Tag Archives: cazorla

The Nearly Men XI

It’s sometimes better to not have experienced something, if all you are ever going to get is a tantalising glimpse.

We have had players at Arsenal that have burned brightly, but their light was extinguished all too quickly. It leaves us with that frustrating feeling of ‘what could have been.’

That feeling is bittersweet, as we latch onto those moments where these players showed us that they were capable of lifting entire teams on their shoulders, or being a beacon of excellence in their position. It is juxtaposed with longing, as we wish that the unfortunate circumstances that winked their light out was a little more forgiving.

Now that we have entered a new decade, nostalgia is stronger than ever, as we look back at the events of ten years. But how about we look back on the players that we wish were still in our colours, and had the opportunity to unfurl their potential a little more than their last attempt?

Here is the team of ‘What Could Have Been.’ An entire eleven who we saw soar high, but far too briefly.

 

GK – Wojciech Szczesny

The Pole showed us exactly what he could do in his time here, but ill-discipline cost him the number one jersey for consecutive seasons. He loved the club and his celebrations post NLD victory only served to endear him to us more. So when he was sold to Juventus, and then went on to become number one at the famous Turin club, it only exacerbated those feelings of ‘what could have been.’ He should be putting those performances in for us – but alas.

 

RB – Mathieu Debuchy

The Frenchman arrived from Newcastle after putting in consistently excellent seasons on Tyneside. A French international, he began on the front foot with us and showed us all that the purchase was an astute one, but a shoulder injury in his first season was the start of his downfall, and when he returned from his lengthy layoff, he had Hector Bellerin in his way. When he did find his way back into the team, he exhibited again why he was such a great player, only in a different manner as he filled in at centreback. Injuries would again hamper him though, and Debuchy eventually limped out of the club to join St Etienne. He made only 13 appearances for us in four years.

 

CB – Thomas Vermaelen

The Belgian got off to a wondrous start as an Arsenal man, scoring plenty and leading from the front. He was a cultured defender and could play out from the back, so much so that he was touted by many to be a fine alternative to our defensive midfield problems at the time. Vermaelen was a great example to younger players, but again, injuries bit hard. His performances dropped as he struggled to reach the heights of his first two seasons, and he eventually left for, incredibly, Barca.

 

CB – Chris Whyte

There will be a few unfamiliar with Whyte, but the Arsenal schoolboy had plenty of rave reviews as he broke into the Arsenal first team in 1981. He earned caps at U-21 level for England and under the wing of David O’Leary, he seemed destined to make a big name for himself.

A change in manager and a new signing left Whyte out in the cold though, and Tony Adams emergence only further dropped Whyte down the pecking order.

He left on a free transfer, but with no takers for his services, he left for the USA indoor league. After two years, West Brom offered him a deal and in his first season, he was their Player of the Year. A transfer to Leeds Utd followed, and he was a constant presence for the next three seasons, and a top-flight title winner. If we had kept hold of him, it was evident that Whyte had the talent. Right man, wrong time.

 

LB – Silvinho

The Brazilian joined Arsene Wenger’s revolution in 1999 and spent only two seasons at the club, but the unearthing of Ashley Cole served to put him in the backup role. He didn’t put a foot wrong as a player, and scored a wonderful goal against Chelsea that will live long in the memory. He became a full international with Brazil in his time at our club and was also in the PFA team of the year. He went on to join Celta Vigo and then Barcelona, where he twice won the Champions League.

 

LM – Tomas Rosicky

Little Mozart. Arsene Wenger once said “If you love football, then you love Rosicky.” Everyone who saw him play for us could see what he gave us. Truly blessed with a velvet touch, a howitzer of a shot and an astute footballing brain, injuries curtailed the amount of times he played for us, but in a decade at the club, he gave us memories to cherish. Trouble is, it should have been more. What a special player.

