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

Bellerin vs AFTV: A game of opinions…

It’s been a fairly interesting week or so with a fair few opinions flying around. Fans. Players. Pundits. Managers. They are all at it.

More recently however Hector Bellerin has given an interview with the Oxford Union where he was asked various questions about his life both in and out of football. He spoke very well and came across as a really intelligent young man. Then came the controversial question. It was always going to come in some form, whether it be about social media as a whole, fan abuse, being a model pro or the like. It came in the form of a “what do you make of Arsenal Fan TV. Are there any players that watch it?” question. His response was fairly balanced in that he said sometimes his friends might say “have you seen what x, y & z is saying about you?” but then on a more pressing and poignant front he said “I think it’s so wrong for someone that claims to be a fan and their success is fed off of failure, so how can they be a fan? I think that there is people hustling trying to make money that way and they are entitled to.” He later went onto say that he would pay attention to what coaches said rather than externals, which makes sense but the fall out from this interview has been nothing short of hilarious. The head honcho of AFTV has come out to say that how can a platform base its success on failure, when the team has lost only 45 games out of the last 217 league games (since AFTV has come into existence), which is the basis for the whole argument from Robbie to suggest that “how can such a platform exist if only made off of failures”. The statement well and truly misses the point and I’ll tell you why.

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On googling AFTV or searching for them on YouTube the top hits are interviews that surround controversy or defeat in the main; Bellerin & Gary Neville interviews in the top 2 view wise. Followed by KSI is a gooner, DT having some advice for Xhaka and then a post match ‘rant’ after a defeat vs Bayern.  There’s also a podcast featuring the well known ‘characters’ of the channel followed by a couple more rants after defeats. Just on looking at the viewing numbers alone you can see that the more negative stuff has the most hits. Whether it’s people hoping for a cathartic experience or whether it’s fans of other teams (from my very thorough desk research at my place of work this seems to be the majority!) laughing at Arsenal, it’s pretty clear that the negative stuff gets more clicks. The clicks equal ad revenue, the ad revenue equals potential partnerships (ie Ladbrokes) and all of the above equals money. Now considering I work in the media industry and know how much ad revenue can be made from such numbers I can tell you it’s a fair buck. Chuck in sponsorship and you’re doing well for sure. Now whilst AFTV may argue that this is due to the success of the platform itself anyone else can argue that the platform has only gained success from the points of failure and therefore deem it unsavoury in their mind. Neither is right or wrong here and that’s the actual point here. The platform itself is about people having opinions and when on occasions where people in high profile places have had an opinion on the platform itself a huge fuss has been made of it, creating more views and more money as it turns, but again that misses the point.

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Everyone is entitled to an opinion and for the people that ‘provide opinions’ as it were, it seems a little rich (pun most definitely intended) to be upset with it. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. The bigger issue here is whether it affects the club and whether a player should or shouldn’t be making such comments. In terms of whether he should or shouldn’t, I think we are now in a world where we’re past the point of players having to behave in the ‘traditional’ model pro way. The model pro of today has evolved into something new and one where it includes behaving a certain way on social media as well as off the pitch in the public eye. We’ve also got to consider context in every situation; Bellerin was asked a direct question about his thoughts on AFTV and he simply gave his honest take on it. If players give stock answers that they may have briefed by the club to say then we’d bemoan their lack of connection with the fans and their honesty. Whether it’s damaging to the club itself is another issue. Fans these days of more than just our great club want to become a voice that matters more and more in the ever increasing culture of ‘look at me’ on the social media sphere. Following the Bellerin fall out, there’s been a further audio clip released looking to slander the player through a supposed conversation he’s had stating he wanted to leave the club etc etc. Rumour and suspicion suggests it’s been created by AFTV. AFTV regulars coincidentally come out with the ‘I told you so’ commentary. And therein lies the danger. We’ve already seen the likes of Henry having to refute claims made by Alexis Sanchez and now I’m sure we’ll see Bellerin having to come out and say the same sort of thing about the second clip that’s been released. All of this just has to have an impact on how the players play on the pitch. It must play on their minds. Gone are the days where a newspaper can just be left to the side. Notification after notification is sent directly to the players’ phones and the addiction to these devices basically give the players no opportunity to truly switch off from it all.

