Tag Archives: perez

Summer Clearout? Or Second Chance?

Published in Arsenal Mania.

At the start of this season, the majority lauded what we perceived to be the finished article. Finally, after what had seemed an age, our squad had the necessary tools to compete with the very best in our league.

Year after year of putting up with strict budgets and excuses from the Board and Arsene Wenger had begun to take its toll on our patience. Promises made and subsequently broken regarding our competitiveness only served to push our tolerance levels to their highest.

It was time, and like a Hollywood script, we finally rode into the screen in the nick of time with the winning formula.

Granit Xhaka had performed admirably for Switzerland in Euro2016, and his displays in the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach had the experts purring about his talent. Our midfield had been crying out for a potent mixture of pugilist and transitional master, and Xhaka from deep had shown he was adept at both.

We had all been painfully aware of our defensive shortcomings, with Mertesacker getting no younger and Gabriel yet to prove his worth. When we finally met the asking price Valencia were asking for German international Shkodran Mustafi, it appeared excellent business.

Mustafi was in La Liga’s team of the year in his time with Valencia. He was a regular in Joachim Low’s Germany squad. In his first months as a Gunner, he did not taste defeat.

It appeared as though we had finally found the secret recipe. Our patience had been rewarded. 

The cherry on the cake was Lucas Perez. 

The striker from Deportivo La Corun had an impressive goal return, and his clever touches in and around the box looked like we had the perfect attacker to complement our style of play.

Fast forward to the present day, and a large percentage of our fans think our players are suddenly not good enough.

What has changed, aside from results? 

Results are the currency on which football lives on. When we are not achieving results, then everything is open for discussion. 

Our level of talent in the squad has not changed, so why do a large percentage of our fans now think we need a clearout?

It is down to mentality.

When the chips are down, it is the competitiveness, the desire for victory that picks up players from their haunches and ensures they carry on. Well, an unacceptable run of results from January through April cost us dearly and have left this season as the worst under Wenger, but nearly every player has at times appeared to be downtrodden and lacking the spirit to fight their way out of this problem.

And it is exactly this that we need. That Arsene Wenger needs in order for our team to start crawling back up the league. As the players seem unable to reverse the fortunes on the pitch and sometimes don’t appear as if they want to – does the blame for this fall at the manager’s or the players feet?

Both. The players we have at our disposal are far better than results suggest, and it is quite obvious the current regimen does not fit well for our players. They have seemed ill at ease. Our players don’t look like they want to put in the effort.

Whether that is because they are assured of their place and have lost their edge, or it is down to tactics is unanswerable. The only people who know the root cause of our apparent demise are the ones who are in our dressing room every week.

A clearout of our players may be a bit hasty though. Early in the season, they were good enough in all of our eyes, as results were of a sufficient standard to see us near where we perceive them to be. Now the results have dried up, but these are the same players as before.

A different manager may just be the exact ingredient needed to summon the best from the players who are not doing the business for us right now. It may need someone in the squad to finally step up and give them the tongue-lashing they sorely need. 

It may require this group to wake up and realise they are doing our club and our badge a great disservice, and they MUST do better.

Either way, we have seen they are capable of doing better than they are right now. Have we all become unable to discern what is simply bad form and what is a lack of skill?

Some players have worn out their ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card, and some deserve the benefit of the doubt. A lot will happen in the summer and pre-season, and it will tell us if these men have the fire in their bellies that we need, or if the fire has been put out. 

Arsenal Vs Bayern Munich – The Preview

This match is exactly what the football doctor ordered. 

After our poor performance at Anfield in the weekend, falling out of the Champions League places and our star player reportedly rowing with the rest of the squad, the visit of German giants Bayern Munich is not the best opportunity for returning to some semblance of form.

The first leg of this Last16 tie saw hope quickly vanish for the Gunners once Laurent Koscielny went off through injury, as within nine minutes of the captain leaving the field, Bayern had scored three goals.

This tie is beyond any realistic hope of rescue, but a win over Ancelotti’s men could restore some pride and some momentum after recent results have ground the cannon to a halt.

Arsenal will more than likely play their strongest side, even if this game could be perceived as a dead rubber. Mesut Ozil has been ruled out again through illness, but what of Alexis Sanchez? Surely, even if the Chilean is at odds with some teammates, Sanchez must play?

Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka did not put up a good account of themselves against Liverpool, and with Aaron Ramsey now fit and raring to go, the Welshman must be a good shout for a start. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also playing well, could we see a wholly different midfield combo? 

Alex Iwobi has been indifferent of late, but with regular playmaker Ozil already confirmed as missing, the man known as ‘Big17’ will more than likely retain his place. Olivier Giroud returned to the side in our last match, but a lack of service did not help the Frenchman in his bid to hold down a spot. Will Arsene again opt for a direct approach?

Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez have performed admirably in their last appearances, and the England striker and Spaniard must be hoping for a chance. They cannot do much more, although with Welbeck having played only three days ago, Wenger may opt to conserve his fitness.

