MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-1 MANCHESTER CITY

Arsenal have booked their place in the FA Cup final with a 2-1 win over Manchester City, courtesy of an extra-time strike from Alexis Sanchez.

Nacho Monreal’s equaliser deep into the second half cancelled out Sergio Agüero’s 62nd minute opener, leaving Sanchez to steal the headlines with a goal in the 101st minute to set a date with Chelsea in an all-London final next month.

The Gunners claimed the game’s first chance when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found Olivier Giroud with a cross that was headed straight at Claudio Bravo, but it was Man City who emerged the strongest in the first half, as David Silva pulled a save out of Petr Čech in the 15th minute.

Sergio Agüero looked to pull the trigger in one of his rare openings for City, but couldn’t do much more than hit the side-netting in the 38th minute.

The Citizens will be aggrieved, however, to see an Agüero goal ruled out in the 40th minute, eventually bundled over by Sterling for further confirmation before the linesman judged Leroy Sané’s initial cross to have curved out of play before reaching its destination.

The officials continued to be in the limelight as the game drifted into half-time, dismissing a tug on Alexis Sanchez’s shirt by Jesus Navas inside the City box that would’ve otherwise seen the Chilean earn a penalty.

Granit Xhaka and Raheem Sterling traded blocked efforts from dangerous positions, with Arsenal appearing the strongest of the two sides following the half-time interval, but Agüero would soon shift the mood inside Wembley when racing away from Nacho Monreal on the counter and dinking the ball over a hesitant Čech, breaking the deadlock in the 62nd minute.

The Gunners continued to go toe-to-toe with City, however, and found themselves level no less than ten minutes later, as Monreal finished Chamberlain’s back-post cross expertly on his right foot.

Čech would go on to redeem himself in the 79th minute, getting the faintest of touches to push a Yaya Touré half-volley onto the post.

Arsenal were kept in the contest again by the woodwork in the 82nd minute, this time via Touré’s midfield partner, Fernandinho, with a strong header onto the crossbar from a corner.

Contrarily, second-half substitute Danny Welbeck might well have taken Arsène Wenger’s men over the line with four minutes to spare, but his placed finish could only graze the wrong side of Bravo’s far post before extra time.

Rob Holding claimed the first opportunity in the 6th minute of extra time, jumping in half-a-yard of space to head just over the crossbar.

Further joy for the North Londoners in front of goal would eventually come, set by Laurent Koscielny’s header back into the danger zone, as Welbeck miss-kicked his effort before Sanchez followed up to smash Arsenal into the lead.

Momentum remained on Arsenal’s side when Welbeck scuppered a great opportunity make it 3-1 with a header at the back-post, as the two sides entered the final break of the game.

Through Kevin De Bruyne, City charged on in search of the all-important equaliser, but Fabian Delph would go on to fail to find the target from the Belgian’s lay-off in the 110th minute, with Holding playing his part.

De Bruyne himself neared the leveller, flashing a strike across goal that remained untouched on its way out four minutes later.

The Gunners also continued to look threatening on the counter in the meantime, but two goals would be all Arsenal required to make it past City and into the FA Cup final.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (6); Gabriel Paulista (8), Laurent Koscielny (7), Rob Holding (7); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (8), Granit Xhaka (7), Aaron Ramsey (8), Nacho Monreal (7); Mesut Özil (6), Olivier Giroud (5), Alexis Sanchez (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Héctor Bellerín (6), Francis Coquelin (5)

MATCH REPORT: MIDDLESBROUGH 1-2 ARSENAL

Arsenal have brought a dismal run of three consecutive away defeats to an end with a 2-1 victory versus Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.

19th-placed Boro were amongst the small crop of Premier League sides who had done just as bad as Arsène Wenger’s men, results wise, in recent weeks, as the Frenchman experimented with a 3-4-3 formation for the first time this season.

The Gunners were given the lead through Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick in the first half and, despite Álvaro Negredo’s equaliser in the second period, the North Londoners were then able to seal all three points through Mesut Özil in the final quarter of the game.

With both clubs coming under renewed pressure ahead of this fixture, the mood was telling in a cagey opening to affairs.

