Saturday, September 16, 2017

Time for Arsenal to unleash the AOL

Arsenal went past AFC Bournemouth with ease scoring 3 past hapless defense last week. Considering the negatively around the club and the way in which Arsenal lost against Liverpool, this was a welcome relief. With all due respects to Bournemouth and Eddie Howe, their performance (or the lack of it) helped Arsenal's cause. The first goal was only because of Welbeck's determination (and not technique or talent) while 2nd and 3rd goals were mistakes from Bournemouth. In the end, Arsenal took the spoils and Bournemouth were left knowing they deserved more.​

Arsenal played their first ever Europa League game and ran away 3-1 winners. After a flat first half performance, gunners came back with zeal and desire to finish the game as winners and they did just that. Both the full backs (Kolasinac and Bellerin) scored on either side of an Alexis goal. The momentum is now there after two straight wins and 6 goals in total. Arsenal fans cannot wait for the next game to arrive but they are about to face their biggest challenge of the league yet - reigning champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.​

Chelsea have been in top form since their opening day loss against Burnley. Their last game was in Champions League and they romped their opponent 6-0. Many, including your truly, questioned Chelsea selling Matic to Manchester United. But they made astute business in the transfer window – Morata, Bakayoko and Drinkwater to name the best of the lot. With Morata at the helm, Chelsea have found a young and more prolific replacement of Costa. His transfer was overshadowed in the Premier League by Lukaku's transfer and then by the biggest transfer of them all - Neymar. Bakayoko and Kante have formed an impressive partnership in the center of the field. Defense looks solid and the attack will only improve further when Hazard returns. Arsenal have a task on their hands this Sunday!

Arsenal formation with Alexis Ozil and Lacazette

A look at Arsenal's attacking options reveal, in no uncertain terms, that they have three top class attacking players in Alexis, Ozil and Lacazette. That's the “AOL” I am talking about. Imagine the front three in Alexis and Ozil just behind Lacazette! Quite intriguing, in my opinion. If Wenger goes with 3-4-3 formation, AOL as front three makes a lot of sense. If Wenger goes with 4-2-3-1, then I'd love to see Ozil as CAM, Alexis and Welbeck at wings (interchangeable) with Lacazette leading the line. Alexis has shown in the last season that he can score goals and create chances at will. His situation (last year of contract) will also be a motivation to show his suitors that he can perform against top opponents. Same is the case with Ozil. One criticism that Ozil has received in the last 4 years at Arsenal was that he goes missing against title contenders. This could be the occasion when he silences the critics. But, for Ozil to perform at his best, he needs defensive support from central midfielders in Xhaka and Ramsey. If Ramsey contains his attacking instincts and stay back to break the counter attacking football of Chelsea, we are in for a top-class game on Sunday. Lacazette has proved his attacking ability by scoring two amazing goals. Having Ozil and Alexis providing will be a striker’s dream and Lacazette is no different.​

Should Wenger unleash AOL against Chelsea? Yes. You always need the best players to play for the team. Will Wenger do so? No, not yet. But Arsenal fans, we are not far from seeing this lethal combination leading Arsenal this season (finger crossed for no injuries).​

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Crazy Transfer Window for Arsenal - Part 2/2

The transfer circus is finally over. Clubs scrambled for last minute deals. Some got through, some didn't. Arsenal went through the day apparently bidding for some top players like Lemar and Draxler but, as you already know by now, it went flat. Sanchez remained with Arsenal and so did Ozil. Mustafi staying was, for me, the best thing that happened for Arsenal on the deadline day. So, barring the last day conundrum, how was Arsenals transfer window?

Let's do some expectation setting here before analyzing the window. We are talking about a club who fall in the below categories –
1. Europa league, not in the champions league
2. Has lots of fringe players who won't make it to first team either they don't deserve or manager thinks they don't
3. Frugal spending mindset
4. Still believes they can win the domestic league and turn a profit the same season (a la Leicester)

Given the above traits, how was Arsenals window?
Alexis Sanchez ended up at Arsenal after uturn against Manchester City
On the positive side, Wenger said he will keep hold of his top players and he did! Ox doesn't fall in this category and the Ox deal was, in fact, a great bit of business by Arsenal as it ensured two things – sell a player who doesn't fit the Arsenal structure on the ground and prevented Liverpool to bid for Lemar. The fact that we didn't buy Lemar either is a different story altogether. Either way that's 40 million well earned. Ozil's side was quiet on the last day and it appears to me that Arsenal will eventually get Ozil to sign a new deal. Had Arsenal decided to sell Sanchez and Ozil, they would've got a sum north of 100 million. The fact that Arsenal didn't go ahead with it, itself is a welcome deviation from the norm! Arsenal also managed to sell / loan fringe players and kept them off the wage bill. Arsenal bought two top players early in the window from their respective leagues in Kolasinac and Lacazette. Nice additions and one that Arsenal fans, like me, won't regret.

