Arsenal beat West Ham but there are bigger tests ahead for Ljungberg

Arsenal finally won in the Premier League for the first time in 10 matches (for most fans it has felt like 10 years) after they came back and beat West Ham on Monday night.

It was a great victory for the Gunners and it was caretaker manager Freddie Ljungberg’s first win in his new role in his third match after Unai Emery was sacked. What was so gratifying was that Arsenal went in at half time 1-0 down and were yet again booed by their fans. But in the second half the tide swayed and West Ham were exposed for the poor side that they have become and Arsenal won 3-1.

There were personal victories also for the likes of Mesut Ozil who showed why he was once hailed as one of the best players in Europe. And then there was Nicolas Pepe who has been mostly quiet this season after his £72m switch from Lille. But he scored from open play- his first for Arsenal and the Gunners ended the night on a rare high.

Arsenal have now climbed to 9th place and are 7 points adrift of 4th placed Chelsea, whilst that is still a gap, it doesn’t seem like an impossible one to fill. As for West Ham the defeat has left them down in 16th place and they are just 1 point from the bottom three after losing 4 of their last five games.

This was a massive victory for Arsenal because from the last 10 games they had only picked up 11 points. The question now is, will this victory be a turning point in Arsenal’s season, or is it just a small speed bump in the road?

It’s so important now that Ljungberg and Arsenal can go from this result and build on it but the Gunners have quite a few tests coming up this month. It all starts later this week when the club take on Standard Liege away from home and they will need a win there to be certain of qualifying for the Europa League knock outs. The week has started off well but if it ends with the club out of Europe, this West Ham victory will be soon forgotten.

On Sunday is the big match- at home against Manchester City. Whilst City look out of the league title now being 14 points behind Liverpool, any dropped points here would certainly confirm that. The statement in beating City though would be massive for Arsenal and could signal an official recovery. After that game Arsenal have two tricky away encounters to Everton and Bournemouth. The Gunners finish the year off with a London derby at home against Chelsea.

Then there is New Years Day when Arsenal will take on Manchester United at the Emirates. This is a big month then for Arsenal and it will be very interesting to see if the club can build on this victory over their London neighbours. What they won’t be able to do is keep their eyes off the ball.

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Is this the worst Arsenal side in 35 years?

On Saturday it happened again at the Emirates- Arsenal did not win. The 2-2 draw against Southampton marked the third game in a row that Unai Emery’s side have failed to win at home. The excuse could almost be forgiven if they had faced the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, but in that time along with Southampton they played Crystal Palace and Wolves. Are we now getting to the point where we can claim that this Arsenal side are the worst in a generation?

At the weekend the Gunners were heading for a defeat until a 95th minute goal by Alexandre Lacazette saved their skin. But the worrying fact was that Southampton who are relegation contenders were able to go away to Arsenal and have more shots on goal and more shots on target. Just like against Aston Villa who were 2-1 up here with a few minutes to go only for Arsenal to win 3-2, Arsenal seemed to find an escape hatch. But their results are now either losing games away from home where they remain dreadful or clutching onto some last desperate minute hope. This is not the Arsenal that we are all used too.

The rot has set in at the club, and apart from some obvious speed bumps like reaching the Europa League final last season and Emery achieving more points in his first season than Arsene Wenger did in his last, as a whole Arsenal seem to have been going backwards for the past few seasons.

First it was letting their neighbours Tottenham repeatedly finish in front of them for the first time in over 20 years, and it wasn’t just luck, Tottenham in every way and shape took over from Arsenal and have stepped out of their shadow. Then came the fact of non Champions League football. The way this season is going the Gunners will be omitted for the 3rd consecutive season.

When Arsenal inevitably fell apart in the closing stages against Leicester before the break manager Unai Emery was under immense pressure but told the press that the club had to remain calm. One could think this was in part because he had looked at the upcoming fixtures. Southampton, Norwich, West Ham all games that Arsenal should be winning. And yet when they face Southampton at home they didn’t win. Norwich have found some confidence in their 2-0 win away to Everton and one wonders being at home if they will now give Arsenal a game that they weren’t expecting?

It’s difficult to remember when Arsenal were this lost at sea and perhaps we would have to go back to the days of Don Howe in the mid 1980s for that. There was of course the season after George Graham was sacked that Arsenal looked like being on the decline and then Wenger was appointed which changed everything.

The problem for Arsenal is that they don’t seem to have the players to make that difference. When Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang is missing or simply doesn’t score, Arsenal don’t seem to have a chance. He is their one player that can change a game. But you need a few more if you want to aim for the top.

