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Will Arteta’s Influence be Enough to Keep Xhaka and Aubameyang?

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In Unai Emery’s final weeks with the club, things went really bad and it was evident that the only plausible option was to terminate his contract with the Gunners after 18 months. The results were pretty poor, the performances were dire and the attitude of some of the players (no need to mention names) were shitty to say the least.

Two of the club’s senior players had been on the news lately, for all the wrong reasons I guess, speaking from a fan’s perspective. Firstly, there was the well publicized issue of Granit Xhaka and his falling out with the fans. The then club captain was going through a terrible run of form, but his manager chose to keep playing him, probably with the hope that he’d get back to form, and it didn’t work out.

Then the Crystal Palace game happened, and the back lash that came with it. Boy, things were really messy and at that point in time, the only plausible alternative was for Xhaka to leave the club to pastures anew and he tasked his well paid agent to work that out. It was no surprise when it was reported that the midfielder had agreed a deal with Hertha BSC, with only the transfer fee with Arsenal holding the deal. Yes, Hertha is no Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig that are in the upper echelons of the Bundesliga table, but Xhaka is very familiar with that league, spending four seasons with Borussia Monchengladbach before we snapped him up in 2016. For the Swiss captain to join a club that’s 12th on the table, it looked more like him just doing his bit to get away from Arsenal, rather than move to an ambitious club that would challenge for trophies.

But hey, can you really blame the lad? Especially with what happened with the fans in that fateful game, how his psyche was so messed up that he required counseling and how he felt he wasn’t loved by the fans he sweats and bleeds for. He was even stripped of the captaincy just a month after receiving that honor. If Emery was still at the club, I am absolutely certain that he would have been taking photoshoots with his new Hertha BSC jersey, but there’s a new sheriff in town, and that sheriff, Mikel Arteta, wants him to stay,

“I think he’s going to stay. I really like him. The way we want to play, if we get him on board then he can be a tremendous player for the football club.

“It’s his commitment, I like the way he focusses, I like the way he lives his profession, he’s willing to learn and he’s a great football player.

“It’s also his range of passes and I’m just delighted to have him.”

In the two games Xhaka has featured under the new boss, he has looked like a player reborn and it would be an absolute nightmare losing him in the January transfer window, when targets are hard to find. According to the Sun, the Gunners are keeping tabs on Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot if Xhaka still leaves, and it seems plausible, with the French midfielder struggling to feature regularly for the Old Lady. With Dani Ceballos struggling to really replace Aaron Ramsey, in terms of fitness and form, the Gunners still lack some depth in central midfield, even though Matteo Guendouzi has shown some flashes of his ability, we all know he’s not a finished article.

Another player that had been dominating the headlines was club captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, when it was reported by the Daily Mail that he had pulled out on contract talks with the club and was ready to leave the club this summer. There was also another article from Spain – El Desmarque (reported by Sky Sports) that Real Madrid are planning to make a 70 million quid offer for the Gabonese forward with James Rodriguez as make weight to sweeten the deal.

Typically, I’d take such news articles with a pinch of salt, but the pertinent question should be why the Gunner’s hierarchy should be allowing our best player’s contract get to almost 18 months without a renewal. I know the club employed Mr. Huss Fahmy to handle issues like this but we cannot have another potential Aaron Ramsey situation here again where we would get to the point were we are between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

However, Arsenal’s manager, Arteta, has made his intentions clear to keep Aubameyang (via Sky Sports) and with the forward stating that he’s 100% with the Gunners, (via Goal.com), we can only hope that he means those words.

The signs are looking good with Arteta on the helm and that knock on effect is expected in all facets of the club. The players performances have stepped up a notch since he took over and even though he lost against Chelsea due to a goalkeeping gaffe and some good ol’ Mustafism, the fans commended the effort the players put and the defeat didn’t feel all too bad, especially with the virtuoso performance against Manchester United that followed it up.

There is still hope to compete for silverware with the FA Cup and of course, the Europa League that is currently looking like Arsenal’s best chance to return to European football next season. Arteta has clearly stated his forward plans to the board, his players and the fans. Let’s just hope that senior players like Xhaka and Aubameyang are 100% on board.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on Emery’s Press Conference on the Xhaka Situation

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*Good Ebening*

As the saying goes, the shit has hit the fan following the Granit Xhaka episode in the disappointing draw on Sunday. I’d touched on it yesterday but I’d like to take some time out to share my thoughts on Emery’s presser yesterday ahead of the Liverpool game in the Carabao Cup. Knowing the English press in all my years as an Arsenal fan, I was very certain that all line of questioning would be centered around the incident of Sunday, rather than who the manager was going to feature in tonight’s game.

You can get the full excerpt of the interview on the club’s official website but I’d like to touch on a few points the manager mentioned in the course of the interview. Captain or not, what Granit Xhaka did was absolutely wrong and disrespectful to the values of Arsenal football club and as Sir Isaac Newton stated, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. I remember that fateful game a few years ago when our dearest Arsene Wenger in his infinite wisdom, substituted Andrey Arshavin for a young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the fans hit out immediately, singing that he doesn’t know what he was doing. The manager maintained his calm decorum for the entirety of the game but famously stated afterwards that he has made 30,000 substitutions, so really, the fans can’t tell him how to do his job. He had the option of unleashing his inner Jose Mourinho to throw a fit or something, but that professionalism took center stage, rather than his emotions. Ok, I digress.

Now here we are, a couple days after the incident and there was pretty much radio silence from Arsenal, but as expected, we the fans, and journos alike were hoping to get some form of closure from the manager and he delivered that, so let’s get to it.

Firstly, Emery discussed at length on his player’s mental state first and foremost, which was clearly on show on Sunday. Xhaka isn’t the first player that has been booed by his home fans (remember Emmanuel Eboue, 2011/12 season Aaron Ramsey and even Hector Bellerin when he was going through that wretched run of form) and he wouldn’t be the last but he allowed his emotions make him do the unthinkable. Now the manager says he’s devastated and sad. It’s okay to be devastated and sad after you did something of that nature, but as the manager says, the player still needs our support, as donned the famous Red and White 143 times in four seasons with the club. The supporters are clearly unhappy and rightly so, but Xhaka deserves the stick he got for his tantrums. I’ve learned that the club is willing to offer some counseling session to the player, so let’s see how things pan out from there.

Next up, is the issue of a public apology from the player himself. I am in alignment with the manager that it has to be done, because anything else will be unacceptable. The same fans that boo you today can certainly love you tomorrow – yea, we are fickle like that, so Xhaka needs to go online and issue that apology.

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We don’t really care what platform he uses, as long it’s out there that he regrets his actions and says he’s sorry. He can use the famous love sign on his post while he’s at it.

Then of course, there’s the CAPTAINCY!!! Here’s I’m going to point all my fingers on Unai Emery because he showed a clear lack of leadership in this regard. In the previous campaign, Laurent Koscielny retained his place as club captain following Emery’s arrival, while Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil completed the famous captain gang, but at the start of the new season, we lost Ramsey, Monreal and Cech while Koscielny pretty much bailed out on us, leaving us with just Mesut Ozil as the last man standing from that clique. I don’t know why it took us that long for the manager to elect his new skipper to take over from Koscielny, but the fact that Emery still had to consult with the players to have ‘their votes’ seemed really weak. So we got Xhaka and know the other players that completed the new leadership of the team.

Now, you, the captain of all people, gets substituted and you do that? Not good enough. That is more than enough grounds to get stripped off the captaincy. A certain William Gallas threw some tantrums in St. Andrews and launched a scathing attack on his team mates, losing his role as skipper. Emery tactically found a way to deflect from giving a direct answer when he was asked whether Xhaka would lose the captaincy, and I’d say that was very crafty, but with the Wolves game coming on in the weekend, we will have a clearer picture. Word on the street is that the players still want Xhaka to remain captain despite what happened but I expect some decisiveness from Emery on this matter, which is sadly, something he hasn’t shown a lot this season.

Sayonara.

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Another Disappointing Result, VAR’s Terrible and Xhaka’s Tantrum

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I’d actually planned to publish this post yesterday and had the draft opened on my browser but I got so hooked up with work that I actually forgot to publish it. Meh, let’s get to it shall we?

The lineup flattered to deceive and I was confident that we were going to get three points against a Crystal Palace side that has been quite impressive on the road this season. Nicolas Pepe was fresh off his awesome dead ball brace against Victoria Guimaraes and Alexandre Lacazette was fit to start but it essentially meant that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was shunted to the left, a playing position that makes him pretty ineffectual. On the bright side, there was a full Premier League debut for Kieran Tierney and following what I’ve seen in the Cup games it was high time.

We started as a house on fire with two swift goals from set pieces. Pepe swung in a corner with his left foot and after a goalmouth scramble, Sokratis was on hand to score a finish any striker would have been proud of – smashing it to the ground to deceive the pile of bodies guarding the net. Sokratis partner-in-arms, David Luiz, put Arsenal two goals ahead, following another dangerous in-swinger from Pepe that wasn’t dealt with by the Palace defense. Shortly afterwards, Tierney dinked a nice ball for Lacazette that was fired goalwards but Wayne Hennessey stepped up to make a good save. The Gunners were clearly in the driving seat but when Wilfried Zaha shimmied past Calum Chambers in the box and he stuck his leg out, I was certain that it was going to be a spot kick but lo and behold, Martin Atkinson brandished a yellow card to Zaha for diving and all was well in the world, only for VAR to overturn the decision, and a penalty was awarded. More on the VAR anon.

