AFC Wimbledon Up Next For Arsenal. Who Plays?

How do you predict a line up for a game like this? AFC Wimbledon are the visitors to the Emirates for the Carabao Cup fourth round tie and there is a clamour for one or two exciting prospects to get some much anticipated minutes for the first team.

This type of fixture was the very kind that we would experience in the past under Arsene Wenger, a line-up littered with the brightest talents banging on the door from the youth set up. Many came in and dazzled leaving us salivating at a bright future for the Arsenal. It served well as a toe into the first team, a chance to gain experience against opposition that although may not deliberately roll over to take a battering the quality of the ‘new class’ would shine through and excel against them.

Fabregas, Wilshere, Bendtner, Vela to name a few were players that grabbed their opportunities with both hands and never looked back. Admittedly Lupoli, Quincy, Eisfeld also grabbed their chances in the League Cup with both hands but experienced contrasting futures at Arsenal. Either way an early round home league cup tie was always a good gateway to the future talent on Arsenal’s books and games that with the lower costs to attend always felt good value to money.

Quincy: exciting and entertaining talent in these fixtures

That philosophy certainly changed over the years as the league campaigns became more pressurised and valuable minutes were favoured for first teamers over the promising kids. Well, that reason and Chelsea seemed to buy snap up any promising talent before any other club had a chance.

So the big question is what side of the fence does Mikel Arteta sit with regards to using this fixture to blood some of the promising youngsters making a mark in the Premier League 2 this season? It’s not that he has shunned talent evident by the trust thrust upon the likes of Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka last season. He may not have given them their debuts but it’s fair to say he showed an element of trust in them enough for them to now be the established first team starters they are today.

If we look at last season Arteta did refuse the temptation to blood a youthful team in the Europa league group stage last season with the group won and a dead rubber fixture against Dundalk was on the table. Instead the line-up was littered with Fringe whilst Miguel Azeez and Folarin Balogun who were the kids on everybody’s lips had to settle with places on the bench.

Although not a dead rubber, taking on League One AFC Wimbledon at home is a fixture you’d expect Arsenal to win even with a team full of youngsters.  Especially after their emphatic 6-1 victory over Chelsea at the weekend confidence would be sky high from the new class.

Chelsea no match for our new kids on the block

Here’s the part where I pour some cold water on the anticipation of a youth team exhibition tonight. No European football has led to limited minutes for a number of the first team squad. They need minutes on the pitch and if not a run out tonight when else will they play? Alas over the course of the season their services with be called upon but there’s going to be a lot of unproductive weekends for many of these players. How else do they show the manager they should be considered than putting in a performance in these types of games to build up some sharpness and register back up on the manager’s radar? Which players are we thinking of? Well let’s start with Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland Niles,  Gabriel Martinelli, Callum Chambers, Alex Lacazette, Rob Holding, Folarin Balogun and a now in contention Mohammed Elneny to name a few. That’s eight outfield players I’ve named needing minutes and more likely to be the ones starting the game.

The bench however could be open season and there is an opportunity for the earlier mentioned Chelsea slayers to at least occupy some of the bench. Whether they get on the pitch will be down to the manager and how the game is going. I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning the name of one player who has been the talk of the town over the past few weeks with a growing CV of video evidence to back up the early tips of the immense potential that Arsenal have on their books. The level of pressure on this kid is through the roof and already at this stage of not even making his first team debut I am sure 99% of you reading this are well aware of who I am talking about and how good he could be.

He who shall not be named…

The Gunnerstown Site have been keen followers of this player of potential with scouting reports made long before the inroads he has made over the last couple seasons. It would be exciting to see him get minutes but at the same time there really is no rush to blood him, he is developing well and there is no doubt his time will come. He just needs to be managed right and we have to put trust into Per Mertesacker and his team to provide best advice to Mikel  on when he will be ready to make his first team debut. Integration is key and the training with the first team this season will be invaluable to his development.