On the negative side, Arsenal sold Szczesny. I just cannot fathom why would Arsenal do that! Szczesny had two fruitful years on loan and was ready to take on the mantle from Cech, who isn't getting any better and younger. Ospina always wanted to leave and Arsenal are now stuck with him. Selling Gabriel also came as a surprise. Although not a top defender, he was a useful squad player. He can be a backup player at CB and can also cover the team at right back. Given the way the deadline day went, Arsenal are now left with two frustrated players in Sanchez and Mustafi. Both wanted to leave and it just didn't happen. Now they return to the team they didn’t want to be a part of! Imagine the feeling they will be going through and more importantly imagine the dressing room atmosphere. If news reports are to be believed, some players wanted Sanchez to leave because his tantrums were not helping the teams’ cause. Now Sanchez comes back to a team who doesn't want him and who he doesn't want either. What a combustible environment and one which Arsenal could've avoided.

A day after, it feels like Arsenal’s "business" dealings weren't bad after all. Yes, from a footballing point of view, this was a horrible window. Arsenal needed at least one defender with Koscienly and Mertesacker at the wrong end of 30. Maybe retaining Chambers was the answer and time will tell if it was the right decision. Arsenal needed a commanding midfielder with only Xhaka and Ramsey as first team players. Both these players aren't consistent enough to dominate the midfield. Elneny is an able backup. I am not sure where Coq and Wilshere stand in all of this. Arsenal are forward-heavy but not world class enough to score on a consistent basis. It feels like early 2010 when Arsenal had only average players and Wenger still ended up in top 4.

It will be a surprise if Arsenal wins anything this season with the players Wenger has at his disposal and the unwanted dressing room situation. Add to that, teams like Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton and Tottenham have added quality. Manchester teams are already early favorites for the title. This makes top 4 (Arsenals own trophy) highly unattainable.

Catalyst for change, anyone?


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Crazy Transfer Window for Arsenal - Part 1/2

One day to go. One day to salvage something from this transfer window, if you are in any way linked with Arsenal. 

Arsenal began the window with measured optimism. Sead Kolasinac joined the club for free. Yes, not just free but Wenger certified free! Oh, a bargain! In the long run, this transfer may turn out to be the bargain of the window from a value for money perspective. And Kolasinac is not just any left back who Arsenal got for free. He's strong, powerful and can make some lung-busting sprints from the left side of the defense which is a valuable trait in a league where flanks are the main counter-attacking route. This aspect is what Arsenal missed in the game against Liverpool. He could've controlled Mane better. 

Then came the record breaking signing of Lyon forward Lacazette. This was the kind of signing Arsenal fans wanted for a long time. It appears that Arsenal have finally replaced Robin van Persie - like for like. Lacazette is a poacher and a finisher of some repute. With Ozil providing, Lacazette only stands to gain by scoring goals expected of him (theoretically, that is). The potential in this Arsenal squad looked tempting and Arsenal fans couldn't wait for the season to start (how things changed!). 

To ensure that this transfer window is successful, Arsenal also had a challenge of letting out fringe players thereby recouping some amount and letting them off the weekly wages. Wenger was successful in selling players like Szczesny and Gabriel, both questionable moves as they could've challenged for first team positions. Gibbs is joining West Brom, which appears to be the right decision for all concerned. Ox could well be on his way to Liverpool. Arsenal still have players like Perez, Debuchy, Wilshere on their books all of whom needs immediate attention. 

