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Kolasinac Deserves the Spotlight

Unai Emery has brought with him many changes since he was drafted in to herald in the post- Wenger era.

 

Many of them were not his choice. Backroom staff such as Raul Sanllehi were brought in slightly beforehand but are very much part of the new dynasty that Emery is meant to hone into success.

 

Others are very much stamped with the Spaniard’s touch. Matteo Guendouzi is part of the new breed for Arsenal, but some of the existing players have transitioned to the new methods far better than others too.

 

One of those is Sead Kolasinac.

 

The burly Bosnian has been the stampeding horse on our left hand side, so often providing the outlet our play needs when we are stemmed in the final third. Kolasinac has also been perfectly placed for Emery’s experiments with the wing-back system – five technically at the back, with the left and right backs flying forward to also provide the width sorely needed by our team.

 

It requires excellent stamina and the decision making that allows the player to gauge when to fly forward and when to sit back.

 

The stamina has never been in question, but the ability to judge when to assist his attacking brethren is sometimes lacking.

 

On more than one occasion we have seen a gaping maw on our left hand side that has been vacated by yet another Kolasinac rampage. The truth is though, that unless we have a full-back that is of the ilk of Bixente Lizarazu, Maldini and our legends of Dixon and Winterburn, we will never truly eradicate ourselves of that occasional weakness on the flank.

 

Mistakes will be made, no player is infallible. Kolasinac though, has at the very least, truly optimised his exertions in the final third.

 

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His unstoppable runs to the byline have seen him create more chances this season than any other Arsenal player. That is quite some feat with the creative talents on show at the club. The next best player in terms of opportunities made?

 

Another vilified player in Alex Iwobi.

 

Both have combined well and offered something different. True, both have their failings, but they are at least justifying their spots in the side.Iwobi is enjoying his best ever season in terms of return – at the time of writing he has four goals and six assists – yet both do not enjoy the favouritism that some players enjoy. The adulation never quite reaches them, but take them away and what do we have?

 

A team completely devoid of thrust, instead choosing to pass sideways. Like it or not, our left side has been predominant in terms of where our goals come from.

 

Kolasinac especially, has done himself proud whenever he has donned the shirt this season. Compare this to last season when he was very much a fringe player, lurking in the shadows created by the reliable Nacho Monreal.

 

This campaign has seen the player that terrorised the Bundesliga come to roost at the Premiership, and we are benefitting from it. The Bosnian is one of our dangermen – and we should recognise how good he has been, rather than choose to focus on the one mistake he makes every two or three games – which is far fewer than most.

 

Kolasinac has been fantastic, and long may it continue.

 

Replacing Rambo

Aaron Ramsey has shown his hand.

The discussion surrounding the Welshman and his long-running contract saga centres on the alleged contract offer being rescinded by the club. There are scant details available, other than David Ornstein declaring this via Twitter.

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All we are left with is knowing that Aaron Ramsey will almost definitely be in another jersey in the summer. Possibly even in December if our club want a transfer fee.

So, where does that leave us? Much depends on where Ramsey is best utilised.

The Welshman is most often listed as a central midfielder, but it is quite obvious that Unai Emery doesn’t see him that way. Every selection has seen Rambo slotting into the attacking three behind our sole striker.

Ramsey’s main strength is probably his late runs into the box to snaffle goals. To maximise this, he is better utilised further up the field. Sure, he can tackle and track runners, but Ramsey gets goals, so attack is his best option.

Now that he is departing the club though, do we need to recruit again? Will the Rambo-shaped hole we have derail any progress that Emery is forging? Does the Spaniard need to get on the phone to Sven Mislintat to find a suitable replacement?

No. Our squad is stronger than we think – and Ramsey leaving doesn’t have to impact us at all.

Since Emery has taken over, we have seen very little of the Ramsey we have adored. The attacking midfielder has been sorely lacking in the end product department, but someone has stepped forward and can plug the gap left by Ramsey. How do we know?

Because he has been doing it this season already.

Alex Iwobi has seemingly found his feet again after a shaky season in Wenger’s last campaign. The Nigerian has been fleet of foot, but crucially, his decision-making has not let his other talents down. He has been quite excellent, and would easily deserve  a starting spot ahead of Ramsey.

With Henrikh Mkhitaryan already waiting for an attacking spot to call his own, we have a fair amount of depth. Plus, Emery is known to chop and change his tactics, so we may opt for three central men – in that case, bargain find Matteo Guendouzi has shown that even inexperience can’t dim blazing hot talent on the pitch.

Ramsey will always hold a special place in our memories. His heroic fightback from his horror injury, his epic season of 2013/14, his two winning FA Cup goals – Ramsey has given ten years service.

Yes, it is mystifying what Ramsey must be demanding, but we must concentrate on the surface view, and how Rambo will be leaving us – and whether we will suffer.

It seems like we are well covered. If Emery has the faith in both Iwobi and Guendouzi, then the game time accrued will push them both on leaps and bounds.

Thanks for the memories Rambo.

The Enigma of Iwobi

Seeing a youngster rise up through the ranks to become a fully-fledged member of the first team squad is a source of pride for fans.

Knowing these starlets have been through every part of the club’s setup means they are steeped in the culture of the club – they are almost the same as me and you – aside from being blessed with a football at their feet.

Alex Iwobi is one of these players. He has been at Arsenal since a single-figure age, His debut in the first team was an ugly one – the humiliating 3-0 humbling at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup. Much like Hector Bellerin in that respect – the Spaniard also had a baptism of fire in a 2-0 defeat by Borussia Dortmund – Iwobi didn’t let his first taste of the first team sway his resolve.

His rise to prominence as a viable squad member was deserved. He can ghost past players with a swift drop of the shoulder, his ball control can be exquisite and whether we choose to ignore it or not, his final ball is very often the right one and an exhibit of great vision.

I mention ignorance, as this season he has been the subject of vitriol from a portion of Gooners. The comments I’ve witnessed on social media question his inclusion or addition from the bench on every occasion. Iwobi has obviously failed to convince some fans of his worthiness of a squad place.

Is it deserved? Not on this level. Players are in the spotlight and represent something very dear to us all. So if they fail to put in a good shift for the crest, then they are open to criticism.

There is criticism though, and then there is downright negative bias.

Aaron Ramsey gets the same sort of treatment, albeit on a weaker level. It would appear as if Iwobi needs to register a goal or assist in every game in order to sate his detractors, but that isn’t going to happen. His style of play lends itself to involvement in the earlier stage of a build-up as much as it does at the business end.

So, are his stats that bad?

Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka suffers from this to a degree. Xhaka is quite clearly not a defensive sentry, but his weaknesses in tracking runners is detracting from his Premier League-leading passing stats and excellent distribution both long and short. Because he isn’t what many of us thought he should be, that means he’s been tagged as an underperformer, which is simply unfair.

That isn’t to say Ramsey, Xhaka and Iwobi don’t have their faults. Criticism is just as fair as praise. Ramsey too often focuses on attack and leaves his defensive duties like a spoiled kid leaves his vegetables on the plate. Xhaka needs to concentrate more, and Iwobi needs to make the right decision more often, as well as perhaps concentrate on footballing matters a little more.

In a comparison matrix with Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and former Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi shines quite brightly – especially when you consider how the team he is playing for is struggling in comparison.

Iwobi has created the second most amount of chances, The second most amount of forward passes and has the highest possession score out of all the participants in the comparison.

Not bad for a player who is viewed by some as nowhere near good enough to wear the jersey.

With our team falling way below the standards expected, the time we used to employ to blood a player in our tactics is far shorter than it was. We have far less patience and we want things immediately, rather than use a modicum of common sense and remember that a young player learns from his errors and needs to make them to progress.

Plus, the comparison above shows that Iwobi isn’t underperforming at all – he is in fact outperforming some players who are judged to be better players than he is. Another startling fact that may illuminate how good Iwobi actually is – he achieved those stats playing in far less games than his opponents. Iwobi has played in 17 games, Lingard 22, Sterling 25 and Oxlade-Chamberlain 23.

So, to surmise, Iwobi deserves his place amongst our leading lights, and he also deserves a bit of expectational pressure. If this is him underperforming, then just imagine when he actually hits a patch of form…

Comparison stats correct at the time of writing.

Gunners look set to lose their Firepower  

Since The Arsenal played out to a goalless draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge during mid-September, they have scored in their next 10 consecutive league games. In all, the Gunners scored 22 goals during those games, averaging 2.2 goals per match, yet

Arsenal find themselves outside of the top four and, more alarmingly, with a lot of unanswered questions that will need to be answered.

Losing Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil looks to be all but a certainty and that will leave the Gunners with a serious shortage of creativity up front. Whether the duo departs in January or next summer, they are the types of players that leave holes that can’t be filled easily.

Arsene Wenger has seen his side score 29 league goals this season, for which Sanchez and Ozil have been responsible for 13 of them, with 7 assists and 6 goals between them.

Alexis Sánchez free kick 1” (CC BY 2.0) by Ronnie Macdonald

Arsenal’s current goal difference is 10 but, without the contribution of these two, it would be -3. Southampton, who currently sit in 11th, enjoy a goal difference of -3, which indicates where the Gunners may possibly be without the influence of these two highly talented playmakers.

With Sanchez and Ozil still at the club, the odds of them finishing in the top 4 remains realistic at 11/4 in the Premier League betting but that won’t remain like that if Arsenal’s creative spark disappears. With them stalling on signing new deals, one has to fear the worst, especially if both leave on a free transfer.

Replacing the likes of Sanchez and Ozil won’t be a cheap task and will carry with it severe financial burdens. Should they let their contracts run down, with Arsenal not getting a penny for either of them, then it seems unlikely they will bring in adequate replacements. Arsenal already had a £92m bid rejected for Thomas Lemar on deadline day and will have to come up with that sort of money again should they want similar successors.

The situation would be a great deal worse if it had not been for the form of Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman is the club’s leading goal scorer this season and has looked a class act when given the opportunity. He will score the goals when given the service and so will Giroud, who has 5 goals to his name this season. Losing those players just behind the two Frenchmen may impact both of their goal returns.

When Alex Iwobi came on in the 14th minute for Shkodran Mustafi during the loss against Manchester United, he proved what a star player he is maturing into. His energy, pace, and raw skill caused the United defence all sorts of problems. The young Nigerian international had 6 shots, 3 on target, created three opportunities, and didn’t give the ball away once during his time on the park.

Arsenal Vs Burnley” (CC BY 2.0) by joshjdss

As good a prospect as the young Iwobi is, it still may take a couple of years for him to be turning in performances like that week in and week out. There’s no doubt that, when he does, he will go a long way to replacing either Sanchez or Ozil, which makes sound financial sense as he comes from the academy. Until then, the Gunners need to make sure they have a contingency in place to avoid misfiring in the league.

The Ox at Wing-Back

Published on Goonersphere. ​

New ideas bring new viewpoints. Standing in a different position gives a completely different look on proceedings, and this may just have happened in recent weeks for Arsenal – and certainly for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.


The stagnation of Arsenal looked to have taken root. Four consecutive away losses, of which we conceded three goals each time. A royal hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich. Falling away in the Premier League. The rot appeared to have gone all the way through the squad and there was no fight evident, there was no resistance. Only a meek surrender akin to an injured gazelle, too exhausted to keep running from the chasing predators. We were easy prey, rivals and smaller clubs taking advantage of an apparently stricken beast.

Arsene Wenger looked to be devoid of ideas, arms wide and raised in a desperate signal to the gods. His tried and trusted tactics were no longer up to scratch, they were in fact dragging the team down. The players also looked unable to find the extra gears they required to simply avoid defeat.

Wenger picked up the dice and threw. He opted to change formation and go with three central defenders at the back for the first time since 1997. On that occasion, we had Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Martin Keown in the team. Three of the hardest, most disciplined and organised defenders the Premier League has ever seen. This time though, we had Laurent Koscielny marshalling the errant Gabriel and the inexperienced Rob Holding.

The formation may have been branded as wholly new by all and sundry, but the only difference was it gave our fullbacks a bit more license to roam forward.

It also gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a bit more responsibility – and he has taken it and run with it.















In the games it has been employed, we have looked more alive than in recent months and The Ox has been instrumental.

We were all aware of his attacking threat and his intent with the ball. We were also aware of his tendency to lose the ball as he takes on players. This season has seen a wiser Ox though, and his utilisation at central midfield earlier in the season saw him in a far more efficient light than in previous seasons.

It is his work in a wing-back role in this 3-5-2 that has been revolutionary though. Who knew that The Ox could double-task? He has been asked to patrol the right side of the pitch – both in defence and attack, and he has done so with zeal and merit.

He has changed games in attack as he searches for the early ball or to torment his opposing fullback. The Ox has enhanced his dribbling and he has lessened the wastefulness that has blighted his time an a Gunners shirt. He has improved his final ball and has made sure he has lifted his head up rather than ploughing on into blind corners. He has made the difference.

It is in defence though that he has proved his worth. He has been quite excellent in covering the defensive part of the field, he has helped out Gabriel in that part of the pitch in a massive way.

The Brazilian has come on leaps and bounds with the security offered by Chamberlain. The Ox’s reservoirs of stamina means he has been up and down his flank like a clock pendulum on meth amphetamine.

If this formation sticks and we adopt it, then The Ox will be as vital a player as any other on the field. His adaptability has seen him rise to the fore and this in turn may just get him the improved contract he desires – and now warrants.

The Ox Looking for New Pastures?

Originally published on Arsenal Mania

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been at Arsenal now for over six years. In that time, the man known as ‘The Ox’ by fans, has accrued 122 appearances in the Premiership.

He has also earned international recognition during his time at the club. From the raw but exciting winger the Gunners purchased all those seasons ago, The Ox has firmly established himself and has been reaping the rewards of a higher echelon player.


Oxlade-Chamberlain has also suffered a raft of injuries in his time at The Emirates, disrupting his progress and hampering his opportunities in the first team. Looking back at his career sees a series of peaks and troughs, where he injures himself, has a lengthy layoff and then has sporadic gametime in an effort to reestablish himself on Arsene Wenger’s plans.


That is not to say the versatile midfielder hasn’t been given adequate chances however. There have been ample opportunities dished out to the England man, but until this season, The Ox had a severe case of butterfingers, as chance after chance fell through his grasp thanks to his weaknesses on the field.


Poor decision making, a tendency to hold the ball for too long, gifting possession to the opposition repeatedly. The Ox has been exciting to watch, but careless. It is his ability to successfully take on his markers though, that has affirmed his status as a fan favourite amongst a large percentage of Gooners. His fearlessness, especially when the chips are down, means he raises bums from seats. He raises the emotional level of the fans in the stands when he is on the ball.


Although the source is unconfirmed, there has been smoke billowing around the player’s future. Stories of The Ox looking to pastures new where so plentiful recently, that it was presented to Arsene Wenger in a recent Press conference. Of course Wenger reaffirmed his wish for the Ox to stay, and with so much faith and time invested in the young man, this is certainly no surprise to hear.


The whole thing smacks of the dark arts engineered by an agent keen to up his client’s market value so a new contract will be as juicy and lucrative as possible. A wanted commodity is always a more valuable commodity after all. If some transfer furore can be whipped up and Arsenal can be reminded of what they could lose, then they will be keener to tie up The Ox to a long-term deal.


If there is substance to the story though, then The Ox is showing his true colours.


Much like Robin Van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain has suffered many injuries, and has also received a ludicrous amount of faith placed in them by a manager who chooses to see the promise in a player above their flaws. Wenger believed they would come good and he resisted all overtures to drop them from the team when fit.


Now, if the rumours are to be believed, The Ox is looking to betray that faith by leaving the club, after finally fulfilling that promise he has always failed to deliver. This campaign has seen The Ox rise to the fore in a central role, getting the all-important numbers in the goals and assists column and showing everyone just what he can do.


Wenger always knew this was the player he signed, but if The Ox wants to go, then he should be allowed to. We cannot want a player who is willing to sever ties with our club so easily. Apparently he believes that he has been taken for granted. All this sounds like is a player who has been given much and is not willing to return the favour with loyalty.


We shan’t miss him. We have had far better than him and coped just fine. More than likely, The Ox is just angling for an extension, but if there is the slightest hint of truth, then we should leave the gate open for The Ox to depart from his comfortable pen.


I am more than sure he will find that wherever he goes, he won’t find circumstances so forgiving anywhere else. 

Bournemouth Vs Arsenal – The Warm Up

Just two days after what historians will brand ‘Scorpion Day’ forevermore, after Olivier Giroud’s quite extraordinary goal against Crystal Palace, Arsenal have another Premier League game.

The Gunners travel to Bournemouth with barely time to rest, and this will lead to a side that may include some changes to allow for the inevitable fatigue that comes with two games in two days.

Arsene Wenger would have been pleased with the fighting qualities shown in the last two games – the hard-fought 1-0 win over West Brom on Boxing Day and the 2-0 win mentioned above – but Bournemouth pose an entirely different threat to the two opponents we have defeated.

Eddie Howe has always tried to play expansive football, and although they may opt for the counter-attack in the face of Arsenal’s possession-based football, they will have plenty of the ball – and chances – themselves. 

So Wenger could do with the best men at his disposal. In that regard, Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott will again miss out, after missing the last two games through injury. This sees Nacho Monreal keep his place at left-back, which he deserves after he and Hector Bellerin tormented Crystal Palace. Mohamed Elneny is off to the Africa Cup of Nations so the midfield dynamic will change from the last match. Aaron Ramsey made a late substitute appearance in the same game, and with Granit Xhaka having played twice within a week, that leaves Francis Coquelin and the Welshman as the two freshest choices.

The most difficult choices come in attack. Alex Iwobi played in Mesut Ozil’s position on Sunday, with the German suffering with an illness. Iwobi excleed in his new role, and may just get another shot with Ozil still under the weather. Ozil may just recover in time, but it is comforting to know that we have another who can jump in when needed. Alexis will most likely start again on the left, as Olivier Giroud has started the last two games as striker and come up trumps on both occasions. 

Shkodran Mustafi may return to the side in place of Gabriel, but the Brazilian has made the most of his chance at centre-half and it would be harsh to immediately send him to the bench. He has also played a fair amount of games in a short space of time too however, so Mustafi may just get his place back by default. Seeing as he has never been part of a losing Arsenal side, this would not be  bad thing.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be looking to get a start as well, and has really started to flourish this season. Will he get a shout? Lucas played well on the right of attack on Boxing Day, but The Ox may just edge him out.

Bournemouth will have ex-Gunner Benik Afobe at their disposal, after he refused a call from DR Congo to play in the AFCON. Best mate and still a Gunner Jack Wilshere is unavailable for selection. Calum Wilson scored the last time these sides played, and he will again be chief threat with his pace.  Howe’s team are in ninth spot at the time of writing, and their last result was a handsome win against struggling Swansea City. Howe will be keen to rectify a poor record against the Gunners though, with all three previous games in the Premiership going to the Arsenal, and only one goal scored in favour of the Cherries.

Arsenal have a recent record they also want to change. Their last two away games they have lost, after going a goal up in each of them. If we have any hope of making ground at the top of the league, this is a game we must deal with ruthlessly. With Olivier on fire with eight goals in his last six starts, Alexis dictating play and talented individuals ready to be rotated into the side, we must be optimistic.

Our North London neighbours are once again breathing their sour breath down our necks, and it is up to us to keep up the pace. 

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Alexis, Giroud

Predicted Scoreline – 3-1

Alex Iwobi – Fruits of Youth

Published on Goonersphere.

With the impending TV deal set to not only revolutionise Premier League football but change every parameter, fans may well revel in the dreams that the cash can create.

Every team that participates in the Premiership can now duke it out with the big boys in terms of transfer fees as coffers swell with TV cash. There are drawbacks however.

As each European club braces itself for the slew of bids for its stars by pumping up prices, it also means that the Premier League will have more imported players – which means the already miniscule chances youth players have of reaching the top shrink rapidly with every import that is brought to these shores.

So we should embrace every youngster who bucks the trend and squeezes through the doors to force their talents upon the Manager.

Step forward Alex Iwobi.

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Continue reading Alex Iwobi – Fruits of Youth

The Ox – A Bovine Paradigm

Originally posted on Goonersphere.
Last seasons Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern Munich ( again ) in the Last 16 was memorable for another reason aside from a repeated attempt to claw back a first leg deficit. If memory serves correctly, it also saw a titanic performance from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

His inclusion in the team saw him involved heavily in play. Defence and attack, he created, he harried, he hustled. He was the outlet to which Arsenal converted pressure put on them by a star-studded Bayern. A highlight of his all-action performance was a slaloming run taking him past at least three Munchen players.

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This run was symbolic of why such high hopes have been pinned on him – perhaps more than any other player at Arsenal. The bustling bull shrugging off desperate lunges, peering forward and considering options – does he continue the run or does he slip in a team mate who is in the process of a lung-bursting run to keep up with him? Continue reading The Ox – A Bovine Paradigm