Xhaka – Learning From Errors

It’s tough to admit when you’re wrong.

There aren’t many people out there that enjoy being shown the error of their ways or opinions. It happens to us all as none of us are flawless. You would think that we would get used to it, perhaps even take the high road and use it as a learning exercise.

But no. The majority of us either use it as a stick to beat ourselves with – a constant reminder of our flaws.

Or we brush it off and continue to be opinionated.

Well, most of us got it wrong with Granit Xhaka.

The evidence is right in front of us. We just clung onto a few observations and tried to deflect the actual truth.

Which is, that Xhaka may not be the second coming of Johann Cruyff, but in terms of making the team tick? He’s more than good enough for us.

Let’s consider the facts.

Firstly, Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta continued to select the maligned midfielder where possible. Asa a collective in terms of footballing intelligence, they far surpass the combined knowledge that we possess. They continued to select him. It may not have always been in a role that suited his skillset, but Xhaka was predominantly in the team.

Secondly, our win rate when he is in the side far outweighs when he isn’t in the eleven.

This was a stat taken from April last year.

Arsenal’s PL record when Xhaka has completed 90 minutes in midfield this season vs without.

With: 15-4-1. 75% win rate. 2.25 scored per game. 1.0 conceded per game.

Without: 4-2-6. 33% win rate. 1.67 scored per game. 1.67 conceded per game.

This season, he has a 75% win rate when on the pitch again.

He consistently appears in amongst our top runners in terms of distance covered. Xhaka is also one of the best at intercepting plays and starting us on the front foot – especially with his range of long passing.

granit-xhaka

This season, after the captain’s armband was taken from him, his normal penchant for rash tackling has seemed to simmer down a little. Which has resulted in less setplays given against us and less opportunity.

The real kicker though for Xhaka and his career at the club – is Arteta has found the ideal role for him.

Before the Spaniard arrived, Xhaka was pigeonholed as a defensive midfielder. True, his base of operations lies in between our third of the pitch and the central third, but Xhaka is far from a one-trick pony. Part of his style is to break up play, but one of the main reasons why he copped so much heat from a large swathe of our fanbase is his inefficient tracking back. Xhaka too often would let runners bypass him and make penetrating dashes into the box.

But when we give Xhaka that responsibility, it takes away from what he specialises in, which is quick turnovers and transitions. This in turn allows our pacy players like Saka and Aubameyang to run into space and know they’ll be picked out.

Arteta has come in and shared the responsibility of the defensive side of midfield across the board. We defend as a team and attack as one unit. That frees up the Swiss midfielder to do what he does best.

And it explains why we now see the Xhaka that was playing for Borussia Moenchengladbach and for his national side.

Xhaka isn’t a box to box, but true midfielders don’t really need a label.

Granit Xhaka now adds real value to the team – and the respect his teammates have for his leadership and him as a teammate makes it appear that a return to the armband after his return to the side is very much on the cards.

We were wrong – Xhaka makes us a better team and it’s time he got the credit for giving it his all.

Choosing Arsenal and our Scottish ties

People support their team for a myriad of reasons, but if polled, the most popular reason fans choose their team is because of family tradition.

Which doesn’t make it a choice for most.

I’m jealous of those who have their support passed down to them like an intangible family heirloom. It runs through the family and is simply expected that the new generation will follow the same course. It means that the values and beliefs of the club from bygone eras will continue to live on in a way.

I found my club calling while I was in Scotland. It was the tail-end of the George Graham tenure, our football wasn’t exactly vibrant and a title challenge didn’t look remotely close – but as a cup team? That incarnation of Arsenal could rise above the ignominy of their league position and give any team in the land a game.

I didn’t enjoy football prior to the last two seasons of Graham’s reign. I regularly had Rangers games spoonfed to me on terrestrial TV and they were my Scottish team – but I didn’t have that fire in my belly to watch them, to lend my support, to spend inordinate amounts of money on merchandise and to go to Ibrox to watch them in the flesh.

When I began to follow Arsenal though, I would hoover up anything about them. Football magazines with posters. Collectibles (remember Pogs?) newspaper cutouts, Match of the Day – anything I would consume with voracity. On the rare occasion that an Arsenal game was televised? I was there on the edge of my seat.