But the biggest concern is the Chilean – Sanchez! 
Where will Sanchez end up - Arsenal or Manchester City
Alexis Sanchez, Arsenals biggest hope of winning something this season, is on his way out. Arsenal tried enticing him to sign a new contract, failed, tried again, and failed again. Wenger then went on to say that Sanchez will not be sold in this window. This statement was later tweaked to "Sanchez will not be sold, but board will have the final say" - as if to wash his hands off the Sanchez saga. Now, with a day remaining in the window, what remains is that Sanchez will be sold only for a crazy amount of money or cash + player deal. Manchester City appears to be the interested party. Doesn't it sound like van Persie to Manchester United deal? If Sanchez goes to City, that's like handing City the title on a platter. Sanchez staying will be a financial loss for Arsenal from a business perspective unless Arsenal go on to win the Premier League or at least reach the top 4 (a gain of approximately 30m which can justify Sanchez leaving on a bosman). Considering the form and momentum Arsenal carry, as on date, none appears likely. So, selling Sanchez and reinvesting in an attacking player appears to be the rational choice. 

Another player who can leave on a free next season is Ozil. But, unlike Sanchez, Ozil has always shown a likeness for Arsenal and has made it very clear in no uncertain terms that he wants to stay. For Arsenal, it's great to hear this from a world class attacking midfielder but it amounts to nothing on paper. The dotted lines in the new deal on the table remains empty. Also, unlike Sanchez, there aren't many takers for Ozil in the market. I suspect Dortmund may make a move now that they have sold Dembele and are sitting on a cash pile. But will Arsenal sell? Your guess is as good as mine. 

The climax is just a day away. We are in for a roller coaster ride. Fasten your seat belts. But if you are an Arsenal fan (like me), you probably know that lightning only struck once on transfer deadline day - when Ozil joined. Can it happen again (cough cough *van Dijk* *Asensio* *Seri* *Draxler* cough)? 

Irony: Wenger always wanted the window to close before the season begins. Now these last few hours will be worth the value of gold (or Neymar, whichever is more) for him!

Part 2 of this will be the analysis after the window is closed.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Couple of days after Arsenal humiliation

We have been through it. Season after season. It has now come to a stage where we remain inept during the humiliating 90 minutes, or should I say, 90 minutes of torture. These are the days we pray for no injury time and it's safe to say, even those prayers are not answered. 

27th August 2017 was one such day. Arsenal took on Liverpool at Anfield. To begin with, I wasn't hopeful of an Arsenal victory. At best, it could be a draw. I felt the only way we can win is if someone in this Arsenal team does an Arshavin (one time ever, that is) or if Liverpool does a Gerrard slip! Neither happened. As the game began, whatever little hope I had were raised when we started getting chances to convert. We didn't make use of those chances (how can we, when our best striker was sitting on the bench). Then came the humiliation, which I don't want to describe here for obvious reasons. 

Immediately after the game, I wrote these on my Twitter feed - 



Had I written this blog-post immediately after the game, it would've been a rant that I may stand to regret later. Better sense prevailed! 

Anyway, some amount of time has passed. I have regained a little bit of composure and courage, good enough to write this. What happened to this team? We were good at preseason. We strengthened our team by buying two players who were in their leagues team of the season. We strengthened our backroom staff and added what we thought was the missing pieces of the puzzle. We were (and still are) removing fringe players we don't need. Things were looking bright. Then what changed? I honestly cannot decipher. 

What looks apparent to me is that our defense now appears very premature. Yes, we still have Koscielny, but that's it. We sold Gabriel (a good squad player) and on the verge of losing Mustafi. Koscielny is not getting any younger and Mertesacker will retire at the end of this season. We are now left with only makeshift or young options like Monreal, Chambers, Holding and Kolasinac. Surely there's no plan here! Please Mr. Wenger, tell me there's a method to this madness. 

We are now left with 2 days in this transfer window to salvage what is already a lost season. Ox and Mustafi leaving will make our team even weaker. I will be shocked if Sanchez doesn't leave. That makes it 3 first-team players. If we don't replace them adequately, we are doomed (if not already). 

We have brought ourselves in a situation where we will either not buy and strengthen our squad or we stand a risk of making spot-buys who we will later regret having on our books. Anyway, what's gone is gone. Let's see if something can be salvaged this season. Else, I still stand by my tweet "I can't wait for next season to begin".

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Proposed change to Transfer Window for next season

There have been news reports of FA working on reducing the transfer window duration. Such a move will ensure Premier League clubs will finish their transfer business a day before the season begins. Many managers are in support of such a decision. Post the approvals from every club, it will be made official. But is it a foolproof step? Does it have any loophole? Let's see - 

Background - Premier League clubs have two windows in a year to do transfer business. This discussion pertains to the summer transfer Window (July 1st - August 31st). The deadline day changes if 31st August falls on a weekend - in which case it moves to the next business day. League season starts in mid-August, which means there's a fortnight of overlap. Deadline of August end was charted out by FIFA to ensure that the teams are finalized before the start of UEFA Champions League and Europa League. 

