Terrorist Winger, Holding Striker or DM’s Wingman: Will this Gunner Finally Break Through?!

Arsene’s Arsenal War Episode IV – A New Hope!

Since TA’s post about squad rotation and preferred line-ups I’ve been off in dream land at how I want to see Arsenal playing. Basically I would love to see a return to proper counter-attacking football – moving the ball up the pitch in seconds, killing teams off with speed and precision like in the early days of Wenger’s reign.

Before the World Cup, I remember posting a comment on this blog about how brilliant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was looking and how he could be one of the key players to England’s strategy at the World Cup – from Roy Hodgson’s comments in the aftermath of the assault on AOC in the second Stateside friendly it seems I wasn’t the only one to have that idea. I was excited by his pace and control on the ball and was disappointed for him personally that he wouldn’t get to play at a World Cup.

The Ox: ready for a Rambo-style breakthrough season?
The Ox: ready for a Rambo-style breakthrough season?

Having said that, it could end up being my favourite injury ever, and one of the best for his career as he will be fresher than any other WC squad members for the coming season. I believe/hope he can be used in a different way to last season, capitalising on the addition of the world class Alexis and the semi-imminent return to fitness of the former fastest footballer in the world (second now to Arjen Robben), Theo Walcott. If used to an effect pertinent to the situation at hand, I think his versatility can be a major weapon for the team now and in the future.

Let’s look at ways he could be deployed:

1. Terrorist winger. Ox is quick on the ball, can wriggle out of tight situations better than most without relying on his pace, is strong, and isn’t afraid to run at defenders; but at the same time, he generally makes good decisions about what to do with the ball. That decision making will become more refined with experience too. Maybe I’m expecting too much of him but as I’ve commented on a previous post, I envisage something similar to what Thierry Henry used to do to defenders.

2. Holding striker. His strength can help make this happen. Ok, he’s not as tall as Giroud but once he has the ball he can keep hold of it, hold defenders off and wait to link up with advancing team-mates. His awareness and ability to beat defenders will also add to his menace in these situations, as they won’t be able to get too tight on him in case he beats them, which will push the defensive line back and leave more space for our attackers.

3. In time, if Wenger follows up on his comment about Ox being able to eventually play in the middle: designated DM’s wingman. If we have a designated DM in the pivot Ox will have the freedom to roam forward and link up with the four front men. Using attributes already discussed, he can make defences nervous, making judicious runs into the box, passing or carrying the ball out of tight spots, drawing defenders to him and creating space and opportunities for team mates.

In general approach, I favour giving Theo his wish up front and having Ox, Oz and Sanchez behind him. My reasoning is that Theo is becoming acceptably reliable in front of goal (and more clinical than OG) and practice can only make more and more perfect. Whilst Theo would not be able to hold the ball up, the pace we now have in Alexis, Theo and Ox would mean that this would not be such a crucial skill for our front man to have…even if they couldn’t carve out an opportunity immediately, they can keep the ball between themselves for the few seconds until Oz, Rambo, Debuchy and Gibbs get there.

If counter-attacking wasn’t working (as it wouldn’t against Mourinho and his anti-football) and Giroud wasn’t on the field, Ox could then adopt role 2 from my list, and even interchange reasonably freely with Theo anyway, since Theo is used to a role on the right. It would all add to a sense of unpredictability to unsettle defenders.

Role 3 may come in time; he wouldn’t be ready for it now I don’t think – and Ramsey is everyone’s first choice for the kind of role I would like to see him playing if Wenger does move him into the middle eventually, but he could certainly learn to be a superb covering option for that position.

Wenger doesn’t pigeon-hole people and he plays to their strengths, so I think Wenger will use Ox’s versatility to the advantage of the team (including keeping Alex happy with the roles he is asked to assume).

The way I see it, the kind of football we now have the squad to play this season is really an evolution of the 4-4-2 we played in the late 90s – and they are among my fondest memories of Arsenal. I’m excited about the squad we currently have and Wenger’s decisiveness so far this summer. It suggests to me that despite all indications to the contrary since 2006, he knows exactly how he wants the team playing and he can now go and get the players he doesn’t already have to make that happen. I don’t really think there is a lot of room for improvement, although I would love to see a SQ DM come in. I think our attacking options are much more multi-dimensional than they have ever been for as long as I’ve been a Gooner.

It is Wenger’s time to go for the jugular. I’m hopeful of a glorious twilight to his Arsenal career.

