Danny Welbeck: Unlucky or out of position?

Danny Welbeck has had a, shall we say, indifferent start to the season. 3 goals in 4 Premier League games reads well but doesn’t quite tell the full story. It’s the chances he misses that generate the greatest debate among Arsenal fans. In fact even the goals he scores generate debate purely because some of them find their way to the back of the net in not the most conventional of circumstances. I do feel he is harshly judged on this because there are plenty of strikers who score their fair share of outrageously lucky goals. I think where Danny Welbeck is scrutinized rather more than those ‘other’ strikers is due to the lack of goals in his game on a consistent basis. Is this because he’s unlucky or is this because being an out and out striker is not quite his best position?

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If we look at the goals he’s scored there has been quite an array of the type of goal scored. The first coming against Leicester where Kolasinac squared to him, leaving a simple finish into an empty net, which he managed to fall over himself and the keeper a little while scoring. His second came against Bournemouth, where some great work again from Kolasinac meant he had a free header that he managed to head onto his shoulder, which nestled nicely into the corner. The third goal also came against Bournemouth, this time a quite beautiful finish with his wrong foot into the bottom corner. And that’s the trouble, we full well know he’s capable of scoring and scoring some delightful goals at that, however because it doesn’t happen as much as we’d like, even the good moments are tarnished with the scorn of Social Media. Then we have the chances that he misses. We regularly see him get himself into incredible positions and when it comes to the final part of the routine, finishing the move off, it all falls down. He managed to do this on a couple of occasions v Stoke and once vs Liverpool. The Liverpool one is the moment that sticks out most, purely because the score was 0-0 and the chance was a very good one. Being through in a 1-v-1 situation you would expect your striker to finish against a new keeper to really put the pressure on the home side. This is what a top striker in a top team would do and this is where I think the problem is. It’s not that Welbeck isn’t a top player, I genuinely believe that he is, however he is not an out and out striker that we would like him to be. Lacazette was bought for that purpose and I feel as though if he were presented with a similar chance it would be buried. In any case this is about Welbeck and him playing through the middle is something that needs to be looked at. I have a feeling that the pressure of playing through the middle weighs on his mind heavily and therefore affects his temperament in front of goal. When playing for England he plays as a wide forward and therefore by default goals every single game aren’t expected, a hard working team role is what is required in that are more than goals. This means that when it comes to scoring goals the pressure is off as he full well knows that it isn’t his job alone to bang them in. I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that due to the lack of pressure his goal scoring numbers for England are pretty good. He has 15 goals in 36 games for England, a strike rate of 0.42. Compare that to 20 goals in 74 games at Arsenal, a strike rate of 0.27. There’s a pretty big difference there and it lies within his position. He is always deployed as a wide forward for England an knows his role whereas at Arsenal it’s been a real mix for him. He’s played wide, he’s played as part of a front two and he’s also played as a lone striker. Then there’s the irregularity with which he’s played leading to not enough time to gain any rhythm. Plenty of factors to suggest that he should be deployed in a wider position leaving the lone striking to the likes of Lacazette and Giroud who are far better equipped and suited to the position.

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Whether he continues as a starter in our strongest XI remains to be seen. You have to believe that if we continue with 3 at the back that our front 3 would then include Alexis, Lacazette and Ozil. Which one of them do you displace for Welbeck? Alexis or Ozil would need to be sacrificed and it’s not to say that they shouldn’t ever be, however playing your best players in their best positions is what will win you football matches. The real positive here is that we can have the option to rotate and manage the squad without losing too much from an overall perspective. With Welbeck you get more discipline and power but you lose some subtlety, guile and goal threat. In a situation where defensive solidity is required before anything else, you would think playing Welbeck makes more sense. The real positive here is that the need for a more defensive mind set is likely to be in the bigger games and so will become a real selection headache for Arsene Wenger, in a good way.

Whatever happens going forward it’s clear that he is and should remain an important member of the squad and in doing so could contribute heavily towards a title tilt. Bigger tests than Bournemouth will come along to test both his and Arsenal’s resolve, however the early signs are promising. Plus he’s seems like a really nice guy and we all like nice guys.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

Mesut Ozil: Misunderstood?

