Arsenal: FA Cup or not, the Gunners must get back into the winning habit

It’s an FA Cup weekend but the Gunners aren’t in action until Monday night when we take on Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth at Dean Court. For the Cherries, who currently sit in the drop-zone, relegation is a real possibility and therefore we’re unlikely to see them field their strongest XI – Premier League survival will surely take precedent.

From an Arsenal perspective, it’s about re-discovering the winning habit. Although there has undoubtedly been a significant improvement in the teams performances since his arrival, seven games into Mikel Arteta’s tenure we’re still to experience the ‘new manager bounce’ as far as results are concerned.

To be clear, I’m ok with that because this time around we can see a plan, a direction of travel, a philosophy and the communication between the Head Coach and the fans is clearer and more transparent than it’s been in years. But despite the upturn in our performances, the attitude and the belief around the club – confidence will not truly improve without the desired results.

Winning is as much about mindset as it is talent and after an encouraging result at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday it’s important to carry that positivity forward and build on it. For that reason I believe the Spaniard will continue with his strongest available side and given what’s gone on in the past few months a cup run would do this squad the world of good in terms of belief.

Arteta has spoken of the importance of momentum in the past and given the winter break is on the horizon there’s no reason to hold back. Despite a dreadful start to the season Arsenal still have every chance of achieving a respectable league position, collecting silverware and possibly even sneaking into next seasons Champions League via a fourth placed finish or Europa League glory.

For the first time in a long time it feels like Arsenal are improving and like many I’m confident better times are just around the corner.

Arsenal: Ancelotti sacked, time to make our move

After their 4-0 Champions League victory over Genk and having secured safe passage through to the Round of 16 Napoli called time on Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure. The timing certainly seems strange but a change of management at the San Paolo has been inevitable for quite some time now with Gennaro Gattuso set to replace the 60-year-old.

Freddie Ljungberg managed his first victory as the interim Head Coach on Monday night but we must not let our hearts rule over our heads and allow ourselves to be drawn into making a permanent appointment based on nostalgia. The reality is a club of this size requires a top coach who can at the very least make Arsenal competitive again.

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Ancelotti has a CV that speaks for itself. He’s managed Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and most recently Napoli. The Italian has won three Champions Leagues, the Premier League title, the Scudetto, the Bundesliga, the French championship, a sh*t load of domestic cups and was voted as the world’s number one coach on two occasions.

Need I write anymore? Click here to read a piece I contributed to immediately after the news Arsene Wenger was set to leave the club was announced and you’ll see that Ancelotti was my number one choice then. David Seaman agreed with me and that was my claim to fame at the time but all jokes aside you know it makes sense.

18 months of Unai Emery resulted in zero progress, in fact I believe the team have regressed therefore to restore our Champions League status (yes, I’m desperate to see us finish fourth) it’s going to take somebody experienced, somebody who the players will respect and somebody so high-profiled that he’s big enough and strong enough to take on KSE and their team of puppets when he disagrees with something.

Come on Arsenal, make your move!

Arsenal: Martinelli the catalyst and Pepe finally explodes onto the scene

Gabriel Martinelli

Arsenal have won a game, I repeat Arsenal have won a game! I was honestly beginning to forget what winning felt like and whilst particularly in the first half it wasn’t exactly vintage Arsenal we won’t dwell on that too much.

When you’re playing as poorly as we have been of late it’s all about the result and the hope is our first away victory in the league since the opening weekend of the season will lay a foundation on which Freddie can now build.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much confidence a single goal can breed into a side totally devoid of it and Gabriel Martinelli’s equaliser was the catalyst for what followed. A nine minute period in which the Gunners blew West Ham out of the water and completely turned the game on it’s head could prove a huge turning point for our season.

He may only be 18-years-old but it’s been clear for months that in Gabi-Gol as I’ll now call him we have an exciting young talent. Last night’s calculated and accurate finish was his 8th goal of the season and in my opinion he has got to be starting on that left-hand side week in, week out.

Reiss Nelson who? This kid is miles ahead of him and if it means Lacazette is left out in order for him to be accommodated (because we sure as hell shouldn’t be dropping Aubameyang) then so be it.

Ladies and Gentleman, Nicolas Pepe has finally arrived in the Premier League. That’s the player we all thought we was signing, rapid, skilful and a ruthless finisher. The Ivorian also proved he’s got the stomach for the physical side of the competition – how Aaron Cresswell wasn’t shown two yellow cards is beyond me but it was Nico who had the last laugh on the night.