On the face of things, with our squad so strong in numbers, the odds of rotation and to include hungry players is strong. Perhaps a shake up to remind some players their place isn’t guaranteed is exactly what is needed.

There are no signs Carlo Ancelotti is taking this tie lightly despite already having one foot in the Quarter-Finals. Mats Hummels, Franck Ribery, Xabi Alonso and Arjen Robben were all rested in the weekend and all are expected to feature. 

Arsenal do possess a great record at The Emirates in the Champions League, but the majority of the losses they have incurred have been in the knockout stages. There is a sliver of hope though, as Bayern have won one of their last six away games in the Champions League. 

Slim our hopes may be, but we have beaten them before, and we can do again. We will not progress, that chance was dropped in the first leg, but we can win and remind everyone – including our own players – that we are capable of so much more.

A protest is planned before the game and banners will apparently be displayed during the game. Whether we agree or not with the methods, we have all witnessed a lot of games where we have been sub-par. We are all at our limit, and some display their displeasure in different ways. As long as the team is supported during the game then that is all that matters.

I will be attending the game and you can expect a detailed match report after the match, and I can expect a hoarse voice the next day as I will do what I always do when I go to the game – I will sing and chant until my throat cannot take any more.

Predicted Lineup; Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Theo, Iwobi, Alexis, Giroud.

Predicted Scoreline – Call me crazy, but I’m going for a 2-0 win. 

Southampton 0-5 Arsenal: 5 Keypoints From the FA Cup Tie

Wow, talk about a contrast.

Last week we saw our full strength side scrap and scrape a 2-1 win over Burnley at home, thanks to a 97th minute penalty.

This week, we saw a supposed understrength side absolutely take Southampton to the cleaners in their own digs, to the tune of five unanswered goals.

As expected, Arsene Wenger made a host of changes for this tie – ten in total – before he left the team in the hands of his Assistant Manager Steve Bould. His four match ban after his dealings with the fourth official started with this match, and with an unfamiliar side named and a somewhat bogey side to face, things were looking dicey.

Claude Puel also rang the changes with ten differences from midweek, but he and his talented youngsters could not have foreseen what was to come. 

Arsenal fans rejoiced as their was the long-awaited first start since last season for Danny Welbeck, and he started up top. There was also an immediate return to action for the fit-again Theo Walcott, and both were to show they were worthy of inclusion.

Keiran Gibbs, Rob Holding, Lucas Perez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Maitland-Niles and The Jeff himself were all part of the side, and The Ox and Maitland-Niles formed an unusual central midfield pairing. They would face Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jordie Clasie in the centre of the park – and absolutely boss it.

Arsenal started on the front foot, and it took only fifteen minutes for ‘Dat Guy’ to make his mark. He showed good control to take Lucas’s pass, and his high finish off the crossbar showed excellent composure. 

Seven minutes later, he had a brace. The source was The Ox this time, but the result was the same; good control and smart finish.

With ten minutes left, Arsenal killed the game. Super Danny Welbeck was again heavily involved, but he wasn’t the finisher. He instead showed great awareness to cross for the lurking Theo Walcott for a close range finish.

There were more chances for the Gunners, and it seemed as if they would put the tie to bed before the half time whistle, but at half time, the score remained 3-0. The Saints were not at the races, but even if they were bang on form, Arsenal would have quelled their force.

The second half saw no revival, nor a collapse from the Gunners. It was again more of the same, as the away team kept their boot firmly on the jugular of the home side. They continued to create and run at Southampton, who had no answer to this incredible show of force. Danny Welbeck was withdrawn from the action on 64 minutes before he could grab a fairytale hat-trick, but there would be a treble in the game.

On 69 minutes, Theo grabbed his second. Alexis, a second half sub, picked him out in the box and a smart first time finish into the far corner gave Arsenal the fourth. Florian Gardos and Jack Stephens – the Saints centre-backs – were left spinning by the artistry of Lucas and Alexis, and the rampaging runs of Theo and Welbeck.

Theo grabbed his hat-trick and his 99th Arsenal goal, when Lucas’s ball from a Southampton attack found a running Alexis. He had two men on his tail, but he held up play until Theo was in the box. Another first time finish and he had the match ball. 

That was that, and Arsenal were emphatically through into the Fifth round of the Cup. Here are some hot talking points from the game;



Competition fires the side

This team, Theo aside, have been on the outskirts of the first eleven this season. They would have lacked rhythm, sharpness and cohesion. They showed that hunger is one of the most important traits of all, perhaps more so than the others aforementioned. They were all on fire and wanted to put on a show. Rotation may just be necessary as we have a large squad, but also because these players need to play to give a reminder to the manager.


Maximum effort gains reward

At 4-0 up and the game signed, sealed and delivered, Southampton started to foray into Arsenal territory. The sight that warmed my heart more than the goals and the win, more than anything really, was seeing The Ox and Theo chasing back to help out with the defending in their own box. It was these young men showing they had grown up and they want to play a big part and they are willing to put in the hard yards. This is exactly what we need.


