Tag Archives: coquelin

Buy and Sell – Trimming the Fat in the Transfer Window

This latest transfer window was viewed as a success by the majority, even though the need for a centre-back and a holding midfielder was glaringly overlooked.

Such was the strength of our additions, our paucity for defensive and midfield options didn’t really impact on the optimism in regards to our transfer actions. Bringing in Henrikh Mkhitaryan represented shrewd and much needed purchases, and puts our attack at the very front when it comes to goal threats.

There was another element that made this window a surefire winner though, and it was the fact we cleared our squad of the driftwood that contributed little to our results.

Coquelin in a Valencia shirt
Walcott left for Everton

Managing to cut loose Mathieu Debuchy, Theo Walcott and Francis Coquelin freed up valuable squad space that could be filled with superior options, or a chance for a promising youngster to come through the ranks.

Losing Alexis Sanchez would hurt any side, and the Chilean going to a rival only added to the burn, but having Alexis in the side means we had to play a certain way and limited our options. Plus, Alexis broke the record for amount of times a player has lost possession in one game in United’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield recently. A record he previously held.

It is no coincidence that since he joined, we have lost our regular ability to thrill the crowd and generate moves that draw gasps from the purists and fans alike. The first match we played without Alexis and with our new boys? We played the football that we’re famous for.

Of course it’s early days, we shouldn’t get too carried away, but having our goal threat spread out over Mesut Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette and Aubameyang is in-keeping with the passing moves we implement. We rely on runners into the box, rather than waiting for one man to produce.

Another loss that could hamper us is Olivier Giroud. The much-loved Frenchman has also departed for a rival, but Giroud’s role was selfless and his introduction into proceedings gave us something different to what we currently possess. We can cope, but having him to call on benefitted us. It would have been selfish to keep him as he needs to play with the World Cup looming, but I fear we may miss Giroud more than we miss the mercurial talents of Alexis.

Mathieu Debuchy and Theo Walcott hadn’t started a league game this season. Francis Coquelin wasn’t playing either. They get first team football, we get a squad place and some cash to reinvest, whether that is through a fee or recouping wages.

Debuchy in a free transfer to St Etienne

Recruiting wisely as we have done, and selling the squad players who were not playing, means we’ve trimmed the fat and not lost any ability to put out a strong side. We still have those players that can come in and do a job and help with rotation, and every man we have in the group can make a difference.

For once, we’ve ticked the majority of boxes and ended a window far stronger than when we started.

Forest Vs Arsenal FA Cup Preview

With our league hopes suffering a battering of late, we welcome the return of the FA Cup as we take on Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round.

We are the holders, and as we also hold the record as the most successful FA Cup team – ever – we need to make a good stab of defending it. The first hurdle is this tricky tie.

Our recent Carabao Cup tie against fellow Championship outfit Norwich shows that we cannot afford to take Forest lightly, as we only just squeezed past the Canaries thanks to a brace from Eddie Nketiah.

Forest aren’t in a good place however. They recently sacked their manager, Mark Warburton, and it will be caretaker manager Gary Brazil that will oversee their attempt to cause an FA Cup upset.

Their last game was an admirable draw with Leeds United, but they are languishing in the bottom half of the Championship table and even at this halfway stage, they are in danger of either having nothing to play for – or getting sucked into the relegation mire.

They have some quality in their ranks in Michael Mancienne, Eric Lichaj and Liam Bridcutt and they also boast top flight experience, but Gary Brazil could opt to rotate his squad and concentrate on improving his side’s standing in the league, crazy as that may seem.

Rotating is something we must do, after a frenetic run of games recently. It demands we rest some of our men as there are a fair few that have played the majority – and some of our fringe players who have played precisely zero minutes and are gagging for some action.

With Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Ozil, Alexis and a few others having the lions share of the many minutes of gametime in offer in December – we played nine games in all – some of our lesser lights with much to prove have a great opportunity to send a timely reminder to Wenger that they are still of use.

David Ospina should come into the side to take the gloves, and in defence there will be changes too. Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny and Per Mertesacker are three that could comprise our backline, but it is all dependant on whether we play three or four at the back.

Reiss Nelson could take a full-back spot, and in midfield, Francis Coquelin and Jo Willock could do a job in containing Forest and put out any fires.

In attack, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi are suffering from a dip in confidence, so a full game and plenty of chances will do them the world of good.

Make no mistake, we all expect a comfortable win, but however we achieve it will be welcome. If it is another tight game but we achieve safe passage to the fourth round, then I’ll take it.

