Flair Players and Flawed Genius

Have flair players always been undervalued?

When compared to the grafters, the midfielders who put in a shift at both ends of the pitch.

When in contrast to the strikers, the goal-getters, the ones who change a scoreline.

When in parallel to the defenders, those who resist in the face of opposition.

Have the players who really make a difference in tight games always been under-prioritised by those in charge?

Let’s go back a little.

Peter Marinello – the Scottish George Best, or so tagged by the media. A record move to Arsenal to the tune of £100k. He made an instant splash by scoring on his debut and also contributing to our run to the Fair Cup Final in 1970. However, MArinello was left out of the final matchday squad and a combination of a knee injury and a fondness of the glitz and glamour combined to take the focus away from football. However, when fit, Marinello could change a game with a swish of his boot. He lasted a little over three years at the club – despite the massive fanfare at the start and his own undoubtable talent.

Jon Sammels – Those that saw him could attest to the fact that the midfielder had a passing range that would eclipse many in the modern game. He was a pivotal part in our Fairs Cup triumph and made more than 200 appearances for the club. That number was stretched out over eight years though. Sammels was often derided by not only the fans at times – but he had to win over his managers Billy Wright and Bertie Mee to get into the team at regular intervals. Not known for his physicality, Sammels would sculpt games with his distribution and shooting range.

Charlie Nicholas – The Scot will forever remain in our hearts for his League Cup heroics in 1987. Lifting that cup is attributed by many to have been the birth of George Graham’s golden era, and the precursor to the Miracle at Anfield in 89 – and the Almost Invincibles of 1991. Yet Charlie struggled with being played out of position and couldn’t find the consistency, despite the brightest of flashes intermittently. When George Graham rejoined the club as manager in 1986, it signalled the end for Charlie, despite his league cup heroics the later year. Nicholas was quickly deemed surplus to requirements.

Anders Limpar – The Swede was the difference-maker for Arsenal in 1991. All too often, those tiny feet of his led defenders on a merry dance and he bewitched opponents with his dazzling footwork. Again though, George Graham was at odds with Limpar – and according to teammates at the time, the Swede was called out all too often for a perceived lack of effort in training. This led to the slow crumbling of Limpar’s time at Arsenal, ended with a transfer to Everton in 1994, just three years after joining Arsenal so explosively.

It isn’t just wide players with a penchant for the extravagant that were kicked to the kerb in favour of more industrial alternatives.

Bobbi Pires is a bona fide Arsenal icon. Part of the triumphant teams of 02 and 04, the Frenchman is anything but surplus. Yet in our Champions League Final loss to Barcelona, it was Pires who was sacrificed after Jens Lehmann was sent off, in order to bring Almunia on. It wasn’t a full-back. It wasn’t a striker – it was a wideman, a flair player.

Arsenal v Barcelona Champions Lge Final 17/5/06 Pic Andy Hooper…..Daily Mail Arsenals Pires on Bench

The players above – bar Pires – all had their own afflictions. Drink, glamour, even sheer laziness. Some perhaps thought talent alone would get them where they want to be but this wasn’t the case. However, when it came to changing the outcome of a game, these geniuses with the ball were the best equipped.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that this ability that is all too unique, is all too often cast into the shadows by gaffers, in favour of other roles. It is the one that is deemed the runt of the litter in terms of importance.

The decision to bring off Pires when down to ten men makes sense in plenty of ways. We needed the numbers in defence, we also still needed to maintain some semblance of attack – but retaining the ability to create something from nothing was omitted.

It is this magic-like skill that fans adore, but is not at the top of the list for managers when it comes to attributes. It now needs to come hand in hand with workrate, physicality. Look at Bukayo Saka. The kid has muscles where there shouldn’t be, he covers more ground than the majority and he also defends like his life depends on it. It is the reason why his meteoric rise has been so rapid.

But spare a thought for the flawed geniuses. The ones who carried the magic in their boots, the ones who carried fans hopes with them on their shoulders. The sight of them trudging the touchline was always an uplifting one. We may not have always got the best out of them – but WE prioritised their skills more than anything else.

