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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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Will the Real Arsenal Captain Please Stand Up?

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With the dust settling from the kid’s Carabao Cup heroics, it was time to move to Premier League football with struggling Manchester United next on the Gunners’ trails but there has been a niggling issue that hasn’t been sorted out up until this point of the season – who will be the next Arsenal captain?

We will know how our former captain, Laurent Koscielny, bailed on us for pastures anew, activating his full pettiness to go on strike and boycott the US tour, earning some backlash from the fans and club alike, but with Kos out of the equation, as well as Petr Cech and Aaron Ramsey leaving the club as well, it clearly meant that Unai Emery had only two ‘captains’ left from his famous five.

Enter Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil, two players that have donned the armband on different occasions this season, but it was never made official, as everyone waited for the gaffer to make the announcement. I was quite surprised to read Rob Holding’s comments after the 5-0 drubbing of Nottingham Forest, where he confirmed that the players had to vote over who would be their next captain,

“We had a vote the other week so we’ll see what happens and see who gets named. We had to write names down and then give them to the manager. He will go through them obviously with his input and then we’ll see what happens. I don’t know. I think it will be in the next couple of days, or weeks. I have no idea. If I get it, then I’ll be more than happy and honoured to do it.”

It’s kinda awkward but it’s not that strange – that’s players having a vote on who to be the captain rather than the manager just making his decision. I’d read that in Manchester City, the players unanimously voted David Silva to take over from Vincent Kompany as he reaches the September of his career with them, even though as vice captain, it seemed only natural for him to take over.

So those votes have been taken and a decision has been made to name Swiss international, Granit Xhaka, as the permanent captain of the club. (via BBC). It seemed like a reasonable decision because Xhaka has always been captain material, from his Borussia Monchengladbach days (we signed him while he was their captain) as well as the mere fact that he’s also the current captain of his nation, Switzerland.

According to reports, the announcement for the vice-captain isn’t known yet, but the whispers are edging toward one of the deadly striking duo, Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as leading contenders for that role.

With Xhaka named as club captain, we can move on from the drama not having a captain to this point had surfaced, and focus on more important things like preparing to defeat Manchester United. I just hope that we don’t have to read an article where a player would say that he voted to Ozil to be captain but he saw Xhaka on his name as his nomination, then Emery screams, ‘good ebening‘ and says that he signed in small letters.

Sayonara.

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