Tag Archives: tactics

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?

Arteta-Ozil

 

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.

Emery’s Second Season

It eventually came down to the finest of margins.

Our last two matches in the Premier League and the Europa League final.

After more than fifty matches throughout the season, it boiled down to how we would perform in 270 minutes.

If we won all three?

It would mean a return to Champions League football at the first time of asking from Emery – and a big shiny European trophy to boot.

We would be competing in the summer for the European Super Cup, we would have banished our European hoodoo and announced our comeback to the big stage in the best possible way.

Instead, we were treated to an insipid 1-1 draw at home to Brighton, followed by a win over Burnley (too little, too late by this point) and then a calamitous performance in Baku where we were sent back to London with our tail between our legs by Chelsea.

From where we sit now, looking back, hindsight really does bring things into focus.

We could be remembering what constituted to be a wonderful season, culminating in a win over our London rivals on a European stage, lifting the Europa League.

We could be looking forward to a return of that famous Champions League anthem and more importantly, the extra clout and transfer budget that comes with inclusion of the European Cup.

Unai Emery would be looked upon as taking us in the right direction, instead of doubts on whether he is the right man for the job.

Never mind a little common sense – we missed out on all of the above because of our own failings!

It would be fantastic if everybody could take the equivalent of a mental cold shower, and look at things from a different perspective.

Yes, it is our own fault that we are in what is now a compromising position thanks to missing out on the Champions League.

However, have we not closed the gap?

Has Emery not made progress on where were when he took over – with largely the same squad that Arsene Wenger had?

 

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Woah there, gib me a shance!! 

 

We missed out on the top four by a solitary point. We missed out on the top3 by two points. Despite us picking up just one win on the home straight, we still only fell short by the finest of margins.

Jurgen Klopp, the buck-toothed, bespectacled coach heralded by all as a genius, finished in eighth spot in his first season.

Granted, he was then awarded a wad of cash to spend to revitalise his squad, but it shows what margins a new coach can bring. Klopp didn’t manage to do much in his first season, other than probably the most important factor – one that isn’t instantly tangible.

The roots of his tactics, his famous press, the demanding fitness ability that all players had to adhere to? That was instilled in that disappointing first season. The window of transition from where they were, to where they can now adapt their formation and tactics dynamically? That takes time.

Emery too, needs the time to ensure his tactics are bedded in. That press we saw in the games we flickered to life? The wins over Chelsea, spurs, United? That is what we can now expect next season, albeit a lot more frequently.

We dropped off constantly last season, our defence struggled to adapt to new instructions, plus last season began with two tough fixtures, which in turn put pressure on subsequent games.

Emery will be under no illusions regarding who he needs in and shipped out in order to strengthen and carry out his formulas into battle. The list will already be drawn up, and pre-season will see us again begin to hit the cardio emphatically in order to maintain the lung-bursting orders from Emery. The very same orders that will see us improve once again.

Our fanbase needs a dose of realism. Emery, nay, all coaches, need a window of time to instil their own virtues. Even the mightiest of oaks still need years to flower.

Yes, our transfer activity may not be as it should be for a club of our standing, but as we are self-sustaining, we can only spend what we make. We cleared around £40m last season?

Well, that’s how much we’ve got to work with.

Fear not though. Emery’s expertise will start to show next season. His excellent pedigree wasn’t obtained in a cereal packet, he earned it and if given time, he can show us how.

We have to support, rather than call into question everything.

At the end of the season, when the dust settles, let’s see where we are.

 

Emery and His Summer Plans

It is irrefutable that Unai Emery has helped us make progress this season.

It is also undeniable that he has made errors that have cost us.

The Spaniard is not infallible, and our suspect away form and some questionable decisions when it comes to rotation have been the difference when it comes to certain results this campaign.

It is very important that Emery isn’t hung, drawn and quartered by his mistakes, and while the jury may be out for some, his approach has certainly added more than it has subtracted.

How does Emery help us go one step further though? Next season should see us go into the season with a top 3 position firmly in our sights. With Manchester United still rebuilding and unsure of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term suitability, it should put us on a firmer footing than the Red Devils.

Then there are Chelsea and spurs.

The Blues will be suffering from a transfer ban so cannot strengthen. They have Christian Pulisic to come in and perhaps some of their loanees could come in to fill a gap, but with Eden Hazard’s head turned by Real Madrid and no avenue to replace such a talent, Chelsea could easily be weaker than this season. Then there is the small matter of Maurizio Sarri and if he will even be at Stamford Bridge next season.

