Sanchez Can Be Our Striker – and our Aguero

People don’t like change.

However much we moan about the same old routine, if something unexpected crops up and forces us to change direction – no matter how slightly – it perturbs us. It puts us on edge. 

Routine may be boring, but it is safe.

Perhaps this was the thinking when the furore erupted over Alexis Sanchez playing as a lone striker.

He can’t play as a striker! 

He’s too small to play as a lone man up top!

He’s not clinical enough!

He’s far more effective on the left and cutting in!

These are just a select few choice cuts that I’ve seen through the many guises of social media. There are others, but what it boils down to is that many believe – or did believe up until recently – that Alexis Sanchez is NOT a striker.

There are certain players though, that have enough attacking talent to be able to lay a claim to any position across the attack. 

Have we not witnessed enough from our Chilean wonder that we should have learned not to doubt him? On so many occasions, the muscle-laden South American has dragged us out of trouble with his goals. Repeatedly, he has been the man to make the difference when we have struggled.

During his tenure at Barcelona, Alexis bagged 39 goals in 88 games, with 27 assists in La Liga alone. 

Having played 100 games exactly for our club, he has grabbed 47 goals thus far. A slight improvement in goal ratio, but being bereft of Lionel Messi will do that to your numbers I guess….

This season, he has been played primarily as a centre forward, and in the seven games he has taken part in, he has 5 goals, and 3 assists (correct at the time of writing).

Of course, this could be a mere purple patch, a rise in numbers on the great dipping rollercoaster of a career. On further inspection, under the fierce light of scrutiny however, the move to the centre may be responsible for his frankly amazing stats this campaign. 

His low centre of gravity, one of the main reasons his bursts into the box go unchecked, has allowed him to hold the ball up well. His strength has been vital in duelling for position with defenders. He has been a nightmare for the opposition. His ample assists highlight that his link up play and awareness are where they need to be to play as a striker.

Whatever tack we choose to take, Alexis has all the tools necessary to adapt. If we play on the break, we are all aware of his blistering pace, the same pace that can see him latch onto through balls when hanging on the last defender. If we play possession football, then he has the touch and toughness to take part in link-up play. 

Sanchez has also scored both types of goal. His run and finish against Chelsea showed his speed, and any lingering doubts anyone had about his finishing were finally dispelled as he showed incredible composure to dink a wonderful finish over Thibault Courtois.

Sergio Aguero, probably the best striker in the Premier League, and one of the best in the world, is of similar height and build. Yet he has scored enough goals to fire his team to two titles. 

Is there any disparity between the two South Americans in regards to talent? No. Both can single-handedly destroy the opposition. There are certain strengths that are stronger for one over the other – Aguero’s finishing is on a par with anyone in the world – but Sanchez isn’t far behind. 

So, why can’t Sanchez play as a striker? With our cosmopolitan brand of football, and the talent in our team, we should have no worries in playing him there. 

In fact, he could feel a tad miffed that he isn’t first choice striker. There will be games where Giroud will be of more use than others, and Lucas Perez seems cerebral enough that he can fit in whatever the style we choose, but Sanchez – if fit – should be our centre forward.

With his previous experience on the flank, he can float and pick up possession wherever, and his footballing brain will allow him to incorporate others into the move. 

There is simply nothing he cannot do. For a diminutive player, even his heading is far and beyond what it should be. His incredible athleticism allows him to get the drop on his markers and leap higher than he really ought to be able to.

Sergio Aguero may be viewed as the leading marksman for City, and in the Premier League, but Alexis Sanchez could just be our own Aguero. 

We all know we would benefit from that. Wenger plays him as a striker, so he has obviously seen all the markers in his play that is required for centre forward utilisation – and Wenger knows more than we do, ultimately. Over thirty years of top-flight coaching will give you that knowledge.

Sergio Aguero – Alexis Sanchez. If both stay fit, then the battle for the Golden Boot – and perhaps the title – will be compulsive viewing. 

Arsenal 2-0 Reading – 5 Key Stats From The Game

Arsenal progressed serenely to the Quarter-Final stage of the EFL Cup, with a straightforward victory over Jaap Stam’s Reading side, as Arsene Wenger gave many of his young talents a chance to shine on the big stage.

I was lucky enough to attend this game, and after the pilgrimage to Piebury and The Tollington, myself,  @GreeneBantern and @SimplyEnigmatic made our way to the stadium. 

Just as we left the watering hole, the team was announced, and it was fair to say the biggest surprise was seeing Ainslie Maitland-Niles named in the centre of midfield. Whilst the talent is there, to be given a central role is a huge responsibility and it must have been an honour and extra pressure simultaneously for the youngster.

Just before we entered The Emirates, I must add that I saw a dear friend who I hadn’t seen in over fifteen years. A fellow Gooner and an erudite chap, it was honestly great to shoot the breeze after so long. 

Arsenal really does have the capacity to improve your day! 

Back to the game, and Martinez once again started in goal, but it was in defence that perhaps carried most danger. 

The seats we had in the East Stand allowed for excellent viewing, and they provided us with the chance to really dissect each performance. It was like a FIFA game, as we were level with the halfway line, as opposed to our usual seats in the North Bank. 

The promising Rob Holding was alongside Gabriel in the heart of the backline. Normally the requirement for an inexperienced defender is to be partnered with a seasoned veteran, and the rash Brazilian is not exactly the sage influence that would soothe a fretting 21 year old.

We needn’t have worried.

Mohamed Elneny continued in the centre of midfield, and the attack looked full of vibrancy, with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide just behind Lucas Perez as the sole striker.

The last few occasions we have faced the Royals, they have provided the sternest of tests, but new coach Jaap Stam seems to have instructed his team to play calmly and play out from the back, which played into the hands of the Gunners.

We started well, and fan favourite Carl Jenkinson had a great chance to break the deadlock, only for Royals keeper Ali Al-Habsi to parry, and Jenkinson could only head the second chance over.

Reading stood off Arsenal, inviting the young home team to try and play around them – and on a few occasions we did.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the man who put Arsenal a goal up, and it was the away teams insistence on starting moves from the back which gave The Ox a chance to shoot as two Reading defenders backed off – and he simply picked out the far corner. 

It stemmed from the pressure we put on a flustered defence, but the pressing died a little as Reading started to push a little, but it seemed as if Arsenal could break through at will.

The Ox’s second goal came from Rob Holding beating his man on the right of the penalty area, and when second half substitute Olivier Giroud laid the ball off, The Ox fired a bullet toward goal. A deflection meant it eluded Al-Habsi – and the key deflection may just have come from Alex Iwobi.

There was much more to see during the ninety minutes, but here are five points that occurred on the pitch that are worth reading about:

Elneny Man of the Match

The Egyptian’s first start Vs Middlesbrough in the weekend showed how rusty from lack of minutes Elneny was. This game required a steady hand on the tiller though. So many kids on the pitch that need an experienced colleague to dictate when required, and Elneny was that man. So often he was the player who put his foot on the ball and sprayed it wide to stretch play. So often he won possession when Reading were just starting to build a head of steam. Elneny was the player we needed, and he showed that he is more than able.

The Ox deserves some credit

Too often I have written of the Ox’s failures, but his display in this match showed his maturity and initiative. We are all aware he has the talent, but in this game, he was the player who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the flat spots of play, and he made things happen. He was also defensively diligent, which is a rare occurrence. I dearly hope this is a turned corner, as he was a delight to watch.

Rob Holding is all that

With a central defensive pairing of Gabriel and Holding, the potential for disaster was high. Not that they are incompetent, but chemistry is a huge factor for centre-backs, and these two have not played together since pre-season. Plus, Gabriel is known to be a tad on the rash side, but this game needed him to be the wise head for his younger partner. However, Holding showed positional astuteness, great instincts, and his physicality was just as good as his Brazilian colleague. Holding looked like a defender about six or seven years his senior. If he continues his trajectory, then greatness beckons. A really classy game for Holding.

Reading should have pressed

If the Royals had adjusted their game plan according to the Arsenal teamsheet, then they would have harried their opposition. A less-experienced player is usually more inclined to panic on the big stage, but Reading kept to their gameplan, which meant they would invite pressure and when in possession, attempt to pass and move. They didn’t, thankfully, give Arsenal as many nightmares as in previous cup games, but to be fair to Arsenal, I think that they would have coped. Still, Jaap Stam could have thrown caution to the wind.

Lucas Perez looks tasty

The swarthy Spaniard was given another shot as he was in the previous round, and although he didn’t register on the scoresheet or provide an assist, this performance was maybe a little more telling. Lucas was industrious, and harried as much as he could in his lone role. He had little to work with, but his endeavours were worthy of a reward he never received in the form of a goal. If he continues to put in as much effort as he did in this game, then he will be a fantastic asset.

There was much more to write about. Much has been made of the man known only as ‘Jeff,’ and he was tidy enough in possession, but there was little thrills or spills from the exciting talent. His time will come. Alex Iwobi looked a little tired but that is completely understandable, and Jenkinson impressed on the right of defence. Also worth noting is Keiran Gibbs, who played in the stalemate in the weekend, but showed no ill-effects. He led the line well as Skipper.

All in all, a comfortable enough victory, but not without a spirited if uninspired opposition. The future rounds will be tougher, but the fact we are still in the cup should be celebrated. It gives our fringe players a vital runout, and any chance for silverware should be embraced.

Arsenal Vs Reading – EFL Cup Preview

Three days after a disappointing draw against Middlesbrough in the Premier League, Arsenal have the chance to return to winning ways immediately, with this EFL Cup meeting at home versus Reading.

Despite dropping points at home, other results featuring our title rivals ended favourably, which leaves the Gunners primed near the top – and with a list of priorities as full as our squad list.

Arsene Wenger yesterday was at the club’s AGM, which clashed with training, but he insisted that the club would fight on all fronts, including this competition – which is one he has failed to win in his two decades at Arsenal.

The EFL cup used to be derided by the major teams, us included, but any silverware to show off to the fans at the end of the season is to be celebrated, and so all major Premier League teams now focus on the competition a lot more than in previous years – to prove it, just look at the teams that will be named.

In terms of Arsenal and who will make the team, it is rather exciting trying to guess who will make the lineup – and even more so being able to see some of the lesser seen players being able to strut their stuff. 

Damian Martinez started the last EFL Cup round, and will be expected to wear the gloves again. After that, it is a case of educated estimation.

A host of fringe players will be champing at the bit to get some valuable game time. Gabriel, Rob Holding, Carl Jenkinson, Jeff-Reine-Adelaide, Chuba Akpom, Lucas Perez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Elneny will be eagerly awaiting Wenger’s decision, and they all stand a great chance of lining up against the Royals. 

Mohamed Elneny in particular will be looking to get up to speed as quickly as possible, with Santi Cazorla perhaps sidelined for longer than projected, the Egyptian will be looking to take his chance with both hands, and that means putting in performances that make it harder for Cazorla to instantly return to the side.

It isn’t just the players who aren’t part of the first team that are looking to get on the team sheet. 

Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey have returned to first team training, and all that is missing is match sharpness, so it isn’t a huge leap to think that the Frenchman will indeed take to the pitch tonight at some stage, although Ramsey may just miss out.

This would mean that this experimental lineup will be peppered with genuine experience and class, as well as youthful hunger. I will be attending the game, and cannot wait to cheer to the rafters whoever wears the jersey.

We are of course favourites to win it, but Reading are no pushovers. Everyone will remember the 7-5 epic tie in this competition from a few years ago, and with Jaap Stam as coach, they will have defensive solidity as a priority. 

The Royals will pose a threat, but with the dazzling array of talent we can call upon to fill the side, we should have no excuses.

Reading have not beaten Arsenal in thirteen attempts, and the Gunners haven’t lost at home to lower league opposition in this competition since 1963, so hopefully this continues! There is a cursory note though, as Arsenal have lost their last two home games in this competition – and we have never lost three in a row. 

This tie is there to be won, and handsomely. Let us continue with the great run we have been enjoying, and in turn, stay in contention for the cup.

Predicted Lineup – Martinez, Jenkinson, Gabriel, Holding, Gibbs, Coquelin, Elneny, Jeff, Ox, Lucas, Akpom.

Predicted Score – 4-1

Alex Iwobi – The Real Deal

When youngsters make their breakthrough, it is quite tempting to get carried away and adorn them with lavish comparisons and tags that only serve to add pressure to their slender shoulders.

So many have tumbled down the leagues and out of the glare of the public eye after such a dazzling birth onto the footballing stage. Was this purely down to the weight of expectation? No, but it certainly doesn’t aid them.

If these starlets push through the inevitable difficult times that succeed their bursting onto the scene, then that is the watermark for a long and prosperous career, for if they can overcome such testing times at such an age, then their much talked of ‘mental strength’ is exactly where it needs to be.

There are a few who fit this bill that currently ply their trade in the Premiership. Kelechi Iheanacho and Marcus Rashford certainly have grabbed the plaudits, but crucially, they have continued their incline towards the stars in the face of doubts from their respective managers, and reduced playing time.

They have shown they have the mettle to ally with their gargantuan talent, and our very own Alex Iwobi deserves to be included in this exclusive group – and perhaps even eclipse them both.

The second half of last season was Iwobi’s moment, and he grabbed it in spectacular fashion. Arsenal’s annual injury crisis affected their midfield last term, and it was the opening that the Nigerian craved. 

It is all well and good being given the chance, it is another thing entirely to take the chance. Coming into the side, and with the team struggling for form, Alex showed maturity beyond his years, and his displays were ample to sway Wenger in including him in his long term plans.

So, this season, the expectation was there, where previously there was none, yet you could be fooled into thinking that Iwobi hasn’t noticed. He has continued where he has left off, and maybe even shown growth in such a short space of time. 

To be fair, for a yongster learning his trade, is there a better place to be? Every day he turns up to Colney, he has the pleasure of suckling at the teat of greatness in the form of Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and others. Players who Iwobi can glean so much from, and it has certainly started to show.

Five goals and four assists in sixteen Premier League appearances (correct at the time of writing) only tells half the tale of the burgeoning talent that is our Number17. 

As a fan, the natural tendency is to err towards bias, but with close scrutiny – and with zero bias – Iwbi’s first touch ranks alongside some of the best at the club, falling just short of Ozil standards. His vision has repeatedly been the key that has unlocked the tightest of defences, and his passing has not been missed by fans watching his every move.

He really has shown that he can cut it at the highest level. All of the above superlatives would be complimentary to a 25-26yr old player, but Iwobi is just 20. 

Standing shoulder to shoulder with our finest players and rightfully belonging in their company, must mean staying grounded is difficult, but the signs are good thus far.

What really stands out, is that Iwobi is this good already, and he has so many formative years left to become an absolute monster of a player. If you consider a growth chart of a child, then put into place the first five years of a players career as the time that builds a players style, strength and touch – then the Nigerian’s end point would be off the scale.

Iheanacho, Rashford and especially Iwobi are destined to make an impact, and their talent is just half of the story. Football players may lead a charmed life in many respects, but the fact they have overcome the tough period that follows their breakthrough speaks volumes.

Alex Iwobi could be a vital part of Arsenal’s future for the next ten to twelve years. He has everything we could ever want from aplayer, and after coming through the ranks at London Colney, the affection he has for the club could be the key to keeping hold of him, because let’s face it – everybody is going to want him. 

Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough – A Timely Reminder & 5 Keypoints.

The optimism was free-flowing, a sole loss in seven months and our lofty position in the League meant that this game could always supply us Gooners with the pin to burst our rising hopes – and so it proved.

The goals that had been raining down heavily from the boots of messrs Walcott, Sanchez and Ozil suddenly dried up, and the stifling tactics which nulified us on many occasions last season once again silenced our frontline.

It isn’t just a tired cliche that pundits trot out – every game in the Premier League is a real test – no matter that our opponents were languishing just above the drop zone. Boro boss Aitor Karanka had his side drilled, and with the surprise inclusion of Adama Traore they had a vibrant outlet to cause a real threat when they finally obtained possession. Calum Chambers has to make way though, as he is not allowed to face his parent club which is part of his loan agreement. 

Arsene Wenger had a few changes to make himself after smashing six past Ludogorets in midweek. Santi Cazorla failed to recover from a knock on his achilles, so it was a first Premiership start of the season for Mohamed Elneny, and he partnered Francis Coquelin in the centre of the park.

Alex Iwobi came back into the side on the left at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Petr Cech resumed goalkeeping duties after David Ospina took the gloves in the Champions League fixture.

It would be Cech that would take the plaudits too, after Boro’s tactics meant that they had as much of a shout for the points as Arsenal did. 

Gaston Ramirez hit the frame of the goal early on with a free-kick, and Alvaro Negredo, Traore and Stuani all had sights of goal that Cech repelled, but Arsenal also could have obtained the points, if Valdes hadn’t pulled out a fantastic full-stretch stop to deny Alexis.

Theo Walcott had a game to forget, but it wasn’t the England man’s job to take the blame, as there were a a few factors which led to us dropping points, as well as Boro actually providing stiff opposition.

Here are some salient points from the ninety minutes:

Santi was sorely missed

The Spaniard had played the majority of minutes this season – and the reason for this was plainly displayed on the pitch during this game. Without Cazorla, there is very little forward impetus, and we rely on our defenders more to break forward and provide another outlet. When Santi is playing, he does that job. He converts negative to positive. He has a week to recover from this supposedly minor injury, so fingers crossed he returns for the away match at the Stadium of Light. 

Elneny hasn’t suddenly deteriorated – he is just rusty

The Egyptian has had a miniscule amount of playing time for a player of his class, but with Santi, Xhaka and Coquelin ahead of him, it means that opportunites will be fleeting. This in turn means he must be ready to take advantage when he gets a chance. A tough ask, as form can only be obtained through playing, and his rustiness showed in this game. He is a valuable player and he will once again show his worth, but he must stay sharp.

Cech is No1 – and don’t forget it

Sometimes, a proverbial post-it note to one and all is required. Cech used the whole pad with his performance during this match. His positioning, his presence, his reflexes all bailed his team out when concentration was an issue. In years gone by we would have lost this game, but world class players make the difference. Cech saved us a point, and he should still be regarded as one of the finest – if not the finest exponent of goalkeeping there is in the league. 

We are allowed to make mistakes – but not too many

Despite dropping points, we still have our sights on top spot – even if City win today and regain the number one position. It is the third time we have dropped points in nine games, and in a season it is inevitable that slip-ups will occur. Well, this was one of those slip-ups. We can put this down to a learning experience, but we cannot allow many more of these to happen. Standards have been set this season, and this was below it. 

Rotation is needed

It depends on your viewpoint, but some players need resting. The season began only two months ago, but when the Premiership isn’t playing, there has been international breaks, which our players have been involved in. So, it’s been pretty non-stop for all involved. Throw into the mixer a settled lineup and we have certain players needing a breather – step forward Nacho, Santi and Iwobi. Alexis is pretty much bionic, so he doesn’t count. We have the squad, so let’s give a few games to Gibbs, Elneny and Lucas, let them prove why they have a future at the club. We know they’re good enough, but it would be nice if we could see what they are truly capable of. That will only happen with more minutes. 

So, we look forward, and this coming week see us play Reading in the EFL Cup, followed by a weekend match away to Sunderland in the Premier League. 

If we are to win both, then a slight step up from this performance will be the order of the day. 

Arsenal Vs Middlesbrough – Match Preview

It’s been a while since we Gooners have erred towards positivity, but the current run Arsenal are enjoying leaves no room for negativity.

One loss in the last seven months, squad weaknesses rectified, and the attacking verve which was missing through a large portion of last season has returned – and with aplomb.

Our last outing was just two days ago – a comprehensive 6-0 victory over Ludogorets – and it was yet another win for Arsene Wenger’s men, which adds yet more of that magic ingredient which boosts our team – confidence.

Back to Premier League matters though, and next up is Boro. 

In terms of selection, the fixtures are upon us with alarming regularity. It is great news for us fans, but Arsene Wenger must use his full repertoire to ensure injuries are staved off, exhaustion does not occur, and the form players are in the side.

In the midweek Champions League win, Granit Xhaka was left out of the team, despite being available for selection. The Swiss star will again miss out, but this time it will be due to suspension after his ludicrous red card against Swansea. Francis Coquelin returned to great effect in his absence, and the Frenchman will again more than likely get the nod to partner Santi Cazorla in the centre – if the Spaniard is fit.

Cazorla picked up a knock to his Achilles in the midweek win, so our midfield may just be a combination that has rarely been seen. Mohamed Elneny stands by to deputise if Cazorla fails the fitness test.

David Ospina will once again drop to the bench to make way for regular glove incumbent Petr Cech, but after this, the team selection enters into guesswork territory.

Keiran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal in midweek, and he may just hold the place down again, after the Spaniards recent displays were below his usual standard. Gibbs may just have deserved his shot too, after showing patience and professionalism whilst on the bench, but his displays never faltered.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played well in our Champions League game, but the man he replaced – Alex Iwobi, looks to have the left of attack nailed down. Will The Ox keep his place, or will our Nigerian wunderkind return to his rightful spot?

Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey continue to fight their way back into contention after their respective injuries. It is simply a lack of match fitness that is blocking their efforts to get back into the reckoning, but a few minutes may not be beyond them. 

Lucas Perez got a brief runout midweek, but the likelihood of him being in the first eleven is low. Next week’s EFL Cup game against Reading may be the game for him.

Our attacking triumvirate certainly will be taking to the field against Boro, as they scorch each and every opponent they face. Walcott, Sanchez and Ozil have hit form, with Ozil hitting his first ever hattrick, and Walcott and Alexis full of goals for the majority of this season thus far. Each player, much like the Channel4 News Team, bring their own subtle blend to the equation, and collectively, they have the power to unlock the meanest of defences.

How can Wenger drop any of them? 

Boro lost narrowly in their last game – a 1-0 reverse at the hands of Watford – and their boss Aitor Karanka has to arrest the slide which his side are on, with just one point from their last five games. 

Their is danger in their side though. Aside from the loss to the Hornets, Boro have scored in each of their games. They have genuine quality in their side, with Martin De Roon in the engine room and Alvaro Negredo up top just two of their stars, and Karanka will ensure they do not give up the points without a fight.

It is a game we will expect to win, but the Premiership is possibly the most difficult to predict – which is to its benefit. 

On a sidenote, Boro defender George Friend has proclaimed that his team aren’t scared of Arsenal. The last person to declare their bravery before facing the Gunners was the Ludogorets coach……

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Sanchez

Predicted Scoreline – 2-0 Arsenal.

Shkodran Mustafi – The Thinking Man’s Defender

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Shkodran Mustafi has earned his former club a decent sum via the defender’s transfer to Arsenal, and while there are mitigating factors to the high transfer fee, it should not overshadow what a special player we have signed.

The figure is a reported £35million, and Valencia were always going to hold out for the maximum amount. The Spanish club are in dire straights in regards to their fiscal situation, and despite their wishes to hold on to the German, a large amount of numbers on a cheque was always going to be the answer they were looking for.

With Mustafi also being 24, it means he can provide a stable foundation for many years to come. 

The German international is of course a World Cup winner, which addsa certain lustre to his name, but he did so playing on the right of the defence. His versatility is another string to his bow, as he is just as comfortable in either position. 

