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.

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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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Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez needs to return to Arsenal or leave the Premier League

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Despite the odd good game for Manchester United it is fair to say that Alexis Sanchez will never be remembered as one of the Old Trafford greats and even though he has only been at the club for one season perhaps it is the right time to quit the club.

United are good, Sanchez is good but for whatever reason the two entities just don’t fit. When Jose Mourinho bought Sanchez from Arsenal last summer it was seen as a fantastic deal. Because Sanchez was far and away Arsenal’s best player of the past few seasons. It seemed almost bizarre in fact that Arsenal would sell to a Premier League rival but sell they did.

Once at United Sanchez just didn’t perform most blamed Mourinho’s tactics and let’s be honest the whole team were not performing. But what has been surprising is that Sanchez has not picked up his form under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite the rest of the squad doing so.

Even Solskjaer has admitted that there isn’t anything they can do with the player- but he will give him time and has commented that the player is a quality one who needs to find himself. The truth is that Sanchez does not seem happy at United and has simply not settled into life up in Manchester- it happens and perhaps the Chilean should not be too harshly judged about it.

Could he return to Arsenal? There were rumours that he wanted to play for Manchester City, but he has become the shadow of the player that everyone knew and it is unlikely now that City manager Guardiola would go for his signature. But at Arsenal as long as Unai Emery wanted him, he would be welcomed back. It was clearly an environment that Sanchez enjoyed and revelled in, but of course everyone needs to be on the same page for that to happen.

Otherwise perhaps the simple solution for Sanchez would be to leave the Premier League- maybe a return to Spain is on the cards? It just might be a culture that suits Sanchez more anyway. Although a return to Barcelona does not seem possible, but Sanchez is still good enough to play for any of the top six sides in La Liga.

Sanchez is a quality player that there is no doubt, but has there been a more unhappier high profile Premier League player of  the past six months?

Wolves have been nothing short of spectacular in the Premier League this season

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Such is the gulf between teams in the Premier League now that it has been referred in the past to a three leagues in one. First you have the elite six teams who always seem to sprint away from the middle pack and create their very own league. From about 13th place to 20th you have the bottom clubs and even if you are near the top half there is every chance of getting sucked down to the bottom three.

And then there is a very important pack, the middle one which ranges from 7th-12th. These are the teams that are well capable of upsetting the teams at the top end and in effect influencing the league. These teams have been managed well, through budgets and players brought in and genuinely have quality managers. Put it this way if you are a manager of one of these clubs and you have an off season and get sacked, your next job will still be in the Premier League, you simply became an established member of the world’s most hyperbole and yet utterly fascinating league.

The only thing that honestly separates the teams is budgets. The top six might be able to spend £100m and upwards, these teams it’s more realistic to strike around the 50-60m mark.

With all of that said here comes the unofficial Premier League ‘real’ leaders, who will reside in 7th- they are the so called best of the rest and that accolade as we roar through February and into the home straight in the league goes to Wolverhampton Wanderers, or simply known as Wolves.

Under Nino Espirito Santos Wolves have been a revelation this season. They started the season brightly becoming a real force to be reckoned with. First they stopped Everton in their tracks with a 2-2 draw at Molineux and they improved on their home form by also forcing champions Manchester City into a 1-1 draw.

They took a point away to Manchester United and before you knew it Santos was picking up manager of the month. All was good before Wolves hit a slump, and it seemed that the club had simply gone through a honeymoon period with their new coach.

But their strength in character really showed and they have been back on form for the past few months. They have lost just 2 games in their past seven and have climbed deservedly so to 7th place, playing attack minded football and making games very difficult for their opponents.

Now they find themselves in 7th and 11 points from 6th and Chelsea who have hit a wall. Could Santos’ team rally on and even threaten that place? Watford are the only team at this moment who are near to the club and these two teams have really been able to punch above their weight this season.

However Wolves remain the leader of the pack and don’t look like they will be tamed anytime soon.

 

Nuno Espirito Santo

Pep Guardiola is changing the Premier League for the better

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Pep Guardiola is arguably the best manager in world football and yet he still has his critics but one thing is very sure he is the best man manager out there.

It’s true of course that everywhere Guardiola has been he has had money to spend, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City- although one could argue that at Barcelona he just inherited an insanely fantastic squad of players who ended up being hailed as perhaps the greatest club team of all time, and tika taka as we know it was born.

It would be a mistake just to think that Guardiola throws money at the problem, because as Real Madrid proved throughout the 2000s when they went through their first phase of galactico mania, money doesn’t always buy the best balanced team.

