Tag Archives: Reine-Adelaide

FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-0 win over Sutton

Arsenal defeated Sutton United 2-0 on Monday to next face Lincoln City in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. It doesn’t make up for the humiliating 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League but it shows that the players still care about the club and their manager.

  1. The Gunners overcame nerves

The club was under heavy scrutiny after the defeat in Germany last week. The FA Cup tie at Gander Green Lane looked like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was a great opportunity to bounce back and restore a bit of confidence. On the other, a poor result would have made the atmosphere around the club even more toxic. Neutral fans and pundits were obviously rooting for the Yellows, who play in the fifth division of English football.

Sutton vs. Arsenal.jpg

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

It could have been a tricky match on Sutton’s artificial pitch, where the ball doesn’t bounce like it does on the grass. The game almost had a goofy feel with balloons rolling on the pitch and a streaker interrupting play after 11 minutes. The Yellows showed a lot of commitment, winning 60.5% of the duels according to Arsenal’s website. Two misplaced passes from Monreal to Iwobi in the opening minutes betrayed the visitors’ nervosity. With 10 men behind the ball, Sutton kept a compact shape until the 27th minute when the Gunners converted their first chance of the game.

  1. Perez deserves more playing time

The Spanish striker capitalized on a counterattack to break the deadlock with a low curling shot. He displayed a tremendous work-rate by making 3 tackles and winning 63.6% of his duels. In my eyes, Perez should be ahead of Walcott in the pecking order not just because he contributes more defensively but also because he has better passing skills.

  1. Walcott reached the 100-goal mark

The England international scored his 100th goal for Arsenal by stabbing home a low cross from Monreal in the 55th. That’s a lot if you compare with Aaron Lennon’s tally. And it’s not much when you know that he has been at the club since 2006. Pundits sometimes say that as a winger Walcott doesn’t get as many chances as a centerforward. But then Sanchez notched 25 goals from the left wing in his first season at Arsenal.

To a certain extent, Walcott embodies the limits of this club. He can produce a moment of magic with his trademark diagonal run. But he can also go missing from an entire game. Walcott has shown consistency at the top level only once in his career: that was in the 2012-13 season when he scored 21 goals for the club. He has a good shot at beating that total with 15 goals so far this season.

  1. Oxlade-Chamberlain must learn from his mistakes

The Ox gifted a goal to Bayern Munich by dribbling on the edge of his own area. He obviously failed to learn his lesson on Monday when he came off the bench to replace Elneny at halftime. Gomis initiated a fast break by dispossessing the Ox in the 77th. It took a clearance from Holding to end the threat.

At 23 and in his 6th season at Arsenal, the Ox is no longer a rookie. He definitely has the skills to play in central midfield but first he needs to cut his turnover rate and improve his passing accuracy. The Ox showed a glimpse of his talent by dribbling past two players in the 69th to make a teasing cross for Walcott who couldn’t make contact with the ball. Then the Ox forced a diving save from Worner with a curling shot in the 81st.

  1. Our goalkeepers are flawed

Cech struggled to stop long-range strikes last season and has already cost two penalties this season. That should be the perfect opportunity for Ospina to claim the starting spot in goal. Unfortunately, Ospina still can’t command his area. The Colombia goalkeeper was outmuscled by Bailey in the 6-yard box and beaten to the ball by Collins, who headed a corner over the bar in the 60th. And just like Cech gifted Chelsea a goal with a sloppy pass, Ospina had a poor pass intercepted by May, who fired wide on the stroke of halftime. For those who think that Szczesny is the answer, just remember his blunders and his attitude issues on and off the pitch.

  1. Reine-Adelaide shouldn’t be in the first team

The French teenager has a lot of potential but is really too soft. He was dispossessed 7 times, more than any other player according to whoscored.com, and won only 11% of his duels. Reine-Adelaide clearly doesn’t have the level to play in the Premier League. And after watching his performance against Sutton, you kind of wonder whether he would be strong enough to play in the fifth division of English football.

Arsenal should definitely loan him out to a lower-league club so that he can toughen up and add some physicality to his game. Otherwise we’ll keep having those “men vs. boys” comments that pundits made after the losses to Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Reine-Adelaide was replaced by Maitland-Niles in the 74th.

I have high hopes for Maitland-Niles and was disappointed not to see him in the starting lineup. He’s pretty much a holding midfielder a la Makelele and has more potential than Coquelin, who doesn’t have the tactical discipline for that role. In fact, I tend to see Coquelin more like a utility midfielder, a cheap version of Matuidi, who has limited skills like Coquelin but provides more end product.

  1. More sobriety needed for Holding

The English centerback must get rid of that habit of taking unnecessary risks. He thought he was Beckenbauer in the 85th and ran past Sutton’s attacking line to give away the ball with a poor pass. Holding was out of position when the Yellows hit Arsenal on the fast break. The ball fell to Hudson-Odoi, whose shot was deflected out by Mustafi. Holding was also late for a block attempt when Deacon smashed the bar with a 25-yard drive in the 65th.

  1. The Premier League is still the priority

The manager left Cech, Bellerin, Coquelin, Ozil, Giroud and Welbeck out of the squad while the injured Koscielny, Ramsey and Cazorla were not available. It won’t hurt to have 11 days of rest before the trip to Anfield Road. The Gunners need at least a draw against Liverpool, a direct rival for a Champions League berth, for the simple reason that the Reds have an easier run-in. A Top 4 finish is crucial to keep our best players and sign top talents this summer.

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FA Cup: A few thoughts on the 5-0 win over Southampton

Walcott notched a hat trick on Saturday and Welbeck opened his account this season with two goals as the Gunners thrashed Southampton 5-0 in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Last November, Arsenal lost 2-0 to the Saints in the League Cup after fielding a weakened team. The Gunners learned their lesson and picked a stronger starting lineup while Southampton preferred to rest some key players.

  1. Perez is such an underrated player

Arsenal signed Perez last summer because of his goalscoring abilities. But the Spaniard has tremendous passing skills too. He hit 3 accurate through balls out of 4, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. He also displayed a fantastic work-rate by winning 4 tackles.

fa-cup-southampton

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

In the role of a false nine, Perez helped create two goals with some nifty link-up play. He fed Welbeck for the opening goal in the 15th minute. Initially, the play didn’t look dangerous when Maitland-Niles found Perez back to goal. But Perez created some space behind the Saints’ backline by dropping back and he gave them no time to regroup by making a first-time pass. You can see Perez’s intelligence on the pitch as he spots Welbeck’s run before receiving the ball from Maitland-Niles. Welbeck then played a one-two with Perez before setting up Walcott for the third goal in the 35th.