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The conclusion here is that if we as fans and the players themselves truly want to achieve Victory Through Harmony then a responsibility lays at both the players and the fans to try and provide the platform to go ahead and do so. In a world where mental health issues are on the rise and the fragility of us all is being pressed upon by the magnifying glass that is social media, the players are no different. They have the same struggles as we do and no amount of money can fix those ills. The reality is that no such Utopian harmony is likely to exist and therefore keeping to a more boring and vanilla approach of club briefed answers is the way forward. A response such as “I don’t watch it and neither do the other players really” is probably the best way to avoid swathes of abuse from ‘fans’ that can only have a negative impact on the players’ minds.

It’s not fun discussion to be having in the week leading up to a Cup Final, however we are where we are and that is the state of footballdom today. Fans and players alike will need to be signing from the same hymn sheet on the weekend against an outstanding Manchester City side.

Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

The Engine Room: Balancing the Midfield

Trying to fit Ozil, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan & Ramsey into the same midfield is currently proving quite tricky for a number of reasons. Arsene Wenger is usually quite liberal when it comes to shaping a midfield that contains such an array of attacking talent, however this is usually with someone that sits at the base of that midfield who can be relied upon to do the dirty work. Currently that job is either solely left to one of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, or the combination of Granit Xhaka with Aaron Ramsey. The latter works rather better on the defensive front simply due to Aaron Ramsey’s rather impressive engine. However this combination is far from perfect as Xhaka seems to struggle with the basics and has sadly been the contributor, error wise, to conceded goals. Furthermore, if the option of Ramsey and Xhaka is selected, whilst leaving enough room to accommodate all of Ozil, Wilshere & Mkhitaryan it puts one of them out of position. Ozil would likely be the one that was pushed wider, however it would be a more malleable system. But would this leave the full backs exposed? Would this mean that we are now play 4 at the back? Does this mean we can’t play with 2 up top from the get go? So many questions that to this day remain unanswered. Our manager can’t solve the conundrum with the current personnel. So how should this really work?

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Whether we play with 3 at the back or 4 at the back I feel as though Wenger just needs to decide on a system whatever that system is, and stick to it. Invest time into it. Even if it’s to the end of the season. We are now at a point where the maximum amount of sticky tape is required to cover the wounds for a transitional summer. But there remains much to play for. The top 4 is not out of reach, The Carabao Cup is up for grabs and the Europa League is the best trophy left for us to try and win this season. The new signings have lifted the mood, but the midfield shape will dictate as to whether the mood remains lofty or not.

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I feel as though going with a back 4 is the only way that we fit our attacking options into the side and the likes of Bellerin and Monreal (or whoever our LB has been) have been exposed in both the back 3 and 4 systems so why not counter that with a more attacking mindset. The setup vs Sp*rs in the first half at Wembley showed that this sort of shape and approach can work quite well, however the missing engine of Ramsey took its toll and the team weren’t able to cope for the duration of the 90 minutes. I’ve seen that if we start with this shape on the front foot at games and then revert to a back 3 to hold the lead we’ve built up is something that has worked well. It just hasn’t happened often enough. This would mean is that one of Lacazette or Aubameyang would be missing out. Having a £50m player on the bench is a nice luxury, but the problem here is that it looks as though we have crushed the spirit of Lacazette and this is at a time where we finally have the ammunition to supply through to him. A debate for another day. My feeling is that we should do everything in our power to get some more energy into the team with a 4-2-3-1 set up and I would be really tempted to go with a:

