Arsenal’s Youth Policy: Does it Serve Our Needs as it Should?

Discussion Post–Arsenal’s Youth Policy; Does it Serve Our Needs as it Should?

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Thanks, in advance, for reading…As an “incentive” for getting through all these words, I’ll preview the conclusion… A shift towards a more aggressive (in my opinion) youth recruitment policy might be a chance for the club to move Arsene Wenger OUT of management and into a new role…

Here at Bergkampesque, a more “participatory” blog than most, there’s been a large drop off in, well, participation.  In part, I think, this can be attributed to the frustrations many Gooners are feeling with the very disappointing start to the season after a reasonably promising summer.  Our depleted squad has been tested–repeatedly–and found wanting.  Now we face a week off before our next make or break run of fixtures.  Will we go on a run and get back into sniffing distance of the league leaders (if they stumble), or will the couple of nice results before this little break be just another false dawn for the Arsenal?  The recent convincing wins–both by the same 4-1 score lines–albeit in a meaningless Champions League group match, and against a not very motivated looking Newcastle team, perhaps overly chuffed with beating some other London club the week before…may have dulled the points on the pitchforks, but certainly haven’t mollified the masses…

On this site, although there is a diversity of opinion about the manager, there is also an acceptance that nothing will change quickly, mostly because the board and the principal shareholder seem perfectly pleased by financial results.  Additionally, we have a small cadre of writers (including myself) who do not have a great tolerance for the usual arguments and highly repetitive one-liners trotted out after each disappointing result.  As such, those would-be new members of the BK community who come here to “blow off steam” or otherwise rant about our “woeful” situation are sometimes challenged.  It doesn’t mean we’re a happy lot but just that we attempt to take a wider view.

After all, how many different ways can we point the finger at the manager and suggest that all would be solved with a new man at the helm?   A lot, it appears…

The winner this autumn has been the myriad variations on the criminal activities of the manager at the rear positions.  Despite spending 16 million pounds on Calum Chambers and 12 million on Mathieu Debuchy (not to mention 4 million on David Ospina in goal),  “Should’ve bought defensive cover” is the mantra of the I-know-more-than-the-manager brigade.   It replaces that chestnut of the past few years, “Fire the physio,” even if the new guy in that arena, Chad Forsythe, is walking a tightrope as twangy as Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring or Laurent Koscielny’s achilles tendons.  Good public relations work, in naming dates for a couple (of kissing?…) French fellows (Debuchy and Olivier Giroud) may yet save the German as they both came back early and strong.  If his countryman, Mesut Ozil, comes back on schedule (or ahead) and makes a good contribution in the New Year, those Gooners looking to blame the boss may have to buck up their ideas and find a new way to aim invective at the manager.  Already, however, the twin tines of  “We didn’t (or we won’t) spend enough (in the Summer or January),” seems on the tip of many a Gooner’s (pitch) forked tongues…

What’s interesting, around these parts at least, is that a small group of writers with a heavy interest in the development of young players and especially the development of young English players, has emerged.  Despite the troubles we’re having meeting the club’s expectations this seems a very good time to take an interest in Arsenal, if you enjoy watching these sorts of players and trying to predict who will make it on the big stage.

Arsenal’s overt recruitment of young British talent, even at oftentimes inflated prices, has yet to truly yield tangible results–both in our first team and for the National set-up–but the signs appear promising.  Clearly, finishing 3rd or 4th in the league is tiresome for Arsenal supporters, much as merely qualifying for the International tournaments is not enough for supporters of the Three Lions.  Still, players like Walcott, Gibbs, Welbeck, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers are already, or likely will be, core players for both club and country.  Guys out on loan, notably Jenkinson and Aneke, are huge contributors at their current clubs, while very young guys like Chuba Akpom and Dan Crowley are pouring in goals in the U-21 and U-19 matches.  A real favourite amongst many (see the proposed starting line-up mooted for the Newcastle match) is Isaac Hayden, a guy who surely would’ve made his league debut given injuries to our back line, but for one of his own.

Of course, many Arsenal watchers don’t limit their support of the youngsters to Englishmen.  19 year old Spaniard, Hector Bellerin, with 90 minute outings in the hostile environs of Dortmund and Istanbul, and a great display Saturday vs Newcastle, which included a 60 yard run capped by a stunning assist, will surely see more time with the first team despite his age.   17 year old Gideon Zelalem (who has yet to declare at full International level but seems to be leaning towards the crowded group fighting to play for the world champion German team) got another run out in Turkey after last year’s league cup debut.  Other international players are doing very well at the academy, including Semi Ajayi who took up a bench seat on a couple of occasions even if he hasn’t made his full bow yet.

All of this, of course, is merely review for the guys who watch the coverage of the reserve team or follow the excellent blog “Jeorge Bird’s Young Guns.”  And it is to you fellows I’m reaching out.

Arsene Wenger, who sometimes has been ridiculed for his, er, use or support of young players in the songs of opposing crowds, has also been skewered by his own for statements along the lines of, “We don’t buy because it would kill (insert name of player)…” or “We were a bit naive because we lack experience,” etc., etc.

