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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.

Sayonara.

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Rating Arsenal’s Defenders Performances in the 2013/14 Season

In the 2013/14 season, Arsenal’s defense was much-improved and this was due to the fact that Arsene Wenger got his first-choice pairing right and he stuck with them till injuries or suspension took its toll on the defensive rearguard. The center back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were ever-present for the club, while club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, struggled with injuries, loss of form and lack of game time.

In the full back positions, Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna were automatic starters whenever they were fit while their deputies, Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson, were restricted to a handful of appearances.

This is the second installment of a four-post series focused on Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. I’ve already shared my views on the performances of the goalkeepers but today’s post is focused on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard.

Feel free to share your comments.

Bacary Sagna – 48 Apps, One Goal, Three Assists

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its toll on his career. Suffering two fractures on the same leg must have been a horrific experience but as we all know, football isn’t really a forgiving sport.

With Carl Jenkinson deputizing admirably in Sagna’s absence, many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. At the start of the campaign, injuries to Vermaelen and Koscielny made Sagna start as a center back. Wenger gad featured him in that position at preseason so it was no surprise.

Sagna featured heavily for the Gunners and performed admirably in his defensive duties but in attack, he really failed to impress. The back passes were endless and there were times he looked clueless on what to do with the ball.

BacMan battling with Shrek

Then there was the niggling issue of his contract that was a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh throughout the season and finally, he jumped ship to Manchester City on a bumper deal that was too good for him to refuse. Nonetheless, it was a fair campaign by his standards and the fans are looking to the future.

Rating – 6/10

Kieran Gibbs – 41 Apps, One Goal, Two Assists

For the first time in Gibbs’ fledgling Arsenal career, he managed to amass his highest amount of games for the club. He even scored a lovely goal in the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce when he latched on to Theo Walcott’s cross to score Arsenal’s first goal of the qualifying campaign.

Unlike Sagna, Gibbs was very inventive when he was in the final third and his recovery levels were top-notch this season. However, it would be very hard to forget Andre Marriner’s moment of madness in Stamford Bridge when he brandished Gibbs a red card for a sin Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain committed.

It’s unfortunate to know that Gibbs’ good form for Arsenal wasn’t enough for him to be called up by Roy Hodgson and in fairness to the England manager, Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw deserved to be on the plane to Brazil.

Rating – 7/10

Carl Jenkinson – 22 Apps, One Goal, Two Assists

With Koscielny and Vermaelen injured, Sagna was drafted to the center back position, allowing Jenkinson to get a run-out in the first team. Even when Koscielny returned to the first team, Jenkinson retained his place but as the weeks progressed the young Englishman resumed his bench warming duties.

His most memorable moment in September was that brilliant assist he created for Aaron Ramsey against Sunderland and he will also be remembered for clearing the ball off the line when Jozy Altidore out-muscled Sagna and played the ball past Wojciech Szczesny. Jenkinson reached his low point this season when he inadvertently supplied a pass to Cesar Azpilicueta in the Capital One Cup

His second assist of the season was a lovely pin-point cross to the World’s Best Released Striker, Nicklas Bendtner, that headed the ball home against Hull and on the final matchday of the season, Jenkinson scored his first goal for the club. A personal high for the young Arsenal fan.

Rating – 6/10

Nacho Monreal – 36 Apps, No Goal, One Assist

In Monreal’s first full season at the club, he proved that he was nowhere near Gibbs with his performances. He managed to create a good assist for Santi Cazorla when the Gunners visited Villa Park but Monreal played like a liability in some games, with his poorest performance coming up against Manchester City at the Etihad.

However, Monreal would be remembered for scoring the winning penalty in the Capital One Cup third round clash against West Brom.

Rating – 5/10

Thomas Vermaelen – 21 Apps, No Goal, One Assist

How the mighty have fallen.

I can vividly remember when Vermaelen joined the club in 2009 and he slammed in six goals in his debut campaign, rising to an indispensable status. With Robin van Persie leaving the club, Vermaelen was handed the captain’s armband and it ensured that he was a regular starter for the club and after a series of below-par performances, Arsene Wenger paired Laurent Koscielny with Per Mertesacker and they never looked back ever since.

bench warmer of life

Last season, the good form of both players relegated the captain to the bench for extended periods and he also had some injury demons to contend with. It was a welcome sight seeing the captain lift the FA Cup but one must wonder if he’s ready to spend another campaign on the bench next season.

