Arsenal’s away record exposes their weak mentality

Things were meant to be different under Unai Emery. He was the main anointed to oversee a complete overhaul of Arsenal, not just as a football team, but as a club and an organisation. And yet what we have seen from the Gunners this season has been very similar to what was witnessed over the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s tenure.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, Emery has inherited almost exactly the same squad that Wenger had to work with last season. Some additions were made in the summer, with Denis Suarez arriving on loan from Barcelona in the January window, but besides that, not much has changed in terms of personnel.

Arsenal Training Session

Or in terms of mindset either. Under Wenger last season, Arsenal went from the turn of the year to the very last game of the campaign without picking up a point away from home. This season, the Gunners have gone six Premier League away days in succession without a win, also suffering a defeat away to BATE Borisov in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Emery wasn’t just appointed to impose a new style of play on a team that had lost its identity. He was appointed to change the mentality at the Emirates Stadium and the early signs are that he has so far failed to do that, at least going on the frailty of Arsenal’s recent performances on the road.

“We can have better balance [in performances] when we prepare by thinking it’s going to be very difficult,” Emery said ahead of the trip to face Huddersfield this weekend. “I spoke with the players [and told them] we need to think this match is very important for us. Every player needs to be ready, be focused and be thinking we need to win this match.

“We must impose ourselves from the first minute and throughout the 90 minutes but first is the mentality. It’s to think this match will be very difficult. For us tactics are the second issue. The first is to think we need to win and after that it’s how we can win – preparing tactically and individually.”

Defeat to the relegation-threatened Terriers this weekend would really expose the issues in the minds of the Arsenal players right now. Earlier this season it seemed that progress had been made under Emery. Now, that is in question. A rebuttal is needed. And soon.

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Arsenal should use Mesut Ozil as a transfer makeweight this summer

It’s the saga that, more than once, has threatened to completely overshadow Arsenal’s season. Nobody at Arsenal seems sure what to do with Mesut Ozil. On the basis of his talent alone, he is one of the very best, if not the best, currently at the Emirates Stadium. And yet for reasons that have never been fully disclosed, his future there is under question.

Unai Emery has sent mixed messages. Ozil has been left out of the Arsenal team, and sometimes out of the squad entirely, many times, but he has also been drafted in as captain more than once. The smoke signals suggest that the German playmaker could be sold at the end of the season, though.

Mesut Ozil

Recent reports claim that intermediaries have already been deployed to find a buyer, with Ozil being touted around Europe. There will surely be some interest, although the German’s £350,000-a-week wage might prove to be a stumbling block that prevents a bidding war for the player this summer.

The loss of Ozil at the same time as Aaron Ramsey’s move to Juventus as a free agent will be taken by some as a statement of where Arsenal are as a club right now. Indeed, the optics won’t be good, particularly taking into account the exit of Sven Mislintat, the man hired to overhaul the club’s transfer dealings.

Arsenal should at least attempt to use the situation concerning Ozil’s future to their advantage, though. In the German, they have a valuable asset tied to a long term contract, signed just one year ago. If the budget for the summer is limited, they should use Ozil as a makeweight to get the players they want.

Take Ivan Perisic, for example. The Gunners are believed to be admirers of the Croatian winger, but have so far been frustrated in their efforts to prise him from Inter Milan’s grips. The dangling of Ozil as part of any deal might be enough to convince the Serie A side to part with Perisic, though.

Some will, rightfully, argue that Ozil is worth more than Perisic, but the current situation concerning the former isn’t benefiting Arsenal in any way, so they might as well use him to capture a player Emery can, and is willing to, use.

Of course, Arsenal did something similar with Alexis Sanchez, using the Chilean to sign Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Manchester United. Ozil could allow them to make an even bigger signing that they otherwise wouldn’t have the funds to sanction. They can turn a negative into a positive with the right strategy.

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Laurent Koscielny entering a new phase of his career

He couldn’t keep the smile from his face. Back involved as a first team player after a length spell on the sidelines, Laurent Koscielny was beaming after Arsenal’s win over Qarabag during the week. Here was a man simply pleased to be back playing football again.

Koscielny’s achilles injury came at the worst possible time for him last season. Suffered in May, it ended the defender’s hopes of playing for France at the World. Les Blues went on to win the tournament, with Koscielny watching at home. It was something that made him question a lot.