But with Guardiola there is a huge difference. First he identifies the problem areas and then asks for the money, yes he has been lucky to have that privilege but then he knows despite the talents of the incoming player that they will still need proper coaching. Guardiola will never do a Jose Mourinho and have a total meltdown at at football club, it isn’t in his nature and it isn’t in his nature to have a major public falling out with a player.

Guardiola remains a winner and wants to win all trophies his team are entered into. It is why Manchester City currently lead the Premier League, even though Liverpool have arguably been the best side this season and have lost just 1 game. Him and his teams never give up, relentless is a good word to use.

After City beat Chelsea 6-0, Guardiola was most likely beaming inside but he wasn’t letting the press know it. If you had not known the score you could have thought that City had perhaps scrapped to a 1-0 or 2-1 win. This is in his DNA his mentality because a win is just a win. It was also telling to see that Guardiola admitted that his City side are not on the same level as Barcelona when he coached them. For arguments sake he could have said yes, but he refused to say so. Instead he stuck to the truth that City haven’t even won the Champions League yet.

And onto that City are now the favourites to win their first ever European Cup, and yes they have come a long way.

Arsene Wenger has been celebrated in the Premier League as a foreign coach who came in and changed how players saw their fitness and changed diets which spread from Arsenal right through the league. If Wenger was the founder of that in the modern age then Guardiola is the torch bearer. His qualities and professionalism seem to know no boundaries. You can tell when you look into his eyes that he is thinking about City and football 24/7. That is what City bought into when they decided to make Guardiola boss, and now the club are reaping those awards.

After PSG loss could Zidane or Pochettino get Manchester United job?

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Tuesday night seemed to signal that current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found his level with his team after they were beaten 2-0 by French champions PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Make no mistake PSG produced the perfect away record and United look likely to be going out of the competition. This loss is also the first under Solskjaer since the Norwegian took the job in December and it will be quite one to take.

The knee jerk reaction will be predictable for most, that because United lost to PSG in the Champions League, that’s it at the United board should now be looking to a more established manager for next season. Of course it’s true that OGS as he has commonly been named by the British media has a very average record as a manager. Being in charge of Molde for so many seasons is no real gage into how great he is and when he did get to manage in the Premier League for Cardiff they were relegated.

But OGS and United go together and it would be a mistake to criticise him too much. Because that is what in effect has happened to him, too much too soon. This is a United side that under his guidance went to Tottenham in the league and won. A team who knocked out Arsenal in the FA Cup, there is much to love about United since Jose Mourinho was sacked.

At the same time the football world is a business and it can be a very harsh one at that. Ed Woodward and co will be looking at this game and thinking that there are bigger managers out there. But OGS should not lose his job based on the Champions League this season, indeed if he can guide United to a top 4 place which he is currently doing then he deserves a second crack at the job next season and with a proper transfer window to boot.

Zinedine Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino have been touted as replacements. However it looks unlikely that the Tottenham manager will take up the role, as the club will be moving into their new stadium, the timing just seems off. But Zidane is out of a job and his attacking style and methods would most probably suit a club like United.

Sir Alex Ferguson may have a say in the appointment too, you can’t help but feel that the odds may just be stacked against OGS at this time.

Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer should be permanent Manchester United manager- what are the club waiting for?

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In 2 months Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer has done to Manchester United what three other managers and five years could not do, he has them playing the Manchester United way again so why haven’t the board announced him as United’s permanent manager?

What Solsjkaer got the job the whole mood shifted at the club one that had been moody, downbeat and not playing to their strengths under Jose Mourinho. But now it was like the mid 1990s again. Hardly anyone could have believed United would have been able to catch up to Arsenal and Chelsea and are now in 4th place. In December United were 9 points behind Arsenal, now they are a point above them and make no mistake they will fire even more ahead in the coming weeks/months.

But the United board just aren’t trusting him yet. Their argument will be that this is just the beginning- but what manager has done this well? David Moyes Louis van Gaal and even Jose Mourinho showed weakness in their first few months in charge of the club. While it is true that this incredible run will end at one point for the Norwegian, the players love him and respect him and he does have a future at the club. The worry will be if United bring in a big name and it doesn’t work out.

Zinedine Zidane may have been on most fans thoughts to come to United but we have to remember he had problems in the past with the likes of Ronaldo and especially Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, even if he was successful. The key for Solsjkaer’s success is that he is ready for his teams to play attacking football but is also ready for man management. He is happy to love every player that wears United’s famous red jersey and feels like the first proper United man in the dugout since Sir Alex Ferguson said goodbye back in 2013.

It feels that Ed Woodward and co are going to wait to see how United reach against PSG in the Champions League and feels very unfair. Nobody would have thought that United were going to win the Champions League this season. Surely now it was all about a top 4 place and deep runs in a cup. United are still there in the FA Cup and they should do well against PSG, but if they fail the manager should not be judged in this way. Let’s remember that 60 days ago he was in charge of Molde in Norway and dreaming of this job.

