BLOG: THE OX: THE SHIFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG: 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.

 

Follow me on Twitter: j_kulla

 

 

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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Follow me on Twitter: @j_kulla

BLOG: ALEXIS SANCHEZ: WINNER OR PETULANT?

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

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

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

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Was this Alexis’ first showing of his frustrations manifesting?

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

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

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

BLOG: HOW WOULD ARSENAL LOOK IN A 3-4-3 FORMATION?

It’s that time of year again. Arsenal are in full-on crisis mode as their season, once full of promise and optimism, has well and truly unraveled into an utter disaster.

This time it’s even worse than usual, with the Gunners sliding all the way down to sixth place after losing four of their last five Premier League matches. At the moment, Arsenal look devoid of direction and ideas—in the 3-1 loss to West Brom, they managed just two shots on target despite having an incredible 77% possession.

As Wenger’s system clearly isn’t getting the best out of his players right now, it would be refreshing to see him attempt to reverse Arsenal’s misfortunes by shaking things up tactically. While it would be unlike the Frenchman to revert from his 4-2-3-1, a change to a completely new formation could be just the revamp that the squad needs. Playing a three-man defense is one of the hottest tactical trends in world football, with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea playing a 3-4-3 since their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal back in September (the irony!), and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona recently pulling off the greatest comeback in Champions League history using
a 3-4-3.

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Lionel Messi celebrates Barcelona’s 6-1 win over PSG, in which the Catalans used a 3-4-3

Here’s how Arsene Wenger’s side might look if they switched to a 3-4-3.

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech

Since signing for Arsenal last summer, Petr Cech has been the Gunners’ first-choice keeper and would remain so if they switched to a 3-4-3.

The 34-year-old has shown some signs of aging this season: he lets in shots he wouldn’t have let in five years ago and doesn’t get to ground quite as quickly as he used to. Still, he’s capable of making crucial saves and, as a Premier League veteran, brings valuable experience and leadership to the team.

Alternate: David Ospina

Right Center-Back: Shkodran Mustafi

Mustafi’s Arsenal career began in tremendous form, setting a club record by going unbeaten in his first 20 games in red and white. He’s gone off the boil since the turn of the year though, playing all 180 minutes of Arsenal’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and failing to cope with the departure of Laurent Koscielny in both legs.

Still 24-years-old, Mustafi is young for a center-back and has shown as much promise as he has weaknesses during his first season in North London. Frequently deployed as the right center-back alongside Koscielny in Arsenal’s back four, it would make sense for the German international to be deployed on the right of Arsenal’s three-man defense.

Alternate: Rob Holding

Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny

As Arsenal’s defensive rock and captain, Laurent Koscielny would be deployed in the heart of the three-man defense.

The Frenchman’s importance to the Gunners was reinforced by their Champions League loss to Bayern Munich: with Koscielny on the pitch, Arsenal won 2-1; without him, they lost 9-0.

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Koscielny’s sending off against Bayern Munich was the catalyst for Arsenal’s 5-1 loss at home

David Luiz plays in the center of Chelsea’s back three and often acts as a sweeper, bringing the ball forward into midfield to start attacks and dropping deeper into defense when needed. As Koscielny already performs this role for Arsenal, he would naturally slot into the center of the back three.

Alternate: Shkodran Mustafi

Left Center-Back: Nacho Monreal

Given that his natural position is left-back, Nacho might seem like a strange choice here.

The Spaniard has some experience playing center-back for Arsenal, though, having been deployed there a handful of times during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns when the club faced extreme injury crises. He looked solid when he played there, too, despite being in an uncomfortable position.

Gabriel Paulista, a natural center-back, is another potential option to complete Arsenal’s back three, but Nacho’s passing ability and left-footedness sees him just edge it out.

Alternate: Gabriel

Right Wing-Back: Hector Bellerin

Bellerin wouldn’t have to adjust his game much if he were to play right wing-back. A winger in his academy days, the 22-year-old is often Arsenal’s biggest attacking threat on the right side with his searing pace and overlapping runs.

