JBlau’s column: New Year, New Arsenal

By Jonathan Blaustein

Well hello there fellas.

How’ve you been?

Sorry I’ve been away a while, but I’ve finally got going on my first screenplay, so all the extra brain space has gone to that.

When Tim got sick last week, though, I realized I needed to get myself back in the saddle.

Every day, I checked the blog five times, waiting for a new article. I knew something had to be wrong. Why would he take a week off, if everything were normal?
I should’ve texted to see if he was okay. (Sorry, dude.) Instead, I’m paying it forward by writing again.

But who am I kidding? I always felt like the best thing I could do here was give a little perspective, so how could I not want to talk about this bat-shit-crazy, oh-my-god-what-the-fuck-just-happened, January transfer window?

I don’t want to start off attacking Arsene Wenger again, because I sent him a kiss-off letter over a year ago now. (You know I think he’s done as a world-class manager.)
But in that letter, I mention the case of former New York Giants football coach Tom Coughlin. He got fired, and was replaced with his younger assistant, who promptly took the team back to the playoffs.

It was clear at the time the old coach had lost a power struggle with the team’s younger general manager, Jerry Reese. Each man was around for the Giants two Super Bowls victories over the Patriots, so it was hard to know, from the outside, who had more to do with the success.

But now it’s 2018, and Tom Coughlin is in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars. As you may know, he just got his team within a whisker of the Super Bowl. His previous sadsack club almost beat Tom Fucking Brady!

And as for Jerry Reese? The General Manager who survived? Well, both he and new coach Ben McAdoo were fired before this season was out, something unprecedented in history of the franchise.

It’s very clear the Giants organization bet on the wrong horse, so to speak.

Last summer, it seemed for all the world like Arsene Wenger had bested Ivan Gazidis in a similar power struggle at Arsenal. “Catalyst for Change” was used as an ironic cudgel to bludgeon the nerdy executive, after the savvy, Gallic über-manager outfoxed him again.

We know Stan Kroenke loves him some Arsene. But sitting here, in my horse pasture in New Mexico, I think it was Josh Kroenke, the son, who really started pulling the strings.
Over here in America, it’s rare that any team will EVER have a lame-duck coach. (A guy with one year left on his contract.) Teams always move on, or give the guy an extension.

Last year, Arsenal proved why this is such a truism. The season was ruined by the suspense of whether Wenger would be back. After the EPL carnage, and FA Cup success, we all know they gave him a two-year contract.

Which then set this year up to be another wasted season, with the Sanchez and Ozil contract dramas looming.

As a sometime pundit, I’m aware of the meta-narrative that we all talked about for five or six years, where every Arsenal season was the same. If I had a dollar for every “Groundhog Day” article I’ve read, I’d buy you all a pint.

So how did we get here? So much change, so quickly.

Arsenal now have Director of Football, and a Head of Transfer Strategy, in everything but name. There are men at the club now doing what was certainly a massive part of Wenger’s job as recently as last season.

Think about this: while the delegation was in Dortmund, Arsene was back in London, presumably coaching his team. Whereas previously he tried to be in two places at once, now he doesn’t have to. And for all the shitty Premier league performances, it’s still possible for the club to pick up silverware this year.

But as soon as we reach May, no matter what, he’s back in lame duck territory. Do we really think Arsenal’s new power structure, coming from the successful clubs they did, is going to risk tanking another season with Wenger uncertainty?

Super, duper unlikely.

Tim’s been banging the drum that this will be Arsene’s last season for a while now, and he’s got me convinced. That’s why this January rebuild was so incomprehensibly big.
Back in the early season, I was an advocate of benching Alexis and Ozil, when necessary. Having athletic, defensive forwards seemed to be a way of balancing the weakness at the back.

But then Maitland-Niles was conscripted into the team, and it became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that Arsenal weren’t going anywhere without their match-winners. Even though Alexis’s form was often off, and it took Ozil time to play himself back into TopForm, without their high-end creative talent, the team was lost.

Having a guy with Alexis’s shitty attitude though, is a clear chemistry killer. He needed to go, but what were the odds of Arsenal coming up with a sufficient replacement in January?

That’s where we stand now. Aubameyang. Mkhitaryan. Are you kidding me?

We’re literally plugging the speedy, lethal, Dortmund superstars directly into the starting lineup?

Everybody wants to see this. This new team-based executive approach is impressive as hell. (At least at the start.)

And it is most certainly, most definitely, inarguably, something new. (As was the now-regularly-impressive Ozil signing a new contract, rather than departing for greener pastures.)

Arsenal can make the Champions League again if they win the Europa League. And we’re one lucky win away from a trophy in the Carabao Cup.

At this point, I think changes are coming in the summer, no matter what. But if Arsene Wenger can pull in one of those trophies, much less both, the man will go out on top.

