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

MATCH PREVIEW: PSG VS ARSENAL

Arsenal take on Paris Saint-Germain on the opening night of the Champions League on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes, looking to continue their unbeaten run of 12 away games against French clubs in European competition (W8, D4).

Arsenal head into their opening round tie off the back of a tight injury time win against Southampton at the Emirates. The performance was somewhat underwhelming, with several key players rested, making the win all the more impressive.

PSG and Arsenal’s only previous fixture came in the 1993/94 Cup Winners Cup semi-finals; a 2-1 Arsenal win on aggregate including a 1-1 draw at PSG.

Paris SG comes into the fixture off the back of a League winning campaign, and a loss to Manchester City in last years Champions League Quarter-final. PSG’s recent record includes away and home wins over Bastia and Metz respectively, followed by a loss to Monaco, and a draw against Saint-Etienne on Friday night.

Arsenal’s current form is almost the reverse of PSG’s, having lost their opening game, drawn away at Leicester, followed by two wins against Watford and Southampton. The positive against Southampton will be that Arsenal were able to grind out a win, with Sanchez and Giroud both playing only later on in the second half, and Granit Xhaka having had the whole match off.

Going into the fixture on Tuesday night, you would think all three of the aforementioned will be starters, and ones that are well rested giving their involvement off the bench. Xhaka vs. Watford looked like the defensive midfielder Arsenal have been crying out for since the days of Gilberto and Viera. Strong, composed, technically brilliant, with a highly efficient range of passing.

Alexis enters the opening round match having scored three goals and assisted five of Arsenal’s last 13 games in the Champions League, and Arsenal fans will be hoping he continues his determined and skilful performances that they are so used to seeing in the past two seasons.

Arsenal’s creative problems against Southampton were down to the centre-midfielders, the lack of creation of triangles in the middle of the pitch, preventing them from establishing dominant possession in the opposition half, and it is likely that Xhaka’s return, alongside Giroud and Alexis will provide the firepower to counter a tricky PSG side.

Predicted Line-up: Petr Čech; Héctor Béllerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla; Alex Iwobi, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez; Olivier Giroud

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: FORMER ARSENAL PLAYER ADRIAN CLARKE

afcstuff.com is pleased to bring an exclusive interview with former Arsenal player, Adrian Clarke discussing the biggest topics of debate surrounding the club following the opening month of the season. Clarke played as a professional at every division including 6 years at Arsenal, where he came through the youth ranks. He is now involved with the club as a presenter and co-commentator on the official online video channel, Arsenal Player.

Q: With Xhaka, Mustafi and Perez being signed this summer, have Arsenal addressed every gap in the squad that they faced at the end of last season?

AC: Yes, I think the most obvious weak spots have been addressed during the summer window, which is really pleasing. If you look at the squad now, there are at least two quality players battling it out for each position and that’s really important. Those three roles needed beefing up, most people agreed that, so it’s great that the management team recognised it, and acted accordingly.

I know that these three signings weren’t as eye catching as Manchester United’s for example, but all of them are first team ready and capable of slotting straight into the starting XI. That’s perfect, because Arsenal didn’t need back ups. It’s all about adding genuine competition for places, which is crucial.

These aren’t kids or players past their best either; they are guys who should be approaching their peak years – and this is the biggest move of their respective careers too. We should see plenty of confidence and hunger to impress. I’m excited about all three.

The only ‘gap’ might be a winger that goes past players on the outside, especially down the left – although Welbeck can do that of course.

Q: How do you see the centre forward situation shaping up with Alexis being used there recently along with the acquisition of Lucas Perez?

AC: I see Giroud and Perez battling it out for the right to lead the line. Initially I’m sure Oli will get the nod, and it’s then down to him to ensure the manager can’t afford to leave him out. He’ll know that if the goals dry up, Perez will be given his chance. Having another goalscorer on the bench, might just extract 10% more out of both men too. They will be well aware that they need to hit the ground running every time they perform.