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In this position, Bellerin would have the lay of the land on Arsenal’s right wing. When the Gunners don’t have the ball he would assume his normal role at right back, essentially turning the back three into a back four or five, depending on if the left wing-back drops back as well.

Although the Spaniard would have more responsibility than he’s used to, this could end up being the perfect position for him.

Alternate: Mathieu Debuchy

Central Midfield: Santi Cazorla

There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal’s troubles in the last two seasons largely stem from Santi Cazorla’s absence.

The diminutive Spaniard is essential to the way Arsenal plays, keeping things ticking and linking the midfield to attack. His season-ending injuries in November of the past two campaigns have left Arsene Wenger struggling to find a functional midfield pairing.

As one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s fit, Cazorla would be a crucial cog in Arsenal’s 3-4-3.

Alternate: Aaron Ramsey

Central Midfield: Granit Xhaka

While Xhaka’s debut season for Arsenal has had its ups and downs, the 24-year-old has nonetheless established himself as a first-team regular.

Xhaka’s form hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency in midfield, as Wenger has tried pairing him with Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny, and Aaron Ramsey, with mixed results. The partnership of Xhaka and Cazorla, however, worked well at the start of the season (notably in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford) and ended all too soon due to the Spaniard’s injury.

In a 3-4-3 Xhaka would anchor the midfield, sitting deep to break up play and launch long balls to the forwards, while Cazorla buzzes around with energy and creativity.

Alternate: Francis Coquelin

Left Wing-Back: Kieran Gibbs

Marcos Alonso’s fluency at left wing-back has been key to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 working as well as it does. The closest thing Arsenal have to Alonso is Kieran Gibbs, who’s essentially been out of the picture this season making just six Premier League appearances.

Although his ability has plateaued in recent seasons, Gibbs would be hungry to win back his place in the first team if he was given a chance in the league. Bringing him back into the fold to play an unfamiliar position would certainly be a risk, but risk is something an increasingly stale Arsenal side could use right now.

Alternate: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Right Forward: Danny Welbeck

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On his day, Danny Welbeck can be Arsenal’s most dangerous player. He possesses a combination of pace and power that few, if any other players in the squad have.

While he’s still shaking off the rust after returning from a knee injury sustained last May, Welbeck’s attacking threat will be an asset for Arsenal in the final weeks of the season as they aim to finish in the top four.

On the right side of the attacking trio, Welbeck would play off of the other two forwards while supporting Bellerin when necessary.

Alternate: Theo Walcott

Center Forward: Alexis Sanchez

Spearheading Arsenal’s attack is none other than Alexis Sanchez, the club’s star player this season with 22 goals in all competitions.

Arsene Wenger’s decision to play the Chilean at center forward has maximized his attacking prowess—Alexis has 17 goals from 23 appearances there. Not only is Alexis having the most prolific season of his career, but he’s also having the most creative, with 12 assists in all competitions.

As a center forward, Alexis often drops into the No. 10 position to stamp his influence on the game and look for runners ahead of him. He would certainly benefit from the movement of another forward, like Welbeck, to play in tandem with.

Alternate: Olivier Giroud

Left Forward: Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil completes the attacking trident as the left forward, an unfamiliar position for the German.

The front three of the 3-4-3 should be fluid, though, as Chelsea’s three (usually Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Pedro) are. Özil would be less of a forward than a creator, operating in the area just behind Alexis and Welbeck. Having two quick forwards ahead of him takes full advantage of the World Cup winner’s ability to drift into space and play the final ball.

That said, the fluidity of the front three means that Özil could be the one on the end of through balls, especially when Alexis drops back to create. The former Real Madrid man demonstrated his ability to score goals earlier this season, and regaining that goalscoring touch will be key to Arsenal putting together a run in the final stretch of the season.

Alternate: Lucas Perez

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Although undeniably a risky move, a switch to a 3-4-3 formation would give Arsenal an element of unpredictability that they’ve desperately lacked since the turn of the year. The fluid front three takes advantage of Arsenal’s attacking talent as it allows them to freely interchange positions on the pitch. The extra support at the back—when the Gunners don’t have the ball, the back three essentially turns into a back five—would help to shore up a defense that’s shipped 11 goals in its last five league outings.