Neil Ashton: “Mesut Ozil is nicking a living”

Steven Gerrard: “He’s a liability”

Martin Keown: “He’s frustrating to watch”

Paul Scholes: “He’s just going through the motions”

Miguel Delaney: “He plays passes we’re just ‘too thick’ to understand”

Mesut Ozil seems to be one of the most marmite like footballers in the Premier League. Alongside Paul Pogba, he’s one of the more heavily scrutinised players for reasons most Arsenal fans can’t seem to understand. Whether it’s journalists or former players, they all seem to have an adverse opinion on our mercurially talented playmaker. Having created the most chances of anyone on the pitch vs Stoke he was the butt of criticism from Miguel Delany, Steven Gerrard and Martin Keown. Why?

Superficially you can see why pundits may lambast Ozil due to the usually hectic conditions of Premier League football. There’s hardly any time on the ball, and if you’re not seen as “putting in a shift” you’re quickly singled out as being not suited/good enough for our league. He looks as though he’s covered hardly any ground as he’s often seen walking around in the middle of the park (FYI he on average covers more ground than Alexis in games), he’s also known to shirk a tackle as he’s ‘not that type of player’, however I wonder why the same criticisms aren’t made of the likes of David Silva for example? Or even the likes of Cesc Fabregas? Or Henrikh Mkhitaryan? Is it do do with the price tag? Is he not delivering performances nor the numbers we were all promised? Or is it to do with the club he pays for? Maybe it’s an element of all three.

The fact is Ozil has been at Arsenal football club for 4 years now and in that time he’s picked up 3 FA Cups along with 3 Community Shields. Not the major honours we all want at the club but still nothing to scoff at. Especially when as a club we hadn’t seen a trophy for 9 years. That aside let’s have a look at the facts. He was indeed our club record signing until this season so that alone comes with extra scrutiny, as we’ve seen with Paul Pogba. The minute you see Pogba misplace a pass, slip in the slightest or make an error of any kind there are vines of it circulated at length. With regards to Ozil we see the ‘body language’ pictures of dejection go viral on either having conceded a goal or lost a game. Because of course he must be completely happy and or aggressive at these situations. Not everyone has the ‘PASHUN’ characteristic as a footballer and in addition it’s not a pre requisite to be a great footballer. The numbers indicate that he really has delivered. For example since Ozil has come to the Premier League, if we are comparing him to the likes of David Silva who I have nothing against but seems to be one of the darlings of the league, Ozil has 23 goals in comparison to 25 for Silva. Ozil however has 41 assists compared to 34 for Silva. I’ve only used league stats as they are a pretty fair barometer for comparison, simply due to Arsenal having gone further in European competition on average. If we were to include Champions League stats , Ozil would only be further ahead and the argument that a lot of pundits seem to have is that he isn’t cut out to play in England so league stats are the place to compare them. The difference is in slight favour of Mesut Ozil if we’re counting. Why then do we not see the likes of Silva lambasted in the same way Ozil is? It brings me to what I think is a large element of why Ozil is spoken of in such a hot and cold manner.

Arsenal Football Club. So far as a club is run, there is none better in terms of doing things the ‘right way’. Whether the definition of ‘right way’ is indeed correct or not is up for debate, but in terms of operating as a club within its means Arsenal FC are the only elite level club in the Premier League doing so. Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and even Sp*rs have spent more money than they’ve earned in the Premier League era. We’re the only ones that haven’t. This has come to the fore in recent times and journalists, pundits, players, fans and the like have all lamented the fact that we’ve approached it this way. In addition in doing things the right way we’ve previously achieved the magical unbeaten season, which is another sore point for some people outside of the Arsenal sphere. Some claim the football was boring and others that Chelsea’s 93 point tally is superior to the unbeaten season etc etc. It’s likely to be born from jealousy as we all envy things that are better than our current situation. Who didn’t look at the Barcelona of 3 years ago and drool with envy? Messi, Suarez and Neymar at the top of their games? Loving and hating them at the same time for being so good is a common thing for us all. Lastly, Arsene Wenger. He’s the man that brought so many talented players to the club. He’s the man that convinced Ozil to join and Ozil’s loyalty to him seemed to have had an impact on the pundits of today. Arsene Wenger is a man who divides opinion both in and out of the club and Ozil is a reflection of him in player form. It’s a combination of the above 3 reasons that Ozil is much maligned in the press, however what has to be questioned is – are those valid reasons? Not in my humble opinion but that’s not going to change how the media feel about him.

