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Arsene Wenger’s Highest High and Lowest Low

How do you judge the highest highs and the lowest lows? The peaks that made you giddy? the troughs that had you on the ropes?

Arsene Wenger’s 22 year spell as Arsenal manager has finally ended the rollercoaster ride that has in recent years, kept journalists in a job and fans heading for the exits.

His tenure can be split into sections, with the first decade being the reason why expectations are so very high now, dragging the club firstly into contention, and then ensuring its survival at the forefront of a sport that was transforming rapidly.

Then came what most know as the stadium years, when The Emirates required funding and the fallout from this was the transfer budget had to be created, rather than given. Perhaps his greatest feat was keeping Arsenal in the Champions League during those lean years, when other clubs were burning money to keep warm.

And then came the years of doubt, where Arsenal were supposed to herald in a bright new dawn, free from the albatross of uber-debt around our neck, we could now compete with the big boys, but instead, we slipped further down the ladder as Wenger’s shortcomings in tactics and his recalcitrant approach to these failings meant that not only was a first title since 2004 well out of reach – we also let in clubs that were previously playing perma-catch-up.

If we look at Wenger’s highs and lows on a game by game basis, naturally we’ll look to his first ten years for the best moments, and his last decade will be littered with references to instances when we feared the worst.

But there are matches in every season that could be nominated for either.

Our 8-2 and 6-1 stuffings at the hands of Man Utd are obvious picks when highlighting nightmares. What of our 6-0 hammering by Chelsea though? Or when Liverpool pasted us 5-1? We’ve also racked up a few derby defeats as well, after going so long without one. Let’s not forget our European nightmares too (we don’t talk about Paris).

In terms of high points, our 1-0 win at Old Trafford to win the league in 2002 was golden-hued, and I’ll never forget our recent FA Cup wins. We thumped Inter Milan at the San Siro, we were the first English club to beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, and winning the league at the pisshole down the road ranks pretty highly too.

So many of either to mention, but if I had to pick just one of either…

Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal – 14 March 1998

This match broke United’s previously unbowed spirit. We had the perfect gameplan, we had the back 5 as the perfect foundation, Vieira and Petit were patrolling midfield and in Marc Overmars, we had a weapon that was unanswerable. The flying Dutchman chased a flick on and headed the bouncing ball into his own path, before finishing low past Schmeichel. It was a signal, to both Fergie and our own fans, that we were a real force. It was unforgettable, and it was the beginning of the best years as a Gooner for quite some time – if ever.

Arsenal 2-3 Leeds Utd – 4 May 2003

We’d won the double the season before, and humiliated United in the process by winning it at Old Trafford. The next season had been given the perfect platform, and we made it count for the most part, but our slip against an underwhelming Leeds side managed by Peter Reid. Mark Viduka had one of his games where he was unplayable, and we shot ourselves in the foot. It handed the title back to United, meaning we failed to regain the Premiership yet again. This was a title we should have won, but defeats like this hampered us. Thinking about it even now gives off waves of ‘what should’ve been,’ and of massive missed opportunities.

These are just my own choices. Mentioned before, there’s plenty of both to choose from. Our 3-2 defeat to a weak Man United side and subsequent loss to Swansea City in 2015 ran the Leeds loss unbelievably close.

What are your personal high and low matches in Wenger’s reign? Drop me a comment, it should make for interesting conversation!

Manchester United 1-1 Arsenal – 5 Key Points From The Game

Much like last season, United were there for the taking.

Thankfully though, the result didn’t correlate too, as supersub Olivier Giroud thumped in an equaliser to cancel out Juan Mata’s great finish. 

The team selection carried a couple of surprises, as Aaron Ramsey was brought into the side on the left of attack, and Mohamed Elneny was given a start alongside Francis Coquelin, with Granit Xhaka on the bench. The rest of the side picked itself, aside from Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard has been ruled out for a month at least with an ankle problem picked up in the North London derby, and this gave Carl Jenkinson his first Premier League start in a Gunners jersey since May 2014.

Perhaps surprisingly, Jose Mourinho opted to leave Captain Elbows (Marouane Fellaini) out of the side, and opted instead for finesse, with Ander Herrera getting the nod. Wayne Rooney was left on the bench, with Marcus Rashford hoping to do as well as his Premier League debut last season, when he bagged a brace in the 3-2 win.

The first half was a cagey affair, but there were chances. Alexis Sanchez should have done much better with a header in the box, which he screwed horribly wide. United were not to be undone though, as they tested Cech on a couple of occasions, which the Czech dealt with well. It was a see-saw half, but the 0-0 scoreline at half time was probably fair.

There was a flashpoint in the first 45 though. Nacho Monreal and Antonio Valencia were shoulder-to shoulder going for a ball in the Arsenal box, and Valencia fell to thr ground. Replays show that Nacho’s arm was across Valencia – but since when did that constitute a spot kick? Mourinho was apopleptic with rage at the ignorance from Andre Marriner, but it was never a penalty. 

