Tag Archives: central

The Best of Koscielny

Laurent Koscielny’s injury suffered during our Europa League Semi-Final not only ended his season, but his World Cup dream.

He had to watch from the sidelines as his compatriots enjoyed the perfect World Cup, lifting the famous trophy to be crowned World Champions.

All while Koscielny was nursing himself nearer to a return to the pitch.

It must have been pretty difficult to overcome the knowledge that if it weren’t for his achilles injury, the defender would have gotten his hands on the World Cup. It is a thought that is perfectly designed to torment for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

Koscielny stuck gamely to his task and now we have our club captain back and available for selection – but is his Arsenal career now merely passing the torch to his students?

Koscielny has been a fine defender for us. His arrival in 2011 was pretty unheralded, despite the relatively high transfer fee. We saw a rough but adept defender, who resembled Kolo Toure in style, but with a shorter temper.

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Koscielny always had a tendency to jump into tackles, giving away needless set-plays thanks to his penchant for going to ground. It took years to coach out of him, but for the last five seasons, Koscielny, has been amongst the greatest defenders to grace the Premier League.

His reading of the game benefitted from partnering the sage Per Mertesacker. His aerial ability has always been strong, and his strength belies his streamlined physique. Koscielny’s greatest asset though?

His undying loyalty.

The Frenchman stayed with us through the miasma of struggles we have endured. In the seven years he has been with us, approaching eight, Kos has seen many stars depart for greener pastures, he has seen seasons crumble into the abyss, he has been humbled by the odd thrashing.

Yet, much like how we herald the fact that the likes of Rosicky stayed during times of distress and precious little success, Kos too did the same thing. He stayed because he loves the club, and we adore him too.

This is why we must keep Kos in amongst the squad. He has much to teach the likes of Medley, Holding, Chambers and others pushing through. He can show them what it means to put on the jersey, he can show them about recovering from a mistake, or when a partner leaves a path open.

Kos can pass on his learnings from seasons of under-par partners, from under-strength squads. He may have lost the peak abilities he once had, but he still has enough to see he is one of our stronger defenders, and is well worthy of a place.

We may have seen the best of Koscielny, but no one wants to see him go just yet. He deserves every bit of our respect.

Square Pegs In Round Holes – Xhaka at LB?

Injury fiasco’s are commonplace for football clubs.

Especially if you’re an Arsenal fan.

We know exactly what it takes when ailments, suspensions and plain bad luck conspire to rob you of a recognised position. In the past five or six seasons, we have seen players shoehorned into a slot that is a stranger to them. We’ve seen Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal use their defensive nous at centre-back. We have also had Mohamed Elneny play in the centre of defence, as well as Bacary Sagna.

As you can see, it has been in defence that we have mainly suffered. Of course, we have had our fair share of crises in midfield and attack, but when it comes to contorting a player so they fit into an alien position? It is always in the backline.

It has happened again this season, as we have been blighted by injury at full-back.

So much so, that Granit Xhaka has been chosen to play at left-back on more than one occasion.

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What is it though, that made Unai Emery choose our Swiss midfielder to play in the role?

Perhaps the answer can be found with the aforementioned previous instances.

When Sagna, Elneny, Debuchy and Monreal were chosen by Wenger to fulfill a role in the heart of defence, it was because they were well versed in the defensive script. Debuchy had a fantastic aerial ability for a player of average height. Monreal is a classy player who can adapt to most roles, Sagna was strong in the tackle, and Elneny?

The Egyptian is a solid player, one who will always give his all and never let the side down. He is also decent in the air and at winning the ball. A switch to the centre of defence is a natural move for Elneny given his playing style.

But Xhaka playing at full-back? Especially when our team methods involve a heavy amount of metronome-like activity from the left and right-backs?

Xhaka isn’t blessed with the ability to track runners. The Swiss man though, has an excellent tank on him, and can win the ball if given the opportunity. Since Emery arrived, Xhaka has been transformed too.

Xhaka has confessed that the arrival of Lucas Torreira has allowed him to play his natural game, which links up defence and attack with a swift ball. Does that translate to left-back though?

A certain amount of Unai’s decision to make Xhaka the left-back comes down to the commitment that Xhaka gives. He takes his role as part-Skipper seriously, and his desire to win is clear for all to see.

The proof is in the pudding though. How did Xhaka perform in his unfamiliar role?

He didn’t let anyone down and was solid, if unspectacular. There was no bombing forward a la Monreal and Kolasinac, although he did get forward at times. He put defending first and foremost, and there were precious few opportunities from the left flank that Xhaka gave away.

The decision still causes a few head scratches. Alex Iwobi (yes, Iwobi. The boy tracks back,) Zach Medley, Carl Jenkinson, Elneny. Just a few names that would have appeared a little higher in a list of prospective left-backs. Yet Xhaka was named and he did a decent job.

It just shows that the coach knows more than we do!

Mohamed Elneny – Contract Extension Deserved?

There are many different roles that comprise a squad.

You need a sprinkling of the mercurial. there must be a liberal dollop of fighting spirit and you won’t garner success without a smidgin of ruthlessness.

Mohamed Elneny makes up perhaps the most overlooked of ingredients though.

Professionalism.

The Egyptian recently was awarded a contract extension for his consummate consistency and professional outlook in the face of a less than certain place in the team.

In fact, the first half of the season saw the midfielder consigned to a bit-part role that contained Europa League games and the odd domestic cup appearance.

Yet, we didn’t hear a negative tweet, comment or noise coming from the Elneny camp. No, when he did play, he was his normal solid self and put his personal concerns behind him to make sure he performed in his role, at the very least adequately.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Egyptian. I’ve always thought of him as limited, but I’m happy to admit I was wrong. The departure of Francis Coquelin has pushed him further into the reckoning, and when he’s played, crucially, he’s been utilised in the right way.

You see, Elneny is perhaps the best midfielder we have in terms of the dirty work. Tracking runners, putting in the tackles when necessary, Elneny has put in a shift when others around him have let the side down. The midfielder hasn’t put a foot wrong and in terms of value, he has proved his worth.

Put it this way – is he as blessed as Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere? Is his passing as good as Xhaka’s? No to both. But does he show his worth in every game? Does he add to our defensive side? Yes to both.

Some may see his success as a signal of the weakness of our squad. Would ‘Mo’ have seen any action in previous years? Is he a step down in terms of what we should be used to? It’s an undeniable fact that he isn’t a world beater, and we are accustomed to seeing players with better equipped skillsets on display.

That isn’t to say Elneny isn’t good enough – far from it.

But isn’t it refreshing to have a midfielder who is more adept at the defensive side of the game, and be happy about it? Who doesn’t seek the Hollywood pass, who prefers to make the simple pass to keep possession?

More importantly, isn’t it great to have a player who is so evidently happy at being at the club, despite not having a starting place nailed down?

He possesses a decent shot, he has the physical strength to deal with the majority of the burlier players around, and tactically, he seems pretty astute. He is also the squad member happiest to be the band-aid – that player that comes in when the first choice players are injured. His appearances in central defence show both his willingness to put the club before his own merits and also his tactical nous. It isn’t easy to switch to not only a different position but an entirely different third of the pitch.

Elneny has done it and done it well.

Mohamed Elneny can progress to being the shield in behind our somewhat porous midfield. The Egyptian signing an extension – with a figurative and literal smile on his face – is a great addition to our squad.

His presence makes us stronger and better equipped to deal with the rigours of top-flight football.

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.