THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR

Graft that contains joy rarely feels like a task at all. Watching Arsenal the last few years, moments of everlasting craftsmanship have been a mainstay, albeit reduced in frequency. That said, bubbling beneath the surface, ready to catastrophically erupt at any given moment was an inexorable toxicity. It plagued the fans, corrupted the players, and in-spite of the grace Le Professeur conducted himself with, it clearly drained him. The joy was zapped out of watching the Gunners. What once was the highlight of the weekend, seeing 11 gifted artists work their magic in-front of awe-inspired onlookers, eroded into pain, hurt and anguish. The whistle that signalled the conclusion of a match was greeted with deafening boos, shocking abuse, and players physically and psychologically drained.

This toxicity ravaged the club from top to bottom, and it was only the news of Wenger’s departure that brought temporary alleviation from the virus infecting the Emirates. The curtains closed on the Arsene Era, leaving behind an indelible mark of grace, beauty and guile. As the curtains closed, ambiguity replaced toxicity, as fans anxiously awaited who would pioneer the next chapter in the story of Arsenal Football Club. Of all names to roll off the tongues of Gunners fans far and wide, Unai Emery rarely got a mention. Yet, before we knew it, there he was, the captain of the Arsenal ship, determined to steer the Gunners back on course.

So used to toxicity were the Gunners fans, the appointment was meant with reluctance, some fans even showing a willingness to protest his appointment. Even pundits such as Gary Neville bemoaned what he saw as a “mess”. Arsenal had become synonymous with negativity. Fast forward two months, and Ozil, Aubameyang and Mustafi are pictured on the Arsenal bench dancing, with the Gunners running rampant against PSG (albeit in essence a PSG youth team). The vibe around the club is electric, with players praising Emery’s work ethic, tactical nous, and the entire shift in training ideals from the era that preceded the Spanish manager.

It almost seems strange to have such positivity surrounding Arsenal. Transfers have been done early, players have cut their holiday breaks short, so mesmerised by the training methods of Unai Emery, and you’ll have a hard time finding an article bashing the Gunners. Even the captaincy, an issue usually used to ridicule the inadequacies of Arsenal is now a talking point centred around positivity. The discussion has transitioned towards the copious options of who can wear the famous armband of the Gunners.

To put this into perspective, Mesut Özil, an individual so widely ridiculed and wrongly targeted, now finds himself a serious candidate for the captaincy, with fans on-board with such an idea. Were such a plan proposed in the Wenger Era, the backlash would have been monumental, and the negative atmosphere would inevitability filtered onto the pitch, resulting in dire consequences for everyone connected to the famous red and white jersey.

No one truly knows what the impending season will entail. Countless analytic insights as to the shortcomings of the ‘same old Arsenal’ will no doubt surface from media outlets following the first defeat the Gunners encounter. However, there is a distinctly different feel as to how such criticism will be received. There is a unity and strength in the squad, a cohesion that has seemingly been previously absent. Hector Bellerin’s issuing of support for Özil in his fight against the DFB, or even the comments under Aaron Ramsey’s instagram posts from Lacazette regarding his as ‘captain’ highlight a togetherness we’ve not seen at the Emirates for a long, long time.

Özil may well find himself with the captain’s armband on more regularly this season

Perhaps Arsenal won’t make significant progress, and perhaps we won’t trail-blaze through the season as we optimistically hope for. Regardless, one defeat won’t divide the Gunners this season, one defeat won’t trigger demand for a coup of the structures dictating Arsenal’s growth. This season will be different, united the Gunners will stand, but if we fall? We’ll fall united, and you can bet that the climb back up will have the force of millions, far and wide, supporting it.

My twitter: @Jakeal_

MESUT OZIL: THE STAND

60,000 mesmerised onlookers erupt when the name is announced. A name synonymous with mercurial guile, deft control and ice-cold composure. There’s an aura to his movement, when he touches the ball the ball thanks him for being so delicate in his care. The name is Mesut Ozil. The artistry of the number 10 is world revered, or at least, when the outlets entrusted with covering his genius care to halt an agenda blinded by hatred.

Taking a stand in the face of adversity is not just a minor obstacle on the road to the greater good, it is building that exact road you want others to be able to travel down. Özil’s retirement from international football speaks volumes, showing a man hell-bent on the betterment of those around him, whether that be on the pitch, or off it. This is a man who committed his prime years to the glorious red and white of the Gunners, despite the catastrophic tornado of despair that he saw cascading towards London Colney. That moment, the ink from the pen in his hand delicately embedding itself in the contract tying him to the Emirates, was the first overt sign of something igniting within the German. What was ignited here was special, a blossoming desire to be a trailblazer, to repay the faith Arsene Wenger had shown him, and to prove to the critics that ravage the English press that he deserves to be regarded in the elite of his field.

