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The Ozil Environment

A victory over Manchester United is always something noteworthy.

We can disregard both sides’ relatively low positions in contrast to where we resided in loftier times.

For us fans, a win over one of our biggest rivals always matters.

One win in fifteen, our worst run at home since the 50s, our new head coach Mikel Arteta had his work cut out to not only get us back into some form of contention – but just to get us back up from our haunches.

And the manner in which he did that in this win was perhaps overshadowed the result.

We harried, we hustled, we gave no inch. Players like Rashford, Martial, they would have caused no end of torment to our ragged defence if they were allowed to.

But those two and their cohorts were superbly marshalled.

We had David Luiz rejuvenated, stopping everything in his path.

We had the much-maligned Granit Xhaka intercepting and distributing constantly, always in the right spot when needed.

We had Lucas Torreira in his natural position and he was a whirling dervish of action, putting himself where others fear to tread and winning the ball like it was going out of fashion.

Hell, we even had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tracking back, covering his full-back and covering plenty of ground.

Then there was Ozil.

The stereotype of Mesut Ozil should have evaporated by now. Stat upon stat of the German’s penchant for activity is all too often overlooked, but he yet again covered plenty of ground, bettered only by Torreira and Xhaka.

He also won the ball back more than any other team mate. Ten times all in all.

Those are numbers that any self-respecting box-to-box midfielder would be proud of, but this was our number ten.

Where was this Ozil when Emery needed him?

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Was this simply a switch of tactics and instructions set out by a new boss?

No, it is down to man-management.

Unai Emery often left out Ozil entirely, not even in the matchday squad. It was a case of the Spanish coach drawing a line, letting Ozil know that it was his way or the highway. Play the way I want you to or you won’t play at all.

Eventually, with results withering, he had no alternative but to play Ozil, but with confidence low and the bond between coach and player at an all time low, Ozil had little to no impact on proceedings.

David Luiz was interviewed after our win against United, and his comments gave us all a peek behind the veil of times under Emery. Luiz spoke of the happiness returning to the squad since Arteta took over, which by means of common sense, speaks of a malaise under Emery.

The manner in which Arteta hugged his playmaker after the victory on the pitch speaks volumes, and Ozil is now trusted, he feels that he is valued. That means the world to the player it seems, and his efforts on the pitch may not have reaped an assist, but his efforts meant so much more.

All he needed was a coach who valued him.

The Ozil / Emery Dilemma

How far does a manager go to instill his values and rules upon his squad?

The parameters that the man at the helm puts in place will ultimately define the team, but what happens if one stray sheep doesn’t conform, and strays from the herd?

In an effort to stymie attempts from other players to follow suit,  does the manager lay down the law in the form of punishment, to show that the rules must be followed?

Unai Emery is in between a rock and a hard place. It has become apparent through comments made by the Spaniard that Mesut Ozil has not met the desired standard in the training regimen that has been set.

The result?

The German has been omitted from the entire squad for around two months of the season.

Even if you are not a fan, it is plain to see that our fortunes on the pitch in terms of style, have been severely hampered by the lack of a playmaker.

Chances have dried up, the pace of the ball being pinged around? Pedestrian. Our star strikers have been feeding off of scraps or creating openings themselves through their excellent set of skills.

The moment that Ozil was reinstated to the line-up was our Carabao Cup exit to Liverpool – and we scored five goals.

Yes, Liverpool were a weakened side, but the form we were in during that spell would have meant that if Ozil wasn’t in the eleven, we would surely have struggled to reach that amount of goals.

Our number ten kept the ball moving, stretching play, popping up in pockets of space and sprinkling in moments of genius, like his no-look backheel from the byline to the only player who could have received the ball.

This isn’t meant to indicate that Emery has made the wrong choice though. The words in this article are pointing towards a choice that Emery couldn’t possibly hope to pick the correct one – because there isn’t a right choice.

Ozil and Emery

Include Mesut Ozil in the side – and player power has won.

Leave him out of the side, and at the merest hint of a struggle, critics will point to the megastar left out of the side.

Emery had a power struggle in his time as PSG manager, as Neymar has a little more sway than a player normally would. The Brazilian is seen as indispensable to the eleven – or was – and there was only going to be one winner.

Now, we have arguably our most talented player flitting in and out of the side, and posting cryptic images on his Instagram in an apparent act of defiance. It leaves the unity of the squad frayed – and our performances compromised.

Mesut Ozil will obviously impact our team on the pitch. His end product went missing last year but in terms of keeping us on the front foot and always playing the right pass, there is no one better.