The chance that Arsene Wenger makes a radical formation change is slim, but it may be just the type of fresh thinking needed for Arsenal to break out of their rut.

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

BLOG: SANTI CAZORLA: THE MIND

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

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

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

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

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

BLOG: 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: OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN: REBORN.

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

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

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

Chamberlain’s output as a CM is truly remarkable.

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

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

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

 

Twitter: @JLennard10

BLOG: SHOULD ARSENAL SCRAP THE TRADITIONAL ‘NUMBER 10’ ROLE?

As with every defeat that orbits the Arsenal world, the common retaliation the club will be faced with over the coming days are increasing calls for change, ranging from sackings, to greater focus on internal solutions that prevent games like the previous two from happening as frequently as they have done.

And meanwhile a great deal of the conversation will undoubtedly centre itself around the future of current Gunners boss, Arsène Wenger, there’s a lot more to deliberate over between now and the end of the season.

Life wasn’t kind to the Frenchman in the lead up to Arsenal’s away trip to Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea, as the midfield was left orphan to the absences of Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny.

From that perspective, against none other than the league leaders, it’s difficult to not feel somewhat sympathetic towards Wenger, but by the same token, there’s also a strand of culpability that can be attributed to the under-fire manager.

Arsenal were reduced to a midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and the centrally-adapted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a consequence of a depleted midfield, both of whom were also reportedly carrying knocks.

Against an organised midfield that’s subsidised by the ever-impressive N’Golo Kanté, one can’t quite believe Wenger went into this clash with JUST the newly-formed and physically-limited duo in the middle of the park.

The encounter proved to be, as feared, a complete mismatch, as Chelsea were able to control the game both with and without possession to expose our midfield frailties, meanwhile Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles watched on from the bench.

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A comprehensive 3-1 defeat to the Blues leaves plenty of room for imagination, in particular how different the contest and the eventual aftermath may have been had Wenger turned to a three-man midfield and introduced Maitland-Niles into the equation.

In a world where we place great value on mentality, a buzzword of Arsenal’s, it’s ironic that Chelsea’s first goal appeared to show Wenger’s men succumb to the admission of defeat rapidly, a heightened level of respect that wasn’t matched by the expansive 4-2-3-1 system that the players are continuously deployed in.

It’s here where the true dangers of Wenger’s perceived stubbornness threatens Arsenal’s accomplishments the most, as he ignores the clearest cue yet for him to differ tactically. If ever there was a time to revert to a 4-3-3, that time was Saturday afternoon.

Worryingly, Saturday’s clash isn’t the only example of Arsenal being sunk by an apparent susceptibility to counter-attacks and pre-organised waves of pressure made by the opposition.

Similar case studies can be found in clashes away to Bournemouth, Everton and the latest home debacle versus Watford, which constantly sees the traditional double pivot, even at full strength, overpowered in central areas.

Hope among corners of the club’s fan base is that a shift to a 4-3-3 formation, retreating an extra body into midfield, can be the remedy that combats this supposed weakness. The most alarming modification would see Arsenal move Mesut Özil, once lauded as the finest number 10 in the world, away from his natural habitat.

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A mock-up of Arsenal’s potential new look in a 4-3-3 (via lineupbuilder.com).

That may not necessarily be a bad thing, however, with the German often nonexistent in defensive transitions, whereas his goal return this season invites the prospect for him to operate further forward.

The synergy between Özil and Arsenal’s other key man, Alexis Sánchez, is also promising, and so the argument for the two to link-up exclusively in an interchangeable front three has never been more alive.

Contrarily, three central midfielders also allows for the inverse trajectory being made by Alex Iwobi and Chamberlain, who’d only add to the wealth of tools at Wenger’s disposal with regards to game-to-game midfield combinations, whereas basic theory tells us three central midfielders allow the Gunners to cover far more space than the habitual two.