Spurs will be thankful to keep hold of Mauricio Pochettino, but transfer funds will need to be freed up if they want to continue their upward curve. Despite all of the brass band sounding and the fawning from the media, they are further away from the title than ever and their trophy cabinet is still emptier than Chris Sutton’s IQ.

The stage is set for us to move up and re-establish ourselves amongst the elite, perhaps even put some pressure on the top2 – although the gap is a sizeable one.

It all hinges on what Emery does in the transfer market – well, he and his new Director of Football that will be coming in.

His first summer at Arsenal saw more success than failure when it came to additions. For every Stephane Lichtsteiner, we had a Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno. Sokratis too, has enjoyed a solid first season.

We need more though.

 

Xhaka and Iwobi

We have the large aperture created by Aaron Ramsey’s departure to fill. That requires an intelligent attacking midfielder who has a wide range of passing and is blessed with a deft touch for intricate link-up play.

That won’t be cheap.

Then there is the small matter of our defence and midfield.

Our club captain is in his latter years, as is Nacho Monreal. That is two integral parts of our first choice defence with a significantly lower chance of contributing the same amount of matches next season.

Yes, we do have Rob Holding returning, and with Calum Chambers coming back into the fray, we POTENTIALLY have the makings of a solid core. It is still untested though, and Emery will run the rule over them as a duo in pre-season.

If it doesn’t work, then that is another dip into the transfer coffers – an amount that according to hearsay, is not sufficient enough for two world-class additions.

In midfield, in Torreira and Guendouzi we have our near future looking decent, but two midfielders doesn’t make a midfield. We need alternative options to enable Emery’s famous switching of approach, we need able backups as the season wears fitness thin and inflates fatigue.

In that regard, we can see that Mohamed Elneny isn’t quite up to scratch, and Granit Xhaka has already made noises about seeking new pastures. Much will hinge on Champions League qualification on whether the Swiss star stays, but he isn’t the complete player we need.

So we could maybe need two central players to come in, one more established to push the first team and another prospect that can help our team in years to come.

Our attack is in decent health. If we had players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan hitting the heights their obvious talent allows them to, then we would be all set for next season. But the Armenian and Alex Iwobi now need to step up and make a difference far more frequently than they do currently if we are to push on next season. If they fail to do so, then Arsenal is a stage that isn’t best suited to them.

 

Furious Emery

 

The potential for quite a busy summer looms large on our horizon. One that involves deeper pockets than our short arms can reach, and some tough calls on players futures.

If we are to move up and get back into contention, Emery and his backroom team will have their phones on during their summer break. Excellence doesn’t rest.

An Unhealthy Dose Of Cynicism

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

In his post-match interview with the media, Burnley boss was asked to comment on his thoughts after Arsenal had earned a 3-1 win at The Emirates over his side.

The gravel-throated manager chose this platform to vent his feelings over what he felt was unjust refereeing decisions.

Dyche referenced the fact his team have waited more than 60 games for a penalty, and that the push on Kevin Long in the penalty area from behind – which caused Long to fall backwards instead of forwards and thus defy the laws of physics – should have resulted in a spot kick for the Clarets.

Most interestingly though, was his slightly skewed version of events regarding his striker, Ashley Barnes.

Barnes had enjoyed a running battle with our centre-half, Sokratis. Both had been guilty of fouls and both were booked. One player remained calm though, in the face of rising heat on the pitch, whereas another chose to vent in a nefarious manner – which was to stamp on the grounded Matteo Guendouzi.

Dyche didn’t bring this up, surprisingly, but did say that Barnes got elbowed in the face.

Barnes and Sokraits

 

Dyche bemoaning the physical reciprocation that the Gunners dished out is akin to a zookeeper covering himself in meat and crying about being mauled by the tigers. Dyche and his Clarets side enjoyed a seventh placed finish last campaign that was built on a robust defence and a midfield that wouldn’t back down an iota. These tactics don’t lean toward unlocking defences through the majesty of football, but through wearing down an opponent.

It ain’t pretty, but it can be effective. Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis have forged careers on the back of such an approach – but at what point does a fierce will to win and a penchant for gamesmanship turn into an enemy of the beautiful game?

When does physicality become too overbearing and to the detriment of the match and the spectators?

