Arsenal 5 Burnley 0

If only it was Arsene Wenger’s last home game every game.

There was so much to like about yesterday’s performance. Calum Chambers was so solid at the back, forming a strong partnership of Mavropanos and re-kindling memories of Laurent Koscielny in his heyday (sob, get well soon). Xhaka’s passing and movement was so crisp and quick, a far cry from the sluggishness we’ve seen all season. Alex Iwobi was incisive and finally decided to show all of us that he knew how to finish.

I liked Aubameyang’s performance in particular. He zipped about with such energy and endeavour, helping out in both defense and attack. I especially liked how he was almost always the first to congratulate teammates who had scored a goal.

Pardon me for saying this, but it almost felt as if many the players realised that they actually wanted to play good football, as if they had finally registered they were playing in the Premier League and not a Sunday League. This was the best Arsenal performance I have seen in a long while. If we could only see this kind of effort week in, week out, I suspect we would be much further up the table. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come in future seasons, although I suspect a new manager would shake up much of the team.

 

There was a small part of me that said, “Wenger’s still got it, we should keep him”, but perhaps that is just my heart’s secret longing. Up in my head I know that him leaving would be best for both him and the club. There will surely be a post to follow about Arsene Wenger’s departure, but let me just say that Arsene Wenger is the only Arsenal manager I have ever known. I will be sad to see him go.

Arsenal can beat Atletico

Call me crazy, disillusioned, whatever. I’m not saying we’re going to beat Atletico Madrid for sure, or that we’ll give them a 5-0 whooping, but we have a fighting chance. We have no reason to complain anyway. If we want to win the Europa League, which is the goal, we’ve got to be the best and to beat the best eventually.

I mean, as fans, we’ve got to have a bit of faith right?

We have a team which, although it has struggled a bit this season, is capable of beating Atletico Madrid. Champions League winners, World Cup winners, we even have a Europa League winner in the form of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. This is an Arsenal team that beat Bayern Munich not too long ago (in 1 leg, at least).

Furthermore, Atletico didn’t perform fantastically in Europe this season. They drew with Qarabag (Azerbaijan, I had to google) twice, and even lost to Chelsea! :O

In fact, a number of our players have been part of a team that has beaten Atletico before:

Mesut Özil, while at Real Madrid
Nacho Monreal (Malaga)
Shkrodan Mustafi (Valencia)
Petr Cech (Chelsea)

I’m not sure if there are others, but this is a team consisting of individuals capable of beating Atletico. Now all they need to do is the work together, easier said than done, I know. But if Arsene Wenger can pull that footballing genius inside of him back out, it’s far from impossible.

 

All we need is faith, trust and a little stardust eh 😉

COYG!

 

Why Arsenal should not lose Mesut Ozil

 

Arsenal’s performance away at Stamford Bridge was deeply unsettling. I, like, many others, was thoroughly chuffed with the result. It was a good result, and a good performance. BUT, it wasn’t a vintage Arsenal performance by any measure. Arsene Wenger was trying to give Chelsea a taste of their own medicine, and it worked.

However, I, for one, don’t like the taste of Chelsea’s medicine. It was negative, it was boring (only interesting because it was a novelty for Arsenal), and it was ugly football. And yes, I get that sometimes it’s necessary, but it shouldn’t become a norm. During that barren spell where Arsenal never won trophies, Arsenal’s redeeming characteristic was that we always played beautiful football, second only perhaps to Barcelona. I could always tell myself, “We didn’t win, but at least it was nice to watch.” At least, if the results don’t go our way, this is something we can fall back on and take pride in.

Which brings me to my main point. Many critics were quick to point out that the performance against Chelsea was only made possible with the absence of Mesut Özil. In the German’s prolonged absence, the choruses of detractors have only gotten louder.

My personal belief is that Arsene Wenger should try to sign Özil to a new contract, and not just because he is a fantastic player.