They were top of the tree for fans.

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Maitland-Niles: Cold-Blooded and Ready

Ice in your veins.

A classic sign that a player has the temperament needed to not only eke out their full potential on the pitch – but also ensure they do the same on the training pitch – with sheer, bloody-minded dedication.

It requires a thought process that is blinkered, focused on a single narrative.

To be the best you can be. All the best players have it and it is never clearer than in moments of pressure.

It is a necessary component on the way to reaching the top. Just watch when a player is plying his or her trade in a high-stakes match. A Cup Final, a derby, a knockout game. Where every second counts.

Firstly, the player with icicles in their bloodstream will desire the ball at every conceivable opportunity. They will be confident that they can sway the match and can’t sit by and wait for the game to come to them. They feel they must act NOW.

And when the opportunity arises? To change the game in an instant?

In the immortal words of a Mr B. Rabbit;

“Will you capture it? Or just let it slip?”

A penalty. A free-kick. A chance in the box. A moment that needs the coolest of heads.

Like a penalty in a penalty shootout perhaps?

Or a performance in a Cup Final against a derby opponent?

Just watch Ainsley Maitland-Niles in both the Community Shield shootout and his entire first half against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.

Maitland-Niles mentality

His penalty was as nonchalant as they come. A trot forward, a swish of his boot and he sidefoots it past a keeper who has been nigh-on unbeatable at times last season.

His display against Chelsea was a surprise. Not because we didn’t think he had it in him, but we didn’t foresee AMN starting. Especially in midfield. But it was his constant running that stretched the Blues, put them on the backfoot. They couldn’t contain him and so they became defensive. It was predominantly AMN that changed the game for Arsenal against Chelsea – and Aubameyang applied the finish.

He couldn’t bear to let it pass him by – so he took the game by the scruff of the neck and demanded it follow instruction.

And not once did he lose his cool. All of the above was done with the same quiet, focused aura that he always maintains.

His displays have been rewarded with his first ever England senior call-up and it is hard to disagree that he doesn’t deserve it. He has been much more than a standby full-back – but it has been vitally important to his growth that he has played in that position.

He has filled in on both the right and left of defence, all the while knowing that his most effective – and favoured – position is in the centre of the park. Yet he knuckled down, learned the skills for that role and it has improved him. His timing seems to be excellent, his runs never leaving the team short and always arriving when the attack needs him.

Maitland-Niles, if he continues to progress and put in displays of this ilk, can go on to cement a first-team place in his favoured role. It all depends on Arteta’s formation, but with three in the centre, he can be the glue that binds both Xhaka and Ceballos.

AMN is on the rise and is hot property – but the Hale End boy is ice-cold.

Time for Reiss to shine

From one point of view, today’s young footballers have it all.

They bathe in the adulation of millions. They earn an exorbitant amount of money and they get to do something that they love as their employment – something about 99% of the population can only dream of.

It isn’t all TikTok dances, new kicks and payrises though.

At such a young age they are faced with huge decisions on a regular basis. Do I speak to the boss about my playing time? Do I instruct my agent to start looking elsewhere? Is this sponsorship deal right for me? That is just a smidgin of what they face. Try and hark back to when you were 21. What consumed you back then? For me, I had a full-time job and the proceeds of which, went directly to weekends, films, games and cigarettes. We were lucky that the majority of decisions of the above magnitude didn’t surface on our radar.

One of the reasons these dilemmas and decisions are so significant is the fallout should they go wrong.

We have seen on so many occasions when a youngster is tempted by greener grass elsewhere or by lucrative promises made. They fall off the precipice of greatness and into the sea of ignominy, never quite being able to scale those giddy heights again. The talent is still there, but the chance has gone.

They have to make every opportunity count. Injuries, coaches, clubs, new countries – all are huge factors regarding why a youth starlet must seize everything that comes their way.