Playing young players, especially too many all at once, can be a double edged sword which cuts deeply.  Additionally, the acquisition of young players (and then sending them out on loan) and the building of academies is a real frontier in the Wild West of football finances.  Benevolent owners can hide losses in such policies and projects under current Financial Fair Play rules while developing their own future stars AND a revenue stream from sales of the ones who don’t quite make the grade.  Moreover loan rules, which (in my opinion) desperately need reform, allow clubs down the financial pecking order to employ and develop players away from the (often harsh) floodlights of their home clubs’ stadiums.  This spares those who spend the relatively lavish sums to buy a seat at places like the Emirates or Stamford Bridge (Princes and Emirs themselves, at least relative to the more working class wages of the football fans of yesteryear) from having to watch young players “learn on the job,” as it were.

Chelsea are stockpiling talent and working the loan system at an unprecedented level.  Their group of players out on loan (26 in total, including some older guys, like 50 million pound purchase, Fernando Torres) could probably compete adequately to win the English Championship or other less powerful leagues.  Manchester City are augmenting their buy-him-to-try-him system (with a shadow squad of Bridges, Barrys, Rodwells, Johnsons and Sinclairs, etc.) to this: http://www.mcfc.co.uk/The-Club/City-Football-Academy/Our-Vision

In the decade since our last league title (won in spectacular, invincible style) and the move to the new stadium, Arsenal have endured a period of relative financial austerity, especially when compared to the lavish spending in South London or up in Manchester.  In this period our focus on youth development has been a bit of a bright spot.   Things looked especially good in the first season after the stadium move with an appearance in the final of the league cup and a narrow 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Since then, however, things haven’t seemed as rosy and the second time we made that final, and also lost by a similar score line, it was to a club (Birmingham City) which would soon be relegated.  That one may have actually been a sizeable set-back, given that would-be young leader Szczesny, and Koz, were at fault for the loss and left the pitch in tears, respectively, surely not signs of maturity, in deed nor action.

This season has been a further test as injuries to experienced players like Ozil, Giroud, Debuchy, Koscielny and Arteta have given extended chances to many a young Gunner.  Results have been mixed (at best), and Arsenal approach the festive period in 6th position in the league and already eliminated from one of the kids’ best venues–the League Cup.  Even a moderately kind draw in the Champions League group stage didn’t result in substantial opportunities for the younger players.

In my opinion, we’re actually getting the worst of all worlds.  We spend big (relatively) on young talent but still spill points or otherwise sacrifice immediate results in the hopes that the young players we are using can come good.  We’re forced to use players who are too young or are hopelessly below Arsenal standards and we put them in situations which probably carry too much pressure given the demands of the fans who sit in the (famously) “highest priced seats in all of Europe.”  Now, even our travelling support have grown tetchy.  Hostilities on difficult trips no longer end at the final whistle.  Recent video footage, amidst shameful treatment of our manager, contained the hilarious warning to a young player, Joel Campbell, to wise up and leave the club.

That warning (“Get out while you can”) begs the question: what should Arsenal do with its youth players?  

Some here (notably a writer named “Steve”) seem to favour playing many of them, most all the time, no matter the results.  Others, including our own man of the horses and dogs, Gerry, scouts them like a handicapper and sees opportunities as the first team is challenged with injuries.  Still others demand that we recall players from loan spells as individual positions are depleted.  With the recall of Coquelin (and his appearance late on vs Newcastle this past Saturday), it appears management concurs.  As we’re not privy to the individual deals made with other clubs, it’s difficult to know what’s actually possible.

Certainly, between transfer windows, at least, bumping up kids from the under 21-s IS the way to go and sometimes, if they’ve got the inherent quality and they’re given enough support, a player can make the step up.  Given the success–and versatility–Hector Bellerin has shown in his last two outings, I’d expect him to be a regular presence on our bench (and in the FA Cup matches).  Given continued development he seems a very plausible back-up and successor to Debuchy (28 now) at RB.  (Calum Chambers, a young but expensive player, has by and large made the most of his opportunities, too, and may be Debuchy’s long term successor, if not used more in other positions.)

Bellerin and Chambers, however, I think, are exceptions to the rule.  Arsenal, if we aspire to become a world class club will likely need world-class players in every position, or as Jose Mourinho famously stated when he was awash in money during his first stint working under Russian Oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, “I (we) want two world class players at every position.”  If Arsenal aspire to such heights, we likely need to buy or otherwise develop our players to the point that they are world class on the day they make their Arsenal (first team) debut.  If that means loaning out our most promising youth players, at the highest level possible and to clubs who might buy them, then so be it.  It’s not a sign that we don’t support our guys by suggesting that they must make a career elsewhere.

Personally I love to see guys like Seb Larsson–a guy who never played for the first team at Arsenal–find success at a club like Sunderland.  I much prefer his story to that of guys who played for us, but ultimately didn’t make the grade, and quietly moved on.  Where, for example is Larsson’s fellow Scandinavian, Nicklas Bendtner, this season?  This is only my opinion, of course, and others may have very different views.  This is a discussion post, after all.

