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: 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 (-)

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

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

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

 

Keep Key Europa League Players Fresh

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

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

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

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

 

Give the youngsters a chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t let the results slide

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Arsenal have lost 14 matches in all competitions this season

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

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

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

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

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

 

Should Arsenal Have Sold Alexis In The Summer?

10th July 2014, a day that the Arsenal fans were absolutely elated. Arsenal had signed Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez to come and play at the Emirates Stadium. The potential partnership with Mesut Ozil was the stuff of dreams after the Gunners faithful had to suffer through years of Denilson and Chamakh expected to lead us to glory. But after two FA Cups and a Community Shield together, it seems the partnership is coming to an end as speculation has increased that Sanchez is on his way to Manchester City. After a long summer transfer saga where Arsenal failed to cut bait with the Chilean, should they have let him leave rather than hanging on to futile hope that he would sign a contract?

Over the course of the summer transfer window, Manchester City aggressively went after Alexis Sanchez offering Arsenal £60M in the process. Wenger remained dogged in his approach maintaining that Alexis will be at Arsenal come the end of his contract. After having suffered through years of seeing his best players sold after entering the final two years of their contract, it’s criminal to think that Wenger would allow it to happen again. Yet here he was, grovelling at the feet of players, attempting to accommodate them into the team thereby stroking their egos and inflating their thoughts on how important they were.

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Jack Wilshere was reported to have had a bust-up with Sanchez over his attitude

It was clear for everyone to see that from the middle of last season up until now, Sanchez’s frustrations have been clear to see. He has upstaged his teammates on numerous occasions when he doesn’t get the ball, throwing multiple temper tantrums and grinding the gears of not only the fans, but reportedly the players aswell. Reports had surfaced that some of the players had grown tired of his antics on the pitch and were bothered by his poor attitude on the pitch. What we have discovered over the years is Wenger is very hesitant to change things unless blatantly obvious and this was another one of those occasions. Sanchez should have been moved to the bench and forced to show an attitude that was conducive to the success of the team but alas, it never happened.

However, to put my Wenger agenda aside and be somewhat sympathetic to the position that he was in, I highly doubt he saw these kinds of performances coming from Sanchez. After acquiring Alexandre Lacazette, the opportunity to partner him with Ozil and Sanchez was too great to resist and the hope that the trio could park some chemistry that could sway Sanchez to stay might have been the dream. But it’s clear that the Chilean has decided that Arsenal aren’t in his long-term plans and he seems determined to reignite his relationship with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

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Sanchez has been a shell of the performer he was last season

Now, should Wenger have sold Sanchez in the summer based on his performances from this season, yes. But do I blame for holding on to Sanchez due to not having found a clear successor, no. I strongly believe that if the offer had come in earlier in the window, the Gunners would have been forced to sell and would have had ample time to find someone to come in. But due to the timing of the bid from City, the scramble was on and the Arsenal board couldn’t get it done.

But the bigger problem here is the fact that Wenger and the staff on the board allow numerous first-team players to enter the last year of their contracts before they start negotiating new deals. It screams of arrogance and negligence and puts the long-term success of the club at serious fault. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is madness and yet, this is the state of Arsenal Football Club at this particular moment.

The fresh faces set to feature against BATE Borisov

Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger will be weighing up his options ahead of their Europa League clash versus BATE Borisov this Thursday, with just a two-day-gap between the game at home to West Bromwich Albion and an eventual date in Belarus.

With the Premier League sanctioning just one fixture last Sunday, Brighton & Hove Albion against Newcastle United, Arsenal’s home game against the Baggies was the encounter selected to be aired on Monday night.

Leaving just one full day of training to go with their travels, Wenger could well be looking at shuffling the pack even more than he did in the Gunners’ opening game of the group stage versus FC Köln, in which they won 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium.

With Arsenal’s next weekend fixture coming as early as Sunday afternoon, where they’ll also host Brighton, here are some players who could be involved come Thursday evening:

Reiss Nelson
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After a positive pre-season campaign, a run in the Europa League was on the forefront of everyone’s mind when it came to Reiss Nelson’s transition into the first team.

Nelson has so far been able to take his good form into the new season with the club’s Under-23s, scoring five goals in four appearances before claiming the PL2 Player of the Month award for August.

A further goal for his account followed against Manchester United’s Under-23s and so too has two more appearances for the first team, adding to his feature versus Chelsea in the Community Shield, as Nelson took to the field against both Doncaster and FC Köln.

