Arsenal

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New Cash-Happy Arsenal Set to Buy Huntelaar after Sealing Big Sponsor Deal?

The big news of last week for Arsenal was that they signed a contract extension with Emirates that will total 150 million pounds over the course of five years to keep the airline company’s name on the front of Arsenal jerseys.  For the Gunners this is a huge financial bonus that has fans crying for manager Arsene Wenger to buy some new additions to the squad.  Almost immediately after the big money move for the club was announced, it seemed rumors began to spread that Arsenal may be looking to sign Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.  Personally, I see this as the perfect move for both the player and team.

Huntelaar is a wonderful Dutch striker playing for Schalke 04 in Germany’s Bundesliga.  Last season he scored an astounding 48 goals in 47 total matches in all competitions.  He led the Budesliga with 29 goals, and helped his side reach the UEFA Champions League.  Facing Arsenal in the tournament’s group stage, Huntelaar scored twice in two matches, and his team earned four points off of the Gunners to take control of their group.  Apparently he caught the eye of Wenger in those games.

With his contract set to expire at season’s end, a move seems perfect.  Arsenal needs to replace striker Robin van Persie, now of Manchester United.  Huntelaar has always been the number two man for the Netherlands in international matches, and if he could become the new top man in England, he might just usurp that position.  He would have every opportunity to compete against his compatriot, and if he led Arsenal to glory, what Dutch coach could deny his starting role?  This is the perfect way for Huntelaar to emerge from Van Persie’s shadow!

For Arsenal the move is a no-brainer as well. Although the team recently purchased forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud over the summer, only Giroud is a true striker.  And Giroud even stated upon arriving at the club that he didn’t intend to replace Van Persie.  Giroud is a good striker with a large stature, but currently Arsenal has no real depth behind him.  The option used so far this season has been the erratic Gervinho, whose play is best suited for the wing.

Think of the strikers at Arsenal’s competitors: Manchester City houses Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, and Carlos Tevez (4 world-class strikers!).  United boast a forward trio of Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, and Javier Hernandez.  Arsenal just has Giroud.

After their grand announcement of the new Emirates deal, the team stumbled to a 0-0 draw against Aston Villa.  Goal scoring has been a touchy subject for the Gunners this season.  They are tied for just fifth in the EPL with 23 goals from 13 matches.  This is the same mark as teams like West Bromwich, Everton, and Tottenham; not the stuff you’d expect from a team with a history like Arsenal.

Huntelaar brings experience and talent to the team.  He has been described by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal, as the “best player in the world, bar none (in the penalty box).”  At age 29, he is in his absolute prime and has played for many prestigious clubs including Real Madrid and AC Milan.  If he brings his talents to North London, Arsenal could once again have a fearsome attack, and Huntelaar may well be on his way to earning a starting spot for his national team.  Although Schalke may hold onto him until summer based on their good Champions League form, Huntelaar would be wise to join Arsenal sometime soon.

Jack Wilshere Returns to Arsenal Side But Must Cool his Head

Arsenal fans have had to wait for over a year since Jack Wilshere’s nagging injury first kept him out of soccer.  He has now played in two matches since his return and once again looks like a bright prospect in the Gunners’ midfield.  However, his recent showing against Manchester United saw him sent off for two dangerous challenges and leaves me with the impression that the young player still has a lot of growing up to do.

Wilshere’s return match against QPR was very impressive.  He had a perfect pass completion rate throughout the first half before fatigue led to his substitution later in the game.  Although the side was unable to find the net with him on the pitch, he did provide a golden opportunity for Aaron Ramsey that hit the crossbar.  It was a frustrating day for Arsenal, though they did manage a late goal to beat the struggling QPR.

Wilshere then faced with a much stiffer test this past weekend as the team traveled to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United, and this showed a more vicious side of the English central midfielder.

In both his yellow-carded tackles, Wilshere deserved to be booked.  The second was the result of a rash decision to step into the leg of Patrice Evra with his studs up, and he was rightly sent off.  Clearly, the player was frustrated with the proceedings as Arsenal had yet to manage a single shot on target and had just fallen behind 2-0, but this is where maturity is so vital for quality players.  The sending off left Arsenal without a hope in the world at making a comeback, and after the thrilling midweek encounter (when Arsenal came back to win from 4-0 down to Reading), one must rue Wilshere’s inability to contain his anger.

