Monthly Archives: July 2014

Thoughts on Arsenal’s Title Chances Ahead of the New Season

Ramsey was instrumental to Arsenal’s title surge last season

Seven points. That was the difference between Arsenal and their potential 14th League title.

The Gunners were at the summit of the table longer than any other team last season but they buckled under immense pressure to drop all the way to fourth place. Losing 3-0 to Everton even put the Gunners in a rather precarious situation, albeit temporarily, but the crumble showed how bad things got for Arsene Wenger and his team.

With Premier League fixtures and markets taking center stage, Arsenal is set to begin the new campaign with a home clash against Crystal Palace and the fans are hoping that it wouldn’t turn out to be another debacle like how things panned out against Aston Villa at the start of last season.

Some of the Arsenal stars performed superbly at the World Cup and three Gunners went home with the trophy but they have had extended leaves and with the trio of Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski set to miss the season’s curtain raiser at Wembley against Manchester City, one must wonder if they’d be fully fit for a grueling campaign ahead.

World Cup winners

Why did Arsenal’s title surge go down the drain last season? Some say it can be attributed to the long-term injuries suffered by Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and at some point Mesut Ozil. Others say that despite his 22 goals for the club last season, Olivier Giroud failed to turn up against the big teams. In fairness to that claim, Giroud scored only one goal against the top six last season both home and away.

I’d say that Arsenal’s title surge crumbled because of the Gunners performances against their fellow title rivals. At the Emirates, Arsenal failed to beat Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Manchester United but they ousted Liverpool and Tottenham. However, Arsenal had a shocking away record, as they were pummeled with resounding losses against Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. The defeat to Manchester United was narrow but disappointing nonetheless because that was the poorest Manchester United team in decades and they still managed to get four points off the Gunners.

Judas celebrates

This season, Arsenal has shown intent in the transfer market with the captures of Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy but everyone knows that there’s still much work to be done in other playing positions. Wojciech Szczesny is a great goalie that even won the Golden Glove last season but Arsenal fans can attest to the fact that an air of complacency creeps into his game when he’s not challenged. With the imminent arrival of World Cup hero, Davide Ospina, the Polish keeper would have to be on his toes because the Colombian shot stopper isn’t coming to Arsenal to complete the numbers.

In defense, there is so much speculation regarding the future of the club’s captain, Thomas Vermaelen, and Arsenal fans can be in alignment that the defense is always somewhat weaker when he plays. Vermaelen will certainly not want to play second fiddle to Mertesacker and Koscielny this upcoming season, so he may be on his way out with Manchester United huge favorites to capture the Belgian Verminator. To challenge for the title, Arsenal has to have sufficient depth and signing a good center back that can play alongside Mertesacker or Koscielny will be key.

In my honest opinion, Arsenal’s title hopes would hinge on their potential capture in holding midfield. For a team that attacks so much using the full width of the pitch, the Gunners are always prone to counter attacks and despite the fact that I’m appreciative of what Mikel Arteta has done for the club since arriving from Everton, he’s not the answer to Arsenal’s defensive midfield problems. Arsenal needs to find a ‘traditional defensive midfielder’ that would hover in the center of the pitch, breaking up play, making inch-perfect tackles, offering a physical presence and he should have a good distribution as well.

Wouldn’t mind me William Carvalho

Once all these positions have been adequately reinforced, the Gunners can confidently push for their first title in 11 years. It’s been a long while since the Gunners won the Premier League, and it requires depth, determination, tactical discipline and footballing excellence for a team to go through 38 weeks and cross the finish line.


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What Does the Future Hold for Santi Cazorla?

File:Flickr - Ronnie Macdonald - Santi Cazorla 2.jpg

The losses of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri at the start of the 2011/12 season were very bitter pills to swallow. With Tomas Rosicky injured and Andrey Arshavin out of sorts, Arsene Wenger burdened the responsibility of the primary playmaker role to a young Aaron Ramsey, who just returned to action after suffering a leg fracture the previous year. Arsenal fans can attest to the fact that Ramsey was a lightning rod for frustrations and the loss of confidence saw the Welshman lose his place to a resurgent Tomas Rosicky that helped the Gunners to a third place finish.

At the start of the 2012/13 campaign, Arsenal bought two forwards in Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski but the undoubted signing of the season turned out to be Santi Cazorla, a midfield maestro poached from a cash-strapped Malaga. Santi Cazorla’s performances were so consistent in his debut campaign with the club and he notched up a career-best 12 goals and a boatload of assists in the course of the season. According to WhoScored, Cazorla fired 115 shots, created 96 chances, attempted 86 dribbles, was fouled 50 times, made 184 crosses, passed the ball 2,471 times with a pass completion percentage of 86.8 percent.

His omission from the 2013 PFA Team of the Year bewildered Arsene Wenger, but it didn’t matter because the Emirates faithful knew that they had finally found a true replacement for the departed Cesc Fabregas. Cazorla flourished as Arsenal’s primary playmaker but the big-money acquisition of Mesut Ozil saw Cazorla relinquish his place behind the striker to a place on the wings (preferably the left) and he drifted infield to make his mark.

However, unlike his first season where Cazorla was simply inspirational, a Confederations Cup competition coupled with an ankle injury that sidelined him for five weeks took its toll on his fitness and form. On his long-awaited return from injury, Cazorla became a different player and his influence wasn’t seen in the games he played. Just went we thought he had reached his nadir, he put up a breathtaking performance against Liverpool, scoring a wonderful goal after his initial header hit the post.