Their differing styles will also help the manager. In certain matches he may see Perez’s movement and pace as the better option, or if a game isn’t going according to plan he can now chuck on a replacement that’s of the same level, who will give the opposition a completely different headache. He can rest and rotate in midweek contests too.

As for Alexis, his display at Watford proves he can play as a central striker. When he moves that intelligently, with that much hunger, he’s going to tie any rearguard in knots.

Do I see him playing ahead of Giroud and Perez as a centre forward? Not really. Most of his appearances will be from the left or right wing.

Q: With Elneny and Xhaka arriving this year to add to existing options, how will Arsene Wenger accommodate the midfielders at his disposal this season?

AC: He’s going to have some seriously frustrated midfielders on his hands. Should everyone stay fit, the manager will have selection dilemmas aplenty! Mind you, we have said this before and it’s never turned out that way with the treatment room quickly filling up, so let’s not count our chickens!

I think Xhaka is in pole position. He defends and creates with equal aplomb, and I like his disciplined positional play too. For me, Coquelin is his natural back up, with Elneny and Ramsey (the two athletic runners) vying for a place next to him if Santi Cazorla has a dip. Sometimes the boss may choose a classy double pivot (Cazorla and Xhaka) that control games with their passing, but on other occasions he may require more legs in the engine room. That’s where Elneny and Ramsey come in.

That said, I do envisage Rambo being used out wide a fair but. Arsene Wenger wants him in the side, and handing him a roving role from the right may be his best chance to start.

We may even see a 3-man midfield, with Alexis and Ozil roaming around in front?

Q: With the loan of Calum Chambers to Middlesbrough and Jack Wilshere going to Bournemouth, are you concerned about the future of Arsenal’s “English Core” players?

AC: I’m not concerned, but they do need to have big seasons. It’s clear the manager wants homegrown players in his team/squad, but the English lads have to prove they are the best options at his disposal. Over the last couple of years they have collectively slipped behind some of their teammates and that’s solely down to form. I don’t think they have been poor, it’s simply that others have kicked on.

To stay as an Arsenal player for the long term (and I know the painful truth of this) you have to be a truly exceptional footballer. There is no crime in being good, but not quite great enough. It’s a fine line that every player treads.

I honestly don’t think there’s a lot to choose between most of the squad, so it’s all to play for. If the English core are going to fulfil their potential at Emirates Stadium they have to step up and make sure they are too good to be left out.

They need to play regular football too, though. With that in mind I’m pleased to see Chambers and Wilshere getting game time. Now it’s down to them to show why they are signed up to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Q: Are there any players in the current Arsenal squad that you feel are underrated for their role in the team and may have a bigger part to play this term?

AC: Danny Welbeck is the most underrated player at the club. Injuries have hampered his progress, but he’s a player that can lift the team just when they need it. I know we’d like more goals from Danny, but his pace and directness are a massive plus. He puts opponents on the back foot.

Whether he’s deployed down the middle or out wide, when he’s fit and firing again, Welbeck will have a major part to play in the business end.

He’s a top man that’s good for dressing room morale, and his skill set is also under appreciated.

Q: The importance of the club captain has been a topic of debate with Per Mertesacker the latest player to take the armband. Which players stood out as leaders in your time at Arsenal and what qualities did they provide?

AC: During my time as a player we had a dressing room full of leaders. It was a squad full of men, that didn’t tolerate anything less than 100% effort. In different ways, Ian Wright, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Dave Seaman, David Platt and Martin Keown were all natural figureheads that had something to say, but this was the Tony Adams era so there was never any debate about the armband!

Tony didn’t suffer fools gladly, he was fiercely determined, extremely vocal, encouraging, inspirational and the type of defender that led by example with his football. He was the perfect skipper. It’s a real shame that the modern game doesn’t have as many strong characters like him. The Gunners were fortunate to have him.

Q: Do you believe that Arsenal have the strength in depth this season to match that of the most likely title rivals in Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea?

AC: I think you could argue that Arsenal have a more balanced squad than all those teams. In most positions I’d say that the ‘back ups’ were of a better standard. So depth wise I don’t think there’s a problem.

The crux of the matter is mental toughness. Can the Gunners churn out wins when they’re not playing well? Can they deliver 7 or 8 out of 10 performances most weeks?

United, City and Chelsea have more players that have won titles, so in that respect they are on safer ground I guess.

This is hopefully the season when Ozil and Alexis both hit it off at the same time more often. It needs to be the year when Koscielny stakes his claim to be the best defender in the division. It must be the campaign when Giroud, Walcott, and Ramsey prove the critics wrong with 30-plus performances of note. If those things happen, we’ll be hard to stop.

I don’t think Arsenal have anything to fear from their rivals. We did finish above all of them last season, after all!

The key now is to have fewer slip ups. That will come down to mental resolve, more than squad depth.

Q: What lessons can Arsenal collectively learn from falling short last season in their pursuit of silverware this season?

AC: They have to meaner at both ends of the pitch.

Last season Arsenal squandered too many opportunities in front of goal, and made too many individual errors without the ball, to finish top of the tree. The very best sides are always ruthless and that’s an ingredient the side lacked to some degree.

The talent is there. The quality of football, we know, is excellent. It’s being united as a unit, and staying ice cold in the big moments that will make the difference.

Will we raise our game against the Big Five and defend with great heart and intelligence?
Can we take the chances that will inevitably come our way against Chelsea, Spurs, City, United, Liverpool, Leicester and co?

Those are the questions – and I hope the answers are yes.

As long as the collective spirit is there, and those opportunities are grasped, Arsenal will be in the mix.

 

You can follow Adrian Clarke on Twitter (@adrianjclarke) and see him every week presenting ‘The Breakdown’ and ‘The Match Day Show’ on Arsenal Player.

JACK WILSHERE PRAISES “NATURAL LEADER” GRANIT XHAKA

 

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has praised new signing Granit Xhaka following the Swiss midfielder’s arrival at Arsenal.

Xhaka, 23, completed his move to North London in May for a fee in the region of £34m, after captaining German side Borussia Möchengladbach to the top-four finish in the Bundesliga last season.

Speaking with Geoff Shreeves on Sky Sports News at the Premier League Launch Day at Market Road, Islington, Wilshere said, “He’s a good player. Sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s only 23. He’s been around for years.”

Wilshere recalled the time he faced Xhaka while on international duty with England, “I played against him on his debut for Switzerland at Wembley and you could tell then he had something about him.”

Xhaka has been highly impressive for Arsenal in pre-season. After a brilliant 45 minute cameo on his first appearance for the club against the MLS All-Stars, the young midfielder hasn’t looked back since and now looks set to start in Arsenal’s Premier League opener versus Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool on Sunday.

Wilshere added, “He’s really calm on the ball and he breaks up play. You get the feeling he’s a natural leader. He gives that aura off that he’s calm and I think he’ll be a great addition to our squad.”

Xhaka article

KELECHI NWAKALI CONFIRMS HIS ARSENAL MOVE

Nigeria youth international Kelechi Nwakali has confirmed his move to Arsenal on social media while an announcement from the club is still pending.

Having first been linked with a move to North London in December of last year, Nwakali has completed his move from Diamond Football Academy in his home country. The 18-year-old took to Twitter (@Kelechi_nwakali) to reveal photos from the Arsenal training ground after completing his first training session with the club.

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After months of speculation, Nwakali finally completed his move to Arsenal this week

Nwakali first garnered worldwide attention after his exploits at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup in Chile where he scored 3 goals and was awarded the Golden Ball for best player of the tournament as Nigeria won their 5th title.

Earlier this year, Arsene Wenger spoke out about the possible transfer saying, “We identified Nwakali as the player of the tournament [at the under-17 World Cup], basically, and as a top player. We will see if we can manage to get it over the line during this transfer period.”

It remains to be seen whether Nwakali will be involved with the first team squad for the 2016/17 season or whether a loan move is planned for the promising Nigerian youngster.