Monthly Archives: September 2014

How Far Can Arsenal Go in the 2014/15 Champions League?

The only trophy that eludes Wenger

Arsene Wenger has made certain principles that have been praised by some and criticized by others but he’s a manager that is highly respected by the Arsenal Board, Arsenal and football fans, his own players as well as other players and of course, his fellow football managers.

When he took over at the helm of affairs of AS Monaco in the 1987/88 campaign, Wenger guided the club from the Principality to a Ligue 1 crown and he achieved this feat while having a talented squad that had the likes of Youri Djourkaeff, Jurgen Klinsmann, Glenn Hoodle and the 1995 FIFA Golden Ball winner, George Opong Weah. Wenger also guided AS Monaco to the French Cup trophy in 1991.

In his 18-month stint with the Japanese outfit, Nagoya Grampus, he won the Emperor’s Cup and was honor with the J-League Manager of the Year award for 1995 making him the first ever foreigner to receive such an accolade. In his 18 years at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has won three Premier Leagues, five FA Cups and four Community Shields and he has been unlucky in the Premier League on five occasions, as well as one FA Cup final loss, two League Cup final losses, two Community Shield losses, one Europa League loss and of course, the 2006 UEFA Champions League final loss to Barcelona.

Since getting really close to the ‘big ear’ trophy in the 2005/06 season, Arsenal has had a lot of hot and cold moments in the competition but they haven’t come close to matching the Class of 06′. In the club’s first season at the Emirates (2006/07), the Gunners European dreams were shattered by Alex when the Brazilian defender scored an own goal and scored in the Gunners’ net as well. In the 2007/08 season, Arsenal earned plaudits for defeating the defending Champions, AC Milan, but they crashed out in the quarterfinals to familiar foes, Liverpool.

The Gunners thought they had qualified when Emmanuel Adebayor scored a late goal

Arsenal’s run in the 2008/09 season was very encouraging as they survived a penalty scare against AS Roma in the Round of 16 before easing past Villarreal in the quarterfinals. However, the Gunners fared woefully against Manchester United in one of the most painful home matches I’ve ever witnessed as a fan. Seeing Kieran Gibbs slip for Park Ji-Sung’s goal was disheartening, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 40-yard free kick still gives me nightmares and that counter attack that sealed the Gunners fate was painful to watch. One of the highlights of the 2009/10 campaign was watching Nicklas Bendtner score a hattrick against FC Porto but Lionel Messi put up a virtuoso performance in the quarterfinals.

The FC Barcelona torment continued in the 2010/11 season and this was followed by a disappointing exit in the hands of AC Milan because despite a spirited second leg performance, the damage done in the first leg was too much to repair. In the past two seasons, Arsenal has crashed out to Bayern Munich and this also indicates that the Gunners haven’t been able to go beyond the Round of 16 in the past four seasons.


This season, the Gunners began their Champions League campaign at the Signal Iduna Park and they were run ragged by a rampant Borussia Dortmund. The 2-0 scoreline was rather flattering for the Gunners because their hosts were very profligate on the night. Henrikh Mkhitaryan in particular, squandered a host of chances that would have put the game beyond doubt. With double legged affairs against Turkish giants, Galatasaray, and Belgian hot shots, Anderlecht, coming up, as well as hosting Dortmund at the Emirates, the Gunners would have to ensure that they do everything possible to top their group.

Teams that finish in second place always get paired with a very strong teams (that topped their respective group)  and in most cases, they always come out second best. Last season, all the teams that topped their group qualified to the quarterfinals at the expense of the sides that finished as group runners-up. ALL eight teams.

It would be nice seeing the Gunners go all the way in the competition but realistically, Arsenal is not “well-equipped” to win the competition. The squad is still lacking in some certain positions and there’s also the issue of the injuries that has become more puzzling than some of the decisions Michel Platini makes. The players of the players in ‘big games’ have become questionable and one wonders what the Gunners need to do to excel in such encounters.

So in your honest opinion, how far can the Gunners go in the 2014/15 Champions League?


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Is There Any Hope in the Midst of Arsenal’s Injury Crisis?

Ramsey and Wilshere out for Arsenal for Galatasaray and Maybe Chelsea

Everyone connected with Arsenal knows that the club is going through another injury crisis and one must wonder why the Gunners always go through these spells. In the 2011/12 season, the Gunners had all its fullbacks injured but the team had to find a way to mitigate the challenge as center backs played as auxiliary fullbacks and it also afforded Francis Coquelin to make a name for himself as a fullback.

This season, Serge Gnabry and Theo Walcott were the earliest casualties as they’d suffered injuries (both knee) from the previous campaign. Yaya Sanogo was the next player to suffer an injury (hamstring) and in awkward fashion, Olivier Giroud fractured his lower leg in the clash against Everton. Mathieu Debuchy injured his ankle in a rather bizarre fashion and this was followed by another back injury to Arsenal’s deputy fullback, Nacho Monreal.

In Arsenal’s last encounter against Tottenham Hotspurs, the Gunners lost three more players that are part of the very fabric of the team and the injuries to Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta will be a big wrench for the team. Jack Wilshere has benefited from an extended run of games and he even had a magnificent outing when Manchester City visited the Emirates.

Aaron Ramsey lies on the pitch after picking up an injury during the Premier League match on Saturday

Unlike Wilshere that has been in good form, Ramsey hasn’t hit top gear this season but he’s one player that has never been afraid to do his thing on the pitch, whether he’s in a good patch of form or not. After going through a tough spell in his Arsenal career following his recuperation from his fractured leg, Ramsey “kept things simple” last season and he explored a new part of his game that reaped great dividends – his composure in front of goal. His 16 goals in all competitions transformed him into an indispensable player for the club and as expected, the expectations from the manager, his teammates and the fans have become higher.

Since the new campaign began, Ramsey has managed to score three goals for the team but he has struggled for form and it’s really sad to see how things have panned out for him. The ‘Welsh Jesus’ has suffered a hamstring injury that would keep him out for a while and maybe it’s an avenue for the young lad to reflect on his form and come back even stronger. Ramsey is a vital cog in Arsenal’s engine and I hope he gets well soon.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a player that has been tipped for great things this season and he has featured consistently this campaign. When he started ahead of Alexis Sanchez, many fans raised a few eyebrows but he went on to have a stormer, which also included the equalizing goal for the Gunners. This article by Mister Spruce writer, @DisFemiSef, reveals his stats and shows that he’s gonna take center stage this season. The injuries to these players would give Ox an extended run of games and he can only get better.

Unlike the No. 1o’s like Cazorla and Ozil that prefer to drift in, the Ox plays more like a traditional winger and his linkup with fellow Englishman, Calum Chambers, has been impressive thus far. One thing I love about the Ox is his directness and daring style of taking on his man but he also needs to learn when to let go of the ball too. Such things come with more match experience, greater football intelligence and most importantly, maturity.


The look on Welbeck’s face though. Pricess

The absences of Ramsey and Wilshere would also give Santi Cazorla a chance to return to the first team as well as Mesut Ozil getting an opportunity to play in his favored No. 10 role. Surprisingly, Cazorla has found himself on the fringes this season and Ozil has been playing “out of position” for a considerable chunk of the campaign. With Ramsey and Wilshere out, Sanchez and rhe Ox would play predominantly from the wings, which would allow Ozil and Cazorla function through the middle, positions they’re largely familiar with.

The last time Ozil played in the middle, he went on to have a great game but the manager chose to return him to the wings against Tottenham and he did okay there. I believe that he might have done better if he played through the middle because the Spuds were actually there for the taking.

As for the injury to Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have to make do with Mathieu Flamini and hope that his form would improve. He was culpable for Tottenham’s goal but it’s normal to have a bad day in the office on the pitch. However, there’s always the option of playing Francis Coquelin in that position. The young Frenchman excelled admirably, albeit in an unfamiliar role, when the Gunners hosted Southampton in the Capital One Cup. Arsene Wenger also harbors plans of playing Abou Diaby in that role and one wonders if Arteta’s injury would be the platform to hone Diaby in this role.

It’s really unfortunate to have such an ever-increasing injury list but I hope things get better on that front.


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More Injury Woes and Making a Case for a New DM

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

The North London Derby turned out to be a feisty affair with both sides giving their all in what proved to be a pulsating encounter. Arsenal had the lion’s share of possession but as always, they switched off at the back allowing Tottenham to grab the lead through Nacer Chadli. After chasing the game in typical fashion, they got their equaliser through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and it turned out to be a classic case of two points dropped rather than one point gained.

This Tottenham side wasn’t all that but Arsenal was pretty poor in creating clear cut chances all game long. Danny Welbeck fed on scraps, Alexis Sanchez came from the bench to no devastating effect and the No. 10s didn’t prove their weights in gold. The Gunners are now unbeaten in six games (first time since 2007/08 season) but with two wins from six games, the Gunners’ form isn’t encouraging.

However, there were some major talking points from the game and one can look no further than Arsenal’s ever-increasing injury list. Prior to the North London derby, Arsenal were without Matt Debuchy (ankle), Olivier Giroud (foot), Serge Gnabry, Theo Walcott (both knee), Nacho Monreal (back), Yaya Sanogo (hamstring). Three players in this aforementioned list are integral to the team but Arsene Wenger had to rely on the depth of his squad to mitigate the challenges.

We had barely gone deep into the game when Mikel Arteta sat on the turf and when Colin Lewin ran up the pitch to meet him, his reactions showed that it didn’t look good. My fears were compounded when Arteta walked up to his vice-captain, Per Mertesacker, and gave him the armband. At the half time mark, there was misery in the faces of Arsene Wenger, the players and the fans as the club’s Welsh Jesus, Aaron Ramsey, pulled up short and signaled to the bench that his time was up. Barely after the hour mark, Jack Wilshere went on one of those his trademark marauding runs and he twisted his ankle after a challenge.

Three members of the Gunners’ spine ravaged by the injury gods, as if the problems the team currently have aren’t bad enough.

Now the Gunners are set to host Galatasaray in a crucial Champions League clash with the three players that have been integral to the new look 4-1-4-1 which still looks like a work in progress. If the team suffered these injuries in defense, we would have been wailing more than those Brazilian fans that witnessed the 7-1 demolition in the hands of Germany this summer but thankfully, Arsenal is reasonably stocked in midfield, and Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Mathieu Flamini are the three players that are going to step in with the Ox and Alexis on the wings.

Speaking of Mathieu Flamini…

I’m no football scout but I can think of a couple of defensive midfielders (that are available in the transfer market) that would fit perfectly into Arsenal’s new look 4-1-4-1 formation.

  • William Carvalho
  • Morgan Schneiderlein
  • Diego Reyes
  • Victor Wanyama
  • Chuck Norris and,
  • Some random alien from Planet Krypton

Since the departure of Alexandre Song, Arsenal has failed to invest in a suitable replacement, as Arsene Wenger handed the role to Arteta. Flamini has always been a stop-gap solution but recently, he has shown how washed up he is and the way he lost possession for Tottenham’s goal made me remove some hairs from my head. For a player in a position where having a good first touch is key, Flamini failed to get a simple pass under control and his team was duly punished for it. Sadly, it was meant to be Flamini winning the ball from Eriksen to instigate a counter attack for the Gunners but it turned to be the other way round and Szczesny’s net was rattled.That’s the cruelty of football.

I wonder why the Arsenal defenders are looking surprised

Even as the game progressed Arsenal’s midfield looked empty as the likes of Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen had the freedom to roam easily in the middle third because Flamini wasn’t doing his job adequately. If it’s to bark at his teaamates or get yellow cards with ease, he wouldn’t be found wanting.

With Arteta out injured for God knows how long, Arsenal will have to make do with Flamini or explore the possibility of playing Abou Diaby there, till January at least. I’ve shared my thoughts on Diaby playing as a holding midfielder and it’s worth a read. Early in the season, the gaffer made mention about playing Calum Chambers in that role as well but with the young Englishman deputizing for the injured Debuchy, I don’t see him playing as a DM.

It’s sad to see things pan out this way so early in the season and it’s more shocking to know that Arsenal actually had a chance to resolve the issue of signing a new DM but the club chose to fold its hands.

As you lay your bed, so you lie in it.


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