How do the tactically astute see it? Am I expecting too much of the boy Oxlade-Chamberlain? Do I think too highly of him? Am I expecting too much of Wenger? Am I being wildly tactically naive? If we played the way I’ve outlined above next season (with a theoretically rock-solid back 6), will it be enough to give us a shot at the title?

On a personal note, I’m looking forward to taking my three-year-old to his first Arsenal game at the Emirates Cup on Saturday so if you’re going too, no swearing please… 🙂

Written by: Jozefos2013

Arsene to face the cat again?

WengerWincing (2)

There is a lot of anticipation among fine fellow Gooners that Arsenal will buy at least three super quality players this summer, and will have a far better chance to win something big next season.

Over the last few years the club has not necessarily stagnated – competition has increased, yet we have still been able to finish in the top-four – but we do not seem to be able to push on for the title, let alone for the CL cup (although winning the FA Cup was a fine feat).

When I wrote about Arsene in the past, I have sometimes used Kafka’s ‘Little Fable’ as a fine analogy, as I see it, of the Frenchman’s attempt to get the club back to the domestic top and European glory. You can never fail him for trying, although it is becoming harder and harder to support him on his choices/approaches to get there (at least for me).

“Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”

     “You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

Franz Kafka

‘A Little Fable’

My questions to you, fine fellow Gooners, are:

  1. Will Arsene change direction next season to get us to the very top or will it be another ‘deja-vu’ season?
  2. Do you believe that we, as a club, actually can compete for the top prices, or should we lower our expectations?
  3. Will he aim to get back to Wengerball football as in the Bergkamp and Fabregas eras; and if so, how will he achieve it?
  4.  How much trust do you have that Wenger can still get us there (on a scale from one to ten: one being very low and 10 being very high)?
  5. And who does he need to buy/what does he need to do tactically (formation/style of play) to get us there and avoid running once more into the Cat’s trap?


Written by: TotalArsenal.




Forget Cesc – Ozil is the player Arsenal needs!



There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the future of Cesc Fabregas and how he is the missing piece of the puzzle for Arsenal to return to Wengerball – however, I disagree and believe a second season from Ozil will simply be all we need.

Aside from the fact that Cesc may be abandoning his promise to only ever play for Barcelona and Arsenal, and is apparently willing to go to Chelsea to reinvigorate his career, he should still not be a priority signing. We have an embarrassment of riches in the creative midfield area and he would simply block the progression of players like Wilshere, Ramsey, Zelalem, Eisfeld and even Ox (since one of Ozil, Santi or Jack would likely be pushed wide to accommodate Cesc in the starting 11). There’s a necessity for depth in any team’s lineup, but center attacking midfield is certainly not one where we are lacking options. Factor in a likely improved second season for Ozil and a rebound year for Santi, and we’re beyond set for creativity.

Ozil often receives misguided criticism for his lack of emotion, relatively carefree motion on the pitch, subpar finishing and inability to constantly influence a match. I challenge those that condemn our most expensive signing ever by highlighting that Ozil is simply more intelligent than the majority of footballers that play the game. His lack of emotion can be attributed to high composure and keeps him out of trouble with fouls; his relatively carefree motions on the pitch are a result of the grace he plays with and not needing to expend the extra energy to make his presence felt; his subpar finishing is an area he can obviously improve upon, but he did score a respectable 1 goal every 5 matches in the league last season; his inability to constantly influence a match is a testament to his understanding of the team game and that other players also need to be involved in the creative aspects of a match, in order to inspire unpredictability and true team unity.


Ozil can change the outcome of a game without a moment’s notice with one decisive, splitting through ball. He will be more familiar with both the league and his teammates and also have better outlets to pass to in Theo and hopefully a new striker capable of scoring at will. The catalyst in playing Wengerball is the ability to transition the ball quickly from defense to offense – this is often not the responsibility of a number 10. A number 10 is expected to be able to find his teammates in the final third and produce as many clear-cut scoring opportunities as possible. There are few, if any, better at this than Ozil.

The most shocking revelation is how little faith Gooners have shown Ozil after just one season. Fans continue to give Giroud the benefit of doubt, yet do not afford Ozil the same, even though he produced 5 goals and 9 assists in his Arsenal debut season. At the conclusion of next season, I have no doubt in my mind that Ozil will be one of the most influential and effective players in the EPL and those questioning his ability to be Arsenal’s number 10 will be regretting they ever did.

Written By: Highbury Harmony

The most important signing of this summer is surely Cesc Fabregas

The Terror Window is only a few weeks old but it has not disappointed one bit. Nobody signed yet of course, but now Arsenal are also apparently not interested in bringing the conductor back to the home of football. I did not make much of this, until I read an article on the BBC website which as good as confirmed this rumour.

Without a conductor Arsenal will continue to struggle to find its rhythm and depth again.
Without a conductor Arsenal will continue to struggle to find its rhythm and depth again.

Fabregas has never been replaced, and since he left, Wenger has been unsuccessful in getting us anywhere near back to how we used to play attractive, attacking football. Mansour City and Pool play better football than we do now. They have copied us and are surpassing us… an uncomfortable fact for us Gooners.

Ozil is no conductor, Ramsey is no conductor, Cazorla is very limited as conductor, and Jack will need a few more years  to establish himself as our conductor. If we want to reach the next level, the first player to sign is Cesc Fabregas: he will give the much needed midfield direction and dominance back to our football.

Any arguments about having enough midfielders already, is missing the point. We do not have a conductor. There is a vacancy and there is no better footballer in the world for us to fill it than our ex-el-capitan.

Let’s face it: Wenger likes to play with an army of midfielders, and this will not change any time soon. We have a holding striker in Giroud, whose role it is to bring the midfielders into play and allow them to both create chances, for him and other midfielders, and to score goals. We don’t do wingers in our team; even Theo is not used as a proper winger…. and he wants to be a central striker anyway. Pod is not a winger either, and neither are Cazorla, Ox or Rosicky.

We play with midfielders and lots of them. So with 5 midfield positions and possibly 60+ games in all competitions, Arsene needs to fill about 300 starting positions in a season. We have Cazorla, Jack, Pod, Ox, Theo, Arteta, Ramsey, Flamini, Ozil, Rosicky, and hopefully Cesc soon, and let’s say a youngster like Eisfeld or Gnabry will break through: 12 ‘midfielders’ for 300 games, which makes a nice average of at least 25 games for every player.

We also need a dedicated DM, which we probably will not get once again this summer; but even if we did, we could let either Flamini or Arteta go, to not increase the numbers further. 12 players for 5 midfield slots, or 2.4 player per position…. does that sound unreasonable for a 60+ games season?! I don’t think so.

Furthermore, our youngsters, Ox, Eisfeld/Gnabry, Jack, but also Pod, Theo and Rosicky, are all injury prone, so it is more likely that the likes of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and Cesc would play a lot more than 25 games a season next season. If all are fit, we can start rotating players properly, thus avoiding the need to keep playing our key players till they burn out and get badly injured.

The idea of starting a dedicated DM, with Ramsey or Wilshere next to him, Fab in the middle and Ozil and Theo on the ‘wings’ is mouth watering.

But so is playing in the next game, Arteta and Fab in the double DM pivot, Jack in the hole and Pod and Ox on the ‘wings’. Or Flamini and Ramsey in the double DM pivot and Cazorla and Gnabry on the wings with Rosicky in the hole in other games.

arsenal with Cesc

But when it really matters, against the big teams, we play Cesc, Ramsey/Jack, Ozil, Theo, and a beast of a DM in our midfield positions. The ‘beast’ – say Nigel de Jong or Wanyama or Martinez – can also pass the ball well enough to fit it. Ozil would suit the ‘free role’ on the left well and Jack and Rambo can compete for the b2b position. Theo on the right adds speed and Cesc and Ozil and Jack/Aaron interchange constantly. But Cesc conducts it all until Jack the pupil is ready…

Cesc is not a nicety in our team but an absolute must if we want to start winning the PL title again. We need a conductor to make Arsenal play the finest tunes of football again, and I cannot think of a more important signing for Arsenal this summer than Fabregas.

Let’s just hope that Wenger is playing hard ball, as he knows that Cesc will not go anywhere else than to Arsenal if he is forced to leave Barcelona, and wants to negotiate the price down…. just like they did to us three years ago….

Bring him back home, Arsene; we need him, we want him, we love him; and three out of three ain’t bad.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Arguably the Greatest nr.10 Ever: Master of Balance.


Being a person who started watching football because of Dennis Bergkamp, I had been trying to get my hands on a copy of the new book by David Winner on Dennis Bergkamp, “Stillness and Speed”. My fiancé finally got it for me and I couldn’t wait to dig into it.