The 17-year-old’s fan club now extends itself to the likes of club legend Thierry Henry, who headlines the opinion that he’d like to see the Arsenal starlet play further up the field, but should Nelson be chosen to start against BATE Borisov, as he was in the Carabao Cup, he is likely to appear at right-wing-back once more.

Joe Willock
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With the midfielder’s brother, Chris Willock, opting to leave Arsenal on a free transfer in search of first-team football, Wenger might well have to tread carefully if he isn’t to suffer the same fate with the talented midfielder.

Another to impress during the North Londoners’ Asia Tour this summer, Joe Willock has so far picked up just one substitute appearance for the first team, despite being one of the bigger names currently coming out of the Under-23s.

Thursday night might well be the time to leave a greater impression, however, with the involvement of Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny versus West Brom leaving Jack Wilshere as the only centre midfielder to have been fully rested prior to Arsenal’s trip to the Borisov Arena.

Willock, along with a whole host of other names, was also rested for the Under-23s, which could be quite indicative.

Eddie Nketiah
NketiahArsenal

Following the injury to Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, there may well be space for another forward in the dugout out in Barysaw.

Eddie Nketiah has so far racked up three goals in five appearances for the Under-23s this season and, despite failing register any minutes for the first team so far this season, the forward did leave a good impression during pre-season, even when out of position.

An England international at Under-19 level, Nketiah, who was also rested by the Under-23s last weekend, might stand as an option in attack, albeit from the bench, most likely.

Josh Dasilva
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With Nacho Monreal filling in at centre back and Kieran Gibbs making his long-awaited move to West Brom in the summer, the left-back position has been one that’s become increasingly problematic for Wenger to rotate.

New boy Sead Kolašinac had to be fetched from the bench at half-time in the last Europa League game that the French boss tried to circumvent the core restrictions of his formation, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles failed to hold an impact in the game from the left flank.

The ex-Schalke 04 man was involved versus the Baggies on Monday night, however, and may be initially rested yet again. Maitland-Niles could well be in line for another crack at wing-back, as could Josh Dasilva, who received his first-team debut as early as last Wednesday against Doncaster.

Predominantly deployed through the middle, 18-year-old Dasilva can also play at left-back and will undoubtedly be in Wenger’s thoughts, as he joins the first team out in Belarus.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

How to Fix Arsenal’s Defensive Issues: A 5-Step Plan

 

New season, same Arsenal. The Gunners have added a defender in Sead Kolasinac and had an entire summer to straighten things out on the training pitch, but four goals conceded in the opening two games suggests the defense is as porous as ever. Here are five steps Arsene Wenger and his side can take to patch up the leaky backline.

1. Play defenders in the correct positions

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Sounds obvious, right?

Wrong. Arsene Wenger’s latest defensive stunt is the refusal to play center-backs, instead puzzlingly choosing to start left-backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac at center-back for Arsenal’s first two Premier League fixtures.

It’s not as if the squad has been ravaged by injury. Per Mertesacker, the club captain, was fit to play against Stoke last weekend yet remained on the bench. Rob Holding was dropped from the squad altogether after a shaky opening day performance against Leicester, as was Calum Chambers, who appears to be out of favor despite an impressive loan spell with Middlesborough last season.

There’s usually some sort of rhyme or reason to Arsene Wenger’s team selections, but it’s difficult to understand the manager’s thinking when he plays a back five that consists of four players out of position. Nacho Monreal works quite well as the left center-back in a back three, but is evidently uncomfortable as the centermost one. Sead Kolasinac, the left-back in the 2016-17 Bundesliga Team of the Season, was presumably signed to play in that position—so why play him at center-back while Hector Bellerin, a right-back, plays at left wing-back?

At the moment, the defense feels topsy-turvy when it doesn’t have to be. The first step to fixing Arsenal’s leaky backline is really quite simple.

 

2. Give Per Mertesacker a chance

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Arsenal’s defense is crying out for leadership and organization—two qualities that Per Mertesacker embodies. Now in his final season as a professional footballer before taking on a role as Arsenal’s academy manager next year, he deserves the chance to be a part of the first team setup once again.

Although he’s 32, Mertesacker’s game has never relied on pace—if anything, age adds to his expertise in reading the game and marshaling fellow teammates. His performance for the ages in the FA Cup final against Chelsea reaffirmed the German’s quality. Not only was Mertesacker stellar, but Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal fed off of his experience and solidity, resulting in one of Arsenal’s best defensive displays in recent memory.