 

CM – Abou Diaby

Diaby1

He could’ve been a world-class box-to-box midfielder, but a dirty tackle by no-mark Dan Smith of Sunderland, crumpled his ankle and he was never the same again. His time on the injury books was ridiculous, but Arsenal were loath to give up on such a special talent. In the end, it was clear he would never come back, and Diaby is perhaps the one player who we missed the most of. He could have been our dynamic force for years.

 

CM – Giovanni Van Bronckhorst

The Dutch man was used as a wing-back and a winger in his short time at Arsenal and did nothing really spectacular in his time with us. He then left and joined Barca, won a Champions League and captained his country to a World Cup Final. We missed a trick here.

RW – Santi Cazorla

The Spanish magician is still revered by those who saw him. Truly two-footed, his talent meant he could have played anywhere on the pitch, but it was his first – and his last season where we saw him shine brightest. In his debut season he was utilised as a number ten and he was our Player of the Season. In his last full season he was paired with Francis Coquelin in the centre and showed tenacity as well as exceptional ball-carrying to give us new life. A horror injury threatened his very career but at the ripe age of 35 he is still doing it at the top level. We never got to say goodbye though.

 

CF – Eduardo

Only 41 appearances, and only 8 goals, but there was a short spell, just before that unforgettably nightmarish injury he suffered, where everything he touched turned to gold. An expert marksmen, he scored goals wherever he went and no one can be in any doubt that if it weren’t for the injury, he would have racked up the goals for many seasons.

 

CF – Nicolas Anelka

If only this young man wasn’t so badly advised, we would have had a goal machine for years. Anelka was the reason why Wrighty left, cutting the icon’s appearances down so that he felt he must leave to get more games. The youngster went on to bang them in with alacrity, being awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year in the process. Real Madrid came calling for big money and we cashed in as Anelka wanted to leave and while he achieved success elsewhere, if he had stayed he could have become a legend. Still, maybe it’s a good thing he left as a certain French compatriot joined soon after to fill the void…

 

Am I missing anyone? Was there a player you think is missing?

 

Give me a shout!

Adios Santi Cazorla – The Smiling Spaniard

Santi Cazorla is set to rejoin his former club, Villareal – and the news is another departure that is hard to swallow.

The Spaniard has been fighting hard for over 18 months to return from a horror injury that nearly claimed his leg, and upon seeing the first images of the sunny Spaniard’s return to training, social media was awash with not only nostalgia – but genuine warmth.

Because Santi Cazorla unites our fans. He is one of those rare breeds that no matter what end of the fan spectrum you are, you cannot help but love the man.

It has helped inexorably that he is perhaps one of the most talented players we have ever had at the club – and his departure and injury that cost him 18 months of playing time will cast a shadow over his time as a Gunner.

The diminutive midfielder is also two-footed – so much so that it is hard to tell which is his natural side and which did he work on tirelessly on the training field at. This ability puts him above most, and also helped out in tight situations.

Santi Cazorla is often described as one of the most blessed his teammates have ever seen – even when compared to Mesut. He has been a source of joy when on the ball, and his talents should be held up to young players as a target to aim for. Should any kid make it and have Santi’s level of skill on his left and right foot? He’ll be destined for greatness -but he’ll need another of Santi’s attributes to succeed too – appetite.

This hunger formed the foundation for his transition from playmaker to a central role – and is probably the biggest testament to his worth.

His success in the middle of the park showed that he wasn’t a one-trick pony. He could create openings in tight games, but his desire saw him outmuscle players he had no right to, and his carrying of the ball forward at the tight times, smacked of tactical acumen and bags of skill.

The thing that us fans will remember above all though?

He played with a smile on his face. He loved the game, he genuinely enjoyed wearing our colours, and he gave everything to us when he was on the pitch.

Villareal will most likely be his last club before retirement, should he return to full fitness. The La Liga club have prior history with our talent – having taken Robert Pires from us when he departed.

We were robbed of what could have been the start of a budding partnership with Aaron Ramsey thanks to his troublesome achilles, and his subsequent recuperation was watched avidly by us all – for two reasons.

Firstly, we knew how much our team could benefit from having a fit Cazorla in our side.

Secondly, we all just missed seeing him.

He possesses the talent to change defence to attack, to grab the ball to stem a tide, to transform what is a tricky scenario into a promising one.

The end of his career is similar to Tomas Rosicky’s in a way.

Both were talented midfielders, blessed with a velvet touch. They also held the affection of all fans. Injury stole some of their time with us, but the ending will be the same too.

We will look at Cazorla the same way as we do at Tomas.

With misty-eyed nostalgia – and gratitude.

Old Pals Act to Help or Hinder Arteta?

It’s often said about the workplace, that having your closest people around you is a mistake. The phrase, ‘don’t sh*t on your doorstep’ can probably surmise this far better for you, but does this also apply to former players returning to the club in a coaching capacity?

Mikel Arteta is the name lined up to succeed Arsene Wenger, and the Spaniard’s lack of managerial experience will be reportedly offset by the coaching framework around him.

There are other names that are being mentioned though, that may well be as big a gamble as hiring our former player himself.

The names in the frame to form a coaching team around him are all former Gunners, could this unbalance Arteta’s own vision, which is hewn from his own experiences under other managers and styles? .

Can former teammates and ex-Gunners benefit the status quo?

Does friendship between Arteta and Mertesacker, for example, undermine any potential targets however?

It was often said about Wenger that he needed a sounding board for some of his ideas, and he needed an objective voice occasionally. Someone to allow him to see scenarios from a different set of shoes.

Is this same chemistry set to continue? Does a buddy-buddy relationship or other strong ideas about the club mean that Arteta will lack the ability to give decisions the extra thought they require from a different view?

No, quite frankly.

There may well be doubts surrounding Arteta’s capacity for this mammoth role, but hiring Santi Cazorla – as discussed before he reportedly decided to leave the club – or any other former Gunner to lend their wealth of experience can only benefit him and the players under his tutelage.

Henry, Pires, Ljungberg and BFG are also well versed in the ways of Arsenal, something that is high on the priority list for the Board.

Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires each have different likelihoods of coming in as part of the extensive team that will back up Arteta,, and each of them would be a huge plus for our side – for differing reasons.

Per Mertesacker is now our Academy man, watching over our kids as they attempt to make the grade. Freddie Ljungberg is also set to rejoin us as a coach, and both are excellent appointments.

Not only do they have the necessary badges, but they also know Arsenal and what it takes to represent us at the highest level.

Crucially though, they also love the club. Isn’t that an ingredient that is important?

Of course, we could hire some merc who has a chest full of glittering medals, but when it comes to the crunch, will they give everything? Will they go above and beyond?

Ljungberg, Henry et al would make sure our kids and our first team would play for the cannon above all else.

We shouldn’t judge these men on former coaching merits. With the likes of Mee, Graham and Wenger himself having precious little experience in the way of top flight management, we should see these appointments as the heralding of a new era, rather than a cut-price attempt at success.

Arteta in the dugout, aided and abetted by A club icon, can only help Arteta. Much the same as if he had an old hand next to him, slowly handing him the reins. Arteta needs to do this his way – and if he had an assistant manager who had seen and done it all, then that may muddy Arteta’s field of vision.

We need to take a big gamble, but if it pays off, we could enjoy a Spanish renaissance.

Friendship could just be the icing on this particular cake.

Will Santi Cazorla come back?

Posted on Goonersphere.

On the eve of his team’s game against Chelsea, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho lauded himself for not repeatedly moaning about Paul Pogba’s absence.

The Portuguese manager told the attending press that it would be easy to continuously mention being unable to call on the French midfielder.


Pogba has missed two months of the season so far. Santi Cazorla has missed a little over a year.


The tiny Spaniard has attracted a fair amount of interest in the last few weeks, even though he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for quite some time. Cazorla’s blighted ankle has been big news, aided by the image of the suspect joint that leaves viewers in no uncertain terms what the midfielder has had to endure.







Pogba may have the ridiculous transfer fee and his whole career ahead of him, but Cazorla is no less important to Arsenal. This may be a sad indictment of our team, how over-reliant we are on a 33 year old, but it’s still the truth.


Santi Cazorla’s transformation from playmaker to midfield all-rounder was aided by his versatility. The man with a right foot as good as his left showed he can run a midfield as well as cut open defences with his wits. It is his intelligence that is so important to our team though. The reason he works so well in the engine room is because he knows exactly when to make his move. He rarely leaves us wide open as he can read the game so well.


Since his departure, we have looked so brittle at times. Trying to forge the chemistry between two players takes time, so we won’t see the best of Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey for a while. The ebb and flow of a pivot is still jarring at points in a game and it is costing us.


Santi Cazorla is a complete player, and we can only lament the fact he is on the cusp of the end of his career. A fit and firing Santi, five years younger, would dominate games and win awards.


It took a couple of seasons to see this version of our Spaniard. His first season saw him in his preferred spot of creator, but the arrival of Mesut Ozil meant a switch to a wide berth and he was starved of the thing that makes him come alive – the ball.


It was only when he took a central midfield spot that we saw he can not only supply a striker, he can also win the ball.

Santi is a complete player. His injury has meant Mesut Ozil has to drop deeper to claim possession in an attempt to galvanise our attack. He is missing the bridge that Santi provided.


The gruesome image of Cazorla’s tattooed arm skin grafted onto his ankle highlights how far he is away from returning – if he does so at all. We talk all the time about irreplaceable players, and Santi Cazorla fits into that category.


If the Spaniard was in our team now, then we would have a team that was fully firing in all sectors, instead of a midfield that is hindered by a lack of chemistry.








Yet, Arsene Wenger rarely mentions his injury other than when directly questioned. Perhaps it is because he has had ample time to find a replacement, or maybe it is because he prefers to concentrate on the players in the team. Either way, Santi is attempting to make a comeback with the full support of the club.


There aren’t many players that can hold a candle to Cazorla’s talent. If we are lucky enough to see him in our midfield again, we should thank our lucky stars and enjoy our inevitable upsurge in results and form.


Santi makes us tick like no one else. 

Arsenal’s Summer Rebuilding

Published in Arsenal Mania.

There are many uncertainties surrounding Arsenal Football Club at this present moment. For a club that prides itself on its stability in the shifting tides of the game, Arsenal normally stand as the last bastion of routine and conviction.

As of right now though, the ever-moving cogs of the rumour mill are geared toward the management at Arsenal, and Arsene Wenger’s long-standing tenure.

Over two decades of Wenger and his particular brand have led to respectability and an elevated expectation, but staleness seems to have set into the club. No one can honestly say for sure whether Wenger will choose to take the offer of an extension already extended to him – or whether he will decide enough is enough and cut the ties which hold him so tightly.

Underneath the broiling waters though, a threat just as alarming is developing – and it threatens to undermine any plans a new or existing manager may hatch.

Arsenal’s midfield has been bereft of the wonderfully talented Santi Cazorla for the majority of the season, and it has recently been announced the Spanish midfielder will miss the rest of the campaign through his long-standing injury. This is not the first time Cazorla has been on the treatment table, and each time he has been missing from the side – Arsenal have suffered greatly.

Santi Cazorla remains the only player in the Gunners ranks who can transform defensive pressure into positive possession. His low centre of gravity and tight turning circle means he is a nightmare to dispossess – and his true two-footedness is a trait incredibly rare to find and/or cultivate.

Arsene has had to cope with this huge gap in his teams repertoire since October, and with his squad being stronger than in recent memory, he has had the bodies needed to try and rectify the situation.

