Tag Archives: united

Who Will Win The Top4 Race?

There was a time when making the top four for the hallowed Champions League spots was much maligned.

 

When Arsene Wenger performed miracles on a shoestring budget by squeezing his Gunners side into the top table of European football season after season, instead of being lauded he was ridiculed for valuing the financial merits of making the Champions League.

 

Now though, making it into the top tier of club football is a huge deal, and one that six teams not only desire – but in order to maintain their standing and financial clout – they also need.

 

This season looks to be the toughest to call in regards to who slips into the top quartet of the Premier League. Manchester City and Liverpool have gone from strength to strength as they propel each other in their title fight, but the other two spots?

 

That is a straight fight between four teams.

 

As you can see in the graph on this page on the Premier League odds, the current odds on which team will get into the top4 is an ever-changing landscape, and no team can be sure of where they will stand at the end of the campaign. Tottenham were shaping up to be a third player in the title battle only two games ago, and now they are looking nervously over their shoulder with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United breathing down their necks.

 

It is even closer between Chelsea, United and Arsenal, with one point separating the trio – should Chelsea win their game in hand.

 

Ozil-Hazard-And-Pogba-300x225

 

So who has the advantage in the run-in? Who is nearer to pocketing the 70-100m of readies for Champions League involvement?

 

Arsenal

 

Much will depend on their next two games. Fixtures against tottenham and United are huge games and neither can be confidently predicted..Once those are out of the way though, the key is the away games for the Gunners.

 

From the remaining eight games after the United match, Arsenal have four games on the road. With Unai Emery’s men far from convincing on their travels, they will need to take advantage of the fact that they will have played all of their games against their fellow top6 colleagues.

 

United

 

United have three fixtures left against their top6 rivals, and a key spell will be April 24-28, which will have United host City and Chelsea in the space of four days.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made his team resurgent after the dour tenure of Jose Mourinho, and their climb up the table has been remarkable.

 

One thing to watch is their injuries, especially after three players were replaced in the first half in  their 0-0 draw with Liverpool recently.

 

If they can keep their big men fit, they will be there at the end. The likes of Pogba, Lindelof, Rashford and De Gea are vital to their cause.

 

Chelsea

 

March is crunch time for Chelsea. A London derby at the start of the month, then a trip to Anfield, a tough game against Burnley and then closing out the month with an away game against United.

 

Chelsea are also hugely reliant on Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante. Without those two and the Blues lack the proper world class to change games.

 

Maurizio Sarri has had a perplexing first season. On one hand, he has earned some big wins, and on the other hand, they have looked insipid at times, mocked by their own fans for their unimaginative substitutions. There have also been the odd blip – huge losses to Bournemouth and City made them look ordinary.

 

If Sarri can muster the better end of the blues performances, then they can keep pace with the pack.

 

So, to surmise, it is going to be ridiculously tight to call.

 

One thing is for sure, every match will be unmissable.

The Best PL Side Ever?

A recent BBC poll – one of many – asked a question that many would think redundant. It wasn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last – to prove my point, a poll recently after this was to decide which pairing was best – Yorke and Cole or Bergkamp and Henry…

The poll in question however, mused on which team was the best in the PL era.

There have been a few.

Chelsea’s title-winning team of 05/07 under Jose’s first spell was a beast of a team, and their defensive record still stands.

Our own Double-winning team of 97/98 were included, the perfect blend of rough with smooth.

Then there were the main contenders.

The United Treble-winning team of 99.

City’s winning outfit last season, the first to 100 points.

And The Invincibles.

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Putting aside my fierce and indignant bias, let us look at the numbers.

Firstly, if we are deciding which club had the best Premier League side, then external achievements need to be cast aside. So, United’s famous CL win cannot affect this judgement.

Fergie’s winning team won the league by a solitary point from Arsenal that year. This doesn’t scream out unparallelled quality, it shows that they had a team that was its near equal.

What of City’s steamrollering team of last year?

The first to reach 100 points, 106 goals scored and 27 conceded, 32 wins from 38 – only six games where they failed to get the win.

Truly frightening statistics.

What of The Invincibles?

Well, 12 draws means 12 games where we failed to win – double that of Guardiola’s side.

Seventy three goals scored, 26 conceded, a goal difference of plus 47.

The only stat we can boast that is superior is our defence.

Aside from one small factor – the losses column.

