The Death of Football

Footballing memories are always remembered with a story, a meaning, a triumphant finale or a tragic end. There is always the folklore that exists around a rivalry, a furore that manifests in the build up to a game, a tradition and a history of the beautiful game as played in the eyes of the beholder. This is what I feel now and what I’ve felt throughout my footballing life as a fan, and whilst there are some things changing with the modernisation of the game, the majority  of the above still rings true for a lot of fans.

The creation, therefore, of a European super league would absolutely massacre the sanctity of what is good and right about our beautiful game. And that’s the point, it’s OURS. I’ve spoken to so many fans and seen such an outpouring of apathy towards anything resembling a breakaway league, that if indeed it did happen so many of these fans would turn away from following the sport. It may have some global appeal for a short while because all shiny new things do, but the essence of any club involved will be lost forever.

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When you think of the super clubs’ head honchos meeting to discuss what a European super league might look like and chucking in stipulations such as relegation not being possible for a certain 11 clubs (one of which is said to be Arsenal) it is the definition of the “rich getting richer”. Leaving the other so called lesser clubs to fend for themselves in a league with much less global appeal and money flowing through it also screams of ethics being chucked out of the window. It reminds me of when I once heard Stan Collymore on talksport mention that “all the big clubs like Villa, Forrest, Everton, Leeds, and the like shouldn’t ever be relegated from the Premier League”. When he said those words I laughed out loud and he was rightly derided as nonsensical. A European version of this is the same, but worse. The thought of it is fairly sickening and any identity we have with our clubs is at risk here. I’m fairly sure that every fan (both in and out of the super league teams) feels this way.

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A short term approach to anything in life always has repercussions that come back to bite fairly quickly and it’s hard to see past apathy and disinterest. Yes we would have some incredible fixtures at all times to look forward to but just not that many fixtures in total. The rumours suggest that there would be 16 teams involved with 4 groups. Even if we were to win the damn thing we could hope for a maximum of 11 fixtures. How does that even work over the course of a year? It just doesn’t even make any logistical sense. The whole thing feels like non football people making football decisions, or trying to at least, and if true they are failing us all miserably.

Think of a world without any derbies, any cup finals, any rivalry…and the worst thing of all, it would give Sp*rs an actual chance of winning the league. Nothing good can come of this if it goes ahead and the logical, reasonable thing to happen would be for the idea to be thrown out. But logic and reason have long since been passed up by the powers that be, and for that reason we should remain both worried and cautious. We need to ensure that if there is a place where our voices as fans can be heard then we must voice our wants and needs clearly to the club/s that we follow. Why let the corrupt take what we created? I for sure know I’d lose all my real feeling towards the club I love if we joined any such league.

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My favourite memory as a fan has to be at the 2014 FA Cup Final. Being there to see us comeback vs Hull was the single greatest moment as my life as a fan of Arsenal Football Club. The opportunity for future fans to create such a memory could be taken away from them boy the formation of a super league. No one wants it. I want the derby day bragging rights, I want the cup finals, I want the Premier League.

“Things change. Friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.” as goes the famous quote, and yet this feels like we would be throwing our friends under a bus and forcing ourselves to enjoy both the fact that our friends are dead as well as the fact that we’re not on a bus, but a plane. Sounds weird right? That’s because the whole concept is weird and one that absolutely will not work.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

Growing Pains

Identity. Personality. A playing style. It’s something that’s been lost over the last few seasons and the true #Wengerball of old was only seen in fits and spurts. For a while Wenger and his players seemed to be trying anything and everything to rediscover our USP as a football club, in terms of playing style. For 95% of the Wenger era, we as fans as well as the opposition, knew what to expect: total football with a tinge of brittle. The tinge grew and grew over time and began to supersede the total football aspect. Enter Unai Emery, the so called ‘catalyst for change’ that Gazidis had spoken of, on a number of occasions previously.

