Category Archives: wenger

Sven and the Broken Regime

Nobody likes change.

 

So when Arsene Wenger finally departed after twenty two years at the helm of Arsenal, many worried what came next.

 

It was the unknown, our path was not set, but we could latch onto the fact that the club had started to put some foundations into place that would carry us through the uncertainty.

 

Our squad may have been severely unbalanced, and we had no idea if we would have what it took to fight back and gain entry into the vital money source of the Champions League, but a few additions to our backroom staff meant we would be able to rebuild for the future.

 

Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi had pedigree. The German had forged a reputation as one of the best talent spotters in Europe. Mislintat had found glints of light and knew they could be polished up to become precious jewels. The players he found at Borussia Dortmund can attest to his quality. Aubameyang, Dembele, Sokratis, Kagawa and more, Mislintat could see the player they would become before anyone else.

 

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Sanllehi was sourced from Barca, and his previous employment showed he could oversee many different facets of a top European club. There were other appointments, Fahmy, Mertesacker, Ljungberg etc were part of the new guard – one that was supposed to herald in a new, revitalised approach that gave responsibility to experts in their field, rather than the old model that had one man overseeing everything.

 

With Wenger and then Gazidis leaving the club, the watershed had hit us, and we could see the path that the club was on.

 

With Mislintat leaving though, apparently at odds with Sanllehi, it leaves us in the limbo of uncertainty again.

 

It is rumoured that former Gunner Edu, currently working in a technical capacity for the Brazil national team, but will the Brazilian have the all-encompassing football knowledge of how a club operates like Mislintat does? With the German’s hopes of his role growing rather than being pigeon-holed into that of a talent spotter, Mislintat can be forgiven for looking elsewhere. He was supposed to be integral to the evolution of the club – but instead, this period of transition for Arsenal is being sworn in by Sanllehi and new Managing Director Vinai Venkatesham, without the vision of Mislintat.

 

Bayern Munich seems to be a likely destination for the German, where he not only will be given a firmer handle on the reins – given his burgeoning reputation – but he will also not be hamstrung by miniscule budgets. If he identifies a target, then the club will listen.

 

It was hard enough for the club to finally give in and bring about change at the managerial level, but with one of the puzzle pieces of our future regime leaving, we will undoubtedly be put back a few steps. Plus, Mislintat is a genuine asset to the club, one we could dearly need.

 

Our defence will need a vast overhaul very soon. Captain Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, these are all 30 or over. Even if they are all fit, we have needed an injection of defensive skill for some time. With those players on the wrong end of their playing capability, Mislintat could have been given a mission to find the next Arsenal defence. Now we may not spot the next defensive lynchpin we so badly require.

 

Sven Mislintat departing the club may be overlooked by some, but with the raft of changes the club has undergone recently, Sven was part of the new regime, and also had a responsibility to find the last few pieces of the puzzle.

 

We may have to wait longer now to see the finished article, and Arsenal could become a perennial Europa League team, instead of the reputation we have forged as a Champions League club. This may be even harder to replace.

Reclaiming North London Next Season?

For over two decades, North London was settled territory.

The equilibrium was undisturbed, and while there were tremors of change, Arsenal held dominion over Tottenham with a steady hand.

The last two years however – arguably three if it weren’t for a laughable final day drubbing at the hands of an already relegated Newcastle United – have seen Spurs break free from their shackles and usurp the Gunners.

The hard thing to swallow though, is that the team with a chicken atop a basketball for a crest have deserved to finish above us.

Every season represents another chance for redemption however.

Can we restore the status quo and reclaim North London this coming season?

Arsenal Vs Spurs - Who will be the Kings of North London next season?

Everything rests on Unai Emery’s shoulders.

Last season saw the gap become a gulf, at no point did we threaten to grab back the bragging rights from Spurs, as they comfortably earned a Champions League place while we duked it out with Burnley and Everton for the Europa League and the dubious honour of finishing 6th.

Arsene Wenger’s last season was not the way he would have envisaged signing off from the club he adored, but he did leave the club with its values intact and the foundations for something greater than the sum of 2017/18.

Emery and the recruitment team have acted quickly to remedy the gaping holes in our lineup, but it could be argued that it was never really personnel that has let us down – it has been tactical nous that has been our downfall.

Wenger gamely stuck to his guns even in the face of the fiercest critics, but his famed Plan A succeeded less and less.

The lack of a Plan B and the ignored scouting of opponents led to us tripping up far more than we should have done.

