BLOG: THE CAPTAIN CRISIS

The selection of a Captain is a delicate process, one of immense attentiveness and thought. Leadership, effective communication, discipline, and experience are all traits a manager should look for in a captain and then some, and while current captain Per Mertesacker was once someone who successfully personified all of these traits for several seasons with Arsenal, I believe that the search for a new captain must now begin. So moving forward, who are the best candidates to take on this prestigious role? Let’s take a look at some options.

Laurent Koscielny

The talented Frenchman is currently an assistant captain for the Gunners, and for the majority of the season he has been wearing the captain’s armband. He has proven on a consistent basis that he has what it takes to captain the side, with a plethora of both domestic and international experience. One of, if not the most, important roles a captain must fulfill is being an effective communicator with the team throughout matches. If there were room for improvement for Laurent, it would be here. I believe that he is an outstanding player, extremely disciplined and skilled as well, however I feel as if he does not communicate enough with the midfield and back line as effectively as we need him to. When I watch Arsenal week in, week out, I blast the volume on my TV to purposely try and hear him yelling commands, and unfortunately, I happen to not hear him more than I do hear him. Nonetheless, Koscielny has boatloads of experience ranging from the World Cup and Euros, to Champions League clashes with Barcelona and Bayern Munich. For some reason, the captain role feels like it comes natural to Laurent, and for that reason, I believe he might be our best option to captain the side at the moment.

 

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Laurent Koscielny captaining the squad during an FA Cup match during the 2015/16 season.

Petr Cech

At certain points throughout last year’s campaign and at times this season I played with the idea of Petr Cech taking over the captains role, I mean, he’s overly experienced having won over 300 caps and several trophies for Chelsea, plus his age enables him to quickly demand respect from any and everyone in the locker room. However, whatever thoughts I had about Cech obtaining the role of captain, have dramatically diminished as the season has dragged on. Not only did he miss nearly a month of football through a calf strain, but his form has also gone out the window. Last season, Cech had 16 clean sheets and had conceded 31 goals through 34 appearances, compare that to this season where in 5 less appearances, he has only 9 clean sheets and has conceded 33 goals. Now, I know that I, nor you, should judge a Captain based solely off of his performances, however these sorts of things come to mind when choosing the next leader of this club. Do we really want someone who is lacking in confidence and form as well, to be leading our club? His controlling cadence, experience, and discipline however, allow for me to easily place him as second in line to take over the captain’s role if something were to happen to Bosscielny.

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Theo Walcott

I wanted to throw Theo in as an option simply because he has captained the Gunners a few times this season and in the past, but it’s a stretch. Theo has been with the club for over a decade, so the experience is there, but he just doesn’t strike me as a leader within the squad like the way I view Koscielny or Petr. I just think Theo has a little more he needs to learn about the game before we can fully hand over the captain’s band to him, but he serves as a nice replacement down the road.

 

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These three players are certainly some good choices in regards to selecting a new captain, but honestly I don’t think either of the three are superb options. Ideally, if I were to sculpt the perfect captain, he would be as follows: experienced, both at the club and country level, have a gritty and demanding tenor, speak English well enough to effectively communicate to the starting XI, smart, and of course loved both inside and outside the locker room. When I think of a captain, I think John Terry, Philip Lahm, Steven Gerrard, somebody who isn’t afraid to get under their teammates skin to bring out the best in them, and for the past few years, I just haven’t seen that with this Arsenal. But as of right now Arsenal fans around the world should be worrying about other issues, not about who will be Arsenal’s next Patrick Vieira.

 

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BLOG: 5 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM CRYSTAL PALACE VS ARSENAL

After yet another utterly dismal and painful performance away from the Emirates, the Gunners find themselves at 6th in the table, a whole 7 points behind 4th place Man City. Here are 5 things we learned after the devastating loss:

1) Has Bellerin lost the plot?