Time is of the essence – and it seems as if one of our own is at a crossroads.

Reiss Nelson’s talent doesn’t need questioning. The 20 year old has impressed all of his coaches during his short career. Renowned tactician Julian Nagelsmann of Hoffenheim said Nelson has the ability to reach elite levels, should he maintain his consistency and mentality.

And that is the crucial part – consistency.

Reiss hasn’t had the chance to build any consistency, as his time on the pitch has been anything but that. Nelson showed that when played regularly – when at Hoffenheim – he can deliver the goods (7 goals for the German side) – but does Nelson wait it out? Or does he move on as the timer on his career marches ever forward?

At the time of writing, Nelson was being linked with a loan move to Crystal Palace, to keep him primed. Every indicator shows he should have joined the Eagles for the season. At the current time, both Willian and Pepe are ahead of Nelson in the pecking order. Should both be rested then Nelson will get his minutes – but the likelihood of both being benched is low. At Palace, he would finally get the Premiership platform and the opportunity to prove what he can do when he gets the minutes.

Emile Smith-Rowe is another who is being linked with a loan move, and both should ponder it. If they are played, then they will return to Arsenal in a far stronger position, which will bolster their claims for the first team.   Nelson made 17 appearances last season and that was before Willian showed up. This season heralds a tougher ask to squeeze minutes in.

Reiss Nelson is most definitely good enough for us – but he needs to play right now. A loan would have meant we retain the player’s services and Nelson can grow. Nelson

It was a win-win situation.

What do you think? Do you think he’l get the minutes he needs this season?

Auba Signing Is Sign of things to come

The wait for star striker to sign a contract extension at our club was, well, excruciating.

We waited weeks and weeks for the official announcement. It felt far longer and indeed it was if you veer toward worrying incessantly. The fact that Auba’s contract term was winding down toward its final year and that milestone when negotiations with other clubs appeared closer than ever? That weighed heavy on a lot of our minds.

As Gooners, we are no strangers to players leaving us in the lurch. When we needed them most, they shunned the opportunity to forge their legacy at the club and instead went where the money and instant success was prevalent. So waiting each day for our Number14 to sign with us was pretty painful.

The official announcement saw club legend Wrighty, speak with Auba on The Emirates pitch and as ever, the former club record goalscorer was eloquent and raised some salient points. None more so than when he mentioned the fact that players have come and gone but when we needed him the most, Aubameyang has chosen to stay and continue his career at Arsenal, rather than take the bait and go elsewhere.

Put yourself in Aubameyang’s shoes. You are negotiating what will be the biggest contract of your life before your career inevitably winds down. You are aware that big clubs are circling around you and they could well offer you much more than you will get at Arsenal.

But you could forever etch your name into the annals of the club’s history.

It’s a tantalising prospect- at least for a fan it is anyway.

The Gabon frontman already has 55 goals from 87 appearances in the Premier League. Injury permitting, Auba should get another 20 goals this season, taking his PL tally to 75 goals, with two seasons left in his contract. That means he could make the 100 club in his time at the club, which would make him one of the fastest – if not THE fastest – to get there.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in the above sentence, but that concerns just his goalscoring exploits.

What about the chance to actually make history with the club?

Auba himself says he wants to go down with the Bergkamps, Wrighty’s and Henry’s of the club. It’s a pretty bold statement and to do so – he knows he needs to help the club win the title.

Without the Championship, Auba will never quite make the top step, unlike the above names – but cup wins could help enormously.

His double’s in our FA Cup semi-final and final will live long in the memory – we will be savouring his second goal against Chelsea for decades to come – and it is these moments that help daub names forever into the marble halls of our history.

Auba’s goalscoring was chief among the reasons we didn’t fall into midtable in the last two seasons. He is also the pinnacle of what Mikel Arteta is trying to build at the club. An outift that contends for the biggest trophies – the Spaniard is trying to get us back where we were.