Overall, until loan rules are changed, using other clubs (who have more immediate first team needs) seems the best way to develop and vet our best young players.  It’s a balancing act, of course, and an act of speculation on the player in question.

Buy low and sell high is the mantra of Capitalists and our owner (one of the best, in this realm at least…) and managers must try and follow this course.  We need to play this game at the highest possible level and also assume that our money allows us to treat almost all players at almost all clubs as if they’re on loan.  Yes, to get adequate players we may not get our exact favourite.  We may have to play one potentially world class player off against other would-be recruits and, be willing to lose them to offers from the clubs willing to pay (waste) even more money to hoover them into their shadow squads.  Still, I think we can likely improve upon options already at the club or among the small group of players we have on loan.

We need mature players, ready to take their chances.  No more “learning on the job” or making allowances for players simply because of their youth.  We shouldn’t have one standard for youth players and one for older guys.  If Mertesacker (or Arteta or Flamini) can’t race back or rise up and make a decisive intervention why do we cut him less slack than we do a guy like Bellerin or Chambers?  (It’s called age discrimination, if you’re wondering…) Time to “bed in” and get used to the league and its players, is one thing.  Playing young guys who clearly lack the physique or stamina or technique to play at the appropriate level is just as bad (or even worse, perhaps) than playing guys who are clearly past it.  

Moreover, this type of player acquisition seems an ideal way for a great man, with a great eye for young talent, to travel and find future world class Arsenal players.  Arsene Wenger is surely already trying to do this while he does his off season commentary work for French television.  If he were to continue this work (and perhaps–while he continues as our manager–brings a younger manager our way who might succeed him with the first team…) it might suggest a way he might continue to contribute to the growth of his–and our–club.

As such, youth policy might (indirectly) suggest a direction for management policy or for handling the inevitable retirement of our iconic manager.  Sorry, if that’s not really the Wenger Out conclusion I promised, but there you go… :lol:

What say you, fellow Gooners?

Written by; 17highburyterrace

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Cazorla takes the Papiss, Girouffe Aerial King of the Savannah: Match Afterthoughts.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Newcastle United: The dawn of a new era?

Is Arsene changing our system and style of play?

Is Arsene changing our system and style of play?

I don’t always watch an Arsenal game twice, but this time it was worth it. During the first round I was influenced by alcohol intake, but the second watching was entirely sober. After the first watching I wondered how we had shaped ourselves, especially from an attacking point of view. I also wanted to know whether we are playing more of a 4-1-2-3, or indeed a 4-1-5 at the moment.

I always feel we need to play with one holding DM, who sits back and protects the back-four. The BFG is a great defender but we need to play to his strengths, which is organisation and controlling the defence. For that he needs fast players around him, and a strong, classic DM in front of him, and not to have to push up too much. I thought Flamini did quietly a great job in protecting the back four on Saturday. He stayed back and allowed both Ox and Santi to attack; yet, the more attack minded central midfielders were also disciplined in helping Flam out if and when the Magpies ventured forward.

So, it looked like we played 4-1-2-3 with the ‘2’ being asked to help out in defence and keep their discipline as much as was deemed necessary: and Ox and Santi handled this very well throughout the game. It is too early to say whether this is a shift in formation and style of play, but from what we saw on yesterday it offers at least an interesting alternative. 

There was a very good balance to our team and tactically it worked a treat. The Chav-Slayers were set up to sit back and absorb pressure, but with five pressing and continuously moving players up-front – Giroud, Alexis, Ox, Welbeck, Santi – and two eager and dynamic FBs, the Barcodes were never able to settle – a big difference from their previous game where they took control after some initial pressure by the Southern Oilers. Our attacks in the first half often lacked cohesion and focus and as a result we were only one up at half time, but they also had thoroughly knackered out the Newcastle team with their sheer unpredictability and continuous pressure.

In the second half, we used Giroud much more as our attacking pivot, which gave us a bit more shape and structure. In the first half, after a great interception by Hector-Vector, Giroud had received the ball in the prototypical way: with his back towards goal in the middle of the opponent’s half. He found Sanchez with a quick, sharp pass and was back in a flash to tower home like a giraffe the Chilean’s superbly placed cross: a very good, classical goal.

But, we did not use him as our pivot often enough during the first 45 minutes imo.

On the other hand, Welbeck and Alexis were a constant menace and Ox and Santi provided both thrust and ingenuity. There were a few dimensions to our attack and Danny was very unfortunate not to be given his goal, after the slightest of touches had brought Janmaat tumbling down like a crashing aeroplane, and the weakest of referees, Lee Mason, had ruled it, pathetically, a foul. I could say so much about Mason, but it is best to concentrate on the game…

2-0 at half time would have been a fair reflexion of our dominance, although we have to thank Szczesny wholeheartedly for a superb double safe of Williamson and Papiss Cisse’s efforts, from Colback’s fine free-kick (who really impressed me throughout the entire game: possible the best all-round midfielder on the pitch).

However, I feel we attacked better in the second half: there was more focus and directness, and using Giroud as our pivot, as well as the initially impressive Coloccini starting to wane, played a key role. The second goal saw Alexis produce unselfishly his second assist of the game; but most of the credit should go to Santi, who took the ball well past a defender, managed to stay on his feet and then tricked the goalie with a sublime piece of skill of Bergkampesque quality. To score a goal like that on your 30th birthday is of course bliss, and it set the scene for more cheekiness.

It was soon 3-0: Bellerin had made a great run to the by-line and delivered a cool and measured low cross to the well-positioned (Danny take note) Giroud. The towering Girouffe had to work his feet for this one, and as he is left footed and the angle was very tight, he decided to use his left foot to redirect – pinball – the ball towards goal, leaving Alnwick utterly bamboozled and no time to respond. Cheeky – Cheeky :)

The Magpies got one back from a clever free kick by their MOTM and a well placed header by (also impressive) Perez, but of course, we should have defended that one much, much better. However, credit goes to the team for not changing their shape and keep believing in their (at least on the night) superior qualities. At this stage, the trio of BFG-Debuchy-Flamini stood strong with fine blogs and interceptions, and above all, keeping it tight (with help of others of course). We gave away too many free-kicks though – the only way they were ever going to score against us was from set-pieces, so should have known better – as the likes of Bellerin, and especially the experienced Giroud, should have spotted that Mason was apparently desperate to give the Barcodes preferential treatment at every occasion.

However, it took another 25 minutes to fully settle the match once and forever. I reckon Danny is a work in progress and there are a few areas he will have to improve in, if he is to make it at Arsenal long term as a first-eleven player, but two of his unquestionable strengths are his athleticism and stamina. Dummett had had a decent game until the 88th minute, but sheer fatigue by him let to his foul of Duracell-Danny, and up steps birthday-boy Santi to take the pen.

We all know how he took it: cheeky – cheeky – cheeky: totally taking the Papiss :D I am not a big fan of the ‘dinked penalty’, but given the score and the special occasion for Santi, and of course the fact that he got away with it, I forgive him. 4-1 to the good guys, some very good football, three points in the bag and the perfect preparation for a tough test against the Dippers next weekend: Bring it on!

So it is Monaco in the CL. For once the draw is a happy one not just for the favourites (just look at Munich and Real draws….) but also for the Gunners. Wenger will know a lot about this club and we should have a good chance to go through as long as we don’t underestimate them.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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A Minute Applause for Barcodes: Preview & Line-up Arsenal v Newcastle

Gibbs and Pod to rediscover their previous excellent partnership?

Gibbs and Pod to rediscover their previous excellent partnership?

….Well that is what they deserve if you ask me!

For many of us the loss to Stoke deeply overshadowed the far more joyous occurrence of the Barcodes smashing the Chavs in a well-deserved victory. In normal circumstances, our team losing is far more painful than one of our main competitors losing, but, at least for me, the reverse is the case this time round.

Papiss-Ciss--after-scorin-012

The Chavs losing to Newcastle was good in many ways:

  1. Of course, it ended any possibility they would go unbeaten a whole season. Only special teams achieve something colossal like this… ;)
  2. It proved once again that if you play Maureen at his own game, his team will struggle. Newcastle sat back and were tightly organised, and the Chavs did not take their half-decent chances. The Barcodes did play them on the counter and they did take their chances, albeit with a bit of fortune, at least on the first one. Except for the last ten minutes, Pardew’s men were in control of the game and a lot of praise should go to their man at the helm.
  3. Even though we failed to close the gap, there remains hope that we can make up ground over the next few months. It is unlikely we will catch them but they have shown they are vulnerable and can be beaten as long as you play them at their own game. Other teams will have taken note of how Newcastle beat the Chavs and I expect the fear factor to have diminished now.
  4. The PL competition is a competition again. The Chavs dropped five points in three games and the rest is catching up. The smirk on Maureen’s face is quickly turning into that typical grumpy contortion of his. Happy Days! :P

So I reckon we should give the Barcodes a minute applause for their clever and well-deserved win last Saturday. They have done us a massive favour!

Predicted Team v Newcastle United. 

Hayden to step up and Pod to get a start. Welbeck could start instead of Giroud or even Alexis... Ox to replace Rambo.

Hayden to step up and Pod to get a start. Welbeck could start instead of Giroud or even Alexis… Ox to replace Rambo.

For tomorrow’s game, early team news is not good. Three CB covers are out: Koz, Nacho, Chambers. Ramsey is out as well. However, the Pod will get a chance against Newcastle as the boss just confirmed.

We should expect the Barcodes to play similar to the way they beat the Chavs and be aware of their counterattacks. For me, this means Flamini as DM and the defence not sitting too high up the pitch. We also need our FBs to be disciplined: only one at a time going forward and good communication with the midfielders and CBs at all times. We also need Giroud back to ram the CBs and create space by occupying them. Ollie was rested and so were Cazorla, Welbeck and Sexy-Alexis. So we should have fresh, eager fire-power up-front. With Ramsey out, it should be Ox or (ideally) Rosicky as the b2b, and the team picks itself to a large extent. A big role for the Ox tomorrow, I reckon: he might hold the key in midfield…

Key question is who will partner the BFG at the back, and it looks like Gerry will get his wish with Hayden stepping up.

I am looking forward to this one, but then I always do. OGAAT – TIANG-YANG – UTA – COYRRG and all that!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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Festive Season: Time to Shine for Hayden, Akpom, O’Connor and M-N!

Chuba+Akpom+ir6OLDOc5zsm

Interestingly, now attention is turning back to our Newcastle game: stories of who might miss out have even more relevance to the use of substitutes on Saturday and beyond…

If Koscielny and Monreal both fail fitness tests then Stefan O’Connor could be on the bench to cover Chambers in the middle. The 20 minutes he had on Tuesday night, in his right position, would have been a great time to see how well he could play alongside Mertersacker? Heaven forbid, but he might be in line to replace Per himself, as he must be due an injury as our fate starts to look for a fresh victim. Let’s face it; there are very few untouched souls out there.

Everybody is assuming Gibbs will be fit … what if….
Come to think of it, both Debuchy and Flamini came off, the latter we assume was for carding issues. But if there was a physical problem, perhaps Kamara should have started? At least Em’an’en got a good 45minutes and would be good cover for OX, who apparently is one of the few to be involved in every game so far?

Of course the bigger question will be about Podolski: Super sub or start and replace?
In a 4-3-3 line up it is easier to slot him in on the left side, although less flexible across the front line viz a viz Alexis, Welbeck, and Ox, and it puts more pressure on the Giroud/Welbeck situation. The three in behind is more or less a case of who is alongside Ramsey now :D
I guess, Cazorla over Ox would be favourite for the creative role, and Flamini for the defensive one?
That would leave Ox resting on the bench, but that might not be a bad thing…

Then we get back to the back 5, where I guess on Woijech and Per are the only certainties?
Debuchy, with no repercussions after a long lay off, Chambers if Kos misses out, and Gibbs.
That would seem the most likely set up.

However, these thoughts got me thinking about the bigger picture of games to come? I said earlier in the week I thought we need at least three young players to step up and create a larger number of players to choose from …

The bench will tell us more about how AW plans to take us through the hectic schedule to come. Will it be a narrow group that take the bulk of the load, or will we see the odd body of youth getting an airing? This Newcastle game offers more scope for youth over experience than the Liverpool one, but what will follow then is about six games over the next two weeks. I would suggest then it will be a case of two shadow teams: one game with the bulk of stars, the other with a few, and benches of ‘resting’ players, and an assortment of fringe players hoping to take their chance to prove themselves. Even the FA Cup game will not be a respite, unless AW puts all his eggs on maintaining a league challenge…

So I come back to the bench for Saturday, and benches beyond that, and see who the fringe players are and who might get used at some point:

In goal we can assume that Ospina will push past Martinez to the 2nd/alternative spot.

The CB line up has three contenders; Ajayi, Hayden, and O’Connor, with the alternatives of Chambers and Monreal, when they are not being used in their respective full back roles.

Left back is the weak spot if Monreal and Gibbs are out injured. O’Connor was thought to be the cover for Bellerin on Tuesday, but that never materialised; still, he looks the best option in the absence of B54.

Right back is less of a worry, in so far as we have three. Debuchy, Chambers,and Bellerin in that order.

Defensive midfield is the sensitive area. Arteta and Flamini are the primary choices, but both will find games with short breaks between could be a problem. I have made no secret that Isaac Hayden will likely fill one of these roles, permanently. Hopefully his return to training has gone smoothly and he should be ready for the Liverpool game. It will be a tough introduction, but if he shines, as I suspect he will, then he will see the bulk of the following six games. We do have Chambers, again, as one option, or the untried Kamara on the list to play the main or sole defensive player. The B2B option, again behind the ArtFlam experienced pair, and Ramsey who is likely to command this position if his return to form holds, but Maitland-Niles looks to have done his case no harm at all to be the go-to sub whenever needed.

Attacking midfielders will be strengthened further with the hopeful return of Walcott, back in training this week. Ox, the experienced Rosicky, the ever present Alexis, Podolski, Campbell…. And let us not forget the emerging talent that is Serge Gnabry. He too needs game time, and could prove very useful over the next three weeks, and beyond?
So this is an area we should be okay if rotation is used to best effect …starting with this coming game by giving Ox the day off: he has earned it.

Creative midfield we are struggling. In the absence of Ozil, and longer term Wilshere, Cazorla is carrying the load. Even by using others who open up defensive in different ways, like Alexis, Ox, and Rosicky, there may be occasions where, even if only from the bench, the likes of Matland-Niles, and the talented Zelalem will be needed?

Up front, with the strikers, it tends to be more about balance. The ability to work well with those around them, and Giroud stands out as the one that others can play well with. Welbeck offers a different approach with his work rate. Podolski with his strike rate, Alexis for gladiatorial approach, and Walcott with his pace. in theory we should not need to worry in this area … but it is a team game and they have to work as a unit amongst themselves, and with the midfield, and when needed, helping the defence. They also need to be more clinical when chances come their way. Enter Chuba Akpom. Blessed with pace, grace, and power that show glimpses of Thierry Henry. If he puts it altogether his career will take off big time. For now, though, he needs to take any opportunity he gets this season and use it to improve in the areas where he is weakest, and still learning … Because I confidently predict next season the others will be lucky if they can oust him from a No 1 starting role.

So my young players that will make a difference, if called upon, are:
Isaac Hayden
Chuba Akpom
Ainsley Maitland-Niles aka ‘Em’an’en’
Stefan O’Connor at CB

Wish-list:
Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill – Get fit soon, your team needs you!
Semi Ajayi, your turn will come. Keep working, time is on your side.

Note: Serge Gnabry is experienced, so falls into the same category as Walcott: a very welcome returnee.

The future is ahead of us, but it starts now …
Keep the faith

Written by: Gerry.

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Wenger and Ramsey Are Teaching Us a Lesson

Yesterday’s game against the team with five As in its name was very pleasing on the eye. It was obvious that Galatasaray did not care much about the match as they attacked without vigour and defended without much care. There was so much space and time to play the ball round for us, and for once the team had their shooting boots on from the start. Alexis will have been nodding his head sagely from the comfort of his couch, massively encouraged by the quality of the finishing by his fellow team mates.

Happiness is a warm Gunner, bang-bang-shoot-shoot, and both the Pod and the Ram showed the Turks where to put their post stamps from now on with stunning technical shots into the left-hand corner of the goal. The game was over in no time, with Ramsey’s beautifully placed pile driver sealing it once and for all.

There is a balance to be held in our Arsenal team: one of hard workers on the one hand and high technically skilled stars on the other. Flamini, BFG, Giroud, Sanogo, Nacho, Welbeck, Koz and one or two others are the hard workers, and the likes of Ozil, Wilshere, Ox, Diaby, Walcott etc are the truly gifted ones. The latter group will have to put in a shift as well in order to become first teamers in Arsene’s regular eleven, but this is not their natural strength.

Of course, we also need players who have a lot of both, grafters and craftsmen in one if you like; and we all know who they are: Alexis, Gibbs, Debuchy, Chambers (still needs developing though), Arteta and Ramsey. Arteta is getting on a bit now and will need replacing, although he should be retained in the squad for a few years to come.

Getting the balance right is key and for that Wenger would love to have his whole squad available. Hopefully soon, we will have a fully fit (or there about) squad available and then we can truly judge the quality of our team compared to other top teams.

The spine of the team is so important, and in the middle of the spine we need a good DM AND the engine….. the box to box midfielder, the linker between attack and defence.

And for this, Ramsey is very, very important (and so is Wilshere but that is for another post). It looked for a while that he just was not able to get back to his fantastic form of last season, as if the b2b-Beast potion he had swallowed back then had finally ran its course. His passing was heavy and his goal attempts were rubbish, and it just looked like he would continue to struggle for a long time.

Many fellow Gooners felt he should be benched and other players should be given a chance. But, as I have explained on a few occasions, Wenger does not work that way. He knows that Aaron is out of form, but also that he has not lost his qualities or drive.

It was simply a matter of having trust in him and giving him confidence. This is not done by benching a player and showing him the competition is ready to dump him on the bench for good, or worse. Management by fear and sanctions is not Wenger’s style: he is a Y-manager and not an X-manager, using McGregor’s classification of managers. He believes in players being self-motivated and keen to succeed and that they need support and confidence in order to do so. Carrots and strokes rather than sticks and ridicule.

It may have taken a while and cost us a few points, but Arsene’s patience and trust in Aaron is paying dividend now. Three goals and two assists in the last three games are very encouraging: let it be the start of a glorious remainder of the season for both Ramsey and indeed the team as a whole.

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If Ramsey is on a role, Arsenal’s motor is purring, and boy was it a joy to listen to it during the first half v Galatasaray.

‘I’ll take 50% efficiency to get 100% loyalty.’ Samuel Goldwyn.

‘The thing I was attracted to as a little girl was Kirk, Bones and Spock, and their utter loyalty. There’s nothing more powerful than that.’ Jolene Blalock.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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Galatasaray v Arsenal: CL Match Preview & Line-Up

….Youth to Shine, or More Rain on Arsenal’s Parade?  Dead Rubber or More Salt (To Rub) in the Wounds?….

Early morning here and I’ve got to make hay before the snow flies, or something…There’s a big storm coming, they say, so my only real request is that my power stays on through the Toonie game, or is restored in time for it…The power company never came and cut down the 100′ (standing dead) pine they said they would… Fun times coming… Here’s the official forecast…http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=38.91504178864869&lon=-119.99451907389545&site=all&smap=1#.VIb8oTHF_Ct

But just as the weather changes from sunshine to rain and back again, so too can the fortunes of the Arsenal… Can it get any darker in the red part of North London…Oh yes it can… :D :(

I gotta say, I love the attitude of Gooners who want all kids all the time.  Normally the manager would try and balance that with results and maybe, for this one, he is… He’s front-loading today’s team with older players but bringing a bench full of kids.  I like it.  Stamina comes with physical maturity, so, while many would like a chance to assess these up and comers, asking too many of the 17 year olds to try and play a full 90–in such a(n?) hostile setting seems a recipe for disaster.  Letting a few run at full pace late on seems the right balance (to me)… Set up as we are, we’ve got to hope (in my opinion) that none of the regulars does anything requiring a youngster in for an overly long stint… After all, this game does NOT matter… (Toonies at home, does, in an huge way, I fear…)

Except, of course, that–like every match–it DOES… Any chance to deepen the division between Gooners and/or throw yourself on the dagger that Wenger hath wrought will surely be taken… The manager is clearly sending a message by bringing the team he is bringing and announcing the starters beforehand.  That message reads,.. “Lower your expectations…”  Still, a less than completely embarrassing scoreline is required, we have our pride, don’t we?  If some of the up and comers and outcasts can make a mark, it will be both a positive (another arrow for the quiver?… Another war-head in the arsenal?…) and a negative (“‘E should’a been playin’ all along, ‘e should ‘ave…”)  My money would be on Campbell (with all that experience in the next country to the west) to break his duck…Unfortunately it (my money…) is in the markets which are tanking like our team did in the first half at Stoke… Greek equities smashed through a technical barrier and are down today over 10%, they’re reporting… More fun times coming my direction, with the US markets opening soon…

But that’s just a trading opportunity–if you look at it positively… In football, the window only opens in January… Speaking of Greeks…Big match there for the Kostas who got away, not too mention the bald man with the extensions, nobody swerves like the Gerv… Up the Ursas, I say…Go on you Romans…

Back to our match…

The Line-Up for tonight:

Ars v Gala Dec 14

The hope has to be that Galatasaray will be merely going through the motions on this one and whatever technical mastery they possess can be stopped by a performance worthy of a true #1 between the sticks… In other words, a repeat of this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oO1XlraNDfQ  At the very least, a good performance from the keeper would eliminate starting vs Newcastle as a talking point…

I know some here have some fun saying it’s all Wojo’s fault, but I will take my hope where I can… If the Taxi Driver (Debuchy) has been touched by Jesus–or even the Welsh Jesus–and actually does a little Lazarus thing…Well, that seems promising, too… Likewise if the man with the beard can run the show and make good things happen in a midfield full of kids and do a bit of the savior (saviour?) business on the pitch… all the better…

The fear, however, is that the Turkish outfit wants to show a bit of pride and take some revenge for a rather thorough drubbing at our place.  The Istanbul clubs always seem a mix of (once proud) older guys and younger ones using the relatively bigger spotlight to try and shine.  They are the biggest clubs in all of Asia and playing at the very “Gateway to Europe,” after all…If they set out a strong team inspired to play at their best…it will be a substantial challenge for our guys…

So, Gooners, enjoy a glimpse of the future, relish the fact that we’re already through and in the draw later this week, OR sharpen your farming tools and ready your lighting devices… :D

Written by: 17HighburyTerrace

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Arsenal v Stoke Preview & Line-Up: Same 11 as against WBA bar Gibbs?

Stoke City – Arsenal Preview–Make or Break Time up in the Potteries

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Stoke away is a match which has become infamous since 2010 when a full blooded tackle from Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey’s tibia and fibula. Shawcross (to his credit, I believe) left the field in tears, while Ramsey left it on a stretcher–to boos and derision from Stoke supporters. Subsequently, in an atmosphere of very high emotion, Cesc Fabregas led Arsenal to a 3-1 victory. Unfortunately, the acrimony between partisans was further stoked by pantomime dramas in the press around apologies and misplaced behaviours. The negative tactics (and demeanor) of then manager, Tony Pulis, did nothing to mollify matters, nor did Arsenal’s continued struggles in trips to the Britannia. Pulis is now gone, but another manager, Mark Hughes, who has never been high on the list of most revered men amongst Gooners–or our own manager, Arsene Wenger–is now at the helm. Faces have changed but the animosity most certainly has not.

Shawcross, now Captain of his club, will lead a slightly more elegant bunch onto the pitch tomorrow. Will Hughes keep the mowers off and let it grow for an extra day or two as they used to during the Pulis era? At least the groundskeepers can no longer bring in the touchlines to league minimums to favor the long throws of Rory Delap and try to hinder the better passing clubs. Things may be modernizing at Stoke City, but the always simmering bad blood between the two clubs will not be cured by the simple handshake Shawcross and Ramsey are sure to share in the moments before kickoff.

