Sanchez Curler Helps Arsenal Beat FC Koln

Alexis Sanchez scored his first goal of season to help Arsenal jump-start their Europa League campaign with a victory against German outfit FC Koln.
Sead Kolasinac equalised shortly after the break while Sanchez and Hector Bellerin shaped the final 3-1.

Some 20,000 enthusiastic Cologne fans had travelled to London on the night, delaying the game by an hour due to chaos outside the Emirates.

Backed by the numbers and passion of their supporters, the Cologne players started the game with urgency and assertiveness. The built-up energy became too much to bear for David Ospina who misplaced a clearance in the ninth minute, and the ball fell to Cordoba whose long-range effort broke the deadlock, 1-0 for the visitors.

As the game progressed, Wenger’s choice of back three looked increasingly shaky with veteran Per Mertesacker on the receiving end of frequent dashing runs. Things looked similar up front with Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin impotently aiming balls at Olivier Giroud’s head from the sides.

The half-time whistle came with the shock of the visitors leading at the Emirates subsiding to the sense of acceptance for the fairness of the result.
Undoubtedly, Wenger had taken notice of his back three’s struggles to contain the speedy runs because he opted to add another body at the back for the second half.

Results followed soon after. With less than five minutes gone, Sead Kolasinac volleyed a rebound past the Cologne keeper Timo Horn to equalise the game.
By then, the visitors’ initial charge had still not worn off, but as the game progressed, it became apparent that Wenger’s tactical changes were taking effect. Cologne’s time on the ball decreased while Arsenal found it easier to exploit the open spaces.

Within this frame, Sanchez, who had been quiet on the night thus far, received the ball on the left, cut inside and executed a stunning curler to complete the comeback, 2-1.

The beauty of the goal must have sapped all the remaining energy out of Stoger’s men because the Gunners sailed to a third and final goal through Bellerin eight minutes from time.

At the final whistle, the Arsenal supporters had all the reasons to congratulate their club’s players for a well-deserved comeback, and perhaps the third of them, those who didn’t go home before the end, did.

Who will replace Ozil and Ramsey in the Gunners Match against Cologne?

Ozil and Ramsey with their team mates

The Thursday-night jibe which Arsenal fans reserve for their Spurs counterparts has now become their bitter pill.
Last time Arsenal played at this level in Europe, they lost the UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray. Seventeen years later, their adventure in the lower tier of European football resumes on Thursday night when they host German outfit FC Cologne.


Arsenal’s big picture is not rosy. The Gunners missed out on Champions League qualification last year, and they have not started this season well too – two defeats out of four games so far.

A good start against the easier opposition of the Europa League could potentially recharge the batteries. But Wenger said earlier in the week that he would prioritise the Premier League instead, meaning we should expect to see a massively rotated Arsenal side against Cologne. Wenger also announced in the pre match press conference yesterday that Ozil and Ramsey will be completely rested so we don’t expect to see them in the match
This is not necessarily bad news as it will give players starved for first-team football a chance to shine.

Young prospect Reiss Nelson is likely to play a role in this fixture following impressive performances for the U23s side. Alexis Sanchez looks set to start too as he still needs more playing time to be season-ready.

The Gunners are still without Santi Cazorla who is out till the end of the year while Alex Iwobi and Franciq Coquelin are big doubts for this fixture.
Predicted line-up: Ospina, Monreal, Mertesacker, Holding, Kolasinac, Wilshere, Elneny, Walcott, Sanchez, Nelson, Giroud.

FC Cologne

Make no mistake: Cologne will be no pushovers despite their recent slump in form. They find themselves bottom of the table with three defeats out of five games in the Bundesliga in contrast to their reputable fifth-place finish last season.

The danger for Arsenal may stem from Cologne’s desperation to try and turn their season around. It will be difficult, however, as the Germans has never won in England before – three losses and two draws.
Manager Peter Stoger will be feeling hopeful ahead of the match as his squad is fully fit and match ready.

Predicted line-up: Horn, Klunter, Sorensen, Heintz, Hector, Hoger, Lehmann, Zoller, Bittencourt, Osako, Cordoba.


The two sides have only met twice before – in the Fairs Cup 1971 – with Cologne getting the better out of Arsenal on away goal rule.
Cologne – Arsenal 1-0 March 23, 1971
Arsenal – Cologne 2-1 March 9, 1971

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Tim Stillman column Arseblog It’s been 5 months since Arsenal adopted the en vogue 3-4-2-1 formation, switching to three central defenders for the first time since the manager’s maiden season. Wenger was adamant during pre-season that the team would adopt this shape again for the outset of the current campaign and he used it for the duration of pre-season. Still, it is difficult to be convinced that Arsene sees this as his long term formation. When he adopted it back in April, he pretty much admitted that it was a confidence trick for his players. The adoption of the 3421 was borne out of a period of crisis at the tail-end of a season threatening to derail, so the suspicion remains that this is something of an interim system. Indeed, many were surprised to see the back 3 survive August’s Anfield slaughter, during which Wenger switched to a back 4. Whilst the three centre halves were not the issue against Liverpool, the amount of cover they were afforded by the midfield certainly was. A trio of Ramsey, Xhaka and Özil is not going to bring you a great deal of off-ball rigour. Oxlade Chamberlain was hardly the most fastidious in this respect either. Wenger has described the back 3 as an almost exclusively defensive measure and initially, it gave the Gunners a little more security against teams that like to gallop into the spaces vacated by Arsenal’s full-backs. But as Michael Cox explained on last week’s Arsecast, eventually opponents familiarise themselves with your setup and begin to probe for weaknesses. Just two days before Arsenal’s midfield was stripped naked at Anfield, Jonathan Wilson wrote a very prescient piece about the Gunners’ disregard for ‘the red zone.’ That is, the area of the pitch between the centre circle and the 18 yard box. Lewis Ambrose dissected this last week and Andrew highlighted that, even in the accomplished performance against Bournemouth, there were times when Arsenal’s midfield cupboard was worryingly empty.

Space in the Arsenal midfield

It remains a mystery that Arsene Wenger did not regard the acquisition of a central midfield player as an urgent priority this summer. But in the absence of a quality connector, the question remains as to how Arsenal close this midfield gap. I think a 4321 shape- AKA ‘the Christmas tree’, might be worth a look. For a start, it maintains the shape of the attack, with Alexis and Özil taking up the half spaces behind the striker. Both players found a kind of happy medium in those roles at the end of last season. It allows Mesut to drift from central areas towards the touchline where he can find pockets of space. It also satisfies Sanchez’s puppyish desire to drift from wide to central areas and become involved with the build-up play. Arsenal have, by and large, attacked promisingly in recent months, with the exception of the capitulation at Anfield. Behind them, adopting the Christmas tree formation would simply involve moving one chess piece. At the moment, Shkodran Mustafi plays at the centre of the back 3. He operates a little like David Luiz does in the same role for Chelsea. Mustafi is preferred centrally because of his ability to play penetrative passes between the lines. Here Mustafi operates as a kind of hybrid between a centre half and a ball playing midfielder. The issue at the moment is that the three centre halves are overloaded by poor off ball play by those in front of them. Bringing Mohammed Elneny or Francis Coquelin into the midfield with Xhaka and Ramsey potentially helps to allay that problem. Xhaka and Coquelin or Elneny sitting in front of the defence could tighten up that ‘red zone’ a little and not expose Xhaka quite so much. The Swiss thrives on security and control, because once he starts chasing the ball, or senses that he has lost control of the situation, he tends to panic and make rash decisions. Effectively, sacrificing a centre half for a defensively minded midfielder is shifting the deck chairs a little, but it takes some of the pressure off of the defence. Even if you do have one fewer defender, potentially you have greater control and a reduction in chaos if the central zone is patrolled more tightly. The question as to who to drop into this midfield ‘firefighter’ position is an interesting one. In home games against lesser sides, Mohammed Elneny’s superior ball retention could be prioritised. Elneny was trialled in Mustafi’s hybrid central defender / first playmaker position in pre-season. Wenger prefers to have two ‘number 6s’ at the base of his midfield as opposed to a clear number 8 and number 4. Arteta and Song operated in this fashion for a few seasons to good effect.

