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10.7.17
Arsenal need to buy defenders and goalies, not more speedy skill goblins.

The £75 million Manchester United have splashed on Romelu Lukaku, makes the £46.5 million Arsenal have spent on Alexandre Lacazette seem quite conservative, but when Everton are buying a 23 year old keeper for £30 million, then all bets are off in the value for money stakes. What is more of an issue for managers in the summer window, apart from shaking off the jet lag acquired on massive long haul flights to the far east, is making sure their squads are balanced.

Over the years, Wenger has prioritised attacking players, often wide men and "ball playing" midfielders. As a result, the squad has a surfeit of 5"8 super-passers, who can do three trillion keepy-uppies, but can't defend free kicks and corners. Lacazette is a good player, and might become a very good player, but if the pre-season squad selection means anything at all, it seems that the club is reluctant to sell Giroud and Walcott. It seems fairly likely that Perez is going to be shipped back to Spain (shame that - he was never given a chance), Ozil will stay, mainly because no-one wants to buy him, Sanchez will go if we can convince a foreign club to buy him.



So all in all, one out - one in, with Sanchez's position unclear. However, don't believe Wenger when he says he won't sell to a rival, he's still managing Kroenke's cash like it was his own, so if Sanchez digs his heels in for a move to City, we'll take their £80 million before you can say "financial fair play doesn't mean jack shite anymore". If Sanchez goes, we should go back into the market to buy Lemar or Mahrez, but the fact that we're pursuing the former so actively is an indicator of how confident the club is about the Chilean staying. By the way, I'd also nominate Demarai Gray from Leicester as a target, he's a cracking talent.

Lee Dixon was saying at the end of last season that the club should strengthen it's back line as a priority. I fully agree, I was very impressed with the signing Saed Kolisinac, who seems exactly what Arsenal need, a tough, hard tackling defender, who can also play in a three or a four man defence (like Monreal). This is why we need to buy at least another defender, put simply, we now play with three centre halves, therefore we need more cover and quality. 

Holding has been a great addition, Calum Chambers who played very well in the under-21 championships, looks like he can come back from Boro and do a job, but we only have one stand out centre back: Koscielny. I have kittens every time Gabriel is on the pitch and he seems to have the same effect on the other Arsenal players playing with him and I'm not 100% on Mustafi either. At the moment, our best back three is Koscielny, Monreal and Holding. Our inability to qualify for the Champions League and our involvement in the Europa League dictates a busy season ahead. One thing you can always predict at Arsenal is injuries, so Wenger needs to buy at least one centre back, I like the look of Ben Gibson at Boro, or Ben Mee at Burnley.



Another weakness is still our complete lack of a high quality defensive player. Xhaka, despite his physical build, is not that type of player, so we have Coquelin. Nothing against him, but he's Europa league calibre. One of the most boring brickbats you get thrown at you as an Arsenal supporter is the accusation that "you've never replaced Vieira". Of course we flipping haven't, he's almost unreplaceable. Besides, current refereeing sensibilities render that type of combative midfielder redundant. Playing now, Patrick would spend months on the sidelines these days. Far more preferable, is a footballer who marks and controls space in a deeper position, acting as a screen for the defence. I like the look of Adrien Silva from Sporting Club, he'd fit our style perfectly.

The other glaring item on the AFC shopping list has to be a first class goalkeeper. Petr Cech is still a top keeper, but he can't go on forever, Ospina wants out, Martinez is okay, but the club needs to focus on backfilling that role. Joe Hart anyone?

By Ian Byrne
















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27.4.17
Wenger - Three at the back against Tottenham

Arsenal were lucky to beat Leicester City last night, an own goal on 86 minutes from Robert Huth separating the teams. Arsenal enjoyed 70% possession and created five shots on target, Leicester managed three with 30%. Not good.

The manager started with three at the back but made two changes to the team, I understand that Oxlade-Chamberlaine needed some protection from a slight injury sustained on Sunday, but I can't see why Rob Holding deserved to be dropped, he was excellent against City. I've always felt that the one element of the team that should be spared rotation is the defence. Gabriel played quite well again, Koscielny is easily our best defender and Holding has complemented the pair well, admittedly, the away game at 'Boro was shaky, but the three looked resolute against City and by the end of the match, almost assured.

