Midfield Mind Games

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

THE FEEL GOOD FACTOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My twitter: @Jakeal_

MESUT OZIL: THE STAND

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

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

A man who has paved the way for unimaginable change

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

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

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

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

Here’s my Twitter: @JakeAL_

MATCH REPORT: Leicester City 3-1 Arsenal

Ten-man Arsenal were defeated once more on the road, as a second-half Jamie Vardy penalty and a late Riyad Mahrez finish gave Leicester City all-three points in a 3-1 win for the Premier League.

The visitors were left with an uphill battle early on, as Kelechi Iheanacho opened the scoring in the 14th minute before nabbing a red card out of Konstantinos Mavropanos a minute later.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then equalised for the Gunners early in the second period, but a Vardy’s strike from the spot and Mahrez’s cool finish late on prolonged Arsenal’s dismal away from come full-time.

The Gunners maintained a strong XI for the trip to the King Power Stadium, surprising only with the starts handed to Danny Welbeck, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Rob Holding.

Arsène Wenger’s men looked to carry on from their fine display at home to Burnley with a positive start versus the Foxes, as Alex Iwobi forced Eldin Jakupovic into action in the 7th minute with a curling effort pushed wide.
Leicester offered a fierce reply, initiated by Vardy’s strike in the 13th minute before Iheanacho was able to place the hosts ahead, as he drilled in Fousseni Diabate’s knock-down on the half-volley.
Matters complicated themselves further for Arsenal following the restart, with Iheanacho again in the thick of things when bettering Mavropanos to race through on goal, leaving the Greek defender resigned to bringing the ex-Manchester City attacker down and receiving a red-carded.
Leicester continued to knock on the visitors’ door, with Arsenal requiring Petr Čech to deny a couple of attempts from Harry Maguire and Iheanacho, as the game reached the half-hour mark.
In Arsenal’s best move of the half, Henrikh Mkhitaryan neared an equaliser in the 34th minute when seeing his strike from inside the box being pushed just wide of the target.
From the subsequent corner, his ex-Borussia Dortmund teammate, Aubameyang, also came close to biting back for the north Londoners with a toe-poke deflected away from goal, as the two sides departed the half to a 1-0 score line.
It was Arsenal again who started brightest in the second half via Sead Kolasinac’s wicked volley from inside the box, with the Bosnian hitting the face of the post before Leicester could clear their lines.
Good work from Vardy gifted Diabate the time and space to hurt Arsenal on the counter-attack in the 47th minute, but Shkodran Mustafi remained alert by covering Čech and stopping the Ligue 2 import’s strike on the line.
The visitors were soon handed their just reward for attacking with intent, as Maitland-Niles escaped his man down the byline to feed Aubameyang inside the box, who’d thump home the equaliser at the second time of asking.
Vardy stepped up to undo all of Arsenal’s good work in the 75th minute, however, as Mkhitaryan arrived late in his challenge on Demarai Gray inside the box to gift Leicester a penalty.
The English striker made no mistake up against Čech from the 12-yard-mark, propelling the Foxes back in front with his well-hit penalty.
Mahrez made it 3-1 in the 88th minute, utilising his composure to manoeuvre around Rob Holding and Čech before burying his finish, as Arsenal returned to north London with yet another away defeat.
By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)
Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Ainsley Maitland-Niles (7), Rob Holding (5), Konstantinos Mavropanos (4), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Aaron Ramsey (6), Granit Xhaka (7) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Alex Iwobi (6), Danny Welbeck (4) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7)
Subs: Shkodran Mustafi (5), Eddie Nketiah (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 5-0 Burnley

Arsenal celebrated Arsène Wenger’s final game at the Emirates Stadium with a 5-0 win over Burnley for the Premier League, as a sell-out crowd said their goodbyes to their manager.

First-half goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette set Arsenal up for a big afternoon in north London, as Wenger’s men took a 2-0 lead into half-time.

Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi doubled the Gunners’ lead to 4-0 throughout a dominant second-half display, leaving Aubameyang to add the finishing touches to a 5-0 victory with his brace.