He is ripping up the playbook and trying to ingrain something completely new, which as we all know will require some time. What we maybe didn’t anticipate is the lengths that he might be willing to go to get there. There’s already rumours of rifts between our star man Ozil and captain fantastic Ramsey in that they aren’t willing to commit to the style or are falling short of the standards required for the style. Coupled with the dinosaurs of the football world laying their boot in on how playing out from the back is folly when up against Man City and Chelsea. Emery needs to have his Kevlar well and truly strapped on as the pressure exerted on him will only increase. At the moment he has the good will of the fans on his side, though at 1-0 down vs West Ham this weekend just gone the thought did enter my mind as to how long we as fans could go before results became more important than the identity.

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In my heart of hearts I truly want us to get the identity bit right first and foremost, however wanting to win at all costs is an emotion that takes over when in the emotion of the game. As it turned we were (just about) able to turn the game around and bring home all 3 points. It means that slowly but surely the players will start to believe the approach and hopefully drown out the noise that the tactically misguided fans make from the sidelines. I get that some people are crying out for pragmatism above all else, however they are the same people that were crying out for change in the first instance. Patience is the key, as we can’t have everything in this imperfect world.

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Emery seems to be keen on deploying a 4-3-3 formation and the key problem he has to solve to make the rest of the team work is the midfield three. He’s tried a multitude of variations with this, however has not yet started our most defensive minded midfielder in Lucas Torriera. My inclination is that prior to a ball being kicked his preferred midfield three would have included Torreira, Xhaka and Ramsey. Guendouzi, however, has had different ideas and has been a stand out for us thus far. I do feel that at the tender age of 19, he shouldn’t be someone that we totally depend upon for the season. It’s not fair to him nor the club in all honesty. He may well be big enough to cope with the pressure, however for his own sake as a player it’s important to bed into a club and a philosophy over a lengthy period of time to ensure the best for both the player and the club.

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While the season is still young, it seems that Torreira is being given time to fully recover from his World Cup exploits with Uruguay and therefore might be why we haven’t seen as much of him. Though losing track of Alonso vs Chelsea can’t have helped his cause as our first choice defensive midfielder. One thing that has become abundantly clear with Unai Emery at the helm is this; he will not take an ounce of slacking from any player as well as the fact that he’s not afraid to adapt to in game situations if it means sacrificing our star men to achieve the result. He substituted Ozil with 20 minutes to play vs Chelsea, made half time substitutions to adapt to in game situations and in turn has fueled the rumours that Ozil hasn’t been working hard enough and therefore wasn’t in the squad for West Ham. It’s quite the ‘rap sheet’ so to speak within the first 3 games of a new Premier League campaign.

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With the new style of play we have to consider where indeed Ozil might fit into the system. We’ve signed him up for the next few years at Arsenal and thereafter brought in a coach who we might have thought would be able to get the best out of our star man. Currently it doesn’t quite look as though Emery has worked this one out and that in itself is worrying. It would be acceptable to believe that Ozil is a player you would build your team around as a new man coming in, however sickness or no sickness, his position in the team remains unclear. It comes back to the midfield compilation and trying to find one that gives us the right balance, enough of a balance to include the likes of Ozil in the team to go ahead and create.

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Time

The process, system, personnel, style and most of all, identity will take time to instill. We should therefore be patient regardless of what Sam Allardyce might tell us to do. I did quite enjoy Phil McNulty, a BBC Sport correspondent, tweeting that Big Sam might not be the best authority from which to glean any advice on playing Man City, having been 3-0 down at half time to them with Everton and registering a record breaking low 18% possession throughout the game. Time will tell whether he is indeed a good appointment for this club, but we as fans need to be patient with him. Wenger said it best, support these players through it all, as they really do deserve it. Don’t fall into the click-bait trap of crisis, drama and rumour when we have the chance to support our great club. Let’s not waste the good will on what ifs, rather use it on pushing the team forward. Lord knows the players will require it as they grow into their new roles within the team.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

Midfield Mind Games

The new season is upon us. It feels exciting. It feels scary. It feels refreshing. For the first time in 22 years, we go into the season facing the unknown. It’s not something we’ve felt for quite some time and it brings both positive and negative emotions to the fore, however mostly positive. Everyone’s discussed this over and over again, but the change seems to have quelled the usual naysayers and starved them of content. It feels good.