This is a trait that has been seen before in the youngster and will limit him.  Arsenal do need a more physical and aggressive approach at times, but Wilshere needs to learn when to engage in hard tackles and when not to.  Already on a yellow card from an earlier challenge, he should not have gone in so hard.

And so the highly anticipated return of Jack Wilshere is moving along at a less-than-spectacular pace, but that should be expected given his length of absence from soccer.  Players rarely come back into a side and impact games after such injuries.  Also, Wilshere is having to get used to a whole host of new team mates.  These are his first matches with nearly the entire squad including Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, and Per Mertesacker.  Thus, Wilshere is currently just like a “new signing” and will have to become more acquainted with his team.

I do think that he will learn to play less dangerously, but such changes take time.  Perhaps starting him at Old Trafford in only his second game back was something of a stretch for the player, but if he is to become Arsenal’s leader, he will need to gain experience in the high profile matches.  Either way, Jack Wilshere will now have a bit of a break from action due to his suspension, and perhaps that is a good thing for him given his need to slowly edge back into the Arsenal side from his injury.

How is the New-Look Arsenal Shaping Up?

Arsenal has played six games this season (5 in the EPL, 1 in the Champions League) so I feel it is a good time for an assessment following the big changes in their lineup from last season.  Through the matches, Arsenal has won 3 and drawn 3.

After a few nervous 0-0 draws to start the season, the Gunners have come alive.  New signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have provided excellent goals and the team looks very strong in defense.  Abou Diaby has thankfully stayed injury-free and provides a large force in the middle of the team.  Long forgotten are the high-scoring Robin van Persie and the tackling of Alex Song who have seemingly been replaced with ease.  Theo Walcott has been relegated to the bench over his contract situation, but hasn’t been missed thanks to the good play of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Against Manchester City, Arsenal looked the better side although they did have to fight back for the 1-1 draw.  This match was their first real test of the season, and I felt they came through in exciting fashion, earning a draw away to the Premier League Champions.

One player that I feel is beginning to really add to the team is Carl Jenkinson: the young right back. He has had his share of growing pains, but against Man City he was terrific.  He repeatedly made forward runs and even got completely free in on the end line during the first half, beating Joleon Lescott and setting up a good chance.  He also provides good low cross, which resulted in a goal against Montpellier, and almost beat goalkeeper Joe Hart during this match.  Crossing has been suspect at Arsenal for as long as I can remember, so this is a valuable addition to the squad. I feel that Bacary Sagna may find it hard to break back into the team once he recovers from injury.

It’s not all great for Arsenal though.  Olivier Giroud has failed to take over the central striker role, and Arsene Wenger’s plan B, Gervinho, isn’t necessarily the answer either.  He scored two goals in the 6-1 drubbing of Southampton, and he got a tap-in for the victory against Montpellier, but he sure does make a mess of most his chances and was woeful against Manchester City, the first good defense he has faced.

He is a very unpredictable player.  He’ll get the ball and one simply cannot reason where he’ll go.  The only problem is that 95% of the time he is dispossessed.  He wasted a golden opportunity at Manchester City in the first half when he was free in on goal, and his first touch gave the ball right to Hart.

Personally, I feel that Lukas Podolski ought to be given more opportunities in a central role.  Perhaps place Gervinho back out on that left wing where his trickery and pace are more useful.  Podolski looks the man who can actually score goals in the Arsenal offense.

But what makes me most excited about this team is their defensive improvements.  This is not only evident in their back line, but in the overall defensive effort of the entire team.  Everyone looks far more determined to win the ball back, and rarely does the team get caught on a counter attack.  They have only conceded three goals through six games.  Therefore, I have high hopes for the season and feel that Arsenal could have a say in the title race come the New Year.

EPL Season Starts off Just as it Finished Last Year

Anyone hoping for great changes right off the bat in the EPL will have been disappointed to see the first round of matches continue in much of the same fashion that last season ended.

