The Preview Show: Arsenal vs Chelsea

On this weeks preview show we discuss Petr Cech’s decision to retire, the Arsenal U23s impressive victory over Man City, the future of Sven Mislintat and look ahead to Arsenal vs Chelsea.

My thanks to Stamford Chidge (@StamfordChidge) for joining me.

Join Broadcaster Harry Symeou for a weekly discussion on all things Arsenal. We review the latest fixtures, look ahead to those coming up and cover the hot topics surrounding the club. This show is brought to you by the @sofasportspod, the @FNXNetwork and hosted by @HarrySymeou.

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Arsenal vs Spurs | Carabao Cup | Match Day Blog

The more I think back to the weekends defeat at St Mary’s and the abrupt end to our 22 game unbeaten run the less disappointed I feel about the whole thing.  I think we could all agree that if we were to cast our minds back to the day Unai Emery was appointed and were told that 17 games into the Premier League campaign we’d be 3 points outside of the Champions League places having only lost to City, Chelsea and Southampton we’d have been pretty pleased.

In many ways, I’d rather Southampton (a club for whom I have no ill feeling) were the ones to beat us  because I wouldn’t have fancied going into the Carabao Cup quarter final with the fear of Spurs being the ones to finally turn us over.  The club who notoriously released a DVD of the 4-4 draw back in 2008 would have been talking about it for at least 124 years had they been the ones who finally brought the run to a halt.

I’m not sure how to feel going into tonight’s game and I guess that stems from the fact I have no idea  what sort of team Unai Emery will select.  Shkodran Mustafi is back in full training and Sokratis Papastathopoulos returns from suspension so the hope is we’ll be far more competent in the central defensive positions this evening.  I could be way off the mark here, but I believe the weekends defeat will have altered Unai Emery’s approach to tonight’s fixture.  

It’s important that Arsenal bounce back immediately and collect as many points as possible before the trip to Anfield on December 29th so what better way to boost the morale amongst the group and get the fans back on side than to knock our fiercest rivals out of the Cup and register a second victory over the spuds in less than three weeks!

No matter how much you value or disvalue the Carabao Cup any fixture versus Spurs is a must win, whatever the competition or however high it sits in your list of priorities as supporter.  I’ve made no secret over the years of my careless attitude towards the League Cup but the minute the name Tottenham Hotspur was drawn everything changed.  

Taking all of the above into account this is the line up I’d start with this evening:

Cech, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Mustafi, Monreal, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Lacazette and Aubameyang.

Nacho Monreal would slot into the left centre back position with Maitland-Niles operating at left wing back, that’s assuming Sead Kolasinac remains sidelined.  I thought that would have been a smarter approach on Sunday too, AMN showed last season he’s composed and confident enough to come in and do a job but whilst I’m not convinced Emery feels the same way that’s what I’d personally go with.

I’d like to see Alex Lacazette start as the central striker, his hold up play is noticeably better and he gives us a bite, grit and determination that I’m just not seeing from Aubameyang at present.  The Gabonese forward has certainly chipped in with his fair share of important goals and so it’s almost impossible to leave him out, however as we’ve seen on many occasions this season he carries that goal threat even whilst operating from the left thus creating space for Lacazette to come back into the side.

Mathieu Flamini’s not around anymore to bag a brace and break Tottenham hearts as he did back in 2015 so it’s over to the new crop to make it happen.  I’m not overly confident ahead of this one but I’m certainly glad it’s at our stadium and not theirs, oh wait they don’t have one! Not a finished one anyway! 


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Arsenal’s number one? Comparing Cech & Leno

Bernd Leno joined the Arsenal from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen back in July and given the sizeable transfer fee paid in order to acquire his services you’d have been forgiven for assuming he’d have been installed as the number one with the veteran Petr Cech being limited to providing cover and featuring in the cup competitions.

And so, eyebrows were raised when Petr Cech began the season in between the posts with the 26 year old German warming the bench.  Given his poor performances last season the general feeling was that Cech was long past his best and no longer agile enough to play at the top end of the world’s most competitive league.

Having watched the pre season tour closely during the summer the improved conditioning of certain individuals, Cech being amongst them was visibly noticeable.  The new training regime has clearly been of great benefit and Cech’s improved form and agility are a testament to that.

On the 2nd October, during the home win versus Watford, Cech injured his hamstring taking a goal kick and was forced off, subsequently opening the door for the German to stake his claim as the number one.  Despite Cech’s return to fitness Leno has held down his place having turned in some impressive performances during the past few weeks.  However, I think it’s safe to say he had a mixed evening versus Liverpool on Saturday, pulling off a couple of wonderful saves in between a couple of uncharacteristic errors.

