Should Arsenal Pay Wilshere?

Things have changed at Arsenal Football Club. There is no sense in denying it. Some may be so bold to say that things have changed for the better. I wouldn’t blame people for trying to see the glass half full. I mean, hey, we’ve got Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and Ozil has signed a new contract. These are good things!

Yes, they are all good in a vacuum. If you don’t take the performance of the team into account then, things are looking up in the personnel department at the very least. However, we don’t live in a world where performance doesn’t matter. This isn’t FIFA Ultimate Team, where we are just trying to collect as many rare cards as we possibly can. The performances will eventually effect Arsenal’s ability to attract top players…or even keep them around. I could point to Alexis as an example, but I think an even greater (and more upsetting) case to look at is the Jack Wilshere contract dilemma. This is troubling for two reasons.

The first reason, is more of an emotional response. Jack has been at Arsenal since he was a child. He is Arsenal to his core, he literally bleeds red. He has been one of the few constants through multiple rough patches for Arsenal fans. He emerged in the first team just before the mass exodus that saw the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy, etc… leave the club. He was a beacon of hope while the rest were abandoning ship.

As Arsenal fans, we all were able to see him grow up at the club. From that night against Barcelona that goal against Norwich, Jack has made his mark here.

He has made himself a cult hero and I don’t know a single Arsenal fan that doesn’t want to see him stay. So, reason number one is purely sentimental…he’s ours and we want to see him thrive with that canon on his chest.

Reason number two is more…serious. This contract standoff looks horrible for the club. Last year, Wilshere was sent on loan to Bournemouth in order to get a run of games together without breaking something in his body. The arrival of Granit Xhaka paired with Wilshere’s injury problems left the Englishman on the outside looking in. It seemed as if Wenger was moving on from Wilshere. Then, to put an extra nail in the coffin, Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture that saw him miss the end of the 2016-17 campaign. It was widely reported that last summer, Wenger had told Wilshere if he found a new club…he was free to leave.

On the surface, this appeared to be growth on Arsenal’s part. As much as it hurt to be moving on from Jack, it was most certainly in the club’s interest to not pin their hopes on an injury prone midfielder who hadn’t fulfilled his potential. That being said…things have changed since last summer. Arsenal fans went into the season feeling mostly optimistic. The FA Cup victory over Chelsea was a huge morale boost and most were confident on the Ozil contract subject (rightly so). But, the reality of Arsenal’s situation smacked everyone in the face. Sanchez didn’t get the move he wanted and it left the team in limbo for the first half of the season, until he joined Manchester United and caused a mini-rebuild in January. Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup and were beaten in the League Cup final by Manchester City. Arsenal have essentially no chance at finishing in the top 4, and now need to rely on a Europa League trophy (without the help of the club’s record signing due to cup tie complications) in order to gain entry into next season’s Champions League.

Although this hasn’t been a great season for Arsenal, it has been one of Wilshere’s best seasons in recent memory. He has avoided long-term injury and shown some flashes of true greatness throughout this rough patch. The real problem with Wilshere refusing to sign a new deal, is that it highlights Arsenal’s steep decline. Take away Jack’s name, status, history, etc…and what we have is a player who was written off by the club and is now refusing to sign. It’s not because he can’t get minutes at Arsenal, he has proven himself to be valuable this year. He now thinks that he may be able to have a better chance at winning somewhere else. Someone that Wenger shipped to Bournemouth now has no faith in Arsenal’s ability to succeed. Some may point to the fact that Wilshere is being offered less money, which is true, but this is another mistake by the club…not Wilshere misjudging his own worth. To offer Wilshere a pay cut after the season he has been having is an insult. Fans may debate the specific number that they think Wilshere is worth, but it certainly should not be lower than what he is making now.

The tables have turned on the club and the way they are handling this has been sub-par. If Arsenal fail to secure Wilshere signature, it does not bode well for negotiations with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, who is only on the books until next summer. Arsenal should suck it up and pay Wilshere. If this season ends with Europa League disappointment and Wilshere’s exit, it will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It will leave the midfield with a man down and an expiring contract in Aaron Ramsey, and without Champions League it will make it that much more difficult to find a replacement for a man that we shouldn’t let go of in the first place.

 

Match Preview: Carabao Cup Final

Well, it’s late February…and that means it is time for a cup final, apparently. Arsenal and Manchester City will make their way to Wembley and battle it out for the first available piece of silverware this season. Although this competition doesn’t get a lot of respect, it is still a trophy. On top of being a trophy, it is one that Arsenal have not won during my time here on Earth. This final is not something that Arsenal should take lightly. So, we will take a look at the team Wenger might put out, and how to break down this City team.

The Starting XI

There has been some debate among fans on how the team should line up at the back. Arsenal have been playing with a back four recently, and that has yielded inconsistent results, at best. It would be wise to start with three central defenders and two wing-backs, like at the beginning of this season. At RWB, Hector Bellerin will obviously start (despite how you feel about the recording…or fake recording?…or something). I would have Mustafi, Koscielny, and Monreal in the central positions, and I would throw Kolasinac out at left wing-back.

I feel the need to defend the Kolasinac selection, so I suppose I will. If Arsene decides to deploy wing-backs then out left is the choice between Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac. I have been impressed by Maitland-Niles this year, but I am not convinced that LWB is his best position…or that he is even interested in playing that position. Kolasinac, on the other hand is a purebred left wing-back and provides strength, and an extra bite to the attack. Can he be a liability on defense, yes, which is why we have the back three!

The midfield can be a bit tricky. Arsene hasn’t managed to find a central partnership that sufficiently replaces the Cazorla-Coquelin duo from a few seasons back. My heart wants me to include Jack Wilshere in this team, but I think he would be best off the bench for this match. So, the best option that would provide balance is the duo of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny. They can both provide some defensive coverage for Bellerin and Kolasinac, and break up the City midfield. Leaving Wilshere on the bench to replace one of them is a great way to change the midfield dynamic and add some punch to the attack that City would need to adjust for.

