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Our New British Core

The British core remains only as a memory of the image of the group sat at a desk, resplendent in club gear, simultaneously signing their contracts. Overshadowed by Arsene Wenger who had masterminded their presence in the first team, it was meant to represent a new, homegrown dawn for Arsenal.

One by one they fell by the wayside, leaving probably the least likely to remain as the sole representative of this golden generation. Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson could have potentially formed the spine of Arsenal for years to come, but thanks to varying reasons – some unlucky and some simply because they lacked the minerals to fight at the very top – they were sold from Arsenal.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the first to go, expressing an interest to shake off the comfort zone that saw him make 25-30 appearances but never quite hold down a regular spot. His flexibility was one of the reasons that ‘The Ox’ never quite put his stamp on our eleven, and another was his maddening inconsistency. With one game he would slalom past a handful of challenges and succeed with a netbuster. The next game he would lose the ball like it was a personal hobby. He moved to Liverpool to progress but thanks to injury – another frequent blight on his time here – he currently stands in the same spot he had as a Gunner – bit-part utility man.

Jack Wilshere carried perhaps the most expectation as a player. His virtuoso display as a teenager against the best midfield in the world, Barcelona, exhibited the ceiling his talents had, but the diminutive baller never scaled those heights again. Injuries curtailed his ambitions and his time as an Arsenal man, and he is now a Hammer.

The rest, aside from Aaron Ramsey, were ousted from the squad as we found superior replacements. Time had seen us move on but these players didn’t match the step count, and they lagged behind.

Fast forward to the present day and we now have another batch of homegrown players. The majority of these kids have been schooled by the Academy and are steeped in ‘The Arsenal Way.’ There is a big difference between the two groups of players though.

The original gaggle of players had already had a number of seasons under their belt before their talent had shone through to lead people to declare them our core.

The current group? They are just starting on their journey – and they are making waves in the first team ahead of some truly established international stars.

Wilshere, Gibbs etc of course had some truly special players in their midst, but they had their first team spot more or less made theirs whenever they were fit for the most part.

Whereas Jo Willock, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, Calum Chambers, Emile Smith-Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah have had some imposing figures in front of them, and have still established themselves as contenders for their respective spots.

British Core

Well, to varying degrees anyway. Jo Willock and Rob Holding are probably the closest to having their spots tied down, and both have serious competition in their way – which makes their progress even more spectacular.

What is evident is that these kids really DO have the chance to become the rigid spine that Arsenal have needed for some time. Time though, is the only true yardstick for this group. It is only as matches and a few seasons go by that we will see if these special talents really are as good as they appear to be – and if they can go on to forge themselves as homegrown Arsenal legends – something that we haven’t had for quite some time.

Over to you boys.

David Luiz – An Improvement?

A lot of conversation has taken place in the wake of our active transfer window – and most of that has surrounded our defence.

David Luiz, William Saliba and Kieran Tierney were the defensive additions this summer, but do they constitute what we needed to revitalise our last line of resistance?

Mark Lawrenson recently commented on our purchases and how our backline will cope this coming season. He proffered that while David Luiz is an excellent footballer, he is not an excellent defender.

Harsh criticism? Perhaps, but a lot of experts have spoken about Luiz’s struggles with lining up in a back four and his decent showings in a back three.

The Brazilian is known for his superior technique and ball control, so much so that he has often been utilised in midfield as a sentry figure and one who can distribute the ball.

With William Saliba on loan for the season and very much a figure for the future, we currently have Rob Holding, Sokratis, Calum Chambers, Dinos Mavropanos and Zech Medley as our central defensive units. Do any of them have the missing attributes we have been searching for since Sol Campbell departed the club?

Being Arsenal, our defenders will always be held up to a higher level of scrutiny. We have the highest set of standards because we had what was probably the best defence ever seen in the modern generation. Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown and Winterburn are part of the fabric of our club and the benchmark.

Since they retired, only Campbell and Toure for a short time have come close to that level. What is the level though?

What is it we need – and do our current crop have it?