From watching the pair, it’s clear both have very different skill sets and once again Unai Emery has an extremely difficult decision to make over who will be his number one going forward.  In terms of their overall quality as goalkeepers, in my view there’s not a great deal in it, both having shown they can earn the team points and so it comes down to the manager’s preference and who he feels better compliments our desired style of play.

Leno is far more polished with the ball at his feet, his distribution is better than that of some central defenders, he takes up a braver starting position and is  happy to play as a ‘sweeper keeper’ when necessary – you could say he’s your typical modern day goalkeeper.  Stylistically, the German is very similar to Alisson of Liverpool and Ederson of Manchester City – Leno is a far more economical alternative considering the aforementioned two cost their respective clubs a total of £92m between them.

Petr Cech on the other hand is a lot more dominant in aerial situations, has a greater presence in the penalty area and is certainly more vocal in terms of organising his defence. The 36 year old is a more orthodox Goalkeeper, the traditional kind that we older folk can relate to.  Perhaps it’s time we acknowledge that Petr Cech could be one of the last of his kind and that going forward, Goalkeepers will also be judged on their ability to play football rather than just their ability to keep the ball out of the net.

Unai Emery and Arsenal find themselves in the fortunate position of having two top quality goalkeepers to select from, both with different strengths, weaknesses and characteristics.  Is one clearly better than the other? Not for me, they’re both stoppers of the highest quality and it’s a great problem for any manager to have.  Having made it through to the League Cup quarter finals, set to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League and the FA Cup third round to come in January there will be plenty of games for both to feature their fair share.

Seeing as I can’t decide, here at @chronicles_afc we want to know who YOUR preferred goalkeeper is of the two. Tweet us or comment your thoughts below.  The best answers will feature on next weeks podcast!


Arsenal’s decision to pull the plug on Ramsey deal ‘isn’t personal’

Aaron Ramsey signed for Arsenal back in 2008 for a fee believed to be in the region of £5m.  Despite interest from Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson the Welshman opted to join the North London club and has been quoted as saying “I just felt a bit more wanted by Arsenal and the boss” since.

Arsene Wenger and the club had arranged for the 17 year old to be flown out to Switzerland for a meeting during Euro 2008 and at that point the youngsters mind was made up.  Fast forward two years and this promising young midfield player faced his most difficult challenge to date.  During a game up at Stoke City he suffered a horrific leg break courtesy of Ryan Shawcross’ x-rated challenge and having shown great promise many felt the physical and psychological scars would be difficult to recover from and prevent him reaching his full potential if he was to return to fitness.

To his credit, Aaron showed great mental strength and incredible determination to get himself fit again and has since scored two FA Cup final winners, helped his un-fancied National team to a European Championship Semi Final and established himself as a regular in the Arsenal side.  Taking all of that into consideration you do wonder why Arsenal Football Club would have allowed such a valuable asset to run down his contract, at 27 years old the midfielder has yet to reach his peak and resolving his future a year or so ago would have at best protected his value in the transfer market.

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The Gunners stand to lose him for free this summer and it has since emerged an offer that had been made to the player was later withdrawn suggesting that the Club were willing to accept his demands at some stage and have since had a dramatic change of heart.

Unai Emery was highly complementary of the player during the summer months and despite all the drama behind the scenes has continued to praise his attitude, reiterating the fact he remains a part of his immediate plans.

A great deal has changed at Arsenal in the recent months, there’s a new manager for the first time in 22 years, Ivan Gazidis’ has left for pastures new, Raul Sanllehi is the Head of Football, Vinai Venkatesham is now a Managing Director and Arsenal’s recruitment approach is now driven by the recommendations of Sven Mislintat. Aaron Ramsey has been a victim of these changes, collateral damage left in the wake of an excitingrevolution taking place.

Given the self-sustaining model under which Arsenal operate, the club will continue to think twice before offering its stars long-term bumper contracts.  In today’s market Aaron Ramsey is certainly worth a fair few quid but would you make such heavy investment if it were to restrict you in the transfer market going forward?

The club have placed their faith in Unai Emery to restore their Champions League status, with the financial reward being so substantial achieving that goal means everything.  Despite the recent good run of form the manager will know full well he needs further recruits to build a side capable of achieving his target position and sustaining it.  If presenting Aaron Ramsey with such a lucrative deal will restrict Sanllehi’s ability to acquire those targets identified by Mislintat and the manager it would be viewed as counter-productive.

