Jonathan Blaustein’s column: the future looks bright

Saturday was one of those days.

You know the kind, when you just don’t have any juice?

That it coincided with the annual neighborhood ditch cleaning was far from fortuitous. Frankly, it sucked.

However, in what was obviously a one-time-event, this year, I got to loaf off, as the acequias were mostly clean. Plus, I was on a crew at my in-laws’ house, so I got to sneak off to the bathroom, raid private stashes for chocolate, and then stood holding my shovel while I chatted with family.

It never happens like that.

Escaping 4 hours of hard labor, often in the light snow, was a gift of cosmic proportions.

And, tired as I was, I slept most of the afternoon.

Like an old man in a barca-lounger, keeping half an eye on the footie, I managed to watch Manchester City put a first half whooping on Man United.

My good luck was sure to last through the afternoon.

Then, through the nap-haze, I caught Pogba score the first. Fucking Alexis. I hate that guy. Making good passes again. Fuck him.

Then a second, and I woke for the noise of the third.

I must say, now that they’re gone, I will root for Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, but not for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis.

Just now, I’ve realized the common theme is that the latter two pricks chose to leave. They decided Arsenal was a sinking ship, or at the very least, they could no longer grow here. We know this because they left, and in the Ox’s case, he’s said it publicly.

But what about the inward business?

Arsenal now field a front four of Aubameyang, Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette, if they so choose. (Or throw temporarily- resurgent Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck into the mix.)

And that’s with Aaron Ramsey behind them in the box-to-box role, now scoring goals again for the first time since his dream season of ’13-’14. (What wouldn’t we give to have an in-his-prime Mikel Arteta playing alongside him now?)

You see where I’m going here?

I’m tired of writing about how Arsene Wenger must go. I’m tired of the kiss-off column, and the prognosticating.

Will he stay or will he go? What do I know?

We simply don’t know the future.

But instead of taking the typical, pessimistic, (or objective) view, today, I thought I’d look at a few of the bright spots in the current re-build:

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. What’s not to love? Finally, a clinical, quick, fast striker. Tim put up a graph a while back showing the insane proportion of goals he scores inside the 6 yard box. (Like, almost all his goals.)

Now we know why. He either outruns people, and shoots from close range, or he’s in just the right place, and his quickness helps him get to the ball first.

Plus, when he gave the penalty to Lacazette, I called my son over and used it as a “teachable moment.” As in, “Watch this, kid. If #9 takes the penalty, it means Arsenal finally have some good team chemistry.”

Henrikh Mkhitaryan. I think by now, the shock of his amazing Everton game has worn off, as has the stench of the few stink bombs he threw immediately thereafter.

What we’ve seen since is a very, very, classy footballer. He has vision, quick feet, can thread a through ball, tracks back, isn’t afraid to tackle, and can score a goal.

His only drawbacks appear to be consistency and durability. I re-watched the challenge on him during the CSKA Moscow game. The dude came charging through him to be sure. A nasty tackle. But is he robust enough for a full season of multiple competitions?

Regardless, I’m a big fan.

Aaron Ramsey. The golden boy is back. Honestly, I think this was the first year I gave up on hoping he’d ever return. It’s like that thing when they say you can only get a girlfriend when you’re not looking for a girlfriend.

Shit, does this guy have technical class. (That’s what I thought last time too.) Really gorgeous goals and assists. But then he spent 3.5 years being insanely wasteful. Like record-breaking wasteful.

Is this going to last?

And how come he’s still getting soft tissue injuries 3 times a season?

If it were me, and he has a good World Cup with Wales, I’d sell high. That, or lock him up properly this summer. I’m sick of these drawn-out sagas.

Granit Xhaka I’m sure someone can pull out a .gif of his mistakes and missteps during the season, (so many obvious errors,) but I think this guy is finally starting to settle. While he’d still benefit from playing with a midfield partner who’d cover for his speed deficiency, his passing range, accuracy and ability to help shift cross-field quickly are helping Arsenal play more direct.