The second half was a different affair entirely, as United stepped up their pressing, and it paid dividends. The Gunners struggled to exit their own half with Elneny and Coquelin run ragged as they tried to deal with the runs of Herrera, Mata, Rashford and Pogba. On a sidenote, Herrera really has a flair for the flamboyant, there were at least three occasions where he went to ground as if he had taken a shotgun shell to the abdomen, but the contact was little – or none. Something to watch out for in the future. 

The weight of pressure finally told, as Nacho – who had been given the biggest workload by the errant Ramsey – failed to go with his runner, and Herrera cut a ball into the box which Mata expertly met with a first time finish. The Spaniard was unmarked as the defence were ballwatching, and the punishment was severe.

The last twenty minutes of the second half were similar to the first twenty, as United continued to press, but Arsene Wenger shuffled his pack and came up with a hand, as Olivier Giroud found the net from fellow substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain’s perfect cross from the right.

There was much more that occurred during the game, but here are 5 keypoints from the game that really stood out:

Giroud saves the day again – but he must stay as a Plan B

The bearded Olivier Giroud again saved the day with a goal when coming from the bench, just like against Sunderland, and his aerial prowess and linkup play really is an excellent answer to a defence which has our side nonplussed. He is garnering success as the swift change in attacking type is unsettling after facing a certain way for 70 minutes, then having to revert to another method to keep out the bothersome Giroud. The Frenchman will get his fair share of starts, but at this current time, we need to keep working on Sanchez up front, as the signs are that he could be dynamite.

Alexis is the way forward

Whenever we did threaten, it was via the Chilean. With his thigh heavily strapped, he could’ve shirked his duty, but he tracked back, and ploughed a lone furrow up front. Eventually through starvation, he dropped deeper and deeper to try and spark something. He proved a real test to the United defence, and that was all on his own. His goal record when playing up front is testament to what damage he can cause, and the more he plays there, the better he will be. He can undo teams by himself, and while he will have better days, he was still one of the few brighter players.

Ramsey must cement a fixed position

Aaron was our weak link in thi game, and there may be some fervent fans who will disagree, but it was crystal clear that out on the left was not the position to bring the best out of the Welshman. To be honest though, he did himself no favours. He is always full of effort and running, but his positioning was a liability which United nearly exploited – and should’ve done. The reason Antonio Valencia was awarded the MOTM award was because he was afforded the whole of the wing by the absence of Ramsey. This left Nacho double-teamed and undermanned. Ramsey has talent, we know this, but a vague sense of where he plays – and a tendency to be shrugged from the ball too easily – may cost him. This game was one to forget for Rambo.

Jenkinson must take his chance – and it was a good start

Considering it was his first Premiership start for Arsenal since 2014, Jenkinson performed well. He was forced to deal with a lively Marcus Rashford for the majority, and he snuffed out the majority of the threat. He didn’t quite offer the outlet we are used to with Bellerin in the side, but that is to be expected. Plus, this wasn’t the game for rampaging full-backs. It was a solid start from Carl, and he will get the run in the side he craves with Bellerin out for a month. Let’s hope he continues to do well.

Arsenal tactics were wrong

We don’t often see our team play full pelt and truly put our talent on show. When we play our passes at breakneck speed and the runs from each player are unpredictable and frequent. When we do, the results always go in our favour. All teams in the League, with perhaps the exception of City and Chelsea, are not on our technical level, and would not be able to cope with what we are capable of. What is the usual far is we wait and react to our opponents. We are simply reactionary. It is ponderous and frustrating, as it is akin to seeing Max Whitlock playing hopscotch. We should be doing more, especially in this game – and come to mention it, last seasons 3-2 loss was very similar. Mourinho had PHIL JONES and MARCUS ROJO in the centre of defence. All we had to do was attack them, and they would inevitably crumble, but instead we gave them the initiative time and time again. I know it is November, but we are far better than this!!!

There were other highlights that missed the cut, such as Shkodran Mustafi pretty much snuffing out every cross from Antonio Valencia – and there was many -like Oxlade-Chamberlain finally showing he has an excellent end product, and Cech giving us that edge of top class experience he has which made a hige difference. 

It was a point gained after an ungainly performance, but we are still unbeaten since the opening day. We may have lost some initiative, but we showed a fair amount of bottle. We can turn this around, but the next game in PSG, which is no cakewalk. 

Keep working and keep the belief. November was never going to be pretty. 

Manchester United Vs Arsenal – Preview

With the atrocious record Arsenal have at Old Trafford, the last thing we needed was bad news before the game.