One final point because I don’t want to spoil the podcast that will be dropping later today but it looks to me as though Freddie has at the very least begun addressing the transitional issues he spoke of after Norwich. Xhaka (although extremely sloppy in possession at times) and Torreira were noticeably more conservative in their runs forward and were clearly instructed to offer greater protection to their central defenders.

West Ham weren’t exactly prime Barcelona but I thought for the most part our defensive performance was a lot more convincing. I still hate that our central defenders take so many risks in possession but hey ho, small steps right?

We travel to Standard Liege on Thursday and that’s followed by the visit of Manchester City on Sunday. Hardly the ideal Premier League follow on having just picked up our first win since October 6th but perhaps we’ll only concede three now instead of five. Just kidding, come on you Gunners!

Arsenal: My Starting XI to face West Ham United

Arsenal take on West Ham United at the London Stadium on Monday night in a relegation six-pointer! Can’t believe I’m saying that but ahead of this one we sit just four points clear of the drop zone! Worrying times and these words could come back to bite me in the ass but we’re definitely too big of a club to get relegated.

*Cue the Leeds United example*

Anyway, here is the starting XI I would pick for Monday nights game NOT the one I think Freddie will go with…

Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, David Luiz, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Torreira, Özil, Martinelli, Pepe, Aubameyang.

Shocked? Confused? Can’t work out why certain players are in there? Click here for my explanation on Saturday’s podcast.

Arsenal: This is not the time to take a gamble on the club’s future

Mikel Arteta

According to multiple reports Mikel Arteta is now the front-runner to succeed Unai Emery as the Head Coach at Arsenal. Funny that, because we were told the same thing last time and out of the blue a former Paris Saint-Germain boss turned up with his dossiers (a fat load of good they did) and stole the position from right under his nose. Very sneaky, sneaky indeed!

The Butler from the Adam Sandler Movie – Mr Deed’s. The man we ACTUALLY hired when we thought we were getting a three time Europa League winner.

At this stage, I’d still advise caution in regards to taking these reports as gospel but seeing as that’s what’s hot at the minute we may as well discuss it.

Is Mikel Arteta the right man for the job?

Seeing as he has NEVER managed any side it’s impossible to know for sure and there would undoubtedly be an element of risk in appointing somebody so inexperienced – even if he is a former Arsenal captain.

Yes, he’s been working under arguably one of the greatest coaches of our generation but unless you’re a fly on the wall you couldn’t possibly know how much influence he’s had on the success at Manchester City in recent seasons.

Mikel Arteta
Arteta made over 100 appearances for Arsenal between 2011-2016

I take great encouragement from the fact Pep Guardiola was adamant on having him work alongside him but some people are just better suited to being number two’s – take Steve Clarke, the current Scotland boss for example.

We will be looking at Arteta’s credential’s in greater detail during one of this week’s podcasts but I guess my scepticism around this potential appointment is a consequence of how far we’ve fallen from where we need to be more than it being a lack of faith in the Spaniard’s ability to manage a football team.

The club’s demise began during the final years of Arsene Wenger’s tenure but the decline has accelerated since his departure. Arsenal are in free-fall and my personal opinion is that we simply cannot afford to take a gamble on the likes of Arteta because he is a ‘cheaper option’.

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Planning for the longer-term isn’t a bad thing generally but given the way things have gone this season it’s likely we are going to spend a fourth season (next season) staring through the metaphorical railings with envy into the Champions League promise land.

Now isn’t the time for a gamble, Arsenal are in desperate need of a stabiliser and that can only be someone with experience, who is tactically astute and somebody whom the playing staff will believe in instantly.

Arsenal: We need an experienced Head Coach sooner rather than later – Blog

Freddie Ljungberg

So many of us wanted rid of Unai Emery that we temporarily lost sight of the fact that whoever was going to inherit this sh*t show, experienced or not was going to have their work cut out. A leaky defence, an imbalanced midfield and a £72m winger who’s simply not been good enough – perhaps our summer transfer business wasn’t as good as we thought it at the time.

Arsenal are currently on their worst run of form for over 40 years and after Thursday night’s embarrassing defeat there are no signs of it getting any better. The draw at Norwich last weekend highlighted the same old problems but there were some positives to take from the trip to Carrow road.

At the very least Arsenal were entertaining again and throughout the first half played confident, expansive and attacking football. Our defending left a lot to be desired but we expected that.

Fast-forward to Thursday and not only was our defence as porous as ever but our confidence looked completely shot. We are a side who currently find themselves in free-fall and when you’re walking away feeling as though Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac were two of our best players you’ve got to be concerned.