Will the Premier League Lion roar and be heard

Arguments in support of this move - Summer Transfer Window officially begins from July, but clubs and managers start the work of rebuilding the squad as soon as the previous season ends. Shortlist is prepared of players who will be considered and who will move out. Negotiations start with the other clubs for prospective players. In some cases, transfer is also announced before the official window. What I am trying to drive here is that the clubs have a lot of time to prepare for next season. If the window ends before the season, it should hardly make a difference. Any manager with a rational take on this topic will agree to have the window reduced as all want to have stably before the season and not last-minute flip flops. 

Arguments against this move - Clubs get few preseason matches under their belt to reassess their squad, strategies and give opportunities to new players to adapt. But what happens when, on the eve of the season, one of the key player gets injured? Or your key player has rejoined late after an international tournament and is in dire need of match fitness to get back to first team? Of course, managers need to have backups. You will have multiple players for a position, but none of the same top quality. The transfer window, in its present state, allows an option to look for a backup. If we agree to the new rules, we will be devoid of such an option. Suffice it to say that the current window can also stabilize an unstable team. 

Possible loophole - Note that this proposal pertains only to the Premier League clubs only. This could mean that foreign leagues from Spain, France, Germany, Italy will still have an option to capture a premier league player! This loophole can completely undo the intention of making the window shorter. Premier League clubs will only be destabilized by this loophole. 

My take - Conceptually, I totally l am in total support of this decision. For those against such a move, I don't buy the arguments put forth. The injury angle is not a legit argument as clubs need to have a squad to provide backup in case of player unavailability due to injury or international commitments. A top player getting injured is unfortunate and he just can't be replaced in any team, let's accept this fact. Now to the possible loophole - I am not sure if FA can make a rule to disallow foreign clubs to poach their player post the new transfer window deadline. If they can't, then there is no point to have a shorter window. I am all for the shortened window under the following two conditions - if all the European association decide to have such a move or else FA charts out a rule to block their player from moving to foreign shores after window closes.

Either ways, we have just started this season but the next season already sounds interesting!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Possible ways to handle the Sanchez situation?

Arsenal are in a conundrum. Their best player is not signing a contract extension. Sounds familiar? We have been there before and we have messed up big time before. We sold our top players to an upcoming cash rich team in Manchester City in 2011 and they went on to achieve big things and are now among the top 4 teams in the premier league. We sold our best player, RvP, to Manchester United in 2012 and they went on to win the premier league that season. In 2000's, we sold perhaps the best left back in the league, Cole, to strengthen our London rivals in Chelsea. Yes, all that was to finance our new stadium, but at what cost?

The circle is repeating itself again. 

Possible ways for Arsenal to handle the Sanchez situation

Alexis Sanchez is the player involved this time. Sanchez scored 30 goals in total last season and when we add double-digit assists, we know this was a breakout season for him. Arsenal have an offer on the table for Sanchez which is much better than his current one and perhaps comparable to offers from other teams. But Sanchez hasn't signed it yet. When asked, Sanchez said he is sure about what he will do next season but won't reveal it yet. All these statements are facts. 

Now about unconfirmed statements - Sanchez wants to join Guardiola in Manchester City. Sanchez is asking for 400k in weekly remuneration from Arsenal to sign contract extension. Sanchez wants to leave Arsenal as we are no longer in Champions League (akin to leaving the sinking ship argument). Bayern have moved away from signing Sanchez due to the cost involved. Chelsea are monitoring the situation. Inter Milan is the latest entrant to entice Sanchez. 

What can Arsenal do in this situation? Cash-in like we did last time? And to whom? See out Sanchez' contract, like we haven't done ever with our top players! Give him what he needs and let him sign on the dotted line? Every option comes with pros and cons. And is not as easy as it sounds too.

