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Friday, 26 October 2012

Arsenal's left back dilemma: who should start against QPR?

In the absence of Kieran Gibbs at left back, there is room for debate as to who should be his replacement.

Andre Santos has had two consecutively poor performances, at fault for Grant Holt's goal for Norwich and Jan Huntelaar's for Schalke. Both were due to lapses in concentration and perhaps lack of natural defensive instinct, failing to step up with the rest of his defence and thus playing the strikers onside.

Now, does Arsene Wenger keep faith in Santos? He's been a liability recently but he is our sole specialist (heh) left back in Gibbs' absence - and one we paid over £7million for. 

One has to worry though that against the pace of QPR's wingers, the likes of Junior Hoillet and Shaun Wright-Phillips, married with the probable counter-attacking game the Hoops will play against us, Santos will struggle. 

He will leave space in behind due to his natural inclination to go forward and poor positional sense, and I just don't see him matching those attackers for speed. 

Alternatively, Ignasi Miquel could be deployed at left back. As I said yesterday, this is probably my preferred option. The Spaniard is a natural defender, tall, disciplined and relatively quick. He has impressed whenever called upon and would certainly add some solidity to our back four. 

There is also of course Thomas Vermaelen. To be honest the thought of him at centre half against Zamora - which wasn't pretty at times last year - is enough to persuade me that he should start at left back. Not many strikers bully Vermaelen, but Zamora did exactly that at Loftus Road last season. 

The skipper has said he does not like playing at full back, but he is adequate enough in this position to fill in during Gibbs' absence.

What this would also allow is a centre back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker - arguably our strongest partnership. 

Anyway, regardless of who plays it is a very important game. Anything other than three points and I'd predict some fairly vociferous criticism from portions of the crowd towards the team and the boss.

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Up The Arsenal.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Arsenal 0-2 Schalke: post-match thoughts

It wasn't good last night but let's not get carried away. We lost to an extremely good side; they pressed us intensely throughout the match, and possess an attack which could hurt the best. Any team who defeats Borussia Dortmund on their own patch is, by implication, a top side, barring in mind Dortmund beat Real Madrid last night.

Having said that, there are several issues to highlight. Firstly, the decision to shove Podolski out wide. I understand this when we are playing away, as he adds protection down the left flank, but surely when we are at home we should be taking the game to the opposition?

Podolski's influence on the game is significantly reduced when he is shunted on the left. If the reason behind it is that Gervinho won't work as hard in comparison if he plays there, then that is a bit of a joke. Give him a kick up the arse and make him, because the team can't afford to sacrifice Podolski's natural finishing ability as a striker. 

The decision to play Gervinho rather than Giroud was a strange one. The bigman has started to show some form for club and country (forget about Norwich - everyone had a stinker) and would have at least added a focal point to our attack. With Gervinho there we just seem a bit lost a times - as does he.

There was no penetration, pace or cohesion in the final third, nor did we apply any sustained periods of pressure on goal - our sole shot on target was the penultimate kick of the game, by Serge Gnabry.

I joked before the match that I hoped I wouldn't be saying 'the only positive to take from the game was Gnabry', like we all did after Norwich. Unfortunately that was exactly what I said again.

The youngster did well, and mesmerised the crowd with a wonderful scoop turn with his first touch after coming on. He received a harsh lesson though when he gave the ball away in the middle of the park, which led to Schalke's second.

Furthermore, the reactiveness of the players and the coaching staff was quite exasperating. Andre Santos was targeted the whole game. It was abundantly clear he was being left too exposed, defending against Farfan and the constantly overlapping full back Uchida. He clearly needed help. 60,000 fans could see it, Bould must have seen it. But nothing was done.

It's down to the player to scream at his teammates to help him out, but Santos evidently failed to do so. Then it's down to the coaching staff. At half time surely Steve Bould addressed the situation, but it continued throughout. This, it must be said, is very disappointing. You want the team to be alert and proactive, instead they were mute and reactive. Nothing was done. And we faced the consequences.