I would hope that Wenger sticks with this formation. One immediate benefit has been that the team has had to learn and adapt to a new system and therefore, they have had to analyse why and where the previous configuration wasn't working. With four at the back and two so called holding players (they aren't), our full backs don't demonstrate sufficient discipline to keep a working shape. With three at the back, straight away there's cover for the wing backs and both Monreal and Oxlade have adapted well looked very good. Therefore the decision to move Monreal back and bring in Gibbs (nothing against Kieran he's a top player) was puzzling.

We rode our luck against City in the first half, they had a perfectly good goal disallowed just before half time and if they'd gone in on 45 minutes a goal up who knows what might have happened. Nevertheless, they didn't and we improved markedly after going a goal down early in the 2nd half. I remember being at Wembley 24 years ago when we were outplayed by a good Tottenham side (Arsenal were short in midfield that day), for most of the game, but nicked the game 1-0, it's also a nice opportunity to post this picture of Tony Adams. It's true that Arsenal have a good track record at Wembley, but the game against Chelsea will be very tough. Fortunately, we can forget about that for the time being, the league is our immediate concern.



The away game on Sunday is going to be very difficult. Tottenham are bang on song at the moment and look very likely to score, and this is why I would have definitely stuck with the same back five to build consistency. You have to ask the question how many Arsenal players would get into the current Spurs side and I can't get past two or three and I'm being charitable. If we keep Kane quiet then they can open the game through Ali, Son or Eriksen, and they have two genuine defensive midfield players who win the ball and break up play, a very reliable back four and a quality keeper, on paper we're toast. Still, luckily the game is played on (almost) grass as they say.

I think Arsenal should take a leaf out of the George Graham book on Sunday. Go for a point, play three at the back, play two defensive midfield players, or the closest we have, drop Ozil and Walcott shouldn't even be on the bench. Play Welbeck, Sanchez and Giroud. 

Giroud is actually our best defender from set pieces and they are going to get a lot of corners and free kicks. Danny missed a few good chances on Sunday, but, he caused all sorts of problems, he's quick and strong and he'll create space. Above all, Arsenal need to play deeper, make Tottenham try and get through seven footballers, let's do to them what the bulk of teams do to us at the Emirates, make it difficult, frustrate and nick it on the break.

By Ian Byrne














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20.3.17
Moving the deckchairs on the Titanic - Wenger stays.

Tony Pulis let the Wenger sized cat out of the bag on Saturday afternoon, the Arsenal manager confirmed to him that he had signed on for a further term at the helm of the good ship Arsenal Football Club. Sadly, this particular crate is holed beneath the plimsoll line and is taking on water at an alarming rate.

The Arsenal manager is a peculiar character, in that his intelligence is matched only by his arrogance and stubbornness. An Alsatian King Canute, he believes implicitly that he alone has the plan to revitalise the club and make it genuinely competitive once more, despite specific and blindingly clear evidence to the contrary. I actually turned off at half time in the West Brom game on Saturday, we were spineless and clueless. This should have been a great opportunity for Welbeck and Walcott to show England what they were missing by not picking them for the two matches this week, Oxlade Chamberlaine was handed his favoured position and provided little. Xhaka and Ramsey played like they'd just been introduced to each other in the tunnel, much of the passing was rank and Arsenal got what they deserved, nothing. Two shots on target in 90 minutes?

The Baggies, on the other hand were disciplined and scored two identical goals from corners - two! Look at the photo beneath, there are two West Brom players virtually on top of Craig Dawson, and not a single Arsenal player within five feet of him, let alone contesting for the header. That's not schoolboy defending, that's an insult to schoolboy football. This particularly galling to supporters of a certain vintage (like me....) who grew up with centre halves like Peter Simpson, Terry Mancini, Tony Adams and Steve Bould.