A potential penalty shout on Olivier Giroud in the 17th minute shook off some of the cobwebs, whereas a two-minute salvo from the 27th minute saw Aaron Ramsey and Alexis fire the first strikes at Middlesbrough’s goal, neither of them proving to be troublesome.

Arsenal were then given the chance to crack the deadlock via a free-kick, which was won by Granit Xhaka over Adam Clayton on the edge of the box.

Alexis claimed responsibility for the free-kick and delivered with an inch-perfect effort to give Arsenal the lead in the 42nd minute.

Middlesbrough proved to be a different beast in the second period, however, as Álvaro Negredo equalised with a stab at the ball inside the box when getting the better of Laurent Koscielny from Stewart Downing’s cross in the 50th minute.

George Friend sought to complicate matters for Arsenal further with a marauding run down the left four minutes later, but Downing’s execution following the full back’s cross spared the Gunners.

Daniel Ayala then came close to giving the hosts the lead with a diving header from close range, but was subsequently denied by the well-positioned Petr Čech on the hour mark.

Arsenal’s response came through an Alexis pass that left Mesut Özil one-on-one with Brad Guzan, with little room for the Arsenal man to get an adequate shot away meaning the goalkeeper would be the man to come out on top on this occasion.

The game continued to open up, however, with Ramsey cushioning an Alexis’ pass down to assist Özil for a volleyed finish inside the box, placing Arsenal back in the lead in the 71st minute.

Aerial threat proved to be Middlesbrough’s currency, as they came close to goal once more from a set-piece, but Čech was again on hand to collect a laboured swing of the leg from Ben Gibson.

Giroud neared the killer blow with an audacious lob on the Boro keeper with seconds to spare, skipping just wide, meaning a 2-1 lead would be enough to return Arsenal back to winning ways away from home.

By Patrick Ribeiro

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Gabriel Paulista (5), Laurent Koscielny (5), Rob Holding (5); Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (6), Granit Xhaka (6), Aaron Ramsey (5), Nacho Monreal (5); Mesut Özil (7), Alexis Sanchez (7), Olivier Giroud (5)

BLOG: 5 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM CRYSTAL PALACE VS ARSENAL

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

1) Has Bellerin lost the plot?

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

bellerin

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

2) Who is threading the needle in the midfield?

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

arsenal-santi-cazorla-training-e1473674788425.jpg

3) How can we defend Wenger any longer?

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

Banner-P.45-15032017.jpg

4) Our defence is nothing without Koscielny

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

gun__1408346968_Koscielny2.jpg

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

5) A positive: Emiliano Martinez

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

C8rfU8IXsAEwCJU.jpg

 

Follow me on Twitter: @j_kulla

BLOG: IS #WENGERBALL DEAD?

It’s long been said that we play the finest football in the land. Whether it’s Bergkamp, Henry, Denilson, Chamakh, Bendtner, Fabregas, Alexis or Ozil the mantra has always been the same: we will out-football you. Wenger’s teams have always had a fluidity about them no matter the personnel, granted we had the grit in the days of Vieira and Gilberto however even in their absence we stayed true to the philosophy that Wenger brought to the Premier League. Playing in triangles, devastating counter-attack football and excellent possession based slow to quick transition play to break down a stubborn team. It’s been a privilege to watch this over the years, but over the last 18 months or so we’ve looked like we don’t really know what our style is, what our identity is, what our ‘go to’ method is when approaching any game. It begs the question; is #Wengerball dead?