Rating – 5/10

Laurent Koscielny – 46 Apps, Three Goals

It wasn’t all peachy and creamy for Koscielny at the start of the season when he conceded a penalty and got sent off against Aston Villa. In the Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce, Pierre Webo kicked his face leaving him concussed and he missed a couple of games to injury.

In his return, Koscielny and Mertesacker built on the telepathic understanding they had forged last season and the clean sheets started piling up for the Gunners, particularly at the Emirates. Koscielny also got in on the scoring act with goals against Sunderland and Newcastle but his most important goal was the equalizer for the Gunners in the FA Cup final.

It’s also heartwarming to know that he has signed a long term deal with the club.

Rating – 9/10

Per Mertesacker – 52 Apps, Three Goals

There was a reason Mertesacker played the most games for Arsenal this season. He is an exceptional footballer, a leader, and most importantly, a defensive colossus. His pairing with Koscielny has been heralded as the best pairing in the League and with 16 clean sheets to their name, it’s not hard to see why.

In the absences of Vermaelen and Arteta, Mertesacker also wore the captain’s armband and his performance against Dortmund in his native Germany was one of the best performances I’ve seen from a defender in a game. Mertesacker would have been a pantomime villain if the penalty he conceded against Wigan turned out to be the deciding factor of the game but he showed off great determination to be on the right end of the pitch to head the ball home, sending the game into extra time.

I can’t wait to see the BFG next season.

Rating – 9/10

So there you have it, the second of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the midfield comes up next.

The voting sequence for the 2013/14 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free to make your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

You can download the Gooner Daily  BlackBerry App to receive notifications on your Smart Phone when a post is published.

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Rating Arsenal’s Defenders’ Performances in the 2012/13 Season

A bedrock for next season?

Arsenal and defending – two words that don’t go in tandem with each other.

Arsene Wenger has built his football on free-flowing attacking football and times without number, his team has been caught out at the back and there are even times when the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot as they become plotters of their own downfall.

As expected, injuries, suspensions and decline of form took its toll on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard and Arsene Wenger managed to use almost all the defenders in the club’s payroll at some point in the season.

While the big guns featured regularly in the Premier League and the Champions League, the Capital One Cup served as a breeding ground for some young guns and fringe players, and the dead-rubber game against Olympiakos also saw deadwood like Sebastien Squillaci get a run-out as well.

While Per Mertesacker cemented his status as Arsene Wenger’s first choice defender, Thomas Vermaelen partnered the gentle giant by the mere fact that he was the skipper, because his form painted a different picture. When the manager realized how appalling his skipper had become, he made the bold move to axe the Belgian in place of a resurgent Laurent Koscielny.

While Wenger shuffled between his defensive trio of Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Koscielny, there was no room for Johan Djourou that was shipped out to Hannover 96 and the defender has reiterated his desire to remain in Germany. As for Sebastien Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel, they are living on borrowed time.

In the fullback positions, Bacary Sagna’s second leg fracture last season paved the way for Carl Jenkinson to get some first-team action under his belt. On Sagna’s return, he was drafted into the team and failed to replicate that the form of the yesteryear. On the left, Kieran Gibbs was an automatic starter but his fitness was a thorn in his flesh allowing Andre Santos to put up his calamitous outings on a consistent basis.

With Andre Santos failing to impress and Gibbs suffering one of his trademark injuries, Wenger wasted no time in delving into the transfer window to acquire Nacho Monreal’s services.

This is the second installment of a four-post series focused on Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. I’ve already shared my views on the performances of the goalkeepers but today’s post is focused on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard.

Feel free to share your comments.

Thomas Vermaelen – 39 Apps, One Goal

With club captain, Robin van Persie, departing to join Manchester United, Arsene Wenger was forced with a decision to make regarding the man that was going to lead his team in the 2012/13 campaign. I was looking forward to a new era under the reins of a captain that signed a new deal without thinking twice, stating his love for Arsenal was his primary reason.

He has the aggression of Nemanja Vidic, leaped off the ground easily like a kangaroo, has a gung-ho attitude, good technique on the ball and offered a threat in the opposition’s goal.