The two attacking midfield positions would go to Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey. Mkhitaryan is cup tied unfortunately, so this leaves him out of contention. If that weren’t the case than I might be calling for a Ramsey-Xhaka partnership with Mkhitaryan playing in a more advanced role. Since, that is not the world that we live in, I feel that Ramsey and Ozil will provide plenty of attacking chances, while being able to stabilize the entire midfield.

Aubameyang will obviously be starting up top, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is unfortunate that Arsene isn’t able to experiment with a Lacazette-Aubameyang striking partnership due to the Frenchman’s injury, but I would rather have Aubameyang available than Lacazette, so all is well for this match.

I suppose I should’ve mentioned which goalkeeper I would select, but this isn’t difficult for me. It’s Petr Cech. Does Cech need to be replaced? Yes. Is Cech too old? Yes. Does Cech frustrate me to no end? Yes. Do I cry every night thinking of Szczesny? No, but will have a cigarette in the shower if I’m sad. Look, I know Cech needs to go, but it’s simple…Ospina is not the answer, and he never will be. That’s why I didn’t even mention it, I don’t think there is a real debate at the moment.

Dealing With City

A few months back I wrote a piece on how to deal with City, you can read that here if you’d like, but I’ll be giving a more general overview of it right here. Despite how great City have been throughout this season, they do have slight weaknesses. They were just knocked out of the FA Cup, so it is possible to take this team down. Look at these two goals to see what the have in common…

The answer, I’m looking for is “Otamendi”. The first mistake is a beautiful assist for the opposing team. In the second goal he gets so drawn out that he literally 6 yards away from his man as the ball finds its way to the back of the net. He is the weak link that is consistently present in this City team.

The best way to attack this City team is down our right flank. The speed of Bellerin and Aubameyang should overwhelm whoever Pep chooses to replace the suspended Fabian Delph. Attacking down either flank is really the way to go. Going down the left would be ideal whenever Kyle Walker decides to leave Laporte alone with Otamendi. City have not been able to find a CB pairing that feels ideal for them…and it has resulted in instability to the entire back four.

Attacking down the sides also keeps the ball out of the middle of the pitch, meaning it keeps the ball away from Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva…which we very much want to do.

This final is undoubtedly a steep mountain to climb. But Arsenal have done well in cups recently. Beating City in the FA Cup semi final last year, then Chelsea in the final. They also won Community Shield before the season started. Wembley has been relatively kind to Arsenal. It has been a welcome consistency in a time where Arsenal are at their most inconsistent. I have faith in Arsenal’s ability to beat anyone on their day, and at Wembley, it’s “their day” more often than not.

So, in summary…back three, attack wide, expose Otamendi. COYG.

Who Is On Top In North London?

I will address an obvious issue here. You just read the headline, “Who Is On Top In North London?”, because you most likely follow afcstuff on twitter. You were then led right here…everyone’s favorite Arsenal blog. So, you wouldn’t be foolish to assume that this article is actually going to be me explaining why Arsenal are clearly so much better than their North London counterparts, Tottenham. But that is a little foolish, because that statement isn’t necessarily true. I’m going to break this down into a few categories and see who comes out on top in each of those said categories.

Categories

-Recent Seasons

-Stability

-Head to Head

 

Recent Seasons

I’m going to focus on the league for this category. We will go back to the 2013-14 season and move forward. At the end of the season in May of 2014, Spurs finished 6th with 69 points…10 points below Arsenal who finished in 4th (and also won the FA Cup). Then, in the 2014-15 season Arsenal finished above Spurs once again, but by 9 points this time. Arsenal qualified for Champions league (while winning the FA Cup again) and Spurs did not. It seems this category is leaning heavily toward Arsenal.

Next, the insane 2015-16 season in which Leicester City were crowned champions…ridiculous. Arsenal finished a single point above Spurs on the final day of the season thanks to Spurs being Spursy. Was it amazing to finish above Tottenham on the last day? Of course, it felt like a trophy in itself…but it wasn’t and Arsenal won nothing but bragging rights that season. I’m hesitant to award this season to Arsenal, because it was an underwhelming campaign, and feels like nothing but a missed opportunity to finish 2nd to Leicester. Especially when you consider that Arsenal were the only team to beat Leicester twice in the league that season. Remember that Danny Welbeck goal? Of course you do, but watch this anyway…that year should’ve been ours. Because it wasn’t it felt like Tottenham were at the heels of the Gunners.giphy-downsized-large (6)

 

Then after that, we all know what happened last year. Spurs finished above Arsenal…by 11 points at that. That’s not a fluke, that’s a much better season from Tottenham in the league. Arsenal did win the FA Cup once again, but it did hurt to lose the use of “mid the gap”.

I’m going to give this category to Arsenal. The last four seasons have seen Arsenal win 300 points to Tottenham’s 289. They also qualified for Champions League in three out of the four season, while Tottenham only qualified twice. While I was mainly looking at league results…Arsenal also have three FA Cup titles in those three seasons and that’s a lot better than a League Cup win in 2008. Advantage Arsenal.

Stability

Time to face some cold hard facts. Tottenham are more stable then Arsenal. We can even look to the last category to prove it. Stable doesn’t mean better in isolation, but it is important. Arsenal just lost the man who provided a spark in every match for the last three seasons. I am of the opinion that they have done a tremendous job in making that situation a positive for the club…but it’s not great that they found themselves in that predicament in the first place. Stability comes down to the manager. In that category, Tottenham wins it, and they win it in a big way.

Spurs are on an upward trajectory, finishing 6th, 5th, 3rd, and 2nd in that order in the previous four seasons. Arsenal are little more sporadic, finishing in 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 5th. Pochettino has the trust of his players and the fans. Arsene may not have either of those. While it hasn’t been nearly as aggressive this season, the Arsenal fan base is split in half when it comes to Wenger In/Out. Wenger has obviously been more successful when it comes to trophies, but that is tainted by the constant “will he stay or go” as well as the inconsistent league form.