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So far as Arsenal are concerned, it looks as though we have addressed pretty much every area that has required looking into. We needed a keeper, we got one. We needed a centre back, we got one. We needed a defensive midfielder (and have done for 10 years!), we got one. We needed cover at right back, we got it. As to the quality of these signings, we know that we aren’t shopping in the elite market so to speak, however that’s what the coaching staff are there for. We can only judge this over time, and the new set up allows for some of that. The only real missing piece of the business is a new attacking wide forward. It feels like we need that gap plugged if we are to make a real impact this season, however it could become a minor gap depending on how our existing options fill that void i.e. Lucas Perez and Danny Welbeck. They’ve flattered to deceive thus far and I can’t help but think a more exciting option will give us another dimension going forward. The already existing piece of the puzzle that remains to be fully glued down is in the shape of Aaron Ramsey’s contract situation. And that’s what brings me to the crux of this article. Our midfield options.

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We finally look to have a multitude of good options in the middle of the park as we finally look to have addressed the gaping hole that was the defensive midfield position. With Torreira a certain starter the question that needs to be asked is, who will it be alongside and how many of them will be a part of the midfield make up? Emery’s past couple of seasons with PSG have been largely played with a 4-3-3 system with the electric front three of Cavani, Neymar and Mbappe propped up by the trio of Verrati, Lo Celco and Di Maria. Quite attacking as you can see. You’d expect the three behind to be more conservative considering the front line, but the manager went with a protagonist-like approach. Dominant on the ball and always forward thinking. With the options we have, if indeed Emery plays the same formation, it would suggest a front three of Lacazette, Aubameyang and Ozil with Ramsey, Xhaka and Torreira making up the base. You can imagine the home games vs stubborn opposition for us to play Mkhitaryan as a part of the front three with Ozil taking the place of Xhaka in behind, if indeed the approach is to be mirrored to PSG last season. The key difference with Arsenal to PSG is simply that we do not have a player within the squad that can demand everything to be centred around him. Ozil is maybe the closest to that type of player but he has played wide, in the deeper role as well as a more traditional number 10 for both Arsenal and Germany previously, so he’s more malleable in comparison to Neymar.  The 4-3-3 formation was dictated by Neymar and demanded to operate in the free role, creating more work for the remaining five players. Ozil won’t shirk the workload as his numbers have shown time and again, so it still remains to be see as to whether 4-3-3 is the system chosen.

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Our formation during the friendlies has chopped and changed throughout, with formations and players interchanging as phases of games go by. It’s been clear to see that the team has been put together in stages and for one game we saw what looked like our starting back four. The same has been tinkered with as a front three, however the game vs Chelsea looked like the closest to what we could see shape wise vs Man City on the opening day. I’m not sure we’ll see Torreira feature in that game just due to his lack of pre season, but even then the mix of players we have seen we just don’t quite know who we may play. We have to pick three of Ramsey, Xhaka, Torreira, Elneny, Guendouzi, Smith-Rowe and Maitland-Niles. The first three are the obvious choices, however if one or possibly two of them aren’t fully fit it begs the question. In any case the very beginning of this piece referenced the excitement and fear of uncertainty as a positive going into the season, and I truly feel the same way about our midfield shape and personnel. It’s an exciting time to be an Arsenal fan purely because of change. It’s not always good and it doesn’t always work but it does give you hope. And what is football without hope?

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My twitter: @Jakeal_

MESUT OZIL: THE STAND

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

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

A man who has paved the way for unimaginable change

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

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

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

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

Here’s my Twitter: @JakeAL_

Danny Welbeck: Turning the Corner?

Danny Welbeck is among the tougher Arsenal players to value. He has every physical intangible that a top-flight striker could ask for: speed, quickness, strength, and height, but since coming to Arsenal, Welbeck’s biggest problem has been staying fit. Each year he’s had with the club has been marred by injuries. Just as he seems ready to turn the corner and become a consistent goal threat, he finds himself on the training table, sidelined for weeks. His fitness is also closely linked to his shaky confidence in front of goal; months off the pitch and inconsistent appearances can ruin any striker’s confidence.

Welbeck showed serious promise in August and September, tallying three goals in the first four games of the Premier League season, when once again, the injury bug came calling. First, with a hip problem, then closely followed by a groin pull, both forcing him to miss two months of action in October and November. His return from injury, again, was marked with inconsistency, lack of urgency, and poor finishing. Two goals. Over 24 appearances in all competitions from late November until early March, two goals were all that “Welbeast” could manage.