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This leaves us a little more open at the back without the protection of Xhaka but can be made up with Wilshere sitting a little deeper and a combination of Ramsey and Welbeck’s hard work to compensate. This is also a shape that works a bit better without Alexis Sanchez in the team as Mkhitaryan actually works a bit harder defensively albeit having a little less end product in the final third. It makes for a more balanced shape and set up, also including all of our star men. Wenger has always said that “you play all the good players and they can always play together”, which is why this could just work. Injuries do hamper this as we have Ramsey and Welbeck to rely upon, however as a sticky plaster to see us through to the end of the season we may just get away with it. Newcastle-ing our way to some 4-2 & 4-3 wins might be the only way to do it until SOMEONE actually addresses the gaping hole in our midfield over the summer. Defensively we are always over exposed and have to deal with far more than is necessary due to that gaping hole, but nothing in our current squad short of experimenting with Ainsley Maitland-Niles in there (who might just be a little too relaxed for me in that role but I suppose he can’t be worse than the other options we’ve tried!) we’ve got to find a solution and find one quickly. Crunch time is upon us and nothing short of 9 wins out of our next 11 league games will give us a chance at cracking the top 4.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

Arsenal in Desperate Need of Petr Cech’s Heir Apparent

Arsenal are finally spending money on quality players. That fact in itself is a promising sign of a new regime led by Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi. It’s no accident that Arsenal recruited former Dortmund duo Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan to bolster the clubs attacking options in the wake of Alexis Sanchez’s departure, and although new stars like Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette provide brilliant attacking options, Arsenal’s struggles begin at the back. It’s clear that the Gunners need significant upgrades in defense, but one area that has been overlooked for the past few seasons has been the goalkeeper position.

When Petr Cech first arrived at the Emirates in the summer of 2015, it was exactly the type of move Arsenal’s squad needed. A proven winner, leader, and legend whose experience made up for age. At the time, Arsenal only had Ospina and Szczesny on the books, both of whom failed to grab hold of the number one spot in the first XI. During the 2016/17 season and even more noticeably in this years Premier League campaign, goalkeeper has become a position of weakness and inconsistency at Arsenal. Plain and simple, Petr Cech has not maintained expectations. His first year as a Gunner proved fruitful and solidified what had been a shaky position over previous seasons, but over the past 18 months, his performances have consistently fallen short of the mark. Known for his mistake free play during the entirety of his career, Cech has seemingly made a horrendous error every other week. Not all of them have lead to goals, but it appears his most recent error against Swansea was the last straw. Cech has made four errors leading to a goal this season, more than any other player. Arsenal lead the Premier League with 11 errors leading to goals, but Cech’s have certainly been the most noticeable.

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Since before the start of the season, I’ve been clamoring for a legitimate heir apparent or full time replacement in goal. Petr Cech is losing his edge by the day and David Ospina has been so firmly placed as the number two, that even his sharpness in Cup and European matches has come into question. With the defensive frailty Arsenal have shown recently, the last thing the club can afford is a keeper who causes problems.  Cech’s frequent errors, poor distribution, and weak clearances have caused Arsenal significant issues all year long; not to mention his dreadful and frankly comical penalty record. 15 faced, none saved. In fact, Arsenal goalkeepers have failed to save their last 23 penalties faced over a nearly five-year period in the Premier League. Something needs to change, and although it should have happened last summer or over the January window, this summer it must be addressed.

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Arsenal made the first step towards fixing their goalkeeping woes with the signing of Jens Lehman to the first team staff, now they need to go into the market and spend money on the right keeper. Whether it’s an established keeper such as Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkusen, Roma’s Alisson, or recently rumoured Jan Oblak from Atletico Madrid, or perhaps even a younger talent like Alban Lafont, Arsenal need fresh blood in goal come this summer.

Let it be known that Petr Cech is a consummate professional and competitor, but Father Time remains undefeated. Arsenal need something new.