in possession

This means the two deeper midfield players swap constantly in order to avoid being marked by opposition attackers. One drops deep to collect the ball from the defence, while the other pushes on and takes a marker away. This did not work so well with Xhaka and Ramsey because their skillsets are so defined. With Xhaka and Elneny however, this pivoting of positions can work. One of the central tenets of Wenger’s philosophy is to push his midfield up and give his team the space to build from the back. This worked most notably in the 2017 FA Cup Final. Aaron Ramsey kept pushing beyond Kante and Matic, only to then drop back in front of them to collect the ball from Xhaka. The result was that both Chelsea men were confused about their positioning, allowing Mesut Özil plenty of space to exploit. For games against bigger opposition, Francis Coquelin would probably be a better bet than Elneny. This midfield role would require a lot of defensive diligence, especially to cover for whichever full-back has pushed on to attack. Elneny has the energy levels for the task, but he is often easy to dribble past and lacks the defensive diligence Coquelin has. I have often thought that if you could combine Elneny and Coquelin’s better qualities in one player, you’d have an excellent screening midfielder. The presence of either frees Ramsey up to push forward when the team are in possession. The Welshman has the lungs to drop back into midfield out of possession too. The addition of Coquelin or Elneny gives the Gunners an extra injection of energy and mobility. It also creates a connecting line between the three midfielders in the build-up phase. Mustafi can either look for Xhaka or Elneny a touch ahead of him, or else he is capable of going through the lines to Ramsey. That creates problems for the opposition in terms of their spacing.

out of possession

Of course, the fundamental drawback of the ‘Christmas tree’ formation is that it lacks width. This would need to be worked on at London Colney with careful interchanging of positions. There is a lot of pressure on the full-backs to cover ground to provide the wide areas. Arsenal need to ensure they only entirely commit one full-back at a time and Coquelin or Elneny need to be alert enough to cover the space they leave behind. Alexis and Özil are already accustomed to their roles and generally have a good handle on when to move wide and support the full-back and when to occupy more central spaces. Ideally, Arsenal should have bought more of a specialist ‘connecting’ midfielder, but they didn’t, so they will have to make do with what they have until January at least. I am not entirely convinced Wenger will adopt this 4321 formation, but I think a Christmas tree could bring Arsenal some early season cheer. Follow me on Twitter @Stillberto– Like my page on Facebook– or subscribe to my YouTube channel.   The post Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