Shortly after the Liverpool game, Cazorla played so poorly in subsequent games and he couldn’t even stay on the pitch for 90 minutes as he was always replaced. In the turn of the New Year, Cazorla picked himself up and started playing some good football. After a good performance against Cardiff, Cazorla scored Arsenal’s opener in the FA Cup third round clash against Tottenham.

He managed to reach a purple patch at some point, scoring five goals in quick succession but Cazorla couldn’t really reach the high standards he had set in his maiden season with the club. Notwithstanding, Arsenal handed him a new deal in March, much to the player’s delight but Cazorla’s high point of the season would be that unstoppable free kick he rifled into the net to begin Arsenal’s charge for the FA Cup final.

Cazorla joined his nation in their quest to defend their world title in Brazil but Spain embarrassingly crashed out of the competition with Santi Cazorla returning home earlier than expected. As the summer’s transfer dealings took center stage, Arsenal wowed their fans with the capture of Alexis Sanchez, a world class player in every sense of the word.

The prospect of watching Walcott and Sanchez play tho…

With a player with such a huge transfer tag as well as quality coming into a team, it’s only normal for someone else to give way to accommodate the player. With Walcott still recuperating from the knee injury he suffered in January and the Ox struggling to stay fit, Sanchez would maraud the right flank with Giroud and Cazorla in the remaining attacking positions. However, when Walcott returns to the team, many are tipping Cazorla to be displaced with Walcott and Sanchez providing support to Giroud from the wings.

Then of course, there’s the heavy media speculation linking Cazorla with a move to Atletico Madrid with a reported £15m price tag placed on Cazorla’s head. Many are now of the opinion that Cazorla is getting old (he turns 30 in December) so the Gunners need to cash in on him but I’m pretty sure that Arsene Wenger would know the importance of squad depth, as it cost the team dearly last season. Arsenal failed to cope with the losses of Ramsey, Walcott, Ox and Ozil to injury and it affected their Premier League campaign.

Cazorla’s technical astuteness, ambidexterity and versatility makes him a very valuable asset to Arsenal and it would be a big shame if the Gunners flush him out to the highest bidder. Personally, I’d prefer to see him remain in North London for years, because he’s an outstanding footballer.

The player himself will have a decision to make – he can stay and fight for his place or he can opt out to another team to strut his stuff.

So the question remains – what does the future hold for Santi Cazorla?


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Eisfeld Signs for Fulham: Good Move for the Player and the Club

Eisfeld netting what proved to be his only goal at Arsenal colors

Over the years, Arsenal has garnered a reputation for brooding young talent that were afforded opportunities to show what they’re made of in the world stage. While some youngsters have managed to grab the bull by the horns, others have failed to make their mark in North London. Thomas Eisfeld, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

At a time when Arsenal needed to bolster its attacking options following Gervinho’s departure for the 2012 African Cup of Nations, Arsene Wenger re-signed Thierry Henry on loan and bought a young German from Borussia Dortmund for a fee of £420,000. At that point in time, he had netted six goals and created six assists for the Dortmund Under-19’s and great things were expected of him.

Wenger even had some sweet words for the lad when he sealed a move to North London,

“Thomas is a player we have liked for some time. We’ve watched him closely this season, where he has excelled for Dortmund’s youth team. 

He is young but has proven to us that he can play, that he has the attitude and technical ability to be a valuable addition to our squad. We’re very pleased to welcome him to the Club and look forward to his contribution in the coming seasons.”

With the vast array of attacking talent in Arsenal’s disposal, I had a hunch that Eisfeld might struggle to make his mark for the Gunners but I’d believed that the FA / League Cup would be the breeding grounds for the lad. As expected, Eisfeld didn’t make any appearance for the remainder of the 2011/12 season but he’d fathomed that his time to shine would arrive in the following campaign.

The start of the 2012/13 season saw the Gunners capture Santi Cazorla from cash-strapped Malaga and the diminutive Spaniard went on to have an amazing debut season with the club. With the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey always available to be selected when Santi Cazorla was to play at the wings, the chances for Eisfeld were few and far between but his moment arrived when the Gunners visited the Madejski Stadium to play Reading in that epic quarterfinal clash.

Eisfeld making his debut

The lad had a good debut and he controlled the game superbly as the Gunners went on to win 7-5. That turned out to be Eisfeld’s only contribution in the 2012/13 campaign but he finally started a game last season in the Capital One Cup penalty shootout victory over West Brom. In that game, he received a neat pass from Nicklas Bendtner and side-footed the ball with such clinical effectiveness.

After the game, Wenger likened Eisfeld to Robert Pires,

“He is a Pires type. He appears to be in the box without being noisy and appearing suddenly. When he is there, he finishes well. Thomas has that kind of quality that some midfielders have—not many. They have the timing to get in dangerous situations.”

After two and-a-half years frolicking in Arsenal’s Reserves, Eisfeld was approached by Fulham and after agreeing terms and passing his medical, he has switched his allegiances from the Emirates to Craven Cottage. The West Londoners were recently relegated and there has been an extensive upheaval in the summer. In his bid to return to the Premier League next season, Felix Magath has signed nine players already.

Eisfeld celebrating a goal against Fulham Under-21s last season. How ironic

Eisfeld shouldn’t expect that he’d walk straight into the Fulham team because he’s arriving from a prestigious club like Arsenal. However, a player with his skill sets can be beneficial to Fulham and he can play a role in their surge for a swift Premier League return next season.

Wenger is a known promoter and developer of young talents into superstars, and the fact that Eisfeld never got a sniff of first team football at AFC, despite the presence of many other attacking midfielders, just shows that maybe he doesn’t have the potential to ever become world class – Jandre RSA Bezuidenho

Notwithstanding, it was a good move for the player and the club.


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