Perez struck a good understanding with Welbeck at St Mary’s stadium just like he was on the same wavelength with Ozil against Ludogorets and with Giroud against Preston and Bournemouth. He made a teasing cross for Welbeck in the fifth minute but the England international couldn’t make contact with the ball for a tap-in. Perez also teed up Bellerin, who shot straight at the goalkeeper in the 53rd.

  1. Maitland-Niles is the revelation of the season

Much like Bellerin enjoyed a breakthrough season two years ago and Iwobi broke into the first team last season, Maitland-Niles is the youngster who is knocking on the door of the manager with a string of good performances.

At 19, Maitland-Niles is already showing some smart positional play. He helped set a good tempo on Saturday by taking very few touches. His sober and clean performance as a holding midfielder allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain to focus on his playmaking duties. Maitland-Niles won 6 tackles and made 3 interceptions, the most for any player in both categories according to whoscored.com. He also made 79 passes, the most for any player, an obvious sign that his teammates trust him on the pitch.

If Maitland-Niles keeps performing at this level, he could leapfrog Elneny in the pecking order just like Bellerin got ahead of Debuchy and Jenkinson. Maitland-Niles stood on his feet to win a tackle inside the Arsenal area in the 44th. Knowing that Xhaka got sent off for some reckless challenges, it must be good news for the manager to see that Maitland-Niles does not dive in.

His reading of the game also saved the Gunners a couple of times. Long in the 51st and Sims in the 74th got the better of Mustafi, but each time Maitland-Niles covered the Germany international to either clear the danger or make a crucial block. He also came to Bellerin’s rescue when the Spaniard lost possession in the 56th.

Maitland-Niles seems more ready than Holding or Reine-Adelaide to join the first team. Holding still needs to iron out basic mistakes like taking unnecessary risks in his own half while Reine-Adelaide is a bit too soft for the Premier League despite showing his class with some stunning dribbling moves. The French teenager was dispossessed 4 times, the most for any Arsenal player.

  1. The Ox is a solid option in central midfield

Oxlade-Chamberlain really looked comfortable in the deep-lying playmaker role. He made 3 key passes, more than any other player, and slipped 2 accurate through balls out of 3. His passing range also helped the Ox hit 7 accurate long balls out of 8.

The former Southampton player created the second goal in the 22nd with a ball over the top for Welbeck, who ghosted past Stephens to beat Lewis. The Ox also played Perez clean through on goal with a long ball in the 89th, but the Spaniard was denied by Lewis. His delivery on set pieces was a mixed bag. The Ox wasted a free kick and a corner by overhitting the ball. On a more positive note, Mustafi met an Ox free kick in the 29th to head wide from six yards.

Some fans may wonder why the Ox is not playing more often in midfield. Competition with Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere and Xhaka is one obvious explanation. But another reason is the time it took for the Ox to mature as a player. In the past seasons, inconsistency combined with a high turnover rate and an average decision-making have prevented the Ox from claiming a starting spot in midfield.

The Southampton game was pretty much an audition for central midfielders since Coquelin and Ramsey are the only two players available now. Xhaka is serving a four-game suspension, Elneny is on national duty with Egypt and Cazorla may not return before April.

The Ox and Maitland-Niles formed a complementary duo. However, we shouldn’t get our hopes high too quickly. The Southampton midfield was poor. Also, there’s no guarantee that Maitland-Niles or the Ox will perform as well with a different partner in central midfield. For the next FA Cup game, Wenger could test again the tandem formed by the Ox and Maitland-Niles or experiment with a Ramsey-Maitland duo or an Ox-Coquelin duo.

  1. Sanchez is always hungry

Somehow, the manager couldn’t keep Sanchez on the bench for the entire match. The Chile striker replaced Welbeck in the 64th and showed his hunger by making two assists. He capitalized on a mazy run from the Ox in the 69th to cut the ball back for Walcott, who made it 4-0 with a low strike into the far corner. Sanchez then collected a long ball from Perez in the 84th and kept two defenders busy before picking out Walcott, who sealed the game with a first-time finish.

  1. Gibbs is not taking his chance

Monreal has had his ups and downs this season. Yet, Gibbs has not been able to snatch the starting spot at leftback. Monreal has made 20 starts in the Premier League compared to just 2 for Gibbs. Saturday’s game showed why. Gibbs gave away a cheap free kick on the edge of the box by tripping Long in the 32nd. The Saints then capitalized on silly turnovers from Gibbs in the 45th and 76th to start counterattacks.

  1. The Premier League is still the top priority

Wenger clearly had Tuesday’s game against Watford on his mind as he left regular starters like Cech, Koscielny, Coquelin, Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud out of the squad while giving some playing time to youngsters like Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles and to second-choice players like Ospina, Holding, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Perez and Welbeck. The Gunners need a victory over Watford to stay in the title race.

  1. Wenger started serving his four-game ban

The manager watched the match from the stands and it made no real difference since Wenger is not a control freak like Conte or Guardiola. Bould proved just as quiet on the bench as the French manager usually is. On paper, Wenger mostly makes an impact on the game with the starting lineup, tactical adjustments at halftime and substitutions in the second half. The touchline ban did not affect Wenger’s influence on the team, especially since the Gunners were leading 3-0 at the end of the first half.

I thought the 10-game ban suggested by some pundits was simply ridiculous. Pardew was hit with a two-game suspension for pushing a linesman in 2012. A four-game ban looked like standard punishment for the small shove on Taylor in the 2-1 win over Burnley combined with the red card for dissent. It wouldn’t have made sense to punish Wenger with a 10-game ban knowing that Pardew was suspended for 7 games in 2014 for headbutting a player. In fact, it would have made the FA look bad to hit Wenger with the same 10-game ban Suarez got for biting Ivanovic in 2013. Comparing a shove with a bite, really?

  1. Mertesacker is back in the squad

Mertesacker sat on the bench at St Mary’s stadium after recovering from a knee injury he picked up last summer. The German centerback is a leader in the dressing room but I’m not sure he should be on the bench for a Premier League game. Mertesacker’s lack of pace makes the Gunners vulnerable on the fast break and prevents them from playing a high defensive line efficiently. Paulista’s decision-making can be dodgy, but I still think he would be a more valuable centerback as long as he plays alongside Koscielny. Putting Mertesacker on the bench would also mean slowing down Holding’s development.

  1. Improving the chemistry in the dressing room

There are a couple of days left before the end of the winter transfer window. It’s unlikely that the club will sign a new player this month. However, the Gunners should take advantage of that window to make some adjustments in the squad and get rid of grumpy players who want more playing time.

Debuchy is the big thorn in Arsenal’s side. A loan seems the most realistic option given his age and wages. Jenkinson is of no use either for the team as he has slipped behind Bellerin, Paulista and Maitland-Niles in the pecking order at rightback. Crystal Palace and Arsenal have agreed a deal but the move has stalled because of Jenkinson’s salary demands. The club might also consider loaning out Akpom and Reine-Adelaide to speed up their development.

 

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-0 loss to Southampton

In their first defeat since August, the Gunners lost 2-0 to Southampton in the fifth round of the League Cup on Wednesday. I couldn’t care less about the League Cup. Spain, Germany and Italy only have one cup competition while England is stupid enough to exhaust its clubs with two cup competitions. Therefore, I completely agree with Wenger’s decision to rest his key players in the League Cup. However, Wednesday’s game showed some significant weaknesses that could hurt Arsenal in the Premier League.

  1. Our bench is not good enough

Wenger made 10 changes to the side that defeated Bournemouth 3-1 on Sunday. The Saints also heavily rotated as Puel dropped eight players who started in the 1-0 victory over Everton last weekend. Basically, the Southampton bench proved stronger than the Arsenal bench. Experienced players like Jenkinson and Elneny showed their limitations while Ramsey and Gibbs under-performed.

league-cup-southampton

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

The 18-year-old Reine-Adelaide got the nod on the right wing but is nowhere near the level of Manchester United forward Rashford, who made his breakthrough at the same age last season. I believe Reine-Adelaide still needs more time with the U23 team to hone his skills and learn from his mistakes.

Iwobi was arguably our best player. He burst from midfield in the 49th minute to release Jenkinson down the right flank. The Arsenal rightback made a cross for Ramsey, who shot straight at Forster with a sliding effort. Iwobi then cut inside in the 83rd to test Forster from the edge of the box.

In his return from an ankle injury, Perez struggled in the lone striker role. The Spaniard made quite a few misplaced passes and had very little support from his teammates. Perez finished the game with just one shot on target, a tame strike from a tight angle in the 47th. He obviously lacks match fitness but could be an interesting option on the left wing.

  1. The rightback position is a concern

Bellerin won’t be back before mid-December while Debuchy picked up a hamstring injury against Bournemouth. That means Jenkinson is the only rightback left in the squad. Jenkinson performed poorly against Southampton as both goals came from his flank. He failed to close down Bertrand in the 13th. Boufal connected with Bertrand’s cross but had his shot blocked by Holding. The rebound fell into the path of Clasie, who fired home from 16 yards. Then Jenkinson lost possession to Bertrand in the 38th and walked back toward the Arsenal box instead of tracking Boufal, who teed up Bertrand for a low strike into the bottom corner.

The Saints nearly scored a third goal in the 51st when Jenkinson gave away the ball with a poor pass but Martinez palmed away Long’s drive. When Maitland-Niles replaced Jenkinson in the 64th, the pessimist in me thought Wenger wanted to rest Jenkinson before Saturday’s match against West Ham while the optimist in me hoped the manager tried to find an alternative at rightback.

Jenkinson had a passing accuracy of 69%, the lowest percentage among all the defenders according to the club’s website. I’d be pretty scared if Jenkinson starts in our next Premier League games because Payet, Arnautovic, Bolasie and Sterling could create a lot of problems down our right flank. If it was up to me, I’d give a chance to Maitland-Niles or Holding. In the 80th, Maitland-Niles made a cross for Gibbs, whose header was cleared off the line by Yoshida. In the closing minutes, Maitland-Niles made a crucial block to prevent McQueen from tapping home.

  1. The Gunners must improve their defensive awareness

They concede a lot of chances because of ball-watching. When the Saints opened the scoring, Elneny saw the play unfold but had no clue that Clasie was just a few yards behind him to smash the rebound home. It was a lack of defensive awareness similar to the goal netted by Mata at Old Trafford. The second goal showed the same flaw with Ramsey and Coquelin jogging toward the ball and leaving plenty of space for Bertrand to run into. Can Wenger find a trick in his training sessions to improve his team’s defensive awareness?

Very often young players focus on creating chances and forget their defensive duties. It happened at least twice with Iwobi on Wednesday. Iwobi gave Martina plenty of space in the 50th for a cross that Long headed over the bar. Then Iwobi failed to track Martina on a counterattack in the 55th, but Holding managed to clear Martina’s cross for Long.

McQueen was also left unmarked after Martinez punched away a corner in the 56th but the Southampton winger had his shot deflected wide. Then Davis took advantage of some poor marking from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xhaka to volley McQueen’s cross over the bar in the 77th.

  1. The manager must ditch the Elneny-Coquelin duo

Arsenal badly lacked creativity with Coquelin and Elneny in midfield. They struggled to build play from the back, making a lot of lateral passes but providing no penetration in their passing game. Elneny made no tackle and won only 25% of his duels, the lowest percentage among the starting midfielders. He picked up a yellow card for pulling back Bertrand in the 29th and was replaced by Xhaka in the 43rd.

Xhaka tested Forster with a 35-yard free kick in the 54th and fed Oxlade-Chamberlain for Arsenal’s best chance in the 79th but the Ox missed the target from 13 yards. The Switzerland international made 4 shot assists while Elneny made none in the first half. That’s the big difference between Xhaka and Elneny: Xhaka makes more forward passes.

Knowing that Cazorla will be sidelined for 3 months because of a nagging ankle injury, I believe Wenger should build his midfield around Xhaka. Cazorla provided defensive stability to the team via his partnership with Coquelin as well as attacking fluidity via his understanding with Ozil.

Elneny would be a weak link in a partnership with Xhaka because he has worse defensive and offensive stats than Xhaka. By contrast, Coquelin is a better tackler than Xhaka while Ramsey is a bigger goal threat than the Switzerland international. It’s up to the manager to find out whether Coquelin or Ramsey is the best partner for Xhaka.

  1. The Gunners are too vulnerable on the flanks

Most of Southampton’s chances came from the flanks. Gibbs and Jenkinson won only 20% and 30% of their duels respectively, whereas Bertrand and Martina won more than 85% of their duels. The only time the Saints managed to carve open the heart of the Arsenal defense was in the 78th. Hojbjerg won a duel against Coquelin and the ball fell to Davis, who slipped a through ball to Long. The Southampton striker had just Martinez to beat but shot wide. Paulista was not tight enough to Davis on that play while Holding was on the wrong side of Long.