By the end of the weekend Arsenal will be in 8th place and whilst they have only lost 3 games- the same as Manchester City, they have only won 4. They have also gone their last 5 games without a win picking up just 3 points from their last 15 available.

Times haven’t been as hard as this for Arsenal in years. But many fans wanted change, and to be fair they had a point. But the old saying comes to mind in this situation, be careful what you wish for.

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Unai Emery’s job is under threat at Arsenal

The Arsenal fans have made it clear that Unai Emery is now under severe pressure with some wanting him sacked as manager after just 18 months in charge. This comes after the Gunners have recorded just 2 wins from their past 9 games.

Emery has struggled with Arsenal overall and despite coming to the club with a good resume, winning the Europa League on a few occasions with Sevilla and the French league with PSG it has been difficult for the Spaniard to find the right balance with the team he has. Players on long contracts that he couldn’t sell like Mesut Ozil isn’t his fault and that remains some of the fall out from former manager Arsene Wenger. But fans believe that Emery simply isn’t getting the best out of his players and they could well be right.

What let down Wenger in his final years with the club was not qualifying for the Champions League and their dismal away record and that has continued under Emery. Reaching the Europa League final last season felt like a step in the right direction but what did it matter when they lost 4-1 in the final? No Arsenal fan wants to remember that run after that.

A glance at the Premier League table would see Arsenal in 5th place and wanting your manager sacked for that would seem harsh. But the bigger picture is that the club have slipped 6 points behind Chelsea who have a new young manager in Frank Lampard and have had a transfer ban this past summer.

Whilst the Gunners have only lost two games they have only won 1 game in their past five matches and have gone 3 games without a win. The other damning fact is the way they are losing points at home. Take the Crystal Palace match where they found themselves 2-0 up within 10 minutes. The old Arsenal circa 2005 would have gone on to win that match 5-0. This one let Palace back into the game. Of course one will argue that VAR stopped them from winning 3-2 with a bizarre decision but Arsenal should never have been in that situation in the first place.

Then there was the Wolves game again at home and again winning the match. Wolves were let back in the match and actually could have won it.

This is an Arsenal team who look hollow and without Pierre-Emerick Aubamyang they look devoid of ideas and goals.

The Arsenal fans may want Emery out but the board won’t panic yet. However if the club continue this form he may well be in trouble come the end of the year. Arsenal have a lot of thinking to do as the clubs ‘transition’ period continues for another season.

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Nicolas Pepe signing can change Arsenal’s fortunes

Arsenal have surprised the football world by splashing the cash and signing forward Nicolas Pepe from Lille for a cool £72m, and the player has all of the tools to put the Gunners back on the map again.

The surprise element comes in different packages for Arsenal who have become famous for not spending over the odds on a player and also because they are a club who love to haggle for a price. But in Pepe’s case that was non existent and the deal was seemingly one of the smoothest the club have made in years. They enquired, they offered the money and terms and the player is now wearing the famous red shirt.

Arsenal only had to fight off Napoli for his signature in the end but that shouldn’t deter from how good Pepe is and the club have signed a world class player. Pepe had an excellent season at Lille where he scored 22 goals in 38 games but that only tells one side of the story. His goals, commitment and excellent play helped Lille finish runners up to PSG and qualify for the Champions League. He also made PSG run ragged and scored a few goals when Lille thrashed the eventual Ligue 1 champions 5-1 a few months ago.

Pepe has that quality about him where you feel at 24 he has matured and has the potential to become a world class player. Up until his signing it was looking like a quiet period for a club the size of Arsenal who had only brought in some loans and splashed out on Gabriel Martinelli for £6m, a Brazilian forward, unproven but young but comes without the wow factor- in Pepe they now have that.

But here is the deal clincher- he will almost certainly be paired up front with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who was excellent last season in finishing as the Premier League joint top goal scorer with 22 goals. Now can you imagine the potential of both of these players together? Arsenal suddenly have arguably the deadliest strike force in the league. What this means for Alexandre Lacazette is anyone’s guess, but if these two hit it off then Lacazette’s career with the Gunners could well be coming to an end.

As for the long suffering Arsenal fans this could finally be the signing that signals a positive change at the club. While they are too far off from league titles, a good league run, and  a cup run and or win is certainly on the cards as the club try and get back into the Champions League where they will feel they belong. Roll on next season.

Will Arsenal’s season be bleak after scant transfer signings?

If Arsenal fans thought that life under Unai Emery would be different in the transfer market, then think again, because on the evidence of it Arsenal are not going to be breaking any banks soon.

The Gunners who missed out on Champions League football last season despite reaching the Europa League final have been very quiet in the transfer window.