This is what I think Arsenal should do, in decreasing order of priority - 

3. Sell him to maximum bidder - The easiest option to balance the books. We have experience in this regard. Sanchez going to Manchester City will immediately catapult the citizens as favorites to win the league this season. Arsenal, on their part, is bound to received at least 30-35 million - a decent amount for a player in the last year of contractual obligation. But, if this happens, Arsenal will remain as the team that doesn't have a winning spirit as we strengthen our rivals and decrease our own chance of winning the league. Where's the ambition? Yes, that amount recuperated will be spent on buying players, but that's always a risk, a risk that has hardly benefited Arsenal in the past. In my opinion, this should be the last option, unless Sanchez throws in the kitchen sink to force through a move to Manchester City.

2. Sell him abroad, not necessarily the highest bidder - A rational option for Arsenal to pursue is to sell him abroad. Arsenal won't get the money Manchester City were ready to pay, but will ensure Sanchez doesn't remain in the premier league and lead our competitors to league glory. So, who are the options? Real Madrid and Barcelona won't be interested as they are already full of top talent and Sanchez was a reject from Barcelona (irony!). That leaves teams like PSG from France, Bayern from Germany and Inter Milan from Italy. It appears that Bayern had shown interest but backed out due to cost constraints. PSG and Inter are cash rich clubs and can offer what Sanchez is looking for - assuming Sanchez needs more cash, Champions League and Trophies.

1. See out Sanchez' contract - Let me just state on record that I will be shocked if this happens. I have been an Arsenal fan for long. And I know for a fact that Arsenal won't allow the situation to come to this stage. Arsenal is a professionally run club that is equally interested in trophies and profits. But what a statement of intent will it be! The footballing world hasn't seen such an Arsenal club before. If we don't allow Sanchez to force through a move, we will have Sanchez for one more year. Add Lacazette and Ozil in the attacking three, we are truly a team that will challenge for the league this year. A positive string of matches followed by a killer instinct to win the games and the chemistry might just force Sanchez to believe Arsenal is the club where he should continue. And he might just sign an extension. If we lose him on a free next season, so be it. This statement will change the perception of Arsenal in the footballing circle and the players will know that Arsenal means business when it comes to honoring contracts. 

Of course, the above options are assuming Sanchez is hell bent on leaving. Media is painting a dark perception of Sanchez and we, as Arsenal fans, should not fall for it. Sanchez hasn't mentioned anything concrete yet. I personally want Sanchez to stay but there's a part of me that feels he will leave. If his priority is participation in the Champions League and a better contract (probably his last big contract) is the key, then we cannot offer him that. 

Arsenal, please make a statement here. Take a financial hit. Maybe Sanchez for one more year will be like a new signing!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is Wojciech Szczesny an upgrade over Petr Cech?

Arsenal have 3 goal keepers who can compete for the top spot in the first team. Petr Cech is undoubtedly the best and the one with most experience at the top. His arrival ensured the rest of the keepers won't be given much playing time. Szczesny made the decision to move out on loan (right move, in hindsight) and Ospina decided to stay back and fight for the spot. 

Wenger made it easy for Ospina to stay back by utilizing him for Champions League and FA Cup games and Cech for league games, thereby giving two keepers to continue playing regularly and compete for top spot. As a result, you now have Cech and Szczesny playing more regularly than Ospina. It's no surprise that Ospina has now decided to move on. 

Arsenal are now left with Cech as no 1 and no one to compete with him. Arsenal are in market for a top goalkeeper. Szczesny can come back but he will now need assurances to more playing time. And he's not the old Szczesny we know. The boy seems to be a man now! His performances seem to suggest so. Juventus are in market for a new keeper after Buffon and seem to be looking at Szczesny. Isn't that his biggest appraisal? The legendary Buffon to be replaced by Arsenal's own. Are we missing a trick by letting go of him, if it actually happens? 

Let's analyze if Szczesny is actually an upgrade over Cech - 

Statistical Comparison between Szczesny (past 3 years) and Cech (past 2 years) - 

Szczesny vs Cech - Statistical comparison - Part 1 of 2

Szczesny vs Cech - Statistical comparison - Part 2 of 2

The biggest argument against Szczesny being Arsenal's no 1 was the fact that he made a significant amount of mistakes at the post and would hand over the advantage to the opposition. He was more leaky in front of the post and his decision making wasn't top notch. But Arsenal knew he was special talent, just not one of the best. But has that changed now? It appears so, if stats are to be believed. Szczesny's clean sheet count over past 3 years show significant improvement. In 2014/15 season, he had 0.18 clean sheets per 90 minutes which went up to 0.24 a year later (on loan) and 0.37 last year. That's about 2 clean sheets in 5 games. It may not be among the best, the improvement is visible. Even the saves count has improved from 1.68 (at Arsenal) to 2.45 (last season). His distribution accuracy has improved, which indicate he is involved more in the game and making less mistakes. Compare these stats with Cech and you realize you are getting a much improved Szczesny compared to a consistent yet slowly diminishing keeper in Cech. 

