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Stoke City vs Arsenal FC; Three Wins on the Trot


The victory against Stoke brings us to three definitive wins in a row. It is reasonable to claim that we disposed of the opposition in all three matches. This occurred, mind you, amid the notorious November form and the news that Santi Cazorla would be undergoing surgery. Against the odds, our squad is coming together in a mixture of lineups and gaining confidence throughout!

It would be difficult to describe the wins against West Ham and FC Basel as anything less than dominant. A hat-trick in each for Alexis Sanchez and Lucas Perez, respectively, allowed the squad to flex their muscles and really focus on the formation. It is amazing how well the team has handled almost constant rotation for form and fitness. It makes us wonder, why didn’t Arsene Wenger try to carry what he feels is a “large squad” sooner?

Stoke City came on strong this weekend, but I was only watching the arsenal by the second half. By this, I mean that we were playing our football around their team without having to alter our tactics to keep them out. One could argue that we’ve been weak in keeping clean sheets, but I stand true to the opinion that the Allen penalty was soft at best. It was great to see Bellerin back, although it was a result of unfortunate circumstances. In Wenger’s post-match interview, he said that it Mustafi has a significant hamstring pull and that we will be seeing the likes of Gabriel and Holding in weeks to come.

The true highlight of the match for me was seeing Ozil talking and leading by example. He has realized his ability to drive the team forward and his responsibility to inspire with his talent. The quality of Ozil’s goal may go unnoticed because it was performed without power. The anticipation on the run left him free, his awareness allowed him to check the keeper, and his ability to dip his head and put it out of reach made the finish! The praise may be coming off as too strong, but this goal was the icing on the cake after coming off an excellent week.

The Arsenal players look to be enjoying themselves, even with the uncertainty over contacts for Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. It’s a belief that we haven’t seen in years, which appears to be a result of having quality in depth. Theo Walcott confirmed this in his interview from the weekend, saying that the team is different and stronger than seasons past. We need to continue to build on this form in both, the Champion’s League and the Premier League!

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  • Focus on the Details


    By now, you’ve already read a minimum of three blogs on last weekend’s match and have been watching the highlights on a continuous loop. The win over Chelsea was jaw-dropping, inspiring, confidence-boosting, brilliant, and downright deserved. This is the way that we know the team should be playing and the way that Wenger should be utilizing adaptive tactics! I found myself jumping around the living room in relief and excitement, holding in screams and nearly passing out due to jet-lag from my recent trip to London. I wanted to note some of the specific decisions that not only put us in the lead but allowed us to accelerate away throughout the match.

    I have mentioned in an earlier post that Sanchez’s new position was a tactical decision by Wenger to get a multi-purpose striker who can attack on the break, work defensively from the front of the pitch, and pull defenders wide to open up a path to goal for our number ten. We have been seeing glimpses in each match, and this was an accumulation of Alexi pulling those strategic aspects together. With the positional sense clicking, the linkup with Ozil on the goal and continuous play throughout the match was effortless.

    At the other end of the pitch, there has been plenty of coverage of Bellerin’s incredible ascendancy in talent and Cech’s heroic efforts to deliver a clean sheet. One of the most important improvements to take from this match is the communication and play between Koscielny and Mustafi. There are still some details to iron out, but they were covering for each other at almost every misstep and look like a dominant pairing. This season, more than most with the new attacking focused talent and rules, we need a defined, fluid, and experienced center-back partnership.

    Low-Profile Tactics and Squad Depth

    Walcott has reclaimed his position on the right wing, whether by interviews or performances and appears to be following in the footsteps of Alexis in terms of work rate. One of the most important substitutions that I saw over the weekend was Gibbs being subbed on for Iwobi. He learned his trade as a left-sided defender with the skills of a midfielder. One could even argue that he is more advanced along the eventual path of Bellerin. This was one of the most excellent bits of tactics to seal up the match and keep us tight. Iwobi’s excellent play helped us get ahead, but gaps were starting to appear behind him that left Monreal exposed. Gibbs has great footwork and crossing ability as a midfielder, but he is instinctually better at covering Monreal. I would like to see this substitution more often toward the end of matches, and I feel that Gibbs might have better luck with injuries playing in an attacking role.

    Coquelin was solid and put to bed any lingering comparisons between himself and Kante. His injury is concerning but early reports are claiming no tear or surgery, and Xhaka is not a bad understudy! I, unlike most, have not been clambering for Xhaka to start certain matches solely because of his price-tag and his recent arrival. I mention in a previous post that he would need some time to adjust to the soft refereeing of the Premier League.

    The squad depth that Arsenal has acquired this season is a huge advantage for form and avoiding injuries. I believe that Wenger is managing the rotation of players very well, considering that he admitted to preferring to “keep a small squad” previously. We missed Santi dearly lay spring and he has been amazing in his role of deep-lying playmaker. I was personally shocked at a couple misplaced passes against Chelsea, but he has been doing a huge service to the club in sitting deeper. The best part is that if he starts to show signs of or feel minor fatigue, we have options! Ramsey is making his return in a few weeks and we have quality options in midfield, such as Elneny and others. It’s tough to imagine a season with less injuries, which leads to the discussion on Wilshere’s loan, but my hope is that the new depth will make it seem that players are continually coming back at the right times.

    With contract talks on the horizon, I can’t see that Ozil and Sanchez would think twice about signing new deals if the club (choosing the word wisely here) keeps up its form. They both, I feel, love to be high-impact leaders on the pitch and of obvious importance to the team. There were stars all over the pitch for the Arsenal against Chelsea on Saturday. The manager made changes when necessary, and the players proved the quality that we knew they could have in a big match. The fans are on a high and the players have to build on this form through the rest of this busy period, starting with Basel and Burnley!

    @GoonerInCali
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    Arsenal’s New Era


    The ‘New Era’

    After a hectic summer transfer window and a record outlay on players we will look at the course of events that led to this moment dubbed the ‘new era’.

    Rewind all the way back to the start of the transfer window; unusually for Arsenal it seemed like their transfer business would be done early and decisively. Central midfielder Granit Xhaka was the first man through the door for a considerable fee and it appeared that Jamie Vardy would be the next player to arrive after his release clause was met.

    It looked promising, two problem positions appeared to have been solved early with only the central defensive position left to be filled by an experienced professional. However, this is where the issues that Arsenal fans are so accustomed to started. The Jamie Vardy deal stalled and eventually fell through. Indecisiveness by the Arsenal board resulted in more and more time passing with no notable signings in the positions that many Arsenal fans have been calling for, whilst close rivals strengthened significantly.

    Going into the new season Arsenal fans were worried and this was justified following the disappointing result in the opening game of the season against Liverpool. It was clear more bodies were needed. What made this more agonising for Arsenal fans was the constant promises of significant transfer funds in the bank that was ready to be spent on players, however, again Arsenal fans were in a position all too familiar approaching the final weeks of the transfer window often said to be the time panic buying occurs.

    Significant fan protest eventually led to swift action and the signings of Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi for more the £50m developed quickly.

    Finally, the financial muscle talked about all summer was flexed and took the summer outlay to a new record close to £100m.

    All the positions that the Arsenal fans have been wanting to be filled for a number of years has finally materialised and now Arsenal have a new spine which is often talked about as being crucial to any success.

    So was the summer window a success? On one hand, with the record outlay, Arsenal fans will be happy that all the problem positions were filled by notable players; however, the indecisiveness this summer was very unconvincing and until this stops are Arsenal really in a ‘new era’.

    Written by Milan Farhan

    Summer 2016 Transfers


    Yet again, we have been left foolishly hopeful that Wenger would’ve approached this summer transfer window with Drake’s advice to “play it dirty, not clean”. As I prepare to head to Los Angeles for the last preseason match of the Arsenal US tour, I realise that we as fans are in the familiar stasis of watching the club delay on signings with a short squad only two weeks left before the start of the Premier League season.

    It is the potential that is most frustrating to the supporters. Looking back on the lineups including the likes of Almunia and Eboue are a definitive reminder that the “project” truly has been reset after the disintegration prior. The two recent matches against RC Lens and the MLS All-Stars showed us two things; our youth and reserves are exciting, and that Debuchy is past it. Don’t get hung up on the latter. For the first time in a long time, we have very little dead load and a squad that needs only specific supplemental signings to be top-class.

    We’ve watched the rumors of signings come and go as they sign with their current club or others. Surely, this was the year that Arsene would break his traditions (even a little) and obtain the talent he needs to deliver the success that we need. Much like years prior and years to come, however, supporters are entering August disenfranchised and with exhausted fingers crossed that we will bring in even the second tier of prospects.

    I was lucky enough to see the preseason match in Los Angeles live, and Walcott’s performance against relatively weak opposition in the preseason matches has been less than stellar. Given the chance to play up top, the rest of the squad was left wanting when looking for a penetrating run or link-up play. One would expect him to go all out to prove his worth and naturally shine in these friendlies, but it was simply not the case. I will preface my next statement by saying that I do like Walcott and have supported him as a player and a representative of our club. On the back of this preseason, and previous seasons, I see no reason that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can not fill all gaps left by the loss of Theo.

    I have to give credit to an emerging leader and a truly consistent talent, Monreal. It has been apparent that he is a wonderful defender and top talent working up the wing. This preseason, he has shown himself to be constantly communicating, directing, and supporting the rest of the team while leading by example with his play! If we are counting our players for a “spine of leaders” or the proverbial “seven hard men” he is certainly in the mix and deserves the credit he has worked for.
    It’s not all doom and gloom. One of the most noticeable positives from the summer friendlies is the path of development between the sides that have been playing. Watch the replays for the change in tempo and precision after the older, more-experienced substitutes are brought on. There is a visible growth in the players as they progress from the youth side, to the reserves, to the subs, to the first team. All of our players and future prospects are talented, of course, but it is great that the club will directly benefit from effective internal development now and into the upcoming seasons. The likes of Jeff, Iwobi, Zelalem, Willock, Bielik, Holding, and Chambers have the promise to continue to impress.

    View the preseason post on GoonerInCali.com