Sunday, 21 August 2016

Referee Didn't Give Two Fuchs


Saturday 20 August 2016
Leicester 0 Arsenal 0

Arsenal battled the reigning champions Leicester City to a 0-0 draw yesterday at the King Power Stadium. Arsenal had the better run of things for the majority of the game but can count themselves somewhat lucky. Mark Clattenburg, officiating his first Premier League game of the season, let Arsenal off the hook twice, once in each half, as Leicester had strong claims for penalties turned down.

Leicester, playing their first home game of the season, started slowly and Arsenal were on top from the very start. But the Gunners never seriously challenged Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being the only player to threaten, curling a shot just wide of the Leicester goal.

The home fans were in uproar minutes later as Danny Drinkwater was seemingly tripped in the box by Laurent Koscielny but the referee was having none of it. Replays indicate that Koscielny didn't get the ball but Drinkwater was looking for the spot-kick all day long and Clattenburg waved away the home side's appeals.


Leicester looked an improved side in the second half but still never really looked like challenging Petr Cech. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, both linked with the Gunners this summer, did little to make Arsenal fans feel as if they'd missed out, as both forwards were largely ineffective against the Arsenal back-line. Mahrez came closest for the hosts with a late effort, saved well by Cech. Just before that chance, Leicester had another penalty appeal turned down when Foxes new boy Ahmed Musa got the best of Hector Bellerin but went down in the area softly after minimal contact. I've seen those penalties given though, and Arsenal can count themselves fortunate that Clattenburg was in a generous mood for the visitors.

All in all it was a game between two very evenly matched sides who effectively cancelled each other out. You could tell both teams have studied each other well. Arsenal refused to let Leicester play that counter-attacking style they love and the hosts proved difficult to unlock as the Gunners continued to pass the ball around the opposition's penalty area, without ever piercing the defence.

Alexis Sanchez, playing up front as the sole striker for the second week in a row, failed to get into the game yet again. It's increasingly clear that Alexis, as supremely talented as he is, is not accustomed to leading the line and looks out of sorts in that position. He was so isolated, as he was against Liverpool, and he never really got going. There is no faulting his effort levels but he doesn't have the same impact as a striker and is completed wasted there. The fans' jeering at Arsene Wenger to spend some money on a new number 9 will continue for a while longer.


There were some positives for the Gunners though. Laurent Koscielny returned to the starting eleven and instantly settled the Arsenal back-four. He was unshakable in defence, and aside from that potential penalty tangle with Drinkwater, never put a foot wrong. His influence and authority on the team cannot be questioned and he gave a man of the match performance.

Rob Holding, making his second start for the club, was the main benefactor of Koscielny's return. Partnered with the experienced Frenchman, Holding looked confident and self-assured and kept the Leicester attackers at bay. The Arsenal boss said after the game: "Nobody speaks about the performance of Rob Holding today - he is English, he is 20 years old, you should be happy. But I am sorry he didn't cost £55m."


We also saw the return of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere. All three of them came off the bench and Ozil and Wilshere made an impact straight away. It was nice to see Jack back in the side, in this somewhat make-or-break season for him.

Arsenal's next test is another away game, this time at Watford on Saturday 27 August. The Hornets threw away a 1-0 lead over Chelsea yesterday, falling to them 2-1 late on. The Gunners will be looking to pick up their first win and should really have enough in them to beat Watford.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Opening Day Disappointment


Sunday 14 August 2016
Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4

My first trip to the Emirates this season didn't end the way I wanted it to. But the way I look at it, things could have been much, much worse.

First of all, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that photo above is from the away corner of the Clock End, the Liverpool end. What on earth was I doing in there you ask? My brother managed to get himself, my nephew and I three tickets courtesy of his New Balance connections. Amazing, right? Yes but the price we had to pay was to be surrounded by the opposition. I spent the entire match hemmed in by scousers who are about as fanatical as football fans get. It was actually quite enjoyable to begin with, and they were a lively bunch in good spirits, enjoying the magnificent British weather. But then the goals started going in, and the fun soon turned into horror...

Before we get to that, let's start at the beginning. I got into London around midday and naturally migrated to the shop to look at this season's new gear. I told myself repeatedly, "I don't need this season's home shirt, in fact I won't buy anything." That didn't last long.


My willpower was non-existent. Realistically I knew I would buy it but seeing them all lined up in the shop, I couldn't resist. They didn't have any pre-made with the new Cup numbering so I had this one made up. I'd never had a shirt printed with the European Cup badges before but had always wanted one. It looks pretty darn good in my opinion, especially that iconic Champions League badge. Why did I opt for Cazorla? Santi has been one of my favourite players for a long time, he's unbelievably skilled in possession and who doesn't love the guy, constantly smiling as he humiliates would-be defenders.