That Ramsey will have to reprise his 90+ minutes of hard running which, at the very end, yielded the assist which allowed Gooners to breathe again, is down to the injuries in the squad. Long termers Ozil, Debuchy, Wilshere are out and Theo Walcott has not recovered from a groin strain picked up on International duty. Tomas Rosicky also seems to have picked up a thigh injury and Yaya Sanogo might be carrying a hamstring strain from 10 days ago. Both left backs, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, are nursing knocks picked up last weekend at West Bromwich Albion and Nacho, it appears, will definitely be withheld. Laurent Koscielny, although still bothered by at least one Achilles tendon, appears to be able to continue in central defense, but faces a late fitness test. His presence along with the solid work of Damien Martinez in goal have been strong factors leading to consecutive clean sheets in the league, and three in all competitions. Even though Wojciech Szczesny has recovered from his collision with Gibbs vs ManU, it seems unlikely that he’ll get the call between the sticks.

Stoke have injury issues of their own. Jonathan Walters has a knee problem and Glenn Whelan and Robert Huth are also doubtful with calf injuries. Stephen Ireland could miss out because of illness while Steve Sidwell, Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses and Dionatan Teixeira are all sidelined with longer term issues.

At least Hughes and Stoke had an extra day to recover from their midweek match on Tuesday at ManU. They lost that one, 2-1, but it was a very close and hard fought battle which turned on the slimmest of margins. They also played very well vs Liverpool and only lost on a late goal from Glen Johnson. Will they be lacking confidence from the results or taking heart in the strong performances and feeling they are due?

Arsenal, in many respects, are coming from an opposite perspective, having eked out tight wins in their last two. The fight and organization shown has been good but the inability to create more comfortable margins has taken a toll. While the manager would surely love to rotate his players, he’ll instead have to ask his guys to dig deeper, perhaps promising stalwarts like Atlas, er, Alexis Sanchez, a chance to rest in midweek when we have to make the long trip to Istanbul for the final Champions’ League group match. At least Galatasaray will have nothing to play for in that one. We would like to win that match to have a chance at winning the group, but that seems a long-shot, given that group leaders Dortmund are playing (also eliminated) Anderlecht in their home stadium.

Talking recently about his team and “lessons learned,” in reference to the way the team got exposed chasing an equalizer against ManU two weeks ago, Wenger may also be chastened by his experience in this same fixture last season. In that one, our attack, despite ample possession, was unable to make headway against a stubborn Stoke defence. Trying to rest key players, notably Mesut Ozil, backfired when, with only 15 minutes to go, a very soft handball penalty was called on Laurent Koscielny and subsequently converted by Jonathan Walters. Despite the introduction of Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanogo, the goal served to re-invigorate the Stoke team (and their crowd) and they were able to see out the victory. Trying to push earlier (and take the home support out of the match) then, might be a better tactic.

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With that notion in mind, my best guess for the starting 11 would be the group which started at WBA, with the one change at Left Back.

Arsenal v Stoke 17HT

Bench = Szczesny, Bellerin, Ajayi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Campbell (and one of Sanogo or Rosicky depending of fitness)

I could give a list of who I believe Stoke will play, but instead, I will only name the guy they (and their support) will be attempting to influence… The referee, one Anthony Taylor, infamous to Gooners for his work on Opening Day last season vs Aston Villa. Will he seek to make up for that (woeful) performance or continue in his efforts to punish our brand of football? Regardless, despite his Howard Webb hairstyle, he seems like one of the younger sorts, brought up based on a reputation for “letting them play”… Hopefully he can curb that tendency just a bit, remembering the ugliness of the Ramsey injury and its aftermath. Maybe Rambo should show him the scar… Again, taking the crowd out of this one, in the hope that the better side can prevail, seems a worthwhile tactic.

Can we do that and, more pointedly, are we actually the better side?

Under Hughes, Stoke have quietly gathered a good group which includes Stephen N’zonzi (another deep lying midfielder Arsenal might’ve considered given our own troubles in this area) and Barcelona flop, Bojan Krkic. Peter Crouch (no longer an automatic in the first 11) always seems to play his best against Arsenal and another new player, Mame Biram Diouf, took down another big team, Man City, with a solo effort on the counter for Stoke’s best moment of the season.

Stretched as we are (and Wenger admitted to the team “lacking fluency” vs Southhampton), I would say that this will be a (very) tough one. As the manager also suggests, we have to hope the boys can dig deep and get the job done. Given the high expectations of most Gooners, nothing less than taking the full 3 points will suffice. Stoke, of course, also need a result and will be well motivated to get one in front of their home support. They will also have a full week of time off before the next one, so I would expect them to pull out all the stops to leave it all out on the pitch and do everything they can to draw a line under this run of close results (but strong performances) which have gone against them. There must be a million other platitudes to suggest that another very tough battle awaits.

Insert your favorite… Or tell us who you would play (and how you would rotate) and what sort of result you’re expecting… Or anything else… :)

Go on you Gunners, Up the Arsenal, etc., etc., etc.

Written by: 17HighburyTerrace

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