Tag Archives: cech

Skipper On Our Shopping List

The summer transfer window may cure some ills for Arsenal, but at least one of our failings may well be carried over into next season.

It will require targeting from our recruitment team to rectify the situation, otherwise our next campaign we will still be bereft of a true captain.

Unai Emery changed much in his first season, and one of the myriad of variants he brought in to dispel the old era was to appoint five nominated skippers. All five brought a little something different to the table and perhaps combined, they made one true leader.

Mesut Ozil brought a true example to look up to for the younger players, and his ice-cool temperament is a skill that many could need.

Petr Cech is a born winner and has been victorious in every club competition he has entered.

Granit Xhaka is a motivator, rallying the troops vocally and attempting to rouse the warrior within them all.

Aaron Ramsey is the consummate professional and is the prime example of where hard work can take a young prospect as the Welshman is the purest evidence of this.

Then there is Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has been at Arsenal for eight years and has put his injury-ravaged body on the line every time he has put on the shirt. He is still probably our best defender at a tender 33 years of age and the squad look to him for a mixture of all of the above.

Next season is a different story though. At times we have missed a captain of the ilk of our previous luminaries. Players who can grab their teammates and the match itself by the scruff of the neck and change things.

Koscielny deserves the armband, but is he vocal enough? Does he have the right mixture of fear, adulation and respect?

Only the squad can answer that, but at times last season we looked a little rudderless, games slipping from our grasp because of our sloppiness, mistakes that could have been weeded out by a captain who makes sure everyone is accountable.

arsenalcaptainarmband1705

When was the last time we had a skipper who gave the team that 5% that lifted them above the ignominy of another poor show?

Previously, we awarded the armband to our stars as a makeweight of sorts, another thing to add to the plate that is offered to a star that is looking at pastures new; “Instead of leaving, please stay, you can be the captain of the team.”

Patrick Vieira then, was probably the last time we had someone who was the embodiment of a captain, someone who naturally has an air that lends itself to turning heads, opening ears, inspiring performances.

Koscielny is the nearest we have to that in our squad. He never lets the side down, he gives his all. Those are mandatory for the captain, they need to show the level that is expected.

We may need to look for a player in the window that has the DNA strand that is true leadership though. With Koscielny on his last legs and Rambo no longer a Gooner, we are in more need than ever of a player to take the armband.

Our rivals have players of that ilk, or at least captains who can scream a player into playing a little better. Cesar Azpilicueta and Vincent Kompany especially are true leaders and give their sides that little extra when they struggle.

Now Raul Sanllehi and Emery must put someone on their shopping list that isn’t weighed down by the armband. Instead, they see it as an honour and use it to eke everything than can out of themselves and their comrades.

Arsenal Vs Atletico Madrid Europa Lge Semi Preview

Arsene Wenger placed this season’s emphasis on the Europa League well before he declared his intention to leave at the end of the season.

And now it is the only chance we have of silverware that is available, and it’s also the only chance we’ve got left to give Wenger a fitting au revoir.

We line up against Atletico Madrid in this Semi-Final first leg at The Emirates with a severe defensive problem. It isn’t through injury though, it’s simply that we can’t keep a clean sheet.

Arsenal Vs Atletico Madrid in the Europa League Semi-Finals

In a tie where away goals are worth their weight in gold, this means that Diego Simeone’s side will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Shkodran Mustafi and co – and maybe just putting one foot into the final in the process.

Our defence at least has no injury woes to deal with, so Mustafi, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal should be the four that lines up to face Diego Costa, Griezmann and the rest of Atleti. Petr Cech is still injured and David Ospina will most likely take the gloves should Cech fail to prove his fitness.

Arsene Wenger named the side most likely to play Atletico against West Ham, in order to gain fluency and battle-readiness. So that would mean starts for Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, but there are a few variables that might shift the side.

Firstly, there is the injury to Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian could well be out for a few weeks and this means that Granit Xhaka will have no defensive cover compared to when he partners Elneny, so the Swiss midfielder will have to be at his very best to combat the runs of Saul Niguez.