There’s a good number of positives to come from such a tactical reinvention, and in Chelsea’s resurrection under Antonio Conte lies a few handy lessons for Arsenal to take on board.

It was the Gunners’ 3-0 demolition of the Blues that triggered the implementation of the newly-sought after 3-4-3 formation; a system that has enabled the galvanisation of a side that’s now hot favourites to land the title.

As Tottenham Hotspur and arch-nemesis José Mourinho threaten to outperform Wenger in what could be the Frenchman’s final season at the club, it’s now in Arsenal’s best interests that they manage to rectify apparent weaknesses in the same vein.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

BLOG: THE ARSENE WENGER ERA

It’s difficult to put into a short amount of words just how much of an impact Arsène Wenger has had not only on Arsenal Football Club, but also on the overall modern game of football. To talk of a man who sacrificed his entire reputation, reorganized the club’s philosophies and put a significant amount of attention in regards to an influx of new talent. A man who will one day be cast in bronze and placed outside his own project, the Emirates Stadium, the ‘biggest decision in Arsenal’s history’, to further cement the legacy he has had on the sport of football.

To speak of a man who completely revolutionised the game alongside his long-time nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson. The little-known, “inexperienced”, manager dubbed ‘Arsène Who?’, changed the entire landscape of English football as we know of it today. Entering one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues whilst developing modern coaching along with an introduction to fluid, attacking football to his “boring, boring Arsenal” team.

This is the story of Arsène Wenger’s era at Arsenal Football Club. The man who completely transformed English football as we know of it whilst becoming arguably Arsenal’s greatest ever manager. The man who came from absolutely nowhere to produce one of the greatest ever footballing rivalries alongside his nemesis, underachieved in his later years to bring the best trophies to North London but was still able to prove it’s not only success that can prove your worth as a top manager.

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The early days in football

Before going on to talk about the role that Wenger has played across his in England, it’s important to look back and explore the decisions he made that were fortunate enough to bring him to this moment in his career. Wenger was recruited to third division side Mutzig by manager Max Hild – who would go on to becoming not only Wenger’s mentor, but, had a marvellous impact on his career. As a result of his older age of 20, the Frenchman was told that it was too late to build up a respectable playing career.

This never entirely stopped him from pursuing a career in football, but it certainly limited him overall. Spending a majority of his career playing in the lower divisions of French football, Arsène Wenger remained dedicated on his studies as well as maintaining focus on a potential future career in management. He would frequently read football related magazines as well as sporadically watch Bundesliga matches alongside his mentor Hild. To extend on his knowledge, Wenger would typically observe different managerial tactics whilst paying attention to the regimes on display at German clubs, with Borussia Monchengladbach being one in particular.

The German side enjoyed their greatest run as a football club in the 1970s, matching Bayern Munich’s record of consecutive league titles between 1975 and 1977. Die Fohlen also found success in Europe, winning the UEFA Cup on two occasions in 1975 and 1979. The training and nutrition on display in Germany inspired Wenger to use a similar mentality once he arrived in England, as well as at other destinations across his managerial career. The importance of training and dieting played a major part in the philosophy Wenger wanted to utilise in his managerial career.

This earned an outstanding sum of praise from his future players such as Glenn Hoddle. During an interview with Sky Sports, Hoddle revealed that: ‘Everything was structured and organised to the second so I could tell straight away what he wanted from his individuals and from his team. There was instant clarity. I had never worked so hard; three sessions per day in the first week was [like] nothing we’d done in England. It was very, very tough training, but you got fit.’

Away from football, the Frenchman remained as dedicated to his studies as he was with the sport he had grown to love. Enrolling at the Faculty of Economic and Management Studies at the University of Strasbourg in 1971 after a brief stint with medicine, Wenger remained focused on not only his passion for sport, but also his academia. Despite any potential clashes, he kept both balanced to prevent any conflict and signed for Mulhouse in 1973.