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)

How Will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fit into Arsenal’s Starting XI?

It took some time, but Arsenal have finally completed the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for a club record £56 million fee. The 28-year-old joins the Gunners with a reputation as one of the deadliest forwards in Europe, having scored a whopping 141 goals in all competitions for Dortmund since signing in 2013. Aubameyang’s goalscoring prowess and bonafide star status makes him an ideal replacement for Alexis Sanchez, who joined Manchester United last week in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan sign for Arsenal.

In replacing his most productive player with two attackers that previously combined for 56 goal contributions in a single league season (see Borussia Dortmund 2015-16), Arsene Wenger has come out of a sticky situation with some credit. Now, Le Professeur must figure out how to fit his two shiny new signings into a lineup that already contains Mesut Özil and previous club record signing, Alexandre Lacazette. Here are a few different tactical setups Wenger might go for as he aims to please his star players and maximize Arsenal’s attacking output.

 

4 – 2 – 2 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

A formation that is as exciting as it is unlikely for Wenger to try, the 4-2-2-2 would see Arsenal essentially field a front four of their attacking talent. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil take up free roles on either wing, cutting inside to combine with the two forwards while the wing-backs overlap to provide width.

Although he hasn’t been as prolific as fans anticipated, Alexandre Lacazette has proven that he is more than just a poacher, showing excellent holdup play and ability to keep the ball in tight areas around the box. The Frenchman plays slightly behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who thrives as the team’s target man and would benefit from another forward to keep defenders occupied.

The overwhelming amount of attacking impetus could potentially unbalance Arsenal’s shape, meaning the midfield pairing would need to be positionally disciplined and defensively aware. Mohammed Elneny may be Arsenal’s least exciting midfielder, but he could be the key to this formation succeeding. The Egyptian international excelled in a defensive midfield role in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semifinal win over Chelsea, and would take up the same responsibilities in a 4-2-2-2. One of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, or Granit Xhaka would partner him in the middle of the park to keep things ticking and link midfield to attack. If the Gunners are particularly struggling to retain possession in midfield, Mesut Özil could tuck in from the right side to work some of his German magic.

While the 4-2-2-2 may appear to be top-heavy on paper, it could get the most out of Arsenal’s attackers if executed properly. Arsene Wenger is unlikely to revert to what is essentially a modified 4-4-2, but his recent tactical versatility could mean we’re in for a surprise.

 

4 – 3 – 3

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

Arsene Wenger might not have to switch from his beloved 4-3-3 to fit his two new signings into the starting lineup.

Again, Mkhitaryan plays on the left wing, the position Thomas Tuchel used him in during his remarkable 2015-16 campaign with Dortmund. The Armenian notched up 21 goals and 26 assists in all competitions that season, and Wenger will hope he can regain that form by playing in his favored position in a team that suits his playing style.

There is one notable difference between this setup and a classic 4-3-3, and that’s the right wing position. Here, Aubameyang will be less of a traditional right winger and more of a right-sided shadow striker, making runs off of Lacazette and drifting into dangerous positions. As he will provide little support for Hector Bellerin on the right flank, Mohammed Elneny (or the equally mobile Ainsley Maitland-Niles) is again key as he will be tasked with protecting the right-back.

In theory, this formation could work, but playing your new record-signing striker on the wing—albeit not in a traditional winger’s role—could definitely be an issue. That said, it wouldn’t be unlike Arsene Wenger to stick to his system and ask players to adjust their positions to suit it—watch this space.

 

3 – 5 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

For the first time in basically forever, Arsene Wenger is showing a willingness to switch his formation on a match-by-match basis based on the opposition. At long last, Arsenal (sort of) does tactics!

Earlier this season Wenger tended to play a 3-4-3, especially when he thought his side needed extra defensive support which, in the case of Arsenal, is just about every match. Recently, however, he has opted for his trusty 4-3-3—but the need to accommodate two forwards could see a three-at-the-back formation used more regularly.