As it should be.

50 comments

  1. Welcome back Jonathan. The NFL comparison (especially the Giants) is an interesting one. The NFL prides itself in being a conservative league (completely the opposite of the EPL) and changes come about much slower. For 3 or 4 years now, the Giants have failed to improve their O-line. I have been complaining about Reese’s inability to do anything on this front as much as I have been complaining about Arsene’s ability to improve our midfield and defense. Just as Arsene seems happy to keep adding attacking players, Jerry Reese kept adding receivers (two first round picks and one second round pick in Beckham, Engram and Shepherd). Fans were crying out for change and boy did we get them. As a Giants fan, I am excited to see what we do in next season’s draft.

    Kroenke’s ownership style is more aligned with the NFL than it is with the EPL. He is slow to make changes but when he does – heads roll. Look what he did with the Rams. He gave Jeff Fisher 4 years to make the Rams a competitive team. He didn’t and then him (or maybe it was Josh Kroenke as you say) did a clear out of the staff, brought in the youngest coach in the NFL and they became a play-off team almost overnight. I believe it’s not just Wenger who is fighting for his job now but Gazidis as well. I am still not entirely convinced it will happen this summer but I think the back room at Arsenal will look very different by the end of next summer.

  2. If we get back into the CL by winning the Europa, and at least show solid form in the league from here to the end (regardless of getting top 4 or not), I still find it hard to believe that the Kroenke’s will sack Wenger, unless it was a predetermined thing from last summer that he would resign (or be forced to resign) after 1 season. Winning the League Cup–which I don’t think will happen, but might if City have injury troubles and are forced to rotate–would be a nice bonus to strengthen AW’s case, but it won’t save him his job all by itself.
    The interesting thing will be if we fail to win Europa, say even fall relatively early on in the knockout stages, fail to win the League Cup, but still do our annual run to grab 4th spot right at the death. In other seasons I think this would have saved Arsene his job, but probably not this summer. We’d probably have to finish in like 2nd place–which would obviously require an incredible run at this point–for league position itself to save AW his job.

    But I guess I’m one of the few on here who thinks it’s still very much up in the air, by no means decided by JKroenke, Gazidis, et al. just yet (though I concede that could well be the case).

    1. In other news, is anyone else more excited about tomorrow’s game than they have been in a long, long time? (Though maybe this is just because I missed the Swansea debacle.)

          1. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

            As for Auba starting, he trained today, so I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that Wenger starts him and that the stuff in the press conference about him being sick was mostly AW being his usual coy self.

          2. Walcott will score. Also Rooney. Rooney always scores against us.

            2-2 is my prediction, but a loss is never, ever beyond this porous team.

    2. I don’t think it’s decided either but I think the knives are being sharpened.

      Oh and we are not finishing 4th. I think there is less than a 5% chance now. As for Europa – isn’t Atletico in Europa now? No way are we going to get past them. They have Diego Costa and Greizmann now. Those two will run our defense ragged – if we even make it that far.

      1. Yes they have good forwards too but it’s not the offense of Atletico that scares me. Gabi, Koke and Saul have such a nice chemistry and combination of skill and intensity in that midfield it makes me green with envy. It’s the midfield Arsenal needs and has needed for years. They would dominate an encounter with this Arsenal team.

        1. I agree. They have strengthened what is already an excellent side. Even without Costa, we would lose to them but with Costa there is a potential for the result to be Bayernesque.

      2. Numbers, schnumbers. If we win most of the rest of our games, I’d put money on our finishing in top 4 (and I’m not a wealthy guy!). The others will drop plenty of points. All of them have looked better than us over the course of the season (not a high bar!), but none of them (after City) look great. I think it’s down to us.

        I don’t think our chances are great, but that’s because I don’t think we’re suddenly going to hit rich form and be a good team from back to front. But late-career Arsene’s teams have a habit of going on a winning run at some point in a season, and who knows, it could be just around the corner.

        As for the Europa, I agree we’re not the favorites, but we won’t necessarily have to play all the other good teams. Again, this team is capable of a winning run, even more so in a cup competition. Last year we were largely garbage for most of the season, yet we won the FA Cup, looking pretty impressive in the process, at the end of the season. Auba not being available for the EL is a big blow, but I don’t think it’s crazy to suppose we’ve got a decent shot. Then again, we could crash out 10-0 on aggregate to Athletico as well…

  3. Welcome back! Long post alert. Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to write this much.

    I think the goal for any team with the financial muscle of Arsenal should be to have a team with players who are so good, they don’t really need a coach to win games. In other words, establish a high floor for your team with top talent. Then, you hire the right coach to unlock the ceiling, the hidden potential of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

    So what kind of floor have we set for ourselves by installing a front four of, in no particular order or configuration just yet: Lacazette, Mikhitaryan, Ozil and Aubameyang? Adding their individual statistics together would form quite the impressive composite, but of course it doesn’t quite work like that since they all played for separate teams while accruing those numbers, so perhaps we can get a better sense by examining individual combinations.