The two characteristics we are perceived to lack are consistency and leadership. The consistency can be bred over time and can be achieved with a settled backline. So that is very much up in the air. Plus, we have defenders who have shown they can perform over a stretch of games. Sokratis last season hardly put a foot wrong. Rob Holding before his injury was a revelation.

Then there is the leadership quandary. A leader can be someone who leads by example. Laurent Koscielny was one of these. Then you have leaders who rangle their troops together vocally and by the way they deal with adversity. A stout heart and a puffed out chest.

Do we have that?

Sokratis seems an obvious choice on that front, but Luiz has always been a candidate at every club he has been at. Perhaps giving him the armband is a bit much, but can he show the younger players the right way? Can he bring the best out of his teammates? That would be a yes.

Luiz was a regular for the majority of his times at Chelsea and at PSG. That doesn’t happen by accident. While his best years may be behind him, the short term acquisition gives us a body that can cover us more than adequately.

David Luiz signs

Harking back to the titans of the past is a fruitless exercise, aside from the sweet pangs of nostalgia. A lot of our defence can be our approach to the game, and a more adaptable midfield who can track back and press attacks – so Guendouzi, Ceballos, Xhaka and Willock have a lot of pressure on their shoulders too.

For now, we can look upon our signings positively, and our squad seems well stocked in all regions. Players like Luiz will help us far more than the experts seem to think he will, and his struggles in a back four have been exacerbated a tad.

The bottom line is that will he improve on Mustafi? That is a definite yes!

Sokratis – Just What We Needed

Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge was blighted by poor form, which led to his lowest ever finish as Arsenal boss.

This was a symptom of a brittle weakness that saw us carved open by teams who smelled blood, pouring from our soft underbelly. Teams who had no right, on paper, to destroy us in the manner that they did.

It was our defence, from monitoring runs in midfield through to naive offside traps, woeful zonal marking and a general lack of organisation. This was the culprit that saw Wenger’s reign end in such circumstances.

The very same players are available to Unai Emery in his first match in charge. Both men couldn’t be more contrasting in their approach, and one thing that can fill us with optimism is the Spaniard’s dedication to looking at our opponents.

Still, all the video’s in the world looking at the minutiae of another team’s attack won’t be of any use if the personnel expected to act on Emery’s commands are inept.

Laurent Koscielny is 32 and will be out for the first half of the season through injury.

Shkodran Mustafi has strengths, but in terms of organisation and maintaining concentration he very much failed last season.

Konstandinos Mavropanos looks a real steal, but has made just a handful of appearances. A dip will come, and we don’t know when, how long it will last, or what it could cost us. One for the future.

Rob Holding had a fantastic debut season, but last season showed how far he still has to go before he makes it. Looks increasingly likely to go on loan to get the first team games he needs.

Then there is Calum Chambers. The England prospect looked to be on borrowed time until the latter half of last season, but Chambers excelled when called upon, and an extended contract is a symbol of the faith placed upon him. He looked to be the chosen one to lead this defence forward – but if he is, he’ll have to wait until next season after going on loan to Fulham for the campaign.

Sokratis at former club BVB

Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a recruit straight from the contacts book of a certain Sven Mislintat. The former Dortmund man is a seasoned veteran in terms of seasons spent in the top flight, having been with BVB for five seasons. Before that, he was at Werder Bremen for three seasons.

Interestingly, he was at AC Milan for two seasons, having been bought after impressing at Genoa. He made just five appearances in two years at the San Siro however, but what it does show is that he has experience from different leagues, which only serves to highlight why he will be so important.

Sokratis is now thirty years old. It means he will be our first choice centre back for probably a maximum of three to four years. What he can teach Holding and Mavropanos though, is invaluable. He has the potential to be a real hit in the teaching stakes, and the kids could soar next to such a grizzled warrior.

Sokratis is aerially strong and isn’t too rash either, something we can level at a host of other defenders in our past, and perhaps in our present. The partnership with Mustafi perhaps has shades of Campbell and Toure about it, with each defender performing different tasks. While Mustafi may not have the pace of Toure in his pomp, he is more than athletic, and is no slouch, as shownoften in recovering some messes he created himself in his time with us.

Sokratis has the physical edge we have been looking for, and he also is one who knows the seedier part of the game, a cynical slant, which will wipe the happiness from strikers faces, as opposed to before when they held no fear.

This signing is exactly what we need. Sokratis may only have a limited amount of miles on the clock, but if used right, and with the right partner, this could be a stroke of genius from our recruitment team.

Selling Bellerin to Solve Our Defensive Woes?

This season has been a calamitous one at best.

Our Premier League campaign is the worst we’ve had under Arsene Wenger, and we’re set for the lowest finishing position in his tenure.
It all points to a manager that has lost his grip on what it takes at the cutting edge of the game, and a squad that quite clearly needs a drastic overhaul.

But does it? Or is the fault mainly in our defence that is as porous as a sponge?
Well, our attack is as potent as Tottenham’s, United’s and Chelsea’s in terms of goals scored, and we have proven world class talent in the form of Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

Our defence however, is a different story.

We have conceded more goals than the rest of the teams in the top 7, this is the reason that as of 15/04/18, we had lost exactly one third of our total league games this season – and owned the worst away record of ANY team in the top 4 leagues in England.

Our best defenders are Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal. Both are the wrong side of thirty and Koscielny suffers from chronic tendonitis. There is only one way for them to go from here.

We do have an answer though.

Hector Bellerin to Barca?

Hector Bellerin is 23 and the Catalan-born defender is under contract until 2022. It is common knowledge that he isn’t short of admirers. His price tag would be a handsome one.

If we did dispense of his services, with whatever funds are currently at our disposal, we could add to it with a rather tidy sum and it could replenish our depleted numbers.

With the World Cup, most transfer fees will be grossly inflated, and we could really do with a few extra pennies to spend, as our backline isn’t merely on its last legs, it really needs a new foundation.

Rob Holding and Calum Chambers have shown enough to merit some faith in their future and with more games, they will improve. Shkodran Mustafi has been a failed purchase thus far, and Per Mertesacker is retiring. We need at least three new faces in defence, and they can’t be works in progress either – they will need to be established players who have top-flight experience.

Hector Bellerin has not exactly been fantastic this season. In attack he is a great outlet, but defensively, he hasn’t improved since his first full season. The Spaniard is still making mistakes with the timing of his forward runs and he is still beaten a little too easily when one on one.

Plus, we’ve now got a ready-made replacement in Stefan Lichtsteiner.

Should Barcelona come in with a £50m bid, would we be fools not to take it? Of course we wouldn’t. We’d be retaining a player with bags of talent that could vastly improve. If we sold him though, and we actually invested the money? It could be the reinvention our defence sorely needs.

Next season the competition will only get tougher, and with the gap between us and the top 6 stretching, it’s time to stop what we’re doing and change things up – what we’ve been doing isn’t working and at the root of this – Wenger aside – is our defence.

One player sold, and we could solve so many of our problems. Let’s face it, Hector will be going to Barca in 2-3 seasons maximum anyway.

Shouldn’t we cash in?

What would you do? Would you sell Bellerin?

Leicester City Vs Arsenal – PL Preview

We go to Leicester tonight, in a bid to finally end our torrid away record. We have two away games left in our season – can we win away from The Emirates in 2018?

After the fantastic send-off we gave Arsene Wenger at our last home game this season – the weekend’s 5-0 thumping of Burnley was a perfect display of football that Wenger adores – these remaining two games can seem a tad pointless.

But with an away record like ours, this needs rectifying. Now.

Foxes Vs Gunners

Also, this game is the perfect opportunity to blood our youngsters further, against top opposition. We can see them playing at the level they need to in order to make it at our club, and they could well represent our future.

Two players who seem like they have a bright future in the red and white are Konstandinos Mavropanos and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The Man United loss a week ago was a close tun thing, and these two youngsters stole the show with their discipline and performance way above their years. The Greek defender should get the nod again as he did in the last two PL games, and with Koscielny out for six months, this could see a budding partnership with Calum Chambers.

Then there is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He started the season as a member of the squad, filling in at full-back. His displays are such, that he’s ending the season as a viable choice in central midfield.

With the contract situations hanging over Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, it’s a good thing AMN is showing his talents.

Mesut Ozil has probably played his last game this season, after Wenger confirmed his back complaint will end his season prematurely. That means there is a spot in our attack free too, and that could mean a start for Reiss Nelson, although he could also be used at full-back.

Jo Willock is another youth who could get the nod, and starting alongside Granit Xhaka means there will be an emphasis on his defensive duties. Wenger can have some fun with his selection here, although if he wants to destroy the away curse, then a strong side is the way to go. Our attack should be at full strength, with both Aubameyang and Lacazette set to start together again.

Then again, if he doesn’t give the kids a chance, then there will be the inevitable detractors who think this is the ideal chance for the kids to shine. With Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny also out, then the very least he can do is give some of them the first half.

For Leicester, Claude Puel is going backwards after a promising start as Foxes boss. They’ve lost their last few, and a home game against an undercooked Arsenal backline could be just what the Foxes ordered. They have the capacity to pack the midfield and clog our runners, and then with Jamie Vardy in their ranks, they have the perfect counter-attacking blade to slice us with.

Eight goals conceded in our last four away games, and just three scored. That’s what we have to contend with. Low confidence, tactics set to stifle, and poor form. With our win over Burnley, hopefully we have the wind in our sails.

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Chambers, Mavropanos, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck, Aubameyang, Lacazette

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

Defensive Replacements Needed – Apply Within?

Sir Alex Ferguson became one of the greatest ever managers for many reasons.

His slew of Premier League titles and his two European Cups are the first things that jump up from his glittering C.V, but the bucketload of trophies aren’t what defines his career.

What really made him one of the finest exponents of management was his ability to repackage his team every five or so years.

Players such as Kanchelskis, Ince, McClair, Bruce and Pallister started his reign of terror upon English football, then there was the golden generation of Beckham, Butt, Giggs, Scholes and the Neville brothers that brought about another era of success. Then came Jaap Stam, Van Nistelrooy, Cole, Yorke, Ronaldo et al.

His eye for finding the perfect player was one thing, but he could almost smell when a player needed to be replaced. Like whipping off the top of a milk carton, his nostrils were able to decipher if a player had given his all and was passed his best.

Wenger now has a self-made miasma on his hands, and we will find out if he can do the same.

This does a little bit of a disservice to our current manager. Wenger has proved countless times in the past that he knows exactly when is the best time to get rid of a player. Vieira, Pires, Overmars, Petit – they all never reached the heights they did when wearing our shirt. Wenger knew, but what faces him now is a far tougher challenge.

Our defence in its current state is nothing short of a shambles for a team supposedly setting out to fight for top honours. We’re conceding to all manner of teams – relegation candidates, top4 chasers, european minnows, Championship teams. No matter what level teams are playing at, they go into a match with us confident they can cause us problems.

This is far from good enough, but why?

Personnel isn’t the issue. Injury woes or not, Laurent Koscielny is still one of the best defenders in the league. Shkodran Mustafi may need to improve his decision making, but he has all the cornerstones you need from a top defender, and Nacho Monreal is nothing short of a footballing marvel and severely underappreciated by experts.

The problem we have is they are not future-proofed.

Laurent Koscielny is 32 and will be 33 this year. He has missed a fair amount of games this season as his troublesome tendonitis problem rears its ugly head a little more often than before. It requires kid gloves and more recuperation than ever before, and the problem will only worsen.

Then there is Nacho Monreal. At 32, the Spaniard is only on a downward curve physically. He’s proved he’s adept at centre-back as well as at full-back, but in terms of playing on? We could maybe get one more quality season out of him.

We have Calum Chambers and Rob Holding waiting in the wings, and if they’re going to make it at Arsenal, then next season will be their litmus test. they will have more games to hone their skills, but they can’t wait for a more experienced partner or blame inexperience. They need to show they’re ready now.

If we don’t persevere with these two English lads, then we need to buy. There are plenty of talented centre-backs out there that have shown they could fill the considerable void left by Monreal and Koscielny, but what will Wenger decide?

Wenger’s biggest problem is that he shows far too much faith to players. Our defenders in question deserve a little to be fair, but football is a ruthless game, and they shouldn’t be playing if they will present a weakness. Can we honestly say that Wenger will replace them?

Our defence has nearly run its course and we need to be looking to replace them. If we don’t then the gap we see between us and the top will only grow. This summer is the time to do it.

Ferguson never rested on his laurels, no matter how much a player had achieved. If they were past the crest, then he would dispense of their services. Wenger must do the same.

Gabriel and Decisions

Published on Goonersphere.

For years, us Gooners were crying out for a bit of mettle on the pitch.


Season after season of matches where we folded like a wet pack of cards, in the face of the merest hint of physicality from our opposition.


With concerted pressing and a few choice kicks off the ball, our aesthetically pleasing football was reduced to a plodding display which lacked the dynamism to really optimise our footballing brain.


We needed a hatchet man.


Arsenal have always had that player that rode into view when our enemy were getting ideas above their station. When his teammates needed protecting, players like Peter Storey, the entire famous Back4, Patrick Vieira – that ilk of player that never backed down. Sometimes to the cost of a red card, but their strength inspired their cohorts, and they felt braver as a result.


So when Brazilian Gabriel was signed in 2015, the omens were good that we had a player to crack a few skulls when the time came to it.








The toothy defender joined from Villareal, and the Spanish side had been climbing La Liga thanks to their imperious defence. 


Along with Mateo Musacchio and Victor Ruiz, the ‘Yellow Submarine’ had proved the toughest nut to crack in Spain.


Gabriel had a reputation for no-nonsense defending, but could carry the ball if he was asked to. His transfer fee meant hopes were high amongst us all, and I went to the match which was his debut in an Arsenal shirt – the FA Cup tie versus Middlesbrough.


It was a 2-0 routine game which really should have seen Arsenal score more, but Gabriel stood out with his aerial prominence. He looked strong, and had the potential to form a bedrock should he be given the chance.


He made 21 appearances in the league that season, 19 the season after. There were also plenty of opportunities in the various cups too.


These numbers represent ample chances to prove his worth, to show he can handle the unique demands the Premier League offers.


What has been abundantly clear is that whilst Gabriel’s reactionary defences are strong, his decision-making is not up to par. When given the time, the Brazilian made constant rash decisions which gave away set-pieces.


There were periods when Gabriel looked the part. Last season he was called into the side to play as an emergency right-back, and he did not let us down. He was solid, his positioning was error-free – he did the job effectively.


He couldn’t keep his place though. Gabriel simply gives away too many fouls, goes to ground too often in last-gasp tackles that have a low percentage of success, and couldn’t bond with his defensive partners.


His much-vaunted troubles with the English language didn’t help, but we have had many foreign imports and they have all had to learn the dialect, so why was it so difficult for Gabriel?


Who knows. What is certain is that his departure, for slightly less than he was purchased for, was a dilemma of sorts.


Some cried out after he was sold, saying he was a great backup and we still need defensive numbers. The dilemma though, was that it was either Gabriel or Calum Chambers who would have left the club – and Chambers is a far better long-term option.


Firstly, the England man’s age weighs in his favour. Secondly, his Under-21 displays as Captain show what he is capable of – as well as his record under severe duress in his season on loan with a poor Middlesbrough side.


Chambers could still develop into a fantastic defender. He IS a fantastic defender, but needs a chance.


Gabriel had his chance, and whilst he could have forged a career in the Premiership, Arsenal deserved better than what he could give. It feels sad to say that because, above all else – Gabriel left everything on the pitch when he pulled on the shirt.

If we could have all of our current players have the same burning desire Gabriel showed in every minute he played for us, then we would have a squad that competes far more than it does right now.


Thank you Gabriel, and we all hope you find your way at Valencia.