Özil is very much a Wenger-type player. Ever since Wenger became manager of the club, we’ve always needed our maestros, players who sometimes chose style over substance, sometimes favouring form over function. They weren’t the strongest or tallest or fastest, but they were far and away the most beautiful to watch. I’m talking about the likes of Bergkamp, the likes of Fabregas, midfield conductors who didn’t relish defending too much, pulled out of tackles too often, but never failed to wow us with a defense-splitting pass.

MesutÖzil falls squarely in that category. Mesut Özil is a footballing genius. That is something which is hard to deny. The things he does with the ball never fail to amaze. Furthermore, he is Arsenal’s primary creative force. In his absence, the number of chances created falls dramatically. In fact, when people cite increased attention to solid defense as a strength when Özil does not play, one has to wonder whether this a chicken-and-egg situation. Are we better defensively because Özil does not play? Or are we forced to defend more, and better, because Özil does not play and we cannot control the game? Whatever the case may be, we are certainly better going forward when Mesut Özil plays.

I have to add, Özil is not lazy. I really do not believe he is the prima donna that all the naysayers make him out to be. The statistics speak for themselves. According to whoscored.com, for the 2016/2017 season, Özil made 0.8 tackles per game, placing him higher than players like Alex Iwobi and Bellerin. More importantly, and interestingly, according to The Express, Özil covered more than 10km in 14 out of 16 games played, while his ostensibly more “hardworking” counterpart Alexis Sanchez surpassed that mark in none of the 20 games he played in the same period.

Words like “luxury we cannot afford” and “burden” to describe the German have been thrown around. To me, such criticisms are harsh. Yes, admittedly, Özil has a languid, almost slothful style. And yes, he could afford to perform his defensive duties better. Perhaps it is these 2 characteristics that unjustly make him the scapegoat for many frustrated Arsenal fans. But this is a player who, just 2 seasons ago, had 19 assists in the Premier League, directly creating nearly 30% of Arsenal’s goals on the way to a 2nd place finish. He was hailed as the lynchpin of any future title-winning squad.

So what has changed? I think it’s safe to say Özil hasn’t gotten any lazier since then. Rather, I would say what we are seeing is just a slight dip of form for the player, coinciding with a dip in form for the club (coincidence? I think not). Critics who lay the blame squarely at his feet are wrong. I am defensive of the German. He is criticised disproportionately more than any other player. This failure to win games is not Mesut Özil’s fault, per se. It’s not his fault more than anyone else’s. All the players, and the manager, have to share the blame.

As an Arsenal fan who celebrated his arrival in 2013, and felt vindicated at his performances in the seasons following, I am confident Mesut Özil has the resilience to rebound and perform in the weeks to follow if given the opportunity. The big-eyed German isn’t a luxury, he is an integral part of the team. Arsene Wenger should not let Mesut Özil go.

Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0

All I can say is, let’s not catastrophize.

It’s happened before. I don’t want to remind myself, but Man U 8-2 in 2011, Chelsea 6-0 in 2014. Sighhhh…

Of course, this time may be different. Maybe this is now down to a deep-rooted problem of rotting within the club itself. The start of a decline for a lethargic manager, board and maybe even team.

But maybe, just maybe, and that’s the optimistic side of me hoping, this is one of those bad days in Arsenal’s rollercoaster form book. I hope there will be good days to come. After all, they are one of the most inconsistent teams in the Premier League.

#wengerout, but only if…

Arsene_Wenger

10-2  ;_;

Repeated 5-1 losses to Bayern Munich in the Champions League knock-out stages have only strengthened calls for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to be sacked. The biggest loss at the Emirates to date, and the second biggest aggregate defeat in Champions League knock-out history. Not something to be proud of.

This is the seventh successive season that Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions League in the round of 16. The last time we reached the quarter-finals, we beat FC Porto, and Nicklas Bendtner scored a hat-trick. Ancient history. While reaching this stage is an achievement (considering the European struggles of our fellow English teams), it is the manner in which we fail at this juncture again and again that has riled many of my fellow fans.

Give us a big team, the likes of Bayern Munich or Barcelona, we get swept aside. It is interesting to note that in the 2010/2011 season, the first of this seven-year period, we beat Barcelona with a majestic performance in the first leg, only for a van Persie red card to ruin us in the second leg. Perhaps it was the disappointment of that defeat that has really rattled the confidence of this establishment, to have come so close, and yet fallen short. And we do it again, and again, and again.

Give us a small team, and we get upset. The chances have been there. We have gotten a non-Barcelona/Bayern team twice. Against AC Milan in 2011/2012, we crumbled in the first leg, losing 4-0, only to come short 3-0 in the second leg. Against Monaco in 2014/2015 was our opportunity. Again, first leg failure. 3-1 down, and 2-0 in the second leg wasn’t enough to put us through. Time and time again, Arsenal loses in the first leg, then stages a valiant fightback in the second leg only to fall short. Perhaps it is this repeated struggling and catching up that is wearing the players out. But it isn’t individual players. New players have come in, but the culture of European failure has remained like a cloud over their heads.

Blame the luck of the draw if you will, but there is certainly a mental frailty in this team that is preventing them from making the leap from perennial second-tier to a European power.

So is it the manager?

Yes, and no. European success has never been Wenger’s foremost priority. He has always given the Premier League his focus and then preferred to deliver mediocre performances in all cup competitions than focus on one. His disinclination to cast other campaigns aside to concentrate on the Champions League has allowed us to come in the top 4 in the EPL for 20 seasons straight. Scoff if you will, it is a proud achievement.

In terms of style, Wenger is also not a big-game manager. What this means is that his strength is imbuing a sense of culture and style into his players on the long-term, rather than focusing on superior in-game management and tactics to win games. For example, Roberto Di Matteo was a fantastic tactician, shaping Chelsea’s tactics every game to match their opponents, allowing him to win the Champions League. But at the same time, this came at the cost of Premier League excellence. But we have to accept this, Wenger is not that type of manager. He doesn’t want to be. He is, in his own words,”A facilitator of what is beautiful in man”.

But at the same time, the players have not really stepped up. In the matches against Monaco, it is hard to take the blame away from the players, many of whom just didn’t turn up for arguably the most important match of their life. A new manager may or may not change that.

So, Wenger out?

Let me preface my answer with two things.

First, we are now living in a toxic culture of managerial sackings. The influx of rich owners has led to rapid chopping and changing of managers, even when, in many instances, it is unwarranted. It is in this landscape that Wenger continues to stand out as one of the longest-serving managers in Europe’s top leagues. We should not succumb to the pressure of other clubs changing their gaffers faster than Wenger buttons his jacket.

Second, my whole life, Arsene Wenger is the only Arsenal manager I have known. In my mind’s eye, Arsene Wenger is Arsenal. And, there’s no doubt he embodies it. This man lives and breathes Arsenal. He may be headstrong and stubborn, but that is who he is, and this is manifested in his principled stance on many issues. Something you gotta respect.

So, I think, yes, #wengerout, but only if we can find a manager better than him. There is no need to change manager for the sake of it. We should only hire a new manager if he is an improvement on the current. It’s logical.

Of course, yes, the club needs a breath of fresh air. But a lousy breath of fresh air will become stale very soon. While getting a new manager, and possibly any new manager, will invigorate the team for the short-term, in the long-term, say one whole season, his lack of ability and expertise will begin to show.

So finding a manager better than the legend that is Arsene Wenger? It’s a real challenge. In my opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own, there is only a handful. Arsene Wenger is world-class. He was, and he is. So a manager to replace him must also be of that calibre. And none are available, obviously. Pep Guardiola would have been a great choice, but the Spaniard is currently occupied. Jurgen Klopp could possibly have been a suitable choice. But the names being bandied about now pale in comparison to the Monsieur Wenger. Alan Pardew, Brendan Rodgers and former Arsenal greats are barely worthy to stand in the shadow of Arsene Wenger’s managerial achievements. Eddie Howe is am interesting option. He’s a young English manager who has done well, but can he really fill such big shoes? I doubt it.

Other more accomplished names have also been thrown out, but some may not be suited to the culture of the club, while others are not available. Diego Simeone is a fantastic manager, no doubt, but his Atletico Madrid team has always been built on solid defense. Will a Arsenal team chockful of technically-inclined players excel under him? Nobody knows. Joachim Löw has led Germany ably, but will he thrive in club management? Again, another unknown. Having said that, if one of the best managers in the world becomes available, the wisest decision may be to get him sooner rather than later, and we will have no option but to move Wenger on. If none become available, he should definitely stay for the time being.

Whatever it is, the decision made must put the best interests of the club at heart. The club is bigger than any single person, even a giant like Wenger. Wenger will move on eventually, whether it be tomorrow, next year, or in ten years time. Eventually, there will be someone who will take his place, and maybe he will do even better. That is a big question mark. But whatever it is, the legacy of his reign will live on in the hearts and minds for years to come. And because I love the man, I will rest assured knowing that Arsene Wenger first and foremost is a lover of the beautiful game, and his passion for football and Arsenal Football Club will continue to burn ever so vigorously, and nothing, not a sacking nor Brexit nor a tsunami, will ever extinguish it.

#wengerout, but only if.

The Cazorla conundrum

santi-cazorla

He arrived on 7 August 2012 amidst little fanfare and at a very affordable fee of around £10 million (the official fee is undisclosed), considerably little in the modern era. This was in the same window as Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. At that time, many saw Mikel Arteta as the man to fill shoes of Cesc Fabregas, who had departed a year earlier. But as the former Evertonian aged, he withdrew to a deeper position, leaving the relatively unheralded Santiago Cazorla González as the gunners’ main creator, pplaying in his favoured position behind the striker. But of course, even as the team leant heavily on the Spaniard, Robin van Persie’s departure was a big blow, and Arsenal trundled through 2 mediocre seasons of 4th place finishes. It seemed, at that time, that the creative burden was too much for Cazorla to carry, something which Arsene Wenger certainly recognised.

Enter then, Mesut Özil. The German, Arsenal’s record signing arrived from Real Madrid following those 2 disappointing seasons. He immediately made the no. 10/CAM position, shunting Cazorla out wide, where he spent about half a season. Of course, Monsieur recognised that Santi was simply too good to leave out of the team, and at the same time, his age, style and lack of pace meant he wasn’t quite suited to play on the wing, despite doing a good job when he was there. Since then, Cazorla has undergone an Arteta-like metamorphosis, withdrawing into a deeper midfield role.

And this is where we find him in the present day. Having excelled there in the past 2 seasons, Cazorla now comfortably owns one-half of the central midfield duo which Arsene Wenger favours, spraying long passes from deep and wiggling his way out of tight situations. And he is, or should I say was, in mighty good form, becoming an integral cog in Arsenal’s midfield machine. Equally natural with either foot, on top of his stellar performances,  Santi was was a real joy to watch

However, the Spaniard picked up an injury in the 6-o win over Ludogorets and has travelled to Barcelona to be treated by Roman Cugat. This is a sign he will be out for a while. And for me, this is a huge problem. Wenger now has to choose who to play there in place of him. Elneny has done the deed for the past 2 games, doing an OK job, but nowhere close to Santi’s level. This creates a dilemma for the manager, who is the man to play in the so-called “no. 8” spot?

The current player on the books most similar in style (if not substance) is Jack Wilshere, but he’s hundreds of miles away in Bournemouth. After a couple of games, it doesn’t look as if anyone has stamped (no Xhaka, please don’t take it literally) his authority on the central midfield position, so let’s look at the candidates to fill his shoes.There are those currently playing there, those waiting in the wings and I also threw in a few punts from left-field.

Francis Coquelin
He’s definitely not a direct replacement for Cazorla, but I included him here because he too is fighting for his place in the starting 11. I know it, you know it, my grandmother knows it, Francis Coquelin isn’t the type of player who’s going to get you goals. Instead, the combative Frenchman serves as the perfect foil for the Cazorla-type player, screening the back line and breaking up attacks while his midfield partner rampaged forward.