    First and foremost: Ozil + Auba. Adding Europe’s leader in expected goals in Aubameyang to Europe’s leader in chances created in Ozil is a real coup for the club and beyond, let’s admit it, our wildest hopes for this January transfer window. It’s a real statement of intent by the club. Stylistically, it’s a perfect marriage. Auba is primed to thrive on Ozil’s caviar passes, and Ozil craves an incisive runner in front of him. What’s more, Auba’s speed of thought for seeing space should match Ozil’s knack for the same. This is the combination that should be the foundation for how the team is constructed.

    Second most exciting: Mikhi + Auba. Of course they formed one of the more devastating combinations of attackers in European football for Dortmund, namely 54 combined goals in ’15/16. Mikhitaryan was a much more direct footballer for BVB than he ever appeared to be in red (except in the Europa league), and was just as often on the end of things as he provided for others. He could be used in a shuttling midfield role or as a direct replacement for Sanchez’s combination of creativity, shooting ability and industry on the left flank.

    How about Ozil + Mikhi? Another promising duo, though many have pointed out their similarities, I think again it’s the speed of thought where both players ought to align best. They should be able to weave patterns right through a press and reduce the creative burden on each other respectively. On the flip side, you’re a little worried that Arsenal will be lightweight with both playmakers on the pitch, but if the overall intensity from both men is right, this shouldn’t matter. Mikhi was a very industrious forward under Tuchel and there is no reason why he should be a shrinking violet for Arsenal, especially with a full PL season already under his belt.

    Lacazette + Auba: The frenchman is the forgotten man all of a sudden but he doesn’t have to be left in the cold. He represents, at worst, an option from the bench. Better yet, he could be part of a devastatingly incisive front two or three with either Ozil or Mikhi as the third complement. Lacazette’s knack for combining at speed led to many of his best goals in France, and he has not really had a chance to showcase that part of his game for Arsenal lately as we’ve faced deep block after deep block designed to nullify him. Auba’s arrival takes the pressure off psychologically as much as physically as AL has really struggled in recent games with stamina and with defenders dominating him physically. In theory, Lacazette and Auba can pry the top off of a defense and their complementary decoy runs can free passing angles into each other. This chemistry would take a while to develop and probably requires an offseason to bed in.

    Lacazette + Ozil: This combination hasn’t taken off like we hoped it might. Though there was this (http://www.nbcsports.com/video/mesut-ozil-sets-alexandre-lacazette-brilliant-goal-v-crystal-palace), it’s more about Ozil’s awareness and skill than about any chemistry between the two. A quick review of his Arsenal goals to date shows strikes that are opportunistic first time efforts from cutbacks or crosses. He does that well, but he hasn’t been able to impact the team’s build up and possession play around the D, where he often looks like he’s unsure how to affect the game. He hasn’t shown the ability to make his own shot, the strength to hold off defenders when they anticipate the pass in to feet, or if I’m honest the speed to get clear. What he does do very well is to combine in open play when he is able to turn with the ball in space or to provide a good pass to someone with the defense backpedaling. It’s no surprise that his best games have come against teams who prefer a somewhat more expansive style, but his struggles against teams who set out to nullify his strengths are troubling. He needs to develop better chemistry with Ozil in situations other than transition play and that might mean coming wide and dropping deep more than he has been doing in order to get involved and give his defender something to think about.

    In conclusion, Arsenal face an array of interesting decisions about how to integrate their new stars into the team. There really are no fantastic partnerships in the team at present to worry about blowing up, so nothing is off limits in terms of constructing a style of play around these individual talents. What seems like may work is to deploy a 4-2-3-1 shape with Aubameyang and Ozil as a front two with Mikhi as a more narrow wide player on the left and Lacazette a more wide option on the right with license to get in the box and interchange with the other forwards. I think Bellerin and Lacazette would really enjoy combining in those wide right spaces, just as the duo of Kolasinac and Mikhi on the other side should be very creative and dangerous with crosses to the far post. In any case, what will make or break any formation or combination we may use is the players’ ability to combine at speed and accuracy with each other and that depends not only on the individual quality of the players but also their mental cognition and ability to recognize the same things at the same time. We shall see what works in that regard when the new boys take the pitch.

    1. I’m more intrigued by the idea of playing Mikhi deeper in central midfield, a la Santi. There’s probably all kinds of reasons for this not to work but call me intrigued all the same.

      1. I think it could work, though I’m not sure it’s the thing to try right off the bat in a midfield two (him being one of a three is another story), if only because we’re now quite thin on the ground wrt wide attackers.