Even though I'd already spent way more than I intended, I continued to browse the store and spotted a potential birthday/Christmas present:


These new Puma rain jackets are lovely and much better quality than the similarly-priced stadium jackets. I have my eyes on this navy blue one in the near future. I'm keeping my fingers crossed some kind soul will gift me one before 2016 is over.

After meeting with my brother and nephew, we headed towards our turnstile. After entering the stadium, Arsenal shirt well and truly hidden beneath a jacket, we found our way into enemy territory. It was pretty warm by this point but the stewards recommended (demanded) I hide my shirt for the entire game, lest I incur the wrath of the travelling support. It was a definitely a good idea after what occurred next.

First Half

Arsenal started brightly and, I felt, controlled the half. The home side looked dangerous in attack and the makeshift centre-back duo of Calum Chambers and Rob Holding were holding their own (pun intended) in defence. Aerially they dominated against Liverpool's forward line and Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny did a very good job of screening the back four, cutting out attacks before they got too dangerous. Petr Cech was never seriously tested in goal. 

Thirty minutes into the match, Theo Walcott was brought down in the penalty area after a stupid challenge by Liverpool left-back and owner of terrible hair Alberto Moreno. I was surprised to see Theo grab the ball and take ownership of the penalty. I thought for sure Alexis Sanchez, the most experienced forward on the pitch, would surely take command. Instead Theo tamely put the ball to Simon Mignolet's right and it was a simple save for the goalkeeper in the end, at an easy height. The Liverpool fans burst into celebration around us and all I could do was bite my lip in frustration. 

Thankfully Theo was quick to make amends. Coquelin made a brilliant tackle to feed the ball into Alex Iwobi and the Nigerian youngster picked out Theo with a delightful pass. Walcott took a touch before firing home from a tricky angle and it was 1-0 to the Arsenal. I had to do everything in my power not to jump up and down and reveal myself. But typically Arsenal couldn't hold on. As the end of the first half neared, Liverpool earned a cheap free kick and the always dangerous Philippe Coutinho stepped up to take it. The Brazilian scored one of the most impressive free kicks in recent memory, perfectly curling the ball into the top corner and Cech had no chance. I'll admit, it's right up there with the best goals I've seen in person. 1-1 at half time and it was a gut punch to Arsenal. It's often said the worst time to concede is just before half time. Sadly for the Gunners, this proved to be true.


Second Half

Arsenal never recovered from that Coutinho free kick. Liverpool emerged early for the second half and never took their foot off the gas. Within minutes it was 2-1 to the visitors, Adam Lallana slotting home from the right. Liverpool didn't let up, with Coutinho notching his second of the day to make it 3-1. And not long after that Sadio Mane, the Reds' £35 million new signing, made it 4-1 with an impressive solo goal. Now just imagine what being 4-1 down felt like in the Liverpool end for a trio of stunned Arsenal fans. It was incredibly hard to hide my disappointment and anger as jubilant, and really drunk Merseysiders roared in celebration around me. The only silver lining? I have Coutinho in my fantasy team. Dude is some player, and Liverpool will be lucky to hold onto him.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, just on as a substitute, quickly started the comeback. At 4-1 down you have to think the game is over but the Ox gave Arsenal a lifeline with a superb goal, weaving through the Liverpool defence before beating Mignolet at his near post to make it 4-2. Arsenal continued to press for another goal and were rewarded 10 minutes later when Chambers glanced in a header to bring the home side within a goal of snatching an unlikely draw. But it wasn't to be and Arsenal just could not find that extra something to seriously threaten the visitors again. Liverpool saw the game out and delivered Arsenal their first loss of the season, in their very first game.

Post-Match Thoughts

I could not believe how much better Liverpool were in the second half. Equally, I couldn't understand how Arsenal could be so off the pace. Arsenal just couldn't deal with Liverpool's pressing, their tenacity, their level of effort. The Reds put in a total team effort and blitzed the home team. Coquelin and Elneny were totally bypassed in midfield and the inexperienced partnership of Chambers and Holding stood no chance. Alexis cut a forlorn figure up front, starved of service and unable to challenge for any ball above his head. He was wasted as a striker, unable to influence the game much at all.

To rub salt in the wound, the Gunners lost both Aaron Ramsey and Iwobi to injuries. Ramsey's hamstring reared it's ugly head yet again, an injury that repeatedly scuppers his Arsenal career. Reports are that he will miss a month, and Iwobi's thigh injury is still to be determined in terms of his absence. I thought Ramsey had an impressive first half playing in the number 10 role he would love to claim as his own, so it's such a shame to lose him again and not witness what he could bring to that position.

I was amazed that Arsene Wenger didn't opt to start Oxlade-Chamberlain. After a hugely successful pre-season, the English winger looked a certainty to start but the boss opted for Walcott instead. All credit to Theo, he put the penalty miss behind him and took his goal well, but he contributed very little otherwise. The impact the Ox made immediately upon entering the game just made me think what could have been if he'd started.

