The Evolution of The Ox

Published on Goonersphere

The focus placed on development of youth at clubs has changed rapidly in the last decade, and is now almost as important as any other department within a top club.

From the vast scouting network which casts a wide net around the world in a hope of snaring big game, to the myriad of staff employed to cover every aspect of a hopeful candidate’s life, it’s clear that the polishing of these rough diamonds takes precedence over the majority of other requirements.

Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal for over two decades now, and has seen the revolving door at London Colney spin round more often than Jamie Carragher facing a fleet-footed Thierry Henry. He has seen the majority of the young charges fail to make an impact upon his first-team plans, but there have been successes. Jack Wilshere is held up as a shining beacon of what can be achieved by a youngster who matches his talent with graft, and if these traits are intertwined with fitness – then age is simply a number.

There are of course, far more than the injury-cursed Wilshere to laud in terms of youth progress and holding their own despite their tender years, but would you include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that bracket?

The Ox has on the whole, been consistently inconsistent since his joining from the Southampton youth product conveyor belt. A mere mention of his much-shorter moniker of ‘The Ox’ is enough to materialise grimaces of frustration from Gooners within earshot. 

Now every young player should be allowed a certain amount of errors in their game, as mistakes are how we all learn and gain experience. For The Ox especially, there should be a larger margin for error as his style is purely confrontational, which in turn will see more possession conversions.

In short, he takes people on, makes things happen. That will see a higher rate of possession being switched, as the high risk – high reward style that The Ox favours requires him to pull a few tricks out of the bag to outwit opposition.

This site has published many articles on the lad, and we could all talk about how his numbers and end product are far from good enough. It is common knowledge that he needs to step his game up if he is to cement a future at Arsenal and indeed, England. He has rarely had a run in the team some will say, but the reason for this when he has been fit is that when he has been given an opportunity, for all to see he has let it slip through his fingers. Why play a player when he clearly doesn’t have a case for a start above others?

In 171 games for Arsenal (correct at the time of writing) he has scored 20 goals and given 27 assists. What really underlines his requirement for improving his end product is how often he is found in a dangerous area. The Ox really has a talent for finding the best position in attacks, but more often than not he hits the first man with a cross, or it will miss its target. 

This season though, there has been a shift on the pitch. 

He has scored six times and bagged six assists already this campaign. A straight fight between The Ox and Alex Iwobi has seen a rise in productivity and more charged performances from the man named after a bovine species. He has utilised the ball better, there have been rarer moments of induced groaning. 

A promising run in the centre of midfield was his reward, and he took the chance with both hands. The Ox began to deliver the most elusive of traits – consistency.

The flowering of Oxlade-Chamberlain looks to have finally begun. Potential is great, but if it stays as potential and doesn’t begin to sprout life, even the most patient of managers will lose faith. Wenger has stuck by The Ox and his elevated performances are evidence that the faith he placed in the England winger wasn’t so blind after all.

It is still early days, but we are roughly halfway through the season and he has scored and assisted more than any other season he has played in. If he maintains this and continues to his consistency, then The Ox may just earn the established starting role he so craves.

Alex is not the youngster that can deflect criticism with excuses of lack of experience anymore. He has played against the cream of Europe, he plays international football and he has world class talent to learn from every day on the training pitch. Is this all starting to have an effect on The Ox?

Do you take stock from statistics? Oxlade-Chamberlain’s give off the impression that the padawan has finally started to flourish. Is he a fully fledged Jedi yet? oh no, learn more he must. 

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Sutton United Vs Arsenal – FA Cup Warm-Up

From the Allianz Arena to Gander Green Lane.

Arsenal’s last match was a drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and it has seen a fallout aimed squarely at Arsene Wenger which has intensified talks regarding his future.

The season does not pause though, and this game may now represent Arsenal’s best chance of silverware, and maybe a fitting send-off for their manager who is assessing his options.

Much has been made of the venue for this tie – with Sutton’s rotund goalkeeper even taking the Sky Sports team on a tour around the facilities at the 5,000 capacity ground. It is quite clear the setting that Arsenal’s players will find themselves in are far removed from their usual decadence, and it showed the gulf between the two clubs.

The world will be willing Sutton United on, and their tale is the embodiment of the FA Cup dream. The plucky non-league team face off against their accomplished professional opponents, and 99 times out of 100, the result would be in Arsenal’s favour.

There is always the chance for an upset though. Sutton will be running their hearts out and if any of the Gunners don’t apply themselves fully and take Paul Doswell’s team seriously – then a result even more shameful than our Wrexham nightmare 25 years ago could well be on the cards.