In Mesut Özil’s absence, Arsenal paired Aubameyang with Lacazette in attack, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan also returned to the first XI.

The two forwards took just 14 minutes to combine to great effect, with Aubameyang popping up in the six-yard-box to tap in Lacazette’s driven cross and place the hosts a goal up.

Lacazette came close to assisting Mkhitaryan in the 33rd minute, having been unleashed down the right flank by Granit Xhaka’s toe-poke, but the ex-Borussia Dortmund man could only steer his volley over the bar.

Mkhitaryan neared joy once more ten minutes later when firing a deflected shot, as Nick Pope reacted well to delay conceding a second on the brink of half time.

Lacazette wouldn’t be stopped, however, as the north Londoners entered the interval with a 2-0 lead after the Frenchman’s volleyed finish from inside the box, courtesy of Héctor Bellerín’s pull-back.

Arsenal came out firing with yet more troublesome wing-play in the second half, with Aubameyang setting Wilshere up before the latter clipped his effort over the bar.

Burnley replied through Sam Vokes’ close-range header in the 48th minute, requiring Petr Čech to be alert with a well-positioned save.

Before the Clarets were able to build on their response, Arsenal powered on to make it 3-0 through Kolasinac, firing low and hard to beat Pope at his far-post in the 53rd minute.

Mkhitaryan edged himself closer to a goal just a minute later with a curling effort from outside of the box, floating mere inches away from its desired destination.

Iwobi then inflated Arsenal’s score-line with a fourth in the 64th minute, receiving Aubameyang’s pass inside the box before firing deep into Pope’s net.

The provider morphed back into goalscorer in the 74th minute, as Aubameyang was able to divert his first-time finish away from the goalkeeper and into the top corner from Bellerín’s ball into the box.

Danny Welbeck was unlucky not to have bagged a goal himself after coming off the bench, with the post denying an arrowed volley from firing in before the full-time whistle.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Calum Chambers (7), Konstantinos Mavropanos (8), Sead Kolasinac (7) – Granit Xhaka (8), Jack Wilshere (7) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Alex Iwobi (6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (8) – Alexandre Lacazette (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Aaron Ramsey (6), Per Mertesacker (-)

MATCH REPORT: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal

A late Marouane Fellaini goal denied Arsenal a hard-fought draw in Arsène Wenger’s final trip to Old Trafford, as Manchester United snatched a 2-1 victory.

The Gunners had fallen behind early in the first half through Paul Pogba’s opener but were able to cancel out the Frenchman’s finish in the second period, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan found the back of the net against his former club to make it 1-1.

Man United would end up prolonging the north Londoners’ poor form away from home, however, courtesy of Fellaini’s late header in the 92nd minute.

Arsène Wenger’s men, with an eye on next week’s Europa League clash with Atlético Madrid, came into the contest with a total of seven changes, headlined by a debut for 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos.

In a tight start to the affair, Man United were able to break the ice through Pogba’s close-range-volley in the 17th minute, following up on Alexis Sanchez’s header that was deflected onto the post.

The Gunners replied through Mkhitaryan, who was able to strike well across goal after being fed by Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ flick, but the ball roam just wide of the mark.

Arsenal continued to search for solutions, with the next chance falling to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Héctor Bellerín’s cross, but the ex-Borussia Dortmund man would lack the power behind his header to trouble David De Gea in the 35th minute.

The half ended with a scare for the visitors, as Ashley Young found the outside of David Ospina’s near post, with the two sides walking off to a 1-0 score line.

The inclination of the game renewed itself in the second half and Arsenal were able to make their momentum count in the 52nd minute, as Granit Xhaka won the ball higher up the pitch to set Mkhitaryan on his way before the Armenian could find the bottom corner, making it 1-1.

Arsenal’s equaliser provoked a reaction out of United, but both sides would fail to conjure up anything of note for the majority of the second period.