  1. Modern football is about penetration, not possession

The Gunners enjoyed 62.7% of ball possession but produced very few chances, with just 5 shots on target compared to 4 for the Saints. Of those 5 Arsenal shots, 3 were long-range strikes. The Gunners could have lost by a bigger margin if Martinez had not made two fine saves, tipping Sims’ shot around the far post in the 84th and diving to save Hojbjerg’s powerful strike in stoppage time. Martinez is a solid No. 3 goalkeeper and it’s great news that the club extended his contract last month.

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 2-0 win over Reading

Oxlade-Chamberlain scored both goals in the 2-0 win over Reading on Tuesday to send Arsenal into the quarterfinals of the League Cup. The Premier League is definitely a much more important competition as the manager made nine changes to the side that drew with Middlesbrough last weekend.

  1. Ox deserves a starting spot

On current form, the Ox should be the one starting on the left wing against Sunderland on Saturday. He capitalized on a Reading turnover in the 33rd minute to open the scoring from a tight angle despite two defenders attempting to make a block. The Ox then pounced on a pass from Giroud to beat Al-Habsi in the 78th with a first-time effort that deflected off a defender. Besides his finishing, the Ox also created chances. He slipped a through ball to Perez, who wasted the chance with some questionable decision-making in the 22nd. The only negative was the two corners poorly taken by the Ox.

arsenal-vs-reading

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Iwobi performed better than the Ox last season but that’s no reason to turn Iwobi into an automatic starter in the Premier League. Despite a recent dip in form, Iwobi had a decent game against Reading. He released the Ox down the right flank in the eighth minute and the England international dragged a low shot wide of the far post. A minute later, Iwobi sent Reine-Adelaide clean through on goal, but a poor first touch from the French teenager enabled Al-Habsi to gather the ball. Iwobi also had a couple of cheap turnovers in the first half before testing the Reading goalkeeper with a long-range drive in the 77th.

  1. Giroud returns from injury

The France striker replaced Reine-Adelaide in the 65th and quickly showed what Arsenal missed against Middlesbrough with his physical presence inside the box. Giroud met a free kick from Elneny in the 70th for a powerful header that Al-Habsi parried. He then fed the Ox, who had his 15-yard effort saved by Al-Habsi in the 74th. Four minutes later, Giroud set up the Ox for the second goal. Giroud doesn’t have Sanchez’s pace, but he’s stronger in the air and can bring teammates into play while back to goal.

Giroud’s return is coming at the right time as Perez seemed to pick up a nasty injury. Gravenberch stamped on Perez’s ankle in the 69th, forcing the Spaniard to be replaced by Willow in the 71st. Perez had a relatively quiet game. He could have scored in the 22nd by rounding the goalkeeper or curling a shot but he preferred to set up Reine-Adelaide for a tap-in. The Royals killed the chance by intercepting Perez’s pass, which was slightly behind Reine-Adelaide anyway.

  1. Debuchy has no future at Arsenal

The League Cup could have been an opportunity for Debuchy to get some playing time but the manager decided to start Jenkinson on the right flank. You can’t blame Wenger for such a choice. On the one hand, you have an aging player who performed poorly last season and bad-mouthed the manager. On the other, you have a young player recovering from a knee injury and accepting to deputize for Bellerin. A mid-season loan would be the best option for Debuchy to revive his career.

Jenkinson’s technical limitations were quite obvious against Reading. The English fullback doesn’t have Bellerin’s dribbling skills but he still managed to test Al-Habsi in the sixth minute. Jenkinson failed to close down Obita in the 61st. Kermorgant connected with Obita’s cross for a header that Martinez saved.

  1. Paulista is still a dodgy defender

The Brazilian centerback made 4 of the 7 fouls committed by Arsenal. It’s still a mystery how he finished the game with no yellow card despite tripping Harriott in the 10th and fouling Samuel on the edge of the box in the 88th. Paulista looked so reckless that Holding could be a better second choice if Koscielny or Mustafi gets injured.

  1. What could have been for Gibbs

Gibbs wore the armband for that game because he was the most senior player on the pitch. At 27, he should be challenging Monreal for a starting spot. Gibbs has more pace than the Spaniard. He made a fantastic recovery tackle in the 24th after Maitland-Niles underhit a back pass. Unfortunately, Gibbs also showed why he’s not an England starter and why Monreal is still ahead in the pecking order despite average performances this season. As the last defender in the 52nd, Gibbs had a lapse of concentration and lost possession to McCleary. Bearing down on goal, McCleary had his pass for Samuel intercepted by Gibbs.

  1. The Gunners still lack creativity in midfield

Elneny teamed up with Maitland-Niles in midfield and struggled to engineer the build-up play. The Egypt international doesn’t have the passing skills of Cazorla or Xhaka, he’s mostly a utility midfielder. It’s only when the Ox drifted inside or when Iwobi dropped back that the Gunners were able to put Reading on the back foot. Elneny took a pass from Jenkinson in the 30th to fire an angled strike that Al-Habsi stopped.

  1. Martinez would be a better No. 3 than Szczesny

Could you imagine Szczesny accepting to be the No. 3 goalkeeper behind Cech and Ospina? Not really. That’s why it would make more sense to retain Martinez and sell Szczesny for the sake of team chemistry. Martinez produced a fine performance, saving Kermorgant’s header in the 61st and palming away the Reading susbtitute’s free kick in the 89th.

  1. No academy player is close to the regular starters’ level

The only academy players who started the game were Reine-Adelaide and Maitland-Niles. Reine-Adelaide showed flashes of brilliance, like the backheel flick that played Jenkinson in after five minutes, but he’s still a raw player. The French teenager was too slow in his decision-making and took too much time to release the ball. He needs to play more often with his head up and improve his reading of the game.

Maitland-Niles made some timely interceptions but he lacked accuracy in the final third, overhitting two final balls in the second half. Willock and Zelalem came off the bench in the last 20 minutes and didn’t show much. I guess Reine-Adelaide, Maitland-Niles, Willock and Zelalem will still need to hone their skills with the under-23 team.

 

League Cup: A few thoughts on the 4-0 win over Nottingham Forest

Perez opened his Arsenal account by scoring twice in the 4-0 rout of Nottingham Forest in the third round of the League Cup on Tuesday. What made the result even more sweet after last year’s shambolic performance against Sheffield Wednesday is that those who started in the 4-1 win over Hull on Saturday were left out of the squad.

  1. The League Cup is the least important competition for the big clubs

The Premier League has become so competitive and the Champions League burns so much energy that the top English clubs can no longer take the risk of fielding their best players in the League Cup.

league-cup-notts

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

To compensate for the relative inexperience of Martinez, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Reine-Adelaide and Akpom, the Arsenal manager also relied on four internationals (Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xhaka and Elneny) and two players familiar with top-level football (Paulista and Perez). Chelsea adopted a similar approach against Leicester by heavily rotating. Courtois, Ivanovic, Kante, Oscar, and Willian were rested while Hazard and Costa only came off the bench in the second half.