A man who has paved the way for unimaginable change

The false narrative of laziness and disinterest plagues coverage of the German. The definition of scapegoat may as well have his face next to it in the dictionary, so relentless is the unwarranted abuse hurled his way. It was an inconvenient truth that Özil played through injury in the Gunner’s Europa League run, a truth dismissed as nonsensical by the majority of the English press. Geniuses are ridiculed by those incapable of understanding their greatness, leaving it no surprise that 29 year old is ridiculed to the extreme. When the false narrative of Özil’s laziness began to wear thin, a new narrative needed to be forced, and in steps a picture with President Erdogan of Turkey. Inevitably, the media pounced like crazed hyenas, deluding themselves into believing they had sufficient grounds to abuse Özil.

The statement of the Gunner’s number 10 today not only disproves the narrative peddled throughout the German’s time in an Arsenal shirt, but paints the mesmeric midfield maestro in a different light. He is a man emboldened, battle worn from years of relentless abuse. He is a man taking a stand against global injustices, irrespective of any potential fall-out. Scoring 23 goals and having 40 assists (the most of any German player ever for the national team), he retires engrained into the legacy of German football. However, it is his retirement that solidifies his legacy. Whilst others stand by idly, complicit in the discrimination and abuse Özil faced, the German has paved the way for a dialogue regarding discrimination in the DFB, and beyond that, racism in 2018 Europe (a statement that seems ludicrous to have to even type).

It is no coincidence why it is Özil who is consistently scapegoated

Özil is back with Arsenal, who under the close guidance of Unai Emery, will test their credentials in Singapore against PSG and Atletico Madrid. The fact he cut his holiday short to return to pre-season training is no doubt another inconvenient truth that critics blinded by hatred will suppress. Whilst the DFB cascade into turmoil, Özil confirms his status as a trailblazer, both on and off the pitch. Whatever it may be that the 2018/19 season entails, Mesut’s words and actions transcend football, and position him at the forefront of social change in football, a position Arsenal fans will wholeheartedly support. His genius may be misunderstood elsewhere, but here, on the meticulous canvas of the Emirates, another season of artistry awaits. I think I speak for all Gunners when I type these words; I stand with Özil.

Here’s my Twitter: @JakeAL_

YO PIERRE, YOU WANNA COME OUT HERE?

Anxiety, anguish, eventual jubilation. The emotions of Arsenal fans have been toyed with like guitar strings, but after an emotionally turbulent window, Aubameyang is to grace the historic red and white jersey. The divisive Gabon international being impactful upon this Gunner’s team is an inevitability, whether the Arsenal faithful can elicit patience may well be a different story.

At 28 years old, the electric forward is well into the peak years of his career, slicing Bundesliga defences like a knife through butter consistently over the last few seasons. The club record signing has netted 69 league goals since the start of the 2015/16 season, a tally bettered by only 5 players globally, with his clinical nature reinforced by an exceptional 23.7% conversion rate. This season has been no different for the Gabon international, being the second highest scorer in the Bundesliga (only to the bane of Arsenal’s champions league existence in Robert Lewandowski.)

The Gabon international is virtually unparalleled in his ruthless nature.

Arsenal’s capacity to capitalise on clear cut chances has been borderline shambolic this season, missing 40 clear cut chances, a figure only beaten by the chance-creating machine of Manchester City (48). Considering Aubameyang has converted the most clear-cut chances in the Bundesliga this season (12), the mesmeric football the Gunners carefully weave may well have an end product to it. The clinical nature of the Gabon international has been a key focus of Arsene Wenger for several years, with murmurings in near-on every transfer window regarding a potential swoop for the ruthless forward.

The disciplinary record of the club record signing is a weapon by which will inevitably be used to jab the 28 year old with, so it is seemingly a necessity that any worry amongst the Arsenal faithful is dispelled. Similar to Özil’s treatment at the beginning of his Arsenal adventure, Aubameyang has found himself ridiculed and scapegoated by the German media. Such an ambush went to such extremities that German outlet BILD regarded the Gabon internationals activities as being reflective of a ‘monkey circus’, a statement by which infuriated Aubameyang’s agent (who is also is father), for its racially insensitive nature. German outlets have made a conscious effort to ambush the former Dortmund man, targeting “persistent lateness”, as well as what is perceived to be radical disobedience of club orders as providing such a basis.