With the added competition of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player of higher class and similar physical intangibles, it looked as if Welbeck’s role at Arsenal would be limited even further. However, an injury to Lacazette, offered an opportunity to grab playing time in Europe as Arsenal’s only legitimate striking option.  Danny came through for Arsenal at home against AC Milan, when he added two key goals to put the Gunners past the (former) Italian giants and into the Europa League Quarter Finals. Since that performance he’s added three more goals, including a pivotal strike against CSKA Moscow that swung the momentum back towards Arsenal and helped cement their place in the Semi Final.

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So, now what? Who really is Danny Welbeck? Is he a key player for Arsenal? Will he finally find consistency and fitness?

Who can say one way or another for certain, and although we may not have a reliable answer about Welbeck’s future form or even his status with the club, what we have seen is that he is a player capable of taking his chance. He’s fought alongside two world class strikers and delivered in the clutch when his club needed him most. Injuries, form and playtime can’t be predicted, but Welbeck’s positivity off the bench and as a recent First XI player is a sign of good things to come.

Even through added competition, injuries and a difficult year for the club as a whole, Welbeck has contributed 11 goals in all competitions and has shown that he can be a relied-on squad player in the years that follow. Working alongside the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette may, at times, limit how often he sees the pitch, but should prove to elevate his play when opportunities arise. Recent matches should highlight the importance of working with classy strikers such as newly added Aubameyang.

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Regardless of injury history and inconsistency, Welbeck still possesses undeniable talent and potential. He will never be the “main man” at Arsenal, but he certainly can become a key man of the bench and a fill-in starter off the bench in smaller competitions. For his and Arsenal’s sake, hopefully “Welbeast” can remain fit and solidify himself as a positive third striking option behind the dynamic duo of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Arsenal would be wise to keep him around. Perhaps his big break is right around the corner?

Should Arsenal Pay Wilshere?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How Arsene Wenger should manage Arsenal’s remaining 8 Premier League games

Arsenal’s Premier League season is, for all intents and purposes, over. After five league losses since the turn of the year, the Gunners find themselves stranded behind the pack in sixth place instead of battling it out among the Premier League elite for a spot in the top four. The table tells the story: 33 points behind leaders Manchester City and 13 points behind fourth-place Tottenham, Arsenal have virtually nothing to play for in their remaining eight league matches. It is a peculiar, if not disheartening situation.

Arsene Wenger’s hopes of salvaging something from the worst season of his 21-year tenure now lie in the Europa League, a competition that offers both a chance to win his first European trophy and a route into next season’s Champions League. Still, the Frenchman must manage his squad for eight essentially meaningless domestic games, a task which presents both risk and opportunity. Here are some factors Wenger should consider as he leads his side through the ‘dead rubbers’ that make up the rest of the Premier League season.

 

Keep Key Europa League Players Fresh

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Laurent Koscielny’s fitness will be decisive in Arsenal’s Europa League run

It should serve as a wakeup call that the Europa League has, at this point, become more important to Arsenal than the Premier League. The club have no time to scoff at the stature of the competition, however, as it represents their best shot to get back into Europe’s elite tournament.

The Gunners are now in the quarterfinals after beating a strong AC Milan side 5–1 on aggregate—an outcome that few expected considering the way Arsenal had been playing. The 2-0 win at the San Siro was one of Arsenal’s strongest performances of the season, with the back four’s uncharacteristically resolute defending giving the entire team a platform to play with freedom and confidence.

Arsene Wenger will use that performance as a template for next month’s quarterfinal tie against CSKA Moscow. As Arsenal’s season rests on beating the Russian outfit over two legs, Wenger should keep key players fresh by limiting their minutes in the league. The fixture sandwiched between the two legs—Southampton at home—should see some rotation, with the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, and perhaps even Hector Bellerin and Mesut Özil getting the day off.

 

Give the youngsters a chance

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Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock have both made their Arsenal debuts this season

One of the highlights of Arsenal’s dismal season has been the particularly exciting crop of young players breaking into the first team. Ainsley Maitland-Niles hasn’t looked out of place when slotting in at left-back—a position he’s not used to playing—while Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock have all impressed when given minutes in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.