We just have to accept that he will always be viewed with either love or hate and nowhere in between. The important thing is that we all know what he can do and in fact does do on a weekly basis. He sees things that some can’t even imagine. I sure hope he can see that contract offer…

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

ROB HOLDING: SHOULDERING THE BURDEN

Rob Holding has seen a sharp rise into the limelight at Arsenal football club. He’s clearly a highly talented individual with great confidence on the ball, won’t be bullied by the bigger target men in the league and is showing the exact promise that Wenger looks for when creating a team who builds from the back. He has the ability. He has the composure. He has it all. But if one thing is clear, he needs some guidance so as not to harm his development. It needs to arrive in a very on the pitch manner as off the pitch he looks like a model pro, willing to listen and learn from the icon that is Wenger. How will he be managed then? Let’s take a look.

He’s been thrust into the first team purely out of need rather than something he had earned, however in doing so he has now earned a seat at the table. Well to be a part of the conversation at the very least. The famous quote that will always ring through with him is Wenger saying “I’m sorry he didn’t cost £50 million!”. Whether by happy accident or by exemplary scouting we have him in our ranks and simply because he is English, he’ll need that extra bit of management to ensure he stays grounded and doesn’t let the media dictate how the trajectory of his career should look. Wenger will take care of the media part as he always does, however it’s on the pitch where he needs a calming voice to let him know when to play and when to play it safe. That is where the likes of Mertesacker, Koscielny and even Mustafi will come in. Mustafi himself will be learning a lot from the aforementioned BFG and Koscielny, but being a little more senior to Holding as well as having a rather larger price tag it means that he’ll have the older sibling ‘job’ in bringing Holding through games. Holding looked a little lost in the Leicester game, however this was simply because the back 5 comprised of a RB, CB, LB, LB, RW. How could he have been expected to perform even half well, when others were unsure of their positioning themselves? The issue here was that 3 of the back 5 were out of position and would have to manage themselves, which is a job in itself (as we saw!) and therefore had no time to help Holding. They had no time to tell him all the right things to do, all because they were trying to make sure they did the right things themselves (they didn’t).

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The key here for Wenger is to give him as much of a chance as possible by ensuring that he is taken out of the firing line from time to time. The first choice back 5 should be Bellerin, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Kolasinac/Monreal. Holding needs to be taken in and out of that side in rotation with Mustafi and/or Mertesacker so that the responsibility of his development doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders. Last season we saw Chambers and Holding chucked in at the deep end vs Liverpool on day one. We were lucky not to lose that game 8-1 and that is simply not the way you build a young players confidence. The 4-3 scoreline last season flattered us, this time around it flattered Leicester as we really should have run away comfortable winners. This is why I hold hope for Holdings development this season. We have our big guns to come back into the side and they will undoubtedly aid Holding’s development. He’s a very confident player which has probably helped him avoid the grumbles that may be on the cusp of rumbling through the crowd. There is currently a culture that exists within football as a whole whereby players/managers/doctors/mascots and the like can be quickly maligned to protect the ‘honour’ of the club. There is far too much judgement far too early in player careers and it’s to their detriment, especially now that every single one of them is using social media. We as fans also have a little responsibility in this and I hope that we stick by him when he inevitably goes through a bad patch, as all young footballers do. We don’t have to look to far back at how the fans reaction post Palace last season seemed to affect Hector Bellerin. I’m not saying venting frustration isn’t right, but when there are young players out there it needs to be more measured. It’s only for the better of the team in the long run.

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Rob Holding has had a the heavy burden of representing Arsenal football club on the biggest of occasions but whilst it is a burden it is also a great privilege. He’s carried this on his shoulders without so much as flinching, so his second season promises to be something special if managed well. If winning trophies at Wembley isn’t enough encouragement to keep working hard then what will be? The man management of Rob Holding could well turn into a tenure stay. And who knows, one day, he may well be better than Cannavaro…

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

COMMUNITY SHIELD & THE NEW SEASON

The dawn of the season has finally come upon us. The curtain raiser for the season has now come and gone. We were victorious. We celebrated. They didn’t care. I didn’t care that they didn’t care. Care was a topic of force on Twitter. More on that later.

