Tag Archives: soccer


4 Jun

“He’s too old”, “He’s too slow”, “He’s lost his legs”, “He passes sideways”.

These are the regular criticisms thrown at our 32-year-old, resident defensive-midfielder, Mikel Arteta. I have criticised him many times this season, and in particular after big games such as Liverpool (away), Chelsea (away) and Everton (away). Against top class opposition and away from home it is easier for Arteta’s lack of top, top quality to be exposed, especially when lining-up without his legs, Aaron Ramsey. There is absolutely no doubt, that the Arteta-Ramsey axis provides the best blend in the engine room.


I don’t think Arteta is a top-class player at all and I think many Arsenal fans will agree but he is certainly a consistent and reliable performer for Arsenal. He brings a stability to the team and is a big reason why the attitude within our team/squad has changed. The professionalism he exudes is vital and while, I would say, Alex Song was better suited to the role (individually) because of his physical power, Arteta’s discipline, tactical knowledge and maturity make him a key element in our overall attitude as a team.




This improvement is reflected in our amazing consistency throughout the season. A big part of that has been to finally address our main defensive issues i.e screening our defence and being more organised from set-pieces, but in trying to execute what has been practised, we must have the will to get it right. Arteta always maintains the right attitude – him not being so cavalier benefits the team as he takes the responsibility to keep the defensive balance in midfield and while not being the tough-tackling powerhouse midfielder that the fans crave, he has the leadership qualities which help to bring the best out of other players. Wenger says, ““He is very influential and he’s a leader – one of the leaders of the team.”




We do need a top-class defensive-midfielder in the mould of Javi Martinez or Luiz Gustavo to compete against the elite squads but for 85% of the League games, Arteta does the job. Arsenal conceded 41 goals this season but this is a misleading statistic as 22 goals were conceded against the top five teams. This is Wenger’s worst record against the top-five, in a season where we conceded 19 goals against the remaining Premier League clubs, which shows a very strong defensive improvement with the exception of the big games. The consistency is there for all to see which is always down to leadership and direction of the team and whether we rate him or not, Mikel Arteta is a huge part of this. Wenger says, “I like Mikel Arteta because of his quality, his focus, his commitment and his winner’s attitude. I have big respect for what he has achieved this season. He is very conscientious, very professional and he has a couple of years left [at the top].



8 Mar

As Arsenal approach the final run-in of games, we take a look at the factors that can fire them towards their main objectives.

When I think back to this precise point last season, there was absolute anarchy in the media. We had just been been dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn at The Emirates, totally outclassed by Bayern at The Emirates and lost the biggest North London derby in years. Broken cannons were all over the place. Wenger was being questioned to the near point of disrespect which forced him to have arguably, his fiercest press conference to date in the build-up to the Bayern game, which we won 2-0.

At this stage of the season, the Club came under a hostile level of pressure but the Bayern victory, despite still being knocked out of the Champions League, was followed up by a superb points haul of 26 points from an available 30. This was an incredible turn of events which came about after a masterful re-shuffling of the pack from the manager.

It is with very interesting timing that Arsenal have decided to announce that Per Mertsacker and Tomas Rosicky will be renewing their deals with the Club. With Mertesacker showing his commitment, as one of the core leaders at the Club, it was very important for Arsenal to not only avoid a public, seasonal contract wrangling but to also provide the Club with a boost for the League and Cup run-ins.

Season after season, we are always looking at our senior players, questioning their commitment to our great Club and quite often, we have been incapable of satisfying players’ needs, whether it be financially or on the pitch. There are countless examples of this – Toure, Adebayor, Clichy, Nasri, Fabregas and Song but I would say, since Theo Walcott signed a new deal last January, we have shown our desire to keep our most important players at the Club and I tip my hat to Ivan Gazidis.

Arsenal fans have really come to appreciate what a big player Mertesacker is to the Club in all ways and he has now become a huge favourite with the fans and the players after producing quality defensive performances. A lot of players mention our great team spirit and Mertesacker, as a leader, is very important to this and even as a defender, we shouldn’t sleep on the significance of this deal.

Rosicky is another huge part of our squad spirit. I don’t think he has been particularly consistent but he personifies what our game should be about. He understands the Club and while I think the Club has been extremely loyal towards him, despite his many injuries, I have never got the impression he wanted to be anywhere else in all of his 8 years here. He plays with full commitment but always has the urgency in his game to play the technical football our philosophy is based on. In the words of Wenger, he likes to “accelerate the game”, which is key at the highest level of football and is not an easy quality to find.

The manager has also suggested, that Ramsey and Cazorla are also very close to signing new deals, which will give the Club another huge lift. Not only this but Ramsey, who has been out for over 2 months, should be back in contention for the North London derby next weekend. Ramsey had been a huge player for Arsenal up until his injury and definitely an early shout for Player of the Season. At this stage of the season, when weary-legs start setting in, it is very important to welcome back key players at key times. In terms of player/squad morale, there can’t be many better feelings for the players than to have their futures secured. It truly does create a certainty and assuredness in the workplace.

Last year, we done well to salvage a top-four finish but Wenger has recently been quoted as saying, “We fight the whole season to be in these kind of positions. You want the opportunity to show your strengths – we have that now.” This quote represents the managers’ belief that we are set to make the next step this season, as we are in a better position this year at the same point. We are 12 points better off in the League, 4 points off the top and in the quarter-final of the FA Cup and key contract renewals could see us given a lift, equivalent to last year. 

If Arsenal manage to get 26 points from the last 30 again this year, that will give Arsenal a total of 85 points which would be a great achievement but it remains to be seen if that would even be enough to win the League. Furthermore, it would be brilliant to see us win the FA Cup for the 5th time under Wenger and with all the good news I can see Arsenal finishing strongly again this season.

Liverpool vs Arsenal preview: How should the midfield shape up?

7 Feb

Arsenal are going into this game a bit light in midfield – Aaron Ramsey is still at least a month away from the first-team, Mathieu Flamini is suspended and Jack Wilshere is 50/50. The only certainties to be present in the squad are Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arteta is a nailed on starter for the defensive-midfield role and the remaining question is: Who should partner him at Anfield? I am fully aware that we have an Oxlade-Chamberlain that is raring to go in a central-midfield role, after bagging a brace against Crystal Palace, but my preference would be for Rosicky to line-up alongside Arteta.




My reasoning for this is, the ability of Rosicky in getting the game moving at a high-tempo. Rosicky will serve our short-passing game a lot better than Oxlade-Chamberlain and help us to retain possession. With his experience and knowhow I would see no problems in letting Rosicky pull the strings. The intensity and urgency he will bring into midfield will be key at Anfield. His understanding of when to press will also be essential.Another benefit of playing Rosicky will also be, to allow Oxlade-Chamberlain to play in the three that play off the striker (Cazorla-Ozil-Oxlade-Chamberlain).




This will give us a much needed fluidity and flexibility during the game which will allow us to adapt to the situations that will arise. The Ox has a versatility that will make him a big player at Arsenal and in this sort of game I could see him swapping positions with Mesut Ozil to fill in centrally just behind Giroud. With Gerrard being deployed in a deep-lying midfield role, Wenger could instruct The Ox to do a tactical job (ala Weimann) and buzz around Gerrard using his energy and power to disrupt Liverpool’s key passers’ game. The Ox has the technical ability to play there, can get forward in support of our striker and has shown he can score goals. Rosicky can also do this, as he did against Liverpool at The Emirates, but we would lose that much-needed passing ability in midfield.


That unpredictability in our formation could cause Liverpool endless problems as they suffer from a weakened defence (Johnson, Agger, Sakho and Enrique all injured) and a weakened midfield (Lucas injured). With Gerrard not being a natural holding-midfielder and Liverpool likely to have a two-man midfield, Liverpool could struggle tactically in keeping Ozil, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky quiet as they come in off the flanks.

Is Julian Draxler the answer to our left-side “problem”?

27 Jan


Throughout Wenger’s reign as Arsenal manager we have always been used to an attacking-midfielder/inverted winger playing as our left-winger. The likes of Overmars, Pires, Rosicky, Nasri, Arshavin, have all filled in at this position, in order to help us keep the ball a lot better – overload in midfield and use our (usually very attacking) left-backs as wingers in attack.