That is exactly what was dished out during Arsene Wenger’s press conference though – with the info regarding the availability of vital Spaniards Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin.

credit to Getty Images
On Thursday, Wenger ruled out Bellerin for roughly four weeks after suffering an ankle injury during the Gunner’s last Premiership game, against tottenham. He will miss up to eight games, and not only will he miss this crunch clash, he will be ruled out for the last two fixtures of Arsenal’s Champions League group stage – those being against Paris Saint Germain and FC Basel.

His compatriot Santi Cazorla is also no nearer to a return, as his achilles injury has not healed sufficiently. Even worse is that Wenger confirmed he can not pin down a date for the return of the two-footed midfielder. 

There is room for optimism as we look to this game, as the squad is in ruder health than in many previous seasons, and backup for each position is more than adequate. 

The cover for the players concerned is Carl Jenkinson and a pick of Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, and it will be a combination of two from those three midfielders that will make up the engine room for the trip to Manchester. Perhaps even the energy and runs of Aaron Ramsey could get a shock recall?

Carl Jenkinson has played well in his few outings thus far this campaign, but the English defender must take his chance while he has it in his grasp. The fan favourite bleeds Arsenal, but if he is to have any future at the club he adores, then he must reassure his boss that he can seamlessly drop into the side and lessen the impact of losing a player of the ilk of Bellerin.

The rest of the team more or less picks itself, aside from two slight niggles. Alexis Sanchez only flew back from international duty with Chile on Wednesday, and after playing on Tuesday against Uruguay despite nursing a troublesome hamstring, Alexis must be fitness tested before taking to the side. 

The other worry is the form of Alex Iwobi. The youngster had to dip eventually after such a blazing start to his professional career, but the dilemma is – do you allow him to play through his bad run, or do you bench him and give someone else a shot? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed recently, and could replace the Nigerian. Iwobi, whilst struggling for form and comabtting poor decision making, has still shown a fantastic ability to pick a pass. 

The choice is Wenger’s.

Jose Mourinho has his fair share of issues to deal with as well, especially with his defence being the opposite of the normally watertight plan of the Portuguese manager – so there is a ray of hope. 

He still has plenty to choose from elsewhere though, but his continuing selection of Marouane Fellaini in the centre of midfield smacks of desperation. When he can take his pick from Schweinsteiger, Mata, Carrick, Herrera and Blind to name but a few in the centre, it shows he is looking for an anchor that simply isn’t one. He is known to prefer a powerhouse in the middle, and if he goes with type again and picks the fuzzy-haired Belgian, then Xhaka, Walcott and Ozil can really take advantage.

United have won two games out of their last five, and are struggling to find a footing, but Arsenal have not won at Old trafford since 2006. This shocking run of results looked to be at an end last season when we travelled to Manchester with United barely able to put a team together and were patched together with youngsters who had barely any top-flight experience.

It didn’t matter though, as United ran out 3-2 winners. Arsenal practically handed the game to the home side with some lackadaisical defending and some prosaic attacking. There was no energy and the plodding players got exactly what they deserved – nothing. 

Hopefully, lessons have been learned. Arsenal again have a great chance to end the Old Trafford hoodoo, and if Alexis is fit and firing, Theo is in tune and Mesut Ozil is fully refreshed after resting during the international break – the Gunners can grab three points and keep pace at the top of the league. 

Predicted lineup – Cech, Jenkinson, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis

Predicted Scoreline – let’s be optimistic – 2-0 Arsenal, with Alexis and Theo scoring. 

Arsenal Vs Man Utd – Match Preview – #AFCLive

A return to Premier League action after a two week absence, is a tonic that will hopefully rid Arsenal of recent ills.

In the fortnight’s hiatus, there has been two cup ties that have left Gooners a little nonplussed at the distinct lack of goals, but a visit to a Manchester United who have struggled in the League could provide the answer to our misfiring team.

There is also the small matter of a winless run at Old Trafford in the Premiership that goes back eight games.





Continue reading Arsenal Vs Man Utd – Match Preview – #AFCLive

Man Utd Cup Tie – It all hinges on this….

A lot has been made of the F.A Cup tie Vs Utd. A lot of mitigating factors have all assembled to assume the form of a gargantuan shadow that looms larger with each passing day. With last years Cup triumph seeing a revival in Arsenal fans expectations – this match is awarded another notch on the hype scale. Gooners want the Cup home badly. It could be argued however – that what is yearned for is an end to the tyrannical reign of terror that Manchester Utd have had over Arsenal in recent years.

Arsenal haven’t recorded a win against the Red Devils for eight games. 2011 to be exact. In that time, Utd have scored exactly double the amount of goals we have bagged in these tussles. When speaking to a Gooner about why their team has such an appalling record against Manchester Utd, the majority will offer up a serving of superstition. Hoodoo. Bogey team. Purple sign etc. No definitive answers when talking of the more recent results where the clubs took to the field on a more even footing, squad wise. Fans are ready to see this curse lifted. Continue reading Man Utd Cup Tie – It all hinges on this….