Wenger has declared he will pick a strong side for this game, and as it represents their last true chance for silverware this season, he is making the right decision. He will also be aware that his side do not play again until the 4th of March, so tired legs will not be in the equation.

He will be without Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Perez, and with Laurent Koscielny nursing a thigh injury, he is unlikely to be risked. 

So who will play? Wenger could field a whole team of fringe players, but there will be a large element of first teamers who will make up the side, especially with the gap in fixtures allowing ample recovery.

Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Gabriel will be looking to feature in the game and Theo Walcott will also be itching to play.

The speedy forward has been in fine form in the Cup this season, bagging five goals in his last two away cup games. He is precariously perched on 99 Arsenal career goals, and with the utmost respect to Sutton United, he will be gagging to get the magical 100th as soon as possible.

Arsenal offered to donate their match fee to Sutton United, a move which was blocked by the disillusioned bods at the FA. With a strong team though, they can boost this tie to the maximum and give Sutton a magical day.

The home side defeated AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to earn their spot in the Fifth Round, but have inevitably had their heads swayed by this game. They have played four games since besting Leeds, and have won none of them, scoring a solitary goal in the process. 

Poor form perhaps, but they will be more than ready for Arsenal and the hullabaloo which will accompany their visit. A lot of the spotlight has been centred on a former Gunner in their ranks, and Craig Eastmond is looking to return to the big leagues with a big performance. 

Eastmond played ten times for the first team, and the defender turned midfielder came through the ranks at Arsenal, so will be well versed in Arsene Wenger’s approach. 

We take this side lightly at our own peril. With our confidence low and even the smallest potential for disaster, Arsenal have proved in the past we can be the masters of our own downfall. 

We must emphatically end the fairytale which Sutton are currently enjoying. A spot in the next round means another step closer to a potential Cup victory, one which would be savoured by Gooners and give us back the honour of being the side who has won it more than anyone else.

Realistically, we should be comfortable winners. This means nothing though when we take to the artificial pitch. This is a banana skin that the world wants us to slip on.

Predicted lineup: Ospina, Debuchy, Holding, Mustafi, Gibbs, Elneny, Coquelin, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Welbeck.

Predicted Scoreline: 3-0 Arsenal. Please. 

Mertesacker Signs Extension

Originally featured on Goonersphere.

The news of club Captain Per Mertesacker being offered and signing a one year extension to his current contract was met with a mixed reception by Gooners, but while fans may be unmoved by the German’s extended stay, there are a raft of positives to consider too.

The lanky German has yet to play a minute this season after injuring his knee in pre-season, and it appears it may be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for Mertesacker. 

The severity of his injury and the occasional wobble last season forced Wenger’s hand into purchasing Shkodran Mustafi, and his fellow German has taken to the Arsenal backline like pickled cabbage to bratwurst. 

Mustafi has a great record in a Gunners jersey, and his budding partnership with Laurent Koscielny has reinvigorated our defence. The decision to bring in the German from Valencia looks to be a shrewd one, but as Mustafi found his feet quickly and began to assert himself upon Gooners affections, the man he was brought in to replace was fighting hard to regain fitness.

The defender known as ‘BFG’ has not rested on his laurels. He has recognised the challenge that faces him in regards to gaining sufficient playing time and regaining fitness and has sought to overcome them. 

Mertesacker has taken up yoga in a bid to strengthen his limbs and aid his rehabilitation, all the while he has also done his duty for the club and taken part in the various events that involve being part of a global franchise.

When the moment comes that Per is included in a matchday squad, it is clear that he will be understudy to Shkodran Mustafi and Koscielny. There will come a time when his services are called upon though, and we should have no doubt that he can perform more than adequately for the team he so clearly is devoted to.

Fans who express concern over his pace are one hundred percent correct to do so. Mertesacker has all the speed of an overweight panda trying to scratch its nether regions. The thing is though, we knew that when we signed him. Also, he was the same speed when he picked up the majority of his Germany caps, and they deemed him more than fast enough to be part of their plans for world domination.

Mertesacker is not our first choice defender. People who think that offering him an extension is a bad decision though? How can it be a bad decision?

His defensive nous is far better than Gabriel’s and Rob Holding’s. His aerial ability is just as good as his colleagues. His distribution is far better than a defender should be able to boast of, and his tendency to vocalise his opinions on the pitch give him an air of leadership that few in the squad can muster.

To decry this decision as madness is madness in itself. The outlook that he is taking up a valuable squad space that someone better can use is simply wrong. Gabriel is strong in some areas, but it can be successfully argued that his weaknesses amount to a bigger deficiency than Mertesacker. In Rob Holding we have a true starlet, but he needs experience and a mentor. Well, Mertesacker has been touted as a future coach purely for his attitude and ethics toward the kids at London Colney.

What about bringing someone in who is better? Ok, we would need to bring in someone who is not established as they would not be happy to sit on the bench behind our current first choice pairing. They would have to be experienced, but satisfied with playing a bit-part role. 

Know anyone? 

Mertesacker can come into the team and out seamlessly as he knows the tactics and his cohorts inside out. He is experienced, still talented and he can ensure two of the brightest prospects at our club – Calum Chambers and Rob Holding – have all the information and protection they need to succeed. 

Mertesacker staying for another season is a good thing, on and off the pitch. 

Bayern 5-1 Arsenal: Champions League Ends for Gunners

The briefest flicker of hope that Arsenal could manifest success this season was vanquished in nine brutal second half minutes, as Bayern ruthlessly exposed the Gunners wounds.

Six attempts to navigate past the first knockout stage in Europe’s premiere competition now looks to extend to seven years, after the Germans efficiently maximised the gaping hole in the Arsenal backline to effectively end the Gunners hopes once again.

With our squad the strongest it has been in many a year, the disappointing nature of our exits in recent years would not hold sway this season. We expected to hold our own against the giants of Munich. We had every right to expect a close battle.

We got just that in the first half. The home side expectedly dominated possession, and were enjoying the home support as they sprayed balls around merrily. Arsenal stuck gamely to their task though. David Ospina was tested early but in the eleventh minute, Arsenal’s cup keeper could do nothing to stop Bayern taking the lead.

Arjen Robben – the winger who comes with a script that all defenders fail to read – cut in and let rip from outside the box. His effort was sumptuous and it arced into the top corner to reward his side for their possession.

The game continued in the same vein. Ancelotti’s side probing and passing and Wenger’s team attempting to break up their play. They slowly became more active on proceedings, and in the thirtieth minute, Arsenal had a precious away goal.

Laurent Koscielny was first to a loose ball after a set-piece, and Mats Hummels attempt to get the ball was a second slower than the French defender. The referee pointed to the spot, and Alexis stepped up to take it.

Alexis had been the architect of Arsenal’s best moments and he struck the penalty low, but Manuel Neuer was equal to it. He parried it out and Alexis was there to at least regain possession. To all it looked as if the chance had been lost, but under pressure, he swivelled to shoot low and into the goal.

A huge goal. This could have swung the tie, and although Bayern had a few chances before half time, Arsenal had done so well to stay with them. 

The second half was a different story.

Laurent Koscielny had been a busy man and when he was forced off through injury, the sight of Gabriel taking his place would have sent an ice-cold chill through all Gooners. The Brazilian has a reputation for rashness, and the first nine minutes of his cameo would see Arsenal’s Euro dreams die for another year.

The three goals were not solely on Gabriel’s shoulders I hasten to add, but the facts speak for themselves. Three minutes after coming on, Robert Lewandowski had his customary goal – his 24th in 30 games so far this campaign – by outleaping Shkodran Mustafi who was caught under the leaping Pole.

Another three minutes, and Bayern had three. Lewandowski turned provider, as he dropped off and dragged Gabriel with him. The space left by Gabriel was taken up by Thiago, who ran in unopposed to pick up the striker’s backheel and finish low past Ospina.

Three minutes again passed, and another goal ended all hope. It was Thiago again, and his shot from outside the box came through a throng of players. It took a nick from Granit Xhaka and it hurtled past a stricken David Ospina who had been deceived by the deflection.

The gulf between the sides was apparent now. Bayern had upped the gears and Arsenal looked absolutely shellshocked.

The rest of the half saw the home team look to further embarrass Wenger and his side. Repeated chances came to them, but Ospina was the only man who looked to have any fight left in him.

The painful ending came though, as second half sub Thomas Muller grabbed the fifth which means Arsenal once again need a miracle to escape the Last16. Familiar territory.

Here are some observations from the game which appeared telling:

Our defence needs Koscielny

After Laurent went off, we capitulated. It was perhaps the most emphatic evidence of what he brings to our team. Mustafi looked bewildered without his partner, and Gabriel has shown no improvement from when he first joined. Of course, these are not regular partners, but there can be no excuses after this. At some point, it is just not good enough. Debuchy would’ve been better than Gabriel.

Ozil a passenger

The German playmakers form shows no sign of returning. His touch was errant and his ability to pick out a run was absent again. His effort was there and he ran plenty, but the reason why we bought him is not for his stamina. Worrying signs, and we will need him back to his best if we are to finish above tottenham.

Coquelin and Xhaka were easily bossed.

The central midfield area was dominated by Bayern, and at times the resistance was not present. Xhaka was outnumbered and Coquelin was not at the races. The Frenchman at his best is one of the best ball-winners around, but he is severely limited. Our central midfield options all of a sudden look barren.

Alexis and his sulking 

The Chilean was our best player for the majority, but his demanding, gesticulating and tantrums are becoming old and trying on the patience. We understand how he wants to win, how we wants the ball. When it doesn’t happen though, his reactions are not the sign of a player who is happy with things. If we are to progress, he is vital. Can any of us say with any confidence that he will stay after another season of underwhelming results?

Arsene’s pattern

This game is where Arsene’s errors came to the fore with no excuses left. The squad is strong, injuries were not a huge factor, and we had home advantage in the second leg. When are we able to expect to challenge with the higher echelons? Arsene may have been let down by his team at times, but a large portion of the pointing finger must fall on Wenger. He looked dejected at the final whistle, but we came up short yet again. Our limitations are there for all to see. It is painful to see, but Wenger must realise that this squad he has selected over the years, is simply underachieving. 

I am not writing any more about this game. It feels like a watershed moment. Something has to give.  This depressing exit was on the cards before a ball was kicked as we had seen it before. Many times.

Some may blame the board. Some may blame the players and some blame Wenger. Regardless of who is the main culprit – this is not good enough.

Bayern Munich Vs Arsenal – The Warm-Up

The Champions League returns once more, and the test in front of Arsenal is an imposing one.

Can the Gunners buck the trend for exiting the Champions League at the Last16 stage and beat one of the favourites for the Euro title in the process?

Arsenal have played the German giants ten times in total and won three of them. The Gunners have also been dumped out of Europe’s premier competition twice in the last four seasons by Munich too. The task ahead is a big one.

Arsenal at least have some returning personnel to boost them ahead of the game. Granit Xhaka saw out the last of his four game suspension in the weekend, but would have been part of the squad regardless as his ban applied to domestic football only. Mohamed Elneny was on the bench for the Hull game four days ago and is also in the reckoning. It is in this position that Wenger has his biggest headache. 

Does he stick with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has impressed in his stint in the middle? Or does he go to the Allianz Arena with a defensive mindset? It will be vital to restrict Bayern in attack as they could well make the second leg at The Emirates redundant by romping this game. It can also be said that an away goal could prove decisive too. 

Whoever lines up in the centre, there are other positions that require a decision. 

Alex Iwobi has emerged as the first choice on the left when Alexis plays as the striker. His defensive element needs refining though. Can we afford to leave the door open on a flank? Danny Welbeck will be champing at the bit to make his mark, and his tracking back would give him a huge advantage over Iwobi.

Lucas Perez is another who has done wonders in order to get named on the teamsheet, but it looks as though the Spaniard will again start on the bench. Mesut Ozil has been searching for form over the last few games, but is there a better time to rise to prominence than this match? He is capable of unlocking a Bayern side who have not lost a game since November, so fingers crossed we see the real Ozil.

Petr Cech looked to have returned to his imperious best against Hull, but David Ospina will more than likely retain his position as Cup Keeper. He will have to be on the form which repelled countless PSG attacks in our earlier group match against the French side if we are to escape Munich with hopes intact.
Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti has his talisman Xabi Alonso back after he returned to training recently, but Franck Ribery and Jerome Boateng are out through injury. Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels will be the in the centre of defence for the home side, and the midfield has an embarrassment of riches to pick from. Joshua Kimmich, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara are just some who may be lining up against the Gunners.

A multi-faceted attack with composure in possession, Bayern will stretch our limits. We have enough in our weapon rack to hurt them, but it is hard to envision sometimes when you take into consideration our woeful form. 

It is high time that we started to show that it isn’t just the Deloitte Money list that we are amongst the elite. We have the resources and the players to be contenders in this competition, but our record has not shown this for some time.

With no Premier League fixtures and an FA Cup match in the weekend that should allow rotation, we can afford to go all out for the 90 minutes. Let us hope our quickness of play returns and so does our form. A good result here could spark our season into life.
Predicted Lineup: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis.

Predicted Scoreline: To hell with realism. I say 2-1 to Arsenal. 

London Football Awards 2017

Football in its modern incarnation goes hand in hand with glitz and glamour.