Steve Bould is an Arsenal legend, but in crisis times, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I've mentioned this before, and it may not be popular with Arsenal supporters, but one of Alex Ferguson's greatest strengths was his willingness to shuffle his coaching pack. Over the years he worked with Archie Knox, Brian Kidd, Steve McLaren, Jimmy Ryan, Carlos Querioz and Mike Phelan. Although outwardly he was famously combative, Ferguson actively sought and encouraged advice from all quarters. This was a quality also famously attributed to Herbert Chapman, it was said of Chapman that he would listen to a ball boy if he had something to say. Look at Guardiola's bench, he has specialist coaches for defence, midfield (Arteta indeed) and forward players.

Wenger has been at the Arsenal for over 20 years. His front line coaching staff has been Primorac and Rice and then Primorac and Bould. It's stale, it isn't working. In the first seasons after Wenger's arrival, the excellence of the defensive players he inherited, the shrewd purchases he made and the innovations he introduced, gave Arsenal significant marginal gains in English football. That ship sailed a long time ago, of course he should do the decent thing and walk away, whilst offering to assist in the search for his successor, but he won't. The fact of the matter is that the arrogance that runs through his DNA like writing in a stick of rock, convinces him that he is the only one who can save us.

The only way forward is for Wenger to recruit some new coaching ideas onto his staff, sadly, I don't think he will. Compare and contrast the way Chelsea are set up and play to Arsenal, look at the ways in which Mourinho is prepared to change his formations and look at the conditioning work that Tottenham's squad is putting in. Wenger might drop Monreal for Gibbs, or play Giroud up front instead of sulky Sanchez but that's the limit of his thinking.


So, we have another year (at least) of the blinkered one, further proof, if needed, that as far as the Arsenal board are concerned, turkeys do vote for Christmas.

By Ian Byrne
















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17.3.17
In Praise of Danny Welbeck - Pick Him - Play Him

My eight year old, Joe, badgered me to write this, but he was pushing a bit of an open door in truth. I'm a big fan of the 26 year old Mancunian and I'm convinced that Arsenal are a better team when he's playing.

I've heard very positive stories, anecdotal admittedly, about the excellent way Danny handles himself around the club. In contrast with the behaviour of some of our other high profile players (two in particular), Danny is polite, respectful, and concerned about the lower profile employees at Arsenal; cleaners, cooks, ground staff etc.. That counts a lot, because more than ever, footballers are role models for young people and the fact that Danny is always good natured despite the fact that he's suffered horrendous injury problems at Arsenal is indicative of his personal qualities.

The injury issue is obviously the elephant in the room, so let's address it. Danny has suffered from a series of knee problems since his arrival on September 2nd 2014. Prior to this he had experienced some concerns, but his lack of game time but was more due to competition for places. In his time at Manchester United he missed 27 games either at United or on loan at Sunderland. Since 2014/2015 season he has missed 79 games in an Arsenal shirt. It seems that every time he comes back he looks great and then that knee gives in again, the crux of the most recent lay off was damage to the hyaline cartilage. The club's medical team are confident that they have addressed and corrected the core problem, so we can only hope that this is the case.

However, rather than criticise a player for a weakness in one part of his body, I prefer to praise Danny for the courage and tenacity he has displayed each time has suffered a setback. Saying it's "frustrating" doesn't get anywhere near the truth, it must be devastating for a young man who knows that his career may only last until his early 30's. However, Danny is only 26, with his best years definitely ahead of him, and that's one of the reasons why Arsenal should seek to utilise his skills and ability. He has time on his side to be an Arsenal legend.



Danny Welbeck is an unusual footballer, in that his mixture of strength, power and pace, enables him to play in any position across a front three, two, or as a sole striker. He has his critics, I wouldn't describe Danny as a graceful player, his first touch can be a tad sharp, but his qualities have made him an automatic selection for his country. He has 34 caps and has scored 14 goals (2.4 per game), that's an excellent return from someone who has usually started in a wide position.

Two further positive aspects to Danny Welbeck are his fantastic will to win, like it or not, they teach that to young players at Manchester United, the other is his ability to complement the work of those around him. He knows how to link play, he reads the game well and has an implicit understanding of where he needs to be on the pitch at certain times. Again, this is unusual in a relatively young man, but look at the goal he scored last season against Leicester City. Danny knew that this was the last scoring opportunity of an excellent game and strained every fibre to get on the header which won the match.