Is Aaron Ramsey irreplaceable?  You’d have to assume the manager and the key decision makers don’t believe that to be the case and therefore this is a decision taken with the clubs future dealings in mind. Perhaps the impressive performances produced by Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira so far this season had an influence on the decision to withdraw the offer – I guess we’ll never really know.

However what I will say is this, it isn’t personal, the decision won’t have been taken lightly, it’s as much football based as it is financial and providing Arsenal invest smartly in the coming transfer windows I feel it is one that will be vindicated.

Let us know your thoughts, Tweet me at @chronicles_afc


Ramsey confirms contract offer withdrawn by the club

Aaron Ramsey has revealed that in his mind he had reached an agreement with Arsenal regarding a new contract only for the club to perform a complete u-turn and withdraw the offer.

The 27 year old’s deal expires in June and he’s made it clear that it was the clubs decision to withdraw their offer rather than his own decision to walk away from negotiations.

This, his 11th season with the club looks set to be his last but he’s promised the Gunners faithful he will remain fully focused and make this a campaign to remember.

I know we’ve heard that kind of talk before but I’m confident Rambo won’t take his foot off the gas, at the end of the day he needs to earn a contract elsewhere and he strikes me as the type to want to prove the club were wrong to have withdrawn the offer.

I guess the first question as supporters we’re all asking is why?

Without the club coming out and clarifying their position all we can do is speculate. I’m not claiming to be ITK but I am going to make an educated guess based on the facts that have been presented to us.

Is it a footballing decision? Possibly.

Is it a financial decision? Perhaps.

If I was to guess I’d say it’s a combination of both…

I think we can all agree that since Unai Emery’s arrival Aaron Ramsey hasn’t been quite as effective. Now don’t take this the wrong way – I don’t think he’s played badly, he’s still worked extremely hard, pressed from the front and played an important part this season but in terms of his actual impact on the ball the game has passed him by at times.

However, that’s not just true of Aaron Ramsey, the same could be said about Mesut Ozil for the most part of this season.

The point I’m trying to make is that if Unai Emery’s system only demands hard work of players in that position than he could quite easily go and find another work horse who’d ask for half the wages. Therefore from a financial and footballing perspective it makes no sense for the club to fork out £200k a week when that money could be used to strengthen other areas of the team.

If Unai Emery is working to a tight budget in comparison to some of our competitors, which we believe to be the case then he’d naturally be reluctant to spend such a huge percentage of that to tie down a player who he feels is replaceable and has had his fair share of injury problems down the years.

Remember, this is not Arsene Wenger. Unai Emery has no loyalty to the player – yes, he spoke highly of him when he first arrived but opinions can change.

As an Arsenal fan I’ve grown quite attached to Aaron Ramsey so naturally I’m a little sad that he’s going to be leaving but that’s just the way things go sometimes.

I think he’s been somewhat unfortunate that the expiration of his contract coincides with a period of real transition at the club.

Let it be known that I don’t agree with those calling for him to be dropped, he can play a big part in helping us to achieve our goals this season and whilst hes under contract we’d be silly not to utilize him.

Emery will have known this was coming for a while and the fact that he’s kept him involved for me shows that the Spaniard has no concerns re his attitude or professionalism and so neither should we.

Speaking to the media the Welshman had the following to say…

“Am I disappointed? That’s a decision that they have made and things happen in football and you just have to get on with it and carry on playing the best I can. That’s all I am concentrating on and giving my best for Arsenal.”

“Would I stay for the rest of the season? Of course, yeah,”
“I am contracted to Arsenal and I am going to do my best now this season to try and achieve something special.”


Mesut Özil: Diamond or Dud?

Mesut Ozil is a player who continues to divide opinion amongst Arsenal fans and viewers of the game in general. On his day he can be marvelous, a joy to behold and oozes class but since his arrival from Madrid in September 2013 the general opinion is that he tends to hide, disappear and go missing in the biggest of fixtures and when his team mates need him most.  Having played an instrumental part in Germany’s World Cup success back in 2014 you could argue that Ozil has already reached the pinnacle of the game and therefore a lack of motivation could be what’s holding him back.

Whether that is or isn’t the case we’ll never know for sure, he says all the right things and you’d have a hard time proving how motivated somebody is or isn’t.  All you can do is make judgment based on what you see and there won’t be a Gooner out there who can honestly say we’ve always managed to get the maximum out of Mesut when wearing the famous cannon on his chest.  The talent is there, that shouldn’t be disputed and in fairness to Özil criticism of his work rate is unjust.  The statistics prove it – he covers just as much ground as anybody else, if not more than most so what’s missing from his game?

