Tag Archives: england

Maitland-Niles: Cold-Blooded and Ready

Ice in your veins.

A classic sign that a player has the temperament needed to not only eke out their full potential on the pitch – but also ensure they do the same on the training pitch – with sheer, bloody-minded dedication.

It requires a thought process that is blinkered, focused on a single narrative.

To be the best you can be. All the best players have it and it is never clearer than in moments of pressure.

It is a necessary component on the way to reaching the top. Just watch when a player is plying his or her trade in a high-stakes match. A Cup Final, a derby, a knockout game. Where every second counts.

Firstly, the player with icicles in their bloodstream will desire the ball at every conceivable opportunity. They will be confident that they can sway the match and can’t sit by and wait for the game to come to them. They feel they must act NOW.

And when the opportunity arises? To change the game in an instant?

In the immortal words of a Mr B. Rabbit;

“Will you capture it? Or just let it slip?”

A penalty. A free-kick. A chance in the box. A moment that needs the coolest of heads.

Like a penalty in a penalty shootout perhaps?

Or a performance in a Cup Final against a derby opponent?

Just watch Ainsley Maitland-Niles in both the Community Shield shootout and his entire first half against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final.

Maitland-Niles mentality

His penalty was as nonchalant as they come. A trot forward, a swish of his boot and he sidefoots it past a keeper who has been nigh-on unbeatable at times last season.

His display against Chelsea was a surprise. Not because we didn’t think he had it in him, but we didn’t foresee AMN starting. Especially in midfield. But it was his constant running that stretched the Blues, put them on the backfoot. They couldn’t contain him and so they became defensive. It was predominantly AMN that changed the game for Arsenal against Chelsea – and Aubameyang applied the finish.

He couldn’t bear to let it pass him by – so he took the game by the scruff of the neck and demanded it follow instruction.

And not once did he lose his cool. All of the above was done with the same quiet, focused aura that he always maintains.

His displays have been rewarded with his first ever England senior call-up and it is hard to disagree that he doesn’t deserve it. He has been much more than a standby full-back – but it has been vitally important to his growth that he has played in that position.

He has filled in on both the right and left of defence, all the while knowing that his most effective – and favoured – position is in the centre of the park. Yet he knuckled down, learned the skills for that role and it has improved him. His timing seems to be excellent, his runs never leaving the team short and always arriving when the attack needs him.

Maitland-Niles, if he continues to progress and put in displays of this ilk, can go on to cement a first-team place in his favoured role. It all depends on Arteta’s formation, but with three in the centre, he can be the glue that binds both Xhaka and Ceballos.

AMN is on the rise and is hot property – but the Hale End boy is ice-cold.

Eddie Nketiah – Stick or Twist?

The dream for every young player is to make their debut for the first team.

To also score the winner in extra time? That’s the equivalent of dreamland Nirvana – but our very own Eddie Nketiah can always claim his debut for Arsenal was the perfect one.

The League Cup encounter versus Norwich was going the same way as our season – South. The Canaries had pretty much played us off the park, our own efforts frustratingly blocked by bodies on the line and our own final third failings.

We were heading for another exit at the hands of lower league opposition.

Step forward Super Eddie Nketiah.

Eddie Living out his dream

With mere minutes remaining, his first touch was a goal. It rescued the tie for us, and Eddie was mobbed by his relieved teammates. The teenager had saved each and every one of them.

It was to get better, as in extra time, Nketiah scored the winner, to send Gooners into delirium and ensure that his debut would be one he would never forget.

It also meant that Eddie would be on the fringes of the first team squad for the rest of the season. This, in turn, meant that when Aidy Boothroyd selected his England Under-21 squad for the Toulon tournament, Eddie was on the radar.

Nketiah played three times in the tournament, and scored twice, to give him an excellent scoring ratio for his country – and also underline that his talent is not just a flash in the pan. Every level he has stepped up to since being released at Under-14 level by Chelsea, the youngster has met the standard required. It takes mental strength and no little degree of pure talent, but the boy from Lewisham has met the mark for every test put in front of him.

This coming season though, represents the unknown for Nketiah, and perhaps a huge decision for him to make.

Another season like his last would not suffice. The boy desperately needs games, he needs to go through a season and make 30 or so appearances, and see whether he can last at a higher level for the duration.

This would signify a loan move, and there would be no end of takers for the striker – although choosing a host club is so important after many of our young charges last season were criminally underplayed whilst on loan.

If he gets a chance, he will score, but he also needs luck with injury and a coach that is open to the mistakes a youngster will make. Managers can be forgiven to a degree for being ruthless when a player is short of form, thanks to the results-driven nature of their position. There needs to be a balance though, so it is with great care that if Eddie does go on loan, we need to pick a club and manager that will help him blossom – rather than see him as just an extra body in the squad.

Alternatively, Unai Emery is not averse to playing kids in his teams and giving them the opportunities they desire. If Eddie did stay and try to force his way into the team this early, then Emery would most likely give him a shot if he is applying himself in training. In terms of a rhythm of games though? that is decidedly doubtful.

The good thing with this young man is that he tasted rejection early in his career, and Arsenal swooped in and gave him another shot. He will have a loyalty to the club, and will want nothing more than to wear the shirt and play games. If it is at the entropy of his fledgling career though, and he has a chance elsewhere?

He could well move on. Just look at Chris Willock and Marcus McGuane at Benfica and Barcelona respectively.

Our pre-season tours are the perfect chance to give Eddie his shot up top. They may be friendlies, but they will give Emery a great chance to gauge his men on the pitch.

Eddie’s career at Arsenal could hinge on his showings in Singapore and the Champions Trophy.

Let’s hope now that Jack has departed the club, we can have another Arsenal youth talent to pin our hopes to.

World Cup – Who’s Your Money On?

Now the Premier League is over, we need our fix.

What are we going to do to provide our football buzz?

Thankfully, there’s the small matter of a World Cup taking place less than a month away to sate our withdrawal symptoms.

Like footballing methadone, the World Cup will fill the gap in our lives as we go cold turkey from a lack of Premier League action. The World Cup is a festival of football that will provide daily thrills and spills, but how can we replicate the drama of watching our beloved clubs do battle?

Let’s face it, aside from the few England matches that will take place before the inevitable Last16/Quarter Final defeat, there will be plenty of action, but not enough to really make you care who exits and who carries on toward the famous trophy and the potential to be World Champions.

Spicing it up with a wager always helps.

I’ve consulted stats, a concise world cup betting guide, and the FIFA rankings to gauge who will be the teams to back with your hard-earned dough – or alternatively – just to win points with your mates and make you look like the ultimate football nerd.

Here are the teams who could pull up trees in Russia:


The Croats have Nigeria, Argentina and debutants Iceland in their Group and it’s fair to say that they’ll give top spot a run for its money.

They have AC Milan’s Vrsaljko in defence, but it is in midfield that they are near unrivalled.

Inter Milan’s Brozovic, Real’s Kovacic, the electric Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic who plays for Barca and then the jewel on the crown is Luka Modric of Real. Up top they have Juve’s Mario Mandzukic to profit from the plethora of chances too.

If they can avoid the big guns at the Last16 stage, then a Semi-Final spot beckons at least – much like France 98.


The Germans are the holders, have continuity with the retention of Joachim Loew as Manager, and much of the World Cup winning squad is still present.

They have liberal sprinklings of brilliance throughout. Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, Jerome Boateng, Leroy Sane, Julien Draxler, Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Ilkay Gundogan and the safe hands of Manuel Neuer to compliment this star-studded squad.

That is just the tips of the talent, and the bench for Germany will be nearly as strong as the first eleven. Whoever wins the tournament will have to get past the Germans, who always represent in the latter stages.


There have been recent signs that Les Bleus have been on the recovery path. A whole new squad, filled with electric young players, has given manager Didier Deschamps a few selection headaches, but what a choice to have.

There’s the record-breaking Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti, Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir – and some of these may not even make the final cut!

Whatever the side that rolls up in Russia, know that France qualified quite easily for the tournament, and will take some beating in the knockout stages.


This may be the team to back. Always blessed with a squad to be jealous over, the South Americans have failed to show in a World Cup since a certain Diego Maradona lit up the stage.

That’s what makes them a great punt for your money. Most will be expecting another Quarter-Final exit, but this year may just be their year.