Aubameyang has had his back against the wall during his time at DortmundAubameyang has had his back against the wall during his time at Dortmund

This is not to say the Gabonese man is perfect, it is true that lateness as well as various antics have plagued his Dortmund career. However, when push has come to shove, he has delivered. Having found the back of the net 141 times in the coveted yellow Dortmund jersey, any off the field antics have not been detrimental to his performance. The 28 year old seemingly has a desire to play for the Gunner’s, with the pull of ‘Le Professeur’ said to have played a vital role in convincing the world class player that the Emirates is the place to further his career. The Arsenal media team inadvertently compounded pressure upon negotiations having leaked newly signed Armenian international Henrick Mkhitaryan saying ‘Yo Pierre, you wanna come out here’, but perhaps, this was a blessing in disguise, the necessary push the Gazidis and co. needed.

Whether Aubameyang trail-blazes upon arrival, or requires a transition period, the fact will remain that Arsene Wenger has acquired a world class forward. In the Gabonese man, the Arsenal faithful have a scintillating forward, who desires to don the famous Arsenal colours. So, what’s left to say? Yo Pierre, you wanna drive us to titles?

Twitter: @JakeAL_

THE RESTORATION OF ARTISTRY

A catalyst. A sign of excellence. The embodiment of the beauty over the horizon. A diminutive Chilean stepped onto the Emirates canvas for the first time, an eruption of euphoria ensues. “This is the man, it has to be” Arsenal fans say to themselves. Mesmerising onlookers, the Gunners number 17 swivels, a motion by which defies all logic. Excitement pulsates through the veins of fans throughout the globe. The FA cup was home, where it belonged, and Sanchez was armed to drive us into war, a rigorous battle. Like a dog off its leash, Alexis charges around the pitch a free man, determined to craft art, to enshrine his name amongst the greats.

Four years go by, Manchester United beckons, and he trudges away from the battlefield a defeated man. The match was supposed to be perfection, Arsenal made the player the vocal point, and Sanchez in return was to drag us to a league title. Right? Well, what started as poetry in motion ended up falling to its knees. Who’s at fault, the player or the club? Well, both.

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All stories come to an end.

When push comes to shove, the Chilean’s output was incredible in an Arsenal shirt. 80 goals and 41 assists in 166 games is phenomenal. Subtract that output from any team, inevitability worry will consume fans and pundits alike. Alexis’ explosive nature dragged the Gunners when they were down, worn out, and looked to be trudging towards a catastrophic defeat or draw. That was the Alexis Sanchez Arsenal fans fell in love with, the Alexis Sanchez idolised by millions, the Alexis Sanchez whose name was sung rapturously as he rifled the ball into the back of the net.

This Chilean died along the line. Ruthless pressing turned to childish complaining, intricate passing turned to wayward passing, mesmeric dribbling turned to stagnant swivels with no purpose. The sacrifice of ‘Wengerball’ at the expense of Alexis backfired.  Poetic football was replaced with dynamism. Intricacy replaced with deluded passing. It speaks volumes that no player has been dispossessed more since 2014 in the Premier League than Sanchez (276).

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The absence of Alexis allowed for prime Wengerball against Crystal Palace.

The adored ‘passion’ may have won over fans for a while, but the reality that unravelled showed an egomaniac focused on individual goals as opposed to the common good. One need only to look to the constant tantrums the Chilean throws when subbed off, or the perverse smile on the bench when the Gunners were 5-0 down to Bayern Munich. What initially was the embodiment of a brighter future for the Emirates transitioned to having a team built around a megalomaniac. It serves as no surprise he sought to throw club legend Thierry Henry under the bus. The energetic and vibrant Chilean turned to a figure of insidious hatred. Refusal to acknowledge Arsene Wenger, the man who took bullet after bullet for him in press conferences says it all.

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Le Professeur has a moral compass, something the Chilean lacks.

Arsenal are better off in his absence. In Mkhitaryan, there is a player who desires to be at the club, a player moulded to the excellency of ‘Wengerball’.  The artistry tainted by the Chilean in the last 18 months is in restoration, and whilst the damage may not be repairable this season, the restoration project has commenced.  Whether the Gunners are able to add further reinforcements in the form of Aubameyang is yet to be known. Uncertainty toyed with the heart strings of the Arsenal faithful, shaking the club to the core. Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan may well be the tools needed to restore the philosophy Arsene and Arsenal represent.

Only time will tell whether the project restoration is a success. Art is unique; it should be embraced and admired. Untold stories have been lost through the disintegration of art. Arsenal have an opportunity to restore one of football’s greatest pieces, an opportunity that may not present itself for a long time.

Twitter; @JakeAl_

JACK’S BACK

Don’t tell Arsenal’s number 10 you’ve written him off, it’s a dangerous game to play. Setbacks build character, they built the man Wilshere wanted to become, the man Wilshere needed to become. The curtains had drawn on the enigmatic midfielder’s career, but he’s refused to let the crowd forget what he is, the performer, the magician that they were mesmerised by. The poet, the constructor of beauty, he was not bowing out without a fight.