The Verm was part of the Arsenal side that kept three clean sheets on the trot but an illness prevented him from playing in his team’s crucial visit to the Etihad Stadium, and his able replacement, Laurent Koscielny, scored the goal that earned Arsenal a share of the spoils. Koscielny and Per Mertesacker played very well that day but Wenger inexplicably chose to bench the “slow” German against Chelsea, as he was probably scared of the pace of the Blues’ attack.

Playing Vermaelen and Koscielny together was like a time-bomb and the captain was culpable for two schoolboy errors that led to both goals scored by Chelsea. They struggled again as a pair when Olympiakos visited the Emirates and despite the fact that the Verm was the weaker link of the two, Koscielny was sacrificed for Mertesacker when the Gunners visited Upton Park to play West Ham.

When Arsenal visited Old Trafford in a game marred by the escapades of Robin van Persie, it took only three minutes for the Red Devils to take the lead when Vermaelen handed RVP a nice assist on a platter. Fast forward to the Capital One Cup quarterfinal clash with Bradford City and despite scoring Arsenal’s late equalizer, Vermaelen missed the penalty that saw his team crash out of the competition.

More appalling performances particularly against Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (home) followed but the last straw was undoubtedly his atrocious outing against Tottenham (away). Wenger axed him from the squad from that moment on and he could only manage a game against Norwich (home) because Mertesacker was suspended.

I must truly say that the Verminator has been a big disappointment in his first season as captain of Arsenal Football Club.

Rating – 4/10

Per Mertesacker – 44 Apps, Three Goals

After playing 27 games in his first season with Arsenal, Per Mertesacker’s season reached an abrupt end when Arsenal visited Sunderland in that pitch good enough to raise cattle. He recovered in time for Euro 2012 but he failed to make any appearance with Holger Badstuber and Matts Hummels playing every game for Germany in the tournament.

Mertesacker began the campaign alongside Thomas Vermaelen and they worked in tandem to get three clean sheets on the bounce at the start of the season. If you thought Mertesacker’s performance against Liverpool (away) was superb, his outing against Manchester City (away) was one of his best in Arsenal colors, as he made so many Per-fect Merte-ceptions in the course of the game.

He proved his worth to the squad when he wasn’t on the pitch as Arsenal struggled in his absence with Vermaelen and Koscielny failing to click with each other. When they played with each other, they lacked the calmness, coordination, composure and positional discipline the BFG had.

He also added goals to his game with three headers against Tottenham (twice) as well as the match winner in the crucial game against Fulham (away). This season, Mertesacker became a mainstay in the team and he has excelled admirably in his defensive duties.

He’s known for being a very clean defender but he got his hands dirty with his first red card in Arsenal colors. However, that game will be forever remembered for the innovative tackle he attempted with his back. It was a truly remarkable season for the big friendly giant and I hope he builds on it.

Rating – 9/10

Laurent Koscielny – 34 Apps, Four Goals

Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal’s best defender by a far mile last season and he had grown from strength to strength since that his horrendous error in Wembley against Birmingham City. After signing a long-term deal with the club, he didn’t begin the campaign well as an injury hindered his progress.

He marked his return to first-team action with a late equalizer against Manchester City (away), forging a formidable partnership with Mertesacker. His inspired performance at the Etihad coupled with Vermaelen’s return to the team saw the manager sacrifice Mertesacker in the home clash against Chelsea. Despite the fact that Vermaelen was at fault for the set pieces that led to the goals, Koscielny also had a hand in both goals as he failed to mark Fernando Torres probably for the first and the ball deflected off his shin into the net for the second.

This led to the Frenchman spending a lot of time in the dugout but he featured and scored a vital goal in that pulsating encounter against Reading (away) in the Capital One Cup. When he was recalled back into the first team following Vermaelen’s dip in form, he grabbed the bull by the horns and took his chance against Bayern Munich (away) with an outstanding performance capped by a headed goal late on.

Since then, Koscielny became an ever-present figure and he contributed immensely to Arsenal’s cause with that assist for his defensive partner, Per Mertesacker, against Fulham as well as a plethora of vital interceptions in defense. To crown a great season for the Frenchman, he scored the goal that secured Champions League football for his team for the season in a row.

Rating – 8/10

The goal that guaranteed Champions League football

Bacary Sagna – 30 Apps, No Goal

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its toll on his career. Suffering two fractures on the same leg must have been a horrific experience but as we all know, football isn’t really a forgiving sport.

With Carl Jenkinson deputizing admirably in Sagna’s absence, many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. After a couple of Under-21 fixtures under his belt, Sagna made his long-awaited return against Queens Park Rangers (home), much to the delight of the Arsenal faithful.

Sagna’s continued run of games dented Jenkinson’s progress but unlike the young Englishman that swung crosses into the box with consummate ease, Sagna’s distribution was downright erratic with the ball ending up as a throw-in most times. Then came the torrid run of performances, as Sagna was consistently caught out against Chelsea (away), made Gabby Obertan look like Ronaldinho when Newcastle came to town and his poor clearance led to Gaston Ramirez’ goal when the Gunners visited St. Mary’s.

Amidst the horrible vein of form, Sagna got his moment of redemption when an injury to Koscielny forced Arsene Wenger to play him in an unorthodox center back role with Jenkinson drafted to the right. The fullback’s naivety played a role in him being sent off for two bookable offenses and with Aaron Ramsey becoming a make-shift right back, Sagna was a colossus in defense alongside Mertesacker.

As he continued to struggle with form, Sagna got on every Gooner’s bad books when he foolishly squandered possession to Robin van Persie before hacking him down in the box, forcing the ref to point to the spot. This has been a season Sagna couldn’t wait to come to an end.

Rating – 4/10

Carl Jenkinson – 21 Apps, No Goal

Despite the fact that Carl Jenkinson hasn’t had as much game time as he would have wanted, this has certainly been one hell of a campaign for this young lad.

While Sagna nursed his leg injury, Jenkinson deputized in his stead, putting up committed performances that endeared him to the Arsenal faithful. His work rate was exemplary and he covered every blade of grass like his life depended on it.

His fairy tale campaign reached its zenith when he was called up by Wily Ol’ Woy Hodgson for his maiden international appearance and he featured in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired performances in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England. I still can’t get over Ibrahimovic’s incredible 30-yard overhead bicycle kick goal, and it gets better with each passing replay.

Jenkinson also signed a long-term deal with the club but his performances against Swansea (home) and Sunderland (away) showed that even if youthful exuberance is the order of the day, there’s no substitute for experience.

What I can take from this season is that Arsene Wenger can rely on this young lad to put in a great shift when the need arises. With Jenko in our ranks, the future is very bright.

Rating – 7/10

Kieran Gibbs – 34 Apps, One Goal

For those that don’t know, this was the first season Kieran Gibbs had over 30 games for Arsenal in an entire campaign. He’s a player that has become synonymous with injuries and he showed that yet again this season, forcing his manager to delve into the transfer market when he nursed a thigh strain for six weeks.

Gibbs has been highly impressive this season and his output on the final third has drastically improved as well, with the Englishman having five assists to his name this season. For a considerable chunk of the campaign, Gibbs was a mainstay in the team but when he suffered a lengthy lay off, the manager signed an experienced Spanish left back, that has brought stiff competition between both players, which also brought about stellar performances from both players, for the good of the team.

Gibbs also scored a screamer against Swansea in the FA Cup and it looked like a goal worth winning a football match but Arsenal’s lax defending brought Swansea back into the contest. With Monreal bracing himself for his first full season in England, Gibbs will be in for a challenge and I’m sure he’s relishing it.

Rating – 7/10

Nacho Monreal – 11 Apps, One Goal

January 30, 2013.

Arsenal host Liverpool in a Premier League encounter of huge significance to both sides. The visitors open the scoring with a deflected shot from Luiz Suarez then Kieran Gibbs suffers an injury forcing the manager to make a tactical change. With the only defensive options on the bench being Laurent Koscielny and Andre Santos, many Gooners (me included) rightly believed that the Frenchman would be summoned, thereby making Vermaelen play the left back.

The fourth official raises his board up and Andre Santos comes into the pitch much to the fury of some fans that haven’t forgiving him for his antics in Old Trafford. Within moments of his introduction, Jordan Henderson skips past him with ease and instead of trying to win the ball back he doesn’t even make a decent challenge. With a stroke of luck, Liverpool is two up.

Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott save the day but Wenger has seen enough from the atrocious Brazilian and he delves into the transfer market to buy Nacho Monreal. Just two days after his arrival, he makes his debut in a baptism of fire against Stoke (home). He was part of that defense that held the fort against Sunderland (away) but he couldn’t play against Bayern (home) because he was cup-tied.

After making the match-winning assist against Aston Villa (home), he becomes part of that defense that struggled badly against Tottenham. Following Arsenal’s Champions League exit, Monreal scores the first goal against Swansea the first of many goals Arsenal scored in its surge for fourth place.

With Gibbs returning to fitness, he and Monreal battled for the right to become Arsenal’s No. 1 left back and this competition brought the best in both players. While Monreal offers a keen sense of security and stability at the back, I feel he should improve in his distribution on the final third. The battle with Gibbs continues next season.

Rating – 7/10

Andre Santos – 12 Apps, No Goal

To be honest, Andre Santos is one of the most lovable characters in Arsenal.

His lovely smile, his hilarious tweets and nice attitude off the pitch. I still have fresh memories of all three goals he scored last season – the match winner against Olympiakos (home), the vital equalizer in that RVP-inspired win over Chelsea (away) and the equalizer before half time against West Brom (away) on the final day.

This season, things have gone awry for the Brazilian and his performances on the pitch have been nothing short of appalling. His poor positional awareness and dismal defending has cost his team times without number with his performances in the games against Schalke (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (home) and Brighton (away) bringing him to the bad books of Arsenal fans.

His performance against Manchester United was so putrid yet he couldn’t even wait for the game to be over before requesting for RVP’s jersey, as that probably meant more to him than the game.

After another bad showing against Liverpool, the manager went to the transfer window when Gibbs suffered an injury, clearly indicating that he had no further plans in his team.

In his touching goodbye message to the club and the fans, Andre Santos thanked everyone for their support and hopes to come back soon. For the good of everyone concerned with Arsenal, I hope that Gremio signs him on a permanent basis.

Rating – 2/10

Sebastien Squillaci, Ignasi Miquel and Johan Djourou – Collective total of Six Apps

Ah! The deadwood.

Arsenal bought Sebastien Squillaci with the hope that would use his “experience” to guide the younger defenders in the team as well as putting up a good shift when the need arose. Squillaci was so poor that his only appearance this season coming up in a dead rubber fixture against Olympiakos. Thank Heavens his contract is expiring soon.

Rating – 0/10

Ignasi Miquel is a youngster tipped for great things but I still don’t know when he’s going to realize that potential. All he can boast of this season was a start against Coventry (home) in the Capital One Cup and a late substitute appearance against Sunderland (away) when the Gunners wanted to preserve their priceless 1-0 lead. Not good enough.

Rating – 2/10

Johan Djourou was Arsenal’s most consistent defender in the 2010/11 season. When he got injured in the tail end of that campaign, his team struggled which highlighted his importance to the side. Last season, he struggled in make-shift positions as a fullback and wasn’t even convincing enough when he played as a center back, earning an unwarranted red card against Fulham (away) that put his team under intense pressure.

This season, Djourou could only make two appearances in the Capital One Cup before he was shipped out to Germany. Shame.

Rating – 1/10

So there you have it, the second of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the midfield comes up next.

The voting sequence for the 2012/13 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free tomake your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

You can download the Gooner Daily  BlackBerry App to receive notifications on your Smart Phone when a post is published.

You can follow Gooner Daily on Twitter  @goonerdaily. I’ll follow back

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Post-Stoke Ramblings and More on Monreal

Couldn’t have wished for a stiffer test than Stoke

When the odds were firmly stacked against the Super Eagles of Nigeria, they shocked the football world by ousting the tournament favorites, Ivory Coast. Emmanuel Emenike sent in an unstoppable piledriver to but his team ahead but Chieck Tiote equalized early in the second half for the Ivorians.

When Ivory Coast thought that they were going to run away with the contest, Sunday said MBA!!!

It was truly another great weekend of Premier League action as various teams strutted their stuffs yet again in England’s elite competition.

Manchester United edged closer to their 20th Premier League crown through Wayne Rooney’s individual brilliance against Fulham. While everyone continues to annoyingly sing van Persie’s tunes, Shrek has been phenomenal for them as well.

In the blue half of Manchester, Roberto Mancini’s petro-goons didn’t do enough to put pressure on the league leaders as they dropped points at home to Anfield. Steven Gerrard’s belter was a goal worthy of winning any contest but Pepe Reina’s stupidity was on show as Kun Aguero did really well to score from a somewhat impossible angle.

The battle for the other Champions League positions intensified as Chelsea’s malaise continued with a loss to the Francophone Newcastle, Everton were lucky to share the spoils with Aston Villa and Tottenham’s Chimpanzee was the difference between a point and three.

After week 25, it’s “as you were” in the top as Arsenal remain in sixth place after the well-deserved 1-0 victory over Stoke. The victory helped Arsene Wenger’s men to close the gap on the teams above them and as we all know, the Gunners are running out of games so they have to make everyone count.

Unlike in recent times, the defending was better and Arsenal’s first clean sheet in six Premier League games was highly welcome. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were relatively untroubled by an isolated Peter Crouch but the team defended some scary throw-ins from Shotton.

While Arsenal’s defense flourished, the attack was on song and it’s fair to say that the 1-0 scoreline was flattering to Stoke. Asmir Begovic turned on the style to make some top drawer saves but none can be compared to his spectacular save from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first timed effort after receiving an inch-perfect pass from Jack Wilshere.

Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud threatened the Stoke back line as well, and it was heartwarming to see Walcott giving Andy Wilkinson a torrid time. It took a Wilkinson tackle on Walcott to create the goalscoring opportunity on the edge of the area and Lukas Podolski took the chance clinically, taking his tally for the season to one dozen.

The return of Mikel Arteta was timely, and he worked his arse off in midfield alongside Wilshere and Abou Diaby. For the first time in a long while, Arsenal excelled on the pitch without Santi Cazorla’s magic but when the going got tough, Wenger summoned his midfield conjurer and he almost had a hand in what would have been the match clincher if his shot was a few inches lower.

There was a player that was cheered every time he got the ball unlike Ryan Shawcross that was rightly booed when he was close to the ball as well. This player inherited the jersey vacated by Alex Song and after having just one training session with his new club, he was sent straight into battle against Stoke City.

In his role as at the left back position, Nacho Monreal put up a great outing in his baptism of fire against Stoke. I really enjoyed that moment when he clashed heads with Jon Walters and it was the Stoke forward that came second best, causing the Stoke physios to wrap his big head with a bandage.

Monreal was very disciplined in his debut with the Gunners and he balanced his attacking and defensive play superbly. While doing a relatively efficient job at the back, he showed off his attacking prowess when he connected well with Wilshere before swinging in a cross towards Giroud’s path but the Stoke rearguard did their bit to quell the attack.

After the game, Arsene Wenger was pleased with his new recruit’s performance (via Sky Sports),

“Nacho Monreal had a good start for a player who just arrived yesterday and is in the team.

“He did not have time to think about it, but he got stronger and stronger during the game.

“There is no better culture shock than Stoke when you come from Spain! They had a very physical game and I think he dealt well with it.”

Wenger also stated that his team has improved in their physicality and he gave his reasons why he signed Monreal. The boss openly stated that Gibbs untimely injury forced his hand and he signed a player that he believed would be able to integrate easily into Arsenal’s style of play.

Monreal on the other hand, has stated that Arsenal’s style of play is beneficial to him (via Arsenal.com) and he intends to take some inspiration from his compatriot and former Malaga teammate, Santi Cazorla, that has been an instant hit since his arrival to the Emirates.

Monreal’s experience will come in handy in the coming weeks and Arsenal will hope that their new left back would get better and better with each passing game. This also means that it’s the end of the line for Andre Santos, that will probably be on the move in the summer.

Sayonara.

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10 Things You Need to Know About Nacho Monreal

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That quality, quality signing Wenger was talking about

Finally, Arsene Wenger has decided to remove the dust from Arsenal check book to sign Nacho Monreal from Malaga on a reported £8.3m fee. The 26-year-old full back has signed a four-and-a-half year deal worth in the region of £50,000-per-week.

Despite the fact that Wenger has openly signaled his distaste for the January transfer window, this signing was out of necessity with the unfortunate injury suffered by Kieran Gibbs when Arsenal hosted Liverpool on Wednesday night.

Arsenal has had its fair share of superb left backs from the days of the all-English affair that had Nigel Winterburn to the technically proficient and pacy Sylvinho and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. As that generation phased out, Arsenal brought Ca$hley Cuntly Cole to the limelight and he forged an extremely telepathic understanding with Robert Pires on the left hand side.

After leaving the club in acrimonious circumstances, Arsene Wenger laid his eggs on a Gael Clichy basket, and the Frenchman served the Gunners with valor marauding the left flank with his blistering pace while balancing his defensive play. When Clichy decided not to renew his contract, he opted for the petro-greens of Manchester City forcing Arsene Wenger to unearth the gem called Kieran Gibbs.

Gibbs failed to make his mark in the start of his Arsenal career courtesy of niggling injuries and that infamous slip against Manchester United in the 2008/09 Champions League semifinal didn’t go down well with a faction of Arsenal fans worldwide.

The English lad worked really hard on his fitness and has matured into one of the finest left backs in the Premier League while trying his best to contend with the likes of Leighton Baines in the international scene. Last season, Gibbs added some goals to his game and his belter against Swansea in the FA Cup third round gets better with each passing replay.

With Gibbs facing a spell on the sidelines, I expect Monreal to be drafted back into the squad, with Andre Santos clearly struggling with his charades of inconsistent performances. Without further ado, here are 10 things you need to know about Ignasio Monreal Eraso;

He’s a Classic Arsene Wenger Signing

Out of the blue, probably well-scouted and well thought of. Relatively unknown, blessed with great technique and has got everyone buzzing. The signing of Monreal epitomizes Wenger’s exploits in the transfer market.

When Monreal played for Malaga in their maiden Champions League this season taking on Zenit, AC Milan and Anderlecht, no one had imagined that he’ll be playing in the Premier League in the winter. Arsenal fans had always been resigned to not seeing any player till the summer at least, but Wenger popped up on transfer deadline day with this signing.

That’s just Arsene Wenger for you folks, the old wily fox.

He’s a Product of Osasuna’s Youth Ranks

Monreal was born in Pamplona, the city that houses Club Atletico Osasuna. They play their games in Reyno de Navarra and they have had their fair share of epic displays in Liga BBVA. Osasuna is no where in the mold of Real Madrid or Barcelona, and they only have three Liga Adelante trophies to show for it.

The club has its fair share of legends but none can be compared to Patxi Punal, that has been with the club since 1997. Arsenal also has its own history with the outfit from Pamplona, as the Gunners sent a young Carlos Vela in the 2007/08 campaign. Vela currently has his roots in La Liga, as he’s plying his trade for Real Sociedad.

Amazing Fitness Levels

In recent times, Arsenal has been renowned as a team synonymous with all sorts of injuries. Even though this is a trait not worth having in a team, Arsenal’s playing personnel have proven that it’s no a bluff.

Since the Gunners move to the Emirates, players like Robin van Persie, Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, Thomas Vermaelen, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and more recently, Bacary Sagna have had long term injury layoffs that robbed Arsenal off their services.

Nacho Monreal on the other hand has featured consistently in all the teams he has played for without any major spell on the sidelines. He was a mainstay in the Osasuna first team since his breakthrough season and in his debut campaign in Malaga last season, Monreal featured in 31 of the 38 available Liga BBVA matches.

With Kieran Gibbs’s injury problems surfacing yet again, Monreal will maraud Arsenal’s left flank in the coming months. It’s really sad to know that he’s cup-tied in the Champions League though.

He’s an Fully Fledged Experienced International, Not a Youth Prospect for the Future

In the days of old, Wenger opted for honing young talent that usually ended up being snapped by the predators of European football. At the ripe football age of 26, Monreal has been been there and done that in football.

For many years, Spain had Joan Capdevila bomb down the left flank but he has been replaced by Barcelona’s Jordi Alba. Monreal has been identified by Vicente del Bosque and he has managed to notch up nine caps for his nation thus far, after stints with the Spanish Under-19s and Under-21s.

He’s a Better Deputy Than Andre Santos

At the moment, Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs is right up there with the best left backs in the Premier League. Week-in week-out, the young fullback has been very consistent and has forged a good understanding with Lukas Podolski on the left hand side. With 23 Premier League games gone, Gibbs has featured in 19 games and he has been ever-present figure in other competitions.

When there’s no Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal has tried to deploy its skipper, Thomas Vermaelen, on that flank but there have also been moments when Wenger chose to play the calamitous Andre Santos in Gibbs stead – and to be honest, Andre Santos has been very poor.

He doesn’t think before his dives into tackles, he’s always caught out of position and his attacking output has become as putrid as his defensive performances.

 

 

Oh Well!!!

When Gibbs suffered an injury against Liverpool, I’d thought that Wenger would bring on Laurent Koscielny, drafting Vermaelen to the left as he has done before. The manager chose to bring Andre Santos and he has a hand in the second goal scored by Jordan Henderson. Even though the midfielder skipped past Vermaelen as if he wasn’t there, Andre Santos couldn’t shove him off and he entered the box to score, with a stroke of luck of course.

When it seemed as if a draw was a satisfactory result for both sides, Andre Santos gave possession to Liverpool in the 92nd minute and a counter attack launched by the opposition almost provided a sucker punch had Luis Suarez was more accurate with his shooting.

Monreal will have the threat of Gibbs to contend with when he returns to full fitness, but he’s a way better option than Andre Santos at the moment.

He’s a Technically Proficient Fullback

Arsenal is a team that’s renowned to a large haul of technicians in its team.

In attack, Lukas Podolski’s technique is second to none, and his screamer against Montpellier showed it off. Olivier Giroud technique with the ball is also unrivaled as well, as his linkup play, deft touches and finishes has shown the football world what he’s made of. Theo Walcott’s technique isn’t fully refined yet but Arsenal has had the opportunity to see it with each passing game.

In midfield, Arsenal’s football technicians are as much as the hair in Marouane Fellaini’s head. Santi Cazorla currently rules in that realm but he’s followed closely by Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin.

Nacho Monreal is an accomplished crosser of the ball and his lofted balls into the box will be beneficial to Arsenal’s headmaster, Olivier Giroud. He’s also an adept passer of the ball, holds up play brilliantly and last season, he had a completed tackle rate of 83%.

His Work Rate is Second to None

In Malaga this season, Monreal has fought tooth and nail with Eliseu for the right to become the club’s left back and this healthy competition has brought out the best in both players. Monreal played two Champions League fixtures against Zenit St. Petersburg and Anderlecht with performances that certainly caught the eye.

While having the stamina levels of an ox, Monreal is also known for his high work rate, works really hard for his team and he plays like a matador with the pitch being his bull. Many a times, Arsenal has had its fair share of players without any desire to excel on the pitch so having a player like Monreal, that shares the same zeal with Wilshere will be very beneficial to the team.

He’ll Fit Into Arsenal’s Style of Play

Monreal will fit easily into Arsenal’s fluid and intricate style of football that involves the use of a steady passing play, great off the ball movement, the use of a playmaker, target man and a patient build-up while frustrating the opposition defense.

As stated earlier, Monreal is a technically adept footballer that is good with the ball at his feet. He knows how to link his teammates up and he knows when and how to hold up the ball on the left. Like Gibbs, I see him forging a good understanding with Podolski.

He’ll Give Arsenal Options in Attack

Monreal’s primary job on the pitch will be to balance his defensive and attacking play but as a natural fullback with a decent amount of pace, Monreal will be odds on to support Lukas Podolski in attack, offering him a channel on the left to send those crosses to Giroud’s path.

Let’s just hope that unlike Andre Santos, he’ll be mindful of his defensive bearings as well.

Arsene Wenger Rates Him Highly

When Arsene Wenger sees that raw talent in a player, he goes for him and uses his alchemy to transform the player from Lead to Gold. Like many shrewd signings before him, Arsene Wenger rates Monreal highly and he has aired his views on the defender (via Arsenal.com),

“We are delighted that Nacho Monreal has agreed to join us. We have been monitoring him for some time now and are really pleased that we’ve been able to agree this move today. Monreal is a strong left-sided defender with good experience at both club and international level.

He is a technically gifted player, a good crosser in the final third and strong in the air. Monreal will add quality to our squad and of course, to our defensive unit. We all look forward to him playing for us.”

Arsenal’s defense has been in shambles recently and it’s good to know that Wenger has chosen to strengthen a part of the team that was in dire need of an able reinforcement, as Gibbs couldn’t be trusted to stay fit all season long.

Arsenal fans wanted a center forward that scores for fun like Falcao and a holding midfielder that could break more legs than Nigel de Jong. The club has gotten Nacho Monreal, and I look forward to seeing his contributions for years to come.

 

Sayonara.

 

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