Archive for the ‘Arsenal’ Category

Lucas

Lucas Pérez will be announced in the next 24 hours as an Arsenal player. As a Deportivo de la Coruña fan, I thought it right to scribble some musings on Lucas as a player.

You’ll read a lot in the coming days/weeks about Lucas from people who, quite frankly, watched him very little (if at all). I’m going to condense his history as a footballer into one small paragraph, since I assume most readers just want to know what kind of player he is and if he suits Arsenal.

Lucas is a Deportivo fan, born and bred. He used to sit in the stands with the Riazor Blues, now he represents the club (although not for long). He’s spent two phenomenal years at Depor, clinching goals that secured survival in back-to-back seasons. He even broke the club record of goals scored in consecutive games, toppling Brazilian legend Bebeto. Lucas performed against the biggest of clubs (as evidenced with two goals in two games at the Camp Nou), as well as the smallest of them too. To join Depor, Lucas had to travel around Europe first. When he did arrive, it included minimising his wage by triple and leaving a Champions League club (PAOK). The love and adoration he has for the club has also seen him turn down Leicester, Southampton, Napoli, Zenit & Sevilla this summer. But, when Arsenal come knocking, it’s hard to resist. Especially when you’re 27, at the peak of your game and performing at a club far smaller in current stature.

Now, about Lucas as a player. It says a lot that Arsene Wenger swooped in for the Spaniard after being turned down by Jamie Vardy. Stylistically, both are the same type of player: lean forwards with bags of speed and energy, always raring to break the defensive line and find themselves one-on-one. In fact, much like Vardy, Lucas suits the counter-attacking style of football. A style that Arsenal irregularly employ, which may be a sticking point. If Wenger does switch for this sort of style, which could be supported by the fact he’s chased down two identical strikers this summer, Arsenal may just have pulled off a bargain considering the current market. One interesting fact about Lucas is that he can speak English, having used it as a form of communication in Ukraine and Greece while plying his trade there.

“Lucas isn’t a prolific goal scorer” – that’s something you’ll be reading a lot over the coming days, supported of course by baseless statistics that don’t consider the fact that he only started playing as a striker last season. He’s often been an interior or attacking-midfielder, sticking close to the striker on his team. Arsenal have Olivier Giroud, a striker synonymous with performing at his best when he has a player that operates closely with him (Griezmann for France, occasionally Walcott for Arsenal). Lucas offers Wenger that duality in style: he can be the counter-attacking striker that punishes opposition defences or he can be a foil and creator for Giroud.

Lucas amassed eight assists and 17 goals last year. A career high. While that may seem measly in a time where footballers are filling their boots with 40+ goals per season, one has to consider the club. As a Deportivo fan, I have struggled in the last 5-6 years with strikers who end as top scorers for the club with just 7-10 goals. The issue they all have in common is a lack of creator in the side. Strikers are often forced to carve out their own chances here, so that’s a testament to Lucas’ comfortability and quality as a forward. He chases down possession, effortlessly carries the game forward and then applies a slick finishing touch. This, with no creator. Arsenal have Mesut Özil – a player crying out for more goal scorers to support – and the likes of a supporting cast of Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey etc. The list goes on. Lucas had virtually nobody last season, nor the season before that. He was plucking goals out of nothing, such as the one embedded below.

Lucas has also shown that he can bring the best out of players around him. Luis Alberto, for example, had his best season knocking in goals for Sevilla’s B team. At Liverpool & Málaga, he was fairly poor. At Depor, though, we saw the best of Luis Alberto. Why? Because Lucas, when working in tandem with another forward, is a fantastic footballer. And if he strikes this partnership with, say, Alexis or Giroud, then Arsenal fans are likely to be salivating come the end of the summer.

Am I saying he’s perfect for Arsenal? Not really. There are a few caveats. Will Wenger arrange the system around him? That’s one. But the other comes as part of Lucas’ main issue: he takes a few chances before he puts one away. That may frustrate some, but it’s also worth looking at the other side of things: will he score more if he’s less inclined to snap away at the half chances he creates and simply latch onto a perfectly weighted pass instead? Lucas also requires a bit of freedom if his game is to truly prosper. It’s far from clear what his role will be, but he is an upgrade on all of Arsenal’s wingers (bar Alexis) at the very least.

And, just briefly, since I mentioned Alexis, Arsenal fans will love Lucas Pérez for the same reason they love the Chilean. He works extremely hard – and not in an English “he runs about a bit” type. Lucas will bust a lung to revive a loose ball and, once he collects it, he will carry it forward. Unlike Alexis, though, Lucas is less of a dribbler so will look to release possession to a team-mate once he wins the ball back.

Is he perfect? No. And is he the striker Arsenal 100% wanted this summer? No. But I think he could prove to be an exceptional capture if, as aforementioned, the system is arranged to suit his game. He could be the perfect partner for Giroud and Alexis. Stylistically speaking, Wenger has a very versatile player on his hands that could be the key to saving what has been a miserable summer & start to the season.

 

I’d like to wish Lucas the best at Arsenal. Thank you for helping the city of A Coruña dream again; for the goals, the assists, the times you picked the team up from the rubble surrounding it. Thank you for that goal that sparked the revival against Barcelona that kept us up; the goal against Villarreal that also secured our safety the year after. Noraboa, boa sorte. 

My favourite Lucas Pérez moment: he tells Germán Lux that he will save Nolito’s penalty in the derby game, then tells Nolito he’s going to miss. Both things happen, and Lucas celebrates like this: 

Walcott celebrates his goal against Manchester City

Walcott celebrates his goal against Manchester City.

From being a young and erratic winger to a mature, game winning forward, Theo Walcott’s progress and improvement over the last couple of years is staggering. Not only do you have to take a glimpse at his stats, you can just compare his performances from three years ago to now. Walcott has gone from being a player with no “footballing brain”, as Chris Waddle idiotically stated, to England’s most efficient and one of the league’s best wingers. If you believe that Walcott has no footballing brain, you probably are lacking a brain yourself.

Ever since that 11/12 season when Robin van Persie spearheaded the Arsenal attack, Walcott has always worked towards developing an understanding and forming a good partnership with Arsenal centre-forwards. Van Persie was a player who benefited very much from Walcott’s runs to the byline and cut-backs, leading to a few of his goals. This saw Walcott’s wing-play and confidence reach an all-time high. Walcott prospered from a prolific centre-forward who gobbled up all of the chances put on his plate. He would cut in far less in an attempt to continue this exciting partnership. The Dutchman eventually left but he left behind a quote which fulfilled itself last season: “he gets so much critics, he gave me loads of assists but I know he can score. He showed today [5-2 thumping of Spurs]  that he can score and he will score more. He will score more than 20 goals. Trust me.” Van Persie’s words will always be tainted after his switch to rivals Manchester United but these will remain as one of the very few with meaning in a positive manner.

Last season, Walcott registered his best return as an Arsenal player notching 14 assists and scoring a further 21 goals in all competitions. The highest Arsenal goal scorer and assist maker that season. Walcott’s performances were somewhat overshadowed by the contract saga as some fans believed he was holding the club ransom for his desired £100,000-a-week deal; other fans believed that he wanted to play as a centre-forward. In the end, there was another period of Arsenal’s fan base being split right down the middle. As they do. With everything. Moving on, Theo got both of his desires granted – which one was more of a factor we’ll probably never know. He ended last season with very interesting numbers but one has to look at his performance level and overall game to really notice how much he has improved over the past two seasons.

Back to the aforementioned bond and partnership with centre-forwards, Walcott found a partner in Olivier Giroud last season. Walcott assisted five of Giroud’s 11 Premier League goals; no pairing was more prolific than the two over the course of the season. Once again, Walcott found comfort in working with a front-man who thrives off crosses. Four of those five assists were crosses which Giroud finished first-time (three with his head, one with a flick of his left boot). It also has to be mentioned that three of those were from set-pieces. This is an area that Walcott has definitely improved in. He’s still not the best choice when it comes to shooting but his crossing from free-kicks, especially, are usually quite efficient. His corners are very good but Ozil has now arrived and rightfully takes 95% of them. Seven of Walcott’s 14 assists were from set-pieces which further enforces the improvement in that area of his game. The other assists, bar one, were all from the wing which is a testament to his ever-improving wing-play.

The partners embrace

The partners embrace.

Last season also saw Walcott improve on the physical areas of his game, fine tune them if you will. Playing at centre-forward made him realise that he won’t always have the luxury of playing off the shoulder of a defender. He was dreadful with his back to goal and his hold-up play was lacking in comparison to Giroud’s – understandable because he had hardly been tested in the position prior to the run of games. Wigan away, a game in which Walcott spearheaded the attack, saw a more quiet game from the forward but one that showed how quickly he learns from his mistakes. He won a penalty and Arsenal went on to win 1-0, courtesy of an Arteta goal, but more went into that performance than just winning a penalty. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan had lined up with a 3-man defence which turned into five when Arsenal were in possession. Walcott spent the entire game with his back to goal and held Caldwell off very well, shielded the ball and constantly fed Santi Cazorla. His maturity shone as he sacrificed his wanting to play off the shoulder for a more patient, physically demanding style to which he was not used to on the wing. His hold-up play is fantastic now. There isn’t a game that goes by where Theo doesn’t shield the ball on the wing and wait for Sagna to arrive on the overlap.

It is great to see that a brief spell in a different position can, not only improve your game, but culminate in others around you prospering from it, which brings me on to my next point. Aaron Ramsey’s prolonged time on the wings, as painful and frustrating it was to endure, has paid dividends for both him and Walcott. Ramsey’s spacial awareness of the pitch is magnificent now and he is more aware of the runs on the right-wing. Walcott prospers from Ramsey’s exquisite vision and execution of long-range passes which, when combined with the aforementioned awareness of runs on the right, almost always culminates in a direct chance being created. This combination was exercised many times in pre-season with Walcott scoring a couple. It has since continued but to no goal scoring avail, as of writing this. Whilst this has improved Ramsey’s vision and spacial awareness immensely, it has also seen Walcott prosper from a unique source of creativity.

One thing that Walcott has always had in abundance is his blistering pace, but he’s not always been a player who uses that to his advantage. Walcott, ever since he joined Arsenal and started making appearances, abused his pace. He was like when you’re driving on Grand Theft Auto and don’t take your finger off the right bumper on the controller. He would run and run and run… And lose the ball. The only time his pace would be devastating was when he would come off the bench to attack tired and dazed full-backs. In recent seasons, most notably last season, Walcott started to understand that he can take his foot off the pedal and dribble at a jogging pace rather than at Road Runner pace. He combines his hold-up play with his pace and balances the two. This is why he is better at linking up with team-mates: he’s slowed his own game down and offers the other nine outfield players a genuine outlet for passing continuity and fluidity on the right-flank.

One thing that has become apparent this season is that Walcott has continued to work on his all-round game. He has been very good in the air, picking up a goal and an assist courtesy of his head. His headed goal against West Ham was his first of the kind in his Arsenal career. Aerial threat isn’t a trait you would assign to Walcott, and it probably isn’t one you will ever have to, but it’s good to see that his leap is an inch higher than before and that he is eager to challenge defenders in the box as opposed to just lingering inside the box.

Walcott still has his faults, one of which angers many amongst the fan base: invisibility. Some say Walcott goes “missing” in games but I find it harsh to say he’s going missing if he’s scoring or assisting to win Arsenal the game. This is a problem in most fan bases where efficiency is mistaken for invisibility, thus leading most to believe that a player hasn’t turned up. Whilst he may not be ripping a full-back to shreds every game and making highlight reels, Walcott’s game centres around a more patient and mature one to the young forward who would put defenders on their backside yet lack the end product to do anything afterwards. I would much rather a player who is efficient than a player who is flashy but, largely, does nothing to influence the overall outcome of a game.

In regards to efficiency and invisibility, Ozil becomes the focal point of the rest of Walcott’s season. The German has been maligned by some due to his quiet performances but, even more-so than Theo, what he does best is what you don’t notice. If you take Ozil out of the team, you understand what he does. When Walcott sustained his injury this season, there was a lack of penetrative pace on the wing and someone who offers goals other than Giroud or Ramsey. No-one could replicate Walcott’s ability to stretch a defence and press them into their own box. This highlights Walcott’s importance. Ozil is the same. He didn’t start against Newcastle and Arsenal struggled to break down their defence and create chances. Jack Wilshere created the most chances (3), yet all of them culminated in shots from outside the box. With a more prolific and clinical forward, Ozil’s chances created will be more apparent and vital, as will his influence in the final third; even more-so than it already is. Walcott is the prolific forward and, once the two finally play together for a string of games, we could see them form a devastating partnership similar to the one Ozil had with Ronaldo/Di Maria at Real Madrid. Ozil’s creativity and movement in the final third means that he can slip Walcott in as well as interchange with the winger, allowing him to drift inside whilst Ozil occupies the berth on the right – a position he is comfortable in. Mix Ozil’s creativity in the final third with Ramsey’s vision from deep and Walcott has himself two players who are exceptionally aware of runs on the right-wing and have the vision to execute perfect passes which he can latch on to. It’s any forward’s dream and Walcott is close to living it once Ramsey and Ozil return from their respective injuries.

Once these two click, expect goals to fly in,

Once these two click, expect goals to fly in,

Walcott is a big game player, little of which there are at Arsenal. If we look at this season and past he’s scored against Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Spurs. This is a vital record for Walcott to add to because Arsenal have struggled to score against the big clubs in the Premier League this season (bar City). Giroud is dire in front of goal against bigger opposition so, if he misses chances, at least Walcott is there to take his. In a season where you could argue that five teams are in contention for the title, all close to each other on points, the league may be won or lost in those big games in the second half of the season. Walcott is the decider.

Having taken all of that into consideration, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to think, or even predict, that Walcott will break into 20+ goals, again, in all competitions this season. Even with his injury, which has contributed to him missing a large chunk of the first half of the season, Walcott has scored five goals in nine starts (in all competitions) and assisted four goals. Two of those four assists have been to Giroud and they have all been from crosses: Newcastle away, Walcott’s set-piece was touched in by Giroud and Spurs at home saw Walcott’s low cross flicked in at the near-post by the Frenchman. If those two continue with this partnership, Walcott may well find himself replicating his assists tally from last season.

Walcott is the key to Arsenal successes this season. His goal return is something that covers up Giroud’s inept and inconsistent finishing whilst his assists bring the best out of Giroud – his one-touch finishing. If Arsenal are to win the league, Walcott will be the vital cog. His contract will be revisited soon and winning a trophy would almost certainly cause him to pen an extension. Wenger’s invested a lot of time into developing Walcott and it’s finally paying dividends. He’s rare breed of winger and one that would be difficult to replace, stylistically.

 

Nacho & Gibbs (courtesy of MSN Sport).

Nacho & Gibbs

It’s quite common within the Arsenal fan base that the arrival of a player instantly means that a current one will be challenged for his spot and may lose his status in the squad. Whilst this is true in some cases, it’s far from it in others: Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, in this instance. Nacho was signed, according to Wenger, to be a “left-sided defender” – not a left-back, explicitly. Nacho has the ability to operate in a more advanced role and can then work with Gibbs as a flexible and versatile combination which sees the two intertwine in positions when on the pitch at the same time.

Monreal was signed on the final day of the January transfer window due to Kieran Gibbs being sidelined for “four to six-weeks”. The Spaniard joined Arsenal for circa £8.5million and was seen as merely competition for Gibbs. Some thought Monreal was a panic buy but, shortly after the deal was announced, it was also met with the news that Arsenal had already agreed a deal with Malaga and that Monreal was set to join in the summer; the process was sped up due to the aforementioned Gibbs injury. Monreal left La Liga as one of the best left-backs in Spain and arrived at Arsenal to do so much more than just fill in for Gibbs’ injuries and provide competition for the Englishman.

Upon joining Arsenal, Monreal was placed up against two of the most physical sides in the Premier League: Stoke City and Sunderland. The Spaniard completed eight out of eight tackles in those two games and showed the Arsenal fans how solid he is when it comes to his defensive actions. After receiving praise from fans, Wenger went on to say that Monreal can be an attacking threat for Arsenal as a “left-sided defender”. Whilst it was perceived that Wenger meant he’s good at going forward, it turns out that Wenger meant he can play much further up the field. Is this surprising? Not really. Monreal played as a left-midfielder/winger for Malaga, at times, when Eliseu would start as a left-back; the positions were never fixed as both players would combine and change roles throughout the entirety of the game. If you look even further back to Monreal’s career, he also carried out the exact same role with Azpilicueta at Osasuna under Jose Angel Ziganda. This came after Osasuna had been hit with injuries to their full-backs. Azpilicueta moved over to left-back whilst Monreal operated as the man further forward.

Monreal possesses the traits to play further up the field as he is mobile, has a good left foot, is a great crosser of the ball and excels in combination play. Monreal can cut infield and provide Arsenal with the extra man in midfield as his ball retention and passing are exquisite in the final third – these two traits are essential if Arsenal are looking to press higher up the field and force the opposition into creating errors. Monreal’s crossing is another great asset of his. At Osasuna, he played with the likes of Walter Pandiani, a recognised target man, as well as Roque Santa Cruz at Malaga. Giroud could really flourish from getting on the end of these crosses as the usual ones that enter the box are quite inconsistent and erratic from those who deliver them.

It’s obvious that Wenger didn’t sign Monreal just to pose a threat to Gibbs’ squad status. Monreal was brought in as someone who can operate on the same pitch as Kieran Gibbs and offer an attacking outlet that none of Arsenal’s other full-backs can. This is a recurring theme, surely. Andre Santos, as much as he was ridiculed and maligned for his inability to defend, was actually an adequate player going forward. The difference is, Wenger hit the nail on the head with Monreal as the Spaniard can defend as well as he can attack unlike the bowling-ball-like Brazilian. Wenger targets left-backs who won’t tamper with Gibbs’ progression, or directly challenge him, but instead he targets ones that possess the ability to build partnerships with Gibbs on the left flank.

Most of Gibbs’ time in the academy saw the Englishman actually play in central-midfield as well as a left-winger. Gibbs, much like the aforementioned players, has developed his attacking game phenomenally. He can time runs, use his pace to perfection and is an adequate passer; his only faults in that area are his final balls and decision making. Ultimately, this is why Wenger targeted Monreal and Santos because they share the exact same traits in a forward position. What this means is that Gibbs can switch roles with Monreal and operate as the man further ahead as well as Monreal can. This gives Arsenal an air of unpredictability on that left-flank as well as the ability to switch from Gibbs’ pace to Monreal’s quick, incisive passing and pin-point crossing.

It’s not all about attacking, though. Monreal is usually brought on to help keep Arsenal’s shape and reinforce their left-side in order to keep the opposition at bay or hold onto a vital result. The fact both Monreal and Gibbs are excellent defensively, and going forward, means that they can switch roles to shut out different passages of play from the opposition and mark different players that someone like Cazorla or Podolski, on that left-side, wouldn’t usually mark.

Overall, the point I’m getting at is that Monreal isn’t at Arsenal just to play second fiddle to Gibbs and fill-in when the Englishman is in the “red-zone” or injured. Monreal is here to pair Gibbs on the same pitch in order to help hold on to a result or provide a unique attacking outlet like no other full-back in the squad. Wenger once said that “Monreal can be an attacking threat for us”  and that he’ll be looking to experiment with the two on the pitch at the same time. I think it’d be far too basic and superficial to look at Monreal just as back-up. Wenger has shown that he can play further up the field and will, undoubtedly, flaunt that option and experimentation more often as the season grows old and fixtures start stacking.

Ozil Alemina

 

On September 2nd, deadline day, Arsenal decimated their previous transfer record by signing German international, Mesut Özil, for £42.4m. It was later confirmed that Real Madrid and Arsenal had been discussing this transfer for weeks and that Özil himself had already completed his first of two medical sessions last week at London Colney. Özil turned down PSG and Manchester United in the process of joining Arsenal for, largely, the chance to work with Arsene Wenger. Özil said: “I am thrilled to be joining a club of the stature of Arsenal and am looking forward to playing in the Premier League. It will be great for my own personal development as a player and I am particularly looking forward to working with Arsène Wenger.”

Creativity no longer an issue

An outsider looking in would be forgiven for thinking that the signing of Özil isn’t what Arsenal needed, despite it being an outrageously good one. Some assume that Arsenal are awash with creative talent and, whilst that may be true to an extent, it even shows through statistics that we’re not. Everton created more chances than Arsenal last season, albeit most coming through Leighton Baines, which is quite shocking to most who don’t watch Arsenal frequently. Jack Wilshere dipped in and out of the squad with injury, Aaron Ramsey only came to life from January onwards, Tomas Rosicky turned up in the last couple of months and Mikel Arteta curbed his attacking instinct in order to screen our defence and operate as a deep-lying playmaker. Just by briefly reading that, you can begin to see why Arsenal failed to create more chances than Everton. Last season, the creative burden fell on Santi Cazorla far too often and for far too long. If our diminutive Spaniard had an off game, it’d be apparent and the team, as a whole, would struggle to create chances for a striker heavily dependent on support from those behind him. If we combine the two, Özil and Cazorla, we have a devastating creative partnership beginning to brew as Özil eliminates all of our creativity issues. Özil creates a chance every 22.1 minutes – more than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Mix that statistic in with Cazorla’s 91 key passes in the Premier League, the 2nd best in the league last season, and you have eliminated all potential issues regarding creativity that had seemed apparent in the last couple of seasons. And just to make you even more eager to see Özil in an Arsenal shirt, our new German averaged 2.9 key passes per game in the league last season (for two seasons in a row); Santi averaged 2.5. 

Özil’s time at Real Madrid

Özil spent three successful years at Real Madrid although maybe not as a collective but more-so as an individual. He won La Liga and a Copa del Rey when, it may be argued by many at Real Madrid, that the club should’ve won more. That aside, Özil was an orchestral figure in Real Madrid’s midfield and a key component to their relentless counter-attacking style of football under Mourinho. Özil started to distance himself from the club when they brought in Isco – a signing which was thought to be a very good one but not one that was desperately needed for Real Madrid – and eventually drifted away once Bale was on the brink of being announced. Özil said himself that he needs a manager’s full support and trust and wasn’t feeling that with Ancelotti. Ancelotti had doubts over Özil’s ability to play a possession-based game, despite clearly having the attributes to do so. The sale of Özil is one that has left the club’s fans questioning Florentino Perez’s sanity, on the same day that they smashed the world record transfer fee for Gareth Bale. 

Let’s move away from footballing politics and discuss on-field matters regarding Özil. Özil is a player who can operate on either flank but is, predominantly, an attacking-midfielder. Having been part of a mobile and fluid front-four, Özil was used to interchanging with Di Maria when Real Madrid were in possession; Benzema/Higuain would pull wide, Ronaldo would make a diagonal darting run into the box to occupy the centre-forward position and Özil would interchange with Di Maria. This was a move executed frequently by Real Madrid, not always all at the same time, but different variations would be seen every game. 

Özil’s main strengths, and there are many, consist of dribbling, vision, set-piece taking and crossing. One of Özil’s most mouthwatering traits is his vision. Not only can Özil pick a pass from almost any range, he possesses the outstanding ability to supply the final ball against teams who park out on the edge of their area and inside the box (seen at the Emirates every other game by visiting teams). Özil can break down the sternest of defences and, upon doing this, disorientates the opposition and renders their planned defensive approach to the game almost useless. 

Whilst there are impeccable traits that are unique to Özil’s game – his innovative style of dribbling and his flicks – there are some flaws to his game which shouldn’t be ignored. One, in particular, needs addressing once he begins life at Arsenal: fitness levels. Özil’s greatest flaw is his inability to complete a 90 minute game; by the 65th-70th minute, Özil is already blowing and begins to lose his influence in the game. This is a problem synonymous with his time at Real Madrid because, if you look at his international appearances, he does tend to complete 90 minutes more often than with Real Madrid. This could be down to Real Madrid’s aforementioned relentless counter-attacking style of play and Özil’s constant interchanging in such a fluid attacking system. The other flaw is his defensive contribution, which is almost non-existent; this problem simmers if he’s operating as an attacking-midfielder but, once he gets to the wing, our full-backs will have to be aware that he’ll rarely double up to help out defensively – unless Wenger drills this into his head. 

With those flaws addressed, let’s return to talking about Özil’s traits. Özil brings the best out of anyone in close proximity, hugely reminiscent of Cesc Fabregas when he was at Arsenal. No-one assisted Cristiano Ronaldo more than Özil did in three seasons: 27 assists, to just one player, is mind boggling. So how many assists did Özil get over the course of three seasons? 86 in all competitions – more than any other player in Europe. Back to Fabregas, how many of you reading this remember Adebayor’s 30 goal season? It was largely down to Fabregas getting the most out of those in front of him, as Adebayor would score goal after goal without playing particularly well most of the time. Now imagine what Özil could do with Giroud and Walcott and now also imagine what he could do with Santi Cazorla on the same pitch as him. If they can get 25+ goals out of both Giroud and Walcott, it begins to make sense as to why we pushed for Özil and not for a Suarez/Rooney who would score a shed load of goals. Not to mention that both Özil and Cazorla like to fill their boots fairly regularly.

What the overall move means for Arsenal

The signing of Özil is, without a shadow of a doubt, Arsenal’s biggest signing since Dennis Bergkamp. Not only because of how talented he is or how much the transfer fee was, although both are taken into consideration, but more-so what it means for the club. The deal saw Ivan Gazidis, Wenger and Stan Kroenke “heavily involved”. Why is that so important? Most reading this will know that Arsenal are renowned for having a board full of “businessmen” and not footballing men, they will also know that Stan Kroenke does next to nothing apart from pocket a profit from the club etc. So to have all involved in the deal, especially a “heavily involved” Kroenke, means that maybe the board are beginning to unite with Wenger and give him full backing – something that he never seems to have, financially. Gazidis excitingly said: “Mr Kroenke, our controlling owner, has always fully supported Arsène and the Club in making significant investments to strengthen our squad and to bring in talented players who fit our style and ambitions. Like all of us, Mr Kroenke wants to see Arsenal winning titles and trophies and he has absolute faith and belief in our manager to achieve that. We will continue to work towards that goal and look forward to an exciting season.”

So if there’s less rift in the boardroom and with Wenger, they become closer and Wenger could finally let people help him out and ease him out of all the tasks he, sometimes, unnecessarily carries. If they’re closer, this projects onto the players as we begin to sign better quality to add to an already talented squad and, in due time, start to seriously mount a challenge for trophies again. This then rubs off onto the fans, thus making everyone happy and relieving the Emirates of its sometimes “poisonous” atmosphere. Maybe I’m living in cloud cuckoo land/dream world and maybe this is a knee-jerk reaction, but I do genuinely believe that the signing of Özil is the catalyst towards seeing this club return to its glory days. 

Having Özil at the club means we’ll begin to attract players of higher quality than we have done in recent years. Özil spoke of wanting to be a part of this ambitious future that Arsenal have planned and I’m sure that, if needs be, he could be on the phone to a few friends next summer selling them the Arsenal dream much like Wenger, Mertesacker and Podolski did with him.

Even before the signing of Özil had been announced, Arsenal had already received a lucrative offer to attend India on their pre-season tour next summer. Özil is a very marketable player as he’s a household name, has come from Real Madrid (a club with one of the biggest worldwide fanbases) and is a marquee signing in terms of his transfer fee alone. Arsenal will recoup a large chunk of the transfer fee spent on him due to shirt sales all around the world and this proposed pre-season tour.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m still perplexed by the signing of Özil. He’s a perfect player for our system and will be with us throughout his prime years. Not only will he attract top players but midfielders like Jack Wilshere and Gedion Zelalem will have a lot to learn from both him and Cazorla. For now, it’ll take two long weeks for us to see Özil in action sporting the cannon on his chest but I’ve no doubt it’ll be worth the wait. Up the Arsenal! 

 

Sagna takes a breather during his best performance of last season away at Sunderland.

Sagna takes a breather during his best performance of last season away at Sunderland.

In a past season that has just seen Arsenal end with the 2nd best defensive record in the league, it’s been quite odd to see three Arsenal defenders (one not at the club anymore) come under a lot of scrutiny from the fans; Bacary Sagna in particular. Following five seasons of showing the utmost consistency, Sagna followed that up by putting in some shoddy performances last season – this not helped by the fact that there’s still a massive question mark over his future as he enters the final year of his contract.

From people saying he didn’t care about the club anymore to others saying he was entitled to an off season following the aforementioned previous seasons of consistency, this was one of the factors which divided the Arsenal fan base last season. Sagna, himself, didn’t help the cause by doing the whole “I want to see better players at the club” drama act which has become synonymous with an Arsenal player leaving, what with him entering his final contractual year. What sometimes turned out to be an adequate/good defensive performance from Sagna was later slated and undone by fans aplenty who chose to focus solely on his consistent inability to send a cross into the box. There are a few arguments that counteract the crossing debate, some of them along the lines of “we don’t have anyone to aim for in the box”. Now, whilst that argument may have some substance to it, it’s still frustrating to see Sagna continuously fail to get the ball past the first man. But that’s something we’ve always put up with when it comes to Sagna: he’s not the best going forward, but he makes up for it with his defensive work. But it only began to anger people last season because they, in my opinion, tried to distance themselves from him in order to cushion the blow of  seeing one of the best right-backs to ever pull on an Arsenal shirt leave the club.

When injuries hit the Arsenal back-line last season, as they seem to always do, Sagna was called upon to make a surprising appearance at centre-back. Many doubts were cast over this decision due to his height (many forgetting his prolific win percentage in aerial duels)  and the fact he’d been having poor games every so often. So as the whistle blew and the ball left the centre-circle, Sagna stood next to Mertesacker as fans hoped and prayed that the defence wouldn’t come under heaps of pressure from Sunderland attacks; they did. Fast-forward 90-odd minutes and the whistle blows for the final time as the camera pans to the two men who played a pivotal part in clinging on to a one goal lead: Sagna and Szczesny. This performance in a, somewhat, unfamiliar position for Sagna had the fans ranting and raving as they touted him as our new 3rd choice centre-back and dubbed his majestic performance as ‘the best performance of the season from any of our defenders’ – and it was hard to argue against that, at the time.

Fast-forward a few months and Sagna is still at the club, enjoying his pre-season and speaking of how he wants to keep playing for the club. No signs of leaving, as of writing this (I’ve jinxed it, haven’t I?). In a 7-1 win over Vietnam in pre-season last week, Sagna played at centre-back again and, albeit against a relatively awful side, put in another great performance next to Koscielny and then Mertesacker. The question on everyone’s lips is “is this a new position that Sagna will play in, if needs be, next season?”. That question is usually met by most fans saying that they’d much rather Arsenal sign a new centre-back, which I can’t disagree with. But here’s my theory: Sagna’s entering his last year and probably won’t renew, meaning Wenger has no real obligation to keep playing him even when he’s turning in bad performances, like last season. This means that, if Sagna keeps playing like he did in patches last season, Jenkinson will be able to cement his spot in the right-back position. If Vermaelen stays, despite being out injured for 2-3 months, it means we’ll have three centre-backs and one makeshift centre-back – enough for going into the season with. Because it’s Sagna’s last season, providing he stays and doesn’t renew, it means we can begin to ease Jenkinson into the right-back position and start thorough scouting for a young centre-back, possibly in the mould of Kurt Zouma, for the 14/15 season. Although there are many variables in that theory, the main three being Sagna staying, not renewing his contract and Vermaelen staying, it’s something which I’d like to see us go through with. Sagna would be set for his Arsenal swansong, passing down his final pearls of wisdom to Jenkinson whilst helping the team out in various position, showing professionalism and a love for the club. The best case scenario would be Sagna returning to his best and, as much as we all love him, I think the two injuries and age have finally taken their toll on Sagna; although I do hope I’m wrong.

Jenkinson recently spoke of pushing Sagna for a place in the first-team and wanting to be on that England plane for Rio 2014 and I firmly believe Wenger will give Jenkinson more than the 19 appearances he was handed, in all competitions, last season. Jenkinson has to grasp every opportunity he gets and begin to cement himself in the Arsenal starting 11. Why? Because this, as I’ve said in the post, could be Sagna’s last season and there’s no-one Jenkinson will learn more from in his position than Sagna. Jenkinson has all the tools to become a mainstay in that right-back position for the next ten years, or even more: he can defend, his crossing is mouthwatering in comparison to Sagna’s *insert joke here about an elderly person in my family having better crossing ability than Sagna* and he’s determined to shine for the club that he’s loved all his life. Jenkinson has also had the privilege of learning from Sagna and hopefully he can emulate the consistency that Sagna’s shown throughout his time at Arsenal. Once Sagna decides it’s time to switch the red and white of The Arsenal for the boring, plain, stupid colours of any other club, we will have a well-equipped Jenkinson, able to mix everything he’s learned from the Frenchman into his own game.

To reiterate my points: I want Sagna to stay for his final year, I’d prefer for us to sign a centre-back this summer but I wouldn’t be annoyed if we manage to hold onto Vermaelen and use Sagna as our makeshift centre-back.

Until next time, ta-ra.

What do Arsenal really need in midfield?

Arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe.

Arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe.

As the 2012/2013 Premier League season draws to a close, many Arsenal fans have speculated over potential signings that we require during the summer transfer window. A notable thing that fans and the media alike have bemoaned about this Arsenal side is the lack of a ‘real’ defensive midfielder. While that is true, I am against the view that a defensive midfielder is the midfield signing that we need to make.  I am more in favour of the more dynamic box-to-box midfielder. Here are a few reasons why:

The current system Arsenal play in is the 4-2-3-1 formation. If you look at all the top clubs in Europe, most of them also play this formation, and none of them use players that you could classify as a real defensive midfielder. They play a double pivot with  deep-lying playmaker and a box to box midfielder. Here are some examples; Real Madrid: Alonso – Khedira, Borussia Dortmund: Gundogan – Bender Juventus: Pirlo – Vidal Bayern Munich: Schweinsteiger – Martinez. Some of you may be thinking “but Javi Martinez and Sven Bender are defensive midfielders” but if you watch them in a match you will notice that they press and win the ball higher up the pitch rather than sit deep in their own half. You will also notice that they even get into goal-scoring positions in matches and start of many of their teams attacks.

Another reason why I prefer the box-to-box midfielder to the defensive midfielder is the difference in dynamism and energy that a box-to-box midfielder would bring, unlike a defensive midfielder. Now I am not a big fan of stats but they are useful and important so I did a stat comparison with  Maxime Gonalons, who has recently been linked with a move to Arsenal, and Arturo Vidal, who is arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe right now.

Maxime Gonalons: Appearances – 33 Goals – 3 Assists – 0 Chances Created – 8 Passing Accuracy – 88% Average amount of passes per game – 64.5 Tackles made – 125 Tackle success – 81% Interceptions – 102 Who Scored Rating – 7.25 Squawka Performance Score – 1,633

Arturo Vidal: Appearances – 28 Goals – 10  Assists – 7 Chances Created – 60 Passing Accuracy – 87% Average amount of passes per game – 54.3 Tackles made – 146 Tackle success – 71% Interceptions – 40 Who Scored Rating – 7.77 Squawka Performance Score – 1,601

As you can see the stats show that Vidal is the more active of the two players, bringing  a far superior offensive contribution to his team whilst still being very active defensively. Also, one thing these stats don’t show is that Vidal is winning these tackles higher up the pitch. Where would you rather win the ball back? In your own half or in the oppositions half? However, as I said previously Vidal is arguably the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe  so you could say it’s an unfair comparison. So let’s compare him to Arsenal’s current box-to-box, Aaron Ramsey.

Aaron Ramsey: Appearances 19(starts) Goals – 0 Assists – 2 Chances Created – 42  Passing Accuracy – 88% Average amount of passes per game – 52.2 Tackles made – 64 Tackle success – 91% Interceptions – 42 Who Scored Rating – 6.88 Squawka Performance Score – 1,059

Bearing in mind that Ramsey has only played regularly in this role for the past two months or so, I think those stats are pretty impressive. Which leads into another reason that I don’t want a defensive midfielder. Throughout the season we have not played with a defensive midfielder. Instead we have used pivot consisting of Arteta and Diaby, Wilshere or Ramsey. With this we currently have the 3rd best defensive record in the league with two games left and the best defensive record in away games. Also since facing Bayern Munich at the Allianz arena, we have conceded 4 goals in 8 games, with only one of those being from open play.  Are those the stats of a team lacking a defensive midfielder? In this period of defensive solidarity, Ramsey has been excellent in  the box-to-box role. Infact the only thing you could fault in his latest performances is his final ball and finishing(which I hope he’ll work on in the summer). He has been a crucial part to our recent defensive record, but you wouldn’t say that he is a defensive midfielder.

So, if we are to buy a midfielder this summer, I do hope that it is a box-to-box midfielder rather than a defensive midfielder. As I have said, they bring more to the table than a sitter would and can still provide defensive ability.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed you can follow me on twitter for more if you would like – @_Josh97_

Wojciech Szczesny

 

There isn’t an Arsenal player, in the current team, who divides opinion more than Wojciech Szczesny. Vermaelen could be argued as one, but I feel more people dislike him, because of his constant mistakes since QPR away last season, than those who do still like him. Sagna is another, but I believe a bigger amount of our fan base would be content with seeing him leave in the summer following a vast amount of sub-par performances this season. The only man who comes close to Szczesny is Giroud, but I’ve already spoken about him before. With our Pole in goal, no not Fabianski, but Wojciech Szczesny, we’ve someone who’s quite like the marmite footballer of this football club.

Szczesny’s blown hot and cold this season; he’s had games like Everton away where he’s struggled, once again, to get down quick enough to save a shot from distance and then he’s had games like the one against Sunderland where he was exceptionally sublime and single-handedly won us the game, along with a makeshift centre-back in Bacary Sagna. There have been games where even the littlest of things have disgruntled the fans, and myself: Liverpool at home – Szczesny decides to execute his patented Cruyff turn, only to be dispossessed in his own box. Luckily, nothing bad happened apart from a few hearts in the crowd, and at home, stopping momentarily. This is something Szczesny does a lot. Not only is his cockiness & arrogance off the field, in interviews, frowned upon, he also lacks maturity on the pitch when it comes doing these pointless fancy, showboating tricks in his own box.

In my opinion, Szczesny’s cockiness is almost set up by him as a barrier to help him bounce back from mistakes. When he makes a mistake, his head never drops in that game, but he’ll continue to make that mistake repeatedly in later weeks/months. I feel this is down to his lack of competition at the club. Take away the recent showing of ruthlessness from Wenger to finally give Szczesny a kick up the backside and drop him, Szczesny’s almost been unrivaled as Arsenal’s number one ‘keeper. With someone perhaps more experienced than the Pole, Szczesny would learn something from this figure. At the age of 23, he’s still a naïve character who, in reality, shouldn’t be near the first-team of a top club at that age – for this reason alone, I feel he’s got the potential to be a great for Arsenal. Wenger isn’t a fool, he knows potential when he sees it. Szczesny is an extremely good shot-stopper for his age and can, more times often than not, hold his own between the sticks and organise his defence.

The problem with Szczesny is that he’s never really been given a kick up the backside, or even introduced to the notion of a ‘keeper at his club being ‘better’ than him. His constant first-team appearances, despite mistakes being made, must feed his already giant ego. In his head, he’s led to believe that he’s better than every other ‘keeper at the club. When he went to Brentford on loan in 2009, he started almost every game without being dropped for a different ‘keeper. In recent months, we’ve seen Fabianski come into the mix and relegate Szczesny to the bench; Wenger has also left Szczesny out of the squad as a whole due to him displaying “mental tiredness”. Szczesny even deputised for the U21’s against Liverpool, to whom he conceded three goals. This must’ve hurt Szczesny immensely – seeing his compatriot take his place in the first-team, being put in the U21’s to build his confidence again. But it’s something that, fingers crossed, will help Szczesny develop into a much better goalkeeper.

Since Fabianski picked up yet another injury, Szczesny has returned to his coveted first-team goalkeeper spot where he’s only conceded one goal in four games, as of writing this; that one goal was also a penalty, so he’s conceded none from open play. He also played a huge part in the recent 1-0 win away at QPR where he made a vital stop, eight minutes from time, to keep the score at 1-0 to the Arsenal. He’s come back in, concentrated on his football and has yet to make a catastrophic mistake or one of those silly tricks he does in his own area.

At the tender age of 23, it’s crazy that we’ve become so expectant of Szczesny. But he needs to understand that the criticism he’s recently received has been warranted. He now sports the Arsenal kit with the number ‘1’ on the back which, in itself, shows the belief Wenger has in him. Wenger could’ve signed someone last season, or the season before, to be a regular, experienced and consistent performer between the sticks, but he’s kept at it with Szczesny. Many will knock Wenger over tactical decisions and so on, but you can never knock his ability to develop and nurture youngsters into potentially great players for the future. In my humble opinion, if Fabianski leaves in the summer, we should sign someone vastly experienced. Someone who’ll not only challenge Szczesny for the number 1 spot, but will also take the pole under his wing and pass down some tips to Szczesny. Szczesny will become a far better player and will learn to curb his misplaced confidence on the pitch. I’ve no doubt Szczesny will be the man between the sticks for years to come at the Emirates – he has the potential to do so.

Joel's come on leaps & bounds at Betis. Could other Arsenal youngsters follow in his footsteps?

Joel’s come on leaps & bounds at Betis. Could other Arsenal youngsters follow in his footsteps?

With the news that Arsenal would be signing a collaborative agreement with Betis, or a link-up with the Spanish club in other words, I thought it’d be appropriate to write about what this deal could have in store for both parties. I’ll be looking at who we may be interested in from their squad, which of our players could be moving there next season and why Betis are a very good club to get this deal done with.

It’s been widely reported in the last couple of weeks that Pepe Mel (Betis’ manager) and Miguel Guillén (Betis’ club president) will be travelling to London in the near future to put pen to paper on this deal. Arsene Wenger has already shortlisted a few of his players, youth & fringe players struggling to get first-team football, so it’s incredibly likely that we’ll see this deal concluded sometime this season with more details to be unveiled in due time.

The deal, essentially, sees us loan players to Betis for further development or, as mentioned previously, offer game time for those who can’t get into the team. It gives us an easy route to loan out some who we can’t offload just yet because of high wages; so, hypothetically speaking, someone like Bendtner, Chamakh, Mannone etc. could be the prime candidates for moves to the Andalusian outfit. In terms of youngsters, many sources have tipped the following bright youngsters with loan moves to Betis: Ryo Miyaichi, Thomas Eisfeld, Francis Coquelin, Serge Gnabry and an outside chance of Hector Bellerin, assuming that Wenger thinks he’s close to breaking in to the first-team quite soon.

Now, there’s more in it for Arsenal than just the careful, yet productive, nature of the development of our future starlets. It’s strongly believed that Arsenal will get first pick at the top talents in the Betis team, and there’s quite a few to choose from. The main candidate will be the Spanish box-to-box midfielder whose made waves in La Liga this season, Beñat. Beñat is, predominantly, a defensive-midfielder who plays in a pivot with another potential Arsenal target in Cañas. Beñat has started to build a lot of hype around him since flourishing in a box-to-box role; his quick feet, vision and set-piece taking have seen him earn many plaudits, and deservedly so. He plays very much like Mikel Arteta does, but he’s more defensive-minded if needs be. He’s only 26, so he could dispossess Mikel Arteta from that defensive-midfield role, which’d allow our Spaniard more leeway to roam forward. Beñat has amassed four goals and seven assists this season, the latter seeing him top the assists table for Betis.

Benat passing

This shows how positive his passing is when playing in a box-to-box role. He’s very incisive with his passing and hardly plays backward passes, which’d see him suit our midfield. Via (Squawka Sports)

The next player is one who hasn’t featured much this season, but has caught the eye whenever making a substitute appearance: Álvaro Vadillo. Vadillo is the brightest prospect in the Betis team by a country mile. The 18-year old Spaniard has only made eight appearances this season, with six of them being off the bench. In these cameos, he’s picked up two assists and has made a good case for Pepe Mel to ponder whether the bright, young winger is ready to start for Betis. It’d be interesting to see where he’d fit in to an Arsenal side with an already up and coming winger in Oxlade-Chamberlain, although if Wenger decides to give Chamberlain some chances down the middle, the addition of Vadillo would make sense.

In six sub appearances, Vadillo has created ten goal scoring chances; two of them culminating in assists. Via (Squawka Sports)

In six sub appearances, Vadillo has created ten goal scoring chances; two of them culminating in assists. Via (Squawka Sports)

The final two who we could also have some sort of interest in are: Adrián and the aforementioned Cañas. Adrián has kept ten clean sheets in 24 league starts this season. He’s a very good shot-stopper and a great distributor of the ball. Should Fabianski fail to renew his contract, I could see Arsenal exploiting this link-up to bring Adrián in as someone who can provide Szczesny with some competition. The final player, and the unlikeliest for Arsenal to show interest in, is Cañas. Cañas is Beñat’s partner in the midfield; the two play in a pivot which, later in the game, turns into a 1-2 system where Cañas sits deeper and allows Beñat to roam forward in order to try and create chances. There are two reasons why I think Cañas is unlikely to join, or gain interest from Wenger: He’s available on a free in the summer, and Swansea have, supposedly, agreed a deal with Betis in January to bring him in for free in the summer transfer window, the other reason is the fact he’s very ill-disciplined; he commits some unnecessary challenges off the ball, but makes up for it with the way he reads the game, breaks up the play, intercepts many opposition passes in the ‘danger zones’ and is a very prolific winner of the ball.

This shows how successful he is in the tackle, but also his ugly side with the fouls hie commits.

This shows how successful he is in the tackle, but also his ugly side with the fouls hie commits. Via (Squawka Sports)

In conclusion to the potential signings of those players, Beñat would be the best signing and the dearest too, with many Spanish sources reporting that he’d cost circa £18M.

I believe this deal with Betis could work very well for both parties. We’ve seen the way Joel Campbell has adapted to life in Spain and Betis. He’s matured as a player, has developed a whole new skill-set from playing in various positions and has won the heart of many Betis fans with his positive attitude and incredibly high work-rate and fitness levels. This would be a good sign for our youngsters as they’d potentially talk to Joel, he’d speak incredibly highly of his time at Betis and the fans would give said youngsters the time and belief having seen how Joel came in and improved the side. On the topic of Joel Campbell, the rumoured clause in this deal is that Betis get the Costa Rican for another season-long loan. What with Joel getting his work permit this coming summer (fingers crossed), it makes next-to-no sense that he’s being sent back to Betis, considering he’d be eligible for a loan move to a Premier League side in order to get a taste of English football. Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever see Joel in an Arsenal shirt again if he returns on loan next season to Betis – I say this because, by the time the second loan would’ve ended, he’d have built a very strong bond with his team-mates, Pepe Mel, the fans and the club as a whole. He’s really enjoying himself in Spain, and could be playing European football next season with Betis.

As a whole, this will see us build a very positive link with the Andalusian club. It wouldn’t surprise me if this led to us playing them in a friendly every season, or maybe them taking part in the Emirates cup. Overall, this is a very beneficial deal for both clubs.

Arteta celebrates his goal against Wigan.

Arteta celebrates his goal against Wigan.

It’s not been the best of seasons for our midfield metronome, Mikel Arteta. But it’s not been a bad one by a long stretch. Arteta’s start to the season was brilliant; he had Diaby sitting next to him in a double pivot which, in a nutshell, resulted in both of them sharing the defensive duties. Once Jack Wilshere returned, the spotlight was shone on the Englishman, and rightly so. Wilshere had just returned from injury and was playing like he’d never suffered a 14-month absence from first-team football for the Arsenal. Whilst Wilshere was orchestrating the play in the pivot with Arteta, his lack of defensive nous left Arteta with all the defensive duties. A player with Arteta’s experience, you’d expect to be able to cope with a pile of duties left behind by a youngster, but the defensive-midfield position is one which he has only started playing this season. By having to focus primarily on the defensive duties, Arteta’s supply of creativity has been cut off.

Last season, despite his gung-ho antics, Alex Song worked incredibly well with Arteta. As many will point out, Arteta almost played the DM role at some points because of Song’s headless chicken-esque runs. But, off the ball, Song put in a shift defensively. Many who say Song was a bad defensive-midfielder simply didn’t watch him in 10/11. Moving away from Song. Arteta flourishes in the double pivot when he’s given the leeway to get forward more often and involved in the incisive play in the final third. When he’s left with all the defensive duties, it’s easy to cut him out of the game entirely: stick an energetic, mobile player on him, and he has no freedom whatsoever; he has to focus on passing it sideways because said player is always breathing down his neck. We saw this when Sir Alex Ferguson deployed Rooney as an attacking midfielder to isolate Arteta – this was probably what instigated the constant isolation of Arteta in many games. Later on, most notably, we saw Toni Kroos do the same to Arteta at the Emirates – arguably the Spaniard’s worst game in an Arsenal shirt, this season.

Surprisingly, this shows that Arteta's least played type of pass is backwards.

Surprisingly, this shows that Arteta’s least played type of pass is backwards. (courtesy of the brilliant SquawkaSports)

With no sly dig at Wilshere intended, Arteta plays much better when he has someone with a competent defensive nous sitting next to him. Whilst it may not be appreciated, Aaron Ramsey’s ball retention and tackling goes incredibly under the radar. The double pivot of those two seems to be working a treat as it allows them to take it in turns to attack/defend; they work hand-in-hand when it comes to the off the ball work. Ramsey and Arteta are very similar in terms of their defensive work, primarily tackling, as they both hover around the player with the ball and expertly wait for an opening to stick their foot in. When playing next to Diaby earlier in the season, Arteta could rely on him to out muscle players which in turn led to Arteta cleaning up the loose balls. What I’m trying to say is, Arteta works well with someone who’s willing to share the defensive duties as opposed to just piling them on him. Sure, some will say Wilshere’s always willing to get stuck in, but there’s more to it than just throwing your leg at the ball.

The reason I think Arteta will still be vital next season is because I firmly believe we’ll purchase a powerful defensive-midfielder. If we do so, it’ll help not only Arteta but also Wilshere. Whilst Wilshere will be able to drive through the midfield without worrying about his pivot partner, Arteta will also be able to dictate the play and split defences open with his newly found freedom on and off the ball. It goes without saying that the addition of a defensive-midfielder will not only add some much needed balance to the midfield, but will also add strength in depth. Having Ramsey, Arteta and Wilshere all suitable to play a tad ahead of this defensive midfielder, whoever he may be, is going to be fantastic. What with Santi making waves on that left-hand side, it leaves Arsenal with options in the attacking-mid position also: Rosicky & Wilshere equally adept to playing in that position. It’s a weird one with Wilshere because I don’t think he’s consistently incisive enough with his final ball as an attacking-midfielder, but I also don’t think he’s defensively sound enough to play in a pivot; that said, the inclusion of a defensive-midfielder will aid the squad in so many different departments on the pitch.

Just a final word on Arteta, I just think it’s commendable how well he’s played for Arsenal this season. He’s quietly gone about his job with the utmost professionalism, he hasn’t spoken about how hard it is for him to focus on so many different aspects of the pivot by himself and his leadership qualities have been second to none. His direct contribution to seven of Arsenal’s 59 league goals this season should also be appreciated hugely, considering that demoralising penalty miss in the final minute against Fulham at home. He’s also only picked up three yellow cards all season, that in itself shows how calm and composed he is an a newly explored position.

All in all, I feel as though people saying Arteta will be a bit-part player next season really aren’t looking at the full picture. Whilst a defensive-midfielder will, possibly, reduce Arteta’s game time, I still feel as though he’ll play a massive part next season, especially if Wenger’s long-term vision of Wilshere is in an attacking-midfield position.

 

Kondogbia in action.

Kondogbia in action.

There’s a tedious and cliched manner in which you can look at the rumours of Kondogbia to Arsenal: being young and French means he fits the ‘Wenger-esque’ signing phrase very well. Then, there’s my way of looking at things: he’s young, he’s built like a tonne of bricks and would, possibly, be the final piece of the jigsaw for Arsenal’s midfield.

It’s often seen that Arsenal line-up with a midfield of technically gifted, diminutive-sized players, with the exclusion of Abou Diaby. Whilst they’re sometimes irresistibly entertaining to watch for the neutrals, it can sometimes be frustrating for many Arsenal fans due to the lack of a physical presence in the midfield; someone who will intimidate the opponent, break down attacks and just sit back for large spells of the game. A protector of the defence, if you will, but also someone who can effectively link the defence with the midfield.

Having mentioned Diaby, I don’t think there’s much difference between him and Kondogbia. Kondogbia is a powerful midfielder who, in a box-to-box position, has the leeway to take long strides forward, similar to Diaby. Kondogbia is someone who likes to dribble with the ball at his feet, but in an effective manner, when playing in a slightly advanced position. But, when he plays as a defensive-midfielder, he’ll just sit there, break up the play and pass the ball to the nearest team-mate. He isn’t like Alex Song – Hollywood passes that only work out ever so often – but it’s not as though he’s just a lumpy, static midfielder. His movement and ability to read the game are his two best attributes. The way he reads the game, at such a young age, is exquisite.

This shows how positive his passing is. He currently has an 86% passing accuracy rate. (Via the brilliant Squawka Sports)

This shows how positive his passing is. He currently has an 86% passing accuracy rate. (Via the brilliant Squawka Sports)

This is his first year in Sevilla colours, but he’s seemed incredibly comfortable in that midfield. It’s admirable how quickly he’s adapted, how well he’s played and how many eyes he’s caught in just his first season in a completely new country to his native France. Having to balance moving to a completely new country, breaking in to a first-team and having big clubs sniffing around you seems far from an easy task, mentally, but he’s coped very well. He’s eager to learn and very serious about getting game time, so much so that he’s been immovable from that Sevilla midfield in the last 4-5 months.

His stature, mixed with technicality, have now made him one of the hottest prospects in La Liga, as well as for the French national team. Many eyebrows were raised when the France squad for the world cup qualifiers against Spain and Georgia didn’t have Kondogbia’s name on there, despite having two other bright French youngsters: Pogba and Varane. Why wouldn’t he be such a hot prospect? It’s hard to find a player of Kondogbia’s age who’ s such a talented defensive-minded midfielder, apart from his compatriot, Pogba. It’s hard to make an argument for any other defensive-minded midfielder in Europe, at the age of 20, who’s making as much waves as Kondogbia is. Usually, the fixation on youthful players is towards the technically gifted midfielders/forwards or centre-backs, but it’s refreshing to see a player like Kondogbia pick up many plaudits.

Of course, he’s not the perfect player. There are still some bits of his game which need working on: level-headed tackling. He sometimes commits unnecessary fouls and rash tackles, but that’s something that he’ll learn to kick out of his game once he gets more seasons under his belt.

If his reported release clause is to be believed (£6.7M), then it doesn’t surprise me that Arsenal and Manchester City have shown a lot of interest in Kondogbia. I think it’d be a huge miss if we didn’t even bother triggering the release clause, as I think he’s one of the brightest young talents in Europe at the moment. If it comes down to him choosing between Arsenal or City, I’d tip him to choose the Gunners. Why? He’ll talk to Wenger, who’s brilliant with young players, gives them a chance and believes in them. Wenger being French could also turn his head. He’ll look at our midfield and see how depleted we are in his position, meaning he’s guaranteed a lot of game time. If he’s serious about his football, which seems to be the case, then he won’t sway towards Manchester City: a club who, at the moment, are awash with money and apart from Nastasic, don’t really give young players that much of a chance. Again, look at the competition he’d have in the City midfield. He wouldn’t get a chance.

I don’t tend to hype up young players that much, but Kondogbia really is the real deal. £6.7M is a steal, in my opinion, and nothing would beat the feeling of prying this youngster away from the eyes of Manchester City and seeing him develop into a top talent.