Granit Xhaka
While Xhaka no doubt has the passing range to rival Cazorla, I tend to see the Swiss international as someone who is slower on the ball and likes to take his time to spray long passes. Furthermore, he tends to sit a little bit deeper than the Spaniard, springing attacks from close to the halfway line rather than threading little passes around the box. Furthermore, he is willing to take on a long shot once in a while, an asset that works in his favour. Probably the favourite to replace Santi Cazorla as deep-lying playmaker-in-chief. However, if he plays, mobility will have to be sacrificed for a bit more aerial presence.

Mohamed Elneny
The Egyptian has featured there for the past 2 games, partnering Coquelin in the centre of midfield. Even though he has put in a decent shift, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Arsenal has stumbled to two consecutive draws, albeit against challenging opponents. While Elneny is tidy on the ball, he is what I like to term a “tick-tock” player, someone who has good rhythm in his passing. but lacks that little extra ability to stamp their authority on the game or engineer an opening out of nothing.  In fact, Elneny plays a little bit like Arteta, having fantastic short passing, but not the technical wherewithal to subjugate a match. While he will always have consistently high passing rates, don’t expect something magical from the Egyptian too often (that Barcelona goal though).

Aaron Ramsey
The Welshman is an interesting case. As should be obvious after watching numerous Wales’ games, his favoure position is the attacking midfield role, where he can make devastating runs into the box and score late goals. However, that role is wholly owned by one Mesut Özil. Hence, he is unlikely to get a runout there unless injuries rule the German out. nothing. The chances of him playing there are low. This gives him 2 options, out wide, or deeper in midfield. He did play well on the right wing 2 seasons ago, complementing Alexis Sanchez on the other side by providing added security in midfield, a wide midfielder, if you like. However, his preferred role is still through the centre. But, Ramsey isn’t a ball-playing midfielder per se, but is more of the box-to-box type player, rampaging forward and tracking back. While his work rates cannot be faulted, I don’t think his passing is good enough to operate in the no. 8 role, especially given Arsenal’s passing style. Another dilemma for Wenger, surely.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
At the beginning of the year, Arsene Wenger tipped the Ox for a role in the centre of midfield, citing his ability to dribble out of tight situations, an asset he shares with Cazorla. While the Ox hasn’t featured there yet bar a few substitute appearances in the late stages of the game, he does look like he has the attributes to excel there. He has the pace to track back, as well as the physique to win challenges in the middle of the park, something which Theo Walcott, for example, would not have. Furthermore, he is good on the ball and probably would be proficient at playing passes. However, given that the Ox has never really played in central midfield before, and showed in the recent game how devastating he can be on the wing, it is very very unlikely that Wenger considers him an option.

Admittedly, it will be a gargantuan task for anyone to fill the gaping hole that Santa’s absence leaves behind. However, the hope is that Wenger selects a replacement who can perform the function to a level which wins us games. Should he succeed, it will be testament to the depth of the squad this season, and I dare say, will be a significant achievement which may very well propel us to the title.

Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1: Match Report

All in all, far from a “vintage” Arsenal performance, cringe-worthy, in fact. From the start, Arsenal weren’t quite in the game, scrappy passes, losing the ball easily, letting United into the game. There were a few flashes of brilliance from Mesut Özil, but nothing really to shout about. Admittedly, United had the lion’s share of the chances, managing 5 shots on target to Arsenal’s 1. 23 clearances by the United centre-backs Rojo and Jones, perhaps reflects the quality of the final deliveries today. Really felt like the Arsenal boys were happy to pass the ball around, then lose it. The United players will feel harder done by the result, but at the end of the day, this was a scrappy affair which could have gone either way, and Arsene Wenger will be happy with the point.

Let’s take a quick look at the players performances.

Petr Cech
Didn’t have a great deal to do, but did the job when called upon, especially a low save to his left from Mata in the first half. Couldn’t do much about the goal from the Spaniard in the second 45, a well-placed shot far beyond his reach. Will be disappointed having not kept a clean sheet, but hardly at fault.