        I think it’s more of a longterm possibility.

      2. I think it could work but would come at the expense of shifting Mesut to a wide role, since I cannot see us winning enough midfield duels with those two occupying two out of three midfield berths. I think we’re better off with Mikhi playing wide given his industry and nous for pressing high up the pitch.

  4. The way Arsene acted over the Giroud and Sanchez transfers reminded me why I love and will always love him as a man, much as I’ve lost faith in him as a coach.

    To hear him talk about how Olivier was loved by the club and fans today was touching. Of the move to Chelsea, the Girouds had just had a third baby, and for family reasons (and more playing time to improve his world cup chances), Chelsea was perfect. That’s why, said Arsene, he opened the door. My own solution was “go to West Ham or get splinters in your rear on the bench”. But Arsene let the transfer go through, even though Chelsea is one of the teams that can deny us a Champions League spot. And you know what? I respect that.

    Sanchez, he said, wanted to play the game he was left out of just before his transfer, and was professional to the end. Of the drugs test he missed, Arsene said it was Arsenal’s fault, and not the players.

    I want to be a boss like that to my employees, or to work for a boss like that. Well played, Arsene.

    (from an unrelenting critic)

    1. But claude, the (non)matchgoing fans who comment on twitter deserve to have their voices heard. Each and every one of them is a precious little snowflake who has an opinion they desperately want heard and acknowledged. In fact, they feel they can say whatever they want because footballers are paid so much they are hardly even human and do not deserve any sort of kindness and consideration, especially when that may conflict with the immediacy of the anger which we may feel toward them after their performance has not been up to our lofty expectations of them (which we of course would never hold ourselves to). Football and footballers are one of our last avenues to openly abuse other humans (in a definitely non-racist way) within the socially accepted norms of 21st century societies. Don’t take that away from us!

      I know I don’t need to say this to the group on this forum, but… seriously, let’s not do stuff like this:
      https://twitter.com/arseblog/status/959701624510959617

    2. Didn’t Aubameyang transfer hinge on Dortmund getting a ready made replacement to lead their line?

      Giroud didn’t want to leave London but Chelsea’s, Michy Batshuai was open for a move for more game time .

      I think this was one of those rare deals where all three clubs benefit in some way.

      Arsenal get a speedy poacher who can stretch defenses and finish at a high rate.
      Dortmund get a ready made replacement at a fraction of a cost( rumors have it for free) and pocket a tidy chunk of change for a player who desperately wanted out.
      Chelsea get a seasoned proven goal scorer who’s good in the air , giving them an option they might not have had before.

      Without Giroud going to Chelsea , Arsenal probably wouldn’t have signed Aubameyang .

  5. Oh, and Theo will score against us, and I will cheer for him (but hope Everton lose). He’s taken some frightful personal abuse of late. Mostly from his own fans, when he was a gunner.

    1. I don’t think any gooner could begrudge Theo a goal against us tomorrow. Lord knows I’m not a fan of his, but he’ll always be an Arsenal man (and a classy guy).

  6. Nice thoughts.but they remain ur thoughts not facts.we will c if wenger goes.I tink he will stay.he will b given time wit d new guys and mayb new buys in d summer.i also feel that wenger is one main reason for ozil to sign so ozil knows sometin we don’t. Ancelloti can’t b next cos he n ozil dnt c eye to eye. Ozil is a small god in d eyes of the suits so wat he wants matters.factor in all these in your thoughts

  7. I really wonder where this idea of a ‘coup’ or ‘civil war’ comes from. I think people just like to imagine this, because the only proof we have is that Richard Law and Steve Rowley were replaced (but still kept in consulting roles)

    So this is supposed to be done against Arsene’s wishes, and he’s so fooled by Sanhelli’s title that he doesn’t realise he’s working under a DoF? Isn’t it far more likely that Arsene Wenger is on board with these changes?

    I’d venture the reason Sanhelli isn’t called a DoF is because the press would pester Wenger because he hit back at a question which insinuated that Wenger shouldn’t have final say on transfers. Arsene Wenger has final say on transfers. (Ornstein said so too in case you don’t think Wenger made it clear he would walk if he didn’t have control over the team) He now has better help in making those transfers.

    After Tim pointed it out, I believed he was miffed at some of the signings recommended by StatsDNA. He also said the stats guys recommended not signing Griezmann. Again this does not mean that Wenger was overruled. He followed the stats and didn’t put his entire weight behind Griezmann. He probably feels like he isn’t getting info that allows him to make the right decisions. The club then identifies and brings in Mislintat who supposedly combines the use of stats and his ‘diamond eye’ to suggest recruits. Do you think Wenger resents this? (Remember, he already gets his way on transfers.)