It’d be great to give players like Ben Sheaf, Josh DaSilva and Eddie Nketiah a good runout, but with our chances for silverware hanging on by a thread and only one bad match from disappearing in each competition, we need to prioritise. Cups need to be put 

in the front of our view, as well as our Premier League position.

Basically then, we need to concentrate on every match. This is what our poor form has done. We have no breathing space, and every game must be given our utmost attention.

Forest must feel the force, and our second string must do the job, otherwise our first teamers will be suffering from exhaustion far quicker than we expect.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Debuchy, Elneny, Mertesacker, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck

Predicted scoreline – 2-0 to The Arsenal

Man City 3-1 Arsenal – A Tough Lesson

Manchester City played out a tough lesson to Arsenal as they took the points in an entertaining Premier League clash.

Pep Guardiola’s men played with real purpose and looked dangerous on the ball, but it was their press that strangled the life out of their opponents and set up a stable foundation for victory.

Arsene Wenger opted for stability in his lineup. A surprise call was to drop Alexandre Lacazette and name Alexis in the sole striker spot, with three men in midfield. Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka had the task of quelling the runs of DeBruyne, Silva and Sane, but the gamble was to backfire.

The first minutes were pretty well balanced as both came close to opening the scoring, only for the final ball to let each of them down. It didn’t take long for City to hit top gear though.

The 19th minute to be precise.

DeBruyne’s shot from outside the box was well saved by cech but the ball eventually found the Belgian again and he arrowed in a low shot into the far corner to give the home side the lead.

City were unrelenting and refused to let us into the game. We were battling hard, but Coquelin seemed to be dropping into defence and wires were being crossed. We were winning the ball but we were unable to retain it in the final third. Every time we attacked, City would hound us and then break at speed.

City broke through on three or four occasions, but a combination of desperate defending, some unfound passes across the box and Petr Cech kept the scoreline at 1-0.

Raheem Sterling came closest to doubling the score, but instead of shooting in a great position, he opted to pass and missed his intended teammate. Then, we had a chance to level at the best time, just before the interval.

Aaron Ramsey was found in the box. He checked back and hammered a shot but Ederson parried it away. The whistle blew and we went into the break a goal down and bewildered at our opponent’s strength.

We were battling well and were competitive, but the gap between where we want to be and where we actually are was exposed by brutal City. It took only five minutes for City to get their second goal. Raheem Sterling got the right side of Nacho Monreal and both were running into the box, shoulder to shoulder. Sterling went down easily, but in this present day version of our game, these decisions are being given and Michael Oliver didn’t hesitate to award the spot-kick. Sergio Aguero stepped up and scored, 2-0.

Wenger made an early change. On the 55th minute he hooked Coquelin. The decision to stifle City had not worked, so Lacazette came on in his stead. Back to our favoured formation, and we started to work a lot better.

Ten minutes later, we had a lifeline. Aaron Ramsey found Lacazette and the Frenchman ran onto the ball and fired through Ederson’s legs.

Game on.

The match went one way and the next, with promising situations for both teams ending prematurely. It could’ve gone either way, but City always looked a little sharper, a little more capable than we did in attack.

It showed, as substitute Gabriel Jesus took advantage of a poor offside decision to slot home from close range. Replays suggested that both DeBruyne and Jesus were offside, but there was no flag and they reestablished their two goal cushion.

From there, we made subs and huffed and puffed, but in truth, City ran out deserved winners. It is a sad indictment of our side that we were outplayed in the style we used to be the best at. Now, we must concentrate on top4 and cup runs because on this evidence, we are miles away from being the best.

City were quicker and made better decisions. We are not a million miles away but we are not where we should be.

After this game there can be no doubt about that.

Trimming The Fat of the Squad

Published on Goonersphere.​

If there is one thing us Gooners have learned over the past few seasons, is that squad depth is paramount in launching – and maintaining – a push for silverware.

Every campaign in recent memory has seen a period of consistent results which has seen us primed for a push at glory, and yet the wheels have come off time and again when the gruelling amount of games starts to snap at our heels.

Injuries to Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, and a raft of defenders has repeatedly vanquished our dreams, as our side has been forced to field back up players who have failed to match the level of excellence we require.

It places a focus on those very fringe players, and it shows that every single signing that is made is just as important as the marquee transfers which capture our imagination. It is a cause for optimism when we sign players of the ilk of Alexandre Lacazette, but it is just as mandatory having a man like Danny Welbeck waiting in the wings to cover any injuries or tactical changes.