– (Sub header: Mesut Ozil is getting credit for his out-of-this-world form lately, and he deserves his own header, to be honest. I love it when he plays this well. He’s a football genius. But while Ozil is making the killer pass, it’s often Xhaka that passes to Ozil.)

In a way, I think he’s easy to take for granted, Xhaka, or his flaws show easily. But when Arsenal are winning 6 in a row, and scoring goals, I think we should give him a bit more credit for linking defense and attack, and creating a rhythm to the attacks.

Overall, I think the offensive rebuild is obviously ahead of the defense. We may need more depth in super-quality up-front, but we now have a fearsome offensive starting lineup.

And Xhaka may have even moved himself into the keeper list, as long as we buy someone as good or better than him as competition this summer.

We can highlight what’s going right with the rebuild, but there are hard truths as well. Both Koscielny and Mustafi need to be replaced as first choice Center Back this summer.

Both of them.

I think Koz could rotate in for a first choice lineup next season, but we need an expensive, big, athletic pair.

This summer. Immediately. If not sooner.

It’s the obvious weak link, now that we’ve seen Xhaka, Ramsey, Bellerin and Monreal all play well at the same time.

The first goal Mustafi let in against Southampton may not have cost us points, or pride, like his similar mistake in the League Cup Final, but it proved to me once and for all he’s a dim bulb.

You don’t fuck up that obviously and then immediately look to blame someone else. Not if you have a brain in your head. (So he must not.)

I haven’t watched enough other teams this year to predict who we should buy. But if there’s a massive spend on 2 CB’s, a DMF and a GK, and we don’t lose anyone important, I think that will be a nice phase 2 for this complete rebuild.

Fingers crossed for Thursday.


  1. ditch cleaning? Do you live in an anarcho-syndicalist commune? great column today.

    1. Glad you like the piece. RE: ditch cleaning, I live in a 19th Century Spanish Colonial village in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. There is a collective irrigation system, called the acequia, and everyone gets together to clean it one weekend a year.

  2. I have never heard of ditch cleaning in the United States. And I thought Canadians viewed us as barbaric because we have to shovel our own sidewalk snow (here in New York at least).

    1. Here is Toronto, the city has sidewalk ploughs that do a decent job but regardless, the by-law is that easy resident is responsible to clear the sidewalk that passes in front your property. What’s barbaric is the amount of snow Western New Yorkers have to put up with.

  3. Oh by the way, El-Neny’s red card was withdrawn. Never a red any day of the week and all day Sunday. Just that prick Marriner missing studs up tackles from Tadich all day long (2) and his loss of match control exploded at the end.
    No English referees at the WC whereas the Major League Soccer, you read that right, Major League Soccer will have two (2) crews in Russia and the EPL will have zero, zilch, nada officials for obvious reasons.

  4. I agree that we need to buy two expensive, athletic CBs this summer. However, what we will get, particularly as it seems likely that Wenger will continue on after this season, is continued faith with Mustafi along with the promotion of Chambers or Holding who will rotate with Koscielny. Mavropolous will be back-up. I’d put good money on exactly this scenario.

    1. You forget that we apparently tried to get rid of Mustafi this summer past.

    2. You think we’ll buy 0 big dollar CB’s? No way. You could argue me into 1, maybe. Because that does seem like Arsene. But 0? I don’t think so. It’s the glaring need. Koscielny’s old and only half-fit, and Mustafi is wildly inconsistent, and potentially a half-wit.

    3. Since when does Wenger respond to glaring need??? I jest, I jest. Sort of. We’ve been crying out for a DM, an actually good CB, and a wide-playing forward for many years now (and, arguably, a GK as well), and it hasn’t done much to sway Wenger.

      That said, if this January is an indication of things to come, who knows? Very uncharacteristic of Wenger not to stick with the status quo, but perhaps this speaks of the increased involvement of Mislintat and Sanllehi?

  5. I’m looking forward to the City v Liverpool game today! Should be a lively one.

  6. “Fearsome offensive starting lineup”? LMAO!

    (Lacazette Mkhitaryan Aubameyang Ozil, that is)

  7. Welcome back, JB. Got the City Liverpool game on with the sound off, and watching Zuck on the laptop get grilled by senators who clearly have never even seen mobile phone.

    Orrin Hatch just told us that he chairs the senate’s Hi-Tech Committee. Still digesting that one.

    1. That’s nothing.
      The devout climate change denier , James Inhofe, chairs the environmental congressional committee, and Scott Pruit who sued the EPA many times on behalf of oil and gas companies now heads the EPA.

  8. Just watching the Pool/City game and while watching the replay the commentator, Kevin Kilbane, said the Sane goal was rightly disallowed because if was offside.

    Like, sure he was behind the goalie, but there was another Liverpool player closer to the goal when the ball was passed in.

    Sane seemed easily onside to me. Is there some ‘behind the goalie’ offside rule I don’t know about that means it was right to be disallowed.

    1. There need to be at least two defenders( one of them is usually the keeper) goal side for the attacking player to be on side.

      Sane in this situation was off side, except Milner played the ball seemingly intentionally ,in which case , Sane’s off side position probably shouldn’t have mattered and the goal should’ve been allowed.

  9. City and Barca are out then.
    When City drew Liverpool I thought that was the worst possible draw for them but I didn’t see the Barca upset coming at all.

    Marginal calls all went to Liverpool but they were clinical and probably deserved to go through anyway.

    Like I said before Klopp could go all the way in this CL.

    1. I hope not. The last thing we need are more wind-up interviews by Oxlade-Chamberlain in which he reiterates, for the eleventh or twentieth time, that his desire to move to Liverpool was justified.

  10. It’s right that the red card shown, incorrectly, to Elneny has been rescinded. As the dismissal took place in stoppage time at the end of the match, it had little or no effect on the outcome of the game, but that does not absolve the referee from criticism for his errors in issuing the card in the first place.

    There were a number of debatable decisions throughout the game and the consensus seems to be that the referee got most of them wrong.

    Of course, nobody from the Premier League, the Football Association or the PGMOL will admit that the ref got it wrong, nor will he be sanctioned beyond being stood down for a game or two, of that.

  11. Sorry to go off-topic, again JB…

    Annulling a goal should be one of the hardest things to do in football. Especially if it’s on the basis of a tight offside call. Video replay should be mandatory in those situations. In some ways the game is stuck in the rules and practices of a century ago. Being stuck in the pre-television era is inexcusable in 2018. Pep and City have every right to feel hard done by. 2-0 , they could certainly have turned the tie around.

  12. It makes you wonder why doesn’t it.

    I don’t think for a second there’s some sort of conspiracy to punish Guardiola and give Klop a leg up but all major decisions went against City.

    UEFA has a vested interest in keeping the ratings high but I can’t see much difference in having City or Liverpool progressing to the semis as far as ratings go.

    Unlike the City /United game where the PL clearly had a vested interest in the title not being concluded on the night.
    Atkinson is a weak referee and not just by his performance standards but also by his body language.
    Usually when he makes a controversial call that angers players prompting confrontations, he has this sheepish smirk on his face as if a shade of self doubt was creeping in.
    Not the case in his last game.
    He was making wrong decisions left and right with such a stern look on his face as if he was told to do so no matter the outrage of City players.

    Either way, refs are a main reason I stopped taking professional football seriously and only treat it strictly as a form of entertainment.

  13. Aubameyang’s been so damn good. Almost makes our struggle worthwhile knowing we have a genuine superstar in that position who makes everyone around him look good. Even Welbeck! Whatever fairy dust Auba sprinkled on Danny needs to be bottled and hoarded.

    Not sold on Mkhitaryan. I remember peak Mkhitaryan at Dortmund. The player we have now is good but not at that level. My bro’s a Utd fan and says he started much the same way at Utd – very exciting, then got injured and came back lightweight and super-inconsistent.

    As for Xhaka, I’ve watched too many of our big European rivals play over the last few seasons. None use a slowish deep-lying player like Xhaka at DM without offering him seriously athletic protection. Closest comparison is Miralem Pjanic at Juve, who has Khedira and Matuidi as bodyguards. And they almost got wrecked by 3rd place Spurs.