So AFC Wimbledon, what can we say about them? Well as mentioned earlier they reside in League One, they’ve had a reasonable start to their league campaign sitting in 7th place whilst losing their most recent game at home one nil to Plymouth Argyle. Whilst being one of the highest scorers in League One their top scorer is actually one of their central defenders Will Nightingale with 4 goals for them this season. We will definitely need to be focused on set plays to keep him at bay. If, from an Arsenal perspective if you are going to the game and you want a pantomime villain then look no further than George Marsh. A tough tackling defensive midfielder who was released by Tottenham at the end of last season and snapped up by AFC Wimbledon. He may be no goal threat but always be wary of a former Spurs player looking to make a point, Watch your ankles lads!

Enjoy your day people

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Monday Musings on an Arsenal Front

Ok Gooners, so we’ve had a couple days to digest that match from Friday, the anger levels will have reduced, the red mist cleared enough to reflect a bit more objectively and draw some positives that we can build on. No? Fully understand. It still hurts doesn’t it? A whole weekend ruined. I don’t know about you but for me the remaining games of the weekend just didn’t have that same appeal any more. Match of the day was skipped and with the added annoyance of playing on a Friday it made a wretched weekend last even longer.

It’s not an ideal start to the season and only adds to the pressure that befalls Mikel Arteta. The togetherness and team spirit needed going into a new season isn’t quite evident yet and it’s hoped all is well behind the scenes. Let’s get it straight here, amid a number of rumours floating about no one truly knows. Take the rumours on twitter with a pinch of salt. One thing we can expect is to get the reasons delivered to us in HD when Amazon releases their cash cow at the end of the season.

Amazon loving this right now

So next up is Chelsea, a team that could really rub salt into the wounds or could be the confidence boosting jump start we desperately need. It’s not looking great at the moment with the potential loss of both Aubamyang and Lacazette for that fixture. The loss of experienced forwards will be a massive blow and it’s hoped “doubtful” gets upgraded to “available” come match day. They aren’t fully ruled out so we have to hold onto that with a some semblance of hope. As mentioned earlier I’d hold fire on the speculation as nothing is definite at this time. It wasn’t long ago when Aubamyang was accused of all sorts of defiance and trouble making only for it to be revealed he had contracted Malaria. Yes, I understand two players at same time coming down with something doesn’t seem right but I’m going to reserve judgement until more is revealed.

The truth will eventually be revealed

Alleged internal unrest aside what we mustn’t forget is the return of the Highbury Emirates faithful next Sunday. A packed stadium full of Arsenal fans acting as the twelfth man to cheer the team on cannot be understated. Regardless of our views on the ownership or the current manager or even individual players on the pitch what we must do is make sure we come together as one. Beating Chelsea is on par with beating Spurs and you don’t get a sweeter feeling than experiencing that and losing your voice in the process.

We’ve got a week to get our house in order, we may miss vital personnel, and we may also have the chance to blood new signings. Odegaard rumours refuse to go away and it seems there some truth into his unwanted status at Real Madrid and the possibility of returning to Emirates is very real. A signing I would welcome and hope gets over the line. The young Norwegian is just one of a few names bouncing around. One thing is for sure, after the sale of Joe Willock to Newcastle there’s funds to spend. One player who won’t be coming is Tammy Abraham as his transfer to Roma is 90% over the line as at time off writing he is en route to Rome for a medical.

From an outgoing perspective there’s still question marks hanging over the futures of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson,  Sead Kolasinac, Willian, Lucas Torreira,  Hector Bellerin and  Rob Holding. A current injury to Eddie Nketiah has probably halted any transfer dealings for him whilst Flo Balogun could well do with a loan to aid his development.

Torreira enjoying life away from Arsenal

Its stick or twist in the transfer market as the club seems to favour moving on these players before bringing in replacements. A few of the names mentioned could still do a job in the team so it’s interesting to see how things unfold over the coming fortnight.

Well that’s it from me, I hope your week improves from the weekend, and I’ll sign off now with listing a positive, a negative and some food for thought.

Positives:

  • Performance of ESR, Tierney and Lokonga
  • Kit looked nice

Negatives:

  • Playing out from back problems are still here
  • Forwards crisis

Food for Thought:

  • Is Ben white suited to a back three over a centre back pairing?
  • Just who should be kept on to play Right back and who should go?
  • Should Martinelli be our central striker during our forward crisis?