Some players, if bad luck strikes, are irreplaceable and will leave a chasm in the team regardless of who slots in to replace them, but with an able and adequate understudy, we can breathe a little easier every time an opposing player clatters into our star men.

We endured the years when our squad was so shallow that even the first eleven was below par, but now we can look upon our squad and have the luxury to say that our fringe men could get into the majority of PL teams.

There are weaknesses in our pool though, and with our numbers fit to bursting and in need of some thinning if we are to strengthen again, which players need to be mercilessly culled in order for progress to be made?

Our players who can operate at wing-back are of particular importance, seeing as our recent switch to three at the back has placed more importance on these transitional players. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal continue to play huge parts in the team, and new boy Sead Kolasinac looks to be a shrewd signing. We have a few though, that have their heads on the block.

Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Debuchy, Carl Jenkinson and Calum Chambers all seem to be set for a role on the periphery this coming season, but are they actually good enough to slot in when they are inevitably called upon?

Debuchy seems the most likely to be discarded, with the Frenchman having been a ghost in the team since his unlucky debut season. Carl Jenkinson, whilst a fan favourite is dispensable. 

Kieran Gibbs has done an admirable job of coming into the team whenever called upon, so what of Calum Chambers?

His age and his recent loan spell at Boro should be reasons enough to keep him, but what if Chambers wants more? His recent exploits with the England Under 21 side mean his stock is high, and his progress could be halted if he is used as a utility player. His chances in his favoured position of centre-back look pretty slim, so it is down to 

Chambers himself if he should want to go.

We have promising youngsters coming through in the form of Krystian Bielik, Ainslie MAitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Rob Holding. Shouldn’t these promising youngsters be given the chance to play those 10-12 games in a season when injuries mount?

We cry out for driftwood to be chopped, but nearly every player has good reasons to keep them. The only reason we should sell any of them – Debuchy aside – is if we can acquire better. If we can, then there is one other question.

Will these prospective new signings be happy with a bit-part role?

Let us be honest, the majority of our side is nailed down, and whilst rotation has a place in modern football,  a constantly shifting eleven does not promote consistency. We need to have players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud champing at the bit, waiting for their positional rivals to slip. This is the motivation that our players need to pull elite performances out of the bag.

Do Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin put enough pressure on Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in the centre of the park? Whilst they may have their uses, are they first team material? If not, then how difficult will it be to find a player willing to be the equivalent of a new goldfish – sitting and waiting in a bag whilst they become acclimatised?

We all cry out for signings, but with so many different facets to consider, whilst we all wait for David Ornstein to give us a morsel of info, we need to look at the bigger picture. Signings are much harder than they look and we all forget this from time to time.

The chopping block is in place and the axe has been sharpened – but who should go?

Arsenal’s Summer Rebuilding

Published in Arsenal Mania.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Vs Arsenal – The Warm-Up

With the disappointing – and quite frankly anger-inducing – loss to Watford, this game at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea could not carry any more weight.

It is feasible to suggest that if the Gunners fail to win this game and it is lights out for this season’s title challenge – in February.

Arsene Wenger will again be missing from the touchline, and he takes a security team with him as he will be sitting in the away section of Chelsea’s home. This game is the third of four games he must be absent from the dugout, and how his team will fare without him in the heat of the enemy’s support is up for debate.

Arsenal will have to do without a host of central midfield options for this game. Granit Xhaka is suspended, Mohamed Elneny is still wth his country competing in the AFCON, Santi Cazorla is no nearer to making a comeback from his injury woes – and now Aaron Ramsey is out for this game after straining his calf. The Welshman is expected to be out for three weeks, so his replacement is thought to be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox himself had a fitness test, but is expected to make the team.

Besides, who else can do it? Francis Coquelin is the only available recognised central midfielder, so a central partnership of The Ox and Coquelin will be taking to the pitch at Stamford Bridge. Ainslie Maitland-Niles played well last weekend against Southampton, but the opposition is a level up from what he has previously faced. 

Who else will be missing? Olivier Giroud is another Gunner to have faced a fitness test, but Danny Welbeck will be available, as will Theo Walcott. So who plays in our attack? Welbeck and Walcott are very much in form, and their pace and movement will be a nightmare for David Luiz and co. So will Wenger stick with what he knows and include Giroud again? The Frenchman has proved his worth time and again, but what he brings to the table is very much what Chelsea’s defence are extremely adept at dealing with.that sort of battle.