The biggest attributes that should excite Arsenal management and fans alike are the "defensive errors" and "Errors leading to goals". This is where Szczesny lost out to Cech. He has improved by leaps and bounds here. 0.05 defensive errors mean 1 error in 20 matches. We couldn't relate that stat with Szczesny when he was with Arsenal, could we?  

Conclusion - It won't be right to state that Szczesny is better than Cech, but we must admit he can now be compared with Cech in terms of stats and ability. The loan move to Roma has improved Szczesny to an extent where he can return to Arsenal and stake claim to what was originally his! Also, we need to note that Cech had better defenders in front of him last season compared to Szczesny during his last season with Arsenal. That plays a part too. Now with added support in defense, there is no reason to believe Szczesny can't flourish in an Arsenal shirt. 

Bring back Szcz. We need him.

Stats compiled from Squawka Comparison Matrix - click here for link

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Sead Kolasinac - A statistical comparison

Arsenal just made their first signing. Sead Kolasinac, Welcome to Arsenal! I will admit it was one of the worst kept secrets, but a relief to know that we are in the transfer market this early and making things happen.

Sead Kolasinac is primarily a left back who played for Schalke and is now in the last month of his contract. Arsenal pulled a march on rival clubs who had Kolasinac in their radars. I am sure Wenger was impressed with few factors that helped Arsenal track Kolasinac and finally winning the transfer battle. For one, he is young (23). He is versatile, an attribute that rates highly for Wenger. He can play left back, left centre back in a 3-4-2-1 system (which reaped dividends in the latter part of last season), left wing-back and, if needed, further forward as a left winger. Add to this, the fact that he was available for free transfer was the icing on the cake for Wenger. In more ways than one, he is a young and ideal replacement to an ageing yet effective Nacho Monreal. 

Let's have a look at how Kolasinac fares in comparison to Arsenal left-backs and Danny Rose (included in PFA team of the season as a left back for 2016-17 season) - 

Defensive Statistical Comparison - 

Sead Kolasinac Squawka Comparison Analysis - Part 1 of 2 Defense

From a defensive standpoint, Arsenal have definitely got an upgrade on our existing left back and a player comparable to the current best left of the league. That is quite a statement! Kolasinac is statistically better in many of the defensive attributes in the comparison. He has won 2.22 tackles per 90 minutes and it's better than even Danny Rose. Same can be said about his interception count (3.39 per 90 minutes) and defensive errors (0). He is behind Monreal on blocks count but better than Rose (0.22 v/s 0.31 for Monreal) but you must know that Monreal has played in a centre back role where blocking a shot has more weightage. He has received more yellow cards than Monreal (experience counts) but much less than Danny Rose. His clearance count and fouls committed as the worst in the comparison (which will be the attributes he plan to improve given that he's only 23).

Attacking Statistical Comparison - 

Sead Kolasinac Squawka Comparison Analysis - Part 2 of 2 Attack

A defender's primary and clear responsibility used to be to help teams to concede no / less goals. Anything more was usually a bonus. Not anymore. Defenders contribute to the attacking prowess of the team as well. Kolasinac has scored more goals and provided more assists per 90 minutes than any of the players listed here for comparison - which is definitely a match for a team like Arsenal who is more attack minded. So when Arsenal switches from defense to attack, expect Kolasinac to sprint down from the left side of the field and be ready to support the attackers. His attack score and total score are not the best but definitely comparable to the best that Arsenal has and the best in the league. 

Conclusion - Arsenal have opened the transfer dealings on a positive note. Kolasinac is definitely an upgrade over the existing setup. And with age on his side, expect him to continue his development and get even better. The only downside is his injury background. But Arsenal backroom staff are better equipped in that level going by their performance in the last season (least injuries compared to previous seasons). Some of the Arsenal fans may not be excited by Kolasinac joining and that's primarily due to his transfer amount - 0. But we need to understand, he chose to see off his contract (a sign of loyalty, if you may) and get the best possible deal for himself and his new team. Kolasinac ends up as a winner in this deal and Arsenal joins him in the winning list as well. 