Image result for #wengerball henry bergkamp pires

Arsenal football club has been struggling to find a formula that works for quite some time now and there are a number of reasons as to why. Previously, when it’s worked really well, we’ve had a spine that has stayed constant throughout the majority of the season around which Wenger has added patches of talent to and kept the football playing machine going. In recent times we’ve found it hard to maintain that identity and I believe a lot of this is to do with the type of striker that the players around have gotten used to playing with. Before the arrival of Olivier Giroud we had Robin VanPersie, who whilst not the most mobile of strikers in comparison to an Alexis or Aguero, his movement was incredibly incisive and a fair bit quicker than Giroud. He was no target man. Before him we had Chamakh, Adebayor, Eduardo, Bendtner & Vela who played a significant(ish) amount of games to justify that they were important to us as a team. Bendtner aside, we had a more mobile strikeforce than we do now, and have done for the past 4 years or so. Yes Podolski was also bought at the same time, but I firmly believe he was bought as the main man and Giroud as the plan B, however it didn’t work out that way. Buying a more mobile striker has always been the way for Wenger, and this has been why our teams have had to be so good in possession. There was no quick and easy outlet as a long ball that can give teams a breather. There was only one way of playing and it included keeping the ball and keeping it moving. As Guardiola has famously said “Take the ball. Pass the ball”. It’s the way we played and we didn’t have a choice. That means that in training and in games it was always likely to be a more intense scenario as the ball was always on the floor. There always had to be a way to play our way out of trouble. I think that this mentality kept every single player a little more on their toes than they are right now. The introduction of Olivier Giroud as the main striker over the course of the last few years has taken its toll on the identity of our football. No longer is it on-the-toes-pedal-to-the-metal free flowing football, there’s always an out ball that lets our team catch their breath. This, whilst incredibly useful at times, has over time created a more sterile possession based team that lacks a little direction.

Image result

Wenger’s teams have always been ‘allowed to play’ in the way they want to in terms of when attacking, however with a target man as the tip of our sword we have now become overly reliant and a little lazy in our approach play. It’s not something that’s happened overnight, as towards the beginning of our target man era we had played some scintillating football to which Giroud was a key figure (Wilshere goal v Norwich, Rosicky goal v Sunderland). Though our game has swung from an occasional outball to OG into a more regularly used option. This coupled with the changing of the modern game to having just the one centre forward has almost pushed us in this direction no matter how hard we try to change it, and try we have. Wenger has tried to sign Suarez, Benzema & Higuain for their intelligent movement and finishing abilities. They are not target men at all, yet can still score the same types of goals as Giroud. Wenger has been trying to adapt to the modern game by buying a more dynamic centre forward than Giroud. The conundrum is that Giroud has performed so well for the money we paid for him, that we’re stuck between whether to pull the trigger or not. I saw a great clip that identifies Giroud as being just short of an elite centre forward based on the money spent on him and his goal return (95 goals in almost 5 seasons), which you can see in full here. It’s basically saying that to bridge the gap between a Giroud and an Aguero shouldn’t be as steep a cost as is portrayed in the media these days.

Image result for giroud wenger

We saw against West Ham this week that #Wengerball is clearly there to be seen in fit and spurts, but unfortunately it’s become us playing Wenger’s brand of football sporadically rather than playing badly sporadically. Wenger has always had the same principles and I don’t see them changing, however to change the way the team is playing and to once again bring back the identity and brand of football that we all know and love he will need to go out and break the bank for a more mobile centre forward. It’s the only way the jigsaw puzzle makes sense and is the only way that our sterile approach play will be sharpened up to what we’ve known and loved in years gone by. Yes there are defensive issues, yes there are midfield issues and yes there are issues of mental weakness however none of this is new information. We’ve dealt with this in the past and yet still played excellent football, so the only way we are going to see what we want is to finally go out and buy that elite front man. It’s the only way we can keep #Wengerball alive.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-2 MANCHESTER CITY

A second-half header from Shkodran Mustafi rescued Arsenal a point versus Manchester City, as the two top four hopefuls played out a 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.

The Gunners fell behind twice in their first game back from the international break, but goals from Theo Walcott and Mustafi on either side of half-time kept Arsène Wenger’s men within touching distance of those directly ahead of them in the Premier League table.

Danny Welbeck’s pace was favoured over Olivier Giroud’s towering frame in attack and it was a change that almost produced through to the early exchanges, as the ex-Manchester United striker’s pressing saw a block from Gael Clichy’s desperate clearance threaten to betray Willy Caballero on its way wide.

Arsenal’s task versus City would be made tougher by the 5th minute when Leroy Sané made full use of the space vacated by Sergio Agüero to burst through the heart of the defence, round David Ospina and slot in the game’s first goal into an empty net.

Things promised to go from bad to worse just five minutes later through Kevin De Bruyne’s curling effort onto the post, whereas this time Ospina was on hand to deny further joy in front of goal when parrying David Silva’s follow-up.

Alexis Sánchez’s shot from range in the 30th minute headlined a potential comeback from Arsenal’s behalf, as it hovered just wide of City’s goal.

Increased pressure from the North Londoners would soon pay off when Mustafi’s header back into the mixer caught out the Man City backline, leaving Walcott to take advantage of space and draw the game level in the 38th minute.

The equaliser would be short-lived, however, as an unmarked Agüero was given plenty of time to pick his spot with a low drive inside the box and make it 2-1 to the visitors a minute later.

Arsenal responded through Walcott once more, meeting Sánchez’s hopeful cross before volleying over on the brink of half-time.

Without Laurent Koscielny for the second period, the Gunners’ backline continued to look fragile in places, as Jesus Navas set Agüero up for a near-post header that was directed wide in the 52nd minute.

Mustafi would prove to be pivotal once more in Arsenal’s fightback, rising highest from a corner to slam home the equaliser with his head in the 54th minute.

Agüero popped up again inside the box to try and make amends for his earlier miss, but Ospina was on hand to follow the effort all the way into his grasp, as both teams shared the spoils at the final whistle.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Starting XI

David Ospina (6); Héctor Bellerín (5), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (6); Granit Xhaka (5), Francis Coquelin (4); Theo Walcott (6), Mesut Özil (4), Alexis Sánchez (6); Danny Welbeck (4)

Subs: Gabriel Paulista (6), Olivier Giroud (4), Alex Iwobi (6)

BLOG: ALEXIS SANCHEZ: WINNER OR PETULANT?

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

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

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

Image result for alexis norwich

Was this Alexis’ first showing of his frustrations manifesting?

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

Image result for alexis sanchez angry

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

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

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

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

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

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

C6bY6oIXQAA967U

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

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

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech

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

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

Alternate: David Ospina

Right Center-Back: Shkodran Mustafi

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

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

Alternate: Rob Holding

Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny

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

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

nintchdbpict000307285765-e1488922899178

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

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

Alternate: Shkodran Mustafi

Left Center-Back: Nacho Monreal

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

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

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

Alternate: Gabriel

Right Wing-Back: Hector Bellerin

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

hi-res-a52470c71f5ad14bcbe08f693ade0efd_crop_north

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

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

Alternate: Mathieu Debuchy

Central Midfield: Santi Cazorla

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

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

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

Alternate: Aaron Ramsey

Central Midfield: Granit Xhaka

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

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

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

Alternate: Francis Coquelin

Left Wing-Back: Kieran Gibbs

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

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

Alternate: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Right Forward: Danny Welbeck

danny-welbeck-434333434

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

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

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

Alternate: Theo Walcott

Center Forward: Alexis Sanchez

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

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

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

Alternate: Olivier Giroud

Left Forward: Mesut Özil

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

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

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

Alternate: Lucas Perez

lineup

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

MATCH REPORT: WEST BROM 3-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal has succumbed to its second consecutive defeat in the Premier League with a 3-1 loss away to West Bromwich Albion, as the North Londoners open up space to trail its top four competitors by a greater margin.

A goal from second half substitute Hal Robson-Kanu cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’s equaliser in the first period, whereas a pair of goals from Craig Dawson in each half sealed Arsenal’s fate.

In Mesut Özil’s absence, Aaron Ramsey resumed his role as a central midfielder, meanwhile Danny Welbeck was preferred to Olivier Giroud in attack, but it was the opposition’s attacking movement that initially demonstrated to be the sharpest, as Allan Nyom skipped past Héctor Bellerín and Shkodran Mustafi to deliver a dangerous ball that wasn’t read by Salomón Rondón in the 5th minute.

At the other end, no less than a minute later, it was Nacho Monreal testing the stability of the hosts’ backline with a teasing cross to Theo Walcott that was anticipated by Ben Foster between the sticks.

West Brom looked to explore the counter through James McClean down the left flank, who was able to sting the palms of Petr Čech and win his side a corner in the 11th minute.

From the resulting set-piece, Tony Pulis’ side found themselves a goal up when Craig Dawson beat Laurent Koscielny and Čech at their near-post to glance in the opener.

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Granit Xhaka’s carefully sculpted pass to Sanchez inside the box afforded the Chilean the time and space to cut inside and fire in the equaliser from close range in the 14th minute.

The Baggies were on hand to try and catch the Arsenal defence out again through Nacer Chadli’s break from the right, but Rondón could only drag a shot wide from a less than favourable angle when concluding the move.

Ramsey almost caught Foster by surprise with a shot on the half-turn from the left, but West Brom’s replies continued to be dealt at an impressive rate, as Darren Fletcher forced a quality save out of Čech with a half-volley in the 33rd minute.

The Czech shot-stopper would then throw in the towel on an injury picked up shortly after, as David Ospina replaced the Arsenal goalkeeper moments before the interval.

Arsène Wenger’s outfit continued to look vulnerable into the second period, with Rondón rising above Koscielny to brush a header past the far-post after five minutes.

West Brom then turned to Robson-Kanu in an inspired change, with the Welshman’s pea-roller in the 55th minute propelling the Midlands outfit back into the lead after Ospina’s failure to clear his lines.

Arsenal had a vague hope that the goal would be ruled out, given the involvement of McClean in the move from an offside position, but Neil Swarbrick’s decision ensured the score would stand at 2-1.

The Gunners came close to levelling the game for a second time through Danny Welbeck in the 65th minute, heading Xhaka’s corner onto the crossbar from the back post, whereas a save from Ospina and an additional block on the line from Shkodran Mustafi in the opposite half prevented West Brom from amplifying the score.

The killer blow would eventually arrive, however, as Dawson made full use of the hosts’ forte to bag a second for himself in the 74th minute from a corner and hand Wenger’s team a 3-1 defeat at the Hawthorns.

Arsenal’s slip-up sees them rack up their fourth defeat from their last five games, which could see them drop to as low as 7th in the league table by the end of the week.

By Patrick Ribeiro

Player Ratings

Petr Čech (6); Héctor Bellerín (5), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (5), Nacho Monreal (6); Granit Xhaka (7), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Aaron Ramsey (5); Theo Walcott (4), Alexis Sanchez (6), Danny Welbeck (4)

Subs: Ospina (4), Olivier Giroud (4), Alex Iwobi (4)

BLOG: THE WENGER CONUNDRUM

Arsene 1

It’s got to the point in the season where Arsenal traditionally collapse. After some hope at the start of the year, everything comes crashing down with a series of horrific results. Last season it was Swansea, Watford and Manchester United, this year it was Watford, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Déjà vu. The biggest and most confusing enigma in English football right now (Apart from Liverpool’s even more spectacular implosion) is Arsène Wenger’s future at Arsenal.

Things were looking positive at the start of the year, they really were. Big money, youthful signings who actually seemed to have a backbone. An exquisite blend of experienced players in the prime of their careers, alongside breakthrough youngsters such as Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerín. But yet again, the story hasn’t gone to plan. What needs to be done? Is this summer too soon for such a huge transition? I’m currently 20 years old, which means that Arsène Wenger has been the manager of Arsenal literally my entire life. I don’t know any different, and therefore I don’t know how difficult this transition will be.

Wenger

What I do know however, is that this is something that needs to be done this summer – without a doubt. In hindsight, it would have been even more ideal for this transition to take place a few years ago in 2014, after Arsène won his 5th FA Cup, and Arsenal’s 11th at the time. The world class players that Arsenal have aren’t being rewarded adequately in terms of silverware. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny need to be fighting for the top honours while they are in the prime of their careers – not after.

Hypothetically, if Arsène extends his contract at Arsenal for another 2 years this summer, Alexis Sanchez would be 30, Ozil 30, and Koscielny would be nearing 34. I’m not saying they can’t be replaced, as they will eventually have to be, but I would love to see them win something huge at Arsenal, and I just don’t see it happening under Arsène.