I was also surprised to see new acquisition Granit Xhaka not get the start. I can fully understand why Wenger opted for Elneny and Coquelin instead. With such a young and inexperienced centre-back duo, it made sense to give them as much defensive midfield protection as possible. But I felt Xhaka could have done that job also, as well as providing that extra bit of technique in attack. I thought the Swiss midfielder impressed in his 20+ minutes and you could see immediately his physicality and leadership qualities, even in such a short amount of gametime. As the match was in it's dying minutes, right in front of us, Xhaka shunted Jordan Henderson in the chest and you just wanted to fist-pump right there and then and shout, "get in there lad!" He's definitely going to pick up a red card or two this year, but I love his grit and moxie already.

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All in all I enjoyed the day (for someone of modest means, every visit to the Emirates is a day out to be savored) but the result was pretty terrible. It could have been much worse at 4-1 and at least the boys showed character to attempt the comeback and avoid total humiliation. However the squad is so obviously lacking in depth and talent in defence and attack, with midfield being the only area of strength. Signings must be made or it'll be another squandered season.

We left the Emirates and headed into the city, turning up at Bodean's in Soho for some barbecue. This cheered us up and was exactly what was needed after a difficult afternoon of football. I had the Boss Hot Dog and a strawberry shake and both were incredible. Check out the size of this dog:


Yep, that's pulled pork, bacon, and cheese. Mega.

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Arsenal now travel to the home of the champions Leicester City, who also suffered an opening day defeat, away to relegation-favourites Hull City. Both teams will be looking to prove a point and put their first game behind them, and I can see it being a difficult game for the Gunners. I still like our chances, especially against a Leicester side who look like they haven't solved replacing midfield cornerstone N'Golo Kanté quite yet. The Foxes look vulnerable and Arsenal must capitalize on this and take their chances. We did the double against Leicester last season so let's hope we can continue our winning ways, even if they are the defending champions.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Arsenal Season Preview 2016/17

I'm heading to the Emirates on Sunday for the season opener against Liverpool. I've never been to the first game of the season before so I'm excited to say the least. However the general feeling among Arsenal fans is, to put it nicely, mixed. There's a great deal of frustration and anger felt by many, not to mention confusion and general astonishment that the club could enter the season so unprepared. Yet beneath all the negativity, buried deep under the shouts of 'Wenger Out' and the YouTube attention-seeking rants, there are reasons to be optimistic. I thought I'd assess where Arsenal stand before the dawn of a new campaign.

Pre-Season: Results Don't Matter, Performances Do



Played 5, won 4, drawn 1, lost 0. Arsenal have had a very successful pre-season by all accounts. The results ultimately mean very little because nobody remembers your pre-season wins and losses once the season begins. But it is a great time to assess the players and their performances, as the pre-season provides a good indicator on form and conditioning. Wins are always better than losses, right? Even if they don't really count.

A number of players have given Arsene Wenger a selection headache before Sunday's game. One man in particular looks like he knows this is a make-or-break year for him. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a winger with enormous potential who hasn't quite delivered in terms of consistency, had a magnificent pre-season. He scored a superb Bergkamp-esque chip against Lens and a goal against Chivas that looked like he was being maneuvered by a Playstation controller. He routinely challenged opposition fullbacks, attacking again and again with real confidence, something we haven't seen from him in a while. If he can just stay fit this season, and it's a big if, you have to think Ox could go far. Injuries have been the largest factor to have held him back since he joined in 2011 but he needs to put that behind him now. I'm almost certain he's played his way into the first XI for Sunday's game.

A few youngsters also stepped up their games this summer, putting themselves in the forefront of Arsene Wenger's plans. Alex Iwobi continues to impress since he broke into the first team last season and can hopefully continue to develop in 2016/17 as a dangerous forward. The young Nigerian has quickly become one of my favourite players and his mixture of pace, strength and technique make him one to watch this season. His friend and fellow forward Chuba Akpom also took his opportunity this pre-season. 4 goals in 5 games is a decent return for the Englishman and he seems intent on making it impossible for the boss to loan him out again. I doubt Arsene would dare start Akpom up front against Liverpool but then again this is a man who played Yaya Sanogo in key Champions League games a couple of years ago. So who knows, Akpom stands a chance and did everything he possibly could to force his way into that number 9 slot. I hope we don't loan him out again this year but if the club can't add that big-name striker the media and the fans crave, then Akpom suddenly becomes even more integral to this squad and could see significant playing time.


The new boys impressed as well. Granit Xhaka, fresh off a wonderful Euro 2016 campaign with Switzerland, looks like he's been part of this team for years. He's slotted into the Arsenal squad seamlessly and could be a fixture in the heart of the midfield for the next decade. He's surely earned a starting spot ahead of Sunday. Rob Holding, the young English defender recently purchased from Bolton, also acquitted himself well. I'm certain Arsene Wenger never intended to rush him along so quickly but with the recent long-term injuries to both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, and with Laurent Koscielny only just returning to training after Euro 2016, it looks like Holding will be thrown into the fire on Sunday. With only a couple of fit centre backs to choose from, I expect the boss might have no choice but to play Holding, probably alongside Calum Chambers. A makeshift defence if you've ever seen one.

Where Are The Reinforcements?



Which leads me on to my next topic: transfer activity, or rather, the lack of. It's been well publicised how our rivals have spent millions on new additions and Arsenal have not. Yet with Gabriel getting hurt on Sunday in the friendly victory against Manchester City, the defence in particular looks especially thin. Shkodran Mustafi, the 24 year-old Valencia centre back, has been linked with Arsenal all summer but now his move to North London seems to have taken another level of importance. If Arsene seriously wants him, then the club really must secure his transfer as soon as possible. He's a natural replacement for Mertesacker in the long-term but short-term, we need him desperately for Sunday.

And then of course we have the endless quest for a new striker. As every day passes without news of a striker joining the club, the level of anger among fans increases. Gonzalo Higuain has joined Juventus since my last post, for a fee of over £70 million. I was quite keen on Arsenal getting him but not at that price. He'll score a lot of goals for Juventus I'm sure, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that price is ridiculous for a player of his age. Did you see him against West Ham at the weekend? Dude did not look like a £70 million athlete...


The striker most likely to join the club before the end of the month would be Alexander Lacazette. Arsenal have already had at least one bid rejected by Lyon, who know this is a seller's market so can pretty much demand what they want for him. I'm afraid that if Arsenal really want him, then they will be forced to overpay. I reckon a bid somewhere between £45-50 million might persuade Lyon to part with the French forward but it's anyone guess right now if they will go through with it. Lacazette to Arsenal has become the biggest transfer 'will-they-won't-they' of the summer now Pogba has finally joined Man United. I still feel he could be a very good signing but the club have now backed themselves into a corner with their inability to add a striker earlier in the summer. If they fail to bring him to the club before the deadline, I feel Arsene and the club are going to come in for quite a lot of criticism when Giroud and Walcott start misfiring.

Other than Mustafi and Lacazette, all of the other rumours surrounding potential transfers have gone very quiet recently. I haven't heard Riyad Mahrez's name linked with us in some time and Mauro Icardi's flirtation with Arsenal seems to be have been exactly that, just a wink to get fans agitated once more. The most interesting rumour of late has been West Brom's Jonny Evans being linked to us, as an emergency signing to cover our depleted centre back corps. I can't admit to being very excited about the prospect of his arrival but I don't think he would be a terrible transfer by any means, so long as the fee was reasonable. But when you see a player of Ashley Williams' quality move for £12 million, you have to think that maybe settling for Evans isn't the greatest move.

Who Would I Pick For Sunday?

Here would be my preferred first XI against Liverpool.

Cech

Bellerin - Chambers - Holding - Monreal

Xhaka - Cazorla

Oxlade-Chamberlain - Ramsey - Iwobi

Sanchez

Bench: Ospina, Gibbs, Bielek, Coquelin, Elneny, Campbell, Walcott

With Giroud unavailable up front, I have opted for Sanchez who I could see as more of a false 9, linking with the midfield often. He's easily our most dangerous forward so having him as the primary goal threat makes some sense. I would deploy Ramsey in attacking midfield, letting him off the leash as such, because I thought he was very effective for Wales in that role during Euro 2016. To be honest, the front four could rotate positions a lot e.g. Iwobi could swap with Sanchez or Ramsey, Ox could swap with Ramsey or Iwobi. There's a lot of versatility in that attack. I am concerned about the defence but I can't see Arsene rushing Koscielny back into action. Alternatively Monreal could fill in at centre back and Gibbs could play left back, but I'm not hugely keen on playing Monreal out of position, despite his adequate job he did there a year or so ago.

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Now all we can do is wait and see if Arsenal can add to the squad prior to Sunday's match. Even if we don't, I will still be shaking with excitement on my way to the stadium. Liverpool are always a big opponent and it will be the biggest game I've ever been to in person. Fingers crossed I leave the Emirates a happy Gooner!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Arsenal Need A Striker: The Candidates

As pre-season football begins and players return to their clubs, it's been well publicised that Arsenal still haven't addressed their striker problem. After a failed attempt to lure Jamie Vardy away from Leicester City, the rumours of who Arsene Wenger has targeted next have spun out of control. It seems like every bloke In Europe with two legs has been linked to be Arsenal's next number 9.

I thought I'd have a quick look at the candidates still left on the market to become Arsenal's new striker. Remember, the club already have a very good forward in Olivier Giroud, but it's become clear that despite being a very competent, sometimes quite brilliant player, a club of Arsenal's means need someone with superior talent. Let's take a look at the main three guys who are still out there:

Gonzalo Higuain


Currently considered by most to be Arsenal's number one target, the Argentinian forward is in his prime and guarantees goals. I liken him to Giroud a bit, in that target man fashion, but unlike our Frenchman, Higuain has a ruthless streak in front of goal. He's not nearly as wasteful, and scored 36 goals in Serie A last season, winning Italy's Capocannoniere award (golden boot) and equalling Gino Rossetti's record from the 1928/29 season. He's a strong, physical forward that could feast on the defences of the Premier League. Arsenal were linked with him 3 years ago, when he was still a Real Madrid player, but that deal never materialised yet the interest has never diminished. Napoli's radio station have indicated Higuain is on his way to London and the transfer is all but done.

The buzz right now is that Arsenal are considering sending Giroud to Napoli along with €50m for Higuain, a move Napoli are apparently interested in. This transfer would make sense for Arsenal, as having two very similar forwards in the squad would be pointless, sad as it would be to lose Giroud. Napoli have reportedly suggested Higuain would cost over £80 million to buy outright, a ludicrous sum for a player of his age. That's a massive amount of money but is he worth it? His record in recent years would suggest so, as he is arguably one of the top 5 attacking players in the world when you look at how many goals he has scored. If the club have the money to spend then I think they should go all out and bring Higuain to North London. It would definitely be the statement signing that a lot of fans have been crying out for.

Mauro Icardi


The 23 year-old Inter Milan striker has been linked to join the Gunners according to his agent, who happens to be his wife also. The Argentinian had a decent 2015/16 season, netting 16 goals, not quite as good as the year before when he scored 22. However, for a player of his age, that's not a bad return and Icardi is starting to show consistency as he matures. If Arsenal were to bring him to the club, he would not be the finished product many fans crave but would still be considered an excellent addition.

If a deal for Higuain cannot be reached then Icardi would certainly be a suitable alternative. For a start he would cost significantly less than Higuain, and could be bought for a fee around £30 million, although I'm sure Inter would demand more for their captain. Not only would Icardi cost less, Arsenal would also be getting a longer-term investment, as the forward is just 23 years-old so time is on his side. Icardi does come with a reputation of being somewhat of a "wild child" but I am certain he would be nothing Arsene Wenger couldn't handle. A change of club, country and culture could work wonders for Icardi.  I would be happy if Arsenal could bring in a player of his quality, despite not being as accomplished as Higuain.

Alexander Lacazette


A player who has been linked to Arsenal for what seems like an eternity, Lacazette looks closer to leaving Lyon this summer than ever before. He just might not be leaving for Arsenal, that's all. It's been the on-again, off-again love affair of the last few transfer windows and the lightning-quick Frenchman has always seemed like a natural fit for the Gunners yet Arsene Wenger has never pulled the trigger on bringing the 25 year-old to the club. You've got to think Wenger has his concerns over Lacazette, or perhaps it could be his price-tag that has deterred the boss.

Lyon apparently want over £42 million for Lacazette which is quite steep. His record in recent years is impressive however, with 48 goals in Ligue 1 in the past 2 seasons, so it would suggest Lacazette merits that investment. And yet, scoring goals in the generous Ligue 1 doesn't necessarily mean he'll bring that kind of form to the Premier League. Lacazette would be an expensive gamble for sure but his style of play and all that pace suggests he would fit well into this current Arsenal team. Rumours this morning suggest Arsenal have submitted a bid to Lyon that matches their price, but we'll have to wait and see if there's any truth to that. I would definitely welcome Lacazette to Arsenal but he would have to hit the ground running to starting paying back his large transfer fee.

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Those are the three main candidates in the running to become Arsenal's new striker and whichever man signs for the club, the pressure will be on them immediately to deliver the goods. The higher the price, the higher the expectations. I'd happily take any of them but Higuain would be the ideal option for me.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Euro 2016 - Arsenal Group Stage Grades

The group stages at Euro 2016 have concluded and we now have a small break until the knockout rounds begin on Saturday. There's been a number of Arsenal players in action for their nations since the tournament began on 10 June so I thought I'd review how each of them have gotten on. Let's start with the local boys:

Laurent Koscielny


The 30 year-old central defender has been the core of the French defence, forming a solid, occasionally shaky partnership with Adil Rami. Many fans and critics were skeptical of the French back-four ahead of the competition but they've been remarkably stingy, keeping 2 clean sheets and allowing just the 1 goal, against Romania in the first game. Koscielny has been their rock, like he is every week for Arsenal. He's started every game for France and played all 90 minutes in each match. The home nation are still struggling to find their best form and setup, but Koscielny is one of the first names on the team-sheet and the best defender France have.

Pro's: His usual reliable self, getting key interceptions.

Con's: Isn't getting forward much, still has the odd shaky moment with Rami.