Trudging back from his battle on the south coast in 2016/17, one would be forgiven for believing that gracing the Arsenal shirt was a distant memory for Wilshere, floating away into the ocean of unfulfilled potential. Whilst detractors made a mockery of the floating ship of potential, the Englishman was navigating the ship, inexorably steering it back on course. As the tide settled, the Gunner’s number 10 began to grasp control of his fate, beginning in the Europa League. Albeit mediocre opposition, any opposing team was left dumbfounded, chasing the esoteric dream of controlling Wilshere’s destiny. The clearest sign yet that the ship was back on course was against Bate Borisov. Dictating the course of the game, class oozed from the mesmeric midfielder, topping off an exquisite performance with his first goal since May 2015 (a misleading stat considering injuries and his loan).

Wilshere wearing the captain’s armband is a site Gunner’s fans would love getting used to

‘It’s only Bate, get a grip’ is the inevitable response from those hell-bent on reinforcing their anti-Wilshere agenda by any means necessary. Class is apparent regardless of opposition, touches of elegance will baffle a defender of any level if executed effectively. The trademark drop of the shoulder followed by a deft swivel was still engrained in the core of the Englishman. However, there is now a distinct cleverness to his play, a balance between maintaining the ball manipulation and drive he is widely acclaimed for, whilst avoiding the detrimental injuries as a consequence. Now is an engrained subconscious radar as to the probability of harm being caused, a balancing act created. Wilshere still flies into challenges, still drives past 3 defenders with ease before being clattered by the fourth, but it is now done with prior calculation. The revered Arsenal man now knows if in a jeopardising situation, how to react. Whether this be positioning his body in a certain manner, such as when West Ham’s Mark Noble clipped his toe, a situation previously where Wilshere would have left himself further exposed.

Against West Ham, Jack showed the Gunner’s faithful glimpses of what they’ve missed.

On the topic of West Ham, a dire result. However, in the midst of this shambolic performance, and the inevitable disillusionment on behalf of the fans was an Englishman. This Englishman had turned the ship of potential around, and was pushing against the tide that had found itself returning with force. He was injecting pace, producing drive, battling tirelessly. Whilst those around him remained stagnant, Wilshere’s first thought was ‘how can I change this game?’. Unfortunately it was to no avail, with his surrounding teammates, on the most part, failing to deliver similar commitment levels. This isn’t to excuse the adored Gunner’s number 10 either, as he very well could have handed Arsenal a victory as he skewed a chance over the crossbar from 10 yards. The difference is he was the player on that pitch who had his back against the wall, and needed to come out fighting. Whilst you have Alexis stroll around throwing tantrums with six months on his contract, you have Wilshere who’s not only performing to a level thought to have been past him, but playing with fight, hunger and passion. Do these qualities make a footballer? No. However, add these qualities into a gifted talisman and the consequent creation is what Arsenal need. A catalyst to ignite a stagnating season.

Will we see the Englishman in the XI regularly now? Who knows. Ramsey’s seasonal hamstring issue has opened the pathway to the starting XI. Having managed to fight against the tide, having proved detractors wrong, all is now down to Jack. Every time he steps onto a canvas, whether it be home or away, he is a boxer, a fighter, that the footballing world thought was down for the count. The detractors were wrong… Jack’s Back.

GRANIT XHAKA: ENIGMA

It’s only once you’ve seen excellence that its absence becomes a dagger through the heart. Granit Xhaka, the man whose excellence has mesmerised in 2017, yet whose naivety has hindered progress. The 25-year-old is blessed with a mercurial left foot, is revered by his fellow teammates, yet finds himself walking the plank of football punditry, a few games away from being pushed overboard. Is this the manifestation of his footballing deficiencies, or is a deeper problem beginning to unravel?

It’s no secret that the Swiss international is public enemy number 1 amongst a wide range of pundits, ridiculed for his excessive force and perceived nonsensical positional play. Certainly, his abysmal defending for Watford’s winner at Vicarage Road was a source of intense scrutiny. However, what the Gunner’s 29 is being criticised for is not what is in his football repertoire. A fish cannot expected to climb a tree, nor can the Swiss be expected to perform functions not in his game. Should his positioning have been better? Of course. That said, the midfielder Arsenal bought from Borussia Mochengladbach in 2016 was not a defensively astute one, and when he suffers from lapses in defensive concentration, Arsene Wenger knew what he signed up for.

