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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Emery's big mistake and a bit of perspective

Jack Wilshere of Arsenal Football Club

I was totally gutted by Jack Wilshere's announcement last night that he is leaving Arsenal. Wilshere is the one player left in the squad who genuinely seems to understand what it means to play for The Arsenal. I first saw Jack play when Arsenal briefly had their own TV channel on Sky. He was this 15 year-old genius playing in the youth and reserve teams. From the beginning it was clear that he was a level or three above everyone else on the pitch. When he made his first-team debut at Blackburn (where I was in the away end) there was no real surprise that he'd made such progress as to be playing for Arsenal at 16. His remarkable talent and ability saw him probably over-exposed at that level and too much football while still physically developing had an adverse effect on his body and what it could withstand. He was hampered by injury but his ever-present ability was always there to be seen. A number of those injuries, incidentally, weren't caused by over-playing but by terrible fouls made on him. For someone so small he never took a backward step and he would put everything on the line for Arsenal. This season he proved his fitness back at Arsenal after a year wasted at Bournemouth when he should have been back in our own midfield. That he isn't at the World Cup says more about the dishonest Southgate than it does about Our Jack.
I am quite simply amazed that Unai Emery should choose to tell Wilshere he's basically no longer wanted. It was bad enough that he was offered (and had accepted) a pay cut at a time when Ozil, Elneny and Xhaka have all signed improved deals. On what planet does the new boss see Xhaka as a better or more important Arsenal player than Jack Wilshere? I've actually seen Arsenal supporters online today who've spent all season lamenting the fact Wenger would never leave out Granit Xhaka now commending Emery for keeping him and kicking out Jack! 
In my lifetime there have been three genuinely special talents to come through the ranks at Arsenal from a child to the first-team. Two of them are David Rocastle and Ashley Cole, the other is Jack Wilshere. My Dad has always said that Jack is the best youngster he's seen at Arsenal since Liam Brady. He also said it's just our luck that he suffered so many injuries. Having come through, just like Rocky, Jack absolutely just "got it" where the fans are concerned. He is an Arsenal Man through and through. As I've said here before, to me he should be the Arsenal Captain and it is way past my comprehension tonight that the game against Burnley was the last time I will see him play for Arsenal. I can only wish him all the luck he deserves for the rest of his career but I fear, just like Rocastle, that his heart will never truly be in it anywhere else.

In the title to this piece I've mentioned "perspective" and by that I mean let's take a critical look at the recruitment we've seen since the new Manager arrived. Let me say before I go in to this that I'm willing to give Emery the chance to impress us with his new team, but my confidence in him has been jolted greatly by this Wilshere business.
Let's look at this objectively - Arsenal fans would almost all say that we needed a right-back of some standing, a new goalkeeper, a centre-back and a proper defensive midfield player. On the face of it Emery (or more probably the Gazidis appointed "team" behind the scenes) have done just that. Lichtsteiner has arrived to challenge Bellerin, Bernd Leno was announced last night as our new goalkeeper and Sokratis and Torreira will be announced in due course. All four boxes ticked. Or are they?
Let's just roll the clock back here and say that Arsene Wenger was still the boss, but the new people up top were signing these four players. Instead of excitement or anticipation most of us would be complaining that we've signed a 34 year-old full-back on a free, a goalkeeper who isn't among the three that Germany have taken to the World Cup, a journeyman Greek defender from Dortmund and a midfield player who can't get in the Uruguay side and plays for the team that finished 10th in Serie A. Puts a bit of a different spin on things doesn't it? So for all those praising the Club for the way things have "changed" I would suggest that looking at it from this angle ought to open a few eyes. These signings must be given the opportunity under the new Manager to develop and hopefully be successful, but we might still be guilty of shopping at Asda when the top clubs are carrying Harrods bags down Knightsbridge.
Let's also throw one more thing in to the mix here. Aaron Ramsey, in the absence of Jack Wilshere, simply HAS to be made Arsenal Captain. However, Aaron Ramsey is out of contract this time next year. Arsenal can't let him go for free so if he doesn't sign a new deal in the next few weeks he will have to be sold. So Jack and Aaron could both go within weeks of one another. Where does that leave us? Along with Cazorla being released Arsenal would have lost their three best midfield players but kept on average players like Elneny and Xhaka. Still excited for what lies ahead? I'm bloody petrified.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

World Cup of Arsenal

I’ve decided that I’ll forget the rest of the squad review for this season as it’s so long ago now I can’t really say I’m that bothered. Arsenal were poor for most of the season and that’s pretty much the story for almost every player. A few youngsters got their chance and Maitland-Niles took his, now rewarded with a new contract and a squad number of 15 from Unai Emery. Let’s move on.

I wrote the first piece on this blog on the eve of the World Cup in South Africa back in 2010. It was the day Philippe Senderos left Arsenal and I was lamenting a woeful England squad but looking forward to the tournament and seeing how the Arsenal players get on. Here I am on the night before the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and I find myself having the same view of an England squad totally devoid of midfield creativity and wholly reliant on Harry Kane to nick a goal if he possibly can. Arsenal interest in the England squad is limited to Danny Welbeck who will probably only really get a game if they’re losing and desperate for anyone to try and find them a goal. Even away from England our interest is limited. This has positives for me ahead of Emery’s first season as virtually the entire squad will be back in training right from the start - expect a stronger than usual line-up at Borehamwood this year. The negative means there is less interest in what might be termed “neutral” fixtures out in Russia but as I have no more than a passing interest in England in any case then every game is neutral for me.
Switzerland will grab my attention this year with Granit Xhaka and new signing Stefan Lichsteiner set to be key figures for them. I’ve never really paid any attention to Lichsteiner so I’m very keen to watch him play. I had expected to be interested in watching Japan to get a look at Takuma Asano but he has been the one to pay the price as they’ve selected only three strikers and didn’t make the cut for the final 23. Egypt have Mohammed Elneny in their squad but of course he finished the season here with a nasty injury so I’m not that sure how much he will feature. The Egyptians should fancy their chances of getting out of the group if Salah can keep his shoulder attached to where it should be.
Mesut Ozil, assuming he isn’t still sick, will be a key player for Germany as they look to defend their status as World Champions but I can’t see him setting the tournament alight - I’d like to be proved wrong. Spain were among my favourites as possible winners up until a few hours ago when they sacked their boss! I hope Nacho Monreal can show the planet what a decent player he’s become at Arsenal. Our usual bankers for Arsenal, France, have the grand total of zero Arsenal players in their squad thanks to Koscielny being injured, Lacazette left out, and Giroud playing for Chelsea.
David Ospina will be in goal for Columbia and they are fancied to do well, especially if James Rodriguez can rediscover his form of Brazil four years ago. Joel Campbell plays for Costa Rica and he also made a huge impression at the last World Cup - he will no doubt want to grab the eye of Unai Emery if he possibly can. The last Arsenal man involved is the much maligned Alex Iwobi who scored a good goal against England a couple of weeks ago for Nigeria. As well as having the best kit at the tournament the Nigerians ought to really fancy their chances of doing something special out in Russia. It would great to see Iwobi, an Arsenal youth product, sparkle at the World Cup and come back to Arsenal and become a fine player under the new regime.
On top of those I’ll be looking out for players we are heavily linked to such as the Uruguayan midfielder Torreira - if he is what my nephew says he is then he could be just the player Arsenal need. I’ll try to write some posts throughout the World Cup with an obvious Arsenal bias to them. It should be fun to watch.