  1. Only Xhaka and Perez are close to the regular starters’ level

Xhaka opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with a long-range strike into the top corner similar to the goal he netted against Hull on Saturday. At least the Swiss international is giving Wenger some food for thought for the upcoming game against Chelsea.

Perez didn’t show much in his first Arsenal start against Southampton. It’s true that he got no decent service that day. Perez finally made a good impression in his second start by scoring two goals and making an assist.

The Spanish striker was pretty quiet in the first half. He won a ball in the 12th to lead a counterattack but his cross was intercepted. Perez became more confident in the second half. He first tested Stojkovic with a curling free kick in the 50th. Then he slipped a through ball to Akpom, who was shoved from behind by Mancienne in the 59th. Perez converted the subsequent penalty to make it 2-0. Stojkovic guessed right, but Perez’s spot kick had enough power to beat the Forest goalkeeper. If Perez were a regular starter, there’s no doubt he would be ahead of Sanchez and Ozil on the list of penalty takers.

Perez has been compared to Vardy for his pace and work-rate. The Spaniard showed that gritty part of his game in the 71st when Mancienne intercepted a pass from Akpom. Perez dispossessed Mancienne, dribbled past Stojkovic and held off a defender to slot into an empty net for a 3-0 lead. He could have notched a hat trick but sent his first-time effort straight at Stojkovic in the 74th. In stoppage time, Perez played Oxlade-Chamberlain in for the fourth goal.

I believe Perez would definitely be a better centerforward than Sanchez. His link-up play is good and he feels more comfortable than Sanchez playing back to goal. The only question mark is the level of understanding Perez has been able to strike in training with Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla and the other regular starters.

  1. Can the Ox finally have that breakthrough season?

At 23, the Ox still has a bit of time to prove himself. But if he can’t get more goals and assists in his sixth Premier League season, the staff will have to analyze why his development has stalled. On Tuesday, Wenger played the Ox as a No. 10. Four years ago, the Ox shone in that role against AC Milan in the Champions League. Surprisingly, the Ox struggled to have an impact against Forest. Reine-Adelaide played on the right wing but seemed more creative than the Ox when drifting inside.

The Ox sent a corner straight into touch in the 20th and wasted a free kick easily cleared by Bendtner in the 76th. It’s only when the manager replaced Reine-Adelaide and Akpom with Zelalem and Willock in the 82nd that the Ox performed at a good level. Back on the right wing, the Ox had a low strike saved by Stojkovic in the 86th. Three minutes later, the Ox set up Perez for a shot blocked by the Forest defense. In stoppage time, the Ox took a pass from Perez to beat Stojkovic with a low finish.

  1. Speeding up the development of Holding and Reine-Adelaide

Holding had a good game but he needs to get rid of lapses of concentration. He gave away the ball with a poor first touch in the ninth minute. Kasami pounced on the offering but missed the target. There’s not much Holding could have done about his yellow card in the 37th. Elneny put him in a tough spot with a risky back pass and Holding ended up fouling Kasami with a studs-up challenge. The next logical step for Holding’s development would be to loan him out to a Premier League side in January, assuming Mertesacker recovers from his knee injury by then.

Reine-Adelaide was frustrating to watch in the pre-season friendlies because he took too many touches and often lost possession. On Tuesday, the teenager released the ball more quickly and cut his turnover rate. His efficiency in the final third is still a weakness but at least he’s making a step in the right direction. Reine-Adelaide slipped a through ball to Akpom, who was denied by Stojkovic in the 13th. On the stroke of halftime, the Frenchman controlled a high pass from Akpom only to shoot wide of the far post. The manager might contemplate loaning him out to a Championship side in January.

  1. What does the manager see in Akpom and Maitland-Niles?

Perez’s presence up front led Wenger to play Akpom on the left wing. Akpom was involved in the second and third goals. He also diverted a pass from Xhaka into the path of Perez, whose shot deflected off a defender in the 79th. However, I’m not sure Akpom has any future as a winger. He doesn’t seem to have great crossing or dribbling skills and he had a tendency to slow down play in the first half. His work-rate is still an issue. Pereira was able to make a couple of dangerous runs because Akpom didn’t track him. Akpom was also dispossessed by the Forest fullback in the 56th. My guess is that centerforward is the most suited position for Akpom. A loan to a Championship side would be the most likely scenario since Giroud, Sanchez and Perez are ahead of him in the pecking order.

Maitland-Niles has mostly played as a midfielder in his short Arsenal career. The manager converted him into a fullback for the Forest game. That’s how Bellerin redefined his career and enjoyed a breakthrough in the first team. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go for Maitland-Niles. He made a couple of teasing crosses and was on the wrong side of Osborn for Forest’s best chance in the 81st. I guess he’ll stay at the academy this season to continue his development.

  1. No regrets about Bendtner and Lansbury

Bendtner has decent stats with the Denmark team but he has never really been convincing at club level. His spells at Juventus and Wolfsburg show that Wenger was right to let him go. He received a yellow card in the 16th for a late tackle on Xhaka and his only shot on target was a tame low drive at the end of the first half.

Lansbury was the typical academy player with great work-rate but limited talents. He has enjoyed a decent career at Nottingham Forest since his departure from Arsenal. He managed to make three nasty fouls on Tuesday before getting booked in the 66th for a relatively benign challenge on Perez. Lansbury and Bendtner are a reminder that not every academy prospect makes the step up.

A rough season ahead for Arsenal & Wenger

For the very first time, I am NOT looking forward to the start of the season as an Arsenal fan. I am simply getting tired of seeing the squad stagnate. The club has only signed three players so far. Xhaka is good enough to claim a starting spot whereas Asano and Holding are mostly prospects. What makes me angry is that the two Manchester clubs are pretty much done with their summer transfers while the Gunners still haven’t upgraded the two key positions that would turn them into potential contenders: centerback and centerforward.

Arsenal 2016-17 intro

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

We have until Aug. 31 to improve our squad but there are two significant issues. First, any club is reluctant to release its top striker in the last days of the transfer window because it’s very difficult to find a replacement who’s available. For instance, Lyon forward Lacazette has been linked with a move to Arsenal. If the French club accepts to let him go, it would lose the guarantee of 20 league goals per season and hurt its chances of securing a Champions League spot. And second, even if the Gunners manage to sign a defender and a striker, it will take weeks for the team to gel.

Koscielny, Ozil and Giroud are Arsenal’s best centerback, assists leader and top scorer respectively. They haven’t played any pre-season game and will likely miss the opening match against Liverpool on Sunday. They will also lack match fitness for the game against Leicester the following weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gunners get zero point from their first two Premier League matches. A poor start would put a lot of pressure on the club and the manager. Fans still remember those seasons when Arsenal fell out of contention by October.

What is really at stake this summer

Injuries to Mertesacker and Paulista in the pre-season mean that Chambers, Holding and Bielik are the only centerbacks available for the opening game. That sounds like bad luck but I really don’t feel sorry for Wenger. Heavy losses to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea during the 2013-14 season showed that Mertesacker’s lack of pace was a liability. The manager signed Paulista in January 2015 to inject more pace at the back. However, the Brazilian’s dodgy performances didn’t convince anybody that Arsenal had a reliable centerback partnership.

Will the manager hit the panic button? Last summer, Sanchez was rushed back into action after his Copa America heroics. The lack of rest finally caught up with the Chile international when he picked up a hamstring injury in the winter. Wenger could make the same mistake with Koscielny this season because of the injury crisis at centerback. I can imagine an unfit Koscielny pulling his hamstring while chasing Sturridge or Vardy.

Inactivity in the transfer market has an impact not just on the upcoming season but also on the future of the club. Sanchez and Ozil haven’t signed any contract extension yet because they feel that the club is lacking ambition. Their contracts both end in 2018. They could ask for a move next summer if they think that the squad is not strong enough to contend for the Premier League title. We would then end up with a situation similar to what happened in 2011 when Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy left the club before Van Persie and Song also jumped off the ship the following year.

A flawed business plan

A lot of Arsenal fans are upset because they realize that the club is just a small step away from becoming a legitimate contender. The priority for the board is consistency and a top-four finish every year. Playing in the Champions League is obviously an important factor to sign top players when you are not a big club like Manchester United.

But there’s a flaw in the board’s business plan. The Red Devils have become a major global brand that can generate huge commercial revenues and sponsorship deals because they were the most successful British team in the past two decades. The Gunners are a big club in England but they are not a major global brand like Manchester United because they haven’t won the Premier League title since 2004. And the reality nowadays is that you need investments in the squad to win the league.

Do Wenger and the board want to win the Premier League? Yes. But if we analyze the recent transfer windows, they seem to believe that the key to success is about signing a couple of big names and developing a lot of youngsters. That idea is an utopia! Sure, the Red Devils managed to build half of their team with academy players (Neville, Butt, Scholes, Giggs, Beckham and Hugues) in the 1990’s and Barcelona repeated that feat in the past decade with Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Messi and Pedro. But those teams are the exception that proves the rule.

The reality of the transfer market

On average, one academy player joins the Arsenal first team every two years. Of the current crop, only Bellerin is an automatic starter while Wilshere, Gibbs, Iwobi and Gnabry are substitutes when everybody is fit. If I were cynical, I’d say that Ozil and Sanchez will be in their 40’s by the time half of the starting lineup is made up of academy players.

The choice for Wenger and the board is therefore pretty simple. Either they financially compete head on with the two Manchesters. Or they try to find hidden gems with great scouting like Tottenham and Leicester.

I’m not really sure that the club has adjusted to the reality of the transfer market. Arsenal slightly paid over the odds when they signed Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach for about 35 million pounds. But then they tried to get Lacazette for 29 million pounds, which is exactly the player’s market value. A bid of 40 million pounds would have been more realistic, knowing that there’s a normal price tag for most European clubs and an inflated price tag for English clubs and powerhouses like Real Madrid and Barcelona. The Gunners are unlikely to get any deal done if they don’t take that factor into account.

Nobody expects Arsenal to spend more than 150 million pounds in the transfer market like Manchester United or City. But you can’t ignore the fact that both Manchester teams have significantly improved with new additions. Stones, Gundogan, Nolito and Sane should feature in Guardiola’s starting lineup while Moreno, Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko could be interesting impact players. Likewise, Bailly, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic should be first choices for Mourinho. By contrast, only Xhaka among the new signings might be a starter for Arsenal.

Bielik & Holding are not ready

The Gunners have only spent about 40 million pounds this summer, which is less than Liverpool and Chelsea, who have splashed about 64 million pounds each despite missing out on a Champions League spot. Given Arsenal’s financial results, I would have assumed that Wenger got a transfer kitty of at least 80 million pounds like in 2014 when the club signed Sanchez, Chambers, Welbeck, Debuchy and Ospina. But recent comments by the manager about scouts looking in the lower leagues suggest that the board did not give Wenger much maneuvering room financially.

I’m not really optimistic for this season after watching the summer friendlies in America and Scandinavia. At the back, Bielik and Holding are not ready yet for the Premier League. Their decision-making was terrible against average sides and could prove a disaster against top English clubs.

Bielik tends to hold onto the ball for too long and can make poor passes when he’s under pressure. One of his turnovers led to Drogba’s goal in the game against the MLS All-Stars. Holding may have great potential but he’s still too naive in my eyes. He cheaply lost possession against Chivas, lost a key duel against Viking forward Pedersen, and tried to dribble twice in his own half against Manchester City. Aguero ghosted past Holding to tuck home the opening goal.

Some fans have suggested that Chambers is a reliable centerback. Well, they just need to watch again his performance in the 3-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup last season to understand his limitations. Chambers made a reckless challenge against Chivas, and gave Manchester City a counterattacking opportunity with a sloppy pass.

On the same wavelength

Midfield is the one area we don’t have to worry about. Elneny has replaced Flamini as a utility midfielder, Xhaka has filled Arteta’s shoes as the pacesetter, and Iwobi has taken Rosicky’s spot as an attacking midfielder.

In their first game together, Xhaka and Cazorla showed a great understanding against Chivas as if they were on the same wavelength. If ever Ozil gets injured this season, Cazorla will probably be the main alternative as he shone in the playmaking role against Viking. Xhaka’s smart positional play enabled him to make a couple of interceptions against Manchester City. After winning the ball back, Xhaka also slipped a through ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose chip sailed wide.

Ramsey produced outstanding performances as a free-floating midfielder for Wales at the Euros. The manager obviously noticed that and played him in a similar position behind the striker against the Citizens. With his trademark deep runs, Ramsey ghosted past Fernando to head a Sanchez cross over the bar before leading a counterattack to fire a powerful strike that Caballero parried.

Zelalem and Reine-Adelaide have been touted as having a great future but the reality is that they are still miles away from the Premier League level. Wenger used Zelalem as a deep-lying playmaker in the summer friendlies. The American teenager struggled to have an impact. Physically, Zelalem must beef up a bit to win duels in midfield. Tactically, he needs to improve his defensive game, especially when the team loses possession.

Typical goal poacher

Reine-Adelaide started his Arsenal career as a winger. The manager tried him in the No. 10 role against the MLS All-Stars and Viking. Obviously, Reine-Adelaide needs to be more efficient in the final third. He also needs to simplify his game and release the ball more quickly. He often lost possession because he either took too many touches or showed too much of the ball.

Up front, Walcott showed against the MLS All-Stars that he’s not really thinking like a centerforward. He had opportunities to make runs to the near post but didn’t seize them. Walcott clearly feels uncomfortable when he’s playing back to goal, which explains his poor link-up play against the MLS All-Stars and his inability to hold the ball up against Viking. He also proved wasteful by missing some good chances against Chivas and Viking.

Wenger moved Walcott back to the right flank for the Manchester City game. The difference was obvious: Walcott is a more lethal weapon when he can make those smart runs from the right wing. He set up Iwobi for an equalizer and then played a one-two with Sanchez to chip Hart for a 2-1 lead.

I would be very surprised if Walcott starts as a lone striker for the opening match against Liverpool. Akpom or even Sanchez would be more suited for that position. Akpom might be given a chance since he scored four goals in the summer friendlies. He is the typical goal poacher, in the right place at the right time, and able to outmuscle his marker to score from close range. But shining in the pre-season is no guarantee of a brilliant campaign. Sanogo shone in the 2014 Emirates Cup but then failed to score in the Premier League.

Not a contender

There’s also the issue of work-rate. Akpom doesn’t contribute as much defensively as Giroud. When Akpom was on loan at Hull, Bruce dropped him to the bench because of his attitude. Sanchez would be a better choice up front for a high press although he doesn’t have Akpom’s aerial threat and physicality.

On the wings, the Ox displayed some great footwork to beat two defenders and the keeper for a solo goal against Chivas while Iwobi and Campbell scored three goals each in the summer friendlies. Willock also got some playing time, showing some good decision-making and a laudable work ethic.

I don’t think any of the youngsters will have an impact on the first team like Wilshere and Bellerin did after shining in the Emirates Cup. Some of them might play in the League Cup but they will most likely be loaned out to Championship sides to hone their skills.

Right now, the squad is not strong enough to contend for the Premier League title. We struggled at both ends of the pitch last season and haven’t solved those problems since we still haven’t signed any seasoned centerback or centerforward. On paper, the two Manchesters are the overwhelming favorites to win the title.

Finishing in the Top 4 will be even more difficult than in the past seasons. Liverpool and Chelsea have a big advantage over Arsenal because they are not involved in any European competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gunners finish outside the Top 4 for the first time under Wenger’s tenure.

Ramsey, Ozil & Ox sharp in Emirates Cup, Iwobi & Reine-Adelaide show potential

Arsenal warmed up for the start of the season with a 6-0 rout of Lyon and a 1-0 victory over Wolfsburg in the Emirates Cup last weekend. Ramsey, Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain were the sharpest first-team players while Iwobi and Reine-Adelaide made the biggest impression among the youngsters.

Emirates Cup

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Drawing any conclusion from a pre-season tournament can be tricky. I thought Wilshere and Bellerin were ready for the first team after watching them play in 2009 and 2014 respectively. And I was right. But last summer, I also thought Sanogo and Chambers would make a significant contribution. And I was wrong.

On Saturday, the Gunners were clinical against Lyon, scoring two goals from set pieces and four from counterattacks. Wolfsburg proved harder to crack on Sunday until a through ball from Reine-Adelaide made the difference. Arsenal also kept clean sheets against European sides which finished second in their respective domestic leagues.

The Gunners limited Lyon to three chances. The French team could have opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Lacazette fed N’Jie, who outpaced Mertesacker in a 10-yard race only to shoot straight at Martinez. Mertesacker may be our most reliable centerback but his lack of pace will always remain an issue in one-on-one situations. Then Lyon twice attempted to hit Arsenal on the fast break, but Martinez punched away Lacazette’s curling shot in the 44th while N’Jie fired wide in the 54th.

Wolfsburg was a different kind of threat. The German team forced Cech into fine saves with long-range strikes from Rodriguez in the 60th and Guilavogui in the 62nd. Wolfsburg also exposed Arsenal’s poor defending on corners with chances for Trasch in the 19th and Klose in the 38th.

Making experiments

The Emirates Cup is an opportunity for the manager to make some experiments. Wenger was quite conservative at the back, starting Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs and Debuchy against Lyon before switching to Paulista, Chambers, Monreal and Bellerin against Wolfsburg. In midfield, the manager proved a bit more daring by pairing Coquelin with Ramsey against Lyon and then relying on Arteta and Cazorla to protect the back four against Wolfsburg.

I think it makes sense to find alternative options to the Coquelin-Cazorla duo in case of injuries or simply to rotate. The partnership between Coquelin and Cazorla is definitely an upgrade over the Arteta-Ramsey duo that was Wenger’s top pick throughout the 2013-14 season. In hindsight, playing Ramsey next to Arteta helped the Wales midfielder break forward and score goals, but it also gave less protection to our defense.

The manager kept babysitting Ozil’s psyche by starting the Germany playmaker in both games. Cazorla played the last 30 minutes in the hole against Lyon while Wilshere took over the playmaking duties against Wolfsburg after Ozil was substituted at halftime. Rosicky, another No. 10 option, did not participate in the Emirates Cup as he is still recovering from a knee injury picked up with the Czech Republic team.

Opportunity on the left wing

Up front, Wenger stuck to the basics by starting Giroud against Lyon and Walcott against Wolfsburg with Akpom making a brief cameo in the centerforward role. On the right wing, the Ox got the nod against Lyon while Wilshere showed his versatility against Wolfsburg. The most interesting decisions, however, were made on the left wing. The manager started Iwobi against Lyon and Reine-Adelaide against Wolfsburg.

That was a very smart move from Wenger because we might be in trouble on the left wing this season. Sanchez will be back in training only next weekend and won’t play before the end of August. Welbeck is still recovering from a knee injury picked up in April and his fitness could be a question mark this season. That means there could be an opportunity on that left wing.

Of all the youngsters, I would say Iwobi is the one closer to the first team. He’s more integrated into Arsenal’s passing game than Akpom and could have an impact similar to Gnabry in the 2013-14 season. Despite his young age, Iwobi proved quite strong in challenges and showed a good work ethic, tracking back when the Gunners lost possession and passing the ball when a teammate was in a better position to shoot.

Making a splash at 17

Iwobi scored the third goal against Lyon and then had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside. At 19, Iwobi still has a lot of room for improvement. He especially failed to react quickly enough at the far post to meet a low cross from the Ox, a typical rookie mistake. But he’s definitely an interesting option off the bench.

The 17-year-old Reine-Adelaide was the big surprise of the tournament. Arsenal signed him from French club Lens this summer for a reported fee of 2.5 million euros. That’s a significant amount of money for a player who was virtually unknown a few weeks ago. But then, you have to remember that Lens has a good football academy where players like Kondogbia and Varane grew up.

Reine-Adelaide replaced the Ox in the 71st minute against Lyon. What I saw then was a very raw player with great dribbling skills but also poor decision-making. He skipped past two defenders in the 87th to feed Akpom, who hit the post.

The manager wasn’t put off by Reine-Adelaide’s flaws and decided to hand him a start against Wolfsburg. The teenager killed a chance in the second minute by holding onto the ball too long. He also showed poor judgment by attempting to dribble on the edge of his own area in the 15th. And Monreal was not really happy about Reine-Adelaide’s poor defensive contribution on the left flank.

Akpom’s disappointing performance

What saved Reine-Adelaide from disaster was his technique. He dribbled past a defender to send Walcott clean through on goal in the 50th. Walcott flicked the ball past Benaglio with the outside of his right boot for the winner. Eight minutes later, Reine-Adelaide delivered another through ball for Walcott but Benaglio quickly came off his line to knock the ball away.

Reine-Adelaide’s footwork in tiny spaces is outstanding and similar to some of the trickery displayed in futsal games. But I don’t think that he’ll be involved with the first team this season. He really needs to improve his defensive skills and reading of the game at the academy before possibly being promoted to the U19 team and shining in the NextGen Series.

Among the youngsters, the biggest disappointment came from Akpom. In both games, he came off the bench in the second half and too often tried to go on his own a la Messi. What’s the point of running at defenders when you are double-teamed and there is no space? Akpom must certainly feel the pressure of becoming the next Sanogo. He hasn’t found the net on loan at Brentford and Coventry City in the 2013-14 season and failed again at Nottingham Forest last season.

The range of Ramsey’s repertoire

Against Lyon, Akpom beat Zeffane along the touchline but then ignored two teammates to drag a low shot straight at the goalkeeper. Akpom’s performance against Wolfsburg the following day was a mixed bag. He found Walcott in the 61st for a curling shot that sailed wide. He then benefited from some good work by Bellerin and Ramsey in the 72nd to spin and fire a low effort saved by Benaglio. His selfishness got the better of him in the closing minutes as he ignored two teammates in the 78th and wasted a counterattack in the 90th.

Among the first-team players, I thought Ramsey looked very sharp at this stage of the season, netting a goal, having an assist and making the penultimate pass for the second and fifth goals against Lyon. Ramsey sometimes overdo things but on Saturday he made all the right choices. His involvement in four goals showed the range of his repertoire.

Ramsey led a counterattack in the 34th by skipping past two players to find Giroud, who held the ball up before releasing the Ox down the right wing for a 2-0 lead. A minute later, Ramsey gave Iwobi a perfect through ball for the third goal. Ramsey then made one of his trademark deep runs in the 38th to slide Ozil’s offering inside the near post. The fifth goal in the 62nd highlighted Ramsey’s importance in our transition game as he picked out Giroud on the edge of the box and the Frenchman set up Ozil for a diagonal half-volley.

Can the Ox fulfill his potential?

The Gunners beat Lyon by a big margin and could have done more damage. Ramsey was the heartbeat of the team, winning the ball in the 15th for a counterattack that ended with an off-target effort from Giroud. The Wales midfielder created two more chances, first with a long ball for Ozil in the 27th, then with a through ball for the Ox in the 49th.

We all know about Ramsey’s abilities. The Gunners can definitely make a strong title bid if Ramsey reverts back to the 2013-14 form that led him to score 10 goals in 23 Premier League games compared to just six goals in 29 games last season.

In the offseason, the manager emphasized the need for more goals from the midfielders. Forwards like Sanchez, Giroud and Walcott should score more than 15 goals each if they stay healthy. Then it will be up to players like Ramsey, Ozil, Wilshere, Cazorla and the Ox to improve our scoring total.

In that regard, I believe 2015-16 should be a breakthrough season for the Ox. He will turn 22 in August and can do much better than one goal in 23 games last season. I sometimes get goose bumps when I see the Ox split a defense with his incisive runs. In terms of potential, he’s very close to Hazard. The big difference is that Hazard has been injury free and has blossomed much faster.

Ozil on the right track

Besides his goal against Lyon, the Ox made an interception that led to the third goal in the 35th. Jenssen was so frustrated with the Ox’s close control that he made a cynical foul the next minute. The Ox also created a chance with a mazy run in the 66th, cutting the ball back for Ramsey, whose lob attempt sailed wide. Eight goals and eight assists in the Premier League would be an ambitious but reasonable target for the Ox this season.

Last season, Ozil had decent stats with four goals and five assists in 22 league games. But I think a player of that quality should definitely aim for 25 goals/assists. To put things in perspective, Ozil had 23 goals/assists in his best season at Real Madrid and Fabregas reached 28 goals/assists in his best season at Arsenal.

Ozil seems on the right track as he scored a goal, had two assists and made the penultimate pass for the third goal against Lyon. The Germany playmaker can still be shy in front of the net. In the 61st, Giroud squared the ball back to Ozil, who refused to take his chance, dallied on the ball before passing it to Iwobi on the left wing.

Not so clinical

In the virtual competition between our two strikers, Giroud was more efficient than Walcott against Lyon. The Frenchman headed wide a Debuchy cross that lacked pace in the 21st. Eight minutes later, Giroud opened the scoring by heading an Ozil free kick into the bottom corner. Walcott replaced Giroud in the 71st and missed a very good chance in the closing minutes. Cazorla sent Walcott clean through on goal but instead of chipping the goalkeeper, Walcott opted for a low strike that was saved.

Walcott redeemed himself against Wolfsburg by scoring the winner. However, his performance was far from clinical. He beat the offside trap in the 21st only to be denied by Benaglio. Three minutes later, Walcott controlled a ball over the top from Wilshere and should have shot with his second touch, but he took an extra touch and lost possession.

Among the first-team players, the biggest disappointment came from Arteta against Wolfsburg. The Spaniard is still able to deliver the occasional through ball, but defensively he’s clearly behind Coquelin in the pecking order. Arteta gave away a cheap free kick by tripping Trasch in the 29th. He then carelessly passed the ball to De Bruyne, who fired over the bar in the 55th. Will the manager have the guts to bench his captain like he did with Vermaelen two years ago?