    Just can’t see Arsenal cracking top 4 with both Xhaka and Ramsey in midfield. Not in this hyper-competitive Premier League. It’s not gonna happen. I agree with Jonathan – we have a serious choice to make there. I’d gamble on Ramsey.

  14. Agreed on Xhaka. He’s looked much more comfortable and been largely excellent recently. Some lovely passes through the lines to set up Qzil and others, his rhythm is good, he’s been secure in possession, worked hard in defence. Most of the time I haven’t really noticed him, which means he’s doing his job right. The only thing I can criticize him for really is that his set pieces have not been stellar. Hope this form continues to the end of the season.

    Does anybody know why Bellerin went off against Southampton? I missed it and it’s not in any of the reports.

  15. the first thing i thought when elneny was sent off is that the red card would be rescinded and rightfully, it was. happy that it happened late in the game and didn’t affect the result.

    wilshere has been very poor since the international break. i don’t know if it’s stress related to his contract situation or what. i hope he turns it around.

    it’s always good to have such a positive contribution from players who aren’t regular starters like iwobi and welbeck. personally, i think iwobi was poor defensively but in the attack, he was very good. hopefully, he continues to take the chances he’s given.

    the highlight to me has been the defending from the front three. i mentioned after the tottenham game as the front three on that day, iwobi, lacazette, and welbeck, did a good job developing the situation and making the field narrower. it seems the boys have talked about it and re-integrated that approach over the past few matches. even ozil is defending well, not tackling but developing situations. this quality takes so much pressure off of the midfield and defense and it’s not hard to do.

    wenger’s not going anywhere this summer. he’s got to be excited about having aubameyang ozil, lacazette, and mkhi. we’ll see.

    agree with arsenal needing an overhaul in the back. they need two center backs, a left back, and goal keeper, and a defensive mid. not buying the xhaka praise. he’s talented but not very smart. against good teams, he’ll always get exposed. it’s just the past few weeks, arsenal haven’t played very good teams so he’s shined. we’ll see how he does when arsenal play manchester united or atletico madrid.

  16. here’s a question i always like to ask. of the teams likely to be relegated, are there any players in those sides you guys would like to see at arsenal?

    west brom: there’s been talk about jonny evans. is he that good? we could bring back kieran gibbs but how’s he been playing? arsenal need a left back and gibbs is better defensively than kolasinac. lastly, i’ve always been a fan of jay rodriguez. i wanted arsenal to move for him when van persie left.

    stoke: i don’t know how good jack butland is but we could find out. maybe jese? he’s a good player and may shine once he gets to arsenal and loses about 8 kilos. not sure that shaqiri fits. as a side note, one of my players is on a trial at stoke city right now. he’s a central defender (turns 18 in may). good luck to him.

    southampton: their players never seem to work at arsenal. ward-browse seems like he’s been there forever but he’s only 23. i think i’d love romeu at dm; very good player on a very bad team. nathan redmond is a bit exciting but not sure if he fits. maya yoshida is getting old but a very solid player if he’s cheap.

    crystal palace: true talent that i think i’d like to see at arsenal if they go down. zaha is the obvious first name. i love, love, love patrick van aanholt. he’s a stand out and a proper left back who always shines when i watch palace. lastly, mamadou sakho. i do not know how this man fell out with klopp at liverpool but he’s way too good to be at crystal palace.

    swansea: i like the ayew boys. i also like leroy fer and sam clucas. we’ll see.

    1. Of these players you mentioned, Butland would be the best because he helps with the home-grown quota, especially since we may be losing Wilshere, Bellerin and possibly Ramsey, all of whom qualify as home-grown.

      I like Zaha, but we need defenders, not more attackers. We don’t need defenders badly enough though to bring in Jonny Evans and Sahko; too old and too coke-addled, respectively. van Aanholt and Bertrand are up there in age too, we can’t be looking at players in their late 20’s anymore, that’s a dead end if you’re trying to build a sustainable squad.