On Dick Law’s departure, why he must be replaced – and not by Ivan Gazidis

Last week it was reported that Arsenal’s chief transfer negotiator, Dick Law, would be leaving the club at the end of the month when his contract expires. From what I understand, this isn’t a case of him being pushed or let go as part of some kind of power-play, but simply because of his desire to return home to America to spend more time with his family. It’s also been suggested that Ivan Gazidis has taken an office at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground so he can be closer to the action, and perhaps to have a more hands-on role when it comes to the club’s transfer business. This may be for other reasons too, but I would hope that departure of Dick Law is one that’s seen as an opportunity to really shake up an area that very seriously requires it. First of all, as chief executive, Gazidis has responsibilities that go beyond transfers, and while there’s nothing to say he couldn’t or shouldn’t be involved in that to some extent, you would hope that his focus will be fixed more firmly on the business side of the club. Commercial revenues, sponsorship deals, marketing, partnerships, ticketing, memberships, the club ‘brand’, and other areas – in which revenues are not what they should be – all fall under his remit. There’s work to do in that regard and that really ought to be his primary concern. It’s been clear for some time that our set-up as a club when it comes to recruitment and player attrition has been found wanting. We find it difficult to bring players in, we find it difficult to move players out, and that’s with the trio of Wenger, Gazidis and Law working on things in conjunction with a scouting department that needs a root and branch shake-up from top to bottom. Whatever you think of Law and how he’s operated down the years, there’s no doubt that he had a lot of work to do. He carried out negotiations with other clubs, and he was someone who spoke a number of languages making contact with clubs abroad easier. He was involved in player contracts at all levels, and did a lot of travelling throughout the season. Of course we did hire a legal expert during the summer. Huss Fahmy came from Team Sky to inject some legal expertise into the matter of player contracts, and that’s a good move. Bringing a specialist in to do specialist work, no arguments there, but as yet it’s unclear how much he’s had to do and how effective it has been. It might take some time before we see that, and given the contractual situations he’s having to deal with right, he’s been thrown in at the deep end. So, it seems very obvious to me that Arsenal need to bring in somebody to replace Dick Law. His departure leaves a gap that really needs to be filled by another person, not Ivan Gazidis taking on more responsibility. In some ways it’s the perfect opportunity to start building a platform for the future, a future when Arsene Wenger is no longer the manager, because the sooner we get those structures in place the better. When the day comes, in 2031 or whenever it might be, we are not going to find another man who will want to do all the things Wenger does. The new modern coach doesn’t want to deal with the nuts and bolts and the minutiae, he wants to concentrate on his team. He wants to be able to tell the people who deal with transfers ‘I want this player’ and for them to go get him. He wants to say ‘This player is not in my plans’ and for them to move him on. He wants to say ‘Give this player a new deal’ and for it to be sorted out. End of story. We know right now that Wenger is opposed to a Director of Football in the traditional sense. He will not work with someone who has authority of his decision making, whether that’s in terms of recruitment, team selection, which players come and go etc. However, this doesn’t have to be that … yet. This appointment would be someone to help and support him in the current system, and when the time comes to say goodbye and bring in a new manager, we have the ability to shift to a more modern set-up under which the new head coach would operate. The new Dick Law, whoever that might be, would have some time at the club under his belt, awareness of what works and what doesn’t, and then hopefully the authority to make the necessary changes. Arsenal are already stretched too thinly during transfer windows, and with next summer’s changes to contend with in a World Cup year, we have to ensure that we improve. That’s not going to happen without filling the gap Dick Law’s departure leaves, regardless of how much extra Ivan Gazidis does. And, as I said earlier, he has other very important areas of the business that he has responsibility for. It’s a chance to modernise and improve our behind the scenes set-up, and I hope that the people tasked with running this football view it as exactly that and not a way to increase their own authority. It’s a role that could, perhaps, be filled by an ex-player, or someone who could add some genuine football knowledge to a boardroom that, despite talk of a catalyst for change, remains very short of it in general. Am I confident? Not really, but I am hopeful that it will be seen as the opportunity it is to make Arsenal better. Which is, of course, the most important thing. — Let’s leave you today with yesterday’s Arsecast Extra. James and I chat about the Bournemouth win, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez, this Dick Law issue, the Europa League, and lots more. Links below, enjoy.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL   The post On Dick Law’s departure, why he must be replaced – and not by Ivan Gazidis appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Wenger: My Chilean is not Falstaffian + Europa League time madness