What weight does that zero carry? Is it heavier than the avalanche of goals City scored? Is it worth more than that and the paltry six games they failed to win? We went 49 games without defeat – still a record.

To decide which team trumps the other is fiendishly difficult, but the Gunners are still the only side to go through a campaign unbeaten – and the only recipients of a gold League trophy.

When City were putting teams to the sword last season, the world and his dog were predicting that Guardiola would oversee an unbeaten season. The matches ticked down and no team looked likely to beat them, but beaten they were.

City achieving what they did was miraculous, and they did so in an arguably more difficult league, but they couldn’t manage a loss-less season.

Will this poll settle the argument? No. But ask yourself this;

If any other set of fans had an unbeaten season in their recent history, would they let us forget it? Would they admit that other teams were better? Not a chance.

Our Invincibles side, no matter what objective view is aired, will always be the barometer that all amazing sides need to match up to.

From back to front, we were packed with talent and did the unthinkable with a smaller squad than City, and with just as much swagger, if not more.

Yet it wasn’t our Invincibles side that won the poll, nor was it City’s squad of last season.

United’s Treble-winners won the poll.

Ignore the poll, we know the answer.

Arsene Wenger’s Highest High and Lowest Low

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal – 14 March 1998

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

Arsenal 2-3 Leeds Utd – 4 May 2003

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

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

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

Arsenal Revive the FA Cup

Manchester United’s participation in the Club World Cup in the early part of this century was widely reported to be the reason for the FA Cup’s demise.

The club decided to prioritise the tournament instead of the oldest cup in the world, and the devaluation of our domestic cup was such that it was put on the back burner in terms of importance for clubs.

The influx of money has seen the tides shift yet again though, and now, with the dial of competition firmly ramped up to 11, the once-derided FA Cup has now risen, phoenix-like from the ashes.

It’s now seen as a saviour from ignominy. The Champions League is a pipe dream for most clubs, the Premier League is a trophy that requires a huge slice of luck with injuries, as well as top level consistency.

It means that clubs need to maximise every opportunity to lift silverware – and the FA Cup is a genuine chance to keep supporters on board and keep the club relevant when it comes to transfer targets.

Success breeds success, so having your name etched on the cup means that next season gets a firmer foundation to build from. It also makes the lustre of the club a little more alluring for any potential new players.

Our own relative woes have exacerbated the FA Cup’s rise to prominence once more. Winning the Cup in 2014 against Hull, and in such dramatic circumstances that really turned heads at other outfits.

Then, when we won it the next year by smashing Aston Villa, we not only regained it, we yet again saved our season with the lifting of the old cup.

Two seasons ago was perhaps the best example. We slipped out of the Champions League places for the first time since 1996/97, we also slipped below our hated neighbours for the first time in over two decades, but the fact we won the FA Cup, meant we had silverware in our trophy cabinet.

The ‘drought’ we suffered between 2005-14 may seem a long time, but as the top teams get better and the gap becomes more disparate, decades between cup wins will become commonplace for most.

It means any cup win should be embraced – just look at City and United in recent years when winning the League Cup. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are considered to be among the leading lights of world football management – and lifting this cup meant a fair amount to them.

The FA Cup is a grand old competition, and our previous wins are amongst our most glittering. The recent cup wins are among them. The 2014 final snatched from the jaws of defeat especially seems vivid upon recall. The Cup matters hugely.

Being knocked out by Nottingham Forest last season smarted a fair bit, and FA Cup fixture weekends without our club – the most successful side in FA Cup history – seemed a tad remiss.

We can glow with pride at the fact we’ve won this famous cup more than any other side – but we can also take a little satisfaction that we’ve reminded other clubs that the Cup is well worth winning indeed.

It grants you a European place, it gets you a slot in the Charity Shield – but it also gives us fans a memorable day – and those memories are what binds fans to a club.

Who is the best backup in the business?

There are many credentials required in order to be classed as a true contender in football.

The majority of heavyweights who slug it out on the European stage normally have a wealthy benefactor, a half-decent pedigree and a squad peppered with talent.

It is the squad though, that perhaps best underlines the strength of a club. When an outfit hopes to fight on all fronts, they must rely on their lesser lights in order to remain relatively unscathed.

When Manchester United won the treble, they had four strikers who would have graced the majority of Europe’s top teams. Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke were a lethal combo, and Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer provided a steady stream of goals.