Then there is Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere. Both missed the hammering of the Hammers in the weekend – Ozil through illness and Jack via a knock – and with Mkhitaryan still not fit – it means that if Ozil is still not recovered, we could have a playmaker shortage. If Jack can’t prove his fitness, then our midfield could be short too.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles proved that he is an able stand-in when he came on to replace the injured Elneny, and the youngster could well get the nod to give our side that much-needed cover at the back. Wenger will know a single away goal could rule out any dreams of a final shot, so he could keep it tight and pack the midfield.

Atletico were going to be bereft of Diego Costa, but the former Chelsea man has miraculously recovered to take his place back in the side. Juan is definitely out though so at least if we spread the play to the flanks we could get some joy.

This game could be decided in the first leg. If we have one of our games where we concentrate on our attack and our press – you know the games where we pull a result out of the bag and get a win when we’re very much expected to lose – then we could take a very favourable scoreline into the tie at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

If we concede though, we could crumble.

There is at least an air of excitement in the fanbase though, with a last four Euro tie being somewhat of a novelty of late. Let’s hope we can continue our adventure and pull one of our famous results out of the bag.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Welbeck, Ozil, Iwobi, Lacazette

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

CSKA Moscow Vs Arsenal: Europa League Match Preview

We travel to Moscow for the second leg of our Europa League Quarter-Final to take on CSKA Moscow again, with a valuable 4-1 scoreline giving us clear sight of the Semi-Finals.

CSKA Vs Arsenal 2nd Leg of our Quarter-Final

The first leg score may be advantageous, but it is not conclusive. The away goal scored by Golovin direct from a free kick was deserved if we are honest, as they caused us problems regularly, usually through the vibrant Ahmed Musa. On a different night they could have had two or three, and it is good evidence that they could score an early goal and heap the pressure on.

With a partisan atmosphere to contend with and the pressure of an attacking team bearing down on us, the night could get messy.

Objectively, we could and should have scored six or seven. We created chances at will seemingly, and our opponents had no answer to the creativity of Mesut Ozil for the majority of the game.

The bottom line for this fixture is that if we attack early on, and we score, CSKA will then need four goals to force extra time.

We need to be on the front foot – especially seeing as the combined age of their defence is the actual age of creatures hailing from the Cretaceous era. We can kill this game off early and then rotate for a tough game this Sunday at Newcastle. We have won three away games in the League all season and we need every resource we have in order to better that.

If we score in Moscow, the game is over.
Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are set to return to the side, and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied, Alexandre Lacazette is our go-to Europa League striker. Granit Xhaka didn’t travel with the squad as he is sick with flu, so Elneny or Jack could start alongside Ramsey.

Two players who have played their way into contention are Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi. their respective displays against a spirited Southampton side last weekend were welcome returns to form for the pair, and they almost single-handedly rescued us from dropping points. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan out for what looks like the remainder of the season, they both are in with a shout of a start.

David Ospina is still out, so Petr Cech will take the gloves instead of our designated cup keeper. Aside from these changes, the lineup pretty much picks itself. One piece of good news for the coming weekend though, is that the red card Mohamed Elneny received in our win over Southampton last week has been rescinded by the FA, and it dissolves the three match ban the Egyptian was due to suffer.

CSKA will have to attack to salvage anything from this tie, but an early goal changes the whole game. We’ll need to be on our game at both ends of the pitch, but we can cut them to ribbons if we need to. Let’s hope we kill their hopes early and save all of us Gooners the coronaries that normally come with a high-stakes tie.

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Wilshere, Welbeck, Lacazette

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

North London Derby Preview.

Could this match matter any more than it does?

No, and it amps up every season, especially with our neighbours starting to make a nasty habit of looking down on us.

This current North London Derby is no different, but the ramifications for the loser of this tussle are huge for either team.

We sit in sixth place, and four points behind spurs. If we lose this game,then we’ll have a massive seven point gap to traverse just to get to fifth spot. It would probably signal the end of our Champions League spot hopes, placing even more importance on our Europa League campaign.