The stage for the season is now well and truly set as the big money signings have come in over the summer. We’ve done good business in bringing in Kolasinac alongside our record breaking fee for Lacazette. Chelsea have brought in Morata, Rudiger and Bakayoko. United have brought in Lukaku, Lindelof and Matic. City have brought in Ederson, Danilo, Mendy, Walker and Silva. Liverpool have brought in Salah and are on the hunt for more. Sp*rs are the only side to not have strengthened just yet and have also lost a key man in Walker; welcome to building a new stadium lads. They will find this is the way they must carry out business for the next few years. They’ll have to sell early and then reinvest right towards the end of the window for potential/2nd/3rd tier signings, purely because they can’t financially compete with the big boys. We had to do it for eight years and I feel that they may be in this shape for 4/5 years. It’s a lot less now than it would have been for us simply because the value of property has been surpassed by footballer worth. The game has gone bonkers and if the Neymar deal is anything to go by then sponsors will be going in for the kill over the next few years. Adidas were subtle with Pogba, the Qataris not so. Neymar’s deal has opened a new avenue for sponsors to fund club deals and I can see next summer being huge for this kind of deal until inevitably the footballing authorities create a rule on the matter. Until then it’s open season and I can see huge deals, huge contracts with huge agent fees being commonplace throughout the game.

I’ve mentioned this previously, but I do feel that we are in great shape going into the season. There was and still is uncertainty around the futures of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, however Wenger remains unmoved on all three of them and has been more determined than ever to keep a hold of his start players. It’s refreshing to see and with the way the money is in today’s game, losing Alexis on a free next season as a worst case scenario isn’t all that bad. His game is based on cut and thrust and he’s fast approaching 30 where the thrust becomes an asset you can no longer rely on. Can he adapt as Cristiano Ronaldo has had to adapt? Time will tell. But for today I’d much rather have Alexis Sanchez playing for Arsenal football club than have £60m in the bank and I’ll tell you why; who in God’s name is there available to replace such a talent? Not even the likes of Mbappe could completely plug the gap as he is so young. A tried and tested, seasoned pro who will get us 30 goals and 14 assists is just not on the market right now. Gambling by keeping him to give us more of a chance of winning the league is completely worth it and who knows, a title win may just convince him to stay beyond this year.

Onto footballing matters. We had the (dis)pleasure of playing Chelsea for the Community Shield and some early season bragging rights were up for grabs. This is always the game that if you lose, you’ll maintain it was meaningless but if you win you’ll see it as a ‘trophy’ and a successful start to the season. I put trophy in quotation marks simply because we all know it isn’t quite a ‘real’ trophy and more a nice day out if you win. It is of course far better than losing and having to watch the other team celebrate so whatever the Chelsea fans will have you believe about how little it matters, deep down the frustration and angst at losing to a fierce rival is something that will taste bad for a week at least. I’ve seen from the Twitterati that the fact Courtois took a penalty meant that they weren’t taking it seriously or that they didn’t care as much. LOL to that if the club were there just to banter off their paying fans. Conte maintained Courtois is a regular penalty taker in training as did Cech from his Chelsea days. To mirror it, both our LCB and LWBs took penalties so it’s not really to do with the position that you play more to do with the nerve that you can hold and whether you have ‘what it takes’ to step up and make the difference. Whether it was a ‘friendly’ or not you can believe the little things that occur over the course of the game will influence how those players go about correcting things. There will be a little bit of self-doubt when Morata is in front of goal; the heavy price tag and missed penalty will see to that. Equally the likes of Rob Holding will probably think twice about playing out from the back through his litany of possession based errors during the game. There are plenty more examples to think of, however my point is that while the game itself and the trophy itself may have no impact on the outcome of the prizes when they are handed out at the end of the season, the psychological impact of the performance may stay with certain players for a week or two.

