Arsenal's Forgotten Englishmen

The Arsenal English Core – Rotten, Forgotten or just not making the grade?

Arsenal's Forgotten Englishmen
Arsenal’s Forgotten Englishmen

Believe it or not what set me to thinking about the English players at the Arsenal was the strength and quality of our current squad. To some that may seem strange statement as there are many out there who patently feel the Gunners still do not have the strength in depth. If the thinking behind that is the current and recurring susceptibility we have for injures then it is hard to feel sympathy for that standpoint. If however the view is purely that those we have even if all fit are not good enough for Arsenal to challenge for honours then I may lean toward an opposing view.

The other aspect of this and the question that really got me thinking was what would happen of everyone was fit say in March? That is actually not an unreasonable assumption based on what the club are saying and what I am hearing although it would be un-Arsenal like for there not to be one or two setbacks I guess. For now though let’s retain our optimism and hope that all the returnees are on schedule or close and we pick up no further injuries. The question I was asking myself, setting all personal player affections aside, was would I select and English player in my 1st 11 if I were Arsene Wenger?  Indeed not only if I were him but based on what we know from his selections this season to date? If we add in form, which if we are to win the title has to be a key factor I strongly suspect the answer would be NO.

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We all know his first 11 and his chosen formation from the early stages of the season with only one possible variable, namely which of Giroud or Walcott stared up top. On current form it would be extremely difficult to argue for Theo to start ahead of Olly, even given that the Englishman has not really been playing there of late.

Some may argue but the team is Cech, Bellerin. Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud.  (Note not my choice but I think Wenger’s.)

Arsenal fans are divided on Ramsey and many would dearly love to see him retained centrally when Cazorla is fit but given everything Wenger has said it would represent a huge change of heart. Having said that even if when Coquelin returns in a few weeks and slots in for Flamini and it does work well I still see no Englishman in the 11. Because all the arguments given by the manager for needing Ramsey on the right earlier in the campaign to give balance to Sanchez on the left would still apply and therefore it would lead us to expect Campbell to get the nod over Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott. The Costa Rican has demonstrated a higher work rate, better defensive awareness superior decision making and ball retention so would justifiably expect to keep his shirt.

Starter of close to it
Starter of close to it

So as it stand we have would have no English players in the suggested first choice starting 11 if my theorising is correct but what of the bench? With 6 outfield players likely to be chosen and if everyone is fit the list to narrow down would be:

Rosicky, Elneny, Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck, Chamberlain, Flamini, Arteta, Chambers, Iwobi, Campbell, Gabriel, Gibbs, Reine-Adelaide

That is 14 players without factoring in Debuchy who it seems may be allowed to leave. So let’s be ultra-harsh and remove the players who the club have told us will not having playing contracts for 2016/17 because who select them over younger players and newer signings?

Our list is now still 11:  Elneny, Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck, Chamberlain, Chambers, Iwobi, Campbell, Gabriel, Gibbs, Reine-Adelaide

So let’s pencil in those pushing for the 1st 11 based on position and current form. Hard to argue that as a new signing Elneny will not be pushing for action. Gabriel is a racing certainty and if not in the 11 Campbell would be definitely be a substitute

So there we now have a starting go to 11 for Wenger plus 3 who would be contenders or first changes. That leaves 3 outfield bench places left and even if we agree that Iwobi and Jeff may go on loan next campaign you still have 6 Englishman competing for 3 places. Right now, if all were fit Wilshere, Walcott and Welbeck the 3 W’s would slot in leaving Chamberlain, Chambers and possible even Gibbs in the cold for me. Although if Wenger wanted a defensive option, over and above Gabriel, Gibbs might just edge out one of English compatriots.

I love him but.....
I love him but…..

It pains me to say this about Ox but I am not sure his style of play even with more consistency will ever suit Arsenal under Wenger. I love players who can run at the opposition but does it truly fit into the style our manager is playing now? As for Chambers I see him as a truly top draw central defender but like Jenko unless ‘Le Boss’ is ready to cut his ties with Per I think he may also go on loan.

All the above also is based on the squad from now to May as there are unlikely to be any more January additions. It is also operating on a wishful thinking when it comes to how swiftly Wilshere and Welbeck can get back to match sharpness. If they can they will figure ahead of many of those currently occupying shirts and heated Emirates dug out chairs.

Would Theo start if all fit?
Would Theo start if all fit?

Let’snot forget that in August at least 5 of the 6 Englishmen who we have been discussing would have had serious aspirations to be at the Euro’s in France this summer. I would be stunned is 2 make it to be honest.