The trouble is, the remaining central midfielders do not fit the bill – or are simply not good enough.

Aaron Ramsey has a wealth of talent, but his own injury problems and a certain weakness on the defensive side of his game mean he is not well balanced to be the barometer of the side.

Francis Coquelin’s hunger for possession is greater than the rest, and his tackling ability is up there with the best of the defensive midfielders in the PL. His increasingly erratic positioning are starting to overshadow his strengths however, and his inability to pass effectively is a shortcoming that cannot sit well with Wenger’s passing ethics.

Then there is Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian has performed well when called upon, but he has cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines for the most part. Even when he has enjoyed a rare run in the team, Elneny has been solid – but unspectacular. He is clearly not the answer to the missing Spaniard. Elneny is a squad player.

What of new recruit Granit Xhaka? The Bundesliga-seasoned midfielder was supposed to be the all-round weapon and toughnut that soft-centred Arsenal needed. Instead, his tendency to lunge in with ill-timed tackles has cost his side dearly, and his mobility has been somewhat less than rapid. 

With Jack Wilshere on loan and seeking assurances on his future – this means that Arsenal’s centre of their team is light in number – and deficient in the top quality needed to push the team forward.

The summer will need a complete focus on the Gunners midfield. If whoever takes charge next season goes into the new campaign with the current midfield ranks – then the Top 4 may be a distant dream. 

The Arsenal Midfield – The Power of ‘And’

Originally posted on Goonersphere

The world is riddled with powerful combinations. Strength comes in numbers and things are normally improved when they are in pairs. In fact, some of the best things come in duo’s.
Fish and chips. Reeves and Mortimer. Pie and gravy. Beer and kebab. Sex and cigarettes. All these examples are stronger through their holy union – but separate them and as singular units, they lose something. Vic Reeves is a hilarious talent, but without his cohort Bob Mortimer, the entertainment drops. Sex is brilliant, but the full stop the cigarette provides afterwards is the cancer-ridden cherry on the sweaty cake. 

You see, some things are meant to be allied with another. A matrimony which only enhances the strengths of the other. This pattern transfers over to Arsenal’s midfield at present. 

The centre of our team has always had a pairing which dismantled the opposition and simultaneously added bite to our defence. Thomas and Davis, Vieira and Petit and later Paddy joined up with Gilberto, and both of these pairs had not only the all-important tools of the trade, but they had the most decisive factor which all midfield duo’s require if they are to conquer all that is put in front of them.

They knew when to attack, and when to hang back. They read the game and decided when to aid the forward line, and when to soak up the pressure. The telepathy was honed between the two, which in turn allowed a certain freedom for other players. They could rest easy as there was no player flagrantly floating instead of sitting in their command post. 

Cut to the present day team, and there is a problem in the centre of the park. No longer do we possess a Vieira, or a Davis. We still have cumulative talent, but the bond is not there, and this factor is starting to tell in our results.

The closest we have to a welded pairing is Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla. Hewn from the heat of duress when the midfield numbers were down to the bare bones, Santi dropped back and Coquelin was drafted back into the fold. The rest is history, but what is the real reason these two work so well?

The stats don’t lie. Since Francis made his dramatic comeback, his ball-winning, tackling and distances run has been better than the majority of defensive midfielders. His desire and passion is a joy to see and while he may be limited, what he does he does well. 

Santi Cazorla could not be any more of a polar opposite. Blessed with two feet who can wreak equal destruction, his low centre of gravity allows him to escape the tightest of spots. He wants to be involved in the play. Dropping deeper allows him to fulfill this desire. He collects the ball from Francis, and his bursts forward are a huge asset.

Take one of these away though, and the other is rudderless. Well, one of them is. Santi is so supremely talented that he can perform with whoever is placed alongside him, as long as they have defensive tendencies. Francis Coquelin however, is not as blessed.

A conversation with a friend recently on Twitter (thank you @thundermundt) highlighted the rest of the teams reluctance to offload the ball to Coquelin. Despite him being free, there were a number of occasions in recent games when he has called for the ball, but the ball has instead headed for a teammate who is much more marked.

This is due to Coquelin’s ability on the ball. Compared to the rest of the Arsenal players, he pales in comparison. So what do you do when your chief ball-winner cannot then do anything with the possession he has won?

You pair him with a dynamic, quick of thought player who can take the ball and make the transition from defence to attack. That is Santi Cazorla. When he is not available though, that is when Coquelin in the team means that, when we attack, we are effectively a man down.

Alternatives must be found. Mohamed Elneny is highly thought of, but on recent displays, he seems to be a player who requires a run of games to hit his level. He has disappointed this season. Then there is Granit Xhaka.

He lacks the burst of speed that Cazorla has, but he has the steel of Coquelin, his passing is at times exquisite, and he knows exactly when to go forward and when to sit back. Xhaka, if he can find his feet soon, looks to be the better alternative to Coquelin. 

When the time comes to replacing Santi Cazorla, Arsenal have a major problem. Then again, so does Coquelin. 

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. 

Arsenal Vs Bournemouth – Match Preview

November has seen the usual drop in standards at Arsenal, but despite the annual malaise, Arsenal have maintained the run of games without losing – which currently stands at 18.

The form has dipped and points have been dropped, but more importantly – these tough games which has seen us scrape a point this season, in the last few campaigns we would have surely lost them. 

Scraping for positives? Perhaps. The fare that has been served up on the pitch lately has not exactly been up to our usual standard, and a dearth of goals and shots on target suggest a footballing version of writers block. The invention that is our staple at the club has been bereft, and one of the telltale reasons is the loss of Santi Cazorla.

The Spaniard usually is the man responsible for taking possession from Coquelin, and actually being productive – either feeding the wide men or allowing Ozil to weave his magic. Without him, it leaves Coquelin looking to offload to anyone, or actually doing something with it himself, which isn’t pretty.

This game does bring as close to a guarantee as football can give though. Bournemouth play an expansive type of football, and will not come to The Emirates looking to shut up shop. It is exactly the game we need to bring back a little confidence. 

With Bournemouth looking to match our attack every step of the way, it is vital our midfielders step up and spark attacks quickly. With Arsene Wenger’s comments yesterday regarding Granit Xhaka, the Swiss midfielder looks the perfect option to play.

Wenger, speaking in his press conference, said that Xhaka’s strength is the pass which goes straight to high midfield and bypasses the opposition’s midfield. With Bournemouth pressing high up, these quick passes could be the key weapon in piercing the Cherries backline.

Petr Cech should come back to take the gloves from Cup Keeper David Ospina, but Hector Bellerin, Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck are still missing, although Lucas Perez could well come in for the midweek EFL Cup tie next week.

Francis Coquelin may be limited, but his skillset is sharp. He is the midfield destroyer and again exhibited what he brings in the tussle with PSG on Wednesday. Will he play again so soon after a tough game? Or will Mohamed Elneny be given another chance to pick up some form? Surely Granit Xhaka is the perfect option to play, and with Aaron Ramsey looking assured in the tie with PSG, a midfield combo of Xhaka and Ramsey could well be on the cards.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud combined to great effect in our last match in the PL – the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford – but will either be given a chance from the start? Giroud may find himself on the bench with Alexis starting in the striker spot, but The Ox could grab Alex Iwobi’s spot on the left, with Theo occupying the right attack and Ozil again in the hole. It is all conjecture, but it does show the variety we have in the squad. Giroud would certainly be unlucky not to play, seeing as he has scored in his last two games – and hasn’t started a game in the Premier League this season. 