      Pickings are slim at the bottom. That’s why they’re at the bottom.

      Let’s be honest; Mislintat is not scouting the English leagues. He’s going to start pulling out kids playing on the continent.

  17. Best of luck to your young player at Stoke! (But not best of luck to Stoke.)

  18. Wales in the 2018 world cup was a DNQ, so no summer shop window for Ramsey, JB.

    But regardless, why would we sell our best central midfielder, even for a big fee? Ramsey is an ever-present when he is fit, rightly so. His offensive skillset is shared by only handful of EPL central midfielders, of whom KDB is the best. We don’t see even Paul Pogba — a player I’m crazy about and for whom the best is yet to come — offer that kind of productivity. He is so important to Arsenal, that the question should be who can best complement him in a central park duo.

    I like Xhaka, as a bloke and as a player, but I don’t think he’s that guy. Xhaka has the long range passing (and for me, he and Ozil have the sweetest left pegs since Van Persie) and will get you at least 5 goals a season from distance. He DOES add value. But he and Ramsey are not hand and glove.

    Solution? I’d let Wilshere go, and spend big on a Fabinho-type player. Even Nzonzi would work for me. He’s be the primary accompaniment to Ramsey. Everyone would get games since Ramsey will never fully recover from his broken leg, and Granit would have to get used to being rotated. A midfield of Ramsey, Fabinho (dream on), Elneny, Xhaka and AMN covers most eventualities.

    I think that it’s too soon to write off Holding. His problem looks like a lack of proper coaching. Mustafi has one big mistake in him every other game, but he does offer much as a squad option. We need a Van Dijkian level signing there.

    Petr has got to be replaced, and Ospina is on his way out. I think we can put off left back for another year. Right back needs attention. If we lose Bellerin to a big injury, we’re up the creek.

  19. Great Juve performance so far but M. Oliver has been the best performer on the night.
    Hasn’t put a foot wrong yet.

  20. Real and Juve are two of the most flopping and diving clubs in the game.
    What decisions do you think Oliver got wrong?

    1. a) I think it was wrong to award a penalty for such a soft challenge.

      b) I think it was wrong to send off Buffon.

  21. We can disagree on your first point and that doesn’t make you wrong or me right, but you can’t say with any certainty the sending off was unjustified unless you know for sure what might’ve been said in the heat of the moment.

    1. Sure.

      I guess it felt just a little bit Arsenal v Barca 2006 to me (not the foul, but the spirit of it all). Ok, yes, Eto’o wins a penalty, but for the good of the game, just show Jens a yellow card, and then we still have a contest. No need for that red card, and most refs would have given a yellow.

      Then again, maybe I’m just bitter that Juve lost it to a last-minute decision. I can’t stand Real Madrid and their preening egomaniac. I’d even cheer for Liverpool if they were to meet Madrid in the semifinals.

      1. Your feelings mirror mine to a tee as far as the dislike for the RM and Ronaldo are concerned.

  22. Aaron Ramsey goes down theatrically under minimal contact to win a last minute pen against Burnley and every Arsenal fan sees a clear two handed push in the back for a stone cold spot kick, but in this case apparently there wasn’t enough Newtons of force on the two handed push from the back , even if you choose to ignore the wrap around kick to the Madrid player’s chest.

    1. Well, putting aside for the moment the reality that as fans we’re all fine with penalties except when they go against the team we support (and I was obviously supporting Juventus…and my hero Buffon!), I would say that the occasion does merit some leeway. That kind of push does and doesn’t get awarded by referees, and you think about this game and its importance, the fact that it was going to decide the outcome of a Champions League QF, and I think you let it go. That’s why I think back to our 2006 final and the red card. As for the Burnley game, yeah, I’m grateful for the penalty, but it’s Burnley, in a competition that is a foregone conclusion for both us and Burnley.

      This comment isn’t meant to be logically or ethically tight, you understand. It’s just that the ref could have let that go without too much controversy, as we’ve seen it left before, and in a game of this magnitude, I would have at least thought he could leave Buffon on the pitch as the penalty is punishment enough.

