ASHLEY WILLIAMS: COULD BE A HUGE SQUAD PLAYER AT ARSENAL.

27 Jun

From as early as the Tottenham game at White Hart Lane it had been obvious that Arsenal’s choice of captain, Thomas Vermaelen, had an issue with the captaincy. Arsenal have since made an informal change of captain, with Mikel Arteta taking the reins effectively and managing to impress many Arsenal fans with his leadership. 

It hasn’t stopped Arsenal fans calling for more experienced leaders and in particular defensive organisers. There is also the section of support who are awaiting the archetypal  British defender that will adopt a no-nonsense approach – somebody that us and the up & coming British players, at Arsenal can identify with.

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WILLIAMS: HOLDING THE CARLING CUP

This is where Ashley Williams, the Wales and Swansea captain comes in. The centre-half, who has just won his biggest honour to date, the Carling Cup, will be looking to finally take the last big step in his career. This is a player that has had to play in all four-tiers of English football with a big opportunity to play in the Champions League. He has had to work his way up to the top and I think that commands a huge respect. 

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WILLIAMS IS A TOUGH DEFENDER

These types of players are battled-hardened and add a totally different dimension to a very Continental squad at Arsenal. They bring the mentality of grown men, who have worked their way up through the leagues and haven’t had the many luxuries of a lot of the younger, more polished international players at Arsenal. 

There is always an influence, example and inspiration to come from a player like Williams. Let’s also be honest, I wouldn’t suggest he is top class but he has come a long way under the technical Swansea style of play, which makes me believe he would be a good fit at Arsenal. He won’t demand to start every week but I think he would relish the challenge of breaking into the starting eleven and his professional attitude will ensure he is ready when called upon. His experience as captain could be a huge asset for us, as we have lacked leadership at times. 

I’m of the belief that it isn’t just the technical ability alone that makes a player a big player for his club. It’s his mentality, desire to win and leadership skills that can help to raise his team-mates performances and I think Ashley Williams is one of those players that can help to give us solid, Premier League experience which can only enhance our squad depth.

 

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The Ox – Box to Box?

23 Jun

Of course the football season is over and the annual, or should i say, the every 6-month transfer-window meltdown, is soon to be amongst us.

It’s warming up a bit now and there are plenty of rumours on a daily basis regarding some of Arsenal’s supposed transfer targets. There have been incessant transfer rumours since Ivan Gazidis came out with a public announcement, suggesting we have a significant amount of money to spend on investment in the team.

Since this announcement, us Arsenal fans have been awaiting the first announcement of a big signing. We have supposedly purchased 20-year-old Yaya Sanogo from Ligue 2 club Auxerre. The Club haven’t announced it yet, perhaps not wanting to announce another youngster as our first signing of the window. Other than that, we are desperately awaiting news of the world-class players we have been promised.

Amongst all this, what of the potential superstars we have already at the club? In past years we have heard talk of “killing” young players such as Song, Denilson, Bendtner etc. To be fair to them none of these players came with the reputation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

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THE OX LEAVING SANTON FOR DEAD

The Ox came as a 17-year-old talent with a growing reputation. A strong physique with the technical ability and swagger not generally associated with young, English players. He has great pace and dribbling ability while also being very positive in one-on-one situations with the full-back. Every full-back will say, it is torture having a young, quick, tricky winger, running at you with every opportunity and this is exactly what The Ox will do.

It’s been a rapid rise for The Ox. He is one of the most well-known youngsters in world football despite Wenger’s best efforts to let him develop without the unnecessary spotlight. The thing with The Ox is he is always capable of making something happen in a game, despite how young he is. As much as you try to hold him back, he still has the ability to make a difference. Take the games against AC Milan and Manchester United at The Emirates, in his debut season, as an example.

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The Ox was even thrown into the England squad for Euro 2012 by Roy Hodgson despite not even making 30 appearances for Arsenal, albeit some sparkling displays for Arsenal. He even started Englands first group stage game against France. After The Euros, his form had certainly suffered a dip. he came back for pre-season as an international player, had less time to get ready for 2012-2013 season and it was uphill from there. He struggled to establish himself in the team after a couple of niggly injuries and it was a lot for a young Oxlade-Chamberlain to adapt to.

I’ve heard a few comparisons with Theo Walcott. People suggesting that all the attention and fast-tracking into the national squad has hampered Walcott but I am not seeing any similarities in the two. The Ox is confident, extrovert and has a great temperament. Not only that but he is actually a better footballer than Walcott.

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THE OX AND WALCOTT

These personality traits come out in his game and how he plays. He already looks very comfortable within the England set-up and that speaks volumes about his maturity. He is very popular and assured in himself, possibly taking on a lot of his fathers advice, who is also an England international.

