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”


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.

Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66

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.

Oh Arsene and Arsenal what to do? – An Arsenal Poem of sorts!!

Arsenal's coach Wenger reacts during their Premier League match against Bolton Wanderers in Bolton

 I have been finding it difficult to find the time or the inspiration to write of late. I guess this is down to having to write an original piece for Shoot every other week which I want to do well if I can and increasingly finding something very positive or new to say.

It is easy to write in an ultra positive mode but it would not reflect my current  mood and equally easy, if not easier to slam Wenger and be excessively negative after one of the most depressing evenings I have spent at the Emirates in many a year. So to be contrary and to not take either easy way out I shall do neither and both!

Oh Arsene and Arsenal what to do?

Soul searching after Tuesday disaster

Soul searching after Tuesday disaster

Here goes…………………………………….


Confused we are as Arsenal fans

Title challengers or also rans?

It is hard to keep track or know what to expect

Sublime on any given day and awful the next

Money to spend, bankrolled by the Yank

Money not spent, it’s still in the bank

In May the right noises, Wembley winners once more

In July arrives Cech but most think we need four!

‘We are working a little bit hard the squad to improve’

More empty words as we don’t make a move

We trust him at first, our best squad in years

But then come the injuries it will all end in tears

I could handle his theory to a certain degree

But lose Tom, Jack and Danny, it called for a spree

He says he has top strikers so doesn’t need more

Yes but you don’t play them we all know the score

Last year it was Lukas and this year it’s Joel

‘No signings, I trust them’ and then give them no role

It’s not all bad though I have to be fair

A few things keep me from total despair

I love the boy Hector a future so bright

Gabriel is the man; we need more with his fight

Le Coq may have saved us which would be quite funny

If it had not mean Arsene keeping hold of his money

Santi more central I like what I see

But Ramsey should be there I’d favour all three

We don’t play with true width so three central might work

All three are grafters and none of them shirk

Three behind Mesut to give him the space

To find the speedsters who won’t lose their race

Alexis and Theo working behind

Curving their runs, easy to find

With their pace on the shoulder if you are as good as they say

The ‘World’s Best Number 10 should find them all day

We have to different and 4312 is for us

Particularly against those who are parking their bus

Continually passing against two banks of four

Is boring to watch and the outcomes are poor

It’s not Wenger Ball anymore, they all know how to defend

So use incisive passers and the speed as our friend

Surprise them again as you managed last season

By changing formations for a very good reason

Because they know how to play us it’s always the same

Make them second guess be smart for each game

No more of the square pegs in the round holes

Get both our best finishers back in the goals

Will this save our season that I don’t know?

But being occasionally different is worth a go

You changed to 4141 in the big away matches your ploy

You won twice in Manchester to give us rare joy

Time to be innovative and avoid the fans profanity

Because to keep doing the same, as they say is insanity


That’s enough – it feels like the End

Oh no one more thing in January, maybe SPEND!


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Maureen cannot park the bus today so counter attacking Arsenal expected


So big games are coming thick and fast early in the season and tomorrow’s is about as big as they come folks.

The erratic early season form of both sides only serves to provide additional pressure on both coaches and the players selected on the day. Certainly Mourinho’s Chelsea are in greater need of the points than Arsenal languishing 11 points behind the early pace setters but The Gunners woeful display in midweek has only caused doubt and anxiety to return to those of us who are of a Red persuasion.

It is against this strange back drop that I find myself fascinated by the dynamics, thoughts and resulting tactics and selections of both managers. Maureen’s well documented dull and cautious nature may well have to take a back seat on his regular bus this weekend as he finds his team probably having to win the match. Even a draw, with Man City at home to West Ham (who surely cannot pull off a 3rd unlikely away win in the spin) could see the pre-season favourites 13 points behind their fellow Oil tycoons. However early we may be in the season this would mean City would have to lose effectively 5 games. No, the Portuguese Bus Driver will need to be out of park and with foot firmly on pedal. Continue reading