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We all want Freddie to succeed, even more so than I wanted Emery to when he first arrived purely because he’s somebody with whom we have an affiliation, a love and respect for. However, two games into his tenure as interim-boss I’m beginning to have serious doubts about whether or not he’s out of his depth.

During Emery’s tenure Arsenal brought in no fewer than twelve players but it’s impossible to look at that squad and not feel it still needs a major overhaul. That for me, is a tell tale sign of just how bad the Spaniard reign was. The demise started during Monsieur Wenger’s final years but it accelerated substantially following his departure.

Ever since the trigger was pulled on the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss the club have been linked with a whole host of names. If you believe what you read you’ll have seen the club have a fourteen man shortlist. Fourteen!

Arsenal as a football club are at a crossroads. Either make a statement, hire somebody with a proven track record who can navigate the club through these troubled times and end the wait for our return to the Champions League or take another risk with a second-rate manager and watch us disappear into the abyss.

It’s time for KSE to put their money where their mouths are and go get a Max Allegri or a Carlo Ancelotti. The idea of hiring Mikel Arteta or even Patrick Vieira feels slightly naive – you never know it could prove a master-stroke but given our precarious position it’s a risk I certainly wouldn’t be willing to take.

Arsenal edge Angers on penalties

Arsenal continued their pre-season preparations with a penalty shoot-out victory over a hard-working Angers.

Farid El Melali put the hosts ahead in the first half against an inexperienced Arsenal line-up. As the regular first-team stars took to the field, the Gunners gained more control and Reiss Nelson levelled proceedings minutes after the restart.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a number of chances to nick a winner but a combination of poor finishing and the offside flag denied him. The striker did net from the spot in the resulting penalty shoot-out with Emiliano Martínez saving the decisive spot-kick from former Gunner Jeff Reine-Adélaïde to seal the win.

A healthy crowd saw Angers mark their 100th year with a high-profile friendly against the North Londoners. Unai Emery named a youthful line-up with Calum Chambers deployed at right back and Mattéo Guendouzi the experienced man in midfield. 

Reine-Adélaïde was named in the starting line-up for the hosts and looked motivated against his former employers. The winger was constantly on the move as Angers dominated the opening exchanges and should have gone ahead when El Melali sunk a ball right into the danger area in the Arsenal box but Chambers was in the right place to get it clear.

Arsenal struggled to deal with the intensity of Angers and their effective press and after a couple of warning signs Baptiste Santamaria produced a defence-splitting pass to send El Melali through and the Algerian rounded Martínez for the opening goal.

The visitors struggled to keep hold of the ball with Angers continuing to press high and that left Arsenal’s attackers as spectators. The frustration started to show around the half-hour mark with a couple of fouls that saw Zech Medley receive a yellow card.

Thomas Mangani’s set-piece delivery threatened to double Angers’ lead but both Mateo Pavlović, who fired past Martínez, and Baptiste Santamaria were both flagged offside to spare Arsenal’s blushes.

The young Gunners ended the first strong strongly but failed to test Ludovic Butelle with Gabriel Martinelli heading wide and Nelson firing off-target.

The half-time break saw Emery ring the changes with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Dominic Thompson, Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock all introduced.

And within five minutes the Gunners drew level. Eddie Nketiah’s shot, from a fabulous Guendouzi cross, was blocked but Nelson was there to knock in the rebound.

A strong run in the Arsenal box from Reine-Adélaïde gave him the moment he had been waiting for but he lost his composure and blazed his shot horribly wide.

Emery went for it on the hour mark replacing Nketiah and Guendouzi with Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Gabon forward led the line well and went close to edging Arsenal ahead when meeting a Xhaka free kick but the bobbled wide.

The final 10 minutes became an open contest with both sides going for the win. An excellent, albeit robust, challenge from Shkodran Mustafi sent Arsenal on the counter with Nelson touching Martinelli’s cross into the path of Aubameyang, who tapped home from an offside position. Nelson picked up a knock in the process and had to be replaced by James Olayinka.

Aubameyang could have had a hat-trick as the chances continued to fall for him, this time he missed an open goal after Butelle parried Mkhitaryan’s effort right into his path.

With the score locked at 1-1 at the final whistle, the game entered a penalty shoot-out and after both sides converted their opening three. Aubameyang put Arsenal ahead before Wilfried Kanga blazed his penalty over.