Lucas is so effective

Eight starts, and eight times he has been involved directly in a goal. He grabbed an assist this time, and he looks so assured on the ball. His cool head and great touch should be utilised more often as the season progresses, and I’m confident he will not let us down. His assist for Welbeck was sumptuous.


Welbeck to play a big part 












Whenever he has put on our shirt, Welbeck has given his all. This is the reason why our fans universally adore him. His pace, his favouring of balls ahead of him rather than to feet, his touch and his defensive qualities make him a true asset. If his fitness holds, then he could very well nail down a starting spot. Even if he doesn’t start all the games, he will have a huge bearing on our season. Love you Welbz – and that celebration!


Holding holds his own again

What a prospect. He again showed nous way beyond his years in this performance. He will have tougher games, but he is looking every inch an England player for the future. If he continues this growth, then a starting spot for Arsenal when Koscielny steps down could be on the cards. One step at a time at the moment though. He needs to continue what he is doing, but you can’t fail to be excited by what he is capable of.

There was a lot going on during this set of ninety minutes, far more than the above. Particularly impressive was Ainslie Maitland-Niles starting in the centre. He seems to have the confidence of the boss after starting a few cup games this season, and he has a great touch, as well as physical strength for a slight frame. The Ox played well in the centre too, and he appears to have grown this season. 

Next up is a game against Watford on Tuesday, before we travel to Stamford Bridge in the weekend. Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech, Coquelin, Ramsey, and co. Be aware of the competition breathing down your neck, step it up like they have. 

Bournemouth 3-3 Arsenal – 5 Key Points From The Game

​Phew.

Take a deep breath, there was a lot to take in and digest.

Bournemouth, for sixty five minutes, were the better side, and will feel hard done by after decimating the Gunners for the majority of the game. Forget the three goals they scored, they should have scored about five. 

The decision to bring back Shkodran Mustafi in place of the improved Gabriel did not pay off, as Cherries striker Calum Wilson and Josh King both terrorised the Gunners backline and made them look foolish at times. The usual fare of sensible defending went out of the window as even ushering the ball out of play seemed beyond us at times. 

It was flabbergasting, Arsenal were unable to build the basic foundation to attack. Bournemouth got the goal their play deserved, as Charlie Daniels took advantage of a hesitant Bellerin and cut inside the dithering Spaniard before dispatching past Petr Cech.

Five minutes later, Eddie Howe’s side were in dreamland. 

Granit Xhaka planted his arm on a Bournemouth player and applied weight. Whatever the standard of foul, it was still an effort made to hinder. It was a penalty. Naive from the Swiss midfielder, but Calum Wilson didn’t mind. He put the spot kick straight down the middle to score his second penalty against Arsenal in two games.

The rest of the first half was a mixture of tepid Gunners possession and Bournemouth looking dangerous.Francis Coquelin went off injured, and was replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain, and he took the right hand side spot that Ramsey had, as the Welshman reverted back to central midfield.

 It was a small mercy when referee Michael Oliver blew for half time.

The second half began with at least a little intent from Arsenal. We probed and passed, with Alexis dropping deeper and deeper as his frustration grew. Then, a hammer blow.

Ryan Fraser was set free to take on Hector Bellerin in a foot race. It was pretty even to e fair to Fraser, but Hector edged it. He then was shoved in the back in similar style to when Xhaka gave the penalty away, but Oliver did not blow his whistle. The game carried on, as did Fraser, who slotted it through a prone Petr Cech to put Bournemouth three goals up.

It was perhaps the most demoralising showing for quite some time. Was it down to Arsenal playing poorly? Partly, but Eddie Howe deserves enormous credit. They did not stop.

Then, a lifeline, which was barely deserved. The Ox put a cross in and Giroud, under intense pressure, managed to flick the ball with the back of his head. The ball fell to Alexis at the back stick who dived in to head into the net.

With twenty minutes to go, Arsenal needed another two to salvage a point. They needed only five to grab another. 

Lucas had come on only minutes before for Alex Iwobi, and he took advantage of a smart flick from Giroud to swivel and plant a volley into the far corner. A great goal, and with fifteen minutes to go, the Gunners could see light at the end of the tunnel.

Then, another turning point. Simon Francis was red carded for a foul on Aaron Ramsey, and hope became ever more tangible.

Then, on the ninetieth minute, it was man of the hour Olivier Giroud again. He finally won a header in a congested box, and the ball found the far corner. 

Salvation.

His scorpion celebration was as good as his goal. 

This is a much summarised version of events, but here are five key points that arose from the match:




Play with intent, win the game










We played on the front foot for the last twenty minutes. We scored our three goals in that time. When we have played in this manner, utilising our speed of thought, we have usually gone home with the points. Why can’t we do this every game? WHY????


Third away game without a win

Our losses to Everton, City and now this lucky draw represent one point from nine in away games. Not good enough. With six teams vying for the top four, and the title disappearing into the distance, this is not up to standard. Must do better.