So, it is quite obvious that we have a little more to lose than Pochettino’s lot.

They will still feel the burn should we do the double over them this season with victory.

A win for them could see them rise to the heights of 3rd spot, but should they lose, they’ll be likely five points from 3rd, and a mere point above us – with low confidence and a tough tie against Juventus in their midst.

One thing we have in our favour is that they did play in midweek. It may have been League Two opposition, but Newport County gave a fantastic account of themselves at Wembley, and tottenham used more than a few first team regulars in order to despatch their FA Cup opponent.

Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose, Heung Son-Min, Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks were among the eleven, and should they be selected they’ll be lacking that ten percent of energy that we’ll have after our weeks rest.

In Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference, our manager revealed that Nacho Monreal will thankfully be fit to take his place in the side, but the jury is still out on Petr Cech who was injured during our 5-1 win over Everton last week. David Ospina stands by to deputise.

Wenger has a selection headache too.

Aaron Ramsey scored a hat-trick in his last outing and the Welshman is surely a shoe-in for a start in this game.

But who partners him in midfield?

Granit Xhaka has been on point when it comes to his distribution, but wedging him into the DM role that clearly doesn’t fit him isn’t working. We could try fitting in Mohamed Elneny in a three man central midfield, but what of Jack Wilshere? The England man has been one of our best players in recent weeks and with his passion for Arsenal – a start in the NLD is a must, surely?

Then there is our attack.

Our new boys, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, both hit the ground running, and their partnership is a huge plus for us. They start, and obviously Mesut Ozil does too,but that means Alexandre Lacazette could be on the bench again.The Frenchman has so much quality that he should be a guaranteed starter, but our attack already has three, if Lacazette starts alongside Aubameyang, Ozil and Mkhitaryan, then we need a formation change.

Will Wenger change things up after such a handsome win though? Changing a winning team is not something Arsene does often, so Lacazette may again start from the bench.

We need this win for our league hopes, never mind bragging rights. We’ve got enough in our locker to do it, but our 2-0 win earlier in the season showed that we need to have an active press, and attack using the speed we have.

Plus, we’ve got our Wembley record to maintain.

Predicted lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette

Predicted scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

Everton 2-5 Arsenal – the return of our style.

Arsenal finally found the swagger that has been missing, as they hammered 5 past Everton – and gained their first away Premier League win in the process.



An avalanche of shots on target points to a convincing victory, but a spirited Toffee’s side gave a good account of themselves – they just couldn’t find an answer to our attacking play.


Much of this was down to our preferred attacking three playing together for once. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette linked up fluidly, and the ninety minutes was packed with flicks and touches that intuitively found each other. It was the basis on which we scored our goals, and also what bamboozled Everton.


The first ten minutes we bombarded Everton keeper Jordan Pickford and we should have taken the lead, so it was scripted that Everton would instead grab the first goal.


Granit Xhaka was slow in offloading the ball and was fouled by Idrissa Gueye. Referee Craig Pawson waved play on and the ball found Wayne Rooney whose shot from 25 yards hit the back of the net.


We had played so well only to succumb to a sucker punch, but for once, it didn’t affect us. We continued to press though and it was only Jordan Pickford and wasteful finishing that was stopping us rack up a cricket score, never mind equalise.


As such, it was a surprise that it took until the 40th minute for us to restore parity. A Xhaka shot was only parried by Pickford, and the loose ball was snaffled up by a marauding Nacho Monreal who hit it first time.


Everton had racked up a couple of yellow cards, and the second half saw one of their booked players swapped out during the break. Ashley Williams was cut and Tom Davies came on, Ronald Koeman opting to change shape to combat Arsenal’s rampaging trio up top.


It didn’t work.


Eight minutes after the second half began, we got what our play deserved. Alexis hung onto the ball wide on the left, and he waited for the perfect moment to cross the ball into the box. He had waited for the impeccably timed run of Mesut Ozil. The German flicked a header past Pickford expertly and we had the lead.