Star players shouldn’t have things their own way though. If we put them on a higher pedestal, it means they will define the rules, and the values of the club will be broken as a result.

No one player is greater than the team. We have had far greater players in our midst than Ozil and they have never rocked the boat – even if they did, the rock-solid rules of the club would not show a crack.

The moment this changes, then Arsenal FC as we know it, and have known it since its birth – will be completely undermined.

The solution to the Ozil – Emery predicament?

I’ve no idea – I don’t get paid millions to figure it out!

 

Attack on Kola and Ozil – The Ripple Effect

The recent knife attack on Mesut Ozil, Sead Kolasinac and their wives was thwarted thanks to the selfless bravery of our Bosnian defender.

The long-lasting effects may well cast more harmful ripples however.

The CCTV footage showed how the assailants pulled up to Ozil’s vehicle on a moped and brandished a large knife. Kolasinac then exited the car and Ozil drove the respective partners to a position of safety while the left-back aimed to either stifle or incapacitate the criminals.

Thankfully, no harm was done. Well, at least physically.

This footage will no doubt have spread worldwide via social media. Professional footballers will have seen this and the violence on show could act as a deterrent to any prospective moves to the Premier League.

Do we see footballers in other nation’s being attacked by blades? Aside from the volatility of South America, can we say anywhere in Europe has seen similar recently?

This is not to say that knife crime is more prevalent in London or the UK as opposed to Europe, but simply that this sole act occurred in our capital rather than in Italy, Spain or Germany.

Footballers lead a lavish lifestyle and are on the highest of pedestals. The barrier between player and fan is higher than ever before. These sportsmen are now fully removed from everyday life and the fleeting moments that they take part in fan activities or social media interactions are pretty much the only times they put their feet on the same ground we walk on.

This attack could well pull that drawbridge up a little further, distancing us and them even more than before. Players have the ability to seclude themselves in their own world. Their houses are like resorts, they attend exclusive events and venues, and the streets that we share? They will be less and less frequented.

What of potential signings thinking of relocating to the UK? This potentially has a dampening effect, as perception is everything. The news stories that hype the supposed torrent of violent crime on our streets, now exacerbated by our players being nearly killed while attending a restaurant? It will do nothing for enthusiasm to sample the delights of the city.

The reason why the video made such a splash is because of the seriousness of the potential repercussions. Should Sead Kolasinac have failed in his heroic efforts? It doesn’t bear thinking of.

Sead and Ozil

With such riches to protect and these men recognised anywhere they go, it does mean that for the more nefarious of us Joe Publics, these professional players do have a target on their heads. It is easy pickings and ripe pickings at that.

The days of players liaising with fans like they did in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? That is a thing of the past, and the moat that sees us look longingly at the greener grass of celebrity sportspeople yawns ahead of us, growing wider each year.

We can be thankful that both players and their wives were unharmed after this attack, but the threat of further incidents of the same nature potentially could ripple outward for quite some time.

Skipper On Our Shopping List

The summer transfer window may cure some ills for Arsenal, but at least one of our failings may well be carried over into next season.

It will require targeting from our recruitment team to rectify the situation, otherwise our next campaign we will still be bereft of a true captain.

Unai Emery changed much in his first season, and one of the myriad of variants he brought in to dispel the old era was to appoint five nominated skippers. All five brought a little something different to the table and perhaps combined, they made one true leader.

Mesut Ozil brought a true example to look up to for the younger players, and his ice-cool temperament is a skill that many could need.

Petr Cech is a born winner and has been victorious in every club competition he has entered.

Granit Xhaka is a motivator, rallying the troops vocally and attempting to rouse the warrior within them all.

Aaron Ramsey is the consummate professional and is the prime example of where hard work can take a young prospect as the Welshman is the purest evidence of this.

Then there is Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has been at Arsenal for eight years and has put his injury-ravaged body on the line every time he has put on the shirt. He is still probably our best defender at a tender 33 years of age and the squad look to him for a mixture of all of the above.

Next season is a different story though. At times we have missed a captain of the ilk of our previous luminaries. Players who can grab their teammates and the match itself by the scruff of the neck and change things.

Koscielny deserves the armband, but is he vocal enough? Does he have the right mixture of fear, adulation and respect?

Only the squad can answer that, but at times last season we looked a little rudderless, games slipping from our grasp because of our sloppiness, mistakes that could have been weeded out by a captain who makes sure everyone is accountable.

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When was the last time we had a skipper who gave the team that 5% that lifted them above the ignominy of another poor show?