Ramsey’s first game back, cut him some slack

It was Rambo’s first start since November and he was wide on the right for the first half. At times he was the only one who looked like he was making any effort. He never shied away from possession, and always tried to make things happen. He deserves credit rather than lambasting for the things that didn’t work.



Bellerin had a mare

Only two days ago, I tweeted that I thought Bellerin was the Premiership’s best full-back. Oh how my mouth loves to make me seem a fool. This was his worst game since his debut versus Dortmund where he was given a baptism of fire and some marshmallows after being roasted. He looked switched off, and appeared powerless in the face of shoulder barges and the usual physical fare dished up on a weekly basis. The boy is good, but he can’t rest on his laurels.



The fightback showed great spirit

We played badly. All Gooners will be sadly familiar with this blip. The twenty minutes where we staged our fightback was powerful stuff though. Whilst this ensued, thoughts ranged from “Why couldn’t we have done this earlier?” to “wow, come on you Arsenal!!!” It was inspired, but needless. It should never have got to that stage.
There was much more to write about. Mustafi was pure awful at times and Gabriel deserved to keep his place on form. Bournemouth probably deserved the points as for sixty minutes, their press and their drive were unrivalled. 

Olivier Giroud also deserves a special mention. Yet again, he rose to the top like Gallic creme as he set up first Alexis, then Lucas, and then scored the equaliser. Cometh the hour, cometh the fantastically bearded man. When he goes through his next dry spell, hark back to this moment when we can try to remember how useful he really is. 
Lastly, Petr cech must step up. He was great against Palace, but it looked like he couldn’t stop anything in this game.

This hasn’t been the most coherent of blogs, but it was written in the style of the game. Frenetic, crazy and rammed full of points. 

Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace – 5 Key Points

​Boxing Day brought us the win we craved after two successive defeats, and this 2-0 win gave us the gift of returning form – as well as another vital win.

For Sam Allardyce, it was only the second opportunity for him to gauge what reinforcements he would need in the January transfer window. While Zaha, Cabaye, Benteke and their teammates were trying to adjust to new team orders, Arsene Wenger also had to shuffle his pack and change things up a little.

With Olivier Giroud scoring the late winner last week against West Brom, and with Theo Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain both suffering with varying grades of injury – The Ox made it to the bench – it meant Giroud had another start to assert himself.

And boy, didn’t he do just that.

The other news before the game was that Mesut Ozil wasn’t just missing from the side – he wasn’t even in the squad! Lots of buzz revolved around the German and a departure, or a fallout – but such is the nature of the beast, neither were correct. Ozil simply had what millions of us regular people have suffered from recently – the cold. 

Alexis played in his spot, with Lucas excitingly drafted in and Alex Iwobi completed the three behind Olivier. Francis Coquelin was left out for Mohamed Elneny, which would be his last match before departing for the Africa Cup of Nations, and Gabriel stayed in the team even with the return of Shkodran Mustafi to fitness.

Crystal Palace included former Gunner hatchet man Mathieu Flamini in their side, but a reunion with his best bud Mesut Ozil was taken from the French midfielder. 

Instead, he was given the runaround by Xhaka and Elneny.

There was so much to take from this game, but here are five key points from the ninety minutes, that I felt were the most pertinent;




That goal must be revelled in…































Olivier Giroud is much more than a simple target man. We have been privy to his fine front-post finishes for some time now and we have seen that he has finesse as well as tenacity. This goal though, deserves its place amongst the pantheon of simply amazing Arsenal goals. Just enjoy it. He may not be everyone’s Alan Smith or Ian Wright, but he is damn effective. 



Mentality is just as important

Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka have been virtually untested as a duo, and that would have spelled trouble in previous months/years. They played though, with unrestricted passion and movement, whilst not forgetting their defensive duties. It was a great performance from the pair, and proof that if they click into the positivity that the attack brings, they can overcome a lack of chemistry.


Elneny is away

Before this game, I was beginning to forget how effective our Egyptian can be. He hadn’t shown it this season, but how frustrating it is he picks this game to have his best of the season. Elneny always kept it moving, shackled any runs from Cabaye and weighed in to attacks when he could. Xhaka was a great counterweight, and it was so pleasant to see things simply work out for a change!



Alex Iwobi has responded













The young Nigerian inevitably slumped a little after blazing onto the scene last season. His touch evaded him, and the tricks and flicks that had worked so well were now like wet fireworks. His last two games have seen him back to his best, making the difference in tight areas and buzzing around the box, hungry for possession. He was fearless and must be applauded. He will make errors, but players who try the audacious always will.



Lucas starts!

It has been a while! We have pleaded for more game time for the talented Spaniard, and this was the result. He looked pumped, and his direct runs were a menace to James Tomkins, Scott Dann and co. He may not have grabbed a goal, but he showed enough to assuage any doubts for now. He hugged the wing when he needed space, and made intelligent runs when he could. A satisfying display.