Grade: 7/10

Olivier Giroud


French manager Didier Deschamps put all of his eggs in the Giroud basket by leaving Karim Benzema and Alexander Lacazette at home, much to the dismay of French fans who wanted as much firepower up front as possible. But Giroud rewarded the manager's faith in him by scoring the opening goal of the tournament, racing in front of Romanian goalkeeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to glance in a header to give France the lead before a late Dimitri Payet thunderbolt rescued the hosts late on. However, Giroud has been wasteful in front of goal since that opening match, missing a host of chances against Albania, frustrating his manager and the fans alike. He was rested/dropped for France's final group game against Switzerland, which they drew 0-0, but to Giroud's relief his replacement André-Pierre Gignac was largely anonymous against the Swiss. I would expect our man to be back in the lineup for their knockout game on Sunday against the Republic of Ireland. If he does start, he'll need to get off the mark quickly as I can't see him lasting the 90 minutes unless he can net a goal before the hour mark. Best of luck to him.

Pro's: Has the backing of the manager, still has a good scoring record in his last few French games.

Con's: Far too profligate in front of goal.

Grade: 6/10

Granit Xhaka


The Arsenal new boy has been a revelation and has quietly been one of the best players at the tournament. He's officially been awarded the Man of the Match prize twice, against Albania and Romania, and BBC voted him as their Man of the Match in Switzerland's final group game against the hosts France (UEFA thought his teammate Yann Sommer deserved the honour.) His playmaking abilities from the centre of midfield have been astonishing; the guy knows how to pick a pass, he's got incredible range. Xhaka routinely drops deep to collect the ball from his defence before spreading the ball forwards like a quarterback, with remarkable efficiency too. He's played every minute of every game and routinely ends each match as having the most touches on the ball. He's at the centre of everything positive in this Swiss side. Xhaka has probably been my favourite Arsenal player to watch at Euro 2016 so far and I'm eagerly awaiting his first game in the Arsenal red and white. He looks like he'll bring some real quality to the Gunner's midfield. I can't wait.

Pro's: Deep-lying playmaking ability, influential leadership.

Con's: His Puma shirts are awful (he needed 3 during the France game)

Grade: 8/10

Jack Wilshere


England's sole representative for Arsenal at Euro 2016 hasn't had the best of times, despite a great opportunity to prove his worth in England's final game. Jack made his first appearance in the tournament when he came on for the last 12 minutes against Russia and impressed in his brief time but he didn't see any action during England's 2-1 victory over Wales. Manager Roy Hodgson took a risk for England's final group game against Slovakia by shaking things up and Wilshere was handed a starting place but was largely ineffective in their disappointing 0-0 draw. The Arsenal man was only given 56 minutes and you could see he was trying to push, trying to dictate, but it just didn't click for him (or his useless teammates.) He was far too sloppy in possession but judging by the British media's reaction, who love to paint him as a villain, he was the worst player to ever wear an England shirt. I thought Jordan Henderson was just as poor in midfield and equally wasteful, yet he somehow escaped all criticism. England face Iceland in the knockout stages and are heavy favourites, yet it's almost a certainty the game will end 0-0 and go to penalties, and England will exit the tournament in typical fashion. I don't expect we'll see much of Wilshere again, given the backlash he received after the Slovakia game, but he could feature again off the bench if England need a spark.

Pro's: Still the best passer of the ball England have.

Con's: Too wasteful and ponderous in possession.

Grade: 5/10

Aaron Ramsey


Unlike Wilshere, Arsenal's other British midfielder is having a great time in France. Ramsey has been a driving force in the Welsh midfield and was a big factor in his nation's topping of Group B. Gareth Bale has rightfully stolen the spotlight but Ramsey has been just as crucial to Wales' success with his unrelenting work rate and passing ability. He dominated Russia in Wales' final group game, intricately threading passes through the Russian defence and scoring a beautifully chipped goal to give his country the lead in what was a 3-0 demolition. He was rightfully awarded the UEFA Man of the Match award for his performance and seems to be growing in strength as the competition progresses. He was very quiet and contained during Wales's defeat to England but he looks to have put that behind him now. Wales have confidence and momentum and could cause another upset as Ramsey and co. will aim to stay in France for as long as possible.

Pro's: Tireless engine, passing ability unmatched in his team.

Con's: Still over-complicates what should be simple moves. That hairstyle.

Grade: 7/10

Mesut Özil


Arsenal's Player of the Season for 2015/16, the German playmaker has continued his fine form at Euro 2016. He got off to a somewhat subdued start against Ukraine but still picked up an assist in Germany's 2-0 win. Against Poland he forced a good save from former Arsenal keeper Łukasz Fabiański in a hard-fought 0-0 draw but he really found top gear against Northern Ireland, putting in a vintage performance. Özil pulled the strings in the star-studded German midfield and according to Opta stats, had a 98.5% passing accuracy, the highest in a European Championship game since 1980. He barely put a foot wrong in Germany's 1-0 win and looked the superstar we all know he can be, deservedly taking home UEFA's Man of the Match award. Partnered with the sublime Toni Kroos in midfield, Özil and his compatriots are definitely a team you don't want to face in the knockout stages (good luck to Slovakia then!).

Pro's: The best playmaker in international football, passing ability unmatched.

Con's: Consistently poor at making good contact when shooting.

Grade: 8/10

Petr Čech


The Arsenal goalkeeper could not keep his country from exiting Euro 2016 at the group stage as the Czech Republic finished bottom of Group D with a solitary point, earned in an exciting 2-2 draw with Croatia. There are reports Čech is considering international retirement and at the age of 34 you can't really blame him. He showed great resilience to deny a spirited Spain team in the Czech Republic's first game but was eventually undone by a late Gerard Pique header in a 1-0 loss. Čech also picked up an unwanted European Championship record, conceding 21 goals during his years competing at the Euro's, more than any other goalkeeper according to Opta. A disappointing end to what was a largely successful first season in North London, Čech will be looking to put Euro 2016 behind him as soon as possible and focus on Arsenal ahead of the new campaign.

Pro's: A class act and leader of men.

Con's: At the end of his international career with a lacklustre Czech team.

Grade: 4/10

Tomáš Rosický


The Czech Republic captain, soon to be an ex-Arsenal player but for Euro 2016 still very much one of us, had a disappointing tournament as injury rose it's ugly head yet again. Rosický lasted the entire 90 minutes in their 2-2 draw with Croatia but he suffered a thigh injury that would rule him out for the rest of the competition. A very sad finish to what is likely the end of the 35 year-old's international career.

Pro's: Such great hair.

Con's: Cannot catch a break with injuries.

Grade: 4/10

Héctor Bellerín


The Spanish speedster had a terrific 2015/16 season and earned a spot in the Spain squad for Euro 2016 as a reward. He hasn't seen a minute of action so far so I bet he's wishing he was on holiday instead. Juanfran is keeping Bellerin out of the starting lineup right now but it's clear the 31 year-old Atlético Madrid right-back is just keeping Hector's seat warm. Bellerin should be Spain's right-back for the next decade at least so there's no rush, and a little tournament experience never hurts.

Pro's: The fastest player in the Spain squad, maybe even the tournament.

Con's: Unlikely to see any minutes.

Grade: N/A

Wojciech Szczęsny


Szczęsny, who had an impressive loan spell with Roma in 2015/16, could be set to return to Arsenal but before that happens, his Poland side are impressing in France this summer. However, his Euro 2016 campaign hasn't been what he'd have hoped for. Szczęsny suffered a nasty thigh injury whilst keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 opening win against Northern Ireland, and it was severe enough to rule him out of Poland's remaining group games. In his absence Łukasz Fabiański has been impressive (2 clean sheets) and I don't imagine Szczęsny can win back his place now, even if his injury has healed. Szczęsny won't give up his spot easily but I can't see Poland manager Adam Nawałka tinkering with a winning side now the knockout stages have begun.

Pro's: Fantastic shot-stopper and world class wind-up merchant.

Con's: Doesn't have much luck when it comes to European Championships. Remember?

Grade: 5/10

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Wilshere Makes England Euro 2016 Squad


This afternoon Roy Hodgson named his final 23-man squad for England ahead of Euro 2016 and our own Jack Wilshere, out of action for nearly the entire 2015/16 season, has made the team and will be on the plane to France.

As an Arsenal fan I am very pleased to hear he'll be representing the club. After Danny Welbeck's late season injury ruling out what was a guaranteed place in the squad, and Theo Walcott's unfortunate but not unsurprising exclusion, Jack will be the sole representative for Gunners fans in this England squad dominated by players from teams I absolutely despise.

Don't get me wrong, as an Englishman I am desperate for my national team to succeed on the international stage. However it is sometimes difficult to cheer and actively support players like Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney when for the majority of the year I don't like them very much at all (to put it mildly.) This England squad in particular is very Tottenham-heavy, making it even more difficult to fully embrace these guys. I will of course cheer and celebrate whoever puts the ball in the net wearing an England shirt, but if it's an Arsenal player it makes the celebration that little bit sweeter. So for Wilshere to be included in the team and to get this opportunity, lets just say I'm very happy with Roy Hodgson's decision to take him.


There has been quite an uproar on social media (what else is new?) over Danny Drinkwater's absence from the squad. Many fans feel aggrieved that the likes of Wilshere and Jordan Henderson, both with doubts about their fitness, have made the team instead of Drinkwater. Wilshere in particular is receiving a great deal of abuse, mainly because he only started 1 game during the 2015/16 season.

The 26 year-old Leicester City midfielder can certainly feel aggrieved at Hodgson's decision to leave him at home. A player who made 35 appearances this season for the League champions, Drinkwater definitely merited serious consideration ahead of Euro 2016.

However, he has a few factors working against him. One of which being Roy Hodgson is a very loyal manager; it's safe to say he has "his boys" and Wilshere and Henderson have long been part of that exclusive club. They've both contributed meaningfully on the international stage, they are known quantities and Hodgson feels comfortable with them. Drinkwater is a relative newcomer to the current England setup, whereas Wilshere has been established in Hodgson's squad for many years now.


Also, whilst Drinkwater is a very talented player, at the international level he's still somewhat unproven. He and Leicester City have had a tremendous season but the level of quality at Euro 2016 may be a step above what Drinkwater is used to. If England make the knockout stages, Drinkwater would be up against some of the very best players in the world, not the scrubs he's used to seeing fielded by the Aston Villa's and Norwich's of the Premier League. Whereas Wilshere has faced the world's best for over half a decade, playing regularly in the Champions League and for England.

Perhaps the biggest factor in Wilshere's favour over Drinkwater is his style of play. Drinkwater, a very capable and workmanlike midfielder, cannot pick a pass or make a turn and drive forward like Wilshere, in fact there are very few who can, hence why Hodgson is so insistent on having him in the squad, regardless of his fitness. I am positive Drinkwater has areas in his game that Wilshere cannot match but the Leicester man does not yet possess the skills that mark him out as "world class." It is a phrase I hate using as it's so unspecific and handed out far too often, yet Jack has exhibited this level of play in the past and been lauded for it.

So I can understand fans feeling Drinkwater has been wronged by Roy Hodgson. But this youthful and dynamic England side is a talented one, and should Drinkwater have made the squad, how many minutes would he have seen anyway? In a very strong midfield, which is likely to see Wayne Rooney crammed in there also, I don't think Drinkwater will have had much of a look in over Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, James Milner and Ross Barkley, all players who can operate successfully in the centre of the park. Will Jack Wilshere see many minutes either? Perhaps not. However, if that is the case, I would argue that Jack can bring a spark off the bench Drinkwater cannot yet manage, a different option and a vastly different technique to his peers that could prove useful.


England face Portugal in 2 days time in their final warm-up match before taking on Russia in their first Euro 2016 game on 11 June. I expect to see the England manager select a strong lineup against the Portuguese with many indicators on who is first eleven may be ahead of England's first group game against the Russians. Here's hoping Wilshere features prominently and puts in a performance to silence his critics. Lord knows he has plenty of them.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Tough As Granit: Arsenal Sign Xhaka


After securing their highest league finish since 2005, Arsenal got their plans for the 2016/17 season underway early by signing Swiss international midfielder Granit Xhaka to a long-term deal.

The former Borussia Monchengladbach captain is rumored to cost the Gunners somewhere between £25-30 million according to reports. The 23 year-old is set to join up with his new teammates after Euro 2016 concludes later this summer.

Xhaka is a player who has been on Arsenal's radar for some time, with many journalists linking him with a move to North London earlier this year during the January transfer window. Arsene Wenger has long been an admirer: "We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad."


I'm really excited to see what Xhaka can bring to this team. I've only really seen him play in a handful of Champions League games in recent years, so I'm not an expert by any means, but it appears he will bring some much-needed steel to our midfield. A deep-lying playmaker with an eye for a pass, Xhaka is adept at playing pinpoint long-range passes in attack, as well as putting in a shift in defence. I assume Wenger is looking to him as an upgrade over Francis Coquelin, a player with similar toughness but perhaps the more refined Xhaka can bring a bit of finesse to the position. I'm already looking forward to seeing a midfield trio of Xhaka, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. With the impending departure of veterans Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini, the club needed to bolster the midfield this summer and they have gone one step toward doing just that.

I'm both impressed by the acquisition of a quality player and by the swiftness of the transfer. It's not often Arsenal are early birds to the transfer worm, so it makes a nice change. I don't expect (nor do I hope) that this is the end of Arsenal's transfer activity but it's a great start to what will hopefully be a busy off-season for Mr Wenger and co.

It is expected Xhaka will wear the number 34 shirt as he has done for the majority of his career, both at FC Basel and Monchengladbach. Of course, he will have to pry it away from Coquelin first, who I expect will jump at the chance to take a vacant First XI number, likely the departed Arteta's number 8.

I know I'll be tuning in to watch every Switzerland game I can during Euro 2016, that's for sure. Welcome to the club Granit Xhaka.

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The eagle-eyed among you will notice this is my first post in a while. Over 3 years in fact. This blog has been dormant for a host of reasons, but I'm going to endeavor to post on here more often. I'm well aware the internet doesn't need yet another Arsenal blog but I don't care; I'm going to write about them anyway.

Thanks for reading.