    So I disagree that there’s this spy novel stuff inside the club. Yes Arsenal are preparing for life after Wenger, and Wenger is key in that process of change. It’s not being done against his will and it doesn’t mean that he will go this year.

    1. I don’t know about spy novel stuff, but can there be any doubt of friction between the two most powerful voices in the club, Gazidis and Wenger? Gazidis wants changes, but Wenger has his hand on every aspect of running the club, from player recruitment, to contracts, to coaching, to scouting… and he cannot do it all, but his public comments make it seem like he tries to. So, they hire these absolutely top drawer international people to “help” Wenger do something that they are already clearly better equipped to do than Wenger and his small circle of Brits was. Of course Wenger probably assented to this but it’s hard to think he was particularly pleased about the prospect of having his role and influence diminish. Hopefully he can now see what a good thing it is to have these aces up our sleeve, since we got more done this January than several full transfer windows combined. It’s David Dein era type stuff, when we just went out and did what was best for the football club before second guessing and and instead resting on the hope that the above average young talent at the club could become something special. At the end of the day, Wenger’s idealistic view of how a football club should be is grand, and that’s a big part of the reason why I’m such a supporter of his club. We all want to believe that our club is special. But if you want to compete with the big boys, you have to learn to swim with the sharks. Wenger never had the stomach for that (and you can’t blame him really) so it’s high time the club stepped up and installed the kind of people who can do that kind of stuff, whether Wenger is pleased about it or not.

      1. That’s quite right. But my overriding assumption with Arsene Wenger is that he wants the best for the club. Are there disagreements between the CEO and manager? Very likely. Is this a situation that is unwanted, undesired, or unhealthy. I think that’s very unlikely.

        Wenger is a loyal person and I believe he would have fought for the jobs of Rowley and Law out of loyalty if nothing else. Probably why they were kept on in advisory roles. And Wenger’s probably a cantankerous old man about some things. But I do not get the sense that he’s the sort to be upset about losing ‘power’. More like upset if he feels it prevents him from doing his job to the best of his ability, until he’s convinced of the need for, or benefits of, it. (Like the decision to go on pre-season tours)

        As you say, hopefully he is convinced by the new staff, but you can’t tell me he has no say in the direction the club is headed. The decision to hire Lehmann, Per’s upcoming installation as the academy boss, the search for Burgess from Australia, all reportedly came through Arsene Wenger. I just think it is far more likely a spirit of cooperation than a culture of one-upmanship that reigns at Arsenal, regardless of any specific disagreements.

      2. Let’s put it this way. Wenger has seen us go from training on university pitches to having this massive organisation supporting the football. We’ve gone from having a staff of 80 to over 600.

        At what point would Wenger feel threatened exactly? They didn’t take away his final say on transfers. They didn’t completely remove his trusted chief scout, (Who, like Wenger, has turned down Real Madrid in the past, if memory serves) and even had the scout turned contract wheeler dealer stay on to help with the transition. They gave one of his most trusted lieutenants the job of running the academy. They hired a new (additional) fitness guy apparently based on his request/recommendation. I’m not sure why Wenger is supposed to be resentful.

  8. Half time. Best Ive seen us play this season. Not just the goals, but the passing and movement has been of Fabregas-the-string-puller quality.

    Auba early look. Still learning to play with this team, but he is ALWAYS in the right place. Both Ramsey’s and Koscielny’s got in ahead of him. If it hadn’t been them, it might have been him. Even still learning this team, took his own opportunity well (left footed), doing what he does best. Imagine for a moment that the chance had fallen to our No. 23. He’s have been trying to switch that onto his right, and the chance would probably have gone. Won a couple of headers too. This is what 55m buys.

    All that said, Mkhitaryan has caught my eye. Looks like he’s been playing for Arsenal for years.

    And damn you, Aaron Ramsey. How dare you prove your value to this team yet again? 😉

    1. Haha. Pretty sure he’s going to get called out for being a forward rather than a midfielder.

      Miki was amazing. Took a lot of punishment too from physical play. I thought he tired toward the end, but nonetheless, it was a great performance.

      Second half a bit sloppy and once again we lose Cech his clean sheet, but we march on. Spurs next. Ought to be a fun game.

      1. I watched Ramsey closely, to see if — offense aside — he’d give an all round performance. He did. He was noticeably solid on defence and put in a shift, particularly when Everton came at us at the start of the second half (a point made by a few of the regular Arsenal fan commenters in the comments section of the Guardian match report).

        So the “bombing forward” trope is nonsensical. Runs into the box (into the space that Auba was clearly pulling defenders out of) is tactical, not willy-nilly. His game is about working with the CF and creatives when we don’t have the ball to make timed runs into space, and defending when we don’t. Auba, especially, was absolutely destroying their defensive shape, and that’s why Aaron had so much space. The goals will grab the headlines, but the unglamorous stuff rarely gets acknowledged. And speaking of Auba, he doesn’t look like he’s doing a lot but his spatial awareness is sensational.