The man with the name that cannot fit into a chant can boast of a wealth of experience, which at such a young age is a huge asset over defenders of the same age. Mustafi started in the youth systems of Germany, but an early move to Everton – where he made a single substitute appearance – and subsequent transfers to Sampdoria and Valencia have given him a baptism to all styles of football. His spell in Italy in particular, where defending is an art form, will be of particular use.

His experience, his versatility, all make a huge difference. Another tick in the box is his exemplary technique. There are a host of videos on Youtube which showcase the German’s deft touch, juggling the ball with all parts of his boots and making it look simple. Not exactly in the typical defenders skillset – aside from Laurent Koscielny of course (who can forget his skill and rabona finish from twenty odd yards in a warm up last year?).

Mustafi you see, is more of your modern-day cerebral defender. The monolithic sentry-type of defender still exist, and the best partnerships are often a mix of the two, but Mustafi isn’t a tackle merchant. 

He is strong in the air, but what is most apparent is that there isn’t a weakness in his armour. He can deal with all types of threat, from the speedster on his shoulder to the target man with the flailing elbows. Physical battles, a flat dash to a loose ball – all of these situations Mustafi can, and has, dealt with succinctly.

He is the perfect successor to the aging Mertesacker. Our very own BFG still has much to offer, but his heir apparent is in the same mould as his fellow German. Both have excellent positioning and can quell threats with a simple movement, rather than a madcap reactionary run. With Mustafi also possessing adequate pace, we have potentially a Mertesacker 2.0.

Which should be excellent news for Koscielny, who formed the other half of one of our better partnerships in recent years – but also us fans.

With Koscielny and Mustafi in the centre of our defence, we have a bedrock to build on, and even when we have committed more men forward than we should have, with those two at the back, we will be on surer footing than in previous years.

We really can now boast of a defence worthy of a title tilt. Shkodran Mustafi is worth every penny if he can show why he was in last seasons LaLiga Team of the Season as part of a struggling Valencia side.

Arsenal 6-0 Ludogorets – 5 Keypoints From the Match

Arsenal continued to impress and exhibit the form which has seen only one loss in the last seven months, as they hit Bulgarians Ludogorets Razgrad for six in the Champions League.

The Gunners, who lie in second place in the Premier League and are only goal difference away from top spot, took 1st place in Group A from Paris Saint Germain with this demolition, and their frontline on this form will send timely reminders to all rivals that they must be taken seriously.

Prior to kickoff, the fixture congestion which sees Arsene Wenger’s side play seven games in twenty one days was the hot topic. Rotation of a squad finally able to deal with the rigours of such demanding calendars would be required, and Wenger mixed his side up, whilst keeping the bulk of a team which had performed well since the start of the season.

David Ospina once again came in to the side for his own personal European adventure, and Keiran Gibbs replaced a jaded Nacho Monreal. Granit Xhaka, despite being available for selection after being sent off in the 3-2 win over Swansea, was left out. Francis Coquelin returned to the side to marshall the midfield alongside Santi Cazorla, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Alex Iwobi on the left of the attack.

Alexis once more ploughed a lone furrow up top, and concerns over yet another game for the Chilean rose to the fore, with calls for Lucas Perez to come into the side. 

We should be glad Wenger doesn’t listen to us.

A Mesut Ozil hat-trick, a wonderful finish from Theo Walcott, a confidence-boosting goal for The Ox and a beautiful goal from Alexis to start the ball rolling showed that the spirit is high in the Gunners camp. The attack which has reaped so effectively so far this season once again clicked into gear, and if form can be maintained as well as fitness, the omens are good for a successful season.

There was so much to take from this handsome victory, but here are 5 of the key points from this action-packed game:-

Mesut Ozil resides on a higher plain

We have all watched his Arsenal highlights reel ad infinitum, but this match perhaps highlighted what is sometimes overlooked – even when he isn’t firing on all cylinders, Ozil is still integral to us and operates on a level that few can comprehend.His hat-trick – his first in professional football – was sumptuous finishing and mixed power with unerring accuracy. The third ingredient which rendered the Ludogorets keeper useless was Ozil’s adaptability, choosing the right type of finish at the right time. The thing is though, that at times, Mesut’s touch deserted him and he wasn’t quite at the races. Just imagine when he finally hits his mark….

Alexis must be used to the max

Top players rarely miss games. The men who break records, carry their team and forge reputations play the majority of their sides games. So, as our games come thick and fast, one of our star players must be in the team. If Alexis says he is fit and ready, then he must play. The difference he can make is massive, and he broke the deadlock in this game with a piece of skill and lob that was outrageous. The Chilean will no doubt maintain he should play this Saturday too – and if he is fit, then get him on that pitch. 