Is Shkodran Mustafi really that bad? A defence of a much maligned player

I watched the Crystal Palace game with a friend, and before we saw Zaha’s goal, he received a message. It just said: “Mustafi”… We proceeded to watch in horror as the German centre-back attempted to shield the ball back to the goalkeeper – failing badly and allowing the Palace player to put them back into the lead. Since then, he has received death threats and a cursory search of his name on Google will bring up page after page of articles lamenting how poor the £35 million signing is, or how often he makes mistakes. In truth, I have to disagree.

Let’s set the record straight, Shkodran Mustafi is not a good enough player for Arsenal Football Club. I do not believe he has the qualities to play elite Premier League football. But he was good enough for Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning squad, and Arsene Wenger was convinced to spend that much money bringing him over from Spain.

His defensive abilities are best noted in aerial duels. People are quick to point out that he conceded the penalty away at Tottenham, but forget that we all agreed it should never have been given. People remember Arsenal collapsing at Southampton to lose 3-2, conceding three sloppy goals and eventually conceding to a header after Leno came for a ball and missed it. They forget Mustafi didn’t play that day and his absence was felt.

Much like the maligned Granit Xhaka, people seem quick to ascribe full blame to the German centre-back. I have read several reviews of the game which excoriate Mustafi and blame him for all three of Palace’s goals. What nonsense! Jenkinson plays Benteke onside for the opener – Mustafi’s line is good and would have caught the Belgian offside. For the third, it is shambolic defending from a corner – from all defenders. Mustafi is as much to blame as everyone else in that penalty area for letting the play develop as it did.

To prove the futility of the exercise, it can be proven quite easily with stats that Mustafi has had a better season than Virgil Van Dijk. No one seriously believes this to be the case, and yet in seven fewer games the German has a better tackle completion rate, number of tackles and number of interceptions. They’ve scored two headers apiece. Yet their value is miles apart and rightly so.

So, if his statistics are impressive, what is his problem? It doesn’t take an experienced manager to see that Mustafi seems to have a lapse of concentration every single game. When Arsenal’s midfield and other defenders apply too much pressure too often, Mustafi will make a mistake more frequently than any other defender Arsenal have. With cover in front of him and some coaching he can become the competent centre-back his statistics indicate he could be. Yet, as we saw with the goal in question, two players attempt to head the ball with Benteke, leaving Mustafi one on one with Zaha. If Koscielny is across from him, Mustafi likely doesn’t make that mistake. Could Leno have come for the ball? Very much so but it’s not Leno’s fault.

So is Mustafi a bad player? Not at all.

Is he good enough for Arsenal? No – and he isn’t the only one.

Should Arsenal sell him? Not unless they can replace him. He’s not the best we could have, but if we can’t find a replacement he isn’t the worst we have. Maybe playing alongside Koscielny until the Frenchman retires and alongside Sokratis and Holding could help Mustafi become a better player. I don’t think anyone’s condoning the death threats but the serious reality is that Mustafi is what we have. He wasn’t even the worst defender on the pitch against Palace, nor even the worst centre-back! Mavropanos was far worse, yet rightly we can chalk that up to inexperience. Jenkinson was comfortably worse than Mustafi. So keeping him whilst we have no better is logical. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater and selling him, however, is not.

 

It’s Wednesday and we’re still in 3rd…

Chronicles AFC Daily…

As an Arsenal fan things are pretty f*cking great at the moment, we remain in third place despite United playing their 32nd game up at Molineux and a small part of me thinks Crystal Palace are going to turn up to Spurs’ new ground this evening and spoil the party. Wishful thinking? Yeah, probably. But stranger things have happened and we are talking about a club notorious for their ability to crumble under the slightest bit of pressure.

Wolves 2-1 Man Utd

Wolves away was never going to be an easy game for United, even with Ole at the wheel full—time now I wasn’t surprised to see Nuno Espirito Santo’s side stick it to them on a cold Tuesday night in Wolverhampton. United started the game promisingly and when you see Scott McTominay hit a sweet strike like that past the diving Rui Patricio from 22 yards to score his first goal for the Manc bin dippers you do wonder whether its going to be one of those nights. Fortunately Jimenez and Jota were at the races and some lovely combination play between the two led to Wolves’ equaliser 12 minutes later.

A draw would have been a very positive result from an Arsenal perspective but things got even better when some calamitous defending involving De Gea, Smalling and a red faced Phil Jones gifted Wolves the winner. Arsenal and Spud’s fans alike would have been celebrating that winning goal across North London but it wasn’t long before the realisation kicked in that we too face a difficult trip up to Molineux on April 24th.