        Ramsey (and noticeably Iwobi a lot today) got back and defended when the situation demanded. Both had good all round performances, even if Iwobi didn’t get on the scoresheet.

        1. Claude,
          I completely agree that (a) making dangerous late runs into the box from midfield is not a problem in itself and he shouldn’t be criticized for that, and (b) Ramsey was overall defensively hardworking and disciplined today. More of the same against Spurs please.

          But the criticism about his bombing forward leaving too much space in deep-central midfield is not “nonsensical”. We’ve all seen it be an issue many times in the past (or are you really denying that this has ever been an issue with our team shape when he plays?!?). Maybe he’ll stop doing it, or we’ll set up in such a way that other players perfectly cover for him. But there’s an old saying about leopards and spots (both Arsene’s and Aaron’s)…

          Look, you might remember that just last summer I was convinced that we could turn Rambo into a Vidal-style genuine b2b player, and that that could make his partnership with Xhaka in a 4-2-3-1 work. But I’ve given up that hope: Xhaka is worse than I thought, AND Ramsey is still not consistently positionally conservative enough in his midfield role. That he was pretty good in that regard today doesn’t change the season up to now.

          So ok, we go buy that super expensive Elegant Beast in the summer to play with him (Fabinho?). Easier said than done: my point to you on this issue has always just been that that player has to not only be a beast (because Ramsey WILL get caught upfield against teams that will punish us), but also genuinely, consistently elegant on the ball (because Ramsey’s game really isn’t about knitting together the play from deep, certainly not against a high press). Those Elegant Beasts of truly elite quality don’t grow on trees (e.g. no way Kante could do it, and everyone rightly loves him).

          I don’t hate Aaron Ramsey. I’m happy he played great today. But we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment in the long run if we don’t restructure our midfield to find a more well-balanced solution. Going back to the 4-2-3-1 of a few years ago (which is what today looked like to me) hopefully will make us considerably more fluid in attack. But it won’t solve the underlying issues in deep midfield Wenger seems unwilling or unable to address.

          1. Caveat to the above: if Mikhi and (to a lesser extent) Iwobi take turns to track back and tuck in, then the formation looks more like a 4-3-3, we aren’t so exposed when Ramsey bombs forward, and we could even play a better defensive player than Xhaka (e.g. AMN) without sacrificing the buildup, provided Mikhi plays a bit like late-career Cazorla. Maybe that’s enough to get the balance right. Time will tell.

  9. Shard , I think Wenger does have a final say on transfers but not the valuation and deal closing anymore.

    If that’s the case then that’s exactly how it should work anyways.

    The most successful period of Wenger’s Arsenal tenure was when he gave names of prospective transfer acquisitions to David Dein and let him do the dealing.

    1. I agree with this. I also think that the reason it wasn’t working this way earlier is because money was tighter and which areas of the team to prioritise had to be left to the manager. (In a dynamic situation this would also lead to ‘dithering’/examining all options, and the appearance of ‘winging it’) This probably went on too long and I am glad of the change. I think Wenger would be too.

  10. 1. Wow, that was fun (for 45 minutes).

    2. On a side note, it’s going to come out sounding churlish, but why can’t we play excellent football for a full 90 minutes? I get that the intensity was going to drop for the second half, but why did we suddenly look utterly pants? The same thing happened in the recent win over Palace.

    3. Mkhitaryan was bloody brilliant. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that he’ll have a bigger impact, at least for this season, than will Auba. Reminds us of what we’ve missed not having a top-class secondary creative player in the team alongside Ozil since the days of Rosicky and (early) Cazorla (a point Tim Stillman regularly makes in his column). How dumb does Mourinho look for casting him aside??

    4. He was fine today, but what the heck does Xhaka have to do to get benched? I’ve defended him this season, but the truth is he really hasn’t been that good, even at the things he’s supposed to be good at. And he’s given away cheap, cheap goals, including that horrible one against Swansea. Yet he’s started EVERY SINGLE PL MATCH THIS SEASON! Wenger really is a stubborn ol’ cuss…

    5. Ramsey was great. Despite the reputation around here, I really do like him as a player. Or, more accurately, my feelings about him are as schizophrenic as his performances (something I said on here a while back in a long post I’m sure nobody read): there’s bad, out of form Ramsey, who is one of my least favorite players in world football. Then there’s good, in form Ramsey, and he’s great, with a skill set unique to our squad. Like, seriously: I really, genuinely like watching him play. It’s been great to have good Ramsey back for the majority of this season.