I hope as the season passes the positives far outweigh the negatives. Fingers crossed!

Enjoy your day people

This post has also featured on Gunners Town site which I write for.

Victory From The Jaws Of Failure: The Arsenal Way

If Carlsberg did endings to matches… they probably wouldn’t do it like that but hey, what an adrenaline rush. The roller coaster of emotion that Arsenal fans experienced yesterday was enough to hospitalise the strongest of hearts.

After a weekend of favourable results from those clubs around the Arsenal it was important to maximise the advantage and obtain all three points from the game. I’m sure the players would have been aware of the Liverpool Swansea result and been reminded of the potential banana skin a fixture against one of the lower opponents in the league could pose.

In fairness the performance was positive despite some questionable wastefulness in front of goal. The chances were coming but the ball wouldn’t hit the back of the net, always a dangerous situation the longer the game goes on. However you felt it was only a matter of time before the Gunners would break the deadlock. When Shkodran Mustafi rose to head home Ozil’s corner in the second half a huge sigh of relief was expelled and then it was a case of when the second goal would come so we could relax and enjoy the rest of our Sunday. More fool anyone who thought the match would play out to script, that script was ripped to shreds for good measure. From a state of total comfort our very own Granit Xhaka had other ideas with a red card challenge, I know fans have been divided in opinion of whether he deserved to go or not.


I usually sit on the fence but if I’m being honest it was a red and he has only himself to blame. If this was a one off out of character error of judgement the benefit of the doubt could be given but sadly the young Swiss is beginning to get a reputation for such moments in games. I believe in the player strongly and do feel he offers a lot to the team but the disciplinary side to his game needs to be curbed because once painted with such a brush the referee is more likely to rule he is in the wrong for any contentious 50/50 split decisions. Arsenal can’t afford to have referees making their mind up on our players before a ball is kicked because you end up in situations like yesterday fighting an uphill battle with 10 men on the field. It’s not his first bit of controversy this season and there can be a thin line between reliable and liability.

Xhaka now faces a four match ban at a time when player numbers are stretched enough as it is. You would argue that Coquelin returning is perfect timing to soften the blow until you see the challenge he put in to concede the penalty against Burnley. Ok, that’s a bit harsh I am glad to have the Frenchman back but now he needs to be wrapped in cotton wool for the next four games at least as their aren’t too many options after Coquelin and Ramsey to fill that central role right now.

So as I have alluded to the red card switched the dynamics of the game from one of comfort to one of unease and tension.  Burnley gained a spring in their step and despite a spirited effort to keep the team with the player advantage at bay the inevitable happened in injury time. A penalty won after a trip by Coquelin put the club and the fans in the horrible position of witnessing us throwing away maximum points when seconds away from victory.

When Andre Gray blasted in that penalty the heart sank, all the negative feelings came flooding in; you could almost hear the collective beeps of mobile phones nationwide in synchronisation of whatsapps, tweets and texts flooding Arsenal fans’ phones from their Spurs, United, Liverpool and Chelsea supporting friends mocking the predicament the club had just witnessed. It started to kick off on the side-lines too; Arsene was apparently sent off by the ref and had some afters with the fourth official that is likely to put him in some very deep water.

The script that was rewriting itself had not finished though, there was one final twist to this story and thank goodness that worked out as a happier ending for the Gunners. With even fewer seconds on the clock a free kick into the box resulted in a kick to the face on Koscielny and the ref awarded another penalty. There were claims that Koscielny was offside but a kick to the face is a kick to the face. It was an unbelievable turn of events as the emotion had now switched from utter dejection to hope once again. An awarded penalty is great but you still have to score it, a moment like that required nerves of steel and there was no other player on the field you would entrust with the honour than Alexis Sanchez. With a touch of nonchalance the penalty was dinked down the centre of the field and the Gunners were now 2-1 up.


How as a fan could you not explode with excitement and joy at such a finish to the game? Many rival fans have mocked our celebrations but for reference think back to Man united scoring in the last minute at Hull or Tottenham scoring the last minute at West Ham to name a few. We didn’t celebrate like we had won the league but we did celebrate like a team that regained a victory in the dying seconds of the game when everything seemed to have gone against us; call it what you want whilst sucking on those bitter lemons.