Stats compiled from Squawka Comparison Matrix - click here for link.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Potential departures at Arsenal for 2017-18 season

2016-17 season's done and Arsenal ended up at the fifth position in the league - their worst position in the past 2 decades. That's right, we were always in the top 4 for the past 20 years. It became so routine that fans - within and outside - started ridiculing the consistency. Wenger kept on harping that top 4 in the premier league is nothing short of a trophy in itself. Football fans ridiculed him for this statement. And now, when you see top managers like Guardiola, Klopp and Mourinho fighting for the "coveted" top 4 position, we start to realize that Wenger was way ahead of times. 

This is by no means a defense of Wenger. 

As an Arsenal fan, I admit I am disappointed. We were among the top mid season only to lose out of reckoning the way only we can do. We kept on losing and dropping points and the contenders around us kept on minting points. It reaches a virtual knockout situation and we won 10 out of last 11 games with FA Cup and a 5th position in the league. Tottenham finished above Arsenal for the first time in last 20 years, to add insult to injuries. 

But that's past now. Post that, Wenger signed a 2 year extension. That clears the air regarding the managerial position. The next step is to strengthen the squad - retaining top talent, buying those crucial elements to complete the squad and removing the fringe players. Ozil and Sanchez saga appears to continue. I want them retained. Ox is another player I want to remain with us. He can be a huge asset in the wing back position (more so if Bellerin goes back to Barcelona) and also in his preferred position of central midfield. More on this later. 
Arsenal - which players will be sold this season in transfer window
Let's talk about potential departures. Following players, I feel, might / should be allowed to let go by Arsenal - 

GK - David Ospina: No one wants to play second fiddle in a team. Petr Cech is rightfully the better player and deserves to be no 1 at Arsenal. That doesn't mean Ospina is bad. He is a great player and needs to play often. He will leave, for sure. 

Defender - Gibbs: Gibbs is a long timer at Arsenal but failed to cement the preferred left back at Arsenal. He had his moments when Cole left, but failed to fully capitalize. Wenger then bought Monreal and hasn't looked back since. Monreal can also be the backup centre back in case of injuries or rotation. The only issue with Monreal is his age and Arsenal needed a young left back to compete. Enter Kolasinac. Sadly, that means Gibbs has to leave. 

Defender - Debuchy: Debuchy just didn't fit in at Arsenal. He was expected to replace outgoing Sagna. What made matters worse for Debuchy was the resurgence of Bellerin as the first choice right back. Add injuries and you have a player who hardly made a name for himself at Arsenal. He will leave Arsenal, maybe to France.  

Midfielder - Wilshere: Sometimes you need to make a decision you don't like. Maybe it will end up being a bad decision. But something's got to give. Personally, I am a big fan of Wilshere when in full form. His goal against Norwich is a goal for the ages. His passion for Arsenal is unparalleled. He used to be Wenger's blue eyed boy. I always felt he will truly replace Cazorla and be the future captain of Arsenal. But that is yet to happen. Injuries played a huge part. He had a productive season playing for Bournemouth as a loanee until injured, again. Arsenal needs to let him leave. For his benefit, for his future and for his career. 

Forward - Perez: I made a mistake analyzing Perez' arrival at Arsenal last year. I expected Perez to compete with Giroud for the lone strikers role. Wenger used Sanchez instead. And the plan worked. For Arsenal, not for Perez. Maybe Wenger thought of Perez as a backup option for Sanchez and Giroud. Then Welbeck came back from injury and Perez lost out. It completely backfired for Perez who now wants to leave (and rightfully so). His departure will be a loss to Arsenal, but has to happen. Perez, thank you for that amazing hat-trick in champions league. 

Forward - Sanogo: He didn't fulfill his promises, got injured, contract ends in June this year and will leave. It didn't work out. All the best to Yaya. 

Other players who can be considered in possible departure list include Coquelin (especially if Xhaka cements his position in midfield, Walcott (lots of promises but lacks consistency) , Bellerin (not sure if he has it in him to reject Barcelona). 

Let's see how ruthless Wenger will be in the transfer window. Until next time. 

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Win, somehow win

This Premier League season is one of the most intriguing of them all. And this is despite Chelsea being clear favorites to win the league. Behind Chelsea, there is a mad rush to determine who's most equipped and capable to challenge the best team in this season. Amidst this chaos, even a draw in the last game ensured Chelsea increase their lead from 8 to 9 points. And to make it worse for us Gunners, Spurs rose to second and we moved down to third with Manchester City right behind us. 

It would be a safe argument to say that none of the teams from 2nd to 4th are putting any sort of pressure to Chelsea. The lack of consistency in Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City is helping Chelsea's cause. But to be fair, Chelsea are in a zone of their own. They are winning the relatively easy games. And they are ensuring the other top teams don't win against them. Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea is a case in point and loss to Spurs and Arsenal are their only blip this season. Also, the teams in the top quarter of the table have to play against each other too. All this plays into Chelsea's hands. It will only be a catastrophe if Chelsea were not to win the league this season. 

One moment can, however, dampen Chelsea's progress. And it could happen on 4th Feb. Chelsea will be hosting Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. They are 9 points apart. A win for Chelsea will stretch the lead to 12 and it will be all over for Arsenal as far as winning the league is concerned (even for the most optimistic fan). A win, however, for Arsenal will close the gap to 6. This is what most of the other teams will be hoping for. A loss won't hurt Chelsea much but will be a huge boost for all other teams in the top 5. Chelsea can mathematically afford to lose thrice and still win the league. 

From Arsenal's perspective, it seems to be a gigantic task. We have been terrible on occasions and sublime on other days. Typical Arsenal in a way! On days, we proved we can beat anybody convincingly (Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea) and on some days, we just couldn't score and win. Draws, when we should have won, have also contributed to our inconsistent performances. Non footballing reasons are also not helping. Ozil and Sanchez are yet to sign an extension. Wenger is keeping every one guessing on his own extension. Horrific performances against Everton, Manchester City and Watford (all 1-2 losses) mean we are now fighting for top 4 once again. Chelsea game will be a turning point for us this season - whatever happens. If we win, we are in it somehow. If we lose, it's back to retaining our top 4 position. A draw will also mean top 4 will be our plan B.

This season we boasted of depth in the midfield so much that Wilshere decided to go out for loan! Who would've thought that we will head into the crucial game against Chelsea with a non-regular midfielder in either Ox or a youth prospect. Santi Cazorla is injured for a long time now. Granit Xhaka is foolishly suspended. Md. Elneny is playing for his country in African Cup of nations and also injured too. Aaron Ramsey injured himself during the last game against Watford. Thankfully, Francis Coquelin is back which is a huge boost. I would love to have Ox team up with Coquelin. Ox had a game to remember against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League a couple of years ago. In the long term, I still feel either he or Wilshere will be the heir to Cazorla's position. You may not like both of my choices, but I have a gut-feel that our counter attack will be much smarter, quicker and stronger with them in the team and injury free! Of course, for this to happen, we need Coquelin to boss the defensive midfielder role. 

At the back, despite being crappy, our defense picks themselves. Cech will play as #1 despite not being in the best of form. Bellerin should return to right back role. Koscielny, Mustafi and Monreal complete the back 4. Up front, we have a problem of riches. I would love to see Sanchez playing as a striker. Giroud is a great player but his presence completely changes our attacking strategy. Moreover, Ozil and Sanchez have that understanding to find each other when we are in the final third. Walcott will return as the left winger and I would like to see Perez start at left wing. Perez is in great form despite not being played regularly. A start for him against Chelsea will do a world of good for his confidence. 

My playing 11 for Arsenal vs Chelsea 04 Feb 2017

Chelsea's formation of 3-4-3 have been their strength so far. Having 3 centre-backs in the playing 11 gives them extra cover while defending. Kante has been the key piece of the puzzle. He, as defensive midfielder, has been the best so far and has given Chelsea the assurance of having only 3 in defense. Costa, Hazard, Pedro and Moses complete their team from an attacking perspective. It would be rather interesting to see how Wenger tackles this formation. Personally, I feel Giroud will be a liability here as he will have 3 defenders to cope with. To win against such formations, you need to be strong in your counter attacking moves. With Sanchez, Walcott and Perez up front, we are potent there. Welbeck and Giroud and will be great as subs late in the game. Ozil versus Kante will be another battle to watch our for. 

Strategies can be made and discussed at length. But at the end, what matters is those 90 minutes. We need to, somehow, win this game. A draw will favor Chelsea. Nothing other than a win will do. 

Win, somehow win! 

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