Stillness and Speed reads very much unlike what a typical football biography reads like; it is constructed of a simple structure that allows for a brilliant insight into the life and mind of the genius that is Bergkamp. Winner himself, in the preface, sights the book Puskas on Puskas as one of the inspirations behind the structure of Stillness and Speed. The book is made of chapters of questions and answers with the Dutch master, detailing his time as a child to the early years in Ajax, the lost years in Italy and finally the Arsenal years. This journey is punctuated by Dennis’ accounts of the tournaments he played with the Dutch national team, and of the in-fighting amongst arguably one of the most talented national teams in the world.

There are no headline grabbing assertions, no declarations that would propel the book to the tabloids must read list, rather Stillness and Speed reads in a vein similar to how Dennis himself would play. There is class and elegance, yet a simplicity of thought and action. Dennis comes across as a connoisseur of the game, a person who ‘serves the game’ as Arsene Wenger points out. A recurring theme in his story is that of balance. For Dennis, the most important thing is the balance, whether that is in how he controls the ball or how he controls his thoughts.

There are wonderful accounts of the goal against Argentina in ’98 and the goal against Newcastle. The ’98 goal remains his One Big Moment, the moment where he says all his life led him to. In a game where he was not at his best, he has three touches and a goal. It is incredible to read his account of the goal and how his fellow players saw the moment. There are also accounts of his FA Cup penalty miss (which, it is interestingly noted, was as close as we got to the double that year, instead Man U won the treble) and his fear of flying.

Another interesting thing that comes out is his love for the sublime with respect to playing with the football. As a kid growing up, Dennis tried to understand the nuances of ball control, and for him it was always about a challenging ball that he would control. He learnt about how the various positions of the foot hitting the ball, and the pace with which the ball would be hit would result in the flight of the ball. He said to his team mates, once he arrived in Arsenal, to never give him a simple ball. He asked them to challenge him, so he can challenge himself. It is also clear that he was a big influence on players like Pires and Henry, and the group of exquisite talent that Arsenal had in the early 2000s that went on to become the Invincibles were hugely inspired by Dennis.

It is also insightful to see how Dennis saw Arsene, considering the recent flak Arsene has taken on his lack of tactical nous. Dennis saw Arsene as a fellow lover of the game, a man with a philosophy who prepares the players to extend themselves and to play with his philosophy. At the same time, the impression I get is that for Dennis, Arsene’s style is a derivative mix of the Total Football style with pace and defensive strength (an English hallmark), rather than a simple attack-at-all-costs philosophy. It is interesting to try to reconcile this vision (which was quite evident in the Arsenal teams of the early 2000s) with the teams that have been going out in the last few seasons. On the same vein, there are passages highlighting the arguments the two of them had on football and on Dennis’ decreasing playing time as he grew older. Despite that, there is great mutual respect between the two of them.

There are colorful descriptions of Dennis as a joker in the team, playing pranks on the likes of Martin Keown; and his wonderfully coincidental meeting with Ian Wright at a petrol station when he had first arrived to sign on for Arsenal. Another very unique passage in the books details Dennis’ time in Italy, with the details coming from his teammates in Inter Milan. It is evident that the Inter team did not want to change their philosophy to Dennis’; and Dennis also did not want to change himself to the Italian way. It was a marriage that was destined to fail.

Dennis comes out as a man who believes in his vision of the game, who loves the nuances of the first and second touches to the ball, who believes in the value of a tough assist rather than an easy goal. He is a believer in coaching the Ajax youngsters in a similar philosophy, raising artists with their unique visions of the game rather than off-the-shelf developed youngsters who will play a position and are trained to do what the position demands. Dennis’ comparison between structure of a position, and structural training (Where the youngster playing on the wing for instance will always run up and down and cross, but never create using the balance of players on the pitch or the spaces on the pitch) vs. a more free expressive training in which the youngster can be a creative artist with a vision. Dennis’ love for spaces and on-pitch geometry comes out brilliantly.

All in all, it is a brilliant read; a must for lovers and students of the game and lovers of Dennis Bergkamp. My only gripe with the book is that whereas his early years and Italian years are described with detail, his time at Arsenal is more anecdotal, and the season by season transition and detail feels missing. Still, a fantastic book on arguably the greatest no 10 ever.

Written by: Umair Naeem

The one player that can give Arsene his magic back


Where has the magic gone?

Last April, one of the best writers of the last century passed away at the age of 87: Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I first read the Columbian’s master pieces like ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ and the phenomenal ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ in my late teens/ early twenties, and they opened a new world for me. Marquez’s books are very colourful and full of imagination and magic; a stark contrast with most of the Dutch literature I read back then. These were an introduction into magical realism for me: Marquez’s stories appear too fantastic, too dreamlike to be true, but he was just able to give ‘reality’ another dimension – a quality that only brilliant storytellers possess. As he put it himself in response to a question by a good friend of his:

“The way you treat reality in your books … has been called magical realism. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic of your stories but fail to see the reality behind it … .” “This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn’t limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs.”