The low-pressure, dead rubber league games provide an ideal setting for Arsenal’s young talents to gain valuable first team minutes. As the Gunners tend to play their best football when the pressure is off, the youngsters will slot into a free-flowing, positive Arsenal side rather than a calamitous train wreck, ultimately aiding their development.

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One player in particular who fans would like to see more of is Reiss Nelson. Despite shining in the preseason tour of Asia last summer with his silky touches and mazy dribbles, the winger has played just 18 league minutes this season. With Alex Iwobi flattering to deceive at right-wing, it could be time to see what Nelson is truly capable of by giving him an extended run in the first team. What’s more, the 18-year-old’s contract expires next summer, and it would be a shame if the club’s brightest prospect in years was to leave because he wasn’t given a proper chance.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is another who would benefit from increased playing time in the Premier League. Impressing at left-back a handful of times this season with composure that belies his age and remarkable recovery speed, Maitland-Niles has deserved a chance to play in central midfield, his preferred position. Moving to the defense, Rob Holding or Calum Chambers could slot in while Laurent Koscielny is rested, with both in need of minutes to regain confidence.

The opportunity is there for Arsenal’s next generation to be integrated into the first team. Of all people, Arsene Wenger should be the first to recognize it.

 

Don’t let the results slide

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Arsenal have lost 14 matches in all competitions this season

Although the rest of Arsenal’s Premier League season is technically pointless, the results will still influence the atmosphere around the club and the fan sentiment. While there may be no tangible consequences to defeat, a heavy loss at Old Trafford or a home upset to West Ham would add to the club’s malaise and bring more empty seats.

No man is more aware of that than Arsene Wenger, who in the past has described each and every defeat as “a scar on my heart.” The Frenchman will want to win his remaining games regardless of their importance as he looks to bring the feel-good factor back to the club. More importantly, Arsenal’s Premier League duties aren’t completely disconnected from their Europa League campaign: a series of losses could send them back into a negative spiral, while a run of form would build momentum that translates to Europe.

The Premier League season may be over, but Arsenal arguably have more to play for than ever. In a bid to end his worst-ever season on a high and potentially save his job, Arsene Wenger will have to manage his squad with care and canny between now and the end of May.

 

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Should success in the Europa League allow Wenger to stay on next season?

What has seemed to be a lengthy call for Wenger to leave his long-tenured post as Arsenal manager, it would seem that this season the calls got even louder and had a bit more venom behind them. Fans for years have been sold on the euphoric dream that Arsenal would be competing with forget domestic clubs, would be competing with the European elites. Yet here we are again with the same tired rhetoric of falling so far behind first place that it has become laughable. But there is a last saving grace for Wenger and it seems as if he is viewing it that way. The Europa League offers the last bit of optimism as it offers the only chance to get back into the Champions League. With success in the competition a viable possibility, will this leave the door open for Wenger to retain his position as manager?

Now I’m going to preface my statement by saying that I’m not sure that all the fans will agree with me, but I am most definitely resigned to the fact that any talk of winning the league whether it’s before or during the season is ultimately a farce. The best that the team can currently hope for is finishing in the top four and maybe winning one of the domestic cups. So with that being said, you would think that my expectations for the team would be low right? Wrong! There are certain levels that I expect the team to perform at and to say some of the performances this season have been embarrassing would be a drastic understatement.

 

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Arsenal have been off the pace for the majority of the season

 

There are a number of games that immediately spring to mind when deciding what Arsenal’s most egregious game of the season was, and there lies the problem. It’s infuriating seeing the amount of talent that currently resides on the team and then seeing tepid performances that are doled out on a far too frequent basis. Far too many players are looking for others to take the game over rather than taking the initiative and grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns.

So during the middle of the season, the calls for Wenger to step down from his role were more than justified. With the team coming out of the tunnel already looking defeated, and their performance on the field showing it, it was more than fair for the fans to be in uproar considering the amounts they are asked to pay to watch such performances. But for all the complaining and hooting and hollering from the fans, one thing that we know for a complete and utter fact is that Wenger is arguably the most stubborn manager in the league and increased pressure won’t force him out of the club.

 

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Wenger has come under immense pressure this season to leave his post

 

With the top four all but unattainable this season, what once was a Europa League gauntlet has been whittled down significantly to a much more viable task. With Dortmund and Napoli dumped out in the earlier rounds, the one team that should realistically (And I use that term very loosely) cause Arsenal any problems is Atletico Madrid. The stark contrast in performances between the Europa League and the Premier League will infuriate Arsenal fans even more because it reveals that the team can perform on that level, but finding that level of consistency seems to be the problem.

Winning the competition and ending Wenger’s barren ran in Europe would provide the perfect platform for him to ride off happily into the sunset. But, knowing the man like we have come to know, the more realistic option would be him asking for a further contract extension.

Sead Kolasinac: After a promising start to his Arsenal career, why is there such a lack of playing time?

Sead Kolasinac arrived at the Emirates with a cloud of smoke over his head. The Arsenal faithful had been crying out for Wenger to spend cash on a defender and when one duly arrived, it wasn’t the marquee name that we were hoping for. The Bosnian arrived with a fairly low-key profile with not much of a scouting report on him. But after making such a promising start to his Arsenal career and establishing himself as somewhat of a new cult hero, he has found his playing time severely diminished, but why?

The left-back position had been up in the air in the summer with Wenger favouring Monreal in more of a central role in the latter part of the season. So when the strapping Bosnian arrived at the Emirates, he looked like the perfect fit for the wing-back position in Arsenal’s new 3 back formation. Having garnered a reputation in Bundesliga as a forward-thinking full-back with attacking potential, he was rewarded with a spot on the Bundesliga team of the year. At only 24 years of age, it looked like Arsene Wenger mad managed to find another steal in a transfer market with inflated prices.

 

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Kolasinac has featured in 19 games this season scoring once and registering 4 assists

 

It all started extremely well for Kolasinac as he looked to have built a chemistry down the left-hand side with Danny Welbeck. Through the early parts of the season, the left-back had already accumulated four assists and chipped in with one goal aswell. He had already endeared himself to the Arsenal fans by scoring in the community shield and his early season performances served to only improve that relationship. But in recent weeks and months, Kolasinac has found himself relegated to the bench in favour of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Monreal.

Initially, my first thought was that this was good management from Wenger. Coming from the Bundesliga, Kolasinac would have been used to having a winter break so giving him a break during the hectic Christmas period would keep him fresh for the second part of the season where he would be needed the most. However, that period has long gone and Kolasinac finds himself on the subs bench for league games and only seeing significant minutes in the cup competitions.

 

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Maitland-Niles has appeared nine times in the league starting five games

 

In his absence, Maitland-Niles played very assured football and reassured his class to the manager and the Arsenal fans. He was a threat going forward and was excellent in defence giving that the left wing back spot isn’t his favoured position. He was rarely caught out of position and when faced with 1v1 battles against wingers, he was assured in those battles. Additionally, it looks as if Monreal has solidified that position since his return from a few nagging injuries. The Spaniard is definitely a favourite of Wenger and it seems Wenger trusts him to provide that balance in defence as Bellerin is given much more licence to attack while Monreal plays further back.

This may have been the primary reason as to why Kolasinac has remained on the bench. It looked as if Wenger had stumbled upon gold with the switch to the 3-5-2 formation but with some early season struggles, he seems to have reverted back to 4-2-3-1. With the extra defender, Kolasinac had much more licence to roam forwards, but with a back four, he is tasked with much more defensive responsibility because having both fullbacks up the pitch would be suicidal. Monreal is blessed with a much more defensive mindset than Kolasinac, so with that in mind along with the trust Wenger already has in him, it makes sense for him to have re-established his position on the left.

 

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Monreal has started all 23 of his appearances scoring four times and adding two assists

 

With all that said, it looks as if Wenger has settle back on the four back formation due to the perceived stability it gives back to the team. Kolasinac did have a tendency to wonder forward and was suspect when left on an island against more diminutive wingers. But it’s good to know that Wenger has this option off the bench on the chance that some in game adjustments might need to be made and he can be counted on to slot straight back into the line-up.

By _TimPD