Overall I thought that we acquitted ourselves very well over the course of the 90 mins and were well worth the win. I felt as though we controlled the game a little better than Chelsea and looked more threatening when going forward. Considering we were missing 5 of our strongest starting XI I felt hopeful. Chelsea were also missing Hazard, Bakayoko and Costa (although whether he plays any part in Chelsea’s season remains to be seen). But I feel us missing Alexis, Ozil, Koscielny, Ramsey & Mustafi was a bigger hole to plug. Added to this an injury to Mertesacker midway through the first half didn’t help our cause. Considering all these factors we looked sharp and that is an encouraging sign. My only grievances with the day were the way in which certain Chelsea players looked to be intentionally attempting to harm our players. It’s not a one off anymore, especially when you have the chief elbow merchant Alonso continuing to go about his business in a nonchalant manner. He really is a dirty footballer and one who I hope karma finds swiftly. Cahill is known for his shithousery, usually when he’s been pulled out of position, but his elbow to Mertesacker was again unpunished. It was all compounded by a diving Willian and then a studs up tackle on Elneny leading to a red card for Pedro. From the stands I must confess I thought it was a yellow, however on second viewing it’s clear to see why a red was given. Thankfully the injuries to any of our players was minimal and we should be able to start the season with a clean bill of health. And that’s the key here. We aren’t missing anyone who is recovering and we don’t have too many players that need some more rest. For once I’d like us to start off our league campaign in a winning manner. Please lads, bring home the 3 points.

And so the season is upon us. Just a few more days to go. Ah sweet football, it’s good to have you back old friend.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

BLOG: ARSENAL FC – A SEASON REVIEW

Now that the dust of the season has settled, it feels like the right time to take stock and review what happened. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Unprepared

As the dawn of the season approached we seemed to be perpetually stuck in the unprepared way of life that we’ve become so accustomed to over the recent past. Post the European Championships we were without Koscielny, Ozil and Giroud due to their exertions. We were without an injured Gabriel. We were short a centre back with the Mustafi deal yet to be completed. Cazorla was not deemed fit enough to start. Our new signing Granit Xhaka could only make the bench for our first game. Now injuries and tournament football is something that will cost you in early games, yet when you look at our centre backs in Chambers and new boy Holding it doesn’t take too much to see that the inexperience may well cost us against a good Liverpool side. You can’t blame the players selected here, who you can blame are the board and to a certain degree Wenger for lacking that killer instinct in the transfer market. Who knows whether this is solely on him or whether he is restrained by the board but either way you look at it, we were unprepared. Especially when you see that we additionally signed Mustafi and Lucas Perez.

The loss against Liverpool was a watershed moment in that following it, we went on a 19 game unbeaten run in all competitions and it looked to be a team that was showing some fight. Showing some resolve. Winning ugly. Winning late on. Wengerball also looked to be back with a couple of blistering performances, namely the dismantling of Chelsea at the Emirates. A new Arsenal or a false dawn?

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Same old, same old…

Then it happened. The stuttering began and it was in two big away games in which we saw the same cracks appear. In both fixtures, Man City & Everton, we took the lead and the initiative. We deservedly led in both games and took the foot off the gas as the comprehension of winning the big games themselves hit us. Caution took over and our luck ran out. Yes we should have had a penalty vs Everton and yes Man City’s second goal was offside, but that’s not the point. When the game was there for the taking we fell short. Another interesting development during this period of the season was the adoption of the 3-4-3 formation from the leaders of the pack. Chelsea adopted this change off the back of their humbling at the Emirates, which was very much the Conte way as we’d seen with the Italian team at the Euros. Sp*rs had also changed their way to match Chelsea in order to ensure they kept pace. City continued with their version of tiki-taka. United continued with their version of 6 at the back (or Mourinho-ball as we know it). We continued with our tried and tested 4-2-3-1, even when it became apparent that it wasn’t quite working as efficiently as the season before.

This pattern continued for far too long into the season for my liking and we just couldn’t seem to put a run of games together nor any real form to carry us forward and maintain a title challenge. What we did see was a Champions League capitulation like we’ve never seen before. Losing is one thing, but a 10-2 aggregate scoreline against a club Ivan Gazidis said that we would be competing with back in 2013, is quite frankly farcical.

This coupled with uncertainty around our manager and any sort of clarity from the board was only ever going to lead to one thing. Adverse effects on the players. I’ve said it before, but think about it, if as a player you don’t know who is going to be in charge next season why would you want to play for him at a level of 100%, even subconsciously? If you knew a manger was coming in, your agent would want to know if you as his player were in the new managers plans, else you may need to find a new club. If the current manager was known to be staying on then you’d know where you stand. But not knowing what is going to happen leaves you uncertain, even if only slightly, and we all know that if there is even a modicum of giving anything less than 100% in any form of football you will quickly be found wanting.