Could they stymie a combined attack of Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis? 

It will also bring the best out of Mesut Ozil, who has been sub-par of late. The German is the best player to spot the abundant runs of the trio above, but it is Wenger’s call. Does he opt for the cut and thrust of the Arsenal of old? Do we finally take the handbrake off? It has seldom been taken off recently.

Elsewhere in the side, Petr Cech returns to the location where he was a huge success. The big Czech criticised his teammates this week regarding their mentality, and the goalkeeper certainly recognises a winning outlook when he sees it. He will be between the sticks for the game, and the recognised Arsenal back four of Bellerin,. Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal are all ready and raring to go.Mustafi was nursing a knock midweek, but should make the game.

The defence will be well versed with the chief threat in the Chelsea camp. Diego Costa has made his presence felt in more ways than goals in previous encounters. Koscielny won the battle in the last fixture between the two – can he do so again?

We have a poor recent record at Stamford Bridge, and with literally our Premier League campaign on the line – it is high time we rectified the situation.

Time for this squad to show what they are made of. 

Predicted Lineup: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck.

Precited Scoreline – 2-0 to Arsenal.

Arsenal 1-2 Watford – 5 Lessons to Learn

Yet again, we have been burned by our inability to start strongly.

Or rather our refusal to. We have seen the destruction our team can cause when we go at teams from the first whistle, yet we continue to hold back and invite pressure. We allow teams to breathe, to dictate – and the result is there for all to see.

This result though, is probably our worst this season. Watford were on the back of seven winless games. They were a lame dog, turning up to the home of title-chasing Arsenal. They would have been expecting an onslaught, to sit back and soak up the pressure, and hopefully pose a problem on the break.

Instead, our lack of impetus meant that the Hornets were given the freedom of The Emirates. Within ten minutes, they had grabbed the lead. 

A free-kick given away needlessly by Gabriel meant that Younes Kaboul was given license to swing away with his boot. It knicked a deflection from Aaron Ramsey and it spun away from Cech’s despairing dive. 

Watford had grabbed the initiative, as it seemed to all and sundry as if Arsenal really didn’t want to. Then, three minutes later saw Watford double their lead.

Etienne Capoue was bossing the centre of the park, and his drive toward Arsenal’s box was unhindered. He let fly and was denied by Cech, but he could only parry to Troy Deeney, who was waiting with intent three yards out. 

Two goals to the good – and the only positive that could be grabbed was that it had happened so early in the game it allowed the Gunners plenty of time to get back into the game.

Instead, the rest of the half comprised of Watford going close to extending their lead. 

This was insipid stuff from the home side. The half time whistle blew, and boos rang out from the stands. It was deserved.

The second half saw the expected and needed revival from Arsenal. Whatever Arsene had said in the dressing room worked, as the gears clicked and Watford were camped in their own third.

Chances for Alex Iwobi and second half sub Theo Walcott were saved, and Mesut Ozil was also denied by Gomes in the Watford goal. 

Where were these players in the first half? Where was this vibrancy we can just choose to flick on and off? Why turn it off in the first place?

Arsenal did grab a goal, as Alexis crossed for Iwobi to put away the chance, but we would not grab an equaliser. Lucas Perez – who also came on in the second half for Francis Coquelin – was denied by the crossbar.

We now sit nine points behind Chelsea, and we play them in the weekend. If we play anything like this, then our title hopes are over before they have even began. As it stands, we are on the periphery. Win or bust at The Bridge.

There was plenty to ruminate on in this game, but here are five lessons we must learn from:

Coquelin and Ramsey do not work together still

Coquelin was hooked early, and that speaks volumes. It may be due to putting in extra attacking resources with Lucas, but Coquelin had a rare off-day where he didn’t do what he normally does, and that is to provide an extra line of defence. Then there is the partnership with Ramsey. It was devoid of pace, and the duo does not take it in tandem to attack and defend. The chemistry just isn’t there. Ramsey needs the right partner to allow his best play – but more often than not he is found wanting. Coquelin does the defensive work well – normally – but is severely limited everywhere else. He is a great squad option, but in terms of central midfield – we need an overhaul. 

Gabriel has not evolved

The Brazilian is still the athletic but slow to react defender that we bought two years ago. He was rash then and he still is which is a massive weakness in this league. He can duke it out with the most physical strikers in the Premiership, but when it comes to defensive nous, positioning and using your head? Gabriel is found wanting.

Lucas and Theo need to start 

The Spaniard has capitalised on every rare occasion he has taken to the field. Theo offers us something no one else does in our team. It is clear our attack needs a bit of a lift, and these two deserve a run in the side. 

Bench Ozil and Alexis

Before you lynch me, please read what I have to say. These two players are capable of destroying anyone in European football almost single-handedly. So when they put in performances of which we have just witnessed, it is clear something is missing. Both were rested in the weekend, so fatigue is not an issue. It may have been just a bad game, but when Lucas, Theo and Welbeck are pushing for games as hard as they are right now, then maybe a wake-up call is needed. If a starting berth is guaranteed, then maybe displays will dip every now and then by 5%. Alexis has done more than most this season, so this latest game and his efforts really do seem far worse by comparison. Mesut Ozil flitted and passed and looked for openings, but where is that player that eviscerates defences with a single pass? Where have his goals gone? It is time to play players on form.

Cech back on form

Cech kept the scoreline in the first half to a level where thousands of Gooners did not spontaneously combust. If it weren’t for the Gunners keeper, Watford would have strolled to the dressing room leading by four goals. Can you imagine? Cech’s save from Sebastian Prodl’s header was spectacular, and his denial of Daryl Janmaat was vital. He may be awful at stopping spot kicks, but Cech’s mastery in between the sticks should not be ignored. He never lost it. 

There was more to dwell on, but we lost and I feel it is best to not focus too much. There is need for change in the team though. With Ramsey injured, it means Oxlade-Chamberlain will be in the centre of midfield. He has shown massive improvement this season, and his dynamism may prove to be the shot in the arm we need.

Up next – top of the league Chelsea. I hate football. 

Arsenal Vs Watford – The Warm-Up

The last week has been dominated by FA Cup matters, but today sees a return to the bread and butter of our season, as Watford visit The Emirates in our next Premier League match tonight.

Our last match was a satisfying one to say the least. An emphatic 5-0 scoreline, a return to fitness and form for two of our foremost attackers and the defeat of a team who had developed the knack for dumping us out of competitions meant that it was smiles all round – even for the absent Arsene Wenger.

The Gunners gaffer will again be missing from the dugout as this is his second match of four that he will miss through his four match touchline ban. His absence didn’t seem to affect his players though, even though Wenger will have done all of the preparation for the game before kickoff. 

Wenger will have been given some headaches after the 5-0 FA Cup win, as he will have some big shouts from some of his players to start this game. 

Theo Walcott returned to the side in style with a treble, and we have played our best football with the England man in the team. Will two games in four days be too much for his calf? This workload will probably mean the other hero from the weekend – Danny Welbeck – will be rested. 

Mohamed Elneny’s Egypt have continued their AFCON adventure, so it means Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey are the only recognised central midfielders in stock -if you discount who comprised our engine room against Southampton.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ainslie Maitland-Niles were ever so effective together, but more than likely they will both be out of the side for the aforementioned midfielders. Lucas Perez was also in excellent form, but Olivier Giroud and Alexis will likely return to the team, as well as Mesut Ozil.

Laurent Koscielny was rested for the weekend, with a view to this crucial Premier League double header with Watford and Chelsea. Petr Cech will also come back into the team, and he will be facing his former side on Saturday. A return to his previous form would be a plus.

Watford are falling quickly down the table, and Hornets boss Walter Mazzarri has dumped some sandbags to lighten the load. Odion Ighallo has been sold for the ludicrous amount of £20m, and Adlene Guedioura is off to Hull City. They did bolster their side though, with a loan move for AC Milan attacker M’Baye Niang and Mauro Zarate who has had spells at Birmingham City and West Ham.

Watford are a real test, and we have seen the devastating effects that taking our foot off the pedal can incur. We cannot take this lightly with one eye on the Chelsea fixture. Dropped points here and the game at Stamford Bridge will matter little. Chelsea play Liverpool in midweek, and this carries a real possibility of dropped points for the League leaders. It is imperative we can close the gap if the chance arises. 

Arsenal are in deceptively good form though. We haven’t conceded from open play in seven home games, and Watford have not won in seven games home or away. This means on paper that this should be a home banker.

The problem is, we are Arsenal fans and that means we all know there are no such things. 

If we play well, then we should go into Saturday’s crunch match full of confidence. 

Predicted Lineup: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud.

Predicted Scoreline: 3-0 to Arsenal. 

The Arsenal Midfield – The Power of ‘And’

Originally posted on Goonersphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everton Vs Arsenal – The Warm-Up

Since our opening day loss to Liverpool, Arsenal have gone on to record 14 Premier League games without a loss. To continue that run, they must overcome Everton at Goodison Park.

There has only been one other defeat since Liverpool sneaked a 4-3 win at The Emirates – the quarter-final loss to Southampton in the EFL Cup – and Arsene Wenger will have to shuffle his pack as the Gunners face five games in 22 days.

Shkodran Mustafi tweaked his hamstring in our 3-1 win over Stoke three days ago and faces at least three weeks out. This means the flurry of games Arsenal are now heading into, Mustafi will miss all of them. Thankfully, the footballing gods have shined upon us a little, as Hector Bellerin has returned at the exact moment Mustafi was ruled out. This means that Gabriel can stand in for the German as opposed to filling in on the right of defence.

Arsenal will still be without their longer term injured. Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck are all at varying stages of recovery but will not be able to be called upon until the New Year at best.

It isn’t only injuries that see Wenger potentially rotating his eleven. With so many games on the horizon, it is the squad strength that will see dropped points kept to a minimum. The next game is a crucial trip to The Etihad, so the midfield and attack will invariably see some changes.

The midfield combo of Coquelin and Xhaka worked well against Stoke, and the Xhaka/Ramsey collective also worked wonders in the win over Basel, so who gets the nod for today’s game? With the test of a wounded City coming up, will one get a rest so they can be fresh for Sunday? Mohamed Elneny will surely get some minutes in midfield with so many games coming up.

It is in attack that Arsenal really have a great opportunity to maintain form and still rotate. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has failed to live up to his talent on thw hole since his move to Arsenal, has finally started to show consistency in his game, and it is between him and Alex Iwobi for the left hand spot of the forward line. Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez seem nailed on for starts, and their numbers show why. 

Olivier Giroud has bided his time whilst Alexis fires goals left, right and centre, but this month will see the bearded Frenchman come into the equation more than ever this season. Giroud has been effective coming from the bench, but he could come in to start this game, especially as Alexis was stamped on brutally by the thuggish actions of Charlie Adam. Wenger did not intimate any injury to the Chilean, but preserving Arsenal’s main man this season must be high on the agenda. Alexis has had a hand in more goals than ANYONE this season – 11 goals, five assists – so his wellbeing is on the mind of every Gooner!

What of the opponents? The Toffees have suffered after a bright start to Ronald Koeman’s tenure, and two points from their last five games has seen them slump to ninth in the table. This does highlight a strange parallel which Le King, Thierry Henry, highlighted on Sky Sports yesterday, which was that this run of form matches Koeman’s at Southampton last season before they faced Arsenal –  a game they won in emphatic fashion 4-0.

They still remain in touching sitance of the Europa League places, and with hitman Romelu Lukaku bagging a brace in their last game – a 3-2 loss to Watford – they will pose a very real threat. Yannick Bolasie has been ruled out for the rest of the season, so Gerard Deulofeu will get the chance to nail down a starting spot. With Kevin Mirallas also in their forward line, they will be a real test for Gabriel, Koscielny and co, and if Arsenal are to leave Goodison with maximum points they must be switched on for the full 90.

The last time the Gunners played at Everton was in March, and we were victorious in a 2-0 win. Another scoreline similar to this would leave the travelling support in a merry mood as Christmas festivities start to heat up, but despite Everton’s recent woes, they still remain unbeaten at home. So a win would really send a message to all our rivals.

With Liverpool dropping points to West Ham, City losing and tottenham also tasting defeat, it left a gap between us and the rest. Chelsea maintained their push with a 1-0 win over West Brom, and all the runners and riders are at different points in their season. Tottenham need to instill some confidence after successive losses, City look to be at breaking point with John Stones being the only recognised centreback on the field during their loss to Leicester, and Liverpool still have a goalkeeper and defender headache, not to mention missing Phillippe Coutinho.

With no end to the fixture congestion in sight, these problems will only be exacerbated. All the teams will drop points, as the top of the league becomes a competition to see who can run through the gauntlet with less scars than the rest. With every team holding the potential to beat one another, every game will test the strength of the men who comprise the squads.

Arsenal have depth, and seem to be motoring along nicely. As Gooners, we take nothing for granted though. Long may our run continue.

Predicted lineup: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Xhaka, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis

Predicted Score – 2-1 Arsenal.