Is Monchi the man to get Arsenal back on track?

The idea was that, in time, Sven Mislintat would become Arsenal’s Director of Football. The German was lured to the Emirates Stadium on this verbal promise, initially installed as the club’s Head of Recruitment with the understanding that he would move into the more senior role once Arsene Wenger left.

But Wenger departed Arsenal at the end of last season and Mislintat remained in his same role. More importantly, Ivan Gazidis, the man who had identified Mislintat as the man to overhaul Arsenal’s transfer strategy, left for AC Milan at the end of last year. The promise made to Mislintat no longer stood and this forced the former Borussia Dortmund chief out of the club at the start of this month.

Monchi

Now, however, there are reports claiming Arsenal are on the brink of offering the Director of Football job, or something similar just by another title, to Monchi, the Roma director credited with turning Sevilla into a European force. Some have even stated that a deal has been agreed and that the Spaniard will make the move to North London this summer.

Of course, Monchi has worked with Unai Emery before. The two figures were key to the success enjoyed by Sevilla over the past decade, forming quite the partnership. This is surely central to the decision Arsenal have reportedly taken, looking to draw upon the chemistry that worked so well for Sevilla.

But will Arsenal give Monchi the sort of freedom that Mislintat craved and was ultimately denied? The appointment of the Spaniard will be for nothing if Stan Kroenke and the rest of the board at the Emirates Stadium are unwilling to allow Monchi the chance to mould the club in the way he desires.

Significant structural changes have been made at Arsenal over the past 18 months or so. At first, they were designed to ensure the club transitioned from the Wenger age and into a new era. Now, the new infrastructure must be utilised to give Arsenal the best chance of returning to the top of the English and European game.

Monchi has encountered issues at Roma, with the Serie A club enduring a difficult season after making the semi finals of the Champions League last season. But Monchi is still considered the best in his role in Europe. He would be quite a coup for Arsenal, but they must give him the chance to flourish.

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Manchester City must prioritise Champions League

Leroy Sane

Manchester City were made to work for their midweek Champions League win against German club Schalke on Wednesday night. Finding themselves 2-1 down, goals from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling with five minutes left has put Pep Guardiola’s side in good stead with three away goals ahead of their return leg in three weeks. Continue reading

Manchester United v Liverpool; The three key battles in Sunday’s monumental derby

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Ahead of gameweek 27, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United sit at the edge of their seats in fourth-place and will be taking on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who are looking to become league leaders again as both sides will take on one another in the Sunday afternoon fixture at Old Trafford.

Without a doubt, both managers will be aiming to make statement of their own whilst look to earn bragging rights, in a match that will certainly be watched by nearly every football supporter around the world. The Red Devils have constantly had a really good record in this thrilling fixture over the last ten years or so, whilst the red side of Merseyside have not won at United’s place since 2014.

It’s time to look at the three vital battles that could help to decide the fate of this huge fixture…

Marcus Rashford vs Virgil Van Dijk

Since the arrival of Solskjaer as the interim coach, Marcus Rashford has made an immediate impact in the centre forward position and has clearly been one of the side’s best players over the last couple of months. Currently on nine goals and six assists in 22 league appearances, it would be an incredible achievement for the 21-year-old to hit double figures in goals and assists before the season finishes.

Rashford will be in for a close and tight encounter with Virgil Van Dijk, who is seen as Liverpool’s best centre-back as well as one of the best defenders in Europe. The Dutchman has played a crucial role in helping the side to have the best defensive record in the league and suffer the one defeat so far this term, proving he is the real deal and is worth every single penny that the club spent on him.

Mohamed Salah vs Luke Shaw

It’s no secret that Liverpool’s most deadly and influential player in the final third of the pitch is none other than Mohamed Salah, an individual that is on course to win the golden boot for the second successful time whilst looking to help his team win their first ever Premier League title. If he can potentially go on to do both, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win the Player of the Year award.

