Tag Archives: champions

Arsenal’s Near Future

The gulf has stretched in the last decade, transforming into a hungry chasm.

Manchester City and Liverpool have both taken the initiative over the last two to three years and left the chasing pack with nothing but dust clouds to latch onto. Chelsea only won the Premier League three seasons ago and yet if we inspect their current situation – it is enough to dispirit even the most ardent optimist.

Chelsea possess some truly world-class players. Ngolo Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Kepa – all wouldn’t look out of place in most top European teams.

But heed their failures and you can see what it really takes to establish yourself with success in the modern era – an era which barely resembles its old self from a decade ago.

Replacing a player of the ilk of Eden Hazard was always going to be difficult, but they also failed to replace mercurial midfield talent too. The likes of Juan Mata, Oscar and Cesc Fabregas could conjure something from nothing, but instead they have the more industrial strengths of Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho. Not without their merits, but very different players.

A change in coach has heralded a change in tack from Chelsea – and most importantly, Roman Abramovich. No longer are they completely reliant on the Roubles he provides. They want to be self-sustaining – or as near as they can be without their new stadium plans. That means a certain air of frugality in the transfer market in comparison to how they acted in order to escape the realms of obscurity when he took over.

However, they’ve also recruited wisely. Timo Werner and Ziyech look like astute purchases.

All this combined has led to Chelsea still fighting near the top – but unable to keep up with Klopp and Guardiola.

As Gooners, we are also seeing two managers at the top of their game, duking it out at the same time, leaving others not so qualified or talented, feeding from the scraps left by the German and the Spaniard.

It makes for some pretty depressing reading when you look at the face of things. We all are hoping that the decision to bring in the fresh-faced Arteta, his belief in our values and most importantly, the testimonials of those who have worked with him, that this move will bear precious fruit if given time.

We see promising signs. Our destruction of United this season showed exactly the cornerstones of what Arteta wants. Pressure on the ball. Obtain possession high up the pitch and attack and defend as one. Responsible positioning – but most importantly, clear instructions for the players.

Something that was apparently lacking during Unai Emery’s tenure.

We are still in recovery, but can we hold out hope of a title challenge any time soon?

arteta training ground

Next season – after this season in terms of growth for Arteta and the embedding of his tactics – will probably come too soon, but improvement is key. A top four finish and a shrinking of the gap would suffice for the majority – and it would also give his charges the evidence that this is working. Belief is key – but the proof is in the pudding… or top four.

A decent – and first – pre-season for Arteta could prove crucial. The more time he spends with his squad, the better we will become. You get the feeling that all of the players are completely behind him and his staff – and that is an excellent foundation to build from.

Pep Guardiola normally gets an itch and searches for pastures or challenges new after a few seasons and this is well overdue. For Jurgen Klopp? He’s now won the PL this season, his job will be mission accomplished and he will be so sought after, that he will definitely have his head turned by one of the bigger Euro teams.

Chelsea are rebuilding. Man United will look to plug some big gaps and will always have the resources to do so. It is vitally important that after our hiatus from the Champions League that we regain that position sooner rather than later. We are living off of our reputation right now when it comes to luring talent.

If you also take into consideration that our young stars will be one year older and wiser – and with a season of growth behind them – we will be stronger regardless of who is signed and who isn’t.

It is time to make some new memories.

The good times are coming, but we will need patience to see it bloom.

The Europa League – Arsenal In It To Win It?

For many, it was fair game for years. A laugh-inducing tool of procrastination, poking fun at our neighbours whilst looking down our noses from the highest of perches – the Champions League.

‘Thursday is Spursday’ was a typical favourite, and we all took part in dishing out digs, whilst we engaged in brandy and cigars with the power people in rooms behind closed doors. The Champions League is the desire of all teams who aspire to glory, and it was hilarious that tottenham continually missed out.


Eventually though, our grip loosened. The membership card we had for this exclusive soiree expired. We looked on at the entrance as the former butt of our jokes flashed a smug grin and was welcomed in.


The roles have been reversed, and the only door that is open for us is the Europa League – the very destination that generated hilarious memes and jokes aimed squarely at spurs.


Should we take this tournament a little more seriously however?










The Europa League’s stock has risen in recent years, through many different factors. Firstly, the number of Champions League-worthy teams has risen as money has poured into European football. A plethora of rivals in every domestic competition – none more so than the Premier League – means it is harder than ever to force our way into Europe’s premiere competition.


It has also helped that UEFA has decided to grant the winner of the Europa League a spot in the Champions League.


It has resulted in this 2nd class tournament elevating itself in its standing. Plus, with recent winners being Chelsea and Manchester United, if it is good enough for them, why can’t it be good enough for us to at least take seriously?


Whilst we see our team amongst the hierarchy in terms of European clubs, in terms of honours, we flag behind our esteemed brethren.


If we gauge in terms of European honours, then our Fairs Cup win in 1970 and our Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1994 are our sole baubles, on a tree that is sorely lacking in decorations.


Of course, it could have been so different if Paris had gone a little different, or even Copenhagen in 2000. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but what is clear is that our club needs to add to our accolades, especially in European competition.


The Champions League has been the table we have dined at for decades, and yet can we say it has been an enjoyable experience in the last ten years? Entering a place where you know you have a strict time limit before you are unceremoniously dumped out the door?


No, it hasn’t been fun at all. Thumpings at the hands of the clubs we claim to want to stand toe-to-toe with, which only serve to highlight the gulf in between us.


The Europa League gives us a chance to be the big fish for once, rather than swimming in a pond, fearful of being eaten with every movement.


The competition is more hotly contested than ever, but we should  be able to progress to the latter stages whilst simultaneously rotating our squad to deal with the more important Premier League fixtures. Let us not get twisted here, the Premiership should be our main focus, but there is no reason why we cannot fight on two fronts.


There will be difficulties of course. The fixture scheduling will take some getting used to, playing on a Thursday and then the following Sunday/Monday will be a task that requires all the skills of the myriad of backroom staff we currently employ. We have the squad to do it though.


Our group stage consists of BATE Borisov, FC Koln and Red Star Belgrade. Two difficult away trips, but there should be nothing there that should outwit us. Players such as Jack Wilshere, Reiss Nelson, David Ospina, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have all been used sparingly this season, and they have more than enough in their locker to match and surpass these teams.


We currently do not have enough in our trophy cabinet to snub this competition. The Europa League, if we won it, would be one of the finest triumphs in our history. We have some amazing memories, but in terms of European honours, we could really do with this trophy in our cabinet.


If we were lucky enough to do so, then the European Super Cup beckons, and also, the Champions League again.


There could be some glittering memories made under the floodlights in The Emirates during a successful run to the final.

Our stadium sorely needs things like this, as the shadow of Highbury still looms over it. 

Arsenal, Leicester & the much-fabled ‘Mental Strength.’

Originally published in the Gooner fanzine – pick yours up outside the Emirates on matchday.

Leicester City’s fairytale lifting of the Premiership crown is well documented – and for good reason.

The season prior to this miraculous feat saw the same side escape the maw of relegation only by a late Herculean effort. 

To then transform themselves into a title-winning team indicates that it was down to belief and the fiercest of winning mentalities. 

This season has seen that burning desire which fuelled their glory run extinguished, and the men who performed well above their station have since returned to their natural level.

These are the same players, and yet the champions are stark in their contrast to the previous year. How can eleven men appear to be unbeatable on the pitch, and then revert back to type in such a short space of time?

It can only be their mentality which changed them. 

Three losses from thirty eight games. Jamie Vardy bagging twenty four goals, and Riyad Mahrez grabbing seventeen. A Stoke City reject and a journeyman from the lower leagues comprising an unbreakable central defensive partnership.

Where did these players summon this superhuman feat from? Their rise from abject, to sublime and then back to abject again, is a tale of motivation and of mental strength in the face of adversity. 

There were mitigating factors of course. No fixture congestion, no European commitments and they escaped unscathed in terms of injury to key personnel. 

A 38-game season does not lie though. All the top teams had ample opportunity to overcome the Foxes. They just couldn’t rise to the occasion and were bested.

On paper, Arsenal’s team is head and shoulders above the current champions. From goalkeeper to attack, we have the edge in terms of talent. So why did Leicester lift the title and not us?

Is Kasper Schmeichel a better goalkeeper than Petr Cech? Of course not, but what helped the Dane repel attack after attack was the proverbial wind beneath his wings. He believed that the team he played for could achieve something. He and his teammates believed it so much, they were unwilling to budge in the face of adversity and even reality. 

Take the story of Danny Drinkwater. The English midfielder was sent on loan to the likes of Huddersfield and Barnsley whilst on the books at Manchester United. He failed to make the grade and Championship side Leicester snapped him up. His performances alongside N’Golo Kante were a revelation in 2015-16 and he earned international recognition thanks to his displays. 

In essence though, he is a workhorse and nothing more. He was buoyed by those around him and his above-average stamina saw him run around every blade of grass to great effect. Does he deserve to stand above Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere? Not in terms of talent, but with his Premier League medal he can always say he is a champion. Ramsey and Jack cannot.

The missing ingredient which the Gunners have sorely lacked is that determination and belief. When Ranieri’s men went a goal down, there were no slumped shoulders or disconcerted gesticulating. They continued with a formulaic gameplan which played to their strengths and most fundamentally of all – they never gave up. 

They believed that they would get something from every game. 

We have seen, in our losses to Chelsea and Bayern especially, the winning spirit sap visibly from our players when a setback occurs. Is it due to the lack of a vociferous leader on the pitch? Is it a lack of effort? All of these assets were in Leicester’s team.

Whose job is it to instill this mental framework into the players? Is it down to Wenger? He has trotted out the ‘mentally jaded’ phrase so many times after disappointment, that it leaves you wondering what the players are doing in their downtime. Is it a day crammed with super-tough sudoku?

Surely the players must step up to the precipice and be counted? Wenger has numerous failings, but once his charges cross the white line on the turf, there is little much else he can do to change events. The players need the hunger for success. They cannot be allowed to be sated by currency and an assured position in the team. If they are, then they either need a firm reminder or be shown the exit door. 

Leicester’s fire in their bellies has gone, and they now sit in an eerily similar position to before they became champions. 

Arsenal without the spirit and drive will always come up short when challenges require it. 

Talent is useless without it. 

Bayern 5-1 Arsenal: Champions League Ends for Gunners

The briefest flicker of hope that Arsenal could manifest success this season was vanquished in nine brutal second half minutes, as Bayern ruthlessly exposed the Gunners wounds.

Six attempts to navigate past the first knockout stage in Europe’s premiere competition now looks to extend to seven years, after the Germans efficiently maximised the gaping hole in the Arsenal backline to effectively end the Gunners hopes once again.

With our squad the strongest it has been in many a year, the disappointing nature of our exits in recent years would not hold sway this season. We expected to hold our own against the giants of Munich. We had every right to expect a close battle.

We got just that in the first half. The home side expectedly dominated possession, and were enjoying the home support as they sprayed balls around merrily. Arsenal stuck gamely to their task though. David Ospina was tested early but in the eleventh minute, Arsenal’s cup keeper could do nothing to stop Bayern taking the lead.

Arjen Robben – the winger who comes with a script that all defenders fail to read – cut in and let rip from outside the box. His effort was sumptuous and it arced into the top corner to reward his side for their possession.

The game continued in the same vein. Ancelotti’s side probing and passing and Wenger’s team attempting to break up their play. They slowly became more active on proceedings, and in the thirtieth minute, Arsenal had a precious away goal.

Laurent Koscielny was first to a loose ball after a set-piece, and Mats Hummels attempt to get the ball was a second slower than the French defender. The referee pointed to the spot, and Alexis stepped up to take it.

Alexis had been the architect of Arsenal’s best moments and he struck the penalty low, but Manuel Neuer was equal to it. He parried it out and Alexis was there to at least regain possession. To all it looked as if the chance had been lost, but under pressure, he swivelled to shoot low and into the goal.

A huge goal. This could have swung the tie, and although Bayern had a few chances before half time, Arsenal had done so well to stay with them. 

The second half was a different story.

Laurent Koscielny had been a busy man and when he was forced off through injury, the sight of Gabriel taking his place would have sent an ice-cold chill through all Gooners. The Brazilian has a reputation for rashness, and the first nine minutes of his cameo would see Arsenal’s Euro dreams die for another year.

The three goals were not solely on Gabriel’s shoulders I hasten to add, but the facts speak for themselves. Three minutes after coming on, Robert Lewandowski had his customary goal – his 24th in 30 games so far this campaign – by outleaping Shkodran Mustafi who was caught under the leaping Pole.

Another three minutes, and Bayern had three. Lewandowski turned provider, as he dropped off and dragged Gabriel with him. The space left by Gabriel was taken up by Thiago, who ran in unopposed to pick up the striker’s backheel and finish low past Ospina.

Three minutes again passed, and another goal ended all hope. It was Thiago again, and his shot from outside the box came through a throng of players. It took a nick from Granit Xhaka and it hurtled past a stricken David Ospina who had been deceived by the deflection.

The gulf between the sides was apparent now. Bayern had upped the gears and Arsenal looked absolutely shellshocked.

The rest of the half saw the home team look to further embarrass Wenger and his side. Repeated chances came to them, but Ospina was the only man who looked to have any fight left in him.

The painful ending came though, as second half sub Thomas Muller grabbed the fifth which means Arsenal once again need a miracle to escape the Last16. Familiar territory.

Here are some observations from the game which appeared telling:

Our defence needs Koscielny

After Laurent went off, we capitulated. It was perhaps the most emphatic evidence of what he brings to our team. Mustafi looked bewildered without his partner, and Gabriel has shown no improvement from when he first joined. Of course, these are not regular partners, but there can be no excuses after this. At some point, it is just not good enough. Debuchy would’ve been better than Gabriel.

Ozil a passenger

The German playmakers form shows no sign of returning. His touch was errant and his ability to pick out a run was absent again. His effort was there and he ran plenty, but the reason why we bought him is not for his stamina. Worrying signs, and we will need him back to his best if we are to finish above tottenham.

Coquelin and Xhaka were easily bossed.

The central midfield area was dominated by Bayern, and at times the resistance was not present. Xhaka was outnumbered and Coquelin was not at the races. The Frenchman at his best is one of the best ball-winners around, but he is severely limited. Our central midfield options all of a sudden look barren.

Alexis and his sulking 

The Chilean was our best player for the majority, but his demanding, gesticulating and tantrums are becoming old and trying on the patience. We understand how he wants to win, how we wants the ball. When it doesn’t happen though, his reactions are not the sign of a player who is happy with things. If we are to progress, he is vital. Can any of us say with any confidence that he will stay after another season of underwhelming results?

Arsene’s pattern

This game is where Arsene’s errors came to the fore with no excuses left. The squad is strong, injuries were not a huge factor, and we had home advantage in the second leg. When are we able to expect to challenge with the higher echelons? Arsene may have been let down by his team at times, but a large portion of the pointing finger must fall on Wenger. He looked dejected at the final whistle, but we came up short yet again. Our limitations are there for all to see. It is painful to see, but Wenger must realise that this squad he has selected over the years, is simply underachieving. 

I am not writing any more about this game. It feels like a watershed moment. Something has to give.  This depressing exit was on the cards before a ball was kicked as we had seen it before. Many times.

Some may blame the board. Some may blame the players and some blame Wenger. Regardless of who is the main culprit – this is not good enough.

Bayern Munich Vs Arsenal – The Warm-Up

The Champions League returns once more, and the test in front of Arsenal is an imposing one.

Can the Gunners buck the trend for exiting the Champions League at the Last16 stage and beat one of the favourites for the Euro title in the process?

Arsenal have played the German giants ten times in total and won three of them. The Gunners have also been dumped out of Europe’s premier competition twice in the last four seasons by Munich too. The task ahead is a big one.

Arsenal at least have some returning personnel to boost them ahead of the game. Granit Xhaka saw out the last of his four game suspension in the weekend, but would have been part of the squad regardless as his ban applied to domestic football only. Mohamed Elneny was on the bench for the Hull game four days ago and is also in the reckoning. It is in this position that Wenger has his biggest headache. 

Does he stick with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has impressed in his stint in the middle? Or does he go to the Allianz Arena with a defensive mindset? It will be vital to restrict Bayern in attack as they could well make the second leg at The Emirates redundant by romping this game. It can also be said that an away goal could prove decisive too. 

Whoever lines up in the centre, there are other positions that require a decision. 

Alex Iwobi has emerged as the first choice on the left when Alexis plays as the striker. His defensive element needs refining though. Can we afford to leave the door open on a flank? Danny Welbeck will be champing at the bit to make his mark, and his tracking back would give him a huge advantage over Iwobi.

Lucas Perez is another who has done wonders in order to get named on the teamsheet, but it looks as though the Spaniard will again start on the bench. Mesut Ozil has been searching for form over the last few games, but is there a better time to rise to prominence than this match? He is capable of unlocking a Bayern side who have not lost a game since November, so fingers crossed we see the real Ozil.

Petr Cech looked to have returned to his imperious best against Hull, but David Ospina will more than likely retain his position as Cup Keeper. He will have to be on the form which repelled countless PSG attacks in our earlier group match against the French side if we are to escape Munich with hopes intact.
Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti has his talisman Xabi Alonso back after he returned to training recently, but Franck Ribery and Jerome Boateng are out through injury. Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels will be the in the centre of defence for the home side, and the midfield has an embarrassment of riches to pick from. Joshua Kimmich, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben and Thiago Alcantara are just some who may be lining up against the Gunners.

A multi-faceted attack with composure in possession, Bayern will stretch our limits. We have enough in our weapon rack to hurt them, but it is hard to envision sometimes when you take into consideration our woeful form. 

It is high time that we started to show that it isn’t just the Deloitte Money list that we are amongst the elite. We have the resources and the players to be contenders in this competition, but our record has not shown this for some time.

With no Premier League fixtures and an FA Cup match in the weekend that should allow rotation, we can afford to go all out for the 90 minutes. Let us hope our quickness of play returns and so does our form. A good result here could spark our season into life.
Predicted Lineup: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis.

Predicted Scoreline: To hell with realism. I say 2-1 to Arsenal. 

Tale Of The Tape – Premier League Contenders

The international break has once more snuck up on us, bringing with it boredom, a restless eye on matches only to make sure the players who play for your club stay clear of injury – and also a penchant for shuddering to a halt any rhythm the club you support had built up.

But fret not, as the lull in Premier League proceedings isn’t all bad. It does give you an opportunity to take a step back and take in all the events that come with a flurry of results. All the variables that either boost or hinder your team can be scrutinised and enable you to gauge whether it will be a season of pain or triumph.

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