As it stands we just need to take each day as it comes, the fallout from this game will become clearer as the week goes on. 2nd in the league now and a game against Chelsea not too far off in the future, dropped points yesterday would have been the worst possible outcome. Now we roll on, yesterday was far from enjoyable but the final result was the most important factor. Hopefully the players will learn from all the negatives but also take encouragement from the positives. Enjoy your day people!

 

 

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Valentine’s celebrations all round for the Gunners.

Now that is the way to end a game, to win with effectively the last kick of the game you would struggle to find a scenario which can be bettered in football. It may not be the winner on the final day of the season but when you consider the turn of events during the game the relief, joy and ecstasy experienced in one special moment will live long in Gunners’ fans memories. The fact that it was Danny Welbeck who got the winner made for a Hollywood script in its execution.

Other than the fact that many Gunners fans most likely spent the rest of their Valentine’s day with a loss of voice I’m sure the spouses of those very same fans will have enjoyed the company of their partner in one of the best moods of their lives (well, those who didn’t decide to celebrate the victory down the pub for the rest of the day).

Leading up to this game the pressure was on the Gunners to get a result to avoid losing touch with Leicester. Home advantage meant little, you only had to see Leicester’s result at the Etihad last week to realise that Arsenal were coming up against a team in top form playing with no fear whatsoever. Much talk was over how the Gunners would cope with the pace of the Leicester attack and the overwhelming consensus was the choice of Gabriel to partner Koscielny at the back was best to deal with the threat of Vardy, Mahrez et al.

About an hour before kick-off news filtered through that Gabriel was in fact injured and Per Mertesacker had returned to the line-up. Not the news everyone wanted to hear however it is easy to forget Mertesacker has got to where he has in his career never having pace. Reading of the game and 100% focus is equally important and I stand corrected for also having kittens when the team news first broke.

Generally we did ok handling the pace of Leicester, understandably the red card to Danny Simpson made defending somewhat easier in the second half but it is those very moments in the past where Arsenal have shot themselves in the foot from a comfortable position. You need to be focused, well organised and concentrate at all times to reap the benefits of the victory gained.  Not forgetting Koscielny was replaced at half time and the slightly raw and less pacey Callum Chambers replaced him. The chances that Leicester did create were more down to great build up rather than exposing any lack of pace.

This post is less focused on providing a match report and more focusing on the key points of the game so it is definitely worth touching on Ozil’s performance.

Now if I’m being honest yesterday happened to be one of the worst performances I have seen from Mesut Ozil in a long time. I am one of his biggest backers and this season has certainly been one of his best in an Arsenal shirt but yesterday absolutely nothing was coming off for him. Every neat flick and trick did not come off; he dwelled on the ball that micro-second longer than usual which resulted in him getting dispossessed in good positions and his head seemed to drop at the frustration. I do not even recall hearing his recent chant being heard from the stands and that can only be testament to a performance below the excellent high standards which have been set.

Another assist.

 

Having said that the key assist to the winner came from the very boot of Mesut Ozil. If anything it proves that when you have class players on the pitch even if they are having a bad game there is always the possibility of that one piece of quality that can be produced to win you the game. Take your star player off at your peril, well done Arsene on keeping the faith.

Special notice goes to Danny Welbeck for his fantastic winner after such a long time out injured. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he certainly endeared himself that little bit more to Gunners fans in his time with the club. His naming on the bench came as a surprise given Arsene’s caution in handling his comeback but at the final whistle the choice was justified.

The tough games are coming thick and fast with Man United, Barcelona and Spurs game not too far away it hits home how important 3 points were yesterday. It is hoped the recent blip is now behind the Arsenal and a chance to prove true title resolve will be taken with both hands.

Enjoy your day people

 

 

Will Arsenal Make The Most Of Transfer Deadline Day?

As the transfer windows draws towards shutting today many Arsenal fans are still left scratching their heads wondering if the club will address the problem areas which have been identified since last season to turn Arsenal from nearly men to genuine contenders for league honours. Gary Neville’s words last Monday may have ruffled a few feathers amongst the Arsenal hierarchy however it was hard for many Gunners’ fans not to agree with some of the points addressed.

The good feeling and belief from a near perfect pre season was wiped instantly on opening day and the grumbles and moans have become more and more audible with each week that Arsenal fail to live up to the big expectations laid upon them. A few results have been churned out to repair the opening day damage but the quality of performance in general has been lacking from the play.

Will the often pleaded signings of a defensive midfield challenger and top class striker have made a difference to the games so far? Most likely, in the same way that any new signings can boost a team’s performance on a psychological level.  Petr Cech is no doubt an excellent acquisition but the deficiencies outfield are yet to be addressed.

Francis Coquelin has earned his way into the 1st team but much of his elevation to the Arsenal team has been fuelled by a hunger last season to prove himself. That is only part of the battle, once you rise to the top and receive the plaudits you require a new focus to maintain the upward trajectory of influence upon the team.

Right now there is no one in the Arsenal squad that offers true competition to Francis Coquelin’s position in the defensive midfield role of the team. He can sit pretty in the knowledge that there is no true challenger to keep him on his toes from the likes of Arteta and Flamini. Beyond those two is the promising but completely raw Bielik and that is where the problem lies. It is not to say that Coquelin’s performances have been poor so far this season but the threat of complacency setting in is very real.

I can almost liken the defensive midfield conundrum to the goalkeeping situation at the club a few years back. Sczcesny rose through the ranks to become number 1 choice between the sticks for the club. At the time it was deserved, he was fulfilling his potential and making a go of it. His challengers at the time Vito Mannone and Lukasz Fabianski although as proved now are far better keepers than many believed at the time were never ever a threat to the number one jersey.

mannone

Season after season with no true threat to his position you could see the complacency set in with the Polish stopper. Instead of pushing on to a higher level he became stagnant in the knowledge he was number one and anytime Manone or Fabianski played they dropped a clanger. I still believe Sczcesny to be a good keeper but the professionalism and concentration in his game has waned in the last couple years. The arrival of Ospina was the kick up the arse he needed and although he is out on loan the door is not shut on his Arsenal career. It’s up to him to get his head down and focus on what is required of a top level goalkeeper and win back his place and respect of his peers.

Now we don’t want that situation to occur with Coquelin, an ideal situation is for him to have a genuine threat to his position in the team. A player that could usurp Coquelin if his level of performance drops and require him to fight to earn back his place.  At present Arteta and Flamini offer something to the squad but their best days are behind them and in all honesty do not pose genuine competition to Coquelin. Can Wenger surprise us and address this area of the team or will his loyalty to current midfield cloud his judgement?

Up front is the other problem area and you do wonder if the striking position will be addressed. All Arsenal fans can see it, all pundits can see it but the one man who can make it happen does he see it or choose to ignore it? With Danny Welbeck currently out of the picture the argument that a top striker is needed may be falling on deaf ears. Arsenal fans can argue that so far Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott haven’t delivered as much as we would like. The big question is whether Arsene Wenger has the ‘like a new signing’ excuse readied for Welbeck’s return as his answer to the criticism.

When we review Arsenals strikers’ you could say that Olivier Giroud offers power but lacks pace and a clinical finish. Theo Walcott offers Pace but lacks power and a clinical finish whilst Danny Welbeck offers Pace and Power but is probably the least clinical finisher of the three.

welbeck

The answer to all Arsenal’s striking problems is a striker that has all three attributes but they aren’t exactly hanging off trees. I struggle to list off established strikers that fit that criteria, it’s an exclusive club and is likely to cause some serious damage to the Arsenal Cheque book to acquire any. Arsenal have the spending power now  to get most players they desire, despite Manchester City doing their best to implode the market a top striker should still be acquirable within a non astronomical price range.

deadline day

All Arsenal fans can do now is sit back and watch how the rest of the day unfolds. For ITK’s today is like Christmas day, expect an avalanche of BS stories clogging your timelines/feeds.

Enjoy your day people.
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