Is it a lack of desire? Not for me; I find it almost impossible to believe a top level sportsman would be content with simply plodding along; collecting his/her pay cheque at the end of each month and accepting mediocrity but then again, Theo Walcott made it!  So what seems to be the issue?

Arsene Wenger’s management has seen many players regress over the past few seasons and Mesut Özil happens to be one of them.  Other examples include Hector Bellerin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi.  All of these players were given opportunities at a relatively young age, threatened to become world beaters in their respective positions yet every single one of them at some point or another, under Wenger’s leadership hit a brick wall in terms of their development.

Where the aforementioned cases differ to that of Mesut Ozil is that they were young fledglings looking spread their wings, make a name for themselves and were in need of a vastly experienced mentor and top quality management in order to maximize their potential. Mesut Ozil arrived at the Emirates Stadium as the ‘finished article’ meaning Arsene Wenger’s part to play in his career was a totally different but just as important one.

Mesut arrived in North London at a time where Arsene Wenger’s best days had long since passed him by.  His inability to find the correct balance in our midfield often left us exposed defensively and Özil to endure waves of unfair criticism as a result.  Not to mention the long periods our German playmaker spent operating from the right hand side, yet another Wenger masterstroke!  Mesut Özil has suffered a similar misfortune to that of Andrey Arshavin when he arrived back in 2009 and you won’t be surprised to hear the common denominator was Monsieur Wenger.

One can only hope new boss Unai Emery recognizes this and will do his upmost to accommodate Mesut in his preferred central position whilst also relieving him of a lot of his defensive responsibilities.  

The acquisition of Lucas Torreira should go a long way in rectifying our midfield imbalance and if Aaron Ramsey is to stay I’d expect him to be far more disciplined without the ball then he has been in recent seasons.  The new manager has a diamond in Mesut Özil and so creating the right environment around him should, in theory see him shine bright in 2018/19.

Words: @HarrySymeou


The Captaincy & Contract Disputes

The new Premier League season is just around the corner; Arsene Wenger is now just a figure of the past and the Club have recruited five players in areas that have historically been problematic.  There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the upcoming campaign; we have a young, exciting and hungry new manager, over £100m worth of striking talent, Mesut Ozil and to have a worse season than Wenger’s last will take some doing.

There is a feel good factor amongst the Arsenal supporters at present and in truth I can’t remember the last time I was so enthused about a Premier League campaign.  In the past, I’ve been labeled as negative and pessimistic but in actual fact all I’ve ever been is realistic.

Can Arsenal reclaim their place in the top four next season?  Of course we can.  Will it be easy? Absolutely not.  Manchester City continue to bolster their already impressive squad, Jurgen Klopp has splashed out in excess of £175m in an attempt to mount a sustained title challenge and you can bet Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United will all be there or thereabouts.  The competition is greater than ever and qualifying for the Champions League is as tough as its ever been.

Despite the club getting the majority of their transfer business done early and registering an impressive victory over PSG in pre-season there are still a couple of issues that require urgent attention.

The Captaincy…

Speaking during a recent press conference Unai Emery confirmed Laurent Koscielny would be one of five captains within the squad and the others in his thinking include Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil.  This notion of naming a group of leaders as opposed to one sounds fantastic in theory but is it practical?  Who would pull rank in a situation where there is a difference of opinion?

Mesut Ozil wore the armband out in Singapore versus PSG and many believe Unai Emery will turn to the former (yes, former) German international in the hope giving him a greater level of responsibility will inspire him to perform on a more consistent basis.

Is Mesut captain material? I’m certainly not convinced and I’m of the opinion that had Aaron Ramsey’s future not been up in the air he’d have been a strong contender for the armband.  I have a theory when it comes to deciding who your captain should be and it goes like this…

Your first choice should be your most natural leader, the most vocal, an exemplary professional and be on the same wave length as the manager in order to best communicate his instructions on the field of play.  If there is no standout candidate then I’d look to my most talented player, the team member the rest of the group look to when they’re in need of inspiration.

By that logic I guess Mesut Ozil would be a sensible choice given Laurent Koscielny is a long way from recovery.

