BLOG: THE OX: THE SHIFT

There is only one thing more powerful than the human mind, a changed mind. The battle for advancement locks horns with adversity, creating a catalyst for change. The mind of the Ox, the mind of an individual cascading head first into the front-line of this battle with no reinforcements, the mind of a 23-year-old who took on the demons plaguing him with mediocrity and obliterated them with no remorse. The result? Not only an Ox by name, but an Ox by nature.

Let’s rewind back to 2016, a painful year it must be said, apologies for bringing such a year up, how about lets forget the events that unravelled at home and abroad, that’s not the focus of attention anyhow. What was brewing in the midst of global hostility was a Englishman, 23 years of age, working in the shadows of London Colney, fighting off the inadequacy threatening to continually infiltrate his playing career. Bursts of excellency gave slimmers of hope in preceding seasons, inside the explosive Gunners 15 was a fuse attempting to ignite itself, and the Ox finally provided it with the spark it needed. November 19th 2016, the aura of inevitably circulating around the cauldron of Old Trafford, Arsene Wenger throws Chamberlain into the front-line, well, to be precise, the back-line, replacing Carl Jenkinson with 6 minutes remaining. The ball graces its presence at the feet of the Ox, a minute is left on the clock, electricity pulsates through the veins of the enigmatic fullback, steaming past Manchester Utd youngster Marcus Rashford, his right foot crisply wraps around the ball, penetrating the air as it lasers towards the head of Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who meets cross with decisiveness, powering home past a helpless David De Gea.

There was an anger in the Ox, a frustration. Signals of resentment, he deserved to be on that pitch, he deserved to mesmerise the 75000 onlooking fans, that was his right, and he was hell-bent on exercising it. 6 weeks dragged on, the Ox was thrown back into the shadows again, where he’d worked in hope of opportunity, a place that was beginning to torment him.

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After battling the shadows, the Ox was robbed of the continuation of opportunity he warranted.

Corner an Ox, and the Ox will come out fighting. January 28, 2017, the day corners of the Gunners faithful stood up and began to question, began to contemplate, is this the Oxlade-Chamberlain we’ve been waiting for? A masterclass, pure and simple, Leonardo Da Vinci with a football, resentment and the canvas of St Mary’s, he created a masterpiece. 88 touches, 62 passes, 91% passing accuracy, 3 chances created, 2 tackles, 2 interceptions fail to do justice to the perfection of the performance. It was this day, 28th January 2017, that a resurgence was ignited.

In the midst of a faltering Arsenal side in the following months, Chamberlain would be forgiven for not being able to emulate such magnificence, in-spite of his best efforts, his attempts were futile in preventing a catastrophic 2 month period that all but condemned the Gunners to another season of incompetence. Then, as though a blessing from the heavens, an angel blessed the legendary Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger with an idea. The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. 3 at the back, who’d have thought? The Ox looked on in confusion, fear perhaps, where was he to fit into such a diverse system? The answer, he was to ruthlessly rob the spot of RWB from young Spaniard Hector Bellerin and make the position his own. The robust physique, explosive speed, and continually improving technique and dynamism of the 23-year-old has provided the Gunner’s fans a solace in a season of great sorrow. A great artist can create a picture in his mind, and put it on the canvas. The gifted artist can have isolation between continuation of their project, and resume the status quo. 155 days after his luxurious delivery to Olivier Giroud at Old Trafford, Arsenal are faltering, after taking a deeply cut wound from the boot of Sergio Aguero, the Gunner’s need a savour, a magician, capable of replicating his tricks. The Ox. 155 days after producing his excellence, does so again, Arsenal level, Arsenal win. Oxlade-Chamberlain, the catalyst.

Whatever may come of the resurgence of the Ox, whatever may come of the resulting offers he is given with a year left on his contract, it is hope that will guide us to the possibility of having the 23-year-old in a Gunner’s shirt next season. In the mean time, allow the Englishman to serve as a reminder. A reminder that, as Sun Tzu said, ”Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win”, and by winning in the shadows, come Saturday 27th May, the Ox will be ready to go to war.

BLOG: ALEXIS SANCHEZ: WINNER OR PETULANT?

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

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

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

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Was this Alexis’ first showing of his frustrations manifesting?

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

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

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

BLOG: SANTI CAZORLA: THE MIND

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG: OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN: REBORN.

Moments, they define careers, regardless of profession. Whether you seize such opportunities define you as a person, define whether you’ll go down amongst the greats, or forever trudge through the realms of mediocrity. Oxlade-Chamberlain finds himself at his moment. Inevitable injuries plague another Arsenal season, and the Englishman has found himself a beneficiary of this. All started with a double-barrelled midfield on a frosty Saturday evening on the south-coast, from there a flower blossomed.

Placed beside two 19 year old’s, the Ox found himself having to be a leader of men on a ground notoriously difficult for the Gunners. Not only did he lead, he thrived. Combining explosive pace with incisive distribution, Chamberlain dictated the game, doing whatever the game demanded of him. The Arsenal needed cover, the Ox provided such cover. The Gunners needed a quick switch of play, the Englishman would ping a 50 yard pass and spread the play. The robust build of the 23-year-old allows him to cover vast acres of canvases across the country, yet the highly underrated intelligence he possesses means he can combine such technique he’s equipped with perfectly timed execution. Like a boxer with his opponent up against the rope, the Ox delivers the killer blow. Time after time, exquisite perfection pulsates through the veins of Chamberlain. Historical precedence is given to his ability to mould himself into such a role, with a Man of the Match performance away to Bayern Munich springing to mind.

It shouldn’t work, but it does. Completely juxtaposed to the perception of a central midfielder, the 23-year-old embodies the greater picture, this picture being a revolution in football. The game evolves, adapts, it always has and always will, whether this be the change in dynamic in forwards, ball playing defenders, or system changes, there is always room from evolution. In fact, worrying times will arise once such evolution disintegrates. Chamberlain possesses the attributes to be the type of midfielder the game demands, an astounding attribute. The game needs to be driven forward by powerful running? The Ox can deliver. The game needs to be slowed down? The Ox can provide such assistance. The game requires high pressing? The Ox will inexorably hunt until the ball is in his presence. This is much more than a simple box to box midfielder, this is the complete midfielder, the adaptable midfielder, the midfielder Arsenal so desperately need in a time of despair.

Chamberlain’s output as a CM is truly remarkable.

Stagnation had previously plagued the now experienced man. Placed on the flanks, the Ox’s game was limited to dynamic runs, completely unrepresentative of the Englishman’s true capabilities. In the Arsenal system, the right flank tends to be occupied by an inside forward, whether this be Walcott, Welbeck or Lucas. The 23 year represents somewhat of an anomaly to the general style Arsene Wenger deploys here, he’s an out-and-out winger. By deploying the Ox is midfield, you open up a whole new realm to the Gunners number 15, a rebirth.

So what happens when the returns of Xhaka and Ramsey occur? Does Arsene Wenger select on merit or on performance? Tactically speaking, placing Oxlade-Chamberlain next to the lethargic yet blessed Granit Xhaka could well be a revelation. By using the Ox’s speed and mobility next to the Swiss international, you arguably compensate for his immobility in this department. This season has shown the combative 24-year-old needs this protection, as whilst on the ball he’s one of the best in the league, a concoction of dubious refereeing decisions and poorly timed tackles have exposed the £35 million man. Ramsey is yet to convince next to the Swiss, despite having a fair few games in a pivot with him and Coquelin has become an increasing source of frustration amongst Arsenal fans (which I may add is unwarranted, he doesn’t force Wenger to start him). Yet, despite limited game-time, Chamberlain has taken to the midfield role like a duck to water, outperforming all those who’ve found themselves in a Gunner’s pivot this season.

All comes down the Manager, does he persist with the excellence of the Ox or does he resort to the tried and tested. As Albert Einstein said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong”, and time will tell whether the Gunners boss is willing to take such a risk. The Ox’s career depends on it.

 

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: MESUT OZIL: HABITUATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: THE BATTLE

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter.com/JLennard10

BLOG: 2016: THE HIGHS AND LOWS

2016. A year regarded by many as the worst in recent times, and this is completely disregarding the footballing side of things. Famous icons are sadly no longer with us, atrocities have been of regular occurrence, and well the politics.. Don’t get me started on the politics of 2016. There have been highs and lows in a year that will inevitably be remembered for the latter, and Arsenal fall victim to the trend. So, what exactly were the highs and lows of a turbulent Gunners year?

Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal. 

Anfield is not an enjoyable looking prospect. So when you score three goals at the famous stadium you expect success to follow. This was not the case for a Gunners side who ruthlessly fought not once, but twice, from losing positions to find themselves leading 3-2 courtesy of a Giroud double. Roberto Firmino found the back of the net twice, but what certainly stands out from the match was an incredible miss from Arsenal’s French forward, miraculously managing to divert the ball away from an open net. Despite this, an injury time equaliser from Joe Allen certainly left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Arsenal faithful. A sign of impending lapses of concentration inevitably detrimental to the Gunners title charge.

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester.

Whilst I could elect to mention the agonising 1-0 home defeat at the hands of a quite frankly mediocre Chelsea side, I chose to skip to this, what was supposed to be the title turner. Going a goal down to a Jamie Vardy penalty, the Gunners looked devoid of ideas heading into the interval. A similar aura of impending failure plagued the open exchanges of the second half, then up stepped Walcott, who courtesy of a beautifully cushioned Olivier Giroud header, clinically rifled home. 24 and a half agonising minutes pasted, tormenting the Gunners faithful, toying with the hearts of millions as though they were guitar strings. Mesut Ozil, the artist steps up. A picture is created in his mind, a canvas is ready made out for him. The German has the ultimate stage to craft his magic. The sphere of splendour is centre stage, captivating millions as its revolutions progress. The path is interrupted, as though a telepathic connection was apparent, Arsenal’s returning forward rises highest, glancing of his head into the bottom corner of the goal. “THERE’S YOUR FAIRYTALE!”. Danny Welbeck, the man sidelined for 9 months had seemingly turned the title race on its head.

I did say seemingly..

Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal.

Embarrassing. The only way to describe the Gunners performance against what, simply put, was a Manchester Utd youth team. The fact that the abomination was regarded by Arsene Wenger himself as his most disappointing defeat to the Red Devils spoke volumes. This is the same Arsene Wenger that had seen his team ship 8 goals at Old Trafford. The 28th February, the day of which many regard as the day Arsenal lost the title.

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Arsenal never truly recovered from the shock defeat at Manchester United’s expense.


 

Arsenal 4-0 Aston Villa. 

Yes, Aston Villa were an already relegated side, and yes, putting four goals past the leakiest defence in the league isn’t exactly an achievement to ride home about. But let’s be honest.. We all know why this game is in the list. “It happened again!”. A frankly hilarious capitulation at St James Park saw Spurs and their fans firmly kept in their place. A 5-1 hammering to the Magpies saw 19 years of finishing behind Les Professeur become 20. In a season of bitter disappointment and heartache, the comfort of knowing whatever Arsenal could do Spurs could find a way to do even worse at least provided an ounce of reconciliation for the Gunners fans.

Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool. 

Rob Holding and Calum Chambers. What do you think of when you see the two names? The future. Two top class prospects saw themselves thrown in at the deep end against an inexorable Jurgen machine, slaughtering the two youngsters to shreds, through no fault of their own. Toxicity returned on the opening day of the season again, with calls for Wenger’s head growing louder and louder with every passing day. However, light shone from behind the madness. Whilst losing the opening game of the season due to amateurish preparation, the defeat triggered the signing of Shkodran Mustafi, who as is well documented, the man who refuses to take a loss.

19 game unbeaten run. 

Wengerball was back and producing wonders during the sequence of 19 games without defeat, including a 3-0 demolition of league leaders Chelsea, a defeat that has arguably propelled the Blues into the position of superiority they find themselves in now, with the annihilation at the hands of the Gunners causing the defensive reshuffle to 3 at the back, a formation of which they are yet to taste defeat with. In the midst of the beautiful football a new Arsenal began to emerge, an Arsenal that embodied attributes they were previously lambasted by the media for lacking. The ability to grind results, typified by the 1-0 win away to Burnley as well as the snatch and grab point at Old Trafford, a game the Gunners should have comfortably faced defeat in. A genuine belief began to grow that this Arsenal side could produce when it mattered, and bring home the elusive premier league title.

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Mustafi’s defensive qualities and leadership skills were integral to the unbeaten run.

 

6 days, 2 leads, 2 defeats. 

It was all going so well wasn’t it… This is Arsenal after all though isn’t it, when have we ever done things simply? Taking leads against both Everton and Manchester City, the Gunners somehow managed to find themselves leaving their consecutive trips to the North East bereft of points. A 8 day period saw Arsenal go from top of the table to nine points behind the leaders. Whilst managing to get back to winning ways against West Brom (just), the poisonous atmosphere so often apparent in recent seasons has steadily begun to rise to the surface.

What’s next?

2017, what does it have in store? Let’s put it this way, this time 12 months ago the squad was down to its bare bones and heavily reliant on Olivier Giroud to spearhead the Gunners attack. 12 months on, Giroud is utilised effectively as a top class “plan b”, Arsene Wenger has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, despite the injuries to Walcott, Chamberlain and Cazorla. All bodes well for a 2017 of success, now all we can do is wait, watch, and get behind the Gunners, because after all, We Are The Arsenal.

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: THE 12th MAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: GRANIT XHAKA: INTRINSIC

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @JLennard10

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 3-1 STOKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gunners can take hits and keep moving forward.

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

Twitter: @JLennard10