Arsenal got off to a lackluster result with a 0-0 home draw with Sunderland.  In typical fashion, the Gunners held the majority of possession and passed the ball around without creating more than a handful of chances.  Arsenal began last year terribly before improving to a 3rd place finish thanks to the exploits of Robin van Persie and Alex Song, but without those players their replacements couldn’t break the deadlock.

Liverpool fell flat on their faces with a 3-0 loss to West Bromwich.  The team looks resoundingly similar under new manager Brendan Rogers, and although they faced a few questionable decisions in the match, there really is no excuse for such a one sided score-line for what was once such a proud club.  It has been several long seasons of finishing outside the top 4 for Liverpool and this result suggests the trend is set to continue.

Manchester City had a more positive afternoon that featured a comeback victory 3-2 over Southampton, recalling memories of their stunning final day last year when they won the league at the death with a similar comeback of the same score over QPR.  Although they were able to stage the comeback more comfortably with ten minutes remaining in the match, their ability to find late game heroics will make them a force again in the Premier League.

Chelsea found success as new signing Eden Hazard earned an assist and drew a penalty in their 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic.  After their two early goals the team didn’t look very strong though, and striker Fernando Torres was largely ineffective at producing chances.  At least they were able to get a win though which is something they struggled mightily with during last season’s 6th place finish.

Manchester United will play against Everton tonight in a match that Red Devils fans would like to forget from last season.  During that April match, Manchester gave up two late goals in a 4-4 draw that saw them drop two points that would have won them the league.  Based on the other recurring themes from the last two days, I suspect that this match will be another hard fought draw, as Everton has the home advantage.

So it appears as if this season is starting off in a familiar manner, but with 37 games remaining for each team, surely there will be some twists and turns as the EPL season develops.

Arsenal’s Summer Transfers Suggest Possible Formation Change

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is usually cautious and slow during the summer transfer period.  He rarely makes big splashes in the market and prefers to recruit small name youngsters with big time potential.  This summer he seems to be singing a different tune and has already made two big buys in forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.  This influx of strikers suggests to me that Wenger is prepared to divert from the current 4-3-3 formation in order to best use his new toys.

The 4-3-3 houses a lone striker with two supporting wingers on the flanks.  Clearly captain Robin van Persie is first choice for that role, but the club has suffered recently as he is depended upon too greatly for goals.  I think that the future of this Arsenal side may see the classic 4-4-2 makeup which gives Van Persie more support up top.

Both Podolski and Giroud could thrive as supporting strikers.  Additionally, Arsenal could ask Theo Walcott to join the foray up top.  Walcott has often times struggled on the wing since his delivery on crosses tends to be rather poor.  In a more advanced role, he could utilize his speed to make quick runs and get more looks at goal. Also he would have more opportunities to make smaller passes forward inside rather than big crosses from outside.

Arsenal has suffered from mistakes at the back and the 4-4-2 formation would also add more support for thwarting counter attacks.  With an extra body in midfield, more emphasis would be placed on defense and would strengthen the side.

Arsenal could better utilize their midfield players here too.  Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could well thrive in outside midfielder roles where they could be better placed to help the attack from ventures forward while knowing their compatriots are behind for support.

Jack Wilshire and Alex Song could well hold down the center and distribute from within while slowing down the opposition.  The 4-3-3 was a smart option when Cesc Fabregas was pulling the strings in midfield, but he is gone now and the formation needs to adjust.

I feel the general problem with Arsenal recently has been that the two wingers are often stranded and rarely make a difference in matches.  We have all seen the woes of Andrey Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, and Marouane Chamakh as evidence.

With their impending departures and the arrival of both Podolski and Giroud, I sense that Wenger is looking for a striking duo up top.  These players would have more of a physical presence in front of the goal and would take some of the weight off of Robin van Persie.  Both players are coming off of prolific years in Germany and France, and will be looking for ways to get on the field and score goals.  If they are left out wide, I fear they will be under-utilized.  Perhaps Arsene Wenger is set to alter Arsenal’s look to a 4-4-2 for the upcoming season.