Since his most recent, and again interrupted return, he looked exceptional in the FA Cup against Southampton and scored the only goal at Anfield, a finish of real dexterity. We are a better, more dangerous attacking force when Danny Welbeck starts for Arsenal. Pick him, play him.

By Ian Byrne













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14.3.17
Can Arsenal reach the FA Cup Final? Maybe.

First things first, thank heavens we avoided Chelsea and Tottenham in the semi final draw. At the moment Chelsea look unplayable and I don't think Arsenal's current form would lead supporters to relish a North London derby in the semi final on the 22nd April. Let's face it, our recent form has been rubbish, we've beaten three teams, two of whom don't play in the football league and Hull City, with a disputed handball goal and a spot kick. We were hammered 10-2 over two legs by Bayern and didn't contest at all in matches at the Bridge and Anfield.

However, as is often the case, we've been lucky. We play City on April 2nd in the league at home and therefore have an opportunity to assess how we might line up against them at Wembley. Also, we do have a chance, less than 50/50 maybe, but a chance nevertheless, to beat the northern lottery winners. Why? Well they play open football and for whole sections of matches, simply refuse to defend, they are just like Arsenal, just better financed and just, well, better.



Apparently, the scan on Harry Kane's ankle is booked for tomorrow with the results within 24 hours. With or without Kane, if we played the Spuds this afternoon, they would beat us. Chelsea could and would knock 3 past us, we're that poor at the moment. So apart from drawing City why are we lucky? In a classic supporter's case of clutching at straws, what we have in our locker is the time to get things back on track. Arsenal's next opponents are:

18th March - WBA - Away
2nd April    - City    - Home
5th April     - West Ham - Home
10th April   - Palace - Away
17th April   - Boro - Away

Admittedly, the two away fixtures are against teams right in the relegation mixer and managed in one case by sometime "nemesis", "Fat Sam". Still these matches offer the opportunity for our esteemed manager to settle on a line up and formation that can get us across the line. There are no Champions league games to complicate planning, we average a game a week, whereas City on the other hand could be heading for a bit of a fixture pile up.

If the Citizens get past Monaco this week, which is eminently possible, they will have to factor in a Champions league quarter final first leg on either April 11th or 12th, with the return leg on the 18th or 19th of April, potentially less than three days before playing Arsenal on Saturday 22nd, this second leg, could also be (of course) away from home.

Therefore, eight matches as opposed to our five, including league fixtures against Liverpool and away at Chelsea. See what I mean? Lucky Arsenal. So my advice, is get in front of the box tomorrow night and cheer on the lads from Manchester, a win might be crucial for the Arsenal.

By Ian Byrne















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6.2.17
Wenger's finished - Step forward Marco Silva?

Let's face it, when ultra loyal old guards like Ian Wright and Martin Keown start shrugging their shoulders rather than defend their old gaffer, the writing is on the wall.

I didn't expect Arsenal to get much out of the away game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but the teams inability to beat a sturdy, well organised Watford side at home was far worse. Watford are well managed and competitive, but highly beatable for a team with the depth and breadth of 2017 Arsenal.

Ken Early, writing in the Irish Times, sums up the Wenger dichotomy with far more elan and panache than I can summon: http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/soccer/ken-early-wenger-s-troubles-at-emirates-reminiscent-of-brexit-1.2964734, but this is a manager who was telling club supporters, days after beating Southampton's 2nd string 5-0, that this current squad was not the equal of, but better than the Invincibles.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Hull City grab a point at The Emirates on Saturday lunchtime and were that to happen, the clamour for a change at the top may just permeate the inner sanctum of the director's lounge. Apparently, there is a two year extension on the table for Wenger who has gone on record as saying that he would walk away if the team performance was beneath his exacting standards.



Are these the exacting standards that allow the board to reward the manager for coming fourth, because fourth is a trophy? If that is the case, Wenger's pen may as well be hovering over the dotted line today, as only by his own measure, does he continue to make the grade. Therefore, unless pushed, the Frenchman is not for turning.