A 3-5-2, for example, would look similar to the previously used 3-4-3, but with an attacking midfielder playing behind two strikers rather than two attacking midfielders behind one striker. The prospect of Mesut Özil pinging through balls to Lacazette and Aubameyang is enough to make Arsenal fans quickly forget about that strange Chilean who loved his dogs a bit too much. Mkhitaryan, then, can take up a position in midfield where he’s able to combine with Özil and burst forward when the opportunity arises. He’ll have to be a bit more disciplined, though, as Wenger said he sees the 29-year-old as a potential “box-to-box player.”

Although the prospect of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, and Özil in the same lineup is truly tantalizing, Arsene Wenger faces a genuine challenge in fitting all four of them into a functional starting eleven. It’s a good headache to have, and if the Frenchman gets it right he may just have the scariest attack in the Premier League. In what’s turning out to be an increasingly grim season, things might be a little less depressing if the club is at least fun to watch. After all, isn’t that the whole point?

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

 

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_

THE RESTORATION OF ARTISTRY

A catalyst. A sign of excellence. The embodiment of the beauty over the horizon. A diminutive Chilean stepped onto the Emirates canvas for the first time, an eruption of euphoria ensues. “This is the man, it has to be” Arsenal fans say to themselves. Mesmerising onlookers, the Gunners number 17 swivels, a motion by which defies all logic. Excitement pulsates through the veins of fans throughout the globe. The FA cup was home, where it belonged, and Sanchez was armed to drive us into war, a rigorous battle. Like a dog off its leash, Alexis charges around the pitch a free man, determined to craft art, to enshrine his name amongst the greats.

Four years go by, Manchester United beckons, and he trudges away from the battlefield a defeated man. The match was supposed to be perfection, Arsenal made the player the vocal point, and Sanchez in return was to drag us to a league title. Right? Well, what started as poetry in motion ended up falling to its knees. Who’s at fault, the player or the club? Well, both.

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All stories come to an end.

When push comes to shove, the Chilean’s output was incredible in an Arsenal shirt. 80 goals and 41 assists in 166 games is phenomenal. Subtract that output from any team, inevitability worry will consume fans and pundits alike. Alexis’ explosive nature dragged the Gunners when they were down, worn out, and looked to be trudging towards a catastrophic defeat or draw. That was the Alexis Sanchez Arsenal fans fell in love with, the Alexis Sanchez idolised by millions, the Alexis Sanchez whose name was sung rapturously as he rifled the ball into the back of the net.

This Chilean died along the line. Ruthless pressing turned to childish complaining, intricate passing turned to wayward passing, mesmeric dribbling turned to stagnant swivels with no purpose. The sacrifice of ‘Wengerball’ at the expense of Alexis backfired.  Poetic football was replaced with dynamism. Intricacy replaced with deluded passing. It speaks volumes that no player has been dispossessed more since 2014 in the Premier League than Sanchez (276).

Image result for lacazette crystal palace

The absence of Alexis allowed for prime Wengerball against Crystal Palace.

The adored ‘passion’ may have won over fans for a while, but the reality that unravelled showed an egomaniac focused on individual goals as opposed to the common good. One need only to look to the constant tantrums the Chilean throws when subbed off, or the perverse smile on the bench when the Gunners were 5-0 down to Bayern Munich. What initially was the embodiment of a brighter future for the Emirates transitioned to having a team built around a megalomaniac. It serves as no surprise he sought to throw club legend Thierry Henry under the bus. The energetic and vibrant Chilean turned to a figure of insidious hatred. Refusal to acknowledge Arsene Wenger, the man who took bullet after bullet for him in press conferences says it all.

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Le Professeur has a moral compass, something the Chilean lacks.