Whether we enjoy the sparkle and popping champagne bottles that are intertwined with our game or not – it certainly doesn’t hamper the numbers which enjoy the game – compared to days gone by.

Playing in the capital of England certainly helps brighten the bulb that illuminates the players every move. London is synonymous with the cutting edge. Forward-thinking, hip, and most definitely where style resides.

Football is no different, and the annual London Football Awards this year have gathered the finest that the capital has to offer  – and all for a worthwhile cause.

The roots of the London Football Awards (the LFA’s) lie with Bob Wilson and the charity he and his wife Megs started from the ground up – Willow

It is all for a great cause. Willow is the only charity which grant Special Days to seriously ill 16-40 young adults aged between 16-40. It means they can reconnect with their family and forget the all-consuming battle they face every day. Over £200,000 was raised last year, and with a good push from all present at the event, a better figure could well be raised. 

With Gentleman Bob being not only generous but an Arsenal Football Club legend – it sees the LFA’s come full circle

This special night celebrates the very best that the capital has dished up on the pitch in 2017 – and all clubs within London are recognised. 

Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Tottenham, QPR, Crystal Palace, Watford, AFC Wimbledon, Charlton, Brentford, Barnet, Fulham, Leyton Orient and Millwall are all nominated for an award, and players and managers old and new will be present to add the delicious element of celebrity to the event.

Previous winners and attendees have been Arsene Wenger, Aaron Ramsey, Harry Kane and Dmitri Payet – and this years incarnation will be sure to have the photographers flashbulb white-hot.

These accolades for the best that London has to offer will be held at Battersea on the 2nd of March, and the awards themselves cover the whole genre that is football. 

The Categories and Nominees are as follows:
Outstanding Contribution to London Football: Decided by panel of judges.
Premier League Player of the Year: N’Golo Kante, Diego Costa of Chelsea. Dele Alli and Danny Rose of Tottenham. Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal
EFL Player of the Year: Scott Hogan (formerly of Brentford). Tom Cairney and Sone Aluko of Fulham. John Akinde of Barnet. Alex Smithies of QPR.
Young Player of the Year: Dele Alli of Tottenham. Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal. Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham and Ademola Lookman formerly of Charlton.
Women’s Player of the Year: Eni Aluko, Karen Carney and Katie Chapman of Chelsea Ladies. Jordan Nobbs and Danielle Carter of Arsenal Ladies.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham. Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea. Alex Smithies of QPR. Darren Randolph of West Ham and Jordan Archer of Millwall.
Manager of the Year: Antonio Conte of Chelsea. Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham. Neil Harris of Millwall. Neal Ardley of AFC Wimbledon and Slavisa Jokanovic of Fulham.
Community Project of the Year: Fulham – Feltham Young Offenders Institute. Crystal Palace – Powerchair Football.  Leyton Orient – DCD Football

I will be attending in an official capacity for Willow, quizzing the players and people connected to the clubs, and I’ll be penning an article which will give you all the scoop from the Awards night. 

London deserves its own night to honour the best exponents of the footballing industry – and the LFA’s are the ideal platform.

Keep them peeled right here on The Hot Stepanovs for all the news! 

Arsenal 2-0 Hull City: 5 Key Points From the Win.

Regardless of the performance, Arsenal have returned to winning ways with a 2-0 win over Marco Silva’s resurgent Hull City.

The game was scrappy and the Gunners toiled for the three points, but the win was the only thing that mattered, especially with Bayern Munich looming closely next week.

After back to back losses to Watford and Chelsea, the league table made depressing viewing. With Chelsea off in the distance, the hunting pack were either getting their noses in front of us, or breathing down our necks. Points were needed and Arsenal duly obliged.

The team did not alter much from last week’s defeat against Chelsea, with only one change. Kieran Gibbs came in for Nacho Monreal on the left of defence, but the rest of the team were given the chance for redemption, or part absolvement.

The first half was a messy affair, but there was no shortage of effort. Arsenal were at least haring around the pitch, when chasing for possession or trying to conjure an opening. Hull City are a much more formidable outfit than a month or so ago, and they were not content to sit back and soak up pressure. Oumar Niasse was testing the relaible Koscielny, and his header which Petr Cech saved well from was the first opening of note.

Arsenal tested Eldin Jakupovic in the Tigers goal immediately, but it wasn’t until the 34th minute that the Gunners’ slowly upped pressure would tell.