This prompts three questions. When, what and who? When does the board make the decision to replace Wenger (they have to, as he won't walk)? What are the terms and critically the timing of the replacement? Most important of course - who do Arsenal appoint?

There is every chance of course, that none of the above will happen, but just because the odious owner, Kroenke, is perfectly happy with excellent match receipts, huge cash piles in the bank and continuous Champions League football qualification, it doesn't alter the fact that a change is required and every day becomes more overdue.

Firstly, Wenger shouldn't be sacked, although things have been allowed to go stale, his contribution to Arsenal has been huge and deserves respect. He should be allowed to see out the current contract, but he must not be involved in choosing his replacement. The decision needs to be made sooner rather than later, which gives the CEO as much time as possible to approach and appoint the right man for the job.

There has been some interesting paper talk connecting Juve boss, Max Allegri to Arsenal. I don't buy it. Frankly, years of under investment in the playing squad (with two notable exceptions) have led to an under performance on the pitch, which places London's biggest club well behind Italy's biggest club in the European pecking order. Allegri may well be interested in the riches of the premier league but is likely to pass on a club that stubbornly sits on £200 million every season, "led" by an absent and complacent owner.

Wenger is 67 years old. Guardiola - 46, Klopp is 49, Mourinho - 54. One of the factors that kept Alex Ferguson at the peak of his powers, was his willingness to shuffle his coaching pack and despite appearances to the contrary, actively sought and encouraged questions and challenges to the status quo. Wenger does not do this and never has.

A new Arsenal manager, needs to be young enough to understand modern tactics, the phasing of pressing and counter-attacking football, diet, training regimes, player and competitor analysis, data analytics. But in taking the job of Arsenal manager, they must see it as a personal step up and a massive opportunity. I'm sure that the board will look to existing Champions League experience as a factor on a candidate's CV, but I wouldn't insist on it if other qualities outweighed this.



I've seen a few Arsenal bloggers covet Thomas Tuchel with good reason, great coach, but you would have to question whether he would leave Dortmund for Arsenal.

Which leads me to a suggestion. Our solution may well be pacing around the technical area at Arsenal on Saturday. A 39 year old Portuguese, citizen of Lisbon with a 56% win record, despite three of the four clubs he's managed being behind the curve in terms of size and/or investment. He's currently getting more than a good tune out of Hull City, despite the owners choosing to sell their two best players. He's unified the team, selected a playing style which fits the group and that they can get behind and beaten Manchester United for the first time in over 40 years.

Of course, he wouldn't be a fashionable choice, but neither was Wenger and for the first six years at Arsenal, he was, let's face it, fantastic. I see in Silva, similarities with Pochettinho and of course, Mourinho. Would Arsenal go for him? First things first, someone needs to tell the current manager that the clock has run out.

By Ian Byrne











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28.11.16
Arsenal - Time to try three at the back?

Losing Hector Bellerin has had a significant impact on Arsenal's dynamism and attacking play. The young Spaniard has quickly cemented the right full back berth as his own, elbowing aside Mathieu Debuchy, a full French international with 27 caps, although he is just 21 years old.

Although young Hector is returning to light training, in Arsenal terms this could mean his return could be days or weeks away. Given the availability of two excellent centre halves in Kosielny and Mustafi, augmented by the erratic, but talented Gabriel, is it time for Mr Wenger to try playing three centre backs? I believe that a switch to this approach can reap genuine benefits to the team, especially when Bellerin returns.



Antonio Conte's return to his preferred defensive formation has seen Chelsea flourish, in fact they are yet to lose a point since moving to three at the back. Ironically, it was the 3-0 drubbing handed to the West London by Arsenal that convinced Conte to switch and since then they have won seven league matches on the bounce, conceding a single goal.

Conte used the system throughout his tenure at Juventus and as national coach of Italy. He was able to do this as he was blessed to have three centre halves in Barzagli, Chiellini and Bonucci, that provided an immensely solid platform, understanding implicitly that their primary function is to defend. The three at the back system also propelled a talented, resourceful Welsh team to the semi finals of the Euros, Chris Coleman exploiting the balance of his team to pack midfield whilst also being able to play two up front.