Carl Jenkinson
Did alright, I would say, given it is his first start since 2014. Looked a little bit tentative at times, and definitely didn’t offer the attacking threat which Hector Bellerin would have provided. If his performances over the next few games continue, however, I will be looking forward to the dimunitive spaniard’s return.

Shkrodan Mustafi
An assured performance at centre-back. Dealt with almost everything United to muster, although Marcus Rashford is a significantly easier opponent than the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The goal was more to do with the midfielders failing to cover the outside run, can hardly be blamed. Does come out from the back well, plays the ball well.

Laurent Koscielny
Again, an assured performance at centre-back. Arsenal’s faults in this game were more to do with the midfield and the forwards, although the defense looked a little bit suspect at times, being cut open on a few rare occasions. However, the fact that a large majority of the opposition attacks came from the wings is testament to the solidity of our centre-backs.

Nacho Monreal
Will not be overjoyed with this performance. The fact that more of United attacks came down this wing could be testament to the fact that opposition wingers now sense weaknesses in Monreal’s game which they seek to exploit. The lack of cover is definitely a factor, but will be worried by the number of times he has been outpaced and outmuscled in recent games. Hope he hits the gym more.

Francis Coquelin
Not a great performance from the Frenchman either. Misplaced a number of passes in dangerous positions, offered close to 0 going forward. 28/32 passing for a central midfielder has to be construed as poor. Let the game passed him by much of the time, failed to stamp his authority on it. Of course, his ability to win the ball back is a huge asset keeping him in the team, but he needs to increase the dynamism of his game to ever come close to the levels of Vieira or Petit which I am sure he aims to reach.

Mohamed Elneny
Did a pretty average job, I would say. Kept the ball, passed it around. 57/61 for passing. But his ineptitude in finding those final balls makes one pine for the return of Santi Cazorla. While his passing and movement is perfectly fine, Elneney does not quite have the same vision that the Cazorla has, a huge miss for the team. His willingness to shoot is encouraging.

Aaron Ramsey
A pretty poor performance, if anything. I’m not sure whether it was just me, but the usual defensive work rate seemed to be missing from his game today. Up front, he wasn’t much better, trying his best to get into good positions but not succeeding in almost every case. Lost the ball a number of times, and doesn’t quite seem to be clicking with the likes of Özil, Walcott and Alexis. Why Wenger chose not to start the on-form Iwobi is a mystery, and could be a decision the manager is regretting.

Mesut Özil
Tried his best. His skill was on display for all to see, performing nutmegs on a number of occasions, but simply could not make things happen. The number of times he was shrugged of the ball (especially by Pogba) is also exceedingly worrying. 0 chances created, that’s a weird one. Back him to shine in the next game.

Theo Walcott
Was on the periphery for large stages of the game. Couldn’t really make things happen nor use his pace to good effect. His recent performances have shown us that he can do so much better, and this is one of the many games in which he hasn’t quite been in it. If he can reduce the frequency of such “invisible” games throughout the course of the season, greatness awaits.

Alexis Sanchez
Something’s up. Totally not at the races today. Must be to do with the hamstring injury. Lost the ball more frequently than usual, couldn’t quite make things happen, and wasn’t even harrying the United defenders as much today. 4/4 dribbles is deceiving if you had watched the game. 65% passing, even for his standards, is pretty low. I notice, the number of shots he gets blocked is really high game in game out. What the Chilean clearly needs is a good rest. May not get one too soon though, with the hugely important PSG game coming up.

Granit Xhaka
Came on. Didn’t get booked. Decent, but not Santi Cazorla.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
This is the Oxlade-Chamberlain we pay to see every week, but we never get to see. The cross he hung up was an absolute peach, just waiting to be attacked. And attacked it was. And oh, the way he skipped past Rashford, easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Olivier Giroud
What a man. What a man! The Ox’ beautiful cross was deserving of a good finish, and it got the one it deserved. When the ball looked too high for Koscielny, I thought the chance had gone, but there he was, leaping like a salmon over the hapless Phil Jones, and thudding the ball into the back fo the net.

#COYG