Kieran Gibbs had popped up in the opposition box, and his shot was blocked. The ricochet went unclaimed in the six yard box, where the quickest ro react was of course Alexis. He stabbed toward goal, but Jakupovic managed to parry the effort. Alexis had chosen to follow up his effort and the combination of Jakupovic’s save and Alexis’s forward momentum saw the ball hit the Chilean’s hand. There was little he could do, but the ball went over the line and he wheeled away to celebrate.

Referee Mark Clattenburg consulted with his linesman as he was unsure what had happened amidst Hull protests, but the goal was given. According to Football Association law, a deliberate handball is when;

‘There must be movement of the hand towards the ball.’ Also, ‘the distance between the ball and hand must be considered.’

So, according to the letter of the law – it was not a deliberate handball. That is that cleared up then.

Arsenal pressed for a second, but the half time whistle blew and we had a lead to protect.

The second half saw some handbags between Theo Walcott and Harry Maguire, where Theo was mystifyingly booked, and the pressure was rising quickly from the home team. It would be Hull that would go closest next though.

Lazar Markovic was chasing a flick on, and the ball was in the air. He slowed to chest it down, and Kieran Gibbs was his sole marker. He shouldered Markovic to the ground, and he was booked for the challenge. The Tigers players wanted a red card, but Clattenburg produced a yellow. Perhaps a little fortunate for Gibbs, but there was a fair distance between Markovic and the goal.

Diomande for Hull had a header which he sent over, but Arsenal were looking to extend their advantage and they wrapped up the points when Alexis was sent racing clear. Eldin Jakupovic came out of his box to close him down and he was rounded. Alexis crossed into the box for Lucas and the Spaniards header was blocked on the line by Sam CLucas’s arm.

Red card for Clucas, and Alexis finished low under the Hull keeper from the spot to allow Arsenal to relax a little after Hull had huffed and puffed to gain an equaliser.

These are some keypoints from the game:

Coquelin on song

He has his detractors, but his display against a far larger opponent in N’Diaye. He tussled and never allowed the physical superiority to become a factor. He was a complete engine. In a tough game where the second balls are the decisive factor, a terrier like Coquelin will thrive. 

The Ox taking his chance

A run in the centre of the side, and The Ox is coming good. He still tries the elaborate when there is no need, but he helped at both ends of the pitch and if he continues to show this sort of form, he may just earn this spot for longer. He must start against Bayern. Great to see.

Ozil off-par

The German looked knackered, and he ran his socks off. He just has no discernible form to speak of. His touch is unusually errant, his passing is not laser-guided as he is capable of – and he is not making the difference. Maybe a bigger stage is what he needs, and with Bayern Munich our next opponents, it would be a great time to find his feet again. Dropping deep and getting more of the ball is great, but we want you in the danger zone Mesut.

Koscielny imperious

He was battered, but Koscielny does not falter. He is the French Terminator. He was excellent in the many aerial duels, and on a few occasions, his fantastic positioning was key to cutting out some dangerous low crosses. He will be far busier on Wednesday, but it is good to see at least one of our players at their peak.

Cech earned his clean sheet.

Petr Cech cleared the ball about ten times in this game, and there was no sign of last weeks calamitous effort that gifted Cesc Fabregas Chelsea’s third goal. He made two saves of note, and they were at key times of the game. They were good saves too, particularly the second, which was a smart low save from Niasse. He can still move, regardless of the doommongers who say he is finished. 

There was a lot more going on, such as Iwobi looking busy and Bellerin showing no ill-effects from his injury last week. The five points above hopefully paint the picture of the game a little clearer. 

The game transpired to be a tale of two handballs, and even though there was a slice of luck involved, be under no illusion that we deserved the win.

So, onward to the Allianz Arena. We are back to winning ways, but this Euro tie is a distinct step up, so we must rise to the occasion.

Today was simply a job done that top clubs do every week. 

Arsenal Vs Hull City – The Warm-Up

Our last two games will not show up on this season’s highlight reel, but the best way to ease the awful images of those awful games is to win. 

We’ve had to endure one week of misery, but Hull City visit The Emirates and it gives us the chance to rectify our wretched recent run. As we have learned to our cost so far this campaign though, it will be far from an easy task.

The stadium may well be half empty if rumours of a ‘stayaway’ are to be believed on Twitter. Will they be missing a welcome return to form? Or something more sinister like last week?

Arsene Wenger has been grilled by the Press since last week, and his conferences have revealed that Hector Bellerin may well miss out after having Marcus Alonso’s elbow nearly took his head off in the 3-1 defeat last weekend. The Spaniard will have a fitness test before the game to determine his availability, with Gabriel again waiting to stand in.

There is a boost as Mohamed Elneny has returned to London Colney after playing for Egypt in the AFCON. The Egyptian may well go straight into the side, as Granit Xhaka is still suspended and Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey are out through injury. This leaves Elneny, Coquelin and Oxlade-Chamberlain as the only viable choices for the central midfield roles, as well as impressive youngster Ainslie Maitland-Niles. 

Alexis Sanchez has been in impressive form in the past against the Tigers. In three games, he has had a hand in six goals (five goals and one assist) and the Chilean will again be the main threat for us. Olivier Giroud, Lucas Perez, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott all wait for the teamsheet to find out if they will have a role in the team, but who will get the nod? Fans are clamouring for a Lucas Perez start, Theo and Welbeck have shown they play extremely well together, and Giroud has been enjoying a great run of goals. 

Our squad may be in rude health in attacking numbers, but it has mattered little in terms of cohesion recently. Hull have toughened up under new boss Marco Silva, and our pool of talent may well be hard pushed to break the resistance that the away team will show up with. They did this to Liverpool to great effect, but will have to make do without skipper Michael Dawson and Abel Hernandez.

Silva has previous for wins at The Emirates – he was in charge of Olympiacos when they won 3-2 in the Champions League here last season, so the Portuguese boss is well aware of what makes our side tick. 

Hull have an atrocious record against the Gunners – winless in thirteen games in all competitions – and the last win they recorded against us was in their first season in the Premiership back in 2008.

They recruited well in January though, and Lazar Markovic will return to the side after being ineligible to play against his parent club Liverpool. Ahmed Elmohamady will also return after playing alongside Elneny in Egypts run to the AFCON final. His pinpoint deliveries will provide excellent service from set-plays – something that they will look to capitalise on.

With Liverpool a point behind us – and amazingly Manchester United only two points behind us as well, we need a win. Any kind of win. A comprehensive thrashing would provide a salve of sorts after a hellish last week, but three points no matter how we achieve it, will be more than crucial.

Manchester City leapfrogged us, and with tottenham three points ahead of us and looking dangerous, we must ride through this storm and find form quickly.

The only way to get back our mojo is to grab victory.

Next up, we have Bayern Munich!!

Estimated Lineup: Cech, Gabriel, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Estimated Scoreline: I’ve been off form lately, but I’m going for a 3-0 win. 

Arsenal’s Squad Depth

​We are just past the halfway mark through the season, and the front runners have started to ease away from the rest of the pack, establishing a peloton of sorts. 

A small herd of teams who see only the finish line and their bloody-mindedness to win at all costs has carved open a gap that the chasers will find exhausting to close.

It is simply a case of the cream rising to the top. The clubs who come to the fore when the business end of the season kicks in. Most telling though, is the effect that fixture congestion has on the Premier League.

During December and January, there were five games played in England’s top division. That is not counting the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and the Champions League to contend with. In April, there are a crazy six Premier League games to play. 

The slew of fixtures demands the finest training and preparation, lessening the impact that the wear and tear of frenetic minutes on the pitch brings. Some things cannot be avoided though, and the chance of injury blatantly increase with the more time played. 

This is when club rosters come into play. 

Rotation will occur at every club, but it is the quality of backup that will affect results. 

Clubs from the bottom of the table to the top can claim confidently that their first choice eleven can battle with any team and have a chance of snatching a result. 

The exorbitant money that comes from the TV deal has allowed previous minnows to swim upstream with their bigger brothers. 

Can they cope with losing their star players however? This is the hurdle that sees nearly every team struggle to cope.

Even those with genuine European aspirations cannot hope to deal with being bereft of their brightest players.

 If Everton lost Lukaku and Bolasie, would they still bring as much of a threat? If Southampton lost Virgil Van Dijk and Dusan Tadic for a few months, would they maintain their position in the league?

Only a small handful of clubs can battle through such bad luck – and coincidentally – it is those who currently reside in the leading pack.

Of course, if Manchester City were to lose Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne for a while, they would find it a hell of a lot tougher to sweep past opponents, but in their depth they have adequate players to lessen the blow of losing such talent.

Arsenal now – finally – are at this point. 

Although, we haven’t exactly maximised this so far.

In seasons past, if we were to see an injury to Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor or Koscielny, then our results would capitulate along with our campaign. Fast forward to the present day, and not only can we cope better with injury, our star players are of a higher calibre than before – as well as the replacements.

The key players in our squad – Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech – represent a strong spine. A spine that is on level terms with any in world football. It has been painful to watch, but we have painstakingly built a team to compete at the highest level. This is what we demanded and we have got our wish. 

More importantly though, we have a squad that can fill cracks and gaps as they appear. It is common knowledge that the Premier League is the most gruelling in Europe. Coupled with the lack of a winter break – the winter is when the fixtures are practically every three days – then you have a burning need for players who can do a job without building up rhythm and playing every game.

The Arsenal midfield has been without Santi Cazorla recently, and the players that have come in to shore up his aperture have been international class. Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have all had stints in the centre, and with Jack Wilshere on loan, it shows a healthy amount of options.

Of course our hopes would be damaged if Mesut Ozil and Alexis were to be lost through injury. What team in the world wouldn’t be stunted by such a loss? We can now say though, that we have adequate backup. 

If Alexis were to sit out a few games, we have Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Lucas and Danny Welbeck who can play through the centre. If Mesut Ozil were to be sidelined, then our playmaker options are Santi Cazorla, or even Aaron Ramsey who can play just off the main striker as he sometimes does for Wales with aplomb.

Can Liverpool say they could cope with losing Coutinho and Firmino? They still lack a first class keeper! Could Chelsea deal with losing Costa and Hazard? 

Any player that is missing in our team, we have enough to say we can bandage the wound and carry on. This in turn inspires competition for places that dispels any lack of motivation.

In terms of playing staff, we are stronger than we ever have been but we have not had the results to match.

The squad is exactly where it needs to be. This means that there are no logical excuses left for Wenger. Time to deliver now that you have the men at your disposal. 

Petr Cech Needs to Check Himself – Before He Wrecks Himself

Four Golden Glove Awards is not easily achieved.

It is the watermark of a fabulous career and of the highest talent. 

Petr Cech has amassed every trophy at club level that a player can grab. He is recognised as one of the finest goalkeepers to have graced the Premiership since it began. He has been a flagbearer of consistency for over a decade.

His move across London to Arsenal saw this continue, but a dip in form this season has fired off alarm bells. Cech has dipped before, but it has never lasted for such a long period of time. This season so far has seen the bar which he raised so high himself, loom high above him. He has not been able to replicate what has been the norm for so long.

The standards that he set at Chelsea – and last season with us – when compared to what he has given us this season, is startlingly different. 

For over a decade, Cech was the foundation on which Chelsea began their assault on the Premier League – and then Europe. When any of his teammates dipped in form, there was always a capable understudy waiting in the wings to usurp them in the lineup.

His longevity at Chelsea as their undisputed Number One spells out his supremacy between the sticks. If he did not maintain his levels of excellence, then he would have been unable to record his amount of appearances – and his haul of clean sheets.

Upon joining last season, he became the first goalkeeper to win the Golden Glove award with two different clubs. This was with a defence in front of him which was lambasted by pundits and experts alike.

This season though, there is a contrast in Cech’s performances. Gone is the commanding presence in the box. No longer is he the ever-present reliability which eases defender’s minds. Also, he has been beaten on more than one occasion at his near post by questionable efforts.

He has faced many penalties this season too – and his lackadaisical effort to stop the spot-kicks have been laughable. It appears to many that he is far too slow to get down to the turf, that his height is finally playing against him rather than for him.

Is it age? Cech is 34, and goalkeepers at this age have more than a few years left at their peak at this age, as opposed to outfielders who by this age are approaching their twilight years.

Plus, Cech has put in sporadic displays this season which have shown us he is still capable of his masterful ways. 

So this points us to a dip in form. When players drop their levels and are struggling for purchase, it is conventionally about ten to twelve games that sees them return to their best.

Cech has been underperforming from the start of the season. His regular comments in the media reverberate with leadership qualities, of words of a winner. His actions on the pitch echo the actions of a man who needs a reminder that he is not undroppable.

His understudy, David Ospina, has been performing minor miracles in his role as Cup Keeper. The South American cannot do any more to put pressure on Arsene Wenger to give him a shot as Number One. With Wojicech Szczesny also lighting up Serie A with Roma – Cech should see this as a warning that his form will not do.

Instead, he continues to underwhelm. For a man with such high expectations after a career of glittering moments, Cech is shaming his own record. 

What really underlines Cech’s fall from grace is how his teammates are doing. These players who are capable of brilliant things, are suffering from a lack of consistency which has hampered our campaign this season. Complacency has set in with a few Gunners, and it has seen them put in some shifts which have given opponents a weakness which they can exploit.

Complacency is a asickness that can only be treated with a harsh reminder of their own mortality. Cech needs a spell on the bench to implant the notion that this is not good enough.

Cech is far from finished – but he is letting the side down and himself – which for a habitual winner, is not acceptable.