Supporting Arsenal when they weren’t a fashionable team – while in Scotland – presented a few objections from pals at school. They would regularly scrawl on my Arsenal pencilcase, colouring it blue or green – or questioning why I didn’t follow Man United if I wanted to support an English team.

It wasn’t that simple. You know as well as I do that when you become a fan, it’s not as if you can sever ties. The bond (should) be unbreakable. So I weathered the abuse and jokes.

I’m quite proud now to say I’m a Scottish Gooner. And looking at the club’s history, my nation is intrinsically linked to the club.

First and foremost, Arsenal wouldn’t exist without a certain Scotsman.

David Danskin, the man behind the original idea to form the club.

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George Graham, Frank McLintock, Alex James, David Herd, Bob Wilson, Jimmy Logie, Eddie Kelly, Willie Young, Charlie Nicholas. These men were fine representatives for the club and upheld the Arsenal Way. It further strengthens my love for the club and my pride as a Scotsman.

There has been a dearth of Scotsmen wearing our red and white in recent years however. Young Charlie Gilmour was our last and before that it was a big gap. This is easy to explain – the quality of Scottish players didn’t exactly enamour top clubs to chase after their services…

But now, we have Kieran Tierney. The left-back started his Gunners career with injury, but now we are starting to see what the fuss was about. His darting runs down the flank are far from simply fast. They are pre-meditated and perfectly timed to coincide with the attack. His delivery is probably among the best at the club from out wide – and he has certainly destroyed any notion of struggling to jump the gap between the uncompetitive SPL and the Premier League.

Tierney is another link, another thread interwoven in the story between Arsenal and Scotland.

Arsenal Unveil New Signing

It may also help to strengthen our fanbase north of the border too.

Fans nowadays have an array of different mediums to consume football and it is easier than ever to forge the bond between fan and club. But the allure of glory is still very strong for kids, which is why there is a healthy contingent of City, Liverpool and Chelsea fans across the UK and beyond.

Hopefully though, Arsenal will be chosen by just as many by those kids who don’t have heritage to fall back on when choosing their club. Hopefully they will turn on the TV and the first match they devour greedily will be our boys on the pitch, scoring goals for fun and giving us all heart problems when they defend.

If these kids like excitement and unpredictability – there really is only one club in the running.

 

The Arsenal Revolution Will Not Be Televised…

The overhaul of Arsenal behind the scenes was far more than replacing Arsene Wenger at the helm.

Our French manager had been at the tiller of our vessel for 23 years. In that time, a person gets plenty of opportunity to build their ideal environment. It was clear that Arsenal needed a fresh impetus, a new direction though. We were slowly drifting off course and an intervention was required.

It started with parts of the medical team. Shad Forsythe came in, the esteemed medical guru who worked with the World Cup winning German team. New ideas, innovative thinking – aimed at remedying a key weakness within. Forsythe was tasked with not only reducing our walking wounded, but also increasing the resistance our players had for quickfire muscle injuries. His expertise looked to be invaluable. In fact, his recruitment was a coup at the time.

By the time Wenger had left and Unai Emery had been sworn in, there had been a raft of changes – at all levels of the club.

Huss Fahmy, contracts whizz who had earned his stripes at Team Sky, was drafted in.

Our very own Per Mertesacker was tasked with overseeing the future of Arsenal on the pitch as Academy Director.

Vinai Venkatesham became our Managing Director.

There was Sven Mislintat too – the German recruitment specialist with the nickname ‘Diamond Eye’ thanks to his propensity for spotting a figurative diamond in the rough.

Perhaps seen as the key appointment though, was Raul Sanllehi as Head of Football Relations. It heralded a change of approach – and with his departure, the transformation continues as we seek to harness player data and integrate it within our recruitment process.

This roster of changes meant that behind the playing team – the Gunners were unrecognisable.

It was meant to herald a change.

Josh Kroenke told us to “Be excited.”

Arsenal new regime

 

But recently, there seem to be warning signs that the changes haven’t entirely worked out – or we expected far more than we were ever going to get.

The first alert came when Sven Mislintat left the club a year after joining.

It has since come out that Mislintat claims that the club reneged on an offer to appoint him as Technical Director. The former Head of Recruitment – now Sporting Director at VFB Stuttgart, also spoke of the way targets would be identified.

In a quote featured in The Independent, Mislintat stated “Previously we had a strong, systematic approach to transfers, a mixture of watching things live as well as quality data and video analysis – Arsenal actually own their own data company.”

He continued “That meant that we acted independently, we knew about all markets and players in all positions that came into question. However, the new leadership work more strongly with what they are offered from clubs or agents through their own networks.”

This brings us neatly to super agent Kia Joorabchian.

The man who first hit the headlines with a perplexing deal that took Argentine superstars Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez – to West Ham. Joorabchian owned the player rights – which already sounds just plain wrong – and by hawking them both around, Joorabchian allowed West Ham to get two world class players.

The agent has his fingers in many pies and it is known that our very own Raul Sanllehi prior to him leaving the Head of Football post – and our Technical Director, Edu, are close associates of his.

In regards to Mislintat’s quote, he stated that we now prefer to use agent networks to acquire our talent.

David Luiz, the still injured Cedric Soares – both are clients of the agent.

Two of the names linked heaviest with us – Chelsea’s Willian and Barca’s Philippe Coutinho? Yep, them too.

David Luiz may well have seen his best years already, but his influence on the younger players is telling. When the kids are asked who helps their development from the current squad, invariably Luiz is named. Still, we can’t reward contracts for dressing room influence, otherwise we would sign influence – otherwise we’d sign the likes of Tony Adams up to gee up the boys before games.

And while the targeting of Coutinho is unconfirmed, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that we will go in for him. Willian has signed a three year deal and Chelsea have taken the approach we used to have – over 30? Have a one year deal.

Like Mislintat said, we are now not using data and sound analysis – we are leaning heavily on agents and our links behind the scenes.

It points to our club not using their heads, and a worrisome lack of transfer identity.

We aren’t the type of club to rely on outsiders. We have the resources and the experts to identify who can strengthen us, but by using our ‘pal’ Kia, we could be left out to dry.

It isn’t just transfers either that we are floundering.

Arsenal striking prodigy Folarin Balogun is reported to be leaving the club this summer, after being disconcerted with his lack of first team opportunities. Anyone who is aware of this kid knows he has a shining future ahead of him, but Huss Fahmy has failed to tie him down to a long-term deal, with negotiations only starting this year.

And the decision to hire Unai Emery – which was made by those who are supposed to be returning Arsenal to the top of the game once again – is looking increasingly like a large error that has set us back longer than the 18 months he was at the club for.

Mikel Arteta appears to have the values of the club front and centre of his motives.

But with backroom staff seemingly out of sync and the departure of Sanllehi only the beginning of some hard graft behind the scenes, can Arteta hold out hope of seriously bringing Arsenal out of the funk any time soon?

Guendouzi – Stick or Twist?

Arsenal’s squad in terms of youthful talent pushing through is in rude health.

Some of the starlets in our ranks are among the brightest we have seen at the club for some time. The likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith-Rowe represent a hopeful future for Arsenal that we can thrive when these kids really start to bloom.

Matteo Guendouzi could be mentioned among these names. The young Frenchman is very highly rated at the club and beyond, but it seems that he is missing one vital ingredient in order to rise above the average and really strike it at the top.

That is humility.

Guendouzi, as I write, is currently training alone after his spat with Neil Maupay of Brighton. His comments toward the Gulls striker revolved around money and how Brighton’s number nine would never be able to earn what Matteo is currently on at Arsenal.

It indicates two things. One, that Guendouzi is prioritising the wrong thing and two? He really needs to put the effort he uses to annoy opponents into his football.

Since then, we have seen stories, or ‘leaks’ circulating around Guendouzi’s attitude at former clubs and of an apparent bust-up with Sokratis at our Dubai training camp earlier this year.

Now we may or may not ever know the truth about his run-in with our Greek defender, but his behaviour at his former club Lorient is a very good gauge of who the boy is behind the player as it is verified information.

His former manager at Lorient, Bernard Casoni, spoke to the media this week and had this to say:

Guendouzi’s problem is not physical and is not technical. It’s his attitude, it’s not good for the team or the coach. My relationship with him was not very good.”

“I chose him for a cup match against Nice but he was booked very early. The referee told me at half-time to warn Guendouzi: one more fault and off we go, but in the second half nothing changed. I had no choice but to master it. When I did, he refused to shake my hand.”