Every team needs an element of sh*thousery. When we signed Stephane Lichtsteiner and Sokratis this summer, we celebrated their arrival as it heralded an end to the naivety and innocence that has been the nadir of many seasons hopes in the past.

These players know when to waste time, when to make that crucial professional foul, in order to gain an advantage, no matter how small. Grappling in the box, a shirt tug here, a flick of the boot there – we needed players who had a handle on the darker arts of the game.

It has helped us – but the approach from Burnley was much more than this.

Dyche may have been surprised that we fought back, and that was a springboard for the three points. In the past, we may have crumpled like a cheap suit in the face of some of the challenges, but instead, we grafted.

We also didn’t let it descend into the brawl that Burnley wanted. So, instead of trying to play their way out, they just kicked us harder. So we went down under challenges, we broke up play, we kept possession.

Barnes and Guendouzi

 

The fact Barnes was even on the pitch to score the away team’s consolation goal was a mystery – as was the fact that MOTD chose not to highlight his assault on the young Guendouzi. Credit to the Frenchman, he could have reacted – if you’re stamped on, that would be what is on your mind – but he didn’t, and instead gave his all with the ball.

Burnley and Dyche are hypocritical if they are whinging about how often we went down and the fact they don’t get enough decisions in their favour. By the way they acted during their loss to us, match officials will be too busy keeping tabs on the amount of fouls they make.

They were the aggressors, they were the ones who decided they wanted the game to be a brawl. When we choose to go to ground under a foul instead of turning round and starting a fight, or even gamely trying to carry on? We did that to frustrate them, and it worked. Just like they rocked up to The Emirates to frustrate us – but our newly found maturity under Emery was the perfect antidote.

There is a time and a place for pure physical tactics, but to use them as the bedrock of your whole gameplan? You will eventually get found out. There’s always someone bigger and harder than you.

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.

Unai Emery’s Ideals

Our opening two fixtures were not exactly great for the development of Unai Emery’s new regime.

Our first game saw us pitted against the Champions. This Manchester City team are pretty much unrivalled on the domestic scene, so any pointers would be hard to come by to gauge how much work Emery still had on his plate.

A comprehensive 2-0 win for Pep’s side was the fare served up at The Emirates, but there were a few shining lights amid the gloom of realism.

It is hard to swallow how much of a gap has developed between us and the standard required for lifting the league title, and City have taken that yardstick and ran with it. Despite this, we saw a debut from French youngster Matteo Guendouzi that showed his pre-season showings were the real deal.

The kid bought from Lorient was constantly hungry for the ball, despite the constant harassment from the City midfield. His range of passing is excellent, and he seems to be the box-to-box midfielder we have craved for some time – although it is early days.

It was clear that Guendouzi needed to start in the next game – away to Chelsea.

This match represented a real barometer for our side – and for Emery’s progress. Chelsea also had a new boss in Maurizio Sarri, and are a few rungs below City, which means they are within our reach.

The game was the literal embodiment of the old adage, ‘a game of two halves.’ The first half was gung-ho, an advertisement of all that makes the Premier League so entertaining. The second half was a dud, especially if you’re a Gooner.

Emery is attempting to instill a new method, new processes, new tactics into Arsenal. After years of the same menu, players are now being asked completely new things – and change, profound change, takes time.

So, is it fair to judge after this game? If we inspect the game, then the answers become apparent.

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Our new Spanish coach is a big fan of instigating plays from deep. From Cech – or Leno – to our defence, our deep midfielders, through to our two-layer attack. Movement is the oil in this particular engine, and if the right runs are made, then this tidal wave is hard to combat.

We saw this in our second goal, scored by Alex Iwobi. The move began from Cech, and involved ten of our eleven players. It was free-flowing and seemed improvised, but this was the product of intense training – something that players have already touched upon when asked about their season preparations.

It was great to see this come off, but we will suffer teething problems with this tactic. Starting from the back requires ball-playing defenders, and in Mustafi and Sokratis, we have some work to do.

Mustafi gets a lot of stick as his mistakes are normally rather high profile – the perfect evidence of this was his weak attempt to stop Alvaro Morata in his tracks before the Spaniard cut inside and fired their second goal.

However, his reactions are sharp, his tackling is normally rather good, and his strength in the air is more than good enough. If his decision-making was as good we wouldn’t have a dilemma, but it isn’t, and it’s the reason why the German suffers.