They have the most fearsome attack in the world, with Lionel Messi, Paolo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Carlos Tevez making up the front line. With Man City’s Nicolas Otamendi and United’s Marcos Rojo in defence, they will be well armed to deal with opponents too.

The biggest change though? They have Jorge Sampaoli as coach. The former Chile man was hot property before deciding to take charge of Argentina, and if they make it to the final, they’ll come up against holders Germany.

There are plenty of other contenders too. Spain and Brazil will be looking to lift the trophy again, and Belgium have perhaps the strongest squad in the tournament.

It makes for a mouth-watering prospect.

So who’s your money on?

Kenny Sansom – A Great Gunner

Mention the name Kenny Sansom to most modern day fans, and the former Gunner’s recent battle with alcohol addiction will be what is conjured up in their minds. 

This is a great disservice to a player who served our club with such distinction, so this article is here to set the record straight.

Kenny joined the club in 1980, after blazing a trail with a highly impressive Crystal Palace team which tore up the Third and Second Divisions. His acquisition should have told Gooners what to expect, as Arsenal gave the Eagles Clive Allen in a swap deal with cash involved. Allen was also highly rated and had been bought just weeks earlier and had yet to play a game in anger in a Gunners shirt.

So it is fair to say there was a fair amount of pressure on Sansom’s robust shoulders from the moment he signed. 

Sansom never missed a game in his debut season and the next season saw him win the club’s Player of the Year gong. His style of play was a projection of where the game was going; more focus on attack from the full-backs, with pace and strength in equal measure. The hirsute defender was as adept at holding the famed George Graham backline as he was adding another asset to the attack. Sansom was the perfect player for George Graham, but the majority of his career was not spent under the tutelage of the Scotsman. 

The left-back was signed by Terry Neill, and spent three years under him, Don Howe, and less than two months under Steve Burtenshaw, until Graham arrived in 1986. George should have loved Sansom and what he offered to the team, but the relationship between the two is what caused Sansom to first lose the Captaincy to a green Tony Adams, before leaving the club in 1988.

In eight years at Arsenal, Sansom may not have been snowed under with accolades, but he raised the bar in terms of consistent excellence. Just one League Cup in 1987 was the sole piece of silverware for Sansom, but what he lacked in baubles, he more than made up in other ways.

For example, Sansom earned 86 caps for England, and this was a record for an Arsenal player until Patrick Vieira broke it twenty years later. Sansom was pretty much unrivalled in terms of delivery of the ball from out wide, and could put the ball on a sixpence whilst on the move too. Whether it be for his country or in an Arsenal jersey, Sansom almost always made a difference. Kenny was part of a pretty fantastic group of England players who were amongst the elite of the game and had real shouts for tournament glory. Sansom would have fitted into any setup around Europe on a tactical basis. He had every tool a coach could wish  for, and he held the respect of his teammates. 

In total, Sansom played 314 games for us, and made the First Division Team of the Year every season from 1979 through till 1987. His fantastic hair, his moustache were just as much his trademark in the end as his rapier runs forward and his hustling of opposition wingers. 

What really is a testament to what he gave us though, is that Sansom adorns the outside walls of our Emirates stadium, as part of the 32 legends that are part of the external circumference of the ground. Arsenal recognise his worth, and we all should too. 

England’s Lionesses – What Next?

Mark Sampson became the England Women’s Manager in December 2013. In his four years at the helm of the Lionesses, the Welsh coach has lifted the team into a position as worthy challengers for top honours.

In only two years, Sampson engineered a Semi-Final place for England in the 2015 World Cup in Canada. It represented the best showing of an England team – male or female – since 1990. After losing to Japan at the penultimate hurdle, England’s women then defeated Germany to finish in a fantastic 3rd place.

Hopes were inevitably high for the recent Euro2017 tournament after such a wonderful run. 

Could Sampson prove that this is the level that his charges are at? The World Cup drew in amazing viewing figures – both on TV and spectators in the grounds – and the interest level was growing in female football.

Euro2017 then took it to another platform entirely. Terrestrial TV picked up the rights to the competition, giving the chance for so many people to watch events unfold, and it paid off.

England’s women played marvellously as they again made their way to the Semi-Final stage – this time falling to an impressive Netherlands team who were playing in their home country.

