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_

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.

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

Who Is On Top In North London?

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

Categories

-Recent Seasons

-Stability

-Head to Head

 

Recent Seasons

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

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

 

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

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

Stability

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

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

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

Head to Head

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

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

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

 

 

 

To live or die by the chaos: Where next for Arsenal’s leaky defence?

So, it seems like Arsenal have their swagger back. Well…sort of.

Central to the recent turn of events was Alexis Sanchez’s departure to Manchester United in January, welcomed by many as a real weight off aching shoulders, with results against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup and the 4-0 demolition job against Crystal Palace in the Premier League going some way into reflecting a similar posture throughout the squad.

Here’s the complicated, yet equally predictable bit – the Gunners’ two-sided self then went on to put on a dismal defensive display away to Swansea City, losing 3-1 and worsening a streak of away games unlike any other under Arsène Wenger.

However, in the space of four days, the North Londoners were able to light up their season with the reinvigorating capture of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, adding to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s arrival, before the news of Mesut Özil’s contract extension boosted the morale to no end.

Better still, Arsenal were able to couple a thrilling few days with the 5-1 dissection of Sam Allardyce’s rigid Everton side, in an inspiring evening at the Emirates. As poor as the once-cocky Toffees boss may have believed his team to be on the day, the sight of Özil, Alex Iwobi and Mkhitaryan – all in heavy rotation – popping the ball off with such fluidity was a joy to behold.

Even I, as a fan who at times hasn’t felt as invested as one would like, couldn’t contain myself from looking like a giggling mess in the visual presence of Aubameyang’s dink into the far-post, spearheading Arsenal into a 4-0 lead before half-time.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with his goal-bound effort on his Arsenal debut.

On first viewing, with the goals taken away by Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, the Gunners’ latest additions certainly look likely to hand a healthy portion back, unlocking the potential to entertain in a manner much closer to home. But, staying true to familiarity, the inability to extend the club’s January assault on options for our defensive sector has been leveled as a serious cause for concern. Could it continue to be Arsenal’s undoing?

The frailties are there for all to see, littered across and beyond Wenger’s maligned backline. Laurent Koscielny, at the increasingly alarming age of 32, has a well-documented physical limitation, meanwhile Shkodran Mustafi has long looked totally devoid of the confidence and reliability we’ve come to expect from the ball-playing defender. That state was so much so that the defender was even rumoured to be seriously considering a swift exit back in the summer, before eventually being held by the club.

Rob Holding has been somewhat stable, but raw, whereas Calum Chambers’ light has been waning for quite some time and Per Mertesacker, in accordance with many, has probably extended his career a year longer than Arsenal should’ve been prepared to settle for.

Sead Kolasinac joins the problem, falling out of favour with Wenger to often give way for Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-wing back, who’s looked as impressive as he has been awkward in an unfamiliar role.

Be it a back four or five, Arsenal’s shape is also sandwiched with key low-notes in Petr Čech and Granit Xhaka. One has taken to the slope of deterioration, meanwhile the latter shows grave signs of struggling to untie himself from the pressures of top-tier Premier League football, subsequently handing his confidence and creative progressiveness a beating.

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The under-fire Granit Xhaka, who’s yet to find his feet as Arsenal’s coveted deep playmaker.

And just like that, the North Londoners’ issues become widespread and in serious need of being rectified.

You only need to go as far as the boss’ words last week to know what’s currently found at the back isn’t ideal. Talk centered around West Bromwich Albion’s  Jonny Evans, holding a considerably higher asking price than what may actually turn out to be necessary a few more months down the line, and an apparent interest in David Luiz, locked down at cross-city rivals Chelsea. All quick-fixes.

Wenger seemed keen to add to his backline, but adequate names came few and far between – commonplace in the January transfer window. This may well render the focus on defensive reinforcements, or lack thereof, as useless.

It’s with the current squad that Arsenal must set out to achieve its current objectives, whether that’s a top four finish, Europa League glory, and/or decorative success in the Carabao Cup final. Possible? Yes, because it’s important to remember that the aforementioned players under scrutiny aren’t actually bad players.

Koscielny, when fit, is up there with the very best in Europe. Under his influence, and Mustafi deserves a great amount of credit for this, the Frenchman and the German formed a formidable partnership at the beginning of the 2016/17 season that took the latter 22 league games before tasting defeat. Did it all happen by chance?

There was life in Xhaka before Arsenal – an eye-catching stint at Borussia Mönchengladbach that saw the Switzerland international garner an illustrious list of followers across European football. Among his weaknesses, confidence, a chronic issue throughout the evolution of others, seems to be the key factor weighing his qualities down.

Others might well point towards Wenger’s choice of structure being a hindrance when playing out from the back, as well as the key component that makes Arsenal’s defensive transition look far more reactive, rather than proactive. A dated problem, but the club’s state of mind certainly hasn’t been too far behind, this season.

With the arrival of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, strangely enough, the Gunners might well be able to assure themselves defensively and push on from the disappointments of the first-half of the season, following the old mantra that attack is the best form of defence.

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Arsenal players join each other in celebration, as they defeat Everton 5-1.

Wenger appears keen to adhere to that assessment, telling the Arsenal website earlier this week that “when you say we’ve conceded too many goals, I think we don’t score enough.

“That’s our basic problem,” Wenger said. “That’s our DNA. We are an attacking team. The danger is when you are an attacking team that doesn’t score, you create your own problems.”

As mentioned at the start of this piece, some of the football displayed last Saturday was particularly palatable. It was all very ‘Arsenal’. The good kind of ‘Arsenal. And, yes, you can pick issues with the mistakes made by Everton, but can’t we all with just about any goal that’s conceded? We’re certainly never short of culpable players.

The chaos caused by three fluid playmakers, working in tandem with Aubameyang’s movement, stripped the Toffees down to their bare bones in the first half and the prospect is there for this team to do as such with greater regularity.

It’s a methodology that subscribes far more to the retention of possession, as opposed to the highlighted throwaway/high risk, high reward nature of a Sanchez-led attack, which, in theory, should put the defensive sector under less strain.

In a throwback to the days of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky, among others, should Arsenal pull it off in the final third, the results and well-being of the team, particularly those under-fire, is sure to follow. That certainly seems to be the lasting hope, with only the football ahead of us able to establish whether it’s truly the answer to the Gunners’ faulty season.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

YO PIERRE, YOU WANNA COME OUT HERE?

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

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

The Gabon international is virtually unparalleled in his ruthless nature.

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @JakeAL_

Can Ramsey And Wilshere Thrive Together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which of the two should be pushed out?

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

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

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

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

JACK’S BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shkodran Mustafi: The Accidental Hero?

The question has been asked for a few years now. Just who is going to be the partner for Laurent Koscielny? We’ve had so many false dawns; Djourou, Vermaelen, Mertesacker (although I think that he did fill the void adequetly for 2 seasons), Gabriel and now Shkodran Mustafi. Yes we’ve also brought in the likes of Chambers and Holding but they are far too young to be given the responsibility to play a mainstay role in the back line.

With Wenger stumbling upon the back 3/5 approach some 6 months or so ago it opened the door to someone who had begun to fall out of favour towards the end of last season. Not only this but it enabled the likes of Chambers and Holding to have some hope at breaking through sooner rather than later. When the final games of the season were coming thick and fast injury prevented Mustafi from really having that chance and our Cup Final showdown with Chelsea was carried out with a makeshift back 5 to say the least. Mertesacker, Holding and Monreal made up the back 3, flanked by Bellerin at right wing back and Oxlade Chamberlain at left wing back. Plasters and sticky tape galore is the only way to describe it. This season, however, Mustafi has come back from injury with a mixed bag of performances until the North London Derby. Playing vs the leagues’ most in form striker and lauded midfield backing any sort of brittle-like performance would have been pounced upon. Mesut Ozil was given the MOTM award, but I really think it ought to have been given to Mustafi. He blocked absolutely everything and won the majority of balls in the air. He ensured that they would just not pass up until the very last kick of the game. We’ve seen that he is capable of this type of performance before, however it’s never been against one of the top sides and that is why there is some new found hope with our defensive line. Couple this with the fact that it’s no longer a duet with Koscielny but a triumvirate with Monreal involved as an additional ball carrier/keeper from the back. Monreal’s stint at centre back has really blooded him into one of the most consistent performers for Arsenal and enabled him to slot in seamlessly into the back 3. All of these individual circumstances, these stars aligning, these happy accidents have allowed for Mustafi to be given a chance at thriving in this Arsenal side.

The hard part of this is going to be whether he can be consistent enough and the really big tests will be coming thick and fast simply due to the varying degrees of opposition that we will play over the next few weeks especially. We go away to Burnley where we will likely have a lot of the ball and look to avoid the counter as well as set pieces. The key here will be maintaining focus if we are struggling to break them down, as many have also found this when playing Burnley. Not pressing to high up the pitch is going to be important if the scores are level the deeper the game goes. This is followed by welcoming Huddersfield to the Emirates who will be similarly set up. Now we know about Burnley’s threat but with Huddersfield being a newly promoted side into Premier League, it may well cause some complacency to seep in. Mustafi can be one of the catalysts to ensure this isn’t allowed by leading from the back. It’s once again an opportunity to build on the confidence off the back of the North London Derby. We then welcome Manchester United to the Emirates and this is where Mustafi will really be tested, along with the rest of our back 3. They are one of the biggest sides in the league and you can expect that the likes of Lukaku, Pogba, Fellaini and Ibrahimovic will play a big part in testing how strong our back 3 really are. The Derby was just about the win and not the performance but thankfully we were treated to both, but this has meant that a little hope has rekindled itself into our lives. That hope will either be fully found or lost over the next few weeks and Mustafi performing as he did vs Sp*rs, and indeed Chelsea, in our next three fixtures could make or break his career at Arsenal.

If he makes an error of any kind and it leads to us dropping any points in the next three fixtures the pitchforks will be out and as we all know, the players all use social media and it won’t take much to crush the spirit of the young German. I’m not trying to say that he is susceptible or deals with social media hate badly, as there is no way for me to know this, however I can say that both good and bad sentiment will play a part in how he may play going forward. It’s not quite like the days of old where players can shut themselves away with training and the club for a week before they put things right, they are constantly subjected to the joys and pitfalls of social media. We can affect them in and out of the ground and those little difference can now make or break a players career at a big club.

He has all the ingredients to be a great central defender; he is great in the air, he’s strong, he’s quick but he does have the tendency to jump in to situations too early rather than passively holding up play. But he has a chance. Fingers crossed he takes it.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani.