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Reflecting on Arsenal’s Poor Start to the Season

I was at Abuja over the weekend and with nobody to hold the fort while I was gone, there were no blog posts but in my absence, the Gunners deemed it fit to drop two more points against Hull, taking their Premier League points tally to 11 points in eight games, which is also a whooping 11 points behind runaway leaders, Chelsea. This means that the Gunners are far away from a title challenge at this point, but they are just two points behind fourth-placed West Ham, since that’s where their ambition seems to be in recent times.

According to the stats boys, if Danny Welbeck hadn’t converted that late chance to make it 2-2, Arsenal would have had their worst ever start under Arsene Wenger. For a club of Arsenal’s stature, the start of the campaign has been simply unacceptable. The club started the summer pretty well, with the acquisitions of Alexis Sanchez, Matt Debuchy, Calum Chambers and David Ospina. However, Wenger’s the club’s failure to sign a holding midfielder and more importantly, a central defender, especially after the sale of Thomas Vermaelen to FC Barcelona, was a glaring error.

The Gunners played Hull last weekend with Nacho Monreal playing in an unorthodox center back position alongside Per Mertesacker and it was expected that there’d be some communication lapses as both players have never played together as a central defensive unit. Many Arsenal fans are aggrieved that the referee failed to blow his whistle when Mathieu Flamini was clearly impeded by Mohamed Diame but a ‘stronger and more bulky’ DM like let’s say, William Carvalho, would not allow himself to be bullied by a fellow DM. Then again, where the hell was Monreal in the build up to that goal? I’m sure a natural defender like Laurent Koscielny would have had the positional discipline to cover his tracks. These are the kinda mistakes having a proper DM and an extra central defender would have averted.

It’s quite unfortunate that Arsenal will have to make do with what they have till January to say the least, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger chooses to fold his arms again and watch the window pass by with any investment of any sort.

Arsenal’s overall defending this season has been downright shocking. For a team that had the joint-best defense in the Premier League last season, the Gunners have only managed one clean sheet in the Premier League which came at Villa Park. First, it was the schoolboy defending from set pieces early in the season and this was followed with lapses in concentration at key moments of some games. The players have been talking about how they want to improve things but we haven’t seen them replicate it on the pitch.

Another noteworthy concern this season has been the club’s niggling injury problems.

Aaron Ramsey lies on the ground after injuring himself in the north London derby

Arsenal’s injury situation has been well documented and it has become very tiring. The Gunners are already without Matt Debuchy (ankle), Olivier Giroud (foot), Yaya Sanogo (hamstring), Mikel Arteta (calf), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Mesut Ozil (knee) but there’s light at the end of the injury tunnel as Theo Walcott, Serge Gnabry and Abou Diaby are on their way to full fitness, with the three players getting some game time in Arsenal’s last Under-21 encounter with Blackburn Rovers. It’s really sad to see how many first team players are currently on the sidelines but the essence of having depth is to ensure that the team would have adequate cover in the worst injury crisis. While the Gunners are well stocked in midfield, the same cannot be said for the defense that’s thread bare at the moment.

Finally, I’m deeply concerned about Arsenal’s inability to kill off games and in most cases, the team has been settling for draws. In eight Premier League games, the Gunners have had five draws. The first League draw of the season was creditable as the Gunners came from two goals down to salvage a late draw against Everton. While the draw against Leicester City was frustrating, in all honesty, it could have gone either way. Arsenal’s third draw in a row came at home to Manchester City but it was a game that could have easily been lost following the visitor’s late attacking surge that saw Samir Nasri’s goal ruled offside as well as Edin Dzeko hitting the post.

Arsenal’s fourth draw of the Premier League campaign came in the North London Derby, a game that was actually there for the taking, and of course, Welbeck spared the Gunners’ blushes last weekend.

There are still some “winnable” games still to come in recent weeks, and we can only hope that the Gunners improve on their current form, because in all honesty, it has been dismal and downright disappointing.


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Who Would Partner Mertesacker Against Hull?

Koscielny is out with an Achilles tendon problem.

‘Laurent Koscielny will not be available. He has an Achilles problem, which has got worse. He finds it difficult to play with it at the moment. You can only trust what the players says, he does not feel ready to play and will not play on Saturday. No [he will not need surgery]. - Arsene Wenger

The international break hit the Gunners hard with Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky all missing out on their national team games due to injury concerns. With the game against Hull around the corner, Arsene Wenger will have to make do with the squad at his disposal and according to the Telegraph, the Gunners boss would be handed a transfer kitty to invest in the squad in the winter.

However, with the game against Hull, some parts of the squad would pick itself. In attack for instance, Wenger would be sweating on the fitness of Danny Welbeck that picked up a knock in the England vs. Estonia game. Yaya Sanogo is still out injured but the Gunners can deploy Alexis Sanchez through the middle, thereby handing a player like Lukas Podolski a chance from the left wing. The German is disgruntled with lack of game time and there are rumors that he may walk through the exit door in January. Arsenal’s midfield has also been hit hard by injuries but Wenger can still manage to get a couple of players that would do the business for him tomorrow against Hull. However, the main problem lies in the defense.

Wojciech Szczesny had a great game for Poland in midweek against Germany and I’d expect him to start ahead of David Ospina. With Matt Debuchy injured and Calum Chambers suspended, Hector Bellerin is odds on to get the nod at right back, except a certain versatile Francis Coquelin comes to the manager’s mind. The main dilemma would be finding a befitting partner for the stand-in captain, Per Mertesacker. The BFG stayed at home and watched as his compatriots struggled in the qualifiers, losing to Poland and drawing with Ireland but frankly, that’s none of our business. *sips Lipton*. He recently spoke about how he chose to retire from international football to prolong his career with Arsenal and that was a decision that went down well with everyone connected with the club.

But with Koscielny injured and the auxiliary center back, Calum Chambers, also out due to suspension, Arsene Wenger has only two plausible options to make in finding Mertesacker’s partner.

One option would be to give the promising youngster, Isaac Hayden, another chance to strut his stuff and with the prospect of playing a striker like Nikica Jelavic (four EPL goals this season), the lad will have to be on his toes. Hayden’s only performance this season came in the Capital One Cup third round defeat to Southampton and he acquainted himself well on the night, forging a good partnership with Chambers.

The youngster is very confident in his own abilities and with Wenger being a manager that is never afraid to hand a chance to youth, Hayden might have an extended run of games with the Gunners having relatively easy fixtures coming up. One can only hope that Koscielny would be able to recover for his Achilles injury just in time for the home clash against Manchester United next month.

The second option would be to play Nacho Monreal in the unorthodox center back position, something the boss experimented with in preseason. Arsene Wenger has even spoken about his intentions to field him in that position when the chance arises,

“He can do well as a center back because he is intelligent, because he has a good sense of interception, because he reads the game well and is a good passer.”

Monreal is clearly below Kieran Gibbs in the pecking order for the left back position and he hasn’t played much football this season. A combination of Gibbs’ good form and Monreal’s back problem has seen the Spaniard play only four games this season and I’m sure that he’d fancy a chance to get a run-out in the first team, albeit as a center back.

Irrespective of who Wenger chooses, Arsenal should have enough in the tank to defeat Hull.


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Another Chance for Bellerin: Will he Make the Best Use of it?

Well, I was hooked up at work till 8.15pm yesterday and I couldn’t watch Nigeria’s win against Sudan. I had to make do with some highlights and I must say that Ahmed Musa sure knows when to turn up. With South Africa sharing the spoils against Congo, Nigeria’s away clash against the Congolese on November 14 would be a do-or-die affair and that’s what football is all about. One minute it seems all hope is lost, another minute you’re doomed.

With the international fixtures out of the way, it’s time to focus to more important things like you know, watching Arsenal play. This season has began on a rather dismal note with the Gunners struggling to find their feet in the Premier League and despite the fact that they were ‘unbeaten’ till gameweek 7, the Gunners had won just two of their previous six league fixtures. As the season has been progressing, the Gunners have faced a lot of casualties and with Matt Debuchy out injured and his deputy, Calum Chambers, suspended Arsenal would have to summon the services of the young protege, Hector Bellerin, for the third time this season for the game against Hull.

Per Mertesacker has been quick to share his thoughts on the lad,

“He’s a good addition to our squad and he can take his chance with Mathieu injured and Calum suspended. He’s got some great chances and he has to take them now because you never know what will happen in football.

“It’s tough to establish yourself as a young player at Arsenal as a lot of the positions have two players in, so it’s hard for the youngsters to impress in regular games.

“I have to encourage them to speak to me even though I’m 30 and have a lot of international caps. They have to be brave and be themselves. He needs to talk as well and that’s what I demand from him. He listens a lot and he’s a good guy, which gives him a good chance to be a regular pro at Arsenal.”

Bellerin impressed me during the preseason campaign and I was eager to see what he had to offer this season. Having watched his games in the NextGen series, as well as a couple of times when he was away at Watford, I’d had very high hopes for the lad. He’s lightning quick, has good technique and he also has a good cross in him, but physically, I think he needs to bulk up a bit.

His first game this season was that torrid affair at the Signal Iduna Park but his outing against Southampton in the Capital One Cup third round was very impressive. He’s currently playing in a position that is relatively stocked, so he’d keep wait for injuries and suspensions to pave the way for him, which is more less the current situation.

I hope he’d fare better against a team in the Premier League and this sort of match experience can he can only get better. This is another chance for the lad to prove his worth.

For his sake, I hope he takes it.


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Latest Updates on Arsenal’s Injury Situation

Injuries, they say, is part and parcel of the game but when you support a club that its players piling up in the treatment table at an alarming rate, then there’s a great cause for concern. Kieran Gibbs was the first player to suffer an injury this season and he was followed by Yaya Sanogo, that suffered a hamstring injury. Olivier Giroud was next in line with a mysterious leg fracture in the game against Everton but its heartwarming to know that he’s making his recovery ahead of schedule. Matt Debuchy suffered a nasty ankle injury in the game against Manchester City and shortly afterwards, Nacho Monreal suffered a back problem. In the North London derby, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta had to be substituted due to injury and Jack Wilshere had his fitness concerns as well.

At the start of the international break, Mesut Ozil was diagnosed with a knee injury from the German medical staff and he’s stated to be out for at least 10 – 12 weeks. As if those injury problems during the break weren’t enough, the French FA announced that Laurent Koscielny was suffering from tendinitis of both Achilles tendons which is certainly a problem for Arsene Wenger, bearing in mind that Calum Chambers is already suspended for the game against Hull.

In the turn of the new week, it was Tomas Rosicky’s turn to suffer an injury and he missed out on the Czech Republic’s win over Kazakhstan. Rosicky revealed this information on an interview with Czech TV.

“I couldn’t do any sharp movement, couldn’t sprint. If I tried to play in one tempo, I wouldn’t make any difference for the team. I’ll come back to London and we’ll see. The doctor said I have something swollen between the muscles.”

With Ozil, Ramsey and Arteta out injured, Rosicky would have been afforded the chance to get some game time with the fixtures coming up and this calf injury isn’t going to help his cause but despite the fact that these influential midfielders are all out of action, the Gunners have enough depth in midfield to make up for their losses.

However, the Gunners cannot boast about the same quantity of personnel in attack at the moment. It’s worth noting that since Danny Welbeck was signed on transfer deadline day, Yaya Sanogo hasn’t played any match (due to his hamstring) and Giroud recuperating from his long-term injury, Arsenal doesn’t have the required numbers to make up for it. That was why many Arsenal fans were fretting (me included) where ranting seriously when Welbeck hobbled off the pitch and went straight to the dressing room, they prayed for the England striker’s return.

Roy Hodgson went on to speak about Welbeck’s predicament,

“I think he just rolled it slightly, but the doctors are not concerned about it all.”

Welbeck has scored four goals since securing his move from Manchester United, and he’s looking to build up the perfect platform he gave himself – a hat-trick against Galatasaray. Arsenal’s next fixtures in the league as somewhat easy on paper (no disrespect to the other clubs) and I foresee Welbeck getting in on the scoring act a couple of times.

Arsenal’s other attacking players are currently on their way to full fitness are recuperating and conditioning themselves. This would be relieving for Wenger but he’d be happy that Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry are back, and I expect Wenger to ease them into the thick of things. More on their progress as the week moves on.


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Walcott Back in Training: How Much Did Arsenal Miss Him?

Walcott Gnabry

At the end of the 2012/13 season, Theo Walcott had scored 21 goals and created 13 assists – his best output in all his footballing years. This ultimately meant that there was a new wave of expectation surrounding the Arsenal star at the start of last season.

Walcott began the 2013/14 campaign at a rather slow pace in terms of his output in the final third, with his assist to Olivier Giroud in the North London Derby being his most telling contribution in the early part of the campaign. He finally broke his goalscoring duck with a technically astute finish against Olympique Marseille but he suffered an abdominal injury in the build up to the home clash against those goons from Stoke and required a surgery to mitigate the problem. This made him miss two months of action.

With the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Serge Gnabry and Tomas Rosicky in good form, Arsene Wenger took a rather cautious approach with Walcott following his return to full fitness. Following a couple of substitute appearances which included creating an assist despite coming into the pitch with just four minutes to spare, Walcott showed what he was made of in the rather dismal 6-3 capitulation in the hands of Manchester City at the Etihad. The Englishman showed good reactions to score two well-taken goals. He followed this up with another brace against West Ham at Upton Park and he began 2014 with a clipped finish against Cardiff that put the game beyond doubt.

With Olivier Giroud falling ill and Nicklas Bendtner suffering an injury to his ankle, Walcott was afforded a chance can to strut his stuff in the center forward position in the North London Derby against Tottenham on Saturday. His linkup play and movement was brilliant but his finishing was a bit wayward. However, on the 81st minute after Arsene Wenger had made all his substitutions, Walcott was tackled by Danny Rose and he couldn’t get back up.

View image on Twitter

While he was stretched out, he trolled the Spurs fans by reminding them of the scoreline and they pelted coins at him, but the Arsenal fans responded by throwing red and white scarves at their hero while signing his songs. When we had learned that he had suffered an ACL injury, the curtains came down on his 2013/14 and it extended even to the 2014 World Cup.

I can’t stress much about the loss of Walcott without revealing his stats so far last season with some aid from WhoScored,


Premier League

Champions League

Appearances (subs)

9 (4)

1 (1)







Shots (per game)

33 (2.5)

4 (2)

Dribbles (per game)

9 (0.7)

1 (0.5)

Key Passes (per game)

23 (1.8)

1 (0.5)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

258 (210)

28 (24)

Pass Completion percentage



Bookings (Yellow/Red)



In the Premier League, Walcott was in a rich vein of goalscoring form with five goals in his last games and with Nicklas Bendtner and Olivier Giroud out of the equation, he was odds on to get an extended run of games in his favored center forward position that would have led to him scoring more goals.

With Walcott out for the remainder of the campaign, his teammates went on to win the FA Cup but the Gunners crashed out of the Champions League (no thanks to Bayern Munich) and their Premier League title contending flames were doused in March. With Ramsey also out injured for a considerable chunk of the second half of the season, the goals were hard to come by, even though Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski made immense contributions to the team’s cause.

Walcott also offer a threat going forward with his blistering pace a thorn in the flesh of opposition defenders. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has his own reserves of pace as well as a direct style of play but Walcott’s decision making is unbelievably quick and his finishing, boy, is up there with the best in the business. Walcott is the kind of player that might not necessarily have an outstanding game but in the wake of half a chance, the opposition net always ends up with the ball inside it.

With Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck combining well as well as threatening defenses with their pace, having Walcott back would essentially mean that Arsenal’s attacking trio would be a menace to opposition defenders, provided they get the right service from the midfield. With Arsenal going through a spell that has so many of its players on the sidelines, seeing a player return – especially if that player is Theo Walcott is heartwarming.

I hope he gets eased into action slowly and I’m also hoping that he won’t have any setbacks as well. It’s good to have Arsenal’s version of the Flash back in training.

Opposition defenders, beware.


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