Then we have Sokratis. In all defensive attributes, he is more than adequate, and the ball may go past him, or the man – but never both. However, he looks like he has the pace of a glacier despite training showing he is one of our fastest, and so needs a rapid partner to mop up.

Also, both aren’t the greatest at passing out from the back – which is why this may become a real issue until December.

The first half saw us concede two, but we created a bagful of chances that on a normal day, our cutting-edge attack would put away. Our profligacy though, saw us waste the chance to go in leading at half time.

Emery is a contrasting figure from Wenger, and his half-time subbing of the ineffective Granit Xhaka was something we never saw from our former manager. The Swiss midfielder is another who gets the stick rather than the carrot from our fanbase, and Lucas Torreira replaced him.

Was he ineffective though? With Emery looking for the team to attack as one, Xhaka is integral, and why he continues to get chosen. Xhaka and his passing – still amongst the best in the League – is the link we require, and the perfect proof of this was our mystifying second half.

If the first half was steak, then the second half was a spam fritter.

We didn’t take the game to Chelsea, confident in the knowledge we could cut them in half when we wanted to. No, instead we soaked up pressure and wilted. We willed them to attack us, and when moves broke down, there was no more playing out from the back – because we had no one to light the flame. Guendouzi was again industrious, but Torreira is a conventional defensive type. With Ozil also off, we were the magician that had cut our assistant in half – but couldn’t remember how to put the two together.

Xhaka forgets to track runners, he rarely shows the endeavour to tackle, but when it comes to seamlessly knitting our play together, he is vital to our cause – and even more so now that Emery wants our eleven to act as a hive unit when in possession.

We left empty handed from the Bridge, but it was us shooting ourselves in the foot rather than being outgunned. We went to Chelsea and carved them open repeatedly in Emery’s second game.

Our defence though, were being opened up by simple balls over the top. Emery’s insistence on playing the highest line may work when we have all of our ducks in a row, but at the moment it is like a TK Maxx half price sale. It is unorganised, it is chaotic.

Our display – even in defence – will be enough against the majority of teams in the league. Throw in an acclimatised, battle-hardened Torreira and a more physical Guendouzi and we have a midfield ready to cover gaps and a defence with more Emery hours under their belts.

A lot of our issues will be resolved with a simple remedy of practice hours with Emery and his team of coaches. Practice makes perfect, and after ten games, we will have a far better idea of what makes the cut, and what needs lancing.

Two games, zero points. It wasn’t a good start, but Emery won’t be too concerned, after seeing his ideas start to bud.

We shouldn’t be either.

Could a Different Assistant have Helped Wenger?

The announcement of Arsene Wenger departing the club has led to the inevitable thoughts of the many years the Frenchman has been at the helm of the club.
After twenty two years of ups and downs, the search for Wenger’s disappearing mojo has led us all down a variety of paths.
Some scenic – some desolate.
Was it the start of the financial restraints and the need to sell our star players year after year?
Perhaps it was down to the changing face of football tactics and Wenger’s taciturn approach to his methods under fire?
The influx of cash that flooded the game was always a weapon that Wenger liked to furiously brandish, waving it with enthusiasm as United, Chelsea and City began to spend money like Mario Balotelli in a fireworks factory.
Or was it simply Wenger’s recalcitrance?
It’s probably a combination of the above, but his choice of Assistant Manager could be a contributing factor.

Wenger and Rice.

Arsene Wenger inherited the services of Pat rice when he joined back in 1996. The Arsenal stalwart bleeds red and white and through his playing and coaching career, Rice accrued invaluable knowledge of the club.

Rice was a huge reason Wenger’s strange and new methods took so well at the club. It helped that the results soon started to flow, but the playing personnel had a familiar face and one that was convinced by Wengers actions. This would help convert the masses.
Rice was no manager though. He was the perfect Assistant, and it meant that when results started to go south and an objective voice was required, Rice was the perfect ally rather than the difficult words that needed to be said.
Rice left Arsenal in 2012, when our ship began what was a particularly rough patch of water. This stretch of choppy seas we are still navigating, and another former Gunner has taken the coveted seat next to Arsene.
Much has been speculated about the role of assistant to Wenger. Some have said his rule is absolute. His reluctance to scout opposing teams and instill rigorous defensive training is yet another piece in the Wenger falling star jigsaw, and you would think two of our finest defenders would be just the answer to our backline blues?
Maybe it’s true that Bould and Rice have not been allowed to impart their wisdom on proceedings, maybe it’s fallacy. What isn’t myth is that perhaps, these men weren’t the answer? Rice perhaps in his later years was not the right man, and is Bould the right hand man Wenger needs when the ground became rockier and the incline steeper?
Some of the greatest triumphs involved a Manager who realised his limitations and stuck to what he was good at, and relied on his Assistant Manager to plug the gaps. Brian Clough leaned on Peter Taylor and look what they achieved with Forest and Derby. Sir Alex Ferguson used a number of Robin’s to his Batman and his trophy cabinet bulged. Kidd, McClaren, Quieroz, Knox, Smith and Phelan were just some of the names that were allowed to have an impact on the training field.

One of the finest examples of this involved our own Bertie Mee and Don Howe. Mee knew his own boundaries and so did Howe, but together they formed a formidable coaching unit.
It is increasingly difficult for just one man to play every part at a club, and with Wenger going from Arsenal, this is maybe one of the last Managerial postings where the manager has his fingers in a multitude of pies. Now is the time of the coach, and now we have Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, we have the expertise to supplement a great coach on the training pitch.
Arsene Wenger at times could have really done with a partner to pull him to one side and make him realise where his errors were. Whether he would have listened or not is another matter entirely.
Wenger is still undeniably – along with Chapman – the greatest manager we’ve had. We’re lucky to have been able to witness what we have during his tenure. Even in his later years, we were still treated to some football from the gods.
Wenger’s legacy is where we stand right now, and our brand of football. With or without a change in Assistant Manager, we still have this to remember him by.
With a different Robin though? Batman could have really made Gotham a better place.

Published in the Gooner Fanzine.

In Sickness and Health, We’re Still All Gooners

Supporting a club is intrinsically linked to matters of the heart.

We take joy from victory, and we mire ourselves in misery when things take a turn for the worst on the pitch.

This season has been a particularly tough one for us Gooners, as our Premier League campaign has hit the skids as soon as it started – we’ve never been further away from bidding for a first title since 2004.

This season is by far the worst under Arsene Wenger, and has seemingly been the watershed moment for the majority as it is unavoidably clear that in order to move forward, we require a change in direction to shake us from the reverie we seem to be in. That change is now happening this summer.

Another change this season though, has seen another alarming rise in negativity.

There seems to be far more people who take what appears to be glee from defeat, as each demoralising defeat pushes Wenger one step closer to a corner he cannot escape. We have a large portion of so-called fans, that rear their heads whenever we lose, and use it as a catalyst to push their hate-filled agenda against Wenger.

The bottom line is clear – and always has been for Gooners.

A defeat is not to be sought, and anyone who enjoys the opportunities that come from us losing, is surely supporting the wrong club.

We enjoy it when our rivals lose, especially now that tottenham seem to be enjoying their moment in the sun. When they, United, Chelsea and Liverpool lose, it is always a positive, and normally allows us to either catch up, or in recent seasons, overhaul them for a superior position. So for one of our own to what can only be described as ‘revelling in’ it when we are beaten?

That is not supporting your club.

The vitriol aimed at Wenger has been disgraceful at times. Yes, the Frenchman seemed too stubborn to recognise that this is the time to go, and his enduring stay could well end up being a detriment to our season, and beyond. But the names and words involved have been horrible, and have no place directed at our own manager.

The very reason you are so disappointed, is the high standards you now expect. Those same standards have been instilled by Wenger. Without him, then you wouldn’t be as hurt, or angry.

Criticism is just, and some of the fare served up thus far has been dire, and deserved booing, as well as calling Wenger out on some decisions. His failure to address certain long-term issues have been a massive reason why we’re playing catch-up with the rest.

He doesn’t deserve hatred though.

Anger? Of course, and if you can’t separate the two, then you may have missed a year or two of education. It is quite easy to express displeasure without wishing harm on someone, or calling them hateful names.

Wenger has had his chips at Arsenal, and a better suited man is being lined up to come in, but Arsene should always have our respect. Even the most outspoken of our critics can see that. Lee Dixon and Ian Wright have spoken of our malaise and how Wenger needs to go, but notice the omissions of shocking language, and the need to pour scorn on the man himself.

Wenger’s results haven’t been good enough, but the man himself doesn’t warrant anyone destroying him. His capacity to do the job, perhaps, but not of himself. He has always carried himself with the utmost dignity, such is the Arsenal Way, and even in the face of some terrible results and fierce questions from the press, he has always done everything with class.