At Mulhouse, Wenger was managed by Paul Frantz – another manager to have a significant impact on his future career. Although realising the importance of dieting and isometrics a little earlier in his life, it was Frantz who perfectly emphasized this to the aspiring manager. Departing the club two years later along with his former manager, Wenger rekindled his relationship with his mentor Max Hild at ASPV Strasbourg, and later at RC Strasbourg.

The club he supported as a young boy ended up being the final club he would play at during his professional career as a footballer. His beloved Strasbourg won the league title in the 1978/79 season, but Wenger’s short stint in the first team along with his dedication to the youth side cancelled his celebrations.

By 1979 he was set to embark on a lengthy process to achieve his goal of becoming a football manager. Realising the importance of speaking other languages, Wenger used his holidays to take part in an English speaking course at Cambridge University. Before long, Weger spent the next two years of his life studying the art and science of football whilst earning his coaching badges. By 1981, he earned his manager’s diploma in France and was ready to embark on the next step to achieve his aim of becoming a world class manager.

The beginning of the manager

Although looking to start off his profound managerial career as a head coach, his first job following the completion of his coaching badges came in the role of Jean-Marc Guillot’s assistant at Cannes. During his brief stint at the club, it was Wenger’s role to study the opposition’s team and added much needed discipline into their training sessions. His work on raising the overall standard of the squad combined with his dedication to research never went unnoticed, and accepted an offer from Aldo Platini to become the manager of AS Nancy.

For his first ever season in management, Wenger offered a significant amount of promise across his first year as a manager. Unable to spend any money as a result of financial complications, Nancy were still able to finish in a respectable 11th position – three positions higher than last season – under Arsène Wenger. Wenger’s fluid attacking style saw streaks of positivity as his team recorded more goals than 5th placed Metz and matched 4th placed Auxerre. Nevertheless, the same amount of praise can not be offered to the defense of the team as they conceded a poor 54 goals.

Unfortunately, the following season offering zero room for positivity as AS Nancy were led to relegation from the French Division 1. This was not entirely Arsène Wenger’s fault, however, taking into considering that financial complications restricted him from making any signings once again. During his tenure with the club, he offered professional debuts to a handful of youngsters and also altered the positions for some of his players. Regardless of relegation, Wenger left AS Nancy under mutual consent and signed for AS Monaco.

Following two years of financial restrictions preventing Wenger from delving into the transfer market, he was finally able to make the signings he wanted to make at his new club Monaco. Every player Wenger was interested in signing eventually joined him in France. The likes of: Glenn Hoddle, Patrick Battiston and Mark Hateley were all players who eventually joined the balanced Monaco side.

Wenger’s first proper transfer window proved to be a success as glory soon followed. The well balanced side he moulded together proved to be a huge threat as Monaco lifted the league title in his first season at the club. Brilliance in defence by the likes of: Manuel Amoros, Claude Puel and Patrick Battiston combined with the withstanding attack from the likes of: Omar Da Fonseca and Mark Hateley supported the balance that Wenger helped to produce that lead to the club’s glory.

Away from such a balanced team, Wenger’s philosophy of a maintaining a controlled healthy diet proved to be consequential to his side’s success. After improving his side from a woeful 5th placed position the year prior, the Frenchman meant business in France, also winning the Manager of the Year award for his job throughout the title winning season at Monaco. His initial success as a manager allowed for the style and philosophy that he has continued to develop for years prior to management to become his focal point for the future of his managerial career.

Regrettably, the 1987/88 season was the only year in which Arsène Wenger was able to guide his Monaco side to league glory. Flourishing with an attacking 4-4-2 formation, signing one of the greatest Africans of all time in George Weah and having an impact on the production of future World Cup winning stars: Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram, Wenger’s time at Monaco was still filled with remnants of success.

As noted, Wenger’s intellect in the transfer market allowed for him to sign prolific goalscorer George Weah going into his second season as Monaco boss. Despite scoring more goals in comparison to their title winning season, Monaco finished the season in 3rd place. Despite the poor finish, they were able to reach the final of the Coupe de France but lost to Marseille.