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OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN: STRUGGLED FOR CONSISTENCY

The thing what amazes me about The Ox, is despite his young age, he is very versatile and can be asked to play in a variety of positions. This isn’t easy to ask of a young player. Many have seen him play on the wings but he is supposedly a long-term centre-midfielder in the eyes of Wenger. A lot of fans rate Oxlade-Chamberlain highly but not many are sure how he will perform next season after an inconsistent 2012-2013 season.

Oxlade has the technical and physical capabilities to play in centre-midfield and looking at his attacking performance in the Champions League against AC Milan, it was no wonder that Dutch football legend Marco van Basten described The Ox as “a gem”.

The Ox has been chomping at the bit, rearing to get back into the team and establish himself as a starter. Thats the attitude needed from a lot of youngsters these days. Thats what further impressed me about The Ox and his performance in our crucial, last game of the season away at Newcastle. He had to come onto the pitch to replace our captain and defensive-midfielder, Mikel Arteta.

The Ox had to be mentally ready to step in if any injuries were to come about, and he was. He stepped into the tactical shoes of Arteta, who has been vital in the tactical shape of our team. The Ox had to show us a totally different part of his game. That ability to screen the back-four alongside Aaron Ramsey showed his maturity and his willingness to do a job for the team. He sat in front of the back-four, broke up play, kept the ball moving, got forward when needed, gave us a good energy in midfield and helped us to keep a clean-sheet with a smart, disciplined and tactical performance.

A player like him is he always good to have in the first-eleven mainly because of the possibilities he can give you during the game. He allows you to change your team shape during the game and can give you the ability to overload in attack. His ability to glide past players in midfield is easier for him because of his experience on the wings. This experience will serve him well, just like it has for a player like Moussa Dembele. Not only that but The Ox is consistently a goal threat when he is playing, as he showed most recently while scoring for England against Brazil, and he certainly does possess an attacking instinct. He has good passing ability also which makes him quite a good all-round player.

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THE OX FIRES ONE IN AGAINST BRAZIL

This skill-set will ensure that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be an effective central-midfielder for Arsenal, sooner rather than later.

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THE PUZZLE OF PODOLSKI

29 Apr
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LUKAS PODOLSKI

I’m still not sure if the arrival of Podolski will bear the fruit we expected. This is a German international player who hit 100 caps by the age of 26; this is not to be taken lightly. I really like Podolski but I fear he is more of a cult figure at the Emirates as opposed to being a fans favourite because of brilliant performances. At the age of 27, he is due to hit his peak years but in what position do Arsenal fans or, more importantly, does Arsene Wenger see him holding down and eventually becoming a key member?

My initial thoughts upon signing Lukas Podolski, were that he would be nurtured to become our main centre-forward but that thought has deteriorated drastically over this season with his rightful lack of playing time in this position. He started there on his debut against Sunderland and was poor. His movement, energy, mobility, first-touch were not at the level required for our team to dominate the ball and keep the ball moving at a good tempo. However, this was the first game of Podolski’s career at Arsenal so he will be forgiven… by the fans anyway because Wenger had decided not to start him there again until yesterday.

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ARSENE WENGER AND LUKAS PODOLSKI

In my knowledge of Wenger, you can say what you like about him being a soft-touch but one thing he won’t do is play you when he doesn’t believe in you. He doesn’t play Podolski as a striker and in my eyes that clearly represents his clear lack of belief in Podolski as a striker. A manager that has transformed the likes of Henry, Anelka, van Persie and even Adebayor into top-level strikers knows exactly what he is looking for in a striker and Podolski will never be a centre-forward for Arsenal. Based on the mould of previous Arsenal strikers, its hard to see what Podolski brings as a striker. We have always been used to seeing strikers of strength, speed, mobility, technique & creativity. Podolski doesn’t seem to fit into any of those brackets. Same could be said with Giroud. What is hard to doubt about Podolski is, he is extremely clinical. In front of goal he is ruthless, which 9 league goals from 46 shots proves.

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ARSHAVIN: NOW SITS ON THE BENCH

Also, his ability to put a cross where it needs to be, is devastating but I remember a player called Arshavin, who had great stats, but his all-round contribution was becoming less and less by the week. Fans had a similar love-in period with Arshavin and I actually think there is an interesting correlation between Podolski and Arshavin in their Arsenal careers.

Arshavin came in as a big signing to play on the left, as has Podolski, but as his form deterioated he was suddenly being played in the wrong position by the manager according to the fans. The difference’s between the players would lie in their creativity; Arshavin had the flair and the creative instinct to drift in of the flank and link up with the midfielders and strikers whereas Podolski is more of an efficient wide-forward who craves service. Arshavin, for all his shortcomings, even had a stint up-front where he scored a cracker against Liverpool in a 2-1 victory at Anfield.