Although we’re in a fantastic position to qualify for next seasons UEFA Champions League and all the bookies have us as the firm favourites of the 4 teams chasing 3rd and 4th our patchy away form this season is a real cause for concern. There’s still a long way to go and I’m sure there will be many more twists and turns in the race to UEFA’s cheque book so it’s imperative we take each week at a time. Unai will need to rotate the squad effectively in order to maintain the fitness of our stars whilst at the same time being careful not to disrupt our momentum – sounds easier than it is right?

In other news, Fulham were finally put out of their misery and relegated to the Championship following a 4-1 defeat at Vicarage Road meaning another travel-friendly away trip will be missing from the fixture list next season. Cheers lads!

With 3 Premier League games taking place tonight including Spurs vs Crystal Palace and Chelsea vs Brighton it’s hard to see us still in 3rd come this time tomorrow so I plan on enjoying it for another few hours at least.

Our Everton vs Arsenal Preview Show will be out at 10am (uk time) on Thursday morning featuring a very special guest so stay tuned

Ozil stance could spell the end for Emery

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When Unai Emery was appointed back in May 2018 the hope amongst the Gunners faithful was that he’d be able to get more out of the current crop. His fresh (in comparison to Arsene’s) methods would take things up a level, increase the teams productivity and see us challenge for a place in the top four. I’ve made no secret of the fact my faith in the Spaniard has somewhat evaporated of late but in fairness we are just a solitary point away from United in 4th and despite the defeat in Borisov we stand a realistic chance of marching on to Europa League glory. “So what are you complaining about?” Well, I’m coming to that!

The on-going feud between Emery and Ozil continues to cast a shadow over our season and with no viable resolution in sight, you can’t help but feel its having a negative impact on the group, its an unwanted distraction and one I believe the manager to be largely responsible for. When Mesut Ozil penned his bumper contract back in January of last year the entire fanbase celebrated, we’d managed to tie down one of our biggest talents/assets for the foreseeable future despite having just watched Alexis Sanchez (in the same position) trade London for Manchester. Add to that, the fact we’d signed Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan during that same window and it felt as though despite the Chileans disappointing departure we were coming out of the window in better shape than when it opened on January 1st.

Along came Unai Emery in the summer of 2018, the ‘standout candidate’ with a dossier of how he planned to get the very best out of each and every squad member. The clubs hierarchy spoke of how he ‘wowed’ them into offering him the position but here’s my question…when he flicked to the page on which Mesut Ozil’s name was printed what did it say? “I will isolate Mesut, showing a total disregard for the £350k the club will be paying him each week” – of course it didn’t. Because if it did, theres no way this money obsessed institution would have hired him. Therefore, whatever has gone on between the two took place during the course of the season.

There have always been questions over Mesut’s body language and attitude but his quality has never been in doubt. On his day, he’s as good as any creative player in the world but it’s fair to say since arriving in North London back in 2013 his form has been ‘patchy’ for wanting of a better term.

So far this season we’ve heard of back injuries, illnesses, tactical emissions from the match day squad and whilst as supporters we can never be absolutely sure of whats gone on it feels as though the manager is trying to make an example of Mesut. If he’s sick, he cant play and the same goes for any injuries the German may be struggling with but if you’re going to leave Mesut out because you’d rather play Iwobi or Mkhitaryan (two players who also struggle with consistency) questions will be asked and rightly so.

Of late, Arsenal have struggled to play with any fluency, the creative spark has dimmed and the results have dipped in comparison to our early season form but I struggle to have sympathy for a manager who chooses to overlook his most talented individual week in, week out. The longer this goes on, the more toxic the entire situation becomes. Emery has a history of falling out with his star players, just ask Thiago Silva and Neymar but whether you agree with the managers stance or not…history tells us the modern day football club will most likely back the player and thats usually because of the level of investment required to make the deals happen (see Mourinho vs Pogba as a recent example).

I’d have expected Unai to come in, put his arm around Ozil, settle on a system that compliments him and give him a fair opportunity to prove himself behind Lacazette and Aubameyang. For years and years we had the creator but lacked top quality strikers, now we have both and we’re choosing to ignore Mesut’s talents. I’d challenge any of you to put forward a sensible case as to why Iwobi or Mkhitaryan are any better…I’ll wait.

If we are indeed restricted by FFP and have to make do with what we’ve already got the manager has to find a way of getting the maximum out of Ozil. When the end of the season comes, Unai will be entering the last year of his contract, if CL qualification isn’t achieved and the performances continue to stutter I fear for the Spaniards future. He’s almost heaping extra pressure on himself by taking this stance and I’m pretty sure that when push comes to shove and all the financials are taken into account its he who will be given his marching orders first.