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.

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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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The Premier League has turned into a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

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What, where when? Just when we thought a few weeks ago that there were at least four teams capable of winning the Premier League, everything has all of a sudden opened up. After the midweek games which was the 15th round of matches in England two teams have emerged as possible title winners. The first and in top place is champions Manchester City, the second is Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League title and have not won England’s top division since 1990.

So how did Chelsea and Tottenham suddenly fall away from contention? Maurizio Sarri’s side have won just 1 game in their past four matches and yet up until the 12th game of the season he had an unbeaten side at his disposal. But first they were exposed by Tottenham at Wembley, easily losing 3-1. They bounced back against Fulham in the west London derby only to lose to Wolves, which was seen as a shock result given how poor Wolves have been in the past month.

Chelsea are now 10 points behind City and are clinging onto 4th place only on goal difference to Arsenal. Tottenham in beating Southampton are back in 3rd place after being dislodged in the top 4 over the weekend when they lost to eternal nemesis Arsenal by 4-2. But Spurs have bounced back well. But they are still evidently a few levels below City and Liverpool, they have 33 points and are 8 points behind the league leaders.

All of this means of course that the league has turned into a two horse race before Christmas, although the flurry of fixtures could well shake that up. Manchester City will play Chelsea away next and a win for Pep Guardiola’s side will surely signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Games follow against Everton, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton. It is fair to think that from all of those matches City could expect 13 points which would put them on 54 before the year is out.

As for Liverpool who are the romantics choice of league winners giving how it has been 28 years since they won the league they will have to play Bournemouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal. The Reds seem to have a tougher run and could end up with 11 points which would put them on 50.

It is possible then that only 4 points will separate the two teams. And you can guess which fixture comes after the new year- that’s right these two teams will meet and it will be Manchester City who will be at home in what could be a big step to deciding the title. Still there are plenty of games to be played before then and like a typical Premier League campaign there will be plenty of twists and turns that is for sure.

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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Lack of quality could cost Newcastle twice in four days

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In some ways, Rafael Benitez was extremely philosophical in the wake of Newcastle United’s 3-0 defeat to West Ham United on Saturday, but in others, he was brutally honest about the future. There can be no doubting that the Magpies’ three-game winning run was justifiably ended by the Hammers at St James’ Park; in fact, the manner arguably flattered the hosts.

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was wrong to run on the pitch but should he be punished?

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Liverpool and Everton’s fierce Merseyside derby was going to end 0-0 and then in the 96th minute Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford made the error of the season to gift the Reds a goal and they won 1-0. At that point Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager ran onto the pitch and broke FA rules, but should he be punished?

We need to look as always from both views of the argument. What Klopp did was wrong and disrespectful, that there can be no doubt. Liverpool didn’t score a magnificent last minute goal, it all stemmed from an error by Pickford where if he was given the choice another 99 times he would have used his common sense as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe and let the ball go out of play. Klopp celebrating like he did just seemed out of place and wrong.

And yet he celebrated not to rub Pickford’s nose in it but for three things: 1) a last minute winner, 2) a win in a derby game, 3) Liverpool still keeping in touch with Manchester City. Had the game as expected ended 0-0 Liverpool would have found themselves 4 points adrift to Pep Guardiola’s team.

Klopp is a lovable figure and unless you were an Everton fan let’s face it the sight of him running onto the pitch like a fan and then embracing goalkeeper Alisson was funny. But still Klopp seemed to lose control of himself. This was an important game true, but it wasn’t a cup final or a game that decided the league.

Marco Silva, the Everton manager was clearly not happy with what had happened and the fires have been stoked more with Klopp claiming that he apologised to Silva. Yet Silva has denied this, so the plot thickens.

As for Klopp, the FA will inevitably open up a case against the German, again should he be punished? The answer needs to come in two parts because Klopp is facing a fine and touchline ban. One should presume that romanticism still exists in football despite the money poured into it which has bridged a gap between the players and fans. In that way Klopp should not be punished with a touchline ban and put his team at a slight if psychological disadvantage for their next Premier League game.

But Klopp should be fined, nothing too serious, but he has to pay for breaking the rules as anyone else would do too. And it might make sense for him to apologise for the second or in Silva’s case the first time again to Everton.

After 19 games unbeaten, has Emery stepped out of Wenger’s shadow?

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Unai Emery is being hailed as the new messiah by Arsenal fans after the club convincingly beat their arch rivals Tottenham 4-2 at the weekend.

The Gunners have now gone 19 games in all competitions unbeaten after losing their first two matches of the season. But still question marks remained over the club because they had not beaten a top 4 side- at the weekend that changed with victory over Tottenham, and it was a win to saviour for the Arsenal faithful.

Not only did Arsenal beat the team they most want to beat every season but they also leapfrogged them into 4th place on goal difference, which has been richly deserved this season. This version of Arsenal, Emery’s version is slick, attacking and determined. Sure there is still some naivety at the back which allowed Tottenham back into the game but the team had fighting spirit circa Arsene Wenger’s team from 2004 and it showed this past weekend.

Every fan at the Emirates seems to have forgotten about Wenger, well at least the last couple of seasons version of him and all praise has rightly been aligned to Emery who has been a massive success for the club given that this is his debut season. The fans wanted change and were finally given it and Emery for now seems like the perfect coach to have been chosen. But have the club really improved this season from last?