The thing is, Podolski wants to play as a centre-forward for Arsenal and there are so many theories relating to his recent exclusion from the first eleven. There have been reports that suggest Podolski has an ankle injury, (that in a way, I hope is true) which is being fuelled by Wenger’s refusal to let him complete more than 4 full games since being at Arsenal. It is also hard to ever recall such a left-sided player being used by Wenger on the left-wing for Arsenal. We have been used to the likes of Overmars, Pires, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin; all in the main creative midfielders who come infield onto their stronger foot. This helps us keep the ball a lot better and allows our full-backs to get on the outside.

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PIRES: THE ARCHETYPAL WENGER LEFT-WINGER

Now, as I don’t ever see Podolski being a centre-forward at Arsenal, I do see a system that can eventually integrate him into our team as more of a striker and even get a better Theo Walcott again. The difference lies in the centre-forward they are playing with. Giroud will naturally make our wide players (that are strikers by nature), play as wingers; get wide and cross the ball in as he is a target-man type of striker. Walcott can just about get away with it because of his rapid pace.

The problem with this system is it makes us so rigid and Arsenal’s game has got to be fluid and based around players that can interchange positions and keep possession – thats modern day football.

Couple this with all the strikers that are being linked to Arsenal recently, the most frequently linked player has to be Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina. He is not reknowned as a clinical goal-scoring striker so why would Arsene Wenger want him? What would he bring to the team? Firstly he is a creative player that drops deep in order to get onto the ball and make things happen. Typically in a system with a new striker we would be assumed to be playing in a 4-3-3 formation but with the winger-cum-strikers (Podolski & Walcott) we possess, we need to find a way of utilising such serious goal threats.

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STEVAN JOVETIC: THE KEY TO PODOLSKI’S FUTURE

I believe a player in the mould of Jovetic will give us an interesting system that wouldn’t be matched by many teams in Europe. The fact Jovetic will drop off deeper throughout the game will make him harder to mark and will force Podolski and Walcott to make the runs through the channels as Jovetic gets onto the ball, in the spaces between the opposition defence and midfield. This essentially is Jovetic playing the false No.9 role but Walcott and Podolski will then be playing as inside forwards as a partnership up-top. In effect this “4-3-3” formation will alter into a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Jovetic playing in the hole behind Podolski & Walcott.

The benefits behind this are its going to give us a more creative and fluid team which can change shape during the game. As we know, if Podolski or Walcott need to retreat into winger positions as a counter-attacking measure, they are familiar with the duites. I think the system can be judged to be narrow but if the balance is correct in midfield, our full-backs will give us that effective wing threat.

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LJUNGBERG: TIMED HIS RUNS OFF THE WING TO PERFECTION

In order to be effective from these positions, Podolski and Walcott will have to study the runs that Ljungberg would make when Bergkamp (who would be perfect as a false No.9 in modern day football) picked up the ball looking to make a killer pass.

In my opinion, Podolski can succeed at Arsenal but it desperately hinges on the type of striker we recruit in the summer. I think with the signing of a hybrid striker, a 9.5 striker or whatever you want to call it, we will see a better Podolski and definitely that signing could kill two birds with one stone as Walcott also looks to make the step up as a striker. We have seen the benefits of what this type of striker can bring to the team in previous seasons with the Van Persie – Walcott partnership, so its reasonable to say Podolski can still have a big impact at Arsenal.

ENTREPRENEURS WANTED URGENTLY!

The Return of #LeBoss

18 Apr
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WENGER – LOST PATIENCE WITH SOME PLAYERS

The ruthless streak has re-emerged. The man, who is often described as a father-figure type of manager, has “lost his rag”. The way Wenger has hit some of the mainstays in his team with a severe reality check is reminiscent of a Dad who has been punishing his disobedient children. And rightly so.

Wenger is a man, that should be judged by his actions. He has a reputation of standing right by his players and remaining loyal. You could say he adopts an unwritten code of  “all that happens at the Club, stays within the Club.”

Wenger’s inability to publicly criticise players has often been seen as a weakness by fans. Fans had grown tired of Wenger always trying to put a positive spin on poor player performances. It had begun to sound scripted to fans. It had begun to sound insulting at the worst of times. Has this great man lost sight of what it takes to win? Has this man started to see a different game to what we were watching? Players were slipping to shocking standards but were still guaranteed to start in the next fixture.

BREAKING POINT

The breaking point came at White Hart Lane; a game Arsenal lost without being outperformed in the slightest and the leaving us 7-poits adrift of Spurs. It was easy for Tottenham to win the North London derby against a shaky defence who certainly looked like they were not executing any training ground drills with some shocking defending.

Arsenal Training Session

WENGER ADDRESSING THE SQUAD

Wenger had clearly become annoyed by his defence. “What happened today, we have seen many times this season repeated in the big games…We played offside in a position where we shouldn’t have played offside.” These were Wenger’s post-match comments after the game against Tottenham and he didn’t pull no punches. He made it apparent he was happy with the “energy levels of the team” and the team performance but felt the defence had let them down at decisive moments in the game.

Players such as our Captain – Thomas Vermaelen and Woijech Szszesny – our No.1 goalkeeper, had the media making embarrassing suggestions that our manager doesn’t allow us to train on defending. When you actually think about that suggestion, it is totally ludicrous and borderline disrespectful to suggest that one of the World’s finest football managers doesn’t use any form of defensive/tactical coaching in any of his sessions. This was a huge blow to the ego of a manager who had only suffered his 5th North London derby defeat in the Premier League after 34 games.

Not good signs for the Arsenal heading into a second-leg clash against the newly-crowned Champions of Germany, Bayern Munich. Losing 2-0 on aggregate and heading to the home of the leading German team in bad form, we were being tipped for a thrashing.

WIELDING THE AXE

This is when the manager snapped and made some drastic changes. He dropped our captain Vermaelen, who is the worst captain I have seen at Arsenal in 20 years. Wenger was clearly unimpressed by his leadership and organisation of our defence and thought Laurent Koscielny, who had been chomping at the bit, was due an opportunity.

This was a huge surprise but an even bigger surprise came in the managers decision to totally drop Woijech Szczesny from the squad. Our No.1 goalkeeper had been dropped and replaced by Lukasz Fabianski, a goalkeeper previously known as “Flappyhandski” and had been out for 13-months prior to a game we were expected to get hammered. Not to mention, our boy-wonder, Jack Wilshere as well as Lukas Podolski had also been diagnosed with ankle injuries and Bacary Sagna was still not back from injury.

Now, a lot of Arsenal fans were happy to settle for a defeat as long as we showed an enormous pride, as we know this result could potentially give us a jump-start in our pursuit of Champions League football. Along with our injuries this team selection from Wenger was seen as big gamble and could backfire , leave us with a thrashing which would send us into freefall. However, as we all know, the managers decisions have been well and truly vindicated after we beat Bayern Munich 2-0 at The Allianz Arena. Since then we have won 4 out of 5 league games and have managed to look a lot more assured in our game; scoring 11 goals and conceding a meagre 3.

Vermaelen had returned to the team against Norwich but was promptly dropped as soon as Per Mertesacker became available again. The manager said, “as a captain and a leader that shouldn’t guarantee you a place in any game. For purely sporting reasons, or tactical reasons in the game, when you don’t think it is the right selection, do you put the player in just because he is captain?’ If you know Wenger, he always has a captain who is core to the team. This only spells trouble for Vermaelen and after his shocking performance as captain this season, Wenger will listen to offers for him in the Summer.

FRAGILE VERMAELEN

FRAGILE VERMAELEN

The managers’ recently employed, heavy-handed style seems to have ruffled a few feathers recently and Wenger has even gone as far as saying, “What will decide our attitude, my attitude (in the transfer market), is how we do now until the end of the season.” Clearly this is a big suggestion to players that they must step up their game or be shipped out once the transfer window opens.

What Wenger said about Szszesny , who lets not forget has only just turned 23-years-old today, would of been classed as a lack of public support for the player. As had been earlier mentioned, Wenger will always cover up poor player performances but he took a total change in direction and publicly questioned Szszesny’s mental strength and said, “recently, he had one or two games where he was performing less.” This was designed to nullify Szszesny’s level of complacency and was an unusual step for our manager but I can only assume Wenger , who is an advocate of humility, wanted to bring Szszesny down a peg or two and force him to work harder on his game. This was followed promptly in the form of criticism of Wenger from Szszesny Snr, that Szszesny Jnr apologised for in a written statement, that then saw Szszesny playing for the Arsenal u-21’s against Liverpool (surely further punishment from Wenger).

BENCHED SZSZESNY

BENCHED SZSZESNY

There is also the recently reported issue surrounding Podolski’s career at Arsenal who has also been frozen out of the team recently but that should be left for another post.

Add these instances of ruthlessness to the belief from David Dein that, his close friend, Arsene Wenger will splash the cash in the Summer, “The fact is he has to strengthen the team and I know he will do that.”

Arsene Wenger has been frank in his interviews lately, has dropped players who he doesn’t see as performing and is apparently lining up big transfer targets for this Summer; I think its fair to say there will be plenty movement in the Summer and Wenger won’t hold any prisoners.