    6. But here’s the thing: no matter how well he plays, and how solid Xhaka looks, there’s no way we can consistently compete at the top of the Premier League with Aaron Ramsey in a two-man midfield, unless his midfield partner is waaaaay better than Xhaka. Shellacking an awful Everton team at home doesn’t change that (our home form hasn’t been the problem this season; nor have we had trouble giving Everton a good shellacking).
    So the options are to play Rambo in a three, or to invest in an amazing holding midfielder to play alongside him. But before we make this all about Xhaka’s deficiencies (which have been well documented), it’s worth underling that in order to partner Ramsey effectively in a two man midfield in a passing team like Arsenal, that DM needs to be (a) an absolute beast, an athlete that can protect our defense virtually on his own when Ramsey vacates his position (and the fullbacks bomb forward), and yet (b) someone with the class and composure to pass-and-move their way out of a high press and dictate play with metronomic efficiency. Xhaka can just about do the second task (ok, he’s not so good against a press, but he can build the play fine), but he’s clearly not up to the first. Plenty of good DM’s, e.g. Victor Wanyama, would be great at (a) but aren’t going to be up for (b) in a team with our style. This is all to say that the demands of playing Ramsey in a midfield two in a 4-2-3-1, even peak Ramsey, are high (though the rewards can be high as well). And this isn’t me changing my tune. This has been my consistent view of Ramsey for the last several years.

    7. Ok, one reason for optimism about the 4-2-3-1, and why my pessimism in the last point *might* turn out to be ill-founded, is the difference it makes playing two wide forwards, in Iwobi and Micki, who are really more midfielders rather than forwards. Or at least, they are very comfortable tucking in midfield, and have the athleticism and work rate to track back and play good defense without sacrificing anything in attack. This means the formation is more like a 4-4-1-1 than a 4-2-3-1, and it means even with Ozil playing little defense, and Ramsey bombing forward, we’re not left completely exposed. The contrast between these two being on the flanks versus say Lacazette or Welbeck (or Sanchez or Theo or Ox!) is pretty stark. Which brings us to:

    8. Spare a thought for poor Lacazette. The big losers of today’s lineup are Laca and Jack (and Elneny I guess, though he must know by now that Wenger will never rate him ahead of Xhaka, no matter what they each do). I feel bad for Lacazette. I know many fans are writing him off already, but I think he’s been treated a bit harshly by AW. He started his Arsenal career well enough, but a combination of (1) our team being pants for the first half of the season (not his fault!), and (2) Wenger taking him off at the 70 minute mark even when we needed a goal, hurt his confidence before Xmas, and now, with his confidence at it’s most fragile, Wenger goes and buys a big-name replacement for him and promptly benches him. I really hope he’s given a proper chance in the first 11, as I still think he could be a great player for us in the long run and score lots of goals. But you could see today with Auba’s pace and extra height that he brings things to the team that Laca never can (which is not to say that he can’t lead the line on his own or that he’s slow, as some of the more fickle elements of the fan base have been suggesting).

    9. So I loved the first half. But Cech is still old and slow and bad at kicking; Bellerin still doesn’t know how to defend one-on-one and gives the ball away cheaply; Mustafi is still regularly a moron with his passing and decision making; Xhaka is still slow and error prone; Kolasinac is still a bad defender (or just a bad footballer? hard to tell, as his confidence is obviously low); and we’re still vulnerable to all the things that have put our away form in the toilet this year.

    So hard to know if there’s any cause for genuine optimism. I expect we’ll find out away to Spurs…

    1. We were great in the first half when they were 3 at the back and we just carved up their midfield. Props to Tom Davies for coming on and making a difference, even though the match was gone.

      1. My point being that you don’t often see such one-sided games in the PL against good sides, and that was all about the formation and set-up of the teams in the first half. Big Sam bolted the stable but the horse was over the horizon. We played well but it was a perfect storm for 45 mins, we got some luck with the deflection and the offside goal. We weren’t bad in the second half at all – Kolasinac was pants but other than that we still had it under control. It was a good 3-1 win, 5-1 flatters us a bit.

  11. Online abuse of players – well the sheer volume and intensity is off the charts. It’s no surprise if you’ve spent time down by the corner flag as I have and had to tolerate 94 minutes of unrelenting, disgusting, shocking abuse – and I’ve been around the block – directed by Arsenal fans almost entirely at their own players. There’s a dark side to this fan-player relationship and no mistake.

    And when it comes to conspiracy theories about what goes on inside the club – well the quality of reasoning by some is like taking Occam’s Razor and using it to film a slasher movie. Some people never miss an opportunity to indulge their lurid fantasies of bad faith, corruption, conflict or improbable incompetence when far simpler. more rational explanations are available.