To top it off, Tottenham aren’t dealing with crucial contracts expiring until 2020 (with only Vertonghen expiring next year). That is a crucial fact in determining stability. This is just the cherry on top of the stability sundae. Like I said, this truly comes down to the manager. Advantage Tottenham.

Head to Head

This is where it really matters. This is all about North London. Supremacy is in the bragging rights. Both fan bases can say whatever they want about the other…but the North London Derby is always a fun time. Let’s look at the recent head to head results. Going back to the 2013-14 season is only fair because we did that to decide the “recent seasons” debate. So, since then, in the league,  Arsenal have 13 points against Tottenham, and Tottenham have 10 against Arsenal. That means that there is one single match separating the two clubs at the moment when it comes to head to head results. Arsenal played wonderfully against Tottenham in November, but Alexis Sanchez deserves a lot of credit for that win. Obviously, Sanchez plays for United now, so he isn’t an option. However, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan have hit the ground running at the Emirates, and claiming a win in the North London Derby would be a great way to start their Arsenal Careers.

On the other hand, Lucas Moura is a fantastic signing for Spurs. An outside attacker is exactly what they needed. I’ve been discussing that for months on the Two Yellows podcast with Tottenham counterpart/co-host.

Both of these clubs have made promising moves ahead this weekend’s clash. Considering there is only a three point difference in head to head matches, what I’m really saying is…it comes down to this weekend. The fact of the matter is that North London is…pink? Arsenal can change that this weekend.

 

 

 

Can Ramsey And Wilshere Thrive Together?

A partnership between Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey has been something that I have personally always dreamed about. You can check my FIFA career modes dating back to 2011 if you need proof. But with Ramsey returning to the squad in the very near future (we assume), is it possible for the two players, who arguably embody Arsenal the most, to play in a way that compliments both of them?

Yes, I believe this can be the case. However, with the current personnel in the squad, it is not possible for them to be able to both play where they are most comfortable. There is a severe lack of defensive stability in the Arsenal midfield. Believe it or not, it’s 2018 and Arsenal have yet to replace Patrick Vieira. A figure in the mold of Vieira, or even more contemporary mold like N’golo Kante or Nemanja Matic, is absolutely necessary if a Ramsey/Wilshere partnership were to ever be a real staple of this team.

Both Wilshere and Ramsey like to slide in at that number 8 role, play from deep, but also provide an attacking threat when they make a run into the box. In, fact I think both men are perceived to be at their peak when they find themselves in scoring positions. Ramsey was in his best form during the 2013-14 season when he scored 16 goals and provided the team with an FA Cup winner. Jack is still most revered for his performance against Barcelona, when he ran circles around Xavi in 2011.

The lack of a defensive presence in midfield has hindered the development of both Wilshere and Ramsey. Especially when I suspect there is very little direction given to the Arsenal midfielders who aren’t in the number 10 role. Arsene does not play defensive minded midfielders…sure Xhaka is deployed as such…but he is in no way a defensive midfielder, and it is foolish to use him as one. Because there is no defensive anchor, the likes of Ramsey and Wilshere tend to drop back to provide some defensive coverage which is not their greatest strength. But, if they don’t drop back it leaves Granit Xhaka alone to do the defending that he isn’t quite capable of either. So if you were to put out a midfield of Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere…there would be three number 8’s on the pitch…not ideal. So, if a Ramsey/Wilshere partnership is something that we’d like to see there absolutely must be a defensive minded stalwart behind them.

Okay, now you’re saying,”What’s your point, I thought you said they could play together”. I did, and here is my proposal. It truly might be worth trying. Neither Ramsey nor Wilshere are strangers to playing out of position. In fact, both have some experience playing on the right-wing. That is exactly what I would suggest.

Take either one and throw them on the right side of the pitch. They would be able to use their attacking ability further up the pitch, while providing better defensive coverage for Bellerin, than the likes of Theo Walcott, for example.

Which of the two should be pushed out?

Look, I know Ramsey, kind of, sort of despised playing out wide…but guess what. Out you go, my friend. He’s coming back from injury and Wenger almost always accommodates Ramsey however he can. But, I would hope that Jack has earned a spot in the first XI for the foreseeable future given his form “every week now”. So, the only way this could work is if Ramsey goes out wide.

Now, this presents a new problem that I’m sure someone will bring up in the comments “YOU WANT THREE LEFT-FOOTED PLAYERS IN OUR MIDFIELD???”

Uh, yeah. The only reason people see this as a problem is because left-footed players tend to be very left-footed. This isn’t the case for Ozil, Wilshere, or Xhaka. At least not in my opinion. Ozil is about as versatile as they come. Jack has scored with both feet time and time again, especially when he is involved in our more famous “Wengerball” goals. Xhaka tends to stay with the left because of his affinity for playing deep long balls and taking shots from midfield. Playing the three of them together would not prove detrimental to the side. Ramsey tends to pull himself into the middle of the pitch anyway, especially with Bellerin as his flanking parter.

If we want to see Ramsey and Wilshere play together with the current squad we have now, it must be in a 4-3-3 with Ramsey out wide. Feel free to attack me in the comments. COYG.

5 Things We Learned From The North London Derby

It’s happened again…it’s happened aagAAAAAAIN…TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR, IT’S HAPPENED AGAIN.

Okay, got that out of my system, and I even went with the less aggressive song. Now, we all know that we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, after all it is only November, but we are allowed to just soak this in for the week, right?

There is so much to say about this match, even outside of the football. I could write 1000 words on the emotional euphoria that was the North London Derby, but unfortunately that isn’t my job. My job is to discuss what we have learned from this specific match (admittedly, a pretty cool second to writing about the emotional euphoria). So, let’s get into it, shall we?

Arsenal Play Their Best Football…Without The Football

It’s no secret that Arsenal played brilliantly against Spurs, and it’s certainly no secret that I share that consensus sentiment if you read the first few sentences of this article. However there is a sort of consensus opinion that I disagree with…Wengerball is pretty, but it is not effective in today’s league.Well, not with this squad anyway.

Before you all freak out on me I will say yes, I remember Giroud’s goal against Red Star Belgrade. OF COURSE I remember that goal against Norwich, I can’t believe you would even have to ask. But, when Arsenal try to control possession against other Top 6 clubs it typically does not work out.  Having said that, the way to go about playing is not necessarily to counter attack. We attempted to dominate Liverpool with possession. We had 539 passes and nearly 52% possession…but we lost 4-0. The approach didn’t work. Then against City, we did not try a possession based game plan. It appeared that it might be the case, you certainly wouldn’t be blamed for thinking such after taking a look at the starting XI for that match. Arsenal only managed 41% possession but still managed to get off 450 passes, and the match ended 3-1 in favor of Manchester City.

Now, a quick look at the stats from the NLD will show that Arsenal only had about 42% possession…very similar to the statistic against Manchester City but if you look a little deeper you will also see that Arsenal only completed 399 passes. Those stats alone would trouble you most likely, but in fact it shows that Arsenal were much more direct against Tottenham than they had been against Liverpool and City. Each pass had purpose and intended to penetrate the defense. So, maybe let’s stop worrying about the beautiful Wengerball and start getting behind a more direct style of play that helps us beat the Top 6.

Bellerin Has Indeed Been Working On His Crossing

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 10.20.16 AM

So, maybe not solely his crossing, but dribbling, tackling, and passing…pretty much everything. Hector was the unsung hero of the North London Derby. To be fair the entire squad played out of their minds but Bellerin put in quite the shift, especially on the attacking front. This match made it clear that his vision is improving. From creating near chances to creating the chance that resulted in the second goal. With the improved attacking potency, comes the oppositions tendency to close down on him, which creates for space in the final third for the likes Ozil, Sanchez, and Lacazette. It started with this chance early in the first half.giphy (17)

Bellerin was left wide open on the outside and it resulted in a clear chance at goal that was barely missed. Now, in isolation, this is just a missed chance. But in the context of this match it taught Tottenham a lesson…don’t leave Bellerin open on the outside. So, they adjusted accordingly. Later in that half, this happened…giphy (18) Instead of letting Bellerin go unmarked like they did a few minutes prior, Eriksen attempted to close down on him. It was in the split second of uncertainty that Ozil began his run toward goal. Aaaaand Spurs got away with it again. Now Bellerin is a legitimate problem in this match. Then, we finally get this…

giphy (19)The Tottenham defense is now attempting to stop Bellerin from as far as midfield, and you can’t blame them for that. But, much like the second chance, the single moment of hesitation allowed  Lacazette to run in behind Vertonghen, ultimately assisting Sanchez for the second goal. Keep it up Hector!

Mustafi Can Not Be Sold

We lucked out this summer when it comes to Mustafi. If you all recall, it was reportedly all locked up that Mustafi would join Inter on a one-year loan with a compulsion to buy next summer. If you also recall, it appeared that Johnny Evans would be the man to come in to fill the Shkodran-sized hole. While things may have not gone Arsenal’s way throughout the summer, we should be grateful that this deal did not happen. After all, can you imagine Johhny Evans doing this?

giphy (20)

Nah, you can’t but that’s okay because Johnny Evans is still at West Brom and Mustafi still wears a canon on his chest. Thank god for that. Not only did he have a tremendous role in the goalscoring, but he also was a general in the defense. The effort was apparent, and the skill was put beautifully on display. Mustafi is under contract until June of 2021 and I hope Wenger reconsiders his stance on Mustafi. With Koscielny and Monreal both in their 30’s it is key to build on what we have in Mustafi, Kolasinac, and Bellerin. Enjoy this gif of Mustafi shutting down Harry Kane.giphy (21)

We Are In For A Rough Transfer Window

I did not want to lead with this point, and I also don’t want to close with it, but it does need to be said. There is no doubt that Ozil and Sanchez inspired the team to this win. I can’t recall a better performance from Mesut, and Alexis was even better than his usual self. But…there is a strong possibility, in fact a likelihood, that both of these guys won’t be here next year. Ozil and Sanchez (pssst and Jack Wilshere) can sign pre-contracts with foreign teams as soon as January. If they both sign pre-contracts it is kind of a positive because…at least they won’t be playing for a rival, right? On the other hand if they don’t sign any agreements that most likely means they will sign for another Premier League club, while also getting our hopes up that maybe just maaaybe they will sign an extension here at Arsenal.

Then there is the possibility of Arsene deciding to sell one of them, or both of them, in the January transfer window. But at this point, who would pay a premium for the services of a player they can get for free in six months? Maybe someone in dire need of said services. This would most likely be with the case with Ozil, which is still unlikely. I hope Wenger would prefer the services provided by Mesut rather than get a measly 20 million. But in Alexis’ case with the heavily-linked Man City sitting atop of the table, that probably won’t happen. So he is most likely to leave for free which means at least we get him until the end of the season.

Say what you want about the man, but we know he will leave everything on the pitch, even when it makes no sense…giphy (22)

Always Be Confident Against Spurs

This final “thing we learned” is a treat for everyone who has read the entire piece thus far. I would like to personally thank you, I appreciate you. So, as a reward I will disclose something with you all. I made a risky bet over the weekend. My fellow podcast host is a Spurs fan…is this rough to deal with? Yes. But I remain adamant that we are superior, and there is no such “power shift” in North London. However, I knew my friend would feel confident going into this match…so I proposed the following: whoever loses the match the respective fan has to wear the other’s team shirt. 

WELL GUESS WHAT GUYS WE WON. So, here is my friend, miserable in an Arsenal shirt (Jack Wilshere to be specific).Screen Shot 2017-11-22 at 10.50.26 AM

So if we all have learned one thing…it is that we are better and will continue to be better in the future.

Love you all, goodbye.

Dealing With The Threat In The North

The juggernauts on the blue side of Manchester await the arrival of the resurgent Gunners. Having come from behind to win multiple times in the past few weeks, Arsenal fans would feel confident going into a match against any other team than the one that is actually on the schedule for this weekend. But I would argue that this very week, is the best time to play Manchester City, who are coming off of two not-so-amazing results.