Throughout the match I had been keeping tabs on players and writing notes, and within probably 10 minutes I already had a handful of comments to make about the young Spaniard. I love the kid, and I’m certain (dash through, know) most Gunners do as well, however, he is starting to become the one player that I expect to have a poor match every time he steps on the pitch. I mean seriously, what has happened to the kid! Ever since his return from injury back in December, Hector has not nearly been at the elite level he was once at last season. He can’t seem to play in a proper cross, unlike last season where he was a constant attacking threat down the wings and outpacing almost every defender thrown at him, he can’t mark his man, and he doesn’t seem to have ANY confidence whatsoever on the ball. And the fact that he was booed after trying to clap off the away fans will surely hurt his confidence some more. Something needs to change with him and his mindset, and real soon.

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Bellerin applauding the away fans, only to get booed off.

2) Who is threading the needle in the midfield?

It goes without saying that man like Cazorla has been, and will be missed dearly until the end of this nightmarish season. When Cazorla is inserted into the starting XI, things just flow much smoother than without him and here’s why. Analyzing the Palace match, you will see that Ozil occupied a much deeper role as opposed to his traditional #10 role up the pitch. He would try again and again to single-handedly build up play from the back and seek to pass to a player higher up the field, who in return would play through on goal a winger or striker, when in reality that player Ozil was trying to seek out was really himself. Think about it, Ozil is the one who needs to be playing in Alexis, Welbeck, and Walcott, so how can he be doing that whilst occupying two roles? Cazorla’s role is to thread the needle in a deeper role, while Ozil sets up the finish for someone up top. Until this can get sorted out, we will continue to struggle in the lead up to goals.

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3) How can we defend Wenger any longer?

Arsene Wenger deserves all the praise in the world for what he has done for the club over 20 years, but it is nearly impossible to defend the manager anymore. Even through the television I could hear the chants of Palace fans, “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay”. Wenger should not have to deal with this sort of abuse, but he has only brought it upon himself, and as a result I believe he should step down, for the sake of this incredible club. It has been long said that Wenger is responsible for the overall improvement of players who have been with the club for a while, and while I used to believe this, I don’t think I can no longer. Look at players like Walcott and Giroud whom have been with the club for years. Do you really believe that Wenger has improved these players after assessing this season? I’ve been #WengerIn for most of the season, but I truthfully think I am now a member of #WengerOut.

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4) Our defence is nothing without Koscielny

The absence of Koscielny was really felt over the course of this match, just like in every match the Frenchman is sidelined for. There seemed to be virtually no communication at all between Gabriel and Mustafi at the back, something Koscielny takes immense pride in. The two center-backs paid little to no attention to perhaps one of the more elite strikers in this league in Benteke, so in return the Palace midfield would just play balls to the big man and catch either Gabriel or Mustafi out of position due to one of them having to challenge with the Belgian. And don’t even get me started on Monreal, he was just painful to watch in all honesty, getting dragged around like a rag doll by Zaha. In fact, Wilfried Zaha completed 94% of his passes, had 8 take-ons, 4 chances created, and 2 assists, all against Nacho, superb defending mate. Koscielny was sorely, sorely missed today.

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Koscielny is the leader the back line so desperately needs, match in, match out.

5) A positive: Emiliano Martinez

We might as well end off on somewhat of a positive talking point right? Well if there was any to be discussed, it would be on the topic of Emiliano Martinez. Although the 24 year old made some costly errors tonight, I genuinely thought he played an OK match, especially for someone with barely any experience goalkeeping for Arsenal; he wasn’t terrible. Within the first 20 or so minutes he had come up with some big time saves, and without him in goal tonight it could have easily been 5 or 6 to Palace. Not to mention, the team basically left him to rot for nearly all three goals. Sure, he brought down Townsend, but if Bellerin hadn’t been worrying about his hair and rather worried about marking Townsend, then maybe the incident wouldn’t have occurred at all. Nonetheless, throughout the match Martinez bailed out the defense several times, a defense that looked absolutely in shambles.

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BLOG: REMINISCING: WHERE DID IT ALL GO SO WRONG?

Matchweek 15. The scene is set at the Emirates, as Arsenal get ready to take on a stubborn Stoke on a cold, December afternoon. At the moment, Arsenal trail leaders Chelsea in the table by 3 points, but a win from the Gunners and a defeat for the Blues could see them both level at the top by day’s end.

Kick-off commences and the game begins, and before you know it, crisis strikes. 25’ into the first half, and down goes our gladiator of a center-half Mustafi, soon after to be replaced by Bellerín. I don’t know why, but at the moment when Mustafi had been taken off, I got a gut-wrenching feeling, of course not knowing that THIS, would only be the commencement to our downfall. Arsenal went on to win the match 3-1, however, looking back on the day, I would have to identify this moment as one of the key turning points in our season.

Fast forward to the following week, and Mustafi-less Arsenal travel to Merseyside to take on Everton, in what appeared to be yet another tough test. What really get’s me about this match is that we took the lead early on, only to hand them a goal on a platter right before the half. For those who aren’t aware of what happened, Leighton Baines received a long ball down the field, Walcott tracked back horribly, allowing Baines to cross the ball into our box, and Koscielny and Gabriel watched as Coleman guided the ball into the net. The level of defending from that goal was abysmal to say the least. But wait, there’s more (and no this isn’t an infomercial)! Late into the match, Ross Barkley steps up to take a corner, and again, multiple Arsenal players watch as Williams goes untouched and unmarked to score the winning goal, off a damn corner.

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Koscielny can only watch as Coleman goes unmarked to bring Everton level.

Sure, it is easy to say that both goals were credited to great crosses, however, what if Mustafi had been present? Would his presence in the game have impacted both of those goals? I would like to believe yes. Looking at the bigger picture, in the games leading up to the Everton fixture, when Mustafi had been in the lineup, we hadn’t lost a single game. Not one. Lucky? I think not.

Next, came an away trip to Manchester to take on City, where the Gunners again took the lead early on in the match, thanks to a peach-of-a through ball from Alexis and a silky smooth finish from Theo. But once again, the Arsenal defense collapsed, leading to two goals from Sane and Sterling. And might I add that Cech getting beat near post on the second goal was just horrendous. Not to mention, as if the weekend couldn’t get any worse, every club in the top seven won that weekend, further mounting pressure on the Gunners.

Mustafi’s presence may not have impacted this match as much as the match at Everton, but we’ll never know. What we do know, however, is that these consecutive losses saw us seriously lose our grip in the title race, and may have ultimately cost us the season. The boss came under scrutiny from the media and fans, team morale went plummeting, and before you knew it, the toxic atmosphere around the Emirates was back.

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Fans share their frustration during a match, at times igniting a toxic atmosphere.

Arsenal went on to win 4 of their next 5 Premier League matches, however, that still wasn’t enough, as Chelsea had maintained an 8 point lead through matchweek 22. Fast forward to the present day and not much has changed. Chelsea now own a 10 point lead with just 13 matches left in the season, pretty much dampening all hope for a shot at the title.

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Arsenal go from within 3 points, to 9 points behind during the Christmas period.

The combination of all the above-mentioned events ultimately is where things went so wrong for Arsenal. The loss of Mustafi, the consecutive losses to Everton and City, and Chelsea’s extreme success, all contributed to the gap in the table that we now see today. Some may even argue that the thrashing of Chelsea back in September was the worst thing that could’ve happened to us, as the Blues made the permanent switch to a 3-5-2 formation after the loss, and went on to win 13 straight matches, tying Arsenal for the League’s best ever winning streak.

It is also very important to note that Chelsea do not need to worry about Champions League football, while on the contrary, Arsenal, of course, have to deal with Bayern Munich and European football. With the addition of CL football, Arsenal will play at least 8 more matches than Chelsea, so fatigue also becomes an issue. Needless to say, us fans can probably come up with a plethora of excuses as to when and how things started trending downwards, the fact of the matter remains unchanged, when the opportunities presented themselves for the team to take, they did not take them.