 Aaron Ramsey’s Future…

 Mr Emery has repeatedly praised Aaron Ramsey since his arrival and spoken of the significant part he is set to play in our journey towards the Champions League promise land.  But you’d be foolish not be concerned about the Welshman’s future, he only has a year remaining on his current contract and when asked in an interview he couldn’t tell us what was preventing him signing an extension but it’s obviously money!  “We’ll just have to wait and see” said the midfielder, hardly convincing words.

He’s yet to speak publicly of his desire to remain an Arsenal player and all the signs up until now point to a potential departure.

Perhaps I’m reading into his comments too literally, maybe Aaron just didn’t fancy letting the cat out of the bag from fear of it weakening his negotiating position?  Having met Aaron on a couple of occasions I can confidently say he is one of the coldest, un-talkative people I’ve ever come across.  Either that or he just didn’t like me.

Knowing what I know about his character I guess I was wrong to expect a heart-felt message and an accurate progress update from the player when faced with a camera.  Jokes aside, this is a situation that must be resolved sooner rather than later.  I’d hoped the fear of losing key players during the final year of their contracts would be a thing of the past, a problem that departed with Arsene Wenger but I guess I was wrong.

If he is to be sold and replaced time is not on our side with little over ten days remaining before the transfer window closes ahead of Manchester United’s opening fixture versus Leicester City.  As a supporter I’ve come to terms with the fact he could be on his way but there’s a small part of me that thinks his representatives will take this right down to the wire with no real intention of moving their client on in order to obtain the maximum offer they can.  After all, they’ve just watched Mesut Ozil do the same and I think we can all agree he’s done pretty well for himself financially!

Words: @HarrySymeou

Welcome on Board: James Rowe

The Chronicles of a Gooner would like to welcome Experienced Football Writer James Rowe to the team ahead of the 2018/19 season.

James, based in the Netherlands regularly travels to London to watch his beloved Arsenal and is an expert in Dutch Football.

“I have been a Gooner for more than 30 years . This club means a lot to me and has been a huge part of my life. I emigrated to Amsterdam in 2005 and since 2011 I have been regularly attending home Arsenal matches from Amsterdam and at the time of writing it’s 29 and counting.

Arsenal changed my life forever when I decided to attend my very first European away match in the 2002 / 2003 season. Back then you had a 2nd Champions League group phase and I had the choice of Valencia, Rome or Amsterdam . My first thoughts were to go to Rome. Fate intervened and I ended up in Amsterdam. My life changed forever after that trip. Although in the words of my Granddad when he picked me up from the airport ” You went all that way for a 0-0 draw” .But what a match it was !

Arsenal featuring the likes of  Dennis Bergkamp , Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell visited a very youthful and tenacious Ajax side that included Nigel De Jong , Christian Chivu and Andy van der Meyde. Dutch future superstar Rafael van der Vaart was injured for that match. Ajax then under the guidance of current Dutch national team manager Ronald Koeman held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw and to be honest it was a fair result in my opinion. It felt like a privilege to be in the away end in the Amsterdam Arena that night representing everything that is good about my club. There was such togetherness among the fans all singing their heart out. I remember it like it was yesterday and it was more than 15 years ago

I emigrated to Amsterdam two years later and my life has since changed beyond recognition . I now interview Dutch professional players and managers on a regular basis in their own mother tongue. I have to pinch myself sometimes but hard work does pay off  

One thing has always remained the same my love and support of Arsenal football club . My first 5 years here in the Netherlands I did not go to a single Arsenal match . It was tough at times but I always new I would return to my spiritual home.

That day came when I went to the Emirates Stadium for the first time in December 2009 for the Premier League home match against Hull City which Arsenal won 3-0 . It felt strange turning right outside Arsenal tube station that day. But it was nice to be back and cheer on the players to victory.

I can’t wait for the new season to start under the tutelage of our new manager Unai Emery . Here is a man that got Spanish team Almeria promoted to La Liga for the first time in 25 years . Won 3 consecutive Europa League titles and Ligue 1 too with Paris St Germain. What a CV ! . I have faith that Arsenal will improve tactically and surprise people this season with the flexibility of the team and performances against stronger teams

I believe that we must give Unai Emery time. He has a big rebuilding job on his hands that will not be finished overnight . I also believe that we will view some players as unrecognizable next season such as Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi.

We must come together as fans and get behind the new manager and players . This club has always had class . The fans have always had class , It is time for us to show it next season and I know that we will.

I will be writing a regular column for the Chronicles of a Gooner this season. I am looking forward to it . All feedback is welcome and you can also follow me on my Twitter feed @JamesRoweNL . Up the Arsenal !