I don't want to be overly critical but Santos is not a defender. As well as playing Huntelaar onside for their opening goal, he also played Holt onside against Norwich. In Gibbs' absence, I would be inclined to choose Miquel at left back. A natural defender, tall, disciplined and by no means a slouch.

The past days have really highlighted the unpredictability of the Champions League. I think to remain objective about the Schalke game you must notice how the gap in quality between teams has drastically reduced; United scrape past an average Braga side, Chelsea deservedly beaten by Shaktar, Juve scraping a draw against Danish part-timers, Malaga beating Milan, Barca needing a scruffy last gasp winner against Celtic, Madrid losing to a Dortmund side that lost to Schalke, and so on.

Just a few weeks ago we were praising the apparent strength in depth of our squad. However last night Giroud was our only first team player on the bench, and we face the familiar scenario of a squad depleted through injury.

We are second in our group and finishing top is still achievable, so it's not quite time to get your bin bags out. With the likes of Walcott, Chamberlain and Wilshere to return, plus our first choice left back, right back....and keeper(s)...and Diaby...and Rosicky....and Frimpong...ah fuck it, somebody go give Colin Lewin a hand.

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Monday, 22 October 2012

U21 report + highlights, Everton 1-2 Arsenal: Wilshere completes another 90 minutes

Terry Burton's U21 side managed to build on their 2-0 home win over Reading a fortnight ago by beating Everton at their Finch Farm Training Complex on Monday afternoon.

There are several positives to be taken from the match, most notably Jack Wilshere, Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Frimpong completing another 90 minutes in their road to fitness.

After a lapse of concentration by Ignasi Miquel, which Apostolos Vellios promptly capitalised on, Thomas Eisfeld scored an excellent brace to secure the 2-1 victory for the Gunners.

The young German was inches away from a hatrick when he unleashed a powerful effort on goal from distance, only for it to cannon off the woodwork.

Eisfeld, who contributed with six goals and six assists in 12 games last year for Borussia Dortmund U19s, clearly has a natural ability to create and score goals. He has shown this on a number of occasions already since joining Arsenal, netting twice in the pre-season tour of Asia and grabbing four goals in eight games in the U21 league.

Goalscoring midfielders at Arsenal have been a rarity since the days of Bobby Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, so Eisfeld could prove to be an invaluable asset in the coming years.

Wilshere showed his quality throughout, with some sweeping passes and a clever assist for Eisfeld's second, cutting in from the right and playing in his teammate whose finish was clinical.

Burton will be pleased with the way his side recovered after going a goal down early on, in a match which proved much tougher than the comfortable 3-0 home win in the corresponding fixture earlier this season.

A trip to France now beckons for Arsenal's young guns, where they face Marseille in the Next Gen Series on Thursday - a game they cannot afford to lose. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Wilshere's recovery continues with behind-closed-doors friendly against Chelsea

Tomorrow, an Arsenal side comprising of a mixture of U21 and first team players will take on Chelsea at London Colney. The friendly has been arranged to continue the recuperation of Jack Wilshere after a 14 month injury lay-off, as well as Emmanuel Frimpong and Bacary Sagna.

All three featured in the reserves' match against Reading last week, with Wilshere receiving over 70 minutes, Sagna an hour, and Frimpong the whole game. However they were unable to immediately build on this due to the absence of a fixture the following week. Thus, the club have arranged the private friendly against Chelsea.

There will be no regulations with regards to age tomorrow, so expect further players on the fringes of first team football to feature, such as Andre Santos, Francis Coquelin and Sebastian Squillaci. It will be a beneficial and perhaps necessary exercise in maintaining their fitness levels.

With Kieran Gibbs hobbling off in the game against West Ham almost a fortnight ago, meaning he is now "very doubtful" for Norwich on Saturday, it is vital for Santos to be in prime condition in the readiness of a return to the starting line-up.

Marouane Chamakh may well begin up front, and Andrey Arshavin, who has received scarce first-team football this season, is also likely to feature.