Though six players have come in, there is a catch to most of them and in truth Arsenal have failed to bring in a big name. How else will they be able to expect to break into the top four for next season?

The clubs most eye catching capture has been Real Madrid’s Dani Ceballos but the midfielder only comes to the club on a strict one year loan deal that is reportedly costing them a cool £15m, on top of that it is believed that the contract does not include an option to buy if the player has a successful debut season in the Premier League.

Ceballos only ranked 35th in La Liga midfielders for last season in the stats although he started just 13 matches and then played another 10 from the bench in a largely forgettable season for the club. He could do well for the club, but well enough in one season to make a difference is questionable.

On the same day Emery got to finally sign Saint Etienne’s William Saliba for £27m and he is thought of as being one of the players to watch in the future. That is all well and good but doesn’t this sound a tad bit like Arsene Wenger’s final days, scooping up very young talent, that might one day make it? Well be that player that the fans have been wishing for or not Saliba has been directly loaned back to his former club, so Gunners fans won’t get the chance to see him until the 2020/21 season anyway.

There is another three signings that went through the radar mostly because these players will join the Academy. And then there is Gabriel Martinelli, a player that mostly nobody has heard of and he was bought for £6m from Brazil.

The season coming up looks rather bleak for a club whose rivals have spent big and just look that much better equipped to deal with the season even if they hadn’t splashed out. Last season Arsenal finished 5th and just a point behind Tottenham and yet they never really looked like securing a top 4 place.

Lest we forget that in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal possess the joint top goal scorer from last season, but even with that taken into account, surely fans were expecting a big budget and some big names coming into the club? Some players namely Mesut Ozil have not been pulling their weight and look too comfortable in the side.

This season could, on paper, and as It stands be one of Arsenal’s worst for some time. After all they have been on the decline for the last few years and have seen Tottenham over take them, they are now failing on a regular basis to qualify for the Champions League too.

Emery has his work cut out.

 

 

Wilfired Zaha doesn’t need Arsenal and Arsenal doesn’t need Wilfried Zaha

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It has been a week when Crystal Palace have suffered losing Aaron Wan Bissaka to Manchester United and the Eagles could well lose their forward Wilfried Zaha who is eyeing a move to Arsenal, but are the Gunners really the right club for him, and do Arsenal need him?

As is normal Arsenal will not budge on their valuation of the player and will pay no more than £40m for his services. For  player that has never scored more than 10 goals in any given league campaign they are probably right not to want to pay the 50-60m that Palace are asking for. At the same time Zaha does come with years of Premier League experience and transfers have gone gung-ho. If Arsenal really do want Zaha, surely a club of their stature are not going to break the bank to pay 10m more?

The problem with Arsenal and their tight purse strings has not left the club with Arsene Wenger and this latest situation only highlights the facts that their tight stance on club spending comes from within the board. The difference is that Wenger was happy to go along with it- but is Unai Emery?

And do Arsenal really need Zaha when they have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, an outstanding striker when he decides to play. There is also back up in Alexandre Lacazette, so Zaha’s signing seems a little odd.

As for Zaha, he wants to play for Arsenal obviously a step up in his career but will he really get the games that he wants or will he be the sort of player that plays in the Carabao Cup and makes Premier League appearances from the bench?

 

Is Zaha being a little short sighted to just move a few miles to Arsenal- he will be buoyed by the fact that it worked for Ian Wright who became a club legend for Arsenal, but nobody is expecting Zaha to suddenly score 20 goals a season for the Gunners.

Arsenal’s ambitions have gone down in recent years, has it come to this- signing a 26 year old player who has proven experience but not proven goals? Ask the fans and they would rather want Nicolas Pepe of Lille, the young player that is scoring goals for fun in Ligue 1 and is being highly talked about. But a player of Pepe’s stature would cost upwards of £100m, and Arsenal who are just getting used to spending half of that aren’t going into that ball park figure anytime soon.

Zaha would be better to move on to a different club or even stay at Palace where he would most probably get more games. His game isn’t going to improve significantly enough not at his age, and the whole possible transfer makes very little sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arsenal destroyed in Europa League final by Chelsea and Eden Hazard

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Usually same country finals can be incredibly close affairs. Look at when AC Milan and Juventus battled for 120 minutes in the 2003 Champions League final and still the game ended 0-0 and needed to go to penalties. Chelsea and Manchester United in the 2008 final ended 1-1 and Bayern Munich squeezed past Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 final. Close and tense, and for the first half this Europa League final was just that, until Chelsea moved up a gear.

In the end this wasn’t a beating that Arsenal took but a total battering, and this was against a Chelsea side who aren’t even at their strongest if we compare the team from a few seasons ago. But the natural reserve and quality in the team was simply too much for the Gunners to handle.

Once the second half got under way there was only one team in it and it was evident that Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri had got the desired affect in the dressing room at half time. Chelsea came charging out of the blocks and were 1-0 up within five minutes of the re start. It came from Olivier Giroud the ex Arsenal player and it was a simply stunning goal, a header from 20 yards out that caught out Petr Cech in goal. The goals followed which included a brace from Eden Hazard far and away Chelsea’s best player of the decade if not the Premier League’s. This will have surely been his last game for the Blues before his expected move to Real Madrid in the summer.

Ex Arsenal player Martin Keown seemed to sum it all up by saying Chelsea have Hazard and Arsenal have Mesut Ozil, and it was hard to argue with him. Ozil’s time at Arsenal will not be remembered and for whatever reason the playmaker has been a huge failure at the club only showing slight glimpses of what he is capable of. He has cut a frustrated figure at Arsenal for years now and surely enough is enough and he will not be back in an Arsenal shirt- if anything both parties need a change.

This match simply showed the gulf between the two clubs even if their league finish was close in the end. When it all really mattered Arsenal simply didn’t have it. And yet in Alex Iwobi’s consolation goal they probably got the best one of the night.

Petr Cech played his final professional game and how ironic it was against the team that made his career. He will now join Chelsea as a goalkeeping coach for next season. It is also ironic that even though Arsenal conceded 4 goals that Cech actually had a decent game and he kept the score more respectable because it could have been 7 or 8 in the end. Every time Chelsea went forward in the 2nd half it looked like they were going to score.

Sarri has been proven right and it will be interesting to see if he will stay with the club or leave and join up with Juventus? There must be a huge temptation to go to Juventus given that Chelsea could be banned from buying any players this summer and their play maker Hazard is leaving, why should Sarri stay?

His opposite number Unai Emery cut a sad figure. It felt as if he couldn’t believe that he wasn’t going to win a 4th Europa League trophy after his successes with Sevilla earlier in the decade. At times he looked bitter and angry and perhaps the realisation of the job at his hands has been laid bare.

Emery has had a decent season in some ways. Reaching a European final in his debut year was very good. But at the same time his appointment was all about moving on from Arsene Wenger, which hasn’t happened and now Arsenal will have to play in the Europa League next season as well. His real judgment needs to be delayed until next season and it will be interesting to see who he sells and who he brings in the summer, it is a big season for Emery, who knows he won’t be afforded the time that Wenger had.

As for Chelsea a huge congratulations to them for winning the London final. That is the clubs 3rd European trophy in 8 seasons and even though they have had their up and down moments they have had a strong few years in England and in Europe.

It’s an all English affair in the Champions League and Europa League

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Even after the first leg of the Champions League semi finals were done and dusted it seemed like a distant dream that we would see an all English Premier League final, the first since 2008 and only the second one.

Hopes were raised given that Tottenham and Liverpool had been separated in the draw but still the favourites to get through were Barcelona and Ajax, after all Barcelona had just made light work of Manchester United and were on form and Ajax had their best team in over 20 years.

When the first legs finished form looked good. Ajax had gone to London and beat Tottenham 1-0 and Barcelona had beaten Liverpool 3-0 in Spain. Those matches both looked over, and then football went crazy or to put it a better way, it just went berserk. Belief took hold, first from Liverpool who scored 4 goals as Barcelona played like their B team and Jurgen Klopp’s team won 4-0 and went through.

However Tottenham’s comeback was even greater, because they didn’t score first in Holland and indeed went a further 2 goals behind. Now Tottenham needed 3 with 35 minutes left and Lucas Moura scored a hat-trick, I mean let’s face it we won’t see the likes of this again, not from 2 different teams in the same season at that very crucial stage.

So Tottenham will play Liverpool in the final which will be the 6th time teams have played each other from the same country. The bad news for Tottenham is that on every occasion the favourites have won. At the same time maybe just maybe Tottenham’s name is on the cup this year. Historically it would be more significant if they won it given that it would be their first time. For Liverpool they have not won it since 2005 and since becoming the Champions League the club have appeared in 3 finals, this will be their 4th.

As for the Europa League final Chelsea will play Arsenal. Arsenal have not won in Europe for 25 years so this would be quite an anniversary for them. As for Chelsea they have had an excellent standard in Europe this decade winning the Champions League in 2012 and then the Europa League in 2013. And they will probably start as slight favourites, although never underestimate Unai Emery who has already won the Europa League with Sevilla 3 times in a row.

What do these final appearances say for the Premier League? After all no team had won from England in the Champions League since 2012 and the competition has only been won by a Premier League side four times- 2 for Manchester United and one apiece for Liverpool and Chelsea.

It says of course that the standard has improved and that this season whatever happens won’t be a blip with such utter domination in both finals. English and Premier League football looks like it is back on the map after being away for almost a decade.

Rotated Arsenal side lose out to Crystal Palace

Unai Emery

Unai Emery opted to rotate his starting line up against Crystal Palace. Arsenal were made to pay though, as goals from Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur cancelled out strikes from Mesut Özil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, handing Palace the victory.

Emery clearly decided he needed to give some of his players a rest following Thursday night’s 1-0 win away at Napoli, which had secured the club’s place in the Europa League semi final.

There was a total of six changes. Bernd Leno was back between the sticks for the Gunners, as is usual for league games, replacing Petr Cech who is their cup keeper. Shkodran Mustafi and Konstantinos Mavropanos replaced Nacho Monreal and suspended Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the back three. Matteo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny replaced Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira at the base of the midfield, while Mesut Özil replaced Aaron Ramsey.

Perhaps the most surprising addition of the lot was Carl Jenkinson, who was making his first competitive start in a red and white shirt since February. It was also just the second time Mavropanos has started this campaign. Neither made an impact though, as they were both brought off at half time to be replaced by Alex Iwobi and Maitland-Niles, with Mavropanos having already been carded.

Arsenal will have seen this loss as a wasted opportunity to solidify their place in the Champions League places. A victory would have taken the Gunners two points ahead of third placed Tottenham Hotspur and three ahead of fourth placed Chelsea with just four games of the Premier League season remaining. They are still clinging onto that fourth spot though, as they lead Chelsea on goal difference.

That Emery decided to make so many changes in this match, rather than resting men against Napoli -especially as his side already had a two goal lead from the first leg- could show that he is prioritising the Europa League. His record with Sevilla in Europe’s secondary competition is well known and it is now the only trophy he can possibly win in his maiden Arsenal campaign.

He will be wary of Arsenal losing their place in the top four though, as to do so would put added pressure on his side winning the Europa League. If the Gunners slip up and fail to secure Champions League football for next season, it would mean missing out on a spot in Europe’s biggest competition for a third year in a row. This is something they surely can’t afford to happen.

The Arsenal manager will now need to perform a balancing act, regarding who he rests and starts, if his team are to fight on both fronts for the remainder of the season. The Gunners have two Premier League games in a week -against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City- before their Europa League semi final first leg against Valencia on May 2nd.

Many will argue that he has done well since taking over from Arsène Wenger, though his side’s performance between now and the end of May will dictate how his first season is remembered.

 

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Arsenal’s away troubles hint at lingering Wenger-era weakness

Things were supposed to be different, and in many ways they are. Arsenal, with Unai Emery at the helm, are in a good position to finish in the Premier League’s top four, their objective at the start of the season. The Spaniard has revived some aspects of the North London club many believed to have died under Arsene Wenger.

One rather significant remnant of the Wenger era lingers, though. Just as was the case last season, the Gunners have struggled away from home of late, winning just one of their last 10 away games in the league. If there is one thing holding Arsenal back from achieving their targets, it is their dismal away record.

Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal

So how can they address this? Well, for starters they must look to take the initiative more often. Far too frequently, Emery’s side invite pressure on top of themselves when they have the capacity and ability to take control themselves. Arsenal, on their travels are too flimsy in the centre of midfield and defence. This was obvious in the recent away defeats to Everton and West Ham.

What’s more, Arsenal’s pressing game seems to lose its edge when they are away from the Emirates Stadium. At home, the Gunners tend to press from the front, yet on the road they sit back. Alexandre Lacazette against Everton, for instance, found himself in midfield for the majority of the match whenever the opposition had the ball. He should have been leading a high press from the front.

Mesut Ozil is another who could help improve Arsenal’s recent away record. The German can often be unfairly typecast as the sort of player who slacks off when it comes to the dirty side of the game. Recent displays against Manchester United and Rennes have gone against the grain of that perception, but away from home Ozil reverts to that damaging typecast. He is too passive.

The other issue Arsenal face is that individual errors are costing them. Those are much harder to legislate for, but Emery must attempt to instil the sort of confidence and self-assurance in his players that lead to these mistakes being avoided.

Arsenal currently occupy a place in the top four and stand a good chance of finishing there. Emery has undoubtedly made progress in his first season at the club, but old weaknesses remain. Ironing them out will be key to achieving long term success and there is no bigger kink than the troublesome away record.

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