After Marquez, I read a great number of Latin/South American literature: Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Joao Guimaraes Rosa, whose ‘Grande Sertão: Veredas (translated as ‘The Devil to Pay in the Backlands’) is one of the best books I have ever read: open this book at any page and read a few sentences and you will find it is pure beauty.

Adding beauty and magic to life is one of humans’ greatest gifts, but it takes a lot of effort and focus to do so, as well as being able to see and appreciate it.

By now the more impatient readers of Bergkampesque will be asking themselves: but what has this got to do with football? And my response to this is: everything and nothing. The quest for beauty – whether in football or life in general – is important to me, as it compensates for all the horror, sadness and injustice we get confronted with in our daily lives. Beauty is the brother of human warmth/love, and without these two what would life mean?

As a Dutchman, and in stark contrast to most of our 20th century literature, I was lucky enough to grow up with magical football. From the dazzling Dutch National team of Cruijff and Michels in 1974 to the Ajax teams in the seventies and mid-nineties, I have truly been spoilt by the beauty of (total) football.

Regulars on BK know that Dennis Bergkamp’s move to Arsenal – who for me, and I know many others, was the on-field personification of beautiful football – led me gradually to our beloved Arsenal. Dennis would not have become such a club legend without the guidance and football philosophy of Arsene Wenger. But this goes also the other way: without Bergkamp, Wenger would not have been able to implement his beautiful Wengerball with such impact and success rate.

Thanking The Guardian for the picture.
Simply Sublime.

Gradually, however, the beautiful vision and skills of the wunderkind from Catalonia, Cesc Fabregas, replaced Dennis’ mastery and conductorship. Around him, Arsene build another fine brand of football, which did not win us prices, but was always a joy to watch. We can only wonder what would have happened if Arsenal had been able to keep hold of its key players and strengthen the squad every year with one or two quality players, during the initial post-Highbury years. But winning is not everything, at least not for me, and I have great memories of how we played the game under conductor El Capitan.

Since the departure of Cesc our football has seldom been of the Bergkamp and Fabregas standard. There have been moments in games, and sometimes even whole games, when we played beautiful football. But it is fair to say, Wenger has been struggling to get us back to the standards we have become accustomed to over recent decades. I have no doubt he can get us there again: his passion and vision are as good as ever; but I am wondering how he can do it.

For me, Arsene needs a conductor in the middle, ideally in the ‘hole’ position. I have seen enough to believe that Ozil is a great player but not a conductor who shapes and commands the midfield. I have great hopes for Jack, the best young footballer I have seen in the game since Cesc, but I reckon he has not got the stamina/fitness yet to be a continuous force in our team. Ramsey is our ideal box-to-boxer but I don’t see him as a conductor in our team.

In order to get back to full-on Wengerball, with now a better chance to win something in the process, we need to add at least a DM who can pass the ball as well. I have written enough about this recently, so will not elaborate much further. Suffice to say, we need a player in front of our back four who can defend, has great stamina and physicality, allows his fellow midfielders to play higher up the pitch and can pass the ball well (enough).

But we also need to fill the hole with somebody who owns the area in front of the opponents’ ‘D’, all the way back to the middle line, and if Cesc is really willing to leave Barcelona……

They lift you up where you belong
They lift you up where you belong


Written by: TotalArsenal.

Be good to yourself.

Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine games for Arsene Wenger: Time to say Thank You!

Arsene Wenger: A Man in Full.
Arsene Wenger: A Man in Full.

To me it is incomprehensible that a modern day manager can last a thousand matches; and it remains to be seen whether anybody will ever do it again at a top club. It is a shame that Arsene’s 1000th game has to be away at Chelsea: the cauldron of disloyalty and classlessness. Of course, it would be very, very sweet if we were to beat them on Saturday, but given Maureen’s record at the Bridge, our current injuries and lack of attacking thrust in recent games, this is unlikely to happen, unfortunately.

But, whatever the result, nothing will take away the significance of managing our beloved club for 1000 games. Wenger has won 572 from his 999 in charge, a win percentage of 57.26. Alex Ferguson, who managed the Mancs for an unbelievable 1500 games, has a win percentage of 59.67. Given that the club has reached a new era now, with a strong financial basis and being fully able to both hold on to our players and buy quality additions, what is the bet that, if Arsene – eight years the junior to SAF – were to manage the club for another 500 games, he will equal or even improve the Scotsman’s win percentage?