Arsenal are better off in his absence. In Mkhitaryan, there is a player who desires to be at the club, a player moulded to the excellency of ‘Wengerball’.  The artistry tainted by the Chilean in the last 18 months is in restoration, and whilst the damage may not be repairable this season, the restoration project has commenced.  Whether the Gunners are able to add further reinforcements in the form of Aubameyang is yet to be known. Uncertainty toyed with the heart strings of the Arsenal faithful, shaking the club to the core. Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan may well be the tools needed to restore the philosophy Arsene and Arsenal represent.

Only time will tell whether the project restoration is a success. Art is unique; it should be embraced and admired. Untold stories have been lost through the disintegration of art. Arsenal have an opportunity to restore one of football’s greatest pieces, an opportunity that may not present itself for a long time.

Twitter; @JakeAl_

Could Arsenal Turn This Season Around Into A Success?

It’s the same old story for us Arsenal fans isn’t it? In the summer, we are excited about the potential incoming prospects, not many of them actually arrive though. We start the season in fashion leaving many supporters and pundits alike asking whether ‘is this the season Arsenal finally gets over the hump?’. But by January, we are so far adrift of the title that we start settling for new goals (usually one of the domestic cups and Champions League qualification). But this season seems to be so much worse than the previous. Many of us have become numb to the continued disappointment that we just shrug it off, but with Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan reportedly on the verge of joining, will these two and a strong second half of the season be enough to quell the disenchanted Arsenal faithful?

After the continuous years of the board and management spewing their same drivel about us competing with the best teams in the world, the Gunners faithful have grown tired with the same tired and sorry excuses about not having the financial stability to compete with the other teams in the league. Surely that’s what we moved to the Emirates for in the first place, right? The cycle of false optimism followed by failed targets has become tiresome and I for one have come to the acceptance that under our current regime, the league is so far out of sight.

 

AubaAFC

Arsenal are reportedly interested in signing Aubameyang this January

 

Since we last won the league in the 2003-04 season, it seems that every team around us since that time has progressed significantly. Manchester United have always been a force in the league and were our rivals for a prolonged period of time. But in this time frame, Chelsea and Manchester City have won multiple league titles and established themselves as two of Europe’s finest teams. Even Liverpool and Tottenham who were seen as minnows in our period of dominance are in their period of resurgence under youthful and exuberant coaches in Klopp and Pochettino. While these clubs have seen progress on route to their future success, it seems that Arsenal has stagnated and somehow regressed.

So at this point, even if we secure marquee signings in this window, what will constitute a successful season? We are already out of the FA Cup and Champions League qualification looks like a stretch already. So would a Carabao Cup and Europa League trophy be enough to silence the doubters that still exist, I doubt it. We as fans want to be involved in the title race, feel as though there may be a chance, no matter how small that come the end of the season, the title could be hoisted at the Emirates Stadium. But alas, that is nothing but a fantasy at this current point so maybe two trophies might actually make the season a success.

 

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Wilshere is one of many first-team stars in need of a new contract

 

However, after all that being said, there are much larger issues that need to be addressed at the end of the season, and Wenger needs to be held accountable. How is it that after continuously watching our best players get sold to rival teams over the last decade, does Wenger allow so many key players to run down their contract with a scary lack of urgency to get the process done as quickly as possible. A club of this magnitude shouldn’t have dark clouds hovering over its head as to whether their star players will be resigning with the club. A slew of rival clubs have had their stars sign new long-term contracts securing the long-term stability of the club while we as Arsenal fans have to scramble for news to find out whether we will be retaining our players.

All in all, maybe I’m just upset that the team isn’t showing urgency to compete at the highest level and win the biggest trophies. Maybe I’m angry that I’ve seen multiple teams dominate the league and bring home the trophy while my team takes pictures in the dressing room after securing 4th place in the league. So even if we do make a run and have somewhat of a successful season, what’s really going to change in the long-run. It seems like Arsenal are just in a maze right now and we have no idea where we are going.

By _TimPD