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“The World Cup will remain a dark spot of my career,” he said in a recent interview. “The injury was hard to accept. The result was even harder because they won the World Cup. I have a selfish side. I tell myself that I could have been part of the adventure and won the Cup. And I would have it in a corner of my head for the rest my life. It’s difficult and no one can put themselves in my shoes.”

Now, at 33 years old it’s important that Koscielny moves into a new phase of his career, putting the troubles of 2018 behind him. He remains one of the best centre backs in the Premier League and can play an important role in the renaissance of Arsenal that was kick-started in his absence through injury. He is the club captain, but his role can be more than just a ceremonial one.

Arsenal are struggling for defensive bodies at the moment. Rob Holding is expected to be out for the rest of the season through injury, Konstantinos Mavropanos also struggling with a groin injury, Skodran Mustafi toiling with a troublesome hamstring and Sokratis Papastathopoulos suspended for the weekend’s game against Southampton.

Koscielny’s return to action from injury comes at just the right time for the Gunners. The next few weeks will be a defining stage of their season, with the fixtures coming thick and fast over the winter. Next week, Arsenal face Spurs in the quarter finals of the League Cup. Then they have Liverpool away from home on December 29.

Arsenal’s squad depth will be tested, particularly at the back where Unai Emery is still looking to impose his methods and ideas on a stubborn backline. Koscielny will be required to get up to speed quickly. His team will need him over Christmas.

With this expectation comes pressure, but this is the sort of pressure that Koscielny has missed so much since suffering his injury in May. This is the sort of thing he wanted. Fans mustn’t be too demanding off the 33-year-old right from the start, but it’s time for Koscielny to put the past year behind him and become a part of Emery’s Arsenal resurgence. It’s for him to enjoy his football again.

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Is it time for Isco to leave Real Madrid?

In the grand scheme of things, Real Madrid’s home defeat to CSKA Moscow meant little. For the defending European champions, it was a dead rubber. It might have been humiliating to be so comprehensively dismantled by inferior opposition on their own patch, but Real’s place in the last 16 of the Champions League had already been secured. For one player, though, it was a breaking point.

Having been booed and jeered all night long, Isco snapped. He mouthed ‘what do you want?’ to the notoriously tough to please Santiago Bernabeu crowd, raising his arms in complete and utter exasperation. This reaction had been building for quite some time. Given all that the playmaker has faced this season, it was always likely that he would give some back.

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Isco has been a peripheral figure for Santiago Solari since he took over from Julen Lopetegui. Lopetegui wanted to build his Real Madrid team around Isco given the success he enjoyed using the playmaker in his Spain team in the build up to the World Cup. Solari, though, hasn’t been so keen on the 26-year-old, who has spent the past few weeks on the bench.

Even when Isco has been given game time, he has underwhelmed. He has the look of a player who has given up. Speculation continues to build over his future at Real Madrid, with a move to the Premier League frequently mooted. Manchester City are reportedly interested. It’s becoming harder to envisage how Isco will turn things around at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A fresh start might be what he needs. Isco wasn’t the most natural of signings for Real Madrid back when he joined from Malaga in 2013. He was a different sort of player to the kind they were used to at the Santiago Bernabeu at that time, but his arrival was meant to herald a new age for the capital giants.

It hasn’t worked out that way, though, and now it seems that Isco and Real Madrid might be ready for a parting of the ways. At 26, Isco needs to make the most of the next few years. These are supposed to be his peak years and yet he is spending them sat on the bench at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A move to City would surely appeal. Pep Guardiola would know how to get more out of a player like Isco. The Premier League champions could use a wildcard like him in the final third. Guardiola and Isco would be good for each other.

Isco wouldn’t come cheap. Real Madrid would likely look for upwards of £50 million, at least, for the playmaker. Still, at that price there would be plenty of suitors. Isco has his admirers, it’s just that not many of them are currently at the Santiago Bernabeu. It might be time for him to leave them behind for everyone’s good.

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Arsenal need to sign a striker in January

He finished up as the match winner, but when the Arsenal team was released for the final Europa League group game against Qarabag on Thursday night many felt Alexandre Lacazette’s inclusion was unnecessary. They would have preferred that the Frenchman had been rested.

Arsenal are heading into a packed period of fixtures which will define their season. The Gunners have made progress under Unai Emery over the early part of the campaign, but they must consolidate that progress before the turn of the year or they will find themselves chasing their tail.

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The Gunners will travel to the south coast to face Southampton this weekend before taking on Spurs in the quarter finals of the League Cup the following week. Then between December 22 and New Year’s Day Emery’s side will play four Premier League fixtures. This will be a testing stretch for everyone, including Arsenal.

Lacazette, many believe, should have been rested against Qarabag to keep him fresh for this upcoming run of games. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the Premier League top scorer this season, but he frequently plays out wide. It’s Lacazette who acts as the focal point of the Arsenal attack. He is, in the conventional sense of the term, their frontman.

Behind him, there is nobody who could perform the role. Of course, Aubameyang could play through the middle, as he has done many times before, but that would leave the Gunners short of threat on the left side. By pulling one side of the duvet, the feet would be left dangling uncovered on the other side.

Danny Welbeck’s injury, which could rule him out for the rest of the season, has left Arsenal light in the attacking positions and this is why they need to sign a striker when the January transfer window opens in a few weeks’ time. They need depth and Arsenal are lacking that up front.

Callum Wilson would fit the bill. The Bournemouth striker is in the form of his life at the moment, leading the Cherries to eighth place in the Premier League table. Injury free, Wilson is a bottom half Robert Lewandowski and would certainly be capable of leading the line for Arsenal as a deputy for Lacazette. He might even push the Frenchman to reach even higher heights.

The other option might be to spend big on Ousmane Dembele, who continues to be linked with a departure from Barcelona. That would free up Aubameyang to be used as a frontman in Lacazette’s absence, with Dembele used on the right when all three are fit and available.

Arsenal have done well in the transfer window under the new regime, signing shrewdly and adding to their squad smartly in a way that has allowed Emery to mould his team in the manner he wants. They must continue to do that in the coming transfer windows, starting with January.

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Arsenal must continue their rebuild in January window

Unai Emery can be satisfied with his first few months in England. Arriving at Arsenal in the summer, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss was faced with one of the biggest jobs in Premier League history. Somehow he had to untangle an entire legacy, the legacy of his predecessor Arsene Wenger. He hasn’t done that yet, but progress has been made.

Indeed, Arsenal are at least on an upward trajectory again. They are playing well and Emery has gone some way to instilling a winning mentality at the Emirates Stadium. As demonstrated against Spurs in last weekend’s North London derby, and to a lesser extent against Manchester United on Wednesday night, the Gunners are capable of competing with the elite.

Isco

Nobody was really sure what to expect from Arsenal. Their summer business raised eyebrows, spending money, but not the sort of money usually splurged by the top teams in the Premier League. Now, their business looks to have been shrewd, with Lucas Torreira giving Arsenal the sort of bite they have missed in midfield for years. Sokratis Papastathopoulos has nailed down a place at centre back, while Bernd Leno and Matteo Guendouzi are now considered first team figures.

But if Arsenal are to continue their improvement, they must pick up their rebuild again when the January transfer window opens. Emery has found a starting lineup that can carry out his instructions, but that isn’t to say that they can’t get better. Arsenal’s top four place still isn’t certain. It’s entirely possible that they could fall away in the second half of the season, leaving them locked out of the Champions League for a third straight year.

Most of the transfer speculation surrounding the club at present concerns players potentially leaving the club. Before his season-ending injury, it was thought that Danny Welbeck would depart the Emirates in January. Aaron Ramsey is another who has been linked with an exit, with the Welsh midfielder’s contract set to expire at the end of the season.

Then there’s the Mesut Ozil saga. The German playmaker has fallen out of favour in recent weeks, with suggestions that Emery no longer sees him as a part of his long term plans. It’s unlikely that Ozil will leave mid-season, but that hasn’t stopped the rumour mill churning out conjecture.

Arsenal need to buy players, though. They could still do with another body in midfield, especially if Ramsey is to leave soon. Lyon’s Tanguy N’Dombele would fit the bill. They could also use a playmaker if Ozil is to depart, and so Isco, whose future at Real Madrid is far from certain, would be a blockbuster addition.

Emery is the coach and he has done well with what he has this season. Now, he needs the club, people like Sven Mislintat, to continue the rebuild in the transfer market. He needs more to work with.

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Riqui Puig is the player Barcelona have been waiting for

He was only on the pitch for 35 minutes, thrown on as a second half substitute with the game already won by then, but that was enough for Riqui Pique to catch the eye of everyone inside Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Long hyped as Barcelona’s next best thing, this was a glimpse of the future for the Catalan club.

There was something Xavi-esque about the display Puig put in against Cultural Leonesa, particularly his run and chipped through ball for Barcelona’s fourth goal on the night. Sure, it might have been against third tier opposition, but it takes a lot of ability for a player, any player, never mind one 17 years old, to command the Camp Nou turf like Puig did.

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Alongside Carles Alena, Barcelona fans were afforded a glimpse of what their team’s midfield of the future might look like. The Catalans have struggled to find players good enough to replace Andres Iniesta and Xavi, with Paulinho, Arturo Vidal, Arda Turan, Denis and Rafinha all given a shot. While Paulinho proved himself to be a decent option, and Vidal has played a lot in recent weeks, nobody has come close to filling the void.

Arthur has, so far, proved to be an astute signing, joining Barcelona from Gremio in the summer. Over time, it’s possible that he could form a midfield unit alongside Alena and Puig, who is still maturing. This could be the platform that sustains Barcelona in the post-Lionel Messi age.

What’s more, both Alena and Puig represent a recovery to the ways of old for Barcelona. The path from La Masia to the senior team has been walked by few in recent years, with the Catalan club instead splurging hundreds of millions on players in the transfer market.

Alena and Puig are both players forged from the Barcelona mould. They look like Barcelona players, they play like Barcelona players. Not since Thiago Alcantara has a midfielder looked like such a natural fit for the Catalan club. Now, Barca must ensure they don’t undervalue them and lose them to Bayern Munich.

Puig has been linked with a number of elite clubs, with Spurs the latest to be reported suitors for the teenager. Mauricio Pochettino took in a Barcelona B game during the international break, raising speculation that he could make a move for Puig, taking advantage of the contract regulations that leave Spanish sides at a disadvantage when it comes keeping teenagers.

Barcelona must do all they can to keep Puig. Not for years has a young prospect so clearly represented the future of the club. The era of Messi will one day come to an end and with the Argentinean now 31 Barca must start making plans. Puig is one of the players they should plan around. His 35-minute performance in the Copa del Rey demonstrated that.

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Arsenal can show Man Utd what they are missing

It was the best performance of Unai Emery’s time as Arsenal manager so far. Indeed, the Gunners’ display in the North London derby against Spurs on Sunday was everything the club’s fans wanted to see from their team in the post-Arsene Wenger era. It was fast and furious. There was a game plan. And most importantly, there was a victory.

One wonders what those Manchester United supporters who just so happened to catch the game thought of what they saw. 24 hours earlier, their team had struggled to a 2-2 draw against Southampton- the bottom team in the Premier League. It was in stark contrast to what Arsenal served up.

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Now, the two teams will face each other on Wednesday night. For both teams, this could be a season-defining clash. Man United are in desperate need of a win to give their chances of finishing in the top four a shot in the arm, while Arsenal also need a victory to shore up the progress they have made in recent weeks.

In terms of a sporting identity, there are plenty of parallels between Arsenal and Manchester United. They were fierce of rivals for years, when Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson locked horns for major honours, but in retrospect, there was more to unite them than there was to divide them.

Both sets of fans expect their team to play attractive, dynamic and attacking football. They also expect their team to challenge for silverware having grown accustomed to success. In recent years, the parallels have become even clearer, with Arsenal and Man United left looking upwards at teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Leicester City.

But while United have festered and allowed malaise to grow at the club, Arsenal have taken measures to overhaul themselves. The replacement of Wenger with Emery in the summer was the most public- most significant part of that overhaul- but changes have also taken place behind the scenes.

This has manifested itself in what we have seen on the pitch from Arsenal so far this season. They have a transfer strategy, a clear and coherent notion of what they want the club to be, and of what they want the club to represent. This led them to the hiring of Emery through a comprehensive recruitment process in line with this approach.

United, on the other hand, are utterly dependent on one man, Jose Mourinho. And that one man is charged with imposing an identity on the club. This is an infrastructure that rarely works in the modern game, and we are seeing that in the way United have struggled this season.

Arsenal can show Manchester and their fans what they are missing on Wednesday night. They can show the Old Trafford club what happens when there is a plan and when that plan is implemented properly.

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North London derby will be marker for Arsenal

Arsenal aren’t used to looking upwards at Spurs. The Gunners finished above their North London rivals for 22 years in succession before the 2017/18 season, when Spurs broke the trend that had been over two decades in the making.

Indeed, the dynamic of the North London derby has been flipped in recent seasons, with Spurs setting a precedent for Arsenal to aspire to, rather than the other way around. While Mauricio Pochettino has built a team within touching distance of mounting a genuine title challenge, Arsenal have struggled to break into the top four.

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The Gunners are in the midst of a revolution, with Unai Emery replacing Arsene Wenger in the summer. This is a long term project that won’t even be judged on what is achieved in the first season under the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss. With this in mind, though, Arsenal have already made progress.

While the Gunners may not be good enough to challenge for the title this season, they are back in play for a top four spot. What’s more, Emery has restored Arsenal’s identity as a team. Once again, they are one of the most dynamic, entertaining teams in the Premier League, with the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all in good form.

After two years looking upwards at Spurs, Arsenal might be back on an equal footing with their North London rivals. The two teams are occupying the same section of the Premier League table this season, competing for the same places. That will give this weekend’s derby, the first of the season, a real edge.

In terms of sheer competitiveness, the North London derby might be the Premier League’s fiercest right now. The Manchester derby is a mismatch in its current form, with City streets ahead of United. The Merseyside derby is historically also a mismatch, and even more so at this point, with Liverpool title challengers and Everton only aiming for the top six.

Then there’s the Second City derby, with both Aston Villa and Birmingham City down in the Championship at present. Arsenal and Chelsea is a London derby, and like Arsenal and Spurs, they are competing for the same places this season, but it’s not a rivalry entrenched in history like the North London derby.

For Arsenal, this Sunday’s game will be a real marker for the improvement made, or not made, under Emery. The Gunners have won almost every game they have been expected to win so far this season, but they have lost or drawn to every higher calibre side they have faced. Spurs, at the very least, are a team of equal quality. This weekend’s match could have a real bearing on how this season turns out for both rivals. It will have a symbolic and sporting impact.

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Lionel Messi is masking Barcelona’s problems

On the face of things, all went well for Barcelona on Wednesday night. Against a PSV Eindhoven side intent of giving it one last go to climb their way off the foot of Group B in this season’s Champions League, the Catalans claimed a 2-1 win to secure top spot. Dig a little deeper, though, and there was plenty to concern Ernesto Valverde.

Barca gave up enough opportunities for the result to be very different – ‘gave up’ being the key term. As effective as PSV were in the final third, hassling and harrying the Spanish champions, Valverde’s side were unusually slack with possession. Sergio Busquets surely can’t have had many looser games. Ivan Rakitic wasn’t much better, with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen also extremely uncomfortable.

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The xG plot maps produced after full time backed up the notion that PSV, had they taken their chances, probably should have beaten, or at least taken a point off, Barcelona. The visitors were fortunate to leave with all three points, once again owing to the brilliance of Lionel Messi, whose stunning opener changed the course of the match as a contest.

Fears that Messi may be slowing down have been, so far, unfounded this season, with the Argentinean as lethal as ever. Playing in a ‘false nine’ position on Wednesday night, with Luis Suarez missing for the match, Messi was both Barcelona’s attacking hub and their cutting edge. He is good enough to play both roles at the same time.

Elsewhere, though, there was reason for Valverde to be concerned. Barcelona’s midfield was far too deep against PSV, with Philippe Coutinho positioned only slightly in front of the central platform of Busquets and Rakitic. This resulted in Barca holding the ball closer to their own goal than is normal, which subsequently incentivised PSV to press high on the Catalans.

Last season, Valverde was criticised for not rotating his squad sufficiently. This resulted in Barcelona running out of steam when they reached the latter rounds of the Champions League, demonstrated by their infamous collapse to Roma in the quarter finals.

While Valverde is rotating his squad better this season, his changes on Wednesday night were peculiar. Busquets and Rakitic were quite clearly struggling from the 60-minute mark onwards, yet the Barca boss chose to withdraw Ousmane Dembele rather than resting one of his fatigued central midfielders.

This only accentuated the positional issues that Barcelona were experiencing in the middle of the pitch, giving PSV a way back into the match when the points should have been secured with the scoring of the second goal through Gerard Pique. Against better teams, Barca could come unstuck if they continue to play in this way. They might be through to the Champions League last 16, top of their group, but Valverde has plenty to think about.

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