No definitive conclusions really but based on Wenger’s own comments during the season, looking at his selections in general, players form and my own views It could well be the case that on the run in and into next season the much heralded English core might be peripheral, gone or in and out of the team or first changes from the bench. Many will argue on Walcott and trust me I would dearly love to be proved totally wrong but whilst he is currently the only Englishman who is a possible starter do we actually believe he will be leading our line next season?

Arsenal in for James McArthur but is Mascherano also a target?

A logical Wenger type move
A logical Wenger type move

I have not written a piece like this for a while but the current injury crisis combined with the fast approaching winter window has sucked me in. So here comes one of my speculative blogs on what may happen and who it might involve. As so often in the past this will be based on some knowledge, a few whispers and 19 years of getting to know Arsene Wenger (not personally!) This combination called the transfers of Arteta, Giroud and highlighted Schneiderlin as a target in March 2013 so who knows…

Will the Crystal Ball return to 1ND2OU? Not sure about that but of all the current speculation I believe the most serious and with foundation is the one linking us with a Crystal Palace player. In particular the stories suggesting Arsenal are lining up a bed for to their combative Scottish central midfielder James McArthur. The word ‘Unfashionable’ seems to be the tag used to describe the 28 year old enforcer when he is discussed as an Arsenal target. I can think of a few more adjectives that may be more appropriate – Good value, Premier League experienced and potentially available.

There is no doubt in my mind that Wenger was undecided about adding a big name defensive midfielder in the summer for fear of upsetting Francis Coquelin. The indecision ultimately cost him as I understand the deal for Grzegorz Krychowiak was all but done and fell through. What he could and should have done of course was bought in another player to compete with the Frenchman but he failed to do so and has found himself relying on Areta or Flamini, the latter who he publicly tried to sell. Perhaps his indecision might have been more understandable has Wilshere been fit for the start of the campaign. Jack himself feels he can lay the deep role and he had done so for England, albeit more in a diamond. However Wenger had enough time after he knew Jack was injured to bring in the new player all the supporters wanted and felt we needed. Continue reading

Wenger’s 3 Key Decisions to see Arsenal top of tree at Christmas

3 Key Decisions from lessons learned v Zagreb
3 Key Decisions from lessons learned v Zagreb

There was much doom and gloom after 2 poor performances against Tottenham and WBA only for the light to once again break through on Tuesday night versus Zagreb. The sense of frustration from the Arsenal supporters is tangible and real however and it is not down to performance levels as much as the continual injury blight that impacts our progress seemingly in the Autumn every season. I would be stating the bleeding obvious to observe that the majority of fans thought we needed more outfield additions in the summer and that Wenger’s reticence to buy squad players might be about to bite him viciously on his derriere.

That being said he may just have been fortunate that Manchester City have hit a wall and are suffering similar injury problems, exacerbated last night with Joe Hart limping off. Man City have also only taken 1 point from a possible 6 in the past 2 Premier League outings and despite seeing United and Leicester leapfrog the two title favourites I highly doubt the best bookmaker will be changing their odds.

So with Arsenal seeing key players such as Bellerin and Ramsey return ahead of the likes of Kompany and Silva the question is who has enough to reassert their credentials ahead of the big match on the 21st December? One of the main protagonists will enjoy Christmas more than the other and I suspect it may well be the Gunners.

My optimism and I am surprising myself in saying this is down to a renewed faith in our squad players over that of our rivals and particularly those on the blue side of Manchester. I am in no way condoning the lack of transfer activity, as we universally expressed concern at what may happen if Coquelin was out for any length of time but he timing could have been worse. I say that because Wenger has 7 matches between now and the opening of the transfer window to assess his alternatives and that process evidently began well this week. Of those 7 only 2 are against teams in the top half of the league.

I believe there 3 key decisions on positions and personnel that he has to make but the most significant has to be who will play in the centre of midfield in Coquelin’s absence?  Now may Arsenal supporters would love to see Aaron Ramsey restored to his favoured role but a question mark hangs over His ability to form an effective partnership with Cazorla.  Knowing Wenger and his is reluctant to tinker with a system he feels is working well so I suspect he will leave the Spaniard in situ and just slot Flamini in for Coquelin as he did on Tuesday in the Champions League. Continue reading

“It is the Disciplined Central Midfield Pairing that gives Arsenal the platform to challenge for the title”

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This piece had been rolling around in my empty head for a while now but it was one of those that needed some research to prove a theory or hunch. It has been nagging at me on and off and every time I see or hear the argument or debate about the Cazorla/Coquelin axis depriving Arsenal of a goal threat from central midfield. Primarily this contention is born out of the belief that Aaron Ramsey’s goal exploits in 2013/14 are or should be the norm and we miss that from our central midfield.

Free scoring from CM in 13/14 but do we need it?

A common enough observation is that Santi simply does not get forward and score enough because he sits deep with Coquelin.  It was not like that in the ‘glory’ days of Arteta and Ramsey when our Welsh talisman was arriving late into the book and scoring for fun, including of course the Cup Final winner. Oh how we miss that from the team or do we?

We don’t have him with us presently unfortunately due to injury but I have written previously about his role on the right and the freedom it gives him to arrive in the box to provide a goal threat still. I compared him at the time to Freddie Ljungberg in his pomp, continually arriving in central areas whilst playing on the right of midfield. Now whilst the present day formation utilised is not quite the same as the team Freddie graced I would suggest the main attacking and goal threat should be coming from the front 4, namely the main striker, second striker/no.10 and the wide players not the 2 central midfielders. If I am right the argument and contention perhaps should be that Ozil should be scoring more and not Santi.

Ramsey Role model
Ramsey Role model

Some will tell me as they always do that football has changed so much in the past decade but has it really? Are the fundamentals not actually the same whether we line up as 4411/442 as we did in 2001-5 as with or 4231 today?

If I am right and Premiership has not changed dramatically then perhaps it is rose tinted memory or simple amnesia that causes so many to suggest that the box to box central midfielder is critical to success and that it was always so!  In as much to satisfy my own curiosity and to check my own failing memory I checked back to the real ‘glory’ days or 2001/2 and 2003/4 without forgetting the season Wenger announced himself on the scene spectacularly in 1997/98. Would these great seasons prove or disprove the theory that the box to box goalscorer was crucial?

Well for a start one of the greatest ever box to box goalgetters in David Platt was to lose his place in 97/98 which does not auger well for the theory.  The established central midfield partnership who took Arsenal and indeed France to glory was Petit and Viera. Both played 32 games in the Premiership scoring a grand total of 2 goals each. No the gaol that propelled the Gunners to the title game from the wide speedster Overmars, the No.10 Bergkamp and the strikers Wright or Anelka.  That is not to say Paddy was not a true box to box powerhouse which of course he was but Arsenal were not reliant of his goals then.

The greatest pairing? NO Goals

Perhaps by the second double season of 01/02 the situation had changed? Well no actually Vieira played in 38 of the 38 matches at scored 2. His partner varied but Parlour, van Bronkhorst and Edu shared duties and I a combined 62 games scored a huge total of 2 goals between them.  Again it was the wide players and strikers who provided all the teams firepower with Henry, 24, Ljungberg 12, Wiltord, 10 and Bergkamp and Pires 9 apiece. The central midfield allowed Arsenal to control and dominate but there role was to shield and service those ahead of them primarily.

Solidity personified but few goals

And in the Invincibles campaign Vieira, Gilberto and Edu in a combined 91 appearances notched 7 Premiership goals. Paddy was undoubted the finest box to box central midfielder of his generation and perhaps in the history of the league and he top scored with 3 that season. Indeed the season was a true enigma due to the shear consistency and brilliance of Theirry Henry who proved 30 league goals with only his compadre Bobby Pires making double figures with 14.

Labouring the point I know but it is a valid point none the less. Arsenal’s great and trophy wining Wenger sides have always had a controlling central midfield partnership. We have certainly had more combative partnerships that Cazorla and Coquelin which is another debate but the primary function of the pairing is assuredly control and distribution and not goal getting. That is not to say that we would not like to Santi to score more but it is no longer his role. In 12/13 he played at CAM and scored 12 Premiership goals in 38 games so we know he has that in his locker.

More goals from Ozil yes please
More goals from Ozil yes please

At that time Cazorla played in the role/position that Ozil occupies today so it is indeed the German maestro, now in a rich vein of form that we need to be looking to add goals to his assists and I am sure that is inevitable. Also in the 12/13 campaign Podolski and Walcott occupied the wide positions in the main and both contributed double figures in the Premiership campaign. So in essence we do need Ramsey’s goals again if he can rediscover his scoring touch but we need then from his position on the right.  If it is not Aaron then it must be Ox, Welbeck or Campbell to add to the goal tally and let’s leave Coq and Santi to give us the control and possession and provide the springboard for the others and not concern ourselves too much with the need for a box to box goal getting central midfielder.

Too conclude it is worth illustrating the difference of a working disciplined partnership at the core of the midfield. In 2013/14 with a free scoring Ramsey and a passing deeper partner Arteta, Arsenal finished fourth scoring 68 and conceding 41. After 11 Premier League matches in 2015/16 we have scored 21 and conceded just 8. If we extrapolate this over the season it would equate to the Gunners scoring 72 and conceding only 27. A Goal difference of +27 can never and has never won a Premier League. Positional security, discipline and a goal difference of 45 MOST CERTAINLY CAN.

We are on track with a settled CM partnership to score 72 and conceded 27 – In 2003/4 we scored 73 and conceded 26!

Santi and Coq keep doing what you are doing and let those ahead worry about the goals.

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A Striking Surprise for Arsenal

Theo Walcott is close to committing to Arsenal, according to his manager, after showcasing his attac

Since the move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, Arsenal fans have been waiting for their beloved Gunners to mount a serious title challenge – they’ve come close a couple of times but fell short usually around April.

Every Gooner has an opinion as to why this is the case but a common theme is a lack of recruitment in key areas. Arsenal has bought some fantastic players recently but many feel they lack depth in midfield and are missing a world-class striker.

Great strikers are a rarity anyway so perhaps it was unsurprising that Arsene Wenger failed to bring one in, however the Gunners manager maintains that internal solutions are sometimes just as good as external ones.

Under pressure to mount a serious challenge the Arsenal manager took the risk of allowing Theo Walcott to develop into a lone striker, preferring him in the majority of Arsenal games this season over stalwart Olivier Giroud.

Little was expected of the young Englishman, at least first, but he has flourished in that role and been a main provider of goals for the Gunners this season, both in scoring and assisting. Luck has nothing to do with it either as the former Southampton trainee has worked hard to improve his off the ball work and his hold-up play – an area many felt he would struggle.

Internationally, Theo is preferred on the right but he has expressed his desire to replicate his club progress with country and possibly replace Wayne Rooney as a choice striker. Sooner rather than later Rooney will need replacing and Walcott believes he can be the one to do so with the England Captain dropping into midfield.

Alan Shearer recently wrote in his Coral blog that every player has his day and when it’s over, it’s over and you need to replace them – it’s the case for Wayne Rooney as much as it is for John Terry or any other player in their 30s. Persisting with a player when they are past their best isn’t the killer, he implied, but not replacing them is and Arsenal fans know this better than anyone.

Undefeated in 49 games, the Invincibles were a team had reached their peak and when you are at the Zenith of your strength there is only one way to go. Not replacing Henry, Vieira, Pires, Gilberto, Bergkamp (until Özil came but even then he still has a lot to prove), Campbell and Lehmann held Arsenal back for quite a few years. Keeping the faith with average talent like Denilson, Bendtner, Gervinho, Djourou and Almunia held them back even longer.

I think I missed again!

Alan Hansen once famously said “You can’t win anything with kids” and whilst he was wrong about the exceptional Class of ’92 at Manchester United he’s been right for every other club that has tried project youth, including Arsenal.

Something changed at Arsenal in recent years thought and Wenger supplemented his best young British players with top quality imports and world-class bargains like Cazorla, Özil and Sanchez and even Petr Cech who is a much belated but nonetheless welcome replacement for Jens Lehmann

Sanchez has been a revelation for Arsenal and his partnership so far this season with Walcott has been immense – they’ve built a real understanding and seem to complement each other well. But it is nothing compared to the Walcott/Özil partnership which in 1495 minutes of football has created 51 goals at an average rate of 1 per 29.3 minutes. It’s an incredible statistic.

Created 51 Goals
Created 51 Goals

Theo Walcott isn’t Thierry Henry, neither was Van Persie, but it’s not always the talent that needs replacing. Cech is not Lehmann, Alexis is not Pires, Mesut is not Dennis but they don’t have to be direct replacements but they do that to replace their effect on the team, although that can be spread amongst many players, so in some senses this Arsenal team is making progress in replacing the legends that went before.

Holding midfield is still the unanswered question for Arsenal but who is to say there isn’t an internal solution for that one too? That might be pushing it a bit far and much will rest on the January transfer window and following Shearer’s advice of replacing those who need replacing, which for Arsenal is ultimately Arteta and Flamini. For now we can enjoy the growing stature of Theo Walcott and the improving results of the team and hope we do the right thing in the next window.