When we won the Double in 2002, we had Thierry Henry – the greatest player in Europe -, the genius of Dennis Bergkamp, the efficiency of Sylvain Wiltord and the unpredictability of Nwankwo Kanu to fall back on.

These teams could boast such a huge array of striking talent to keep teams guessing and on the back foot, and this all happened nearly two decades ago.

They do provide a good yardstick though.

Do clubs now have the same depth that their more illustrious past brethren had?

United have Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford as their two preferred attacking options. Now the sole striker formation is far more conventional than it was back in 1999 and 2002, it places less emphasis on needing four strikers. United still need backup though, and in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they seem well armed on that front.

Our team is far weaker than during our golden generation. Now we have an adept and skilled Alexandre Lacazette, with a soon departing Alexis able to slot in to the forward line when the need arises. Our backup is Olivier Giroud, and the Frenchman has gone from ridicule to lavish praise during his Arsenal career.

I think it’s safe to say that we all appreciate how good Olivier is, and what a sterling job he’s done since finding a starting spot hard to maintain.

Who has the best backup though? Does Ibrahimovic have the edge now as well as having the far bigger trophy cabinet? Or does Olivier win it by a nose thanks to his lesser years?

This season has seen Olivier Giroud become the most prolific substitute for Arsenal, and he has bagged four goals thus far, compared to Zlatan’s none. It is worth mentioning that Giroud has played 276 more minutes than his Swedish opponent.

It is last season though, that is telling.

Zlatan played double the amount of minutes than Giroud did, as he was United’s main man last season before Lukaku came onto the scene. Yet Zlatan only bagged five more goals than Giroud did, scoring 17 to 12. He also only grabbed two more assists than the Frenchman.

Giroud was also more efficient in front of goal, with 59 percent shot accuracy compared to Zlatan’s 55 percent, and a superior aerial duel success rate.

So, it seems clear that despite a lack of minutes, Giroud can hold his head high and claim that he is indeed worthy of a start. Will that be elsewhere rather than at The Emirates though?

His situation is different to Zlatan’s. The tall Swede is in his twilight years and even though he hasn’t lost his effectiveness thanks to an excellent level of fitness, he realises his time at a top club may be on the wane. Zlatan could still do a fantastic job at most clubs.

Ibrahimovic has had one of the most glittering careers. League titles in France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. His goalscoring record even at United is in keeping with his record elsewhere – 28 goals in 46 apps. Follow www.betfy.co.uk/ for more.

Giroud has never been as effective in front of goal as Ibrahimovic, but in terms of being an effective team player, then he’s every bit as valuable as the one that refers to himself in the third person.

Arsenal Vs Man United Match Preview

So, it’s time for another round of Arsenal versus United.




This game has been the poster boy for the Premier League for decades. It may have tumbled down the pecking order a little in recent years with the surfacing of Chelsea and City, but it matters no less to us fans.


Now, there is also the added bonus of inflicting misery on Jose Mourinho – who doesn’t want to do that?


Both teams are in form. United have won four of their last six – their losses were against Chelsea and Huddersfield – and they lie in second spot, four points above us before the game.


We have won four on the bounce since our loss to City, and have conceded precisely zero. That is the key to any confidence we carry into this game. Our defence has been exemplary and the trio of Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal are really acting as a unit.


They will need to when facing Lukaku, Pogba and Rashford.


They possess very different traits, so we will be stretched. Our midfield has to be awake to the runs of Pogba, so the improved showings of Ramsey and Xhaka is crucial to our hopes.


In terms of who makes the team, our fantastic 5-0 win over Huddersfield in midweek came at a cost. Alexandre Lacazette was subbed at half time due to a groin injury, and he may be ruled out for the foreseeable. Seeing as December is crammed full of fixtures, he could miss a fair amount of games.


Step forward Olivier Giroud. He scored two in the second half of our 5-0 smashing of the Terriers, and he will need to be at his best against United.


We were all surprised when Wenger named a full team for the Huddersfield win. We all expected a few changes to prepare for this match, but Wenger opted to maintain rhythm and an unchanged side, aside from the inclusion of Ozil.


Now, the argument must be made that if players can’t maintain levels for three games in eight days, then the level of professional sportsmen they claim to be must be called into doubt. On the other hand, this is arsenal, and fitness is no god-given right.


Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott are both available for inclusion, and Jack Wilshere will be hoping his positive cameo against the Terriers will do his stake no harm.


United have a wealth of options in attack, with Rashford, Ibrahimovic, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Lukaku and Lingard all vying for a limited number of spots. Jose will have his defence drilled though. Away from home against a rival, he will have his team set up not to lose, rather than all out to win. Professional, pragmatic, but bloody boring.


We are still unbeaten at home, and we need to continue that if we are to keep the pressure on the top3 – and keep the gap between us and that lot down the road.


Predicted Lineup – Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud.


Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

Arsenal Vs Huddersfield Town Match Preview

This may seem one of those games that we could take our eye from and still get the points.

We are The Arsenal though. We know there are no gimmies.

Let us look at the facts.










Huddersfield lie in 11th spot. Their last game was a heartbreaking late loss to runaway leaders Manchester City, where the Terriers can feel aggrieved not to have picked up a point at the least.


David Wagner’s team have already beaten Man United this season, and are looking like they more than deserve their place in the top flight.


Aaron Mooy is the fourth  most successful crosser in the entire league this season, and the third most successful tackler. They have a disciplined attack, perhaps lacking a few goals of course, but they pose a threat. It is their defence that will be the tough part of the game, and we will need every bit of nous we can muster.


We cannot afford to shift concentration toward the weekend and our crunch game against Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. 


Huddersfield deserve more than that.


We will probably rotate our team to a degree though. We do have a squad that can allow a few changes without impacting too much on our strength.


Mesut Ozil will most likely miss a second consecutive game with illness. Our attack could well be heavily changed with the depth we have. Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are players who can jump into the side without losing any attacking power. Theo 

Walcott should be back after illness, but a spot on the bench should beckon rather than an instant return to the side.


Our midfield could also see a few changes. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have been in great form of late, so a drop to the bench could disrupt our rhythm. Three games in a week however may be too much for them to be at optimum levels for the United game. This paves the way open for a combo from Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Jack Wilshere. Although Jack has primarily been used as an attacker, his natural role will be in the centre. This could be his chance to shine.


Laurent Koscielny has intermittent tendonitis issues, so a rest for the Frenchman makes good sense. Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding are vying for his spot in this game.


We toughed it out against Burnley, and we may have to do the same again. Huddersfield will clam up the midfield and look to utilise set plays a little more, as they lack the attacking players Burnley have. They don’t have any less grit and ambition though. 


They know they can get a result at The Emirates.


We need to knock the confidence they have out of them early on. An early goal could prove the difference. The later we leave it, the more buoyed they become, and the higher the panic rises in the stands.


The players that come in must perform higher than they have done in the last couple of Europa League games. If we are to continue our assault on the top 4 and keep our spot there, we need three points.


Lastly, we need the confidence for the United game. Our team normally feed from it, and we have to be at our best to beat Jose’s United, who will be as stubborn as ever.


Predicted Lineup – Cech, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerin, Coquelin, Wilshere, Kolasinac, Welbeck, Iwobi, Giroud.


Predicted Scoreline – 3-1 to The Arsenal.

Arsenal Vs Man Utd – Match Preview

Kickoff – 1600GMT

Before our humbling at the hands of our North London neighbours last weekend, the situation was clear;

Win the rest of our games or the lucrative and vital Top4 slot is out of our grasp.

Now, our team stand on the precipice of our worst season under Arsene Wenger. To make matters worse, he next faces a manager who he has never defeated in the Premier League.

Tomorrow’s match versus Manchester United now leaves us with the daunting reality that we could win the rest of our games and still be barred from entering the VIP section that is Champions League qualification. 

Five games remain in our league campaign, and all five must be victories. We then must sit on the edge of our seats and wait for Liverpool, City and United to slip up. The way things are right now, this is quite easily our worst season. 

So, how do we defeat United and salvage any semblance of hope?

Firstly, United have a huge task in fielding a competitive team that isn’t suffering from fatigue or injury. After defeating Celta Vigo in Spain on Thursday, Jose Mourinho has intimated that he may rest some of his first teamers as the Europa League takes priority. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Ashley Young ruled out through a combination of injury and suspension, and Marcus Rashford looking to be in pain when he was substituted on Thursday, Mourinho will surely ring the changes. 

Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney may well be part of his plans and so too should be Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. The England pair were thought to be injured, but it has been revealed that they will be in the squad for the game. 