There was far more from the game. Alex Iwobi’s goal showed great composure, Gabriel played extremely well and has improved with the extra game time – no surprise there – and Bellerin was tireless in both halves of the pitch. It is reassuring he has recently signed a contract extension! Cech also had a second consecutive clean sheet, and he earned his corn with a string of saves just after we scored our second goal

A comfortable win, a good performance and three points to put us ahead of City. I’ll take that!!

Basel 1-4 Arsenal: 5 Keypoints From The Match

This match was set up to be the typical Arsenal Euro tie.

A necessity for rotation would see a weakened side rock up to St Jakob Park and lose with an insipid performance – only to see the result they were hanging on for come to fruition. 

Well, the script didn’t come into play, as the Gunners ran riot and won handsomely – all while rotating the squad just enough to rest some first teamers. 

Not only that, but Ludogorets defied the odds and grabbed a point in Paris – thus handing the Gunners top spot in the group.

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid may lay in wait in the knockout stages, but Arsenal have finished top of their group for the first time in five years.

A hat-trick from Lucas Perez and a fourth from Alex Iwobi earned the win in Switzerland, and the potentially tricky match against Stoke on Saturday will be a lot easier knowing Mustafi, Cech, Theo and a few others will be far fresher than if they were to have played against Basel.

Also, confidence will have been imbued within some of our players who have flitted in and out of the side. 

All positives! 

Here are 5 key points from the 90mins:
Lucas Perez up to speed







The Spaniard was only declared fully fit last week, and played in the EFL Cup loss to Southampton. Yet he showed great instinct to score his first two and grabbed his Hattrick with his right foot with a smart finish. Lucas could be a great option with so many fixtures coming up.
Gibbs with 3 assists

Gibbs has been the epitome of professionalism while Montreal has been enjoying first choice status, but he hasn’t been resting on his laurels. The Englishman has improved, and his final ball and attacking runs caused havoc against Basel. Great to see.
Alexis and Özil given 40winks

Much of the talk before the game was whether our two star players would be given a rest. They weren’t, as Wenger chased the unlikely prospect of top spot in the group. It paid off, and the two players were taken off in the 74th minute. Not much, but better than the whole 90. Every little will help with the slew of games coming up.
Holding highly regarded

Rob Holding was given another start, and the young lad continues to impress. Alongside Koscielny, he showed excellent positioning and aerial prowess. If he continues this progress, what a player we will have in the future.
Top spot matters

People will deride the fact that we have finished 1st, stating that we will still likely get a tough draw with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid potential opponents. What does come into play will be home advantage – the second leg will be at home. A slim plus, but a plus nonetheless – and any advantage is a good one in the knockout stages.
There was more to take from the game, such as another solid game from Gabriel and Iwobi looking a little more assured than of late, but the above really stood out as the big talking points of the game.

We took top spot, we won convincingly again and we took care of our squad. 

Good times. As Arsenal fans, we should enjoy them when they’re here. That’s why we are fans. 

Onwards to the Stoke game! 

Arsenal Vs Southampton – EFL Cup Preview

The EFL Cup Quarter-Finals are next up on the agenda for Arsenal, and with the trophy a mere three wins away, a strong team selection will be on the cards for the Gunners.

The importance of the tie is one reason, but the squad depth is another reason why Arsenal’s lineup will be stronger than in previous years. Established players will be champing at the bit to be involved, and this will benefit Arsene Wenger’s bid to lift this trophy for the first time in his distinguished career at the helm of Arsenal.

The opposition travelling to The Emirates will not exactly give easy passage to the Semi-Finals however. Claude Puel’s Southampton are a strong unit, and the seemingly endless procession of talented youngsters coming from the South Coast will be pumped for the game, as well as some of their own bigger stars. Arsenal were victorious in their Premier League meeting at The Emirates in September – running out 2-1 winners – but league form doesn’t apply in the majority of cup games, and this will be no different.

In terms of who will make up the home team, the EFL Cup and its previous incarnations have always provided a small portal for the masses of Gooners to view the potential future of the club, and despite the many players who will want to play, Arsene Wenger will no doubt include at least a couple of the second string kids.

One who is a strong shout to play is Ainslie Maitland-Niles, and his versatility has seen him play at right-back and in centre midfield so far in previous rounds. Another who may play is Rob Holding, who has more than impressed since his summer move from Bolton Wanderers.The much heralded Jeff Reine-Adelaide played in the last round, and the talented Frenchman should get the nod this time around. 

Emiliano Martinez has played all of the EFL Cup games so far, and the 24yr old will no doubt keep the gloves for this game, but the rest of the team is harder to decipher.

A surprise inclusion is the return of Lucas Perez. The Spaniard has shown remarkable powers of recovery to be included in the plans for this game, and Wenger has said he is ready to go during his latest press conference. The striker could well get the striker spot, but one player who must be included is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The Ox scored both goals in the previous round’s win over Reading, and he has scored the last three goals the club have scored in this competition. Whilst his confidence may be low after a sub-par performance in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth, the best remedy for such a malaise is a strong showing in the next game.