A much bigger issue is at play than these momentary lapses in concentration. The role of Granit Xhaka is a systemic issue in the Gunner’s set up. Put simply, you cannot play the 25-year-old in a midfield two and expect him to be a world beater. The 35 million pound man is a deep-lying playmaker, dictating play from between the two centre halves, providing a cohesive link between defence and the further forward midfielders. Instead, he finds himself in a midfield with a goal craving partner (the runs Ramsey does make are excellent nonetheless), and the space behind him occupied by a centre-back in a defensive three. What results is a Gunner’s 29 deprived of any sense of direction, caught between a rock and a hard place. Does he drop deep and further congest the defence, or does he push up the pitch, an area where his skill set is significantly decreased in effectiveness. No doubt Xhaka’s MOTM performance in the Community shield will be referenced. However, with ElNeny providing protection, and the Chelsea midfield entirely lacklustre on the day, the performance merely provides an exception that proves the rule. This is not to say that the 25-year-old can be excused for his performances, some of them have at times been shambolic, however, neglecting the bigger picture is to do an injustice to the talent of the stellar midfielder.

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Being misused is hard enough, let alone being targeted by officials.

The systemic problem is clear. So, what’s the solution? Firstly, ditch 3 at the back. Time has come to acknowledge the shortcomings of the formation, it came with a change in appearance, but the substance remained, Arsenal are frail defensively. Combating this frailty can be done in one of two ways. Either Arsenal control games more effectively, or become more resolute defensively. The latter has little chance of materialising, so control it is. Control is contingent on Xhaka, building a team that adequately accommodates to his needs. This is not an esoteric dream, which requires millions in investment, simply switching to 4-3-3. Positioning the Swiss international at the base of a midfield three gives him the licence to dictate from deep that he so desperately craves, whilst simultaneously providing robust energy either side of him, compensating for his lack of pace. With Aaron Ramsey, a ready-made right central midfielder can be slotted into the line up, with astronomical levels of stamina combined with an increasing technical capacity.

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A formation change not only benefits the Gunners 29. By switching to a midfield 3, Ramsey is given the licence to make his trademark runs into the box without fear of leaving his midfield companion abandoned. The icing on the cake? Jack Wilshere returns to the Arsenal XI as a left centre mid. Whilst his fitness limitations are apparent, placing the Englishman in a midfield three allows him to be the stop-gap between Xhaka and the forward line, whilst also allowing the balance of defensive discipline and explosive dribbling which the Arsenal graduate is renowned for.

Misuse of Xhaka’s talent is criminal. Of course, the complexities of football transcend a mere formation change, as the 3 at the back experiment highlights. However, if the Gunners wish to utilise the 25-year-old’s repertoire, change is a necessity, and far more than Arsenal 29 that would reap the rewards.

 

MESUT OZIL: VISIONARY

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits”, the words of visionary Albert Einstein. Every industry, every era, every culture has the strata of individual that goes against the curve, revolutionising the perceived beauty of their field. With a vision comes its critics, and with critics come an onslaught. Mesut Ozil, the man destined to be slaughtered to second he graced the red and white of the famous Arsenal jersey.

The German is a silent assassin, evidenced in his stealth like movements on the pitch, and his radio silence off it. The 28-year-old is a difficult man to track down, after all, they call him a magician for no reason. That was, until the Gunners number 11 had enough. His genius had been ridiculed, disregarded and disrespected for far too long, so the German took a stand. Well, sort of. In typical Mesut fashion, he wanted the spotlight to remain as distant from him as possible, prompting his ambush on criticism to be launched on social media. Going after Arsenal legends and media like (the two sadly had to distinguish nowadays), he defended his genius, the clubs values, and his values. The question prevalent from all cordons of football is whether the response was warranted…

Thierry Henry, irrefutably the best player to bless an Arsenal shirt. His punditry skills? Not quite as mesmerising as it was to watch him craft his magic on the Highbury and Emirates canvas. According to the Frenchman,  “When [Mesut Ozil] plays in an Arsenal shirt, sometimes it is not up to the standard of Arsenal.” How true does such an accusation lie? Do players have bad games? Of course, Thierry would know that himself, some games you aren’t up to it *cough cough, every cup final*. Despite that, no one refutes Henry’s genius, nor should they, he is one of the best to grace the beautiful game. The accusation labelled at Ozil is his failure to step up in big games. Yet, the informed football fan will know this argument to be nonsensical. In a Gunners shirt, Ozil averages a goal contribution in a ‘big game’ roughly every other game (0.44), and only Mata and Coutinho have better minutes per goal contribution in big games that the German maestro. Mesut Ozil is the oil of the Arsenal machine. Failure to understand the influence the German has on any game, big games included, is failure to comprehend genius.

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Failure to see genius sets dangerous precedent

Often referenced is the German’s exemplary  spell in Madrid, in a dire attempt to smear the poetry he has woven in England. Once again, the illusion of disillusionment has held the media captive. In 17 more games, the German has created 103 more chances, completed 66 more take-ons, and had 55 more shots, in the process creating a chance every 25.5 minutes [Per Squawka]. If anything, the German has polished his game, ironing out inadequacies, improving his output in the process, all whilst surrounded by inferior players. Mesut Ozil adapted to the Premier League a long time ago, the Premier League is yet to adapt to Mesut Ozil. In Madrid, rushing on to delicately placed through balls were Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria. In his time in a Gunners shirt he has crafted his magic behind Sanogo,Walcott, Giroud and Welbeck. With the latter two, no disrespect is intended, they work inexorably hard for the Gunners, with the Frenchman in particular delivering numerous clutch moments. But, the reality of the matter is that you do not get the best out of Mesut Ozil if you surround him with sub-par players.

In Alexis and Lacazette we may well come to see the media finally perceive the class that the German has always oozed. However, this is not definitive. Already having created 15 chances this season (the most in the division), the 28 year old is yet to register an assist.  The shining light being an O-L-A front three is yet to be tested. That said, if another year goes by without the art being crafted by Ozil being polished off by the Gunners forwards, it may well be the case that the visionary from Germany will forever be misjudged, misunderstood, not receiving the accolades he warrants.

 

The 12th Man: Deluded Toxicity. 

The cycle continues. No, not that one you likely think I’m referencing. You know, that one where the transfer window starts of booming, only to be met in the final straight with despair and overwhelming disappointment. Whilst being a cycle that exists, this is not the cycle I am referring to. This cycle, the infamous cycle that plagues the pride, integrity and honour the Arsenal badge represents, is the cycle of the deluded Arsenal fan.

Optimism is a dangerous concept, leading to false hopes and perhaps inevitable disappointment. The deluded Arsenal fan however? Polar opposite, they prey on failure, leech on the first sign of trouble on the Gunners ship. Is the Arsenal ship currently plain sailing? Of course it isn’t, the ship has major holes in dire need of fixing. What the extreme, deluded Arsenal fan represents is one of the biggest holes plaguing this ship. The hole in the hull. 

Criticism is necessary in life. Acknowledging the faults in your armoury helps you better equip yourself against the rigours of life. This Arsenal team is full of deficiencies in the armoury. Lack of depth in midfield, inexperienced or below par defenders, contract dilemmas inexorably engulfing the club and all it represents. The ship of the Gunners is in danger in the storm of English football. It is the Arsenal fans who can help steer this ship to safety. Toxicity infiltrates the Emirates the first sign of lacklustre play or a subpar shot. Intelligence and physicality dictate the direction by which a game takes. Emotions dictate the speed of these turns. Take a look at the Leicester game, a goal behind with 10 minutes to go. A rare occasion, the Gunners faithful are raucous, bellowing the blissful syllables of the Arsenal name. What happens? The Gunners fight back, ruthlessly so, and claim an opening day victory in front of the mesmerised onlookers. 

You get the Emirates fired up and it’s a cauldron.


Then you head to social media….

Torrential abuse of the players, the manager, the tactics. You name it, the fans have abused it. As with anything, you should not take the minority as representative of the majority. The Arsenal dilemma transcends this trend. The abusers, the minority nonetheless, are ruthless, absorbing all the media attention, and with it, the attention of the players and the manager. I am aware, merely mentioning this topic I conform to the trend that is in dire need of removal. However, I’ll proceed regardless. One loss doesn’t not equate to eternal punishment in the dark realms of the premier league table, likewise, a win does not guarantee eternal success in the blessed heavens of the english football summit. What is need is logic and reason. There are problems at Arsenal, plain and simple. Problems that need discussion. Discussion needn’t turn to hostility and anger, who does this benefit? The early months of 2017 proved this point, the endless rage and sheer animosity directed at the players and manager was detrimental to the cause. At times, the fans have quite frankly been an embarrassment, epitomised at Selhurst Park, where Hector Bellerin was left embarrassed, standing like a lost puppy, pleading for the ball back from his own fans. A disgrace. This animosity has found itself steadily filter back into the minds of the Gunners faithful, but this time, in greater numbers than the prior minority. 

And then there’s the toxic minority…


Time is paramount. There is a week to decide the course of the Gunners ship. Rumours will link players away, seeking to steer the ship towards the inferno of hatred the deluded minority of fans have cultivated. Hate, anger and delusion, towards the manager, players, board and fellow fans only adds to the speed by which the ship approaches doomsday. You, the Arsenal fans, have a hand on the steering wheel, and with all the anger around the club, you must help steer the club away from the toxicity. 

Jack Wilshere: Last Chance Saloon?

The power of the mind is unique. It has the capacity to adapt and invent, instigate and invigorate. With the mind comes the body, often by which dictates the future of the mind. Jack Wilshere, the man whose mind is failed by his body. The genius announced himself on the world stage over six years ago, against arguably the best team there’s ever been. It can often take a genius to notice a fellow genius. Widely ridiculed since, lambasted for ‘living off’ that famous February night, the Arsenal number 10 has found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. The options are crystal clear. Does the Englishman stay at the club his been at since the age of 9, or does he leave where he’s idolised in hope of reigniting his stagnating career?

Last Chance Saloon is a funny saying to reference the Gunner’s number 10 in, especially when you consider that the exact same question was rife among the English media last year. The question Wilshere proceeded to answer by treading unknown waters in the form of a loan move to Bournemouth. Negating the talent, which only the naive among supporters deny, to look at whether the move was a success, you have to look at the games played. For the Englishman, this was 27 league appearances (22 starts) out of a possible 38). When you consider he was ineligible to play against Arsenal, this reduces the number to 36. A feat he has only surpassed once in his entire career. The enigma that is Jack Wilshere transcends norms. The best football Arsenal have produced in the last 10 years has all come with the 25 year old in the side, (2010/11, 2013/14.) Solving the mystery is understanding whether gambling on a talent such as Wilshere, who is no longer the young talent that burst onto the scene, is a gamble worth taking.

With a year left on his contract, and no hint at a new deal being signed, the Gunners risk losing the dynamic midfielder on a free. Considering the likelihood of also losing both Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain on a free next summer, this is not a risk the Arsenal board may be willing to take. Arsenal would seek to bring in £20m plus from his transfer, funds many would argue should go towards buying a fully fit midfielder, suited to the mould Arsenal desire, such as Seri from OGC Nice. Of course, there will be the typical fans who argue “it isn’t my money, why do I care?”, but the board do. Faced with losing around £100m worth of talent on a free next summer, temptation may force the board to cave in.

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Has a special talent gone to waste? 

Like many who commentate on Wilshere, what has been said thus far has been plagued by pessimism and cynicism. Understanding Jack Wilshere is understanding what he does have. The 25 year old oozes class, he and the ball are one. In-spite of the bulking up he has done in recent years, his low centre of gravity distorts time itself, leaving opposing players bewildered in the face of excellence personified. Very few midfielders in England have the passing range and dribbling variety Jack Wilshere possesses. This talent is nothing without fitting into the Arsenal puzzle though right? Thankfully, you need not concern yourself with this. In Granit Xhaka, Arsenal have a combative yet graceful deep-lying playmaker. His flaw? Bringing the team up the pitch with speed, in the most literal sense. In the Gunner’s number 10 you have the ready-made partner for the Swiss international. Capable of playing intricate one-twos with the Arsenal #29, he can, with short, deft movement, instigate attacks with both his passing and his explosive dribbling, directly compensating for Xhaka’s weakness, whilst utilising his strength.

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Jack proved in his 12 months on the south-coast he could remain fit. 

With a ruthless 2017/18 season imminent, Arsenal already have a midfield crisis. With only Elneny and Xhaka fit. There is a notorious ineffectiveness of the Arsenal board to both allow for departures and bring in the players we need simultaneously. Should Arsenal sign a midfielder? Certainly. But does this mean Wilshere should be discarded to compensate for such an arrival? Certainly not. Whatever this season throws up at the Gunners, what can be a certainty is injuries. When injuries arrive, you want talent ready in the background to supply reinforcement to the depleted armoury. In Jack Wilshere, there is the man ready to go to war on the front lines, or quietly wait until more troops are needed. For Arsenal’s sake, he should be kept.

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 1-1 CHELSEA (4-1 PENALTIES)

Poetry in motion. A Granit Xhaka masterclass saw the Gunners fight back from a goal behind to win comfortably on penalties on a sunny London afternoon. Dread plagued the minds of many, with the absence of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Sead Kolasinac and Laurent Koscielny from the starting XI prompting meltdown and anxiety among the Arsenal faithful.

The early stages of this intense London derby settled any such fears that were prevalent. The Gunners seamlessly adapted to the games demands, with slick movement between left wing-back Oxlade-Chamberlain and young Nigerian wide-man Alex Iwobi on the 6th minute setting the tone for how the Arsenal, sporting the famous red jersey, intended to go about the encounter against the Champions of England. The first chance of the game came a mere minute later, with a delicately floated delivery from man of the match Granit Xhaka, but Danny Welbeck’s header lacked the venom required to beat a resolute Courtois.

The Gunners continued to dominate the opening stages, forcing Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta to cynically bring down the Gunner’s left forward Danny Welbeck as he looked to instigate a counter attack, bringing the Chelsea defender a yellow card. Referee of the day Bobby Madley had a relationship with his cards only paralleled by a 1970’s romance, seeking to show to the 83,000 onlookers that he was the power. The Englishman stamped his mark upon the game, quickly following up his booking of Azpilicueta by booking Arsenal’s very own Spaniard Hector Bellerin. The early pressure from the Gunners eased as the half progressed, with 20 minutes gone, the Blues fought and succeeded in attaining more possession. Arsenal number 9, record signing, Alexandre Lacazette, had different ideas. Cushioning a Danny Welbeck cut-back expertly, the Frenchman’s foot wrapped around the ball, caressing it with grace and care. As though destined to be united with the net, the ball mesmerise the spectators, continually curling inwards. Alas, the ball was not the be rifled home, rebounding off the post.