Our new Spanish boss is a stickler for detail, and former players under his watch have claimed that he was obsessed with videos of opponents, putting in the work to combat an opponent’s strengths.

Emery is also known for his pressing game, and swift conversions from defence to attack. This doesn’t mean he cannot play the possession game though, it just points to a team that will be able to mix it up to differing demands.

Spurs are on the precipice. For three seasons they have swaggered to the ring, welcomed by a bassy ringwalk number, only for them to duck out of the ring when the First Round bell signals the time for talking is over. They have arguably one of the most potent attacks in the League, and a settled defence. They have taken scalps and duked it out with the best – but crucially, they have won nix.

Their trophy cabinet – for all the pundits fawning, their players claiming they have what it takes, their manager being linked to the biggest clubs – is still bare.

Now, they have taken the next big step, and built a stadium with a capacity to enable them to cement their place amongst the biggest clubs. The only problem is, the debt they have now acquired could sink them.

This is where Wenger really excelled. When we took on all of the debt from The Emirates build – unlike Spurs who have had financial aid – we had to tighten our belts. We were on a diet of Djourou’s and Senderos’s, and we still maintained our Champions League presence, which was vital for our finances.

We fought our way out on our own merits. Spurs have a squad that deserves to be amongst the top earners, but in terms of other star men and teams, they are on a pittance. There is only so long players will stay at a club through devotion if they have no winners medals to show for it.

They know they can triple their income with a move away – so Daniel Levy must focus on tying down his gems before they jump ship. That inevitably means their transfer budget will require sales to bolster it. It could mean a few years scouring the bargain buckets of Europe – and this is where Spurs have a big problem.

Their squad last season fell short, and that is them at their strongest. If they are to take that final step and become bona fide challengers, they need to be better than they are now – and that means new personnel, which they won’t be able to afford.

This also means that we know what we need to do, to reclaim our spot in North London. We need to be better than Spurs were last season.

With this being Emery’s first season in charge, there are so many unanswered questions, and with change coming after Wenger’s two decades, we cannot claim to be able to foresee where we will be.

The signs are good though, and we can say this – this coming season will be far closer than the last one.
North London could still be back in our hands yet.

Arsene Wenger’s Highest High and Lowest Low

How do you judge the highest highs and the lowest lows? The peaks that made you giddy? the troughs that had you on the ropes?

Arsene Wenger’s 22 year spell as Arsenal manager has finally ended the rollercoaster ride that has in recent years, kept journalists in a job and fans heading for the exits.

His tenure can be split into sections, with the first decade being the reason why expectations are so very high now, dragging the club firstly into contention, and then ensuring its survival at the forefront of a sport that was transforming rapidly.

Then came what most know as the stadium years, when The Emirates required funding and the fallout from this was the transfer budget had to be created, rather than given. Perhaps his greatest feat was keeping Arsenal in the Champions League during those lean years, when other clubs were burning money to keep warm.

And then came the years of doubt, where Arsenal were supposed to herald in a bright new dawn, free from the albatross of uber-debt around our neck, we could now compete with the big boys, but instead, we slipped further down the ladder as Wenger’s shortcomings in tactics and his recalcitrant approach to these failings meant that not only was a first title since 2004 well out of reach – we also let in clubs that were previously playing perma-catch-up.

If we look at Wenger’s highs and lows on a game by game basis, naturally we’ll look to his first ten years for the best moments, and his last decade will be littered with references to instances when we feared the worst.

But there are matches in every season that could be nominated for either.

Our 8-2 and 6-1 stuffings at the hands of Man Utd are obvious picks when highlighting nightmares. What of our 6-0 hammering by Chelsea though? Or when Liverpool pasted us 5-1? We’ve also racked up a few derby defeats as well, after going so long without one. Let’s not forget our European nightmares too (we don’t talk about Paris).

In terms of high points, our 1-0 win at Old Trafford to win the league in 2002 was golden-hued, and I’ll never forget our recent FA Cup wins. We thumped Inter Milan at the San Siro, we were the first English club to beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, and winning the league at the pisshole down the road ranks pretty highly too.

So many of either to mention, but if I had to pick just one of either…

Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal – 14 March 1998

This match broke United’s previously unbowed spirit. We had the perfect gameplan, we had the back 5 as the perfect foundation, Vieira and Petit were patrolling midfield and in Marc Overmars, we had a weapon that was unanswerable. The flying Dutchman chased a flick on and headed the bouncing ball into his own path, before finishing low past Schmeichel. It was a signal, to both Fergie and our own fans, that we were a real force. It was unforgettable, and it was the beginning of the best years as a Gooner for quite some time – if ever.

Arsenal 2-3 Leeds Utd – 4 May 2003

We’d won the double the season before, and humiliated United in the process by winning it at Old Trafford. The next season had been given the perfect platform, and we made it count for the most part, but our slip against an underwhelming Leeds side managed by Peter Reid. Mark Viduka had one of his games where he was unplayable, and we shot ourselves in the foot. It handed the title back to United, meaning we failed to regain the Premiership yet again. This was a title we should have won, but defeats like this hampered us. Thinking about it even now gives off waves of ‘what should’ve been,’ and of massive missed opportunities.

These are just my own choices. Mentioned before, there’s plenty of both to choose from. Our 3-2 defeat to a weak Man United side and subsequent loss to Swansea City in 2015 ran the Leeds loss unbelievably close.

What are your personal high and low matches in Wenger’s reign? Drop me a comment, it should make for interesting conversation!

Could a Different Assistant have Helped Wenger?

The announcement of Arsene Wenger departing the club has led to the inevitable thoughts of the many years the Frenchman has been at the helm of the club.
After twenty two years of ups and downs, the search for Wenger’s disappearing mojo has led us all down a variety of paths.
Some scenic – some desolate.
Was it the start of the financial restraints and the need to sell our star players year after year?
Perhaps it was down to the changing face of football tactics and Wenger’s taciturn approach to his methods under fire?
The influx of cash that flooded the game was always a weapon that Wenger liked to furiously brandish, waving it with enthusiasm as United, Chelsea and City began to spend money like Mario Balotelli in a fireworks factory.
Or was it simply Wenger’s recalcitrance?
It’s probably a combination of the above, but his choice of Assistant Manager could be a contributing factor.

Wenger and Rice.

Arsene Wenger inherited the services of Pat rice when he joined back in 1996. The Arsenal stalwart bleeds red and white and through his playing and coaching career, Rice accrued invaluable knowledge of the club.

Rice was a huge reason Wenger’s strange and new methods took so well at the club. It helped that the results soon started to flow, but the playing personnel had a familiar face and one that was convinced by Wengers actions. This would help convert the masses.
Rice was no manager though. He was the perfect Assistant, and it meant that when results started to go south and an objective voice was required, Rice was the perfect ally rather than the difficult words that needed to be said.
Rice left Arsenal in 2012, when our ship began what was a particularly rough patch of water. This stretch of choppy seas we are still navigating, and another former Gunner has taken the coveted seat next to Arsene.
Much has been speculated about the role of assistant to Wenger. Some have said his rule is absolute. His reluctance to scout opposing teams and instill rigorous defensive training is yet another piece in the Wenger falling star jigsaw, and you would think two of our finest defenders would be just the answer to our backline blues?
Maybe it’s true that Bould and Rice have not been allowed to impart their wisdom on proceedings, maybe it’s fallacy. What isn’t myth is that perhaps, these men weren’t the answer? Rice perhaps in his later years was not the right man, and is Bould the right hand man Wenger needs when the ground became rockier and the incline steeper?
Some of the greatest triumphs involved a Manager who realised his limitations and stuck to what he was good at, and relied on his Assistant Manager to plug the gaps. Brian Clough leaned on Peter Taylor and look what they achieved with Forest and Derby. Sir Alex Ferguson used a number of Robin’s to his Batman and his trophy cabinet bulged. Kidd, McClaren, Quieroz, Knox, Smith and Phelan were just some of the names that were allowed to have an impact on the training field.

One of the finest examples of this involved our own Bertie Mee and Don Howe. Mee knew his own boundaries and so did Howe, but together they formed a formidable coaching unit.
It is increasingly difficult for just one man to play every part at a club, and with Wenger going from Arsenal, this is maybe one of the last Managerial postings where the manager has his fingers in a multitude of pies. Now is the time of the coach, and now we have Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, we have the expertise to supplement a great coach on the training pitch.
Arsene Wenger at times could have really done with a partner to pull him to one side and make him realise where his errors were. Whether he would have listened or not is another matter entirely.
Wenger is still undeniably – along with Chapman – the greatest manager we’ve had. We’re lucky to have been able to witness what we have during his tenure. Even in his later years, we were still treated to some football from the gods.
Wenger’s legacy is where we stand right now, and our brand of football. With or without a change in Assistant Manager, we still have this to remember him by.
With a different Robin though? Batman could have really made Gotham a better place.

Published in the Gooner Fanzine.

Selling Bellerin to Solve Our Defensive Woes?

This season has been a calamitous one at best.

Our Premier League campaign is the worst we’ve had under Arsene Wenger, and we’re set for the lowest finishing position in his tenure.
It all points to a manager that has lost his grip on what it takes at the cutting edge of the game, and a squad that quite clearly needs a drastic overhaul.

But does it? Or is the fault mainly in our defence that is as porous as a sponge?
Well, our attack is as potent as Tottenham’s, United’s and Chelsea’s in terms of goals scored, and we have proven world class talent in the form of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

Our defence however, is a different story.

We have conceded more goals than the rest of the teams in the top 7, this is the reason that as of 15/04/18, we had lost exactly one third of our total league games this season – and owned the worst away record of ANY team in the top 4 leagues in England.

Our best defenders are Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal. Both are the wrong side of thirty and Koscielny suffers from chronic tendonitis. There is only one way for them to go from here.

We do have an answer though.

Hector Bellerin to Barca?

Hector Bellerin is 23 and the Catalan-born defender is under contract until 2022. It is common knowledge that he isn’t short of admirers. His price tag would be a handsome one.

If we did dispense of his services, with whatever funds are currently at our disposal, we could add to it with a rather tidy sum and it could replenish our depleted numbers.

With the World Cup, most transfer fees will be grossly inflated, and we could really do with a few extra pennies to spend, as our backline isn’t merely on its last legs, it really needs a new foundation.

Rob Holding and Calum Chambers have shown enough to merit some faith in their future and with more games, they will improve. Shkodran Mustafi has been a failed purchase thus far, and Per Mertesacker is retiring. We need at least three new faces in defence, and they can’t be works in progress either – they will need to be established players who have top-flight experience.

Hector Bellerin has not exactly been fantastic this season. In attack he is a great outlet, but defensively, he hasn’t improved since his first full season. The Spaniard is still making mistakes with the timing of his forward runs and he is still beaten a little too easily when one on one.

Plus, we’ve now got a ready-made replacement in Stefan Lichtsteiner.

Should Barcelona come in with a £50m bid, would we be fools not to take it? Of course we wouldn’t. We’d be retaining a player with bags of talent that could vastly improve. If we sold him though, and we actually invested the money? It could be the reinvention our defence sorely needs.

Next season the competition will only get tougher, and with the gap between us and the top 6 stretching, it’s time to stop what we’re doing and change things up – what we’ve been doing isn’t working and at the root of this – Wenger aside – is our defence.

One player sold, and we could solve so many of our problems. Let’s face it, Hector will be going to Barca in 2-3 seasons maximum anyway.

Shouldn’t we cash in?

What would you do? Would you sell Bellerin?

Merci and Adieu Arsene

You are responsible for the brightest of lights and the darkest shadows.

When we were first introduced to you, we worried for the future. How could you uphold all that is precious about our club when you have no idea about what it is that makes us so special?

If we could go back in time and tell our past selves that we needn’t have worried – we wouldn’t. It was the worry, the uncertainty, that made your impact resonate so much.

We were treated to football from the gods, we got to witness first-hand how the game is meant to be played. We had the privilege to have in our ranks some of the greatest players in the world at the time.

We were also gifted memories that we would clasp onto when the rough times rolled in.

Yes, the environment changed and it called for a different approach, but you didn’t make it easier with your stubbornness. The good times made the dark seem less fearful, and it gave us all hope.

Hope that we would pull through and get back to what made our glory years so special.

It’s inevitable that every relationship hits a rocky patch, and mistakes started to grate on us a little more each time. As the past shrunk behind us, when we looked forward, we could see less on the horizon.

For every Bergkamp, there was a Bischoff. For every Campbell, there was a Stepanovs. For every Bernabeu win there was an 8-2 vs United. Were your methods outdated? Did your belligerent nature begin to cost us? It’s true to a degree, but it wasn’t just you that is responsible for the slide we’ve been on.

It’s been said by many, that your faith in your players and staff is absolute, and it inspires great things. It makes people want to jump through fire for you, to repay the backing by doing what they do best.

It has also been your greatest weakness. When you’ve been let down repeatedly, you never seem able to say goodbye, to cut the cord. So you keep getting burned. At times, it has left us screaming in the stands, at our TV’s. Players shirking their duties, staff failing to meet the standards they once met. Yet you never let them go.

You expected them to do what you would have done – but not everyone is a gentleman like you Arsene. Not everyone stays true to their word.

Goodbye and Thank You Arsene

Now your seat in the dugout is cold, and it will be filled with someone that isn’t you. We got what we wanted, we wanted change. Criticism can stop and we can take a step back and appreciate what you did for us.

You didn’t just bring us trophies and titans on the pitch.

You gave us bragging rights, you gave us memories, you gave us an identity of purveyors of the beautiful game.

You also held dear the values of the club. Even when pressure seemed too heavy and demanded a drastic change, you never forgot what makes Arsenal, Arsenal.

You were lashed by some of us because you were paid an astronomical wage, but you did everything in your power to justify that. Every minute was spent at London Colney. Dedication is one of your strongest suits.

We are a huge club now, with the opportunity to play at the highest level, thanks to you. We have high expectations, thanks to you. We have a barometer of comparison, thanks to you.

It is no surprise that players and staff have come forward since your announcement to depart, to speak highly of you. Of your managerial nous, but most importantly – what made you beloved by them. Ken Friar, Pat Rice, Pires, Henry, Wright. Former players on social media have all come forward to tell us about the times you helped them become what they are, or in their darkest days how you went above and beyond to make sure they knew they weren’t alone.

Opposition teams have chanted your name in appreciation. Commemorative photos and mementoes have been gifted. The reason is that even though results have slipped, they can see how you changed the footballing landscape, how you pushed the Premier League forward.

We are lower in the league than at any time in your Arsenal career, but it seems far less palatable because of what you gave us before.

You couldn’t let go, but now you’re gone, we know how that must have felt, because after so long together, we felt it too. The bottom line is that we both needed to move on. We’re stronger because of what we’ve done, and we can move on.

We will never forget though.

When we see you at a different club, we know that once you take off their unzippable jacket, you will go home and watch our latest match. The bond between us is unbreakable.

You can take Arsene out of The Arsenal, but you can’t take The Arsenal out of Arsene.

Merci Arsene, and adieu.

Arsenal Vs Burnley – PL Preview

This match sees Arsene Wenger take charge of his last match at the stadium he oversaw the creation of. It’s also an opportunity to attempt to forget our exit of the Europa League Semi-Final on Thursday versus Atletico Madrid.

Our loss against Diego Simeone’s side was expected but not taken lightly. We huffed and puffed but very little was created seeing as everything was on the line. It was more of a whimper than a roar, and it kept the theme of our season.

Perhaps the only decent upside of our campaign so far has been our home form, and this game is our last home showing this season, against the only team that can overtake us in sixth spot.

Arsenal take on Burnley at The Emirates

Fighting for this lowly position is a wake up call, and shows us all how far we’ve fallen away this time around, Burnley have had a great season so far, and will surely pose a threat to our record. Sean Dyche has crafted a team that is built on a sound defence, with Nick Pope and James Tarkowski the standout performers. They’ve got threats up top too, with Ashley Barnes sure to give our defenders a few concerns.

Regarding our defence, we’ll be without Laurent Koscielny for the foreseeable future as the defender tore his achilles in Madrid. He’ll miss the next six months most likely, so Calum Chambers now has ample time to set out his stall for his first team future. David Ospina is likely to keep the gloves in goal, with Cech a doubt.

Nacho Monreal may be rested if Sead Kolasinac is fit, and Mesut Ozil is another who may be absent if previous Premier League games are to go by. Henrikh Mkhitaryan should play though, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will come back into the lineup. Will that mean a spot on the bench for Alexandre Lacazette? Or could both play together like they did a few weeks ago?

Midfield sees the absence of Mohamed Elneny, but the Egyptian is expected to be back before the end of the season. It’ll mean that Granit Xhaka will play alongside Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere.

Another really welcome return on the cards – though not for this game – is Santi Cazorla. The fan-favourite Spaniard has returned to training for the first time in 19 months, and the fleet-footed midfielder has been sorely missed.

We’ve only lost twice at home all season and if it weren’t for this great record, we’d be fighting relegation, given our away form is probably among the worst in the league.

A win in this game will see of the challenge of Burnley and confirm sixth spot for us, leaving only games against Leicester City on Wednesday and Huddersfield next weekend.

We will also be celebrating Wenger in this game, with t-shirts and other events planned at the end of the game. Let’s hope we don’t forget that there’s a match to win, that will be what Wenger wants to see the most.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Chambers, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Welbeck, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Aubameyang

Predicted Scoreline – 3-0 to The Arsenal