for the German international to be deployed on the right of Arsenal’s three-man defense.

Alternate: Rob Holding

Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny

As Arsenal’s defensive rock and captain, Laurent Koscielny would be deployed in the heart of the three-man defense.

The Frenchman’s importance to the Gunners was reinforced by their Champions League loss to Bayern Munich: with Koscielny on the pitch, Arsenal won 2-1; without him, they lost 9-0.

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Koscielny’s sending off against Bayern Munich was the catalyst for Arsenal’s 5-1 loss at home

David Luiz plays in the center of Chelsea’s back three and often acts as a sweeper, bringing the ball forward into midfield to start attacks and dropping deeper into defense when needed. As Koscielny already performs this role for Arsenal, he would naturally slot into the center of the back three.

Alternate: Shkodran Mustafi

Left Center-Back: Nacho Monreal

Given that his natural position is left-back, Nacho might seem like a strange choice here.

The Spaniard has some experience playing center-back for Arsenal, though, having been deployed there a handful of times during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns when the club faced extreme injury crises. He looked solid when he played there, too, despite being in an uncomfortable position.

Gabriel Paulista, a natural center-back, is another potential option to complete Arsenal’s back three, but Nacho’s passing ability and left-footedness sees him just edge it out.

Alternate: Gabriel

Right Wing-Back: Hector Bellerin

Bellerin wouldn’t have to adjust his game much if he were to play right wing-back. A winger in his academy days, the 22-year-old is often Arsenal’s biggest attacking threat on the right side with his searing pace and overlapping runs.

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In this position, Bellerin would have the lay of the land on Arsenal’s right wing. When the Gunners don’t have the ball he would assume his normal role at right back, essentially turning the back three into a back four or five, depending on if the left wing-back drops back as well.

Although the Spaniard would have more responsibility than he’s used to, this could end up being the perfect position for him.

Alternate: Mathieu Debuchy

Central Midfield: Santi Cazorla

There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal’s troubles in the last two seasons largely stem from Santi Cazorla’s absence.

The diminutive Spaniard is essential to the way Arsenal plays, keeping things ticking and linking the midfield to attack. His season-ending injuries in November of the past two campaigns have left Arsene Wenger struggling to find a functional midfield pairing.

As one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s fit, Cazorla would be a crucial cog in Arsenal’s 3-4-3.

Alternate: Aaron Ramsey

Central Midfield: Granit Xhaka

While Xhaka’s debut season for Arsenal has had its ups and downs, the 24-year-old has nonetheless established himself as a first-team regular.

Xhaka’s form hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency in midfield, as Wenger has tried pairing him with Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny, and Aaron Ramsey, with mixed results. The partnership of Xhaka and Cazorla, however, worked well at the start of the season (notably in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford) and ended all too soon due to the Spaniard’s injury.

In a 3-4-3 Xhaka would anchor the midfield, sitting deep to break up play and launch long balls to the forwards, while Cazorla buzzes around with energy and creativity.

Alternate: Francis Coquelin

Left Wing-Back: Kieran Gibbs

Marcos Alonso’s fluency at left wing-back has been key to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 working as well as it does. The closest thing Arsenal have to Alonso is Kieran Gibbs, who’s essentially been out of the picture this season making just six Premier League appearances.

Although his ability has plateaued in recent seasons, Gibbs would be hungry to win back his place in the first team if he was given a chance in the league. Bringing him back into the fold to play an unfamiliar position would certainly be a risk, but risk is something an increasingly stale Arsenal side could use right now.

Alternate: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Right Forward: Danny Welbeck

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On his day, Danny Welbeck can be Arsenal’s most dangerous player. He possesses a combination of pace and power that few, if any other players in the squad have.

While he’s still shaking off the rust after returning from a knee injury sustained last May, Welbeck’s attacking threat will be an asset for Arsenal in the final weeks of the season as they aim to finish in the top four.

On the right side of the attacking trio, Welbeck would play off of the other two forwards while supporting Bellerin when necessary.

Alternate: Theo Walcott

Center Forward: Alexis Sanchez

Spearheading Arsenal’s attack is none other than Alexis Sanchez, the club’s star player this season with 22 goals in all competitions.

Arsene Wenger’s decision to play the Chilean at center forward has maximized his attacking prowess—Alexis has 17 goals from 23 appearances there. Not only is Alexis having the most prolific season of his career, but he’s also having the most creative, with 12 assists in all competitions.

As a center forward, Alexis often drops into the No. 10 position to stamp his influence on the game and look for runners ahead of him. He would certainly benefit from the movement of another forward, like Welbeck, to play in tandem with.

Alternate: Olivier Giroud

Left Forward: Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil completes the attacking trident as the left forward, an unfamiliar position for the German.

The front three of the 3-4-3 should be fluid, though, as Chelsea’s three (usually Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Pedro) are. Özil would be less of a forward than a creator, operating in the area just behind Alexis and Welbeck. Having two quick forwards ahead of him takes full advantage of the World Cup winner’s ability to drift into space and play the final ball.

That said, the fluidity of the front three means that Özil could be the one on the end of through balls, especially when Alexis drops back to create. The former Real Madrid man demonstrated his ability to score goals earlier this season, and regaining that goalscoring touch will be key to Arsenal putting together a run in the final stretch of the season.

Alternate: Lucas Perez

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Although undeniably a risky move, a switch to a 3-4-3 formation would give Arsenal an element of unpredictability that they’ve desperately lacked since the turn of the year. The fluid front three takes advantage of Arsenal’s attacking talent as it allows them to freely interchange positions on the pitch. The extra support at the back—when the Gunners don’t have the ball, the back three essentially turns into a back five—would help to shore up a defense that’s shipped 11 goals in its last five league outings.

The chance that Arsene Wenger makes a radical formation change is slim, but it may be just the type of fresh thinking needed for Arsenal to break out of their rut.

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

MATCH REPORT: WEST BROM 3-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal has succumbed to its second consecutive defeat in the Premier League with a 3-1 loss away to West Bromwich Albion, as the North Londoners open up space to trail its top four competitors by a greater margin.

A goal from second half substitute Hal Robson-Kanu cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’s equaliser in the first period, whereas a pair of goals from Craig Dawson in each half sealed Arsenal’s fate.

In Mesut Özil’s absence, Aaron Ramsey resumed his role as a central midfielder, meanwhile Danny Welbeck was preferred to Olivier Giroud in attack, but it was the opposition’s attacking movement that initially demonstrated to be the sharpest, as Allan Nyom skipped past Héctor Bellerín and Shkodran Mustafi to deliver a dangerous ball that wasn’t read by Salomón Rondón in the 5th minute.

At the other end, no less than a minute later, it was Nacho Monreal testing the stability of the hosts’ backline with a teasing cross to Theo Walcott that was anticipated by Ben Foster between the sticks.

West Brom looked to explore the counter through James McClean down the left flank, who was able to sting the palms of Petr Čech and win his side a corner in the 11th minute.

From the resulting set-piece, Tony Pulis’ side found themselves a goal up when Craig Dawson beat Laurent Koscielny and Čech at their near-post to glance in the opener.

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Granit Xhaka’s carefully sculpted pass to Sanchez inside the box afforded the Chilean the time and space to cut inside and fire in the equaliser from close range in the 14th minute.

The Baggies were on hand to try and catch the Arsenal defence out again through Nacer Chadli’s break from the right, but Rondón could only drag a shot wide from a less than favourable angle when concluding the move.

Ramsey almost caught Foster by surprise with a shot on the half-turn from the left, but West Brom’s replies continued to be dealt at an impressive rate, as Darren Fletcher forced a quality save out of Čech with a half-volley in the 33rd minute.

The Czech shot-stopper would then throw in the towel on an injury picked up shortly after, as David Ospina replaced the Arsenal goalkeeper moments before the interval.

Arsène Wenger’s outfit continued to look vulnerable into the second period, with Rondón rising above Koscielny to brush a header past the far-post after five minutes.

West Brom then turned to Robson-Kanu in an inspired change, with the Welshman’s pea-roller in the 55th minute propelling the Midlands outfit back into the lead after Ospina’s failure to clear his lines.

Arsenal had a vague hope that the goal would be ruled out, given the involvement of McClean in the move from an offside position, but Neil Swarbrick’s decision ensured the score would stand at 2-1.

The Gunners came close to levelling the game for a second time through Danny Welbeck in the 65th minute, heading Xhaka’s corner onto the crossbar from the back post, whereas a save from Ospina and an additional block on the line from Shkodran Mustafi in the opposite half prevented West Brom from amplifying the score.

The killer blow would eventually arrive, however, as Dawson made full use of the hosts’ forte to bag a second for himself in the 74th minute from a corner and hand Wenger’s team a 3-1 defeat at the Hawthorns.

Arsenal’s slip-up sees them rack up their fourth defeat from their last five games, which could see them drop to as low as 7th in the league table by the end of the week.

By Patrick Ribeiro

Player Ratings

Petr Čech (6); Héctor Bellerín (5), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (5), Nacho Monreal (6); Granit Xhaka (7), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Aaron Ramsey (5); Theo Walcott (4), Alexis Sanchez (6), Danny Welbeck (4)

Subs: Ospina (4), Olivier Giroud (4), Alex Iwobi (4)

BLOG: THE WENGER CONUNDRUM

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It’s got to the point in the season where Arsenal traditionally collapse. After some hope at the start of the year, everything comes crashing down with a series of horrific results. Last season it was Swansea, Watford and Manchester United, this year it was Watford, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Déjà vu. The biggest and most confusing enigma in English football right now (Apart from Liverpool’s even more spectacular implosion) is Arsène Wenger’s future at Arsenal.

Things were looking positive at the start of the year, they really were. Big money, youthful signings who actually seemed to have a backbone. An exquisite blend of experienced players in the prime of their careers, alongside breakthrough youngsters such as Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerín. But yet again, the story hasn’t gone to plan. What needs to be done? Is this summer too soon for such a huge transition? I’m currently 20 years old, which means that Arsène Wenger has been the manager of Arsenal literally my entire life. I don’t know any different, and therefore I don’t know how difficult this transition will be.

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What I do know however, is that this is something that needs to be done this summer – without a doubt. In hindsight, it would have been even more ideal for this transition to take place a few years ago in 2014, after Arsène won his 5th FA Cup, and Arsenal’s 11th at the time. The world class players that Arsenal have aren’t being rewarded adequately in terms of silverware. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny need to be fighting for the top honours while they are in the prime of their careers – not after.

Hypothetically, if Arsène extends his contract at Arsenal for another 2 years this summer, Alexis Sanchez would be 30, Ozil 30, and Koscielny would be nearing 34. I’m not saying they can’t be replaced, as they will eventually have to be, but I would love to see them win something huge at Arsenal, and I just don’t see it happening under Arsène.

The frailties were evident in both legs against Bayern Munich. No other so called “top team” collapses quite like Arsenal do. We’ve seen so many similar results in the last few years, that it’s just not a coincidence. Starting off with the 8-2 at Old Trafford, 5-1 at Anfield, 6-0 at Stanford Bridge, 6-3 at the Etihad, and numerous thrashings in Europe against Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Milan and Monaco. Arsenal just aren’t a team for the big occasions anymore, and if the fans want the club to start competing for these major honours, major changes have to be considered, starting with the manager.

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Looking at it from the board’s point of view, they will never sack Arsène. Not in a million years. The feeling within the club at the moment is that there is no adequate replacement for Wenger anyway, so he should stay on for another 2 years whilst a replacement is scouted. The decision will be down to Arsène, and whether or not he thinks that this summer is too soon for a transition. If reports are anything to go by, important players such as Ozil, Alexis, Chamberlain and Perez all might leave in the summer, which would mean that an entire squad over-haul would be required, and I wouldn’t want Arsène to be the man to do this. It would be ideal for a new manager to come in, make his mark on the club, and have the whole summer to prepare for next season.

Ultimately, one of the biggest concerns with the club at the minute is the uncertainty surrounding everything, specifically the manager’s future, along with several senior players. This is the reason why I think Arsène will sign a contract extension. Things have been left until the last minute, and I genuinely think the board do not have a replacement lined up.

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 5-0 LINCOLN CITY

Arsenal have booked their place in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley with a 5-0 win over non-league outfit Lincoln City at the Emirates Stadium this evening.

The Gunners, who set out to avoid an upset with a strong line-up, took the lead late into the first-half, but goals from Alexis Sánchez, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud added greater comfort en route to victory  in the second period.

Fresh from midweek disappointment in the UEFA Champions League, the under-fire Arsène Wenger looked towards Kieran Gibbs, Petr Čech and Ramsey to freshen up a side that lost 5-1 at home to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, with the latter putting his name behind Arsenal’s first real chance with a shot directed wide from the edge of the box after nine minutes of football.

Theo Walcott sought for better luck than the Welshman and almost brought joy for the hosts with a first-time volley that required Paul Farman between the sticks to push the effort onto the post.

At the other end, Lincoln’s Nathan Arnold made the underdogs dream with a mazy run into Arsenal’s box which ended with the winger pulling a fingertip save out of Čech on the half-hour-mark.

Walcott emerged once more as the sharpest tool in the box, this time reacting to Sánchez’s cross before anyone else, but the Englishman’s left-footed shot did little to trouble Farman.

A Mesut Özil cross that almost crept in at the far-post sprung Arsenal into life on the brink of half-time, with Walcott finally breaking the deadlock with a deflected effort inside the box in the 46th minute.

The goalscorer turned provider in the second-half when following up a strike from Olivier Giroud to set Gibbs for a free header, but the left back fluffed his lines and headed the ball over the desired target four minutes in.

This was a different Arsenal, however, who were knocking on Lincoln’s door again by the 53rd minute, as Héctor Bellerín fashioned some space for himself in a passing move and assisted Giroud for a routine tap-in.

Gibbs hit the byline in search of Frenchman to bag the third in the 57th minute, but it was Luke Waterfall who did the finishing for the striker when deflecting the cross into his own net.

Sánchez was able to show off his own capabilities when skipping past a whole host of bodies and casually curling an effort past Farman from outside of the box, as the North Londoners raced on with a 4-0 lead.

The Chilean took centre stage in Arsenal’s next move, shifting in and out before delivering a low ball into the far post that was met by Ramsey and taken around the goalkeeper for the easiest finish of the evening.

Sánchez neared a brace with a free-kick against the crossbar in the 85th minute, but 5-0 would be the final word on the quarter-final between Arsenal and Lincoln ahead of a trip to Wembley.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (6); Héctor Bellerín (9), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Kieran Gibbs (7); Granit Xhaka (6), Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (5), Aaron Ramsey (6); Theo Walcott (8), Alexis Sánchez (7); Olivier Giroud (6)

Subs: Mesut Özil (7), Lucas Perez (5), Francis Coquelin (5)

BLOG: IWOBI – THE LOST CHILD

There is so much noise in the world of Arsenal Football Club at the moment. We are in full crisis mode, or so the media would have you believe. Out of the Champions League in the last 16, again. Players demanding the earth for contracts when a club is at its weakest, again. The manager under fire from a run of bad, no terrible results, again. It feels like we’ve been here so many times over the years and yet still found a way to get into the top 4 and win a few trophies along the way. This season feels a little different, however, as the fans from all areas have begun to turn. Not in the poisonous way that AFTV would have you believe, but there is a resignation around the club as to how Wenger’s tenure is about to draw to an end. In amongst all of this commotion there is a young footballer who needs attention. Wenger has been fighting fires left right and centre creating a blinkered view of proceedings and those blinkers are blinding the smaller, more delicate problems. There is a young man who has the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is a young man who has come of age, and yet has been thrown into the cross-hairs of Arsenal fans. Alex Iwobi is in danger of never being found again.

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His talent is undoubted. He’s stepped up in big games, he’s had responsibility thrust upon him at a young age and dealt with it magnificently to begin with as the pressure was off. What was a well-managed situation by Wenger has turned into a bit of a mess in all honesty. Iwobi needs to be taken out of the firing line for big games from time to time, especially when there are others to call on with more experience and a squad that actually has some depth to it exists. He’s started a lot of big, big games: Bayern, Chelsea, Liverpool (A) in recent weeks where we full well knew that pace was going to be key and with the likes of Walcott, Perez and Alexis left out for him in different instances, there is most definitely some miss-management going on. A young man of the age of 20 should not be subject to that much pressure, that early in his career. Yes this may be how Lionel Messi was discovered in terms of being thrust into the limelight early on, however it needs to be a little more measured. Within the Barcelona team that Messi was introduced, he was surrounded by superstars everywhere he looked so the pressure was lessened. When Iwobi looks around, it’s not quite the same. In fact the pressure is well and truly on him to try and make the difference, which is unfair when there are plenty of senior players shirking their responsibilities. Too much to ask of a man so young.

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It boils down to Arsene Wenger. It’s not Alex Iwobi’s fault that he’s being picked. You can see that he’s a really nice guy who loves the club and really wants to do well, however you can also see that the spurned chances and the mistakes he makes play on his mind tremendously, simply because he cares so damn much. The fan base doesn’t help and I’ve alluded to this previously in that players nowadays are always connected and so will see the abuse and vitriol chucked their way. Iwobi hasn’t escaped some of the more critical portion of the fan base and it has to be said that this is down to Arsene Wenger throwing him to the Lions a little bit. We live in a world where the fans who don’t turn up week in week out, have a direct impact on a players’ performance. It’s that social media bubble of trolling once again and the younger players, no in fact all players are susceptible to criticism whether it’s justified or not when things aren’t going so well. It is therefore Arsene Wenger’s responsibility to shield the younger players from that. It is harder for him to do this when the whole squad needs protecting, which is what’s been happening in recent weeks.

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Iwobi is slowly approaching that dangerous territory of being overplayed and being relied upon too heavily, with not too many leaders and points of inspiration around him. With the squad facing so much uncertainty with player contracts and manager unrest, it’s no wonder the likes of Iwobi are out there fending for themselves. What used to be a direct and carefree approach has become one of second guessing and apprehension. The spark is still there because he massively cares about the club, but the manager needs to ensure that it isn’t extinguished and we lose yet another ray of hope for the future of our great club. Let’s get that #BIG17 back.

MATCH REPORT: LIVERPOOL 3-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal have dropped to as low as fifth place in the Premier League table after losing 3-1 to Liverpool at Anfield this evening.

In a game that was marked by the omission of Alexis Sánchez from the Gunners XI, two first-half goals from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané placed the hosts in pole position before the interval.

Wenger’s men restored faith with a goal from Danny Welbeck in the second period, but all hope was later extinguished by Georginio Wijnaldum’s killer blow in stoppage time to move Liverpool above Arsenal in the league table.

The sorry mood for the travelling support kicked in as early as the 8th minute at the feet of Mané, whipping a cross into an overloaded area for Firmino to eventually bury his chance with a strike into the roof of the net from close range.

Possession continued to belong to Liverpool deep into the half-hour mark, as Philippe Coutinho forced Petr Čech into action with a shot from the edge of the box.

Mané’s threat from wide areas also proved to be persistent, as he attempted to catch Čech out with an ambitious chip roaming wide of the mark in the 33rd minute.

The Senegalese forward wasn’t to be denied in the 39th minute, however, as Firmino spotted his teammate in space inside the box before the ex-Southampton man left the Arsenal goalkeeper with no chance of stopping a powerful strike into the far corner to double the lead for the hosts.

Arsenal were almost staring at a third Liverpool goal when Adam Lallana’s attempt from range deflected into Coutinho’s path in behind the box, but the Brazilian’s effort was unable to evade the on-rushing Čech on the stroke of half-time.

Wenger turned to Sánchez ahead of the second period, but it was through Olivier Giroud that Arsenal almost found a way back into the game, only for Simon Mignolet to push the Frenchman’s header inside the box onto the bar and smother up the leftovers.

Sánchez did make the difference, however, when slotting a ball through to Welbeck to dink his effort past Mignolet and make it 2-1 in the 57th minute.

The Reds came close to averting Arsenal’s growing influence on the game through a tame Joël Matip header, saved by Čech, whereas it was Divock Origi threatening to land the final blow in the 83rd minute when heading a wide free-kick onto the post.