We could learn a thing or two from that approach.

It is his time to go, and at the end of the season we will face the decision to replace him. Until he goes, we judge what happens on the pitch. So let him know if things weren’t good enough, but refrain from verbally attacking him, either with keyboard or voice. It isn’t how Arsenal conducts itself.

It is hard to avoid how bad we’ve been, and he knows more than anyone how bad we’ve been. Just because he stops short of laying into his players, doesn’t mean he is oblivious to it. Picking out positives where he can is his way of maintaining what semblance of confidence he can for his players, who need that in order to play better.

Plus, if fans are stopping short of doing the same, it doesn’t mean we are crazy Wenger fanboys. We all pretty much recognise this is the end, it doesn’t mean we aren’t a little nostalgic, and even a little sad.

We want better just like the outspoken people do.

Let us unite behind the team until the time comes. Heaven knows, our team could do with the support.

Wenger’s Grip Loosens

Published on The Arsenal Review​

The fanbase is as divided as it has ever been lately.

Poor results and the lack of a concerted title challenge for a length of time not fitting for a team of our stature, has served as an accelerant to the flames which now lick lasciviously at Arsene Wenger, Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis and the underwhelming players.


The root cause for our long-term malaise is also at the centre of every point of consternation between us Gooners right now. The barometer of opinion swings wildly when it comes to players, whilst Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis have long been the subject of ire from us all.


Arsene Wenger though, is now feeling the heat that Gazidis and Kroenke now attract. It hasn’t been instantaneous, and there has been pockets of fans calling for his resignation for some time now – but as of right now – the vast majority of Gooners can see no successful future with the Frenchman’s hand on the tiller.






The last few campaigns have merely added weight to the claims that Arsene is not the man of old, the brain responsible for some of the brightest lights we have glittering in our history. Just like these moments now encased in nostalgia, he too is a thing that should be consigned firmly to the past.


It was perhaps the 2015/16 season though, that broke the camel’s back in terms of being able to validate any argument in terms of supporting Wenger. Leicester City of course, were the victors, as we finished in the runners-up spot a lengthy ten points behind.


The Foxes lost only three games that season, but it isn’t the credentials of Leicester that were up for question, it was the fact that the title was evidently up for grabs and with the right level of acquisition in the transfer market, as well as avoiding sloppy mistakes, could well have seen the wait for a first Championship since 2004 ended.


Last season then saw us fall further behind, as the usual suspects who had slumbered the previous season, had now woke up. It saw our team finish outside the hallowed Top4 for the first time since 1996, and it fully emboldened the groups who were calling for Wenger to depart.


Now, we look back on the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign, in the shadow of a transfer window which was an unmitigated disaster. Once again we enjoyed a great start with the shrewd purchase of Sead Kolasinac and the marquee signing of Alexandre Lacazette.


The hole in our central midfield went unheeded though. Again. This is yet another barb that can be aimed squarely at Wenger. The lack of a decisive midfielder who is positionally astute is leaving Mesut Ozil roving deeper than he needs to be to deliver passes to our strikers. It also sees counter attacks from the opposition filter through unhindered.


Lessons unlearned. Much like losses against Stoke and indeed, Liverpool. Heavy defeats that would normally see a coach get the chop, are now annual occurrences. Too much faith placed in players that have let him down on numerous occasions. Playing players in positions that do not optimise their talents.


Three FA Cups in four years have made him the most fruitful Manager the competition has ever seen, and has given him enough slack for him to continue in his work. Another season of not challenging at the top though, beckons. A 4-0 loss at Anfield saw us play so contrastingly with the vibrant Reds that it was unclear what League we were meant to belong in. It was embarrassing, and yet it has happened before, which is not acceptable.


Wenger has admitted doubting himself, but this was before deciding to sign another two year extension. He still feels he is the person to continue to push our club forward, but before he can do so – can he prove he is the man to apply the handbrake and arrest our slide?


With Man City, Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool all flexing their financial muscles and our hated neighbours looking forward to a bigger stadium from next season, can we even consider ourselves standing toe-to-toe with these clubs? Have we slipped so much that we can’t close the gap?


Wenger will not leave before his contract ends, so there isn’t much choice but to get behind the man. We can question his approach though. We can voice our displeasure just as we can roar in approval if needs be. That is every supporters right.


What is now clear is that Wenger – even if he is still capable of delivering – is now making more mistakes than he has ever done before.


We have a squad that is capable of doing so much, but with an owner who does not inject a penny of his own into the club, a Chief Executive more adept at spinning the media than propelling us into the future and a Manager who appears to be losing grip with the sharp end of the Premiership, we may be slipping into the void.


The fanbase may be divided, but ultimately, with every disappointment, it unites that little bit more for a change in direction – from top to bottom.

Arsenal Calling Out For A Hero

Originally published on Goonersphere

There are many different approaches to obtaining success in football – and all of them at one time or another have proved that they can all lead to the same outcome.

There is the stoic approach from Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City last season, when they invited all and sundry to break the two rigid banks of four that imposingly stood in the way of their opponents.

There is the Pep Guardiola plan, in which they plan to keep possession of the ball and play around you. After all, you cannot be hurt when the opposition have not got the ball.

Let us not forget Jurgen Klopp’s ‘GegenPress’ model from Borussia Dortmund. It may not be ready for action at Anfield yet, but the idea of your team pressing all over the pitch and enforcing mistakes on your foe has reaped rewards.

Then there are two styles, two ideals, that stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. 

In one corner, you have Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, Chelsea and his Real Madrid. Jose likes to see his side utilise an effective press, but most of all, he expects his whole team to defend when under pressure. Who can forget his tirades directed toward Eden Hazard for his failure to track back? He wants a team effort in every manouevre, and that is an admirable trait, but not at the expense of one of the brightest attacking talents in Europe.

Jose is pragmatic. He realises that it is not how you play on the pitch that will last the test of time – it is trophies. It is winning and getting your team’s name inscribed onto these shiny memento’s. When Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2005, the majority will not remember that United completely dominated the game and Arsenal hardly posed a threat. The details will be lost to the slowly eroding powers of time. All that will remain is the record books, which clearly state Arsenal were FA Cup winners in 2005.

It is not pretty, and it wins few admirers, but Mourinho is perhaps the antithesis of Arsene Wenger, in everything from personality to ideals. 

We are all well aware of the Arsene Wenger way, and how highly he prizes aesthetics over grit. It has become even less diluted in recent years. In the glory years of 2002-2005, Arsenal had a potent cocktail of swagger and power. Fast forward over a decade, and while the skill and passing remain, the grit has been sadly ground down. 

Wenger’s teams need both to succeed. In the nine years which represented our trophy drought, our manager’s juggling of finances whilst maintaining a competitive side is vastly underrated and may rank among the highest of his achievements at the club. How many managers can say they took a team into the Champions League which contained the delights of Pascal Cygan and Mikael Silvestre?

We lost that combative style player in the process though. When Gilberto left the club, there was a few seasons when Arsenal could be steamrollered in the face of sheer physicality. The Sam Allardyce’s and Tony Pulis’s of the League saw this chink in the armour and optimised it as best they could. It hampered Arsenal for years, but surely now with the wealth of midfield options in our side – we now have the necessary crunch in our sandwich that we need?

Jose Mourinho may well have no regard for entertaining the crowd, but he seems to be well aware of the necessity for a midfield enforcer in his ranks. Currently at Old Trafford, much to the chagrin of the Red Devil faithful, he employs Marouane Fellaini in the holding role and when the big-haired Belgian isn’t playing, then the niggly Anders Herrerra takes the spot next to Paul Pobba who has free license on the pitch.

Antonio Conte at Chelsea employs two of this kind of player to sit in front of his defence in Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante and it has had a dramatic effect. 

Arsene Wenger acted to fill this void in our squad many seasons ago, and at this moment we have Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka who can fulfill this role. It isn’t merely a defensive midfielder we needed in our ranks – we needed leadership, an example to follow.

Coquelin, Xhaka and Elneny may be adept at grabbing the ball, but they are not who we should look to when the chips are down. When we are struggling and we need a verbal bashing, who rises to the fore? Who uses their words to pick the players up from their haunches?

In that respect, we have never replaced Patrick Vieira. The Captains armband has been bandied around to whomever was the insirational force on the pitch – not the natural leader. From Thierry Henry to Robin Van Persie, then Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta, these players did our shirt proud when they wore it, but they were not leaders of men.

At this juncture, we sit on a precipice. It is more vital than ever that our Captain provides a solid foundation in times of uncertainty. It is perhaps the most important task that our manager – whether it be Wenger or someone else – has in the summer.