Claude Puel will no doubt fancy his chances in this Cup, and his team selection will be more than a match for the home team. Despite Southampton exiting the cup at this stage in their last seven attempts, the brand of football they play will always grant them chances. Arsenal’s shuffled defence will have to be switched on to safeguard their own hopes. 

Josh Sims, 19, will miss the trip to The Emirates, and his livewire debut game in the 1-0 win over Everton in the weekend showcased the latest prodigy to hail from the club. James Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett, Sam McQueen and Sofiane Boufal could all play, and Boufal in particular will pose a real threat. The mazy French wideman is highly rated for good reason, and returns from injury to make the squad.

So, yet another match, but a golden opportunity to make the semi-finals of a competition we haven’t lifted since 1993. Key players will be rested for this game, so the players who do take to the pitch have a great chance to extend their playing time. 

No harm can come from progression. Success breeds success and winning is a habit. 

Predicted Lineup – Martinez, Jenkinson, Gabriel, Holding, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi, Lucas

Predicted scoreline – 3-2 Arsenal

Arsenal 2-0 Reading – 5 Key Stats From The Game

Arsenal progressed serenely to the Quarter-Final stage of the EFL Cup, with a straightforward victory over Jaap Stam’s Reading side, as Arsene Wenger gave many of his young talents a chance to shine on the big stage.

I was lucky enough to attend this game, and after the pilgrimage to Piebury and The Tollington, myself,  @GreeneBantern and @SimplyEnigmatic made our way to the stadium. 

Just as we left the watering hole, the team was announced, and it was fair to say the biggest surprise was seeing Ainslie Maitland-Niles named in the centre of midfield. Whilst the talent is there, to be given a central role is a huge responsibility and it must have been an honour and extra pressure simultaneously for the youngster.

Just before we entered The Emirates, I must add that I saw a dear friend who I hadn’t seen in over fifteen years. A fellow Gooner and an erudite chap, it was honestly great to shoot the breeze after so long. 

Arsenal really does have the capacity to improve your day! 

Back to the game, and Martinez once again started in goal, but it was in defence that perhaps carried most danger. 

The seats we had in the East Stand allowed for excellent viewing, and they provided us with the chance to really dissect each performance. It was like a FIFA game, as we were level with the halfway line, as opposed to our usual seats in the North Bank. 

The promising Rob Holding was alongside Gabriel in the heart of the backline. Normally the requirement for an inexperienced defender is to be partnered with a seasoned veteran, and the rash Brazilian is not exactly the sage influence that would soothe a fretting 21 year old.

We needn’t have worried.

Mohamed Elneny continued in the centre of midfield, and the attack looked full of vibrancy, with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide just behind Lucas Perez as the sole striker.

The last few occasions we have faced the Royals, they have provided the sternest of tests, but new coach Jaap Stam seems to have instructed his team to play calmly and play out from the back, which played into the hands of the Gunners.

We started well, and fan favourite Carl Jenkinson had a great chance to break the deadlock, only for Royals keeper Ali Al-Habsi to parry, and Jenkinson could only head the second chance over.

Reading stood off Arsenal, inviting the young home team to try and play around them – and on a few occasions we did.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the man who put Arsenal a goal up, and it was the away teams insistence on starting moves from the back which gave The Ox a chance to shoot as two Reading defenders backed off – and he simply picked out the far corner. 

It stemmed from the pressure we put on a flustered defence, but the pressing died a little as Reading started to push a little, but it seemed as if Arsenal could break through at will.

The Ox’s second goal came from Rob Holding beating his man on the right of the penalty area, and when second half substitute Olivier Giroud laid the ball off, The Ox fired a bullet toward goal. A deflection meant it eluded Al-Habsi – and the key deflection may just have come from Alex Iwobi.

There was much more to see during the ninety minutes, but here are five points that occurred on the pitch that are worth reading about:




Elneny Man of the Match

The Egyptian’s first start Vs Middlesbrough in the weekend showed how rusty from lack of minutes Elneny was. This game required a steady hand on the tiller though. So many kids on the pitch that need an experienced colleague to dictate when required, and Elneny was that man. So often he was the player who put his foot on the ball and sprayed it wide to stretch play. So often he won possession when Reading were just starting to build a head of steam. Elneny was the player we needed, and he showed that he is more than able.




The Ox deserves some credit

Too often I have written of the Ox’s failures, but his display in this match showed his maturity and initiative. We are all aware he has the talent, but in this game, he was the player who took the game by the scruff of the neck in the flat spots of play, and he made things happen. He was also defensively diligent, which is a rare occurrence. I dearly hope this is a turned corner, as he was a delight to watch.




Rob Holding is all that

With a central defensive pairing of Gabriel and Holding, the potential for disaster was high. Not that they are incompetent, but chemistry is a huge factor for centre-backs, and these two have not played together since pre-season. Plus, Gabriel is known to be a tad on the rash side, but this game needed him to be the wise head for his younger partner. However, Holding showed positional astuteness, great instincts, and his physicality was just as good as his Brazilian colleague. Holding looked like a defender about six or seven years his senior. If he continues his trajectory, then greatness beckons. A really classy game for Holding.




Reading should have pressed

If the Royals had adjusted their game plan according to the Arsenal teamsheet, then they would have harried their opposition. A less-experienced player is usually more inclined to panic on the big stage, but Reading kept to their gameplan, which meant they would invite pressure and when in possession, attempt to pass and move. They didn’t, thankfully, give Arsenal as many nightmares as in previous cup games, but to be fair to Arsenal, I think that they would have coped. Still, Jaap Stam could have thrown caution to the wind.





Lucas Perez looks tasty

The swarthy Spaniard was given another shot as he was in the previous round, and although he didn’t register on the scoresheet or provide an assist, this performance was maybe a little more telling. Lucas was industrious, and harried as much as he could in his lone role. He had little to work with, but his endeavours were worthy of a reward he never received in the form of a goal. If he continues to put in as much effort as he did in this game, then he will be a fantastic asset.

There was much more to write about. Much has been made of the man known only as ‘Jeff,’ and he was tidy enough in possession, but there was little thrills or spills from the exciting talent. His time will come. Alex Iwobi looked a little tired but that is completely understandable, and Jenkinson impressed on the right of defence. Also worth noting is Keiran Gibbs, who played in the stalemate in the weekend, but showed no ill-effects. He led the line well as Skipper.

All in all, a comfortable enough victory, but not without a spirited if uninspired opposition. The future rounds will be tougher, but the fact we are still in the cup should be celebrated. It gives our fringe players a vital runout, and any chance for silverware should be embraced.

Arsenal Vs Reading – EFL Cup Preview

Three days after a disappointing draw against Middlesbrough in the Premier League, Arsenal have the chance to return to winning ways immediately, with this EFL Cup meeting at home versus Reading.

Despite dropping points at home, other results featuring our title rivals ended favourably, which leaves the Gunners primed near the top – and with a list of priorities as full as our squad list.

Arsene Wenger yesterday was at the club’s AGM, which clashed with training, but he insisted that the club would fight on all fronts, including this competition – which is one he has failed to win in his two decades at Arsenal.

The EFL cup used to be derided by the major teams, us included, but any silverware to show off to the fans at the end of the season is to be celebrated, and so all major Premier League teams now focus on the competition a lot more than in previous years – to prove it, just look at the teams that will be named.

In terms of Arsenal and who will make the team, it is rather exciting trying to guess who will make the lineup – and even more so being able to see some of the lesser seen players being able to strut their stuff. 

Damian Martinez started the last EFL Cup round, and will be expected to wear the gloves again. After that, it is a case of educated estimation.

A host of fringe players will be champing at the bit to get some valuable game time. Gabriel, Rob Holding, Carl Jenkinson, Jeff-Reine-Adelaide, Chuba Akpom, Lucas Perez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Elneny will be eagerly awaiting Wenger’s decision, and they all stand a great chance of lining up against the Royals. 

Mohamed Elneny in particular will be looking to get up to speed as quickly as possible, with Santi Cazorla perhaps sidelined for longer than projected, the Egyptian will be looking to take his chance with both hands, and that means putting in performances that make it harder for Cazorla to instantly return to the side.

It isn’t just the players who aren’t part of the first team that are looking to get on the team sheet. 

Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey have returned to first team training, and all that is missing is match sharpness, so it isn’t a huge leap to think that the Frenchman will indeed take to the pitch tonight at some stage, although Ramsey may just miss out.

This would mean that this experimental lineup will be peppered with genuine experience and class, as well as youthful hunger. I will be attending the game, and cannot wait to cheer to the rafters whoever wears the jersey.

We are of course favourites to win it, but Reading are no pushovers. Everyone will remember the 7-5 epic tie in this competition from a few years ago, and with Jaap Stam as coach, they will have defensive solidity as a priority. 

The Royals will pose a threat, but with the dazzling array of talent we can call upon to fill the side, we should have no excuses.

Reading have not beaten Arsenal in thirteen attempts, and the Gunners haven’t lost at home to lower league opposition in this competition since 1963, so hopefully this continues! There is a cursory note though, as Arsenal have lost their last two home games in this competition – and we have never lost three in a row. 

This tie is there to be won, and handsomely. Let us continue with the great run we have been enjoying, and in turn, stay in contention for the cup.

Predicted Lineup – Martinez, Jenkinson, Gabriel, Holding, Gibbs, Coquelin, Elneny, Jeff, Ox, Lucas, Akpom.

Predicted Score – 4-1

The Transfer Window – Walking the Finest of Lines

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Amidst the plethora of reporters lurking in car parks, impromptu interviews with players and managers via a car window like a montage of Drive-Thru orders, and the garish sea of yellow on your TV screens, there was plenty of departures and shock purchases during the transfer window.

Transfer Deadline Day – the title which now seems to bring with it a whole smorgasbord of promotion and shameless worship of big-money buys – saw Sideshow Bob lookalike David Luiz surprisingly rejoin Chelsea from PSG and give Antonio Conte’s defence an instant weakness, and Moussa Sissokho hilariously lure foolish clubs to bid £30m – spurs won the right to his signature……

Clubs scrambling desperately to improve their ranks, whilst maligned and forgotten squad members slinked toward the exit door. The same players who once were heralded as much as their replacements.

Managers walk the finest of lines.  Implored to spend by the baying masses who fill the stands each week, they search for the marquee signing who will suddenly unlock the potential in the team and ensure a rush to the club shop to buy a jersey with the new boy’s name on the back. 

Bolstering the amount of players inevitably means cutting the squad somewhere – unless you’re Mike Phelan at Hull City and have three players and some free-kick barriers from training in your lineup – and unpopular decisions must be made.

The voices calling for Arsene Wenger to spend money go from fans to pundits, journalists to TV personalities. Memes flew around cyberspace poking fun at Wenger’s apparent reluctance to splash the cash. It is now a reputation that has stuck. Our French manager is now synonymous with counting beans rather than recruiting talent, it seems.

This summer, most could see the glaring weaknesses in our squad. Our defence needed a player who could partner Koscielny, with Mertesacker reduced to capable understudy. We needed a midfielder who could be the dynamic force between defence and attack. We had Coquelin, Elneny and Santi, but another wouldn’t go amiss. Then there was the issue with our dearth of strikers….

So, Wenger defied expectation, and reacted early. Granit Xhaka was brought in, and his class is undeniable, and his potential is frightening. The money involved may be high, but Wenger has always maintained he will spend for the right player – and Xhaka fits into our team like a glove.

Then, we went for our second target – Jamie Vardy. The xenophobic, cast-wearing sriker was the revelation of a strange 2015/16 season, and Wenger identified that the England man’s strengths would be a perfect match for his side.

A bid was made, and Vardy had a choice to make. He chose to stay, and now looks like he has competition for his place at Leicester, but regardless, Arsenal had made another early move, but they were rebuffed.

A move for a player takes time. To ensure the cohesion of the team and squad, the research must be done, so it was back to square one for Wenger and his team.

It was also revealed that Wenger made another early move, this time for Manolas – the Greek defender at Roma – but the Italian club played hardball in negotiations and it meant that Jack Wilshere ended up at Bournemouth instead of Rome. 

So, Wenger did exactly what was required, but only one of the three targets he had, ended up at London Colney.

By the end of the window though, the positions he sought to strengthen had indeed been reinforced. Lucas Perez came in from Deportivo, and adds an alternative in the strikers berth with his pace and movement. 

Shkodran Mustafi eventually joined from cash-strapped Valencia, and the 24yr old German is tailor-made to be Koscielny’s partner.

Both players came in for a combined 52.1m. Money has been spent, and our squad looked healthy. Another problem arose though – we now had too many players.

A player who isn’t playing regularly cannot hope to be at his best, and Jack Wilshere was down the pecking order thanks to repeated injuries. Purchases meant that his prospects for this season were not healthy, and he needs first team football. Bournemouth is perhaps a surprise destination, but he will play for a forward-thinking coach, and will play enough games at the level he needs. 

It is a good move, although it is being derided in some quarters. Why couldn’t he stay and fight for his place? Why didn’t he go to Italy? Well, no-one can answer for Jack, but there are a host of mitigating factors for his decision, not merely the squad he will play with. At the root of his choice though, would have been gametime.

At Arsenal, he was behind Santi Cazorla, Elneny, Xhaka, and Ramsey. His talent is such that he needs to play, and he would not get into the side. The drawback of buying players is that the competition for places is so fierce that it will make some of the men in the ranks disgruntled and look for the exit door. 

Jack simply wanted to play – and if he can stay fit and have a good season, then a place in our team is assured.

So, Wenger buys players – he is criticised. Wenger lets players leave who are merely squad filler, such as Joel Campbell and Serge Gnabry – he is criticised. 

It seemed Gnabry forced his way out of the club to move to Werder Bremen, and Wenger has always had faith in the young German, but the lure of home and regular minutes on the pitch was too strong. 

We have a healthy squad, and adequate cover in all departments. Wenger has acted to strengthen, cut the wheat from the chaff, and give players he believes in room to play elsewhere. He should not face vilification for his transfer window actions if they are adequately improving the squad.

Where our Manager should be judged, is how his chosen men perform during the season. He has decided that this team is good enough, and every change was his to make. So, if we fail to make the grade, the blame should fall at his feet alone. 

Spend some money Wenger!  

He has, and our team looks good. 

It is a fine line all managers have to walk, but it isn’t merely transfers that ensure their longevity in a position. Victory is the ultimate ambition.

Let’s see how this season unfolds now that Wenger finally has a squad equipped for every eventuality.