Yes, I know that they won last weekend, and yes I know they beat Napoli (a match in which Aguero became the all-time leading goalscorer for City against a team with only 2 losses in 11 matches…both losses to City by the way), BUT these matches have given us some insight into how to go about breaking down this team.

The Weak Spot

I think it would be a stretch to consider anything about this City team “weak”, but I think it is safe to say that their defense is weaker than their attack. West Brom had 7 goals from 9 matches before playing City, and they managed to bag two last weekend. Then, Napoli were able to claim two goals mid-week. Allowing four goals in two games is not great. So, we can make the claim that the defense is the weak spot. Now let’s take a little further. Where can this defense be exploited?

I would say that the easiest way to get at goal is down the right flank. Fabian Delph has been at left-back due to Benjamin Mendy’s knee injury, and the center-back that plays on the left is Otamendi…this is where Arsenal need to attack. Delph, not being a natural defender is prone to being caught out on counter attacks, and it appears that Otamendi is generally prone to mistakes. Let’s take a look.

Stoke’s first goal against City a few weeks back came about from attacking the Delph/Otamendi duo.

giphy-downsized-large (5)

Look, Otamendi is loses his man…and then just stands there watching. This is what forces John Stones to run across goal, leaving only one defender in the middle of the 18 yard box. Delph starts out of position, so he is forced to try and throw himself in front of the shot (unsuccessfully). So the two defenders (Otamendi and Delph) get caught out of position to a degree that forces Stones to make a last ditch effort…leaving a wide open opportunity at goal, which is tucked away.

Now, take a look at this one from last weekend…

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Otamendi with the beautiful assist. But seriously, he wrapped that goal up perfectly and put a bow on it. Also, the ball came from deep…Ozil and Xhaka are two of the best long ball suppliers in the league. If they aim to exploit Otamendi, something like this could very well happen again.

The Strength

Well, if you have eyeballs, which you do because you’re reading this…you will know that City’s strength is goalscoring. They have 35 league goals compared to Arsenal’s 19, and they have managed to score four, or more, goals six times this season…SIX (all comps). Four of the top seven goal scorers in the Premier League play for Manchester City. I can’t recall seeing anything like this before.


So how can Arsenal aim to exploit the weaker left side of the City defense, while also trying to keep their attackers at bay? Change the formation. Just for this match. If we line up with what we’ve been doing lately, we will be exposed. City play a 4-3-3 and suggest we do the same. Unlike most other Premier League clubs, Pep opts to have an extra man in midfield instead of the extra center-back. That extra man is Kevin De Bruyne, by the way, and he happens to be playing the best football in Europe at the moment. So if Ramsey and Xhaka are the only two men in the midfield left to deal with De Bruyne, Silva, and Silva…it will get ugly. Neither have tremendous defensive abilities to begin with, and as we have said on this site before this formation does not suit Xhaka particularly well. That being said, I want them both on the pitch…but with some help clogging up the midfield. So how do we fit both Ramsey and Xhaka in the team, while adding a midfielder….without losing one of the Lacazette, Ozil, Alexis?

WARNING: A LOT OF YOU ARE ABOUT TO DISAGREEstartingeleven

4-3-3 with Lacazette up top, Alexis out left, and Ramsey out right. Ramsey has done it before and performed has well. He also provides much better cover for Bellerin than Ozil would in the formation that Arsenal have been playing lately. Bellerin will need that cover, considering he will make a run from time to time and a Delph/Sane duo is waiting to counter when Bellerin gets caught out. Ramsey being out right also allows Ozil to play in his natural number 10 role, where we all know he is best.

That means that partnered in midfield with Granit Xhaka will be none other than Francis Coquelin. The only midfielder at the club that primarily defends. He may not be the most technically gifted, but he is high energy and disrupts play…and that’s exactly what we need him to do. If I were Wenger, I would have him man-marking Kevin De Bruyne for 90 minutes.

At the back, I would have Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal, and Kolasinac.

So, to summarize: exploit the defensive liability of Sane/Delph and clog the midfield. Pulling Mertesacker out of the lineup in order to introduce Coquelin allows Arsenal to clog the middle of the pitch, and have a higher attacking press. This formation allows our best three attackers to link with one another while providing more defensive coverage. If you are still reading this I thank you for your open mind. I am not calling for this to be our week in and week out starting XI, but I truly feel that it’s worth taking this shot against City. At the end of the day, we are going up against the best team in the league, why not go all in for a result?

5 Things We’ve Learned From Europa League

The completion of the underwhelming performance (but with a truly spectacular finish) against Red Star Belgrade means that we are at the half-way mark in the group stages of the 2017-18 Europa League Campaign. Arsenal have claimed 9 points out of a possible 9, and find themselves in a position to win the group with two matches remaining in the group stage. All things considered, Europa League has been an enjoyable experience from a fan perspective. So, let’s take a look at five things we’ve learned from Europa thus far.

We Can’t Count Jack Wilshere Outwilshere red star

Wilshere has been stellar in Europa League so far this season. In the first match of the competition against FC Koln, he made a substitute appearance and played a part in creating Arsenal’s third goal. He was then rewarded with a start against BATE Borisov and created Theo Walcott’s goal. On top of the creation of a goal, he played a lovely chip to Walcott, who then sent it back and Wilshere tucked it away…but it was ruled out because Walcott was offside…way to go Theo.

After another good performance, Wilshere was handed another start against Red Star Belgrade…and this happened…

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Wilshere’s fingerprints are all over this goal. He takes the pass, beats two men, perfect pass to Walcott, one-time chips the pass to him back to Walcott…ultimately creating a perfect chance for Giroud to produce another world class finish.

After Wilshere went out on loan last season it felt as if that was going to be the end to his Arsenal career. But with Arsenal’s recent results in the Premier League, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone opposed to Jack Wilshere being placed in the starting XI. It just makes you wonder what could’ve happened if he stayed last year and fought for his place.