It was another wonderful display for Sampson and the girls, but it was again a tumble just before the biggest of all stages. Whilst the Semi-Finals twice in consecutive major tournaments represents a huge achievement – it leaves one question;

Do England have what it takes to win a big competition?

On first appearances, the answer would be an emphatic yes.

England have defeated both France and Germany recently, and both nations are powerhouses of women’s football. A win in the knockout stages of the Euro’s and a World Cup mean Steph Houghton and co are more than capable of keeping company with the best in the business.

There is a confidence within each and every one of the squad, cultivating a mentality that gives this team that surety on the pitch that all great teams have. The respect shown by each member of the squad is reciprocated unequivocally – and this has been the foundation for the improvement shown.

They have beaten the USA, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden in recent years. They have been hobnobbing with the elite for the last two years, and the strength of the WSL means that England should have enough resources to stay at the top table.

Which is of paramount importance. With Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea Ladies all recruiting top talent, it means the youth at each respective club will both benefit from training with these superb players, but they will also work harder to force their way through the enhanced competition for places.

The youth at each club will be responsible for picking up the baton left by the current pride of Lionesses, and they have one hell of a job to fulfill.

Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, Millie Bright, Isobel Christiansen, Jade Moore, Jordan Nobbs, Karen Carney, Toni Duggan, Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris and Ellen White are the players who will carry the team forward to the 2019 World Cup – with all of the above being in their 20’s. There is the small matter of attempting to replace some real quality in the squad though.

Jodie Taylor, Fara Williams, Jill Scott, Jo Potter, Casey Stoney, Alex Scott, Laura Bassett, Siobhan Chamberlain and Karen Bardsley are all 30 or older, and whilst some may still be at the pinnacle of the game, they will not represent the future of England Women.

With Steph Houghton and Karen Carney both 29 as well – how do England go about replacing the experience that 1036 caps brings?

More importantly, who will take the reins after Sampson?

England really do have some bright talent shining through. Millie Bright, Fran Kirby, Demi Stokes and Lucy Bronze will all be cornerstones of the side in years to come, and Jordan Nobbs is only going to get better, which is a scary prospect for opposing nations.

Do the WSL youth facilities and staff have what it takes to produce and replace what has already been?

Was this the ‘Golden Generation’ that should have perhaps achieved more than they did?

This is definitely the strongest squad that an England Women’s Manager has had to call upon, but in terms of achievements, it could be looked at another way.

The Euro 2009 Final and the last two Semi-Finals may not have garnered a ticker-tape parade and winners medals – but it has supplied the growth in the sport that it so badly warranted. The WSL now attracts talent such as Carli Lloyd and the cream of the Netherlands. It also can now look forward to appropriate levels of TV coverage thanks to a new deal with BT Sport, which in turn means better levels of funding for the League and its participants.

What has been engineered has meant that the England Lionesses have a fighting chance of glory in the future. The respective new manager’s charges have put the sport firmly at the eye level of a bigger audience. It means that young girls will seek a career, rather than see it as just a hobby.

The Euro2017 defeat to Netherlands may have smarted, but it is just a service station on the journey. England Women are not finished yet.

The Ox Leaving Arsenal?

Published on The Arsenal Review

It would seem that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is departing The Arsenal.

Latest news – Sky Sports News being the source – is that the England man has turned down a massive rise in the form of £180k per week and sees his future away from The Emirates. The freshest reports are now saying that a bid has been accepted from Chelsea, and Liverpool are also an interested party.

First things first – how in the name of Bergkamp’s holy boots did Oxlade-Chamberlain earn a £180k per week offer? 

The Ox has risen to prominence since last season. Our team’s switch to three at the back has seen an opening at wing-back, and Oxlade-Chamberlain took his opportunity with both hands. 

He seemed a perfect fit, with his stamina being put to great effect covering in defence whilst roving forward and giving our attack another outlet.

The versatile midfielder made more appearances last season than any in his time at the club, and the second most starts. It appeared as though he was finally ready to seize one of the countless chances he had been given – and hold down a starting spot for an extended amount of time.

What none of us banked on though, is that The Ox wasn’t satisfied at wing-back. No, although he prospered, he wanted more.

Oxlade-Chamberlain feels he warrants a regular spot on the flank, or in central midfield. He also must feel he can obtain this very thing if he departs the club for another – most likely Chelsea or Liverpool.

So, let us all examine his chances of success.

The Ox has nine league goals in all his time at the club. If he aspires to play for Chelsea or Liverpool, those numbers would have to improve drastically if he wishes to make his mark on newer shores.

He primarily plays on the right, so who would his rivals be at each club?

Chelsea Boss Antonio Conte seems to prefer Willian on the right side, occasionally swapping around with Pedro.

Can anyone honestly say The Ox would squeeze either of these established players out of the Blues side?

What of Liverpool? Jurgen Klopp has been settling with players out of position in his side, so surely a player of the ilk of Oxlade-Chamberlain would be a godsend for the German?

Well, as previously mentioned, The Ox isn’t exactly enamoured with playing at wing-back, so James Milner and Albert Moreno can rest easy for the time being. The right wing position has now been filled by new signing Mohamed Salah too. 

Oxlade-Chamberlain should perhaps check if the grass is actually greener before he packs his bags.

From being guaranteed a pivotal role through the season, The Ox could actually be getting LESS games. Added to this, he certainly cannot nail down a spot on the wing at either of the clubs that are interested in him. The only way to do so is to provide an end product to his play, or at least a concerted rise from what he produces currently.

His numbers have never done his talent justice. When he bursts into action, Oxlade-Chamberlain has at times disemboweled entire defences. He has given opponents twisted blood and left them clutching at ghosts as he jinked past them with apparent ease.

Then, with the entire pitch open and the choices in front of him, he fluffs his lines.

It is a script well-thumbed by the Arsenal faithful. The other version of this is the same introduction, but with Oxlade-Chamberlain opting to beat another man instead of creating a chance.

At the crux of the plateau in his growth chart – is his decision-making.

This is where his talent hits a wall. You can stand toe-to–toe with the best there has ever been, but 

if you do nothing with it then it is futile. The Ox has never quite ridden himself of this problem – and this is the root cause of his battle to start every game.

Injuries have played a part, but not to the same effect of Walcott, Ramsey and Wilshere’s careers. 

The Ox has had a myriad of opportunities to establish himself, and has simply failed.

What makes him think that life at Chelsea or Liverpool will be any different?

Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to see one of his young men leave the club. So much time and effort has gone into the player, and the Frenchman must feel The Ox has more to give – hence the ludicrous contract offer.

The bottom line of this whole story is that Wenger has many failings, and chief among them is the faith shown in his players. Even when he is repeatedly burned by his players on the pitch, he continues to show them confidence.

The Ox has been given the same treatment. For a player to still not have a spot in the team rubberstamped even with Wenger’s plentiful ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ cards?

That is down to the player himself.

I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in for a shock if he does leave Arsenal.  

Maitland-Niles – Worth A Shot?

The summer in football deals in absolutes. It is either a time filled with nothing other than spurious transfer rumours, or it has an international tournament – and spurious transfer rumours.

Either way, we all have to deal with more than our fair share of fake news. 

This gruesome conveyor belt of fabrication lives on thanks to the glimmer of hope that lives within every football fan. We all wait for that one story that actually has its origins steeped in veracity, for the fabled marquee signing which means next season is filled with more optimism than ever.

We all love it when new blood is transfused into our club. Talents from around the world with impressive pedigree’s and assets that can boost our fortunes. What is easy to forget is the precious stones we already have at our club.

The youth systems at every top-flight club are put under more and more strain as each campaign passes, and with each transfer into the club, another talented youngster must leave the club in order to grow as a player and achieve their potential. 

At what point do you begin to blood a player in the first team though – and forego a transfer?

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a perfect example of this dilemma.

The 19 year old is back from his successful exploits in South Korea with the England U-20 side, where he helped the Young Lions lift the trophy.  Two seasons ago saw a baptism of fire as he spent the entire season on loan at Ipswich and earned more than rave reviews and plenty of gametime.

Last season was his first taste of Arsenal first team affairs since 2014 as a second half sub, and the youngster impressed at right-back in an EFL Cup match against Nottm Forest. It was his start against Southampton in an FA Cup 5-0 win though, that really alerted fans to his progress.

Despite his lack of years, Maitland-Niles seemed to grasp the first lesson most newbies need to learn before all else – do the simple things well. The 19 year old kept the Arsenal wheels greased with tidy possession, and broke up any attacks that the Saints attempted. Maitland-Niles’s performance belied his tender age.

His next appearance was a second half substitute, again in the FA Cup, but he was training with the first team, and this would no doubt help his development. He may have made a low amount of appearances, but he has not put a foot wrong when called upon. 

At what point does a youngster get the break he needs to jump to the next stage and fulfill the potential they have?

With Arsenal coming off of a disappointing season in the league, the pressure from the fanbase is for investment in a squad that underperformed. With Santi Cazorla also out for another five months, it would seem that midfield needs a fillip in the form of new blood.

Could that new blood be Maitland-Niles? Would a spot on the bench be perceived as a weakness in the squad, or can Maitland-Niles justify his elevated status? Let us not forget the kid’s flexibility in playing positions. He can play in the centre, on the right and on the right of defence, but can versatility harm his prospects?

The pre-season tour of Asia and Australia showed that versatility can mean he may get extra minutes on the pitch, but if Maitland-Niles can’t designate himself in either midfield or defence, will he be able to master either sufficiently? 

There will come a time when he must hold down one position, but Wenger is more than adept at buffing a jewel enough to see the real beauty inside. He will already have Maitland-Niles’s strengths in his mind and have a good idea where he can be best utilised.
The next step for the youngster is to continue to perform when called upon. He will have more chances this coming season, and if he does as well as he has been, then we may just have another gem on our hands a la Iwobi, Wilshere and Bellerin. 

The Evolution of The Ox

Published on Goonersphere

The focus placed on development of youth at clubs has changed rapidly in the last decade, and is now almost as important as any other department within a top club.

From the vast scouting network which casts a wide net around the world in a hope of snaring big game, to the myriad of staff employed to cover every aspect of a hopeful candidate’s life, it’s clear that the polishing of these rough diamonds takes precedence over the majority of other requirements.

Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal for over two decades now, and has seen the revolving door at London Colney spin round more often than Jamie Carragher facing a fleet-footed Thierry Henry. He has seen the majority of the young charges fail to make an impact upon his first-team plans, but there have been successes. Jack Wilshere is held up as a shining beacon of what can be achieved by a youngster who matches his talent with graft, and if these traits are intertwined with fitness – then age is simply a number.

There are of course, far more than the injury-cursed Wilshere to laud in terms of youth progress and holding their own despite their tender years, but would you include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that bracket?

The Ox has on the whole, been consistently inconsistent since his joining from the Southampton youth product conveyor belt. A mere mention of his much-shorter moniker of ‘The Ox’ is enough to materialise grimaces of frustration from Gooners within earshot. 

Now every young player should be allowed a certain amount of errors in their game, as mistakes are how we all learn and gain experience. For The Ox especially, there should be a larger margin for error as his style is purely confrontational, which in turn will see more possession conversions.

In short, he takes people on, makes things happen. That will see a higher rate of possession being switched, as the high risk – high reward style that The Ox favours requires him to pull a few tricks out of the bag to outwit opposition.

This site has published many articles on the lad, and we could all talk about how his numbers and end product are far from good enough. It is common knowledge that he needs to step his game up if he is to cement a future at Arsenal and indeed, England. He has rarely had a run in the team some will say, but the reason for this when he has been fit is that when he has been given an opportunity, for all to see he has let it slip through his fingers. Why play a player when he clearly doesn’t have a case for a start above others?

In 171 games for Arsenal (correct at the time of writing) he has scored 20 goals and given 27 assists. What really underlines his requirement for improving his end product is how often he is found in a dangerous area. The Ox really has a talent for finding the best position in attacks, but more often than not he hits the first man with a cross, or it will miss its target. 

This season though, there has been a shift on the pitch. 

He has scored six times and bagged six assists already this campaign. A straight fight between The Ox and Alex Iwobi has seen a rise in productivity and more charged performances from the man named after a bovine species. He has utilised the ball better, there have been rarer moments of induced groaning. 

A promising run in the centre of midfield was his reward, and he took the chance with both hands. The Ox began to deliver the most elusive of traits – consistency.

The flowering of Oxlade-Chamberlain looks to have finally begun. Potential is great, but if it stays as potential and doesn’t begin to sprout life, even the most patient of managers will lose faith. Wenger has stuck by The Ox and his elevated performances are evidence that the faith he placed in the England winger wasn’t so blind after all.

It is still early days, but we are roughly halfway through the season and he has scored and assisted more than any other season he has played in. If he maintains this and continues to his consistency, then The Ox may just earn the established starting role he so craves.

Alex is not the youngster that can deflect criticism with excuses of lack of experience anymore. He has played against the cream of Europe, he plays international football and he has world class talent to learn from every day on the training pitch. Is this all starting to have an effect on The Ox?

Do you take stock from statistics? Oxlade-Chamberlain’s give off the impression that the padawan has finally started to flourish. Is he a fully fledged Jedi yet? oh no, learn more he must. 

Jack May Not Be Back

When a youngster rises through the ranks like Jack Wilshire has – from the age of 9 – then the ties that bind them to their club are that little bit stronger.

From the footballing education that forms the malleable talent that dwells beneath, to the life education they receive on a day-to-day basis, the club and its infrastructure become intrinsically linked to the player.

From his teenage years where his bursting on the scene drew gasps nationwide, Jack was adored by his clubs fans, and a glittering career wearing the cannon of Arsenal was laid in front of him. 

Fast forward some years later, and the now 24 year old Wilshire is on loan at Bournemouth – and a return to his spiritual home may not be the foregone conclusion that was at first advertised.

It was injury that curtailed Wilshire’s potentially stratospheric career path, and lots of them. With each ailment and tear, broken bone and ligament damaged, Jack took a step back. Months and months would go into his recovery, only for a handful of games and another setback.

It is easy for the youngsters to enjoy the good times. When everything they touch is successful and wonderful things are being bandied around about them. It is when the form withers and the bench beckons though, that we see the true mettle of their constitution and desire. For Jack to spend so long out of action at such an age, must have been a drain and a constant shadow.

Fast forward to the start of this season, and Jack was once again on the comeback trail. He had again acquired fitness, and was searching for the sharpness which gives each footballer that last ten percent. That ten percent is the edge which the top players need. 

That ten percent is only obtained through matches. The heat of competition. The problem with being repeatedly sidelined though, is that the grandiose plans your manager has for you, have to be constantly rewritten. Which means that they cannot rely on you and thus, replacements have to be bought.

These replacements then get settled, and before Jack knew it, these men that had been drafted in to act as filler until he found his way out of a leg cast had established themselves. So, our English hope had a choice – does he stay and yet again fight for his place? Risk putting his England career, and his club, at a standstill for a season? Or does he take one of the many offers of regular football, but from a club that isn’t his home?

We all know the answer, and inexorably, since his loan began on the South Coast with Bournemouth, Jack has stayed fit! Not only that, but he has played an integral part for Eddie Howe. He has been trusted.

Every Gooner has kept a keen eye on Wilshire’s developments with the Cherries, and every good game he has means a step nearer to a successful reunion, surely?

That was the initial reason for his sojourn down south, to gain match fitness, get a season under his belt and remind the people that matter what he is capable of.

In a recent interview however, it seems that Jack is enjoying his time at Bournemouth quite a lot, and the return to Arsenal isn’t quite as scripted as we all imagined.

In his interview with the Daily Mail, Jack revealingly said,

‘I haven’t really thought about my future beyond getting a season under my belt and just trying to improve as a player,’ he says.

‘To be honest your question is a hard question to answer because I don’t know what to say. I genuinely don’t know if I am going to end up at Arsenal or somewhere else.

‘If you’d ask me two months ago if I was going to finish my career at Arsenal then I would have said, “Yeah, of course”.

‘The fans have been great to me, the boss has been great to me. I have a lot of friends there. But sometimes that’s the way football is. Two months ago I wouldn’t have seen myself being here, but here I am. And I’m enjoying it.’ 

It is open to interpretation, but his comments give off more than a whiff of a dithering of commitment. He has spent time in a role which he desires, and that isn’t just in the Number10 spot. He is a big fish at Bournemouth, and his teammates look to him for inspiration. 

Not only that, but he seems to be enjoying the escape from the rat race, the frenetic pace of life in London.

There are still a lot of variables in the air regarding his future, and what he said is hardly a declaration of a severing of ties. It is though, a dose of realism. The years of struggle have dwindled the ties, made them wither. Where once the connection between the club and player was nigh on unbreakable, now, the unthinkable is a distinct possibility.

The one club player is a rarity indeed, and loyalty is scarce. Jack has seen another possibility to his situation, and it may not involve Arsenal. The club may just be synonymous with negative vibes for Jack, even in his interview he mentions his close connection with the club physio! 

A fresh break is something he is enjoying, for now. Arsene Wenger has always rated him highly, and the path to return to his welcoming busom will never truly be closed. The decision is down to Jack himself.

The fact that we are now doubting about his destination speaks volumes. 

Arsene Wenger spoke out recently about Jack’s contract, and how keen Wenger was to extend Jack’s stay at Arsenal.

The ball is firmly in Wilshere’s court. 

Club Vs Country.

The groans that were emitted could be heard far and wide across the twittersphere, as the Premiership ground to a halt for the second time since the season started, and the negative noises for once, were shared by the majority.

As football news shifted to Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge of the Three Lions, the talk amongst fans still centred on their respective clubs – at least it did amongst Gooners. Theo Walcott’s return to the international fold, Mesut Ozil’s exploits for Die Mannschaft, and then late call-ups for our pair of left-backs – Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs.

Somewhat perplexingly, our very own beacon of consistency Monreal, had not received a call-up to the Spanish team since 2013, but a change in manager to Julen Lopetegui has seen our own Spanish defender called up as cover to Jordi Alba. 

Then, with Ryan Bertrand injured early in England’s insipid victory over Malta, Kieran Gibbs was called up to Southgate’s squad. Despite Gibbs not being able to nail down a first team spot for two seasons, Keiran has been the model of professionalism, and in each of his sporadic appearances since being forced down the pecking order he has performed admirably.

In both cases, the players involved would have been overjoyed to resume their international careers. Playing for your country represents the ultimate accolade, and even though club matters now overshadow international meetings, the players can feel nothing but pride when pulling on the shirt of their country.

For fans however, it has become an irrelevance, or perhaps even a scouting mission. With each match, the majority of fans I speak to simply watch the matches to keep a watchful eye on the players hailing from the clubs they support. Injuries crop up with alarming regularity, and the merest hint of a muscle strain sets panic aflame across social media.

It has become a procession of worrying for most fans. Hoping and praying that their star players return unscathed from international duty. The result is found far down in the list of importance when international football rears its boring head. We want our players to perform well and get on the pitch, but the crux of the matter is that we want our boys back safe within the sanctity of our clubs.

We all revelled in Monreal being called up to the Spanish squad, but we mainly want him to return unharmed. With England performing so disappointingly for so long, the passion for the Three Lions appears at an all time low. The club vs country battle that exists still wages on, but if it were fought in the stands, then country would be nursing a bloody nose by now.

The clubs pay the gargantuan wages that the majority earn, so when players return from their exploits overseas, or even from Wembley and the Millenium Stadium, then it would be nice to see these players not appear so jaded on their first game back in their club jerseys – as so often happens. 

Knowing that Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Petr Cech, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are pivotal players for their countries does shine well on our club. When players such as Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers receive an international call-up, we fans cannot help but be pleased that they are gaining the recognition they warrant. When Germany won the last World Cup, how fixated were we as Gooners, that Podolski, Ozil and Mertesacker were part of the team?

We take joy from it, but international football, especially qualification, has morphed into a series of worries and voyeuristic looks into how certain players are performing. 

Whether some agree or not, the priority for players must be their clubs. It is how they gain international recognition in the first place – and it is supposedly how they maintain their place in their respective national ranks. Players are not supposed to be able to earn a place through reputation (Rooney, we are all looking at you), so how they play for their clubs is of the utmost importance. Not only this, but money talks. The torrents of cash that is pumped into the players bank accounts by the clubs demands that the players owe it to their clubs to be able to perform when they return from national duty.

It is cynical, and why shouldn’t these men, who are trained to the peak of physical fitness, be able to perform feats of wonder for their country AND their club? 

Nacho Monreal and Keiran Gibbs rightfully must be swelling with pride after returning to their international sides, but most fans just want them to play well, and return injury free. 

The result pales into insignificance compared to years gone by.