Cherries boss Eddie Howe will have to do without midfield dynamo Jack Wilshere, as playing against his parent club is not part of his loan contract. Speaking of contracts, Arsene Wenger spoke of Wilshere’s Arsenal contract, and stated he is keen to tie Wilshere up for next season. He has impressed all with not only his form on the South Coast, but his fitness. He may have just forced himself into Wengers plans for the future, and with Santi Cazorla not getting any younger, Jack seems the perfect option to replace his vibrant play.

Bournemouth are not a one-man threat though. Calum Wilson, Josh King and Stanislas can all cause defenders nightmares on their day. They also earned their first away win and clean sheet in their last match, by winning 1-0 against Stoke. Their confidence will be high and it will be an entertaining test.

Arsenal lie three points from top spot, and have drawn three of our last four games. We are still within touching distance, but this game will be a telltale sign as to how low the confidence is within the camp. Bournemouth will not camp in their own box, so there can be no excuses regarding a stubborn opponent. 

This match will hinge on one thing – which team has the sharper blade? The squad lists point to the Gunners. 

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez. 

Predicted Score – 4-1 Arsenal

Manchester United Vs Arsenal – Preview

With the atrocious record Arsenal have at Old Trafford, the last thing we needed was bad news before the game.

That is exactly what was dished out during Arsene Wenger’s press conference though – with the info regarding the availability of vital Spaniards Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin.

credit to Getty Images
On Thursday, Wenger ruled out Bellerin for roughly four weeks after suffering an ankle injury during the Gunner’s last Premiership game, against tottenham. He will miss up to eight games, and not only will he miss this crunch clash, he will be ruled out for the last two fixtures of Arsenal’s Champions League group stage – those being against Paris Saint Germain and FC Basel.

His compatriot Santi Cazorla is also no nearer to a return, as his achilles injury has not healed sufficiently. Even worse is that Wenger confirmed he can not pin down a date for the return of the two-footed midfielder. 

There is room for optimism as we look to this game, as the squad is in ruder health than in many previous seasons, and backup for each position is more than adequate. 

The cover for the players concerned is Carl Jenkinson and a pick of Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, and it will be a combination of two from those three midfielders that will make up the engine room for the trip to Manchester. Perhaps even the energy and runs of Aaron Ramsey could get a shock recall?

Carl Jenkinson has played well in his few outings thus far this campaign, but the English defender must take his chance while he has it in his grasp. The fan favourite bleeds Arsenal, but if he is to have any future at the club he adores, then he must reassure his boss that he can seamlessly drop into the side and lessen the impact of losing a player of the ilk of Bellerin.

The rest of the team more or less picks itself, aside from two slight niggles. Alexis Sanchez only flew back from international duty with Chile on Wednesday, and after playing on Tuesday against Uruguay despite nursing a troublesome hamstring, Alexis must be fitness tested before taking to the side. 

The other worry is the form of Alex Iwobi. The youngster had to dip eventually after such a blazing start to his professional career, but the dilemma is – do you allow him to play through his bad run, or do you bench him and give someone else a shot? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed recently, and could replace the Nigerian. Iwobi, whilst struggling for form and comabtting poor decision making, has still shown a fantastic ability to pick a pass. 

The choice is Wenger’s.

Jose Mourinho has his fair share of issues to deal with as well, especially with his defence being the opposite of the normally watertight plan of the Portuguese manager – so there is a ray of hope. 

He still has plenty to choose from elsewhere though, but his continuing selection of Marouane Fellaini in the centre of midfield smacks of desperation. When he can take his pick from Schweinsteiger, Mata, Carrick, Herrera and Blind to name but a few in the centre, it shows he is looking for an anchor that simply isn’t one. He is known to prefer a powerhouse in the middle, and if he goes with type again and picks the fuzzy-haired Belgian, then Xhaka, Walcott and Ozil can really take advantage.

United have won two games out of their last five, and are struggling to find a footing, but Arsenal have not won at Old trafford since 2006. This shocking run of results looked to be at an end last season when we travelled to Manchester with United barely able to put a team together and were patched together with youngsters who had barely any top-flight experience.

It didn’t matter though, as United ran out 3-2 winners. Arsenal practically handed the game to the home side with some lackadaisical defending and some prosaic attacking. There was no energy and the plodding players got exactly what they deserved – nothing. 

Hopefully, lessons have been learned. Arsenal again have a great chance to end the Old Trafford hoodoo, and if Alexis is fit and firing, Theo is in tune and Mesut Ozil is fully refreshed after resting during the international break – the Gunners can grab three points and keep pace at the top of the league. 

Predicted lineup – Cech, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis

Predicted Scoreline – let’s be optimistic – 2-0 Arsenal, with Alexis and Theo scoring. 

Alex Iwobi – The Real Deal

When youngsters make their breakthrough, it is quite tempting to get carried away and adorn them with lavish comparisons and tags that only serve to add pressure to their slender shoulders.

So many have tumbled down the leagues and out of the glare of the public eye after such a dazzling birth onto the footballing stage. Was this purely down to the weight of expectation? No, but it certainly doesn’t aid them.

If these starlets push through the inevitable difficult times that succeed their bursting onto the scene, then that is the watermark for a long and prosperous career, for if they can overcome such testing times at such an age, then their much talked of ‘mental strength’ is exactly where it needs to be.

There are a few who fit this bill that currently ply their trade in the Premiership. Kelechi Iheanacho and Marcus Rashford certainly have grabbed the plaudits, but crucially, they have continued their incline towards the stars in the face of doubts from their respective managers, and reduced playing time.

They have shown they have the mettle to ally with their gargantuan talent, and our very own Alex Iwobi deserves to be included in this exclusive group – and perhaps even eclipse them both.

The second half of last season was Iwobi’s moment, and he grabbed it in spectacular fashion. Arsenal’s annual injury crisis affected their midfield last term, and it was the opening that the Nigerian craved. 

It is all well and good being given the chance, it is another thing entirely to take the chance. Coming into the side, and with the team struggling for form, Alex showed maturity beyond his years, and his displays were ample to sway Wenger in including him in his long term plans.

So, this season, the expectation was there, where previously there was none, yet you could be fooled into thinking that Iwobi hasn’t noticed. He has continued where he has left off, and maybe even shown growth in such a short space of time. 

To be fair, for a yongster learning his trade, is there a better place to be? Every day he turns up to Colney, he has the pleasure of suckling at the teat of greatness in the form of Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and others. Players who Iwobi can glean so much from, and it has certainly started to show.

Five goals and four assists in sixteen Premier League appearances (correct at the time of writing) only tells half the tale of the burgeoning talent that is our Number17. 

As a fan, the natural tendency is to err towards bias, but with close scrutiny – and with zero bias – Iwbi’s first touch ranks alongside some of the best at the club, falling just short of Ozil standards. His vision has repeatedly been the key that has unlocked the tightest of defences, and his passing has not been missed by fans watching his every move.

He really has shown that he can cut it at the highest level. All of the above superlatives would be complimentary to a 25-26yr old player, but Iwobi is just 20. 

Standing shoulder to shoulder with our finest players and rightfully belonging in their company, must mean staying grounded is difficult, but the signs are good thus far.

What really stands out, is that Iwobi is this good already, and he has so many formative years left to become an absolute monster of a player. If you consider a growth chart of a child, then put into place the first five years of a players career as the time that builds a players style, strength and touch – then the Nigerian’s end point would be off the scale.

Iheanacho, Rashford and especially Iwobi are destined to make an impact, and their talent is just half of the story. Football players may lead a charmed life in many respects, but the fact they have overcome the tough period that follows their breakthrough speaks volumes.

Alex Iwobi could be a vital part of Arsenal’s future for the next ten to twelve years. He has everything we could ever want from aplayer, and after coming through the ranks at London Colney, the affection he has for the club could be the key to keeping hold of him, because let’s face it – everybody is going to want him.