United sought Fellaini’s aerial prowess late on and it was through the Belgian that the hosts had the Gunners staring at defeat in the 92nd minute, as he glanced a header past Ospina to secure a 2-1 victory just two minutes from time.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (6) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Calum Chambers (6), Konstantinos Mavropanos (7), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Ainsley Maitland-Niles (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (7), Alex Iwobi (5), Reiss Nelson (6) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (5)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Nacho Monreal (6), Joe Willock (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 1-1 Atl. Madrid

Arsenal will take a 1-1 draw with them to Spain next week after a late Antoine Griezmann equaliser for ten-man Atlético Madrid complicated the Gunners’ hopes of progressing through to the Europa League final.

The La Liga outfit were reduced to ten man as early as the 9th minute, following Sime Vrsaljko’s second bookable offence, enabling Arsenal to dominate without reward throughout the first half.

Arsène Wenger’s men then took the lead on the hour-mark through Alexandre Lacazette, but a series of unfortunate events at the back later enabled Griezmann to bag a precious away goal for his side, as the score at the Emirates Stadium concluded itself at 1-1.

The Gunners welcomed Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere back for the tie against Atlético, who made changes of their own in opting for Kevin Gameiro over the unfit Diego Costa in attack.

A strong start from the hosts saw Arsenal pinch an early yellow card out of the referee after Sime Vrsaljko’s late foul on Wilshere.

The north Londoners turned their appetite into chances in the 7th minute, with Lacazette going close on two separate occasions with a volley against the outside of the post prior to the Frenchman testing Jan Oblak with a header.

Lacazette was brought into action again in the 10th minute, this time suffering a bad challenge from the already yellow-carded Vrsaljko, who, along with Diego Simeone sometime later, would be sent off as a consequence.

Arsenal edged themselves closer to the lead, firstly through Welbeck’s side-footed strike inside the box before Laurent Koscielny could slice a back-post volley wide from the subsequent corner.

Atlético replied to the hosts’ pressure in the 37th minute through a forceful run by Thomas Partey, setting up a half-volley on the edge of the box for Griezmann to fire at David Ospina.

With the Spaniards remaining solid on either side of half-time, Arsenal were finally able to crack the code in the 61st minute through Lacazette, assisted by Wilshere’s lifted cross for the ex-Olympique Lyonnais forward to head in.

The France international came close once more with a glancing header from a corner in the 70th minute, as Arsenal went out in search of a second goal.

Atlético looked towards Griezmann with a hopeful long ball and it was there that the forward was able to make Arsenal pay for their missed opportunities, as he bettered the likes of Koscielny, Ospina and Shkodran Mustafi with fortune to tap in the equaliser in the 83rd minute.

Ramsey could’ve placed the Gunners back in front in the 86th minute with a dangerous header inside the box, but Oblak starred once more en route to a 1-1 draw at full-time.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (7) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Laurent Koscielny (7), Nacho Monreal (7) – Granit Xhaka (7), Aaron Ramsey (7) – Mesut Özil (7), Jack Wilshere (7), Danny Welbeck (7) – Alexandre Lacazette (7)

Subs: (none).

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham United

Arsenal returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a 4-1 victory over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, thanks to a late flurry of goals in the final 15 minutes.

The Gunners took the lead early in the second half before Marko Arnautovic could cancel out their one-goal-advantage, accrued by Nacho Monreal.

Miscommunication at the back for West Ham enabled Aaron Ramsey’s cross to find the back of the net as late as the 78th minute, placing Arsenal ahead.

Two further goals from Alexandre Lacazette then pumped up the scoreline, as the hosts signed out with a comprehensive win.

With the clock ticking down on Arsène Wenger’s stay at the club, the Frenchman gave Danny Welbeck the nod alongside Lacazette in attack to leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench for the first time since joining the club.

Following a positive start, Laurent Koscielny picked the game up with a dangerous header from a corner, meanwhile the likes of João Mário and Arnautovic had their own sightings of David Ospina’s goal at the other end.

As Arsenal’s grip on the game began to wear off, Granit Xhaka looked to push the Gunners back on top with a free-kick in the 33rd minute, saved by Joe Hart, before Welbeck could spark danger a minute later with a header over the bar.

The North Londoners closed out the first half with a moment of concern for the injured Mohamed Elneny, who was stretchered off for Ainsley Maitland-Niles before half-time.

It was Arsenal who again commenced the second period brightest, this time with reward, as Monreal put Wenger’s men ahead when guiding a volley past Joe Hart from a corner in the 51st minute.

West Ham we’re able to bite back through Arnautovic, smashing a shot across Ospina’s goal and equalising for the Hammers in the 64th minute.

The visitors required an important save from Hart to deny Xhaka in the 72nd minute, as the Arsenal man aimed to find the far corner with a low drive at goal from the edge of the box.

Hart repeated his dosage, this time tipping Welbeck’s curling effort around the post for an Arsenal corner in the 78th minute.

Via a good slice of fortune, the Gunners would finally find another way past Hart, as Ramsey’s in-swinging cross deceived the England goalkeeper and his defence to find the far corner, placing Arsenal a goal ahead.

Lacazette increased the hosts’ lead with a fierce shot from the right in the 85th minute, just moments before bagging a brace to make it 4-1.

Arsenal’s win sees them edge closer to securing 6th place, following Burnley’s 1-1 draw away to Stoke City.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: David Ospina (6) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Laurent Koscielny (7), Nacho Monreal (7) – Mohamed Elneny (6), Granit Xhaka (7) – Alex Iwobi (5), Aaron Ramsey (8), Danny Welbeck (7) – Alexandre Lacazette (7)

Subs: Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7), Calum Chambers (-)

MATCH REPORT: Newcastle United 2-1 Arsenal

Arsenal’s dismal away form has come back to haunt them after Newcastle United came from a goal down to win 2-1 at St. James’ Park, this afternoon.

The Gunners, who took the lead within the first quarter-of-an-hour through Alexandre Lacazette, saw their advantage cancelled out before half-time following Ayoze Perez’s equaliser.

Newcastle grew to take all three points in the second period through Matt Ritchie’s strike, as Arsenal’s unbeaten seven-game-run in all competitions came to an end.

With no Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey in the XI, there was the opportunity for 18-year-old Joe Willock to shine at St. James’ Park, as the midfielder readied up for his Premier League debut.

It was Arsenal’s bubbling forward line that continued to attract all the attention, however, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, from the left, enabled Lacazette to volley in the opener at the back-post in the 14th minute.

The Gunners remained dominant before Newcastle could level the score, as Ayoze sneaked in ahead of Shkodran Mustafi to attack DeAndre Yedlin’s low cross and beat Petr Čech at his near post in the 29th minute.

Arsenal attempted to regain their advantage from Granit Xhaka’s measured pass over to Mustafi at the far-post, with the German heading the ball back across goal for Calum Chambers to reach, prior to missing the target.

Good pressure in Newcastle’s half allowed Arsenal to conjure up another opportunity in the 42nd minute, but Lacazette’s pass wouldn’t be well-received by Willock before conceding a goal kick.

A far more tame second period limited the chances at both ends, as the Magpies limited themselves to shots from range for much of the early exchanges.

That was until the 68th minute, when Islam Slimani’s lone aerial dispute offered Matt Ritchie the opportunity to take aim inside the box, with the Scotsman making no mistake with a shot across goal to put Newcastle 2-1 up.

Kenedy came close to a third for the hosts in the 74th minute, as the Brazilian’s deflected dink bounced back off the top of the crossbar before being cleared.

The north Londoners were unable to avert the disappointment come full-time, clocking up their 5th consecutive away defeat in the Premier League.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (5) – Calum Chambers (5), Rob Holding (6), Shkodran Mustafi (5), Nacho Monreal (5) – Mohamed Elneny (5), Granit Xhaka (6) – Alex Iwobi (6), Joe Willock (5), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7) – Alexandre Lacazette (6)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (5), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (5), Eddie Nketiah (-)

Danny Welbeck: Turning the Corner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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