Up stepped, Luka Milovojevic – a player that since his EPL debut in the winter of 2017, he has scored 21 penalties – more than twice as many as anyone else in that duration. He was up against Bernd Leno, a man he has put three penalties past and it was no surprise to see him send the Arsenal goalie the wrong way to bring Crystal Palace back into the contest. But hey, it was 2-1 and I expected the Gunners to kill the game off then out of nothing, Granit Xhaka pretty much escorted James McArthur to the byline and his cross was headed home by Andre Ayew who ghosted past David Luiz on his far side to level the game. Just like the Watford game, Arsenal allowed the opposition to equalize from two goals down, which epitomizes what Emery’s football has been all about this season – toothless, disjointed and scrappy to say the least.

Then the moment of madness arrived – something you can tell your kids and they might even tell their own kids. With the game delicately poised at 2-2, it was only evident that the manager would seek to make some changes in his bid to win the game. The attacking trio of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe were pretty much starved off the ball for the entirety of the game, and there was a certain Mesut Ozil rotting in the stands, so the manager, in his infinite wisdom, brought on an 18-year-old winger, Bukayo Saka, for the club captain, Xhaka to add more attacking impetus. This isn’t the first time Xhaka has been subbed, and if I recall clearly, he was jeered by the crowd when his number popped up on the fourth officials board earlier in the season. This time, Xhaka, for the life of me was having none of it. He threw his armband on the pitch, rather than passing it to his vice captain, Aubameyang, screamed ‘f*ck off’ to the Gooners, cupped his ear to further incite the fans before taking his shirt off and storming into the dressing room.

And this is supposed to be the man that is meant to uphold the values of Arsenal football club as its #1 footballing citizen? Hell no! I’m all up for emotions and what not, but there is something called professionalism, that is meant to be at the forefront before anything else in this line of work. It brings me back to that Barcelona vs Chelsea game where Michael Ballack was having a go at the ref Henning Ovrebo over a decision but all he did was voice his thoughts to the man with the whistle while following him, when every part of his body probably wanted to beat the crap out of the ref for such a poor decision that played a role in costing the club that game. There are many other instances you can choose, but seeing Xhaka do that was shameful and utterly disrespectful to the fans that do everything to see these games and the person I’d ultimately blame is the manager, for his atrocious leadership of his squad. With Koscielny gone, the onus was on Emery to select the right captain and all arrows pointed to Aubameyang – lovable character, consistent, developed a strong connection with the fans and respected by his fellow professionals but the manager decided to ‘have a vote’ and ended up with Xhaka as the main captain with Aubameyang, Lacazette, Bellerin and Ozil as his deputies.

Surely this act of defiance must have made Xhaka’s position as Arsenal’s captain untenable and one can only hope that Emery would do the right thing and steer this Arsenal ship to the right direction because we are clearly heading for a waterfall.

With several minutes still to play, Arsenal barraged the opposition with waves and waves of attacks and it took yet another set piece with the clock rounding up for Sokratis to blast the ball home from point blank range. The ref pointed to the center circle and Arsenal fans went into raptures as they thought the goal from the Greek god was enough to get all three points. Only for VAR to rule out the goal because Chambers committed a supposed foul on Milovojevic. Yet another shocking decision from the piece of technology that was meant to make things better. Since the introduction of VAR in the Premier League this season, we have seen some very terrible decisions made which affected the final outcome of games and it’s really sad to see that it’s going to continue. Yes, I’m up for the idea of VAR to provide support in game changing decisions, but at the very least, put the men that are capable of making the right decisions. After the game I learned that the VAR official was some bloke that had never managed a Premier League game but he managed to influence an experienced referee like Atkinson to overturn decisions that he had initially made with conviction. At this point, it’s high time the referees consult the screen themselves while the tech gurus move the pictures to whatever angles the referees want to allow them stick with the decision they initially made or overturn it after proper consultation with the imagery reviewed from the screens.

This result saw the Gunners remain in fifth and win all the teams above them winning, it adds further pressure on Emery to deliver the results required for the Gunners to compete in the Champions League next season. I’m sure enjoying watching the young guns do their thing in the Europa League but that’s not a competition I want to become accustomed to watching because we have spent three seasons on the trot there and I hope it ends with this campaign.

All focus will be moved the Carabao Cup match with high-flying Liverpool tomorrow on a ground we have already suffered defeat this season. More on that in the coming days.

Sayonara.

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