It may be surprising to note that at least statistically almost nothing has changed at the club from last season. This time last season after 14 games Arsenal had 28 points under Emery they have 30. If this trend was to continue then Arsenal may finish the season with 5 points more than last giving them 68 points and perhaps missing out on  a top 4 place. But this is simply talk and this Arsenal team look like they will kick on.

But of course it is in how the Gunners are playing, and there is a massive change in how the team approach their games under Emery. The belief has been reinstalled and it was interesting to see how they reacted once going 2-1 down after leading the game. That should tell you everything that we needed to know about how Arsenal are playing now under Emery.

The real tests are yet to come, games such as playing Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United away from home. But for now considering Emery is just 4 months into the job, the man deserves respect and 10/10 for effort. Arsenal look like they are going places and that can only be a good thing for a team that have suffered from a lack of confidence for the past decade.

 

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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West Ham game crucial on and off the pitch for Newcastle

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After months of protests and drumming up support on social media, Newcastle United fans are ready to take a stand. West Ham United are the visitors to St James’ Park on Saturday afternoon, but in a strange way, that is not the main focus of the day on Tyneside.

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Unai Emery should be praised for his flexibility, not criticised for it

As soon as Mesut Ozil was spotted on the Arsenal bench for the weekend’s away day at Bournemouth, there was gossiping. Was this a sign that the German no longer had a place at the North London club? Or that there had been an argument between the playmaker and Unai Emery? Would he be off in the January transfer window?

As it turned out Emery had an explanation for Ozil’s omission from the Arsenal team. “We thought about how we can be better in the match today, with a very demanding match physically with their intensity against us and we decided,” the Spaniard said after the 2-1 win on the south coast.

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In essence, Emery opted for a more physical style to combat what Bournemouth would throw at his team. In the end, it was a strategy that worked well, as Arsenal claimed all three points to edge them closer to the Premier League’s top four places, just a single point behind Chelsea.

Rather than being criticised for his flexibility, Emery should be praised for it. For years under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were typecast, with good reason, as a team that would play one, and only one, way. It didn’t matter the opposition or the situation, Wenger’s side would attempt to impose their natural game.

Of course, that didn’t always work and Arsenal suffered for it. Now, Emery is taking measures to be more pragmatic, to make better use of the squad he has, and against Bournemouth it worked. The Gunners didn’t need Ozil to grind out the win over Bournemouth and as manager Emery was entitled to take the decision he did.

Increasingly in the modern game, it’s assumed that every top player will play every minute of every match. We perhaps have Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for this zeitgeist, such is their superhuman drive to do exactly that – play every minute of every match. It should, however, be entirely normal for a manager to alter his team depending on the task at hand.

There have been suggestions that Emery and Ozil don’t always see eye to eye, that the two figures clashed earlier in the season. If that is truly the case, it’s unlikely the German will have been enamoured with the decision to leave him out of the team on Sunday, even if Emery could offer vindication.

In so many ways, Emery is the manager Arsenal have needed for years. He is in the antidote to the latter part of the Wenger era, and his versatility and pragmatism is just another aspect of that. Dropping Ozil, just as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was benched for a spell earlier in the season, demonstrates this. Let’s move on from the hysteria of the Spaniard’s decision on Sunday.

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Does Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp avoid pressure on job due to media love in?

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Jurgen Klopp is probably one of the most friendliest and down to Earth managers in the game today. If we think of the German, manager of Liverpool our thoughts are immediate: His smile, laughter and his set of perfect teeth. He is a dedicated football man who wants nothing more than to win trophies- but after 3 seasons at Liverpool he has failed in that department. Why is it then that Klopp for the most part has avoided any pressure on his job despite spending hundreds of millions on players?

A certain Jose Mourinho at Liverpool must feel dumbfounded at times at the pressure on him, which is pretty much constant despite winning 2 major trophies with Manchester United since he joined the club in 2015. The Red Devils also put in a solid season last, no trophies but finishing 2nd to perhaps the greatest side ever to grace the Premier League in Manchester City. As others have pointed out most other seasons and United would have been champions with the points that had been amassed.

What gives then? Why do certain managers feel the wrath of pressure when failing when others don’t when doing the same thing? Think of Mourinho like we just have with Klopp, what comes into your mind? Mourinho comes across as glum, downtrodden, he hardly breaks a smile even when his team wins and he is critical of players through the press. And this seems to be one of the redeeming answers, Klopp doesn’t get the back pages attacking him because the media love him.

And the media are in love with him because in almost every press conference he is smiling and happy go lucky. At times it seems like the real Liverpool manager is waiting in the wings whilst Klopp kicks off the show with a comedy routine. He is infectious and a real charmer. Think of when he was caught smoking a year or so back by a paparazzi photographer. The news was forgotten within 24 hours, now imagine that was Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, or the new Arsenal boss Unai Emery- that photo and story would run for years. England loves Klopp and Klopp loves England, and that is all very well.

However surely Klopp’s time at Liverpool will be remembered for reaching cup finals and losing. A Champions League last season and a Europa League defeat a few seasons back are evidence. It is incredible with the way Liverpool have invested and played how they have nothing to show for it apart from some memorable games and goals.

One hopes that Klopp stays around in the Premier League, football needs more of him- but at the same time isn’t it time to start passing judgment on how his record as a coach will stand at Liverpool?