Arsene Wenger will also have his own players returning from injury, with David Ospina and Shkodran Mustafi both back in training. Will the German defender’s return to action see Wenger shift back to a back four? Or will we continue with the Back 3 experiment? The jury is out in regards to fan’s opinion, but no one can predict what Wenger will go with. 

A big dilemma is what our midfield will look like for this game. In his last press conference, Wenger said that Granit Xhaka only has a ‘little chance of playing.’ That leaves Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny to fight it out for the two spots, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed since playing as a wing-back in our new formation. 

A lot will depend on Alexis. The Chilean has been responsible for keeping our slim hopes alive, but his record versus the big boys leaves a lot to be desired. He has just one goal in the last nine games against the teams above us, and Sanchez must finally show everyone what he can do against top class opposition – even if it is to entice another team.

United have won the last four games that have followed Europa League games, so they will be prepared. They will also come to the Emirates well drilled and hard to break down. We must utilise pace and movement and abandon the plodding, sedate passing of more recent seasons. We must find the Arsenal of old if Arsene Wenger is to finally vanquish Mourinho and Arsenal are to keep up the chase. 

Twenty four games it has been since United tasted defeat. It is going to take an almighty effort for that to be broken, but break it we must. The least we expect is effort. 

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Ramsey, Gibbs, Theo, Ozil, Alexis

Predicted Scoreline – Screw it – 2-0 to The Arsenal #UTA

Sutton United Vs Arsenal – FA Cup Warm-Up

From the Allianz Arena to Gander Green Lane.

Arsenal’s last match was a drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and it has seen a fallout aimed squarely at Arsene Wenger which has intensified talks regarding his future.

The season does not pause though, and this game may now represent Arsenal’s best chance of silverware, and maybe a fitting send-off for their manager who is assessing his options.

Much has been made of the venue for this tie – with Sutton’s rotund goalkeeper even taking the Sky Sports team on a tour around the facilities at the 5,000 capacity ground. It is quite clear the setting that Arsenal’s players will find themselves in are far removed from their usual decadence, and it showed the gulf between the two clubs.

The world will be willing Sutton United on, and their tale is the embodiment of the FA Cup dream. The plucky non-league team face off against their accomplished professional opponents, and 99 times out of 100, the result would be in Arsenal’s favour.

There is always the chance for an upset though. Sutton will be running their hearts out and if any of the Gunners don’t apply themselves fully and take Paul Doswell’s team seriously – then a result even more shameful than our Wrexham nightmare 25 years ago could well be on the cards.

Wenger has declared he will pick a strong side for this game, and as it represents their last true chance for silverware this season, he is making the right decision. He will also be aware that his side do not play again until the 4th of March, so tired legs will not be in the equation.

He will be without Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Perez, and with Laurent Koscielny nursing a thigh injury, he is unlikely to be risked. 

So who will play? Wenger could field a whole team of fringe players, but there will be a large element of first teamers who will make up the side, especially with the gap in fixtures allowing ample recovery.

Danny Welbeck, Rob Holding, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Gabriel will be looking to feature in the game and Theo Walcott will also be itching to play.

The speedy forward has been in fine form in the Cup this season, bagging five goals in his last two away cup games. He is precariously perched on 99 Arsenal career goals, and with the utmost respect to Sutton United, he will be gagging to get the magical 100th as soon as possible.

Arsenal offered to donate their match fee to Sutton United, a move which was blocked by the disillusioned bods at the FA. With a strong team though, they can boost this tie to the maximum and give Sutton a magical day.

The home side defeated AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to earn their spot in the Fifth Round, but have inevitably had their heads swayed by this game. They have played four games since besting Leeds, and have won none of them, scoring a solitary goal in the process. 

Poor form perhaps, but they will be more than ready for Arsenal and the hullabaloo which will accompany their visit. A lot of the spotlight has been centred on a former Gunner in their ranks, and Craig Eastmond is looking to return to the big leagues with a big performance. 

Eastmond played ten times for the first team, and the defender turned midfielder came through the ranks at Arsenal, so will be well versed in Arsene Wenger’s approach. 

We take this side lightly at our own peril. With our confidence low and even the smallest potential for disaster, Arsenal have proved in the past we can be the masters of our own downfall. 

We must emphatically end the fairytale which Sutton are currently enjoying. A spot in the next round means another step closer to a potential Cup victory, one which would be savoured by Gooners and give us back the honour of being the side who has won it more than anyone else.

Realistically, we should be comfortable winners. This means nothing though when we take to the artificial pitch. This is a banana skin that the world wants us to slip on.

Predicted lineup: Ospina, Debuchy, Holding, Mustafi, Gibbs, Elneny, Coquelin, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi, Welbeck.

Predicted Scoreline: 3-0 Arsenal. Please. 

Is Mesut Ozil Underperforming?

Every club possesses a star player. The one his teammates look to when matters on the pitch are on the slide. These men have within their grasp that sprinkling of stardust that illuminates the darkness and opens up previously locked doors.

They pull up their cohorts by their very eyes, showing them that anything is possible even in the most difficult of circumstances. Inspiration is the key ingredient that is liberally stored in their pockets, and the manager knows that every minute spent on the pitch is another possibility that something could materialise. 

They offer hope and salvation from the dregs of misery. Every club is lucky enough to have one in their ranks, and some clubs have two or three. 

Manchester City have Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne. Chelsea have Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, Liverpool have Philippe Coutinho and United have Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. At Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil provide the sparks for the team, but what happens when there is no flicker of light? 

Last season for Ozil saw him exhibit exactly what makes him one of the finest playmakers in world football, and coveted by clubs all over the world. Despite the static nature of first choice striker Olivier Giroud, Ozil registered 19 assists for the season. He missed the chance to set a new record at Arsenal for amount of assists in a season, but for the majority of the year, his deft touch was the key for the Gunners attack to unlock even the most stubborn defence.

He finished above his positional rivals in terms of chances created and assists, and thus proved his superiority. You see, stats may lie in the eye of the beholder, but they still underline facts. His greater numbers showed that his productivity was better than those players who were supposed to be on a par with the German. 

When there is no productivity however, it undermines most arguments. Mesut Ozil is a player that even when his velvet touch is quavering and his radar is on the fritz, he still instigates attacks. He is still integral to every move Arsenal conjure. The problem with this is that pre-assists are not counted, and his excellent positioning is not registered. All that matter are numbers.

Ozil has also had to adapt to a style change at the club. Since his blockbuster move to Arsenal in 2014, his bullseye has been Olivier Giroud. Ozil prospers when his boot can hone in on runners into the box, but Giroud’s primary strength is with his back to goal, laying off the ball and then finding a nick of space in the box. Ozil, to find his optimum level, needs a Freddie Ljungberg/Bobbi Pires type. A player who constantly makes intelligent runs.

So to still get 19 assists last season was a real feat. This season should be even better then, considering he has the effervescent Alexis Sanchez and the fit and firing Theo Walcott to aim for?

This hasn’t transpired. He is still making things click to a degree in the final third, but this season has seen him and our other source of inspiration Alexis, drop ever deeper in an effort to ignite our play. How much of this is down to a drop in form for our German though?

Comparing him to the aforementioned playmakers at our rivals, Ozil’s lustre diminishes a little so far this campaign. De Bruyne leads the way for assists at the time of writing (Dec 1st) with seven, closely followed by Coutinho with five. Ozil has a paltry one.

What about chances created? He may not be getting assists, but that may be down to the profligacy of our strikeforce? Well, out of four players (De Bruyne, Hazard and Coutinho), Ozil is third in terms of chances created, with De Bruyne and Coutinho again earning better numbers.

Ozil has been more of a goal threat this season – Arsene Wenger has mentioned his wanting for Mesut to fire in more goals this term – but he again lags behind two of the four, with Hazard and Coutinho bagging more than Mesut.

One stat that is quite telling is the number of key passes –  This shows that Ozil is still the heartbeat of our attack, as his number surpasses all three of his rivals so far. 

It also highlights that he is lacking the keen edge of the assassins knife that is his signature. He is still seeing as much of the ball, but the numbers don’t lie, he is not producing his beautiful passing in the right area. 

It seems unfair that we expect so much from him – and Alexis – when our team are not exactly firing on all cylinders, but these players are a step up from the norm and should rightfully warrant the elevated expectations. 

At the moment he is a Lamborghini, but he is being driven around the one-way system in Norwich. We are not utilising him where he can be most potent – or is it down to Ozil himself that he is dropping deeper rather than at the cutting edge of play?

We need his productivity to increase. He is still finding teammates with the ball, but if they are thirty five yards away from goal, it matters little. Ozil needs to exert his influence in the final third and remind everyone again that his boot is capable of slitting open any opponent. 

At the moment his knife is too far away from the enemy to create any lasting damage.