Holding Is Becoming The Perfect Modern Central Defender 2176704-45491490-2560-1440

Rob Holding has only made four Premier League appearances in the 2017-18 season. However, he has been a starter in every Europa League match. With Mertesacker retiring from playing football after this season, an aging Koscielny, and Mustafi wanting away (maybe?), it is Rob Holding that looks like the future of Arsenal’s defense. he is someone perfect for the moment. With the media going crazy covering stories about Arsenal lacking “cojones”, including my piece from the week, Holding is the perfect response to those criticisms. He plays hard, and isn’t afraid to get physical or take a smart foul when the situation calls for it.

For instance, in the 3rd minute against Koln, Holding misplaced his first touch to intercept a through ball and it ended up creating a chance for Koln. But what did Holding? Shut it down before it became a problem. Just take a look.

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Now, I’d prefer Holding have a better touch BUT I like the decision he made. Imagine if Arsenal went down 1-0 in the 3rd minute of their first Europa League match…it would’ve been terrible and the Wenger Our brigade would’ve been loud much earlier than usual.

But that is not why Holding is the perfect modern center-back, it is actually his ability to play a long ball from deep. Like so…

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Elnenny does not meet the end of this ball, but if it were someone like Lacazette, or even Walcott, a real chance would’ve come from this lovely ball. The reason I make such a big deal of this trait is due to the success that Chelsea were experiencing with the dynamic between Azpilicueta and Morata. Before Morata suffered an injury, all but one of his goals came from Azpilicueta supplying deep crosses. You can take a more in depth look here where I wrote about that threat before Arsenal’s match against them a few weeks back. But if you don’t want to read more in depth, just know this…Rob Holding looks great!

David Ospina Is Not Reliablef2a18-1505428146-800

I’m not sure where the fanbase is on the goalkeeping situations, but I am worried. I am worried about it now, and I am worried about it going forward. Cech is getting older and David Ospina is not the man to replace him. He is prone to silly mistakes and poor decision making.

Exhibit A:

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Luckily this was not ruled a penalty because offside was given beforehand. However, I’m willing to bet that if the whistle had not been blown, Koln would have been given a penalty and most likely would have went up 2-0 within the first 30 minutes. That would have changed the match without a doubt, and maybe Arsenal aren’t sitting atop of the table with 9 points.

Exhibit B:

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I’m honestly not even going to say anything, I’m just going to leave this here for you guys.

Wenger’s Favorite Prospect Is Maitland-NilesScreen Shot 2017-10-20 at 12.02.31 PM

He might not have the highest ceiling of the Arsenal youngsters (I’m looking at you Nelson) but Maitland-Niles might be the most reliable. He has played every minute of every game in the Europa League at this point in time, unlike Nelson or Willock who both started against BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade. While Wenger is showing faith in the young gunners in the Europa League match ups, it is telling that Maitland-Niles was the only one to start the first match against Koln. Especially when you consider the fact that he played LWB, where Wenger has Kolasinac and Monreal as reliable options. But Maitland-Niles has impressed, showing his stamina by playing 270 minutes and having a not-too-shabby 82% pass completion rate.

I just worry for Maitland-Niles, given that the position of LWB in the first team is well covered for at least another season. Although Wenger is no stranger to experimenting with the back line (Debuchy, Elnenny, and Holding……..?), Kolasinac has been so impressive outside that I would be hesitant to suggest a move toward the back three just to accommodate a young prospect. But we should all keep an eye out!

Giroud Will Always Be Capable Of Magic

giroud red star

Once again, I don’t think this point needs too much explaining. But having taken a back seat to Lacazette in the squad, and to some extent even Danny Welbeck, Giroud has found himself primarily as a Europa League striker for this Arsenal team. But the man thrives when he is only given short amounts of time to make an impact. Just look back to opening night. Giroud came on and saved the result. Against Red Star Belgrade he did the same thing…saved the result. Most of the credit for the goal could be given to Jack Wilshere, sure. But Giroud finishes a tough pass from Walcott in trademark fashion. Can anyone finish like this man?

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Comment below or follow on twitter! @jasonbaranowski

 

A Kick To The “Cojones”

Here we are again, wondering what went wrong after a disappointing loss. Arsenal have lost to a Watford side that have no business stealing points from Arsenal. But as a fanbase we are no strangers to situations like this. In fact, it feels like we’re stuck in a mediocre Groundhog’s Day, perpetually losing to clubs that are far below Arsenal’s stature.

Then after the match the pundits all say that Arsenal “lack grit” or a “certain toughness”. Oh, and don’t worry, they won’t forget to bring up Patrick Vieira. I know three things to be certain in an Arsenal season;

  1. Our best players will be linked with Chelsea or Barcelona.
  2. “Wenger Out” brigade come out strong in January.
  3. Pundits will bring up the lack of “a Patrick Vieira type”.

But the aftermath of this match was a little special. Troy Deeney of Watford insulted Arsenal twice in post-match media coverage. TWICE. He did it right after the match while he was still catching his breath, claiming that Bellerin couldn’t see the penalty because of the long hair in his face. THEN, he went into the locker room, showered, put on fresh clothes, walked into a studio, sat down next to Martin Keown, and said Arsenal lack “cojones”, or “a bit of nuts”. I’ll say it does take some cajones to say that on television next to Keown, so maybe Deeney is actually an expert on the subject. Let’s take a look at the rest of Deeney’s comments, which may hurt more than the whole “cojones” thing.

“Whenever I play Arsenal, and this is just personal, I go up and I think ‘let me whack the first one, let’s see who wants it’”.

 

Okay, that’s not great. But he’s not lying. If you go back and take a look at the highlights, Deeney imposes his will on Arsenal’s defense. He is the one that tucks away Watford’s first goal. He also nutmegged Elnenny in the box (I think he is now the legal guardian of Elnenny’s first born?), creating a chance that saw Capoue’s smack the post. On top of that, he is responsible for causing that chaos that eventually led to Tom Cleverley scoring the winner. Deeney charged the box and collided with Cech in a challenge, bringing Cech down and ultimately making it impossible for him to save the shot from Cleverley.

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Staying true to his “see who wants it” approach, Deeney just takes a run at Arsenal’s defense and causes it to collapse.

“I came on today, I jumped up with Mertesacker, didn’t even have to jump actually, nod it down, the crowd gets up, and they all just backed off.”

 

These words will sting a little because , as Arsenal fans we know the “backed off” thing rings true. Arsenal almost never come back from being down. This year, we’ve lost to Stoke, Liverpool, and Watford. All of those performances were underwhelming. Opening night against Leicester feels years ago at this point.

Now, I will say that Mertesacker is not the first person I would accuse of having no cajones. I feel that he is a true leader, but plenty of those around him feel slightly weak. In fact, if you take Mertesacker out of the equation, I’m not sure who the leader on the pitch is for this match. It may sound ridiculous, but I think Kolasinac is the next guy to be a physical leader. Sanchez did not play, so there goes his unmatched tenacity. On top of that, Ramsey wasn’t available and he is no stranger to grabbing a match by the scruff of the neck. If I asked “Remember Ramsey’s FA Cup winner?”, you would have to reply, “Which one?”.

So, if you look at the squad for the match against Watford, you can’t necessarily blame Deeney for thinking he can take a run at the entire team. The problem here goes beyond the team. It goes up to the manager as well. If a player is insulting the club, the manager should come to the defense of his players. There are plenty of “Wenger fires back at Deeney” headlines around. But let me tell you, he did not fire back. Wenger gave a very generic and uninspiring response. It can be boiled down to “that’s not fair to say”, and I’m personally disappointed with Wenger’s response. We need a bit of fire from the man in charge as well as the men on the pitch. REMEMBER WHEN WENGER PUSHED MOURINHO??? That’s what we need right now. I’m not saying that Wenger should track down Troy Deeney and give him a shove, but I’m not not saying it either.

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Jokes aside, we as a fanbase would love to see more passion from this team, and I don’t think it’s an unfair request at the moment. The reason that Deeney’s comments have been talked about so much among the fans is…well, it’s because he is kind of right. We didn’t respond on the pitch, and we haven’t off the pitch either. The only player to come out and respond in a real way has been Jack Wilshere, and we barely see him anymore.

We are heading full speed toward a transition period after this season. If we want to bounce back and compete in a real way…and continue to be a great club after some key departures, we need to buckle down and start playing with some “cojones”.

 

Let me know how you all feel about the situation in the comments or twitter!

Twitter- @jasonbaranowski

 

 

 

Why Wenger Shouldn’t Rely On Alexis

Alexis Sanchez is the best player under contract at Arsenal Football Club. I don’t think there are too many people who would argue otherwise. Sure, maybe a few shouts for Ozil would be heard. Perhaps a couple of over excited fans would even say Alexandre Lacazette. But they are wrong, don’t even argue with these folks. It’s Alexis Sanchez, and it has been for a few years now.

However, Arsenal find themselves in a tricky situation. Alexis is out of contract after this season and he hasn’t exactly been himself as of late. Take away the one impressive performance against FC Koln and Alexis is sitting not-so-pretty with 0 goals and 0 assists. Not exactly what you’re hoping for from your star player. What should Wenger do with an underperforming star who will surely be moving on from the team after this year?

Some would say “sit him, he doesn’t even deserve to wear the shirt”, and to that I would kindly reply, “pipe down”. If Wenger were to sit Alexis Sanchez in important matches, then what exactly is the point of having him on the team? If that is truly what you believe then surely you must’ve wanted him sold in the summer. However, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who wanted Alexis sold if you asked them before August 31st. The mess on deadline day forced a lot of people to quickly change their stance on the Alexis situation.

The other option that Wenger has, is to play him until the wheels fall off (and they will fall off sooner rather than later). Alexis is 28 years old and has played all year around since 2014. Whether it be the World Cup, Copa America, or the Confederations Cup, Alexis has been busy every summer since he joined Arsenal. This will continue to be the case if Chile qualify for the World Cup coming up in the summer. So, by the time Alexis joins another team, he will be almost 30 years old…coming off of FOUR straight seasons without a summer off. His age alone doesn’t count him out…do you recall a certain 29 year old who left Arsenal and went on to not only win a title…but also a golden boot? I’d rather forget too, but it did happen. That being said, RVP was not pushed to the limit like Alexis.

Well, good thing football isn’t binary because the ideal solution to this Alexis problem lies somewhere in between these two options. Not playing your best player is irresponsible. Relying heavily on a player half way out of the door is also irresponsible. Although I disagree with Wenger often, he is an incredibly smart man, so he is aware of this fact as well and I think we are starting to see Alexis, as well as Ozil, take more of a back seat this season. Take a look at the match against Chelsea. The starting XI featured Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck in the positions where Alexis and Ozil would typically start. This proved to be a tactically sound decision. Iwobi provides more pure athleticism than Ozil, and Welbeck provides more defensive capabilities than Alexis. I believe that this decision was made to inspire Iwobi. Although fans will be clamoring for a new signing to replace Alexis, the most obvious in-squad replacement for him is Iwobi. This would’t be the first time that Wenger sat Sanchez to make the “we can do this without you” point…remember how well that went?

 

giphy (9)

BUT, it didn’t go horribly this time and that says a lot. That’s what we need as a club. The man who has bailed us out of plenty bad situations will not be there for us next year, so we need to start giving our players with potential some time to shine.

We also saw a similar situation in the 2-0 victory over West Brom last weekend. Aaron Ramsey was more of the de facto number 10 for the match, taking on a role similar to the one he occupied before Alexis came to the Emirates. For the last two years Ramsey has been more of a box-to-box player than primary playmaker (which we all now he prefers). I said on the Two Yellows podcast earlier this week that Ramsey may start to shift more upfield to fill in an Alexis Sanchez/Mesut Ozil sized hole that will be left behind next season.