Give him the position, his blood and DNA belong at United and Old Trafford. Don’t let the excuse of him finally losing a game, which is going to happen be the moment that the hierarchy make the 4th mistake in 6 years.

Why is Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri ready for the sack when others aren’t?

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One of the most bizarre stories to come out of the Premier League this season is the impending doom of Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. It’s even more scarier that it appears to be true and that Sarri may be sent his marching orders from the Chelsea hierarchy after just 6 months in charge.

But why is Sarri facing the sack when nothing is being said of other managers? Most notably look at Arsenal’s Unai Emery. Now he doesn’t deserve the sack but if it’s good enough for Sarri then why isn’t it good enough for Emery. After all both teams have 50 points.

The pressure on Sarri makes no sense at all, it’s not like he is having a Jose Mourinho 3rd season Chelsea stint. The Blues are in the top six and just one point from being in the top 4. They are also let’s not forget in the final of the Carbao Cup and still in the FA Cup and in the knock out stages of the Europa League.

So Sarri being announced as one of the managers who is under real pressure feels like a sad day for football. And of course we know that Chelsea do not mess around once those rumours swirl up.

It is true of course that Chelsea’s form over the past few months has dipped and they have just been smashed by Manchester City 6-0 and the other week they lost away to Bournemouth 4-0. They are having a bad time of it away from home- but let’s not forget that they also beat City at Stamford Bridge earlier this season winning 2-0, in what was an utterly professional display.

So yes The Blues form has slipped and it does look like Eden Hazard will be leaving the club. But even with all of this considered, to sack Sarri despite the promise he has shown in what is his debut season is to punch the philosophy of football in the face. Why are Chelsea not considering keeping Sarri on at least for another season?

There are possibly two reasons for this; The first is that he criticised the players the other week after their listless loss against Arsenal. In this day and age you just can’t do that. The second is that the league has become all about finishing in the top 4, and right now Chelsea are heading for more Europa League football. But it is so tight up there anything can still happen.

Sacking Sarri feels like it will be Chelsea’s loss, and actually they are imitating somewhat the chaotic circus that was Real Madrid from the mid 2000s. History says stick with your man just a little through the hard times, but Sarri’s number seems up.

Defensive crisis drags down Liverpool title challenge

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As 2018 came to an end, Liverpool would have been very happy indeed. Champions League heartbreak aside they had enjoyed a very good year. Having matched Manchester City toe to toe across 2018 they entered 2019 top of the Premier League table and four points ahead of the champions.

Adding Virgil Van Dijk in the January transfer window and Alisson Becker in the summer had transformed the once weak Reds backline into a formidable outfit. 12 of their 21 games before the turn of the year had seen them keep clean sheets. They had conceded just ten goals in that period, the best in the league. Manchester City were their closest competitors with a tally of 17 conceded.

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Tottenham can still win the league with an almighty run

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So the scenario is that the Premier League is a two horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City, but perhaps Tottenham have a chance too. While the media pour column inches over the two teams nobody is really talking about Tottenham who are just five points behind Liverpool. Could they really have a chance?

If the form books go as they should it looks like the new champions will end up with anything between 90-94 points. No matter how good Liverpool and City have been they are going to drop more points this season.

Tottenham looked out of the league a few weeks back after falling almost 10 points behind Liverpool, but the Reds have dropped points through drawing games and City lost in between that and the teams look more bunched up and close than many people think.

So do Tottenham have a chance? There is the possibility of it. They have 39 points left on the table and have 57 in total. If they were to win every game they would end up with 96 points which should be enough to win the league. The problem is not many teams are capable of winning 13 games in a row, but if it is going to happen then it should towards the end of the season when your club are going for a title.

Of Tottenham’s 13 fixtures 7 are at home if we can imagine the club winning at least all of their home fixtures that would take them to 78 points alone. Of course Spurs have some difficult matches coming up where they will have to play the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool and only the Arsenal game will be at home. On top of that is the Champions League, and if Spurs are going to try to maintain a league challenge it’s difficult for them in their present state to also go full throttle for Europe.

Still Mauricio Pochettino’s side will feel that they can exert real pressure on the top two teams. Their next fixtures both look winnable at least on paper when they will entertain Leicester before an away match against Burnley. Having said that you never can quite tell what Leicester side will turn up and Burnley have really improved as a team.

At the very least Tottenham should be finishing 3rd this season and if Pochettino is given some cash injections in the summer they have to go for the title that has eluded them since 1961 next season.