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Stubborn change

We finally saw Wenger succumb to the 3-4-3 formation in an attempt to galvanise the squad and give us something to hope for. It began with a fairly unconvincing display vs Boro followed by a quite stunning display vs Man City in an FA Cup semi-final. That was the moment that we found our usual end of season get-out-of-jail-free card that would normally propel us into the top 4 and displace Sp*rs form their mind the gap perch. This wasn’t to be the case this season, but it did galvanise the squad, giving us 18/21 points as well as a place in the Cup Final. The points came against some tough opposition as well, with us having faced Man United & Everton at home alongside Stoke and Southampton away. Imagine we had adapted sooner? Although it’s equally annoying to imagine what would have happened if our board had given a semblance of forward planning and guidance to steer a ship that was quite visibly shaking. This approach was also adopted in the FA Cup Final vs the best team in England this season. This with Per Mertesacker playing with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal as a part of a makeshift back three. Not only that but we played The Ox at left wing back. We were given a quite unbelievable performance given the circumstances and we brought home some silverware, which I’ve always maintained is the whole point of it all. I’m in no way saying that winning the FA Cup is more succesful than winning the Premier League, in fact I would rather we could swap to what Chelsea had. However I would argue that the single expressive emotion of celebrating a cup winning goal and at the full time whistle is more rapturous as an experience than actually winning a league unless of course it’s a Michael Thomas or an Aguero like moment. That one portion of joy is probably collectively less joyful than that of perpetually winning throughout the season, however taken in isolation is more than likely of a higher peak than any of the collective celebrations, again taken in isolation. Winning things is what it’s about as a fan, and no matter what the celebration police say I hope you all enjoyed it.

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The win resulted in a new 2 year deal being offered to Arsene Wenger and added information to suggest that this may well not be his last contract, and that’s the bit that irks me about the situation. I am in no way displeased that he has been kept on, so let me say that off the bat. I am very pleased that he is still our manager, however the annoyance lies with the fact that we may well find ourselves in this very same situation in 2 years time. The uncertainty. The fan unrest. The player unrest. That’s what annoys me. How does the club plan for a replacement if they’re not sure he is going to be replaced? I feel as though this should be his last contract as they can then begin to plan for the future, and the problem is Arsene just loves the club as well as the game too much (as we all do). And it’s due to that fact that we as fans will be left in limbo in 2 years time. As much as I adore the man, he shouldn’t be the priority of our club, not ahead of the club itself in any case. 1. Arsenal, 2. Arsene, 3. Players. Number 1 includes the fans by the way, as we are the lifeblood of the game. I just truly hope that Wenger has the foresight to know when the time is right to hang up his zip and ensure that the baton is passed onto a worthy successor. Time will tell.

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Goal of the season

My top 5 goals for us this season are as follows:

5. Alexis v Ludogorets. Purely just for its fantastic technique. Watch it.

4. Walcott v Chelsea. Because #Wengerball. Watch it.

3. Ramsey v Chelsea. Because Cup winning goals bring about joy. Watch it.

2. Ozil v Ludogorets. Last minute, winning goal, unreal technique, bodies flying. Exquisite. Watch it.

1. Giroud v Crystal Palace. This is THE goal of the season and will be hard pushed to be beat by anything we see from here on in. MOTD voted Emre Can’s goal as the goal of the season, but we’ve all seen bicycle kicks before. Adebayor did it vs Villareal etc etc. But the Giroud scorpion kick with it being behind him, further away from goal than Mkhitaryans effort (as well as onside!) and clipping the crossbar before it went in makes it a very special goal indeed. It even had a #Wengerball build up included. One of the best we’ll ever see and the only Arsenal goal I really rate above this is King Denis’ goal v Newcastle as he beat a man with skill and followed it with a finish. It had an aesthetic appeal to beating a man that we’ve never seen before it, nor after. Drink it in: Watch it.

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Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

BLOG: CONTRACT REBELS?

Will they? Won’t they? What does it all mean for Arsenal FC? Are we still a ‘big club’? So many questions, so few games remaining, so much uncertainty.

Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil remain our two most important and valuable players, which is why it is integral for them to be kept on to build the team around. But I’m here to talk about what it would mean if they didn’t sign. I can see the motivation for wanting a move; Trophies, Money, Career progression in short. However what both players clearly thrive on are to be the main men at their clubs. Ozil seems ok playing second fiddle to Alexis, however is revered by our fan base and therefore loves playing for Arsenal Football Club. Alexis knows that he’s our most important player and thrives on the responsibility that we heap on his shoulders. He loves that. Pep Guardiola had recently said of Alexis that he really wanted to be the difference maker at Barcelona and while he did contribute in a big way whilst there, he was always going to be second fiddle to Lionel Messi. That’s what any player has to understand when moving to Barcelona. And so he moved to pastures new, finding the perfect blend at Arsenal. Or so he thought.

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In the last two months we’ve seen that the team and quite possibly the manager is going through a transitional phase. It’s almost as if the club has been left to float in an uncomfortable space whilst minds are made up at the very top as to the direction of Arsenal from the summer onward. This is what has led to a delay in the contracts being signed. This as well as both players trying to get as much money as possible for their last ‘big’ contract at a truly competitive club anyway. There will likely be big money offers as their careers disappear into the sunset from China and the MLS in a few years from now, however the next contract is the one that is the most significant of their careers. They will want to know who their new manager is, they will also want to know if they fit the managers plans (I can’t imagine this being an issue in all honesty unless we have a manager who writes for a tabloid) and they’ll also want to know what the transfer plans are for the summer to ensure that Arsenal remain competitive. All of that as well as a bumper new contract. It’s not just a question of one or two elements, there are a lot of moving parts and therefore a lot of room for deliberation exists, not to mention the uncertainty that surrounds the manager.

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But let’s just say that they don’t sign and they do look for moves away. Alexis Sanchez has 18 months left on his contract and therefore we can look to get around £60-70m for a player of his calibre in today’s market. The Clubs that he could join in my view are PSG, Bayern Munich, Man City & Chelsea. He’s done Italy and Spain, seems to like the Premier League intensity but also wants to win the biggest prizes. Whilst the lure of Pep at City would probably be his favoured destination were he to leave I just don’t think we will be held to ransom by another English club. He fits at Chelsea where he would probably take Pedro’s role, however again I just don’t think that we will be held to ransom as we’ve seen in the past. The most likely destinations are Bayern or PSG and Bayern tend to be more sensible in their transfer offers therefore I think that PSG would be the only  realistic option both for him and Arsenal. They would pay the required money and have the lure of potential success.

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As far as Mesut Ozil is concerned, I genuinely think that he is truly happy here and more importantly truly happy playing for Arsene Wenger. However if he were also to leave we would look to command at least £50m for the worlds most creative number 10. His list of suitors would be similar to that of Alexis Sanchez. Madrid may want him back, Bayern would indeed love him there, PSG also another option but I can’t see that any English clubs would be after him. The only other team whose style he suits could be Man Utd as he’s played under Mourinho previously, but they already have Pogba and Mkhitaryan who are number 10s that aren’t being played in their position. As well as this there’s just no way that we would sell to an English club.

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The combined transfer fees would look like £110m in addition to the £100m warchest being banded about, which would mean a lot of new faces and a massive squad rebuild. I almost think that if this were the case it would be the perfect way to bring in a new manager as well. He could truly put his stamp on the squad and shape it in exactly the way he wants. The squad, in my opinion, is good enough to be competing and the players are only just now showing signs of fight. We all know that Wenger cares profusely for the club, however just how much can he get out of this squad going beyond this season? If Wenger is to stay he must ensure that he keeps a hold of both Ozil and Alexis, as if they both do leave, it will be Wenger that puts his own £200m stamp on a squad that won’t be his for more than 2 years afterwards. That would be grossly unfair and unjust on the incoming new manager, whenever that may be and would cause a longer term imbalance to the squad. That in itself is not The Arsenal way.

In my opinion both players will indeed stay as well as Arsene Wenger and the rebuild will be set for another time. Of the above scenarios, if keeping both players means keeping Wenger for a little bit more then I say it’s the right thing to do. Whatever happens we are in for an intense summer. A lot of plates remain spinning and we need to ensure that the right people are in place both on and off the pitch to ensure none of them come crashing down.

BLOG: IS #WENGERBALL DEAD?