Coquelin returns with a bang

Francis Coquelin has made a swift recovery from his knee injury, and the manner in which he returned to the side speaks volumes. It was a shaky start for the whole side, despite being a goal up – and it was Coquelin who provided the shield which the side needed. He was a one-man wrecking show, and his hunger for the ball was palpable. He is still the best tackling midfielder we have, and even though Granit Xhaka has taken the plaudits this season, Coquelin’s role in this season will be telling. 

A high line versus a counter-attacking team?

We scored an early goal, which was part of the script, but we then began to ad-lib. Instead of pressing our boot further down on our opposition, we decided to lighten our grip. We also failed to adapt our defensive tactics with our shift in tactics, as we kept the high-line of an attacking side whilst not actually having possession. Ludogorets could have rewritten the whole game, but found David Ospina in fine form. Our defence could have made it easier for their keeper, if they had sat back a few yards. Something to work on at Colney.

Credit to The Ox

I have been disparaging about Oxlade-Chamberlain in the past. My opinion is that there has been very little growth shown from the boy since he was bought. The flashes of genius he shows regularly, more often than not are followed by losing possession. His goal in this ame though, the positions he picked up, are causes for optimism. He still lost the ball, but there were far more positives to his display than usual. Playing alongside the delights of Ozil and Sanchez will always benefit a player. Hopefully he is finally blossoming into the player we all believe he can be. He certainly needs to show improvement. This game represents the first step. 

A game that was bereft of negatives, and even the lesser-spotted Lucas Perez got on to the pitch and offered an assist! This game is simpl one to wallow in and savour. It isn’t often our team plays and wins without anything to quibble over. 

Another win, and the confidence keeps soaring. Keep it up boys.

Arsenal Vs Ludogorets Razgrad – Champions League Preview

It seems that Arsenal matches are akin to buses – you wait an age for one, and then a gaggle of them turn up all at once.

Our 3-2 victory over Swansea in the past weekend saw the winning run extended to six games in all competitions – and our only loss in the last seven months is our unlucky 4-3 opening day defeat to Liverpool.

Form to please even the most diehard of negative fans, and this match against Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets Razgrad is the first of a Champions League double with the two sides. Maximum points from both fixtures would see the Gunners close to a guaranteed Last16 spot.

With five goals already this season, Theo Walcott has already matched his last seasons tally, and on the form he is enjoying, the England wideman is surely one of the first names on the teamsheet. 

There will more than likely be changes in this game, with Middlesborough up next in the Premier League representing three games in just seven days. Rotation will be key to surviving the gruelling schedule, and with our squad in rude health, it could be the opportunity some players have been looking for.

David Ospina will predictably be recalled in his role as ‘cup keeper,’ and in terms of the defence, Nacho Monreal may be rested after a difficult time in the win over Swansea – Keiran Gibbs stands by to fill in.

Granit Xhaka’s controversial red card may mean he plays this game as he will be suspended for the Premiership game against ‘Boro, or alternatively, Wenger may opt for the fit-again Coquelin to partner Santi Cazorla to induce a rhythm between the pair as the Swiss player sits out three games. 

Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey are nearing full match fitness, but again will miss out according to Wenger in his pre-match press conference. Danny Welbeck and Per Mertesacker are still injured.

What of Lucas Perez and Mohamed Elneny? Both will be champing at the bit to get some minutes under their belts, and with the games coming thick and fast, both will surely get some pitch-time – but will we see them in this game?

The biggest decision surely must be whether to play Alexis or not. Keeping the keen Chilean on the sidelines doesn’t seem to be the easiest task – and seeing as he has been involved in our last four goals (three assists and one goal), he is a vital cog in our lethal attack. However, a period of recuperation so he can prepare for the Premier League game against ‘Boro may be just what the doctor ordered. 

Only Wenger knows who he will pick, but he will have to pick a strong side – Ludogorets are no pushover. 

The Bulgarians may have never won an away Champions League game, but Arsene will be keen to ensure Arsenal will not be their first scalp. Our home record does bode well though, with five clean sheets in the last eight European games meaning that our concentration has not been purely on attack.

Every game that crops up is a chance for a player to establish himself, but also an opportunity to keep the confidence flowing with another win. 

Three points in this game would give us a great chance to finally claim top spot in the group – and hopefully avoid a tough draw in the round of 16. 

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Gibbs, Xhaka, Cazorla, Iwobi, Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez.

Predicted Scoreline – 2-0 Arsenal. 

The Transfer Window – Walking the Finest of Lines

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Amidst the plethora of reporters lurking in car parks, impromptu interviews with players and managers via a car window like a montage of Drive-Thru orders, and the garish sea of yellow on your TV screens, there was plenty of departures and shock purchases during the transfer window.

Transfer Deadline Day – the title which now seems to bring with it a whole smorgasbord of promotion and shameless worship of big-money buys – saw Sideshow Bob lookalike David Luiz surprisingly rejoin Chelsea from PSG and give Antonio Conte’s defence an instant weakness, and Moussa Sissokho hilariously lure foolish clubs to bid £30m – spurs won the right to his signature……

Clubs scrambling desperately to improve their ranks, whilst maligned and forgotten squad members slinked toward the exit door. The same players who once were heralded as much as their replacements.

Managers walk the finest of lines.  Implored to spend by the baying masses who fill the stands each week, they search for the marquee signing who will suddenly unlock the potential in the team and ensure a rush to the club shop to buy a jersey with the new boy’s name on the back. 

Bolstering the amount of players inevitably means cutting the squad somewhere – unless you’re Mike Phelan at Hull City and have three players and some free-kick barriers from training in your lineup – and unpopular decisions must be made.

The voices calling for Arsene Wenger to spend money go from fans to pundits, journalists to TV personalities. Memes flew around cyberspace poking fun at Wenger’s apparent reluctance to splash the cash. It is now a reputation that has stuck. Our French manager is now synonymous with counting beans rather than recruiting talent, it seems.

This summer, most could see the glaring weaknesses in our squad. Our defence needed a player who could partner Koscielny, with Mertesacker reduced to capable understudy. We needed a midfielder who could be the dynamic force between defence and attack. We had Coquelin, Elneny and Santi, but another wouldn’t go amiss. Then there was the issue with our dearth of strikers….

So, Wenger defied expectation, and reacted early. Granit Xhaka was brought in, and his class is undeniable, and his potential is frightening. The money involved may be high, but Wenger has always maintained he will spend for the right player – and Xhaka fits into our team like a glove.

Then, we went for our second target – Jamie Vardy. The xenophobic, cast-wearing sriker was the revelation of a strange 2015/16 season, and Wenger identified that the England man’s strengths would be a perfect match for his side.

A bid was made, and Vardy had a choice to make. He chose to stay, and now looks like he has competition for his place at Leicester, but regardless, Arsenal had made another early move, but they were rebuffed.

A move for a player takes time. To ensure the cohesion of the team and squad, the research must be done, so it was back to square one for Wenger and his team.

It was also revealed that Wenger made another early move, this time for Manolas – the Greek defender at Roma – but the Italian club played hardball in negotiations and it meant that Jack Wilshere ended up at Bournemouth instead of Rome. 

So, Wenger did exactly what was required, but only one of the three targets he had, ended up at London Colney.

By the end of the window though, the positions he sought to strengthen had indeed been reinforced. Lucas Perez came in from Deportivo, and adds an alternative in the strikers berth with his pace and movement. 

Shkodran Mustafi eventually joined from cash-strapped Valencia, and the 24yr old German is tailor-made to be Koscielny’s partner.

Both players came in for a combined 52.1m. Money has been spent, and our squad looked healthy. Another problem arose though – we now had too many players.

A player who isn’t playing regularly cannot hope to be at his best, and Jack Wilshere was down the pecking order thanks to repeated injuries. Purchases meant that his prospects for this season were not healthy, and he needs first team football. Bournemouth is perhaps a surprise destination, but he will play for a forward-thinking coach, and will play enough games at the level he needs. 

It is a good move, although it is being derided in some quarters. Why couldn’t he stay and fight for his place? Why didn’t he go to Italy? Well, no-one can answer for Jack, but there are a host of mitigating factors for his decision, not merely the squad he will play with. At the root of his choice though, would have been gametime.

At Arsenal, he was behind Santi Cazorla, Elneny, Xhaka, and Ramsey. His talent is such that he needs to play, and he would not get into the side. The drawback of buying players is that the competition for places is so fierce that it will make some of the men in the ranks disgruntled and look for the exit door. 

Jack simply wanted to play – and if he can stay fit and have a good season, then a place in our team is assured.

So, Wenger buys players – he is criticised. Wenger lets players leave who are merely squad filler, such as Joel Campbell and Serge Gnabry – he is criticised. 

It seemed Gnabry forced his way out of the club to move to Werder Bremen, and Wenger has always had faith in the young German, but the lure of home and regular minutes on the pitch was too strong. 

We have a healthy squad, and adequate cover in all departments. Wenger has acted to strengthen, cut the wheat from the chaff, and give players he believes in room to play elsewhere. He should not face vilification for his transfer window actions if they are adequately improving the squad.

Where our Manager should be judged, is how his chosen men perform during the season. He has decided that this team is good enough, and every change was his to make. So, if we fail to make the grade, the blame should fall at his feet alone. 

Spend some money Wenger!  

He has, and our team looks good. 

It is a fine line all managers have to walk, but it isn’t merely transfers that ensure their longevity in a position. Victory is the ultimate ambition.

Let’s see how this season unfolds now that Wenger finally has a squad equipped for every eventuality.