Most tellingly, Casoni finished with this, “He took his job seriously, his training was no problem and his character is to always want to win.

“Sometimes when he talks it’s good. But sometimes he speaks badly. He talks too much.

“His talent is not in question, this is not the problem. He can be a top player and I think he can still be successful abroad. It is up to him to change his attitude.”

Guendouzi featured heavily under Unai Emery, playing 33 times in our PL campaign alone. This season though, has been a stop-start campaign for Matteo, and early under Arteta, Guendouzi found squeezing his way into the team a tough ask.

matteo-guendouzi-fc-arsenal-1568284858-25662

The balance of Xhaka and Ceballos has no doubt not helped Guendouzi’s quest for minutes, but it seems that Arteta is not keen on the Frenchman staying at the club. Perhaps one bad apple does spoil the bunch? Just imagine being in that situation – training with a bunch of teammates daily, but one of them is difficult? It would sour the ambience at the training ground to a degree.

But it is undeniable that Guendouzi is talented. He would have no shortage of interested parties should he decide that the going is better on other shores.

How do we avoid another Gnabry situation?

Now there are many facets that aren’t similar – Gnabry’s attitude wasn’t abrasive and he couldn’t get enough gametime from the start. But we have let plenty of young players go, only for them to immediately show us what we are missing.

There is a definite chance of this happening with Guendouzi.

The problem is that if he does stay at Arsenal, how does Arteta get him to tow the line like his other players? Currently, putting him out to train alone is not exactly fertilising positivity. So if Matteo flouts the rules again, how should Arteta react?

Alternatively, if he did it again, would that indicate that Guendouzi is simply a renegade who isn’t interested in harmony and mutual respect?

It’s clear that Guendouzi isn’t the finished article – his positioning smacks of inexperience and he far too often fails to track his man, but we have all seen that he could be a huge player for us.

Or for another club. At this moment in time, it looks likely that our crop of promising youth players will shoulder the responsibility of Arsenal’s immediate future without the help of the crazy-haired Guendouzi.

 

 

 

Arsenal’s Near Future

The gulf has stretched in the last decade, transforming into a hungry chasm.

Manchester City and Liverpool have both taken the initiative over the last two to three years and left the chasing pack with nothing but dust clouds to latch onto. Chelsea only won the Premier League three seasons ago and yet if we inspect their current situation – it is enough to dispirit even the most ardent optimist.

Chelsea possess some truly world-class players. Ngolo Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Kepa – all wouldn’t look out of place in most top European teams.

But heed their failures and you can see what it really takes to establish yourself with success in the modern era – an era which barely resembles its old self from a decade ago.

Replacing a player of the ilk of Eden Hazard was always going to be difficult, but they also failed to replace mercurial midfield talent too. The likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas could conjure something from nothing, but instead they have the more industrial strengths of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Not without their merits, but very different players.

A change in coach has heralded a change in tack from Chelsea – and most importantly, Roman Abramovich. No longer are they completely reliant on the Roubles he provides. They want to be self-sustaining – or as near as they can be without their new stadium plans. That means a certain air of frugality in the transfer market in comparison to how they acted in order to escape the realms of obscurity when he took over.

However, they’ve also recruited wisely. Timo Werner and Ziyech look like astute purchases.

All this combined has led to Chelsea still fighting near the top – but unable to keep up with Klopp and Guardiola.

As Gooners, we are also seeing two managers at the top of their game, duking it out at the same time, leaving others not so qualified or talented, feeding from the scraps left by the German and the Spaniard.

It makes for some pretty depressing reading when you look at the face of things. We all are hoping that the decision to bring in the fresh-faced Arteta, his belief in our values and most importantly, the testimonials of those who have worked with him, that this move will bear precious fruit if given time.

We see promising signs. Our destruction of United this season showed exactly the cornerstones of what Arteta wants. Pressure on the ball. Obtain possession high up the pitch and attack and defend as one. Responsible positioning – but most importantly, clear instructions for the players.

Something that was apparently lacking during Unai Emery’s tenure.

We are still in recovery, but can we hold out hope of a title challenge any time soon?

arteta training ground

Next season – after this season in terms of growth for Arteta and the embedding of his tactics – will probably come too soon, but improvement is key. A top four finish and a shrinking of the gap would suffice for the majority – and it would also give his charges the evidence that this is working. Belief is key – but the proof is in the pudding… or top four.

A decent – and first – pre-season for Arteta could prove crucial. The more time he spends with his squad, the better we will become. You get the feeling that all of the players are completely behind him and his staff – and that is an excellent foundation to build from.

Pep Guardiola normally gets an itch and searches for pastures or challenges new after a few seasons and this is well overdue. For Jurgen Klopp? He’s now won the PL this season, his job will be mission accomplished and he will be so sought after, that he will definitely have his head turned by one of the bigger Euro teams.

Chelsea are rebuilding. Man United will look to plug some big gaps and will always have the resources to do so. It is vitally important that after our hiatus from the Champions League that we regain that position sooner rather than later. We are living off of our reputation right now when it comes to luring talent.

If you also take into consideration that our young stars will be one year older and wiser – and with a season of growth behind them – we will be stronger regardless of who is signed and who isn’t.

It is time to make some new memories.

The good times are coming, but we will need patience to see it bloom.

The Walcott Consensus

We’ve been blessed with strikers.

The best of the best belong not only in our Hall of Fame, but amongst the finest o have kicked a ball on these shores.

Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright. Three household names, each one conjuring up instant images for us all of the heroics they entranced us with on the pitch.

It doesn’t stop there though.

Alan Smith, Robin Van Persie – they both performed above and beyond in our colours. While the Dutchman may have sullied his reputation with his departure and the term surrounding it, his numbers and performances were exactly what we have come to expect from a player pulling on an Arsenal jersey. He pulled average players up a few notches, he was the man that the team revolved around in his last two seasons.

Arsenal have others too, that on paper, certainly warrant respect and gratitude for what they achieved during their stint. Short or extended, they banged in the goals while they were with us. Eduardo, Olivier Giroud, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have held the line for us and left us with memories of some spectacular moments.

It is obvious that some will split the fanbase. Some will have the stock of a player higher than others.

And that is very much the case for Theo Walcott.

The speedy wideman will result in some very contrasting opinions from whomever you ask.

This article is here to say though, that he undeniably deserves to be amongst the best in The Emirates era.

Skill-wise, he won’t quite register amongst the heavy hitters.

But let’s look at the facts – and let’s take his name out of the equation and look at the numbers ina  transparent way. Let’s look at the stats with a mindset of a scout, or an unknowing fan.

Or perhaps even better, let’s say this is a pub quiz – and here are the questions:

What Arsenal player has the sixth most goals for the club in the Premier League?

What Arsenal player has the 7th most assists for the club in the Premier League?

What Arsenal player averaged a goal or assist every two games?

What Arsenal player has the eighth most appearances for the club in the Premier League?

Walcott scores

These numbers scream of a player who made an impact. Who made a difference while they played for us.

We all know that Walcott at times infuriated us. We know that there was a time when the player insisted that they should play in a different position, despite his coach knowing that a wide forward position would get the most from him.

Despite all that though, for us he gave his all and was the consummate professional in the eleven years he played in the red and white.

Walcott also had a handy knack of scoring in the big games – a mark of a player who belongs in amongst the best.

His first goal for the club? A cup final (the League Cup final of 2007).

He scored in an FA Cup Final, Semi-Finals, he petrified Barcelona and scored against the Catalan giants. He scored against Liverpool, Man Utd, a hatful against Chelsea – and we can all remember his contributions against the enemy too.

When we needed him, for the majority of his time, he came up with the goods.

Goals, assists, showing up in big games, surely he deserves a little more recognition than he currently gets?

I’m not here to say he was one of the best in recent memory, because he wasn’t.

But was he better than his reputation?

I hope this might go a little way in changing at least one person’s opinion.

Who Next For An Arsenal Statue?

Tony Adams.

Thierry Henry.

Dennis Bergkamp.

Three heroes, a trio of icons, reputation forged in red and white – immortalised forever in bronze.

Found around the concourse of The Emirates, our home, these three statues are not only highlights of any fan’s trip to our ground – they are tributes to legendary feats of footballing – and all achieved in aid of Arsenal, the cannon – and for us.

What these three did outweigh pretty much every single other player who has ever pulled on the jersey – the question of if they deserve it has never needed to be asked.

One question that is pertinent though – who will be next for immortalisation?

 

Henry statue

There are plenty who could be worthy – and ask every single Gooner and they will have a different answer.

Here are five that could certainly warrant the bronzed treatment – what is your verdict?

 

Arsene Wenger

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The man who dragged Arsenal to success from a period of malaise in the 90’s, to a European contender. The Frenchman won three titles, seven Cups and earned his own slice of immortality by masterminding the only unbeaten season in modern English football. Perhaps his biggest feat? Managing to keep his side at the top table of football despite having a budget that bordered on penniless at times. Defences with clowns, Midfields that had a miniscule amount of defensive presence – fighting teams that dwarved our budget. Wenger may have sullied his reputation in some circles in his last years, but can anyone overlook what he achieved? The distance he took our club? A more deserving name is hard to find.

 

David Rocastle

Rocky

The player known affectionately as Rocky to everyone was tragically taken from us far too early – but the super-talented Rocky had already left his indelible mark on our memories.

To this day, you will struggle to find another player who petrified a full-back like Rocastle. With a drop of a shoulder, or a faint touch on the outside of his boot, he had slipped his marker and was free to wreak more havoc. A scorer of extraordinary goals and beloved by teammates, we remember Rocky every year not just because we miss him – it’s because he was truly special.

 

Frank McLintock

Frank McLintock

The Scotsman is touted by a few to be on a par with Tony Adams when it comes to Skipper material – that is testament enough that McLintock is justified in this selection process. Our Captain for the epic Fairs Cup win in 1970 – our first cup in Europe – which included our famous win over an illustrious Ajax side in the semi-finals – while also leading us to our famous double win in 1971. McLintock has the respect of all and was a pretty fine defender too.

Ray Parlour

Romford Pele

The Romford Pele amassed more Premier League appearances for Arsenal than any other. Not only that, but he also adapted and played intrinsic roles in both the Graham and Wenger eras. Parlour was a fan favourite and his talent is often overlooked in favour of his loyalty. But a player who was utilised in both the central midfield and out wide under the watchful eye of Wenger couldn’t be an average player. Parlour in bronze, arms aloft after scoring his famous Cup final goal versus Chelsea? Wouldn’t that be fitting?

 

Pat Rice

Pat Rice

The Northern Ireland international was an Arsenal player for 13 years and earned nearly 400 appearances in that time. He was part of the team that won the Fairs Cup and the 1971 Double, and the unforgettable Cup win over United in 1979.

That wasn’t the end of his time with the Arsenal though. A youth team coach, Assistant Manager – even Caretaker manager for a short spell – all spanning 28 years. So 41 years in total for Rice as an Arsenal representative – and all done in a classy manner that embodied the Arsenal Way.

There could be plenty more who wouldn’t look out of place encased in bronze – who’s your shout?

Giroud – A Tainted Legacy

105 goals in 253 appearances.

Not a ratio to be sniffed at, but at the base level, this is what Olivier Giroud brought to the table for Arsenal.

Just looking at numbers renders other, valuable facets somewhat invisible however.

We overlook the way he held the line valiantly, alone, for so many seasons.

We miss out on him holding up the ball not only with his physical edge, but his nous in and around the box.

We also miss out on the fact he tarnished his Arsenal legacy with his actions in a Chelsea shirt.

Giroud came so close to cementing his reputation as a Gooner favourite. While we lamented the fact he was never a 20 goal a season man, the majority of us saw him and his talents as precious – he helped the team with his actions.

Giroud badge

 

He wasn’t just about goals, but the above ratio is not poor. Upon joining Arsenal, he had just been the talisman for Montpellier winning their first Ligue Un Championnat. He joined in the same window as Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski – we had signed attacking players that would boost our threat.

This was certainly true for the three above, but Giroud never materialised as we thought he would. He scored valuable goals and always earned a respectable number, but he was never a goal machine. Still, his biggest asset was that his touch and awareness led to him being part of some magnificent goals and moments.

In his career in our red and white, his highlights reel will live on. Some truly breathtaking goals were bagged, and his part in Aaron Ramsey’s late winner in the 2014 FA Cup Final cannot be overstated. Giroud loved the club while he was here and never wanted to leave, but squad competition meant if he wanted regular gametime, he would need to find pastures new.

His move to Chelsea was a stark reminder that professional football is still, at the bottom line, just a job to the majority of players. He made the right choice as his modus operandi in choosing a new destination was that he wanted to stay in London for family reasons.

Chelsea needed a frontman, and Giroud embarked on a trip to West London.

This was more than enough for some fans to cut the ties we had with Giroud, but his over-exuberant celebrations after one of our worst days on a football pitch – the 4-1 hammering at the hands of the Blues in the Europa League final – was the straw that broke the camels back in terms of his Arsenal legacy.

Mocking Arsenal

Olivier Giroud, if he had kept his nose clean and performed in the respectful manner that he did in his time with us, would have always had a home with the Arsenal faithful. We would always remember his efforts kindly. He stayed while we struggled. He gave his all for us and left us with some truly treasured memories.

Instead, he is now just remembered as being part of the Arsenal framework that led to our slide out of the Champions League. Even looking back at his famous, Puskas-winning scorpion goal doesn’t do it anymore. Giroud has burned the nerve endings.

Giroud

It isn’t as bad as the likes of Ashley Cole, Robin Van Persie or Adebayor – those players ended up being panto villains. But where there was real affection for the player – now there is just a vacuous space.

Oivier Giroud could have left something truly special, but in his job search and his antics thereafter – he tainted what he had left us.

 

Aubameyang – Stick or Twist?

With absolutely zero football taking place right now, our minds have a little more room for thought.

Instead of your brain juggling your teams impending fixtures, injury worries, potential changes in your fantasy team and league placements all residing in a cortex of your grey matter, there is now more room to ponder other things……

Erm…

In the absence of that leather ball bobbling around on that lush carpet we call The Emirates pitch, we have been privy to the usual mix of player rumour – especially circulating around our star striker and perennial goal machine – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabon man is in contention to win the Golden Boot again after securing it last season. What puts that into perspective is that Auba has done this while for at least half of our season, the Good Ship Arsenal has plotted a course for mid-table ignominy.

Our number 14 has acted as a one-man lifeboat, keeping our precious cargo and personnel above the plunging depths. He has continued to terrify goalkeepers no matter what mess has been going on behind him. He has performed wonders – and we have recognised this.

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Our club has been attempting to lasso the striker into extending his stay with Arsenal as his contract winds down. Currently in his peak years, Auba is now approaching what will be the biggest decision of his footballing career.

Of course, the media have taken it upon themselves to write the alphabetical equivalent of smoke and mirrors surrounding Auba’s future at the club – and one story has certainly captured everyone’s currently free imagination.

The rumour surrounds Real Madrid, their unwanted striker Luka Jovic – and a large wad of money.

That’s right, the transfer rumour is that those at the Bernabeu want to lure Auba to La Liga, and will tempt Arsenal with a cash plus Jovic bid.

The question is – would you take it?

Everyone knows that the hardest thing to buy in football is goals. With Auba putting up more than his fair share of goals for the team, selling him and his numbers would almost certainly weaken our team.

We currently have Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah to make up the goals – but Lacazette aside, neither of the young strikers have proved week in, week out that they can make the difference in front of goal. How efficient will they be?

Lacazette has also changed his role somewhat since arriving at Arsenal. He still prowls centrally, but he is dropping deeper as his part in attacks is intrinsic to our moves. That has affected his goal return almost as much as poor form this season.

Then there is the Luka Jovic part of the equation. Jovic was a sensation in the Bundesliga – a competition far more similar to the rigours of the Premier League than La Liga ever has been. Rotation and reported poor discipline has seen Jovic play an ever-increasingly remote part of things at Madrid, but does his pedigree convert to success in the Premier League?

In short, can he be the man that replaces the certainty of Auba’s goals?

Maybe not, but throw in £50m and the search becomes a little easier.

There are other variables to take into consideration. Auba’s age means he has two, maybe three years maximum that we will have the PREMIUM version of the striker. Make no mistake, as he hits 33, 34, he will still bang in the goals, but he won’t be AS prolific, he won’t be able to beat as many defenders with his pace as he runs into the box, he won’t be AS lethal as the man we have now.

So, do we stick or twist?

Can we improve the team more with the money and Jovic?

Or do we stay where we are, potentially risk losing what is a huge asset on a free, but still feed off his goals while he does stay?

What a conundrum.

Good thing we have time to mull it over…

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

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Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Arsenal news, Gunners stories – with a twist

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