Over the course of the summer people have probably called Alexis Sanchez many things. There are some fans disgruntled at his desire to leave and I bet they called him names, like Alexis Gonechez, or Twatlexis Spamchez, or something equally creative. But I bet none of them ever called him fat. That most classic of football insults. Even if you’re playing against a bloke who is rail thin, like an anorexic Peter Crouch, chances are someone will have a go at him during the game. ‘Shut up you fat prick’, they’ll say because there’s nothing a footballer at any level hates more than being called fat. Some of them are able to compartmentalise it better than others. The Charlie Adams and Grant Holts of this world don’t like it but it doesn’t stop them from gorging themselves and growing large on Mr Kipling French Fancies, gelatinous pies and the like, and they continue to Pavarotti their way around a football pitch. The evidence of their corpulence is obvious though, whereas it’s very difficult to understand why anyone would call Alexis Sanchez fat. At every possible opportunity he’s got his shirt off, displaying his rippling torso, his six pack, his glistening abs, engorged … well, you get the idea. He’s not fat, but his former U20 Chile coach called him that the other week when Chile were doing very badly in their World Cup qualifiers. It’s patently not the case, yet Arsene Wenger appears to have been asked about it following the 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, and as you’d expect the manager has dismissed it as nonsense, saying:
He is not fat. His fat percentage is under ten, so that’s not fat, but you know how it is when you don’t win, people find every problem for you. He was not completely physically ready to start three games in a week and certainly for Chile he was not completely ready as well.
It’s good that we’ve got that clarified, otherwise people might have thought a not fat man was fat. It will be interesting to see how Wenger manages his situation though. From what he’s saying he needs him to have a bit more training, a few more match minutes under his belt, before he’ll put him back into the starting XI, so I wonder if he’s got Thursday in mind for that. Under normal circumstances, with everybody fit and sharp, a Europa League game three days before a trip to Stamford Bridge is one in which the manager would try and rest key players if possible. Yet giving Alexis an hour, perhaps, against Cologne is what he needs to get up to speed and back to something approaching his best. I thought he looked sharp and lively when he came on against Bournemouth, so he doesn’t seem to be too far away, but obviously the manager sees him on the training ground better and has more information on his fitness than I do. Certainly the week ahead will give the manager plenty to think about. Despite it just being another match on a different day, there’s something different about Europa League versus Champions League, especially when you’ve been so used to the latter for so many years. Firstly, there’s getting over the weird psychological thing of playing Thursday and then Sunday. It somehow feels shorter than Wednesday – Saturday, even though it’s exactly the same. Of course there were Champions League games on Tuesdays too, so that’s one thing, but it’s about being used to one format and then having to deal with another, and this time thing which maybe isn’t a thing but feels like one all the same. We also have to do that and worry about a Premier League game next weekend which is really going to require something big from this group of players. If we as fans are concerned about an away game at one of the big sides, you can be sure they’re aware of the record too. There are countless examples of psychological barriers in sport, and right now this feels like one for Arsenal. We know we can beat Chelsea, as the FA Cup final demonstrated (Community Shield too, but there’s no chance of a penalty shoot-out if it ends 1-1 on Sunday), but we also know our record away from home against the top team is very poor. The last time we won at Stamford Bridge was 2011, that glorious day when Andre Santos cracked one home, Theo Walcott did his Oooops I fell over trick, and John Terry slipped landing face first in the dirt, eating mud-pie as some bloke went through on goal to score. It is still so early in the season, but this feels like a defining week in some ways. Firstly how we approach these new European adventures, and secondly can we get over what happened at Anfield and produce away from home against a team who have enjoyed too much success over us at their place for too long? We will see. Ok, that’s about that for this morning. James is back from his honeymooning and we’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you later this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send us to both on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog and we’ll get that up for you before lunchtime all going well. Until then.   The post Wenger: My Chilean is not Falstaffian + Europa League time madness appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Welbeck Drives Arsenal to Emphatic Bournemouth Win

Arsenal produced an emphatic response to their humiliating defeat to Liverpool before the international break with a three-goal fiesta against strugglers Brounemouth at the Emirates.
Danny Welbeck bagged a double either side of the break while Alexandre Lacazette’s first-half strike completed the classic result.
If the distinct sound of sharpening of knifes could be heard before the game for Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board, one of relieved chatter and uplifting music surely reigned after it.
Two weeks ago, critics jumped on the manager because of his team selection choices against Liverpool. Today, defiant Wenger challenged them with more of the same.
The main culprits for the loss at Anfield, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka were given a second chance in the centre of the park while summer renegade Shkodran Mustafi found himself rooted in the centre of defence ahead of last season’s revelation Rob Holding.
Lacazette made his return at the spear of attack, partnered by Welbeck and Mesut Ozil on either side.
This time it worked.
Wenger didn’t have to wait for long to get his vote of confidence in Welbeck repaid when, in the sixth minute, the England international met a cross from Sead Kolasinac to open Arsenal’s tally.
Twenty minutes later, a Ramsey long ball released the front two resulting in a one-two and a well-aimed Lacazette shot from 14 yards out for 2-0.
At the half-time whistle, the Gunners seemed to be fully in control of the game – in contrast to impotent and down-in-spirits Bournemouth.
Eddie Howe must have verbally dented a few heads during the half-time break because in the 47th minute Jermain Defoe gave Bournemouth a spark of hope – his header coming off Peter Cech’s left-hand post.
But the problems for Bournemouth lay in their mistake-ridden midfield. Minutes after Defoe’s chance, Ramsey capitalised on one such mistake in the centre of the park and slid the ball to Welbeck inside the box whose low drive from 10 yards found the sweet spot between diving Begovic and the post, 3-0.
The heaviness around Wenger now seemed to have dissipated. His players must have felt the same because they moved with increasing freedom on the pitch.
By the time club star Alexis Sanchez came on to clock in his first minutes of the season, the Gunners had established total control over the game.
Ten minutes from time, substitution Olivier Giroud released Sanchez with the Chilean returning the favour only for Giroud to see his chance for goal No.100 in an Arsenal shirt denied by Begovic.
Bournemouth received one more chance to score in the dying stages when King almost capitalised on a post-cross panic in the Arsenal defence, but Cech bounced the ball into corner.
With the final whistle, a clear sense of relief could be felt around the embattled Emirates. The result will inject the Gunners with a welcome dose of positivity following one of their worst Premier League starts in recent history.

Arsenal 3-0 Bournemouth

‘6 Welbeck
27’ Lacazette
50’ Welbeck

Arsenal Looking to Bounce Back Against Bournemouth – Game Preview

Arsenal will look to bounce back from their worst Premier League start in 35 years against Bournemouth at the Emirates on Saturday.
The Gunners were forced to endure the two-week international break following two consecutive league defeats, but they will be encouraged to find their opponents still point-less after three games.


Despite last year’s FA Cup triumph, years of failed title-challenges culminating in a finish outside the Top Four has nurtured an explosive environment in the Arsenal contingent. This is clearer now more than ever following the humiliating defeat at the hands of Liverpool in the last round.
The French manager knows anything other than a victory against the Cherries on Saturday will reignite the calls for his head.
The pressure to get things right this time will be enormous: all the way from getting the team into the right gear to getting the right team selection.
If Wenger has done his homework, the club’s record summer transfer signing Alexandre Lacazette would not be sitting this one out – and neither would be Sead Kolasinac. A little re-shuffle would be required in central midfield too as the pair Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey were not up to par against the Reds. At the heart of defence, Wenger is likely to opt for Holding Koscielny and Monreal.
And while calls for Mesut Ozit to improve his form continue, Wenger will have little choice but to hope the German will deliver against Bournemouth as club star Santi Cazorla is still on the road to recovery from a calf operation. Alex Iwobi is also doubtful for this fixture.
Predicted Line-up: Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Holding, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Elneny, Bellerin, Sanchez, Ozil, Lacazette


The statistics are not kind to the Cherries here. They have won only once away from home so far this year, and their record at the Emirates does little to dispel this–three games: three defeats. And while they fought to a terrific 3-3 draw against the Gunners last term, they can’t brag about much else.
Manager Eddie Howe will not be throwing in the towel yet, however, as Bournemouth emerged with some positive signs from their meeting with Manchester City before the international break, having succumbed to defeat only through Raheem Sterling’s super-late goal at the Vitality Stadium.
Long-term absentee Callum Wilson is still unavailable for Bournemouth while Nathan Ake, Junior Stanislas and Simon Francis will leave Howe with a late decision.
Predicted Line-up: Begovic, Smith, Cook, Ake, Mings, Daniels, Gosling, Surman, Arter, King, Defoe


The two sides have met five times before, with Arsenal winning four and drawing one of those matches.
Arsenal v Bournemouth 3-0 October 1987
Arsenal v Bournemouth 2-0 December 2015
Bournemouth v Arsenal 0-2 February 2016
Arsenal v Bournemouth 3-1 November 2016
Bournemouth v Arsenal 3-3 January 2017

Arsene Wenger’s Alexis Sanchez job, and why we might see the end of the back three

Morning all. That’s it, the Interlull is done and dusted, and we can get back to what’s important: figuring out how the hell to beat Bournemouth. More on that anon. It looks as if everyone who was away on international duty will be coming back unscathed, there are no reports of any injuries at this point anyway, so that’s the first thing. Alexis Sanchez played for Chile as they lost 1-0 to Bolivia, putting their World Cup chances in real peril. How ironic/annoying would it be that the one time he gets a summer off is the summer when he’s going to leave? He joined us off the back of the World Cup in 2014, did consecutive Copa America tournaments in 2015 and 2016, and this summer was away playing at the Confederations Crap. Ah well, that’s the way it goes, I guess. By all accounts he played poorly, perhaps he’s not in the best frame of mind or still just finding his way back to match fitness, but you can be quite sure every bad pass, every grimace, every gesture will be analysed to the Nth degree this season, so that’s something we better get used to. He also hit out at criticism leveled at him (by the Chilean press I assume), in a post which said:
You get tired of being criticized with reason and without reason, you get tired of those who want you beaten, you get tired of saying to yourself “once more I’ll get up” after crying after a defeat, and you get tired of telling the world and people who are with you that everything is going well. And the worst thing, that no one ever realizes how that makes you feel … I wear the number 7 of Chile and it’s a huge responsibility, that’s why I’m sorry that journalists and bad people criticize without knowing …
Yikes. When he returns to England, Arsene Wenger has got to get him focused, because he sounds like – and appears to be playing like – a man weighed down in many ways. He’s a strong character, but only human and I suspect the shenanigans this summer have had an effect. The who, what, and why of all that is basically irrelevant at this point, he’s going to play for this club until next summer, and we need to get the best out of him for obvious reasons. A goal on Saturday would be a good start, hearing his name sung by fans would be a help, but beyond that the people behind the scenes, the managers and coaches etc, have got some work to do. There’s are many layers to his situation and how it went down, but he’s ultimately hugely important to us if we want to get ourselves back on track, so let’s hope he’s not too bogged down by it all. The question of how exactly we get ourselves back on track is a good one. My gut feeling, based on the squad that we have, is that the back three experiment will come to an end sooner rather than later, and the extra body there will be shifted into midfield. That body may well be Francis Coquelin, with Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey ahead of him (it’s not as if we’re replete with midfield options really), but we’ll obviously have to wait and see what Arsene Wenger decides. He is a fan of the Frenchman though. I think the manager is naturally more comfortable with a back four, and if we have a midfielder who sits deep and screens the defence then it might go some way to offsetting the issues we have in that area right now (this week’s tactics column on Granit Xhaka is a good look at that by the way). We need to get rid of those vast open spaces somehow. When he first broke into the team after being recalled from Charlton, people were impressed by the defensive side of Coquelin’s game. Subsequently, Arsene Wenger deployed him further forward, asking him to play as a kind of decoy to allow others time on the ball, and that exposed his limitations, but maybe the solution is to ask him to do what he’s best at. Sit deep, screen, chase, make some tackles, and feed the ball to those who can be a more expansive with it. The other option in that position is Mohamed Elneny, who is less defensive but more metronomic. He’s more about keeping things moving than rugged defensive work, but if we don’t address the issues we have in midfield, I fear we’re going to continue to struggle. The other component of that is the back four, and I would hope to see Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac now establish their places in it in the right positions, while the central defensive duo will be interesting. It’s clear the manager has trust issues with a number of his centre-halves, but he really has no other option than to allow them to change his mind. I suspect his first choice duo will be Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, but with Europa League this season there will be chances for others to convince him. We’ll see. Speaking of Europa League, the squad for this season was announced and given that our first game of the tournament is next Thursday, I think we’ll see a very interesting team selection because we play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the Sunday. Could we see something like: Ospina, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Monreal, Elneny, Wilshere, Willock, Nelson, Walcott, Giroud? Not exactly box office but with Premier League points at an absolute premium because of the way we’ve started this season, it’s hard to see him risk too many ‘first choice’ players for this one. Anyway, that’s all to come next week, and I suspect if you’re in town and looking for a ticket to the game, they won’t be that hard to come by. Finally for this morning, a midweek bonus podcast for you. I chat to David Ornstein about Arsenal’s summer, what went down and what didn’t, transfers, the manager, the board, the club’s overall philosophy and loads more. Check it out below, and if you listen on iTunes and want to give us a review that’d be swell. Have a good one, and enjoy the podcast.


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