    That was a nice win by the way. Mhki coming in off the wing overran and destroyed their midfield. Other managers will look at that and might not let it happen so easily, but it was nice to watch.

    1. I think Miki, Auba and Ozil all use space very intelligently. If they can combine well with Ramsey, like they did today, I think they would be difficult to stop for any team. (AMOR instead of LMAO?) I really like Xhaka for the things he can do well, but I think we do need a more defensively aware option next to Ramsey for this to work against the better sides. Maybe AMN will provide that. One can hope.

      1. Let’s see – the balance looks better already with Mkhi, and that could help Xhaka out. He was excellent overall yesterday, and it’s important to have the passing skills in that deeper position. We don’t necessarily need an elegant beast if the team stops giving the ball away so much, and if they tuck in and cover each other, and Mkhi was contributing to a big improvement in both areas.

        I do not miss Sanchez.

  12. Nice one today against an obliging Everton team.
    More payback for those games against Bolton eh, Allardyce.
    Glad to see Walcott being Walcott.
    Batshuayi gets 2 on his debut, Sanchez gets 1 and Auba gets 1 (albeit from an offside position). Now for Giroud against Watford and all will be right for one week in this transfer triangle.
    Ramsey dead and buried has risen from the grave of our criticisms. Reviving 2013-2014 when he was was really, really good. He was irrepressible today.
    The first Ramsey goal shows the way we need to be zipping the ball around. Credit to Myhki for the final ball and had 3 assists today. Another Mourinho reject shining brightly.
    Auba could have had a hat trick today except for the fact that Ramsey and Koscienly stole his goals.
    We’ve all been here and seen this from Arsenal but wake me on 2/10 and 2/25 where if we can repeat this kind of performance, I will stay woke.

  13. I would like to add one comment about Monreal. Damn, what has gotten into him. He is now Roberto Carlos reincarnated.

    1. He got tired of seeing the other fullbacks having all the fun as wingbacks while he was stuck in a back three 🙂

  14. My favorite part of the game was the opening goal because it underlined how Ahba + Mhiki made us less predictable thereby making our entire attack stronger. Ozil played it to Auba for what looked like a classic Arsenal give and go at the top of the box. Fat Sam drilled his men well and literally five players close in on the space that Ozil is running into to pick up the return pass. But Auba has the vision and the skill to one touch a looping ball to Mhiki, wrong footing the entire Everton defense. Auba and Ramsey both run across the goal mouth to slot in Mhiki’s cross, while Ozil trails them, putting himself in position for the rebound.

    Teams will watch this and they will be forced to give Ozil more space to operate inside their box lest they allow a deadly passer run free.

  15. Pretty special first half there, couldn’t have written a script much better than that if you’re an Arsenal supporter. We could (and did) coast in the second half.

    The twin creative and technical influences of Ozil paired with Micki, a player who seems very much on Ozil’s wavelength in a way Sanchez never was, was the highlight for me. Ozil made 4 key passes but Micki’s 3 key passes were all converted for goals. On another day, it’ll be the reverse but today it was important to kick off Micki’s Arsenal career in the right way. The debut was made even more impressive by his work ethic without the ball as much as his precision on it; he made 4 tackles, won 4 aerial duels and intercepted 3 passes. He also lashed a rasping shot from outside the D just past Pickford’s upright and replays show it had the speed to beat the keeper had it been a few cm further right, and teams will remember that before sitting too far off of him. I think this debut surpassed expectations and can be called a real success.

    Aubameyang meanwhile was just as advertised. I particularly enjoyed seeing his devastating speed when released by Ozil on a fast break in the first half, and although he was well offside, the ease with which he finished over the onrushing Pickford was a real treat to behold. He also played an important part in the all-important opening goal, connecting to Micki with a beautifully cushioned first time pass around the corner. Their chemistry was already on such display and it’s their first Arsenal game together.

    I don’t think Everton were superb but I also think this was much more about Arsenal being very very good and much less about them being very very bad. Allardyce had them defending in a deep block and utilized a very quick front 3, presumably trying to play us the same way Swansea and Bournemouth did, but we were simply too good. Talent and chemistry considerations aside, the second goal was made by Mustafi getting his head on a corner before the man marking him, emblematic of a the team that out-dueled their opponents all over the pitch. This was truly such an encouraging new start for the club.

    1. We started a little cautiously, and as Mustafi’s slip showed, a little nervously. If we’d let in the first goal this would have been much tougher. Everton weren’t terrible. We did very well with our combinations and as you pointed out, we were more unpredictable. That’s what adding another ‘technical leader’ can do for us.

      I don’t know why whenever we win convincingly the opposition is assigned more blame than us credit. But it was encouraging how smooth we looked up front. I thought Iwobi played well too. Nothing spectacular and played within himself as they say, but was there when needed and did what was required.

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