Despite the warnings, the dreaded third goal eventually came to bite the Gunners, as Lallana’s switch to Origi, racing on from an offside position, saw the Belgian set Wijnaldum for the first-time finish to kill the game off at 3-1 and prolong Arsenal’s winless streak at Anfield in recent seasons.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings

Petr Čech (7); Héctor Bellerín (5), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (4), Nacho Monreal (5); Francis Coquelin (4), Granit Xhaka (5), Alex Iwobi (5); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Olivier Giroud (5), Danny Welbeck (6)

Subs: Alexis Sánchez (7), Lucas Perez (5), Theo Walcott (5)

BLOG: SANTI CAZORLA: THE MIND

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people, and Santi Cazorla’s mind transcends the lot. The diminutive Spaniard is a magician performing his magic in-front of a mesmerised audience, tantalising not only those who are equally baffled as they are in awe of his talents from the stands, but opposition and teammates alike who are yet to figure out the deception behind his mastery. The magician has found himself victim of his own class, incapable of being dropped from a starting XI, his prowess has become his downfall in consecutive seasons, and with it, the Gunners demise. Is this bad management or is this demise a illusory trick from the midfield maestro, leading media and fans alike to find a source of comfort for the stuttering Arsenal?

Blessed with equally talent feet, a mind to hold captive his victims, the 32 year old is the oil of the Arsenal machine, in his absence, a stuttering engine begins to arise. Regardless of who the Spaniard is partnered with, he is a dictator of the game, a omniscient chess player moving the pawns around him as he seeks to expose the opposition’s queen. Deployed deep in the Gunner’s armoury, he is able to expand and constrict the game as he sees fit, a facilitator of excellence for whoever he is deployed next to. Take Francis Coquelin, a source of extreme ridicule from the Arsenal faithful, perceived as a limited destroyer who is fortunate to continually force his way back into Arsene Wenger’s visions. Rewind two years and you have a 30 year old Santi Cazorla spreading the class he exudes onto the Frenchman as they produce a masterclass at the Etihad. Coquelin reaps the rewards from the media, as the quiet facilitator blissfully goes about his business, silently assuring himself that he is the source of growth within a flourishing Gunner’s system. In his absence, Coquelin quite frankly looks like a lost puppy, wandering around pitches across Europe for 90 minutes on a weekly basis desperately trying to find his owner. It’s not just his own teammates the Spaniard has on a tight leash, it’s the opposition midfielders throughout the planet, with Gary Neville himself mocking World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, alluding to the fact Cazorla toyed with him in the 3-0 drubbing at the Emirates 18 months ago.

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Cazorla’s masterclass at the Emirates only served to reaffirm belief in his necessity to the Gunner’s side.

As majestic as the minuscule 32 year old is to watch, a compelling fact coincides with his absence in consecutive seasons. Santi Cazorla has missed the toughest run of fixtures the Gunner’s have faced two years on the trot. Statistics are often thrown around proving how integral the Spaniard is to the Arsenal side by comparing winning stats with his presence and in his absence, with, as you’d probably guessed, the win percentage being higher when his presence blessed the field of play. Yet, logic dictates that win percentage will surely be lower when, firstly, you play a higher proportion of games without him, and secondly, that the proportion of those games of which coincided with the toughest run of fixtures the Gunner’s faced in the season also being apparent. Therefore, whilst his absence is seemingly integral to the Gunner’s downfall, it appears that he has in fact involuntarily jumped ship at the convenient time in back-to-back seasons, a blessing in retaining the perception of omniscience he has rightfully earned, but detrimental to conclusively deciding whether his sustained periods on the timeline were as consequential on the Arsenal seasons as we are led to believe.

Despite that, naivety has become a mainstay of the mind of the football fan, looking for scapegoats and excuses to justify the inadequacies of a team, and for the Arsenal faithful, this excuse (in the midst of relentless Arsene Wenger abuse), derives from the Gunner’s number 19’s absence. So, is he the omniscient being the Gunner’s need back in the XI? Of course. Is he the catalyst of failure when a season of the 32 year old is stagnated? I’ll let you decide.

BLOG: OZIL – THE LIGHTNING ROD…

Ever since his move to the Emirates, Mesut Ozil has been a constantly pedestal-ed or maligned figure for Arsenal Football Club. He’s helped to deliver 2 FA Cups and 2 Community Shields in  his time at the club and yet he’s forever talked about by the Media, other fans and even our own fans in both hyperbolic extremes of good and bad. His form, as is the case for every other player on the planet bar Lionel Messi and Cristano Ronaldo, has had peaks and troughs yet is narrowed upon when the chips are down. It seems to have taken its toll and has affected his form a little this season.