      1. Agree Bun. That call, given the circumstance was a very soft penalty. As much as it pains me to say, I thought Oliver had a decent game to that point. The peacock could have seen at least 2, maybe 3 yellows for diving. Others as well. Then he goes and calls a pen that, I’d be willing to bet would be waived off by more than half the refs out there. That game deserved to be decided on the field not by another controversial call by a controversial ref. What a shame.

        I think it actually goes deeper than that. Michael Oliver knew he could twist the knife in Arsenal fans by making a call that would result in a questionable pen, riling up Buffon enough to show red knowing Szcz would be subbed in and the most hated man in football (at least by me, outside the EPL) would beat a former Gunner for the win. Damn Michael Oliver.

      2. I think it was a clear penalty. Maybe not so much in England, where they tend to overlook physical contact as long as ‘he won the ball’. The occasion shouldn’t come into it. I’m not one to praise refs, as you know, especially English ones, but I think he made the right call. Maybe it took less courage because it was at the Bernabeu, and Uefa would likely want one of the Spanish giants to go through. But it was the right call.

        I wanted Juve to beat Madrid. They played a wonderful game, but lost concentration right at the end to allow that situation to develop. I hope Buffon decides to play for one more year. What a terrible way for it to end with the CL and Italy not qualifying for the World Cup. Though a 7th league title in a row will help I’m sure.

        1. The stature of that game demands you don’t allow it to turn on a soft penalty decision. Lucas Vazquez is on his way down as soon as he feels contact with Benatia. Even before Benatia hooks his leg round. Purely for the hint of simulation I wouldn’t give that penalty.

          Sending Buffon off, the captain who has a right to speak to the ref, just underlines how the Oliver let the moment get to him. Don’t give a last minute pen and act shocked when players react. Stay calm and handle the moment. The ref who did the Liv-City game was much more authoritative even though there were a couple bad (but very difficult) calls in that game.

          And those calls mostly went against City. So it’s fine. Poetic in fact. They gamed the system by spending like Croesus so bad calls going against them are just the football gods having a cheeky laugh at their expense.

          I was a big fan of Ox so I’m looking forward to seeing him feature in a CL semi-final while the fans who’ve been trolling him for really dumb reasons cry into their soup.

          1. I think Buffon got the red card because he grabbed at Oliver.

            I can see why the pen seems ‘soft’, but I still think it was a foul. Unfortunate. But the right call.

            I don’t agree with the football gods bit. Correct decisions need to be made. On the field, and with FFP off it. It’s only ‘justice’ in a cathartic sense. It’s actually just chaos.

            And that catharsis is what you want to deny Arsenal fans who would mock the Ox. I like the Ox by the way, and I think he’s a good player who was, and still is, inconsistent. But he’ll improve with experience.

          2. Mehdi Benatia actually admitted he pushed Vazquez slightly from behind but said “I hoped he’d stay on his feet”. So fair play to him, he knows how the game works. But Vazquez is also notorious in La Liga for “winning” free-kicks. If Vazquez had been trying to score, I would have sided with the ref. But his only plan was to feel contact and collapse.

            Not sure what you mean by denying people catharsis. Arsene Wenger starting Ox at Anfield was one of the stupidest decisions I’ve ever seen an experienced manager make. All over Europe players who were on the verge of transfers were left on the bench with the close of the transfer window just days away.

            Ask the average Arsenal fan about that humiliation at Anfield and they’ll probably talk about Ox, instead of the other 7 or 8 terrible performances or the fact that once again, Wenger failed to close his transfer business early enough.

            Liverpool fans understand he’s not some football genius. But he has an absurd range of abilities and came up with huge contributions in both ties against City (just like he did for us against City in the FA Cup semi-final). We laughed at how much money we got for him but if it was us who’d bought a £40m player, we’d say the first-leg goal alone was worth the fee. He deserves a little redemption.

  23. No Xhaka tomorrow due to illness. Hoo boy. Right now Jack’s form has me nervous . Bring on El-Neny I say.

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