Soon after the Lacazette chance Gunners captain Per Mertesacker was forced off the pitch with a head injury following an accidental elbow from Chelsea captain Gary Cahil, and on in his place came Bosnian Sead Kolasinac.  Immediately the former Schalke man settled into the back three of Arsenal, and throughout the game was to be a consistent performer.  Flashbacks of the FA Cup final pulsated through the crowd, as desperate Chelsea celebrations came as Brazilian international Willian pathetically threw himself to the floor, tripping himself up, but to no avail, once again, as Moses was in May, receiving a caution for his cowardice. No more action proceeded, as the teams entered on the half time whistle at level-pegging, a half on the most part controlled by Arsenal.

Holding

In the absence of Mustafi and Koscielny, young Rob Holding once again showed why Arsene Wenger has placed so much trust in him.

Any control and assertion that the Gunners had built up in the first half was ripped to shreds by shambolic defending in the opening minutes of the second half. Gary Cahil’s header found its way passed all the Arsenal men stationed in the box, allowing Victor Moses to wander through and tap home past Petr Cech. After such dominance on the most part in the first half, the Gunners struggled to rebuild any momentum. Egyptian international Mohamed Elneny slicing a left footed shot wide, and forcing a smart save from Courtois from a tight angle being the two chances of note.

Granit Xhaka. Wow. What can be said about him? In the midst of a Gunners side struggling to reassert themselves, the Swiss international stood up, and controlled the encounter. Winning the ball back and dictating the tempo of the game, the 24-year-old painted a work of art on the Wembley canvas, completed 100% of the 98 passes he attempted in the 90 minutes. This resilience from Xhaka was accompanied by the introduction of Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott for Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette. The latter can be proud of the performance he put in, despite the absence of a goal, his movement, hold-up play and tactical awareness was a joy to watch.  Soon after Conte looked to switch things up also, bringing on 70 million pound man Alvaro Morata for  Michi Batshuayi.

The Gunners continued to crank up the pressure, with catalyst for recovery Granit Xhaka forcing a save from distance from Chelsea’s Belgian keeper. Then, the mistake, the catastrophic mistake. Conte’s men exposed their hand, or more specifically, Conte’s man. Idiotically, Spaniard Pedro horrifically went in studs up onto the Achilles of Elneny, who was lucky to escape unharmed. Bobby Madley, still in a committed relationship with his cards, justly brandished a red for the Chelsea forward, leaving the Blues with ten men for the last 10 minutes of the 2017 Community Shield. Man of the day, Granit Xhaka steps up. Floating the ball into the box, it penetrates the air surrounding it, blessing the sky with its presence as it bamboozles the frantic Chelsea defence. Greeting the ball from its journey through the air is Kolasinac, who himself wishes all the best for this ball, delicately heading it home to its final destination, the back of the Chelsea net. 10 minutes to go, 1-1.

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Both Kolasinac and Xhaka should be proud of their performance.

Substitutions were made, time passed, and the following minutes were plagued by inaction. The Gunners had one last chance, a beautifully weighted 30 yard pass from Xhaka found the electric Theo Walcott, who did the pass justice with an exquisite touch, however, he was unable to convert. The full-time whistle blew, both sides were level pegging. Penalties it was..

Chelsea captain Gary Cahil got the Blues off to the best possible start, ruthlessly smashing home to Petr Cech’s right, leaving the Gunner’s 33 little chance. Theo Walcott, not t be outdone, bent his effort top right, sending Courtois the wrong way. Contrary to years past, the new ‘ABBA’ rule was implemented, aimed with the intention of preventing any potential psychological advantage, meaning Nacho Monreal stepped up next. Like Walcott, sending Courtois the wrong way. Then.. Well.. Goodness me. What can only be described as comical, Courtois balloons his penalty over the bar, giving the Gunners an advantage. Not to be outdone, Chelsea record signing Alvaro Morata skews his effort wide, with assistance of the post. The Gunners, not to bottle under pressure, had Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud finish the job with ease.

CS

Arsenal, 2017 Community Shield winners. Arsenal, 9 consecutive Wembley victories.

Player Ratings: Cech (6), Holding (7), Monreal (7), Kolasinac (8), Bellerin (6), Elneny (6.5), Xhaka (9), Chamberlain (7), Iwobi (7), Lacazette (8), Welbeck (6). Mertesacker (N/A), Walcott (6), Giroud (6), Nelson (N/A).