The critical hinge on which the system succeeds or fails, is the availability of fast wing backs, preferably natural full backs, but the system also opens up the possibility of playing wide players with defensive nous. Bellerin is certainly in that category, Monreal can play the role and it would definitely play to Kieran Gibbs' strengths. The other direct benefit is that the manager can play two forwards with a number 10 playing directly behind and in a central position. Therefore, when fit, Arsenal could play Sanchez, Giroud and Ozil. Furthermore, you can also play with one or two holding midfielders, Arsenal's first eleven could line up as follows:

Cech: Koscielny, Mustafi, Gabriel: Bellerin, Xhaka, Cazorla, Ozil, Monreal: Sanchez, Giroud.

Arsenal have used the system before, in the utter delirium of May 26th 1989, it is often overlooked that George Graham used all three of his centre halves, admittedly in more of a back five!



By Ian Byrne


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6.9.16
Wenger Bottles his Last Chance - Timidity in the market to cost Arsenal dear

Brian Clough famously said that: "Every player is available - for the right price". Clough regularly infuriated chairmen at Derby County, Leeds and Forest, by signing footballers for prices deemed over the odds, but justified this because the players he bought would often fundamentally improve the quality of his squad. When he signed Dave McKay then aged 32, McKay's £16,000 a year salary, was the highest in all four football leagues, at this point Derby County were 18th in the old division 2. That's risk taking for you.

Arsene Wenger has re-written the rule book at Arsenal. Initially in a constructive, positive manner through the introduction of new training techniques, scouting new territories, diet etc... Latterly however, it is clear that the internal constitution that governs Arsenal as of 2016, has one principle architect, author and guardian. The club is made in Wenger's image and no manager in history, has enjoyed the exclusive control he does. He has a supplicant board and an indulgent owner, content to allow the Frenchman free reign, as long as the key financial criteria that define the club's ambitions are met. 

What puzzles me, is why this all powerful polyglot, and self absorbed leader, is so willing to abide by the rules laid down by others is the transfer market. One of the more irritating quotes in the Wenger self-justification canon is "we didn't know that he was available". Every transfer window, Wenger and his team under-perform in the market, as whereas other clubs target the very best, players who are the most prized members or teams and squads, Arsenal target the "available". 

Although the summer window has concluded in a broadly satisfactory manner, you can't help think that this is a chance missed.

The summer started brightly and early, Granit Xhaka signing for £35 million in May was a positive declaration of intent, especially as our sharpest competitors often conclude their transfer business swiftly. Xhaka gives Arsenal more midfield presence, he likes a tackle and is combative with controlled aggression and a fine passer of the ball. Furthermore, he looked a player in the Euros, an effective demonstration of his value to the club.



After this however, an activity vacuum. Rob Holding was recruited on July 22nd. Holding was obviously "one for the future", but has ended up playing all three games of the season so far. I like him and I have a funny feeling that he may, ultimately, be the best Arsenal signing of 2016, but he was on loan at Bury last season. For a good while it seemed that these two (I've purposefully discounted the other two fringe signings), would be the totality of Arsenal's business.

Over a month later and right at the end of the window, Arsenal added Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, for £36 million and £17 million respectively. I do feel that Mustafi is the type of pedigree centre half we needed to sign but, and I hope I'm wrong, does a £17 million outlay for a striker engender a feeling of confidence? Again, we can wait and see, but the biggest hole in the Arsenal first 11 last season, was a 20+ goal striker.



Arsenal did spend over £90 million - well done, 6 out of 10, but both the Manchester clubs spent double this amount, Chelsea invested £140 million, for most of the window, Arsenal lagged £5 million behind Watford in money spent. This might be Wenger's last season and as such you might have suspected he would be tempted to aggressively pursue a centre forward that would fundamentally change Arsenal's prospects for the new season. We offer Champions League football, we are based in one of Europe's greatest and most cosmopolitan cities, we have lorry loads of cash in the bank - £17 million for an uncapped 27 year old from Deportivo who has been on the list for months? 

Another opportunity spurned, I fear that our title rivals may be over the hill by Christmas.



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