Salah has been offering the perfect combination of creativity and directness from the right flank, making him the world class attacking outlet he was bound to become since his early days at FC Basel. The former Chelsea and Roma winger will be up against Luke Shaw, a left-back who has his good moments here and there, but is yet to show the form he once had during his time at Southampton.

Paul Pogba vs Fabinho

The last month or so has been really clear of how talented and technically gifted Paul Pogba really is, someone who was living in a nightmare within the Jose Mourinho era but is now enjoying the freedom he is given on the pitch. Having already bagged 11 goals and eight assists so far this campaign, he has been one of the main factors to why Solskjaer is enjoying his managerial run so far at Old Trafford and to why United have another chance to finish in the top four positions.

Meanwhile for Liverpool, Fabinho will be potentially utilised as the deepest midfielder and will be hoping that his composure and influence on both sides of the pitch will help his team to go on to win the fixture. The 25-year-old has evidently shown this season that he has the intelligence to defensively be in the right place at the right time as well as chip in with assisting the team in the build-up play, especially when he has the incredible range of passing to pick out his team-mates.

Bayern result shows Liverpool focus is on the Premier League

Liverpool Manchester United Bayern Munich Premier League Champions League

It’s been a while since Liverpool had to choose between the Premier League and the Champions League. With the top four the best they could hope for in recent years, the latter took precedence.

For a club with as rich a history in Europe as the Reds, it made sense. A run to the Europa League final in 2016 provided cherished memories for fans that had been starved of anything special for several years.

The run to the Champions League final last season did the same. Thrilling wins over the likes of Manchester City and Roma are still talked about. They were exciting occasions that sit among Liverpool’s best nights in Europe.  Continue reading

Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL fixtures

Premier League predicted lineups

It’s time to look ahead to this weekend’s Premier League action as we predict the starting lineups for each EPL game.

Cardiff City v Watford

Cardiff XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Bamba, Bennett, Paterson, Gunnarsson, Arter, Murphy, Cordova-Reid, Niasse

Watford XI: Foster, Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra, Sema, Deeney, Deulofeu

Questionable: Ashley Darel Jazz Richards (Cardiff)

Out: Sean Morrison (Cardiff); Holebas, Kiko Femenia (Watford)

Why Ryan Fraser is ready made for Mauricio Pochettino’s project at Tottenham Hotspur

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Ryan Fraser in recent months has been linked with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, an individual who is having one of his best seasons as a Bournemouth player and is in his fourth campaign within the Premier League.

When a player from a mid-table side is in fine form and is playing a crucial role towards his team finishing in the top half of the table, they instantly become wanted by the top clubs in England. Players such as Jamie Vardy, Ruben Neves and Wilfried Zaha have unsurprisingly entered this category thanks to the contributions and performances they’ve produced for their respective clubs.

Focusing back onto Fraser himself, it’s time to look at his rise within the Premier League over the last year or so, and how he has caught the attention of Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur.

With no further ado…

He fits well into Pochettino’s and Spurs’ project

Pochettino has made a name for himself when it comes to developing young talented players and taking them to the next level since arriving to England in January 2013. From his early days at Southampton up until his current days at Tottenham, he has helped a number of English youngsters to make improvements and tweaks to their style of play, with the well-known ones being Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Kyle and James Ward-Prowse.

On top of that, the former Espanyol and Southampton coach is yet to make many signings of the age of 30 and over, which clearly shows the players he brings in are those are who suited to his long term plans and are willing to stay around for at least three to five years. With Fraser turning 25 in a few days time, he has the ideal skillset to go on to being someone who can control and dictate the side’s attack, especially given he has created the most chances (17) in the league so far this season.

Pochettino craves for intelligent midfielders

Looking at Tottenham’s current midfield, it’s none other than Christian Eriksen who is pulling the strings for the side, a player who is very tidy on the ball and can produce something out of nothing. Meanwhile, Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko have actually come into their own in the last couple of months, but are yet to show they have the ability or the spark to guide the team forward, to produce a moment of brilliance from midfield and importantly for when their key men are not on the pitch.

But if Spurs were to go all out for Fraser, they will be going for an individual who is stepping up on his numbers in the final third of the pitch and is proving to be a valuable asset when it comes to delivering set-pieces. Currently on five goals and nine assists in 26 league games, if the Scotland international was to confidently hit double figures in both departments before the season finishes, he would potentially be making a serious name to become one off Tottenham’s main transfer targets for the summer window.

Allows Eriksen to player higher up the pitch

It is more or less fair to say that, Eriksen is one of the side’s most crucial players and is seen as one of the best playmakers within the league and the whole of Europe. Although he is playing in a deep role at this moment of time, alongside either Winks or Eric Dier in the middle of the pitch, the possible arrival of a central midfielder would allow him to play high up the pitch once again, where he can feed the perfect passes into Harry Kane, Heung Min-Son and Fernando Llorente like a piece of cake.

If Ryan Fraser just happens to be that midfield signing in the summer, he could play a useful role as a box-to-box midfielder as well as in Eriksen’s position for whenever the Danish playmaker is in need of a rest or is unable to start the match. The Aberdeen-born star has proven himself as a versatile play over the last couple of months, where has played in all the tactical roles within midfield and also the key areas out on the flanks, which could be important to Pochettino as he continues to utilise a small squad.

Should Arsenal sell Matteo Guendouzi this summer?

Not much fuss was made when Matteo Guendouzi completed his move from Lorient to Arsenal last summer. There was much more to catch the eye as the Gunners finally moved on from the Arsene Wenger age, with Unai Emery taking the Frenchman’s place at the Emirates Stadium.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, the arrival of Guendouzi at the club was one of the most significant moments of last summer for Arsenal. The teenager has gone on to become a first team figure for the Gunners in his first season in the Premier League. He isn’t just one for the future, as was presumed when the signing was first made, he’s one for the present.

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Guendouzi has been so impressive that he is now, reportedly, attracting attention from Paris Saint-Germain. The French champions are looking for a central midfielder having failed to sign Idrissa Gueye in the January window and are now believed to be preparing a £50 million offer for the 19-year-old. Arsenal have a decision to make.

Signed for just £7 million, the Gunners could make a profit of over £40 million in just one year by selling to PSG. Given the transfer strategy that is now in place at the Emirates Stadium, this would be considered a real success of the new policy. It would be something to point to as a sign of its effectiveness.

But do Arsenal really want to position themselves a selling club? Selling Guendouzi might be good for the bank balance, but what would it say about their ambition as a club if the French teenager leaves the Emirates Stadium after just one season?

“Let’s be honest, apart from the players here who follow a bit of the French leagues, no-one had ever heard of me,” Guendouzi said in a recent interview, looking back at the impact he has made in England. “So it was very important for me to show what I was capable of as early as possible.”

That’s exactly what he has done. In a season that has quickly fallen away, Guendouzi’s emergence has been a highlight for Arsenal. He is one player Emery can count upon to be build upon for the future. A big from PSG could change that, though. It would be a crossroads moment for the Gunners.

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Spurs’ Heung-Min Son shows Pochettino they can cope without Kane

Heung-Min Son

Mauricio Pochettino wore the face of a very worried man as Harry Kane struggled to get to his feet.

The full-time whistle had just been blown at the end of Spurs’ 1-0 home defeat to Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s revitalised Manchester United when Kane picked up the ankle injury that has kept him out of action ever since.

Heung-Min Son was also part of Pochettino’s side that went down to United that day. However, the 26-year-old South Korean international was off to represent his country in the Asian Cup immediately after the Wembley defeat.

Son played in South Korea’s 2-0 win over China just three days later in Abu Dhabi.

Modern Love and The Manchester United Way

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Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appear more of a revelation as time passes by. Last week there were rumblings of the wheels having come off, the extended honeymoon being over but how premature we all were.

Let’s be fair. On the face of it I’m not sure any credible football person really believed post Moyes, VG and Mourinho that Man United were anywhere near a Champions League credible force.

However, what a way to bounce back. Stamford Bridge hasn’t been the best of hunting grounds for the reds even in the Ferguson era yet on Monday night, United cruised through the tie like a classic car on a demonstration circuit through the streets of Monaco. Continue reading

Talking Points: Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjær staked a further claim to be made Manchester United’s permanent manager come the end of the season with a historic and crucial win against Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round.

The Red Devils have notoriously struggled at Stamford Bridge, managing to record only three wins in the last 17 years, but Solskjær’s men showed a compact and concise game plan that utilised their strengths and exposed Chelsea’s weaknesses.

Here are four talking points from Chelsea 0-2 Manchester United: 

Marcus Rashford doesn’t stop

What has been ever so impressive about Marcus Rashford’s game since the Norwegian took charge in late December is his relentless, non-stop energy when pressing the opposition. Playing through the middle, the England international consistently put the Blues’ centre backs under heaps of scrutiny, which was forcing Chelsea back deep inside their own half.

Even with the game sealed and Man United into the next round, Rashford did not neglect his duties and continue to harass the Chelsea defence. From every corner the Blues had, Solskjær’s men would turn it into an opportunity to go down the other end through Rashford, who kept showing his desire to take on the men in front of him with his ferocious speed.

The Englishman’s finishing has improved drastically under the management, while his crossing ability has too. Rashford showed great patience when waiting for Paul Pogba to make his darting run into the box and picked him out expertly in between two Chelsea defenders.

Rashford can lead the Manchester United line for many, many years.

Ander Herrera’s leadership qualities

One player who has really risen under Solskjær is Ander Herrera. A peripheral figure under José Mourinho in his final year in charge, the Spaniard has become one of Man United’s most important players.

The ever-reliant Spaniard has been in sensational form, constantly breaking up opposition’s defences while also providing aplenty in attack. Against the Blues, he was incessant in making sure Jorginho did not have the time to play his game, as well as being in the right place at the right time to fend off any crosses that would come into United’s box. 

Herrera has shown his leadership qualities through his own performances, but it is clear to see how much of an effect he has on the players by motivating them vocally, just as he did when Alexis Sánchez entered the fray.

The Spanish midfielder has to be tied down to a new contract and should arguably be given the captain’s armband – there are few who deserve it more than he does.

Victor Lindelöf has come of age 

Manchester United’s fans are now seeing the true Victor Lindelöf. The one who is a ball-playing central defender that also has the capabilities of outmuscling his opposition.

Once again, the Sweden international was utterly superb in defence, making sure that Chelsea’s Gonzalo Higuaín was quiet throughout and clearing any danger that presented itself inside the 16-yard box.

There was a chance in which Eden Hazard had clear sight of the goal and hammered it towards Sergio Romero, only for Lindelöf to come out of nowhere and get in the way of the forceful shot, causing it to go over the bar and out for a corner. The Swede’s positional awareness is sublime and fans have been delighted to see what great progress he has made since Solskjær took to the dugout.

Given he has not yet reached his prime years, there is still plenty to come from Lindelöf. 

Romelu Lukaku’s worrying lack of movement

The only downside to Manchester United’s performance against Chelsea was the performance of Romelu Lukaku, who watched as the game passed him by.

Once spearheading the United attack, now used as a secondary centre forward to supplement Marcus Rashford. The Belgian has lost his place as the main striker in the team and does not appear to be anywhere near to reclaiming it.

Contrasting Lukaku to that of Rashford, there are stark differences in their overall input into the game. When the Englishman was chasing ball after ball, even if they were a lost cause, Lukaku would watch aimlessly on and fail to press his man, standing in no man’s land watching the ball go from side to side.

It is clear to see that Lukaku does not fit into this Man United team, and so will be very interesting to see what the Red Devils’ management decide to do with him come the summer months.

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