However, these players also needed to be capable of scoring goals or being very creative and racking up the assists – a lot of responsibility is given to these players in Arsenal’s team. They must have the ability to produce moments of magic and literally be our attacking-midfielder and left-winger all-in-one.

More recently, we have had a mixture of Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and Santi Cazorla filling in the role on the left-hand side. At times Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere have also attempted to. This has confirmed to me that we do have a genuine need to get in a player that will command that berth.


Wenger doesn’t have the belief in Podolski to effectively play in this role for Arsenal as he is not in the traditional mould for an Arsenal “left-winger”. Being on the left-hand side, Podolski struggles to make the passes our type of play commands as he is such a left-sided player. Wilshere playing on the left brings the same issue, despite him being more of an attacking-midfielder, it is difficult for him to come inside and make the angled-passes that we need when dominating possession.



At times, Rosicky can play the role but won’t be going down the outside of the full-backs, holding the width and stretching the game as he is very right-sided. Rosicky is excellent coming inside and making different angles with his passes as he also is the expert in using the outside of his boot.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is a young and gifted football-player with such versatility in his game. He is a brilliant winger with trickery and speed. He also has lovely technical ability which is apparent in his crossing and even more so in his passing but for this reason Wenger sees him as a long-term central-midfielder. I like him as a winger, he is great in the one-on-one situation but I think he is a better right-winger more than a left-winger/attacking-midfielder. Gervinho was a great runner, had decent off-the-ball movement but wasn’t clinical technically which meant our overall game-play suffered.


Currently Arsenal’s resident “left-winger” is Santi Cazorla. The maestro that had a blinding first season at Arsenal scoring 12 League goals while playing in the attacking-midfield role, has had his position taken from him by Mesut Ozil and as a result of his flexibility and versatility he has been moved to play on the left. This season has been a stop-start season for Cazorla as he has had to adjust to a new role in the team and has scored only 3 League goals.



We all know Cazorla possesses outstanding quality but could we do better in this particular position? In my opinion, yes. Cazorla has physical limits in terms of being able to “do the full-back”. Cazorla is short, stocky and is not blessed with acceleration to beat full-backs. While he is majestic in his use of the ball he should be never be expected to “skin the full-back” or get to the byline ala Robert Pires despite possibly being the most two-footed player in the League. He is currently a great No.10 “doing a job” for the team and while it works because of our style of short-passing style of football, I am convinced we need a new player there that will be a hybrid winger/attacking-midfielder.


For Arsenal to pursue the signing of Julian Draxler would be ideal in terms of the physical and technical blend of the player. He has great dribbling ability and his close control is equally effective on both feet, making him capable of going down the outside of defenders, stretching the game and holding the width. Couple this with his speed and power while dribbling, makes him a tough player to second-guess in the one-on-one situation.



The player is also very creative, especially as a No.10 and to a degree, this is the bad news. The player has had an outburst as recent as last month, where he stated, “I have now resigned myself to the fact that I am not welcome in the number 10 position here at Schalke. I am still convinced to be as dangerous just outside the centre. Even though I perhaps am the only one who thinks this.”

This highlights Draxler’s desire to play as a No.10 but there is practically no room for Draxler to become our fixed No.10. At the age of 20 and with a reported release-clause of £35m, there is the possibility that Arsenal could splash the cash in order to capture one of the best, young players in world football, who would undoubtedly claim our “left-winger” slot as his own for at least the next 8 years.


31 Jul

Here we have Jack Wilshere, arguably the goldenboy and the future of English football.

A big performer for the big stage with a big personality. This has been demonstrated on a few occasions, most memorably against a legendary Barcelona team at The Emirates.

The main problem that seems to have hindered Wilshere’s incredible progress, is undoubtedly his injuries which kept him sidelined for the whole of the 2011-12 season, the season after his breakthrough into the Arsenal first eleven. In the 2010-11 season he won the PFA Young Player of The Year Award and also made the PFA Team of The Year. He accomplished a lot in his first year as a regular member of the team.

This is a player who has made his League debut at the age of 16 and is the youngest league debutant in Arsenal’s history but he has missed out on crucial stages of his development.

However, the big question for many Arsenal fans is, what position will Wilshere conquer? He has a bit of everything in his locker. A player who, I would say is a hybrid of Paul Scholes and Joe Cole. He can glide past players elegantly in midfield, provoke, prod and commit the opposition but he also has a lovely left-peg which he uses to stroke the ball around from deep.

He has been seen by many as a No.10. As evidenced by Arsene Wenger, who upon selling Robin van Persie, decided to reward Wilshere with the famous playmaker number, also worn by Dennis Bergkamp. This shirt number is usually a signal of intent from the manager and would suggest that, if at least long-term, Wilshere will be the resident creative midfielder.

I haven’t been convinced that this is Wilshere’s long-term role in the side and although I think he has got a good level of flair, I don’t think he has the creativity or goal-scoring potential of, as an example, Cesc Fabregas. In my eyes, Wilshere will not be able to match the creative exploits of Santi Cazorla, who is a superb creative influence on the team. However, he does have a degree of dynamism, that will be a huge virtue in a more central position to the team. In an outstanding all-round performance against Barcelona, Wilshere made a superb attacking contribution in the final third with a pass completion of 91%.

This suggests that Wilshere can make a quality contribution in attack but, for me a quality No.10 scores at least 12 league goals per season. Wilshere currently has 1 league goal in his career for Arsenal.

I’m not saying that he isn’t an outstanding player, as I believe he is one of the best player’s at under-21 level in world football but as a No.10 he will definitely have to increase his goal-scoring record drastically.

Fabregas was in a similar position where his profligacy led to a few doubters but Fabregas always seemed to have the potential to blossom into a goal-scoring midfielder. When Wenger watched him at the u-17’s World Cup in 2003, Fabregas won the Golden Boot. When Fabregas begun to score regularly for Arsenal, Wenger said, ‘I believe he is more relaxed, there is less tension in his finishing. You feel that before he wanted to force the chance and now he is more relaxed. Also he has gained more physical power. You can see he resists much more the runs of his opponents and he is more powerful in his runs. These two ingredients make a big difference.’ In Wilshere’s case, I wouldn’t say he has this problem, he just doesn’t have the instinct of a goal-scoring midfielder.

I would also say, football is changing. You need great passers at the base of your attack, who help you to keep the ball well, change the tempo of your game and start of your attacks. Jack Wilshere is in this mould but also has the bite in his game which will allow him to cope well in the battle. Think of Arteta who has a tidy, short-range passing-game with the tactical nous to screen his back four without being quick, strong or particularly aggressive. Jack Wilshere can be this player but will have to strongly develop his tactical understanding of the game. He has the tenacity to succeed and also has a much better passing-range. Also with Steve Bould, a defensive coach who has a great understanding in the defensive aspect of the game, Jack Wilshere can blossom alongside the correct clientele.

Wenger’s use of him correlates with this idea also. When Wilshere was used alongside Alex Song in midfield, Song would advance forward and Wilshere had to sit and screen his back-four, like the under-rated Claude Makelele. With all this in mind it is fair to say his schooling in this position has already begun.

Not to mention what the legendary Fabio Capello had planned for him as England manager. Capello compared Wilshere to Makelele.

Capello said: “Wilshere will play in front of the back four. It is not the position he prefers – he wants to go forward. But one of the midfielders has to stay back.

“Makelele was faster and could play with both feet, but Wilshere is really intelligent on the pitch. His movement, with or without the ball, has improved a lot. For me, Wilshere is better.

“In some games at Arsenal he has played forward. In other games he has played in front of the back four.

“He has improved a lot with short passes and winning back the ball. He is playing with confidence now.”

This gives us an indication of how Wilshere and his career can progress. For me he will have to take the advice of ex-England captain Bryan Robson, who said on Wilshere, “I look at him and think what kind of player does Jack want to be? Is he going to be an offensive player? If he is, he needs to score more goals. If he is going to be defensive, he has to work that little bit harder on the defensive side of his game.”

I am of the opinion Wilshere really should consider trying to establish himself as the heir to Mikel Arteta rather than the next Dennis Bergkamp. He should challenge himself, to live up to Capello’s huge billing of being better than Makelele.



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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.



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. 



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.



The Return of #LeBoss

18 Apr


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.


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 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.


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.



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).



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.