Whether Arsene will stay for that long, or even beyond this season, remains to be seen. The secret of a long life is knowing when it is time to go; and I hope he will strongly consider his ongoing health status when deciding on the future. Bob Crow’s, RMT’s General Secretary, sudden death last week has made me realise again what demands are put on people who combine idealism and passion with high work demands and expectations by themselves and others. There are not many people left like Wenger, especially not in football, and, whether you are a Gooner or not, they need to be cherished and protected. Something that does not happen enough.

Even if Arsene was to stop at the end of the season, his legacy would easily be as big as Ferguson’s. He might not have won as much as the Scot, but he has introduced a style and quality of football that brought an enormous beauty to these shores, which is now copied by a number of PL clubs, most notably by Pool and the Northern Oilers. He was able to win heavy silverware with this style of football, which was all epitomised by the 49-games unbeaten run of the Invincibles. In twenty, forty, sixty years from now, true footie lovers – Gooners and non-Gooners alike – will still remember Arsenal under Wenger; you can bet on that.

He also stuck with the club when it would have been a lot easier to go somewhere else, where money is no object and life is a lot easier. He saw us through a very challenging period, which was made a lot, lot harder by the arrival of the Oil-For-Cups era. In stark contrast, Van Gaal left Ajax soon after the new stadium was completed, back in 1997; and although they have done okay domestically – which is not that hard – they appear to have lost the battle for European silverware for good (despite the odd peaks in performance).

Whether Arsene is still the right man to take us one step forward again is open to debate, but whatever lies in the future, we should be very thankful for what he has done for our club in the last 999 games, both on and off the pitch and in terms of laying the foundations for our long term position among the domestic and European elite. Everything is in place to make that step and let’s hope that Arsene makes the right decision, as it is up to him; this he has earned.

But from Saturday onwards it is one game at a time (OGAAT) again: for ninety plus minutes we’ll forget about our past and future and fight for every ball. Come on You Rip Roaring Gunners – Victoria Concordia Crescit!

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”

Albert Camus



 Written by: TotalArsenal.

Bayern – Arsenal Predicted Line Up: Will Wenger Surprise Us Again?

Tomorrow night, in the futuristic, brand new Allianz Arena, Arsenal will play a ‘nothing to lose’ Champions League game against the reigning European Champions. Anything can happen tomorrow: from a drab goalless draw, to 120 minutes of spectacular football followed by a nail-biting penalty shootout; from a glorious aggregate win over Die Lederhosen to a very heavy defeat. I cannot predict the outcome but have no doubt that Wenger will field his strongest team, with a strategy to win whilst playing football as it should be played.

I predict a big big night for AOC
I predict a big big night for AOC

So, no parking of the London double bus as the London Oilers once did, but also no kamikaze approach. Getting the balance right is key and Bayern might not give us much chance to play our game anyway; as, especially under Guardiola, they like to dominate teams and suck the lifeblood out of them. They will want to do the same to Arsenal but let’s pump some lead into them instead.

So let’s cut to the chase: how should we line up to give ourselves the best possible chance?

Four things are vital:

  1. Solid approach to defending as a team: especially the two players in the DM pivot and our mid-wingers are key and need to be picked with defending duties and qualities in mind;
  2. Possession of the ball will be key and we need players who can pass and hold on to the ball in confined spaces as good as possible;
  3. We need players who are able to add thrust and speed to our attack; especially our midfielders need to possess these skills;
  4. We need leadership and composure and, of course, passion.

Gibbs is not available and neither is Nacho, and realistically, we have two options: Vermaelen or Sagna (Jenkinson to be our left back). I have a feeling Wenger will go for Vermaelen this time as he will need Sagna on the left to keep Ribery quiet. Vermaelen needs support though, and we will play either Cazorla or Rosicky as our mid-left. I have a feeling it will be Rosicky.

FlamTeta in the DM pivot again? Yes, I reckon that would make sense. The area in front of our D will be most important for keeping it tight and both Arteta and Flamini will have to give their all to keep the Bayern midfielders away from our box, and also not allow them to shoot from just outside it as much as possible (often our Achilles’ heel against Bayern)…..they also will have to support the full backs and will simply be tested to the max. We could play Ox or Rosicky next to Flamini (or Arteta) but I reckon we need both of the Frenchman and Spaniard’s experience to fully protect our back-four.

Then the most exciting area: ‘the front four’. What is Wenger going to do? Sanogo is injured, so we should expect Giroud to start, but…… Wenger might go for speed up-front, as BM will play with a high-line and Giroud might not be as effective as he usually is in the centre of attack, as he lacks the speed to really worry them. But, he might be very important for our ability to hold on to the ball and get our midfielders involved in our attacks…

Wenger might suprise us once again with an alternative attacker…maybe Ox, or even Gnabry? I am going to go with Giroud, just marginally. He scored at Bayern last season and looked sharp and refreshed against Everton, but it is his hold-up play and ability to bring the midfielders into play which will add so much value to the team.

If we do not opt for speed and thrust in our CF, we will need to have it in our midfielders; especially as our normal ‘wingers’ – the full backs – will not be able to go forward a lot in this game. Ozil is a given, and, in current form, Ox is as well. It was two years and five days ago when AOC played the best game of his career – against Milan at home – and let’s hope he can produce a similarly dynamic and inspiring performance.

But who to complete the (attacking) midfield: Cazorla, Rosicky, or even Pod? As said earlier, I reckon it might be Rosicky as he adds so much drive and energy as well as good control of the ball in tight spaces. But Cazorla played well on Saturday and starting to hit fine form and also scores a lot more than the Czech….

The slightly conservative predicted Wenger line-up is:

Ars v Bay conservative2

But I reckon he will do something a bit more daring, as to be able to play his very best players and find a good balance between solidity and attacking prowess.

So maybe, he will go for this more adventurous line-up (with one of Flamini and Arteta):

Ars v Bay adventurous2

We will have to wait and see, but I reckon both line-ups have their merits and will provide plenty of leadership, composure and passion to the team.

Come On You Rip Roaring Gunners – Make Us Proud!


Bergkamp’s Benediction Complete? Surely Not Yet!


Finally, Dennis Bergkamp was given the recognition by the club he thoroughly deserves. On Saturday 22 February, the non-Flying Dutchman’s ‘in-flight’ statue was revealed outside the stadium among many fans. Truly great people accompany their phenomenal successfulness and lightness of being with a healthy, natural dose of humility. Dennis is not a man of many words, but you only have to look at his face to see what this statue means to him; he was truly humbled by the occasion.

We all know what Dennis brought to our club with his vision, passion and talents. He was the embodiment on the pitch for Arsene’s Wengerball; and, like him, he understood the rare value of loyalty – of sticking with something rather than choosing the easy route to ‘success’, by seeing something through till the end.

Immortal DB10
Immortal DB10

Bergkamp does not need a statue to become immortal with many generations of Arsenal supporters, as he simply already occupies in each and every one of us, a permanent mass of brain cells directly linked to our ability to appreciate beauty and love for Arsenal; indeed, many of us simply refer to him as ‘God’. But it is nevertheless a fine gesture by the club, and an appropriate recognition of what he meant, and means, to us all.

As such, his benediction – the state of being blessed – appears to be complete. And yet, it feels there is still more to come. As we all know, Dennis has moved into football management, albeit in an assistant role to De Boer at Ajax.

The question is whether he will ever move into the top job, as he appears satisfied with his current subservient role, which also requires a minimum need to fly in scary aeroplanes, of course. I can only see it work in a two-headed club manager role, in which Dennis stays home when the team plays far way.

But, even in an assistant role Bergkamp could make a real difference at our club. He could work with the likes of Jack, Ox, Zelalem, Eisfeld, Ramsey etc etc, and turn them into top class players. At Ajax, the fruits of his hard work are mostly wasted, as they simply cannot keep hold of their talents anymore. A real shame – an international disgrace, in fact.

Therefore, it would only make sense for Dennis to join us in the near future and take his rightful place next to Arsene and Steve. Please make it so, Arsene!


How DB10 re-inspired me: ‘Stillness and Speed’

‘Stillness and Speed’, by Dennis Bergkamp – A Review.

Thanking The Guardian for the picture.
Thanking The Guardian for the picture.

In terms of footballing autobiographies I am not very widely read; I think the extent of my involvement is Perry Groves’s (which was ridiculously funny in places, but amounted to essentially a collection of anecdotes) and Kenny Sansom’s, which I still haven’t finished. However, having spent four days immersed in Dennis Bergkamp’s experiences, I have emerged from my self-imposed exile from humanity with a much more satisfied glow than these other former Gunners provided, or threatened to provide. I feel now much more like I did at the end of Fever Pitch: pleased that God made me Gooner, and privileged to enjoy football in a way that only a Gooner can (and as Nick Hornby pointed out, this sometimes involves intense disappointment, frustration and hatred). If you’re looking for an objective review, you’re probably on the wrong website. I don’t want to ruin this book for anyone either, so my review won’t mention anything in great detail, as I could not do any of what was said justice by rehashing it into my own words.

Overall one of the best things I found was that the narrative isn’t a ghost writer imposing his own linguistic artistry onto Dennis’s thoughts and portraying them as his own, but rather a transcript of interviews with him and others who knew enough about him to add something worthwhile to the book (family, friends, colleagues and bosses from the teams he played for – notably Ian WWW, Thierry Henry and AW).

As I read the first few pages, I began to realise why I didn’t become a professional footballer (as I had wanted to when I was 6), or even very good at football at all: the attention to detail that Dennis put into everything, particularly football, was incomprehensible to me; and the feeling that he understood deeply something I only ever see superficially grew as the book progressed, as he spoke about distances between players, angles, manipulating space on the pitch, working for the team and making the perfect pass.

As an Arsenal fan, knowing where the book was headed even at the beginning, I was delighted to learn that he had put in more time and effort as a kid playing football on the street than I have ever had the concentration to put into football – he would aim for particular bricks in the wall he used to kick a ball against and constantly test out what happened when the ball rebounded in this way or that, or when he changed variable x, y or z.

Another impressive trait I observed was that of him not objecting to other people seeing events differently to him: he called it having their own truth, and he encouraged the authors to get the points of view honestly from others involved, such as at Inter Milan, where he doesn’t seem to have had a very good time. And although he would defend himself against some of what was said it would only be to put across his own view.

Turns out Dennis Bergkamp doesn’t like to do things the way other people do them.

That’s why he signed for Inter instead of Milan, opting against joining the Dutch trio who enjoyed enormous success there, where he would have been able to integrate pretty easily with van Basten and co, but would have become just another player scoring lots of goals: he wanted to make a distinct mark. It is also one of the reasons why, when he left Inter, he signed for us rather than the Spuds where Hoddle, one of his favourite players, had made a mark. Whatever the reason, and really the story of every human life hinges on decisions which may be made on little more than a whim, he signed for Arsenal and he has Arsenal in his blood now.

It was illuminating reading about situations at Highbury when Bruce Rioch was appointed; this was a time when the information superhighway was more of a dirt track, and one I was not connected to: most of my ‘knowledge’ of football came from Amiga games, and I was more concerned with whether Arsenal had beaten Villa or Man United than I was with who our manager was. From the time he was appointed to the time he departed, all I knew about him was that he’d been the Bolton manager when they’d knocked us out of the FA Cup. I didn’t realise he’d had a vision for Arsenal to play attractive football too.

Despite my comments about Perry Groves’s book earlier, autobiographies would be nothing without anecdotes, and once Dennis has signed for Arsenal there are a good few of them, and as a Gooner a lot of them made me giddy with excitement, as I’m sure they will you lot too.

I know I said I didn’t want to spoil it but if you don’t know the one about his first meeting with Ian Wright, you’re in for a treat; in general however it was exhilarating to see what other people at Arsenal had to say about him, particularly Thierry and Wrighty, who played up front alongside him. I get the impression that it was really at Arsenal he was allowed to become the footballer he wanted to be and his commitment to the team (whichever one he was playing for) is something that is reflected in the way he takes pleasure as much in his assists as he does in his goals.

It is lovely to relive his great goals as well though: another reminder as to why I was never going to play football for a living though as he talked me through his decision making processes and the attendant awareness of everything around him on the pitch. The goal against Newcastle still has me in awe, as does the one for Holland at the World Cup.

Discussions of his experiences at Ajax, Inter and Arsenal lend themselves naturally to delicious considerations of his footballing ideology both by himself and others, notably Johan Cruyff, AW and Thierry. Certain transfer decisions are cast into lights we may not have considered before too, which, whilst objectively uninteresting, is still of immense interest to (certain) Gooners. I was just annoyed Vieira to Juve wasn’t one of them.
I’m not a literature buff so I don’t read many books more than once, but this is certainly one I will come back to. Because of Stillness and Speed, my three-year-old can now recognise DB10 and AW, and I feel like a better informed Gooner for reading it.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to Gooners.

Written by: Jozefos2013

For another review, see this Guardian link: