Tag Archives: attack

Giroud – A Tainted Legacy

105 goals in 253 appearances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giroud badge

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mocking Arsenal

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

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

Giroud

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

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

 

Support Your Own

Villains arguably make a story.

Would Die Hard be as epic without Alan Rickman’s star turn as the super-slick Hans Gruber?

Would Anchorman be as complete without poor-man’s Ron Burgundy, Wes Mantooth?

What about the scene-stealing antics of Bricktop in Snatch?

A bad guy gets the best lines, a bad guy evokes emotion.

The same goes for sport, and those players that you just love to hate.

Gary Neville in his playing pomp used to play up to the Liverpool fans. He was Public Enemy Number One in the red half of Merseyside, and he loved every minute of it.

Our fanbase however, have taken this and gone into overdrive.

It is but a portion of Gooners that have chosen to concentrate their ire on one player.

The problem with this is that it is one of our own.

Football needs candidates we can boo and hiss at, those that as soon as they pick up the ball, we let them know in our own inimitable way, that they aren’t very welcome round these here parts.

To do it to one of our own players though, is simply ridiculous.

First it was Shkodran Mustafi who was the subject of vilification for his performances in red and white. The German’s propensity for high-profile boo-boo’s meant he was an easy target for mock-up’s, meme’s and general anger.

Now, criticism is part and parcel of being a fan. We are allowed to bestow compliments on those who do it week in and week out for our team, and the same goes when highlighting how erroneous a display has been.

If a player is dipping far below what is expected of them, then it is moronic to say we cannot hold them up and say “this is far from good enough.”

The same thing can be said for the treatment that has been doled out to both Mustafi and Granit Xhaka.

Xhaka and Luiz.jpg

Now Mustafi is out of the side, a portion of our fanbase needed another punch bag to aim their vitriol at. Step forward Granit Xhaka, and some out of context stats that show the Swiss star in a terrible light.

So far this season, he has been dribbled past the most, been tackled the most and his rash tackle on Son that gifted spurs a spot kick in our last North London Derby was yet another example of the weaknesses in Xhaka’s skillset.

It does hide the fact that when he doesn’t play, we so often lack a bridge between defence and attack and how prolific he is in sparking attacks from deep.

This article is not an affirmation of Xhaka for the first team. It is merely intended to highlight the awful critique he and Mustafi have to deal with from our own ‘fans.’

It goes far beyond ignorance. You can overlook the benefits of both players – Mustafi for example had better tackling and aerial battle stats than £80m man Harry Maguire last season – but the negativity aimed at both from people who purport to be Gooners?

Unforgivable.

Criticise, show that they have screwed up and we should play alternatives from now on – but when they are in our shirt, we must support.

That is the very essence of being a supporter. Through thick and thin, through awful players and soul-crushing losses. We continue to stand, to shout and to sing.

We represent the club, and at the moment, some of the hate that is directed toward our own players is at times shameful.

Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi obviously have their own failings and they are perhaps below what we need in our team right now.

But they both give their all for us and, Xhaka especially, continue to be picked by coaches that know far more than we do about the minutiae of the sport.

If they make a mistake in the future – and we all fear that there will be more to come – can we put a stop to the threats and hatred?

We have a squad that is capable of lifting us above the level we have been at recently. Let us unite behind our men and give them the support they need to elevate themselves further.

Players need backing just like we all do.

Attack on Kola and Ozil – The Ripple Effect

The recent knife attack on Mesut Ozil, Sead Kolasinac and their wives was thwarted thanks to the selfless bravery of our Bosnian defender.

The long-lasting effects may well cast more harmful ripples however.

The CCTV footage showed how the assailants pulled up to Ozil’s vehicle on a moped and brandished a large knife. Kolasinac then exited the car and Ozil drove the respective partners to a position of safety while the left-back aimed to either stifle or incapacitate the criminals.

Thankfully, no harm was done. Well, at least physically.

This footage will no doubt have spread worldwide via social media. Professional footballers will have seen this and the violence on show could act as a deterrent to any prospective moves to the Premier League.

Do we see footballers in other nation’s being attacked by blades? Aside from the volatility of South America, can we say anywhere in Europe has seen similar recently?

This is not to say that knife crime is more prevalent in London or the UK as opposed to Europe, but simply that this sole act occurred in our capital rather than in Italy, Spain or Germany.

Footballers lead a lavish lifestyle and are on the highest of pedestals. The barrier between player and fan is higher than ever before. These sportsmen are now fully removed from everyday life and the fleeting moments that they take part in fan activities or social media interactions are pretty much the only times they put their feet on the same ground we walk on.

This attack could well pull that drawbridge up a little further, distancing us and them even more than before. Players have the ability to seclude themselves in their own world. Their houses are like resorts, they attend exclusive events and venues, and the streets that we share? They will be less and less frequented.

What of potential signings thinking of relocating to the UK? This potentially has a dampening effect, as perception is everything. The news stories that hype the supposed torrent of violent crime on our streets, now exacerbated by our players being nearly killed while attending a restaurant? It will do nothing for enthusiasm to sample the delights of the city.

The reason why the video made such a splash is because of the seriousness of the potential repercussions. Should Sead Kolasinac have failed in his heroic efforts? It doesn’t bear thinking of.

Sead and Ozil

With such riches to protect and these men recognised anywhere they go, it does mean that for the more nefarious of us Joe Publics, these professional players do have a target on their heads. It is easy pickings and ripe pickings at that.

The days of players liaising with fans like they did in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? That is a thing of the past, and the moat that sees us look longingly at the greener grass of celebrity sportspeople yawns ahead of us, growing wider each year.

We can be thankful that both players and their wives were unharmed after this attack, but the threat of further incidents of the same nature potentially could ripple outward for quite some time.

Ramsey Staying or Leaving?

There’s been a lot of change at Arsenal recently, but in terms of playing personnel, the focus has been very much elsewhere.

Aaron Ramsey reminded everyone of his importance to Arsenal last season with his consistency. His ability to make a difference on proceedings helped us stave off more than a few negative results, and served as a reminder of how valuable he really is.

As he enters his last year under contract, the decision on his future is perhaps his most important yet.

Put yourself in his shoes and mull over the variables.

Aaron Ramsey - does he stay or go?

He is entering the prime of his years, knowing full well he could cash in his chips and earn more elsewhere. Somewhere that his chances of glory aren’t so unsettled. Somewhere that may well see him as a central midfielder rather than an asset that can be used in alternate positions. Somewhere that offers him a change he may well crave.

The 27 year old has been at Arsenal since 2008, and has intimated in the past how he would be open to playing in a different country, if it could further his career. Well, his career is at the biggest crossroads so far.

He stood by Wenger as the Frenchman stood by him when he suffered his horrific leg break. The comfort of familiarity was probably an enticing one in the seasons that followed, but now Wenger is gone, and Unai Emery is the replacement – and everything is now in flux.

Emery is known to be quite demanding on the pitch, and he will have to be just as severe at Colney if he wants to implement the pressing game which served him so well at Sevilla. Fitness levels will have to be optimised, but Rambo should have this covered. Another plus point aside from his stamina levels is the reports coming from all corners of the media, suggesting Emery wants to build a team around the Welshman and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

If this rumour is tangible, then Ramsey could well be tempted to stay. The problem though, is the unknown factor. None of the current squad will be able to tell if the future is full of trophies or struggle at Arsenal. Should Emery’s tactics stick, then Rambo and co could be in for an enjoyable stint.

If not, then a decision to stay could have ramifications and regrets.

Ramsey’s stats last season were impressive, but all were sourced from his attacking prowess. Goals, assists, these are the parameters of an attacker, and a world class attacker is exactly what he is. He does track back, but his tackling and defensive input is not exactly up there with the best of the central men.

It’s a good thing that Emery enjoys employing a 4-2-3-1 formation then, as this offers Ramsey a spot in one of the four in the attacking quartet. It is safe to say that the striking slot will be taken by Aubameyang, and one of the three in behind the Gabon man will be Mesut Ozil – who could play from the left. Then that leaves two spots, and given Mkhitaryan’s links with Aubameyang bearing fruit, then the Armenian should book the number10 spot.

That leaves the spot on the right for the Welshman, and he has done extremely well there before. Can he provide the defensive merits that a wideman needs to have though, in order to satisfy Emery?

The only other option is for Ramsey to use his superhuman stamina and improve his defensive leanings so that a central slot won’t leave gaping holes in our play. Ramsey needs a partner who will cover him – his greatest asset is his ghosted runs into the box – but if he can ebb and flow with the game and provide another covering body when things get messy?

Then Emery may well have the answer to our central midfield conundrum. The Spanish boss is used to having excellent midfielders who do their duty – the finest example being Marco Verratti at PSG.

Ramsey finds himself in limbo.

He can either stay and fight, prove himself to be a central midfielder who can possess both sides of the game.

Or he can go elsewhere and earn more cash, perhaps more trophies.

What will be in the level-headed player’s mind though, is how close he is to becoming an icon at the club.

His tenure at Arsenal is a long one in comparison to the majority elsewhere. An extension and a relatively free injury record in the near future and his appearances will skyrocket. Ally that with a title win and Rambo could well be one of our best.

So many if’s – what does Rambo do?

Can Aubameyang and Lacazette fit into the same side?

Arsene Wenger, toward the end of his tenure, mentioned on more than a few occasions that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang likes to play on the left – and how it opens up possibilities of playing two up front with Alexandre Lacazette.

This possibility is an exciting one, but can both players create an explosive partnership?

Aubameyang and Lacazette as a partnership
Auba and Laca

Tactics have changed in the last couple of seasons, and this seismic shift in footballing thought has coincided with our slump in the Premier League. Last season saw us finish outside the top four and this season is yet another occasion when we’re left out in the cold when the European big boys arrange a meet.

Not all clubs have adapted to the change in formations and preferences, but these clubs have another gear, or a PlanB to fall back on when they find the going tough. With our attacking players, are they better suited to a two-pronged strike force?

The answer to this question lies in the styles and skills of our two strikers. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is amongst the best in Europe for goals per minute this season and was Bundesliga top scorer in a struggling Dortmund side last campaign.

Alexandre Lacazette has shown his pedigree with us and his prior exploits for Lyon were amongst the best in terms of goal amount not only in Ligue Un, but amongst the big leagues too.

Both players would get into the majority of the Euro giants squads, but do their styles lend themselves to a budding duo?

The answer is an emphatic yes.

Aubameyang – as Wenger went to great pains to highlight – is a pacy forward that likes to cut in as much as he likes to lurk on the shoulder of the last man. He was just at home out wide for his old club as he was in a central role, and his goal numbers back this up.

Auba’s goals in the last few games of the season also showed an intrinsic intuition to be in the right place at the right time in the box.

Lacazette is a bonafide Number9. His strength lies in his finishing, his ability to find space in the box and his awareness. With a foil alongside him, his talent for finding a spare yard could be made even more potent as another striker can take the heat away in terms of being shadowed.

The other thing to remember though, is the changes that will have to come with having both in the same side. While it wouldn’t be two strikers technically as Aubameyang could take one of the wide spots in our 4-2-3-1 makeup, it means one of our current incumbents would be dethroned somewhat.

Mesut Ozil is a mainstay and he would perhaps become even more lethal than he is now with two men to train his laser-vision onto. then there is Henrikh Mkhitaryan who would take up another.

Much will hinge on whoever comes in as Wenger’s replacement, but if they’re schooled in recent tactics, then two up top could be our way forward.

The main impact of choosing both in our eleven would fall on Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey.

Both midfielders are often deployed in our attacking quartet, nearly as often as they are in the engine room. With the success of Auba and Laca means that one would be hit in terms of starts, or first team regard. They would be demoted to an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain role, 20-25 starts, but very much picking splinters out of their posterior from prolonged exposure to the subs bench.

The option for Lacazette and Aubameyang both starting is one that we have been crying out for for a while, and a season ago, if we were presented with the promise of both being in our team, we would have snapped it up.

Only time will tell if we do go ahead with this exciting prospect, or if either striker becomes second fiddle to the other as we maintain our current approach. Either way though, it’s a good option to have and our forward line is a healthy one right now.

Would you play both in the side? Would you have both as strikers? Leave your comments in the comments box below, and thanks for reading.

Alexis and the possession problem

Published originally on Goonersphere.

This blog is born from a startling stat.

Stay with me. I know some are less than fixated with numbers, but this is quite the eyebrow-raiser.


Our 3-1 loss to Manchester United had many moments of interest. The joint-record high of 14 shots saved by the mercurial David De Gea. The two ironclad penalties denied us by referee Andre Marriner. The red card rightly given to Paul Pogba that was argued by many so-called experts.


The fact that Alexis lost possession of the ball 34 times however, got lost amidst the drama.


34 occasions, our Chilean gave the ball away. More than once every three minutes, the ball was gifted to our opponent.









We all know the talismanic effects that Alexis can have with the ball, he is capable of the unthinkable at times.


At what point though, does the negative outweigh the positive?


At the time of writing, Sanchez has 4 Premier League goals from 12 games. We can all see though, that he is far removed from the impactful player we have had in the past.


We can all surmise the reasons for this, but it is clear that Alexis is not the ‘get out of jail free’ card we had in the past.


Perhaps this was an anomaly though? Maybe this game was just an off day for Alexis? Surely he can’t lose the ball that often all the time?


I’ve delved deep to find out if this is just a one-off, or if it’s endemic of the player. We are a team that is built on possession, so to have a part of the system that frequently breaks plans down, that requires a fix, no?


So I set up a comparison matrix on Squawka. It offers in depth stats on a myriad of things. I used Eden Hazard, David Silva and Dele Alli as comparisons, and I looked at possession score, successful take-ons, tackles lost and pass completion.


This season, Alexis has a negative score for possession. To offer contrast, Alexis registers -11.69, and Eden Hazard and David Silva have a possession score of 75.56 and 272.20 respectively.


Hazard and Silva also have a higher take on percentage. Alexis is taking on players with a success rate of around 70 percent – not that bad really.


It is his passing that seems to lose him possession so frequently though. The Chilean has a 73 percent success rate, the lowest of the quartet of players.


It isn’t just this season either.


Last season, Alexis registered a possession score of minus 243. To offer perspective, Silva had a score of plus 443, and Hazard plus 333. Even Dele Alli had a higher score than our man. 


In fact, Alexis was the worst player in the entire league last season for losing the ball, according to this stat article. 


So, Alexis has a problem with losing the ball. We have to offset this with the fact that Alexis is so often the man to unlock tight defences because he tries something audacious. He crafts the key that opens defences. In order to do this, he is going to lose the ball.


This offers some clarity to proceedings. Alexis needs to have a bit of slack offered to him, as we need players who try different things in order to break down stubborn backline’s. Alexis is exactly this type of player.


Still, the stats and the Manchester United game particularly show him to be – in brutal terms – a liability with the ball.


So often he is our saviour, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and changing it in our favour. When he isn’t doing that though, we are left with a player who is trying, but regularly breaking down our attacks and gifting possession back to our opponents.


At what point does a player’s negatives outweigh his positives?


I think in the case of Alexis, this season is the tipping point.


We can get a player who can grab us 15-20 goals and 10 assists without giving the ball away so often. We know this is a byproduct of being a creative player, but the stats show he is losing the ball far more than his artisan brethren.


Alexis is no longer making the difference. 

Arsenal Engine Room Needs a Service

This season has seen the continuation of an enigma that our manager seems unable to solve.

Our midfield is an unoptimised machine that jars and shudders at crucial times in games. In figurative winters for our midfield, we turn the ignition but there is no spark – we are immobile.


We can be bypassed with a simple cutting pass and the moving parts that comprise our engine room are out of synch. Muddy waters blur the roles for our midfield pairing, and Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have so far sought the mysterious substance that gels pairs together with little success.


Since Mikel Arteta departed from The Emirates and Santi Cazorla started to battle his plagued ankle, we have used various combos to little effect. When compared to Chelsea, Man United and even tottenham, our midfield pales in comparison.


Where does the problem lie though?


At the time of writing, Premier League stats showed that Granit Xhaka was the third highest successful pass maker in the entire League. The Swiss star seems to be a real conundrum for not only Wenger – but our entire fanbase. Some have already showed him the exit, others struggle to find his strength, then there are others who lay the blame for his failings at Wenger and his midfield partner.




Xhaka perhaps is being utilised wrongly. The midfielder is being moulded or stuck in a defensive midfield position – but Xhaka is not a DM. Not yet at least. He is described by those in the know as a deep-lying playmaker, much like how Jack Wilshere’s role when he played for England last and was awarded a string of MOTM performances.


His passing as mentioned previously is one of the best in the league, but his defensive leanings – and those of his Welsh partner Ramsey – are seriously lacking. And this is why our midfield is absent at times.


The Premier League stats do not lie, and Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka have put in 34 successful tackles – combined – so far this season after eleven games. That is little more than three tackles per game total from both players.


No matter of high pressing can mask the fact that if we don’t win the ball back, if we don’t disrupt our opponents possession, it doesn’t matter how well we distribute the ball if we don’t have it.


To put this alarming stat into perspective – Roberto Firmino has made the same amount of tackles that Granit Xhaka has made. Mario Lemina has made more than both Xhaka and Ramsey.


A central midfielder is probably the most demanding of roles on the pitch. You need to be a master of both defence and attack, dictate play, keep a constant eye on your opponent and ensure you are in the right place at all times. Our midfield right now is not performing one side of their role – if they were in a real-world job, they would be in a meeting with their manager having a discussion about their failure to meet KPI’s.


The frustrating thing is that they are both capable of running the show – as displayed by our comprehensive victory over that lot down the road. They were everywhere and gave everything. 


Santi Cazorla is sorely missed not just for his infectious smile and insane two-footed skills. Despite his diminutive size, he gives his all in defence and can win the ball back. He tracks runners. We need an all-action midfielder.


If we are to continue with Granit Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield, then they both need to communicate and pivot. If one attacks, then the other sits back. It is such a basic requirement but it does appear that both players bunked this lesson. We all know that Ramsey has a penchant for attacking – he is rather good at those late runs that either distract defences or result in a goal. If the Welshman goes forward though, it is vital that Xhaka stays back and stands sentry.


The window is now open and we’ve tried valiantly to make this partnership work. 


If this basic part of midfield is not achieved, our gaping aperture in the centre of the park will continue to hinder any progress that we should be making. Our engine needs a service or a replacement. 

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.

Replacing Santi Cazorla….

​It is human nature to take things for granted. 

You can go years without falling foul of illness, but as soon as the sniffles, man-flu and curious fluids escaping through various orifices come calling, then we lay in bed or the couch and remember how lucky we were when we weren’t ill.

Anything good in our life, we conveniently forget how lucky we are to possess it, and instead we look to something else we don’t have but want. You have a great car that takes you to work and in a reliable fashion, but you can’t help but daydream about that sports car, or simply a newer version. 

New is exciting, new is sexy. The sheen, the smell, the admiring glances. We all like new. It is what we have though, that falls into the shadows, cold and unloved. 

Football is no different, and we see this with increasing frequency as each season passes. 

The infernal transfer window highlights the nations obsession with new – it is a portal into our desire for success, at any means. We may have a perfectly functioning player in our ranks, but we cannot help but lust over a possible new signing to replace them.

We always want better, and sometimes we forget how good our current players are. 

What always happens though, is that we don’t realise what we have in our grasp, not until we cannot call upon their services. Then we have a moment of clarity.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Last season saw this adage become tangible, when Santi Cazorla was injured for a sizeable chunk of the season. This saw our side lose valuable momentum in the title chase, and upon his return, it was too late to claw back the gap which we had given up.

Our fans are more than aware of the technical genius that our Spaniard possesses, but it wasn’t until his months on the sidelines that we could see all facets of what he brought to our team. 

Without him, we lack drive. We sometimes look ponderous, missing the zip and speed in advance that he provides. 

We have also seen an evolution of sorts from Cazorla. His positional shift from Number10, to out wide, and now an integral central midfielder, he has shown that despite his lack of height, he has more than enough tenacity to mix it in the engine room.

Now, we may have a slight problem. If Santi departs in the summer, who has the skills in their locker to replicate his vital input? 

With Jack Wilshere on loan and Tomas Rosicky having left the club, it looks like we are bereft of the only players who can transition defence into attack with such efficiency – just like Santi Cazorla.

So, what will happen when we can no longer call upon our Spanish dynamo?

We need a midfielder who has positional discipline, and knows when to push forward and when to sit tight. The most fundamental asset they must have though, is that ability to convert pressure into propulsion. That burst of energy which comes from a slight turn, and the goosebumps which comes from carrying the ball away from a potentially troublesome situation. 

Aaron Ramsey could play that position, and he has previously performed well in central midfield – and he has openly stated he prefers to play in that spot. However, his best moments, and his strength, come from attacking situations. He has an attacking brain, and he has a talent for goals with a burst into the box. Worry not though, as we have a player who can do this job.

Granit Xhaka has been labelled as a hatchet man of sorts – the player Arsenal have needed that can ensure no more bullying of the Gunners happens. This is unfair on the Swiss midfielder, as he brings far more than a well timed tackle to the equation. 

His distribution is excellent, and his awareness of all around him seems to be where it needs to be. Does he have that transitional burst in his locker though? His strength to hold off opponents is most definitely where it needs to be, and in his showings thus far for Arsenal, when we break with him in the side, Xhaka has been the architect of many launches from our own half. He doesn’t seem to have the Cazorla burst which we so rely on, but instead, Xhaka makes the ball do the work with a talent for linking the final third when in defensive mode.

The only question regarding Xhaka is temperament. His shady red card record spells out a tendency to lose his head when the heat is cranked up, and it is something that must improve.

There is time to iron out creases, as Santi is still with us. What is of equal importance though, is that we enjoy what Cazorla brings to the table while he is still here. When he returns from injury and slots back into the eleven, the Spanish magician will again do what he does best.

The thing is, we now realise what we have got, as when he was gone, we sorely missed him. It means we can marvel at all the little things we potentially missed in previous matches.

Santi Cazorla is far more important than he gets credit for, and the search is on to ensure he isn’t missed as badly next time. 

Sanchez Can Be Our Striker – and our Aguero

People don’t like change.

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

Routine may be boring, but it is safe.

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

He can’t play as a striker! 

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

He’s not clinical enough!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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