The frailties were evident in both legs against Bayern Munich. No other so called “top team” collapses quite like Arsenal do. We’ve seen so many similar results in the last few years, that it’s just not a coincidence. Starting off with the 8-2 at Old Trafford, 5-1 at Anfield, 6-0 at Stanford Bridge, 6-3 at the Etihad, and numerous thrashings in Europe against Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Milan and Monaco. Arsenal just aren’t a team for the big occasions anymore, and if the fans want the club to start competing for these major honours, major changes have to be considered, starting with the manager.

Alexis

Looking at it from the board’s point of view, they will never sack Arsène. Not in a million years. The feeling within the club at the moment is that there is no adequate replacement for Wenger anyway, so he should stay on for another 2 years whilst a replacement is scouted. The decision will be down to Arsène, and whether or not he thinks that this summer is too soon for a transition. If reports are anything to go by, important players such as Ozil, Alexis, Chamberlain and Perez all might leave in the summer, which would mean that an entire squad over-haul would be required, and I wouldn’t want Arsène to be the man to do this. It would be ideal for a new manager to come in, make his mark on the club, and have the whole summer to prepare for next season.

Ultimately, one of the biggest concerns with the club at the minute is the uncertainty surrounding everything, specifically the manager’s future, along with several senior players. This is the reason why I think Arsène will sign a contract extension. Things have been left until the last minute, and I genuinely think the board do not have a replacement lined up.

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 5-0 LINCOLN CITY

Arsenal have booked their place in the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley with a 5-0 win over non-league outfit Lincoln City at the Emirates Stadium this evening.

The Gunners, who set out to avoid an upset with a strong line-up, took the lead late into the first-half, but goals from Alexis Sánchez, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud added greater comfort en route to victory  in the second period.

Fresh from midweek disappointment in the UEFA Champions League, the under-fire Arsène Wenger looked towards Kieran Gibbs, Petr Čech and Ramsey to freshen up a side that lost 5-1 at home to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, with the latter putting his name behind Arsenal’s first real chance with a shot directed wide from the edge of the box after nine minutes of football.

Theo Walcott sought for better luck than the Welshman and almost brought joy for the hosts with a first-time volley that required Paul Farman between the sticks to push the effort onto the post.

At the other end, Lincoln’s Nathan Arnold made the underdogs dream with a mazy run into Arsenal’s box which ended with the winger pulling a fingertip save out of Čech on the half-hour-mark.

Walcott emerged once more as the sharpest tool in the box, this time reacting to Sánchez’s cross before anyone else, but the Englishman’s left-footed shot did little to trouble Farman.

A Mesut Özil cross that almost crept in at the far-post sprung Arsenal into life on the brink of half-time, with Walcott finally breaking the deadlock with a deflected effort inside the box in the 46th minute.

The goalscorer turned provider in the second-half when following up a strike from Olivier Giroud to set Gibbs for a free header, but the left back fluffed his lines and headed the ball over the desired target four minutes in.

This was a different Arsenal, however, who were knocking on Lincoln’s door again by the 53rd minute, as Héctor Bellerín fashioned some space for himself in a passing move and assisted Giroud for a routine tap-in.

Gibbs hit the byline in search of Frenchman to bag the third in the 57th minute, but it was Luke Waterfall who did the finishing for the striker when deflecting the cross into his own net.

Sánchez was able to show off his own capabilities when skipping past a whole host of bodies and casually curling an effort past Farman from outside of the box, as the North Londoners raced on with a 4-0 lead.

The Chilean took centre stage in Arsenal’s next move, shifting in and out before delivering a low ball into the far post that was met by Ramsey and taken around the goalkeeper for the easiest finish of the evening.

Sánchez neared a brace with a free-kick against the crossbar in the 85th minute, but 5-0 would be the final word on the quarter-final between Arsenal and Lincoln ahead of a trip to Wembley.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (6); Héctor Bellerín (9), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Kieran Gibbs (7); Granit Xhaka (6), Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (5), Aaron Ramsey (6); Theo Walcott (8), Alexis Sánchez (7); Olivier Giroud (6)

Subs: Mesut Özil (7), Lucas Perez (5), Francis Coquelin (5)