There is not one player to pin all our wrongdoings on, nor does the boss deserve all the criticism the fans are throwing at him, this is just the game of football. What is important now is that we get back to our winning ways and finish out the season strong, make a serious run at the FA Cup and Champions League, and lastly and most importantly, secure the long-term futures of both Alexis and Ozil.

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It’s important that team morale gets back to it’s peak.

All statistics via Whoscored.com, ESPNFC.com, and Squawka.com

Follow me on Twitter: @j_kulla

BLOG: LUCAS PEREZ AND HIS ROLE AT ARSENAL

Sometimes, well a lot of the time, fans like myself wonder what goes through Arsene Wenger’s mind as he arranges our weekly matchday squad. Does he look at player chemistry? Consistency? Or does he just simply favor certain players over others? Surely none of us will ever find out, however, one player comes to my mind before the official release of every starting XI this season: Lucas Pérez. Often impressive for the Gunners, why have his opportunities been so limited this season?

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The 28 year-old Spaniard dons the #9 jersey at Arsenal, a number that has gone unrecognized and certainly scrutinized at this club for decades past. As a matter of fact, you’d have to go back all the way to the year 1999 to find the last solid number nine to grace the pitch wearing an Arsenal kit. Can you guess who? The great Nicolas Anelka, who in three seasons for Arsenal scored 28 goals for the club, all while still just a teenager. Since then, we have had SEVEN different number nines, all of which were pretty remarkable failures, from Julio Baptista to Park Chu-Young. I hate to break it to you guys, but I think we may be dealing with another curse alongside our famous November curse: the curse of the #9. I know I am just speculating, but as a fan part of our job is to speculate, right?

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Since joining the club in late August, Lucas Pérez has racked up 10 appearances this season across the Premier League, EFL Cup, and Champions League, scoring 5 goals and assisting another 3, and for someone who has started in just 5 of those matches, that is a pretty impressive goal-contributing record I must say. His most prolific efforts came in early December against Basel, where he recorded a very impressive hat trick, and in September against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup, where he scored a brace and provided an assist. In games of lesser importance, such as the CL clash in Basel and the EFL Cup game against Forest, his presence is certainly felt by the opposition, however, he has yet to really make an impact on the big stage in a Premier League match, having not recorded a single goal nor assist. Of course, you have to remember that Lucas is being used as a substitute in most of the PL matches he has featured in, so surely we can understand why his goal-scoring efforts are not as evident, nonetheless, he has still had his chances to impress.

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So why can’t Lucas break into the starting XI? To answer this we first need to figure out what position he actually plays his best football in. While at Deportivo La Coruña last season Pérez was deployed as both an AM and a ST, clearly producing in the latter role having notched 18 goals in all competitions. With that being said, when it comes down to our style of play, Wengerball if you must, I just don’t think that Lucas fits that style of play, in the position he wishes to play, that being the lone striker role. Giroud does such an excellent job, and may even be the best in the Premier League, at holding up play, whether it be from long balls or just short passes. Part of the reason he is so good at doing so is simply because of his size. Standing at 6 foot 4 inches, Giroud easily towers over most defenders when it comes to bringing down the ball, something that Lucas is severely lacking in. That facet right there completely changes the dynamic of our game plan, as our midfielders must play balls at the feet of Lucas rather than in the air. When Giroud plays, it gives the squad a target man, and our wingers become more interested in playing crosses into the box as well, something that we simply cannot do with Lucas up front. As a matter of fact, we have become so accustomed to having Alexis play up front, that we almost forgot to play crosses into Giroud when he featured for us in both the City and West Brom matches, and in the end, it was Giroud’s late header that gave us the three points at the Emirates.

There is definitely no denying the potential of Lucas Pérez and all that he can bring to this club, but given his physical stature and style of play, I do not think he can successfully play the number nine role for Arsenal in the long run, and he will continue to see his opportunities limited. Throughout certain times in the season I am sure Wenger will see how Lucas can benefit the squad on the day, but I just can’t imagine him in the long run going up against the likes of a David Luiz or a Virgil Van Dijk, as someone like Giroud fits into that role much better.

All statistics via Whoscored.com and Squawka.com

Follow me on Twitter!: @j_kulla

BLOG: ASSESSING WILSHERE’S LOAN MOVE

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack loaned to Bournemouth, Jack rediscovers form???

Surely that isn’t how the old nursery rhyme goes, but when you’re bossing around the midfield versus Liverpool at the weekend, you can change any lyric to your liking. After what appeared to be a questionable loan move by Arsene Wenger back in September, the English international seems to be quickly rediscovering his form with middle-of-the-table side Bournemouth, a move that was viewed by many as a step back in the 24 year old’s career. So, with Arsenal’s season in mind, should we regret letting Jacky Boy go?

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 Stats

Let’s go into the sheer numbers first and foremost, both revolving around the club as well as the midfielder. Since Wilshere’s arrival in early September, the Cherries are 5-2-3, positioning themselves smack in the middle of the table. Wilshere has made an appearance 10 times this season, starting in 9 of those matches, however he has yet to record an assist or a goal. Looking at these numbers, I’m honestly not too worried, considering his role both with Bournemouth and Arsenal is of a deeper-lying position in the midfield. What does excite me however, is the fact that he leads the entire team with chances created with 18 through 10, averaging almost 2 a game, and given the quality of players a club like Bournemouth has, you would almost expect this. This has thrilling implications for when he returns to Arsenal, as we know Wenger loves to play one attacking and one defending/holding midfielder in that 2-man midfield pivot. The high number of chances created thus far for Jack, gives me reason to believe he has took what he learned under Wenger and has put it into use with Bournemouth, hopefully to bring it back to Arsenal and again recapture his form with his true team.

Depth

The depth of our squad at the moment is remarkably deep to say the least, especially looking at the midfield. I can’t remember the last time we have had this many options to deploy in the midfield, honestly guys. Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, Coquelin. Those are the four deeper-lying midfielders Wenger has played with this season, for a total of 20 different combinations (you could even throw in the injured Cazorla if you’d like). That is quite literally the definition of depth. If Wilshere were to have bypassed his loan move and stayed with the Gunners this season, he would have had a very, very tough time breaking into that starting XI, although a Xhaka-Wilshere midfield pivot sounds oh so enticing. Quite frankly, Jack has been in and out of football regularly for the past 5 years, a coincidence too consistent for that of a club like Arsenal.

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Playing Time

Arguably the most important incentive for Wilshere to join Bournemouth on loan: playing time. While at Bournemouth, Wilshere has already played 774 minutes of football. That is almost more game time the 2014 and 2015 seasons combined, and we aren’t even through half the season. This seems to be the most important statistic of them all, as Jack desperately needs minutes to rediscover his form and to just simply brush the cobwebs out from under his feet. At this rate, it seems as if Jack will get a healthy dose of 30+ games under his belt this season (fingers crossed), the most since the 2010 campaign. And yes, we all know what Jack did during that year, during THAT game against Barcelona, so the potential is nonetheless still there. Not to mention, Jack is getting valuable minutes and playing time under who may very well be Arsenal’s next manager, Eddie Howe. Howe has been noted by several critics to have learned and shared with his side several of Wenger’s tactics and strategies, almost at times trying to play an identical game as Arsenal. So if Wenger does decide to hang up his infamous zip coat at the end of the season, rest assured Eddie Howe would be molded as a direct replacement, and Wilshere would have no issues adapting to a new style of play, because chances are there won’t be a new style of play.

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So Gunners, should we regret letting Jack go out on loan? My answer would have to be absolutely not. All fans, neutral and die-hard alike, should see this out as a win-win situation. Not only is Jack getting the minutes he so desperately needs in order to make a solid comeback into the starting XI, but he is staying injury-free and doing so all while seeming to have a great time (just look at his Instagram). So for those of you who felt a little hard-done by this decision and felt that it was unjustified, relax, take a deep breathe, and realize the benefits of this logical move. After all, we did make it through November without a loss in the league!

All statistics via Whoscored.com and Squawka.com

Follow me on Twitter: @j_kulla