Our job was made infinitely easier after Idrissa Gueye was sent off for a second yellow. His lunge took the wind from Everton’s sails and for once – perhaps the most welcome sight of all – we took full advantage. No mercy was shown.


Alexandre Lacazette made it three, twenty minutes after Ozil’s goal. Alexis passed well to Ozil, who took it forward before finding Lacazette in the box. A first time finish gave him his first away goal and the breathing space we needed.


Jack Wilshere got some action, and he immediately made his presence felt. Finding Aaron Ramsey with a great pass, Rambo then took it well before finishing coolly.


Everton took advantage of a lax touch from Cech to score a second, but we would get the last laugh. Alexis deserved a goal for his endeavours, and he exquisitely found the far corner.


The front three of Lacazette, Ozil and Alexis give us a reason to be cheerful. Even in the toughest of games, this trio will eke out chances. We have hope.




Of course there are still reasons for worry. Our central midfield is not clicking and our defence has a tendency to switch off, but for once, let us enjoy this handsome win.


It is the reason we are all supporters. For games when we play well, we win well and we score a bagful.

Wojicech Szczesny – Were We Right To Sell?

Posted originally on Arsenal Mania

Wojicech Szczesny spent 11 years at Arsenal. In that time, and growing as a player through the Gunners ranks, his attachment to the club unsurprisingly grew. Over a decade at the club he supported as a boy, the bond the Pole had with Arsenal only became stronger.


So it was with an undoubtedly heavy heart that he bade farewell to North London recently, when he was offered the chance to play for Juventus and work alongside Gianluigi Buffon – the keeper that most consider to be this generation’s finest exponent between the sticks.


The prospect for his career was simply too good to turn down, but was it the right decision for Arsenal?












With last season’s miasma of horrors still so hard to erase from our mind’s eye, many of us fans looked to Szczesny’s efforts on loan at Roma, and with Petr Cech letting his high standards slip – it appeared as though we had the perfect remedy to clam up our porous team.


There are many other facets to this transfer though, that have not risen to the surface as prominently as the above though.


Szczesny performed way above expectation in Serie A last campaign, but the level of competition between the two league’s is still different. A perfect example of this is Gervinho – the Ivorian was an abject failure in an Arsenal shirt, but when playing for Roma only a few seasons ago, he looked like an accomplished professional. It is especially easier to grab clean sheets in the attritional playing styles of Italy too.


True, it looked as if the Polish keeper with a penchant for selfies at White Hart Lane had indeed acquired the one thing that stopped him being a great keeper at Arsenal – consistency. We can give him the benefit of the doubt, but can we forget?


Twice, the Number1 shirt was in his grasp in his time in London, and twice, continued erratic displays meant that Wenger had no choice but to drop him – once for Lukasz Fabainski and once for David Ospina. Five seasons was spent trying to establish himself and firmly rebuff all other goalkeeping competitors, but he never quite managed it. Whether it be silly mistakes on the pitch, like when he fouled Gabby Agbonlahor in the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, or when he was caught smoking in the showers, Szczesny couldn’t quite leave the doubts behind.


Now, after two excellent seasons in Rome, he was given an opportunity to work at Juventus. It would have been impossible to turn down, but what really rankles is that, why did Arsenal not hold out for more money?


Considering the experience that Szczesny has, and his still relatively young age, his transfer worth must have been higher than the reported meagre fee that we have received. When a young English keeper plays one season of top-flight football, gets relegated and then commands a £30m fee – that should have correlated into a higher fee for Wojicech too.


The fanbase, when poring over tweets and posts on social media, seems to be undecided on whether Wojicech Szczesny was the long-term answer in goal for our club, but we can all agree that he is worth far more than Juventus are scantily paying us. 

Arsenal and tottenham Combined XI

Published on Arsenal Mania

There is always a fair amount of hype in the build-up to a much-anticipated fixture. The majority of it is to ride the crest of the wave as fans look forward to the game, but some is simply filler designed only to ruffle feathers and guarantee a reaction.


The North London Derby is no different, but the parameters for this last bout have changed. For over twenty years, Arsenal have governed this constituency, but this game saw tottenham in the ascendency. They were favourites – and for good reason.


So much so, that a recent Combined XI from respective club legends Ledley King and Thierry Henry recently for Sky Sports, saw just one Arsenal player in this amalgamated team.

Just one.


Is this fair?


Here is a more balanced version of an eleven made up from spurs and Gunners players. What do you think?











Petr Cech or Hugo Lloris?

Verdict – Hugo Lloris

Petr Cech has been a bastion of excellence and reliability ever since he came to the Premier League, but this season has seen a slip below his usual standards. Facts are facts, and he has 14 clean sheets to Cech’s 9, and has conceded 13 goals less. Hugo Lloris has maintained his performances, and his athleticism racing from his line sees him take the gloves for this team.


Hector Bellerin or Kyle Walker?

Verdict – Hector Bellerin

Kyle Walker seems to have the England spot nailed down, and his rapier speed has long been his trademark. Walker’s control has been his weakness, but he has really shaped up this season. Does it see him rise above Bellerin? Walker has more assists this season, but Hector’s passing percentage is higher. It really is closer than it was a couple of seasons ago. Hector’s haircut seemed to coincide with a drop in form, but he is faster than Walker, and his control is good enough to see him make the Spain squad. Bellerin for the win.


Toby Alderweireld or Shkodran Mustafi?

Verdict – Toby Alderweireld

The Belgian defender is a threat in the air on set pieces, and has strength and positional awareness in stock. Mustafi had a great start to his Arsenal career, but a drop in confidence for the whole team saw the German start to make errors. In spite of this, this is closer than most would give Mustafi credit for. He has more goals than Alderweireld, and has more aerial success than the Belgian. It is defensive stats that Alderweireld edges the German though. More clearances, more blocks and he makes less fouls. It is close, but in short, Mustafi is often shrugged off the ball, but how often have you seen Alderweireld suffer the same fate? Toby grabs the shirt.


Laurent Koscielny or Jan Vertonghen?

Verdict – Koscielny

Koscielny is viewed as a mandatory name in the side, and in the last few seasons, he has elevated himself and his displays so much that it wouldn’t be unfair to class him amongst the best in his position in Europe. Vertonghen is consistent, he is tough and when he is not in the spurs side, they look a little lost. But who should play? Koscielny scores more goals, and is a big-game player. He has a superior tackling percentage, makes less fouls and has played more minutes. Vertonghen makes more clearances and blocks, but he is blocked out of this eleven.


Nacho or Danny Rose?

Verdict – Danny Rose

Once the figure of ridicule, Rose has really improved. Up and down the left flank tirelessly, Rose is perhaps the most improved player in the spurs team. Nacho has been recalled into the Spain squad, and his attacking prowess is a real asset for Arsenal. Despite this, Rose has more goals in the League, and more clearances and blocks, as well as a superior tackling percentage. Rose has more than double the amount of bookings, but this Rose is planted into the eleven.


Eric Dier or Granit Xhaka?

Verdict – Eric Dier

The Swiss star is still adapting to the League, and his tackling style is continuing to get him unwanted attention from match officials. Eric Dier is adaptable, playing all across the backline and in defensive midfield, and the England man is strong aerially too. He has the edge in the defensive side of the game, with more clearances, blocks and less fouls. In terms of passing though, Xhaka obliterates his rival. Long balls, crosses, key passes are all in favour of Arsenal’s man. So who takes the shirt? Seeing as it is a defensive role, Dier edges it.


Santi Cazorla or Moussa Dembele?

Verdict – Santi Cazorla

Of course, the Spaniard is injured and has missed half of the season, but we are comparing teams, and Santi is undeniably part of this Arsenal side. Cazorla has played far less than his counterpart, and yet still has more goals and assists, as well as key passes. Dembele takes the defensive side of the duel, but Santi isn’t far behind, despite giving away so much in terms of physicality. Santi would benefit any team, this is a no-brainer. If it wasn’t for injury, this wouldn’t be a contest.


Theo Walcott or Heung-Min Son?

Verdict – Son

This is a toughie. The South Korean has more goals and assists than Walcott, but Theo better dribbling percentages, is dispossessed less, and has a higher match rating. Son is super-efficient in terms of chances though, and Son just gets the nod.


Christian Eriksen or Mesut Ozil?

Verdict – Eriksen

This is an oft-debated issue. Mesut Ozil has a fine pedigree, and his reputation precedes him. Eriksen’s star is still rising, and although last season he was eclipsed by Ozil, this season is a different story. The all-important assist totals is a one-sided battle, with Eriksen registering 12 to Ozil’s 6. Ozil has a better passing percentage, but Eriksen has more goals. The Dane has played six more games than the German, but this season has seen him become more dangerous, where Ozil has had to change his role with Cazorla missing. In terms of talent, Ozil bests Eriksen, but this season, Eriksen is in the eleven.


Dele Alli or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

Verdict – Alli

This is a toughie. Arsenal’s left side is often changed, with no one really holding down the spot.
So, we go with the player who has played most from all the candidates, and that is The Ox. Here is a surprising stat; The Ox has the same amount of assists as Alli, even though he has made far less appearances. He also has a better passing percentage too. He has improved so much this season, but Alli has been talismanic. For such a young player, his threat in front of goal is huge. Alli must go into the team, but The Ox has pushed him hard.


Harry Kane or Alexis?

Verdict – Alexis

Both players are their teams leading goal-getters, and Kane is top of the charts when it comes to goals. In terms of assists though, Alexis leads the way with 9 so far. The Chilean also has better passing, key passes and shots per game. Although Kane has more goals, Alexis offers more than just goals. How can you leave out Alexis?

So, to surmise, here is the current combined XI –

Lloris

Bellerin

Alderweireld

Koscielny

Rose

Dier

Santi

Son

Eriksen

Alli

Alexis


This is viewed by some as the tipping point for North London. This season has finally seen tottenham emerge from Arsenal’s shadow. This is their best ever Premier League season, and they fully deserve to be where they are. Will this mean that from here, tottenham are the bigger team?

No. They may kick off a few seasons of superiority or they may not. Much depends on transfer activity and how spurs play at Wembley. For them to usurp Arsenal’s dominance in North London though they must first win the title, then win it at The Emirates twice, win more FA Cups and continue to be a presence in the Champions League.

Enjoy this season spurs, but this is not over. 

Middlesbrough Vs Arsenal – Match Preview

Here is a stat to show our slide in the most alarming of ways.

The corresponding fixture between the two sides was a 0-0 draw – and that result took Arsenal to the top of the League in October. 

Fast forward five or so months of mediocre performances and we are left with a season that hangs on via its fingertips, vainly attempting to avoid falling into the category of the worst season in Arsene Wenger’s tenure in terms of finishing spots.

The last result was perhaps the worst in recent memory, and the 3-0 humping we received at the hands of Crystal Palace needs to be immediately rectified. The only way this can happen is to get back to winning, and quickly.

Most would  perceive this game to be a gimme for Arsenal. Middlesbrough are the lowest scorers in the Professional English League, and with Caretaker Boss Steve Agnew overseeing things, the Teesiders may be in a state of flux. 

So who is betting Arsenal will win? There cannot be many confident raised hands.

Either way, the Gunners should have the personnel to at least get back on track. Our away record of late is quite distressing, and we are on the verge of losing five away games on the spin if Boro do take the three points – and that would be our worst away run since 1984. 

We also should be wary as we have not beaten the home side at the Riverside in the last four games, so this game is far from a banked win for Arsenal.

There are reasons for a small amount of optimism though. Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech could come back into the side after missing the last couple, and these two are a large part of the spine of the side. 

A conundrum comes in  midfield for the away team though. Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey all featured at some stage against Palace and did not cover themselves in glory, so will changes be made? One who is sure to be in with a shout is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has performed in the centre admirably when included. 

Attack is another area where changes could be made. Alexis and Olivier Giroud will be prime candidates to play up top, especially as Danny Welbeck has started the last three games. Giroud is also the only Arsenal player to have scored against Boro, with two in an FA Cup tie in 2015. 

Calum Chambers will miss out for Boro as he is ineligible to face us, so their defence will be shuffled. This is a good thing too, as their defensive record this season is better than ours! At this point in time, we will take any advantage given to us!

A player to watch out for will be Adama Traore. The mazy winger is topping the dribbling charts in the Premiership this season, and he could cause our defence all sorts of problems if not shackled correctly. With Gaston Ramirez back and ready to feed Traore with ammunition, this match could be tighter than expected. 

This season has eroded the feeling I used to get when a match was closing in – and that was excitement. A steady rise up the table would be nice, but I’d be content with seeing the players in our squad playing to their potential – if they do that then the results will sort themselves out.

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Theo, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud.

Predicted Scoreline – I say we grab a much needed 2-0 win. #UTA

Taxi For Alexis

Originally published on Goonersphere.

The recent news of Alexis Sanchez lambasting his teammates has only intensified the hyperbole surrounding his future at the club. 

He and Mesut Ozil – as well as Arsene Wenger – are all precariously placed as the last knockings of their contracts near. Every press conference then becomes a witch-hunt for details about departures or contract extensions, as news about the team take a firm back seat.

It has irked Arsene Wenger, as repeatdd questions about his star players and his own future are peppered at him as he sits in front of the assembled media, but with the latest news, one of the questions appears to have been answered inadvertently. 

Apparently, Alexis had ‘an angry exchange’ with teammates before the Liverpool loss, which then led to a team member having to be held back as tempers rose to the fore.

The surpirse decision by Wenger to drop Alexis to the bench for the match at Anfield was met with surprise, and the Arsenal boss maintained his reason for the Chilean on the bench, stating it was a tactical call.

The decision went awry, as the first half saw little attacking impetus which meant Liverpool were free to wreak merry hell, and Arsenal were on the backfoot for the majority of the 45 minutes. 

Step forward Alexis in the second half, whose introduction to proceedings saw a vastly different Arsenal to the Chilean-bereft Gunners side of the first half. We came together, we actually posed a threat. 

The trouble is, our side are now built to optimise Alexis, so to construct a side without him would require a period of adaptation. We would need time to play properly without Alexis.

The Chilean is a winner, and every lung-bursting run is two-fold. He firstly wants possession, and badly. Secondly, the reason he wants the ball is so he can do all he can to win the game. 

He is a winner. 

Is this excuse for the manner in which he verbally accosted his teammates? No.

Petr Cech is a winner, as is Ozil. They are both accustomed to glory rather than failure, but if they have an issue with the manner in which we are playing? They would not handle it in the way that Alexis has.

This Alexis issue has the capacity for fracturing the team-spirit which all top clubs require. The team must be one, and it must be prized above all else and certainly above sole concerns. 

Alexis has put his own trauma above the team, which any self-respecting manager cannot allow to be tolerated. If Alexis is not happy to construct his feelings of ire into his performances – or even to tell his comrades in a more eloquent manner – then he is a disruptive influence.

Either way, his future looks to be decided. It spells out an unhappy player who will have no shortage of suitors if he instructs his agent to put his feelers out. 

We want our players to be unhappy with current results and displays. It shows they know this level is far from good enough. 

We just want them to do it in the right way. 

The Famous Arsenal Back 5 – Will We See the Likes Again?

Published in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up yours outside The Emirates on matchdays!

It is a rare occurrence when rival teams and Managers acknowledge another teams strength. When it does happen, it sticks in the memory.

Think Henry being applauded by Pompey fans after destroying them single-handedly. Or Real Madrid fans begrudgingly clapping Ronaldinho after the Brazilian had taught their side a footballing lesson.

It doesn’t happen often, but it is a sign that true, unadulterated genius has touched proceedings.

Well, the amount of other teams managers, players and hierarchy that have held their hands up and given Arsenal’s famous ‘Back5’ as an example of the finest defensive unit to grace these shores, since the iconic Liverpool teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s is long and noteworthy.

Long coveting looks across the pitch and gushing comments of approval have rained down on the men who comprised the immovable object that was Arsenal’s Back 5 for over a decade – and for good reason.

Singularly, they were the zenith of defensive solidarity, giving each and every attacker the strictest of examinations. It was as a whole though, that they excelled. Much like the greatest groups that existed, each strength that was brought to the table was a segment that when put together, made an unbreakable shield.

Like the 300 which battled fiercely in Thermopylae, the shield formation which was the demise of many Persian enemies is a succinct example of Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon and Seaman. 

If one shield drops, then the whole unit is compromised. It was each mans strength which gave the other man protection. It was a united effort. 

At the centre, the Captain. Born to be a leader, adored the club and led from the front. Every battalion needs a shining example to ready the troops before battle, and Adams stood on the parapet each and every time, sword raised, his battlecry inspiring his men. 

He wasn’t half bad on the pitch either. His reading of the game was modelled on England hero Bobby Moore, and he excelled. His aerial ability was unrivalled at both ends of the pitch, and he was his managers perfect middle man, making sure the plan was perfectly pitched.

Alongside him was Steve Bould. The forever follically-challenged Bould was the perfect foil for Adams, and each complimented the other. When both were playing, the foundation that the rest of the team could fall back on must have been a welcome presence.

On the right, Lee Dixon had an incredible engine, and whilst his frame was never imposing, his desire and tackling ability more than made up for his lack of height. His crossing was always a valuable outlet, and he never left his post, unlike some modern fullbacks today.

Nigel Winterburn was on the left, and he provided the same outlet that Dixon did on the opposite side. He also played on the edge, sometimes boiling over when he felt injustice.

Then the gentle giant David Seaman was the man between the sticks. A huge man with a gargantuan wingspan, he commanded his area with no room for error. Whilst the midfield could feel relieved to have the stout defence behind them, the very same defenders could rest assured that ‘SafeHands’ was standing true if any enemy broke through.

These paragraphs aren’t meant to do justice to these players. Their legacy goes beyond words. The reason their tenure at the club stretched for so long is that the essential factor of any defence – reliability – existed every year. Their excellence at what they did ensured that every season, the club would at least have a solid footing to fall back on. 

The perfect example was in Copenhagen in 1994, when Arsenal won the European Cup Winners Cup after beating Parma 1-0. The Italians had the cream of attacking talent and were widely expected to roll over the Gunners, but Tomas Brolin, Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla grew more and more frustrated as the famous back 5 repelled each and every attempt they mustered. It was the perfect battle between attack and defence, and Arsenal’s backline won handsomely.

Arsene Wenger’s glittering start at the club would have been markedly different if he didn’t have this cadre of soldiers to fuse to his cosmopolitan flair. The mix in styles worked perfectly, and Wengers handling of the players training and fitness allowed these men to play on for more years than they ought to have with their previous regimen.

We have had defenders who have performed admirably for us since. Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and a few others provided top grade service to the shirt during their playing careers, but they never came close to recreating what the famous Back5 had.

The fact they are famous across footballing circles is because they were exactly what other managers wanted at their club – and still do.

Some factors in the sport are meant to be held up and admired through rose-tinted specs, and used as a prime example of what to aim for. Used as the ultimate achievement, but most will fail to attain such a standard. 

Will we ever witness such an amalgamation of titans again? A barrier so formidable that even the sharpest of attacks were blunted as they attempted to force their way through? 

As aforementioned, we have had elements of the equation before, but never as a whole. Could we now though, have all the parts to build the machine we require?

Petr Cech is still one of the finest exponents of goalkeeping in the Premiership. Hector Bellerin is already one of the best in his position, and at such a young age he will only get better. Koscielny had already forged a reputation as one of our greatest defenders, he just needed a partner. In Mustafi it appears he may have found one. On the left, Nacho Monreal has given us, and continues to, reliable service in defence and attack.

It is far too early to give a prognosis on the replication of such an immortal band of men, but the signs are good.

All they need now is a decade or more playing together, a truckload of trophies, and form that never dips below a certain level. 

Shouldn’t be too hard.