I support these decisions that Wenger has been making, it shows that he is forward thinking. But I understand if others disagree. It all depends on what you expect the team to accomplish this season. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t have any hope for the league this year…I fully believe that trophy will end up in Manchester one way or the other. But, if you do have hopes for the title, then I’m sure you are screaming for Alexis to start every game, and I wouldn’t hold anything against you for having that opinion. I think we have a shot at pretty much everything else, and should try to win every piece of silverware we can…but the most crucial thing for me is a Champions League spot. We need to throw everything at Europa while being able to maintain a top 4 finish in the league. The weaker opposition in Europa allows us to either steamroll the competition or rotate the squad…and I’m fine with both. They key is stability and having something to grow for next season. A change is coming and we need to be ready to cope with these key departures. Playing our high upside players with supporting roles from Alexis and Ozil might be the way to go.

My colleague Tim wrote about Arsenal’s upcoming “easy fixtures” and I think right now is a perfect time to try new things with this squad. Don’t get too crazy. But I would be hesitant to start Ozil and Alexis together at all this year. They, themselves, can not be the core of this team anymore so the duo should be used sparingly.

Let me know what you guys think about this. Comment below or take it to twitter. @jasonbaranowski or @afcstuff.

Match Preview: Chelsea vs Arsenal

The first five matches of the season have been a succession of difficult matchups for Arsenal. We’ve seen thrilling victories as well as crushing defeats. Just when Arsenal steady the ship against a lowly Bournemouth side, a tidal wave in the form of Chelsea FC is threatening to send that ship into oblivion.

There are major implications for both clubs in this matchup. If Arsenal win, they bring themselves level on points with Chelsea on the table, leapfrogging the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool, and maybe even Chelsea themselves (Arsenal would need to win by three goals). However, if Chelsea win, Arsenal will be stuck in 12th, and the leading pack of both Manchester teams and Chelsea will start to create an early gap between themselves and the rest of the table. Let’s take a look at the threats Chelsea pose, and the weaknesses that can possibly be exploited.

Strengths

….almost everything?

Barring the season opening defeat, Chelsea have played exceptionally. They recovered from the Burnley defeat by beating Tottenham 2-1. Then, Conte’s men ruined the Wayne Rooney honeymoon phase for Everton by defeating the Toffee’s 2-0. On top of that, their most recent win saw Chelsea humiliate Qarabag FK 6-0. Chelsea are firing on all cylinders going into this game against Arsenal.

Alvaro Morata has three goals and two assists in four Premier League matches, seemingly wasting no time getting acclimated to life in London. N’golo Kante continues to be the best all around midfielder in the league. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about him in Arsenal red. But what is the largest threat that Chelsea pose? What is the one thing that makes them better than most? The answer the attacking capability of their defense.

Marcos Alonso scored both of Chelsea’s goals in their 2-1 victory over Tottenham. His defensive abilities paired with his attacking potency make him the prototypical wing-back. His flanking partner, Victor Moses, also poses a similar threat in the attacking area, but is far less gifted in his defensive abilities, having played as a traditional winger throughout most of his career.

Not only are the wing-backs threatening, but two of the three CB’s on the pitch are known to grab a goal or two. Caesar Azpilicueta has a Champions League goal and two Premier League assists to his name already this campaign. David Luiz also has a goal of his own. All of these goals come from set pieces and open play alike. That is what is most dangerous about this Chelsea back line, they are versatile and can create from almost nothing. Plus, if they can’t create, then the likes of Willian, Fabregas, Pedro, and maybe Hazard sure can.

Weaknesses

Chelsea don’t have many weaknesses, or many apparent ones anyway. However, it does seem to be the case the the Chelsea defense is vulnerable on the counter, specifically when dealing with high crosses into the box. All of Burnley’s goals were created from high crosses in the box and the Chelsea defenders did almost nothing to stop the ball from hitting the back of the net (take this with a grain of salt considering Cahill’s red card). We see the problem again against Tottenham. Harry Kane whipped a ball into the box and Batshuayi ended up with an own goal. This could be written off as bad luck in a vacuum, but this on top of the Burnley goals suggest there could be a potential problem dealing with crosses. In these situations, the Chelsea defenders are typically retreating due to a quick counter attack from the opposing team. So, perhaps the larger problem is dealing with counter attacking teams.

What to look out for…

Arsenal need to be prepared for the long ball to Morata. He is a poacher with a goal scoring mentality. He can sniff out when a cross is coming and runs full speed into space. Look at his goals for Chelsea so far.giphy (7)
giphy (6) giphy (8)

I’ll even add this one too, because it should have been a goal.

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Do you notice a pattern? The ball gets kicked out to the right, to one of Azpilicueta or Willian, and the opposing team expects another short pass to build a sustained siege on goal. But, instead of what is expected, the ball just gets launched into the box to meet the head of Alvaro Morata.

What should Arsenal do?

Arsenal need to be ready for this, and what they should do is have one CB man marking Morata throughout the match and absolutely have Kolasinac start at LWB. His aggression will make it difficult for Chelsea to send a decent ball in from such a position. Go back and look at the GIFs…it is hard to imagine that Kolasinac would allow those passes off.

If Arsenal commit to a counter attacking style of play, it is possible to leave Stamford bridge with at least a point. It has been shown that Chelsea are capable of collapsing under a speedy attack that quickly penetrates the box.

If reports are to be believed, then it’s possible that Mesut Ozil will be out of the team due to “injury”. But this situation isn’t all bad. The selection headache of the week has been “Welbeck or Sanchez?”, which seems like a ridiculous question on the surface but Welbeck has been performing lately and bagged a brace against Bournemouth. So, if Wenger goes with an attack of Alexis/Welbeck/Lacazette…I recommend he go with a Xhaka and Elnenny midfield partnership. More defensively sound that Ramsey and Xhaka, and would help with the counter attacking game plan.

There has been a little buzz around the Arsenal twittersphere of reverting to a back four. If Wenger intends to go back to a more traditional 4-4-3, then he should wait at least one more week. He would be foolish to change the formation against a Chelsea team that Arsenal have beaten twice in a row with three at the back.

 

What do you guys think? Who should start in midfield, and how should Arsenal deal with Morata? Should Arsene go back to a 4-4-3?

Comment below or take the conversation to twitter. @jasonbaranowski and @afcstuff