Standing in the way are clubs with limitless spending power and teams that have had years of preparation to concoct the winning formula. Jurgen Klopp was given time at Liverpool to get where he is now – and it will be his team that stand in the way of any challengers to the crown.

With Aubameyang up front though, we will always stand a chance – and that is why him signing his contract is such a pivotal moment.

It is a surefire sign we are progressing and creating something that could very well be special.

Our Number14 is fired to make us great again and create history.

Dial Square FC – Keeping the fan connection alive

Arsenal are synonymous with tradition, class and upheld values that go back to the original days of the club.

We are a club that does things the right way and the way we operate is one of the reasons why many of us began to support Arsenal.

What happens when football itself threatens the fabric of your club though?

Many articles have been written about how the sport has transformed from a fan-centric endeavour into a multi-billion business. It has seen multiple owners buy into Premier League outfits and plunge into bottomless pockets to drag clubs toward glory.

It has also seen new owners purchase clubs simply as part of their portfolio.

Like a hunting trophy of sorts perched on their wall, the new owner buys the club for the lustre of owning the club.

Step forward Stan Kroenke and KSE Holdings.

Arsenal have gone from a fan-represented club to an enterprise that is singly owned, leaving fans with no voice in regards to how things are run. It is a sad state of affairs and is far removed from what has been the process since 1886.

And with the cash flowing around the game for all clubs to snatch at shamelessly, it leaves fans as a second thought. No longer is packing the stands a priority. What matters is results and keeping the brand alive. Pre-season tours abroad to enlarge the fanbase, merchandise, promote, rinse and repeat.

Clubs have realised they don’t need fans in the ground, they know enough people will pay to watch on tv. Not only are we seeing the death of clubs throughout the English football league, we are now seeing the slow demise of the football supporter as we know it. Football it seems, is about to change forever.

Arsenal now no longer resemble the club that the majority of us began to support – but that doesn’t mean we stop supporting.

We are all Gooners until we die, but being a fan is intrinsically linked with watching the game, feeling connected to the club, meeting friends and experiencing the matchday atmosphere. Whether that be the pub or the stands, you associate supporting your club with the connection you have.

Which is why Dial Square Football Club was born.

https://www.dialsquarefc.com/

Taken direct from the club’s mission statement, Dial Square FC declare;

We set up Dial Square as an alternative to The Arsenal, not a replacement. We want a club run by fans for the fans. We are committed to it being affordable and accessible to everyone. We are a grassroots football club with huge ambitions and with a passion to be the best we can. But, at the heart of our dream is to ensure the ownership of our club stays with the real investors, the supporters.
If any good is to come from this difficult time, it’s that greed in football will be exposed for what it is and non-league and lower league English football will come into its own. “

This year, the above club declared that it would burst into existence. It is formed by Gooners who have become disenchanted with how Arsenal Football Club is now run and how fans no longer have a voice in the running of the club.

The people who run Dial Square are all still Gooners and always will be, but DSFC exists for all Gooners who want to watch a game and watch a club that is run by supporters – for supporters.

The motto of the club is ‘Renascitur.’ In Latin, this means reborn. Dial Square is very much hewn from the fabric of Arsenal – and it is where the values of the club are being upheld.

The plan is for the club to rise through the leagues but do so in a way that keeps the fans – us – in the loop.

Isn’t that what we are used to?

Giving your support to Dial Square isn’t you shunning Arsenal – it is an opportunity to realign with what matters to you most.

Run by fans – for fans.

If you have had enough of modern football in its current form and want to be part of what we are doing and help us shape the future, please contact us via our website, or contact us at info@dialsquare.com

The Ozil saga – The final chapter

The amount of negativity that revolves around the Arsenal fanbase is probably more than most others.

It’s a diverse, objectional and mine-filled group that can be filled with fantastic titbits of history about the club, great, educated opinions – regularly interspersed with hate-filled posts and stuff to generally avoid.

The ‘Great Ozil Saga’ has been the petrol that has not only lit the touchpaper in recent years – but incinerated it.

Who would have thought that it would have ended in this ignominious way when it was revealed in 2014 that we had signed him.

It was joyous.

The scenes unfolding on Sky Sports News during their famed Transfer deadline Day footage are now part of meme culture. The presenter was buffeted by raucous Gooners, screaming Ozil’s name as it was confirmed we had broken our transfer record to sign one of the best playmakers in the world.

Ozil, a genius with the ball. Able to see round corners, through walls. The German could thread a ball through a gap smaller than a gnat’s kneecap. And he was coming to Arsenal.

What made it even more incredible, more overwhelming, is that it was breaking a cycle of underwhelming years that meant we were without a trophy for nine long years.

Not that the media let us forget that of course. Our trophy drought was far longer than tottenham’s 862 year wait for a significant trophy. Or the fact that media darlings, Liverpool, hadn’t won the title since moustache’s and shellsuits the killer combo (they still are in parts of Merseyside and always will be).

Yep, the slide of Wenger, the restricting budgets and payback of loans combined to see Arsenal fight to keep their head above water in terms of the precious Champions League income. Instead of looking up as were promised when The Emirates was built, we were treading water at best.

And the ring of placards that showcased our trophy haul that circled the interior of our stadium? That hadn’t been added to since it had been built.

But Ozil signing was the reminder that we all needed about the stature of our club and the respect Wenger still commanded in Europe.

Make no mistake, it was Big Weng that ensured Ozil shunned all other offers and came to North London. Our brand of football and his own brand of management sat well with the oft-fragile Ozil. The flexibility too, that was key.

Ozil would be given the key to The Carpet, in a bid to recreate the wonders he performed at the Santiago Bernabeu.

And at times, he did.

We won our FA Cup in 2014, we had ended the hoodoo and we had already seen in flashes what Ozil could do. His first-time finish on his debut against Napoli is still so soothing to watch. How he caresses the ball with the side of his foot and the unerring way the ball veers home.

From there, his standing was only enforced when we signed Alexis.

Two geniuses in the team, they bounced off each other. True, we had to adapt the team to fit Alexis in. And often, the Chilean was a tad too selfish. But they brought the best out of each other and the one season where Ozil nearly reached his ceiling – when he equalled the record for most assists in a single season – was when he and Alexis were keeping us afloat. It is still a tragedy that Ozil didn’t break the record. With so many games to go, he only had to get one more – but a profligate Giroud was at least part to blame.

From there though, it has gone downhill fast.

Alexis leaves. Wenger leaves. In comes Emery and a system that cries out for invention, but places other demands on Ozil.

It doesn’t work.

Then Arteta comes in and opens the floor to all players. Adopt my system and you will earn success. All players will play their part.

But Ozil didn’t do enough in his time under the Arteta spotlight. A run of 13 games last season saw that the German simply doesn’t fit the narrative. Team pressing, team orders and unity – whereas Ozil needs the ability to buck tactics and float, sensing the danger and exacerbating it with a killer pass. He is a one-man show.

But we cannot sacrifice our progress for one player. Like him or loath him, he is still supremely talented. But his boots just don’t fit at Arsenal any more.

That makes no excuse for how it has ended – and there will be more to come from this saga after he does leave.

At least we can all agree that when we signed him – we were all happy?

30 Year Anniversary – Class of 91

Almost Invincible.

Thirty years ago, Arsenal, George Graham and his multi-talented but miniscule squad began a campaign that should be ranked amongst our finest achievements.

The end result was the First Division Championship – but the sheer scale and number of obstacles put in the path of this ‘Class of 91’ adds a deeper lustre to this particular achievement.

As it’s the 30th anniversary of this amazing side, my publisher and I thought it would be good to re-release the book – with some extra content and some new content and info from members of the team themselves – to commemorate it.

You can order this Special Anniversary Edition here.

True, football was vastly different to the sport as we know it today. From the contrasting levels of physicality within matches to fitness regimens, diets and everything in between, football back in 1990 presented different challenges to nowadays.

It doesn’t lessen what the Class of 91 managed though.

There were still 38 opportunities for failure – and for Arsenal to avoid this 37 times out of that 38 is on a level with The Invincibles team.

Does that sole loss really create a gulf between the two incarnations of Arsenal? Is the fact that the Class of 91 succumbed to a ridiculously unlucky loss a telltale sign that Wenger’s team of 2004 was markedly better? Because the rest of the numbers points to Graham’s men as the superior team.

More goals scored, less conceded. A far smaller squad to navigate the season with. These are big indicators regarding the merits of that side that came so close to achieving the immortality that The Invincibles now enjoy.

Thirty years is a long time, but it isn’t the length of time that has dimmed the spotlight that should always be focused on this side. It is that one little ‘l’ that stops the Class of 91 being talked about in the same vein as The Invincibles.

That loss was inflicted on a mire of a pitch, with our skipper incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It was given to us with a shockingly brutal tackle on Steve Bould, which then forced George Graham to call upon a fresh-faced David Hillier (a midfielder) to act as a band-aid in the centre of defence in the absence of the injured Bould. This loss was thrust upon Arsenal by an offside goal and a flood of fixtures beforehand that left this threadbare squad exhausted.

This side overcame a points deduction too, after the infamous Battle of Old Trafford.

It is tough to find another championship-winning side that has had to overcome more – and was victorious in such a comprehensive manner. You could even argue that the competition in 1990-91 was far more competitive than in 2003-04, when there were only two other contenders. Thirty years ago, Liverpool were the all-conquering champions and had dominated the last twenty years or so. The First Division also had an exciting Crystal Palace side with a forward line to send fear into any defence. Manchester United were assembling something that resembled a challenge and even Tottenham had true class in their side thanks to Gazza and Gary Lineker.

There were more thrills and spills on the way of course, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

So, Almost Invincible – the 30th Anniversary of the Class of 91 – is out now. New cover, new content – but the story will still tell you all about this amazing journey Arsenal had that year and how they overcame insurmountable odds to earn the title – and what should be a permanent place in footballing history.

http://bit.ly/ArsenalClassOf91

Welcome to the After-partey

We finally got him.

After what has seemed an age, Arsenal finally confirmed the signing of Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid, for the princely sum of £45m. That amount constitutes his release clause from the La Liga club and had to be paid upfront – no installments or special arrangements that we seem so good at arranging. Nope, Partey is ours wholly and what makes it better is that it seems Atletico had no idea that Partey was leaving until the last minute.

With a release clause in Spain, no discussions have to take place involving the clubs – any interested party can simply contact the organising committee and lodge the correct amount – and hey presto – the release clause is activated, nulling the current contract between player and club.

Lucas Torreira went the other way and will be a fine addition to the Atletico midfield but Partey was very much part of Diego ‘El Cholo’ Simeone’s plans, having selected the Ghanaian midfielder for two of the three games that Atleti have played.

Now we have our man and Arsenal have announced it – in a very stylish way on social media of course, with an RSVP invite to a ‘party’ at 1115pm on transfer deadline day – what do we know about Thomas Partey?

BARCELONA, SPAIN – March 01: Thomas Partey #5 of Atletico Madrid in action during the Espanyol V Atletico Madrid, La Liga regular season match at RCDE Stadium on March 1st 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Aside from being the name most fans will have on the backs of their shirts – who can blame them – Partey is 27 years old (until he is 28) and predominantly plays in the heart of midfield. He has a tag of being a DM and while his skillset lends itself to the defensive, dirty work, Partey is far more than a sentry in front of the back four or three.

Partey is known for his driving runs through midfield, carrying the ball and  initiating attacks from deep. He has an Exocet of a shot and is probably one of the best candidates Arteta could have selected to link our team together. With Ceballos and Xhaka, we have certain roles already fulfilled but we never had that player to inject tempo into our game, someone who takes the ball, regardless of who has it – and says to the team ‘let’s go do some damage.’

Looking at his stats, he was played in a deep role by Simeone and last season, that helped Atleti keep 17 clean sheets from 29 games when Partey started (excuse the pun). That highlights how effective Partey can be in cleaning things up, but for Ghana, he is used in a far more attacking way. He has earned 11 goal involvements in 26 games for his country and this shows the capacity that Thomas Partey has. He can be utilised in a myriad of ways, or he can be the DM we need, but with a spin. He can carry us forward , giving counter attacks more power and options instead of relying on a quick release from either David Luiz or Xhaka.

It also gives Xhaka and Ceballos more license. With Partey helping at both ends of the pitch, both of our current midfielders can do what they do best, Ceballos could even take the play maker role should we switch formations.

Partey is versatile  – he can also play at right back – and all Spanish pundits purred about how good this player is. He is also very physically adept, meaning acclimatising to the rigours of the PL will not be a huge jump. We may see the Partey started sooner rather than later.

Arsenal may well have that player that makes everything else click into place. It’s exciting times – let’s get that party underway.

Arteta and the New Defence

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so the saying goes.

For a number of seasons, Arsenal have been top-heavy. Ridiculously powerful up top, capable of out-gunning any opponent, but porous at the back, like putting cowboy saloon doors on a bank vault.

Or a bodybuilder skipping leg day so much that his top half looks like it’s mid-way through swallowing his bottom half.

When was the last time we had a solid defence behind us that filled us with confidence? The last time we came close to that was the peak years of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Before and since, we’ve been fed on a diet of mediocre or average, which has been off-kilter to what we’ve had in attack.

Unai Emery recruited the likes of Sokratis to beef up our weak backline, offer some physical security. But if you’re also asking that same defence to play out from the back, Emery was ultimately trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

Then there is the capacity for mistakes in our defenders. Shkodran Mustafi can withstand pressure from teams for 80-85 minutes and be a prime candidate for Man of the Match, but he carries with him a warning sticker, that lets everyone know that there are mistakes within that can capitulate the efforts of the team, and override any decent aspects that Mustafi has contributed previously.

David Luiz is a huge character on and off the pitch, helping youngsters grow and also being a conduit for the positivity and work that Mikel Arteta’s new regime extolls. But every once in a while, Luiz will put his studded foot in his figurative mouth and inexplicably gift the opposition a goal.

It is a characteristic that has beset us for more than a decade, unfortunately.

But Mikel Arteta is instilling something at Arsenal. Something special. Something that is getting all of the players excited and looking to the next game. This tantalising project is luring players in. Both summer recruits thus far – Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes – have both spoken of other offers for their services coming in before joining Arsenal. Why did they shun these other, more lucrative deals?

Mikel Arteta.

https___i.pinimg.com_originals_da_5d_9d_da5d9d4513050e3660175d1a96a4ddd0

Magalhaes even spoke of a phone call from Arteta to convince him of his growth at Arsenal and the end goal of the club and how Magalhaes can be intrinsic to that.

We now have a solid looking nucleus of defenders at Arsenal.

Magalhaes was wanted by top clubs and chose Arsenal.

William Saliba is another top young talent that lit up Ligue Un last season. The Frenchman is younger than Magalhaes, but both could form part of a new-look backline – especially if Arteta continues to get his players adapting to a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation. It involves a bank of three central defenders, with two wing-backs shutting down the flanks and then offering an avenue in attack. Put the experienced Luiz in the centre, with the youthful exuberance and skills of Magalhaes and Saliba, and we are looking at a brand new backline that is capable of following Arteta’s wishes.

We also have depth too. With the cultured Pablo Mari to come back into the fold, and Calum Chambers – who impressed last season before injury cut his campaign short – we now have the resources available to withstand the annual Arsenal injury crises at the back.

With the impressive Kieran Tierney able to play centrally too, Arteta may well have what he needs at the back to push this club forward and toward where he wants – and we want – us to be.

 

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.

Arsenal news and opinion since 2013

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