The success of the 3-4-2-1 formation relies on the centermost center-back’s capability. If Arsene Wenger allows his club captain to anchor the back three, he might find the rest of the defense steadier as a result.

 

3. Find a balanced midfield partnership

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The sole goal that Arsenal conceded against Stoke last weekend was as much the fault of the defense as it was the midfield. With Aaron Ramsey the furthest man forward, Granit Xhaka carelessly lost the ball before failing in an attempt to win it back, leaving Arsenal’s backline completely exposed.

The defense should have dealt with the ensuing attack, but they wouldn’t have been in such a scenario in the first place if there was a stable midfield in front of them. The partnership between Xhaka and Ramsey has a lot of promise, but it also contains some inherent flaws. While Ramsey’s forays forward are the best aspect of his game, they often leave Xhaka in situations he isn’t comfortable dealing with, putting even more pressure on the defense.

Arsene Wenger needs to either coach Xhaka and Ramsey to have more balance and understanding in their partnership, or look elsewhere bring stability to his midfield—whether it be internal or external.

 

4. Hire a new defensive coach

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Individual errors have played a big part in the Gunners’ recent defensive shortcomings, but the system they’re set up in certainly doesn’t help. Arsenal’s backline looks like a group of strangers figuring things out as they go rather than a cohesive unit, and much of that is a result of the coaching and work done on the training ground.

When Steve Bould was appointed as Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager in 2012, fans expected the former Arsenal stalwart to inject some of his own toughness and strength into the defense. The side’s defending has improved in spells here and there, but the “Bould effect” has not been what was initially imagined.

Arsenal could use another coach to bring fresh ideas and improved organization to a backline evidently lacking guidance.

 

5. Sign a center-back

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It may sound like a simple solution, but Arsenal are in a precarious situation with their current center-backs. Per Mertesacker is in his final year while Laurent Koscielny and his dodgy achilles’ are 32 next month, leaving Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi, and Calum Chambers as the club’s remaining central defenders.

On paper, Arsenal have plenty of center-backs. The reality, however, is that there will be a massive gap to fill once the club’s senior defenders begin to age. Are Holding (21), Mustafi (25), and Chambers (22) prepared to fill that gap? Perhaps one day, but in the meantime Arsenal could use a player with sufficient experience and defensive nous—say, Virgil Van Dijk—to be the lynchpin of the backline in the not-so-distant future.

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

 

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-0 MANCHESTER UNITED

Arsenal have kept their top four aspirations alive after defeating Europa League hopefuls Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon.

Two second half goals in quick succession from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck set the victory up for Arsène Wenger’s men, taking the North Londoners above 6th-placed Man United and within three points of 4th-placed Manchester City.

Wenger placed his trust in Welbeck to reignite the club’s top four bid, but it was the opposition’s forward line who had the first taste of a goal scoring opportunity, as Wayne Rooney found Anthony Martial beyond Arsenal’s backline before the Frenchman’s toe poke was denied by Petr Čech in the 4th minute.

Alexis Sanchez replied for the hosts by playing Aaron Ramsey in on goal, who was later denied by a strong David De Gea palm from a shot across goal in the 8th minute.

On the half-hour mark, renewed pressure from Arsenal kept them in control of proceedings, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking to make their dominance count with a shot from range that was parried away by the United keeper.

Miscommunication at the other end, however, almost gifted the visitors the lead, as Rooney looked to capitalise on a loose pass from Rob Holding but, ultimately, failed to overcome Čech from close range.

Into the second period, Granit Xhaka trusted his ability to strike the ball from distance, cashing in on a wicked deflection off Ander Herrera that beat De Gea on its way in for Arsenal’s first goal in the 53rd minute.

In no time, the Gunners fired back with a second, as Danny Welbeck utilised the space afforded to him by his former teammates to head in Chamberlain’s cross and double the hosts’ lead just three minutes later.

Rooney tried his luck from a free-kick just past the hour-mark, with Čech doing a good job of safeguarding his goal upon United’s response to going two goals down.

The United captain had a couple more measured attempts from distance, each floating past the goal, as the Red Devils grew restless in the face of defeat.

A couple of goals would separate the two sides at the final whistle, with Wenger claiming his first ever league win over José Mourinho to bring Man United’s 25-game unbeaten run to an end.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (6), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (7); Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Aaron Ramsey (7), Granit Xhaka (7), Kieran Gibbs (5); Mesut Özil (6), Danny Welbeck (6), Alexis Sanchez (6)

Subs: Héctor Bellerín (5), Olivier Giroud (4), Francis Coquelin (5)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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