Le Professeur’s” later years at Les Rouges et Blanc came with mixed responses, although securing success in 1991 with the Coupe de France trophy, a majority of his final years as manager saw constant near misses. Losing the 1992 European Cup Winner’s Cup to Werder Bremen and also missing out on a Champion League final place when his side lost to eventual winners AC Milan.

Experiencing both success and failure across his tenure at AS Monaco, his time at the club would meet it’s end towards the end of 1994. Originally, Wenger pushed for a move to Bayern Munich until the club refused to let a move happen. With a terrible start to the season combined with ongoing corruption and bribery across France – most notably with Marseille being punished for match fixing – Wenger’s time at Monaco came to an end after being released from the club.

Regardless of failing to bring more success, everything that Wenger bought and transformed at Monaco was soon praised by his former players later in life. Ballon D’or winner George Weah went on to say: ‘He took care of me like a son and I couldn’t believe that because when racism was at its peak, Arsène taught me that black men and white men can live together.’ Jurgen Klinsmann is another man to praise the work ethic of Arsène Wenger as he later revealed that: ‘I learnt a lot from him, especially now … He was an inspiration’.

Taking into account the media’s reaction following his appointment at Arsenal later in the years that follow, it’s rather unfortunate that Wenger’s time at Monaco went unnoticed. Throughout a period of match-fixing and scandals dominating the French game, Wenger was able to offer a contrasting approach that the rest of France would soon follow. Following his methods of utilising the academy as well as copying some of his training and nutritional techniques, parts of French football was heading in a brighter direction – thanks to Arsène Wenger.

With the Bayern Munich manager’s position already filled by Franz Beckenbauer, there was no clear direction for Wenger to follow. After meeting with representatives with Toyota, majority owner of Nagoya Grampus Eight, at a press conference held by FIFA, Wenger was offered – and accepted after months of negotiations – a deal to become their manager on a two year deal.

At the Japanese team, Wenger identified and hired an old friend in Boro Primorac to become his assistant manager. The duo continue to work with one another today at current club Arsenal. Learning about the improvement of a player’s mind and body – evident during a training camp to Versailles – Wenger soon guided his team from the bottom of the J-League to runners-up and earned the Manager of the Year award whilst winning the Emperor’s Cup, and the J-League Super Cup the following year.

Arsene Wenger ended his time at Nagoya Grampus Eight on lighter terms with a mixed legacy. Following the uncertainty over George Graham’s successor Bruce Rioch, former vice-chairman David Dein recommended Wenger, and he was soon appointed. It’s fair to say that no one knew how much of an impact this appointment would have on English football as we know it.

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Arsene Who?’ – The ten memorable years

In spite of where you stand on Arsene Wenger in the current day, it’s hard to put into words just how much he has done for not only the club but English football throughout his 20 year tenure at the club. To some he will forever be known as ‘Le Professeur’, the man who completely revolutionised the North London club and brought some of the greatest success during his earlier years as manager. The man who completely sacrificed his entire legacy – rejecting PSG on numerous occasions as well as other clubs including Barcelona – for the sake of the club that he had known to love. However to others, he is simply known as the man who has stagnated the club and failed to deliver more successful years as manager whilst jeering: ‘Arsene, thanks for the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye’.

From the second he arrived at North London, it was obvious that Wenger meant business and was ready to transform an already historical football club. A virtual unknown in English football, Wenger immediately had much to prove to his critics following his transition from Japan to England.

The media were quick to apply pressure on the new Arsenal boss, writer Nick Hornby summarised it perfectly by going on to say: ‘I remember when Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names. It was Terry Venables, Johan Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsène Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan, I bet it’s fucking Arsène Wenger, because I haven’t heard of him and I’ve heard of the other two. Trust Arsenal to appoint the boring one that you haven’t heard of.’

In addition to this, the Arsenal players were quick to add extra pressure on Wenger. Club captain Tony Adams went on to say that: ‘At first, I thought, what does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher.’ Lee Dixon followed by revealing: ‘The players filed in and in front of us stood this tall, slightly built man who gave no impression whatsoever of being a football manager.’

Notwithstanding the fact that Wenger lost the support from his fellow players upon his arrival, the second he began to make crucial changes, all opinions changed.

Unlike his predecessors Bruce Rioch and George Graham, the board gave Wenger a lot more freedom at the club; control over transfers, contracts and also training sessions. The second he arrived to the historical London club, Wenger immediately began to make changes that would influence and transform English football as we know of it.

Lecturing the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, in came the nutritional experts to monitor the respective player’s diets. The days of Mars bars, red meat and alcohol were long gone as advised pasta, boiled chicken and raw vegetables came in.

Considering club captain Tony Adams was a suffering alcoholic, the dietary and lifestyle changes that Wenger brought to the club certainly had a significant impact on Adam’s life. Wenger remained loyal to his captain through his confessions and was an important factor in saving him from alcohol abuse.

Taking into consideration the changes he made to his players diet, Wenger also played an unforgettable part in reconstructing the training regimes. The long, boring training sessions that were used by George Graham were scrapped, Wenger was taking control and doing everything his own way.

New training sessions, specific personal training and brand new dietary plans were all unveiled, the media were angry at the revolutionary changes, but soon all clubs followed in a similar direction to what Wenger introduced to English football.

Although failing to qualify for the Champions League – missing out due to Newcastle United having a higher goal difference – Arsenal were still able to finish in a respectable third place, two places higher than Rioch’s only reign at the club. With flowing attacking football as well as constant brilliant performances on display, Wenger soon won the hearts of not only his players, but all Arsenal fans.

Bearing in mind that Arsene Wenger has been praised for his eye for talent in the transfer market, his first summer window at North London was filled with success. Exciting prospect Nicolas Anelka was bought earlier in the year whilst more experienced players: Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, and Gilles Grimandi all arrived in the summer – each playing an important part in future success.

Building a strong squad including a variety of top talent, Wenger fired the Gunners to the Premier League title in his first full season at the club, potentially one of the greatest first full seasons ever to happen in English football. ‘Arsene Who?’ they said, Arsene Wenger was not only the first ever non-British manager to win the title, but he was the first ever foreigner to secure the domestic double – beating Newcastle in the FA Cup final. After just two seasons in English football, Arsene Wenger was already the most successful foreign manager in all of English football.

Wenger’s different approach at Arsenal was fulfilled with positivity: the technical attacking football on display was different to the norm, the nutritional changes proved to be an essential factor in the club’s success whilst the new training regimes offered new ways for his players to learn and adapt their style. Other managers were influenced by the Arsenal manager, and soon replicated his methods on nutrition, isometrics and training regimes.

The next few years under the Frenchman were certainly not as good in comparison to his first two years at the club. After failing to secure the title for three consecutive years, finishing 2nd every time, but the support for Wenger was as strong as ever. Cup competitions during this time were also below par, losing an UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray as well as getting close to the FA Cup.

The next season saw significant changes with Wenger winning his second domestic double as a manager. Turning some of the greatest players to ever grace the club in Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp into world beaters, the future at North London was filled with potential for greater success in the near future.

It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season.”

The Invincibles… the greatest Premier League side to ever grace England’s top league. The team that defied all odds and went 38 games undefeated. Arsene Wenger led his side to Premier League glory in what was one of the most one sided league seasons to date. 11 points ahead of Chelsea, an astonishing 15 points ahead of Manchester United and an astronomical 30 points ahead of fourth placed Liverpool.

The “inexperienced” untrusted foreigner branded with ‘Arsene Who?’, the man who was labeled with ‘no impression whatsoever of being a football manager’, became a pioneer in a transitional period of English football. Proving the worth of dieting and isometrics on top of inspiring current and future managers whilst rewriting the tactical rulebook, the unknown man from Japan did the unthinkable and successfully led Arsenal to an undefeated Premier League season.

Away from the factors that have been consistently named, Arsene Wenger also had a noteworthy impact on the influx of foreign talent entering the Premier League. Wenger was never afraid to go against the social norm, and continued his job in his own way and influencing all other managers to look elsewhere in the world to purchase exciting talent.

The likes of Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and every other member of the squad played a crucial part in becoming the first English team to go a whole season unbeaten since Preston North End in 1889. The former “boring, boring Arsenal” played entertaining football which in return received the greatest achievement in English football history.

An FA Cup win against fierce rival Manchester United in 2005 ended what was a highly successful period for Arsene Wenger at North London. With the construction of a brand new stadium in the process, life immediately became havoc not only for Wenger, but for Arsenal Football Club as a whole.

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The biggest period of Wenger’s career

In the summer of 2006, Arsenal completed their transition from the beloved Highbury Stadium to new pastures at the newly-built Emirates Stadium in what was a crucial turning point in the club’s history. For the next 9 years, Arsenal entered an ever growing period of financial complications which had serious implications for the Gunners in both the short and long runs. This became evident as the FA Cup win in 2005 was infact the last piece of silverware the Gunners would win for the next 9 years. A large sum of money was needed to be made in order to pay off the enormous debt whilst the era of finances soon rose with the incomings of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour.

Life at Arsenal Football Club was slowly getting worse and worse. With the club having limited funds whilst financial powerhouses Manchester City and Chelsea were spending outstanding amounts every transfer window, the battle to earn silverware became increasingly unlikely. This became evident with three consecutive cup final losses across the financial period – A Champions League defeat to Barcelona combined with Carling/Capital One Cup losses to Chelsea and Birmingham City respectively.

The days of the Invincibles were long gone as well as the players and some staff that were apart of it. Club favourites David Dein and Thierry Henry departed due to the uncertainty of the future of the club whilst other fan-favourites including Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires departed in future transfer windows, the legendary Dennis Bergkamp also announced his retirement. The perfect, balanced team that Arsene Wenger produced over the years soon turned their backs on him for the benefits of their personal careers.

With a large majority of funds paying off the stadium debt, it was a difficult task to maintain consistency and build another world class squad without the financial prowess. Wenger’s eye for talent was a significant factor throughout the financial struggles. The likes of: Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey, Hector Bellerin, and other highly rated youngsters joined the club for small fees. Academy prospects: Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny all followed a similar path and had a great impact on the club later in their careers.

Regardless of the consistent 3rd or 4th placed finishes in the league, not looking a major threat in England and European cup competitions as well as failing to win a major trophy for nine years, what Wenger achieved at Arsenal is undoubtedly one of his greatest achievements. Taking into account the amount of clubs that have stagnated as a result of financial implications, Wenger’s loyalty and passion to maintain Arsenal’s consistency every season is undoubtedly a fantastic managerial performance by the proclaimed ‘Le Professeur’.

Football pundit, and former Manchester United player, Gary Neville is a key individual to identify the significance of Wenger’s reign at North London: ‘… they have maintained that level of consistency of getting into the Champions League. They’ve built a football stadium, they are paying off the debt and they’re nearly there, if they go on like that now it will be one of the most magnificent managerial performances when you look back in history … of all the madness and all the debt that’s folding Leeds United, Portsmouth, what they’ve done is absolutely the right thing.’

Immediately following the end of the financial implications on hold at the Emirates, Wenger was quick in returning silverware to North London with consecutive FA Cup and Community Shield victories in 2014 and 2015. Star players were also signed as the likes of: Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Granit Xhaka have all transitioned to English football.

As of writing, there are currently just over 8 months remaining on Wenger’s current deal – with no indication whatsoever on whether or not he will remain or depart the club. With an increasing amount of pressure from the fans to finally deliver a long awaited Premier League title win, the final seven months of this season will be crucial in determining the Frenchman’s future at the club.

Whether you favour Arsene Wenger to continue his reign at North London or if you’re ready for a brand new era to take place, it’s certain that not only every Arsenal fan, but, every football fan should respect the job that he has done for both Arsenal Football Club and English football as we know it.

Here’s to Arsene Wenger, the pioneer of a footballing era.

@ByJohnSmith