Martin Angha will be one of the several U21 players unavailable due to international commitments, however Kris Olsson is available and striker Chuba Akpom, who only just turned 17, earning his first professional contract in the process, takes a place on the bench.

With the friendly against Chelsea and another U21 game against Everton next Monday, there is plenty of game time for Jack Wilshere in his pursuit of fitness, and Arsenal fans can certainly be hopeful of a return in time for Reading away in the League Cup at the end of October. Fingers crossed. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pat Holland departs from his role as Arsenal U18 manager

Just seven games into his tenure as manager of Arsenal U18s, Pat Holland has left his role at the club due to "personal reasons", according to the official website.

However one must presume the management of the academy were not satisfied with the way the season was progressing for Holland's side, and thought the players were not fulfilling their potential.

At U18 level the results are not the be all and end all - it is more about developing the youngsters by providing them with experience and quality training. Liam Brady, the director of Arsenal's academy, may have been unconvinced by Holland's methods at London Colney, or thought his management skills were outdated.

Holland's style on the touchline was criticised for being unconstructive, shouting traditional cliches like 'cross it in' and 'get tight' (via @deanafc1989). Some of the players at Arsenal's disposal may not respond to such instructions and this could perhaps be seen in the side's poor form and failure to improve it with any consistency.

Holland began his season with the U18s with a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Bolton, and ended it with a 3-0 home defeat to Reading. The results in between were more encouraging, however, with two convincing 3-0 wins over Norwich and West Ham, and also a 2-1 dispatch of Everton. These wins were sandwiched by draws to Blackburn and West Brom, so it was certainly a mixed bag for Holland.

In truth one would only be speculating to explain his departure at this moment in time. One thing is for certain though: his replacement will be former U16 manager Steve Gatting, who has been working as the U18 assistant manager this year. He has coached at Arsenal for five years and played for the Gunners 76 times in the late 1970s, so has a wealth of experience with the club.

In other news, Sanchez Watt scored the winner last weekend for Colchester with a well taken strike, while Chuks Aneke played the full 90 minutes for Crewe and by all accounts was one of their most influential players, despite losing.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Chuba Akpom signs professional terms at Arsenal

Arsenal forward Chuba Akpom has had a lot to celebrate recently in what has been a whirlwind couple months for the youngster, cemented by today's news that he has signed his first professional contract upon turning 17.

Akpom follows Jack Jebb and Austin Lipman in signing professionally with the club, in what has been a busy month of youth football at The Arsenal.

Akpom, who made his debut for the U18s just two years ago in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, incidentally alongside midfielder Jebb, has progressed from one level to the next this year.

He made his debut for Terry Burton's reserve side in the pre-season game at Borehamwood, where he scored a penalty and impressed generally, and since then, has established himself as a fixture in the team, keeping out the considerably more experienced Sanchez Watt.

As I said in a previous article, Akpom's strengths are varied. At 6ft2, he has the physical attributes - especially when married with his excellent hold up play and awareness - to make an effective target man. He also has the vision and skill to excel on the left wing or indeed in the no.10 position, just behind the main striker.

Such a multi-faceted skillset is rare to find in a man so young, not to mention his tremendous work rate and down-to-earth attitude.

Akpom has also shone on the international stage. He was called up to Noel Blake's England U19 side in September, at the age of 16, alongside stars such as Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse. He scored three goals in two games for Blake's side, as well as grabbing an assist. Quite a return.

After scoring his last goal as a sixteen year old last night in the 2-0 defeat of Reading U21s - his first goal at reserve level - the young striker can dream of a trip to the Madjeski Stadium with Arsene Wenger's side, where they face eachother in the League Cup later this month.

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I interviewed the man himself not too long ago, which you can check out here.

You can send your congratulations in to Chuba, too

Monday, 8 October 2012

Wilshere and Sagna make comebacks as Arsenal U21s ease past Reading

Arsenal's second string are back to winning ways after dispatching their Reading counterparts 2-0 at Underhill on Monday evening.

Despite an array of first team players in the starting line up, it was Serge Gnabry and Chuba Akpom who sealed the points for the Gunners.

Terry Burton's midfield comprised of first team stars such as Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin in what was a very strong side.

Hugely encouraging news for Gooners is that Bacary Sagna made his return to action, receiving an hour at right back as scheduled and leaving the pitch unscathed. It was the first step in what will be a gradual process towards match fitness.

His absence from the first team this season has been somewhat compensated for by the form of Carl Jenkinson, however the Frenchman's eventual return to first team football (fingers crossed) will provide a massive boost to the side.

Burton also had F1 racer turned football superstar Andre Santos at his disposal, deploying the Brazilian at left back. Despite featuring in the 3-1 defeat of West Ham on Saturday, replacing the injured Kieran Gibbs, Santos played the full 90 minutes tonight. Wenger obviously sees the need to maintain the 29 year old's fitness levels, and reserve team football is extremely beneficial in this respect.

Keown Junior...I wouldn't miss a penalty around him
Despite imposing centre half Niall Keown in the Reading side, son of Arsenal legend Martin, Arsenal took the lead three minutes before half time after some excellent link up play between Frimpong, Wilshere and Eisfeld. It was the latter who then slid the ball into Gnabry, who confidently chopped the ball inside and curled it home with his weaker left foot.

Gnabry, tipped as a "star of the future" by Wenger, impressed yet again, and could certainly be fast- tracked into first team football this year following his appearance in the League Cup against Coventry.

Arsenal centre back Sead Hajrovic almost gifted the visitors an equaliser just minutes into the second half, but Adam Le Fondre failed to capitalise on the Swiss's poor back pass. Hajrovic, hitherto criticised for a lack of concentration, will not have helped his cause with that.

Frimpong then should have scored after being put through by Coquelin, but he showed a real lack of composure and scuffed it wide.

Thankfully the points were sealed when Chuba Akpom nodded home from close range, anticipating Ignasi Miquel's flick on following a Wilshere corner. It was Akpom's last goal as a 16 year old, and the forward can expect a professional contract upon turn seventeen this week.

All in all a highly satisfactory evening for Arsenal in front of an onlooking Arsene Wenger, who will be hopeful of including Wilshere and Sagna in his plans for the coming months.

Click here to follow me on Twitter for more on Arsenal and youth football, or if you just want some TLC during the international break.

And click here for highlights of the Reading game.

Arsenal loan watch - Denilson and Aneke score wonder goals

Hello Gooners,

Been a bit quiet on here lately as I've been spending most of my spare time doing stuff for The Sport Review and Gingers4Limpar, which you can check out here and here.

Chuks Aneke scored a beautiful equaliser for Crewe Alexandra in their 2-1 defeat of Hartlepool last weekend, sweeping the ball first time over the 'keeper from outside the box. The nineteen year old's loan spell at Crewe has been extended, and Arsenal obviously regard it as a place where he can develop. Barring in mind the Cheshire club brought through Nick Powell, who is now at Manchester United, one can understand this decision.

Check out Chuks' screamer by clicking here.

Denilson scored his first for Sao Paulo in their game versus Palmeiras, with a magnificent effort. Following a corner, the ball fell to him around 40 yards out, he took a touch unopposed, and just whacked it into the top corner. Watch it here.

I saw young forward Phillip Roberts in action for Inverness, where Arsenal have agreed a deal to send youth players to develop. He impressed me, working hard, looking lively and pulling off a magnificent defence splitting pass, only for his teammate to squander a one-on-one.

On a serious note, Benik Afobe, on loan at Bolton, was a victim of racist abuse from Millwall fans last weekend, along with teammate Marvin Sordell. Hopefully the FA will dish out the appropriate punishment to the offending fans, although knowing their incompetence this is unlikely.

Anyway, sorry to leave you on such a distasteful note, and expect to see a bit more action from me on here in the coming days.

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