It’s long been said that we play the finest football in the land. Whether it’s Bergkamp, Henry, Denilson, Chamakh, Bendtner, Fabregas, Alexis or Ozil the mantra has always been the same: we will out-football you. Wenger’s teams have always had a fluidity about them no matter the personnel, granted we had the grit in the days of Vieira and Gilberto however even in their absence we stayed true to the philosophy that Wenger brought to the Premier League. Playing in triangles, devastating counter-attack football and excellent possession based slow to quick transition play to break down a stubborn team. It’s been a privilege to watch this over the years, but over the last 18 months or so we’ve looked like we don’t really know what our style is, what our identity is, what our ‘go to’ method is when approaching any game. It begs the question; is #Wengerball dead?

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Arsenal football club has been struggling to find a formula that works for quite some time now and there are a number of reasons as to why. Previously, when it’s worked really well, we’ve had a spine that has stayed constant throughout the majority of the season around which Wenger has added patches of talent to and kept the football playing machine going. In recent times we’ve found it hard to maintain that identity and I believe a lot of this is to do with the type of striker that the players around have gotten used to playing with. Before the arrival of Olivier Giroud we had Robin VanPersie, who whilst not the most mobile of strikers in comparison to an Alexis or Aguero, his movement was incredibly incisive and a fair bit quicker than Giroud. He was no target man. Before him we had Chamakh, Adebayor, Eduardo, Bendtner & Vela who played a significant(ish) amount of games to justify that they were important to us as a team. Bendtner aside, we had a more mobile strikeforce than we do now, and have done for the past 4 years or so. Yes Podolski was also bought at the same time, but I firmly believe he was bought as the main man and Giroud as the plan B, however it didn’t work out that way. Buying a more mobile striker has always been the way for Wenger, and this has been why our teams have had to be so good in possession. There was no quick and easy outlet as a long ball that can give teams a breather. There was only one way of playing and it included keeping the ball and keeping it moving. As Guardiola has famously said “Take the ball. Pass the ball”. It’s the way we played and we didn’t have a choice. That means that in training and in games it was always likely to be a more intense scenario as the ball was always on the floor. There always had to be a way to play our way out of trouble. I think that this mentality kept every single player a little more on their toes than they are right now. The introduction of Olivier Giroud as the main striker over the course of the last few years has taken its toll on the identity of our football. No longer is it on-the-toes-pedal-to-the-metal free flowing football, there’s always an out ball that lets our team catch their breath. This, whilst incredibly useful at times, has over time created a more sterile possession based team that lacks a little direction.

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Wenger’s teams have always been ‘allowed to play’ in the way they want to in terms of when attacking, however with a target man as the tip of our sword we have now become overly reliant and a little lazy in our approach play. It’s not something that’s happened overnight, as towards the beginning of our target man era we had played some scintillating football to which Giroud was a key figure (Wilshere goal v Norwich, Rosicky goal v Sunderland). Though our game has swung from an occasional outball to OG into a more regularly used option. This coupled with the changing of the modern game to having just the one centre forward has almost pushed us in this direction no matter how hard we try to change it, and try we have. Wenger has tried to sign Suarez, Benzema & Higuain for their intelligent movement and finishing abilities. They are not target men at all, yet can still score the same types of goals as Giroud. Wenger has been trying to adapt to the modern game by buying a more dynamic centre forward than Giroud. The conundrum is that Giroud has performed so well for the money we paid for him, that we’re stuck between whether to pull the trigger or not. I saw a great clip that identifies Giroud as being just short of an elite centre forward based on the money spent on him and his goal return (95 goals in almost 5 seasons), which you can see in full here. It’s basically saying that to bridge the gap between a Giroud and an Aguero shouldn’t be as steep a cost as is portrayed in the media these days.

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We saw against West Ham this week that #Wengerball is clearly there to be seen in fit and spurts, but unfortunately it’s become us playing Wenger’s brand of football sporadically rather than playing badly sporadically. Wenger has always had the same principles and I don’t see them changing, however to change the way the team is playing and to once again bring back the identity and brand of football that we all know and love he will need to go out and break the bank for a more mobile centre forward. It’s the only way the jigsaw puzzle makes sense and is the only way that our sterile approach play will be sharpened up to what we’ve known and loved in years gone by. Yes there are defensive issues, yes there are midfield issues and yes there are issues of mental weakness however none of this is new information. We’ve dealt with this in the past and yet still played excellent football, so the only way we are going to see what we want is to finally go out and buy that elite front man. It’s the only way we can keep #Wengerball alive.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

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.

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.

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.