Previously, we awarded the armband to our stars as a makeweight of sorts, another thing to add to the plate that is offered to a star that is looking at pastures new; “Instead of leaving, please stay, you can be the captain of the team.”

Patrick Vieira then, was probably the last time we had someone who was the embodiment of a captain, someone who naturally has an air that lends itself to turning heads, opening ears, inspiring performances.

Koscielny is the nearest we have to that in our squad. He never lets the side down, he gives his all. Those are mandatory for the captain, they need to show the level that is expected.

We may need to look for a player in the window that has the DNA strand that is true leadership though. With Koscielny on his last legs and Rambo no longer a Gooner, we are in more need than ever of a player to take the armband.

Our rivals have players of that ilk, or at least captains who can scream a player into playing a little better. Cesar Azpilicueta and Vincent Kompany especially are true leaders and give their sides that little extra when they struggle.

Now Raul Sanllehi and Emery must put someone on their shopping list that isn’t weighed down by the armband. Instead, they see it as an honour and use it to eke everything than can out of themselves and their comrades.

Mkhitaryan Will Come Good

Rotation is part and parcel of the modern game.

With the majority of successful sides playing between 55-70 games in a season on average, a well-stocked squad is fundamental.

A lack of numbers in any position is sure to be exploited by the rigours of a domestic and European campaign – something we Arsenal fans can painfully attest to.

On more than a few occasions we have seen our defence brutally exposed by a succession of injuries – centre-backs, left and right-backs, none were safe, and it took the powers of adaptation and youth for us to be able to field a recognisable backline.

So, an ample squad is necessary.

It does have a negative though.

Players and managers often cite a lack of match rhythm for poor form. It seems that players need a run of successive games in order to attain the zenith of their skills and talents. Like fine-tuning a radio to oust the static, each minute inches the player ever closer to that halcyon slice of time that sees one of our players hit the purple zone and show us all exactly what they are capable of.

This seems to be the issue for Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

The Armenian has given us more than a few assists and goals since his arrival as part of the swap deal that saw wantaway Chilean Alexis go to United.

The player with the scrabble-winning surname has one goal and three assists at the time of writing (this was written on the cusp of us facing Wolves on 11 Nov), from 11 games. Not exactly terrible, but far from what his early form promised.

When Mkhitaryan arrived, he linked up instantly with former Dortmund brethren Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. His displays against Everton and Watford particularly, were vibrant and intricate, full of texture and the air of a master locksmith. It looked like we had an excellent accomplice to Mesut Ozil.

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This season though, has seen Mkhi restricted to mostly Europa League and League cup appearances. The first three games saw him in the eleven, but since then he has started only three more – with only two of them coming in a row.

It means that our playmaker has not been able to edge toward his top level, and it has seen a small portion of fans round on him.

Form is temporary, class is permanent, and Mkhitaryan has already shown in flashes what he brings to the team. He has also shown at Dortmund and United what he can do at the top level – if given the chance.

Emery has already shown he has no hesitation to put Mkhi in for the big games – being selected for the Liverpool draw ahead of the in-form Iwobi speaks volumes.

Injuries will bite, and Mkhitaryan will get a run of starts in the near future – that much is certain.

What isn’t certain is will us fans keep in mind that the circumstances haven’t been kind to the attacker, and we are yet to see him fully stretch out and enjoy himself?

We will see the slide-rule passes, clever finishes and intricate boxwork, and it will become vital as the matches come thick and fast. He will play his part, and despite his lack of gametime, Mkhitaryan has not moaned. Instead he has knuckled down and kept training hard.

Mkhitaryan at his best is among the finest playmakers in the Premier League. We have a hell of a player on our books, and we most certainly got the better end of the swap deal with United.

Mkhitaryan will come good – and his clever play fits seamlessly with our style. Mkhi is most definitely a Gunner.

Emery’s Best Eleven?

Plenty of changes are afoot under the new Unai Emery regime.

The refreshing winds of variance are rushing through The Emirates, as the Spaniard implements the struts that will support the foundation of his tenure.

New coaching methods, new coaching staff and most importantly – new tactics.

By and large, he has the same squad that limped to an underwhelming 6th place finish last season. The five new signings are a transfusion of sorts, breathing vitality into the body of the squad, hopefully treating the rust that was beginning to set in at the tail-end of Wenger’s long reign.

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Still, it will be what he does with the players who underperformed last year that will define his era. Will the new boys buy into the ethos? More importantly, will the other players adapt in the face of such sweeping changes, especially because of the stark contrast of what they were used to?

Simply put, they have to, but even if they do, the next step is a pretty big one – fine-tuning the tactics and formation to suit the players we have.

One of the big hurdles to this has already become apparent – fitting in Lacazette and Aubameyang into the same side.

We are blessed with two strikers that have a deep relationship with the back of the net. Both have proven they can score goals for fun, and the bond they have created between each other in training seems to be a strong one.

If this happens, we will have a very strong attack, but Emery is known to adapt his side in the face of varying opposition. So if we have a trip to Old Trafford, that would probably suit just one striker, with an extra midfielder to stifle the home side.

When we have a game where we can dictate play, then Laca and Auba will be called for. But that means we need a sacrificial lamb – and each candidate has a certain quality we could really do with to unlock defences.

Mesut Ozil is chief playmaker and the one who can craft a passage of play that goes against the grain. He may have lacked consistency in the past, but we are better off with him in the team than without.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is capable of much. The Armenian scored and assisted 20 plus in the same season in his best season at Dortmund – and there is nothing to suggest that he can’t replicate that at Arsenal. He had promising signs last season, and his link-up play with Aubameyang borders on intuitive.

Then there is Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman’s late runs into the box are unreadable, and often come late in the game where tired defenders are even less capable of stymying him. Ramsey is also a better defensive player than the above two, and can add solidity.

One of these will have to be put on the bench to incorporate the deadly duo of Auba and Laca. The pair could rip defences apart, but we will have to be bereft of one of our most creative lights to make it happen.

Unless we adopt another formation change. We play Ramsey alongside Torreira in the centre of the park, with Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang playing behind Lacazette. It is an extroverted eleven, but it includes our best players, something that could make the difference in the tight games.

Perhaps it could be a plan B? Say we are a goal down with twenty minutes to go, chuck Laca on and switch the formation up – and let rip.

Either way, Emery has some tinkering to do – and this will take time. We may not see our best eleven under Emery for months, but rest assured when it is finally found, we will soar up the table.

Cardiff Vs Arsenal Match News

Off the mark, but not out of the woods.

 

That would be a fair assessment of last week’s win over West Ham.

 

There are a few negatives to take from the victory last weekend over the Hammers, but there were far more positives to show that Unai Emery’s new regime is kicking into gear, although it is far from the finished article.

 

Our defence is probably the most worrisome point of conjecture. West Ham on more than one occasion took great delight in probing our high line, and while we held firm, Petr Cech saved us on a few openings we should never have had.

 

Still, it is a work in progress, and with a visit to shot-shy Cardiff, we can hold out hope that this game will see our first clean sheet of the season.

 

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To be honest though, three points and a decent performance would suffice for most!

 

Team News

 

Emery revealed in his press conference that Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Laurent Koscielny and Carl Jenkinson are still some way from being fit, with the Bosnian the nearest to returning to first-team training.

 

Mesut Ozil has recovered from illness and will most likely play a part, but will it be from the bench? The refreshing thing about Emery is that he is giving all players a chance, but poor performances are seeing changes – just ask Xhaka, Ramsey and Ozil himself.

 

We could see the much heralded duo of  Lacazette and Aubameyang start together for the first time. With Neil Warnock enjoying two clean sheets from his first three league games, the emphasis will be on our side to break down a stubborn, rigid and packed defence.

 

I have a hunch that Torreira may make his first start ahead of Guendouzi, given the physical edge that Cardiff will exert on us. The Uruguayan will relish the battle.

 

That will be a lot easier with both our French and Gabon strikers on the pitch simultaneously.

 

Our Opponent

 

Warnock has two 0-0 draws and an opening day defeat so far, and midweek saw them humbled by Championship side Norwich. The experienced Bluebirds manager will see that Arsenal still haven’t cemented their defensive style, so set plays will be decisive.

 

He will have to make do without Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, after he was injured last weekend, and the pace he would have offered would have been a valuable outlet. No goals so far, but that isn’t to say they will be without a threat.

 

Predictions

 

Cardiff are looking not only for their first win, but their first goal of this Premier League season, and I’ve got a horrible feeling they’ll get it in some horrible mess of a scramble in our box.

 

I do think we’ll win though, and I think it will be comprehensive.  It all hinges on if we can break them early. Warnock will be keen to frustrate us, so an early goal would change the complexion of Warnock’s tactics.

 

If we score inside the first half – I think a 4-1 win.  If we don’t, then I’m going for a 2-1, and an awkward game for all concerned. It is no coincidence that Cardiff’s opponents in the last two games have had red cards. They know how to fight.

 

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Monreal, Torreira, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang