Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New Arsenal Signings Unchanged Expectations

By Joel Middlehurst

If you're Sead Kolasinac or Alexandre Lacazette, you could be forgiven for thinking “what a crazy game that was!”. Do these new additions study their future surroundings before signing up, as we do? Going over and over the styles and patterns of play? Discussing and debating the characteristics and strengths of their suitors? Maybe they do. The “glass half empty part” of my character finds it easier to believe they focus more on status and remuneration. But if I’m wrong (I hope I am), then they won’t have been surprised by this past weekends “oh so Arsenal” whirlwind of a curtain raiser.

Arsenal 2017/2018 look every inch a team straight out of Arsene Wenger's second half of his reign in North London. To make matters simple, sometimes excellent going forward, often dreadful at the back.

Harsh? Maybe. But undeniable fragilities exist throughout Wengers later years in charge.

Opening games at the Emirates these days are met with as much anxiety as excitement, Last season’s opener was a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool. Last night the score line was reversed, but the lopsided nature of a bonkers game was very familiar.

In their defense, the new additions acquitted themselves very well. Both look like players able to make a large imprint on the starting XI this season. Kolasinac in particular, looks able to supply attributes the Gunners have been without for a long time. Brutish physicality, coupled with surprising speed and a good touch. Hopefully we can witness his primal style stomping down the left-hand side rather than at CB, as we did this weekend. But I think Arsenal may have a real fan favorite in Kolasinac and an absolute steal on a Bosman, even more so in a world where Kyle Walker costs £50 million!

Lacazette looks like a real penalty box technician, able to do all things well and a few things excellently. Critically, finishing is his area of excellence. He doesn’t chase the ball all over the front third. He stays up top, mostly central. Moving, watching, waiting for the moment that he can receive the ball in a position where he’s able to release a shot on goal. He looks intelligent and efficient, and a goal in 90 seconds instantly removes an obstacle that can grow in size in a striker’s opening forays in this league.

Unfortunately, Arsenal without the ball, still look like they can concede goals to almost anyone. This weekends absentees are significant players, especially at CB. No doubt that will be considered, but the frailties look similar whoever has played in Arsenals unprotected defense for years.

Of course, there are still several weeks of potential transfer incomings to agonize over. Although Wenger always seems to have more faith than most in his “internal solutions”, I think he would be genuinely misguided to wake up on September 1 without a new CM. Preferably one with strong defensive tendencies. I think it’s wishful thinking for Arsenal fans to want 2 more signings, but a new, elite CB would be as exciting as it would be surprising. Strengthening these two positions in the first XI would give the Gunners a spine. Something they’ve been accused of not having for over a decade. There have been players on the market that fit this remit perfectly (Bakayoko, Matic, Bonucci), and many remain available (N’Zonzi, Van Dijk, Krychowiak, Manolas). These aren’t players moving out of Arsenals scope. They’re not moving to Real Madrid or Barca or Bayern Munich. They are within their reach, and in some cases moving to their direct rivals.

As good a squad options as Elneny and Coquelin are, a third top level CM would push Xhaka and Ramsey and allow rotation and cover with no quality drop off. If you must sacrifice one of either Elneny or Coquelin, so be it. The same can be said at CB. Koscielny, Mustafi, plus one more elite CB, allows Monreal/ Mertesacker to be experienced backup, and Rob Holding to pick and choose the best games for his development. As it was, Rob Holding was thrown in with 2 left backs this past weekend and made the errors a 20 year old is expected to make. He should be played WITH the best Arsenal have, not thrown in AS the best Arsenal have.

All in all, Arsenal look like the same beast as in the last few seasons unless they address the personnel issues in the next fortnight or so. The attack looks dangerous and varied. Sanchez will enjoy playing with Lacazette. Ozil is Ozil. Sometimes wonderful, but games pass him by too often. Iwobi and Welbeck add depth. Are there 2 better impact players off the bench than Giroud and Ramsey? Especially when chasing goals.

Cech is solid. Koscielny is one of the Premier League's best. Xhaka is growing in stature, and instigates most of Arsenals attacks. The first-choice front 3 is up there with the best in the league.

But a new pair through the middle is what will make this side different from previous years. Add physicality and defensive nous and maybe Kolasinac and Lacazette will not become as used to Arsenal’s opening night performance as the rest of us have.

Ivan Gazidis promised change at the Emirates this summer. Let’s see on September 1st if he was serious.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Post-Leicester: Shine on You Crazy Arsenal

Some things never change: get your same old psycho Arsenal at iTunesour raw RSS feed or our archive.

It's a new season with the same crazy defending as Arsenal and Leicester rekindle their positively insane gameplay in a last-minute 4-3 win. We'll talk Lacazette's complementary forward play, a wasteful midfield and how exactly one catches an abdominal strain (i.e. Alexis' contract saga) with returning guest Elliot Smith aka Yankee Gunner...

If you want to get in on the Arsenal Review USA Sunday League (Fantasy Premier League), just click the link here and enter the following access code: 2414962-567921

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The New Season and The Five Questions Arsenal Must Answer

By Chris Jenkins - @bychrisjenkins

Hard to believe, but it’s almost that time again, gang. Hope you enjoyed some summer weekends without the early morning angst and elation, because that’s all about to end. With less than a week to go until Friday’s season opener against Leicester, here are five key questions facing The Arsenal:

1) Will the club take decisive action on Alexis’ situation?

Alexis Sanchez - Arsenal FC
Alexis Sanchez
You can make a surprisingly rational case for letting Arsenal’s best player go into his final contract year without a new deal. The thought process goes something like this: Arsenal needs to be back in the Champions League – not just for competitive purposes, and not just for the media rights revenue that comes with it, but also to gain leverage in upcoming negotiations with the companies that sponsor them. By keeping Alexis, Arsenal can field a strong enough attacking force that it should be able to finish in the top four.

But that’s terrible long-term business. Watching a potential 50 million pound-plus asset walk out the door for free next summer would be inexcusable.

So, here’s what I’d do: Offer Alexis what PSG is paying Neymar -- about 26 million pounds a year, according to reports. Make the contract offer only two years because Alexis is 28 years old, and is going to run himself into the ground at some point. That’s the final offer, with a strict deadline attached. If he takes it, great. If not, sell him. And if you have to choose between selling him to a Premier League rival and a big club in another country, take the offer from the other country, even if it’s for less money.

Thomas Lemar and Riyad Mahrez are potential replacements who apparently could be available at the right price. Neither one is the complete player that Alexis is, but they’re players who can contribute.

The bigger-picture worry here is that this isn’t the only contract concern hanging over Arsenal. Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain and several others have to be signed or sold before the end of August. The longer Arsenal waits to sign or sell any of these players, the fewer good options and less leverage they have. This, more than anything else, underlines Arsenal’s need for a strong director of football.

2) How will Arsenal handle good teams who press them?

Without Santi Cazorla’s steadying presence in the deep midfield, opposing teams’ game plan against Arsenal has been relatively simple for the past few years: press them high, wait for Arsenal to give the ball away, and pounce.

Cazorla is 32, and it still isn’t clear when he’ll return from injury, or what he’ll be able to contribute when he does. This is a shortcoming that should have been addressed in the transfer market right away this summer – or last summer, for that matter.

Arsenal has some decent midfielders who can drop deep and pick up the ball, but there isn’t a player on Arsenal’s roster who can match Cazorla’s steady ball possession and passing skill. And when it comes to building from the back under pressure, Cech and his defenders have to be better, too.

As it stands now, Arsenal basically has to play Giroud against good teams who press. If Cech is forced to kick the ball long instead of trying to build from the back against intense pressure, Giroud is the only Arsenal player who can bring a long ball down and hold it up until help arrives. That’s fine, but you give up speed when you play Giroud as a forward, and that limits your ability to counterattack.

3) How much time will the new signings need to settle in and make an impact?

Lacazette was just OK in Sunday’s Community Shield match against Chelsea, and he might need some time to settle in to a new team and a new league. And that’s OK. There are so few elite strikers in the world, they rarely become available and they cost a fortune when they do. (Cough, cough, Neymar, cough, cough.) In that context, the Lacazette signing was a great piece of business by Arsenal.

But how about Sead KolaĊĦinac? Arsenal’s “other” significant signing looked like be belonged right away. He’s fast, he can handle the ball under pressure and he has a ton of upper body strength. Apparently, he can score on set pieces, too, as he showed in the Community Shield match. It’s still not clear how good he is as a one-on-one defender, but I’m excited to find out. Wenger needs to find a way to get him on the field for now.

4) Who’s going elsewhere before the end of the month?

There are obvious candidates like Gibbs and Lucas Perez, but the tough choice is at forward. It has been suggested that Arsenal will receive offers for Danny Welbeck, but it’d be bonkers to sell him. As you saw in the Community Shield match, his combination of pace and ballhandling is elite when he’s fully healthy. And you can’t sell Giroud, because he just does so many things well.

So … sorry, Theo, but it’s about that time. Walcott has speed, gives good effort, and he’s a decent finisher when he’s at his best. But he too often loses the ball in his feet, something you don’t see as much with players like Welbeck and Iwobi. For Arsenal to have the “possession with a purpose” that they need to be successful, you can’t just give the ball away in the box. The same rationale could be made for selling Aaron Ramsey, an incredibly skilled player who just gives the ball away too often by trying to do something spectacular. 

5) Are there reasons for optimism?

Heck, yeah. The concern about identifying a deep-lying midfielder who can handle pressure is significant and must be solved. The uncertainty about Alexis has to be resolved, too. But there are a bunch of nice options in defense, and enough attacking talent to be dangerous. If Arsenal consistently beats the teams it should, and can raise its level against better teams, a return to the top four is easily achievable.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Post-Community Shield: Good Habits

New season, same download locations: get the newest podcast episode from iTunesour raw RSS feed or our archive.

Arsenal get in the rut of beating Chelsea at Wembley with yet another Community Shield victory, this time with the help of a regulation time goal from Sead Kolasinac and four superbly taken penalties. We'll discuss hair plugs, new season developments and exactly how well Arsenal have done in relation to the rest of the crazy crazy world of football transfers in this first podcast of the new season...